Which Switch

Why didn’t George Orwell sort his relatives out? I don’t mean his family: I mean his pronouns. In The King’s English (1906), the Fowler brothers say this:

The few limitations on ‘that’ and ‘who’ about which every one is agreed all point to ‘that’ as the defining relative, ‘who’ or ‘which’ as the non-defining.

Here are some examples:

• The cat that sat on the mat ate a rat. (Defining)
• The cat, which is three, never sits on mats. (Non-defining)
• The cat that you see on the mat eats rats. (D)
• The cat, which you saw yesterday on a mat, eats rats. (N-D)
(The third example can also be written without an explicit relative: “The cat you see on the mat eats rats.”)


But Orwell doesn’t follow these simple rules consistently in Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). In the opening chapter of the book, you can find many defining relatives using “which”:

• …one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move
• …a list of figures which had something to do with the production of pig-iron
• …an oblong metal plaque like a dulled mirror which formed part of the surface of the right-hand wall
• …the blue overalls which were the uniform of the party

But you can also find defining relatives using “that”:

• …his skin roughened by coarse soap and blunt razor blades and the cold of the winter that had just ended
• …there seemed to be no colour in anything, except the posters that were plastered everywhere
• You had to live – did live, from habit that became instinct – in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard (note implicit relative after “sound”)

Here Orwell uses “that” and “which” as defining relatives in the same sentence:

• Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it, moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard.

I can’t see any clear reason for the alternation, but it would be interesting to analyse the sentences more carefully and see if it’s possible to discover what conditions his use now of “which”, now of “that”. When I looked at the same phenomenon in the work of Evelyn Waugh, I found that “that” seemed to occur more often when the noun was governed by a preposition. That may also apply to Orwell.

Now let’s move from a particular writer to something more general. It’s possible to use a modification of the rules given above. If the noun and its defining relative are separated by several other words, I sometimes prefer “which” to “that”. Here’s an example from Orwell:

• He had a trick of resettling his spectacles on his nose which was curiously disarming…

The noun is “trick”, not “his nose”, so “which” doesn’t seem so bad to me, because it helps to disassociate the relative from the nouns that separate it from its antecedent. In its non-defining form “which” has what might be called a disjunctive role, and the disjunctive association is still there when it’s used as a defining relative. That’s why “which” doesn’t seem right as a defining relative when its antecedent stands directly before it.

But the possessive of “his nose” also helps to dissociate the relative, so I would also be happy to use “that” in this particular case. In the other examples, “that” is the clear winner (except perhaps in “an oblong metal plaque like a dulled mirror which formed part…”).

Do many foreign learners of English feel the same way about “that”? I doubt it. It must often be difficult to separate the three meanings of “that”: the demonstrative pronoun, the defining relative, and the coordinator. Not many foreign speakers of English would understand this sentence easily:

• It’s confusing that that “that” that’s a relative pronoun is written in exactly the same way as that “that” that’s not.

If English had a governing academy, we might spell the three thats differently: that, thæt and thatt, for example. And if I had my way, we wouldn’t use a digraph for the dentals. That is, the opening sentence of Nineteen Eighty-Four would look like this:

• It was a bright cold day in April, and ðe clocks were striking Þirteen.

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Performativizing Papyrocentricity #45

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Plants on PaperDrawing and Painting Plants, Christina Brodie (A & C Black 2006)

LewminiferousGuide to Garden Wildlife, Richard Lewington (British Wildlife Publishing 2008)

Old GoldPuskás: Madrid, the Magyars and the Amazing Adventures of the World’s Greatest Goalscorer, György Szöllős (Freight Books 2015)

Rosetta RokRok 1984, George Orwell (MUZA SA, Warszawa 2001)


Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

Thalassobiblion

Ocean The Definitive Visual GuideOcean: The Definitive Visual Guide, introduction by Fabien Cousteau (Dorling Kindersley 2014)

A big book for a big subject: the sea. But “guide” isn’t the mot juste. “Encyclopaedia” is better, because the book covers all aspects of oceanography and marine life, drawing on physics, chemistry and biology to describe everything inorganic from waves and icebergs to whirlpools and underwater volcanoes, everything organic from a beautiful flower like beach morning-glory, Ipomoea imperati, to a grotesque fish like the Pacific blackdragon, Idiacanthus antrostomus. The flower is on the shore, the fish is in the abyss, but both of them descend from a single ancestor.

And that ancestor may have evolved in the sea. It certainly moved there before it gave rise to flowers and fish. This big subject is also a very important one: the sea is central to the evolution and continued existence of life on earth. Only the sun matters as much, but some marine life could potentially survive the disappearance of the sun:

Hydrothermal vents are similar to hot springs on land. Located near ocean ridges and rifts, at an average depth of 2,100m (7,000ft), they spew out mineral-rich, superheated seawater. Some have tall chimneys, formed from dissolved minerals that precipitate when the hot vent water meets cold, deep-ocean water. The mix of heat and chemicals supports animal communities around the vents – the first life known to exist entirely without the energy of sunlight. (pg. 188, “The Open Ocean and Ocean Floor”)

The deep ocean is a fascinating and little-known place: much nearer than the other side of the earth, but much harder to get to. Like climbing mountains, plumbing the abyss is difficult and dangerous. It’s interesting that both endeavours have been dominated by a particular group of human being: both the highest and lowest points on the planet were first reached by white males. Fabien Cousteau, who introduces this book, continues the tradition. He’s the grandson of Jacques Cousteau (1910-97), who popularized diving and marine biology for millions of people. Jacques saw huge advances in marine technology and science and his son and grandson have seen more. But the discoveries are still coming: as Fabien points out, it’s estimated that “over 90 per cent of the world’s biodiversity resides in its oceans”.

Discomedesae by Ernst Haeckel

Discomedusae by Ernst Haeckel

Some of that biodiversity left the water for the land and evolved new forms. Some of those new forms went back to the water, like the ceteceans and sea-snakes. Like human beings, they’re descended from fish, the most varied of all vertebrate groups. But some marine life never left its cradle. Where else can you find the beauty and strangeness of groups like the jellyfish? Radial symmetry is a marine speciality and when H.P. Lovecraft was inventing his aliens, he looked to under-space as much as outer:

But to give it a name at this stage was mere folly. It looked like a radiate, but was clearly something more. It was partly vegetable, but had three-fourths of the essentials of animal structure. That it was marine in origin, its symmetrical contour and certain other attributes clearly indicated; yet one could not be exact as to the limit of its later adaptations. The wings, after all, held a persistent suggestion of the aerial. How it could have undergone its tremendously complex evolution on a new-born earth in time to leave prints in Archaean rocks was so far beyond conception as to make Lake whimsically recall the primal myths about Great Old Ones who filtered down from the stars and concocted earth life as a joke or mistake; and the wild tales of cosmic hill things from outside told by a folklorist colleague in Miskatonic’s English department. (At the Mountains of Madness, 1931)

Lovecraft would have enjoyed Ocean as much as Jacques Cousteau. It closes with a detailed “Atlas of the Oceans”, with maps of the ocean floor all around the world. Before that, you can learn how the Corryvreckan whirlpool nearly killed George Orwell in 1947, where to find manganese nodules, why so many deep-sea creatures are red and what the narwhale’s horn really is. You can also feast your eyes on photography that records everything from microscopic plankton to swirling hurricanes hundreds of kilometres across. Big subject, big book. Beautiful subject and beautiful book too.

The Power of Babel

“…par la suggestive lecture d’un ouvrage racontant de lointains voyages…” – J.K. Huysmans, À Rebours (1884).

The language you know best is also the language you know least: your mother tongue, the language you acquired by instinct and speak by intuition. Asking a native speaker to describe English, French or Quechua is rather like asking a fish to describe water. The native speaker, like the fish, knows the answer very intimately, yet in some ways doesn’t know as well as a non-native speaker. In other words, standing outside can help you better understand standing inside: there is good in the gap. What is it like to experience gravity? Like most humans, I’ve known all my life, but I’d know better if I were in orbit or en route to the moon, experiencing the absence of gravity.

And what is it like to be human? We all know and we’ve all read countless stories about other human beings. But in some ways they don’t answer that question as effectively as stories that push humanity to the margins, like Richard Adams’ Watership Down (1972), which is about rabbits, or Isaac Asimov’s The Gods Themselves (also 1972), which is about trisexual aliens in a parallel dimension. There is good in the gap, in stepping outside the familiar and looking back to see the familiar anew.


Continuing reading The Power of Babel

Fifty Sense

I can recommend George Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language” (1946) to anyone who wants to write better English. Or better French, Georgian, Arabic, Mandarin or Tagalog, because some of Orwell’s advice is universal. But perhaps the essay is partly a joke: Orwell may deliberately have committed some of the literary sins he criticizes. Or not deliberately. Orwell wasn’t infallible, despite his modern cult. He wasn’t a perfect observer either, but I don’t think his failure to criticize “in terms of” in the essay is a bad oversight. The phrase wasn’t the blight in his day that it is today. All the same, you can see its spores beginning to drift through the flower-beds of English literature in the 1930s and ’40s. Orwell himself uses it nineteen times in the Fifty Orwell Essays available at the Australian Gutenberg site. But that’s roughly one I.T.O. for every 12,000 words or 2·63 essays, which I think is a healthy ratio. No I.T.O.’s at all would have been even healthier, though some are defensible and may be the best way of expressing Orwell’s thought. Others, however, seem to me to be tending towards Guardianese. I’ve collected them all here and suggested alternatives. Sometimes it might be better to re-write more fully, but only two alternatives are longer than the I.T.O. they replace (orthographically, at least).

From Charles Dickens:

More completely than most writers, perhaps, Dickens can be explained in terms of his social origin, though actually his family history was not quite what one would infer from his novels. → More completely than most writers, perhaps, Dickens can be explained by / through his social origin, though actually his family history was not quite what one would infer from his novels.

What now strikes us as remarkable about the new moneyed class of the nineteenth century is their complete irresponsibility; they see everything in terms of individual success, with hardly any consciousness that the community exists. → What now strikes us as remarkable about the new moneyed class of the nineteenth century is their complete irresponsibility; they see everything by / through individual success, with hardly any consciousness that the community exists.

When he speaks of human progress it is usually in terms of moral progress – men growing better; probably he would never admit that men are only as good as their technical development allows them to be. → When he speaks of human progress it is usually as moral progress – men growing better; probably he would never admit that men are only as good as their technical development allows them to be.

I have been discussing Dickens simply in terms of his “message”, and almost ignoring his literary qualities. → I have been discussing Dickens simply by / through his “message”, and almost ignoring his literary qualities.

The truth is that it is absurd to make such comparisons in terms of “better” and “worse”. → The truth is that it is absurd to make such comparisons with / by “better” and “worse”.

Charles Dickens (1940)


From Inside the Whale:

Alliances, changes of front etc., which only make sense as part of the game of power politics have to be explained and justified in terms of international socialism. → Alliances, changes of front etc., which only make sense as part of the game of power politics have to be explained and justified by / through international socialism.

Miller replied in terms of extreme pacifism, an individual refusal to fight, with no apparent wish to convert others to the same opinion – practically, in fact, a declaration of irresponsibility. → Miller replied as an extreme pacifist, as an individual refusing to fight, with no apparent wish to convert others to the same opinion – practically, in fact, a declaration of irresponsibility.

Inside the Whale (1940)


From The Lion and the Unicorn:

At the same time the Labour Party was a Socialist party, using Socialist phraseology, thinking in terms of an old-fashioned anti-imperialism and more or less pledged to make restitution to the coloured races. → At the same time the Labour Party was a Socialist party, using Socialist phraseology, thinking of / by an old-fashioned anti-imperialism and more or less pledged to make restitution to the coloured races.

Because the time has come when one can predict the future in terms of an “either–or”. → Because the time has come when one can predict the future with / by an “either–or”.

The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius (1941)


From Looking Back on the Spanish War:

I saw, in fact, history being written not in terms of what happened but of what ought to have happened according to various “party lines”. → I saw, in fact, history being written not by what happened but by what ought to have happened according to various “party lines”.

Looking Back on the Spanish War (1942)


From Antisemitism in Britain:

There is more antisemitism in England than we care to admit, and the war has accentuated it, but it is not certain that it is on the increase if one thinks in terms of decades rather than years. → There is more antisemitism in England than we care to admit, and the war has accentuated it, but it is not certain that it is on the increase if one thinks in decades rather than years.

Antisemitism in Britain (1945)


From In Defence of P. G. Wodehouse:

He had missed the turning-point of the war, and in 1941 he was still reacting in terms of 1939. → He had missed the turning-point of the war, and in 1941 he was still reacting as though it were 1939.

In Defence of P. G. Wodehouse (1945)


From Notes on Nationalism:

A nationalist is one who thinks solely, or mainly, in terms of competitive prestige. → A nationalist is one who thinks solely, or mainly, of / by competitive prestige.

In practice, however, the necessary calculations cannot be made, because anyone likely to bother his head about such a question would inevitably see it in terms of competitive prestige. → In practice, however, the necessary calculations cannot be made, because anyone likely to bother his head about such a question would inevitably see it through / by competitive prestige.

But Chesterton was not content to think of this superiority as merely intellectual or spiritual: it had to be translated into terms of national prestige and military power, which entailed an ignorant idealisation of the Latin countries, especially France. → But Chesterton was not content to think of this superiority as merely intellectual or spiritual: it had to be translated into national prestige and military power, which entailed an ignorant idealisation of the Latin countries, especially France.

History is thought of largely in nationalist terms, and such things as the Inquisition, the tortures of the Star Chamber, the exploits of the English buccaneers (Sir Francis Drake, for instance, who was given to sinking Spanish prisoners alive), the Reign of Terror, the heroes of the Mutiny blowing hundreds of Indians from the guns, or Cromwell’s soldiers slashing Irishwomen’s faces with razors, become morally neutral or even meritorious when it is felt that they were done in the ‘right’ cause. → History is thought of largely through nationalism, and such things as the Inquisition, the tortures of the Star Chamber, the exploits of the English buccaneers (Sir Francis Drake, for instance, who was given to sinking Spanish prisoners alive), the Reign of Terror, the heroes of the Mutiny blowing hundreds of Indians from the guns, or Cromwell’s soldiers slashing Irishwomen’s faces with razors, become morally neutral or even meritorious when it is felt that they were done in the ‘right’ cause.

Notes on Nationalism (1945)


From The Sporting Spirit:

It is the most violently combative sports, football and boxing, that have spread the widest. There cannot be much doubt that the whole thing is bound up with the rise of nationalism – that is, with the lunatic modern habit of identifying oneself with large power units and seeing everything in terms of competitive prestige. → There cannot be much doubt that the whole thing is bound up with the rise of nationalism – that is, with the lunatic modern habit of identifying oneself with large power units and seeing everything by competitive prestige.

The Sporting Spirit (1945)


From Books vs. Cigarettes:

Exactly what reading costs, reckoned in terms of pence per hour, is difficult to estimate, but I have made a start by inventorying my own books and adding up their total price. → Exactly what reading costs, reckoned in pence per hour, is difficult to estimate, but I have made a start by inventorying my own books and adding up their total price.

There are books that one reads over and over again, books that become part of the furniture of one’s mind and alter one’s whole attitude to life, books that one dips into but never reads through, books that one reads at a single sitting and forgets a week later: and the cost, in terms of money, may be the same in each case. → There are books that one reads over and over again, books that become part of the furniture of one’s mind and alter one’s whole attitude to life, books that one dips into but never reads through, books that one reads at a single sitting and forgets a week later: and the cost, in money, may be the same in each case.

Books vs. Cigarettes (1946)


From Writers and Leviathan:

Quite largely, indeed, the workers were won over to Socialism by being told that they were exploited, whereas the brute truth was that, in world terms, they were exploiters. → Quite largely, indeed, the workers were won over to Socialism by being told that they were exploited, whereas the brute truth was that, viewed from overseas, they were exploiters.

Writers and Leviathan (1948)


From Reflections on Gandhi:

Even when he was fighting what was in effect a color war, he did not think of people in terms of race or status. → Even when he was fighting what was in effect a color war, he did not think of people by race or status.

At the same time there is reason to think that Gandhi, who after all was born in 1869, did not understand the nature of totalitarianism and saw everything in terms of his own struggle against the British government. → At the same time there is reason to think that Gandhi, who after all was born in 1869, did not understand the nature of totalitarianism and saw everything through his own struggle against the British government.

Reflections on Gandhi (1949)


Previously pre-posted (please peruse):

Ex-term-in-ate!

Titus Graun

Reds Under the Thread

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #6

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Camus Up for BlairGeorge Orwell: A Life in Letters, selected and annotated by Peter Davison, (Penguin 2011)

God-FingerThe Satan Bug (1962) / The Way to Dusty Death (1973), Alistair MacLean

Mum, Bum and CaravaggioOutsider: Always Almost, Never Quite: An Autobiography, Brian Sewell (2011)

Eyes Wide OpiumHow to Read a Photograph: Understanding, Interpreting and Enjoying the Great Photographers, Ian Jeffrey (2008)

Beard TalesThe Devotee of Ennui #1: Hymn to Hermaphrodite, Alan Moore with Kegsey Keegan (Polypogonic Press, 2013)


Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR