Merriment

merriment gaiety, fun, or mirth

This is a little fun word that I found in this Aeon article. Obviously it comes from the word merry which (less transparently) itself derives from agreeable.

Why fun? Perhaps because it is not so used, it is passé (according to Google Ngram, it is 5 times less common than early 19th Century) and there is an attraction for things of the past, even words.

So let’s add some merriment in our lives, some well-deserve joy and gaiety, and if we can, a little frivolity – another of these words from the past.

 

 

Bataclan

Many of us were shocked by the terrorists attacks on Paris a few days ago.

Reading an article in a French publication (this one), I then realized that this word does not deserve more than 3 words in the French dictionary (here), and is non-existent in English. Why not adding it in good form to the English dictionary, this global language, so that future generation, can associate positive things with the word?

bataclan n 1 a place for freedom, liberty and enjoyment, exempt from censorship. Associated with youth. Concert hall, theater. 2 a large assortment of unexpected objects, also: bits and pieces, bric-a-brac, bits and bobs, miscellanea.

Etymology: from contemporary French bataclan: ‘grand attirail insolite’ – odds and ends. 

The Collins website has a “submit a word”, and with your help, we can refine the definition proposed above and I shall submit it.

Pain

pain n the sensation of acute physical hurt or discomfort caused by injury, illness, etc 2 emotional suffering of mental distress on pain of: subject to the penalty of pain in the neck, or (taboo) pain in the arse (informal) a person or thing that is a nuisance

v (transitive) 5 to cause (a person) distress, hurt, grief, anxiety, etc(informal) to annoy; irritate

Etymology: C13: from Old French peine, from Latin poena punishment, grief, from Greek poinē penalty

When the notion of pain comes to my mind and I seriously think about it, I cannot help to wonder if the source of our humanity does not always link back to what aches us; further, pain is perhaps the most direct way to express what is it to being human. Under this interpretation, I propose a new definition of the sensation – the feeling, the expectation, the exaltation perhaps – of pain; reaching further than the Collins’ definition transcribed above.

Are we special because we can feel and interpret pain?
Are we special because we can feel and interpret pain?

Since mankind has taught itself the art of drawing and writing, we have hints and indications that pain was already a central issue for our ancestors – and I argue it continues up to modern days. Ancient Greeks created tragedies to record and replay painful moments. They also pioneered the emergence of great thinkers, who quickly moved away from questions of cosmogony (how the world as we know it was created) to asking this question about our humanity: what makes us different from the animal world? Although sentience and intelligence are what physiologically place humans on top of the food chain, these attributes must be used, else we would be intelligent primates and probably be living up on trees.

I mentioned the Ancient Greeks and their theatrical tragedies, a way of introducing the idea that the arts originate in the notion of pain, of its interpretations by audiences or its impacts on people’s (character’s) lives. But isn’t this equally true of religions? From the ‘old’ religions (in Ancient Egypt, the pre-Christian Roman Empire, paganism, etc.) to the religions of the holy ‘books’, the concept of salvation and of a godly judgement directly emerge from the idea of dealing with the pain encountered during our earthly existences. And what to say of Buddhism, which founding teachings revolve almost entirely on the notions of pain and suffering, and how to deal with these?

Therefore I wonder, is life is a miracle (in the pragmatic sense) as we intelligently walk the Earth, or is life such that elevating (exalting) ourselves above any pain the only true miracle?

Exalt

exalt v (transitive) to raise or elevate in rank, position, dignity, etc 2 to praise highly; glorify; extol 3 to stimulate the mind or imagination of; excite to increase the intensity of (a colour, etc) 5 to fill with joy or delight; elate 6 (obsolete) to lift up physically

Etymology: C15: from Latin exaltāre to raise, from altus high

I came to this word while researching sublimation. For my purpose, exalt is a much better fit. In sublimation I was looking for a word that express an idea like elevation: the feeling, aspiration or drive to reach high above the crowds. For example, some philosophers hold that for Plato, the objective of the soul, and its role in our lives, is to sublimate itself above the earthly needs and impulses of the bodies. I will not discuss the existence of the soul, of its possible roles, or anything related to it in this short text. Instead, I am openly wondering if a certain sense of exaltation is not something we all ought to aim for: an ethical idea.

First of all the definition itself. In condensing the above 6 definitions we can arrive at a lingo of exaltation: a willingful increase of psychological, social, physical, artistic status. The notion expressed thus potentially affect our identities in broad terms.

Second, consider the following conditional: if by seeking for exaltation in a wide range of domains – and what is more interconnected than layers upon layers of human psychology concepts? – we can place ourselves above the commons, then aren’t we obliged to aim for such exaltation? By aiming to transform ourselves into better persons, we actively participate in the betterment (sic) of humanity. This is assuming that being elated (happy), extolled (recognized), stimulated (engaged) is good for us and makes us better beings, but I imagine this is not as controversial as to require expansion.

Therefore – third and last – we can draw a natural link between our own exaltation and the ethical framework we want to elaborate for ourselves. A personal model of ethics can be based on a constant and unending drive to be better.

In my view of ethics, we are responsible for developing our own system of oughts and oughts not. By using an attempt to exalt ourselves, we are indeed aiming for a higher level of personal ethics. As I strongly link ethics with happiness, perhaps we have a way to reach a higher level of happiness by continually reach higher levels in society.

There is an association with the physicality of the human being. If exaltation has a physical dimension, then the view I develop is also tending towards hedonism. Although it is often seen with a critical eye, physical intensity that hedonism imply is arguably a good thing: a healthy mind in a healthy body. As therefore along with a responsibility to be striving for social and psychological, an ethical outlook should include a physical element. So much for Socrates.

This is of course a very raw and approximate view, it needs refining. This is also something I am more and more inclined to believe: our responsibility to improve in every area possible, and hence our responsibility to derive rightness and happiness from it.

Foible

foible n 1 a slight or peculiarity or minor weakness; idiosyncrasy 2 the most vulnerable part of a sword’s blade, from the middle to the tip.

I think we all did, are and will make mistakes, we ought to as well, and thus we must acknowledge our weaknesses. It also seems that one can make fantastic, curious, funny, wonderful or useful mistakes based on such minor weaknesses (on which I recently wrote this poem).

Our weaknesses are measured on a professional, social or personal basis and their consequences vary a lot.

Let’s all ensure we are mindful of our minor weaknesses, idiosyncrasies and other foibles. They are tools of the creative, of the free spirit, and not hindrances our societies would like us to believe.

Hagiography

hagiography n, pl -phies 1 the writing of the lives of the saints 2 biography of the saints 3 any biography that idealizes or idolizes its subject > hagiographic or hagiographical adj

Etymology: via Late Latin from Greek, from hagios holy

Who are the saints, the heroes, the eternal idols? Leonardo Da Vinci? Steve Jobs? John Lennon? Winston Churchill? It seems every field of work feature someone who is highly respected, on a pedestal. Arguably, they all have been the subjects of overreaching praises of their lives and to the (subjective) diminution of their flaws as humans.

An hagiography is by definition biased, and thus cannot be genuinely relied upon. Although there may be nothing pejorative to say about its subject (the person), there is something firmly negative about such biographical work. If for a biography to be flawed, because the author is involved – in her thought, sentimentally or romantically – the analysis of the subject is in consequence equally (or exponentially) flawed. The value of her work is at risk, and she is better off attempting to hide the idolatry. Interestingly, we can imagine victims of the hagiographist and her pen – one does not always wish to appear as an idol.

Further, an hagiography does not have to be biographic in nature ; segments of life can be used to celebrate wholly a person. By selecting a small part of one’s life, as we see in the news or in biopic movies, the representation of the real person is only partial. One example might be Oscar Pistorius, who made headlines for his athletic achievements, and for killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. While an athlete, the ‘parts’ of him we know of are positive and inspiring, but then we find out later that his girlfriend described him as ‘nasty‘ and that she wrote ‘I’m scared of you sometimes, of how you snap at me‘. This partial approach is certainly wrong if we are to know someone, but can often be witnessed: our media culture offering us pieces of a puzzle, never the full picture. Arguably, there cannot ever be a full picture.

Selecting the happy few deserving an hagiography is not a matter of taste and opinion, no one can and should be the subject of such idealization. Perhaps that is why the first definition of the word sends us to the lives of saints: how much reality is being described?

Miscellanist

miscellanist a writer of miscellanies.

miscellany n, pl nies 1 a mixed assortment of items 2 (sometimes plural) a miscellaneous collection of of essays, poems, etc, by different authors in one volume

In looking at the definition of misanthrope, checking in my own sanity and the appropriateness of the word to describe me, I stumbled on this definition, and had a thought or two about it.

The first word, miscellanist, is rather interesting. Firstly, it is not a common qualifier ; until today, I have never heard anyone being called a miscellanist. Secondly, I can identify to it. This blog is pretty much a heap of various and eclectic writings. Therefore I have a sense of identification with the professional miscellanist. Thirdly, the definition uses the word ‘writer’ to which I want to be identified. Thus the word and its definition ring the bells of identity and originality in my head.

The second definition, that of miscellany, is more tricky. The first sense implies a miscellanist is a sort of collector, not of writings, but of various items. Owners of cabinet de curiosités could there qualify as miscellanist, even with no relation to the world of written words of authors and editors. Applied to them, a miscellanist naturally becomes “a writer of a mixed assortments of written works”, this makes sense.

The second sense however, equates for a miscellanist to be a “writer of collections of essays, poems, etc, by different authors.” Hence a contradiction appears, if one ‘writes’ a collection of essays from different authors, he is not a writer, but an editor. This circular singularity reminds that language is soften simply by being used. Definitions vary, and their interpretation changes.

With all this being said, I think the Collins’ definition of a miscellanist appears incomplete and therefore propose:

miscellanist a writer or an editor of literary miscellanies.

And only then I am comfortable to pretend to the qualifier.

Luddism

Luddites n English history  1 any of the textile workers opposed to mechanization who rioted and organized machine-breaking between 1811 and 1816 2 any opponent of industrial change or innovation ► adj 3 of or relating to the Luddites > ‘luddism n

Etymology: C19: alleged to be named after Ned Ludd, an 18th-century Leicestershire workman, who destroyed industrial machinery

I came across this word in an article of the Lapham’s Quarterly; and had to enroll the assistance of two dictionaries to get a firm grip on what it means. The definition above comes from the Collins, and did not fully explain the use of the word in the context I had found it. Another definition, far less refined and just as the Internet requires, simply mentioned “fear of change”.Together, it seemed to fit, with the Collins perhaps not (yet) aware of the extension of the word outside of the industrial lingo.

Having said this, there are probably not so many politicians, in particular activists, who made it in the dictionary or who gave their name to an “-ism” (the most well-known might be Marxism, and considered more singular are Magonism and Gaullism among others).

Politics aside, I wonder if we are not all ‘natural’ Luddites and very often resist change in one way or another. For example in the workplace: the boss wants to change something, ideally for the good of the company, but meets resistance from other stakeholders: the near-classical “let’s buy this new machine, more cutting in less time!” versus “but it will not cut as well as human hands!” When not purely an issue of jobs destruction, such resistance is often discussed and attributed to a hindrance to innovation. It quickly ramifies into political issues (distribution of wealth, integrity of the workers, etc.) It certainly goes the other way as well, when employees propose ideas that are systematically turned down by their management.

But luddism today no longer only means resistance to change on the job, it certainly applies to technological change (in its historical and contemporary meaning). It also reaches deep within ourselves: we resist to changes at home and in our communities in different ways. The essence of luddism is then, in my view, the natural trait humans have to resist novelty of all sorts, in trying to stay comfortable. That is: safe.

Rationality implies we fight this natural tendency and take risks. When evidence tells us there is a benefit for change, we ought to take the step. However, we are not always rational, being driven by emotions (short term) and natural instincts (safety). Overcoming the natural tendency to avoid change is a must for mankind to attempt to move forward. This is one argument to be made on behalf of the anti-luddites.

However, being concerned by change, technological or otherwise, can be a healthy thing. We may reflect on this in two ways. Firstly, changing for the sake of making changes can be dangerous. This claim is common sense: why change something that works, for an unproven alternative, based on evidences often open to various challenges? Secondly, rationality is the antonym to change: not only it would be senseless to change for the sake of change, but it would be insane to become irrational just because we think it is necessary to agree to change.

Both rationalism and luddism in face of change have their limits and an answer of what is right lies somewhere in between: an inner choice we need to make. Our appreciation for and our reaction to change is part of our identity.

This discussion also opens a question about aesthetics: where does art stand in constructing newly aquired beliefs or opinions? If art has a role to play there, then art is perhaps irrational. Thus we can wonder if art the ultimate enemy of the luddists? Can one be a luddist and be creative?