Confucius Remains Relevant

Adept Lu said: “If the Lord of Wei wanted you to govern his country, what would you put first in importance?”
“The rectification of names,” replied the Master. “Without a doubt.”
“That’s crazy!” countered Lu. “What does rectification of names have to do with anything?”
“You’re such an uncivil slob,” said the Master. “When the noble-minded can’t understand something, they remain silent.
Listen. If names aren’t rectified, speech doesn’t follow from reality. If speech doesn’t follow from reality, endeavors never come to fruition. If endeavors never come to fruition, then Ritual and music cannot flourish. If Ritual and music cannot flourish, punishments don’t fit the crime. If punishments don’t fit the crime, people can’t put their hands and feet anywhere without fear of losing them.
“Naming enables the noble-minded to speak, and speech enables the noble-minded to act. Therefore, the noble-minded are anything but careless in speech.” . . . The Master said: “Once you have rectified yourself, you can serve in government without difficulty. But if you haven’t rectified yourself, how can you rectify the people?”  [Analects XIII]

From: The Four Chinese Classics: Tao Te Ching, Analects, Chuang Tzu, Mencius (Trans. David Hinton)

Noted & Recommended: A List of Six

  1. Timothy Burke, as usual, is confronting the present political situation with his usual good sense at Easily Distracted.
  2. Just discovered Open Culture, a site that provides links to all sorts of texts, mostly free, that are available online. The proves one can insist that the internet can be a positive literary & political force. Thousands of links to audio & video materials.
  3. { feuilleton } may be the most elegant blog out there, both in design & content.
  4. I’ve been waiting for something like this. A sophisticated bilingual literary journal emerging from the Vietnamese diaspora. I hope the journal manages to establish itself in American & Vietnamese literary culture.
  5. The world’s oldest playable musical instrument is a flute.
  6. Hardcore Zen. No bullshit, from a Buddhist perspective.

Is it a Dangerous Precedent?

The folks at  An Fur Ünd Sich align with my own view on this, the first day of the Trump Era. I still cannot get my head around the results of the recent election. It feels like a dream, or a masque intended to warn & educate me & my fellow-citizens. But it is no dream & it is going to be a rough time for our already frayed & tattered American democracy.

I remember back the last time the Electoral College delivered us an incompetent overreaching fool — one of our watchwords in those years was that the Constitution is not a suicide pact. And so, on November 9, Obama should have said, “We all know the Electoral College is nonsense, and so I am going to begin the transition process with President-Elect Clinton.” I’d rather the bit about the Electoral College be a dead letter than the emoluments clause, for example. Is it a dangerous precedent? Not as dangerous as the precedent that the person who loses the election takes office and we all act like it’s God’s fucking will.

 

A Quote from Ed Mycue for the 4th of July

This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.

“Preface to Leaves of Grass” by Walt Whitman.

Feldenkrais & Gesellschaft

This piece in the NY Times reports that the latest U.S. Scripps National Spelling Bee co-champions are (again) from South Asia. Jairam Hathwar spelled “feldenkrais” & Nihar Janga spelled “gesellschaft,” arriving at a linguistic stalemate. There is no entry in the online OED for feldenkrais, but Wikipedia tells me that it is a way of training people’s movement to “increase . . . kinesthetic and proprioceptive self-awareness.” Gesellschaft shows up in the OED with this brief entry: “A social relationship between individuals based on duty to society or to an organization.”

Since reading this article a couple of hours ago I have been pondering whether it’s possible to draw any coherent implications from the fact that the two winners “are the ninth consecutive victors of South Asian ancestry, and the 12th in 16 years.” One is tempted to make invidious comparisons between the South Asian immigrant community & American nativist English-only fundamentalists. And though that particular social configuration currently packs a certain political wallop, its arguments are so incoherent they ultimately tear themselves apart.

So why this run of victories by South Asian elementary & middle-school students? My best guess would be that Indian immigrant communities (in the US & elsewhere) preserve the very deep Indian understanding of language. Combine that with the aspirational immigrant respect for education & one can begin to see how this run of South Asian spelling bee victories might happen. The claim about Indian cultural understanding of language would need to be further developed & I’m not expert enough to do that in an adequate way. I would simply note that there is a 4000 year textual tradition that begins with the Vedas. For the first half of that period the “texts” were oral, but there was a highly developed form of “oral literacy” among the priestly class that included an elaborate technology of memorization & error checking. Early Buddhists, faced with preserving the discourses of Gotama, adopted & adapted this set of values & skills for their own purposes.

I assume that the boys’ parents are immigrants who grew up bilingual in English & an Indian language & that the boys have grown up speaking American English. I hope they are also speaking the Indian language(s) of their parents–from the boys’ first names probably Hindi. India is an example of bilingualism / multilingualism on steroids. No doubt the boys’ families created an educational / study environment based on these values. The parents themselves would very likely be prepared to draw on their own traditions to help their children prepare. And this would be true of a certain percentage of similar immigrant parents, thus the long string of victories.1

These two particular words raise a question about how children study for the highest level of spelling bee competition. I assume they simply memorize long lists of common & even not so common words, but at some point this method will reach a point of diminishing returns. At that point competitors will need to shift to phonetics, including the phonetics of words of non-English origin. Feldenkrais is a Ukrainian / Yiddish (?) surname; gesellschaft is borrowed from German. I doubt these were on the boys’ To Memorize list.

 

Show 1 footnote

  1. I make no claim as to whether such training is in some larger way good–either in general or for particular students.