Dogon people, Don Snyder, Ed Mitchell, Edmund Spenser, Eliot Elisofon, Elizabethan England, Henry Unton, John Fortune, Mali, Navajo language, Noam Chomsky, Paolo Uccello, Paranormal, Peter Farb, Psychic, Robert Hughes, Sanche de Gramont, Syntactic Structures, The Battle of San Romano, The Faerie Queen, The Rout of San Romano, Uri Geller
This issue’s cover shows a detail from Paolo Uccello’s The Battle [or Rout] of San Romano, subject of an article by Robert Hughes:
Also in this issue:
The ‘special loose insert enclosed with this issue’, showing the three-part painting has gone missing!
Uccello was a pioneer of perspective:
The Rout presents a world of ideal solids made horseflesh: massive hemispheres of rump and belly, cylinder of neck, prism of head… [It] must have seemed a definitive compendium of all the poses in which a horse could be depicted. Rearing, ambling, caracoling, standing, sprawled dead on the ground or snapping at air with a twist of the neck, drawn from above or below, represented in side profile or head-on or from the back, they constituted a pattern book of equine pose, character and behavior.
Hughes was very busy – he also contributed ‘The Cosmos is a Giant Thought’, a look at paranormal researchers and psychics. Among the former is the Apollo 14 astronaut Ed Mitchell and the latter is Uri Geller, in a portfolio of photos by Don Snyder.
In ‘People Are Talking’ (an extract from his 1973 book Word Play: What Happens when People Talk) the linguist and anthropologist Peter Farb explores how our language shapes the way we think. He describes the ‘revolution in ideas about the structure of language that has taken place since 1957 when Noam Chomsky of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology published his Syntactic Structures’:
Chomsky believes that all human beings possess at birth an innate capacity to acquire language. Such a capacity is biologically determined – that is, it belongs to what is usually termed “human nature” – and it is passed from parents to children as part of the offspring’s biological inheritance. The innate capacity endows speakers with the general shape of human language but it is not detailed enough to dictate the precise tongue each child will speak – which accounts for why different languages are spoken in the world…[Instead] of learning billions of sentences, a person unconsciously acquires a grammar that can generate an infinite number of new sentences.
He describes how different languages report experience in different ways because of the way they are structured:
Imagine two forest rangers, one a white speaker of Standard English and the other an Indian speaker of Navaho, riding together on inspection in Arizona. They notice a broken wire fence. When they return to their station, the English-speaking ranger reports A fence is broken. He is satisfied that he has perceived the situation well and has reported it conscientiously. The Navaho, though, would consider such a report vague and perhaps even meaningless. His report of the same experience would be much different in Navaho – simply because his language demands it of him.
First of all, a Navaho speaker must clarify whether the “fence” is animate or inanimate; after all, the “fence” might refer to the slang for a receiver of stolen goods or to a fence lizard. The verb the Navaho speaker selects from several alternatives will indicate that the fence was long, thin and constructed of many strands, thereby presumably wire. The Navaho language then demands that a speaker report with precision upon the act of breaking; the Indian ranger must choose between two different verbs that tell whether the fence was broken by a human act or by some nonhuman agency such as a windstorm. Finally, the verb must indicate the present status of the fence, whether it is stationary or is, perhaps, being whipped by the wind…The Navaho’s report takes about as long to utter as the English-speaking ranger’s, but it makes numerous distinctions that never occurred to the white ranger, simply because the English language does not obligate him to make them.
The Faerie Queene is a record of a man’s mind responding to and being modified by the Elizabethan Age.
Speaking of ‘that golden haze’ that surrounds the age, he says:
The images that define “England’s Glorious Hour” in our schoolbooks are suffused with it: the queen addressing her troops at Tilbury, flame-haired and dazzling, a silver corselet over her white velvet dress; Drake playing bowls on Plymouth Hoe while the Armada sweeps through the channel; Raleigh’s absorbent cloak, Hilliard’s miniatures, the groundlings’ honest laughter at the Globe; Ben Jonson roistering at the Rose; the gardens of Hampton Court with gillyflowers and pinks; the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
Spencer belongs somewhere in this world, but he also belonged to another, darker world: the filth and stench of the London streets and a gang of blind beggars trying to club a pig to death; the constant threat of plague; Bedlam; appalling cruelty – men strung up, cut down still living, castrated and disembowelled; Elizabeth at Kenilworth Park releasing a captured deer, but first cutting off its ears.
Spencer’s achievement in The Faerie Queen was to embody these great antitheses – both the magnanimity and grace of the age that inspired poets and sent adventurers around the world, and the frantic cruelty that degraded even the most civilized…He is the poet of opposites and their reconciliation.
‘Sir Henry Unton was not a great Elizabethan but he was, and did, all the right Elizabethan things.’:
The Dogon eat millet and live in mud huts, but they are convinced their way of life is best, and see themselves as happy. As one of them told a visitor: ‘The white men think too much and they do a great many things, and the more they do the more they think. And then they make a lot of money and they worry about losing it. And they are never quiet. And they are never happy. Here everyone is happy. We are happy with things as they are.’
Three Swiss psychoanalysts asked if there were any murders in Dogon society:
Murder – no, that’s not sensible, they were told. You have to repair the loss to the family, you have to be on your guard against vengeance, you might be expelled from the group.
Despite the harshness of their surroundings, the Dogon saw themselves as happy. They did not question their dependence on the group…[The Swiss] concluded: ‘The Dogon who took part in our conversations are neither childish nor primitive. They are more exposed to external dangers than Westerners, but they feel less anguish. They are more dependent on their surroundings, but they are less solitary. They are less pursued by interior conflicts and they get along better with their fellow men than we do with ours.’
The article is illustrated by the former LIFE magazine photographer Eliot Elisofon, who had died in 1973. This picture is captioned: ‘Dogon women, excluded from participation in public funeral dances, assemble on the roof of a mud house, opposite, to perform their own ritual for the dead. The ladders, each carved from a tree trunk, are marvels of functional design.’: