Having finished reading Raselas, I’m wondering what to read next. I did briefly go back to The Tale of Genji, finishing a chapter that I started reading some weeks or – more likely – months ago, but I find the story winning prizes for being both slow and dull, just like Genji’s anally retentive world. I may read a chapter now and then, but expect another report this time next year about how I’m a third of the way through and no more engaged by it. In other words, I’m not going to be focusing my attention on The Tale of Genji.
I did suggest David Hume might be my next port of call, probably the Essays which are perhaps more approachable than other writings. I don’t know whether I want to trouble myself with his Dialogue Concerning Natural Religion or not, although a little background research on it reveals that Hume was dealing with issues that are germane to that nonsense of the modern age, Intelligent Design. The argument back in the day was that if you were to find a watch in the desert (note the spelling, SparkNotes!), you’d know that someone had made it because such a complex mechanism couldn’t have come into being without cause. Thus if the watch was created by an external agency, then something like the universe, having a complex structure itself, must’ve had a designer. The flaw in the argument is that analogy isn’t proof. Analogy merely says that two things function in a similar fashion, and is a kind of extended metaphor. Just look at the opening paragraph of Hobbes’ Leviathan (and also think about the flyleaf picture at the start of the book):
NATURE (the art whereby God hath made and governs the world) is by the art of man, as in many other things, so in this also imitated, that it can make an artificial animal. For seeing life is but a motion of limbs, the beginning whereof is in some principal part within, why may we not say that all automata (engines that move themselves by springs and wheels as doth a watch) have an artificial life? For what is the heart, but a spring; and the nerves, but so many strings; and the joints, but so many wheels, giving motion to the whole body, such as was intended by the Artificer? Art goes yet further, imitating that rational and most excellent work of Nature, man. For by art is created that great LEVIATHAN called a COMMONWEALTH, or STATE (in Latin, CIVITAS), which is but an artificial man, though of greater stature and strength than the natural, for whose protection and defence it was intended; and in which the sovereignty is an artificial soul, as giving life and motion to the whole body; the magistrates and other officers of judicature and execution, artificial joints; reward and punishment (by which fastened to the seat of the sovereignty, every joint and member is moved to perform his duty) are the nerves, that do the same in the body natural; the wealth and riches of all the particular members are the strength; salus populi (the people’s safety) its business; counsellors, by whom all things needful for it to know are suggested unto it, are the memory; equity and laws, an artificial reason and will; concord, health; sedition, sickness; and civil war, death. Lastly, the pacts and covenants, by which the parts of this body politic were at first made, set together, and united, resemble that fiat, or the Let us make man, pronounced by God in the Creation.
However, I’m distracting myself from the subject.
The other matter, whether we’re talking about Hume or Locke or Dryden’s Dramatick Poesie, is my purpose for reading them. I admit that I’d be reading them less for content and more for style and mental exercise, and even as linguistic curiosities.
But I’ve also been wondering about trying my own version of NaNoWriMo over thirty days, although probably non-consecutively. What would the story be about? Well, Gerald Nerdey, oppressed, humiliated teacher of English in China by day is Mr Bamboo, superhero linguist by, er, day and sometimes in the mid to late evenings as well, fighting the forces of arch-villain Prescripto, who is plotting to prevent the English-speaking world from using the passive, and to make them talk uninformed nonsense about what they think is wrong with the state of the language. Mr Bamboo would have powers such as being able to use constraint rankings to defeat his enemies, although his Achilles Heel would be opacity (the equivalent of kryptonite to Superman).
I think Lucas and Spielberg are going to be wanting to talk about the film rights to this one. Carla Gugino could play Mr Bamboo’s sidekick, Mane Clawse, and the role of their boss, I.P. Spec-Node, might go to Stephen Merchant. Or Barry from Eastenders. I’m so excited. I can’t wait to buy a pirated copy on DVD.
(Actually, I hear there’s going to be a sequel [prequel??] about how Prescripto goes back to the late 17th century and tries to create an English Academy, but it’s called – and this shows just how evil Prescripto is – Academie Anglaise. Naturally, Mr Bamboo and Mane Clawse go back in time to stop him with a little help from Aphra Behn.)