Joyce’s vi­sion

The Guardian - Review - - Forewords -

The pince-nez glasses worn by James Joyce while he wrote Ulysses were sold at an auc­tion in Dublin this week for €17,000. For years it was thought that Joyce was short­sighted, un­til re­search into his pre­scrip­tion specs pub­lished in the Bri­tish Med­i­cal Jour­nal in 2011 re­vealed that in fact he was longsighted. Joyce wore the glasses in many of the most fa­mous pho­tos of him, in­clud­ing the one in his pass­port, which was it­self sold at auc­tion three years ago for €88,000. Ni­cholas Wroe This week, the gov­ern­ment was found to be in con­tempt of par­lia­ment for not re­leas­ing the full le­gal ad­vice on Brexit. But why ex­actly is it “con­tempt” rather than scorn, ridicule, or con­tu­mely?

The Latin to con­demn, de­rives ul­ti­mately from the Greek for “to cut”. The metaphor of neg­a­tive judg­ments as cut­ting emo­tions, then, goes back all the way. From the early 17th cen­tury, the specif­i­cally le­gal use of “con­tempt” – as in con­tempt of par­lia­ment and con­tempt of court – has de­noted fla­grant dis­obe­di­ence or dis­re­spect for the in­sti­tu­tions of au­thor­ity. (In 1722, ac­cord­ing to an ci­ta­tion, it was pos­si­ble to be con­victed of con­tempt by not re­mov­ing one’s hat in front of the mag­is­trates.)

Charles Dar­win, in his

(1872) noted that con­tempt came in var­i­ous de­grees. “Ex­treme con­tempt, or, as it is of­ten called, loathing con­tempt, hardly dif­fers from dis­gust,” he wrote. One could hardly fault Theresa May for feel­ing that way about her own back­benchers, but that in it­self should not be a crime. In­deed, if hold­ing par­lia­ment and its an­tics in re­vul­sion, re­pug­nance, odium and execration were re­ally il­le­gal, few of us would es­cape con­vic­tion.

con­tem­nere,

OED

The Ex­pres­sion of the Emo­tions in Man and An­i­mals

John Dug­dale

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