Collected Rants

In Classicism, Ranting on May 14, 2009 at 9:21 pm


Editor’s Note: In the interest of post-consolidation, and as a means of putting off having to write something new, we are consolidating several shorter posts into a handful of longer ones.  This post collects three rants, and are arranged in the order in which they were posted.  Puritano’s was not originally labeled a rant, but we detected the seeds of hysteria therein, and so it was designated.

“On the Classics, a Rant”
Dean Williams, Kyoto

When science arrives it expels literature.

Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson

In science, read by preference, the newest works; in literature, the oldest.

Edward George Bulwer-Lytton

Note: The italicized unattributed quotations are from Shakespeare.


Take counsel of some wiser head.

I wish to speak to my brothers and sisters, my fellow seekers. The others, fortunate souls, may leave the hall. Don’t go far though, I’ll be wanting to speak to you soon. Thank you.

Now we’re alone and may talk candidly, with ruthless honesty, as only family members may with each other. Before I talk to them, I wanted to ask you a question of a private nature.

You, addict, reader. Why do you do it? You have spent oceans of time on an activity that has brought you…what? What great gift, what life advantage have your countless hours poring over books brought you? Economists speak of “opportunity costs”, the hidden price we pay for a transaction that takes resources away from some other possible investment that we could have engaged in had we not chosen the one we did. You have paid a price for your years bent over the page, depend upon it, fellow-sufferers. You could have learned a language or two, become proficient enough in computers to earn a living, saved thousands of dollars on books many of which you have not and will never read. I ask you again, what have you gained?

Knowledge? The others, the lucky ones I asked to leave…have they not profited enough from their more casual gleanings, are they not able to take part competently in discussions of literature, symposia on historical questions, all the myriad forms of financial, intellectual and personal communication? Do they not know things? This, even though they do not believe, are not committed, do not, when asked the simple question, “Is knowledge the most important thing of all to you”, respond gloomily, “Yes…” but cheerily retort, “No, living is the most important thing to me. I use knowledge to live better.” They sip the wine, they do not tilt the bottle up and drain it; they smoke a joint or two, they do not have track marks on their arms. They acquire knowledge to live better lives. Oh, how I despise them. The faithful parishioner, back bent and eyes rheumy, hands shaking as he lights the candle in the church which he has faithfully visited all these years, how does he feel when architectural enthusiasts come in for a few minutes to ooh and aah over the stained glass and the icons before trotting out to lunch. Does he smile when they drop a coin or two in the collection box? Does he pity them, the unbelievers, the casual enthusiasts? Or does he envy them?

One could go on, one could mention the considerable and historic disjuncture between knowledge and power or financial rewards or fame. Truman said, “The world is run by C students.” This has always been true, perhaps it will always be true. My purpose here is not to whine, it is simply to remind you before we go on the stage, before I call them back in, that this is a fight; no, it is a war, and one with real consequences.  Who and what should our young learn about? Should some forms of knowledge be privileged over others? And what should we as human beings know? Or,  Kant’s fundamental questions:

1) What can I know?

2) What ought I to do?

3) For what may I hope?

4) What is a human being?

In 2009 the educational professional or government official (may they burn, writhing in the flames of hell) would say the first two questions are ‘curricular  or educational policy issues’ and Kant’s questions are ‘abstract philosophy’ or ‘navel-gazing’ or something worse. I say they are mechanics, unimaginative, narrow-minded and short-sighted functionaries who are responsible for most of the ills of this world.

Of course you, in your messy and wonderful way, have been struggling with these…can I really call them..questions—for a long time. You didn’t always know why, you didn’t have even a semblance of a plan, but that’s what you have been doing. And you are not alone, oh no. You are not many, but there are others out there. On an even more personal note, may I tell you that my favorite family members are the ones still “in the closet.” That is, they think they are learning because they are in some formal academic program or “just like to read.” But you are as different from those others as “Firmament from Fin.” (Dickinson) The intellectual fashion of the times is uncomfortable with elitism, especially of the intellectual variety. And so I do not blame you for cringing a bit when I speak of this way, or even when you think to yourself, “He still thinks individuals call the shots, how quaint.” It is true,

I am no wiser than a daw.

But it is not about wisdom, it’s not about knowledge, it is about belief. Later I hope to bring in the big artillery and talk about how important knowledge is, and knowledge of certain realms, certain aspects of human life. But for now, let me leave you, the unvanquished if unrecognized inheritors, with the question I began with: what has your singular devotion brought you? Are you still parishioners? Do you still believe? Or are you here to check out the stained glass?

Enough for now, would you call them back in please.

Image from:

Comments on “On the Classics, a rant”

I think this qualifies as a rant, if perhaps a tongue-in-cheek one. I feel the need to respond with a rant of my own. See “Images (a rant),” and feel free, oh reader, to pitch in with a random rant of your own.

M. Thomas

Definition of a rant for Sympathies purposes: “An argument which is in itself inherently absurd and over the top, but which through the force by which it is (apparently) felt approaches being convincing, at least at first blush.” Or something like that.

M. Thomas

One etymologic note for “rant” has it first appearing in Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor. Yeah, it’s a rant.


~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~Silhouette

“Images, a Rant”

Matthew Thomas, Kyoto

Images, the proliferation of Images is mesmerizing.  I am not a relentless Puritan, not a Puritan of any kind, no religious zealot I, yet, I can see how certain creeds have taken Images as the work of the devil.  Images mesmerize us into acceptance of all-all is reduced to its Image and Images are traded, sold, and stolen, but remain essentially equally flat, equally unreproachable.  For the Image, we are told again and again, is not the reality, viewing violence is not to take part in it, we are told; viewing pornography is not equivalent with adultery, we are told and tell ourselves, and this non-equivalence rests on the images’ power of disassociation or distancing.  The Image is not responsible, therefore, the logic goes, I am not responsible for the consumption or content of the Image.  And even when the Image seems to have no content, or at least no conceivable moral content, this is an illusion.  All Images, nay, the idea of the Image itself, has moral content; it subverts our ability to recognize reality and renders us ever so slightly more amoral.  The cumulative effect of this is clear to see.  Amorality exists in direct proportion to image consumption!  We are become idolaters, each and every man jack of us!  Idolaters, pimps and pushers, sycophants and eunuchs, serving the Image with ever greater abandon, shamelessly promoting the purposes of the Image until it becomes clear that actor and acted upon are reversed, we are doing the bidding of the Image, the Image is not doing the bidding of us!  This should come as a shock, but it probably will not; people will just shrug, move on, too busy advancing the cause of the endless proliferation of Images to be bothered to examine the nature of their own servitude.  Typical.  For Shame!  Pull yourself together man.  But let us be frank.  Let us be fair.  Let us not pretend for our own convenience that this is a problem easily dispensed with only to leave you writhing in a heap of frustration and impotence later.  Images are not easily vanquished.  No indeed, were they just we would not be in such a state.  You can turn off your television, reach down, summon your will-power and cut the cord, float free from the daily bombast, the pitchmen, the media whores, the tastemakers, the insistent, bleating voices, the self-aggrandizement, that bizarre way in which television convinces us of its own importance, television programs about television personalities, because yes, you are coming to the realization that here is the secret to television’s power: keep your voice down, keep your head down, look sharp: “television is the long-sought after perpetual motion machine.”  There.  There it is.  Now you know.  In any case, as I was saying…you may think that by striking at the jugular of the Image factory your problem is solved.  Think again my friend.  Your delusions are you own.  Your dependence on Images goes far beyond your television does it not?  Yes.  Honesty is the only solution; it is always the only solution.  No amount of preverication shall be tolerated.  You are saturated in Images at every stage of your inner and outer life, in your daily routine, in your daydreams of wealth and fame, wealth in a bottle, brand names, Oh! those brand names at your disposal.  Oh! the beauty of the image!


Comments on “Images, a rant”

From Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, ranting is “to speak wildly, extravagantly”…I like the extravagant part. It’s hilarious to see those 2 pieces side-by-side, curmudgeonly twins both. From the above my favorite sentence is “Amorality exists in direct proportion to image consumption!” The exclamation point lets me imagine someone in Speaker’s Corner in London shouting it out over the heads of the oblivious passing crowd.


Yeah–I thought is was pretty good too…

M. Thomas

===== =====

“Rant?? I’ll Give you Rant.”

D. Hannah, Dubai

Where the bloody hell have all the flowers gone?

Pete Seeger

OK, so that’s not quite how it goes. I was reminded of it on a recent long haul flight, however, when through the miracle of modern communications I was subjected to the grey, gritty yet ultimate grandeur of The Deer Hunter.

Yes, as MT pointed out to me, films one would not normally watch become compelling when faced with sitting in a confined space for hours on end. So watch it I did. And loved it I did. And wondered given the state of the world as it has been for the last 6 years, where the bloody hell our one is?

What on earth has happened to the world of fiction, when “Jarhead” is all we get. When “Blackhawk Down” is our Apocalypse Now.

How has the blog (sorry, I’m so old fashioned  – twit) become our “All Quiet on the Western Front”? Seriously, where are the novels? How long do we have to wait for our Platoon or Full Metal Jacket, and why does it seem to be left to people like Robert Fisk and embedded reporters to tell the story? Where are the protest songs – who is the Dylan of our age – the Dixie Chicks????

If I am correct, this war is even less popular than the Vietnam war. It’s inception brought 150, 000 people onto the streets of Melbourne and 1.5 million onto the streets of London. Yet none of them seems to have thought of making a movie about it. Where have all the flowers gone indeed.

  1. While skipping for the moment the question of intentionality, I go back to the newly-minted “beerage.” I think, taking MT’s definition of signage, that beerage is valid–as a group of linked beers, it is distinct from the word beers. I had two friends in college who would go to the bar for “a beer.” As long as their glasses remained more than half-full, they were still having “a beer,” even if they had, in reality, consumed countless pitchers. I think this was in fact not “a beer,” but nor was it beers; it was beerage–a group of linked beers, or in this case, one never-ending beer.

  2. The adverb ‘intentionally’ adds information to the verb ‘proceed’ describing how we proceed (in general adverbs add info to the verb phrase).

    ‘Intentionality’ the noun complement adds information to the subject – describing what MT proceeds with. It doesn’t attribute the intention to anything – he is not intending to proceed, He is proceeding intending to do something – something unknown, although probably assumed by the IB rep (at his peril).

    This subtle distinction of meaning is actually more precise in its way, allowing for a myriad of unspoken communication while leaving an out for both parties – “oh, I thought you meant…”.

    It seems to me MT has learnt a little during his time in Japan.

  3. Gentlemen, I find this all very interesting, so much so that I devoted about 25 minutes to it with my sophomores yesterday. Upon presenting “let’s lawn it” to the group, I found the intelligent core loving the phrase, the dullards had to be explained what a lawn was, its part of speech, and what might conceivably do on the lawn (more on this later). I’m with Pat– perhaps even in being an elitist or semi-elitist– that there should be a good reason for the advent of the new word. Take the word moisture for example. In breaking with Mr. White’s rule, we’ve embraced the idea of the noun-to-verb advent of ‘moisturize’ and taken it a step further in re-nouning it (if you will) by adding the -er to make moisturizer (something that might add moisture to something else). Following this same formula with another word, take terror for instance, and the formula reveals feebleness: terror to terrorize to terrorizer. We have a word for terrorizer, it’s terrorist (a savings of one letter and it sounds better).

    To get back to “let’s lawn it”, it was pointed out by one of my intellectual students that although “lawning it” is creative, frugal, and fun, it’s not entirely precise. Are we playing croquet? Throwing lawn darts? Sitting on blankets in a circle? Looking for worms? I agreed there was a precision problem, but that it most likely meant ‘heading out to the manicured grassy area for some unspecified grassy area activity. Upon seeing this dilemma, however, what I determined was that “let’s lawn it” is dangerous in the wrong hands (chiefly those that don’t know a noun from a verb or what a lawn is, which, sadly, was a portion of my private-school studentry). I think this is, at least in part, in agreement with Pat’s argument.

    (Because I love burgers, I tried to make an argument for burgerize and burgerizer, but was shot down by a resounding 98%.)

  4. I almost wrote a follow-up comment semi-apologizing for the arrogance contained in comment one, but decided to bag it…while still not sure about the word intentionality, that’s not what really defines a “good” new word (or use of word) for me. I like new uses that are efficient and not offensive to the eye or ear (a subjective definition, I know). I think that “let’s lawn it” does something new and saves words…it replaces “let’s go out on the lawn,” or perhaps even “let’s hit the lawn.” We’ve saved words and we have a charming new use of a word. Considering signage, though…I think we have a word for “signs considered as a group”…I think it’s “signs.” I don’t think the phrase “Holiday Inn signage” does anything for us that “Holiday Inn signs” doesn’t…and it sounds worse, IMHO (or perhaps, given my “high-elitist” tendencies, IMNSHO).

  5. Aha, a high-elitist argument from PA, but one which holds a certain amount of force. So what you’re saying is that if coining is done with intentionality, it’s ok–if it’s done through rhetorical or mental laziness, it’s not? defines “signage” as “Signs considered as a group.” So random signs in proximity might still be “signs,” whereas 3 signs pointing to way to the Holiday Inn might be “signage.”

  6. The problem, it seems to me, is confining the invention of coining new words to those with the intellectual capability to do so. “Let’s lawn it” is excellent…descriptive, economical, and attractive–it truly describes an activity in a clear, sensible fashion. “Signage,” for example, however, is worthless…not only is longer than “signs,” it doesn’t describe anything more or less than “signs” does. Add of course, JI, what our students do with the language is horrifying…they, with the exception of Mr. Lyon, of course, have no business coining anything (though there was a middle-schooler who was caught trying to put counterfeit money into the vending machine this year, but that’s a different kind of coining)…

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