Frisian Implications: World Without Context

Thanksgiving was charming but also sad, insofar as the cars of the hosts are not reliable. In the absence of public transportation they are not easily able to leave their rice field. We need public transportation, Barack!

I

I am interested in my argument with the Dutchman first, because (a) it starts with the use of a racist term and then continues on to (b) insults to my English and intellect, to (c) the insistence that I imagined (a) and (b). My pointing out offensive language did not get an apology but an escalation. And it took me several blog posts to process this and to realize that this friend is not one such. People will say that I have spent too much energy on this, I am sure, but I say it is all a study so that I will be able to understand this sort of event more quickly next time.

The final curlicues to my war paint on this matter moving toward theatre of the absurd. My questions for the Dutchman, were I still speaking to him, could be:

A. If it is legitimate to decide, in a foreign language, that words can mean what you would like them to mean, why not also decide to change grammar and syntax to go along with that? How far toward a private language is it worth going?

B. Since you have chosen to resist U.S. English by resurrecting terminology which has fallen out of use, why is it precisely certain racist terms you wish to resurrect? Why not the use of thee and thou, or any number of other archaic expressions? If you prefer to create neologisms, why must these participate in the old game of adding to “racial” taxonomies? Why not invent some new words for different shades of green?

C. If I should accept your decision to call African-Americans by terms not used here in polite company, can I assume you would find it acceptable that I call you and your associates by names offensive to you in your languages? What is the special responsibility of African-Americans in the hegemony of U.S. English, that you should be resisting it by calling them offensive names? If I am a Catalan speaker oppressed by the hegemony of Castilian, should my first strategy of resistance be to use offensive terminology about my interlocutors when speaking to and about some less privileged class in Castile?

II

My student, meanwhile, suggests something much more interesting: that the idea of teaching a language without cultural context is part and parcel of the general effort to free oneself of context that pervades the current culture at large. We also teach language without grammar, he points out, writing without reading, and reading without history. There is “too much information a vailable” so we learn none. We don formulae. The intention is to avoid engaging with anything, because engagement might arouse passions, or affect one in some way, and to be affected is to be transformed, which involves effort.

The result of this refusal to engage is emptiness. Emptiness can be remedied by engaging in something with an aim to progress. But if you engage, you must engage a context. Thus it is the disengagement from context which empties the spirit, leaving the mind blank yet hungry. And the hungry mind engages in video games, shopping, infotainment, and para-religiosity, as it searches for activity. Yet it is the engagement with context which activates spirit. That is why context, or history is necessary to the development of spirit.

This speech by my student was quite interesting and it was thematically related to this weblog or codex. The Mayans grind corn for practical purposes and as a meditation, all at once. Mundane acts are also divine ones, and the worlds are not separate.

I am not the only one who has these ideas but I think some differences between the context-free mode of thinking and mine are that it is interested in being happy, whereas I am interested in working on a project and I see happiness as a byproduct; and that it is interested in enjoyment whereas I am interested in progress. I think happiness and enjoyment are byproducts of these things. That makes me sound like a real Puritan but I think I am just a meditator, and that meditation is actually the opposite of freeing oneself from context.

Axé.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Frisian Implications: World Without Context

  1. I like this whole thing about context and history developing spirit because one of my guilt complexes is about wanting meaningful work. In my upbringing this is too arrogant, too selfish, and so on. So I notice that I try to find ways to limit myself physically, so I can limit desire. But it is all right to want to develop, it seems.

  2. What this reminded me of was a time, years ago, when my family and I went camping in Spain. I saw how the German and French families, luxuriating in the Mediterranean sun, set up their little households in and around their tents, and I noted the pleasure they took in arranging all their objects in an aesthetic way. They put out pretty bowls of fruit and flowers on their tables. They dressed nicely and always ate good food.
    The look of things, and the quality, mean a lot to Europeans.
    The image I retain is of a woman cleaning strawberries sitting on the ground and enjoying the process so much. At that time it was hard for me to do things in that reflective way, but I learned to slow down and think about the quality of my surroundings and of what I did.
    Which is why I found certain aspects of my education and teaching so hard to bear: the ugliness of classrooms, the careless, crass behavior of students and professors, the disregard for aesthetics overall.
    I’m glad I am retired and don’t have to face all that any more. It made me miserable, as I now understand.

  3. Yes – I am big on setting, too. It is supposed to be a function of having a Libra moon in the 5th house … a very aesthetic orientation, but also one pointing to context in general. And it makes such a *huge* difference to do things mindfully.

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