Susan Hill, Through the Kitchen Window (1984) Illustrations by Angela Barrett
« The world has never been so full of images, those on our mobile phones and computer screens, on newsstands and book covers, in films and on TV, on packaging and billboards and in shop windows. We walk, work and rest amid throngs of vivid, avidly attention-seeking images, every space and every moment of our lives crammed full of them.
You couldn’t imagine a more different environment from the late Middle Ages, when the world would grow pitch black as night fell. Not only were images rare, the very medium allowing us to see them — light — was severely rationed. Every night, you would be plunged into long (or, depending on the season, slightly less long) periods of darkness. Imagine, as Johan Huizinga once suggested, the effect of a candle-lit window on the weary traveler as he made his way through an almost pitch black landscape. Now imagine the effect of a fresco in a chapel on that same traveller. […]
Today, in the world of mass media, a world where everything is being instantly, infinitely and indefinitely reproduced, a world of low-quality images, a world in which a blurry snapshot can find itself on millions of screens, in which ‘visual culture has been reduced to imaginary spam’ […], painting has rediscovered its own uniqueness. A carefully chosen image, an image made out of accurate, thoughtful brushstrokes (or any other carefully considered technique for that matter), an image that carries the weight of human touch—of human presence, of repeated analysis, of intense gazing—a full-resolution image, life-size, and in real time—the apparition of such an image today can be just as miraculous as that of the fresco in a remote late medieval chapel. »
— Marc Valli and Margherita Dessanay, A Brush with the Real: Figurative Painting Today
If you’re a French person who just finished doing something and you don’t say “hop”, did you even do it?
Look who’s finally here! They are about 2 months-old, don’t even cluck like proper chickens yet—I wanted to get them young so they can get used to the dog and donkey and llamas… They make very sweet baby chirps; it reminds me of Gerald Durrell saying the sound produced by young hens is ‘as soothing as bubbling porridge’. Although, the weather was awful today and when I brought them home and ran towards the coop in the pouring rain with an increasingly soggy cardboard box under one arm, the porridge inside sounded exasperated.
I love the life cycle of place names. How they often start as informal nicknames given by locals and gradually become more official, then ossify to the point that they remain long after they ceased to make intuitive sense. As fossil words they can be a treasure trove of information about what the world was like a few centuries ago, or they can be an obscure reference to an event too small to be remembered by history. In the first category there’s like, mediaeval villages near where I live with names in dialect that mean Wetlands or Swollen River, no longer accurate but letting us know that ours used to be a more watery world, and it changed with the Little Ice Age. A modern equivalent of this is a goat farm in the region called Forest’s End because it is at the boundary where trees become scarce due to altitude, but with global warming the forest is starting to progress beyond it, so one day there will be a place known as Forest’s End in the middle of the forest. It’s intriguing how names remain even as the entire world, societies, climate, landscapes, are shifting around them.
I love the second category best, all the toponyms whose enigmatic meaning is lost to time or only known by a handful of older locals. There’s a place in my woods called Witch’s Garden, because the woman who lived on my farm in the 1920s grew her vegetables there (she was hunchbacked, and the dialect word for hunchback is the same as the word for witch). It has been completely reclaimed by nature over the next century, so it now looks indistinguishable from the rest of the woods, but it still retains its name, and the postwoman will text me “Couldn’t go all the way to your house today so I left your parcel in the witch’s garden”.
And over the past months I have heard three people from two different villages refer to the place where my dirt road meets the main road as Llama’s Crossing, because Pampe was spotted there several times last summer when she kept eloping, and people driving by would call me to let me know. I would love if this name slowly became established among locals and Llama’s Crossing ended up being yet another place name of mysterious origins to future inhabitants of this area. How could future toponymy enthusiasts guess that this crossroad was the spot where a baby llama who wanted to see the world once hesitated about leaving her little path behind and venturing onto the open road?
Guy Deutscher, Through the Language Glass
This reminds me of Borges’s taxonomy—“Animals are divided into a) those that belong to the Emperor, b) embalmed ones, c) those that are trained, d) suckling pigs, e) mermaids, f) fabulous ones, g) stray dogs, h) those that are included in this classification, i) those that tremble as if they were mad, j) innumerable ones, k) those drawn with a very fine camel’s hair brush, l) others, m) those that have just broken a flower vase, n) those that resemble flies from a distance.”
(via exhaled-spirals )
Seeing you saying, of a long post with numerous resources, that you wrote it quickly and without checking, can't help but remind me of Cleopatra in Astérix going out of her palace "in a hurry, without taking the time to change clothes" :D
Ha, and looking like this
This film contains a solid 60% of the 21st century pop culture references I am able to catch.
it’s interesting how many op-eds were written about how children born in the late 90s-onward were digital natives that would go on to become extremely versatile in tech when the reality is that tech becoming more consumer oriented nipped the incentive for a lot of kids to explore beyond the services offered to them. not knowing how to torrent things is only the tip of the iceberg and tech illiteracy is only going to continue to climb as the cultural shift from computers to phones becomes more pronounced in coming years. I used to joke that people in the late aughts saw laptops as like, $700 facebook machines but the modern comparison is that people see laptops as $1200 subscription service for media they don’t own machines.
do you have any recs of books that explore and criticize transhumanism as a bad thing?
Yes! I do. Here’s a transhumanism-critical reading list (and my initial post about it, as I assume that’s why you asked me):
The aim of this book is to argue that Huxley was right, that the most significant threat posed by contemporary biotechnology is the possibility that it will alter human nature and thereby move us into a “posthuman” stage of history. This is important, I will argue, because human nature exists, is a meaningful concept, and has provided a stable continuity to our experience as a species. It is what defines our most basic values. Human nature shapes and constrains the possible kinds of political regimes, so a technology powerful enough to reshape what we are will have possibly malign consequences for [democracy].
Transhumanism explicitly rejects the disabled body and can increase stigma against persons with disabilities in two ways. First, it plays upon fears of disablement. Second, the transhumanist point of view endorses a hierarchy of value and well-being among lives on the basis of capabilities; that is, the greater the number of capabilities, the larger the opportunity range, the better the life.
Harris admits that “for the foreseeable future” there are likely to be “parallel populations” of mortals and immortals, but argues (as per the democratic presumption) there is nothing we can or should do to prevent that. My freedom to choose immortality is the trump card. Besides, he notes, the “poetic imagination” has long prepared us for this situation. Unfortunately, he does not pause to examine how often in such stories the mortals are playthings of the immortals. At what stage might the unenhanced start looking like they lack true autonomy to the enhanced?
His main point is that transhumanism, like our technocientific culture in general, always wants more. It is a culture of excess and always wants to push limits. While Frodeman pays some attention to the social and political risks posed by transhumanism, his first and main project in this book is thus offering a thesis on what’s wrong with our culture and with our goals and desires. His view [is that] we have enough, [and] instead of wanting more gadgets, we should be concerned with the good life and the meaningful life.
“The name of the movement known as “transhumanism” may suggest that it arises out of humanism. At the very least, it is a descendant of what was once known as humanism, and could be seen as just one more utopian humanism. But the “trans” is the operative part of the term, and it should be taken seriously. Transhumanism is not simply utopian in the same way as the humanisms of Marx or B.F. Skinner; rather, it is qualitatively different in that it “goes beyond,” avowedly disregarding and leaving behind human beings themselves — the very beings that were the central concern of all previous humanisms. […]
Curiously, from the point of view of the original humanism, the project of transhumanism looks remarkably theological. After all, Kurzweil’s ultimate dream is of men made into gods. [T]he transhumanist vision makes clear […] how profoundly hostile such ambitions are to human life — even when they present themselves as liberating, improving, or merely assisting it. Human beings, by their very nature, are never entirely at home in a world of things, much less in a world ruled by gods.”
“Unfortunately, transhumanism has turned into an ideological movement that benefits from exorbitant economic backing and infiltrates academic institutions and funding bodies to an extent where they threaten to marginalize other views. If they don’t get into the Ivy Leagues directly, they simply build their own universities and think-tanks: such as the Singularity University in Silicon Valley that churns out a class of well-funded brainwashed entrepreneurs each year to build the technologies needed for the transhumanists’ visions. From thereon governments and institutions (such as the United Nations) are influenced to embrace this future as well […].”
And to me the fact that billionaires and rich Silicon Valley-type elites are so into transhumanism confirms every point in this list—that this ideology is conceived by and for people who a) are male, b) are extremely individualistic, c) don’t care about democracy or the greater good of human society, d) can’t comprehend what ‘enough’ means or the dangers of an ideology that disdains natural limits and generally views ecosystems (including natural organisms / bodies) as deficient systems that can only be enhanced by human tinkering.
I’m jumping on this, because I think they left out the coolest part! And I’m only saying this because it took me a really long time to learn myself.
When caterpillars turn into butterflies, they don’t just go into a chrysalis, shrink their body, and grow some wings. Nope! If you cut open a chrysalis halfway through a metamorphosis, a bunch of goo will fall out. And that’s it. Because, when caterpillars turn into butterflies, they don’t just grow some wings - they liquefy completely and build a new body from ions and molecules up.
That’s why this is so rad. No part of their body is spared this liquefaction. Not even the brain! So, if the brain turns completely liquid, where are the memories stored?
That’s why this is cool!
I almost forgot that I wanted to share these important pictures of Pandolf and his cone of shame. I had to stop by the post office on our way home from the vet and he sat outside giving harrowingly pitiful looks to anyone who walked by.
When I transfer a plant that has been growing from seed in a tiny pot on my windowsill for months into the comparatively vast expanse of soil of my vegetable garden I feel like an ageing cowboy rewarding his faithful horse by setting it free to roam the boundless horizons of the American prairie
I am shaken by the discovery that when anglos say ‘apple pie’ they have in mind a completely different beast than our French tarte aux pommes. Although I love using apples to make pies I can safely say I’ve never baked an ‘apple pie’ in my life because we haven’t chosen the same aesthetics at all. It is tragically futile for us to talk to each other under the present circumstances and we ought to adopt the solution of the Lagado academicians from Gulliver’s Travels who communicate using only the actual things that words are meant to represent. Sure they are described as sinking under the weight of the enormous bundle of objects they must carry on their person at all times but at least when they sit down in the street to have a chat by extracting the relevant items from their gigantic sacks and showing them to each other they don’t run the risk of saying ‘apple pie’ to mean ‘radiant apple wheel in the shape of a flower’ and have the other person interpret it as ‘cosy apple home with a roof and a crown braid’
How do you read so regularly? I used to read often but after being in university for four years I no longer read as much as I used to, and am finding it difficult to reestablish the habit. Do you have advice?
Are you able to pinpoint why you don’t read as much as you used to? The main reasons I can think of would be lack of time, lack of concentration and lack of motivation. The first two issues probably interact since all of us, including avid readers of books, now experience reading mostly in the form of online snippets—emails, social media posts, news articles full of distracting links—and browsing all this online text is at once time-consuming and attention-scattering.
1. If you think lack of time is the issue, then try to see what nonessential activities are taking up a lot of your time on a regular basis, and whether you really choose to prioritise them over reading, or if it’s just a bad habit that you fell into and could break. Sometimes there are very specific ways in which we let another habit get in the way of our reading habit, like browsing our phone rather than reading a book on public transport, and it’s relatively easy to reverse it (in this case, by carrying around a particular kind of book that you find easy to read in sporadic increments, like poetry or short stories, or by downloading some books on your phone if that’s more practical for public transport).
It can also help to identify moments throughout the day that would be “wasted” time unless you make sure to have reading material at hand in various places and formats. Not in the sense of optimising your schedule and filling your every waking minute with “useful” activity because that’s horrid and daydreaming is vital too—just, if there are “lost moments” in your day that you think would be enhanced by a book, make it super convenient to read in these moments. My bathroom is very cold and when I get out of the shower I always stay glued to the heater for 10mn before I force myself to hang my towel and get dressed, so I have a stash of books in the bathroom cabinet, as heater reads. I find peeling vegetables a boring chore so I have a stereo in the kitchen with a USB key full of audiobooks already plugged in and ready to go. I know that when I’m working on a translation on my computer, there are moments when my focus falters, so I have a PDF of an in-progress book open in my work session (and no other source of distraction), to read a couple of paragraphs as a break. If I didn’t have it at the ready my mini-breaks would probably involve going online for 3mn of mindless browsing, and I’d much rather read.
2. If it’s a lack of ability to concentrate then it often has to do with the fact that, as I said, we now do most of our reading online, and our brain always does its best to adapt to whatever weird challenges we throw at it, so it has helpfully redefined “reading” as an activity that involves scanning, fast scrolling, eyes jumping around to extract relevant keywords from a page as quickly as possible while dodging distracting nonsense like ads. It is now very good at this! But opening a book to do some “reading” that involves none of it requires a quick, painful reshuffling of skills and priorities that can feel like a reluctance to read an actual book and an inability to focus, when it is actually just a temporary disturbance as you go through this annoying moment of readjustment (which probably takes more time if your ratio of internet reading to “deep reading” is currently high.)
I don’t suppose there’s a miracle solution to fix it (and of course there are many other things that can make it difficult to focus; any kind of distracting problem really), but maybe having a pleasant little “starting ritual” for reading could help? If you struggle with insomnia they say never to use your bed for anything but sleeping, so that when you go to bed your brain automatically realises it’s time to sleep. You could find something that you associate only with reading a book, like making tea of a specific flavour, using the same chair & blanket, or playlist, or a specific scented candle, so your brain starts preparing for book-levels of focus when you start this ritual, rather than when you actually start to read.
3. I think the third one, lack of motivation, is the easiest to fix, as it mostly involves focusing on the books you want to read, and giving yourself a break regarding the books you want to have read. You can go back to these later after you gather some reading momentum! Make a to-read list (or reorganise the one you have) with books that you would consider guilty pleasures at the top. I find personally that reading several books at once is the best way to eliminate the notion of guilty pleasure books, because there is no guilt at all in reading a fluff book or two when I am also reading more substantial books at the same time. There are topics I genuinely want to explore more in-depth, but I am also very allergic to academic speak and find some nonfiction books hard to get through, so I just read them in small doses, over a couple of months if that’s what it takes, while reading books I find more enthusiasming (as we say in French) at the same time, in higher doses. This way I get rid of the paralysing tension between “delightful books I want to read for the sheer joy of it” and “interesting books I want to read to transfer the information they contain into my brain” (it’s so rare to find both at once!). I’m reading both kinds at the same time, just, not at the same pace.
Also if you make a guilty pleasure-heavy reading list to hoist yourself out of a motivation slump, don’t hesitate to include books you’ve already read (and loved) if you enjoy rereading! In I’d Rather Be Reading, Anne Bogel says that when we are in a reading slump, it is often because we are “not in the mood to take a chance, we’re looking for a sure thing, a book we’re guaranteed to love.” Find your “sure thing” books and let them do their magic ♥
I love going to the village and running into neighbours who live in isolated farms maybe 10km from mine, whom I haven’t seen in months, because they will say things like “How was your winter?” And this question feels so amazingly anachronistic in our age of constant communication and daily life updates on social media that it triggers buried memories of a past life in mediaeval times when 10km was a long distance to travel with your little cart pulled by a harried donkey, so there were neighbours you only saw at the big spring fair where everyone mingles and shares stories of the past season’s hardships. This impression is only heightened by the fact that our small talk by the market stalls is currently half “These potatoes are a joke, you should see the size of mine” and half “How fares your business during this plague?”
« When I go into a bank I get rattled. The clerks rattle me; the wickets rattle me; the sight of the money rattles me; everything rattles me. The moment I cross the threshold of a bank and attempt to transact business there, I become an irresponsible idiot.
[…] I shambled in and looked timidly round at the clerks. […] I went up to a wicket marked “Accountant.” The accountant was a tall, cool devil. The very sight of him rattled me. My voice was sepulchral.
“Can I see the manager?” I said, and added solemnly, “alone.” I don’t know why I said “alone.”
“Certainly,” said the accountant, and fetched him.
The manager was a grave, calm man. I held my fifty-six dollars clutched in a crumpled ball in my pocket.
“Are you the manager?” I said. God knows I didn’t doubt it.
“Yes,” he said.
“Can I see you,” I asked, “alone?” I didn’t want to say “alone” again, but without it the thing seemed self-evident.
The manager looked at me in some alarm. He felt that I had an awful secret to reveal.
“[…] I have come to open an account. I intend to keep all my money in this bank.”
The manager looked relieved but still serious; he concluded now that I was a son of Baron Rothschild or a young Gould.
“A large account, I suppose,” he said.
“Fairly large,” I whispered. “I propose to deposit fifty-six dollars now and fifty dollars a month regularly.”
The manager got up and opened the door. He called to the accountant.
“Mr. Montgomery,” he said unkindly loud, “this gentleman is opening an account, he will deposit fifty-six dollars. Good morning.”
[…] I went up to the accountant’s wicket and poked the ball of money at him with a quick convulsive movement as if I were doing a conjuring trick.
My face was ghastly pale.
“Here,” I said, “deposit it.” The tone of the words seemed to mean, “Let us do this painful thing while the fit is on us.” […]
He made me write the sum on a slip and sign my name in a book. I no longer knew what I was doing. The bank swam before my eyes.
“Is it deposited?” I asked in a hollow, vibrating voice.
“It is,” said the accountant.
“Then I want to draw a cheque.”
My idea was to draw out six dollars of it for present use. Someone gave me a chequebook through a wicket and someone else began telling me how to write it out. The people in the bank had the impression that I was an invalid millionaire. I wrote something on the cheque and thrust it in at the clerk. He looked at it.
“What! are you drawing it all out again?” he asked in surprise. Then I realized that I had written fifty-six instead of six. I was too far gone to reason now. I had a feeling that it was impossible to explain the thing. All the clerks had stopped writing to look at me.
Reckless with misery, I made a plunge.
“Yes, the whole thing.”
“You withdraw your money from the bank?”
“Every cent of it.”
“Are you not going to deposit any more?” said the clerk, astonished.
An idiot hope struck me that they might think something had insulted me while I was writing the cheque and that I had changed my mind. I made a wretched attempt to look like a man with a fearfully quick temper.
The clerk prepared to pay the money.
“How will you have it?” he said.
“How will you have it?”
“Oh"—I caught his meaning and answered without even trying to think—"in fifties.”
He gave me a fifty-dollar bill.
“And the six?” he asked dryly.
“In sixes,” I said.
He gave it me and I rushed out.
[…] Since then I bank no more. »
— Stephen Leacock, Literary Lapses
Exclusive footage of the first time Baby Pampe wore a halter! She was v. miffed and freaked out for about 5 minutes, then realised it wasn’t actively eating her face. At one point before I started filming she dropped on her knees and briefly tried to army-crawl out of the stall, it was amazing. We tried again this afternoon and she was less dramatic, and made significantly fewer escape attempts.
the jury finds you guilty of constructing a bunch of tiny little miniatures of circus equipment & training some fleas to jump around on them in ways roughly analogous to the movements of human circus performers. you are sentenced to execution, scheduled in five minutes
This week’s inconsequential news:
Monday: I stumbled upon last year’s Christmas tree, very well camouflaged in the tall grass—I’d completely forgot where I had replanted it, but it seems to be doing well !
Tuesday: Took Merricat to the vet and learnt she is having kittens. Later found a beautiful slug near the wood shed, that looked like those nice Ohmus from Nausicaa. She was progressing downhill in the general direction of my salads so I abducted her and rezoned her near the spring.
Wednesday: I drove to a town that has a laundromat to wash all of my winter blankets, and the washing machines were out in the street, right in front of a field with cows. Pandolf spent 10mn staring at the machines, mesmerised by the blankets spinning round and round, then finally took notice of the cows and jumped to face the other direction. He spent the remaining hour doing remote sheepdog work, watching the herd and giving them instructions from across the street, looking extremely serious. We later went back to the car park, and he realised he could glimpse a little corner of the pasture from there too, and continued watching his herd intently while I tried to figure out how to fold one blanket at a time without dropping twelve other blankets. He was very pleased with himself in the car back home, like “That was a solid morning’s work. Not a single cow escaped, good job Pandolf.”
Thursday: Pampérigouste wore a halter for the first time! Hated every second of it, but it will get better. I took a video to immortalise this moment but my internet refused to load it, I’ll try again tomorrow. She looks very dashing with a halter.
Friday: Went to the village to buy my Friday cheese, and also bought a nice little chicken feeder. I feel very ready to get chickens. Next time I see the postwoman I’ll ask her if she knows of anyone who might sell me a couple of chickens. (I guess if she doesn’t, my plan B is to go to the agricultural store and ask them, but so far she has been omniscient)
American Green Tree Frog (Dryophytes cinereus prev. Hyla cinerea) as Animal Teacher:
Keywords: A competitive nature. Your unique voice. Health. Illness and wellness. Preferring to stay in your circle. Strong physical boundaries. Looking after yourself. Water magic. Night magic. Wetland kinship. Needing a healing place to go to. Environmentalism. Searching for meaning.
original art, water/colour pencil and ink on illustration board.