Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Tripartite Definition of the Past Few Weeks

So it's been awhile. I'm not really a blog person. (Nor am I a bog person, which are really quite interesting; probably more interesting than me. I would recommend reading the wikipedia article on bog people ( rather than this post.)

First section of this post is about classes:


I've already written what I'm taking, I think, but now I've been in classes for a few weeks I have a sense of what they're actually about.

Figurative Language is so far really a class on rhetoric. We've been analyzing the rhetorical devices used by various texts, using traditional terminology. What this means is that we look for distinctive schemes and tropes in a text, think about their rhetorical function, and match them with traditional terms. For this last task the lecturer recommended a site called Silva Rhetoricae (, which is quite helpful.

I was hoping that this class would actually be more of a semantics class, focusing on ways to analyze figurativeness in the ways that semanticists analyze words and sentences. Rhetoric is really something quite different, in that it doesn't really probe the meanings of expressions in any real depth, but merely identifies them, gives them a fancy Greek name, and then spends the rest of its time concerned with the rhetorical function (i.e., how it relates to the text's persuasive capacity) of the expression. However, I'm still enjoying the class, because rhetoric is a significant tradition that I had almost no knowledge of, and does relate in some interesting ways to the foundations of semantic analysis. There is also a guest lecturer coming in to do the lectures on metaphor and metonymy, which I'm hoping will go into the kinds of things I originally expected.

The lecturer is fairly engaging, and we do get to look in a new way at a lot of fun texts, such as Obama's victory speech, various poetry and prose, and in more depth at Othello and Richard II. This is also the ideal class for the development of pretentiousness, since we daily learn and use words like polysyndeton, epanalepsis, and mesarchia, all of which are characterized as being really fancy sounding words to describe very simple ideas that don't require the understanding the underlying theoretical paradigm of the discipline to nearly the same extent that most technical terms do.

Lexical Semantics is my favorite class so far. The lecturer is very funny and engaging (very fortunately, since it's a 9:00 class that sometimes lasts two hours), has a deep knowledge of and interest in the material, and doesn't use powerpoint at all (!). He writes up lectures as handouts but never closely follows them, sometimes entirely disregarding them.

I won't go into details about what we cover, since it gets technical very quickly. Suffice it to say that the class is exactly what it says it is, an analysis of word (lexeme) meaning (semantics). This is in contrast to what is known as formal semantics (which I took a class on last year at Hampshire), which analyzes the way words combine compositionally, and focuses on logical words like 'and' and 'the'. Most of the work in lexical semantics has been on verbs, since their meanings have interesting syntactic implications that other word classes lack.

My only complaint about the class is that I wish it were a bit more systematic. Lexical semantics by its nature involves a constant questioning of one's assumptions, and it can become overwhelming if you don't keep all the issues straight. But it's a lot of fun.

My last class is Knowledge & Reality, which is my one philosophy class. It's a split course, with the first half focusing on epistemology (the study of knowledge) and the second on metaphysics (the study of reality, or being—yes, it's a little nebulous), with different lecturers for each section. Having multiple successive professors for a single course is actually a fairly common practice here; some of the more general courses have a different lecturer each week.

This is my least favorite class. The lecturer is coherent, but very boring, going through the material very slowly and mostly just reading off a powerpoint that sticks very closely to the textbook. Fortunately the lectures are only 50 minutes, but take place three times a week, in addition to a once-a-week tutorial. The students don't seem particularly bright, and the material is not what I expected, or rather, is a subset of what I expected. The reason I took this course is that I felt that I needed a sounder foundation in philosophy, specifically in the modern period (Descartes through Kant, roughly), when epistemology and metaphysics were absolutely central in a way that they weren't in the 20th century. But we're not actually reading anything from the modern period; in fact, we're doing very little reading at all of primary sources. The central questions of the course so far are the questions raised by 20th century epistemologists, and most of the reading is from the book What is This Thing Called Epistemology?, which is almost as simplistic as the title suggests.

It's not all bad, though. I think the ideas we're learning are quite interesting and philosophically important, and I'm hoping that the second lecturer will be better.


I guess this is a big deal for pretty much everybody. It's not as big a deal for me as for some (I have several individuals in mind), but I do have to eat, I do eat, and I do care what I eat. So here's some info on my food situation in Scotland.

I like to cook and eat food I cook but I'm also pretty lazy about it. What this means is that I don't get around to cooking real food more than a few times a week. Usually I make enough for two or three meals, but there are inevitably gaps, so I also eat a lot of pasta and sandwiches. The most exciting thing I've made was pizza with Ariane, which had cheese, red pepper, spinach, garlic, eggplant, and caramelized onions. It was delicious, and we took a picture of it:

I've also become stereotypically British and started drinking a lot of tea. My morning routine usually involves making a cup of tea, then taking a quick shower, by which time the tea is cool enough to drink, and then eating breakfast. For breakfast I've mostly been eating muesli, which is a dense cereal/porridge of Swiss origin popular in Britain. When I get back from class I eat lunch, which is usually a turkey and cheese sandwich, make another cup of tea to keep me awake through the afternoon, and drink tea while eating jaffa cakes (the generic term for the cookie-shaped cake available in the U.S. by the brand PiM's) and doing some reading. I enjoy this part of the day very much; it's very relaxing.

I've also learned a bit about British beer, though most young people drink cheap imported lagers (Carling Black Label, Foster's, Carlsberg and Stella are particularly popular). These are the mainstays of most pubs, but a good portion of pubs also have one or more cask ales on tap. There is a movement in Britain by people who don't like mass-produced beer called the real ale movement, which advocates traditional cask ale. Pubs with cask ale are often advertised as real ale pubs. These ales generally the best things they have on tap, depending on your taste—British ales are uncarbonated and tend to be sweeter and less hoppy than American beers. Even a bitter, which is a British pale ale, or IPA will usually be significantly less bitter than an American IPA. One beer I particularly enjoyed was the Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted.

Cider is also a commonly available drink. Strongbow is the most common, followed by Magner's and Bulmer's. There's also a market among broke people for strong white cider, which is clear, around 8% abv, and very cheap. It's not very tasty, but I'd prefer it to a bad lager. And finally there's real cider, which is defined as being at least 80% apple juice and containing no artificial sweeteners, neither of which conditions any of the above meet. It's also known as 'scrumpy' for the small apples it's made from. I haven't had any of this yet, but my favorite cider so far is Bulmer's.

Activities, or, Everything Else

I'm not super busy but I do do some things (infantilism not intended). I've started going to lectures and meetings of both the Philosophy Society and the Language and Linguistics Society of the University of Edinburgh. In addition, I've spent several nights exploring the city. There's a wonderful street called Grassmarket at the foot of the castle; I've also been up to the castle, though not inside. On Saturday, Ariane and I went for a walk up to the Royal Mile, which is the main touristy stretch of Edinburgh. I even took some pictures!

Old College, now mostly University administration (on the way to the Royal Mile):

The Royal Mile:

St. Giles Cathedral:

Adam Smith:

David Hume (I'm pretty sure he was a good deal fatter than this statue—but then again, he didn't wear togas either):

We saw a street performer:

One of the neat things about the old part of Edinburgh is all the little alleyways (aka closes):

Ariane made me pose for this picture. (Then she dropped her zombie figurine in poop.)
By late afternoon Ariane had gotten very cold so we walked very quickly back to duvets.

On a practical note, the Edinburgh Bargain Store is not actually a bargain. It made me angry. Poundstretchers is much better price-wise, though farther away.

So hopefully this entry was long enough to make up for the long interval. It may or may not be as long until I write again. (At the very least, I promise to write again before the month is up.)


  1. Are you mocking me and Tucker? I can't totally tell, but your pizza looks delicious.
    Your pictures of Edinburgh are beautiful, I can't wait to see it and try some of those apple ciders (that is Tucker's new obsession right now, "real" cider)!

    PS - Please don't become more pretentious :)

  2. 1. I SAW THAT SAME STREET PERFORMER!!!. I think his name is Steve.

    2. DON'T DRINK SCRUMPY. I won't tell you what it tastes like, because I'm sure you won't be able to appreciate/would be really grossed out by my analogy, but just don't do it. Eeeewww....

    3. I'm-a come see y'all in like, two weeks! (I sincerely hope Ariane has mentioned that I'm visiting, or this would be weird...).

    4. Fuck it, I have to do it: Scrumpy tastes like jizz. There.