Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Book meme, not forgotten!

Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.

I know that I haven't finished the book meme. It's really too much for me to think about, but here's another dribble.

Five Books That Mean A Lot To Me:

Number 1: The Lorax, By Dr. Seuss

I got the Lorax tattooed on my arm my junior year of college (1989-1990). I decided first that I wanted a tattoo, and then to have a Dr. Seuss tattoo. I wanted a tattoo because all of my more punk rock friends had tattoos. Elaborate, expensive tatoos. But I never liked most tattoo designs--the skulls, hearts, and Celtic gee-gaws. My friend Robert Carpenter got a Felix the Cat tattoo, which made me like the idea of getting a cartoon character. Since the character had to mean something to me personally and philosophically, I chose the Lorax. Plus, I figured the bright colors would age better: black tattoos always end up looking like bruises.

Pundits like to say that liberal parenting imparts no values, because the children are allowed to do whatever they want. However I have never seen a want among liberal parents for one of the most powerful tools for inculcating values: the children's fable. My childhood was stocked with Dr. Seuss's fables: The Sneetches, The Lorax, Yertle the Turtle.

"I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees
I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues
And I'm asking you sir at the top of my lungs"--
He was very upset as he shouted and puffed--
"What's that THING you've made out of my Truffula tuft?"

I've used The Lorax to introduce basic problems in environmental philosophy: How exactly does one speak for the trees? Trees have no desires, so a tree can't want to say anything. You can also use the Lorax to illustrate the contrast between environmental ethics and animal rights ethics, the question of economic growth and human well being, etc.

Reading the Lorax again to my daughter, I'm struck by the language. Here are my favorite words from the Lorax:


(I believe the last is a case of English Homeric Infixation) And of course, there are the names for individuals and species: Once-ler, (so forlorn!) humming fish (I want one!), Thneeds (which everyone everyone everyone needs.)

And the use of repetition!

And with great skillful skill and with great speedy speed
I took the soft tuft and I knitted a Thneed!

And the way the Once-ler talks!

business is business!
And business must grow
Regardless of crummies in tummies you know

And then I got mad
I got terribly mad.
I yelled at the Lorax, "Now Listen here, Dad
All you do is yap-yap and say 'Bad! Bad! Bad! Bad!'
Well I have my rights sir, and I'm telling you
I intend to go on doing just what I do!"

People say you shouldn’t get tattoos of lovers' names or political stances, but I think this one has aged well. The details of my environmental philosophy have grown up (I'm pretty sure that you can speak for brown bar-ba-loots, swomme swans, and humming fish, but not Truffula trees), but my core values can still be passed on to children.

unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better
It's not.

Next time: The Tractatus Logico Philosophicus!

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