Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Arrival 2016

2017 Arrival Poster*Spoilers Alert*

First off, I’d like any film that nudges viewers toward thinking about language and its effects on events, the environment, and relationships past, present, and future. Arrival’s got “events” and “relationships” covered, and, by extension, “environment”, so I like it. *SOAP BOX ALERT*  Lackadaisical attitudes toward language are common. Many folks don’t think about language much at all, despite how, when threatened, they quickly move to weaponize it when they feel threatened. Moreover, since a meaningful percentage of the population gets its information from movies and other media rather than peer-reviewed scholarly articles on language and linguistics, I’m good with casting language in a leading role in a semi-popular film. *END SOAP BOX BLURB*

We also have funny ideas about language, including that it impedes real communication. Charles Taylor discusses one angle of such thinking in The Language Animal, the theory that, ideally, language should just name things in the world with constraints on usage to enable precise communication—no funny business like metaphor, symbol, etc., which some literalists believe renders discourse into Keystone Kops ineptness.

For a taste of Keystone Kops, go here.

Taylor makes a good case that this idea of language still influences beliefs about human powers of articulation (unduly, he says). Arrival may in fact put the “language as precision tool” concept to work, since very few nods to metaphor’s powers of transport occur in the movie. It would be nice if the black-and-white nature of instrumental language could have been expanded a little, but that’s probably asking too much. Many people know language mainly as a tool for getting done what they want, even as they complain about its exactness.  In blame-the-messenger fashion (including in language Global Mall Facebook), laments abound over how language fails to live up to expectations then betrays us; ergo, it’s faulty.

But to the movie. Arrival is a cryptic thing on several levels, including its

Continue reading Review: Arrival 2016

Review: The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes

Cover of Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind

As I mentioned in my Facebook posts about the book, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (published in 1976) is a wild ride, not at all for everyone. It could especially prove problematic for those espousing religious belief. Or, indeed, belief in the veracity of science. Or in any kind of certainty at all. Furthermore, at times, Origin goes speculative to what for some will be intolerable degrees, and Jaynes’s writing style can turn florid and irritating. I was in it for the idea that the human brain and the consciousness it houses have changed radically since early periods of civilization, an idea that bravely contradicts common belief that human consciousness bloomed suddenly full-flowered upon early man. Continue reading Review: The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes

Patricia reviews Adam’s Tongue by Derek Bickerton, Part Two

Part One here.

This is a GREEN LANGUAGE post.

Adam's Tongue cover1

New kid on the block niche construction course-corrects the previous scientific proposition that evolution is a one-way road: “Adaptation is always asymmetrical; organisms adapt to their environment, never vice versa” (Bickerton quoting George Williams, p. 92).  The niche construction light switched on for Bickerton when he attended a conference where niche construction theory co-founder John Odling-Smee spoke on the idea. An avowed skeptic of “new theories,”  Bickerton became a quick convert, snapping up niche construction and building it into his developing theories of language evolution. Here, in Bickerton’s words, is the gist of niche construction theory:

…animals themselves modify the environments they live in, and … these modified environments, in turn, select for further genetic variation in the animal. So a feedback process begins, a two-way street in which the animal is developing the niche and the niche is developing the animal, until you get the lock-and-key fit between animal and niche … (99) Continue reading Patricia reviews Adam’s Tongue by Derek Bickerton, Part Two

Patricia Reviews Adam’s Tongue by Derek Bickerton, Part One

As with most of the books I review that I like, this review runs on and runs wild. So I had to divide it in two. This is the first part.

This is a GREEN LANGUAGE post.

Adam's Tongue cover1

Title: Adam’s Tongue: How Humans Made Language, How Language Made Humans
Author: Derek Bickerton
Publisher: Hill and Wang
Genre: Non-fiction (mostly)
Year Published: 2009
Number of Pages: 286
ISBN10: 978-0-8090-1647=1
Price: $16.00

Every once in a while I see a write-up about a book in a newspaper or on a news site, and I get a hunch. Sometimes, I can barely figure out a thing about the book from the review, the writer snarls everything up so nicely. Or else she hypes sensational aspects of the text–soundbites of bad taste. Or she might have a sense that there’s something to the book but spends most of the article head-scratching. Yet, despite her loose grip on coherency, something shines through her writing like light around the edges of a closed door, and I think, I must have that book! Lightning of this sort struck when I learned of Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods. That work proved an important addition to my admittedly stunted array of recent acquisitions. Likewise John D. Niles’ book Homo Narrans: The Poetry and Anthropology of Oral Literature. My hunches about these books proved spot on: Both contained rockin’ language that I didn’t know I’d been looking for ’til I found it.

This hunch-come-true happened when I stumbled on a review of Derek Bickerton’s Adam’s Tongue on a pop news site. From the article, I couldn’t make out a clear picture of the book’s inner workings, though the word “language” flashed up frequently during the discussion. The writer seemed preoccupied with Bickerton’s attitude, which he classified as “irreverent,” among other things. But shining around the edges of the writer’s opacity were shafts of light that struck my eye, which is always roving, rooting for new thinking on human language. I printed off the review and set it on the edge of my desk, where I looked at it again and again, studying, thinking, hungering. “I want this book,” I finally said to my husband. “Then you shall have it,” he replied and straightaway ordered it.

It didn’t disappoint. Like other recent classics exploring language evolution, Adam’s Tongue makes bold claims right off. Human language, Bickerton poses, is the greatest problem in science. “You don’t believe that?” he asks. Continue reading Patricia Reviews Adam’s Tongue by Derek Bickerton, Part One

Retro Review: Come Next Spring by Patricia

Movie poster Come Next Spring

In spite of how elements of this movie’s storyline deal with the troubling subjects of alcoholism and abandonment of family, Come Next Spring is a generous story with a quiet but strong heart.  Like many of these older films, rather than relying on in-your-face action sequences and special effects, loud soundtracks, and romantic drama that glues a box-office-compatible couple to center stage, Come Next Spring turns on resonant dialogue and actual, honest questions about family and community relations.  No glamor kings and queens in this movie.  Its “just folks” actors provide it with a low-key, slow-moving charm. Continue reading Retro Review: Come Next Spring by Patricia

WIZ’s Birthday Retro Review: Typhoon

Typhoon poster3

Today is WIZ’s third birthday, and we’re in the mood to give gifts to our loyal readers.  For its giveaways, WIZ chooses flicks that feature nature in some way.  Our featured movie this time: Typhoon, starring Dorothy Lamour and Robert Preston.

This movie comes from an age when Hollywood trotted out the tropics when it needed an idyllic backdrop to frame one of its golden-throated beauties. Because, you know, nothing makes nature look better than a sarong-clad peach.   Typhoon contains several formulaic parallels to The Jungle Princess (reviewed here on WIZ), the movie that launched Lamour’s acting career.  Typhoon is another eye-and-ear candy adventure-romance starring Dorothy Lamour and animal friends along with a young Robert Preston in a screenplay that features cutting-edge special effects for 1930s-era films (Typhoon was released in 1940). Continue reading WIZ’s Birthday Retro Review: Typhoon

WIZ Retro Review and giveaway: South of Pago Pago

South of Pago Pago cover art

Yep, this review probably contains spoilers.  Also, because its themes address directly environmental issues, I’ve given it a more thorough critical treatment than I gave The Charge at Feather River. Thanks in advance for taking the time to read it.  Finally, this movie contains intense battle scenes and a frightening pirate villain, either of which might be unsuitable fare for sensitive minds, be they adult minds or juvenile.

The beauty, intensity, and flair of this 1940 action-adventure flick caught me by surprise.  After watching the Dorothy Lamour vehicle, The Jungle Princess, I expected a tropical paradise movie of similar ilk. Geographically displaced animals.  Childlike but sexually forward leading men or women.  Backward natives who are slaves to superstition. Lots and lots of giant ferns.  I anticipated cartoon villains and expected that the water beneath their pearl-scooping pirate ship would have more depth than the ship’s crew. Continue reading WIZ Retro Review and giveaway: South of Pago Pago

Book review: [N]ever Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat

Mark Twain on the tundra: At times, that’s how this 1963 classic played to my mind.   Farley Mowat’s sense of humor—often self-directed—and the acuity of his social criticism reminded me so much of Twain’s acerbic wit that I found myself reading Mowat but seeing in the text Sam Clemens’ ghost—flowing white hair, white mustache, white suit, as many photos portray him.

I read Never Cry Wolf for two reasons.  First, wolves have begun appearing in northern Utah and the rancher v. wolf conflict is heating up.  In fact, as the success of the reintroduction of wolves to the U.S. spills into states surrounding Yellowstone, human competition with wolves and with other humans supportive of wolves’ return has intensified sharply, with people scrambling to find language either to justify resisting the animals’ arrival or to lay out the welcome mat and defend the animals’ rights to territory. Continue reading Book review: [N]ever Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat

Summer reading

I’m getting ready to crack the spine on Terry Tempest Williams’ latest book, Finding Beauty in a Broken World.  Over a year ago, I heard her read a little from the pre-publication draft and attended a workshop she conducted.  It was apparent to me that she had changed her approach to her audience somewhat as well as to people she does not expect to be in her audience but are part of her expressed concern with the stances human beings take in or against nature.    

If anybody would like to join me in reading this book, we could discuss it here on WIZ as we go along.  If nobody else wishes to read with me, then I’ll put up a review, probably in August.  It takes me a while to get through a book because I take copious notes but I’ll try to keep up a reasonable pace.

Also, if anybody has reading suggestions for nature-themed fiction, non-fiction nature writing (ex. Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods), or literary science or nature writing, including nature-themed poetry, Mormon or un-, please list them in the comments.

If you would like to read my Field Notes from Williams’ writing workshop, go here.

Amy Irvine McHarg wins Ellen Meloy Fund for Desert Writers

The Ellen Meloy Fund has awarded their grant of $2000 to Amy Irvine, author of Trespass: Living at the Edge of the Promised Land, to support her work on her upcoming book, Terra Firma.  This is the fund’s fourth annual grant.

She competed for this grant last year, too, when the award went to Joe Wilkins.

Since then, Trespass has garnered a wide readership.  Like Terry Tempest Williams, Irvine comes from Utah Mormon pioneer stock and engages in broad social criticism of her native culture, especially its land use practices. Continue reading Amy Irvine McHarg wins Ellen Meloy Fund for Desert Writers