Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Pathetic Fallacy

The personification of nature is crowned a literary or artistic instrument. As cunning as the device may be, I attach more probity to nature's affect on mankind than the other way round (quite apart from the obvious influence of wet, heat and cold). Today for example was decidedly temperate and my demeanour reflected it. Fraught with hovering anxiety this morning I poisonously lingered in my lair until nine o'clock.  Getting out of bed after seven o'clock is a rueful tardiness I prefer not to observe routinely. As I drew back the bedroom curtains however the clemency instantly uplifted my spirits. Possibly more enduring complaints would have continued to preoccupy me notwithstanding the favourable sunshine and azure sky; but in this instance the revolutions which had clouded the early morning gloom were washed away.

I had a comparatively summary breakfast - sliced green apple, black coffee and steel cut oats with raisins (but significantly sans Naan bread). We then mounted upon our cruising bicycles and headed along la route précise to the re-animated railway track from Almonte towards Carleton Place. The billowing, white clouds spoke a poetic language of their own - while at the same time promoting a buoyancy within my awakening world outlook.

From start to finish our cycling passage was about 14 kms. Obviously - that is, because of the old Brockville & Ottawa Railway - we rode at predominantly sea-level elevation coinciding with the meanderings of the nearby Mississippi River. The splendour of the ride, the verdancy of the views and the demonstrable leisure which prevailed were not inconsiderable ingredients. They made for a super day. To suffer any disposition other than that approaching euphoria would have ranked as both unintelligent and disrespectful.

Our afternoon was remarkable in that we attended a lecture regarding financial management and philanthropy - pointedly conducted under the auspices of our local hospital foundation. The lecturer was understandably monotonous - no doubt having rendered the identical account before - and like any amateur in retail financial planning he shamelessly dwelled upon the purported advantages of insurance as an estate planning vehicle. Long ago I learned that banks and insurance companies have the retail financial market cornered for the average client.  Novice clients make the mistake of assuming they fathom the intricacies of buying money and insurance. Nonetheless the vehicles are undeniably useful from a strictly philanthropic perspective.

The phrase pathetic fallacy is a literary term for the attribution of human emotion and conduct to things found in nature that are not human. It is a kind of personification that occurs in poetic descriptions, when, for example, clouds seem sullen, when leaves dance, or when rocks seem indifferent. The British cultural critic John Ruskin coined the term in his book "Modern Painters".   Ruskin coined the term "pathetic fallacy" to attack the sentimentality that was common to the poetry of the late 18th century and which was rampant among poets including Burns, Blake, Wordsworth, Shelley, and Keats. Wordsworth supported this use of personification based on emotion by claiming that "objects ... derive their influence not from properties inherent in them ... but from such as are bestowed upon them by the minds of those who are conversant with or affected by these objects." However Tennyson, in his own poetry, began to refine and diminish such expressions, and introduced an emphasis on what might be called a more scientific comparison of objects in terms of sense perception. The old order was beginning to be replaced by the new just as Ruskin addressed the matter, and the use of the pathetic fallacy markedly began to disappear. As a critic, Ruskin proved influential and is credited with having helped to refine poetic expression. The meaning of the term has changed significantly from the idea Ruskin had in mind. Ruskin's original definition is "emotional falseness", or the falseness that occurs to one's perceptions when influenced by violent or heightened emotion. For example, when a person is unhinged by grief, the clouds might seem darker than they are, or perhaps mournful or perhaps even uncaring. There have been other changes to Ruskin's phrase since he coined it: The particular definition that Ruskin used for the word has since become obsolete. The word fallacy nowadays is defined as an example of a flawed logic, but for Ruskin and writers of the 19th century and earlier, "fallacy" could be used to mean simply a "falseness". In the same way, the word pathetic simply meant for Ruskin "emotional" or "pertaining to emotion". Setting aside Ruskin's original intentions, and despite this linguistic 'rocky road', the two-word phrase has survived, though with a significantly altered meaning.

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