Primatonormative

Word invented by my wife, Ulrika.

Derived from “heteronormative,” primatonormative refers to the perspective that human concerns are normative, or the standard from which all others species’ concerns should be judged.

Thus, referring to the stubbornness of one of our dogs, “Shoobie isn’t interested in your primatonormative agenda.”

Just fading away

Older tech never really dies. It fades and becomes an ever fainter background in our civilization’s palimpsest, never quite reaching invisibility.

For example, as earlier generations outsourced their memory to books, I have largely outsourced my memory to the net. But not entirely, of course. I still have plenty of books at home, and they also largely function as part of my memory. But the net is easier to carry around, even if more fragile due to signal strength and/or battery life.

Lost In Translation

“Such remarks don’t bear scrutiny. Did I actually say that? I do remember saying once that maybe the greatest female novelist in English was Constance Garnett. Sometimes I try to lighten the gloom of discussions but I notice that no one laughs. Instead you see a few people writing down the name.”

— Elizabeth Hardwick

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Related, though different: “The Translation Wars,” by David Remnick, “Tolstoy translated,” by Rosamund Bartlett, and “A Singular Woman,” by Hilton Als.

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“Bloomsbury is . . . like one of those ponds on a private estate from which all of the trout have been scooped out for the season. It is not a natural place for fish, but rather a water stocked for the fisherman so that he may not cast his line in vain. . . . To see the word “Ottoline” on a page, in a letter, gives me the sense of continual defeat, as if I had gone to a party and found an enemy attending the bar.”

— Hardwick in “Bloomsbury and Virginia Woolf”

“Attending the bar”… And thus we see the source for “bartender.” Makes sense immediately on seeing it, but I never thought about it before.

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Hardwick enjoyed teaching; she finds it annoying that so many writers complain about their teaching responsibilities. “There’s nothing to it,” she told me. “You just go in and do your rap. The thing you get bored with is that you have so few ideas.”

— “A Singular Woman”

Sumo and Argumentation

A while back, I learned something new: The main way sumo bouts end is not by one opponent pinning the other, as in Greco-Roman wrestling, but by pushing them out of the ring.

It was with a moment’s thought that I realized here was a metaphor for much in the way arguments are presented these days — particularly political arguments.

What I mean by that is, in many instances political arguments aren’t really trying to persuade the listeners to the rightness of what’s being said. Rather, they’re trying to portray opponents as being so bad, or evil, or ignorant, they shouldn’t be listened to in the first place.

They’re trying to throw each other out of the ring.

One example of this — though it pains me to say it — is the current use of Godwin’s Law. Originally intended as a restorative of netiquette to the problem of glib comparisons to Hitler and the Nazis, it has come to be used by many not aware of its origins to shut down discussions even when the comparisons are appropriate.

A different example would be the McCain campaign of 2008. In the waning days of the campaign, with defeat looming, Mr. McCain started calling Mr. Obama a socialist. While the analysis at that link shows how if Mr. McCain was being consistent, he himself is a socialist as well, that wasn’t the point. The point was, since the days of the Red Scare in the 1920’s, crying “socialism!” had been a fairly good sumo move, tossing one’s opponent out of the ring. The Congressional election between Richard Nixon and Jerry Voorhis also comes to mind. Still, in Mr. McCain’s case it didn’t work, and Republican stalwarts, bewildered by the incantation’s loss of magical power, have been reciting it ever since.

But that’s the real tip-off a sumo argument is being attempted: A complete disregard for substantiation, and the fervent hope that a single word or short phrase will so discredit one’s opponent, no “serious person” will listen.

And, yes, the irony of my putting this down so I can link to it when I refer to something as “a sumo move” does not escape me. But as Molly Crabapple was recently quoted, “Essays are just l’esprit d’escalier.”

This doesn’t happen every day.

I was looking through Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, and came across this footnote by the editor, H.H. Milman, in re Procopius:

“…the extreme and disgusting profligacy of Theodora’s early life rests entirely on this viratent libel.”

“Viratent”? Really? Did a Google search, which was… Hm. Inconclusive. Went to the OED… No hits.

Wow. That’s what I call a rare word.