Why You Should Not Take the Alphabet For Granted.

Why You Should Not Take the Alphabet For Granted.

Humanity's salvation just might lie in a single letter.
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What's in a word?

A literal response to this almost obscure question would be letters. Letters make up words just as words make up these sentences. Now imagine a world where only one singular letter exists. Think for a moment. How would that affect one's interaction with the world, with society, and with themselves (besides a potentially limited ability to communicate effectively and efficiently)?

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending the Black Maria Film Festival here at Princeton - an event kindly sponsored by the Lewis Center for the Arts. Consisting of various short form documentaries and experimental short films, this festival's aim was to "celebrate the short form in all its permutations for its artistic challenges, aesthetics, and substance." From a funereal-like procession through the post-Soviet streets of a Bulgarian village to a marvelously made visual rendition of Cortney Lamar Charleston 's poem "How Do You Raise A Black Child?", Black Maria tapped into fundamental and very real and chilling human experiences. In celebrating the unlimited creativity of the filmmaker, the festival celebrated humanity (the individual and collective experiences). These films raised questions, challenged pre-conceived ideas, reasoned towards truth, and, ultimately, conversed openly with the audience.

One film, appropriately titled "A", was not only experimental in style but fearless in its claim. I couldn't help but feel unsettled. As soon as the film ended and the credits started rolling, I could not figure out exactly why I felt this way. After discussing its premise and quite startling ending with my uncle (who actually came down for the festival and had invited me to accompany him), I was able to piece the puzzle together. Note: I give credit to my uncle for providing further insight into this film. The analysis that follows is a combination of his insight/interpretation and my extension/refinement of this insight. I would be remiss not to acknowledge my uncle for planting the seed to this article.


"A" by Ecuadorian filmmaker Joseph Houlberg is a monochromatic film that seeks to explore (though briefly) a world defined by a single letter - the eponymous A. The narration immediately introduces us to the protagonist: a seemingly simple dispassionate mailman. Simple he may be, he seems to have in his possession an artifact that undoubtedly exudes wonder and - perhaps - harnessed power. Less than five minutes into the film, the camera draws our attention to a pyramid that he removes from his mailbag. He examines it for a bit, turning it over and over in his hand, and we are given a brief opportunity to find comfort in our confusion. Perhaps this one item will drive the entire plot? Perhaps we will soon discover its importance? The rest of the film follows the man's routes from house to bar to house to deliver letters; the various addresses have different rotated orientations of the letter A. What is established at the outset of this film is the overt lack of dialogue. Not a single word is spoken. Communication occurs through grunting, laughing, facial expressiveness, and actions.The film and characters don't draw attention to that "quirk", however. We - the audience - accept it is as natural and forgivable.

While the mailman delivers his letters to their respective owners, a shady man stalks him not too far behind, hiding behind corners and lampposts at each opportunity. In the culminating scene, the protagonist leaves his mailbag and bike outside as he enters one of the houses. (I mean, if the owner of the house doesn't respond to my knocks, I totally think it's a wonderful and perfectly acceptable idea to enter, especially if the door is unlocked). To his horror, he catches his once beloved wife having intercourse with another man. He runs outside, struck with utter dismay, only to be drenched by a sudden downpour (talk about pathetic fallacy). He attempts to mount his bike and take off but fails - the tires have been punctured. Suddenly, the shady man runs into him, steals the pyramid-like artifact from his, and darts off in the opposite direction. Your classic chase scene ensues - they run down the street, through a church, and into an alleyway, where they finally face off. In his built-up distress and anger, the protagonist kicks the shady man in the crotch, takes the artifact, and escapes. At the end of the film, we find him sitting on a stoop, closely examining the pyramid-artifact. He shakes it: A sound. He shakes it harder: It grows louder. Then...he opens it. A bright light emmits form its depths, and we are shown its contents: letters. Ts and Is and Us and Bs. The sounds turn into voices - the voices of the letters. It's almost as if they're singing; it's certainly melodic. Before the credits roll, the man smiles gleefully and attempts to sound out the letter "I" (It's a Spanish film, so it's more like the long "e" sound; i.e. beet). Then we understand.


Analysis time:

I had said before that the film establishes a lack of dialogue will be consistent throughout the rest of the film. It's not that this is a silent film - or that the characters see no need to express themselves through words - it is not that at all. They can speak; and in fact, they do speak. They communicate through the only way know how to: with the letter A. In anger and frustration, the protagonist screams (Aaaaaaa!). In the church, a choir passionately sings (AaaaaaaaaaAAAAaaaaaAAaaaa). In the bar, men laugh (Ha! Ha! Ha! minus the H). To us, it's just the letter A. To them, it's their language. That is all they know. They express themselves - their whole range of emotions: their anger, their agony, their amusement, their love, their praises - through the single letter A. Through this letter, they communicate their thoughts and navigate the world.... through this letter, they exist. What do I mean by that?

A single letter shapes their existence, their experiences, their perceptions. The letter A is the lens through which humanity sees out of. The protagonist finds his wife committing an act of adultery (Spanish: adulterio); he finds himself an adversary (adversario) in the shady thief or stalker (acosador), the pyramid mimics the shape of the A. In essence, this is a film about the power of language (How many times have you heard that argument before?) Going further, one of the main concerns of the film is how much/and to what degree are our lives shaped by language. If a language only had one letter, how would our perceptions change? This is a question of linguistics. The classic problem of linguistic relativity vs. linguistic determinism. How much does language shape or affect our understanding of the world? I believe this film explores an extreme case of linguistic determinism, which asserts language determines how one thinks and approaches the world.

There are indeed flaws to this view, however. If there exists only one letter - namely the letter A - then how could one understand the world "adultery" if it is clearly spelled with other letters in the alphabet? How could one conceptualize multiple ideas with one letter? Although there is no simple answer to those questions - after all, there exists no such language with only one letter or sign (please correct me if I'm wrong). This is an idea we cannot fathom. That does not matter, though. We don't have to fathom it, but the inhabitants of Houlberg's world certainly do. They live it. They breathe it. The exist in it. "A" defines their world.

Now, why should we care? What implications do these questions or insights have on our world? If we're looking at this from a linguistical standpoint, then it's important to consider how we fit in. After all, we all speak some type of language, don't we? As aforementioned, language may, in fact, affect how one sees the world. Yes, we're all human. We all have shared experiences, emotions, understandings, etc., but our native language may indeed play a role in how we deal with these experiences, emotions, understandings, etc. This is also true on a societal level. Depending on the rhetoric and language we grow up around, our views on the same matters may vary slightly or differently altogether. Sometimes it feels like we're speaking many different one-letter languages. If A defines my world and my approach to it, and B defines your world and your approach to it, then we have a problem. There is no way of understanding each other. I'm not saying differences in opinion and viewpoints should be discouraged. In fact, that's one of the most beautiful aspects of the human experience. I'm just saying that it may help to gather up the rest of the letters - to seek out the pyramid-artifact of talking-singing letters - so we can all piece together a common language for effective communication. Even with a common complete language, there will always be disagreement. At least with a full alphabet, we can make progress towards understanding and secure a safer and better future.

Language is beautiful, it is not monochromatic. It has the potential to express the totality of the human experience. It shapes us, it allows us to shape others. It lets us form bonds, it is the fundamental tool for learning, broadening our horizons, expanding our view of the world. If all you know and understand is "adultery" and "adversary," then it would do you good to learn the rest of the alphabet. For your sake. For the sake of future generations. A life defined by one letter is a life troubled and incomplete.


Cover Image Credit: Magictorch.com

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What Your Hogwarts House Says About You

Get yourself sorted and find out where you belong in the world of witchcraft and wizardry.
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Sorting at Hogwarts is a big deal. Being sorted into a house is essentially being placed into a family while you are away from home learning about witchcraft and wizardry. Your house is made up of the people you will live with, go to classes with, play Quidditch with and everything in between. You basically spend 24/7 with them. Your Hogwarts house is your home away from home.

When you get sorted into a house, it is based on your personality traits. The people in your house are typically like-minded people who display the same characteristics as you.

When you’re a first year at Hogwarts, the minute you set foot in the castle you are swept into the Great Hall to have the ancient Sorting Hat placed on your head. This Sorting Hat decides which “family” you’ll be spending your seven years with.

For some, it is very obvious which house they will be in, due to certain personality traits they possess. For others, they may exemplify traits that fit a multitude of houses and are uncertain where they may end up.

To find out where you belong, you can take the official "Harry Potter" Sorting Hat quiz at Pottermore.com. For all you muggles out there, these are the characteristics that the houses possess and what your house says about you:

Gryffindor: The house of the brave, loyal, courageous, adventurous, daring and chivalrous. Those who stand up for others are typically Gryffindors. Brave-hearted is the most well-known Gryffindor characteristic, and Gryffindors are also known for having a lot of nerve.

Gryffindors are people who hold a multitude of qualities alongside the ones listed, making them a very well-rounded house. People who are Gryffindors are often people who could fit nicely into another house but choose to tell the sorting hat they want Gryffindor (there's that bravery). "Do what is right" is the motto Gryffindors go by.

Being a Gryffindor means that you're probably the adventurous and courageous friend, and you are usually known for doing what is right.

Ravenclaw: The house is known for their wisdom, intelligence, creativity, cleverness and knowledge. Those who value brains over brawn can be found here. Ravenclaws often tend to be quite quirky as well. "Do what is wise" is the motto they strive to follow.

Though Ravenclaws can be know-it-alls sometimes, they most likely do know what the wisest decision is.

If you are known for being the quirky friend, the smartest in the group or just great at making wise decisions, you're definitely a Ravenclaw.

Hufflepuff: This house values hard work, dedication, fair play, patience, and loyalty. Hufflepuff’s are known for being just and true. "Do what is nice" is their motto.

Hufflepuff is known as the “nice house” and believes strongly in sparing peoples feelings and being kind. This is not to say that Hufflepuffs aren't smart or courageous. Hufflepuffs just enjoy making others happy and tend to be more patient towards people.

If you ever find that you are too nice for your own good and cannot bear to hurt someone’s feelings, congratulations, you are a Hufflepuff.

Slytherin: This is the house of the cunning, prideful, resourceful, ambitious, intelligent, and determined. Slytherin's love to be in charge and crave leadership. "Do what is necessary" is the motto of this house.

Slytherin is a fairly well-rounded house, similar to the other houses. They are loyal to those that are loyal to them just as Gryffindors are and are intelligent as Ravenclaws.

Slytherin house as a whole is not evil, despite how many dark wizards come out of this house. That is merely based on the choices of those wizards (so if your friend is a Slytherin, don’t judge, it doesn’t mean they are mean people). Slytherins do, however, have a tendency to be arrogant or prideful. This is most likely due to the fact that everyone in Slytherin is exceedingly proud to be there.

What Hogwarts house you’re in says a lot about the person you are, the traits you possess and how you may act in some situations. But in the end, your house is really just your home that is always there for you. Always.


Cover Image Credit: Warner Bros Pictures

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17 Gifts For The Man Who Gave You Everything

Your dad is your first love and nothing can top that as a gift, plus he has everything already. Amazon is here to save the holiday season.

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The constant struggle of never knowing what to get your dad around the holidays has finally come to an end! After many years of wandering aimlessly in stores, I have finally compiled a list of gifts you can get your dad this holiday season.

1. Wireless Charging Base

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The ongoing struggle of the lights already being off and wiggling the cable to try and plug your phone in before bed. The charging base is here to make life easier for your dad to just place his phone on top of it before bed or when he just needs a quick charge!

Find it on Amazon for $14.99

2. Keurig Machine + K Cups

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That morning or afternoon pick me up to just power through the day. Plus in the comfort of your own home or office without driving and waiting in line at Starbucks! What more could you ask for?!

Get it on Amazon for $89.99

3. Cologne

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Getting sprayed by every different scent of new cologne while in the mall is fun but this is more convenient and there is no headache in between searching. Check out some of the most popular cologne's to add to your dad's morning routine.

Find it on Amazon for $32.99

4. Wireless speaker

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So your dad isn't the best with technology, but he wants to stream some oldies throughout the house while he gets ready for work. This wireless speaker is easy to use and will help him become a morning person!

Get on Amazon for $28.99

5. Noise canceling headphones

Amazon

Whether your dad travels a lot or not he is bound to get sick of hearing background sounds especially when he is trying to concentrate. These noise-canceling headphones will help block out any unnecessary sounds and help him concentrate or relax for some time!

Find on Amazon for $99.99

6. Sunglasses

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So maybe the big blocked sunglasses are not really in style anymore. With a little help from Amazon and the latest trends, you can help your dad look more sophisticated with a new pair of frames.

Find on Amazon for $16.98

7. Desk organizer

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The office or home desk is always full of clutter whether they will admit it or not. Help your dad out with organizing papers and files with this desk organizer.

Find on Amazon for $12.99

8. BBQ/Grill set

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We all know that one weekend where our dad's cannot stop talking about how amazing the weather is and how he can't wait to put some food on the grill. With this grill set, your dad will be wanting to have cookouts every weekend!

Find on Amazon for $31.33

9. Seasoned spices

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Spice things up! These seasoned spices will make any piece of food more flavorful (since we know dad doesn't cook every day!)

10. Massage pillow

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After a long day at the office or just a much deserved TLC day this massage pillow will save the day!

Find one like this on Amazon for $32

11. Cooling towel

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I can't be the only one who sees my dad out on a Sunday washing cars and fixing landscape lights no matter how hot it is out. This cooling towel will come in handy the minute he feels the need to jump in the pool!

Get one on Amazon for $11.99

12. Pocket knife

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Whether he will use it or not. Pocket knives are something that are always carried around and if you go the extra mile to get it engraved every time he looks at it he will think of you!

Find on Amazon for $30.88

13. Tool kit

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As mentioned before, dad's love fixing things and with a new tool kit you won't find him sitting in one place for too long as there will always be something that needs to be fixed.

Get on Amazon for $37.97

14. Watch winder

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Watches are a crucial addition to every dad's wardrobe. Most feel empty without one and a watch winder will make it easy to remember to choose one to put on every morning and will have all of them in one place for him!

Find on Amazon for $69.99

15. Electric wine bottle opener

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Dad's love the latest and greatest gadgets whether or not they know how to work them. An electric wine bottle opener will make a night in less of a hassle with no cork being stuck inside the bottle, plus the light changes colors!

Find one on Amazon for $29.99

16. Glasses case

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Sunglasses or reading glasses... this can really go both ways. Not everyone is perfect and we lose things, but if you get a nice case for glasses for you dad maybe he won't lose them before an important meeting!

Get one on Amazon for $6.95

17. Socks

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Add a little color and excitement into your dad's wardrobe. Not every day needs to be black or white sock day. Get a fun color or some words on a pair and when he puts them on before leaving the house he will remember laughing when he opened the gift.

Get some on Amazon for $31.99

Stop wandering around and googling random DIY gifts and head over to Amazon to get your dad a gift this holiday season!

Please note that prices are accurate and items in stock as of the time of publication. As an Amazon Associate, Odyssey may earn a portion of qualifying sales.

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