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Invisiblerebus_minus
Registered: 05/15/09
Posts: 667
A critique of modern language
    #11345332 - 10/29/09 03:27 PM (8 years, 1 month ago)

One of those who spoke a great deal that day was the elderly, intelligent Persian whom I have mentioned — intelligent not in the European sense of the word, but in the sense in which it is understood on the continent of Asia, that is, not only by knowledge but by being. He was very well educated and was particularly well acquainted with European culture.

He said, among other things:

'It is a great pity that the present period of culture, which we call and which people of subsequent generations will of course also call the "European civilization", is, in the whole process of the perfecting of humanity, as it were, an empty and abortive interval. And this is because, in respect of the development of the mind, that chief impeller to self-perfection, the people of our civilization cannot transmit by inheritance anything of value to their descendants.

'For example, one of the chief means for developing the mind of man is literature.

'But what has the literature of contemporary civilization to give? Nothing whatever, except the development of, so to say, "word prostitution".

'The fundamental cause of this corruption of present-day literature is, in my opinion, that the whole attention in writing has gradually, of itself, come to be concentrated not on the quality of the thought and the exactitude with which it is transmitted, but only on the striving for exterior polish or, as is otherwise said, beauty of style—thanks to which there has finally resulted what I called word prostitution.

'And in fact you can spend a whole day reading a lengthy book and not know what the writer wished to say, and only when you have nearly finished, after having wasted so much of your time— already insufficient for the fulfilment of the necessary obligations of life — do you discover that all this music was built up on an infinitesimal, almost null idea.

'All contemporary literature falls by content into three categories: the first covers what is called the scientific field, the second consists of narratives, and the third of what are called descriptions.

'The scientific books usually contain collections of all sorts of old hypotheses already obvious to everyone, but combined in different ways and applied to various new subjects.

'In the narratives or, as they are otherwise called, novels—to which bulky volumes are also devoted — for the most part there are descriptions, without sparing any details, of how some John Jones and Mary Smith attain the satisfaction of their "love" — that sacred feeling which has gradually degenerated in people, owing to their weakness and will-lessness, and has now in contemporary man turned completely into a vice, whereas the possibility of its natural manifestation was given to us by our Creator for the salvation of our souls and for the mutual moral support necessary for a more or less happy life together.

'The third category of books gives descriptions of travels, of adventures, and of the flora and fauna of the most diverse countries. Works of this kind are generally written by people who have never been anywhere and have never in reality seen anything, by people who, as is said, have never crossed their own doorsteps; with very few exceptions, they simply give rein to their imagination or copy various fragments from books written by others, former fantasists just like themselves.

'With this puny understanding of the responsibility and significance of literary works, the writers of today, in striving ever more and more for beauty of style, sometimes even invent an incredible hodge-podge in verse, in order to obtain what in their
opinion is beauty of consonance, and thereby even further destroy the already feeble sense of everything they write.

'Strange as it may seem to you, in my opinion a great deal of harm to contemporary literature has been brought about by grammars, namely, the grammars of the languages of all the peoples who take part in what I call the "common malphonic concert" of contemporary civilization.

'The grammars of their different languages are, in most cases, constructed artificially, and have been composed and continue to be altered chiefly by a category of people who, in respect of understanding real life and the language evolved from it for mutual relations, are quite "illiterate".

'On the other hand, among all the peoples of past epochs, as ancient history very definitely shows us, grammar was always formed gradually by life itself, according to the different stages of their development, the climatic conditions of their chief place of existence and the predominant means of obtaining food.

'In present-day civilization the grammars of certain languages so greatly distort the meaning of what the writer wishes to transmit, that the reader, especially if he is a foreigner, is deprived of the last possibility of grasping even the few minute thoughts which, if expressed differently, that is, without this grammar, might perhaps still be understood.

'In order to make clearer what I have just said,' this elderly, intelligent Persian continued, 'I will give as an example an episode which took place in my own life.

'As you know, of all the persons near to me by blood, the only one still living is my nephew on the paternal side, who a few years ago, having inherited an oil well situated in the environs of Baku, was obliged to move there.

'And so I go from time to time to that town, because my nephew, being always very occupied with his numerous commercial affairs, is seldom able to leave and visit me, his old uncle, here at our birthplace.
'The district where these oils wells are located, and also the town of Baku, belong at the present time to Russia, which as one of the large nations of contemporary civilization produces an abundance of literature.

'Almost all the inhabitants of the town of Baku and its environs are of diverse races having nothing in common with the Russians, and in their own households they speak their native languages, but for outer mutual relations they are compelled to use Russian.

'During my visits there I came in contact with all kinds of people, and, having to speak with them for various personal needs, I decided to learn this language.

'I had had to learn so many languages in my lifetime that the learning of Russian did not present any great difficulty for me. Before very long I was able to speak it quite fluently but of course, like all the local inhabitants, with an accent, and only after a fashion.

'As one who has now become to some degree a "linguist", I consider it necessary to remark here, by the way, that it is never possible to think in a foreign language, even though knowing it to perfection, if one continues to speak one's native language or some other language in which one is accustomed to thinking.

'And therefore when I began to speak Russian, continuing all the while to think in Persian, I was searching mentally for words in the Russian language to correspond to my Persian thoughts.
'And it was then that I became aware of various incongruities— at first quite inexplicable to me—in this contemporary civilized language, on account of which it was sometimes impossible to transmit exactly the simplest and most ordinary expressions of our thoughts.

'Becoming interested in this, and being free of all life obligations, I began to study Russian grammar, and later the grammars of several other modern languages. I then understood that the cause of the incongruities I had noticed lay precisely in these artificially composed grammars of theirs, and there began to be formed in me the
firm conviction which I have just expressed to you: that the grammars of the languages in which contemporary literature is written are invented by people who, in respect of true knowledge, are on a lower level than ordinary simple people.

'As a concrete illustration of what I have just said, I shall point
out, among the many incongruities in the Russian language which I noticed at the very beginning, the one that led me to make a detailed study of this question.

'Once, when I was conversing in Russian and, as usual, was translating my thoughts, which formed themselves Persian fashion, I found it necessary to use an expression which we Persians often employ in conversation, myan-diaram, which means in French je dis and in English "I say". But try as I might, searching my memory for a corresponding word in Russian, I could not find one, in spite of my knowing by this time almost all the words of this language used either in literature or for the ordinary mutual relations of people of all levels of intellectuality.

'Not finding a corresponding word for this simple expression so often used by us, I of course at first decided that I simply did not yet know it, and I began to search in my numerous dictionaries and to inquire of certain people who were considered authorities, for some Russian word which would correspond to this Persian meaning of mine. However, it turned out that in modern Russian there is no such word at all, but instead a word is used, namely, yah gohvahriou, which means in Persian myan-soil-yaram, in French je parle and in English "I speak".

'Since you Persians have the same sort of thinking faculty as I have for digesting the meaning conveyed by words, I therefore ask you: could I, or any other Persian, on reading in contemporary Russian literature a word corresponding to the meaning of soil-yaram, accept it without instinctive disturbance as having the same meaning as the word diorama Of course not: soil-yaram and diaram—or "speak" and "say"—are two quite different "experienced actions".

'This very minor example is characteristic of thousands of other incongruities to be found in all the languages of the peoples who represent the so-called flower of contemporary civilization. And it is these incongruities which prevent the literature of today from serving as the basic means for developing the minds of those peoples who are considered representatives of this civilization and also of those peoples who at the present time—obviously for reasons already suspected by certain persons with common sense — are somehow deprived of the good fortune of being considered civilized and are therefore, as historical data bear witness, usually called backward.

'Owing to all these incongruities of language existing in contemporary
literature, any man—particularly a man from races not included among the representatives of contemporary civilization — who has a more or less normal thinking faculty and is able to give words their real meaning, will of course, on hearing or reading any word used in an incorrect sense, as in the example just given, perceive the general thought of a sentence according to this incorrectly employed word, and as a result will grasp something quite different from what the sentence was intended to express.

'Although the ability to grasp the meaning contained in words differs in different races, the data for sensing the repeated experienced actions which are already well established in the process of the life of people are formed in all of them alike by life itself.

'The very absence, in the present-day Russian language, of a word exactly expressing the meaning of the Persian word diaram, which I have taken as an example, can serve to confirm my seemingly unfounded
statement that the illiterate upstarts of our time, who call themselves grammarians, and what is worse, are considered such by those round them, have succeeded in transforming even the language elaborated by life itself into, so to say, German ersat.

'I must tell you here that when I began to study Russian grammar and also the grammars of several other modern languages in order to determine the causes of these numerous incongruities, I decided, being in general attracted to philology, to acquaint myself also with the history of the origins and development of the Russian language.

'And my study of its history proved to me that formerly it had contained exactly corresponding words for all the experienced actions already fixed in the process of the life of people. And it was only when this language, having reached a relatively high degree of development in the course of centuries, became in its turn an object
for the "sharpening of the beaks of ravens", that is to say, an object of wiseacring for various illiterate upstarts, that many words were distorted or even entirely ceased to be used, merely because their consonance did not answer to the requirements of civilized grammar. Among these latter was the very word I searched for, which exactly corresponded to our diaram, and which was then pronounced skazivaiou.

'It is interesting to notice that this word has been preserved even up to the present time, but is used, and in the sense exactly corresponding to its meaning, only by people who, although they belong to the Russian nation, happen to be isolated from the effects of present-day civilization, that is to say, by people of various country districts situated far from any centre of culture.

'This artificially invented grammar of the languages of today, which the younger generation everywhere is now compelled to learn, is in my opinion one of the fundamental causes of the fact that, among contemporary European people, only one of the three independent data necessary for obtaining a sane human mind has developed—namely, their so-called thought, which tends to predominate in their individuality; whereas without feeling and instinct, as every man with a normal reason must know, the real understanding accessible to man cannot be formed.

'To sum up everything that has been said about the literature of our times, I cannot find better words to describe it than the expression "it has no soul".

'Contemporary civilization has destroyed the soul of literature, as of everything else to which it has turned its gracious attention.

'I have all the more grounds for criticizing so mercilessly this result of modern civilization, since according to the most reliable historical data which have come down to us from remote antiquity we have definite information that the literature of former civilizations had indeed a great deal to assist the development of the mind of man; and the results of this development, transmitted from generation to generation, could still be felt even centuries later.

'In my opinion, the quintessence of an idea can sometimes be very well transmitted to others by means of certain anecdotes and proverbs formed by life.

'So, in the present case, in order to show the difference between (he literature of former civilizations and the contemporary, I wish to make use of an anecdote very widely known among us in Persia, entitled "The Conversation of the Two Sparrows".

'In this anecdote it is said that once upon a time on the cornice of a high house sat two sparrows, one old, the other young.
'They were discussing an event which had become the "burning question of the day" among the sparrows, and which had resulted from the mullah's housekeeper having just previously thrown out of a window, on to a place where the sparrows gathered to play, something looking like left-over porridge, but which turned out to be chopped cork; and several of the young and as yet inexperienced sparrows had sampled it, and almost burst.

'While talking about this the old sparrow, suddenly ruffling himself up, began with a pained grimace to search under his wing for the fleas tormenting him, and which in general breed on underfed sparrows; and having caught one, he said with a deep sigh:
' "Times have changed very much—there is no longer a living to be had for our fraternity.
' "In the old days we used to sit, just as now, somewhere upon a roof, quietly dozing, when suddenly down in the street there would be heard a noise, a rattling and a rumbling, and soon after an odour would be diffused, at which everything inside us would begin to rejoice; because we felt fully certain that when we flew down and searched the places where all that had happened, we would find satisfaction for our essential needs.

' "But nowadays there is plenty and to spare of noise and rattlings, and all sorts of rumblings, and again and again an odour is also diffused, but an odour which it is almost impossible to endure; and when sometimes, by force of old habit, we fly down during a moment's lull to seek something substantial for ourselves, then search as we may with tense attention, we find nothing at all except some nauseous drops of burned oil."

'This tale, as is surely evident to you, refers to the old horse-drawn vehicles and to the present-day automobiles; and although these latter, as the old sparrow said, produce even more noise, rumblings, rattlings, and smell than the former, in spite of all this
they have no significance whatever for the feeding of sparrows.

'And without food, as you yourself will understand, it is difficult even for sparrows to bring forth a healthy posterity.

'This anecdote seems to me an ideal illustration of what I wished to point out about the difference between contemporary civilization and the civilization of past epochs.

'In the present civilization, as in former civilizations, literature exists for the purpose of the perfecting of humanity in general, but in this field also—as in everything else contemporary—there is nothing substantial for our essential aim. It is all exterior: all only, as in the tale of the old sparrow, noise, rattling, and a nauseous smell.

'For any impartial man this viewpoint of mine can be conclusively confirmed by observing the difference between the degree of development of feeling in people who are born and spend their whole lives on the continent of Asia, and in people born and educated in the conditions of contemporary civilization on the continent of Europe.

'It is a fact, noted by a great many people, that among all the presentday inhabitants of the continent of Asia who, owing to geographical and other conditions, are isolated from the effects of modern civilization, feeling has reached a much higher level of development than among any of the inhabitants of Europe. And since feeling is the foundation of common sense, these Asiatic people, in spite of having less general knowledge, have a more correct notion of any object they observe than those belonging to the very tzimuss of contemporary civilization.

'A European's understanding of an object observed by him is formed exclusively by means of an all-round, so to say, "mathematical informedness" about it, whereas most of the people of Asia grasp the essence of the object observed by them sometimes with their feelings alone and sometimes even solely by instinct.'

(G.I. Gurdjieff - Meetings with Remarkable Men)


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Offlinelaserpig
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Re: A critique of modern language [Re: rebus_minus]
    #11345490 - 10/29/09 03:54 PM (8 years, 1 month ago)

very interesting, thanks for the post
i don't have anything to add but i enjoyed the passage


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InvisibleChespirito
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Re: A critique of modern language [Re: rebus_minus]
    #11346593 - 10/29/09 06:53 PM (8 years, 1 month ago)

So his point is that in modern literature some books treat the reader as an inherent part of the artistic process?  That the reader of a piece of art is necessary to the art itself is an idea that is very profound and epitomizes most 20th century art.  See that painting with a few squares and a line?  Bullshit you say?  The artist has his own point in making it and you have a very subjective view when looking at it.  There are books like that also, though not many and they certainly aren't popular.

Books today (20th and 21st centuries) are much more complex than books from the 19th century.  This might mean some people cant get on board because they need the writer to preface the book with a glossary saying, 'yea you know that sailor I have in the book, well he represents the dying of the British empire.'  Or, 'oh yea by the way this book is about man's inherent struggle to understand the world around him.'  Ill take the abstractness of modernist and post-modernist literature, I can hang, not sure about this cat though


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Invisiblerebus_minus
Registered: 05/15/09
Posts: 667
Re: A critique of modern language [Re: Chespirito]
    #11346832 - 10/29/09 07:31 PM (8 years, 1 month ago)

I think his point is that the complexity is only on the surface and that language is used cosmetically instead of directly pointing to truth. He claims that if you penetrate more deeply the ideas revealed are often simple and would do the reader more good if explained thus.

Another point is that the weight has leaned so much to the hyper intellectual side of things that people lose touch with themselves. Masks masking masks alienating mind from life and a language that people have lost touch with. Complications distracting people from life here and now leave everything frozen.

It seems people are unable to feel. Their hearts are closed and they are stuck above the neck.

He says more, but I'll leave it at that. Did you even read the whole piece?


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InvisibleChespirito
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Re: A critique of modern language [Re: rebus_minus]
    #11346882 - 10/29/09 07:40 PM (8 years, 1 month ago)

I read the first half and skimmed the rest as he mostly just restates his viewpoint over and over again.

Modern literature is designed to make you think, and in general the authors want the reader to take what they want from the book, or invoke a particular feeling in the reader without saying 'you should feel this way!'.  Your point about doing the reader more good if explained precisely just sounds like you are missing the point entirely of humanities enjoyment of art.  We have that already, its called cliff notes enjoy them


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Invisiblerebus_minus
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Re: A critique of modern language [Re: Chespirito]
    #11346911 - 10/29/09 07:45 PM (8 years, 1 month ago)

If you only want entertainment, that is perfectly okay.

There is a context here. The Persian said it was a distraction, but that is what you want I guess.

When you are outta your mind you come to your senses.


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InvisibleChespirito
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Re: A critique of modern language [Re: rebus_minus]
    #11346924 - 10/29/09 07:46 PM (8 years, 1 month ago)

Please modern literature is far more deep than any literature that came before it, same goes for modern philosophy


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Invisiblerebus_minus
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Re: A critique of modern language [Re: Chespirito]
    #11346936 - 10/29/09 07:47 PM (8 years, 1 month ago)

If you say so. :tongue:


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InvisibleChespirito
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Re: A critique of modern language [Re: rebus_minus]
    #11346945 - 10/29/09 07:49 PM (8 years, 1 month ago)

:discorex:


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Invisiblerebus_minus
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Re: A critique of modern language [Re: Chespirito]
    #11346954 - 10/29/09 07:50 PM (8 years, 1 month ago)

The arrogance of modern culture. Speaking like a true American patriot.


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InvisibleChespirito
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Re: A critique of modern language [Re: rebus_minus]
    #11347164 - 10/29/09 08:20 PM (8 years, 1 month ago)

Oh we're an arrogant breed alright.  And with good cause


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Invisiblerebus_minus
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Re: A critique of modern language [Re: Chespirito]
    #11347227 - 10/29/09 08:30 PM (8 years, 1 month ago)

That's how you are stereotyped by us Europeans at least. :wink: We shake our heads and laugh at the simple, bad-taste American culture (and are blinded from our own shortcomings).

I am aware I took on an extremist view in this conversation, and I have always  found much appreciation and insight in modern art, my favorites being people like Burroughs among others.

You did however seem unable to grasp what Gurdjieff was talking about so I am wondering if he did not have a point about language coming in the way of understanding?


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InvisibleChespirito
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Re: A critique of modern language [Re: rebus_minus]
    #11347901 - 10/29/09 10:02 PM (8 years, 1 month ago)

If his point is some abstract notion that language can't accurate describe everything than ok, thats fine.  But his point seemed to be that older literature and writings were better, which is bullshit :shrug:


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Invisibledaytripper23
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Re: A critique of modern language [Re: Chespirito]
    #11348159 - 10/29/09 10:41 PM (8 years, 1 month ago)

Not complete bullshit.

Over time language evolves, and accumulates for a better poetry, art, or artiface. Is that a stretch? Otherwise we seem to reactionary oppose our contemporary language, or in other words simply oppose progression.

On the other hand, and what we do not have such "ordinary" knowledge of, language corrupts over time and ruins the simple fluidity of its signification. not only is it diverted in complexity, meaning is apparently even lost over time.

I tend to think that language at heart is "just language", but even more basic than this medium itself (which it IS fair to point out) is a kind of flux. In practical terms, this is probably a vacillation of political difference. But essentially, it is the difference between philosophy and poetry.

I haven't read the OP yet; I am still deciding on that.


--------------------
Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
  The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
  The frumious Bandersnatch!


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InvisibleChespirito
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Re: A critique of modern language [Re: daytripper23]
    #11348169 - 10/29/09 10:43 PM (8 years, 1 month ago)

Well I mostly stopped responding seriously to this thread because the OP has yet to make a point.  He merely posted some large document, however he has yet to say really anything on the subject


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Invisibledaytripper23
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Re: A critique of modern language [Re: Chespirito]
    #11348209 - 10/29/09 10:49 PM (8 years, 1 month ago)

What do you call that?


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InvisibleChespirito
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Re: A critique of modern language [Re: daytripper23]
    #11348230 - 10/29/09 10:51 PM (8 years, 1 month ago)

What don't I call it?


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Invisibledaytripper23
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Re: A critique of modern language [Re: rebus_minus]
    #11348548 - 10/29/09 11:23 PM (8 years, 1 month ago)

Veritas est adaequatio rei et intellectus.



--------------------
Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
  The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
  The frumious Bandersnatch!


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Invisiblerebus_minus
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Re: A critique of modern language [Re: daytripper23]
    #11349204 - 10/30/09 12:47 AM (8 years, 1 month ago)

diallelos


Edited by rebus_minus (10/30/09 01:28 AM)


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Invisibledaytripper23
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Re: A critique of modern language [Re: rebus_minus]
    #11349466 - 10/30/09 01:37 AM (8 years, 1 month ago)

:thumbup:

I'll read the rest tommorow/


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