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Saturday, March 24, 2007 -- 8:41 am

It's been an interesting process discussing my wife's art classes with her as she works toward her certification, for a couple of reasons. It's of course interesting to see what she comes up with, which invariably shows some ingenious handling of the medium and a holds the attention because of its complex and layered subject matter -- whether abstract or representational. But intellectually it's been interesting to hear her say with a shrug, when people marvel at her technique with a medium she's never touched before, that she simply made it conform to her will -- if that explained anything for those of us who aren't so good with our hands. But that, to some extent, is how I feel about words, so I suppose we're even. I'm no poet, obviously, and I find most poetry obscure and imprecise; but I do find it quite amazing that people can sincerely claim to know what they want to say but be unable to choose and arrange the correct words needed to communicate their meaning. In almost every case that I've observed, the stymied writer is actually too unclear about his or her thoughts for any words to be suitable, and once the thoughts are clarified (or replaced by some that I offer), then the words will follow. There is an exception, though, concerning tone: some people seem to be unaware that there are different tones and registers of language that are suitable for different contexts, and that the selection and arrangement of words expresses volumes of information quite independent of the facts and arguments in the prose. I suppose that something similar may be true for artistic expression, and that gifted drawers, painters, and sculptors are better at realizing results precisely because they have a concise and detailed understanding (in terms of spatial relationships, colors, light and shadow, perspective, and the rest) what they intend to execute, and so do not confuse the limitations of their imagination for the limitations of the medium at hand.

Another thing that's interesting about this precise is that when she's weighing the pros and cons of a visual aesthetic problem, we've found that what I've learned from years of thinking about the philosophy of aesthetics and the aesthetics of music composition has been directly applicable. I have, I believe, sketched some of my views on this in earlier posts (note to self: write a good search function for this site), and won't go into all the details we've discussed now. But I think it does validate some aspects of my theory to find that it finds application outside the confines of the media I know best.

Monday, March 19, 2007 -- 10:30 pm

It's frustrating that there appears to be no consensus on the naming of things. Not only do we have discrepancies in taxonomic classification in the world of biology -- as far as I can tell, Cinnamomum zeylanicum and Cinnamomum verum (i.e., Cinnamon) are one and the same plant -- but we have wide discrepancies in the names of the world's languages. Ethnologue's triliteral code is a fair start, even though it appears that Snyman's Introduction to the !Xu (!Kung) Language refers to Kung-Ekoka, rather than, say, !Xoo. At least this one I've been able to parse out. But I have language texts in my library where the author has settled on a version of the language name that doesn't correspond neatly to anything in Ethnologue. Tariana is listed as "Tariano"; shouldn't the author of the only existing grammar be considered persuasive authority?

Sunday, March 18, 2007 -- 5:14 pm

There's an article in today's New York Times on the dying Manchu language, which reportedly only has 18 remaining speakers, all over the age of 80. This must come as a hard blow, less than a century after the fall of the Qing dynasty. I have to imagine that there's only a small number of readers whose immediate reaction to reading such an article is to trawl the internet for grammar texts. There is one out there, but I've made far too many purchases lately to be able to justify grabbing this one. Which means, if past experience is a guide, that the book will soon be out of print and lost forever to my library. A Mixtec grammar slipped through my fingers recently for similar reasons, and I'm sure there'll be many more.

Sunday, March 18, 2007 -- 2:37 pm

Has anyone else noticed that no fungi or bacteria are considered endangered species? Is this because they're not endangered, or because we know too little about them to have a view one way or another, or because we affirmatively don't care? I suppose it's a little of all three.

Sunday, March 18, 2007 -- 10:15 am

I've recently been reminded of the existence of the so-called Voynich manuscript, although it seems that complete copies or facsimiles aren't terribly easy to get hold of. A few quick internet searches revealed that a complete copy of the text does not appear to be available online, free or otherwise, but I've grabbed what I can. I doubt I'll have the luxury any time soon of taking my own stab at it, but it sounds like a fun hobby. Like I need any more hobbies. In all my free time.