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Friday, 6 August 2010

In the Forest of the Nearsighted Philologist


File:Skraperudvannet 09-11-28.jpg

Skraperutjern, a small lake in Østmarka, Oslo
: photo by Chell Hill, 2009

The problems arising through a misinterpretation of our forms of language have the character of depth. They are deep disquietudes; their roots are as deep in us as the forms of our language and their significance is as great as the importance of our language. ------Let us ask ourselves: why do we feel a grammatical joke to be deep? (And that is what the depth of philosophy is.)

-- Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations

Please don't let me be misunderstood. Unless, that is, you too are misunderstood. If you misunderstand my misunderstanding, and if I misunderstand your misunderstanding, might it then mean we understand each other?

Perhaps our mutual misunderstandings will cancel each other out.

Give me the clear mind, give me the correct words, so that I may understand your intentions. So that I may understand mine. So that -- no. The bookshelf never did have intentions. One can neither understand nor misunderstand a bookshelf.

Can it be said that a soul whose intentions are unclear to itself is a soul whose intentions are no better than they ought to be? And could it be true that the back road taken by the peace that passeth understanding leads to a place buried so deep in the forest one may say that to all intents and purposes it no longer exists?

Gauzy, out of focus, snow covering the screen of words, snow falling in the confounding forest.

File:December 19, 2008 Snowstorm in S.  Westchester1.JPG

Snowstorm, southern Winchester County, New York: photo by Cyclonebiskit, 2008


Curtis Roberts said...

Reading these three as a highly unusual series (I see them as a series), first (Mitford) to last (Wittgenstein/snowstorm), seemed to right my fairly total state of disorder. For the last three days, we’ve been battling the electric grid – Everything Electric Failed in the house – and its provisional monopolist guardians.

When the grid acts up by shutting down, everything -- language, the good and/or bad intentions of souls, unrelated actuarial calculations and consequences -- gets canceled out. Finally, the man came in the “bucket truck” and pulled a large shard of fried wire from the sky and gave it to us as a souvenir. At this point, I’m just hoping for a period of calm, soothed feelings and the peace that passeth misunderstanding. Snow covering the screen of words and falling in the confounding forest would provide even more relief. By the way, that Graf Zeppelin photograph is definitely the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.

Doug said...

very thoughtful

Sandra.if said...

I enjoy your words...the absurd surrounds us ...!

TC said...

Thanks Curtis, Doug, Sandra.

Curtis, sympathies -- we are all too familiar these days with that feeling of powerlessness.

Sandra, the absurd surrounds us, truer words were never said, even by Wittgenstein.

Most will be familiar with the song against which this post plays. It has an interesting history.

Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood was writ by Horace Ott, Bennie Benjamin and Sol Marcus. Ott provided the melody and chorus lyric, which had to do with his personal problems with his fiancée Gloria Caldwell. When the song was formally credited, however, It was Caldwell not Ott who was co-listed as the song's author: this because Ott was a BMI member, and Benjamin and Marcus were signed with ASCAP, creating a case of never-the-twain when it came to crediting. Ott later married Caldwell, by the way.

The initial beneficiary of this small human drama was Nina Simone, the great vocalist who first recorded the song, in 1964. The recording was heard a world away by Eric Burdon of the Animals, who had a giant hit with it in January 1965. Subsequently it has had many lives.

The song has been understood or misunderstood as a civil rights anthem, with some justification as Simone, a Methodist minister's daughter from North Carolina, was refused entry to a Philadelphia music school on racial grounds. A brilliant and troubled person, she struggled in private throughout her life with bipolar episodes. The song in many respects states her life.

She eventually emigrated to France, where this remarkable live version of her signature classic was recorded; typically she re-shaped the lyric for the performance.

In 1977 the song became a smash disco hit for Cabo Verdean vocalist Leroy Gomez and his group Santa Esmeralda, the flamenco roots of the song coming to the fore. Magpie director Quentin Tarantino laid the instrumental over a wintery ballet of bloody carnage in Kill Bill(I): Santa Esmeralda: Just a little clarity in the snow.

There have been many, many re-cyclings and covers. Last year in a virtually unnoticed but quite good Polish film about women in the aftermath of the Warsaw Uprising of the 1950s the original Simone orchestral version was laid over the closing credits to great effect. It occurs at 4:36 of the closing scene in Rewers.

AJP Crown said...

I just remember The Animals' version--and Nina Simone, poor Nina Simone.

Curtis Roberts said...

Such a great song. The story about Ott and Caldwell's romance troubles as backdrop is wonderful to learn. As with so many great popular songs that become big enduring hits, I think everyone who loves the song thinks it in some important respect states their lives. Incorporating it in this poem further enhances and ennobles a great work.

Going through these performances is a lovely Sunday morning activity. All those big Animals hits were amazing. I'm about to jump over to the Yardbirds' Mister You're A Better Man Than I.



Still fog- [not snow] storm here -- you will understand what I'm talking about. Thanks for the disc- (and video) ography . . . .


grey whiteness of fog against invisible
ridge, jays calling from nest on branch
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

plane of surface, apart from
condition of continuity

relative to it, reference to
time of light, velocity

grey-white of fog against top of ridge,
wingspan of pelican flapping toward it

Marylinn Kelly said...

A fascinating tour through the song's history...had not heard nor known of Nina Simone's version. I think my son's has been surprised sometimes by my awareness of some of the music Tarantino uses. Just a few years ago I realized that being understood is beyond my control. Good intentions, or simple honest and authentic communication, the bringing forth of who I know myself to be in that moment, is all I can do and let go of the outcome.

TC said...

"...simple honest and authentic communication, the bringing forth of who I know myself to be in that moment, is all I can do and let go of the outcome..."

Marylinn's statement would also seem to sum up Nina Simone's artistic approach.

"Poor Nina Simone..." She suffered... but it seems there were some very high moments to go with the many very low ones. She was an emotional person.

I have always thought there is a degree to which those who choose their own names tend to live into those names. Simone was born with the name Eunice Kathleen Waymon. As a child in North Carolina she studied classical piano. When at age 21 she wanted to conceal from her mother, the minister, that she was singing and playing "the devil's music", she changed her name: Nina from the Spanish "niña" (little girl), and Simone after Simone Signoret, whose magnificent all-for-love performance in the 1952 Jacques Becker film Casque d'Or had affected her deeply.

I've heard lately the term "emo" used ironically in reference to emotion, evidently a taboo entry in some areas of human expression in our chilly techno-epoch. Last week A. pointed out a news item about a firm called Lymbix which is marketing a computer program called ToneCheck, "a new emotional spell checker" which allegedly prevents you from putting too much "emo" into your e-mails.

But choosing an "emo" name for herself proved a good fit for this brilliant if troubled artist. Not everybody can pull off a plausible refrigerator imitation, thank gods.

And meanwhile here we are, Steve, buried for the 89th consecutive day in the 57 degree emo-less grey-whiteness of fog...

~otto~ said...

I hope you don't mind that so many times I say the same things in the comments, but I must must must say this again: what an ending. Really. It made me feel set up from the beginning for a fall I could not allow myself to see coming.

TC said...

Thank you, Otto. Not mind? Are you kidding? I love it!!

To tell you the truth I didn't really see that ending coming either. And then when it arrived, I couldn't see through it. And strangely, that felt like a relief. Possibly there is something to be said for these blizzards of misunderstanding after all.

Curtis Roberts said...

I'm catching up on various things and just saw your reference to Tone-Check, the "emo" spell-checker, which sort of stopped me in my tracks. What will they think of next and why did they have to think of this? I visited the website and read a Daily Mail article about the service and enjoyed the reader response from Danny from Ashford, Kent, who wrote:

"Stuff that. I want the cretins that I have to work / deal with to know just how I'm feeling - and totally accept that they have the right to do the same back."

I take a slightly different view than Danny and have often counseled colleagues not to put things (especially intemperate remarks) in writing (where they last forever and can be forwarded to others, perpetuating misunderstandings, unfortunate, regrettable and probably trivial non-misunderstandings, and become the subject of ridicule) but to communicate orally and in person instead, and never to write and send emails when drunk.

As always, you have added something valuable to my store of knowledge.

TC said...


Interesting you should say that, because the original news story we saw on this included some comments from the editor of the SF Chronicle, Phil Bronstein, who said, to paraphrase roughly from memory, that a "regal San Francisco socialite" had once told him that the secret to "living a loose and libidinous life", and getting away with it, was never to write anything down unless you absolutely had to -- and in that latter event, never, NEVER to put a date on it.

aditya said...

This is the uselesness of language Tom.