WIZ 1500 Review: Paradox Lost (on us)?

You don’t need X-ray glasses to see through to this credo’s backbone: valuation of life—one’s own and others’—rooted in an ethic of hierarchy.

Book: How to Be Animal: A New History of What It Means to Be Human
Author: Melanie Challenger
Penguin Books
New York, 2021

Reviewer: Patricia K.

Sporadically across history, more consistently for the last century, conscientious people have worked at dismantling human supremacy narratives other folks have shored up for millennia. At the hearts of such stories: belief that by virtue of dominance of other species, we human beings are the highest expression of intelligent life. Our superior qualities make us unlike anything else living. This supremacy entitles us to using whatever species we wish (including our own) to our benefit, in whatever way seems good.

You don’t need X-ray glasses to see through to this credo’s backbone: valuation of life—one’s own and others’—rooted in an ethic of hierarchy.  

Continue reading “WIZ 1500 Review: Paradox Lost (on us)?”

Quothing the Raven by Patricia Karamesines

Photo of common raven courtesy of National Park Service
Photo of common raven courtesy of National Park Service

This post is an excerpt from my unpublished book, Crossfire Canyon and the Landscape of Language. I published a shorter version of the chapter in 2007 on the blog Times and Seasons. I’ve added material and developed my thinking about the intersection  of narrative and truth, posing questions about what our responsibility may be when we tell a story that deeply affects people–especially when the story isn’t strictly true, but people who read or hear it feel that it must be.

Winston Hurst
Archaeologist Winston Hurst

Early in the summer of 2007 I visited Blanding resident Winston Hurst, a longtime friend from my archeological field school days back in the 80s. Winston is an esteemed archeologist in the Southwest and a man of science. We were discussing Craig Childs, who was coming to Blanding’s Edge of the Cedars State Park to promote his book. I had met Craig in the 90s at a writing workshop he’d led in Torrey, Utah. The first time I read Craig’s work—it was The Secret Knowledge of Water—I  thought, Here is a writer I can learn from. I’d taken the risk to travel to the workshop, even though leaving the household whose atmosphere depended on the state of my special needs daughter Teah and on the whims of toddler Val left husband Mark with his hands full.

The experience proved well worth the risks to my household’s teetering domestic balance. Craig told our little group—all women—that it was his first workshop. At one point we met in the wonderful stone house, still a work in progress, of a local resident. To make memorable his point that we should all carry writing journals when we’re out traipsing, Craig set a pile of his own journals in the middle of the floor and told us to each choose one and find a quiet place to read it. I happened to pick the one that contained dialogue that would later appear in his book, The Way Out: A True Story of Ruin and Survival.  The dialogue occurred between Childs and his river guide friend, Dirk Vaughn, who used to be a cop. It involved Dirk’s statement that he’d killed a man. Continue reading “Quothing the Raven by Patricia Karamesines”

Review: Arrival 2016

2017 Arrival Poster*Spoilers Alert*

First off, I’d like any film that nudges viewers toward thinking about language and its effects on events, the environment, and relationships past, present, and future. Arrival’s got “events” and “relationships” covered, and, by extension, “environment”, so I like it. *SOAP BOX ALERT*  Lackadaisical attitudes toward language are common. Many folks don’t think about language much at all, despite how, when threatened, they quickly move to weaponize it when they feel threatened. Moreover, since a meaningful percentage of the population gets its information from movies and other media rather than peer-reviewed scholarly articles on language and linguistics, I’m good with casting language in a leading role in a semi-popular film. *END SOAP BOX BLURB*

We also have funny ideas about language, including that it impedes real communication. Charles Taylor discusses one angle of such thinking in The Language Animal, the theory that, ideally, language should just name things in the world with constraints on usage to enable precise communication—no funny business like metaphor, symbol, etc., which some literalists believe renders discourse into Keystone Kops ineptness.

For a taste of Keystone Kops, go here.

Taylor makes a good case that this idea of language still influences beliefs about human powers of articulation (unduly, he says). Arrival may in fact put the “language as precision tool” concept to work, since very few nods to metaphor’s powers of transport occur in the movie. It would be nice if the black-and-white nature of instrumental language could have been expanded a little, but that’s probably asking too much. Many people know language mainly as a tool for getting done what they want, even as they complain about its exactness.  In blame-the-messenger fashion (including in language Global Mall Facebook), laments abound over how language fails to live up to expectations then betrays us; ergo, it’s faulty.

But to the movie. Arrival is a cryptic thing on several levels, including its

Continue reading “Review: Arrival 2016”

The year of the fox by Patricia Karamesines

Red Fox public domain

From July 2010 to December 2013, the two years following Mark’s stroke and brain surgery, he struggled to regain lost cognitive and physical ground. The hemorrhage occurred in the back of the right hemisphere of the cerebral cortex in an area of the brain that supports eyesight. During the stroke he lost more than half of his field of vision. On the day we figured out that something momentous had occurred and I rushed him to the hospital, he cocked his head to his left side, like a bird, to see the doctor and nurses. We caught the stroke too late so some of the vision loss became permanent. The change in his vision disturbed him most at night when the house turned foreign. Every little object on the floor or crease in a rug transformed into a confusing and dangerous obstacle. Continue reading “The year of the fox by Patricia Karamesines”