Monday, 24 September 2012

The Pathetic Fallacy

'It was a dark and stormy night'. The wind-lashed heath (King Lear). 

This is the Pathetic Fallacy, according to John Ruskin:

 Of the cheating of the fancy we shall have to speak presently; but, in this chapter, I want to examine the nature of the other error, that which the mind admits when affected strongly by emotion. Thus, for instance, in Alton Locke—  
They rowed in across the rolling foam– 
The cruel, crawling foam.
The foam is not cruel, neither does it crawl. The state of mind which attributes to it these characters of a living creature is one in which the reason is unhinged by grief. All violent feelings have the same effect. They produce in us a falseness in all our impressions of external things, which I would generally characterize as the 'Pathetic Fallacy'.
In short, the Pathetic Fallacy is the use of external objects or systems, such as the weather, to reflect on the emotional conditions of protagonists. I mention it only because this is the first day of teaching here at the Hegemon, and the weather is atrocious. It's grey, wet, cold and windy. The joy of a full year of intellectual discovery is somewhat overshadowed by the odorous steam rising from the ranks of students and staff sitting in their chafing, sodden clothes. 

Personally I love this kind of weather, but only when I'm out tramping the moors. Instead, I'm inside, trying to avoid the next job: recording a video message for my sister's wedding in New Zealand next week. An enjoyable task, of course, were I not cursed with a face like a gibbous moon and the kind of voice which makes John Major sound mellifluous. 

How was your weekend? I went to the Shropshire Open fencing competition, mostly because it's local and I'm one of the organisers. Buoyed by a surprising 3rd place at the Keele Open a while back, I hoped for a decent result. Hope evaporated about 30 seconds after arriving, when the entry list was revealed to consist of a) bright young international fencers b) top fencers coming out of retirement and c) me. My first two fights were against internationals and I lost them 5-4. Then I beat somebody I'd taken a strong dislike to at the Olympics, as well as one other fencer which was heartening, before losing unexpectedly to another guy. That gave me a bad ranking for the second round and I came up against the 5th and 8th seeds… only 2 victories in that pool, leading to a 15-11 defeat against one of the top seeds in the direct elimination round. 

Disappointing, especially when the bruises and strains began to show the next day. Mostly I lost because the better fencers had a wider repertoire of moves and adapted to my style quicker than I did to theirs. A little bit of me wishes I had the gall to harangue referees whenever they get it wrong or simply disagree with me, ululate at every point and change my weapons whenever my opponent scores - but I'm just not that type, nor do I have the desperate need to win which drives them. Anyway, I had a good time and picked up lots of ideas about how to improve. Good samosas too!

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