Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Of All the Things We've Lost, We Miss Our Mind the Most -- Popcorn by The Colonel #62

"Constrained writing" is an umbrella term for odd things like writing without the letter "e," but  the phrase is useful to describe writing under any constraint. Tweets, sonnets, limericks, and term papers and journalistic assignments with page or word-number limits are all forms of constrained writing.

An early-developed form of constrained writing is entirely omitting the name of the Most High lest one accidentally use it in vain and contravene the commandment, causing the wrath of the Most High to blaze up and cook one's goose. (Similar reasoning supports the observant practice of keeping two sets of dishes.)

Some forms of constrained writing can be fun, like trying to eliminate all passive-voice constructions. The hardest part of that exercise is specifying a by-agent when the by-agent is unknown. For example, "All of Gaul is divided into three parts."

Our favorite device in those situations is to use the phrase "the lads" as the universal by-agent. "The lads divided all of Gaul into three parts."

Another fun form of constrained writing is monosyllables, also called "short words." Here's an example:

"The goal of short words is to make what you set down clear to all who read it. Long words are bad, since lots of those who read what you write don't know them and won't pick up what you mean."

Translating polysyllabic writing into short words can be hard. Take the following paragraph, repeated from above: 

"Our favorite device in those situations is to use the phrase 'the lads' as the universal by-agent. 'The lads divided all of Gaul into three parts.'"

Possible translation into short words:

"What we like to do when that comes up is to use the phrase 'the lads' to mean those by whom the thing is done. 'The lads carved Gaul in to three parts.'"

A short words regime does better with a few exceptions, such as the following:

∙ Polysyllables of five letters or fewer count as short words (after, any, away, into, neon, itchy); and

∙ Proper names count as short words (Babylonia, United Airlines, Tree Fanatic, Karen Swartz).

A good place for a short words constraint is consumer contracts. It would be hard for a consumer to complain that a consumer contract written in monosyllables is not in "plain language."

Yet it could be so: 

∙ You must at all times live up to each duty you took on when you signed this deal. 

∙ If you ever do not live up to each duty you took on when you wrote your name on this deal, you will be deemed "out of the barn." 

∙ If you are out of the barn, we can try to get from you what you owe us. 

∙ If we try to get from you what you owe us, we can take any thing you own in whole or part that the law lets us take, like house, land, cash in banks, stocks, bonds, any wage or other sum you earn for work you do, and debts other folks owe to you in cash or kind, even if it's one-malt we ski

∙ If we try to get from you what you owe us, we may add the costs of the things we try to the debt you owe us. We may also add what we have to pay law lads to do the job, as long as the sums we must pay the law lads are not over the top. 

∙ By the way, when we say "lads," we also mean a lass or two or more, and the whole range of ells, bees, gees, and tees. We treat all the same way and pay no mind to things that are not a hill of beans in the first place.

∙ We may charge you a rate to be late and add it to the debt you owe us. Not to worry, though -- the rate to be late won't be more than _____ per cent per year. So that's good, too.

In sum, constrained writing can be any of more than fifty ways of tying yourself up. At bottom, it's just another form of discipline.


Anonymous said...

If one has truly lost one's mind, is it knowable?

Anonymous said...

There once was a lad from the Vineyard
Who cursed God both beam reach and windward
When told to abstain
Taking God’s name in vain
Asked, what the prime f***ing mover preferred.

Two Hands Clapping said...

Answer from The Colonel:

A good and topological question.

Whether "it" is knowable is a good question whether one has lost one's mind or not.

Many people accuse other people, such as former Mayor Filner, of not getting "it."

This assumes that "getting" it and "knowing" it are the same thing.

"Knowable" is itself a lightly concealed passive ("able to be known"), and like all passives, raises the question of the identity of the by-agent, in this case the knower.

As John Lennon wrote, "There's nothing you can know that isn't known," but there are probably plenty of things that you can't know that are known and therefore knowable, as well as things knowable but unknown by anyone but God.

Joe Alsop among others used to say the full version: "God knows; I don't."

On the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is the formulation, "Known But to God."

Someone once asked, "Shouldn't it be 'Unknown But to God,' as in 'Unknown Except to God'?"

Someone else replied, "In this context 'but' operates as an adverb, so the text means, "Known Only to God."

Do lost minds know each other?

To this we must give a tentative yes, based on observation of many marriages.

As Ann Landers of blessed memory used to say, "These people do find each other."

Can something with no mind "know" anything?

Sometimes a person deep in dementia will display an awareness of his or her condition ("I have this terrible disease"), but that may be a function of the part of the mind that hasn't yet gone gentle on little cat feet into that good night.

As for whether inanimate objects know anything, we think the answer is yes. They, or at least some of them, like copiers, seem to know how to thwart human intentions and even to lie.

If the answer is no, in part or whole, it may be due more to the fact that the object has no anima (soul)than that it has no nous (mind).

How can you know anything if you don't have at least a little bit of soul?

Anyway, Anonymous 6:57, thanks for the provocative question.

Forgive the following sign-off, but Ed Jefe, oops, El Jefe, has issued a diktat.

"Our name's The Colonel, what's yours, Gutless Coward?"

Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...

It was not a diktat, it is dogma.

So, please walk the dogma.

If your name is the Colonel, my name is Inigo Montoya.

Anonymous said...

As long as there's a Colonel of truth...