One day as I was skimming through Aristotle's life history, I was struck by a linguistic question rather than a philosophical one. The reason is my forgetfulness, especially in a class full of students. Thanks to the great philosopher for keeping it simple, it is really quite easy to remember the school that Plato founded, namely, the Academy (Akadimía in Greek).
But how one is supposed to remember the word "Lyceum", the school Aristotle founded, which (the word) is associated with Apollo Lyceus, and then also with Socrates in a complex chain of mythical, artistic, symbolical and historical details? Or the word "Peripatetic" (and this is the word I forgot in a philosophy class), another word for "Aristotelian", which has come from Greek Peripatos – an actual tree-covered walk that Aristotle chose to discuss philosophy in, with fellow philosophers and his students?
Now to remember the word "Peripatetic", one may associate it with familiar echo-words like "periphrasis" [not so common a word perhaps; synonym- "circumlocution" (not a common word either)], or "periphery" (again not a word one uses everyday), or the French pronunciation of "Paris" which is "pathetic" to ears not tuned in le français. These words, if required, ultimately will not answer a thing about the word in question!
Or one may delve deeper and look into philosophy itself, of Aristotle and his guru Plato. You see, Plato had it all figured out – there is an ideal world and then there is this material one, as simply the poor shadow of the former, always separate.
On the other hand Aristotle developed a more practical (realist?) philosophy especially after he was supremely annoyed by Speusippos, the nephew of Plato and to whom the responsibility befell to lead the Academy after Plato's demise. Speusippos had his moment of mathematical overkill, and the very methodical prodigy could not quite digest this fact and so left the place that witnessed his "becoming" for twenty long years to find the truth in the physicality of nature.
The fact that Aristotle loved to have trees around him as silent listeners in his dramatic dialogues readily impresses an unclouded mind into figuring out the significance of the setting – trees with leaves and branches and fruits and flowers, having roots, deep down in the earth.
The essence of the tree in fact is in the seed, and just like his theory of "becoming" as opposed to Plato's theory of "being", the seed grows into a tree with no apparent affinity. Nonetheless, the seed is there as the tree is there, and the root is there, literally down in the earth, as was Aristotle's philosophy that had "down to earth" temperament.
Plato's Academy, on the other hand, was rather "neat", if not "natural", as if with the formulation of ideal philosophy on that very premise, Plato tried to triumph over the bricks and tars – the materiality and hence the limitation of which Plato denounces. So it is amply clear why "peripatetic thought" will be an easily acceptable alternative of the phrase- "Aristotelian thought".
But how does that help our memory? In fact with all the details, if anything that has got some clarification is the fact that we are still not clear about the word, about how we should remember it, which has rather been made more difficult with the story!
Other than the method of simply knowing the meaning, that gives a broader clue to refer back to the word itself, or the method that recommends coming up with an associative memory or a similar sounding word to make learning a "phenomenon", which, in turn, capacitates the mental lexicon with better absorption power, is there any other process?
Language is the fat that keeps the meaning warm and hidden. And since words are the windows to meanings, it is the culture of a language that we need to master and everything that is associated with it to conjure words at our will, to play with them, to own them. We need to immerse ourselves into the myths of language, into its sciences and emotions and histories. And through what else other than literature, can we do it better?
While mathematics is the slimmest language that leaves no scope for passionate "excess", literature, on the other hand, is essentially and impenitently "figurist" and it chooses fat over fitness, curves over compact.
And even when it is an aphorism whose vanity is "brevity", with its apparent simplicity, the language there is actually thrice more layered and it covers, so elegantly, the skeleton of a thought that, once fathomed and singled out, can give an impression of a deeper truth which requires that deceptive cellulite to increase its weight and thus be more seductive. It is truer in case of poetry.
Poetry is primordial beauty. It is feminine, it is fat, it is curvy, not plain, ambiguous and unpredictable. Its language is a huge mass of flab. We ought to try and unbury the meaning from the metaphors to truly appreciate a poem, just like we ought to try and unbury the true nature from one's Rubenesque appearance to truly love the human.
One such discovery always adds something strikingly extra to the ordinary. That unadulterated "ordinary" therefore always remains behind the "extra", and that is what makes the language of literature - extraordinary. One discovers the art as he encounters and attempts to penetrate the artificial.
And the deeper he goes, he finds nothing but reality in its crudest yet magnificent form. And there lies the fun. The fun of finding the unapparent. Anything else too direct, will be anything but art. Anything else too direct, will directly be forgotten.
Hisham M Nazer is an Assistant Professor at Department of English, Varendra University