from a painting

The Self-Portrait of Albrecht Dürer

Self-Portrait of Albrecht Dürer Albrecht Dürer’s famous Self-portrait at Age 28 with Fur Coat (which was only one out of about a total of thirty), from 1500, is significant both because of its artistic and general characteristics. Dürer is considered the greatest German painter of the Renaissance; he was apprenticed by Nuremberg’s most famous painter at the time, Michael Wolgemut. Since he was young, he demonstrated his talent and genius. He was able to draw and paint realistically, which was considered very difficult to do at the time. This specific self-portrait had very specific proportions, of which Dürer wrote a book, and symmetry. He was self-proclaimed divinely inspired, which shows a secular path in the relations between Humanists and the Church, although his figure resembles contemporary depictions of Christ, which bring show the closeness that still remained between Humanists of the Northern Renaissance and the Roman Apostolic Church.

Click on the image for full size (from Wikimedia Commons).
from a painting

The Northern Renaissance

The Northern Renaissance (that is, the Renaissance that occurred in Western Europe outside of Italy) differed from the Italian Renaissance mainly in its objective of reform. While the Italian Renaissance sought to modify long-existing cultural traditions, cause the society to become more secular, improve on the arts and sciences, abandon Latin and encourage the use of the vernacular, the Northern Renaissance - that is, the Renaissance that occurred in most of Western Europe outside of Italy - wanted to maintain religion and simply modify existing religious practices.

The two main figures of German Humanism and, hence, the Renaissance thereof, are Rudolf Agricola and Ulrich von Hutten. The former is considered to be the “father of German Humanism” because he lived in Italy for a long time and took much of the culture and new Renaissance models of society to Germany. The latter was one who made German Humanism take on a more nationalist and somewhat xenophobic stance; aside from that, he was Protestant reformist. Both of these characteristics are contrary to Italian views because Italy ought to make everyone individualist and not as conformist as they previously were during the Middle Ages and because the Italians wanted a more secular society separated from the Church, be it reformed or not.

The English and French Renaissances could be considered to have followed in the footsteps of that of the Germans’. Although lectures at great universities, such as Oxford and Cambridge, spoke of the wondrous new ways of life being developed in Italy, and both criticism of tradition and scholarship were developed, the two aforementioned regions were still overly conservative in their cultures and politics. This could be said to have been more predominant in England, where Humanist Thomas More, author of Utopia, a satire of sixteenth-century British society, was executed for opining against both the Act of Supremacy, which would have made Henry VIII head of the Church of England and hence abandoned the Pope in Rome, and the marriage between said king and Anne Boleyn, as well as for holding numerous other Humanist ideals.

Erasmus could be seen as the embodiment of the Northern Renaissance for all the qualities he acquired from the Italian Renaissance as well as for those that explicitly differentiated the former from the latter. In terms of similarity to the Italian Renaissance, he taught his students Latin through means of a series of textbooks known as the Colloquies, which taught anticlerical and lax, satirical dialogue. Although his works can be considered to be some of the cornerstones of Protestant reform and its anti-Catholic feelings, he was nonetheless rather attached to religion, unlike Humanists in Italy. This does that mean at all that he strayed off the path of rationalism and logic nor that his focus on Humanist ideals was pared in comparison to that of the Italians; au contraire, he developed the philosophia Christi, a rational philosophy focused on the simple ethical morality of Christ rather than the dogmatic traditions practiced and taught by the Catholic Church. The works of this Dutch tutor of Latin colloquy and reformist ideals were soon put on the Index of Forbidden Books by the Catholic Church (or, rather, the Roman Apostolic Church), which did not at all reduce his presence and strong influence.
from a painting

Socrates, His Methods, and His Condemnation

During the fifth century BC, in the city of Athens, there lived a philosopher by the name of Socrates, who was considered to be one of the most intelligent figures in all of philosophy. He was considered subversive by the citizens of Athens, or in other words, by the male politicians who had access to the agoras, because of his philosophical methods.

The two methods of Socrates, which were used to teach the citizens' sons and others who went after the philosopher, were maieutics and irony (which cannot be confused with sarcasm). In maieutics, Socrates conversed in a way that the other would have a sort of autonomy of thought. By this process, someone could develop their own positions, analyses, and knowledge. When applying irony, Socrates would, through dialogue, would tackle illusions, dogmatic knowledge, and superficial thought. This made it so that the other would think, "to which point is knowledge incontestable." This method was insidious, in many cases, to religious ideas and was what made the Athenian youth think about politics, which hence caused the youth to overturn the political and religious ideologies of their predecessors.
  
The dour citizens of Athens condemned Socrates for having corrupted the youth, for having taken away their dignity, and having made them think by themselves. For the politicians, the only solution to the problem would be the re-education of their sons according to their beliefs. Socrates, however, argumented that the youth could already think for themselves. It is also told that Socrates said that, "among life, prison, and truth, I prefer truth." The soon bereft Aristocles, better known as Plato, devised a defense for Socrates (known as the "Apology of Socrates"). In spite of the rhetoric of this socratic student, Socrates was condemned by the stolid Athenians citizens. He was to take a poisonous hemlock root extract.

So swiftly and quickly, the subversive that had once taught those who thought themselves to be knowing of everything that they know little, and who showed those who were found to have very little knowledge that they were capable of thinking independently, died.
from a painting

This is Not A Pipe

I recently discovered this image by René Magritte, a Belgian surrealist artist. The caption translates as "This is not a pipe,"  which makes us think about the abstract representation of concrete or abstract ideas.

Before this discussion continues, however, it's important to know how we accumulate knowledge, willingly or not. I'd say there are three ways, two of which can play tricks on us, whether we realize or not (this is where the third one takes over): intuition and senses. With intuition, we take things as real without arguments for its existence; we take them without thinking about whether what is being presented is logical or not. This is very clearly shown in mythology, which used to be accepted in whole without even the slight ponder of opposition. It's just as easy for our senses to trick us. Look up to the moon one of these nights. Your eyes just tricked you, as the moon seems to be about the size of your thumb.

You won't accept this as true. Of course you won't; you know for a fact that the moon is not as large as your thumb. You know it's in fact a relatively large object floating around a few thousand miles away. This is where reason comes in. It is by reason and only by reason that we can acquire consistent elements of observation. It is only by reason that we may question things we find untrue. (On the other hand, we can't completely abandon intuition and senses, because it is by them that we can use reason to logically sort out what we can assume true or not. The three are very closely linked together.)

This concept of how intuition can trick us can be easily seen in the following example. Take a look at the following:

1  2  3
A  B  C

Writing systems and numbers exist solely by reason. They cannot exist concretely.

Let's take a look at the idea of numeric values. Numbers don't exist. Have you ever run into the number 2 on the street? It's impossible. Even a statue or a model of 2 isn't the number. It's only a statue. It's only a clay model.  Any sort of measurement that can be represented by number is nonexistent. It is simply the result of the quantification, abstraction, and materialization of a completely cognitive idea. Taking systems of methods into consideration, a tree can be five feet away from a person. This conceptual measurement is put in numeric form by humans, and doesn't exist in its complete essense. The tree will still be away from the person be there a system of measurement or not.

Taking a turn into the world of writing systems, I'll use the English language written in the Latin alphabet for examples. H O U S E. That word is a group of non-existent symbols that are, in this case, represented by means of electric phenomena. The same word can easily be represented by the production of ink agglomeration - a process known as writing. Either way, it isn't a structure built for lodging; it is and will continue to be a representation of such.

After all, the word "representation" is self-defining: re (again, newly) present (to show, make known). We are taking something concrete and making it known again, but this time in an abstract manner.

When we accept that "2 HOUSES" that really is a group of two lodgings of a certain kind without even thinking about it, we are using our intuition. When we see a photograph of two houses and say "these are two houses," we are being tricked by our senses. Once we finally take the time to think about how these are simply cognitive representations of something concrete, then only then are we using our reason.
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Français

 I've been studying French since 2004. My first steps with it were very feeble. The language was very similar to Portuguese, which I already knew at the time. In fact, I'm still surprised at how similar some bits of figurative and informal Portuguese are similar to their French counterparts. Take, for example, the question "what is this?" It's pretty much agreed upon that to say this in French you ask, Qu'est-ce que c'est?, which would literally translate to "What is it that it is?" To ask the same question formally in Portuguese, you'd ask, O que é isso? literally, "(The) what is this?" However, it's very common to hear,  O quê que é isso (or more completely), O que é que é isso? or, "What that is this?" and, more completely, "What is it that this is?" which is obviously direct translation, be it imported or accidental, from the French "Qu'est-ce que c'est?"

Between 2004 and 2005, I teetered back and forth between studying French and not studying it, until I decided to dive deeper in mid-2005. I kept at a slow pace to make sure I could conglomerate all the basic vocabulary (which is possibly what led to me absolutely dreading studying basic vocabulary in languages I studied (some which I still study or am yet to study) after French.

Around May of 2006 I decided that I had been going too slowly, as I had been studying for about a whole year and still did not have basic proficiency in the language. I sped up, and by October of 2007 I could write more sophisticated texts than I could before. I went even deeper into the language the past year and decided to get my proficiency in the four areas of language (speaking, writing, reading, listening) up even further. I took a proficiency test last month (January 2009) and I'm finally at what could be considered to be an "advanced" level in the language.

Of course, unless I can find more French people to befriend or travel to France for a month-long immersion, I won't easily achieve the level of fluency I desire. I try to expand my vocabulary by watching French news at least every other day, reading Le Monde and Le Figaro, and reading French literature, to practice a language of a country I hope soon to visit.
from a painting

Idiosyncrasy

I'd say my favorite word is idiosyncrasy. Well, at least in English. How so?

Well, English itself is an idiosyncratic language. Idiosyncrasy is pronounced ˌɪdi.əˈsɪŋkɹəsi. I mean, how much more messed up can you get than that? If you get a speaker of a Lower Romance language to pronounce it without any knowledge of English, they'd probably say idiosiŋkrasi (accent placement may vary).

Hey, at least it's not oxymoronic.