Top of Mind: week ending 8/24/2018


On the advice of a friend (or, more specifically, the partner of my wife’s friend) I’m thinking of starting Aikido. I took Taekwondo, Hapkido, and Kendo as a kid, and I did about a year of Judo in my early twenties, and I’ve occasionally considered getting back into it. Aikido seems like the martial art most well-suited to my temperament these days: the invention of a pacifist, designed to disrupt attacks with out hurting the attacker, athletic without being competitive, and very much out of fashion currently (Brazilian jiu-jitsu is the locus of the martial arts zetigiest currently).

I haven’t yet decided to actually sign up for classes. I’ve observed a class at a local dojo, but am postponing the decision to join until after Labor Day. If I’m going to do it I want to make sure I go in with sufficient commitment to train regularly for at least two years.

To help in this process I checked a number of books on Aikido out of the library, including Aikido and the Harmony of Nature, by Mitsugi Saotome, which is nudging me more and more into the “just do it” category.


Sylvan Esso

I occasionally listen to the Rumble Strip podcast, which I think I subscribed to on the recommendation of the guy from Here Be Monsters. Last week I caught Amelia Drives Around, in which host Erica Heilman just drives around in a car with Amelia Meath, the singer from from Sylvan Esso, and talks about stuff. It was pretty interesting, but what really caught my attention were the brief cuts of Sylvan Esso that were interspersed with the interview. I had never heard of the band before but I subsequently downloaded both their albums. It’s great stuff! Many of their songs have the harmonic bones of conventional pop songs but are dressed up in intricate electronic textures and enhanced with Meath’s extraordinary expressive vocals. But some of the songs veer into the wholly experimental as well. Their song Song has been in my head for about ten days and running.


Rhetoric of the 19th Century Servant Class

A brief bit of dialog that I came across in my weekly 50 pages of Anna Karenina between a servant and one of the princes (I forget which one) got me curious about the style of speech used by the servant class in the 19th century. That lead me to this fascinating 2016 paper by Jane Hodson of the University of Sheffield looking at what 19th century novels can tell us about how the working class spoke. I was hoping to find an analysis of actual recorded speech by actual servants, but there is a sense in which good prose fiction subjects reality to Instagram filter-style transformations that enhance certain aspects of it, and can therefore give you a way to usefully reverse engineer the cultural weltanschauung that produced it.

Anyway, Hodson’s paper contains many interesting insights into the way servants spoke, and also into the novels that feature servants. Here she is on Joseph from Wuthering Heights:

In the case of Wuthering Heights, for example, the fictolinguistic pattern that Ferguson discerns, in which Joseph’s strongly marked dialectal speech signals his “harsh but conventional morality” builds upon a well-established association between rural identity, a lack of social polish, and old-fashioned ideas.

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