Showing posts with label grammar. Show all posts
Showing posts with label grammar. Show all posts


Analysis: Freud, Derrida and the Magic Slate

Do you remember playing with a magic slate as a child? Learn how Sigmund Freud uses this device to talk about the unconscious mind.
Photograph of “Iki-piirto” writing pad, a Finnish variety of Printator, known in German language as “Wunderblock”, as described by Sigmund Freud in his essay “A Note upon the ‘Mystic Writing-Pad’” from 1925. This writing aid has allegedly been used in Finnish schools circa 1950s when teaching mathematics, as there is a multiplication table on the backside (not pictured).
A Finnish Version of Freud's Wunderblock.
Do you remember this toy from your childhood? It’s charmingly called a “Magic Slate” or an “Etch-a-Sketch”. In German, the Wunderblock. I had a version of this toy as a kid. The novelty of the apparatus consists in the ability of the pad to retain impressions, such as drawings, and like a normal slate, the impressions can be erased, not by an eraser but by simply lifting the page. Presto. Freud and Derrida loved this thing. Freud liked it because the Magic Slate is a model for the human mind. Psychoanalysis! Derrida liked it because Freud's reading of it seems to suggest the unconscious is inhabited by writing and is prior to speech acts. Deconstruction!
The stylus is used to write, scribble, or draw on the transparent plastic sheaf which creates an impression on the middle thin layer. The magic slate I had as a kid was a simple plastic, red stylus. The slate itself was a flimsy plastic backing with the “magic sheaf” part lightly affixed to the backing.

When the sheaf is lifted, the thin papery layer which exists beneath it is erased of its impression. At the bottom, a resinous wax layer exists which retains etched into the resin the residuals, or traces of all the previous impressions.

Freud on the “Magic Slate”
Freud wrote a short seven-page essay called "A Note Upon The Mystic Writing Pad." He wrote the essay to explain his theory of memory via the working apparatus of the Wunderblock. The outer coating represents the protective layer of the mind. The layer protects the mind from too much excitation. Notice if the thin paper layer is torn or contaminated the Wunderblock ceases to work in the same way that trauma can irreparably damage the psyche. The stylus represents a stimulus from the outside world. The papery layer is the conscious mind and the wax resin is representative of the unconscious.

The memory of the present can be erased, but like the mind, retains the impressions in the unconscious. The Wunderblock can both destroy and create.

Freud thought the Magic Slate was the closest machine-toy resembling the human mind. The only difference between the Wunderblock and the human mind is the mind's waxy resin layer can come back and disrupt the psychic life. Notably in dreams and trauma.

Derrida On Freud
Derrida, in an essay called "Freud and the Scene of Writing" was astounded that Freud, as a metaphysical thinker, could have inadvertently stumbled upon a machine that is a metaphor for the techné (production) of memory.

Derrida wonders how Freud could have imagined the Wunderblock to represent the psychic life while not realizing that the fundamental essence of the toy, like the mind, is its reserve of graphical traces, not phonetic signifiers.


On Realism and Strunk and White: Rule 16 On Writing

I write about, in this post, the famous book the Elements of Style - one of the few editorial style books to make it to the bestseller list.
I live by this rule of writing:
Rule 16: "Prefer the specific to the general, the definite to the vague, the concrete to the abstract" (pg. 21).
Find my TpT store here and be amazed.
Sad to say that I never once owned a copy of Strunk and White, the famed Elements of Style that completes the shelf of any writer (worth his salt).

Most of my adult life I lived amidst the company of other people's books. Now that I am free from the prescriptions of communal living I find myself purchasing books that I never in the past had to own. Strunk and White is one such book.


Derrida's Definition of Western Philosophy

Derrida writes in "La Différance," in Margins of Philosophy, "For the middle voice, a certain nontransitivity, may be what philosophy, at its outset, distributed into an active and a passive voice, thereby constituting itself by means of this repression" (9).


Why Clichés Are So Horrifying (with apologies to Paul Coker, Jr.)

In this post, I write about the use of clichés and how Mad Magazine illustrator Paul Poker pokes fun at them in back issues of the magazine.
What is a cliché?
A cliché is an overwrought phrase, like "it's raining cats and dogs" or "scared to death." At one time those phrases were unique and original but over time, well, they lost their original luster, and people just kinda keep using 'em. Clichés are the spam of language. Spam. Spam. Spam.
Why do we use clichés?
I could be cute and populate this post with overwrought clichés, but I am not. We use clichés, or stock phrases because we don't know what else to say. Instead of thinking through how we want to say something, we pull from the storehouse of ready-made phrases.

Clichés are like Hallmark cards for languages. Instead of coming up with a clever way to say good morning, we use a hallmark cliché, "What's up?"

Two decent examples
When was the last time you used the expression, "it's raining cats and dogs"? Did you notice when you said it you probably had no idea to why or how the expression "cats and dogs" has anything to do with rain? If you don't know the logic behind an expression then it's a sure sign it's cliché. She flew out of the office like a "bat out of hell" would be a nice simile if it hadn't been used ad infinitum since the first bat actually did fly out of hell - whenever that was.

Why Are Clichés So Horrifying?
Because clichés enervate language. That's why.

Cliché as Euphemism
At a funeral, we might use a form of cliché called euphemism (worn-out phrases used to mollify a situation or thought) say, "She's in heaven now," or "I'm sorry for your loss" instead of saying something poignantly creative, we use stock phrases so we don't have to think or feel. "Euphemism" is from the Greek for "good word" but I'd say, the best word is the one you articulate yourself, no matter how hokey.

Mad Magazine and Cliché
Growing up, I learned about clichés not from a grammar teacher, but from Mad Magazine. Paul Coker occasionally did a column for MAD called "Horrifying Clichés."

He would take a couple of stock phrases and draw what they would look like as monsters.

It was one of those MAD columns that were funny but educated in some weird MAD way. I'm sure the Usual Gang of Idiots approved because I think the column became popular. There are several anthologies of his work, like this one, The Mad Monster Book of Horrifying Clichés
image credit: "Trying to get rid of the sniffles" by Paul Coker, Jr.


Repost: Why We're All Glad English Carries Gender Type Information

Photo by JW on Unsplash
A repost from NPR by Jessica Love of a story about grammar - when gender sometimes matters in language.

When gender sometimes matters in grammar (and why grammar examples are fun). This is the funniest grammar story since the panda in the bar.
Last year, arriving late to a departmental Christmas party, I was immediately greeted by a waifish 10-year-old with pale skin, delicate features, neatly braided long brown hair, and a stuffed clown fish.The girl solemnly informed me that her stuffed animal was dying of diphtheria. “Oh no!” I cried in mock horror. “Is your fish contagious?” Perhaps fearing I would launch into a speech about how young ladies should be careful around contagious fish, a fellow graduate student quickly interjected, He’s sure the fish isn’t contagious. I asked him that same question.” And that is how I learned that the strange girl with the delicate features and the long braid was in fact a boy. How deftly pronominal information is delivered, and gleaned, by fluent speakers! How different the entire situation would have been were I a speaker of Hawaiian or Persian, where gender isn’t marked at all!
by Jessica Love, Excerpt from I ♥ Pronouns