Not ‘so’

Questioners (such as interviewers on the ABC) should routinely end each question with the injunction: “… and don’t begin your answer with the word ‘so’.”

The Shepherd’s Hut

I think what most preoccupied Tim Winton in working on this  novel was getting the voice of the narrator, Jaxie, right. As it’s almost all we hear for the duration, it’s just as well he succeeded. It’s not understood to be written by him, of course—he’s probably barely literate—but it is narrated by him, and the language on the page represents what he ‘would of’ written if he ‘could of’—thus giving examples of the principal solecism which occurs consistently throughout—together with ‘et’ for ‘ate’, which is complicated, but works.

The other main character, Fintan, only appears halfway through, and is represented only by what he says to Jaxie—who does not understand half of it, but records it accurately (of course). Jaxie is the character who is in search of … ‘peace’ is the preferred term, and Fintan is the spiritually advanced character who has perhaps found it.

Then there’s a plot, which is a bit stuck-on-at-the-end, providing closure for the story in a way that is convincing enough. One is usually glad to escape from the world of a Winton novel—he’s often said not to do his endings well—and this one provides a neat half-page summary (almost like a PowerPoint slide) which tidies everything up, and lets us go.

But this novel does not let us go when we have put it down. Its evocation of Jaxie’s universe is so precise and convincing that it will stay in the reader’s mind for some time – well, this one, at least.

Good afternoon

‘Good afternoon’, ‘good morning’, and ‘good evening’ are ways the middle class have of identifying themselves to each other. They also keep hoi polloi at a distance when so addressed.

kith and kin

To deal with this, I had to get out one volume of the Shorter OED.  (It’s only of two large volumes, while the OED itself, if you can buy it in actual print, consists of a dozen or more books.)

‘Kin’ is straightforward in its meaning: it refers to the people you’re related to genetically. And in fact the Germanic ‘kin’ is related to the Greek ‘genus’  That’s a bit surprising, and not obvious, but it is in SOED. So that’s that.

‘Kith’ is less precise. The word is related to lots of words that have to do with ‘knowing’. Modern German ‘kennen’, to know – in the sense of have an understanding of or acquaintance with – is related, as is the Scots verb ‘ken’, as in ‘D’ye ken John Peel?’ … or whatever.

Kith and kin are the people you know, and the people to whom you are related.

Here endeth the lesson.

Goodbye to All That

The title of Robert Graves’s 1929 autobiography, Goodbye to All That, it turns out in the Epilogue (1957), merely means that he had left England to live in Majorca.

I assumed it meant that the First World War had fixed a great gulf between life before and after it.

I’ve just read it again, and note here a few excerpts.

G.H. Rendall, the then Headmaster at Charterhouse, is reported to have innocently said at a Headmasters’ Conference: ‘My boys are amorous, but seldom erotic.’ … I agree with his Rendall’s distinction between ‘amorousness’ (by which he meant a sentimental falling in love with younger boys) and eroticism, or adolescent lust. The intimacy that frequently took place was very seldom between an elder boy and the object of his affection – that would have spoiled the romantic illlusion – but almost always between boys of the same age who were not in love, and used each other as convenient sex-instruments. So the atmosphere was always heavy with romance of a conventional early-Victorian type, complicated by cynicism and foulness. (Penguin, 39)

At least one in three of my generation at school died; because they all took commissions as soon as they could, most of them in the infantry and Royal Flying Corps. The average life expectancy of an infantry subaltern on the Western Front was, at some stages of the war, only about three months; by which time he had been either wounded or killed. The proportions worked out at about four wounded to every one killed. Of these four, one got wounded seriously, and the remaining three more or less lightly. The three lightly wounded returned to the front after a few weeks or months of absence, and again faced the same odds. Flying casualites were even higher. Since the war lasted for four and a half years, it is easy why most  of the survivors, if not permanently disabled, got wounded several times. (Penguin 54-55)

Professor Edgeworth, of All Souls’, avoided conversational English, persistently using words and phrases that one expects to meet only in books. One evening, [T.E.] Lawrence [of Arabia] returned from a visit to London, and Edgeworth met him at the gate. ‘Was it very caliginous in the Metropolis?’
‘Somewhat caliginous, but not altogether inspissated, ‘ Lawrence replied gravely. (Penguin, 246)

I photographed the photo of Robert Graves from the Penguin that was published in 1957, the revised edition of the book.

Freud and Me

I wrote the dissertation for my PhD in the first half of 1993 while on OSP leave (sabbatical).

This was immediately after I had coordinated (taught) a unit called Language Culture and the Unconscious in 1991 and 1992. As a result of this, I enrolled for a PhD under the supervision of Bob Hodge, who had conceived the unit. The dissertation was based on the structure and thought of said unit, and took a positive view of the continuing usefulness of some of Freud’s ideas – in fact that was its thesis.

During those same years I was in contact with a close friend who happened to  be a liberal feminist psychiatrist, Lois Achimovich, and she was continually making me aware of Freud’s feet of clay, as exposed by writers like Jeffrey Masson and Frederick Crews. As a result of her influence the dissertation came to be richer and more complex.

In two lectures I gave in 1994, I took the opportunity to say as succinctly as I could what I thought about the ‘seduction hypothesis’ in a lecture on Freud given to unsuspecting students in their first university course, the Foundation unit Structure, Thought and Reality, in April 1994. The next month, I gave a related but more complex lecture to the more sophisticated students of Literary Theory 1, which examined the way in which the ‘structure’ required by Freud for his pseudo-science of psychoanalysis meant that what he ‘thought’ came into conflict with the ‘reality’ of what he was hearing in his consulting-room. With the result that … he denied his patients’ reality.

In a 2000 publication, ‘Mind and culture: Freud and Slovakia‘, which also drew directly on my dissertation, my critique of  Freud suggested that he relied to a great extent on analogy as a rhetorical strategy, rather than, say, logic – or demonstration.

Yet another cliche

‘It is what it is’ seems to be the latest no-meaning utterance to be added to all the others.

If a speaker on the radio begins a sentence with ‘So …’ I turn it off — which means I don’t listen to the radio much.

The gestural equivalent to a no-meaning statement  is the ‘weather presenter’s gesture’, which involves beginning with the hands together in front of the body, and then opening them both out, while keeping the elbows in, and then returning the hands to the centre – before doing it again a moment later.  It has never meant anything – and yet it is done by everyone on TV.  It seemed to me that weather presenters started it, but it’s not important, as it’s done by everyone now.  The business news guys are strong supporters of this meaningless gesture.

Bateleur Appears

I’ve started to compile cryptic crosswords again – like those in the Times and the Guardian – having acquired Crossword Compiler and a way to run it in a virtual box on this iMac.

My new setter name is Bateleur – after this guy  from the Marseille Tarot >

Radio Alphabet

I decided to memorise the ‘radio alphabet’ (it has a longer name), partly for the exercise. This entry was intended to be some thoughts about memorisation, but the more I noticed the thematic connexions between the names of the letters, the more I focussed on this one aspect of memorisation.

There is an American theme running through most of the names, and more specifically films, and even more specifically war (films).

Alfa is an unpromising start. It’s just the first letter of the Greek alphabet, alpha.
Bravo.  Rio Bravo, John Wayne.
Charlie. Checkpoint Charlie was on the Berlin Wall. (I realise that’s circular.)
Delta. Um … Apocalpyse Now? There must be a film about a river delta.
Echo. Blank.
Foxtrot. Fred Astaire …
Golf. Bob Hope … Caddy Shack.
Hotel. Grand Hotel, among many others.
India. Song of India.
Juliet. Plus Romeo.
Kilo. 12 Grams?
Lima. Blank.
Mike. Michaels Douglas, Keaton …
November. The Hunt for Red October? (But there are quite a few films with November in the title: The November Man (2014) is one.
Oscar. Need I say more?
Papa. An odd one. A childish word.
Quebec. Blank.
Romeo. Plus Juliet.
Sierra. High Sierra. John Wayne again? (Actually it was Humphrey Bogart, miscast.)
Tango. Last Tango in Paris. By Bertolucci, but Brando’s in it.
Uniform. All war films.
Victory. All war films.
Whiskey. Most American films.
Xray. Blank.
Yankee. Most Americans.
Zulu. A British war, but directed by an American.


Language usage is getting worse all around us, and especially in Facebook. But my real indicator is ABC radio. Yesterday a presenter (on Background Briefing) referred to an international incident which involved a ‘contingency’ of soldiers. At least that’s a new one.