Originality in literature

Nowadays, originality is seen as the greatest and most central of literary virtues. However, it only arose as a literary virtue during the Romantic period, comprising inventio (practical skill of an artisan) and creatio (associated with artistry and the exaltation of the individual author and his/her original input). Before that era, getting ‘inspiration’ from previous texts was very common, and also we can find the same plots over and over throughout literary history. In fact, according to Roland Barthes, ‘all texts are made from traces of already existing texts. They are but a fabric woven with allusions and references’. But that won´t make non-connoisseurs feel less cheated when they find out that worldwide celebrated authors ‘borrowed’ from previous writers or the extent to which Shakespeare himself drew from prior works by chroniclers and other playwrights. However, why do we know about Shakespeare then, but most people have never heard of Saxo Grammaticus or Belleforest to list but a few of those whose plots and characters (some in turn previously ‘inspired’ in prior works) he copied? Does that imply that if a writer takes from a previous text and improves it he/she makes it his/her own?

SHAKES

Despite the compulsion for novelty that rules the market nowadays, there is nothing really new under the sun. The consumer of culture tends to look for something new and different rather than something better, but forgets that the ultimate aim of literature is mostly the portrayal of the old and unchanging human nature in all its manifestations: love, hatred, jealousy, infidelity, loyalty, violence…

And well, quoting John Erskine: ‘Is it the originality of genius in art to say something no one has ever thought of before, or to say something we all recognise as important and true? As for the question of priority, even stupid things has been said for a first time; do we wear a laurel for being the first to say them?’

 

Sources:

JSTOR

THE NORTON ANTHOLOGY OF THEORY AND CRITICISM

 

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Graham Greene

Born in 1904 in what Virginia Woolf called “the leaning tower generation”, Graham Greene came from a world of inherited privilege which made him feel uneasy in the face of poverty and injustice, and lead him to flirt with the left in his youth only to become disillusioned with all forms of government and suspicious of any state intervention later. He felt that the old liberal myths had been debunked by reality in a politically unstable and hostile world. This aspects of his background inform his novels, in which romantic and paradoxical protagonists -reflecting the author’s nature- are usually faced with moral dilemmas or depart from convention to a certain extent. This situation leads them to an uncertain moral quicksand they strive to make sense of. This atmosphere as well as his protagonists’ character traits gave rise to the term ‘Greenland’ to refer to this peculiar yet familiar world.

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Called by some a ‘Catholic writer’, he rejected this label saying that he just was ‘a writer who happened to be a Catholic’. He converted to Catholicism just before marrying a Catholic and used to hold theological discussions with the priest in charge of conducting his instruction, during which he defended atheism and agnosticism. He later said that he considered himself to be a ‘Catholic agnostic’. Four of his novels stem to a certain extent from Catholicism and are even called by some ‘his Catholic novels’; Brighton Rock, The Power and the Glory, The Heart of the Matter and The End of the Affair. Both in The Heart of the Matter and The End of the Affair, the protagonist faces the moral implications of infidelity and in The Heart of the Matter those of suicide.

Greene experienced both during his life and that makes the novels very realistic, authentic and heartfelt. Suffering from depression, Greene used to say that he had ‘a character profoundly antagonistic with domestic life’. In the first volume of his autobiography, A Sort of Life, he mentions that his grandfather was bipolar and that he would have diagnosed as such at the time he was writing it. He attempted suicide on several occasions before coming of age, one of them by playing Russian roulette and resorted to psychoanalysis for some months when he was 17.

His experience in the Secret Service during World War II provided him with material for several of his espionage novels or ‘entertainments’, as he somewhat derogatorily called them –The Ministry of Fear, The Confidential Agent, The Human Factor, The Quiet American-. However, we can also find a certain philosophical taste to them.

Greenland is a very special environment where anyone who has experienced failure, moral dilemmas, has felt the burden of boredom, has faced injustice or is aware of what underlies the façade of convention -which really equals saying anybody who is human and has a brain- will feel at home.

Nationalism

In order to figure out what nationalism is all about, we must firstly ask ourselves what does nation mean. Nation is an elusive concept, as all abstractions are, that defines a unified imaginary community in which an elite is chosen to speak on behalf of the people but don´t recognise the role of the less privileged or opposing views in order to convey that image of unity it is based upon.

brit nat

The sense of national belonging is forged by the exclusion or denigration of others and the nationalist discourse uses several mechanisms to try and create that delusional sense of belonging. The nation, as a myth, needs to create that feeling of belonging to something greater than oneself and does it by resorting to symbols, to a common culture, to language and traditions, as well. Also, race and ethnicity are typically used to set the limits of the nation by discriminating individuals on the ground of physical features, positing boundaries that establish who can or cannot belong to the nation according to certain parameters. Racial difference is socially and discursively constructed and used for particular porpuses within nationalism. According to Etiènne Balibar there are two main forms of racism; external racism, which involves the discrimination of those who live outside the border on the grounds of race and internal racism which discriminates those within the nation not deemed to belong to an imagined community by keeping them in a subservient position in society or, in some cases, by their extermination.

There are several well known examples of the use of race and ethnicity for privileging one racial group as the nation’s true people as a strategy to build the myth of the nation.

  • We can all recall the genocide in Rwanda, grounded on ethnicity, in 1994: the mass slaughter in Rwanda of the ethnic Tutsi and politically moderate Hutu peoples. Some estimates claim that anywhere between 500,000-1,000,000 were murdered, along with thousands of Tutsi sympathizers, with another 2 million refugees in neighbouring countries. These kinds of conflicts based on ethnicity are not rare in those countries who inherited their borders from the colonising countries, given that withing those borders many different ethnic groups, different cultures and religions can be found.

rwanda-ID-2-800x445

  • In the Basque Country, Sabino Arana and others based their nationalist discourse on some theories which established the Basque physical and genetic features, such as the fact that the Basques possessed the highest global apportion of the Rh- blood types, or that they had certain craneal and physical features. These theories were also supported by authors such as the geneticist L. Luca Cavalli Sforza, who stated that the Basques were the descendants of the Cro-Magnons, and served to build a sense of exclusive national identity which was used by Basque politician Xabier Arzalluz in 1993, not that long ago.
  • Hitler intended to foster an Aryan Germany by the extermination of other ethnic groups and those he considered defective and undertook the Lebensborn project,  a state supported association in Nazi Germany with the goal of raising children of persons classified as “racially pure and healthy” as based on Nazi ideal ethnicity.

nazi boys

 

Sources:

Beginning Postcolonialism – McLeod

http://www.worldwithoutgenocide.org

Shithole countries II: migration policies throughout American history

The United States of America is a country whose foundations were built upon migration. The first settlers didn´t arrive to a terra nullius, but to a populated country where they were the foreigners. Supported by their manifest destiny theory, they appropriated the land and everything it offered until the 13 colonies declared their independence in 1876 and a new country was born. One of the first waves of immigration was constituted by slaves, brought by the colonies to work in plantations. Slavery was legal in all 13 colonies at the time of the Declaration of Independence. Europeans arrived looking for profitable ventures, but workers except indentured labourers, including convicted criminals, were hard to find due to the harsh conditions, so the colonies resorted on slavery. Massachussets was the first colony to authorise slavery through an enacted law. The most common countries of origin of the slaves were Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Angola, Congo, Gabon, Ghana (called the Gold Coast or the Slave Coast), the Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Cameroon.

congoslavery

From 1849 to 1882 the country received a large flow of Chinese attracted by the gold rush after which they stayed in the country working on the railway construction and farms for lower wages than the locals. Voices were raised against Oriental immigration and there were riots, like the LA riot in 1871, which resulted in 15 Chinese citizens being lynched. As a result of the riots a clause was inserted and accepted in the new Constitution in California (1879) which forbade employment of any Chinese labourers. Later on, in 1882, the Congress enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act, that excluded Chinese labourers for 10 years and finished Chinese immigration for almost a century. In the same year certain restrictive policies were adopted banning paupers, convicts and the insane.

indenture

The country received wave after wave of immigrants. As a result the population tripled due to the arrival of immigrants between 1860 and 1920, when most of them came from western Europe and were mainly protestant; they arrived from Germany, Ireland and England. Immigrants from these countries started decreasing in number after 1890 and Scandinavians decreased after 1910. In 1920, 38% of the foreign born population was made up of Poles, Serbs, Italians, Hungarians, Austrians and Russians who were Catholics, Greek Orthodox or Jewish and hostility to immigrants surfaced in the Sacco & Vanzetti case. There was another wave of migration of Southern and Eastern Europeans in 1923 and the number of nordic Europeans and those of Anglo-Saxon stock decreased. Madison Grant expressed his fear that they would be overwhelmed by lesser breeds who were considered as intellectually inferior to whites from northern Europe. Racists, xenophobes, anti-Catholic and anti-semites supported this quotas system to preserve the WASP proportion of the population. As a result, the Congress adopted the National Origins Quota Act, establishing a greater quota of western and northern Europeans, of whom there was a limit of 150,000 per year, mostly from Ireland, Great Britain, Scandinavia and Germany, barring Asians entirely. This quota survived until de 1960s. Simultaneously, a large number of Mexicans, exempt of the quota regulation went northward across the Río Grande.

300px-Sacvan Sacco and Vanzetti

All this comes to mind when one is faced with Trump’s project to build a wall between Mexico and the USA in order to prevent South Americans from crossing the borders seeking for a better future. Not to mention the slavery issue; Africans were forced out of their homeland for centuries to be exploited in the States and now African immigrants are blatantly shunned by the president. As Ebba Kalondo, spokesperson of the African Union responded to Trump’s unfortunate comment on January 9th: ‘given the gistorical reality of how many Africans arrived in the US as slaves, this statement flies in the face of all accepted behaviour and practice’.

Sources:

A Concise History of the American Republic – Morison, Commanger, Leuchtenburg

Associated Press

Shithole countries

Most of us can still remember clearly Trump’s shithole remark, although his entire tenure has been so dominated by offensive statements that it may be hard to single it out. The shithole remark was uttered in the context of a meeting held on January 9th concerning a bipartisan proposal on the visa lottery, which granted a substantial part of it to misrepresented African countries and Temporary Protective Status nations such as Haiti. It was then, when these countries were mentioned, that Trump asked: ‘why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?’ This remark wasn’t neither denied by the White House spokesperson Raj Shah nor by the Senator Dick Durbin. However, this is not by any means Trump’s only xenophobic remark. Late in 2017, the New York Times reported that he had complained that Haitian immigrants ‘all have AIDS’ and that the Nigerian who went to the US would ‘never go back to their huts’ in Africa.

pissed off

Sadly, all these remarks shouldn´t startle us much, since Western history has always been linked -and still is through TNCs- to facts supporting Trump’s statement, given the West’s systematic exploitation of non-Western peoples and their natural resources. What may strike us the most is the way that unfortunately common transhistorical concept is expressed. One would expect the president of the most influential and powerful country to be a bit more articulate. However, it goes to show that Western culture is more of a plutocracy than it is a meritocracy. But there may actually be a purpose behind Trump’s bluntness and poor expression. In Noam Chomsky’s words:

‘Trump’s role is to ensure that the media and the public attention are always concentrated on him. He’s a conman, a showman, and in order to maintain public attention you have to do something crazy. So, everyday there’s one insane thing after another and while this is going on, in the background, the wrecking crew is working (…)’

Let’s not fool ourselves; many other Western presidents, politicians and voters endorse implicitly this statement -as we have witnessed in Europe with the wave of increasingly restrictive migration policies- although they publically reject it for the sake of political correctness.

Sources:

The Guardian, The New York Times, The Times, Huffington Post.

 

LATIN INFLUENCE OF OLD ENGLISH; 1ST PERIOD –UP TO CHRISTIANIZATION-

The contact between Latin and Old English started before Anglo-Saxon came to England, since Germanic tribes had already acquired many Latin words. The population also learned  Latin words from the Celts. A century and a half later, Roman missionaries introduced Christianity and an extensive adoption of Latin took place.

PreRoman

In order to determine the period when each borrowed word entered the language we must resort to different kind of evidence or varying value. For instance, if a word occurs in texts such as Beowulf or Cynewulf it indicates that it came into English not later than the early part of the period of Christian influence. However, we cannot be sure how much earlier it was acquired, since the first records belong to the year 700. Some words are not recorded before the 10th century (pīpe– pipe, cīese-cheese), so they can be assigned on other grounds to the period of continental borrowing. In order to establish the date when a term is acquire with resort to the following clues;

  • The character of the words (religious, Germanic) is key in order to trace back their origin. A number of words found in Old English and Old High German can hardly been borrowed before the Anglo-Saxons migrated to England; ‘copper’, which is rare in Old English, was borrowed on the continent (it can be found in more than 6 other Germanic languages).
  • We also find a clue of the origin of the borrowing in the phonetic form of a word; changes can be dated with some definiteness. In Old English –as in most Germanic languages- a change named ‘i-umlaut’ affected certain diphthongs when followed by ĭ or j. Thus, in words such as baƞkiz (benc > bench) or mūsiz (mȳs > plural of mūs, ‘mouse’), taking into account that the change happened in the 7th century, it indicates that the Latin word had been taken into English by that time. That also indicates that monēta (munit in Old English > mynet, Modern English ‘mint’) is an early borrowing. In many words, the evidence for their date of acquisition is funished by the sound changes of Vulgar Latin.

brit house before invasion

Fig.: Welsh house before the Roman invasion

The first Latin words acquired by Old English come from the contact between Latin and the Germanic tribes in the continent. There are hundreds of Latin borrowings in Germanic dialects. In the 4th century, the Germanic population was formed by several million people belonging to all ranks and classes of society. The populations close to the northern border were the most numerous; there were Christian churches set in military roads and trade with the Romans. The Germanic tribes adopted words from the more advanced Roman civilization and they were later adopted by Old English. Thus we find the following words from Germanic transmission;

  • We have some instances related to the main Germanic activities; agriculture, trade and war; pytt > pit; strœt > road, street; mīl > mile; miltestre > courtesan; segn > banner; pīl > javelin; weall > wall; cēap> (bargain, cheap) trade; mangian > trade [mangere > monger; mangung > trade, commerce; mangunghūs > shop;, pund > pound; mydd > bushel; sēam > burden, loan; mynet > coin [mynetian > to mint, to coin, mynete > money-changer]
  • Wine-trade with the Romans; wīn > wine; must > new wine; eced > vinegar; flasce > flask, bottle (note the similarity with Modern German Flasche); cyrfette > from Latin cucurbita, gourd; sester > jar, pitcher.
  • Domestic life; cytel > kettle, from Latin catīnus; mēse > table; scamol > from Latin scamellum, bench, stool; tepet > from Latin tapētum, carpet (note Modern German Teppish), curtain; pyle > from Latin pulvinus, pillow; pilece > from Latin pellicia, robe of skin; sigel > brooch, necklace.
  • Others; cycene > from Latin coquīna, kitchen; cuppe > from Latin cuppa, cup; disc > from Latin discus, dish; cucler > from Latin cocleārium, spoon; mortere > mortar, vesse; līnen > līnum, flax; līne > from Latin līnea, rope, line; gimm > from Latin gemma, gem.
  • Foods; cīese > cheese; spelt > wheat; pipor > pepper; senep > from Latin sināpi, mustard; cisten > from Latin castanea, chesnut; cires > from Latin cerasus, cherry tree; butere > from Latin būtyrum, butter; ynne > from Latin ūnnio, onion; plūme > plum; pise > from Latin pisum, pea; minte > from Latin mentha, mint.
  • Building; cealc > chalk; copor > copper; pic > pitch; tigele > tile.
  • Miscellaneous; mūl > mule; draca > dragon; cāsere > Emperor; Sæternesdæg > Saturday; Cirice > to Latin from Greek kyρikòν > church.
  • Adjectives; Sicor > from Latin securus safe; calv > from Latin calvus, bald.

Invasions_of_the_Roman_Empire_1

Words through Celtic transmission; as we have noted in the previous blog entry, there are a considerable amount regarding place-names. An important word -in terms of subsequent word-formation- that the Celts borrowed is ceaster, from Latin castra and it is very common in toponyms; Chester, Colchester, Dorchester, Manchester, Winchester, Lancaster, Doncaster, Gloucester, Worcester. Some of these places were Roman camps, but not all of them. The English attached it freely to a place intended for habitation.

A few other words are thought to belong to this period; port > from Latin portus, harbour, gate, town; munt > from Latin mōns, mountain; torr > from Latin turris, tower, rock; wīk > from Latin vīcus, village.

Source: A history of the English language

Albert C. Baugh and Thomas Cable (Routledge)

FOREIGN INFLUENCES ON OLD ENGLISH; CELTIC

The dialects brought by the Jutes, Saxons and Angles interacted with the languages spoken by the Celts, Romans and Scandinavians.

celtic art

In the case of the Celts it is apparent that they were not totally exterminated except in certain areas. A large number of them was assimilated into the new culture. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle narrates the struggle between natives and the new-comers, and the fact that Britons were annihilated certain in areas such as Andreceaster or Pevensey, although this is an exceptional case. In the East and South-East the Germanic conquest was fully accomplished with fewer Celtic populations left. A large number of Celts fled to the West, where we can find a considerable number of Celtic toponyms. Among Celtic place-names we find;

  • Kent – from Celtic Cant or Cantion
  • Deira and Bernicia (two ancient Northumbrian kingdoms) which have their origin in Celtic tribal names.
  • In the West and South-West; Devonshire contains in the first element the tribal name Dumnonii.Cornwall – Cornubian Welsh
  • Cumberland (now part of Cumbria) – ‘land of the Cymry or Britons’
  • London – it possibly goes back to a Celtic designation
  • The first syllable of Winchester, Salisbury, Exeter, Gloucester,Worcester, Lichfield.
  • The earlier name of Canterbury – Durovernum
  • Names of rivers and hills; Thames,
  • various Celtic words for ‘river’ and ‘water’ in Avon, Exe, Esk, Usk, Dover, Wye.
  • Celtic words for ‘hill’; Barr (Welsh bar ‘top, summit’), Bredon (bre – hill), Bryn Mawr (Bryn-hill, Mawr-great), Creech, Pendle (pen-top), crag, luh (lake)
  • Others: Cumb (deep valley) => Duncombe, Holcombe, Winchcombe; Torr (high rock, peak)=>Torr, Torcross, Torhill; Pill (tidal creek)=>Pylle, Huntspill; Brocc (badger)=>Brockholes, Brockhall.

A few Latin words were borrowed during the Roman occupation and are sometimes combined with these Celtic terms; castra, fontana, fossa, portus, vicus.

Outside of place-names the influence is almost negligible. There is only a score of Old English words which can be traced back to a Celtic source within which we find to distinct groups; words learned by the Anglo-Saxons through everyday contact with natives, transmitted orally and words introduced by the Irish Christian missionaries, which have a religious nature.

  • In the first group we find words such as ‘binn’ (basket, crib), ‘bratt’ (cloak), ‘dun’ (dark coloured), ‘ass’ (from Latin ‘asinus’) and ‘brocc’ (brock or badger), and those describing geographical features such as the aforementioned.
  • In the second group we find those terms inherited from Celtic Christianity; ‘ancor'(hermit), ‘dry'(magician), ‘cine'(gathering of parchment leaves), ‘cross’, ‘clugge'(bell), ‘gabolring'(compass), ‘mind'(diadem), ‘stœr'(history), ‘cursian'(curse).

Source: A History of the English Language.

Albert C. Baugh and Thomas Cable (Routledge)