Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

Japanese Diary 26: Yes we katakana
It's a long time since I wrote an entry on my Japanese studies, but that doesn't mean they haven't been proceeding. Recently I joined, in part to get through the summer break in my Japanese classes without losing momentum, but it's proving so helpful that I'm sure I'll carry on with it anyway. It's primarily meant to be a way of getting an online teacher, I think, but so far I've only used it to talk to native Japanese speakers who want to improve their English and are prepared to help me with my Japanese in exchange. This is very useful for me, because although I'm making some progress with grammar, vocabulary and even the kanji, tuning my ear into spoken Japanese is proving very hard, so real-time practice is invaluable. And besides, I've had conversations with some really lovely people. On the basis of my brief experience at least, I highly recommend checking out if you're learning a language.

I keep being struck by what a Procrustean language Japanese is, from the point of view of the pronunciation of loanwords. All languages adapt imported words to native habits of pronunciation to an extent, but Japanese doesn't even try to meet them halfway - it simply forces foreign words into its limited phonemic/syllabic range. Thus "hamburg steak" becomes "ハンバーグ", or "hanbaagu", because Japanese doesn't allow for "m" or "g" sounds that aren't followed by a vowel ("n" is the only consonant that doesn't need a following vowel, in fact). I'm guessing that the person who introduced the Hamburg steak to Japan didn't have a strong retroflex "r" in their accentual repertoire, or the Japanese might easily have been ""ハンバルグ" ("hanbarugu").

It's hard to see any pattern to the way that the names of European countries find their way into Japanese. In some cases they are approximations (with allowances for the Procrustean processes described above) to the native names: Germany is ドイツ (doitsu), Italy is イタリア (itaria). But in other cases the English word seems to have been used as the basis: スペイン (spein) is much closer to "Spain" than to "España", which would be more nearly rendered as エスパーニャ. As for Britain (イギリス - igirisu), it appears to be a bastardized version of the word "English", which is a little problematic... I imagine this piecemeal approach reflects the piecemeal nature of the cultural contacts between Japan and the various countries involved - but I don't know.

And now, a word from MadokaCollapse )

Test Card
I took this last Monday in Romsey, by Sadler's Mill (near the Salmon Leap of my childhood, though sadly the salmon don't leap there any more). I think it captures something of the beauty of my home river, though not the startling swiftness of it. Limpid yes, limping no.

Sometimes, the River Test looks like a MonetCollapse )

Another month, another installation
This has been quite a year for public art installations in these parts, from Fujiko Nakaya's fog bridge in February, Luke Jerram's beached fleet in April and Richard Long's "Boyhood Line" in July.

Now we have Banksy's Dismaland opening just down the road in Weston-Super-Mare. Reports about Dismaland have been all over the news in the UK, but I show this for the benefit of my further afield flist:

Part of me feels like I've already been round it, but I still want to go. Anyone care to join me?

Knickers and Twists
Twist the firstCollapse )

Twist the secondCollapse )

Twist the thirdCollapse )

Twist the fourthCollapse )

I bailed at the rage of Achilles
I couldn't hang on for the rest
I don't know if Hector
Escaped his bisector -
I'm sure it worked out for the best.

On the other hand, if you'd like to hear the whole thing, the Almeida and British Museum are livestreaming the whole of the Iliad today, starting in about 20 minutes.

I owe the eager world a post about the IRSCL Congress, but I got up at 5.30am today and am now too tired to do anything but answer cmcmck's Britmeme:

1. Marmite- love or hate?
Love. So much love. On toast, as soldiers with a runny egg, or just added as a little something extra to vivify a sandwich made with some bland cheese such as brie.

2. Marmalade- thick cut or thin cut?
Not a fan - though I'd like to be. I imagine I'd prefer it thick cut, on the principle that I prefer crunchy peanut butter to smooth, and orange juice with bits (that being the scientific name for pulp).

3. Porridge- made with milk or water?
For feeding to horses, as per Dr Johnson.

4. Do you like salt, sugar or honey on your porridge?
I don't own a horse.

5. Loose tea or teabags?
I recently bought one of these, which is great for hot days. I often make myself powdered macha (I have a whisk and everything), but otherwise I sometimes use green tea bags. Oh, did I mention? I only like green tea. And white, quite. Black, not so much - though I'll drink it if there's no other hot drink available around 4pm.

6. Where on your door is your letterbox?
Horizontal - centre.

7. What's your favourite curry?
I'm fond of a lamb rogan josh.

8. What age is the place where you live?
9. I bought it new.

9. Where do the folks running your local corner shop come from?
Somewhere on the subcontinent, but I'm not sure exactly.

10. Instant or fresh coffee?

11. How far are you from the sea?
If the Bristol Channel counts, about 8 miles..

12. Have you travelled via Eurostar?
Once - to Brussels, en route to Luxembourg.

13. If you were going to travel abroad, where's the nearest country to you?
Ireland - though my first instinct was to say Wales, which I can reach by car in 20 minutes.

14. If you're female (or possible even some males) do you carry a handbag?
Yes - a capacious one.

15. Do you have a garden? What do you like growing?
A small one. I have an apple tree, a gooseberry bush, honeysuckle and a mock orange. I think those are the only things I've planted, other than dead pets.

16. Full cream, semi skimmed or skimmed?
I don't buy cream much. Most often it's sour, to go with nachos. I might occasionally buy a small pot of single for strawberries, or something like that.

17. Which London terminal would you travel into if going to the capital?

18. Is there a local greasy spoon where you live?
It's a major port and student city - what do you think?

19. Do you keep Euros in the house?
Only the sad remnants I didn't manage to spend at the airport. I probably have less than 10.

20. Does your home town have a Latin, Gaelic or Welsh alternative name?
Bristol was an English invention, as was my home town of Romsey - so, no. The alternative name is Brizzle.

21. Do you have a well known local artist or author?
Quite a few: shall we pick Chatterton at a venture? And, as reported recently in this journal, it turns out that Richard Long is a Bristol boy.

22. Do you have a favourite Corrie character?
I'm fond of the capital "C".

23. Are your kitchen sink taps separate or a mixer?
Mixer - thank God.

24. Do you have a favourite brand of blended tea?
Pukka do a nice blend of macha, sencha and something else that escapes me.

25. What's in your attic if you have one?
Lots of insulation.

26. If you go out for a cream tea, what jam do you like on your scone?

27. Talking of scones- scon or scown? Jam or cream first?
Not being from the peninsula I'll let the Cornish and Devonians fight about it. By the time they've finished, I'll have scoffed the lot.

28. Barth or bath?
Long a.

29. Carstle or castle?
Long a.

30. What flavour of crisps do you favour?
Marmite's hard to beat. Mexican chilli (McCoys) or beef are also good.

31. If you go to the chippie, what do you like with your chips?
Cod or haddock. Salt and plenty of vinegar. Also, "bits".

32. Take away, take out or carry out?

33. If you have one, what colour is your wheelie bin?
Black (glass, metal and paper), green (carboard and plastic) and brown (food).

34. What colour skips does your local skip hire use?
Mostly yellow.

35. Do you celebrate Guy Fawkes?
Not so much now the children are grown but only because they've robbed me of the excuse.

36. Dettol or TCP?
37. Do you have a bidet in the bathroom?

38. Do you prefer courgettes or aubergines?
Aubergines by a country mile. Courgettes are okay, but aubergines are the shit.

39. In the 'real world' Do you have friends of other nationalities? Which nationalities?
Iranian, Burmese, Japanese, American, Canadian, Australian, Spanish, French, Russian, Icelandic, Luxembourgish, German, Irish, Italian, Greek, Turkish, Israeli, Polish - and quite a lot more, depending on the degree of intimacy you imply by 'friend'.

40. Do you have a holy book of any sort in the house?
None that I think of in those terms. I have plenty of religious ones.

41. Do you prefer a hankie or tissues?

42. Are you a fan of crumpets? What do you like on them?
In theory, but I very seldom buy them. Honey is good.

43. Doorbell, knocker or both?
44. Do you own a car? What sort?

45. What sort of pants do you guys prefer? Y fronts or boxers?

46. Anyone still a fan of suspenders?
Not really.

47. Do you have a favourite quote from the bard?
I wasted time, and now doth time waste me. [This is one for consonantia's Chiasmus Watch!]

48. Do you like toasted muffins?
See crumpets.

49. Do you think a traditional trifle should contain jelly?
In moderation.

50. Do you attend regular religious worship? Of what kind?
In theory I occasionally go to a Quaker meeting but I actually do it about as often as I buy crumpets.

Long Home
I first heard of Richard Long's work when I visited an exhibition of it in Boston's cochlear Guggenheim museum, circa 1992. What I hadn't realized until a few days ago - shame on me! - is that he's a Bristol boy and has lived in this area pretty much all his life, a fact now being celebrated in an exhibition at the Arnolfini. I intend to go to that at some point, but today I took advantage of the good weather to walk to the "offsite commission" on Clifton Downs, called "Boyhood Line".

The Downs cover quite a large area, and although I knew it was somewhere near Ladies' Mile I wandered for quite a while without spotting it. I wandered so far, in fact, scanning the ground the while, that I began to wonder whether the installation was a myth, or rather a device to make jaundiced art lovers look anew at the world around them, a bit like Granny Weatherwax's "school for magic" in The Wee Free Men, which is nothing but the world itself. In that spirit, I took a couple of pictures of the lines of stone and concrete that had been laid along the roadside to discourage cars from encroaching onto the grass.

Lampposts versus HitlerCollapse )

I made sure when my children were young to tell them what it meant when they saw metal posts sawn off in this fashion - that it was a relic of the wartime requirement for metal, which saw thousands of fences and gates sacrificed to the defeat of Nazism. Such wayside archaeology always pleases me, but I do wonder what office this one served when it was in its prime - and has it been moved since, to take up its second career as a bollard?

I wandered so far that I found myself at the edge of the Avon Gorge, which was taped off, with ambulances, fire engines, police cars and even an ice cream van all in attendance. A group of three firefighters, clad in waderish boots, was standing nearby in a Norn-ish huddle.

"What means this tape?" I asked the nearest one.
"There's been an incident. We cannot tell."
"Belike a falling has befallen here?"
"It may be so; we must not speak of it."

Sadly this is one of Bristol's most popular suicide spots, though its being a sunny afternoon with plenty of people about may suggest an accident. I can find nothing on the local news, though, so hopefully it was neither and the firefighters were being overdramatic.

Walking back on the other side of the road I finally found "Boyhood Line", which runs along around 200 metres of one of those natural tracks that humans (being genetically 95% sheep) tend to make on even the most featureless landscapes. I remember reading in Robert MacFarlane that these unofficial paths are called "desire lines", which would be an excellent title for a small volume of landscape-infused poetry. In any case, it was striking how at different points the limestone rocks which Long had brought to the site (in a wheelbarrow, apparently) sat proud on the land's surface, or else had begun to be absorbed into it, in the month or so since they were laid.

I sought, and soon discovered, the three headstones on the slope next the moor: the middle one grey, and half buried in the heath; Edgar Linton’s only harmonized by the turf and moss creeping up its foot; Heathcliff’s still bare.

Boyhood LineCollapse )

The afternoon was growing hot. Beyond Brontë there is, of course, the Preacher:

Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets.

So I went to drink coffee, read Maggot Moon and learn how to express uncertainty in Japanese (かもしれません, apparently). When I came out of the café there was yet another ambulance parked outside. Only this one seemed rather Symbolic of Britain's Divided Soul, given that it was emblazoned in English written the right way round, and Welsh in mirror writing. So I took a picture of that, too.

And here is that pictureCollapse )

And came home feeling a little melancholy.

Footnotes to Aristophanes
On Radio 4 Edith Hall has just been talking as if everything the character Aristophanes says in The Symposium was said by the real Aristophanes - with no hint of a caveat. I'm no classics professor (obvs) but I assumed Plato made it up? (Aristophanes wasn't around to sue by then, after all.) Does this mean that in future years we must expect every word spoken by a "real" person in novels and biopics to be treated as genuine by future Ediths Hall?

This seems such a basic and obvious error that I wonder whether I'm missing something.

Anime Round-up - Part 1
I’m lamentably behind in my anime round-up posts – that is, about ten months behind, if we ignore my mega-series on Madoka. In fact, I’ve almost certainly forgotten some of the things I wanted to say about the series I’ve watched. I simply don’t have time to go through them in the detail they deserve now, but here are some notes as an aide memoire to remind me what I’ve actually watched. There are too many to cover in one go, so this is the first of a two-part post. (The second part may be some time in coming, though.)

Revolutionary Girl UtenaCollapse )

BakemonogatariCollapse )

Ouran High School Host ClubCollapse )

Sword Art OnlineCollapse )

Kotoura-sanCollapse )

Roots and Fruits
It would have been particularly shaming for me to have discovered that my ancestors were amongst the slave-owners compensated by the British government on the abolition of slavery in 1833, especially when some of them at least had been so vocal in the abolitionist movement.

I was relatively confident in their integrity, but not entirely: after all, they certainly knew and corresponded with slavers, such as Pierce Butler (no relation), who sent his son to my great*4 grandfather's school in Chelsea and was visited in America by said ancestor's own son. Moreover, they were just the right class to have had a few "field workers" labouring sight unseen on some Antiguan plantation. People are pretty susceptible to long-distance hypocrisy: it's not as if most of us in the West are unaccustomed to live relatively well off the back of cheap foreign labour even today. So it was with some trepidation that I checked the compensation database (which I recommend generally, by the way - it's a fascinating site).

Luckily it gave me the all clear. I feel very relieved, which is a little strange in itself, but a measure I suppose of how invested I am in this eccentric but mostly harmless - indeed, often benevolent - crew, whose deeds have occasionally enlivened this journal.

Corbyn Sat Upon a Tree, Large and Black as Black Might Be
We're quite a few weeks into the Labour leadership campaign now, and I've still to hear any of those opposing Jeremy Corbyn explain exactly what is wrong with his policies. Instead, there's been:

a) a lot of vague handwaving about how he would be taking the party "backwards" from the new true blue future (Tony Blair) and how the MPs who nominated him are "morons" (John McTernan).

b) some huffing and puffing about people who support him "behaving like a petulant child" (Chuka Umunna), or being too young to understand grown-up issues - as expatiated on by Roy Hattersley on The World at One today:

Edward Stourton: What do you think is the appeal of Jeremy Corbyn?

Roy Hattersley: To young people? Young people who haven't thought about it? [Note that Stourton hadn't actually mentioned young people.] I don't want to patronize them but they've not gone through the difficulties we've gone through in the last thirty or forty years.

(You suck at not patronizing, Lord Hattersley - but nor did you go through what young people are going through now, forced into huge debts to get an education, denied benefits, priced out of housing, etc. Are you surprised they don't see why that's a worthwhile sacrifice to keep you in ermine?)

c) and, of course, a general murmur that the electorate have become so right-wing that even if Corbyn's policies are coherent and just (which a neutral observer might reasonably conclude, given how studiously his opponents avoid talking about them), the electorate is too selfish and bigoted to vote for them.

None of this makes the Labour Party - or at least its right wing, whence I think it's fair to say almost all the petulance has emanated - look good, or indeed anything but contemptuous of those whose support it most needs. In fact, hearing Tony Blair today I kept being reminded of the following passage:

“Tender as my years may be,” said Caspian, “I believe I understand the slave trade from within quite as well as your Sufficiency. And I do not see that it brings into the islands meat or bread or beer or wine or timber or cabbages or books or instruments of music or horses or armor or anything else worth having. But whether it does or not, it must be stopped.”

“But that would be putting the clock back,” gasped the governor. “Have you no idea of progress, of development?”

“I have seen them both in an egg,” said Caspian. “We call it ‘Going Bad’ in Narnia. This trade must stop.”

“I can take no responsibility for any such measure,” said Gumpas.

“Very well, then,” answered Caspian, “we relieve you of your office.

It's a measure of how far British politics has drifted that C. S. Lewis's conservatism can now be recruited in support of Jeremy Corbyn.

PS On words and sexuality
Reading the comments to my previous post, I found this melancholy epigram drifting through my head more or less fully formed....

Tom Eliot, I feel your pain:
Why won't words stay where they've been shoved?
I took a lover and slept with him,
And yet we neither slept nor loved.

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, thou shouldst be living at this hour
Here’s a classroom exchange from Cris Beam’s I am J (2011):

“Whitman did also love men.”
“You mean he was bi?” someone said. […]
Bisexual wasn’t a term widely used in Whitman’s day, so we shouldn’t ascribe language that isn’t historically accurate,” Charlie said. “But he did love both men and women.”

I quote this passage, but could equally have quoted many others: it’s a common idea, after all. And it’s true that conceptual categories change over time and cannot be unproblematically mapped from one age to another. We might reasonably state that there were no heterosexuals in the 16th century, for example, because neither the term nor the urge to categorize people on that sort of basis yet existed; nor would they exist until science (and pseudoscience) had developed further and been applied to human subjects. To state that Henry VIII was a heterosexual man is thus, in one sense, quite misleading.

So yes, I see where people are coming from when they warn against anachronism. But there are real problems with the alternative approaches, too. I’ve talked about one – the problem of erasure – elsewhere. But there’s another obvious question, namely: if we don’t use modern terminology, what terminology can we use? The passage I’ve quoted offers one alternative – “He did love both men and women”. But this is only a semi-solution, because these words, even though they are older and more fundamental to the English language than words like “heterosexual” and “bisexual” – are no less liable to changes in meaning and connotation. Tennyson loved Arthur Hallam and also his wife Emily: does that make him like Walt Whitman, in the sense being enquired about here? Probably not. Such vagueness is less than helpful.

If the aim is to avoid anachronism, then the obvious solution might be to use the terminology of the time in question. But much of that terminology is now seen as offensive (are we really calling for articles asking “Was Shakespeare a sodomite?”), and the conceptual and moral categories that give rise to them are in many cases ones that we now reject as invalid and of little utility.

So, if modern terms are inadmissible because anachronistic, and period terms are inadmissible because offensive and/or wrong, what is the best way of discussing these subjects historically?

We might of course claim that to ask “Was Whitman bisexual?” is simply to be incoherent. But (questions of erasure apart) how far would we wish to push this approach to language? What about disease, for example? Is it incoherent to say that John Keats died of tuberculosis because the word postdates him? That seems OTT.

All thoughts welcome, as ever.

Tigers on the Tiber
I've just been writing an ABBA post about the recent controversy (if that's not too dramatic a name) surrounding Judith Kerr's The Tiger Who Came to Tea. A couple of years ago, Michael Rosen said that he saw the story as partly inspired by Kerr's early experiences:

Judith knows about dangerous people who come to your house and take people away. She was told as a young child that her father could be grabbed at any moment by either the Gestapo or the SS - he was in great danger.

Kerr by contrast claims that the tiger is "just a tiger." Who is right? Both? Neither? Someone else who hasn't spoken yet?

Well, I won't go into that debate here, since that's what my ABBA post is about (it'll be up on the 11th), but if I were to seek a secondary reading for this story I think it might be as a fable of post-Imperial anxiety. The tiger, a native of India, comes to eat and drink tea (no doubt Assam) in the imperial homeland - a colonial kitten come to roost. And while the family are happy to offer hospitality, the tiger doesn't stop at one bun, or one cup of tea - he eats and drinks the lot, until the store cupboards are bare.

The anxieties provoked by Enoch Powell's "rivers of blood" speech, given in the same year, are powerfully evoked here. There is, happily, no real conflict within the story: having eaten his fill the tiger goes equably on his way, and the humans solve the problem of their lack of food by eating at a nearby café and then stocking up at the shops. Money doesn't seem to be a problem for them - but any adult reading is likely to think at least glancingly about the financial implications of feeding a large influx of tigers.

Interestingly, the supplies the family buy include a tin of Tiger Food - which suggests that the tiger had overstepped an important boundary in eating the same food as his human hosts. Since the tiger never returns we don't know how he would have reacted had he been offered Tiger Food instead of more buns on a return visit: would he have been touched by the thoughtfulness, or insulted? We can only speculate.

The Host with the Most?
A few posts ago I was maundering on about the rain falling on just and unjust alike, and whether that saying would have had the same connotations in the relatively arid climate where it was coined as it now carries in my own soggier corner of the world. I suppose my next question is rather similar, though more doctrinally central: just how common was it to drink wine in first-century Palestine?

Clearly they had several skinfuls at the Cana wedding, and at the Last Supper too, but those were special occasions. Was it an everyday drink for your ordinary Joe? Or a luxury good? It makes a big difference to the significance of the Eucharist. If wine is the drinking equivalent of bread - the most staple of staples - then that gives it one kind of significance. But if it's seen as something special, that gives it another.

Even if wine flowed freely and cheaply in Jesus's particular time and place, that certainly hasn't always been the case in the cultures to which Christianity has been introduced. It must have been another story in beer-drinking countries such as Egypt and Germany, for example. The same goes for England, where wine was seen as a posh drink until very recent times. Telling an Anglo-Saxon peasant to drink wine in memory of Christ must have conveyed a very different message from telling a first-century Roman to do the same.

Christopher Marlowe is said to have joked that the Eucharist "would have bin much better being administred in a Tobacco pipe" - and after all, why not? One for the alternative historians, perhaps.

I Don't Care Who Started It
Am I the only one who keeps getting confused about whether we're planning to bomb Syria or Syriza?

There was a weird "We have always been at war with Eurasia vibe" about much of the coverage yesterday, with numerous Tory politicians giving the distinct impression that ISIS would not pose the problem it now does had the Commons not blocked the bombing of Syria in 2013. What they forget to mention is that the proposal then was to bomb not ISIS but President Assad, one of ISIS's principal enemies. I've no idea whether such bombing would have been effective in toppling Assad, but assuming that it had been, in the absence of ground troops the most plausible scenario would surely have been that (as in Libya) the dictator's fall would have created a power vacuum that ISIS itself would have filled. In short, had we bombed Syria in 2013 the capital of ISIS would in all likelihood now be not Raqqa but Damascus.

How would that have been better?

RIP Nicholas Winton
One of the few people I admire unreservedly.

"There is Only One Good use for a Small Town"
Here’s a cliché I’m a bit tired of. A book or TV series is set in a small town, the protagonist being a native of that town who has moved away to London and been called back by some crisis – perhaps a death in the family, or (depending on genre) a murder. The inhabitants of the town are all painted in various shades of yokel with small-minds and prejudices to match, and are given to remarking on the lah-di-dah ways the protagonist has picked up in the big city (e.g. dressing in stylish clothes rather an anoraks and wellies, knowing how to use GPS on their phone, etc.). The subtext is that the protagonist probably has unfinished business of some kind, and this trip back to childhood (small town) from adulthood (London) allows those unresolved issues to be addressed before they can move on.

Well, of course, many people who end up writing TV drama do move to London, and I rather suspect many tend to describe this act to themselves (and each other) in terms of busting out of the stifling cocoon of Hicksville and spreading their sticky rainbow wings in the metropolis. There’s a similar phenomenon in New York city, I believe. It’s a comforting myth, which can easily solidify into a comforting worldview. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere, says the song – though in most of the relevant professions these cities are actually by far the easiest and in some cases the only places to “make it”. (Build a career in national television, a national newspaper or as part of the “literary establishment” without leaving your small town, and then I’ll be impressed.) Still, everyone is the hero or heroine of their own Bildungsroman, and this is a very understandable move: the protagonist crosses the threshold, à la Joseph Campbell, into the world of independent adventure, with which the big city is metonymically identified. From Dick Whittington to Andy Warhol to Kelly Clarkson, it's a common story.

What bothers me is when this changes from personal Bildungsroman to normative myth, a transition that’s particularly easy because it runs pat with the narrative grain of so many fundamental stories. As a thought experiment I’ve been trying to imagine a story that works the opposite way, in which a native Londoner spends his early 20s living in a village in Somerset before a crisis calls him home to Hackney. He occasions much comment with his tweeds and brown shoes, and his habit of finding his way through the city by reference to the sun and which side of the plane trees the moss is growing…

But of course this doesn’t really work, in part because there’s already a stock narrative about Londoners moving out, only it belongs to a later time of life, and comes with the matching baggage of incipient middle age. And no, Somerset twenty-somethings don’t generally dress that way. The economics kick in too, in terms of realism: there are relatively few drivers taking young people from London to rural Somerset, and plenty sucking them in the other direction. People go with the line of least resistance, and why not? That's not to say that moving out (wherever you're moving from or to) doesn't take some courage. But staying put can, too. And trying to make a go of life in your small town can be at least as heroic a challenge as packing that spotted hanky.

Marriage Equality and Semantics
A few weeks ago, I posted a 'thought for the day' on Facebook:

"To claim that calling trans women 'women' is oppressive to other women is much like claiming that to call gay marriage 'marriage' is oppressive to heterosexuals.

In fact, it's the exact same argument."

That got (by my modest standards) an unusual number of 'Likes', and indeed I stand by it - though if I'd not been in aperçu mode I might have underlined the fact that I wasn't claiming that objecting to trans women being called "women" was in all respects like objecting to marriage equality, simply that this particular argument - that it somehow hurt those who had traditional "possession" of the term in question - was the same in both cases. It seemed worth saying because there are plenty of people who appear willing to give that argument houseroom when it's applied to trans people, while vocally dismissing it in the case of marriage. I might have expanded on this over on FB had anyone given me a chance by disagreeing with my post, but in fact no one did.

I'm grateful then to stormdog's post here for bringing it back to mind today by raising what seems to me an interesting and worthwhile point. stormdog puts the problem thus:

I'm a little bit annoyed by people saying that the legalization of same-sex marriage will have absolutely no effect on hetero marriage. That isn't true, and making that statement is dismissive of the opposition. Dismissing people's feelings doesn't help to create dialogue; it creates hostility.

This seems to me to be true - but I can see why people supporting marriage equality don't want to go there, because a) the effect is pretty small, to the point of negligibility for many people, and b) the effect (such as it is) can too easily be spun as "oppression", even if it's actually positive. In terms of the broad-brush public debate, the game isn't worth the candle.

But we're not about broad-brush public debate here on Steepholm Island; on the contrary, our ambition is to reproduce the Bayeux tapestry using navel fluff alone (only this time Harold wins). Small effects are interesting. But what is the nature of that effect, and how (asks stormdog) can one persuade those with a traditional conception of marriage that it is not an adverse one for them? Here's an edited version of what I replied at stormdog's LJ:

We're not talking about a zero-sum game or indeed any kind of competition. That kind of thinking, where there are only a certain number of rights to go round and if somebody wins new ones then someone else must necessarily have lost others, is a big part of the problem.

Perhaps a better analogy would be what T. S. Eliot said in 'Tradition and the Individual Talent' about the effect of new works on the existing canon:

What happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it. The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them. The existing order is complete before the new work arrives; for order to persist after the supervention of novelty, the whole existing order must be, if ever so slightly, altered; and so the relations, proportions, values of each work of art toward the whole are readjusted; and this is conformity between the old and the new. Whoever has approved this idea of order, of the form of European, of English literature, will not find it preposterous that the past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past. And the poet who is aware of this will be aware of great difficulties and responsibilities.

Your sense that same-sex marriage affects straight people too is right in a similar way, I think, because (just like Eliot's literary works) we all exist within a complex web of relationships and understandings, and the language we use is a communal (though not finite) resource. I think if we could persuade people that what they see as a dilution or adulteration of that resource is an enrichment in which they share then we would have done a good day's work. We might point out that although, as Donne wrote, "any man's death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind", the reverse also holds true.

And, of course, just as one can make that point about conceptions of marriage, one can make it too about conceptions of "woman" and "man". To coin a phrase, it's the exact same argument.

From Lay-by to Lullaby
I wish to announce for the public benefit the wonderful discovery that if you sing Mungo Jerry's "In the Summertime" to the tune of the Gershwins' "Summertime" it sounds surprisingly good. (It works well the other way round too, but that requires a bit of jiggery-pokery with the lyrics.)

The coincidence of some of the rhymes means little of course - they're standard popular song fare - but the dual references to rich daddies might almost be meant.

Anyway, here's a karaoke version of "Summertime" if you want to try the experiment.

In the summertime when the weather is high
You can stretch right up and touch the sky
When the weather's fine
You got women on your mind
Have a drink, have a drive
Go out and see what you can find

If her daddy's rich take her out for a meal
If her daddy's poor just do what you feel
Speed along the lane
Do a ton an' twenty-five
When the sun goes down
You can make it, make it good in a lay-by.

No need to thank me.


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