After writing my last post i walked across town for my class with Student 2. Crossing the estuary i saw a small black and white ship called Odin.

Student 2 wanted to focus on the linguistics section of her exam, so we spent the hour talking about linguistics. i’ve never studied it before but it’s similar(ish) to logic – an attempt to break language down to its elemental components, like stripping a machine. We chatted about linguistics and logic, while her three small boys yelled and ran about throwing things at each other. It’s the first time, i think, that i’ve talked about logic while ducking inflatable toys, Bertrand Russell eat your heart out. Linguistics (and logic) is strange stuff: one part of me finds it enticingly exact and central; another part (actually, more like 95% of me) wants to just wave a hand and say, “what a load of bollocks”.

Student 2 planned to analyse the first (long) sentence of Paradise Lost in terms of linguistic components. We had fun going through it, trying to decide exactly what was the subject, agent, object etc. of each clause, and if “Restore us” was subjunctive or, as i thought, future, with the “will” elided. She surprised me by saying Milton seems to be setting himself up as a judge who can stand not only above Eden and mankind and the Devil, but even over God and Heaven – so he and he only is fit to justify the ways of God to Man, like a parent arbitrating in a child’s quarrel. i was a little unnerved by her insight: Milton’s most recent life was as a High Court Judge (fairly recently dead). i’ve often noticed that some people seem able to glimpse true things by their imagination alone; though they wouldn’t know it – i suspect the imagination adjoins onto the “visionary” mind.

i then went home to read Philip Roth’s Indignation; the uppity full-of-himself adolescent narrator quotes lengthy tracts of Russell as a proof of the non-existence of god, and i believe refers to Russell as a great logician, mathematician, and philosopher. Russell was clever, but he was only really concerned with things that don’t matter. He didn’t love or need wisdom; he wanted a doll’s house of the mind, so he could feel himself to be surrounded by order and neat answers. Because he was an intelligent man he was not easily satisfied – it wasn’t a cheap doll’s house; but all the same, it was a doll’s house.

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