Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Old Skeletons and Broken Skulls

New York City, 2014
In a 1966 love letter to Hoki Tokuda, Henry Miller offered his support should she need someone to talk with or a shoulder to cry on; he did so by using a beautiful and dusky metaphor: "Here we fix broken skulls and rewire old skeletons".

A whole array of figures of speech have been used by writers and speakers to express concepts and feelings that, if laid out through a simple and ordinary language, would sound dull and unoriginal.
Language, whether it be written or spoken, must employ rhetoric to give a meaning some tints of irony, sarcasm, disbelief, warning, or are just used for the sake of style, or taste. Many among us might not know what a metonymy or a synecdoche are, but they employ them every single day, more or less aware of the effects they create and unaware of how they are created. 

Jack Keroauc described how he had "made the bed bounce" with a prostitute in Mexico City back in 1949, making the image a particularly sexual and raw one. Pablo Neruda's comparative simile, on the other hand, can hardly be equaled in terms of romanticism and affectionate sweetness when he ends a poem with one of his most famous verses: "I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry tree".
Dante Alighieri, overwhelmed by the sad and sorrowful story of Paolo and Francesca in the Circle of the Lustful, "fell, even as a dead body falls", and that simile (Dante is by antonomasia the master of similes) truly conveys what heaviness caught hold of his body and soul in that moment.

Some interesting figures of speech came from my many professors of philosophy. One of them, trying to amuse us with an anecdote from his student years, told us how he was always reproached by his teachers for being always late at school; until one day, at the question why he was always in class ten minutes late, he replied: "I'm late because not all clocks show exactly the same hour". A brazen example of sarcasm.
My teacher of philosophy in high school, before leaving on a school trip, uttered what was a friendly recommendation which contained the beautiful tints of a refined word to the wise: "I won't even mention - mind the praeterition - that you should behave as the grown men you are, which means you have to be polite, not loud, and considerate."

Analogies, hyperboles, the many types of fallacies, oxymorons, syllepses are just few of the many figures of speech we can use and, as you can see, all of us make ample use of them.

I have many favorites, but I love the humor behind a praeterition or a tautology.

Do you have a favorite rhetorical device?


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Explosion in New York City

116th St. and Lexington Ave.
The door slammed and the room wobbled at the sound of the explosion on 116th St. and Park Ave at about 9.30am today which destroyed two entire buildings and 3 human lives.
The shock wave was so powerful it shook walls and furniture in apartments four or five blocks away. Police cars, ambulances, and firefighters started to zoom south along 2nd Avenue, and Harlem was all sirens and NYPD cars until late in the evening. 116th and 117th Street are still closed to traffic and the police are monitoring the area.

Many thought of a bomb, and in a way it was. Although it's not official, it seems like a gas leakage was responsible. Not to blame though. CNN used the colorful expression "litany of violations" to describe the conditions of at least one of the buildings (no fire and smoke detectors, blocked fire escapes, faulty light fixtures). Everybody who's aware of the buildings conditions in the neighborhood knows that the expression well describes the case. And they know that, as the situation stands now, it will happen again, just like in New Jersey, Long Island, and Newark last year.

It was impossible not to think of 9/11 after what happened. In fact, it is impossible not to think of 9/11 anytime something resembles even the far echo of an explosion in New York. When a shock wave passes through your walls and compresses your chest from an explosion two blocks away, when the air is impregnated with particles of smoke and dust from the collapse, that's when you get a small feeling of what it must have been like 125 blocks down 13 years ago.


Wednesday, March 5, 2014


There often is the misconception that elegance is synonym with pompous, lofty, majestic. It is often a common belief that elegance is a shiny armour which provides appearance, and the concept of appearing becomes then akin to the concept of being.
Elegance is found in a complicated language, many think, or in the display of lordly manners. They believe that a shiny coating will offset their worn out underwear.

It isn't so.

If we look at the qualities that certain works and characters, which are considered epitomes of elegance, posses, we won't find any of the attributes listed above.

It is the bodies of the Riace Bronzes, just like the plain forms of the Kuroi and the natural balance of Michelangelo's David, displaying elegance and grace.
It is found in Wordsworth's simple verses, Socrates' dry rhetoric, and Bruce Lee's direct swiftness in motion.
Circles are elegant, not heptagons.
Proust's prose is elegant, or Poe's.
Black and white is elegant, while colour can be elegant.

Elegance always coincides with simplicity and purity; a gait is graceful when it is made of few and simple movements, and a word will strike when it's direct and raw. Elegance is the quintessence of anything complicated in origin, it is purity of forms and concepts, simplicity and humbleness.
Elegance is like a sense, it is intrinsic and is improved by removing the unessential.

Do you agree?
Who or what is elegant to you?