Commonly Confused Words: Demur & Demure

Though demur and demure look similar and are pronounced similarly (sometimes the same),  each have a completely different meaning.

Demur (verb) means: to object, or, take exception.  | “Aren’t you going to try some fruitcake?” He demurred, recoiling from his dish with disgust, “You expect me to eat this? What are you trying to do, kill me? Why, I’ve half-a-mind it’d bite me back!”

Demure (adj.) means: reserved, modest (in a affected way), or, coy. | After the grisly duel concluded, the victor sheathed his blade and gave a demure bow to the crowd.

Fiction Writer’s Compendium: Arcane English Idioms

A idiom is a collection of words that means something other than it would seem, or rather, a group of words whose meaning is different to the individual meanings entailed by the words themselves. Popular American idioms include:

  • A dime a dozen (something cheap or commonplace)
  • Beat around the bush (to prevaricate, generally due discomfort engendered by the topic being obviated)
  • Bite the bullet (to finish something unpleasant swiftly, because it is going to happen anyways)
  • Hit the sack (go to sleep)
  • Time is money (work fast/er)
  • Under the weather (to be mildly ill)

The phrases presented above, however, are only those which are quite popular; below we will turn our attention to English idioms which are considerably more uncommon, which shall serve to both increase the depth and breadth of one’s fiction-writing resources and increase the understandability of older texts whose authors had occasion to utilize time or region specific idioms.

  1. Acid Test: the most crucial and decisive test of worth or importance. This curious idiom came from the old use of nitric acid on gold to determine its authenticity.
  2. Albatross around your neck: a burden that can not be easily dispensed. This idiom comes from Samuel T. Coleridge’s The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner wherein one of the character’s, a sailor, shoots a helpful albatross (sea bird), bringing bad luck upon his crew, who then hang the corpse of the dead animal about his neck as punishment.
  3. As the crow flies: in a straight line, without consideration of roads. The expression is used to describe the distance between two points via the utilization of a hypothetical crow, which, obviously, doesn’t need to take roads into consideration.
  4. Bats in the belfry: insane, but in a harmless way. Synonymous with “has a screw loose,” and, “off one’s rocker.” A belfry is a church tower, which, in the idiom, is meant to represent the head, the bats occupying the tower, might cause disturbance but are not of any real harm (generally speaking) and thus represent crazed, but ineffectual thought.
  5. Behind the eight ball: in a difficult or trying position. This idiom is derived from the popular game of billiards, more commonly referred to as pool. In billiards, if one sinks the eight ball before any of the other balls on the table, the player who did so automatically loses. The expression “behind the eight ball” refers to the difficulty engendered by trying to shot a ball out from behind an eight ball without hitting the latter object in such a way as to cause it to be pocketed.
  6. Bum Steer: to give bad advice or direction.
  7. Casting (throwing) pearls before swine: to offer something to one who cannot appreciate it. This expression is taken directly from the biblical story of the sermon on the mount, wherein, it is said: Do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot.”
  8. Cock-and-bull: something too ridiculous to be believed. Taken from an English fable wherein a cock (rooster) and a bull have a extraordinary conversation.
  9. Cut the mustard: to meet a certain set of standards. Used exclusively to refer to people.
  10. Dark horse: a unknown or little known competitor in some event who is expected to win by some person or group with special knowledge. As one might induce, the phrase stems from horse-racing. It is often deployed in political settings.
  11. Donkey’s ears: a very long time.
  12. Down in the mouth: unhappy. Derived from frowning (ie. the mouth turns down at the sides).
  13. Dutch treat: a outing where everyone pays for themselves, individually. Synonymous with “Go dutch” or “going dutch.”
  14. Eternal triangle: refers to two men who both love the same woman OR two women who both fall in love with the same man. The triangle has formed the centerpiece of many romantic pieces of literature across numerous cultures through time (hence “eternal”).
  15. Footloose and fancy-free: carefree due immense personal liberty. A close inspection of the phrase will yield its meaning to the discerning. Unlike with many other idioms, footloose and fancy-free is literal (ie. one’s foot is loose and one’s fancy – whim – is free).
  16. Mountain out of a molehill: to make a big deal out of something that is, in actuality, rather trivial, all things considered. The molehill in the phrase refers to the small clumps of dirt created by moles when they burrow. Thus, the phrase means one is acting as if the dirt clumps of a mole is bigger than a mountain, which is, of course, false.
  17. Pound of flesh: the excruciating payment of a debt. Derived from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, wherein, Antonio borrows a sum from the Jewish moneylender, Shylock; when the debt is unable to be paid, Shylock demands a literal pound of Antonio’s flesh.
  18. Stuffed shirt: a pompous and wearisome man.
  19. Talk turkey: to get down to business; to be shrewd and eschew small-talk in business dealings.

Let us know in the comments if you’ve any interesting and unusual idioms that you think should be included.

Irregardless: Clarifying A Confounding American Neologism

One of the most irascible words in the English language is the American neologism, irregardless, popularized during the 20th Century and meaning: without consideration; or, not needing to allow for; or, heedless; or, without reguard. The word is a combination of both irrespective and regardless, which raises a rather peculiar problem, namely, that both of the base-words are synonyms, thus, engendering a double-negative.

Since both irrespective and regardless mean, roughly, “heedless,” when one is saying irregardless, what one is actually saying is heedless of heedless, or, more exactly, irrespective of disregard OR without without reguard.

Since here, one is disreguarding their disreguard, they are, in effect, maintaining their reguard (provided they had some to begin with), however, this is the precise opposite of the meaning entailed in the casual (as opposed to literal) usage of “irreguardless.”

The solution to this arcane conundrum is, thankfully, quite a simple one: don’t use the word. Both irrespective and regardless are synonyms to this confusing adverb, and hence, can take its place without any linguistic confusion UNLESS one is writing fiction and one is emulating a certain regional dialect.

Fiction Writer’s Compendium: Middle English

Below is a resource for writers, consisting of dozens of Middle English words paired with their modern-day equivalent meanings. The list is not meant to be exhaustive of all Middle English. If there are any words you wish me to add to the list, feel free to contact me and let me know (Middle English to the left, current English to the right broken by ‘-‘).


al, or, al be that – though

als – as

anon – at once

artow – art thou, thou art

atte – at, at the

aventure – chance

axe – ask

ay – always

been – are

bet – better

beth – are; (imperative) be

brenne – burn but,

but if – unless

can, kan – know, be able

canstow – can you, you can

cas – happening, chance

certes – surely, certainly

clepe (n) – call

clerk – scholar

cokewold – cuckold

coy – quiet

ech – each

echo (o) n – each one

eek, eke – also

er, or – before; formerly

everich – every; every one

fay, fey – faith

forthy – therefore

fro – from

gan, gonne – began

hastow – have you, you have

hem – them

here – her

hight – named, called

him lest (list) – he wants

hir (e) – her, their

ich – I

ilke – same

kan – know, know how to; can

konne – learn; know how to; can

koude – knew; knew how to; could

kynde – nature

lasse – less

le (e) ve – dear

lite – little

lystes – jousting or tilting fields; enclosed grounds for formal combat

maistow, maystow – may you, you may

make – mate, husband, make

mo – more

moot – may, must, ought to; so (also, ever) moot I: as I hope to

morewe – morrow, morning

mowe – may

muche – much, many

nam – am not, namo, namoore, no more

nas – was not

nat – not

nathelees – nevertheless

ne – not, nor

nere – were not

nolde – would not

nones, nonys – occasion

noon – none, no

noot – know not

nyce – foolish

nys – is not

o, oo, on, oon, that oon – one

of – of; off

pardee: (lit. “by God”), a common oath – certainly

prime, pryme – 9 A.M.

quod – said

rakel – rash

rathe – early, soon

rede – advise; interpret; read

seistow – you say

sely – innocent, simple

seyde – said

seye – say

shaltow – you shall

sikerly – certainly, surely, truly

sith – since; then

somdel – somewhat

sooth, soothfastnesse, sothe – truth

swich – such

syn – since

than (ne) – then, than

thilke – this, that, at that

tho – those; then

tweye – two

unnethe – scarcely

unwemmed – undefiled

verray – true, veritable

wantrust – distrust

wene, -eth – think, thinks

whylom – once, once upon a time, formerly

wight – person, thing

yaf – gave

ycleped – named

ye – eye

yeve, -en, -est, -eth – give, given

ynogh – enough

ywis – surely, certainly

Anti-Natalism As Environmentalism: Todd May & The Question Of Extinction

On Dec. 17, 2018, The New York Times published a article in their opinion column entitled, Would Human Extinction Be A Tragedy?: Our Species Possesses Inherent Worth But We Are Devastating The Earth & Causing Unimaginable Animal Suffering. The article (which sounds like a sociology piece off Academia.edu) was written by a one Todd May, who has precisely the kind of background one would expect from the title of his piece (French, existential, poststructural, anarchist—one knows the type; all scarfs, swank cafes, continental apoplexy and fake math).

In traversing the acrid crags of his article, a greater understanding can be gained of the burgeoning movement of earth worshippers so common to environmentalist and poststructuralist thought.

To the article itself (which is set with a forlorn picture of a abandoned lot along the highways of Haleyville, Alabama), May begins, “There are stirrings of discussion these days in philosophical circles about the prospect of human extinction. This should not be surprising, given the increasingly threatening predations of climate change. In reflecting on this question, I want to suggest an answer to a single question, one that hardly covers the whole philosophical territory but is an important aspect of it. Would human extinction be a tragedy?”

The term climate change — obligatory in this type of piece — is dreadfully nebulous; of course, everyone knows what is really meant by the term (especially when paired with the propagandistic picture of the ruined highway-side lot) — catastrophic and impending human-driven climate change — but taken literally it amounts to a nothing. One should be more specific.

Climate change itself is too massive an issue to treat properly here, but it may be remarked that there is a strange diffidence to the effects of the sun upon our climate and what often seems like a desire for man to be found, somehow, at fault for every storm, every drought and every bleached reef as if a certain contingent are looking and hoping for some perceived misstep among the rank-and-file of their fellows.

To May’s question; one should reply, “A tragedy to what?” The question, as May poses it, makes no sense. Tragedies are not things-unto-themselves. There is no substrate called tragedy, no essential fabric of existence separate from the sensorial and conceptual experiencer which fashions itself as tragedy. Tragedy is a experiential development, a response and designation of a memory of that response. A human response. Elephants may fashion graves for their dead and dogs may howl when their masters are absent, so perhaps, such creatures have a similar sense of the tragic, emerging in divergent ways from our own conceptions and response to bereavement. Yet, it would not be tragedy-per-se as the linguistic designator and the referent outside the observer are inseparable; that is to say, tragedy is unique to humans.

Dogs and elephants have little knowledge of human language; some people say they “understand us” and they do, but they don’t understand us as we understand ourselves, they do not interpret our language as we do, our experience of meaning is hostage to ourselves and finds no purchase in the world beyond our own minds.merlin_130960304_dafc0c1b-804e-49f8-9973-cd8cd6ffe26b-superJumbo.jpg

Abandoned highway lot cover image from May’s Would Human Extinction Be A Tragedy? — Very True Detective.

The dog comes a running because it has familiarized itself with, or been familiarized to, a particular set of sounds, movements and other sensory associations. “I’m home” may, to the dog, translate as something more akin to “Will be fed soon,” but of course, even attempting to craft a translation is misbegotten given that dogs do not think in English. Something like tragedy certainly manifests itself in the animal-world beyond humankind, but it is not enough to be like to be.

May continues, clarifying his position, ” I’m not asking whether the experience of humans coming to an end would be a bad thing… I am also not asking whether human beings as a species deserve to die out. That is an important question, but would involve different considerations. Those questions, and others like them, need to be addressed if we are to come to a full moral assessment of the prospect of our demise. Yet what I am asking here is simply whether it would be a tragedy if the planet no longer contained human beings. And the answer I am going to give might seem puzzling at first. I want to suggest, at least tentatively, both that it would be a tragedy and that it might just be a good thing.”

Yes, that is puzzling. That is top-notch puzzling.

May then goes on to expound upon various theatrical characters such as Sophocles’s Oedipus and Shakespeare’s Lear as examples of human tragedy, which he defines as “a wrong”… “whose elimination would likely require the elimination of the species-,” This is not the crux of his argument so I shall not belabor a response; it is nothing short of psychotic.

He continues, “Human beings are destroying large parts of the inhabitable earth and causing unimaginable suffering to many of the animals that inhabit it. This is happening through at least three means. First, human contribution to climate change is devastating ecosystems, as the recent article on Yellowstone Park in The Times exemplifies. Second, increasing human population is encroaching on ecosystems that would otherwise be intact. Third, factory farming fosters the creation of millions upon millions of animals for whom it offers nothing but suffering and misery before slaughtering them in often barbaric ways. There is no reason to think that those practices are going to diminish any time soon. Quite the opposite.”

Firstly, as pertains to factory farming, certainly there are forms of it wherein judicious care is not taken to mitigate the suffering of the animals and that should be remedied, further, for our purposes, factory farming can prove disastrous given that it allows diseases to spread more easily between the animals, due their close proximity to one another and the potential for profit and thus efficiency to intervene on responsibility which can impact things like the cleanliness of the facilities or checking on the health of the animals. This, however, does not hold true of all forms of factory farming, but nevertheless, we should take into consideration, to the best of our abilities, the cognitive ambit of the organism upon which we so intensely rely for our sustenance.

Secondly, “destroying large parts of the inhabitable earth” is extremely vague. What parts is he talking about? Habitats for what or whom? Does he mean nuclear wasteland, scorched earth, or merely environmental transformation (such as forest clearing for habitation)? Shiva is a twin-faced god. All creation mandates destruction. Human-centered environmental transformation is no exception and will always require the displacement (regardless of duration) of other organisms and the modulation of the land itself, this is no different than the Mountain Pine Beetle destroying trees in the process of building their colonies, save in terms of scale. The better at environmental modulation we (humans) can be and the more we learn (and remember) about the earth and its ecosystems, the better we can modulate with the least amount of collateral damage to other species (should this be found to be desirable, and it will assuredly not always be desirable). I am perfectly willing to devastate as many ecosystems as necessary to acquire the space and resources for the polity of which I am a part. Here we witness from May a inversion of human-centered concern for concern of land-itself, devoid of an articulation of impact (with the sole exception of factory farming), that the only way to be truly moral, is to displace concern from ones fellows and to begin offshoring empathy and sympathy to moles, voles, chickens and bacteria. Speaking of bacteria — they’re living beings, with their own intricate little ecosystems upon and in our bodies, will May who looks quite shinny and well-scrubbed in his public photos, give up washing so as not to unduly disturb the microverse or shall he continue initiating a holocaust with every scrub?

How shall he answer for his cleanliness? Is it not microbial genocide?

He touches lightly upon this issue briskly before falling, once more, into maudlin whinging, “To be sure, nature itself is hardly a Valhalla of peace and harmony. Animals kill other animals regularly, often in ways that we (although not they) would consider cruel. But there is no other creature in nature whose predatory behavior is remotely as deep or as widespread as the behavior we display toward what the philosopher Christine Korsgaard aptly calls ‘our fellow creatures’-”

Why he should choose Valhalla of all places as a ideal of peace and harmony is beyond me; that being said, he is, of course, correct that animals, both rational and non-rational, often behave in exceptionally savage ways. For example, chimpanzees hunt red colobus monkeys, both young and old. When a chimp catches a colobus, they kill and eat it, often brain-first, rending open the skull and suckling at the protein-filled gray matter, with special attention later given to the liver and other internal organs, less well-shelled and thus, more easily removed and consumed.

The South American botfly, Dermatobia hominis, deposits its eggs, either directly or through the utilization of captured mosquitos, into the skin of mammals, including humans, where they find their way into the subcutaneous layer of the skin and develop into larvae and feed on skin tissue for approximately eight weeks before emerging from the skin to pupate. Dermatobia hominis is, however, only one of several species of flies that potentially target humans. When a human is parasitized by fly larvae, the condition is referred to as myiasis and if aural myiasis occurs, there is a possibility that the larvae may reach the brain. If the myiasis occurs in the naval cavity, fluid build up around the face and fever will often occur and can be, if not properly and promptly treated, fatal.

In regard to Korsgaard’s remark about fellow creatures, he and May can speak for themselves in this regard, the human-flesh devouring maggots of the African Botfly and brain sucking chimp are not my fellow creatures, there is little fellow there to be had, they are either externalities or obstacles to human habitation. Given the chance any one of them would devour Korsgaard and May as they would their other victims. It is precisely because we are possessed of far greater power, which can be applied far more savagely and intelligently than any other creature on earth that we are not in a situation where we must constantly be on guard from what slithers and stalks the undergrowth.

For the flourishing of our species, there has been few attributes more beneficial than, what May describes as our extraordinary “predatory behavior.” Indeed, I should declare that we should be more predatory. Not less.

May then says something quite extraordinary, “If this were all to the story there would be no tragedy. The elimination of the human species would be a good thing, full stop.” He then clarifies that this isn’t all to the story and that humans contribute unique things “to the planet” (whatever that means) such as literature and then comes to the real meat of his argument, preempting some of the criticisms which have been leveled against him in this very paper, writing,

“Now there might be those on the more jaded side who would argue that if we went extinct there would be no loss, because there would be no one for whom it would be a loss not to have access to those things. I think this objection misunderstands our relation to these practices. We appreciate and often participate in such practices because we believe they are good to be involved in, because we find them to be worthwhile. It is the goodness of the practices and the experiences that draw us. Therefore, it would be a loss to the world if those practices and experiences ceased to exist. One could press the objection here by saying that it would only be a loss from a human viewpoint, and that that viewpoint would no longer exist if we went extinct. This is true. But this entire set of reflections is taking place from a human viewpoint. We cannot ask the questions we are asking here without situating them within the human practice of philosophy. Even to ask the question of whether it would be a tragedy if humans were to disappear from the face of the planet requires a normative framework that is restricted to human beings.”

Firstly, I fail to see what is “jaded” about arguing that if humans went extinct, there would be no loss, because there would be no one for whom it would be a loss. Secondly, I do not think this would be true; as previously stated, there would be some loss beyond the human species, namely, loss (or its less sapient variation) in those intellectually capable animals with whom we reside, such as those commonly kept as pets (dogs, cats, pigs and so forth). But then we come to one of the strangest points made by the author, for he says it is “the goodness of the practice” that “draw us” as if goodness exists separate from, not just humanity, but from anything but “the planet.” It is a curiously anthropomorphic remark from so clearly misanthropic a individual and one which, due its spectral imposition, is forthrightly irrational. He could simply have made the argument from non-human animal intelligence as the experiential nexus of the loss as I have but instead he shifts the nexus of experience to “the planet,” which is, of course, merely a exceptionally large space-rock.

May then turns his attention to “the other side” which he describes as those who think that human extinction would be a “tragedy” and “overall bad” (which I would regard as one and the same thing, as I don’t know of any tragedies which are overall good) and asks the question: How many lives would one be willing to sacrifice to preserve Shakespeare’s works? He says he’d not sacrifice a single human life and that is all fine and good as I’d not either, for the obvious reasons that Shakespeare’s works can be reforged but a human life cannot (yet). He then poses the question: “-how much suffering and death of nonhuman life would we be willing to countenance to save Shakespeare, our sciences and so forth?” The rest of the article is merely antinatalist tripe wherein May proclaims that preventing future humans from existing is probably the right thing to do given that we would be preventing an unnecessary flow of suffering from being unleashed upon the world. So what then is the answer to his challenge.

The answer is clear.

As much suffering shall be endured as the organism is capable of enduring to survive and to thrive. If a individual does not wish to survive than that individual is at liberty to remove themselves from the gene pool. It is as simple as that. It has always been as simple as that and it will always be as simple as that. People aren’t going to stop having children because May told them to, which he well knows, and even if he were to be successful in convincing everyone to cease reproducing in some kind of Benatarian revolt there would then be no organisms left capable of evaluating the benefits of our self wrought extinction.


Sources

  1. I.C. Gibly & D. Wawrzyiak. Meat Eating By Wild Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii): Effects of Prey Age On Carcass Consumption Sequence. Vivamus.
  2. Todd May. Would Human Extinction Be A Tragedy? The New York Times.

First Precepts of the Et Ferro

The et ferro as quaesitor de tenebris ignis.

[-ς-∧-]

The willful ‘I’ of the mind first, then the body, then the world, then the universe and all beyond. Palindromic continuation. The ‘I’ in the ‘self’ is a manifestation of the totality of the mind which is the filter through which the central organism wherefrom the generative conceptions emerge which individuates itself from the totality of the holo which is the generative locus for those principals by which all other individuations there follow.

All subjective ontological regressions terminate in the abyss of unknowing, into the great void beyond all ken, into the “and then what?” The et ferro here asserts himself, realizing this, he works towards making of himself a glorious pyre which will burn up the amniotic null. Out of darkness, light and out of light, darkness. Darkness fostered by his own hand for the safeguarding of his prizes.

The et ferro is preeminently a creature of shade, a acolyte of Apophis – the world-encircler, o’er thrown by the father of Shu and Tefnut. He lies beneath unknowing, seeking to excavate from it the treasures waiting beyond the facility of all limits of perception.

The et ferro is not a esoteric self-construction, but a de-esoteric self-deconstruction who lays before him, in the starkest fashion, all the fundamental questions of life and its end without fear or hesitation.

  1. The Who-am? 
  2. The What-am? 
  3. The Why-am? 
  4. The Where? 
  5. The What-then-now-then?

All subsequent questions arising therefrom he tackles with likewise vigor. As much as can be given. By asking the question alone has he answered the first question and the fruits thereof yield answers to the second and the second to the third and the third to the fourth and the fourth to the fifth upon which new vistas present themselves. All points on the map inexorably interconnected, weaving themselves unto a holo within THE holo. Once the water has been drawn from the well of unknowning and oneself is known as a coherent self, the subject turns to all that it perceives as different therefrom and seeks to extinguish his quest for continued individuation as he realizes that there is no move beyond the holo there are only moves beyond sub-holos there contained. He finds himself trapped like a fly in some spider’s web; affixed to the whole of reality, unable to flee from it, to move beyond or above it and yet when despair strikes this is all that he wishes to do and thus, his despair is intensified a thousand-fold. Pleasure is fleeting but pain is omnipresent. He then makes a pact with pain. Plotting in the shadows to stab his tormentor through the heart. Why, after all, should one honor accords with tyrants? Contemplating the stockpiles he magnifies his desire for revenge. Within the halls of his memory palace he plots the murder of the stars and the violent overthrow of the sun, horrid sovereign of the sky. When he sleeps he dreams only of devouring the world entire.

To out-burn entropy itself is his highest aspiration. In the total consumption of heat-death he finds his solace.

[-∨-∅-∧-]


Ludwig Wittgenstein was once asked the question: “What is your aim in Philosophy?” He responded: “To show the fly the way out of the fly-bottle.”

The project of the et ferro is starkly different: He wishes to bend ‘the bottle’ to his will and set it afire and melt it whole if it does not.


To the question: Why et ferro? Because, one must be as iron to weather the fire.


[∃-∧]


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Sex, Violence, Death, Toil: A Brief Primer on Fiction Writing, Prt.3

-a truly great work of art will always deal with three things: sex, violence and death. It is my opinion that any work of art which deals not at all with this omnipresent trio of human universals is not worthy of one’s time or, indeed, of really being called a work of art at all.

-Brief Primer on Fiction Writing, Part 1

-one can with absolute certainty say that there are Human Universals, that is, Human Generalities. Everyone who exists was born and everyone who was born will die. Everyone feels the pangs of hunger and thirst, of dread and envy, jealousy and admiration, lust and love, of purpose and purposelessness.

-Brief Primer on Fiction Writing, Part 2

All human endeavors bespeak of ourselves; such is the case with fiction which gives form and function to the nebulous, scattered and fevered energy of the brain’s wild imaginings all of which roil up from from the instinctual chasm. It is only reasonable, given their source, that those instinctual and often obfuscated outpourings would cohere to those elements of the human experience which broader humanity holds as paramount: fear of death, given the uncertainty of what, if anything, comes after; the desire for sex as a replicating process to transcend the certainty of death via propagation of a distillation(s) of oneself into those future times which one will not live to see (echos of one’s consciousness imparted to the surviving lover as memories; the genetic progeny – sons and/or daughters – who will retain some semblance of one’s essential attributes). Then there is the impulse to defend against, violently, all those things within life that are essential to the aforementioned project of transcending death (love, progeny, home, water, food, ect.) and to attack, vigorously, all perceivable threats to those hitherto mentioned qualities.

The greatest pieces of art give to wider humanity the tools needed to grapple with such questions. Not necessarily to solve them, for some are inherently – thus far – insolvable, but to better face them down and navigate their labyrinthine sprawl.

Fiction which does not deal with these primal impulses, with these most crucial matters of human life, can scarcely be expected to rouse the passions since they are inherently devoid of the most powerful of them. If passions can not be roused then men can not, in any large number be moved, if men can not be moved to act in congruence to all those aforementioned questions of import than entropy is intensified and process of social degradation sets in like a cankerous wound.

This is not to say that one’s work should mechanically fixate on the particulars of death, or on the process of copulation nor of the graphic outpouring of those redder urges. Such fixations lead to a cold, stiff introspection on the action alone, that is to say, it places death, or sex or violence as a self-encapsulated and self-sufficient module for the whole of human action; wherein discourse is repelled or stifled at the expense of display alone. It is life as a screenshot. Life as a museum display. Devoid of dynamism and adaptation.

Most everyone can here recall some film that featured countless explosions, and gunshots and great gouts of blood and copulation and yet was wholly boring (). Physical action, alone and isolated, is not particularly interesting, there is nothing there to make one think; all one can do is passively observe a manifest reality. Films such as Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai or Ran, in contrast both feature plenty of scintillating violence (that was shocking for its time) but focus just as much, if not more, time upon the consequences of that very same violence. One of the best examples of the divide we are here discussing (between violence-as-decoration and violence-as-a-window-into-the-primal-state) can be seen in contrasting two seemingly similar scenes from the two films, those being the Dostoevsky-influenced psychological samurai-thriller, The Sword of Doom (1966) and the actionsploitation film/videogame emulator Hardcore Henry (2015).

The Sword of Doom follows the exploits of a master swordsman named Ryunosuke with a unique and bewildering sword style in feudal Japan. His life would be splendid save for the fact that he’s a pure sociopath who derives his greatest pleasure from killing. Around the middle of the film he and the assassins who he is traveling with attack a man who they believe is a political target. The man, however, turns out to be a local swordsmaster named Shimada Toranosuke (he’s played by Toshiro Mifune so you know he isn’t messing around). The assassins attempt to assault Shimada anyways but are all promptly dispatched, one by one as the shots linger more upon their bodies then upon the lightening-fast swordplay itself. After the battle is over only the aloof Ryunosuke, Shimada and the leader of the gang of assassins remain (pinned beneath Shimada’s knee with a sword to throat); Shimada then has a conversation with the defeated leader of the assassin troupe as the normally icy Ryunosuke looks on with wonderment.

Shimada: “Who are you? Your name!”

Assassin leader: “Kill me!”

Shimada: “You’re the leader, it seems. Your hot-headed men made me kill against my will. The men lying here were good swordsmen. Now they’ve died like dogs! How will you atone for it, you fool?”

Assassin leader: [crying] “Kill me. It is the worst mistake I’ve ever made. Kill me!”

Shimada: [releasing the assassin and sheathing his blade, he turns to Ryonusuke] The sword is the soul. Study the soul to know the sword. Evil mind, evil sword.

Contrast this with the big fight scene towards the end of Hardcore Henry where our protagonist, Henry, a cyborg who is seeking to rescue his girlfriend from a albino warlord with psychic powers named Akan, must contend with an army of mind controlled slaves. Arteries are punctured, throats slit, bones broken and heads crushed but there is never any sense of loss or pain for two reasons, the first is that all of the enemies in the fight scene are nameless random goons without emotion or backstory. They aren’t really people, they are simply props and so when Henry is violently dispatching them he isn’t really killing a person he is merely destroying a prop. It certainly looks fascinating but one can not really take away much from the film other than just that: it was pretty cool.

[continued in part 4]