Wednesday, January 28, 2009

IE Loanwords in Fenno-Ugric

Jorma Koivulehto has been working on some interesting stuff regarding largyngeals and loan words from Indo European into Proto Fenno-Ugric. According to Koivulehto, the reflex of the laryngeal in these loans is still apparent and, depending upon the position of the laryngeal in the word, as well as the time of borrowing, the laryngeal will develop into a number of phonemes. For example, we have PFU (Proto Fenno-Ugric) *k- from IE *H-: IE *h1es-en- 'harvest' > Fi. (Finnish) kesa 'summer'. Also, he argues that PFU *š is a reflex of any word-internal laryngeal; exx. IE *dheh1-ti- 'deed' > PFU *tešte > Est. teht.

Adam Hyllested has taken up this thesis, and, in a forthcoming paper which was recently presented at an IE Conference, has examined the tenability of some of Koivulehto's reconstructions. He finds that some are plausible, but takes issue with others. (All this is based upon an abstract for this paper). He seems to not take issue with Koivulehto's main conclusions, which, incidentally, are very interesting: (1) PIE *h1 was an aspirated fricative (and not a glottal stop, which it is traditionally assumed to be); (2) at the time of contact between IE and PFU, laryngeals were still around. I look forward to getting my hands on this paper when it is published.

Tis crazy stuffs.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

So I've started learning Hindi...

...and cannot believe that people can distinguish between aspirated and unaspirated stops. It blows my mind that people can pick up on the difference in rapid conversation. I suppose you have to grow up hearing it. Also, the number of compound letters, like in Sanskrit, is immense.

Oh well.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Thomas Aquinas writes bad Latin...

...and should enroll in remedial courses immediately. I think it was he who came up with, or at least popularized, "a priori", one of the most often trotted out philosophical phrases. At any rate, he uses it with abundance.

It should be "a priore", with a short 'e'. In my opinion, everyone who writes Latin should write like Cicero; he's the hallmark of good Latin prose. His Latin, though convoluted on occasion in his speeches, is refined and impeccable. Aquinas should have read more of him. Or at least should have reviewed the declension of comparatives.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Augustus and the Maintaining of his position

Augustus seems to me to be a master politician. He excelled at getting people to do what he wanted them to do voluntarily, and he managed to keep the facade of the Republic up and running for the length of his stint as emperor. The question I want to address is how he managed to keep the facade going? What was it that allowed him to maintain his position as emperor, and in essence work to establish a hereditary monarchy, while keeping the Republican flame flickering? In my opinion, there were a number of external factors, as well as a number of political masterstrokes which kept Augustus from being assassinated as well as allowing him to establish and consolidate the position of emperor, all the while under the guise of the Republic.

The first factor I would like to examine is the army. Having conquored Antony and his consort Cleopatra, Augustus was in control of a massive amount of men. What was he to do with all of them? Normally, soldiers who had completed their time of service were given a piece of land as compensation for their dutiful service. This policy was carried out by Augustus: upon conquoring Egypt, he acquired substantial amounts of money. Thus, he was able to buy land for the soldiers instead of merely dispossessing people of it. This would no doubt be more favourable to those people who gave up their land for the soldiers. Also, Augustus instituted a policy whereby soldiers were paid in cash, which was obtained through the Egyptian treasuries as well as taxation, instead of the usual allottment of land. With the advent of this policy, Augustus managed to fill the requirements that soldiers demanded after they had finished bashing people over the heads. Not only this, but Augustus kept some soldiers in service, and created the praetorian guard. This force of soldiers was to become essential if the emperor wished to retain his position; they came to have a great deal of power in that they could assassinate emperors whom they were disinclined towards, and, in one case, having done so, auction off the position of emperor. At any rate, the policy of Augustus kept the army happy. A second factor also related to the army was Augustus' familial connection with Caesar. The army would have no doubt remembered fondly the triumphs of Caesar, and Augustus, being his great nephew, would have had been held in a light of distinction by the army.

A second factor which contributed to the success of Augustus is the language in which he framed his titles and honors, as well as the positions which he chose to hold. For example, through the years of 27 to 23 BC, he held power through a series of consulships. However, he soon realized that this was making him unpopular with the senatorial class; for they all aspired to attain the highest position available to them: that of consul, and with Augustus continually holding one of the two offices, the chances for the senators to reach this esteemed position were reduced. So, he decided to give up this position and instead hold the powers of a tribune for life (these powers were of course granted by the Senate). With this this tribunicia potestas (to be sure, he wasn't actually elected tribune of the plebs, but instead was accorded the powers thereof), Augustus had the power to call assemblies and veto the actions of magistrates. Not only this, but he was also subsequently given a series of powers and titles, including maior imperium, pater patriae, princeps, and pontifex maximus. It is the names of the titles which are essential here: they are all framed in the language of Republican Rome. Imperium basically means the power to act on behalf of the Roman state, and could be granted to generals, for example, in Republican times. Augustus is merely the "greater imperium", meaning his ability to act on behalf of Rome extended throughout the Empire. Princeps comes from an office in the Republic, the princeps senatus, "first of the Senate". This was more of an honorary position and had no real powers, but, if one held it, they were recognized as being the go to person for disputes and advice. Pontifex maximus was the principal religious office, and dealt with issues of state religion. All of these come, in one way or another, from the Republic. Also important to note is the show of modesty Augustus put on when he recieved his powers. He appeared to accept the powers unwillingly, which most likely made a big impact on the Senate and the populace at large, if they knew what was going on at all.

In the words of Gibbon "he solemnly restored the senate and people to all their ancient rights; and wished only to mingle with the crowd of his fellow citizens, and to share the blessings which he had obtained for the country."

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A poem of Ovid

Given the weather today, with all the wind and the snow and the cold, I thought this poem we looked at in Latin class is rather appropriate:

nix iacet et iactam nec sol pluiaee resolvunt;

indurat Boreas perpetuamque facit.

ergo, ubi delicuit nondum prior, altera venit

et solet in multis bima manere locis.

tantaque commoti vis est Aquilonis, ut altas

aequet humo turres tectaque rapta ferat.

pellibus et sutis arcent mala frigora bracis

oraque de toto corpore sola patent.

saepe sonant moti glacie pendente capilli

et nitet inducto candida barba gelu.

-Ovid, Tristia

This is a description of the place to which Ovid was exiled. Apparently, it wasn't the most hospitible place for him to go, having lived in Italy for such a long time.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Wagner, Lacoue Labarthe, and Myth

I'm back! My return was spurred on by the temperature outside: it's too cold to go to school right now and all my stuff is at school. So, I thought I would post something, finally. And because Matt told me to make a glorious return to the interwebz.

This is the text of an essay I wrote for a philosophy seminar. It's on Wagner and myth, framed within Lacoue Labarthe's views on myth. Myth, for Lacoue Labarthe, has the power to found a people; it gives them types to emulate and an ideal which grounds the people as a whole, at least in the case of the Greeks. I examine whether Wagner's Ring Cycle could found the German people in the same way Greek myths did for the Greeks.


HPP: Lacoue Labarthe. Heidegger and the Politics of Poetry.

NM: Lacoue Labarthe and Nancy, Jean Luc. The Nazi Myth

GI: Wagner, Richard. The Greek Ideal

To start off, I will examine “the mythic” in general, specifically what it does and what its character is. Plato is the best place to start in the examination of myth. In the Republic, Plato banishes most poets and forms of myth on the grounds that they are twice removed from the Forms and thus cannot hold a claim to truth. There is also a second argument Plato gives: that some poets present images of the gods and of heroes which are not “morally sound”, that is, they present stories which would be a bad influence on the people of his city. In other words, these mythological stories present unsound types for people to identify with; Plato wants to give the people of his utopian city examples of the best types to follow. Mythology, then, in its essence, is characterized by types/images. Moreover, the people of the city “look up” to these types that are presented through myth; they relate to them: in other words, they form themselves as a people by the “imitation” of the characters presented in mythology. In Heideggerian terms, a people are grounded as a historical people through mythology; mythos gives a people to themselves, such that they can exist historically. Due to the fact myth functions in this way, art (as mythos) has a close connection with the political (the polis/demos/Volk), insofar as it is myth which form the demos in the first place. Myth makes the political, insofar as it makes the demos, possible. The “aim” of myth is the bringing together of a people.

Turning now to Wagner, we will see how this plays itself out in his operas. I will show what Wagner inherits from the Romantic tradition, insofar as it is derived from a Greek tradition, how this plays itself out in his operas, and then examine whether Wagner’s Ring Cycle, insofar as it is “mythic” can contribute to the bringing together of the German people. The three points are drawn from Heidegger and the Politics of Poetry.

Lacoue Labarthe believes that Wagner inherits the idea that the work of art is founded upon myth, and that myth is the only thing which can ground a people, that is, give a people language and figures with which it can identify itself. This notion can be traced through the threads of Romanticism all the way back to a Greek origin. In the 18th century, the German people were without a real identity; there was nothing inherently German to which the German people could relate to. Part of the project of Romanticism was to find something to ground the German people and thus found the German people as such. The Romantics looked back to Greece in order to do this, however, they latched onto a different stream of Hellenism than, for example, the French did. Instead of taking up the Apollonian classicism of the French, which is characterized by sereneness, beauty, etc, they appropriated a more “primitive” Greece, the mythical Greece of secret rites and dark superstitions. In doing this, they were, in essence, looking for a “type” (re. Myth) to which the German people could relate and thus be founded as a historical people.

One can easily see how Wagner’s works are founded upon myth. In his magnum opus, Der Ring des Nibelung, Wagner pulls out threads from a myriad of Old Norse and German mythology in order to create a coherent, 17 hour long, whole. Tristan und Isolde is based upon a German myth, as are Lohengerin and Tannhauser. It is the Bayreuth Festival which was to be the medium through which these myths are presented, and consequently found the German Volk. Lacoue Labarthe notes that there is a parallel between the Bayreuth Festival and the City Dionisia in Athens, where the tragic plays were presented. (NM 303) Ideally, the presentation of the myths to the people would ground them historically, and they can thus exist as a historical people. The polis, as a work of art, would be partly created through these festivals, both Bayreuth and the City Dionisia.

I shall now turn to the “origin” of the Gestamkunstwerk, which Lacoue Labarthe thinks is Greek tragedy. Greek tragedy is composed of two main elements: the actors and the chorus. The chorus, within the context of the action of the play, was merely there as a comment on what was being done by the actors, and it did this through singing, dancing, and music. This is the “Dionysian” element in Greek tragedy that Nietzsche, as well as those German Romantics who sought an alternative to the “Apollonian” classicism of France, took hold of. In other words, the Greek tragedy was, in a way, a Gestamkustwerk, in the way that Wagner defines it: a total work of art, which incorporated music, action, and singing on stage. All these elements were required in order for a Greek tragedy to be as such; they are necessary conditions for a play.

How, then, do Wagner’s operas parallel the Greek tragedy in structure? As we have seen, the Greek tragedy is composed of a number of different elements which come together to form a coherent work. These are all present in Wagner’s operas, though some appear in a slightly different guise. It goes without saying that there is singing in opera. It is the music that appears in a different, though, related form. For, there is no “chorus”, conceived of as a group of people who dance and sing to music, in Wagner’s operas: instead, there is only music. The orchestra functions as the classical chorus instead of a group of actors on the stage who comment on the action. The function is the same, but the form it takes is different. Moreover, in some Greek tragedies, Aeschylus in particular, the chorus is always present, from basically the beginning of the play to end. The orchestra in Wagner, as the action unfolds on stage, provides a continual comment on what is going on; this comment is achieved through his use of Leitmotivs, which give us a musical “guide” to what is happening on stage. Given the action on stage, a particular Leitmotiv may take on a different guise: it may move into a major or minor key, be inverted, etc. All this gives us a running commentary regarding the appearance of characters, themes, and objects, or serves to “set the mood” of a particular scene. In the second section of the paper, we will say more regarding the function of the chorus/orchestra in Wagner and in Greek tragedy and thus will lay the matter aside until then.

Lacoue Labarthe lists the third thing Wagner inherited from the Romantics as the notion that Greek art is based upon the distinction between Apollo and Dionysus. Interestingly, in his writings Wagner has little to say about Dionysus, and instead focuses on the role Apollo plays. His work The Greek Ideal has some passages which sound rather like Lacoue Labarthe: “It was Apollo…who…had proclaimed to questioning man the fundamental laws of the Grecian race and nation, thus holding up to those involved in passionate action the peaceful, undisturbed mirror of their inmost, unchangeable Grecian nature…” (GI 78)6. He then moves to connect the tragic poet with Dionysus: “Thus, too, inspired by Dionysus, the tragic poet saw this glorious god…” (GI 78). He goes on to say that the “spontaneous” elements of art were “joined to speech”; these spontaneous elements being the Dionysian, and the speech being Apollonian “representation” . Given Wagner’s explicit indebtedness to the Greeks7, it would be conceivable that he thought of his own work as combining these two facets of the classical world, the Apollonian and the Dionysian, even though he didn’t explicitly state that he was doing this. To my knowledge, this is the extent of Wagner’s appreciation of the Apollo/Dionysus distinction in Greek tragedy.

Now that we have seen how Wagner’s project is has three main characteristics, that it hinges on the mythological, is Greek in structure, and carries on the same Romantic project of founding the German people. We will examine whether the Ring Cycle can ground the German peoples in the same way Greek myths did. I will follow Lacoue Labarthe in arguing that Wagner’s Ring cannot carry out the same mythic function as the Greek myths did, due to the privileged position music holds at the expense of poetry (myth) in his operas. Then, I will treat an objection, which will argue that in fact the orchestra is necessarily secondary to the music given its correlation with the classical chorus, and respond to it.

In The Nazi Myth, Lacoue Labarthe mention Wagner and how he “aims to unify the German people through celebration and theatrical” ceremonies. (NM 303) There is a parallel, which Lacoue Labarthe notes, between the Bayreuth Festival and the City Dionysia, the festival where Greek tragedies were performed in Athens. The function of the two is essentially the same: to bring people together in an experience of their mythology, such that they become (re)grounded, or “reminded of their roots”, so to speak. We have seen that Wagner’s Ring Cycle is a mythology, and is founded on a Greek model, so, can it ground the German people? In Lacoue Labarthe’s opinion: no. For, in Wagner’s works the music is subservient to the poetry (myth) and thus the myth cannot carry out its true function of grounding a historical people. (HPP, 32) Wagner explicitly states that the aim of his operas was a “communal fusion”, and that this fusion was to be brought about by music. He was trying to appeal to the “emotional” aspect through his music (HPP, 32), in order to bring people together in some sort of “aesthetic rapture”. Wagner is aiming to create a community of sorts, and this is laudable; however, he is going about it in the wrong way, for only myth can truly create a Volk. However, this fusion occurs through the music and not through the myth, like it should. He privileges the music at the expense of what is truly able to ground a historical peoples: myth.

An interesting counter-argument to can be based upon a point raised in the first section of the paper: Wagner conceives of the orchestra as a parallel to the classical choruses of Greek tragedy. The choruses served merely to comment on the action which was unfolding on stage, and thus did not over power the poetry, or the action onstage. They were always present, and always there for comment, but never took a main role. One could, by analogy, say that the orchestra could not possibly overpower the poetry, given its secondary status as a mere comment on the action. The Wagnerian orchestra is a comment, a guide to what is happening throughout the course of the opera: the same way the tragic chorus tells us what to think about the action, the Wagnerian orchestra gives us hints as to how to conceive of what is happening on stage though Leitmotivs and the reworking thereof. As a consequence, poetry is not secondary to music, and Wagner’s mythology can carry out its proper function.

In response I would say two things. First, that a problem arises when mythic types are imposed upon a people, instead of being “poetically” created by a people. Wagner, in essence, is imposing mythological types in his Ring Cycle. It was not the case that the Germans of the 19th century created the mythic characters of Siegfried and Sigmund, Brunhilde, the Nibelungs, Wotan and Loki. Instead, Wagner appropriated these myths from antiquity, reshaped them in order to create the story that became the Ring cycle, and then thrust them upon the Germans. Even though they are German myths (and what is more, the largest source of material for the Ring came from Scandinavian mythology, which was partly connected with the German myths) they are nonetheless being imposed upon the German people, instead of being created.

Secondly, I would say that, even if the orchestra qua chorus has a secondary status, this is still the central element to Wagner’s project of “communal fusion”. Given how Wagner has framed his discussion, it seems that the music is the only thing which can “bring people together”, since he is appealing to them on an “emotional” level. Wagner is not aiming for a founding in the true sense of the word and, even if he were, his operas could not carry this out due to the fact that his mythological elements are not really originary myths in the same way Greek ones were.

On the basis of the analysis of Wagner’s operas, I would come to the following conclusion. His operas are quite Romantic (re. Greek) in form, and given the project of Romanticism, namely founding the German people, it would seem prima facie that Wagner would be able to ground the Germans historically. However, due to the secondary status of saying (re. the mythic elements) in his operas, he is not able to fully carry out this project. For only myth can truly found a people and if something else holds a privileged position over it, the mythic loses some of its power.