MY TROUBLED MIND

confessions are self-serving

Category: Other

Review: Tales of Love and Parasites – Javier Bonafont

I offered to review Javier Bonafont’s collection of short stories on a whim. I haven’t read anything with even a hint of sci-fi, other than Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5, since I was about fifteen. He sent me Tales of Love and Parasites by email, which I printed off the following day. It was another piercingly hot and dry July afternoon, and I sat in the back garden, trying to keep ahold of seventy-odd sheets of paper loosely bound together. I sucked a cold bud and mused over the work for several hours, stopping only to fetch beer or fresh watermelon. I had my back to the midday sun, and seared an outline of a vest into my pale flesh…

But so much for all that. Let’s get down to the important stuff: Love and Parasites. Two conflicting subjects intertwined gracefully by Bonafont’s hand. The seven tales – which vary in length – are connected through the theme of love, as suggested by the title. A few of the stories are more prominently connected – one earlier in the collection is a mock-historic account involving a Dr. Morris Stanley; a later tale, set in a later time, involves characters’ findings connected back to Stanley. The ‘Parasite’ of the title appears to be a science-fiction driven exploration into the emotion ‘Love’. In the longest story, Bonafont uses the Parasites as catalyst to why humans behave irrationally when ‘in-love’ – which is an engaging theory.

Love, its participants, and the relationship with science and machinery…these themes are a foundation to the work. Bonafont showcases his diversity as a writer – exhibiting a variety of writing styles, including the poetic and dark, “My lids droop. I am a canvas sack of stones and sand yearning for the earth”, to scientifically charged description “Countless tightly wound copper wire coils and arrays of foil “magneto-receivers”…”, and the humorous “…Jeremy professed his love in a multitude of ways…even extending to an inedible heart shaped cake”.

The collection opens and closes in sombre style, and I am steered by instinct to feel the catharsis. Catharsis results from a passion in a subject, and it is obvious that this collection of work has been constructed close to the author’s heart. The preface reads:

This is the first collection of stories I have let loose onto the world. I know they are not for everybody, but if they are out there, inhabiting many heads, then they no longer have to lurk exclusively in my head, and I can maybe have some peace. Perhaps this is selfish.

You can purchase Tales of Love and Parasites for the low price of a couple of dollars here.

Image

Words

I am currently reading A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud. I’m not particularly sure why, but I believe it has something to do with my recent attempts to grapple, with a deeper level of understanding, vast gaps in my already limited vocabulary. Not unlike an amateur fisherman wresting with a slippery bass that, although he somehow managed to get the beast aboard his vessel, has absolutely no idea how to finish the job.

When you’re in your early twenties and have attended higher education in some form, you get thrown into a slimy barrel with all the other higher education attendees in their early twenties and  are duly presented with a gentleman’s agreement. That is the agreement that any individual is presumed to be proficient in the verse of pop-culture; art, philosophy, gynecology, current affairs, contemporary history etc. at any given time. However, although we all sign off on this agreement, very few people actually are. The general consensus seems to be just wing it until you have a chance to duck out of conversation, hop onto your iphone and google whatever it is that before 3 seconds ago you were entirely ignorant to.

“A freudian slip? Ahh yes haha of course of course….excuse me I must grab myself a drink…”

30 seconds later, returning to conversation

“Yes Mark, my bloody super-ego just won’t stay in check today, I best repress it, that would sort it out!”

*chortle chortle*

Everyone’s a winner. The trouble lies in the fact that in this great technological boom information has become the cheapest currency. A mere generation ago you would have had to hit the books with all the tenacity of Sugar Ray Robinson if you didn’t know the use for a certain fishing hook, for example. Or better still, inquire in places where one may possibly find someone that withheld that precious knowledge. Who knows, maybe you will encounter your future wife/husband/best friend in seeking the most minute morsel of information. Even as I compose these hypothetical situations however, I’m struck by how foreign and incongruous they are. This saddens me. I am also saddened my own intelligence that is, like most people brought into this culture, bumper sticker thick. But at least I’m trying to forge a practical solution. In allusion to Socrates, at least I am aware of my own impenetrable ignorance.

Literary Lexical Innovation

Note: Although by no means a perfect project (indeed is one that opens more doors than it closes) I feel that the following is a fairly readable investigation that involves the study of one example of lexical innovation in literature. Hopefully upon reading, one is prompted to think about how language is used by our own governing bodies, media, etc. 

Introduction

It is not uncommon for an author to coin a term or phrase to describe to the fullest extent what they are trying to convey. For example ‘Catch-22’, term from the novel titled under the same name, became understood among English speakers as a neologism for a ‘no-win situation’. It is however less common for a whole series of lexical items to be created, whether from English or otherwise, to suit a particular purpose. In the following essay we will be studying George Orwell’s creation of ‘Newspeak’ in 1984. Firstly through distinguishing patterns (if any) in the way the new vocabulary was created, the reasons for using them and their effect within the work. From this study we will determine whether any lexical items have succeeded in breaking into the dominant vernacular of English, and if so, why?

What is Newspeak?

Newspeak was the official language of Oceania in Orwell’s novel 1984. It was devised to meet the ideological needs of ‘Ingsoc’ or English Socialism. In the particular year the novel is set, Newspeak was slowly being integrated into society. No one as yet used it as their sole means of communication. As such, the version in use in 1984 was a provisional one, which contained many ‘superfluous words’ and ‘archaic formations’ which were due to be suppressed later.[1] Orwell goes on to write that the purpose of Newspeak was to create a vernacular that provided a medium of expression for the world view and mental habits of Ingsoc supporters, while simultaneously making all other thoughts impossible. In this way, once Old Speak (Standard English) was forgotten; a heretical thought would not be possible, as Newspeak just simple does not cater for it. Its vocabulary was so constructed to give exact expression of what a Party member was seeking to express, while excluding all meanings that could be inferred from the same expression. This was done through the introduction of new words, but mostly through the removal of ‘undesirable’ words and words that were suspect of having multiple meanings. Newspeak was designed to diminish the range of thought, and sought to do this by cutting the choice of words down to a minimum. Newspeak is divided into three classes, known as A, B and C vocabulary.

Newspeak Grammar

Newspeak grammar differs from Standard English in two distinct ways. The first, Orwell states, is that different parts of speech are almost entirely interchangeable. That is, any word in the language could be used as a noun, verb, adjective or adverb. The noun and verb form both have the same root, this lack of variation led to the destruction of many archaic forms. For example the word ‘thought’ cannot exist in Newspeak; ‘think’ would be used for both noun and verb. Interestingly, no etymological principle was followed in the selection for which word would be the ‘root’, in some cases the original noun was kept, in others the verb. Adjectives were duly formed by adding the suffix ‘-ful’ to the noun-verb, such as ‘speedful’ and the suffix ‘-wise’ to create an adverb, as in ‘speedwise’ for ‘quickly’. Some Standard English adjectives were retained, but in number they were small. In Standard English, and by contrast, nouns can be made from adjectives, for example through edition of inflectional suffix -ness­ to slow to create slowness.   Use of the derivational suffix ‘-ful’ in Standard English is similar to that of Newspeak, but it is one of many dozens in relatively constant use.

Any word could be negated by adding the affix ‘un-’, or strengthened by the affix ‘plus-’, or for even more emphasis ‘doubleplus-’. For example. ‘uncold’ meant warm’, while ‘pluscold’ and ‘doublepluscold’ mean ‘very cold’ and ‘superlatively cold’ respectively. These methods allowed an “enormous diminution of the vocabulary”. [2]

Unlike Standard English, Newspeak grammar achieved almost total regularity. Almost all inflections followed the same rules. The past participle and progressive verb all shared the same root word. For example ‘think’ and ‘thinked’, ‘steal’ and ‘stealed’ etc. In this same vein, all plurals were made my added ‘-s’ or ‘es’, i.e the plural of man would be ‘mans’, thus the alternatives could be eliminated (noteably, Newspeak retained two variations of plural ‘–s’ ‘–es’,where it may have been possible to use solely ‘s’). Irregular forms of adjectives (periphrastic –more, most) were also scrapped. Inflectional suffixes in Standard English serve the purpose to form grammatical variants of the same word, often with the result of moving a word from one syntactic category to another.[3]

Pronouns, the relatives, the demonstrative adjectives and the auxiliary verbs were still permitted to inflect irregularly under this system. All followed their ‘ancient’ usage, other than ‘whom’ that was deemed unnecessary (likewise, whom is out of common use and almost archaic in modern English). A word which was “difficult to utter, or was liable to be incorrectly heard” was considered a bad word.

The A vocabulary

These words are what are needed for everyday life, the most common. For example things such as: eating, drinking, working, riding in vehicles, gardening etc. A vocabulary is composed almost entirely of words that already exist in the English language, but for two differences: they are comparatively small in number, and their meanings are far more rigidly defined. “So far as it could be achieved, a Newspeak word of this class was simply a staccato sound expressing one clearly understood concept”. It appears that semantic variation is particularly important to control in Newspeak.

The B Vocabulary

The construction of these words was for political purposes. These words were deliberately constructed for political implication. These ‘B’ words were a sort of ‘verbal shorthand’, packing whole ranges of ideas into a few syllables, but at the same time maintaining a forcible accuracy unknown to Oldspeak.

The B words were in all cases compound words. Two or more words, or portions of words, welded together. For example ‘goodthink’ ‘to think in an orthodox matter’[4]

The C vocabulary

The C vocabulary consisted entirely of scientific and technical terms.

Orwell’s inspiration for Newspeak

Orwell wrote several essays on the use of the English Language, a literary journey which led to his deconstruction of such a language within the novel. From 1942 to 1944 Orwell was an advocate of ‘Basic English’, which was an English-based language with limited vocabulary created by linguist and philosopher Charles Kay Ogden. It is essentially a simplified subset of regular English. It gained greatest support after the allied victory in World War II, with the aim to bring worldwide peace through language. In the novel The Shape of Things to Come, H.G. Wells depicted Basic English as the lingua franca that succeeds in uniting the world and establishing a totalitarian world government. Somewhat appropriately, English in the modern day does act as a lingua franca across continents, a “common means of communication for speakers of different first languages”[5].Orwell, in 1945, became critical of universal languages[6], producing an essay titled “Politics and the English Language” in 1946, in which he outlines developing ‘bad’ habits in writing form.[7]

Orwell’s 1984 envisions a dystopian society. With an oppressive government comes an oppressive language. Orwell creates a language, or rather, deconstructs a language, with the purpose to diminish as many of the lexical choices as possible. In the following paragraphs we are going to study more closely different examples and how these differ from lexical innovation in the history of English.

Firstly let us look at the prefix ‘un-’, exampled above to be added to any lexical item to provide negation. This differs from the grammatical rule imposed in Standard English. In English, whether a word takes prefix un-or in-to provide negation as a general rule depends on the etymology of each root word. For example, words take un- When they are of English (Germanic) origin, and in- if they originate from Latin.[8](The forms im- as in impossible, il- as in illogical and ir- as in irregular are variations on in-).Throughout history there has been a clash of each prefix use. For example, for several centuries English had both inability and unability, with the latter falling out of use in the sixteenth century, lacking an obvious reason for doing so.[9] Some pairs are still in conflict. For example, inarguable and unarguable are both grammatically sound in Standard English. Confusingly, some adjectives and nouns have different prefixes. I.e. unstable has instability and uncivil has incivility. The vernacular created by Orwell builds on the deviation of prefixes from Latinate root words. This could likely be linked to the patriotism of Ingsoc (English Socialism) – using only the prefix associated with the Germanic root. This fictional system does, however, raise an interesting query. When researching the different usages of various prefixes and suffixes, occasionally one could get no further to an answer than “you simply have to learn this by rote” or similar. Evidence suggests Orwell used these patches of inconsistency in the English grammatical system to build the foundation for Newspeak. Another case of confusion is the case of inflammable, which from a logical perspective one might suspect that it refers to an object that is fire-proof. However, the word comes from Latin inflammare, which uses an –in prefix that intensifies the root word.[10] As a result, the old form flammable was forcibly revived to counteract confusion.

Orwell’s decided path for Newspeak prefixes resulted in the elimination of all antonyms. Therefore, there could be no warm but only uncold. When decided which antonym to keep, the one with the more unpleasant nuance is selected to encourage depressive thought and pessimism amongst unorthodox speakers. However, the totalitarian party occasionally allowed a positive term to be preceded by un-. When un- is placed before a verb (noun-verb acting as a verb), it becomes a negative imperative; for example, unproceed means “do not proceed”, therefore disallowing criticism – for example, you could not say “running is bad”, only “running is ungood”, which would translate to “running is do not bad” which does not make grammatical sense, or express the desired meaning.

Let us take another example: bellyfeel. This noun-verb derives quite self-explanatorily from the idea of ‘intuition’ from Latin intueri, commonly translated as ‘to contemplate’. Intuition relates to a scenario where one aquires knowledge without the use of reason.[11] Colloquially, it is referred to as ‘gut instinct’, likely because the intuitive feeling feels like it comes from your stomach. Many cases of law enforcement using ‘gut instinct’ alone to make searches etc have led to questioning. Was it intuition or was it an emotion excreted by the person’s own prejustices?[12]. Orwell has taken an idiom, with it a plethora of emotions and historical baggage, and created a singular lexical item out of it. “Only a person thoroughly grounded in Ingsoc could appreciate the full force of the word bellyfeel, which implied a blind, enthusiastic, and casual acceptance difficult to imagine today”. The general belief is that through less expressive language, the singular lexical items became more powerful, which is an interesting concept.

Other types of lexical innovation exampled in Newspeak involve simpler clipped forms. For example: miniluv: “Ministry of Love” (secret police, interrogation and torture).  Interestingly, ‘Love’ has been shortened to ‘luv’ which is present in modern day non-standard English ‘textspeak’. In Standard English clipped forms are apparent and accepted, although there is a correlation with between a shortened form and colloquial language: flu for influenza[13]. As a side-note, Orwell is either semantically changing ‘love’ or naming these ministers ironically, as their descriptions entail the opposite of their title. Newspeak’s semantic structures follow this rule generally, blurring the line between Oldspeak to purposefully make unorthodox thought difficult. Here are two similarly constructed examples:

minipax: “Ministry of Peace” (Ministry of War, cf: ‘Department of Defense’ vs ‘War Department’)

minitrue: “Ministry of Truth” (propaganda and altering history, culture and entertainment)

A Shrinking Vocabulary

Newspeak focuses on the regularisation of vocabulary to decrease the range of ways people would have of criticising the totalitarian state. With the rapid introduction of the digital age, linguists, among many others, have debated over what the future may hold for the English language. The media, at least early on in the popularity drive and use of text-speak, tended to veer towards a morbid ‘Death of language!’ standing without thoroughly researching the topic ” the SMS (Short Message Service) vandals who are doing to our language what Genghis Khan did to his neighbours eight hundred years ago.”[14]. Linguists like David Crystal, however, have thoroughly researched the topic. Crystal states that modern technology actually results in an increased vocabulary, “internet users are continually searching for vocabulary to describe their experiences, to capture the character of the electronic world, and to overcome the communicative limitations of its technology.” Since the first text message was sent in 1992, the cultural phenomenon has produced a number of texting abbreviations in the Oxford English Dictionary. Crystal refers not only to new abbreviated lexical items, but to the dramatic rate in which technology based neologisms have been produced in the last decade. He also argues that not only does text-speak not decrease literary finesse, it increases and encourages it.[15] Take for example, the phrase “Ur the bst-man, y isn’t ur suit redy?” This translated into standard orthography becomes, “You’re the best-man, why isn’t your suit ready?” The reader of such a text would have to know the grammatical differences between ‘your’ and ‘you’re’, entirely based on context. There was, in the past, more of an ergonomic value to abbreviating so many words when sending an SMS, however with almost every mobile-phone user on some kind of contract now that grants more texts than they could possibly ever use, abbreviation has already become less commonplace. Add to that the in-built ‘predictive text’ systems that mobiles possess if one so chooses to use one, a system that, as the name suggests, predicts the word you are trying to type when you are only halfway through it.[16] From the public’s reaction to the linguistic phenomenon of texting, it is clear that attempts made to drastically adjust any dominant vernacular presumably be met with great hostility, hence we do not see any of Orwell’s lexical innovations being adopted to modern English.

Conclusion

In conclusion, although the grammatical rules and vocabulary restrictions imposed upon ‘Newspeak’ have not (thankfully) transgressed into our current structure of modern English, it is shown to have its roots quite firmly in real language practices. Orwell created a radically concentrated strain of English – with the sole purpose of restricting expression – which is counteractive to a language’s growth. In addition to creating his own word class, a mixture of nouns and verbs (noun-verbs), Orwell altered and simplified the grammatical rules in place in Standard English. Apart from a few examples, such as the elimination of the pronoun ‘whom’, the innovations displayed in the fictional vernacular are not shared with modern English. The reason for this being predominantly because no governing system with the purpose to eradicate expression exists in today’s culture. Some linguistic deceptions are in place that are not too far removed from Newspeak; for example ‘collateral damage’ is a phrase that translates to ‘hitting objects other than a designated target’[17], but the phrase was found to be used by the media to disguise civilian casualties.

 

Link to Bibliography

 

Enter Shikari

We arrived as the first support was finishing up. The hall was perhaps two thirds full and the smell currently fresh, yet to be graced with five hundred bodies’ odour; the floor dry, yet to be tarnished by water, lager, blood…

The crowd? As one would expect. A core of adolescents sporting a mixture of bright hair, tattoos, piercings, skinny jeans and short-shorts – spattered by a selection of grizzled veterans, mostly male and over forty, either those that have always had a taste for well performed live music or those that managed to stay up-to-date enough with pop-culture to be genuine fans.

Princess Pavilions, where the event was staged, is not a large venue with capacity at perhaps 600 in the main hall. This proved no restraint for lead vocalist Rou Reynolds, who at one point disappeared offstage eerily cackling “I’m behinnndd you” before shooting his head, like some crazed jack-in-a-box, out of an opening twenty feet up the rear wall. Guitarist Liam Clewlow, in similar creative vein, took advantage of the innocuously positioned boxes that lay directly right of the stage. He clambered skywards, in a possible tribute to King Kong, swinging his guitar around his head like a discus thrower and howling like some injured animal – miraculously never missing a note.

Enter Shikari reek of passion. It is a characteristic common among musicians before they make their ‘big break’, but rarely does it survive the crushingly oppressive nature of the music industry. Shikari still roar around the stage like yobbos doing donuts in a car park, full of the same youthful energy that they demonstrated back in ’07. This is, however, layered with a confidence – that instead of making their performances sloppy – has allowed them to push the boundaries of live performance further with every show.

Watching back through some of the clips captured of the gig on Youtube is similar to studying a stained spoon that you had used to cook heroin the night before. The images on a screen are just a shadow of the experience. A severed limb from a giant centipede. But like all signifiers, they produce a memory that invokes emotion. The emotions invoked from seeing Enter Shikari? A raw elation accompanied by enjoyable pain. My glasses were smashed off my stupid face during the second song, so I spent the majority of the gig staring bleary eyed, like some surfaced mole, praying to strobe flickering deities while being jangled around in flesh rapids.

As headphone music, yeah, they’re good. A concoction of hardcore with DnB and dubstep influences has left Shikari as one of the most original bands of the last decade. To get the most out of them though, I would catch them on tour:

http://www.entershikari.com/shows/

You won’t be disappointed.