Post # 225     “EXPONENTIAL,” A RETROACTIVE ADJECTIVE

Ever since the warm bare feet of homo sapiens first padded across the surface of terra firma, he has been impressed with the necessity for speed, specifically, regarding his personal safety and success in bringing home the family dinner. This concern was eons later, replaced by the pressing need of the modern commuter to submissively arrive on time at his place of employment.

Travel between points of embarkation and arrival, has always been measured in time (rate x time =distance). Travel by horseback, and subsequently, horse drawn carriages, was strategized and considered in terms of distance, difficulty and estimated time of travel. The phenomenon of roadside inns developed as a practical accommodation for travelers whose travel lasted overnight. Later, mechanical devices replaced the horse, and with their rapid development, made travel more accessible and, of course, faster. With the epochal rise in industrial development, the secular aphorism of employers, “time equals money,” speed became a universal mantra, not only in industrial production but also, in agriculture and remarkably, animal husbandry.

The dimensions of our vast planet effectively grew smaller, as a practical matter, by the constantly improving phenomenon of swift air travel, facilitating business and cultural exchange. Indeed, the increase in the speed of military aircraft made the seemingly impassible “breaking of the sound barrier,” a useless relic of the past, like the once formidable, and now historical, “four-minute mile.” Speed in commuting, production, upward mobility, communication, in computation and aggregation of data, of large box store marketing and a vast prevalence of fast food emporia have become regular features of an increasingly impatient societal mainstream.

We would bravely venture to say that even spoken vocabulary has its own nuanced meter and speed of enunciation. Slowly articulated words like, transportation, fudge, reciprocal and apprehensive, can be compared with other words, more quickly uttered, such as ice, happy, church, slim and cool. It may be debatable as to whether the differences in speed of utterance are founded in differences in syllabification or conceptual meaning, but differences in word speed do, in fact exist. For example, our word of the moment, “exponential,” seems to be ejected rather quickly, despite its multiple syllabification.

The word, “exponential” has apparently been expanded and significantly increased in present usage. It is defined, by apparent consensus, as “a matter which itself is ever increasing.” Of all the words in the American-English lexicon, we find this word rationally troubling. Its utility is comparable to  frustrating attempts to manually pick up liquid mercury. Conceptually, how can the speed of a subject which, by agreed definition, is itself constantly and eternally speeding up, be useful or meaningful for any particular expression? To accept the concept, would necessarily rate it as being conceptually faster that the speed of light, since physicists consider the latter a constant (as opposed to an ongoing, ever- increasing speed). It is a word which, we feel, should be limited in use.

The word does have an admitted utility, when used to demonstrate or compare present day developments with their antecedents, to highlight obvious and remarkable developments, ex., in areas such as science, medicine, transportation, communication, fashion and technology. While we find it useful in this regard, contrariwise, we see its utility, as applied to futuristic references, non-specific and useless, except, perhaps, somewhere within the occult genre of science fiction literature. A subject which constantly increases in speed, as we speak, is by such defined nature, incapable of holding still for any degree of rational evaluation or meaningful literary understanding.

-p.

Post # 224  DONE, BUT DEFINITELY NOT DONNE

Serious students of literature and poetry would be familiar with the category of 17th Century poetry, termed (by Samuel Johnson),” The Metaphysical School of Poetry.” This highly intellectual style is best known for its expanded use of metaphor to relate people to inanimate subjects. The best known Metaphysical Poet would appear to be John Donne, famously known for his verse, “No Man Is an Island.” It is this 17th Century poet and his composition that provides the theme for this writing.

In words to such effect, Donne poetically sermonized that no one person exists(independently) like an isolated island but is part of an entire continent, such that if even a small bit of turf were eroded from the continent, mankind would similarly be diminished. The clear message is that all men are so interrelated that the death of one is a true loss to all. Accordingly, the final line discourages inquiry as to the identity of any deceased, for whom the (death) bell tolls, instructing that it tolls for all mankind. Novelist , Ernest Hemmingway used Donne’s words, “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” for the title of his novel, centered in the Spanish Civil War, in which so many idealistic Americans lost their lives in that failed cause, fought for freedom and democracy.

Donne’s idealistic (religious) sermon, if heeded, would have seismically changed the course of history over ensuing centuries, which experienced no end of warfare of national, international, and most especially religious motivation, costing vast numbers of deaths and great human suffering. Mankind, to this date, has yet not responded to the poet’s plea for a common recognition among all human beings of universal identity and equally valuable worth.

We cannot attempt to fully recount the number and variety of sincere, but failed, efforts expended to achieve world peace and a common identity among people; two world organizations, attempts at a common language (Esperanto), treaties, cultural exchanges, international agreements and accords of every kind. Representatives of diverse ethnic groups, nationality, religious zealots, xenophobic demagogues or cynical profit seekers have variously appeared in every era, like a perennial poison ivy, to rally a challenge to peace and brotherhood. We have eternally been prevented from enjoying that idealistic concept of the one continent sung, by John Donne. What history has done, is inarguably, not Donne.

We are obliged to be repetitious in returning to a constant plinyblog theme, v iz., for as long as young children continue to be taught, explicitly as well as subtly, lessons in “we” and “they” (instead of lessons in “us”) John Donne does not stand a metaphysical chance in hell.

-p.