Saturday, 27 October 2012

The paradox of anonymity

As an avid commentor on the Huffington Post I have come to realize that there is a paradox of anonymity. People are by nature skeptical and yet, at the same time, quite uncritical of their ability to cull out the truth. But that is not the paradox I'm talking of here.

I try and be honest of and to myself when I post a comment. But I've seen over the last few months instances where someone writes something and another challenges that person's assertions. Almost invariably, as if by good fortune, that person had the right credentials all along, which sometimes leaves one incredulous going by the choice of vocabulary and level of analysis demonstrated by the comment poster just challenged. - I happen to suffer the same skepticism and uncritical belief in my abilities to see the truth when I see it.

I'm reading a book right now that my aippakuluk ordered for me online. The book is called, Baudolino, by the great Umberto Eco and I must admit that I relish every word ever written by that guy and this Baudolino is no different - I just love the guy's writing. Reading Eco is like drinking a thousand year old single-malt, like the milk of paradise of the Coleridge fame.

But I digress: the main character in the Eco book is named Baudolino, a person with "two major gifts - a talent for learning languages and a skill in telling lies". Eco has a way of spinning yarns around familiar but innocent-sounding adages of the old world, and I doubt that I'd spoil anything by telling you that the Baudolino character is a study of human nature in the guise of the saying about the liar from Crete. Eco is that good.

A couple of days ago, I posted a comment, re: Niel Young asking who Bono was, something to the effect that U2 is a group of great showmanship but anyone with some knowledge of music wouldn't call them muscians and that Mr Young's apparent slight was probably with respect to Bono's tendency for self-righteous prickery. An angry response came into my in-box promptly saying that I know nothing of music and that the Edge had been voted the greatest guitarist sometime ago by the RollingStone magazine.

When I replied back I had to mention that I love U2 as a rock band and that I actually know how to play guitar and a bit of harmonica and know a few musical scales to go with that, and that the Edge has a huge bank of pedals and processors to make the music sound good. It was then that I realized I sound exactly like the posters who just happen to have a degree or specific knowledge of the subject and I gave an audible groan...

The greatness and weakness of anonymous posting (I give my real name, by the way) is like the archetypal mask: it gives the wearer some feeling of safety to be honest, but this cuts both ways; the mask also gives one license to lie without much consequence to worry about.


Monday, 15 October 2012

The importance of 'logic systems' in developed discourse

I'm really grateful and enjoying my new job as a terminologist. I'm learning new things everyday and enjoy the company of and the interaction with my colleagues at the office. I'm not criticizing anyone but trying to point out an abstract process that is largely invisible and underappreciated by even the experts that come up with glossaries that we, at the office, are expected to translate into the Inuit language. This also affects the translators that we have to interact with from time to time in the course of our work.

I was reading the posting of the reader/members of a media website today when I was reminded of something that I think I've written about in this very blog - the importance of logic systems of a developed discourse. A poster, whom I assume is a kid based on what he wrote, said something that was kind of off about politics but I couldn't quite put my finger in it. Then, in a flash of insight, it occurred to me that it's the internal logic system of political analysis that was missing in the poster's thoughts.

Internal logic systems allow for productive and consistent discourse, whether it is science, politics, journalism, etc. What is missing, in my estimation, in much of the Inuktitut in media and translation work is that invisible, underlying logic system that allows for the generation of new and original insights in a given discourse. While Inuit translators are expected to translate such terms as 'abnormal' into Inuktitut, the concept itself is often left undefined in grammatically productive terms or not said explicitly why something is 'abnormal' as per the internal logic system in which the word occurs.

In fact, without knowledge of, say, the Linnaeus taxonomic scheme of the animal kingdom I'd have an extremely hard time trying to come up with productive, non-circular definitions in Inuktitut for animal terms. Some animals have the same name in Inuktitut - most species of sandpipers, say - while some terms in English have same words that in Inuktitut are differentiated (juveniles from adults; four legged from bipedal running). The word for 'speckled' or 'spotted' in Inuktitut changes depending on whether the speckles or spots are on a bare skin, fur or scales of a fish, and whether they are large and few or small and numerous.

Given these facts, the best strategy is to try and find cognates between the two languages (and the logic systems) that will translate the terms more accurately (both ways, especially in Inuit Knowledge discourse). But that is what is frustrating tryng to explain to not only translators but also the experts who take these things for granted or have internalized them so much that they've become invisible.

Mnay a time I've been told - sometimes in my face - that I don't know what the heck I'm talking about because I have a tendency to talk over people (not intentionally, of course) but what I'm actually trying to do is to point out cognates and commonalities between the logic systems of the different languages that the self-same people are talking about exactly, only in different terms.


Saturday, 13 October 2012

A crisis of semiosis (part iii)

This post is just to clarify some of the concepts of semiotics so I'm just posting passages from wikipedia on Umberto Eco that I think will clarify what it is I'm actually referring to in this three part post on A crisis of semiosis.

Eco began seriously developing his ideas on the "open" text and on semiotics, writing many essays on these subjects, and in 1962 he published Opera aperta (translated into English as "The Open Work"). In it, Eco argued that literary texts are fields of meaning, rather than strings of meaning, that they are understood as open, internally dynamic and psychologically engaged fields. Literature which limits one's potential understanding to a single, unequivocal line, the closed text, remains the least rewarding, while texts that are the most active between mind and society and life (open texts) are the most lively and best—although valuation terminology is not his primary area of focus. Eco emphasizes the fact that words do not have meanings that are simply lexical, but rather, they operate in the context of utterance. I. A. Richards and others said as much, but Eco draws out the implications for literature from this idea. He also extended the axis of meaning from the continually deferred meanings of words in an utterance to a play between expectation and fulfilment of meaning. Eco comes to these positions through study of language and from semiotics, rather than from psychology or historical analysis (as did theorists such as Wolfgang Iser, on the one hand, and Hans-Robert Jauss, on the other). (Wikipedia entry on Umberto Eco)

From the late '50s till the late '60s, before his semiotic turn, Eco engaged in studies on mass media and mass culture, which were published in various newspapers and journals. According to some these studies were influential although he did not develop a full-scale theory in this field. (ibid)

Eco's fiction has enjoyed a wide audience around the world, with many translations. His novels are full of subtle, often multilingual, references to literature and history and his dense, intricate plots tend to take dizzying turns. Eco's work illustrates the concept of intertextuality, or the inter-connectedness of all literary works. Eco cites James Joyce and Jorge Luis Borges as the two modern authors who have influenced his work the most.

Eco employed his education as a medievalist in his first novel The Name of the Rose (1980), a historical mystery set in a 14th century monastery. Franciscan friar William of Baskerville, aided by his assistant Adso, a Benedictine novice, investigates a series of murders at a monastery that is to host an important religious debate. The novel contains many direct or indirect metatextual references to other sources, requiring the detective work of the reader to 'solve'. The title is unexplained in the book. As a symbol, the rose is ubiquitous enough to not confer any single meaning. There is a tribute to Jorge Luis Borges, a major influence on Eco, in the blind monk and librarian Jorge of Burgos: Borges, like Jorge, lived a celibate life consecrated to his passion for books, and also went blind in later life. William of Baskerville is a logically-minded Englishman who is a monk and a detective, and his name evokes both Willim of Ockham and Sherlock Holmes (by way of The Hound of the Baskervilles). Several passages describing him are strongly reminiscent of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's description of Sherlock Holmes.The underlying mystery of the murder is borrowed from the "Arabian Nights". The Name of the Rose was later made into a motion picture starring Sean Connery, F. Murray Abraham, Christain Slater and Ron Perlman which employs the plot rather than the philosophical and historical themes from the novel.

In Foucault's Pendulum (1988), three under-employed editors who work for a minor publishing house decide to amuse themselves by inventing a conspiracy theory. Their conspiracy, which they call "The Plan", is about an immense and intricate plot to take over the world by a secret order descended from the Knights Templar. As the game goes on, the three slowly become obsessed with the details of this plan. The game turns dangerous when outsiders learn of The Plan, and believe that the men have really discovered the secret to regaining the lost treasure of the Templars.

The Island of the Day Before (1994) was Eco's third novel. The book, set in the seventeenth century, is about a man marooned on a ship within sight of an island which he believes is on the other side of the international date-line. The main character is trapped by his inability to swim and instead spends the bulk of the book reminiscing on his life and the adventures that brought him to be marooned.

Baudolino was published in 2000. Baudolino is a knight who saves the Byzantine historian Niketas Choniates during the sack of Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade. Claiming to be an accomplished liar, he confides his history, from his childhood as a peasant lad endowed with a vivid imagination, through his role as adopted son of Emperor Frederic Barbarossa, to his mission to visit the mythical realm of Prester John. Throughout his retelling, Baudolino brags of his ability to swindle and tell tall tales, leaving the historian (and the reader) unsure of just how much of his story was a lie.

The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana (2005) is about Giambattista Bodoni, an old bookseller specializing in antiques who emerges from a coma with only some memories to recover his past.

The Prague Cemetery, Eco's 6th novel, was published in 2010. It is the story of a secret agent who "weaves plots, conspiracies, intrigues and attacks, and helps determine the historical and political fate of the European Continent." The book is a narrative of the rise of Modern-day antisemitism, by way of the Dreyfus Affair, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and other important 19th century events which gave rise to hatred and hostility toward the Jewish people. (ibid)

-The commonality of Eco's novels above is the constructed (but very real) realities built around the moral, ethical, archetypal, cultural and historical landmarks within which the characters exist. Some chracters do well, some collapse under the weight of the logical extremis of their worlds. Eco's writings explore what it is to human inside the human world.


Thursday, 11 October 2012

A crisis of semiosis (part ii)

A crisis of semiosis is a devastating tool in the process of colonialization and assimilationist policy toolbox. Semiosis is the ability to make meaning of the world and the cultural archetypes that make up the fully functioning individual. Taking it away is the first thing the colonializing power does in every instance where it has occurred.

In Franz Fanon's Wretched of the Earth, we see that it is not only applied to the indigenous population but also to the policing and coercive agencies of the colonializing state - wreaking havoc upon both the occupying class and the indigenous population alike.

The crisis of semiosis has been longtime coming to Nunavut. Inuit are not only losing their language but also the foundational archetypes that provide the moral frameworks so necessary for a functioning and viable society. The problem is insideous and getting more so everyday as seen in the growing blatancy in violence.

The crisis of semiosis is something that needs to be explored in not only government but those who work in cross-cultural environments such as teachers and the clergy.


A crisis of semiosis (part i)

Semiotics is the study of signs and their interpretation of the world around us, including cultural signification. Umberto Eco is one of my favourite semioticians what with the novels he's written whose themes center around how people behave in the surround of cultural signs, but he's not the only semiotician (only the very best in my estimation).

Kevin O'Leary is a minor CBC celebrity (this statement just about captures the whole man) who considers himself a rock star among capitalists and he acts as he thinks a celebrity should act. He has a rather dim view of "losers" and an utterly uncritical view of "winners" like Lance Armstrong which he identifies as being like himself. In his estimation these "winners" deserve our admiration though they've clearly got to where they are today by lying, cheating, back-biting, and social-climbing their way to the 'insider' status.

When O'Leary was asked today if Lance Armstrong should admit to lying and cheating he's way into history books, O'Leary said something to the effect that because Armstrong is a corporation he has no obligation to admit to anything, that it's up to the accusers to prove their case - this in the face of overwhelming evidence of methods, means, and complicity that Armstrong surrounded himself.

The crisis of semiosis is the very definition of this behaviour. O'Leary and Armstrong (in fact the whole corporate class) may not be diagnosed 'sociopaths'/'psychopaths' but that they suffer from a crisis of semiosis is undeniable. This is a sad state really because whether willfull or not it points to a certain kind of ignorance of the world around them and the consequences of their actions, all in the name of self-interests and selfishness.


Sunday, 7 October 2012

Some good news I wanted to share

After, what seems to me, many years of wandering in a wilderness I finally got regular employment again with the Government of Nunavut as a terminologist (focussing on media and private sector). I want to thank the people who provided me with subcontracting work, Innirvik: they're good people to work with and very professional. And I'd like to thank the people who provided me with references for my new job. I won't mention their names but I thank them from the bottom of my heart.

I'm excited about my new job. It's in a field I love, language and technical analysis; and, it has almost nothing to do with controversial politics which was largely my downfall in the last field I worked in as a policy analyst. I work with a great bunch of people and I like working with them all. I'm still having to figure out the administrative stuff - such as filling out forms to pay the subcommittee members for the section I'm working in to come up with new or standardizing terms, and figuring how to navigate my way through the bureaucracy.

But I love the new challenges of actually analysing Inuktitut terms, coming up with technical solutions of doing the job, and translating the processes into practicalities of working with Inuit elders and other bureaucrats to come up with the best possible solutions to promote and 'modernize' our language. I'm brimming with ideas but I have to keep my enthusiasm in check so as not to go over the people and process that are so key to making a success of the important work.

I've also discovered a new thing. My need for politics and political comment is satisfied in a safe way by a website: where I can interact with political junkies like myself. There I'm learning the art of tolerance and expressing ideas and allowing them to speak for themselves in a marketplace of other peoples ideas and feelings.

I think I'm really learning how to be human; my maturity has long been coming, almost overdue. Finally working with other people also seems to be helping me in my homelife where my sense of partnership is becoming enhanced by the vagaries of work-a-day life. My home is my sanctuary. I hope my aippakuluk will see the differences I'm beginning to feel inside of me.