Saturday, 5 July 2014

The Surreal, the Sad, and the Plain Bleedin’ Silly

Readers might like to see and perhaps come and try the following tempting item from a taverna menu here in Greece:


But mock ye not: would an English restaurateur compiling a translated menu for the benefit of Greek customers do better?


Rebarbative means ‘Repellently hairy’, with particular reference to facial hair. Many cultures find beards and such-like disgusting, though in England around a century ago daring women used to say ‘A kiss without a moustache is like an egg without salt.’ The general repugnance however dates back to at least the time of Plato and Socrates: in one of the Platonic/Socratic dialogues (it is hard to say what is Socrates and what Socrates as allegedly reported by Plato: in general if it’s boring it’s probably Plato, and if it’s outrageous then it’s probably Socrates) there is a discussion of what heaven must be like: all the things we know on earth must exist there, in their ideal, paradigmatic forms. ‘But,’ someone objected, ‘Then up there there must be the ideal forms of such nasty things as, well, hair.’ This horrid idea nearly did for the theory of the Platonic Forms.

I first came across ‘Rebarbative’ in a novel by Iris Murdoch. And by the way, all that stuff about keeping the mind active and learning new things so as to escape Alzheimer’s is obviously bullshit: Iris Murdoch had one of the most creative as well as rigorously analytic minds of the twentieth century. As if being the author of all those wonderful novels were not enough, she was also a highly respected academic philosopher, specializing in ethics. In fact I think the novels may be (as well as vastly entertaining) dramatizations of moral problems. I was once privileged to meet her and I asked her if this were so, but I can’t remember what she said. But none of this stopped her ending her days giggling at the Teletubbies, pissing herself, and occasionally saying wistfully ‘I wrote books, didn’t I?’

I’m sorry. That’s very sad. Let’s talk about something jollier:


Scientists at the University of St Andrews in Scotland have been following chimpanzees in the Ugandan jungle, to learn how to ‘translate’ the many gestures Chimpanzees make to each other. Apparently after much research one of the things they have discovered is that when one chimp makes the ‘gesture’ of punching another one in the gob, this ‘Represents the specific message’ ‘I want you to go away.’

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