On Interpretation

QuadrigaA great many hermeneutical conundrums fall away if one gives up the initial premise that words and language constitute the paradigmatic instance of meaning, expression, and communication. If one begins by recognising that words/language are the least typical instance of the domain constituted by modes of meaning, the way language works follows fairly simply.

This alternate premise will always be unpopular, because most people do not want to understand meaning so much as they want to control interpretation. The myth of subsistent meaning sustains that libido dominandi by positing a point of reference, a Sache, a kernel/pearl/nugget/“real meaning” to which the interpreter can lay claim. Neither “liberal” nor “conservative” scholars will yield on the (non-)existence of subsistent meaning, because all hope that they can deploy it to prove their case against the other.


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Researchers Say

“Researchers say” is roughly equivalent to “inspired by a true story,” or (of musicians) “classically trained” or (of people with academic pretensions) “studied at.” You can almost always find some research that suggests counterintuitive or bizarre things — whether that research convinces other scientists, or holds up to testing, that is another matter. You could say I’m “classically trained” as a vocalist, because I had a handful of voice lessons when I was preparing for ministry. I’ve “studied at” lots of places — apart from where I earned my actual degrees, I’ve “studied at” Harvard, the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Edinburgh, King’s College London, Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, pretty much anyplace they let me sit still with a book for a few minutes.

If press releases aren’t willing to be more specific about the scale and scope and weight of the research results, they might as well say “These characters guess that…” (or “Me mum made me take piano lessons” or “I’ve been to their campus”).

None of this, of course, diminishes the significance of real research results that stand up to testing, nor of real musical training in the classical tradition, nor of the approbation of academic study at a prestigious institution. Quite the contrary — the inflationary rhetoric of vagueness is the culprit that devalues the accomplishments toward which the vague expressions deceptively point.

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Parker Presence

Although I mostly attend to Sheaffer fountain pens — that is, among the sorts of pen I can afford, Sheaffer pens interest me most — they’re relatively less common here in England than they were in the US, and Parker pens are more common, so if I encounter a pen in the wild (or browse generally on ebay), I’m more likely to see a Parker. Parker manufactured fine writing instruments — Sheaffer just produced pens that, on the whole, I appreciate more, and appear on the English market less often.

So a couple of months ago, I stopped in at a local vintage clothing shop and scanned their counter full of antique odds and ends, and saw there a handsome Parker 61 with the Rainbow Gold cap.

New Arrivals

I usually prefer to buy pens from non-specialists only if the price is low enough that I can rationalise the risk; one can never be quite sure what has happened inside a pen over long years. This pen sold for a price close to (but still below) its specialist value, and I hadn’t had a treat in a while, so Margaret and I agreed that this would be a reasonable special occasion.

This was not the capillary-filler style of Parker 61, but the later squeeze filler. The nib looks fine, and the trademark inset arrow of the Parker 61 is still there (I have a Parker 61 Flighter whose arrow has, alas, fallen away).

All in all, it makes a very handsome, highly functional addition to the Parker Wing of my collection.

Granted that I would be more likely to find Parkers than Sheaffers, I had resolved to look out for one of the striking Parker 50 Falcons, one of the pen models with the nib integrated into the body of the pen. The most famous of this sort, the prize example, is the Pilot Myu/Murex; Parker had made a similar pen out of titanium, but the materials costs were too high, and the nibs too brittle (if I recall correctly). The Falcon preserved the intriguing style of the integrated nib with more conventional materials, and Parker manufactured them in four models for several years.

I’d been looking out for a Falcon, and had had my eye on two at £48, which was more than I could afford but a low-ish price, I thought. I mentioned them to a dealer-collector one day, and the next time I looked for them online they were gone (this is probably just a coincidence, but if I meet that gentleman again I may ask him about them). I recently put in a low bid on a Falcon on ebay, though, and to my surprise won the auction.

From the outside, it looks mostly like any other metal-plated fountain pen. It’s a pleasant design, but nothing startling. The integrated nib, though, stands out in the pen-design crowd:

The nib is very firm, but it writes smoothly and agreeably. This pen probably came at a discount because of the friction marks where the cap grips the section, but I don’t mind; I’m mostly a writer-collector anyway, and I’m more curious to experience working with a pen than seeking out a perfect specimen. (Not that I turn perfect specimens away.)

I still feel a stronger attachment to Sheaffers, but these Parkers have impressed me very favourably. The hooded nib of the 61 and the integral nib of the 50 both write very smoothly; the pens are attractive, and they lie comfortably in my hand. If I see another, I may succumb to temptation.

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The Sign of Hillman

Margaret brought back with her number of photos (from my sister Holly’s archives), and paintings by my grandmother Isabel, and various other bits and bobs from the storage closet our friends Sarah and Clay so kindly permit us to occupy. Among them was something I had forgotten that I’d ever had — the poster-sign announcing James Hillman’s talk at Yale, on which I based my own recent paper on parables and interpretation (I’m a bit surprised I didn’t post it here, but I guess I wasn’t blogging much back in November).

I delight in her having retrieved this artefact of those golden days at Yale, but not solely for nostalgic reasons. In a footnote to the talk, I noted that ‘The talk appears in the Opus Archive official bibliography of Hillman’s works as “G83c ‘On Dreaming of Pigs: A Jungian View of Interpretation.’ Lecture for Dept. of English, Yale Univ., New Haven, CT, Nov.”’, but added ‘My notes of the talk, and the tenor of the talk itself, both incline toward the subtitle “An Archetypal Approach to Interpretation” — but of course, recollections and notes do not outweigh the evidence of the official bibliography.’ This sign,however, adds corroborative evidence to my recollection and notes. In the long run, it probably doesn’t matter much whether Hillman thought of it as a “Jungian” or an “Archetypal” approach, but my memory falters often enough that it derives some satisfaction from this vindication. Plus, it will make a nice illustration if I give the talk again sometime, perhaps as a slide lecture. Thanks, Margaret!

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One For The Books

Margaret’s just back today, so (of course) most of my time has been directed to catching up on what she’s been doing for the last five or six weeks. She took a nap; we unpacked the family art that she brought back from the US; we went to dinner; we’ve been watching intellectually non-threatening TV programming (thank you, Amazon Prime).

But just now, about a half hour ago, we had a power cut. First the lights dimmed for a minute or 90 seconds — then all the power went off, poof! I went out into the street to see what was up, and the lights were on at each of our neighbours’ houses. The fuses were all in the “On” position. We don’t pay the electric bill directly, so although I’m well capable of forgetting to pay, British Gas has no reason to cut us off. Just went off, and then again after about ten or twelve minutes, back on again.

I cannot explain this.

(Did I mention that Margaret’s home?)

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Golden Hour

This morning during my Saturday meander through the lanes of Oxford, I wound up pausing for a cup of coffee at the Golden Cross cafe (no website of their own, oddly). Margaret and I have been there before — only once, I think — during a December gift shopping expedition. Margaret needed a brea and a cup of tea, so I sallied forth from there to various merchants, gradually accumulating a small mountain of bags and packages that threatened to take over one of the sitting-rooms over which the cafe presides (the duvet and pillows were the prime culprit in this inadvertent coup attempt). We had begun to attract some mildly hostile attention by this time, so we’ve avoided the place thereafter.

Today I was looking for a non-chain cup of coffee in the Cornmarket area, though, and I thought to revisit the Golden Cross without armloads of packages. I also opted to sit in a different part of the cafe, so as not to trigger any associations among the staff. As I selected a table in the counter area, I observed some painted/markered inscriptions that I hadn’t noticed the time I was trying to avoid stepping on people’s toes or knocking their teapots over with the bulging bag of duvet.

[Let’s not fuss over the incorrect apostrophe, and instead relish the slightly warped wit]

Over the counter, they had posted two of these side-by-side:

[The asterisked small print reads “*This is a placey kind of place”]

And my table was adjacent to this instruction:

The Golden Cross Cafe

The coffee was satisfactory, no one gave me a retrospective fish-eye (in fact, the staff were very agreeable and welcoming), and I approve of their sense of humour (the style and lettering quite reminiscent of Dave Walker’s work, to my eye). I expect to go back.

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Saving Time

HoopoeIf you didn’t already think of the internet as one of the all-time greatest time-saving devices (I mean, apart from it’s time-consuming aspects), let me put in a good word for our much-maligned digital communications network. A few weeks ago I was preaching on a Sunday on which I had never preached before, or so I thought. A careful search revealed that I had preached on this Sunday, but that was in the olden times when I relied on WriteNow as my word processor. I loved WriteNow, and I’m still a little sad that it fell by the wayside. But I’m even sadder that, as goes the business of software design, I no longer had any applications that would open my old WN files. There they sat in my “Sermons” directory, nondescript icons mocking me, inappropriate “kind” tags teasing me, and me with no way to prise open the files so that I could extract a few words that once seemed wise enough to preach.


Then on Tuesday, Simon “Webmink” Phipps mentioned the good work of the Document Liberation Project (on a Facebook post), an initiative to preserve access to files in defunct formats. “Oh, right,” sez I to Simon, “but what about my situation?” Simon, being a patient and gentle man, pointed to the specific page of the specific library on which several devs were working. Simon suggested that I send the devs some more documents to work on, so that they could benefit from wresting data from actual user-generated documents. That sounded good to me, but before I gathered up my sad old heaps of kilobytes I though I’d try to open some with LibreOffice.

Sure enough, much to my astonishment and delight, LibreOffice opened them right up. Yes, they showed lots of cruft; the filters aren’t by any means perfect. But that’s small potatoes compared to the relief and joy of seeing that I can open up those old files and retrieve at least part of what they once were. And you can bet that I’m spending time opening and re-saving those files in a more modern format.

Simon saved not only the time I would forever thereafter have spent banging my head against the wall trying to think of ways I might distill some text from these ancient files — he also saved for me the time I originally spent writing the files, and saved for me the years during which I was writing with WriteNow. So if I squander an hour or two three several playing “2048 — Doctor Who Edition,” I still think I’m coming out ahead overall.

Thanks, Simon! Bless you (and I will be making a contribution to the DLP.

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It’s amazing how much difference small changes in an environment can make. Today Chris and Mattie and I turned the desk in my study 90° — orienting it along the wall, beneath a window whereas before it had been perpendicular to the wall with the window. The operation was surprisingly complicated — one of the drawer-sides of the desk doesn’t connect physically to the pedestal on which it sits, and neither of the pillars is attached to the desktop. And when you see the desktop without any of the clutter with which I ordinarily festoon it,the size of the thing strikes you. You could use it for billiards or snooker.

The study itself feels very much larger — there’s a markedly greater area of contiguous open space. I can face people in the sitting area of my study just by rotating in my office chair, instead of having to get up and walk around to find a chair on the free side of the desk. If I need to show someone my computer screen, it will be very much easier so to do.

In all, I expect it will be a much more comfortable work environment.

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Phishing For Me

I spent much of the morning borderline-verklempt, and the middle of the day doing bits and bobs of work, and the end of the day being fussy and tired, so I almost missed out on anything to blog. Thankfully, however, I was provided an amusing item to call to readers’ attention:

Alleged Apple Email, with incoherent composition and a link to a non-Apple website

This is like one of those “How many things are wrong with this picture?” puzzles from Highlights For Children, waiting for you in the dentist’s office. How many glaring clues are there that this is not an email from Apple? Well, first there’s the “Dear (e) client (e).” Second, it’s addressed not to my Apple ID account (formerly @mac.com, formerly @me.com, currently @icloud.com). It offers a link to an unidentified (and non-Apple) site. But the prize-winner does have to be “why this electronic courier you he was sent ?”. I take some satisfaction in imagining a nefarious internet phisherman who didn’t realise that this construction would be a dead giveaway — and sympathising with said malefactor’s English As A Second Language teacher.

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All Over But The Dusting

This afternoon, our house painter turned in his keys — as far as he’s concerned, he’s through with us. He spent most of his day dusting and re-oiling the woodwork, adjusting things that had gone awry, and so on. There’ll be a lot more wiping down to do, some rearranging furniture, but the house will be in its newly-resplendent glory when Margaret gets home next week. I’d post some pictures, except why post pictures before it’s all tidied up at least a bit tidier?

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Now Understands The User

My trusty old graphics tablet can no longer cooperate with contemporary operating systems — alas! — so I splashed out on the cheapest plausible current model I could find. Unfortunately, the Amazon page did not include a screenshot of the helpful directions

Because the hardware different, Understands the hardware each place representative function

or I might have recognised that this was perhaps not the bargain it presented itself as being. Oh, well, I’m getting by with it.

And the house painter says he’ll be done tomorrow, so that’s good.

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Breaking Up and Starting Over

Yesterday I was writing my weekly note home to my mother, and the pen — my jade Sheaffer Flat-top with a stub nib — started scratching as thought it were out of ink. But I knew that couldn’t be the problem because I had just filled it from my new bottle of Diamine Ancient Copper ink a couple of days before.

I discreetly gave the section a twist to look at its innards, only to discover that the sac had disintegrated, and the pen hadn’t filled at all; the feed was holding a little ink, but the appearance of having filled was all illusion. This might have dismayed some people, but it delighted me: This was a problem I could repair on my own, as soon as I got home!

Sadly, when I got home I discovered that all my pen repairs tools are up in my clothes room, covered by a vast dropcloth. Repairs will have to wait.

At the same time, this week marked a different turning point for me. I’ve been a long-time lover of J Herbin inks. “Ambre de Birmanie,” “Eclat de Saphir,” “Larmes de Cassis,” all captivated me with rich, saturated colours and gentle shading. Their reputation as an ink that treats pens gently, and (I must admit) the French naming and the pen-holder bottles sealed the deal.

J Herbin colour swatches

But the last few bottles of Herbin ink that I’ve bought have developed SITB, and I’m getting weary of having to throw out the remainder of a bottle of ink when I see the tell-tale string of ink clinging to a nib. I returned one bottle, but I’ve had two more go bad. (Word on the street has it that they had problems with EU chemical regulations and that everything’s OK now — perhaps I bought my ink at the wrong moment, or I’m storing it especially badly — but with all respect to the centuries-old Herbin firm, I’m backing away.

I’m switching to another brand with a good reputation, Liverpool’s Diamine. It’s their Ancient Copper I had just ordered, and they have some handsome alternatives to the Herbin colours I love. And my Herbin bottles won’t run out right away (I’ll keep using them till I detect a problem). But now I have some exploring to do with even more new options from Diamine.

Diamine Colour chart

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