Tuesday, August 09, 2011

The Mythic Landscape (And French Writers)

There is an influential opinion that the terms like ‘myth’, ‘mythological’ etc imply a negative connotation in the sense of something ‘untrue’ and therefore illusory at best and deceitful at worst. From the point of view of sociologists, anthropologists and psychologists, subjective ‘truisms’ can have immense power and extensive effect even where they intrude into everyday reality – one only has to think of the far-reaching consequences of dreams or religious faith – and in this case Meurger is trying to illuminate the ‘meaningfulness’ of narratives about encountering mysterious ‘creatures’ in the imaginative world he calls the ‘mythic landscape’.

Today’s post is me recommending a couple of very interesting posts at another blog.

But I want to say some stuff about these posts I’m recommending and, while doing that, I’m going to tie up one old loose end from here at Impossible Kisses.

First of all, here are the links I’m recommending.

Over at Loren Coleman’s website Cryptomundo, last month he talked about a book written by a French sociologist about lake monsters in Canada, published in English as “Lake Monster Traditions.” I’ve never read the English translation of this book, but it was an important book in Coleman’s life and his thoughts on the differences he perceived between the French edition and the English edition are interesting. That blog post is here:

Rethinking Lake Monster Traditions

Loren Coleman is a pretty influential guy in the world of Forteana and the publisher of the English edition of the book wrote a response to Coleman’s critique. That response includes some great background on the publishing business (the original English translation was made by the French publisher’s girlfriend!). That blog post is here:

Fortean Tomes Publisher Responds: Lake Monster Traditions Misunderstood

French writers are interesting.

And influential. This blog, of course, Impossible Kisses, was and continues to be influenced by the thoughts and writings of a French former astronomer named Jacques Vallee. His book “Passport to Magonia: From Folklore to Flying Saucers” really popularized the paradigm of linking modern Forteana to ancient fairy-faith beliefs.

And beyond Forteana, Vallee was and continues to be very realistic and buttoned-down in his thinking. His book “Messengers of Deception: UFO Contacts and Cults” may have been the first—and may have been the most detailed—UFO-related book to focus on manipulations of fringe believers by government and military intelligence agencies. In that book Vallee had commented on the group that would later become known as the Heaven’s Gate cult. That particular study is still relevant today because similar and equally bizarre—or maybe even more bizarre—beliefs are being put in circulation by internet would-be gurus about the incoming comet Elenin. It is just an average comet by all astronomical and astrophysics metrics, but it is being manipulated—for some purpose—by fringe groups in the same way as the Hale-Bopp comet was manipulated. And we can only hope there will not be similar results.

And for me personally the topic of French writers goes all the way back to the Seventeenth Century. There was really interesting math stuff happening in France four or five hundred years ago. The philosopher and statesman Leibniz developed the calculus of infinitesimals, but more than just what we would call the calculus came of this work. The whole concept of “infinitesimals” became a topic in itself among French mathematicians and some of the stuff I’ve seen translated now and then is as much philosophy as it is mathematics. However, it is very hard to find any of this writing translated into English.

(This is oddly similar to what happened more recently with the catastrophe theory of Rene Thom. Thom developed the mathematical theory almost as a adjunct to his philosophical thinking, especially about morphogenesis in biology. But Thom’s original writing is very hard to find, and instead catastrophe theory in English became strange, faddish, complicated math almost divorced from the simple elegance of Thom’s original writing and thinking.)

A while ago in my post A Place To Read Books I’ve Never Read I mentioned that I’ve read many of the books I’ve wanted to read, then said that I haven’t yet read some French math books. The particular book I had in mind is Analyse des Infiniment Petits pour l'Intelligence des Lignes Courbes, which translates as “Analysis of the infinitely small to understand curves.” This book was published around 1696 and was written either by Guillaume de l'Hôpital or by Johann Bernoulli. No one seems to know. At any rate, I have now and then seen excerpts from it and it looks very interesting, but I’ve never found an English translation, not even at college libraries.

I’ve never found any of Rene Thom’s books in any easily available English editions, either.

And one of the scary things about wanting to read an English translation of the book by Guillaume de l'Hôpital (or Rene Thom’s works) is that I know that reading a bad translation can be worse than not reading the book at all. And I know that bad translations happen all the time. (As may have happened with the lake monster book.) Sometimes what happens is that text gets “modernized” and the philosophical elements (or the author’s examples or the author’s word choices) which the author was happy with when a book was first written get completely eliminated, or get completely re-written to fit modern theory about one thing or another. And the seemingly “out-of-date” philosophy (or other content) may have been the most interesting content of the book!

(Or, more seriously, the original content may have helped a reader understand the writer’s thinking, while re-written passages conforming to some contemporary pedagogy may, in fact, obscure a writer’s thinking. My experience has been that this kind of re-writing is, strangely, more common than anyone would expect.)

So, that’s today’s post. I really enjoyed reading those links from over at Cryptomundo and I wanted to share them. And the topic of French books—and English translations—is an important one to me because there are some things I’d like very much to read that seem to be only available in French. Or, more accurately, I mean the books are only available with a meaningful context around them to people who can read French.

So I am hoping someday to meet a pretty French mathematician or philosopher and I plan on buying her a lot of dinners if she will talk to me about this stuff.

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Inca Roads (Introduction)

A Typical Day On The Road To Utopia

The Road To Magonia

A Mussel Of A Different Color

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