Category: Elsewhere

I did it…started a Substack

I mentioned in my year-end recap post that I was thinking of starting a Substack, and I did just that last week. I now have two posts up, and if you’ve appreciated what I’ve written here in the past, I’d love to have you follow me there! I’ll be writing about similar stuff as I have here, but with a higher ratio of books and teaching stuff compared to film. Click the image below to go to my Substack page.

I’m still keeping this blog around for now, planning to do smaller, more off-the-cuff posts here, and more thoughtful posts (and link roundups) over there, HOPEFULLY about once a week, but I am terrible at keeping with schedules, so grain of salt right there with that.

Patior, pati, passus sum

My Latin teacher’s favorite Latin word is patior, pati, passus sum – these are the three principle parts of the verb “to suffer”. The present active participle is patiens/patientis, from which we get the English word “patience.” From the perfect passive participle passus, we get our word “passion”. I thought I knew a lot about this word, but Anthony Esolen taught me more in his Word of the Week column (link) on Substack. He does some good history of our word “passion” and how its meaning has shifted over the centuries, but this is the wow moment for me:

The ancient Indo-European root that gives us Latin passus, suffered, shows up in only a few of the great limbs of the tree. In Germanic, it gave us the Anglo Saxon feogan, to hate, and its participle which turned into a noun, feond, the hating one: an enemy; and that ended up denoting man’s greatest enemy of all, the fiend, the Devil. So the irony is this: the great fiend desired no other than that man should suffer and be alienated from God, but Christ by suffering defeated the enemy that imposed the suffering, as he would glut the mouth of death with death itself. And therefore let us always remember that our trouble is seldom that we feel too much, but rather that we feel too little. And may the Lord enlarge our hearts and direct our passions to the good and the true.

I’m only a novice at learning the relationship between different families of proto-IndoEuropean (or PIE in linguistic circles). I was low-level aware that the “p” and “f” sounds are frequently related – as in, over time they can shift into each other as languages differentiate, but it never would have occurred to me that this root “pei-” in PIE (“to harm”) yields both “passion” and “fiend” in English. So cool. Yet it makes sense, too. Language is cool.

Getting through it

Apparently the language leaders in Japan have identifiedtaipa” as the word of the year in 2022.

Taipa is used for talking about efficient use of time, and is particularly associated with the members of Generation Z, born roughly between 1995 and 2010. In search of optimum “time performance,” they might watch films and drama at double speed or via recut versions that only show major plot points, and skip to the catchy parts of songs.

I fully agree with Alan Jacobs here. If the only point is to get through as much content as possible, what is the point of experiencing that content in the first place? You’re not using your time efficiently, you’re wasting your time. Maybe you’re only wasting half as much time, but it’s still wasted time.

Still, it must be said: taipa isn’t “efficient use of time.” Instead, it’s about the worstuse of one’s time, especially one’s leisure time, that I can imagine. There are no canons of “efficiency” that apply here unless you think that there’s some kind of value in watching more movies and listening to more music, regardless of quality or interest. And if you think that you’re nuts — as I have recently suggested. As I said in that post: If you’re accelerating the rate at which you listen and watch, what are you trying to get to?

And yet I am convicted, as I have literally said “we need to get through this” TO STUDENTS in my classroom when we get behind, and that reinforces the exact opposite way of relating to literature than I want them to have. We do have a great plan for the year and it does require “getting through” a certain amount of text per week or we’re not going to get to everything. But as good and important as everything planned is, I must change how I talk about it.

We just started The Brothers Karamazov (which I’m swiftly becoming convinced may in fact be the greatest novel ever written) and I’ve been more than idly thinking a good year-long class plan would actually be to read Brothers K…and then read Brothers K again. What are we getting to by getting through it? Reading it again. I don’t think my school would let me do this, but I’m hanging on to the idea anyway.

Wodehouse the Genius

This is either a remarkably critical celebration or a remarkably appreciative critique of P.G. Wodehouse.

P.G. Wodehouse and the Idea of Genius (at Front Porch Republic)

“Readers who love Wodehouse know perfectly well that he’s no moral compass, towering intellect, or incisive commentator on his times. His genius resides in one simple fact: he had a wondrous way with a sentence. He subdued English grammar like a lion tamer, working himself into seemingly fatal complications before extricating himself with a flourish. He could turn a proverb inside out, cap an epic simile with a preposterous slangy coda, extend a metaphor to the breaking point and fold it neatly for another day—all while displaying a matchless ear for prose rhythm. Brief quotations don’t capture the full effect of Wodehouse’s style. One of his greatest set pieces, for example, involves a jealous young man trashing a London nightclub and runs on for several pages. A few shorter samples will at least hint at the Wodehouse experience.

Here is Bertie reminiscing in The Code of the Woosters:

The whole situation recalled irresistibly to my mind something that had happened to me once up at Oxford, when the heart was young. It was during Eights Week, and I was sauntering on the river-bank with a girl named something that has slipped my mind, when there was a sound of barking and a large, hefty dog came galloping up, full of beans and buck and obviously intent on mayhem. And I was just commending my soul to God, and feeling that this was where the old flannel trousers got about thirty bob’s worth of value bitten out of them, when the girl, waiting till she saw the whites of its eyes, with extraordinary presence of mind suddenly opened a colored Japanese umbrella in the animal’s face. Upon which, it did three back somersaults and retired into private life.”

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