I couldn’t help it
I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts today; the episode was about the Norwegian/English race to the South Pole. I could get off on a tangent about that, but I won’t I won’t I won’t. The Englishmen took a bunch of books and culture-y stuff with them (which is, in part, why they lost the race). At the end of the episode, the two hosts asked what books their listeners would bring on an antarctic/desert island expedition*. I thought about it all afternoon (I know, I’m a nerd; but I’m totally okay with that), and here are my respective lists:
- The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis. It starts out all icy and wintry, and with all Lewis’s fascination with The North, it would be a crime not to bring him to cold places (and I like the irony of bringing him to the south)
- Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte. What’s a little winter without some classic gothic literature?
- Complete Works of William Shakespeare. I know I’m cheating a little bit, but I do have them in a single volume, so I’m comfortable in justifying this. I would focus on the tragedies and the history plays.
- Faust, both versions (Marlowe and Goethe). It’s dark. It needs to come.
- some poetry. I’m not sure whose. Maybe an anthology or collection of some kind.
- The Complete Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
- Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O’Dell. I could really relate to Karana! It would be awesome.
- The Odyssey, by Homer. The epic journey, the uncertainty of ever returning home…
- Gone With The Wind, by Margaret Mitchell. Civil War. The American south. And the summer heat in the book would be appropriate.
- Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier. See above comment.
- Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse. I’d relate to the climate, and hopefully I’d be inspired by the personal growth through suffering and come out of that awful eternal summer a much, much better person.
- Moby Dick, by Herman Melville. I think the desperation of the whole book would really speak to me.
- Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn, by Mark Twain. Again, the heat of the climate, and the journey.
*They said 5 books for each, but I couldn’t limit it. I never can.
I stayed up late to finish a book again.
This time it was Dicey’s Song by Cynthia Voight. I cried (of course, everything makes me cry).
I think that I love to read because reading lets us, the readers, experience and understand things that are hard to access in any other way. It lets you in to the intimate aspects of lives that you don’t get to see every day.
Reading, and the concurrent experience and subsequent understanding it lends, helps us in our quest for meaning. Frankl talks about that; what we’re really looking for is meaning.
I think that is a big part of what it is to be human; the questioning “why” and “how.” That leads to learning and understanding, and that allows us to grow like Heavenly Father.
I figured out how to explain how infertility feels.
It’s like having a loved one die, every month. I know that sounds dramatic, but that’s exactly how it feels.
I literally go through the stages of grief about this:
Every. Single. Month. Because with each new cycle, I hope that this will finally be the month. And each time, I’m disappointed.
I came to this realization a few weeks ago, and then yesterday, I found this explanation on resolve.org:
"Infertility is, indeed, a very painful struggle. The pain is similar to the grief over losing a loved one, but it is unique because it is a recurring grief. When a loved one dies, he isn’t coming back. There is no hope that he will come back from the dead. You must work through the stages of grief, accept that you will never see this person again, and move on with your life.
"The grief of infertility is not so cut and dry. Infertile people grieve the loss of the baby that they may never know. They grieve the loss of that baby who would have had mommy’s nose and daddy’s eyes. But, each month, there is the hope that maybe that baby will be conceived after all. No matter how hard they try to prepare themselves for bad news, they still hope that this month will be different. Then, the bad news comes again, and the grief washes over the infertile couple anew. This process happens month after month, year after year. It is like having a deep cut that keeps getting opened right when it starts to heal."
If you have a loved one dealing with infertility, for their sake and yours, please read the articles on this page:
They’re not very long, and they are really helpful. Just try to be understanding.
Have you ever been learning something — say, from a book, or in a class, or in a podcast even — and felt that it was so fascinating, so profound, so meant-for-you, that you simply started to cry?
That happened to me today.
It was amazing.
I have been thinking for some time about applying to grad school. I really want to do it, but I have several qualms: the expense; the time commitment; the devastation I’d feel if I were rejected; the fact that I’d have to stay in Utah for at least 2 more years if I go to BYU like I want to.
But today, I decided, unequivocally, that I’m doing it.
I was listening to an episode of a podcast, and it was talking about words and language, about the neuroscience of linguistics, and about cognitive development as tied to language. This podcast, in case you’re wondering, is an episode called “Words” from the WNYC Radiolab podcast (originally aired September 9, 2010).
Is there a such thing as an intellectual orgasm?
This is what I want to do for the rest of my life. Study linguistic theory and language development. I love it. I love with a love that is more than love (+10 points to anyone who gets that reference).
I mean, I really want to be a mother. So much it hurts. But since apparently that’s not in the cards anytime soon, and also since becoming a mother doesn’t make me any less of who I am now, this is what I want to do with the rest of me.
I love to learn. And I love to discuss what I’ve learned. I think that’s what I loved about college so much - I love academia. I love the whole culture based on learning. And I do realize that this is a little idealized, and that there’s a dark side to academia, as to everything else, but, nonetheless, that’s what I want to do.
Good night, dear void :)
Growing up is hard. Suddenly I have to worry about being politically correct and paying taxes, about falling in love and eating right…
I miss the days when life was simpler.
The only race that mattered was the one from one side of the yard to the other, and a well-balanced meal meant one that came with a drink AND a toy. “Planning for the future” meant nothing more important than whether to play tetherball or tag at recess.
Love was the hugs you got from Mommy and Daddy, and it never ever hurt.
Work was something that your parents did, and the quarters left by the tooth fairy seemed like a fortune.
Diversity was only the color of popsicle that stained your tongue in the summer, and cliques weren’t important because the whole class got colorful cartoon valentines and invitations to birthday parties.
Math class meant simple addition and subtraction - usually demonstrated by jelly beans and pennies.
Saturday morning cartoons were the pinnacle of your existence, and finances meant nothing more than hoping you had enough change in your piggy bank for the ice cream truck.
Understanding technology wasn’t anything more dramatic than your skills at The Oregon Trail, and the most pressing issue on your mind was whether it said “Disney” or “Gisney.”
The teacher always explained all the junk the textbook tried to say, and homework was no more than photocopied worksheets and 20 minutes of reading.
Health problems were centered around cooties and the chicken pox, and there wasn’t a boo boo that a hug from Mom and a colorful bandaid couldn’t cure.
The toughest question anyone ever asked was, “Are you p.t.?”
Fights didn’t last longer than a day, because you couldn’t remember why you were mad the next morning…or by the next recess.
And the roommates that drove you crazy were only your sisters…and you’d be whispering and giggling by the next night anyway.
Yes, life sure was simpler back then.
But then again, it’s so much richer now.
Curfew isn’t a term in my vocabulary (at least when I’m away at school).
I’m big enough to use the oven and sharp knives without the help of a parent.
I finally know exactly what I want to be when I grow up - and I’m halfway there already.
I don’t need parental permission to use the internet, and now it’s Mom asking me for help on the computer.
I don’t worry so much about catching cooties…in fact, I happen to enjoy it.
I can watch whatever I want to on TV, and read what pleases me.
Mom and Dad are suddenly friends with whom I can swap books, movies, ideas…and to whom I can always run for sympathy when the rest of the world has turned against me.
See, I’ve realized that I can still hold on to patchwork pieces of my childhood:
Quarters are still more precious than gold.
Mom’s cookies are definitely better than anyone else’s.
I still get mad when someone cuts (even though it’s in traffic instead of the lunch line - no cuts no buts no chinese coconuts!)
Disney movies can still make me feel all warm and fuzzy and happy.
I still want to be a princess - and now I’ve known boys other than Daddy who make me feel like one.
Life will always hurt: it started with scraped knees, then it was zits. From breakouts it moved to broken hearts, and those were soon joined by a pitifully empty bank account to match.
But the whole messy process has its upside, too. You had to fall off your bike before you could experience the freedom of flying down the street. Conquering your complexion is a rite of passage (and you realize that makeup is truly the best invention known to man). And broken hearts - well, those always suck. But you have to learn to cry before you can really know how to love.
So even though I sometimes miss the days when I couldn’t see over the counter at the supermarket, I’m learning to deal with the fact that I’m old enough to hold a driver’s license and a credit card ; )
I guess growing up isn’t so bad after all.
Ferdinand de Saussure was a Swiss linguistic theorist whose ideas and influence on theory are far-reaching and still felt in various fields of study. His theories were published in various articles during his lifetime, and finally collected and published by two of his students from Geneva as Course in General Linguistics, compiled mainly from class notes (Kemmer 1). However, some of his assertions are religiously unsettling when one considers their implications. But although the implications of Saussure’s assertions suggest that meaning itself is arbitrary, it is possible to come to terms with this idea while still retaining faith in LDS doctrine.
Saussure asserts that the words that make up language are defined only by their differences from one another, rather than by any definite positive term (Saussure 972). He begins by teaching that language is made up of signs and explains it thus: “The linguistic sign unites, not a thing and a name, but a concept [signified] and a sound-image [signifier]” (963). A sign, essentially, is a word (a signifier) combined with our concept of the object referenced (a signified). He further asserts that the relationship between the signifier and the signified is arbitrary1. “Every means of expression used in society is based, in principle … on convention” (965). He explains this with the non-linguistic example of the Chinese custom of bowing to the emperor. When a man greets his emperor, he bows nine times. There is no intrinsic value in the act of bending at the waist to bow, but it is acknowledged as polite because it is conventional in his culture to do so.
He then introduces a paradox when he asks readers which came first, the signified or the signifier. Like the proverbial chicken and egg, the two are codependent, and it is impossible to fathom which came first. So, Saussure concludes, “Language is a system of interdependent terms in which the value of each term results solely from the simultaneous presence of others” (969). He uses the example of two words, dread and fear. If the word ‘dread’ had never been invented, all of the meaning and connotations it encompasses would go to its near synonym, fear.
This concept of differences is also illustrated by using the example of color. If you were trying to teach a person what ‘brown’ means, you might try by showing them many brown things—a brown chair, a tree trunk, a brown shirt, a brown crayon, and so on ad infinitum. But no matter how many different brown things you showed them, they would not fully understand until you contrasted brown with another color, e.g. this crayon is brown, but this one is orange, and this other one is fuschia (Culler 34-35).
Saussure further defends his point by asserting “if words stood for pre-existing concepts, they would all have exact equivalents in meaning from one language to the next; but this is not true” (Saussure 970). If you’ve ever conversed with someone from another culture, or tried to translate a text, you’ve probably experienced this. In Peru, for example, Spanish speakers frequently use the phrase ‘no pasa nada.’ It translates directly into “nothing happens,” but it means disappointment, disdain, contempt, disagreement, and disapproval, all rolled into one. There is no English equivalent for this concept.
So then, if signifieds and signifiers are so inseparably codependent and so often incongruous between languages, one must conclude that language is not only arbitrary, but that it is language itself which creates meaning. The implications of this are religiously unsettling in the least, and even nihilistic in their extreme. If language is arbitrary, and language creates meaning and value, then meaning must be arbitrary, without inherent value. According to Saussure, the only meaning we have is created by signs, by language which exists only in our heads. But our signs are arbitrary—so the relationship between two signs is also arbitrary—so everything is arbitrary, without inherent meaning. Language is an imprecise, precarious system because it is based on so many arbitrary links. This precarious nature makes it difficult to communicate. One must wonder how much original meaning really comes through in communication. Countless theorists have asserted that the author is dead, and people will make whatever they want of the text; so what about oral conversation?
And furthermore, what about conversation with the divine? If we create words and assign their meanings, what must we conclude about scripture and revealed truths? If we create the words by which revelation is given, are we creating the revelation itself? Are we then creating God?
Jacques Derrida answers this question in the affirmative. In his article “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences,” he critiques the work of Levi-Strauss, eventually concluding that original truth is either lost or nonexistant. Assuming then that original truth is lost, and if we aren’t creating God, we are at least separated from Him, Derrida gives three alternative responses. There is first the Rousseauistic way of thinking, which is “saddened, negative, nostalgic, guilty,” and ultimately functions under the illusive bricolage, where one pretends that the system is not broken and continues to work within it. Another alternative is a Nietzschean affirmation, the followers of which are overjoyed to be free from the chains of meaning, because once free, they can create meaning as they want it to be. Derrida himself chooses neither, and instead asserts his apprehension of the birth of some as yet unnamed monstrosity that is created by this loss of origin (Derrida 292-293).
Stanley Fish would probably also answer yes to this question. He asserts that the interpretive communities in which we live control and create our opinions and ideas about everything2. Naturally, this must include God.
So if these implications are correct, what is a Latter-day Saint to do? Follow Derrida in his fear, and let it paralyze and intimidate us? I assert that there is a way to come to terms with these arguments and still retain our faith.
The gospel teaches that God has His own language, one more perfect than ours. Several instances in revealed scripture detail the giving of language to prophets. In Moses 7:13, Enoch is able to call the people to repentance, “so great was the power of the language which God had given him.” Moroni shares in Ether 12 the power of the words God gives to them. “Thou hast made all this people that they could speak much, because of the Holy Ghost which thou has given them… . Thou has also made our words powerful and great, even that we cannot write them” (Ether 12:23, 25). Nephi also explains how they are mighty in speaking: “for when a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men” (2 Nephi 33:1).
There in Nephi’s explanation is the steadying hand to the precariousness of communication. When it is done with the Holy Ghost, communication is complete and perfect. It cannot be proved, or explained scientifically, but it can be felt and understood. Someday, when we are exalted and perfected, I believe that we’ll be able to communicate more perfectly. God must have a better language, or else He could not have given so great a one to Enoch (Moses 7:13). Perhaps what is greater about God’s language—the Adamic language, as it were—is that it is less arbitrary than ours. Or perhaps it is simply that the Adamic language is perfect in the sense of completion—a signifier exists for all possible signifieds, and it is the universal language because everyone participates in its dominant hegemony. All speculations aside, however, God does have a better language: “From latter-day revelation we learn that Adam had a pure and perfect language that was both written and spoken (Moses 6:5-6)”—and this language is the one that God gives to His people (Appendix 604).
In the mean time, concerning the question of the legitimacy of revelations received in our arbitrary languages, we must remember that God is not limited by the constraints of mortality. He is above and outside the limiting systems to which we are subject. However, if we are to understand Him, He has to use a language which we will understand, imperfect as it may be. Just as a parent uses simple vocabulary to speak to a young child, so God explains concepts and principles to us. “For [God] speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding” (2 Nephi 31:3). He knows all languages, and wants each of His children to hear the truth in the language most familiar to them: “every man shall hear the fulness of the gospel in his own tongue, and in his own language” (D&C 90:11).
I think that language is more powerful than we realize. It is no mistake to me that Christ is called the Word, and that God “said” in order to create the world (John 1:16, Moses 2:3). It was the powerful word of God which helped Enoch to win a battle (Moses 7:13). It is through words that priesthood blessings are performed, and it is words that cast out Satan. By our words we are judged (Matthew 12:36-37). The name of God is powerful, so to take it in vain has consequences greater than we may know (Deuteronomy 5:11). Perhaps there is more to Bakhtin’s caution to be careful which language we adopt than even he realized.
I do not know exactly why or how language is so powerful. I do not even claim to fully understand how powerful it really is. But while I do admit along with Saussure that human language is imperfect and even arbitrary, I cannot agree with all of the implications of his arguments.
1. He acknowledges two exceptions to this rule—onomatopoeia, where the signifier sounds like its signified, and interjections, where the signifier is a basic human reaction to the presence of the signified (the emotion).
2. Fish does not offer any response or proposed course of action after these implications.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “Adam.” Appendix: Bible Dictionary. The Bible. Authorized King James version. print.
Culler, Jonathan. Ferdinand de Saussure. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1986. print.
Derrida, Jacques. “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences.” L’ecriture et la difference. Chicago: UP, 1978. print.
Kemmer, Suzanne. “Biographical sketch of Ferdinand de Saussure.” Ling 403: Foundations of Linguistics. Rice University. 24 Aug 2009. web. 14 Dec 2009.
Saussure, Ferdinand de. From Course in General Linguistics. in The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: Norton, 2001. 963-77. print.
I recently started turning off the radio when certain commercials come on. You know, the ones that start out, “Where is your problem spot? Is there a little extra on your stomach? Or the flab on the back of your arms?” or “Remember how great your body used to look? You know, before the baby?” Those commercials disgust me. Who does that sultry voice think she is, to tell me that I’m not attractive enough? Who is she to tell any mother that her hips aren’t gorgeous? And who the heck can even afford those surgeries anyway?
Given, I am not a mother (not for lack of trying. But that’s another story). But I am a woman, and as such, I am beautiful. Just by virtue of my femininity, I am beautiful. I have the natural gift to influence others, to beautify the world around me, and to radiate love and the joy of creation.
I am not perfect. I have acne. I have flabby thighs and a soft middle. I bite my nails sometimes. I am overweight. I have wished I had the money for a quick, easy fix. Or for a personal nutritionist, chef, and trainer.
But you know what? No one else is perfect, either. Those billboards and magazines? Photoshopped. The actress on the red carpet or in the movies? Spanx, and a team of very expensive people who are paid disgusting amounts of money to make her look beautiful. So why not love the body you’ve got?
I’m not advocating slovenliness, or apathy, or neglect of personal hygiene (please keep showering, people). But there is only so much a person can be expected to do. Get up, exercise, shower, enhance your natural beauty. Do your best with what you have. Then go out the door and forget about yourself, and serve those around you.
It has taken me years to learn this. I have struggled with body image since I turned 12 years old, when my mom suggested I start dieting.
It may be unfair of me to say that; I have every single one of her genes, and everyone in her immediate family, except her, is overweight, and most of them qualify as obese. I know she said it out of love, because she doesn’t want me to deal with those health problems. But she did tell me to start dieting, and she does continue to talk negatively about her own body (which is healthy and fit and honestly, I think she’s too skinny). I don’t think she really knows how it affected me. How I have often watched people walk by and thought, “I wish I had her flat stomach,” or “I wish my hair were as thick and pretty as hers,” or, “I would give anything to have that body.” Or worse, “MAN, I’m glad I don’t look like her.” None of those things are fair. Everyone is different; that’s what makes us beautiful. Thank goodness this isn’t Stepford!
I believe that God gave us each a uniquely beautiful body to live in on this earth and into eternity. I also believe that because the devil chose to leave, he and those who followed him got neither bodies nor the priceless chance to live a mortal life. And because of that choice and its consequence, he is jealous and he is mad. So he does everything he can to make us hate our bodies, to make sure that we aren’t thankful for this incredible, beautiful gift from God.
I’m not asking you to adopt my religious beliefs. But no matter what you believe, you’ve probably figured out that self-hatred isn’t good for anyone. It’s poisonous. It’s crippling. If we don’t love ourselves, our self-consciousness limits our ability to reach out to others. If we don’t love ourselves, we can’t teach our children to love themselves. If we don’t love ourselves, we can’t comfort the friend in need. If we don’t love ourselves, we can’t accept love from others, and we can’t love them back, either.
So I challenge you: the next time you hear a commercial on the radio or on TV telling you to get surgery or take pills or use chemicals to make your body look younger, thinner, smoother, tanner, paler, whatever-er — turn it off. Change the channel, flip the station, just don’t let that kind of negative talk in your life any more. You don’t need it. Your mom doesn’t need it. Your kids don’t need it. Just get rid of it, and invite acceptance and peace and love into your life.
Foucault says that the purpose of the author function is “to construct the rational entity we call an author.” and that “those aspeccts of an individual, which we designate as an author … are projections … of our way of handling texts.” Explain how—in Foucault’s view—we construct author functions out of texts.
Foucault is looking at how the author function works and fits in discourse with the ultimate end of critiquing human subjectivity. The avant-garde writers in France at the time that Foucault was writing were trying to remove themselves from their texts. Critical theorists have long said that we don’t care what the author thinks, that the author is dead and we have to take the text as it is. The question is, though, if we are to eliminate the author, where do we draw the line of what to cut?It should also be stated that we cannot simply say, “Oh, language produces meaning, not the work.” This argument doesn’t work because to Foucault, the idea of language producing meaning still suggests an author. We need to address this on a deeper level.
Foucault doesn’t see the answer is Barthes or Derrida. Asserting ecriture does away with the author doesn’t work. It still sustains the privileges of the author. “The conception of ecriture, as currently employed, is concerned with neither the act of writing nor the indications, as symptoms or signs within a text, of an author’s meaning; rather, it stands for a remarkably profound attempt to elaborate the conditions of any text, both the conditions of its spatial dispersion and its temporal deployment. It appears, however, that this concept, as currently employed, has merely transposed the empirical characteristics of an author to a transcendental anonymity” (what is an author? 119-120). Ultimately, we create the author in our minds (see Fish’s “Blind Submission”).
To illustrate this, Foucault looks at the difference between an author’s name and proper name. “The proper name and the name of an author oscillate between the poles of description and designation, and granting that they are linked to what they name, they are not totally determined either by their descriptive or designative functions” (What is an Author? 121)
The author’s name has a function. It does actual work in a text. First of all, it provides classification. “A name can group together a number of texts and thus differentiate them from others” (Author 123). It also establishes different forms and relationships. “Neither Hermes nor Hippocrates existed in the sense that we can say Balzac existed, but the fact that a number of texts were attached to a single name implies that relationships of homogeneity, filiation, reciprocal explanation, authentification, or of common utilization were established among them” (Author 123). Finally, it gives the discourse a form of existence. “Discourse that possesses an author’s name is not to be immediately consumed and forgotten; neither is it accorded the momentary attention given to ordinary, fleeting words. Rather, its status and its manner of reception are regulated by the culture which it circulates” (Author 123). (Note: This function has always bothered me. I hate being forced to read Joyce just because it’s Joyce, or Chaucer because it’s Chaucer. I honestly hate both of them, and I really think that if someone else had written Ulysses, I wouldn’t even have to be aware of it. But I digress….)
The author function, on the other hand, does three different things. It allows for the appropriation of discourse—for ownership (Author 124). It also changes over time, rather than being universal or consistent. For example, the author function in scientific texts used to be considered important, but not in literary texts (those were seen as communal works). But this has switched now. The key in scientific work is that results are reproducible, not who wrote it (Author 125). The author function is also not spontaneous. We do not discover authors; we create them in order to have them do both theoretical and practical work (Author 127). We do the same thing in our relationships with people. We talked in class of the example of knowing a person in the flesh or conversing through e-mail. This happens all the time, and there are historical documentations of it. Emily Dickinson, for instance, had read Emerson’s work and admired him greatly. But when he stayed at her brother’s house, she refused the opportunity to go and meet him, admitting that she would rather hold on to her idea of him than meet him and have it shattered.
So as far as that goes, I agree with Foucault. We do create a sort of immortal author in our minds, especially of really great writers. Perhaps this is an expression of the divine. It isn’t the ‘true person’ because none of us are just yet— we’re all trying to become exalted beings. Ultimately, that is what we glean from reading, I think.
This question of authorship has been on my mind all semester. If the author is dead, if readers will disregard intent and do whatever they want with the text, what’s the point of even being an author? Are creative endeavors futile as anything other than a self-indulgence? Maybe. I don’t think so though. I think creativity (including procreation) is an expression of a divine urge and purpose. And it is possible to be truly understood—when we teach (or speak, or write) with the Spirit, and our reader has the Spirit as well, the message will get there. It may even become something greater for them than we with our limited knowledge were able to intend.
Ultimately, however, Foucault is making a point about human subjectivity to undermine consciousness. He critiques the creation of the author, and therefore the creation of people. I don’t know how to come to terms with it, so I’m gonna have to play the faith card here and not respond yet.
For My Daughter in Reply to a Question
by David Ignatow
We’re not going to die,
we’ll find a way.
We’ll breathe deeply
and eat carefully.
We’ll think always on life.
There’ll be no fading for you or fo me.
We’ll be the first
and we’ll not laugh at ourselves ever
and your children will be my grandchildren.
Nothing will have changed
except by addition.
There’ll never be another you
and never another as I.
No one will ever confuse you
nor confuse me with another.
We will not be forgotten and passed over
and buried under the births and deaths to come.