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Waterboarding Language 23 April 2008

Posted by mecca in ABUSHARIF, Culture, Politics, THEMES.

Caring about language is not an egghead sport. Nothing exists outside of its reach. Why would “revelation” itself be entrusted to words if there wasn’t something special or supernal about them? Like air and water, language can be corrupted, though it’s hard to notice the toxins. Apparently, the struggle for the meaning of words (especially common words) seems to precede the struggle for control, be it political, social, or even religious. The quote below is from a highly recommended book called Death Sentences (by Don Watson), a serious critique of how political- and business-speak are damaging language and its use in public dialogue. I like it for its content, but also because it is the kind of work that helps us decipher meaning from background noise.

“All totalitarian regimes, regardless of their ideological origin, pervert language to delude, intimidate, and mystify their subjects. They also take the humor out of it, even when the circumstances are laughable. Stalin sent his erstwhile comrades to their deaths confessing ludicrously concocted crimes, and countless intelligent people were persuaded to believe them. What is it that torture and brainwashing try to extract? Words. They need the word as the corpse. If words define reality, you cannot control the one without controlling the other.”

And while I’m at it, read this too, please.

“[A] cathedral is the property of the church, whereas a language belongs to civilization, and if [language] is dragged down it takes civilization with it. Language is not just a preserver or bearer of tradition. Words do more than the elemental thing of linking one generation to another. The great works of public language like the Book of Common Prayer are poetic works. In the poetry is the mystery with which religion is concerned and on which it depends. . . . Many churchpeople will tell you that when it adopted everyday modern prose, the church cut off an artery to its soul.”

Feel Something: Ramadan Sensations 19 September 2007

Posted by mecca in Spirituality, THEMES.

One thing that a thoughtful Ramadan experience is said to do is reverse 11 months of “professionalizing our existence,” to borrow the phrase from Martin Amis. “Professionalizing” the religious experience means to become rote doers of rites (stiff and perfunctory); with Sunday-school heart; and exposed to pretension and self-righteousness, among the greatest risks of religiosity. If Ramadan were a proofreader’s pen, it would stop at “Muslim” (the professional adherent) and strike it down to “muslim” (a person who believes and remembers why).


Murdoch-izing Journalism 4 August 2007

Posted by mecca in ABUSHARIF, Culture, Sociology, THEMES.
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I’m reading now Commodify Your Dissent, an anthology comprised of articles taken from the very liberal Chicago journal The Baffler, edited by Thomas Frank. I got the book after thumbing through a copy of it in the office of a former NU prof of mine. There are some biting offerings in this volume that do what good essays are called to do: articulate what we already sense but are unable, unwilling, or too busy to map words to. But considering the poetic take over of the Dow publishing enterprise (including The Wall Street Journal) by Rupert (al-Fox News) Murdoch, it’s good to be reminded of what this means in a larger “context,” if that word has kept any meaning. Here’s one salvo to consider: