Thursday, May 08, 2008

"Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings..."

Chimpanzee Mother and Baby
A future Nim Chimsky?
(Image from Wikipedia)

Old Ozark friends keep popping up in my life again because of this blog, so they get appointed starring roles in it.

Pete Hale -- now a physicist in Colorado -- read my blog entry "Ozark Adventure: Photoblog" and writes to tell me of his son Ben who is now 25 and finishing a masters degree in creative writing but will be staying for an extra year in Iowa City on a writing fellowship to complete a unique first novel:
"it's narrated first-person by a very wry old chimpanzee who turns out to have the chimp mutation tweek that pushes him over the edge into 'sentient'; he learns how to talk, read, write, becomes a famous semiotics professor."
With tenure, no doubt, and radical political views as a member of an 'oppressed' group. Sigh . . . why couldn't I have been a chimp, instead of a chump? If I had tried harder, I might've been a Nim Chimpsky . . . but here I am, not even a Numb Chumpsky.

Anyway, I predict that Ben Hale will go far. Pete tells me that Ben has "had a hell of a ride there at Iowa, met a slew of great writers, all of whom tell him at the end of the proverbial after-reading party, 'give me a call when you need some help' and such."

Impressive. And unimaginable, for I knew Ben when he was born in about 1983 in Livermore, California. My 'significant other' and I used to drive from Stanford to visit Pete and his wife Leigh back in those days, so I must have held Ben on my lap when he was scarcely a few days old. When I last saw him, he was still merely a suckling . . . but now, he's 25 and writing his parents to tell them things like this:
I've actually become so interested lately in linguistics and primatology that I'm sort of writing in my head the first draft of a Ph.D. thesis for many years in the future, having to do with semiotics and linguistics and great ape language experiments . . . I have sort of an idea that this is a nebulous area that could make for a really fascinating intersection of science and the philosophy of language; i.e., Umberto Eco, Foucault, Wittgenstein, Derrida, etc. --- meets Kanzi the language-ape . . . I think this is a weird example of something in which crazy abstract philosophical ideas about the meaning and process of language can interact with actual experiments in behavioral biology, and I'm beginning to wonder what Ph.D. program would let me pursue a thesis this nutty...
How uncanny to read that by someone whom I last saw as a babe in arms, for I still cannot imagine Ben as anything but a suckling . . . hence today's entry heading -- "Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings..." -- which comes from Psalm 8:2:
"Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger." (Psalm 8:2)
Or maybe it comes from Matthew 21:16, right after "the chief priests and scribes" found themselves "sore displeased" at "the children crying [out] in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the Son of David" in praise of Jesus for his mighty works, prompting Jesus to address the displeased religious authorities:
"Yea, have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?" (Matthew 21:16).
Wait a minute . . . "perfected praise"? Not "ordained strength"? Is this a trick question? Very clever of Jesus to put it like that. If the authorities slip and say, "Of course we have!", then Jesus could retort, "No, you haven't." But if they instead say, "No, that's not what the verse says!", then Jesus could reply, "Well, I said 'never'."

I suppose that one could find a deeper meaning here, something about how the hosannas "Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings" have the power to silence Jesus's critics.

Of course, I ought to point out that Jesus is depicted here as quoting the Septuagint's Greek 'translation' of the Hebrew text Psalm 8:2 (in Greek text, Psalm 8:3):
εκ στοματος νηπιων και θηλαζοντων κατηρτισω αινον (Psalm 8:3)

Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou perfected praise (Psalm 8:3)
But my point was about Ben, now 25 and thus only in my memory a wordless, suckling babe, for he's since been pushed "over the edge into 'sentient'" and learned "how to talk, read, write" and will likely become a well-respected author one day soon.

Unless life gets in the way...

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At 6:24 AM, Blogger jeanie oliver said...

Okay, you made me cry! How could you put "both sides now" on a link on a rainy, stormy, introspective Ozark afternoon?

At 6:42 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

How could I? Because "I am the spirit that ever denies."

Or to say it as it was said: "Ich bin der Geist, der stets verneint."

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A sentient semiotics professor?

I just love paradox.

At 11:04 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

But as pilgrim theologians, we must move beyond paradox...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I once heard a wise man say exactly the same thing.

You must be right.

At 8:47 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

If you move on, you will be right; if you stay put, you will be left.

Therefore, it is not the left, but the right that is progressive.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *


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