Category Archives: The Word

The Word

A beautifully sad passage courtesy Mr. Dickens:

     […] When he got out of the house, the air was cold and sad, the dull sky overcast, the river dark and dim, the whole scene like a lifeless desert. And wreaths of dust were spinning round and round before the morning blast, as if the desert-sand had risen far away, and the first spray of it in its advance, had begun to overwhelm the city.

     Waste forces within him, and a desert all around, this man stood still on his way across a silent terrace, and saw for a moment, lying in the wilderness before him, a mirage of honourable ambition, self-denial, and perseverance. In the fair city of this vision, there were airy galleries from which the loves and graces looked upon him, gardens in which the fruits of life hung ripening, waters of Hope that sparkled in his sight. A moment, and it was gone. Climbing into a high chamber in a well of houses, he threw himself down in his clothes on a neglected bed, and its pillow was wet with wasted tears.

     Sadly, sadly, the sun rose; it rose upon no sadder sight than the man of good abilities and good emotions, incapable of their directed exercise, incapable of his own help and his own happiness, sensible of the blight on him, and resigning himself to let it eat him away.

from A Tale of Two Cities, Book the Second, Chapter 5

The Word

Some interesting stuff about memory and the written word from Joshua Foer’s Moonwalking with Einstein:

[…] an orator delivering a speech should make one image for each major topic he wants to cover, and place each of those images at  a locus. Indeed, the word “topic” comes from the Greek word topos, or place. (The phrase “in the first place” is a vestige from the art of memory.)

[…] the ancient Greek word most commonly used to signify “to read” was ánagignósko, which means to “know again,” or “to recollect.”

As books became easier and easier to consult, the imperative to hold their contents in memory became less and less relevant, and the very notion of what it meant to be erudite began to evolve from possessing information internally to knowing where to find information in the labyrinthine world of external memory.

Socrates goes on […], saying it would be “singularly simple-minded to believe that written words can do anything more than remind one of what he already knows.”

I think it’s brilliant that the father of Western philosophy and education thought writing was a waste of time. Also, as Foer points out later in that passage, it is incredibly ironic that the only reason we know of Socrates’ disdain for the written word is because Plato and others wrote down what he said.

The Word

Earth (The Book) has a ton of quotable content that is funny because it is true. Here is some:

     A workforce proportionally based on children’s stated occupational goals would have caused the near-instantaneous collapse of civilization.

     In societies where they were not needed as a cheap and nimble labor force, children between the ages of adorable and surly attended school. Here, unsuccessful adults known as teachers would instruct young people in subjects like reading, history and math, providing them with the critical knowledge they would need to pass tests on those subjects. Beyond their academic function, schools also served as social laboratories where children learned problem-solving and problem-having shills.

     When all else failed, vodka was the Swiss Army knife of human courtship.

– Various writers, Earth (The Book)