Saturday, November 26, 2011

Letters to a Young Contrarian

It took me five hours to read Letters to a Young Contrarian from top to bottom. It’s not really bragging about fast reading – I mean, the book isn’t that long. What it really was, was a rollercoaster for my brain. Mr. Hitchens is undoubtedly a genius of sorts, and whilst his writing isn’t particularly difficult to follow, it certainly stirs a lot of intense thought in the engaged reader.

The book is one of the best non-fictions I have ever read in my life. So much so that I don’t even feel the need to hype it too much. If you are a young person and intent on living an independent life, then this book might present itself as a kind of gospel for you. I made notes on almost every page, and have already re-read about half of the chapters. The blurb on my copy accurately states that “Hitchens pointedly pitches himself in contrast to stagnant traditions across the ideological spectrum. There is no one writing today with a greater understanding of the importance of disagreement – to personal integrity, to informed discussion, to true progress, to democracy itself.”

I mean, he does show off a bit. There is the insane use of non-common words, the regular mentioning of a few “good friends” who happen to be mega rich/famous/successful, and he has this super annoying habit of finishing a chapter with a quote that’s in another language with no translation. So what saves it? It’s funny. Like, actually entertaining and enjoyable. Much like the speeches Mr. Hitchens presents himself, this book hooks you in then keeps you that way. It has the content and the style that combine to make him as great as he is.

I feel like this book is beyond the need of a review. It has surpassed that level of scrutiny, so instead of really reviewing it, I’d like to share with you all the words I learnt from reading this book. I hope you don’t know too many of these or else I’ll feel like a big idiot. Sure, I got a lot of meaning from context, obviously, but I still had to look them up. Safe to say he prides himself on a rich and varied vocabulary…

Soixante-huitard – a person who lived through, influenced or was influenced by the ‘events’ of 1968, soixante-huit. “Soixante-huitards” are reputed to be strongly anti-authoritarian, anti-establishment and very individualistic. The word is often used as a term of disparagement, as soixante-huitards are blamed by many French conservatives, including Nicolas Sarkozy, for exercising a strong but not always constructive influence over the evolution of French institutions in the forty years since the “events”.

Quatre-vingt neuf – It’s just French for eighty-nine. Damn it, Hitchens, why does that need to be in French?
Iconoclast - A person who attacks cherished beliefs or institutions / A destroyer of images used in religious worship.

Curmudgeon – A bad-tempered or surly person. (Sounds like some kind of weapon, no?)

Repine – To feel or express discontent, to fret.

Anomie – Lack of the usual social or ethical standards in an individual or group.

Propitious – giving or indicating a good chance of success / favourably disposed to someone.

Immolations – killing or offering as a sacrifice. (Definitely didn’t know that one.)

EpistolaryRelating to or denoting the writing of letters or literary works in the form of letters: "an epistolary novel". (Yeah, should have know that.)

Caustic – able to burn or corrode.

Excoriating – to censure or criticise severely / damage or remove the surface or skin.

SophismA fallacious argument, especially one used deliberately to deceive.

Precept – A general rule intended to regulate behavior or thought / a writ or warrant.

Fatuities – an absurdity or ludicrous folly.

Chiaroscuro – from the Italian for “light and dark,” a term used to describe art that uses strongly contrasting lighted and shaded areas. (Clearly the meaning is broader when used philosophically.)

Tautology – A phrase or expression in which the same thing is said twice in different words / a statement that is true by necessity or by virtue of its logical form

Sapience – wisdom / ability to apply knowledge or experience or understanding or common sense and insight. (That’s a good word.)

Interlocutor – A person who takes part in a dialogue or conversation.

Fatuous non sequiturs – couldn’t find a definition… anyone?

Ashram – A hermitage, monastic community, or other place of religious retreat for Hindus.

Acolyte – A person assisting the celebrant in a religious service or procession / an assistant or follower.

Redolent – Strongly reminiscent or suggestive of something. (That’s a good one.)

Despotism – The exercise of absolute power, especially in a cruel and oppressive way.

Yore – Of long ago or former times. (Oh yeah, I knew that one.)

Cogitate – Think deeply about something; meditate or reflect.

Apotheosis – The highest point in the development of something, the culmination or climax / the elevation of someone to divine status / deification.

Corollary – A proposition that follows from (and is often appended to) one already proved.

Callow – Inexperienced and immature, particularly in young people. (Oh, burn.)

Stasis - A period or state of inactivity or equilibrium / a stoppage of flow of a body fluid.

Symbiotic – used of organisms, especially of different species, living and often in a relation beneficial to each. (Yeah okay, I remember this one from school.)

Regnant – Currently having the greatest influence / dominant or ruling.

Acquiescence – acceptance without protest.

Obfuscation – Render obscure, unclear, or unintelligible / to bewilder someone.

“Sub specie aeternitatis” – Latin for "under the aspect of eternity", an honorific expression describing what is universally and eternally true, without any reference to or dependence upon the merely temporal portions of reality.

Unfettered – Released from restraint or inhibition.

Obloquy – Strong public criticism or verbal abuse / disgrace brought about by public abuse.

Extirpate – To root out and destroy completely. (Woah, good one.)

Dissonance – A tension or clash resulting from the combination of two disharmonious or unsuitable elements. (Actually I remember this from music lessons.)

Atrophy – To waste away.

Solipsism – The view or theory that the self is all that can be known to exist.

Proselytise – To convert to another faith or religion.

Servile – Having or showing an excessive willingness to serve or please others. (Makes sense.)

Antigone – Daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta, the subject of a tragedy by Sophocles. She was sentenced to death for defying her uncle Creon, king of Thebes, but she took her own life before the sentence could be carried out, and Creon's son Haemon, who was engaged to her, killed himself over her body.

Vanguard – A person or group of people leading the way in new developments or ideas.

Prescient – Having or showing knowledge of events before they take place.

“vox populi as vox dei” – The voice of the people as the voice of God.

Demagogue - A political system with a leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument

Plebiscite – The direct vote of all the members of an electorate.

Misanthropy – A dislike of human kind.

Simulacrum – An image or representation of someone or something / an unsatisfactory image or substitute.

Prestidigitator – Someone who performs magic tricks to amuse an audience / a slight of hand entertainer.

Fatuous – Silly and pointless. (Good word!)

Jingoismflag waving / an appeal intended to arouse patriotic emotions

Coterie – A small group of people with shared interests or tastes, especially one that is exclusive of other people.

Skein – A length of string or yarn knotted and coiled / a tangled or complicated arrangement, state, or situation.

“Post genome universe” – The world after the scientific discovery of the genome. (Right?)

Impugn – Dispute the truth, validity, or honesty of a statement or motive) / to challenge or call into question.

Sectarian – A member of a sect / denoting or concerning a sect or sects.
“summer soldiering” – Willing to fight when the situation is good, when it’s all warm and easy.      

Complicity – The state of being involved with others in an illegal activity or wrongdoing.

Irredentists – A person advocating the restoration to their country of any territory formerly belonging to it.

Preponderance – superiority in power or influence.

Envoi – An author’s concluding words. (Cool. File that for later use.)

PerorationThe concluding part of a speech, typically intended to inspire enthusiasm in the audience.

Crepuscular – Resembling or of or related to twilight. (As in, actual twilight when the day is ending. Nothing to do with teen vampire/human/werewolf love triangles.)

Okay done!
My Envoi: (haha see what I did there?)

This dude has vocab. That's for sure.

So now when you go and buy the book you can just print this out and use it as a kind of dictionary/glossary! The words are even in the order that they appear! You’re welcome.

Also, this is a good website for some excerpts from the book, if you aren’t sure whether this might be 'your kinda thang' or not. But it should be. 

Also, apparently this is actually one of a whole series of books that begin with “Letters to a Young …”. I also intend on reading the one “to a Young Lawyer” by Alan Dershowitz, the one “to a Young Chef by Daniel Boulud”, and the one “to a Young Poet” by Rainer Maria Rilke. These are all easy to find.

Now go read!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...