Tag Archives: Author: James L. Secor

Steven Pinker’s Linguistic Sounding Brass and Tinkling Cymbal: an essay on thinking by James L. Secor, Ph.D.

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Because of my infatuation with the absurd, I see it in many a place. In fact, I often don’t need to make it obvious; the writer does this on his own. In this case, I expanded on his idiocy–long since disproven as a theory of language–via letting a class of students engage in lit crit & analysis. This was a college class in China. They went haywire and tore him apart; from that, I fashioned this writing. Of course, most Westerners wouldn’t have the slightest idea why he was talking through his hat. . .which is why he could get away with it. Steven Pinker’s worth in linguistics is noteworthy as no linguist of any merit and no linguistics journals even so much as cite him; he is the modern world’s greatest pseudo-intellectual.

 

The Essay …

Jonathan Swift showed just how silly an “enlightened” stance can be in Gulliver’s visit to the land of the Houyhnhnms. The Houyhnhnms, huge horses full of a lot of horse sense, spoke beautifully and convincingly of themselves and their brilliance and intellectual superiority; but they, in their reason and rationality, enslaved Yahoos. These superior beings also believed that Gulliver could not have come from some island across the ocean because they believed, rationally and reasonably, that such an island did not exist and, therefore, it did not. Despite having no experience upon which to make such a judgment. Yet, experience is a state of consciousness. Karl Popper maintains, in Unended Quest (p. 218), that “it is silly or at least high-handed to deny the existence of mental experiences or mental states or states of consciousness; or to deny that mental states are as a rule closely related to states of the body, especially physiological states.” Which would seem to confirm the Houyhnhnms in their intellectual behavior for, after all, they are basing their judgment on the experience of themselves and their superior knowledge and intellectual ability. They never met any others their superiors. So, it stands to reason, that they believe as they believe and are right to do so.

So it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut writes in God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. And other novels of absurdity. Novels of people with individual mental states of consciousness.

On and off throughout history, science has had a bad name because of such thinkers, men (in most cases) who have a particular mental experience. More often than not via the same lingual pyrotechnics as Jonathan Swift used to elucidate such foolishness. With this in mind, it would be good if critical appraisers could be a tad more discriminating in their choice of scientists to congratulate and hold up as shining examples of their art discipline. Steven Pinker is considered to be such an enlightened one by popular publishers and science journalists. Steven Pinker is considered the leading figure in language and linguistics studies in the US, especially via neurological investigations. Dr. Pinker is a psychologist, which of course means he knows better via an understanding of the deeper reaches of motivation to behavior. And Dr. Pinker is a Houyhnhnm thinker, a man who runs in the face of David Hackett Fischer’s Historian’s Fallacies and Stephen Toulmin’s The Uses of Argument and any of Karl Popper’s assumption-questioning writings–even though he cites Popper in The Stuff of Thought–because he hasn’t the experience of them. A few examples will, I think, suffice to elucidate the priceless thinking and intellectual cerebration science writers hail as Dr. Pinker ‘s ground-breaking theories.

To begin at the end, as Edgar Alan Poe suggests writers do:

“[N]ear death experiences are not the eyewitness reports of a soul parting company from the body but symptoms of oxygen starvation in the eyes and brain” (The Mystery of Consciousness). This presupposes that there is a separation of the body and the soul. But it is just a tautological dismissal that, in reality, proves nothing because death/near-death is a time of low oxygen in the brain. This happens when people smoke and drink, too, but they report no similar experience. Occasionally, those who ingest LSD or magic mushrooms relate such experiences, without oxygen starvation. Dr. Pinker is saying that these people did not experience what they experienced. There is no scientific evidence to verify this dismissive judgment, yet it cannot be dismissed as it comes from Dr. Pinker’s Houyhnhnm thinking, as purportedly supported by Dr. Popper. It is, then, of no import that such a statement as this is an opinion of science; for, as a Houyhnhnm there is no reason except his say so. Indeed, he’s from Harvard, a university that consistently produces the superiorest of the superior. Dr. Pinker engages in characteristic Houyhnhnm tautological perseveration to prove his point that alternative states of consciousness are not real. He believes they can be explained by some kind of physical state: they are the result of oxygen deprivation to the brain because, well, oxygen deprivation is part of the experience. Like smoking or drinking. This is Houyhnhnm science.

Earlier in the same essay, published in Time (19 Jan. 2007), Dr. Pinker states, “Consciousness surely does not depend on language.” How unfortunate that, in fact, it does depend on language, for without language no one would know of anyone’s consciousness, no one would be able to admit of it, nor would one be able to talk about one’s own consciousness of one’s self, outside of consciousness of the world around one. We are languaging animals: our world is described and built and adapted by our language (Cf. Humberto Maturana generally).  Without talking about it (expressing it), how is one to communicate that one is conscious? And, indeed, which state of consciousness one is in, for there is more than one consciousness. Well, perhaps being an experience and experience, as we’ve already noted, is a Houyhnhnm characteristic, it is not out of order that Dr. Pinker can maintain that it doesn’t exist just because someone says so.

Yet, in this essay (The Mystery of Consciousness), Dr. Pinker makes the most amazing and contradictory statement: there is a seat of consciousness and it is in the “higher” part of the brain. He supports himself by citing Crick, the other half of the DNA discoverer duo. However, earlier on, he maintains that consciousness consists “of a maelstrom of events distributed across the brain.” He even notes that Bernard Baars “likens consciousness to a global blackboard.” Perhaps it is premature and somewhat arrogant to ask: Which is it Dr. Pinker? Is there a seat of consciousness, like the seat of language in Wernicke’s or Broca’s areas? Or is it a brain-wide phenomenon? But let’s not talk about that.

Let’s talk, rather about how consciousness can be only “neural computation” while conveniently excluding soft matter physics. If consciousness is a physical seat in the grey matter of the brain, it stands to reason, I think, that there may be external stressors that affect a cell’s functioning on the cellular level as well as the macroscopic level: swelling in the brain effects behavioral aberrations which, I think, have something to do with “neural computation.” If a change happens on such a large scale, a change must have happened on the cellular level since the cells themselves are not static entities–or perhaps there is some other reason for the brain to pulsate. That is, the environment in which nerve cells operate affects their operation and this tee-tiny alteration creates, in the aggregate as cells do not operate in isolation from other cells, a greatly enhanced alteration in the behavior these cells cause to happen, as an expression of themselves. Even the pulsation affects, macro- and microscopically, of “neural computation” of the cells in the body react to contiguous and non-contiguous cells’ “neural computation.”

Dr. Pinker’s thinking seems to be quite linear and rather simplistic and very, very concrete. Indeed, his thesis that you cannot talk about consciousness because he can’t talk about it is untenable. Dr. Pinker is a genius Houyhnhnm.

His dismissive Houyhnhnm attitude runs throughout his writing, that is, “I don’t believe it, so it’s all pish-posh.” At the same time, Dr. Pinker is attempting, via classical science (physics), to explicate consciousness/perception/emotion when in fact classical science divides the world into two–body and spirit–and cannot explain what happens in the mind via the physical brain because the mind is not a physical reality. (Show me the mind, Dr. Pinker.) Classical science has trouble seeing that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; that is, the brain and all that goes to make it up creates something greater than itself. As if to thwart the thinking of the Houyhnhnm, Karl Popper says the mind is the producer of human language, it is “the producer of theories, of critical arguments, and many other things such as mistakes, myths, stories, witticisms, tools, and works of art” (Unended Quest, p. 221). Dr. Pinker could not get his mind around Bertrand Russell’s grandmother’s plague upon him: “What is mind? No matter! What is matter? Never mind!” What Popper seems to be saying is that the mind is what allows Pinker to say and do whatever it is he says and does, albeit this is a decidedly un-Houyhnhnm-like thing to believe.

Dr. Pinker also says, “everyone agrees that the hard problem (if it is a problem) remains a mystery.”

Who is “everyone”? (Perhaps a rather un-Houyhnhnm-like query because everyone knows who everyone is.)

The hard problem is “explaining how subjective experience arises from neural computation.” That is, consciousness is a mysterious physical anomaly in classical physical bio-chemistry. There is a kind of tyranny of the biological, the physical, here in that Dr. Pinker purports to be able to explain the non-physical by the physical, which is, in and of itself, a mystery. Not to mention the apparent opposition to what he’s already said. If consciousness is physical, Dr. Pinker, show me it because I’m only a Yahoo. Simply saying it is so doesn’t make it so, unless one is a Houyhnhnm or a religious leader.

There are some people, notably I.N. Marshal, who do not believe consciousness is a mystery or, rather, that it is a mystery by way of being a problem for which there is an explanation. Marshal, Zohar and others approach consciousness from a quantum mechanical viewpoint. (Dr. Pinker flippantly speaks to this science later.) Dr. Pinker sees the brain as a computational entity; it doesn’t do anything else but computer neurologically. David Deutsch, on the other hand, believes that to call the brain a computational thing is not only limiting but wrong (Cf. The Fabric of Reality). Truly an anti-Houyhnhnm proposition that seems to point to Dr. Pinker’s confusing brain with mind or, rather, considers there to be no difference: brain is mind and mind is brain (The Stuff of Thought, p. 259). Everything is rational and reasonable and solely to be found in the neural functioning of the physical brain. Everything for Dr. Pinker resides in the physical brain. The brain’s functioning is the answer to everything. The brain rules! The brain also leaves us no choice. We are at its mercy. But it’s a mystery as to how this happens and what this mercy is. Even Dr. Pinker admits it’s a mystery when he says we have an innate language instinct. Why? Because instinct is a mystery in and of itself. And so it is that Dr. Pinker is talking in circles.  This is Houyhnhnm science.

What happened to environment and heredity in Dr. Pinker’s theories is also a mystery.

Dr. Pinker even talks of language as if it were bits and pieces that are put together according to certain rules–like the brain is bits and pieces put together according to certain rules–implying that to not follow the rules results in non-language and–perhaps I stretch the point here–stupidity. (Where does that leave James Joyce, Antonin Artaud or the Absurdists?) Stupidity is Dr. Pinker’s forte: all his argumentation is reducing ideas he does not agree with, including Lakoff and Johnson’s, to the ridiculous, using bits and pieces of their writings in order to lambaste the entirety of their theories and impart to them ideas or beliefs that are, in reality, his conclusions based on conscious misinterpretation such that the argument to ridicule is itself ridiculous and therefore his ridiculous statements don’t sound so ridiculous, that is, they sound sensible (Cf. The Stuff of Thought in its entirety). Houyhnhnm scientific thinking.

Dr. Pinker never bothers to prove his opinion; corroboration by his own testing is not scientific proof, according to Popper; it is more in the way of a laboratory simulation. Laboratory simulation always produces what you want to prove so it proves nothing, in fact. Except that it is Houyhnhnm science.

Dr. Pinker, in “Words Don’t Mean What They Mean” (another Time Inc. article, of 6 Sept. 2007, an excerpt from The Stuff of Thought), lays lines on his listeners, role plays, sidesteps, shilly-shallies and engages in “all manner of vagueness and innuendo.” We also do as he tells us we do, without apparent thought: assume “that the speaker is rational.” Dr. Pinker’s rationality is of the Houyhnhnm variety. So Dr. Pinker is seen to be eminently intellectually gifted and full of astounding insight, as gullible Gulliver saw the Houyhnhnms.

The most insidious Houyhnhnm argument Pinker makes results in his debunking quantum mechanics. To wit:- “Some mavericks, like the mathematician Roger Penrose, suggest the answer might someday be found in quantum mechanics. But to my ear, this amounts to the feeling that quantum mechanics sure is weird, and consciousness sure is weird, so maybe quantum mechanics can explain consciousness.” Well, Einstein thought quantum mechanics was weird, too. It’s of no consequence that Einstein’s been proven wrong on this point. Of course, the logic that uses one extremist to debunk the entirety of a science and Richard Feynman is Houyhnhnm logic. Isn’t it? Gulliver was a maverick.

Dr. Pinker wishes to take the mystery out of language via scientific examination and neural explanation and, to do so, he posits that language is an instinct. . .a very mysterious thing indeed is instinct. Instinct is, I think, something that cannot be explained: it just is. And as it is, it is mysterious in its being. In his infinitely regressive method of analysis, Dr. Pinker ever reaches the point where he can explain nothing and it’s at this point that language becomes instinct (Cf. The Stuff of Thought). So, in truth, Dr. Pinker explains nothing and keeps language in the realm of the mysterious. But it sounds good. Wow! Language is built in. We’re different. The Houyhnhnm cerebration is that if I say it is thus, it is thus. And therefore it’s science.

A fool (Yahoo) might ask, “How?” and show his stupidity in thinking that debunking the mysteriousness of language by attributing it to the mysteriousness of instinct is ridiculous. . .if not mysterious. Even so, Dr. Pinker cannot explain the languaging of deaf people or Koko the gorilla–unless his definition of language is in its speaking; that language is not language unless it’s spoken. Which makes writing not language, maybe?

Again in “Can’t find the words? Make ’em up,” Dr. Pinker resorts to Houyhnhnm-specious thinking in his Chinese example of onomatopoeia and sound symbolism via the Chinese for light in weight (qīng 轻) and heavy (zhòng 重). However, qīng has many meanings in Chinese, such as light green, clear and innocent. So does zhòng:  middle, hit, numerous.  In Chinese, mostly, the sound of the word is just the sound, but the pitch changes the meaning. For instance, qīng 青 (light green), qīng 请 (please), qīng 清 (clear, usually referring to river, stream, lake), qíng 情 (passion). All “qing.” All have the sound “qing,” But their meanings have nothing to do with each other. The implication Pinker is making is that there is a parallel between sound and meaning that holds across the language and, therefore, all languages (even though he debunks this in The Stuff of Thought). It doesn’t. Especially as Chinese is a tonal language. Dr. Pinker is not aware, apparently, that there are at least nine characters in Chinese with the pronunciation of qīng (first tone); some do not have opposites.

If a Yahoo looks at large (dà 大) and small (xiăo 小) he might find that, yes, da is the strong fourth downward tone but xiao is the sing-song third tone. Not only this but da changes its tone with usage, that is, in context. And what are we to make of inside (nèi 内) and outside (wài 外) or up (shàng 上) and down (xià 下)? These opposites are the same tone. Using Pinker’s Houyhnhnm mind, we can easily take gāoxìng (高兴happy) as, at best, so-so and bēishāng (悲伤sad) as good feeling. This is ridiculous. Gāo 高 (high) and dī 低 (low) are both high tones but, according to Dr. Pinker’s Houyhnhnm theorizing, mean differently, that is, dī cannot be low because its tone is high. What is worse, we can take bái 白 (white) as the same as hēi 黑 (black), that is, as white, because black is dark and the tone is not: if we follow Pinker’s statement, then we confound black and white. It’s a terrible Yahoo argument, of course, for how could a top Houyhnhnm psychologist lead his readers to confuse black and white, right and wrong?

There are only four tones in Chinese (five if you count the neutral tone), so onomatopoeia and sound symbolism via tones is extremely limited and apparently has little to do with sound meaning, according to the Yahoo Chinese who developed their language. Further, all these also challenge “families of words share a teeny snatch of sound and a teeny shred of meaning.” In Chinese, word families share a shape, not necessarily a sound or meaning. For instance, the shape family of ku口 (mouth) yields gē哥 (song), dīng叮 (mosquito bite), jiā加 (add), nà呐 (no meaning by itself), xuān喧 (noisy), zào噪 (chirp, as with insects or birds)–just a few of the 300+ kŏu口family characters.

This association of sound with meaning is the kind of thing we used to do as children and laugh about. Dr. Pinker, here, is making a Houyhnhnm-specious argument. He also does not speak or read Chinese–nor does his audience, which is why he can get away with such a Houyhnhnm statement. Further, generalizing from one instance to the entire corpus is intellectually indefensible. Factual errors on the part of an academician and scientist are not acceptable. Though, perhaps, the superior mentation of Houyhnhnms can be forgiven.

Except that in the early part of the 20th century, the onomatopoetic theory of language had already been disproven by linguists and philosophers, though, of course, for many modern doctorate holders, that’s ancient history: it is often the case that, in scholarly writing–especially dissertations–references more than 5-10 years old are verboten. Not only history is lost in this way but knowledge. Yet, Dr. Pinker is a follower of Chomsky’s universal grammar theory and that was put forth in the early part of the 20th century. A conundrum, to be sure. Indeed, “the names which occur in human speech cannot be interpreted in any such invariable manner. They are not designed to refer to substantial things, independent entities which exist by themselves. They are determined rather by human interests and human purposes. But these interests are not fixed and invariable. Nor are the classifications to be found in human speech made at random; they are based on certain constant and recurring elements in our sense experience” (Ernst Cassirer, An Essay on Man, p. 134). It seems, then, that Dr. Pinker is taking words not only out of context but isolating them as individual units and attempting to build a theory of language from these bits and pieces that have no relationship to each other and no relationship to use or culture. There is no juxtaposition. For Dr. Pinker, words are, well, just words. They don’t appear with other words and they don’t change their meaning in association with other words. Writers, those picayune Muse-inspired applied linguists par excellence, who are never taken into account by linguists as knowing anything at all about language (and therefore never consulted or, heaven forbid, studied), know this to be untrue. Indeed, for Natalie Goldberg, this is a major aspect of writing: words rub up against each other and change their meaning or connotation (Cf. Wild Mind). And Gendlin’s theories are based on contextual usage (Cf. The Philosophy of Entry into the Implicit and other writings). Dr. Pinker seems to be measuring language–and he seems to be confounding la langue withla parole–as if it were a scientific thing, a state of being, and this is not possible. He is trying to deduce the characteristics of an electron solely by figuring out where it is and how big it is. It and its action, its behavior when moving in context, are different things. But, then, that’s quantum mechanics and that’s already been displaced into File 13 by Dr. Pinker.

Thus, as the name of an object has little to do with the truth of the object but, rather, emphasizes particular aspects of the object, we come across the many words for “snow” in certain Eskimo languages and “hit” in some Amerindian languages and the various counters in Japanese for different entities: long and thin (hon本), round (ko個), flat (mai枚), people (nin人). Or, if we look at the moon, as Washington Irving did in his History of New York, we find that the Greek word mēn emphasizes its measure of time while the Latin word luna, luc-na refers to its brightness.

But even more to the point, Chinese words are made of two characters, for the most part. In fact, in Chinese, a single character does not often have meaning. So, what does he make of bō 玻 and lí 璃, which have no meaning when in isolation but when used together, as in bōlí 玻璃, which means “glass.” There are many similar examples, such as pútáo 葡萄 (grape), yīngsù罂桃 (opium), luòtuó 骆驼 (camel), pángxiè 螃蟹 (crab), to name a few words in which the individual characters (the first ones in this instance) are meaningless by themselves.

This fact also challenges Dr. Pinker’s statement that “long words may be used for things that are big or coarse, staccato words for things that are sharp or quick.” “Staccato” and “ratatatat” are long words–and staccato–yet are for sharp or quick sounds. There is nothing short here, which is the implication in Dr. Pinker’s thesis above. The problem is that almostall Chinese words are short, which means, according to Dr. Pinker, that Chinese cannot talk about big and coarse things. Actually, Chinese can: let’s see. . .zhéxué 哲学 (philosophy) and zhū 猪 (pig)–that’s big; xīnguì 新贵 (parvenu) and cūsù 粗俗 (vulgar)–that’s coarse. Taking into account all these factors, we can safely come to the conclusion that Dr. Pinker’s theory is as right as he thinks because it is appropriate to Dr. Pinker’s thinking, which is Houyhnhnm thinking.

Dr. Pinker’s definition of onomatopoeia is that it is solely sound-based; but in Japanese there are two major types: giseigo and gitaigo, the latter referring to actions. A third group, of which gōtcha-gōtcha is a good example, refers to states of being (upset stomach or being mixed up in this instance). In Chinese, onomatopoeia is used, mainly, for giving strong impressions, expressing things realistically and representing the rhythms of various activities.* Dr. Pinker is a follower of Chomsky’s Universal Grammar, yet he cannot uphold this thesis in Chinese or Japanese. But Dr. Pinker is a cutting edge Houyhnhnmist!

Dr. Pinker also notes that most “sn~” words refer to the snout (nose). This kind of assertion plays because: 1) he’s an authority; and 2) no one’s going to actually count all those words. . .except for a second language learner who counted and found 60% of the “sn~” words in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary had nothing to do with the nose. Not a very worthwhile observation, of course, as students are your penultimate Yahoos.

In his The Language Instinct, Dr. Pinker engages in the most egregious Houyhnhnm analysis of how children gain an understanding of how to use language given that they are not open to hearing constant repetitions of patterns: he shows us how they, children, use higher intellectual functioning to come to a conclusion, his conclusion. In truth, children are incapable of even the simplest of arithmetic computations. Not only do children not have this ability to logically analyze backwards from a given until they are much older, Pinker is going about his explanation backwards, as if the end product is the cause when it is more probably the effect of the learning (Cf. Terrence Deacon, The Symbolic Species, for a different take on this).

Dr. Pinker first slides around issues by using ifs, shoulds, coulds–suppositions that assume much but prove nothing.  “[C]hildren should start off assuming that their language requires the largest possible governing category, and then to shrink the possibilities inward as they hear the telltale sentences” resulting in “this subtle pattern of predictions.” But they already don’t hear constant repetition. Children are also supposed to “assume, by default, that languages have a fixed constituent order. They would back off from that prediction if and only if they hear alternative word orders, which indicate that the language does permit constituent order freedom. The alternative is that the child could assume that the default case was constituent order freedom.” [Bolded words not in the original.] Eh? “Constituent order freedom”? What kind of children does he know? Children who can classify at age 2 or 3?

Dr. Pinker is thinking, it seems, that children have the same mental agility as he, an adult Houyhnhnm, and can engage in axiom-making and assumption-getting that go with higher inductive and deductive reasoning. He is having children reason as an adult Houyhnhnm might. This is fallacious reasoning. One that, perhaps, Jonathan Swift perhaps might could have used in Gulliver’s Travels or any of his other satires. Children can’t add one and one, Dr. Pinker. Children can’t tell that 10 cc of liquid in a short, round glass is the same as 10 cc of liquid in a tall, thin glass. Unless, perhaps, of course, they are Houyhnhnm children, little people full of horse sense. Again that ancient philosopher of language, Ernst Cassirer: “If a child when learning to talk had simply to learn a certain vocabulary, if he only had to impress on his mind and memory a great mass of artificial and arbitrary sounds, this would be a purely mechanical process.” But, of course, Dr. Pinker does believe that the brain is only involved in mechanical processing. However,

It would be very laborious and tiresome, and would require too great conscious effort for the child to make without a certain reluctance since what he is expected to do would be entirely disconnected from actual biological needs. The ‘hunger for names’. . .reminds us that we are here confronted with a quite different problem. By learning to name things a child does not simply add a list of artificial signs to his previous knowledge of ready-made empirical objects. He learns rather to form the concepts of those objects, to come to terms with the objective world. . . . And language, taken as a whole, becomes the gateway to a new world. All progress here opens a new perspective and widens and enriches our concrete experience (Essay on Man, p. 132).

 

So it would seem that learning all of these words is learning an objective world. As Suzanne Langer posits in many of her writings, especially Mind, the brain’s job is to find meaning.

The brain we humans have took millions of years to evolve but the language we use evolved (evolves) in hundreds or thousands of years. So, language cannot be an evolution-dependent item, as Dr. Pinker posits. But it could be, as Dr. Deacon notes, a co-evolutionary item, à la Baldwinian evolution/selection (Cf. The Symbolic Species). But Dr. Terrence Deacon is not among the media’s edge-defying Houyhnhnm scientists. Who knows why. Perhaps because he’s not colorful enough. Or maybe he’s too fond of gorillas, especially gorillas that symbolize (Koko). And gorillas are a lower life form. They are not Houyhnhnms. And–horror upon horror!–Dr. Deacon consults with Koko.

Dr. Pinker does not like Dr. Deacon. Actually, Dr. Pinker doesn’t seem to like anyone who doesn’t think as he does. This becomes obvious in The Stuff of Thought, especially as he cites himself 20 times, twice as often as any other writer/theorist–and Terrence Deacon not at all. His weight in the corpus of linguists around the world is evident via their not citing him at all in their work.

But Steven Pinker is colorful and animated and popular and that’s what’s needed in selling a Houyhnhnm science. As long as it sounds great, it’s good. As long as it’s making fame and fortune for a previously unknown psychologist, it’s cutting edge.

It is of no account that the Yahoos in the Old West called these kinds of people con-men or snake oil salesmen and Medievalists charlatans. They are not, of course, Houyhnhnms and, therefore, jealous in their jibes.

_______________

 

Works Cited

Books

Cassirer, Ernst. An Essay on Man. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1944.

Deacon, Terrence W. The Symbolic Species: the co-evolution of language and the brain.New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1997.

Deutsch, David. The Fabric of Reality. New York; Penguin Brooks, 1997.

Fischer, David Hackett. Historians’ Fallacies. New York: Harper & Row, Pubs., 1970.

Gendlin, Eugene. The Philosophy of Entry into the Implicit. Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 1997.

Goldberg, Natalie. Wild Mind. New York: Bantam, 1990.

Langer, Suzanne. Mind: An Essay on Human Feeling (3 vols.). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1967-1982.

Pinker, Steven. The Language Instinct. New York: William Morrow & Company, 1994.

__________. The Stuff of Thought. London: Allen Lane, 2007.

Popper, Karl. Conjectures and Refutations. London: Routledge Classics, 1969.

__________. Unended Quest. London: Routledge Classics, 1994.

Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver’s Travels. London: xx, 16xx.

Toulman, Stephen. The Uses of Argument. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964.

Vonnegut, Kurt. God Bless You Mr. Rosewater. New York: Dell Publishing, 1965.

Internet

Brockman, John. Edge. http://www.edge.org/

Pinker, Steven. Can’t find the words? Make ’em up at http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/book_extracts/article2474562.ece

__________. The Mystery of Consciousness at http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1580394,00.html

__________. Words Don’t Mean What They Mean at http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1659772,00.html

 

*Huang Jia’ning is a tri-lingual interpreter: Chinese-English-Japanese. It is thanks to his input that I was able to discuss the problems with interlanguage onomatopoeia, despite my years in both China and Japan. Also, Zhu Li’an is a Level II Interpreter with international experience and a publishing history, including a new translation of Oscar Wilde’s work. We worked together to refine this information.

In case you are wondering who I am, a long time social activist and playwright growing up in the theatre of the late 60s and 70s, I fell in love with absurdism. This has continued into prose and got me notoriety during my doctoral years in a school that was conventional and traditional and not much interested in the outside world. I took this into Japanese theatre. Along the way, doctoral studies opened up a slew of doors so that, for me, it was not a terminal degree but a beginning place for further studies: history, language, comparative lit, comparative religion. And I lived in Japan and China for a total of 12 years, so some cultural overlay shows up in my writing. More of me can be found at https://talesofthefloatingworld.wordpress.com and https://branded.me/james-secor. Otherwise, I’m a virtual unknown.

A Giant Story by James L. Secor

 

 

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Every weekend the story teller came to our neighborhood. And we all gathered, excited well beyond our little children’s bodies, to hear what new tale she had to tell. Her well of stories was so deep as to be bottomless. The water of her voice washed over us and carried us along through he shallows, along the lazy shores, bounding over the rapids and right over the falls that left us screaming and breathless and then splashed us into the deep, clear pool at the bottom–only to spill over into a new river. . .for net week’s carriage. How is it she could work such magic? And why is it she is gone? She and all of her kind. How much of life are we missing because of her passing? The weekends hold no magic for me–for anyone any more. Just another day; life is so boring. Today. I’m older. The world is older. But have we grown up? We are, to my way of thinking, bereft of what it is got us here: our culture, or life. For the stories of our history, the stories of our passage are lost to our sons and daughters. Even foreigners know more of our history and folk wisdom than we do. Shameful!

Out of all the stories that filled my life, the story of the giant remains. Bear with me as I recreate this long lost world that is, mysteriously, the going concern of the day, today. If you don’t know where you came from, if you don’t know what it is made you. . .who are you? Who are you, really?

How pedantic, you say. It is true, too, that I am. . .different from those others around me. I’m an odd ball. I live alone in an old house that takes up space and, truly, gives me more than the modern man possesses. It is my very own little yamen. I have nature about me and after-thought modernity to keep me up to date–though I must admit my solar water heater occasionally belies its name. . .I’m to suffer through cold showers. And, unlike every other home I’ve been in, my walls are books. Floor to ceiling. Some ask me if they might fall in on me. Some ask me if I’ve actually read all those books and, if yes, why I keep them around.

Well! It is at such times this story of the giant comes to mind and I tell it.

You know, sometimes the children in the neighborhood tease me, the oldest man in the world, to tell them a story. They laugh, of course, but their cynicism, their teasing turns into cheers and applause by the time I’ve finished by recitation. I wonder sometimes. . .does anyone talk, talk to these kids? Sometimes they ask for the giant story. Some of them over and over again. Well! In case it be lost with my passing, here it is; for I am interested in staying alive even after I’m gone. Though, in truth, it is the old, itinerant storyteller I am memorializing.

Disappearing tales
Like magicians’ sleight hands
Are here and then not
And we are left wondering
What has happened to the truth.

In a cave in the mountain there lived a giant. He was a big giant. He was so big that if you tried to look p to the top of him, you’d fall over–ad still never see the top of his head, only the clouds that gathered about. Oh, yeah! He was a real giant. There isn’t anyone left alive who’s as big as this giant. Why . . . he had hand so big he could hold three bags of rice and still close his fingers. He was slim waisted but, still, it would take 10 people stretched arm to arm to go round him. His shoulders were so wide it took an eagle a week to sail around him. And his legs were like oak trees–maybe even two or three oak trees lining the downtown street around. Oh, yeah–he was big! Each foot was as great as Xihu.

Oh, yeah. He was one big mother!

It was no wonder, then, that eh was proud of himself. Proud of being the biggest, tallest, strongest, most powerful thing around. However, no one came to worship or even wonder at his bigness and power and so he figured, in his pride and self-worship, that perhaps no one knew of him. Strange as that may seem, people being kind of drawn to great thing. Yet–there it was. But, you know, he lived way up a high mountain in a cave, so high a mountain that the atmosphere was too rarified for people and so no one came to visit and wonder at his greatness; though he could not understand why no one had herd of him. After all, a herd of mountain goats was but an afternoon snack for him. . .and stories, he knew, had a way of spreading wider than the greatest of lakes in their attempt to contain all of life. Indeed, stories had a way of growing the farther they travelled and the more tongues they tripped over. People ad a way with words, so much a way that if they bothered to measure their depth, this particular giant would be no more than a dwarf wandering in a field of weeds.

So, he figured it would be a good idea to go down the mountain and let people see him so they’d know how great he was. Otherwise, no one would continue to pay him no attention. And he was right. If there’s no one else around, if there’s no one to compare yourself to, who are you? What kind of identity do you have? Existence without others is no existence at all. It is no more than free falling. . .and wondering when the bottom’s going to come up to say hello in a kind of finale. No encore. Indeed, who are we without the other? No one, least of all a giant among men, can live alone, without relation to. That is, how did the giant know he was a giant among men if there were no men to acknowledge his giantness? Other people are a confirmation of self. Thus, it was necessary for him to descend from the heights to the earth below. So, of course, he did so. He was not, after all, stupid, despite his size.

So. . .

On the day he left for his journey amongst mankind, the giant looked in his mirror. His hair was pomaded. Is clothes were in order. This was a great full-length mirror, so it was no wonder that he said, upon beholding himself, “What a big man I am! I am the greatest! Look at how handsome I am! Ha-ha! Everyone will love me.”

Oh, yes! He was full of himself. Sop full of himself that no one else mattered. How could they possibly measure up to him? It didn’t matter that his experience of the world was limited, that the only thing he knew was himself and his cave-world, his mountain world. All he knew was his own praises, his own applause for himself. Just like Liu Ye who so loved himself he married himself.

Well, this egoism, this Narcissism–for he was in love with himself and, therefore, all he saw was himself–was a kind of short-sightedness, a short-sighted view of the world, to say the least. When you see the world centred upon yourself and the world in comparison to your great self as wanting, there is not much in the way of option: either other s are less than you, the giant, are for you will make them so. For there can be noting or no one greater than the giant that you are. In order to be the greatest, everyone else must be the least. It is a law of nature. And the giant believed it fervently, though he had no supporting evidence: the greatest survive.

And so it was in this posture that the giant, thick as a brick, strode down the mountainside to seek proof that he was great as he thought he was, proof he was sure he would find. Alas–because he was in love with himself, he was, despite his great size, short-s0ghted. That is, he couldn’t really see very well. But not being aware of his short-comings, he did not know better. No indeed. He couldn’t see beyond the tip of his nose and his nose was not exactly long or high. And it is true that the giant occasionally bumped into things. . .tables, chairs, walls, boulders. It was, of course, always their fault that they got in his way. Greatness being beyond compare.

Well, this fact, the giant’s short-sightedness, was to be particularly troublesome for humans who were, it must be admitted, difficult to see, being so small. Indeed, to the giant they were no more than dots, tiny little dots down around his ten league boots. And he was a high strider, so he really missed, like a harried taxi driver, the life around him. And so it is little wonder that he didn’t pay attention to much of what was around him once he was down off his mountain. The bright sunlight didn’t help his vision either, so used to cave life had he become.

As he strode down the mountain he heavy step loosened rocks and boulders that went careening down the mountainside, crashing and pounding and smashing the trees and bashing the houses of the horrified villages at the foot of the mountain. They wondered, as the common folk will do, what it was they did to so anger the mountain that their homes and livestock and fields would be flattened, as well as members of their families. Streets and lanes and alleys were filled with rubble, trouble and death. As the boulders came flying down upon them from the sky, some wondered if the sky were not indeed falling and set up a wailing and caterwauling to waken the dead. The giant, though, did not see this or hear this. He could not see his own feet and his ears were not so acutely tuned to such high frequencies as human voices.

When he got to the flatland, he paused and looked around him. Greens and browns everywhere mixed with stilted patches of blue and red. He smiled. This was more color than up on his mountain and it pleased him. His passing, however, did not please the people. His huge, heavy feet rumbled through the earth and opened up gaping chasms and defiles into which people and animals and homes fell precipitously. People ran around frenziedly shouting, “Earthquake! Earthquake!” What’s more, people and animals and houses were mercilessly crushed beneath the giant’s boots. They were so small and insignificant that he did not feel his destructiveness. Fences and walls crashed to the ground or were ground down under his boot heels. The roads were filled up with rubble, people and his massive footwear. Indeed, in the lowlands, his footprints created inland lakes so quickly and, as it were, out of thin air, that many people drowned, homes were flooded. Wells filled with rubble as they collapsed in on themselves or were trodden under foot. Fields of plenty became flattened, barren, empty deserts. Forests were crushed like toothpicks. But the giant knew none of this.

No. The giant was having a good time walking about in the open air, basking in the sunshine, breathing in the clean air. It was so good to be free! So liberating! He smiled and shouted his glee–only to cause further destruction as the wind from his lungs rushed through the countryside knocking over buildings and trees, blowing away fences and walls and carrying people away in great swirls to be haphazardly cast to the earth in crumpled heaps. And the giant, unaware of his own passing, continued on his merry way, leaving death and destruction in his wake. What a wonderful time he was having!

He came to a wide river, easy enough for him to step over but he was dry and dusty so he stepped into its channel and sloshed downstream. Great waves rose up and flooded the land either side and picked up and flung boats and fishermen before him on down to the mouth of the river, if they made it that far. Most people were drowned and then, as the giant passed by, their bodies smushed into the mud. To assuage his thirst, the giant bent down and scooped up a handful of water. Water and fish and fishermen all went down his throat. He smacked his lips at the fresh taste. He liked this new water so much, he took another drink. And another.

At the mouth of the river, a wide, marshy delta, the giant’s boots created crater lakes and spread the floodplain much, much farther afield, again drowning all life in its path. And then he was into the sea. His bulk caused the water level to rise and, once again, his passing flooded the land, creating a new coastline. There wasn’t much anyone could do. Not even the air force, for their flying machines were no more than irritating mosquitoes that the giant cleanly swatted away.

When he had has his fill of bathing and floating in the sea, the giant returned the way he had come. Of course, he saw nothing of what he’d caused to happen, so short-sighted was he, so high off the ground and so tiny were the victims of his passing. And he climbed back up the mountain to sit and reminisce about the wonders of the world he’d seen and his joy at being out in the open. His only regret was not finding any of his own kind. Well, you couldn’t have everything and, of course, he was sure there was nobody as wonderful as he, so it didn’t matter. Not really. And he thought that perhaps he would do this another day, going in a different direction, so full of his own passion was he. Maybe, one day, he would walk to the ends of the earth.

Being a giant, he knew it was well within his ability.

 

Bio:- There is an element of the absurd in this story, harking back to my adult beginnings in social activist theatre where absurdity ran free and easy, in the theatre and in the street. In one way or antoher, I’ve remained an activist but my writing is not always colored with the absurd. I think sometimes I am absurd. I have lived in Japan, China, Scotland, England and, for short periods of time, Russia and Malaysia; and now I live in the foreign country of Kansas where the idealogue of a governor has ruined the state and actually has given up his dream of running for President of the US to become Chancellor of Kansas State University, which he will run into the ground as he has the state. It just never ends, does it?

You can see more at https://talesofthefloatingworld.wordpress.com
Or find something edifying at https://branded.me/james-secor
Otherwise, you’re stuck with Linkedin

That Thing with Feathers that Perches in the Soul by James L. Secor

 bridge strut

In my wandering, I came across a land that I shall call, for want of a better name, the Land of Waiting. It was, in truth, a fine day when I stumbled upon this country. However, I found that the weather was very changeable, for within no time the climate worsened and my way became clogged with expectation.

My road took me through a low-lying area that I could see had once been marshy. A flood plain had been shored up. I saw fine, tall green grass and strips of cultivated land. Still, I could hear the encroachment of the great river as it sloshed and slapped against the dike.

The road followed the river wall. As with all roads, I knew I’d come upon a collection of houses or even a village and, sure enough, around a particularly wide  bend in the river I saw a huddled mass of people. They were gathered at the edge of the road, gabbling amongst themselves and gesticulating at the flood plain. Something was bothering them. Upon drawing nearer, I could see the ground between the road and the dike glistening and undulating. When I drew nigh the crowd, I could see the river had breached the wall and was once again running onto the flood plain. The grass was now reeds and the crops were drowned or drowning. The hole in the retaining wall was not very large, though the passage of water was wearing it into a larger fissure. But the people weren’t doing anything. That is, nothing other than pointing and complaining. Each time the river water encroached on the road, the gaggle of people jumped back amid screams and hubbub, as if getting their feet wet was akin to courting death.

I stood off to one side and listened to the undulating voices, watched the retreat and recovery of the rabble. Then I stepped closer and spoke to an old woman on the fringe who was not quite so vocal as the others.

“What’s going on?” I asked, as if it weren’t obvious.

“The river’s breaking through the weir,” she answered without looking at me.

“Why is nobody doing anything?”

“What can they do?”

“Is it not possible to repair it?”

The woman turned and looked at me. “You’re not from around here, are you?”

“No. I’m just passing through.”

“Best keep on going then. River’s rising.”

“I was hoping to find a place for the night.”

“Oh, I don’t think that’s possible.”

“Oh.”

“Not that we’re not friendly, you understand. We’re just a little pre-occupied at the moment.”

“Yes. I see.”

“Yes. We’re being flooded out.”

It was true the roadway was becoming a tad muddied along its riverside border but there was no evidence of a flood.

“It’s inevitable,” she continued. “Like life and death.”

“But can’t you be rescued?”

“Nope. We’re done for.”

“The water’s not very deep. The hole can’t be that big.”

“Just one basket of earth shy,” she said with finality.

“Well, that could be remedied–”

“No it can’t.” And she looked at me again, full in the face. “Like I said, you’re not from these parts.”

“How could things come to such a pass!”

“Don’t go getting upset at what you don’t understand, young man.” She patted me absently on the shoulder. “Let me tell you how it is in these parts. Sense is hard to come by but mayhap you’ll understand anyway.” She didn’t say anything for a long time. Just as I began to fidget, she began her story. “We had to stop building. We ran out of dirt. One basket shy of a full load and there you have it. End of job. End of story. There’s nothing to be done about it.”

I looked around. “Seems like there’s enough dirt here,” I said.

“Seems like it, yes. But it isn’t so. It wasn’t requisitioned. Only that much,” she pointed with her chin, “was requisitioned and so that’s all there is.”

“Seems somebody made a mistake.”

“Yep.”

“I guess you could fix it, couldn’t you?”

“Like I said, you’re not from around here.”

I waited for more. When it didn’t come, I nudged her along. “Yes?”

“It’s fate, son. Fate. Destiny.” She chewed her gums a moment. “Pre-destination. Everything’s laid out according to plan, even people’s mistakes. It’d be the greatest pridefulness to think that you could do fate one better.” She chewed her gums some more. “Some things you just can’t change. Life is life. It’s inevitable.”

I stood silently watching the encroaching river water and the ruinization of crops and road and, perhaps, village. I looked at these people, gesticulating, gabbling and groveling before life, waiting helplessly for . . . for the end. The end for them being, of course, the end of all things. Fate.

I looked up at the darkening sky and thought I’d better be on my way. I couldn’t wait forever for food and lodging and there was a copse of trees up ahead. I could rest the night there. Yes. The inevitability of it all.

They had drawn a line in the sand and just waited for it to be crossed, at which time their world would end. There was nothing to be done. If I fixed the leak with rocks and sand and whatever was at hand, I’d be damned. Maybe even stoned to death. What would they have done with such a reprieve anyway–torn away their saving grace? Sad as it may be, I had to leave them to face their problem. Their fate.

You just can’t mend a sinking boat in the middle of a river.

A couple days later, just after passing the mouth of the river where it emptied peacefully into the ocean, I ran into another time marker. There were no retaining walls in this part of the country. The horizon was far and wide and the sky broad, albeit rather cloudy. There was not much wind, though, so the rags that hung helter-skelter on the near-skeleton lying on the side of the road remained limp and unmoving. Yellowed grass, dry and desiccated, grew around him–I could see it was a him. No insects or birds sang, though on and off crows would settle to ground and strut around inspecting the spectacle. Skin draped itself over pointy bones that threatened to poke through. Rubber boot-clad feet lay tilted, both to the same side. Fingernails were long and grimy. Hair hung tangled and dusty about a wizened face with jutting cheekbones, long sun-bleached teeth, lips pulled back in a grin or a grimace and protruding eyes.

I slowed my pace.

The big bulging white eyes with their pinpoint pupils followed me.

I stopped and held my breath.

“Hi,” croaked the near-carcass.

“Hi.” What else could I say?

“Betcha wonder why I’m here,” he rattled on.

I couldn’t see him breathe. The barely flesh-covered ribs that poked out from the remains of a shirt did not move.

“Do you need help?”

“No. No. I’m fine.”

“Well. That’s . . . good.”

“Yeah. Yeah. It is.”

I didn’t know what to do, so I stood there looking down at this replica of a man before the breath of life was blown into him.

“Yeah. I kinda look like death warmed over, right?” I did not feel I could say anything. “That’s ’cause I am.”

“Could I get you some water?”

“No. No. That’d defeat the purpose of living.”

“But you’re dying!”

“Yep. That’s true.”

Neither of us spoke for awhile. His eyes rolled around in his sockets like lopsided marbles.

“I’m here because I’m a fisherman,” he wheezed.

I looked out over the sea. It rose and fell and gently slapped the shore. There were no boats out there. There was no dock.

“Hey. I’m over here.” I turned back to him. “I caught a fish once. Big fish. I ran back here with it. House is all gone now. I was so happy. I caught this marvelous fish. I deserved my title. Fisherman. A time of celebration. Let the good times roll. It ended all too soon. Like everything in life. And so you see me here.”

“Why is that?”

“I forgot my fishing gear. So I lost my chance. Now it’s just the inevitable.”

“Couldn’t you get some more?”

I looked back the way I came. What was wrong with these people?

“Only one chance. I blew it. So long.” He let his eyes roll off to one side.

I did not move. I could not move. This poor man . . . lying there . . .

“Go on. I’m finished. Shoo. Shoo.”

So, I shuffled on down the road, befuddled at such behavior, behavior that defied reason. Was everybody in this country just sitting around waiting? Couldn’t anybody do anything? I felt sorry for them. I hurt for them. So wasteful.

I stopped in the middle of nowhere and looked back the way I’d come. I looked the other way. I had done this before, of course, wondering what was going on around me. Always at a cross-roads. Always coming and going at the same time. And what was my journey for? What was I looking to find? Even with all this travelling, I wondered whether, in fact, I, too, was just waiting for something to happen.

As I approached the northern border, I came upon a great river. There was no bridge over it that I could see but there was a sign that named it: The Great Divide River. It was quite broad and, though the water along the shore pooled and eddied playfully, out in the middle the water streamed by, occasionally splashing dirty sudsy-looking water over submerged rocks. On the far side of The Great Divide there was a group of people with placards. “CRISIS” and “HELP” and “SAVE OUR SOULS” and “DEATH STALKS US” and “SURCEASE PLEASE” and “BUDDY CAN YOU SPARE A DIME.” They were shouting and chanting but no one on my side of the river could hear over the rush of river water and distance. It was maybe a kilometer across. On this side of the river there was only me and a man in a hair shirt type of robe. A washed-out saffron sash sagged over one shoulder and wound its way around his body. He was bald. His arms were folded over his knees but every once in awhile he raised a hand and waved at the people on the other side. A gold ring glistened in the diffuse sun light.

“Hey!” I shouted. “What’s going on?”

The becassocked man stood up and turned toward me. He was wearing thick leather sandals. They looked new. Hanging from his neck was a large round medallion on what looked like a spun-gold brocade ribbon. Perched on his small button nose sat a pair of enormous glasses, encasing eyebrows, eyes and cheeks. He was smiling, a kind of benign, meant-generally-for-everybody smile. He waved at me–or at least, he raised his hand on high, revealing a gold watch on his fat wrist. From the way his gown hung, he was well-fed. What was he doing out here in the rocky wasteland of the northern border?

“They got problems!” he shouted back.

So I surmised.

“Are you doing anything about it?”

He cupped a hand around a large ear and cocked his head to one side. I obliged him by clambering over and around the rock-strewn riverside until I stood at the base of his stone pedestal. He smiled down at me, a silver tooth with a diamond in it gleaming. His glasses were Armani and his watch Rolex. He held out a well-manicured hand, pink and soft in my grip.

“I’m the Great Doylee the Lame.” I looked down at his clean feet. “It’s just a title. Don’t worry about it. What was that you said?”

“I just asked if you were helping in any way.”

“Well, yes. Of course I am. What do you think I’m doing out here?”

I looked over at the crowd across the way and back to him. Here he was, one man across a great expanse of hustling water–what is it he could do? One man and so very far removed from the action.

“Ah. I see. Have a seat, I’ll explain everything to you. I’ve got all day.”

The great gold-bedecked Doylee the Lame squatted on his haunches. I sat on the edge of the smooth boulder. It was warm despite the overcast, grey sky. It looked like rain.

Doylee the Lame raised both hands to the throng on the other side of The Great Divide and then crossed his arms over his knees.

“It’s a sad thing over there in West Rising Branch of Life. They are fighting for their lives, for their sovereign right to life. Everyone has a right to life, even a life filled with illusions and attachment.”

“Is their problem an illusory one?” I knew that people did get upset over perceived wrongs, striking out haphazardly in their delusion. Could it be that these people were, basically, protesting nothing?

“Oh, no. Their brutal domination is real enough,” he answered.

“Surely they did not bring it upon themselves.”

“No. No. For a fact I know, no. Though it is true that people can bring down the wrath of the gods on their heads seemingly out of nowhere but in reality due to their own dirty souls though they are unaware of their sin, maybe.” He spoke in a soft, compassionate, sing-song counter-tenor. “Maybe there are some there clinging to illusion but in general not.”

“You certainly know a lot about those people.”

“Yes. Yes. I do. They are my people. I know they are kind, decent, obedient, respectful people who know their place. Their place in the great scheme of things. They are good people, my people. Though, of course, there are always a few bad apples. No one knows where evil comes from but anyway it is an illusion as so much of life is, you know. My people are trained to look deep into themselves to see their weaknesses and attachments, their faults, for if there were no faults in them they would have no problems in the world.”

“Why do you call them my people?”

“Because that is what they are. My people. I am their leader.”

“But you are here and they are there!”

“Yes. So it seems. But you see I escaped the evil empire. Those who in their mad illusion spread lies and deceit and mete out death as if they were emissaries of the gods. I escaped. They helped me to run away so that I could continue to lead them and be an inspiration from a distance. A dead leader is no leader at all.”

“You can’t kill a martyr,” I countered.

“Seeking after martyrdom is earthly attachment. That kind of renown and hubris is a passing fancy, an illusion. To die by the sword runs counter to the doctrine of peace.”

“You believe in peace.”

“Why, yes. I have a medal to prove it.” He held up his gold heraldic device.

He placed the heavy ornament in my hand. It was a mighty chevron with a man-cameo and bend sinister and around the edge was engraved Pris de noblesse oblige de pièce de résistance. I turned it over. Emblème carte blanche was beveled into the gold.

“You must be proud,” I said, handing it back to him.

“Quite the contrary. I am humbled by the honor.”

“I have heard of this honor before. It comes with a bequest, does it not?”

“Yes indeed it does. I dedicate the money to the life of peace.”

“You are truly amazing.”

“Thank you. Glad you enjoy me.”

I looked over at the horde on the other side of The Great Divide River. They were becoming more animated, jerking their signs up and down. Still, they could not be heard.

“What are you doing for them?”

“I told them to protest non-violently but of course they didn’t.”

“Why not?”

The Great Doylee the Lame shrugged his shoulders. “You know people.”

“I cannot believe that you believe you are helping them–your people–sitting over here on a rock waving at them.”

“I’m not waving at them. I’m blessing them. The more blessing the better. And I am giving them moral support.”

“What?!”

“Yes. Moral support. The bulwark of the hope of the people.” He sighed. “And. . .I sent a statue of the Great God of Mercy, Abera Khardomumma Shaktiputakaka to them.”

“That will help?”

“Worshiping his likeness will bring the miracle of mercy, peace to the people.”

“How did you send it to them?” No one was powerful enough to throw anything one kilometre.

“I threw the clay idol into the river to let the water of life carry it to them.”

Just then there was a hullabaloo on the road. We turned. A large ox-cart with a roof and red interior stood in the middle of the road. Three men in robes were shouting at us.

“Ah. There is my ride. I must leave you now.”

And off he went. I followed him to the roadside. He mounted the cart and sat in the plush velvet interior and waved good-bye to me, the ever-present dazzling benign smile still on his face.

“Peace be with you.”

He did not offer me a ride. I was left, instead, to continue on my way in his dusty wake. More than once I choked and had to stop for coughing. It irked me that, to get out of the Country of Waiting I had to follow in the tracks of a self-proclaimed hero and leader of people.

Finally, I could take no more and stopped, moving off the road and onto the golden sands of the riverbank. The water rippled over rapids here, filling the air with a cool mist and peace settled around me.

 

Jimsecor spent much of his life traipsing all over the world. Rarely as a tourist. He was, too, a wandering scholar. All those cultures and histories inhabit his writing. So, too, does his social activism, born during the avant garde American theatre days. The absurdism of his theatre and the times have only deepened, colored by his travels. He has led many lives. He has published in three countries and three languages but to no financial success. But what else is there to do? Write, write, write. He writes by hand with an ink pen, a real fountain pen. He has many, many, many. And some “forever ink.” He can be found at Linkedin, at http://labelleotero.wordpress.com (named after and/or to honor me, Minna vander Pfaltz) and can be cursed or praised as you wish at hellecchino@eclipso.eu.  Jimsecor is also a Chicago Editing Specialist, though, actually, it was his teaching that kept him (us) afloat. For awhile.

Can Even The Dead See This and Forget to Weep? by James L. Secor

noh grief

She came into the room, the scars on her arm too numerous to count. She had her old polishing rag in one hand. The polish was in the other. The room was an unimportant room. It was too ordinary. Everything in its place. Clean, tidy, a room to be proud of. Pristine clean.

Along the east wall was a window. Below the window was a large buffet. Atop the buffet were overlapped doilies, on each a gold-framed picture. She stood at the buffet. She sprayed her wax on the open top already high-glossed, high-lighting the wood grain of blacks and browns, ground for the gold frame. Wiping it down took some time. Her swirls shone in the sunlight from the window until they disappeared into the wood so the buffet top sparkled.

Out of a drawer she withdrew a feather whisk.

Reverenced, she raised the frame, dusting the memento. Then she set it down. Raising some trinkets before the first photograph, she fingered them daintily. Army regalia. With each piece, great care was taken shining them to reflect the day light their wearers no longer appreciated.

And she said, “You were my husband. I loved you. You were mine. I cooked for you. I cleaned for you. I made babies for you. I loved you. But that was taken from me. They killed you and gave me these. That I might better remember you, they said. I should be proud and I should have something great to live for. Your honor,” they said. “Your honor to look upon forever, they said.”

She put them back before the picture.

She dusted off the next picture. She set the duster down. She picked up the medals in front of this frame. They slipped through her fingers into her other hand. She did this over and again.

She said, “You were my first born. The apple of my eye. Such a tiger you were. I loved you with every ounce of my soul. I helped you grow up. All by myself. I watched you excel in sports. And school. Here, take this, they said. I have lived with these remains. My memory.”

And she put the memorabilia down before the picture, gently.

She took up the duster and dusted the last picture. She put it down and reached for the mementos before it. She held them tightly in her hands.

She said, “You were my baby. I spoiled you so. I raised you well. Remember when you would go down to the road and throw yourself against the cars? You bounced off. You bounded away, running and laughing. I would scold you. But when you grew to manhood, your luck did not hold out. You came home stretchered. Then they gave me these. Take these, they said. In remembrance of him. My heart.”

She put the keepsakes down.

She squatted down and began polishing Army boots. There were five of them lined up below the buffet, awaiting wearers. She made each shiny black, two by two by one.

She picked up her rag and her spray can, moving to the end table. It did not receive any sunlight at all. She sprayed the surface. She was careful not to get the doilie wet. There was a picture on it. With care she dusted it with the feathers. She held it up. She looked at it for some time. Then she kissed it, set it back down.

She moved to the drop-leaf table against the west wall. There was a large doilie on the table with two pictures on it. She polished the table. She dusted the pictures. She picked them up and looked at them awhile. She hugged them to her breasts. She squeezed them to her. She put them back in their places.

She returned to the kitchen. She came back with a bucket. She set it down before the centre table. She took one of the long objects from the pile on the table. Kneeling down on the floor, between her knees she placed the bucket. She held the Army-green object before her. And the bayonet unsheathed. She quickly sliced her arm open, blood coursing down her arm, collecting in her hand at the bottom of the pail between her spread legs.

She said, “Take and drink this. I want you to remember me. I died for you. I died for you. Ooo-wuwu!” Like a dog with no master she whined.

She howled, “There is nothing but this for me. There is only my blood. Take and drink of this.” And she spat, “May you choke on it! May you be accursed till I die–and I will never die. Cannot die. Always to suffer. My loss, my blood, all that is left me! Tell me the reason you have cut off my legs and arms, cut out my heart! Tell me the reason!” she cried out. “Tell me why! I would know why you snuffed out the joy of my life thoughtless. I want the spear out of my side!” Like a dog she yelped. “Ah-ooo-wawoo!”

She rent herself again to watch the blood well up and spill over the eviscerated flesh, unsalved.

She snarled, “I tell you the wound will not heal. It suppurates while you give me trinkets to staunch it. I do not want your pieces of the true flame. Your medals. I want my men. When will you hear me? There are no heroes. There are only carried burdens. I carry the burden of mankind in my soul. Can you not see? I am called Earth and you do nothing but rape me! Woo-wowo-wooo!” A beaten dog’s yelping.

killed mother mask

She came into the room, the scars on her arm too numerous to count. She had her old polishing rag in one hand. The polish was in the other. The room was an unimportant room…

 

BIO

Jimsecor thought he would advance his career by giving up 11 years of live theatre production to get a PhD. Little did he know! He worked with the Lifers at KS State Penn and did summer vaudeville and somehow got the doctorate, publication in a volume devoted to Japanese ghosts and demons and wrote a ground-breaking, though not academically enchanting, dissertation on women and morals in theatre. Then he studied at the National Puppet Theatre of Japan while writing award winning tanka. Illness forced a return to the States where he worked in disability. Seven years in China followed with multiple productions, including an all-female Lysistrata, TV commercials, a documentary and the publication of poems in Chinese in a major journal. He was also commissioned for a film and a play: the play was not liked and the film was deemed unable to pass the censors, so they never saw the light of day. Via Liverpool, he returned to the US and publication in The Speed of Dark and his own book of mysteries, Det. Lupée: The Impossible Cases. He can be found on Linkedin and at http://labelleotero.wordpress.com along with Minna vander Pfaltz, while his essays are sprinkled all over the internet. Jimsecor’s email is hellecchino@eclipso.eu. Lord, lord, lord–what does Helleccino mean?