There Are Some Cures for Pre-Summertime Blues

Wanted to draw your attention to a couple of recent donations to the “life is complex and frustrating, so let’s go have some fun!” cause.

First, you can generally look to the Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blog for a pick-me-up. (And before breakfast, say researchers, is when 99% of the populace most needs picking up. (The other 1% need it most while they’re sitting on barstools and fantasizing about Mr. or Ms. Right, as the case may be.))

But today’s post, “Some Cartoons for You,” just made me grin from ear to ear. (It might even have made the grin wrap around to the back of my neck — an alarming sight, no doubt, for the people behind me in the elevator this morning.) As is usually the case at 7-Imp, the focus is on children’s books and illustrators — specifically, in this case, illustrators who favor a cartoon-like style of art.

It’s pretty darned hard for me to look at this without smiling, and it’s not even the whole image (from “Mr.” [Tom] Warburton’s 1000 Times No — see a reproduction of the entire page at the 7-Imp site):

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From whiskey river:

As you go the way of life, you will see a great chasm. Jump. It is not as wide as you think.

(Native American Indian saying)

Not from whiskey river:

Don Juan and don Genaro stood up and stretched their arms and arched their backs, as if sitting had made their bodies stiff. My heart began to pound fast. They made Pablito and me stand up.

“The twilight is the crack between the worlds,” don Juan said. “It is the door to the unknown.”

He pointed with a sweeping movement of his hand to the mesa where we were standing.

“This is the plateau in front of that door.”

He pointed then to the northern edge of the mesa.

“There is the door. Beyond, there is an abyss and beyond that abyss is the unknown.”

Don Juan and don Genaro then turned to Pablito and said good-by to him. Pablito’s eyes were dilated and fixed; tears were rolling down his cheeks.

I heard don Genaro’s voice saying good-by to me, but I did not hear don Juan’s.

Don Juan and don Genaro moved towards Pablito and whispered briefly in his ears. Then they came to me. But before they had whis­pered anything I already had that peculiar feeling of being split.

“We will now be like dust on the road,” don Genaro said. “Perhaps it will get in your eyes again, someday.”

Don Juan and don Genaro stepped back and seemed to merge with the darkness. Pablito held my forearm and we said good-by to each other. Then a strange urge, a force, made me run with him to the northern edge of the mesa. I felt his arm holding me as we jumped and then I was alone.

(Carlos Castaneda, Tales of Power — the last words of the book. I always thought Castaneda’s entire “Don Juan” series would have ended perfectly at this point, but no: he went on to write numerous further books, none of which attained the convincing — and impeccable — power of the early ones.)

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What We Miss When We Shutter Our Senses

Magic Eye, by Jennifer Love @ TrekEarth (click for original)

[Above image, “Magic Eye” by Jennifer Love, first appeared on TrekEarth.]

From whiskey river (italicized portion):

Beside the grand history of the glaciers and their own, the mountain streams sing the history of every avalanche or earthquake and of snow, all easily recognized by the human ear, and every word evoked by the falling leaf and drinking dear, beside a thousand other facts so small and spoken by the stream in so low a voice the human ear cannot hear them. The wing scars the sky, making a path inevitably as the deer in snow, and the winds all know it and tell it though we hear it not.

(John Muir, John of the Mountains [source])

Not from whiskey river:

When your eyes are functioning well you don’t see your eyes. If your eyes are imperfect you see spots in front of them. That means there are some lesions in the retina or wherever, and because your eyes aren’t working properly, you feel them. In the same way, you don’t hear your ears. If you have a ringing in your ears it means there’s something wrong with your ears. Therefore, if you do feel yourself, there must be something wrong with you. Whatever you have, the sensation of I is like spots in front of your eyes — it means something’s wrong with your functioning.

(Alan Watts, Ego)


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Night Plus Light Makes Right

From the design blog:

Light writing is a form of stop motion animation wherein still images captured using the technique known as light painting are put in sequence thereby creating the optical illusion of movement for the viewer.

Two examples:

Impacto Criativo (Creative Impact)

Created by Propague and MidiaEffects with 2 cameras, 1700 clicks, 18 people, 20 nights, 35 flash lights, and 234 batteries.


Light Paint Piano Player

Created by Ryan Cashman with a small green LED keychain light. The frames were photographed with a Canon Rebel using 20-30 second exposure time.

See them all. (Warning: visiting the home page can be hazardous to one’s productivity.)

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Haunted by What’s Inside

Inside Looking Out, by Trish Bilch (click for original)From whiskey river:

People talk about the discontent in the world and about existential anxiety as if it were something new! Everyone at every period in history felt it. You have only to read the Greek and Latin authors! It is not true that the individual with his emotional life no longer feels himself the center of the world! What do you think really interests people from morning to night if it isn’t their feelings, their work and love — especially love.

(Alberto Giacometti)

Not cited at whiskey river, but the above quotation continues:

…They read the newspaper maybe ten minutes a day, they see that a satellite is orbiting around the moon, and then they immediately start talking again about work, and love. And not only that: often somebody will commit suicide because of love problems. And that means that if an individual would rather die than live without a person he loves, then the power of emotion does still dominate the world.

(cited by Reinhold Hohl in Giacometti: A Biography in Pictures)

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Surprising the Audience

Still from director Alex Cox's 'Walker' (click for more info)

[Above still from director Alex Cox’s Walker (1987), which sounds like one of the most
interesting films I’ve never seen. Click image for more info.]

My regular Friday post inspired by the mysteries of the past seven days’ entries at the whiskey river blog. This one’s a little more complex than most — one or two more selections, and a small cluster of strangely relevant associations from elsewhere around the Web.

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Knowing Only the Present

M.C. Escher: Hand with Reflecting Sphere - what's behind you seems to be before youSince history is on my mind anyway…

From Jeff VanderMeer’s Ecstatic Days blog recently, by guest blogger Tero Ykspetäjä: the top five reasons “Why Finnish Is Cooler Than English.” Reason #5 (with slightly tongue-in-cheek coda):

There’s no future tense in the Finnish language. The present tense is used instead. “No future,” as the Tähtivaeltaja slogan says. This makes it easy to seize the day, to live in the moment and not worry about tomorrow. At least in theory. There are some who insist on trying to introduce a sort-of future tense by artificial constructs like “you will come to know this,” but they are clearly in the wrong and should stop immediately.

I jogged over to Wikipedia and found this example:

The future tense is not needed due to context and the telic contrast. For example, luen kirjan “I read a book (completely)” indicates a future, [while] luen kirjaa “I read a book (not yet complete)” indicates present.

(If you’re a native English speaker — perhaps especially so — contemplating following the link to Wikipedia’s article on telicity, and you are not a linguist, prepare yourself to learn more about the language than you ever picked up in Mrs. Grundy’s fifth-period class. Let alone on the playground.)

All of which got me wondering: are there any languages with no past tense?

Duh, what a question. I should have known this (emphasis mine):

All varieties of modern Chinese are analytic languages, in that they depend on syntax (word order and sentence structure) rather than morphology — i.e., changes in form of a word — to indicate the word’s function in a sentence. In other words, Chinese has few grammatical inflections — it possesses no tenses, no voices, no numbers (singular, plural; though there are plural markers, for example for personal pronouns), only a few articles (i.e., equivalents to “the, a, an” in English), and no gender.

It’s a topic for a *cough* future post, maybe. But I’ve always been interested in the idea that knowing one language from birth, as opposed to another, might (does?) shape the way one thinks throughout life.

For instance, if you have no grammatical form to express the future tense, can you even think in terms of a time containing events which have not yet happened? If you can’t express the past, what goes through your mind the first time you see a timeline? If your language has no tenses at all, do you have clocks and calendars? What does “time” itself mean to you? If you forget something you mean to pick up on the way home from work, what is the context in which you fail to pick it up, vs. the context in which you formed your intention to remember it in the first place — is there a “when”? (And what on Earth do you make of bizarre concepts like “daylight savings time”?)

Surely it can’t be that you think of “time” only as what English speakers call the present, a sort of neverending concurrency. Surely you don’t think you may walk out your front door and eventually come within (say) a mile of where the Emperor Gaozu is currently taking a bath.

Er… can you?

I think I’m experiencing some sort of linguo-philosophical vertigo here. (Almost said “at the moment” but, well…)

[P.S. For the link to the post on Finnish-vs.-English which started this avalanche of paradox, thanks to the “Instant Distractions” sidebar at Colleen Lindsay’s blog.]

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Whitford lighthouse, very low tide (click for enlarged version)

[In the wake of yesterday’s post (which began as a study of someone else’s neurosis but ended as a study of my own), I’m really feeling the need today to just write about something completely free (for me) of any, y’know, import. Here’s what floated to the surface, as it were.]

A while back, I participated in one of those “blog parties” which seem to come along periodically. The topic (selected by the party’s organizer, Rebecca Ramsey) was Wonders of the World, in which participants celebrated, well, wonderful things or occasions which held some special appeal for them.

My topic was waterfalls. As I explained in an aside there, for some unknown reason I’ve been fascinated by the country of Wales, which I’ve never visited. (Nor, as far as I know, has anyone I know ever visited there.) (Okay, you can all announce yourselves now.) Although I’m not actively looking for information on the Welsh language, Welsh countryside, Welsh history or folklore, whatever, my mind still goes into heightened-interest mode when I come across any of that stuff.

The lighthouse shown here has not been operational for some time. It’s referred to as the Whitford (or alternatively Whiteford) lighthouse. Built in 1866 to replace the original (which was in turn erected in 1854), it was deactivated in 1926. It’s 130 feet high, made of cast iron, and at low tide — as shown here — requires a five-mile walk to reach. The Whitford lighthouse watches over the Burry Inlet, on the southern coast of Wales.

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Somebody Else’s Perfect Moment

There’s a particular category of human experience unlike any other. It’s got nothing to do with personality or intelligence; it crosses geographic and linguistic borders as if they didn’t exist (because they don’t, except in our minds and on the paper where we record the products of those faulty machines). Such an experience comes and goes so quickly that a single blink of the eye, the least distraction can cause us to miss it. It’s grounded in the senses, not in words — nor even in the heart, except in retrospect.

There’s really no way to sum up this category except via the facile phrase the perfect moment.

The work of the late, great photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson came to be associated with the phrase “the decisive moment.” He adopted it as the title of his 1952 collection (all of which is online), having borrowed it from a seventeenth century Cardinal de Retz:

There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment.

I’ve been considering a series of occasional posts on this subject for a couple of months now. The essence of what I hope to get at with these perfect-moment posts is embodied in a passage from Cartier-Bresson’s introduction to the great book:

…the world is movement, and you cannot be stationary in your attitude toward something that is moving.

He was speaking of photography, of course, and therefore speaking of the visual sense. But we’re awash in sensory experiences of all kinds, tumbling through them as though bobbing and thrashing about in whitewater rapids. Every now and then, without conscious thought, we grab hold of a rock. For a fraction of a second, we’re completely engaged with it — the way the light darts over its wet surface, the feel of its grainy bumpy surface beneath our fingertips or against the palm of our hands, the background roar of water and its smell as it floods our nostrils and its taste in our screaming mouth, perhaps the sixth-sense fear of what will happen when we lose our hold on the rock…

Then we’re moving on, tugged away by the rush of events and voices, the sheer force of all the moments still blasting by. We never go back to that rock. But we never forget it, either.

Those are the perfect moments I’m going to be seeking out here.

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The Engaged Photographer

I’m working on a two-part series of posts at the moment, with Part 1 due up tomorrow. In the meantime, I thought you’d appreciate this. It’s a promotional video for the New York Public Library Photography Collection:

Among the photographers discussed, you can find more information at these Web sites (besides Wikipedia, of course):

  • Dorothea Lange: her work and life is documented in various places around the Web. You can get a good introduction from the site of the J. Paul Getty Museum’s “About Life” exhibit of 2002-2003. (The Goethe quote which the narrator mentions says, “Each traveler should know what he has to see, and what properly belongs to him, on a journey.”)
  • The NYPL’s own Berenice Abbott site
  • Stephen Dupont

And of course, if you’re interested in documentary photography, you could do much worse than visit the Library’s own online Digital Images Collection.

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