Language

Cerebrotonic

No sooner do I post about Auden and include 'The Fall of Rome' ('Cerebrotonic Cato may / Extol the Ancient Disciplines'), than up pops 'cerebrotonic' in another blog post.

'Cerebrotonic' sounds like an Auden coinage, but isn't. Here's the OED:

A. adj. Designating or characteristic of a type of personality which is introverted, intellectual, and emotionally restrained, classified by Sheldon as being associated with an ECTOMORPHIC physique. B. n. One having this type of personality. So cerebrotonia (-{sm}t{schwa}{shtu}n{shti}{schwa}), cerebrotonic personality or characteristics.

1937 A. HUXLEY Ends & Means xi. 165 Dr. William Sheldon, whose classification [of types of human beings] in terms of somatotonic, viscerotonic and cerebrotonic I shall use. Ibid. xii. 193 The cerebrotonic is not such a ‘good mixer’ as the viscerotonic. 1940 W. H. SHELDON Var. Human Physique 8 In the economy of the cerebrotonic individual the sensory and central nervous systems appear to play dominant roles. 1945 A. HUXLEY Let. 2 Apr. (1969) 517 There was just enough of the somatotonic in his..cerebrotonic make-up to make him regret his cerebrotonia. 1950 {emem} Themes & Var. i. 121 Too secretively the introvert, too inhibitedly cerebrotonic, to be willing to take the risk of ‘giving himself away’. 1951 AUDEN Nones (1952) 28 Cerebrotonic Cato may Extol the Ancient Disciplines. 1954 R. FULLER Fantasy & Fugue iv. 75 You..unfortunately incline to the cerebrotonic ectomorph{em}you worry too much, you're too good looking, and you can't abandon yourself happily to booze.

The other blog post? Momus' Celebrating diversity means measuring difference. Momus writes about William Sheldon:

I discovered his writings when I was 20, and trying to understand my own problems and potentialities better. Sheldon proposed what seems at first like a very simple way to measure body types. He isolates three basic components: fatness, muscularity and thinness, which he calls endomorphy, mesomorphy and ectomorphy. … "Ectomorphy means linearity, fragility, flatness of the chest, and delicacy throughout the body," he wrote. "We find a relatively scant development of both the visceral and the somatic structures. The ectomorph has long, slender, poorly muscled extremities with delicate pipe-stem bones, and he has, relative to his mass, the greatest surface area and therefore the greatest sensory exposure to the outside world. He is thus in one sense overly exposed and naked to the world." …

I'm a classic ectomorph, which means that by temperament I'm a cerebrotonic. In ectomorph-cerebrotonics, "the sensory-receptor properties are well developed. As a consequence however the central nervous system (CNS) is soon overloaded and rapidly tires. The cerebrotonic has the gift of concentrating his attention on the external world as well as on his internal world. His vigilance and autonomic reactivity make him behave in an inhibited and uncertain way: introverted behaviour. He has problems with expressing his feelings and with establishing social relationships, and can very well bear to be alone. The elementary strategies of coping with life are perception, reconnaissance and vigilance, cognition and anticipation, and a certain amount of privacy." …

Personally, I like people who structure the world boldly, especially if their structurations ring true. I don't take any structuration as holy writ, though -- I like to play with them, snap them together and pull them apart. But I also like it when structurations make for lovely poetry. The way Sheldon describes the ectomorph has a behaviourist beauty, a 1940s severity. He has "a relative predominance of skin and its appendages, which includes the nervous system; lean, fragile, delicate body; small delicate bones; droopy shoulders; small face, sharp nose, fine hair; relatively little body mass and relatively great surface area".

"The cerebrotonic may be literate or illiterate," says Sheldon, "may be trained or untrained in the conventional intellectual exercises of his milieu, may be an avid reader or may never read a book, may be a scholastic genius or may have failed in every sort of schooling. He may be a dreamer, a poet, philosopher, recluse, or builder of utopias and of abstract psychologies. He may be a schizoid personality, a religious fanatic, an ascetic, a patient martyr, or a contentious crusader. All these things depend upon the intermixture of other components, upon other variables in the symphony, and also upon the environmental pressures to which the personality has been exposed. The essential characteristic of the cerebrotonic is his acuteness of attention. The other two major functions, the direct visceral and the direct somatic functions, are subjugated, held in check, and rendered secondary. The cerebrotonic eats and exercises to attend."

I know next to nothing about Sheldon and need to go back to Momus and read it all again. John Fuller, in his W H Auden: A Commentary, says only this apropos 'The Fall of Rome' and 'cerebrotonic':

Stanza 4: Auden was inclined to prefer the endomorphic type to either the ectomorphic ('Cerebrotonic Cato') or the mesomorphic ('muscle-bound Marines'). The typology is from W H Sheldon.

Momus, quoting Sheldon on endomorphs and mesomorphs:

For comparison, in endomorphs "The body is rounded and exhibits a central concentration of mass. The trunk predominates over the limbs, the abdomen over the thorax, and the proximal segments of the limbs predominate over the distal segments. The bones are gracile and the muscle system is poorly developed. Muscle relief and bone projections are absent. The body displays a smoothness of contour owing to subcutaneous padding. The head is large and spherical, the face is wide with full cheeks. The neck is frequently short and forms in side view an obtuse angle with the chin. The shoulders are high and rounded. The trunk is relatively long and straight, the chest is wide at the base. The limbs are comparatively short and tapering with small hands and feet."

"When mesomorphy predominates, the body is sturdy, hard and firm. The bones are large and heavy, the muscles well-developed, massive and prominent. The heavily muscled thorax predominates over the abdomen. The proximal and distal segments of the limbs are evenly proportioned. The bones of the head are heavy. The face is large in relation to the cranial part of the head. Massive cheekbones and square jaws are the rule. The arms and legs are uniformly massive and muscular, strongly built knees, massive wrists."

Ah, classificatory schema: they have their own fascination

Oh, and one other gem from Momus:

Interestingly, Sheldon met and befriended Aldous Huxley during a residence at a writers and artists' refuge at Dartington Hall in Devon, England. Huxley also recognized himself as an ectomorph and cerebrotonic, and saw it as a limitation …

(Have another look at the clip from the OED above. Wouldn't it be interesting if we could overlay the OED with transfers of social and intellectual relationships? … Hey OUP, open up the OED!) You'll have to click through to iMomus to hear what Huxley had to say.


Friends and friends

Oops ... John Naughton:

I’ve been writing something about the MySpace phenomenon and decided that I’d better sign up. I was then confronted by this rather depressing analysis of my condition! Zero friends! The thing that’s really weird about MySpace is its concept of what constitutes a ‘friend’ — which seems to be anyone whose profile takes your fancy. It’s much closer to the teenager idea of friendship than the adult concept. Certainly, it isn’t anyone you actually know. For me, a friendship denotes a serious relationship that’s been built up over time (otherwise it’s an acquaintanceship). So it’s unsettling to see fiftysomethings on MySpace — who really ought to know better — using ‘friend’ in the shallow, teen sense of the word.

Sorry, John, but I think that's both patronising and just a little out of touch. Here's danah boyd:

Why does everyone assume that Friends equals friends? Here are some of the main reasons why people friend other people on social network sites:

  1. Because they are actual friends 
  2. To be nice to people that you barely know (like the folks in your class) 
  3. To keep face with people that they know but don't care for 
  4. As a way of acknowledging someone you think is interesting 
  5. To look cool because that link has status 
  6. (MySpace) To keep up with someone's blog posts, bulletins or other such bits 
  7. (MySpace) To circumnavigate the "private" problem that you were forced to use cuz of your parents 
  8. As a substitute for bookmarking or favoriting 
  9. Cuz it's easier to say yes than no if you're not sure

The term "friend" in the context of social network sites is not the same as in everyday vernacular. And people know this. This is why they used to say fun things like "Well, she's my Friendster but not my friend." (The language doesn't work out so cleanly on Facebook.) The term is terrible but it means something different on these sites; it's not to anyone's advantage to assume that the rules of friendship apply to Friendship.

Teenagers know a lot about friendship and I don't think they're confused either by the difference between the friendships they're growing (over time!) and friendships that have been grown over many years, or by the way 'friend' is used online. Where they see adults with good, lifelong friendships, then that's what they look forward to growing, too.

If the adults are confused … But I suspect many adults have also worked out that 'friends' online isn't quite the same as 'friends' offline.

Of course, there is a big issue here concerning how social software differentiates between "real" friends and acquaintances. That theme has cropped up this summer in postings on Vox: Don (Park) has said there that 'the  Privacy categories need more work' (ie, for whom am I posting this?), and

I think Vox will eventually need to provide more means for users to organize their neighborhood into cliques without exposing embarassing details to neighbors. By embarrasing, I mean I don't (want) a distant friend to know that I consider him to be a distant friend.

This is true generally of social software — if we want it to conform to the patterns of offline behaviour. On the other hand, I've found it challengingly discomforting and also liberating to have my nice little sense of 'private self' shaken about a bit …

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Paris burning

Good coverage in this morning's Observer of the last 10 days of civil unrest in Paris and elsewhere in France. With a son studying in Paris (UPX), I'm following this with more attention than I would anyway:

  • Violence sweeps France in 10th night of riots
  • The week Paris burned: 'The riots that have convulsed France over the past week have raised huge questions over the country's ability to integrate its Muslim population - concerns which have implications for the rest of Europe.'
  • An outcast generation: 'it is important not to confuse actions by youths from poor, largely immigrant neighbourhoods with ordinary delinquency. These riots show evidence of social protest. In one group of five youths questioned about the riots, three had left school at 15 or 16 with no qualifications and against the wishes and knowledge of their family. Another was an absentee father, while the last had a criminal record for abusing the police and handling stolen goods. None envisaged any employment beyond a job at McDonald's'.
  • 'We're not germs or louts. Sarkozy should've said sorry'

Some years ago, we flew to Paris for a weekend break. Usually we take the Eurostar, which whisks you in to the Gare du Nord. Arrive at Charles de Gaulle airport and take a taxi or bus, and you see another Paris altogether. I wrote recently of how parts of Liverpool shocked me, but the great sink estates, the 'ghettoised banlieues', of Paris are something else again. Aulnay-sous-Bois is a pretty name but a place of severe contrasts, pretty only in part (BBC: 'just a mile or so from where the menacing, dilapidated tower blocks have seen nightly clashes between angry youths armed with petrol bombs and the police, is the Vieux Pays … district of Aulnay which has the feel of picture-postcard France'). My Paris photos from February of this year are here. As you can see, I didn't get out into the suburbs, but last week Jean-Claude Irvoas 'got out of his car in Epinay-sur-Seine to take a photograph. As his wife and daughter sat in the car, Irvoas was attacked by three men, said to be Arabs from a nearby housing estate, and savagely beaten. He died in hospital later that evening'.

We stayed within what I now know Parisians call Paris intra-muros, a term with, we'd like to think, a distinctively medieval ring to it — the civilised world within the stockade, a place apart behind the barbican. An historical term. Not us, not now.

In France, '28,000 cars have been burnt on housing estates this year alone' (Observer).

Literary critics have often delighted in discovering in the changing valencies over time of a word's meaning, and in its etymology, significant meaning for the present. From the OED's entries:

Enough ironies there for a Sunday morning in rural Wiltshire …


Getting it

Doc Searls:

It's interesting to think about the container transport concepts behind "getting" as a synonym for understanding. When you "get" what somebody says, you're saying a sum of knowledge has been delivered to you, in a form you can use. "I gather..." makes a similar assumption, through the same deep unconscious metaphor: knowledge is a substance, a commodity: something you can harvest and ship.

Doc quotes Terry Heaton's The Matter of "Getting It":

… one no longer needs to own the infrastructure in order to publish, distribute or broadcast content. This is turning the media world upside-down, and most of the traditional media response, I'm sorry, falls under the category of "they just don't get it."

Doc:

Terry goes on to give a lot of good advice. Meanwhile, however, I think we have a deeper problem, and that's with the concept of knowledge as a solid substance. Think how much of what we talk about here is provisional. It's not thought out all the way. Often (usually?) it can't be delivered as a finished product because it isn't finished, and won't be for a long time. Much of what we do is pass along interesting information about subjects we won't be done talking about for a long time.


Play and learning

I am gathering my thoughts about that York University research project into grammar teaching (reported on last week) and have things to say, in this connection, about Philip's Pullman's contention (last Saturday's Guardian) that we English teachers are wasting our time "teaching" grammar.

In the meantime, here's MacNeice's wonderful, play-full poem, 'Snow':

The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was
Spawning snow and pink roses against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
World is suddener than we fancy it.

World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.

And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world
Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes —
On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one's hands —
There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.

Texting & Literacy

Guardian Unlimited:

A study comparing the punctuation and spelling of 11- and 12-year-olds who use mobile phone text messaging with another group of non-texters conducting the same written tests found no significant differences between the two.

Both groups made some grammatical and spelling errors, and "text-speak" abbreviations and symbols did not find their way into the written English of youngsters used to texting.

According to the author of the research, the speech and language therapist Veenal Raval, the findings reflect children's ability to "code switch", or move between modes of communication - a trend familiar to parents whose offspring slip effortlessly between playground slang and visit-the-grandparents politeness.

But the study did find that the pupils familiar with text messaging wrote significantly less when asked to describe a picture or an event than those who did not use mobiles, potentially fuelling concerns that the quality and expressiveness of children's writing could be at risk even if their spelling is not.


Thinking in the body

And as if that weren't enough excitement for one night, there's this from Anne Galloway:

If Derrida were a verb, then that's what happened to Webb the other night. Brilliant. And now he's got a question:

"The way Derrida operates inside language instead of over it, I want a philosophy (or rather, a way of doing philosophy) which is of embodiment (embodiment of all kinds, including the nonhuman) instead of happening over it. Where can I find that? What can I do? Where can I start?"

My quick answer? There's always The Phenomenology of Perception. But The Body in Pain really made me think about when language fails, and Dangerous Emotions is a hell of a read. And, really, to do philosophy is to live life.


Double-Tongued Word Wrester

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