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When is Art? Art as Symbolical and as Exemplification When is Art? Art as Symbolical and as Exemplification
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2009-01-02 09:37:38
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“If attempts to answer the question “What is art?” characteristically end in frustration and confusion, perhaps—as so often in philosophy—the question is the wrong one. A reconception of the problem, together with application of some results of a study of the theory of symbols, may help to clarify such moot matters as the role of symbolism in art and the status as art of the ‘found object’ and so-called ‘conceptual art’….  We think first of such works as Bosch’s “Garden of Delight” or Goya’s “Caprichos” or the Unicorn tapestries or Dali’s drooping watches, and then perhaps of religious paintings, the more mystical the better. What is remarkable here is less the association of the symbolic with the esoteric or unearthly than the classification of works as symbolic upon the basis of their having symbols as their subject matter—that is, upon the basis of their depicting rather than of being symbols. This leaves as nonsymbolic art not only works that depict nothing but also portraits, still-lifes, and landscapes where the subjects are rendered in a straightforward way without arcane allusions and do not themselves stand as symbols….A salient feature of symbolization, I have urged, is that it may come and go. An object may symbolize different things at different times, and nothing at other times. An inert or purely utilitarian object may come to function as art, and a work of art may come to function as an inert or purely utilitarian object. Perhaps, rather than art being long and life short, both are transient.”

                                                                                          --Nelson Goodman (“When Is Art?”)

Nelson Goodman (1906-1998) was a professor of philosophy at Harvard University. His wide ranging books included the field of aesthetics, epistemology, philosophy of science, and philosophy of language. His famous Languages of Art (1968) remains today an important study of art as a form of symbolic communication.

In his provocative essay “When Is Art?” Goodman argues that the central question in the philosophy of art is not what makes an object a work of art, but when an object becomes a work of art. His point is that an object is a work of art not in virtue of some special property it possesses, but rather of how it is employed; that is to say, a work’s status is attributable to the uses to which it is put.

Goodman vehemently disagrees with the formalists who distinguish properties intrinsic to a work from those which are not arguing that only the intrinsic properties are aesthetically relevant. The formalists also argue that the symbolical properties of a work of art (such as that of being representational of a real object) are irrelevant to its aesthetic merit. The accuracy of the representation of reality has no claim to value as art. Against this view Goodman holds that all works of art have symbolic properties relevant to their status as artworks.

The core of Goodman’s argument is that exemplification is a common symbolic property. The work of art exemplifies a property when it not only possesses that property but also makes a kind of selective reference to that property. A Picasso painting may be non-representational, but it exemplifies the property of being geometrical which it possesses in virtue of its obvious geometrical shapes.

So, in Goodman’s view, a work expresses any property it exemplifies, but only metaphorically; a musical work, for example, may exemplify joy, but it cannot literally be joyous. In effect this means that even paintings declared to be nonrepresentational or purely formal symbolize. This is so because they, like the samples you find in a fabric store, exemplify some of their properties. They do this in certain contexts but not something that sets them apart from other types of objects in the world, for indeed exemplification is something that ordinary things can share with artworks.

For an object to be a work of art, it must function as a symbol, something it can do in some contexts but not in others. As Goodman points out, a Rembrandt may be a work of art in a museum but not if used to replace a broken window. That is why the question is not what but when is art. Goodman supplies a tentative answer to this question: An object is an art object when it has five characteristics: 1) both syntactic and 2) semantic density, 3) relative repleteness, 4) exemplification (a symbol’s serving as a sample of a property it possesses), and 5) multiple and complex reference (a symbol’s performing a variety of referential functions). In conclusion, for Goodman, works of art do not constitute a special class of objects, although they do have certain types of properties that single them out; rather, they are objects to be approached in a unique way.


  
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Sand2009-01-02 15:36:59
I find it incredible that an assumed thinker could live through an era when Marcel Duchamp, Hans Hofman, Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, Philip Guston, Ellsworth Kelly, Isamu Noguchi, Alexander Calder, Mark Rothko, Ad Reinhardt, and many others produced their work and still maintain that only symbolic work can lay claim to be art.


Emanuel Paparella2009-01-02 16:08:58
Is that attack, sword in hand, against me or Nelson Goodman? Obviously the piece has not been read or it has not been understood; just accorded the usual knee jerk philisitine reaction. Shall we all gather by the river and burn all his books, so that we can then re-invent the wheel and be clever by half? Mr. S. as self-declared protector of the art and their meaning, you should have taken my advice rather than that of the night voices and wait till I post a lenghty summary and synthesis of the various views, but I suppose you could not help yourself. I understand fully. All you need now is the certification.


Emanuel Paparella2009-01-02 16:10:30
Errata above: art should be arts.


Sand2009-01-02 16:23:40
Take it easy, Paparella, that foam dripping from your chin should be wiped away. Take your medication. Look up he artists I mentioned and examine if a good deal of their work functions through symbolism or is merely delightful without symbolizing anything else but the work itself.


Emanuel Paparella2009-01-02 16:29:57
By the way, you ought to expand your horizon a bit. You left out some important modern artist from your list: Romare Bearden, David Smith, Gustav Klimt, Georges Rouault, Willem de Looning, Robert Indiana, Yaacov Gipstein, James Valerio, Niki de Saint Phalle, Marison, Christo, Graham Sutherland, Wasily Kandinsky, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Natalya Goncharova, Peit Mondrian, Paul Klee, Peter Blume, Joan Miro', Mark Chagall, Andi Warhol, Georgia O'Keefe, Jacov Lawerence, Robert Smithson, Elisabeth Carlett, Louise Bourgeois.


Sand2009-01-02 17:10:51
A beautiful demonstration of your lack of understanding of my point, Paparella, since you merely grabbed a convenient list of modern artists with no sense of discriminating as to whether they were deeply involved in symbolism or not. My list included only artists whose main output was non-symbolic although they did engage in symbolic work on occasion. You merely clearly illustrated that you didn't understand what you were talking about.


AP2009-01-02 17:18:31
Well yes, the first list makes sense as paradigmatic of non-symbolism, the second doesn't.


Sand2009-01-02 17:39:42
Incidentally, Paparella, your sly misspelling of "Willem de Looning", "Peit Mondrian", and "Andi Warhol" indicates, perhaps, some unconscious disfavor towards their works.


Emanuel Paparella2009-01-02 18:36:52
So, in Goodman’s view, a work expresses any property it exemplifies, but only metaphorically; a musical work, for example, may exemplify joy, but it cannot literally be joyous. In effect this means that even paintings declared to be nonrepresentational or purely formal symbolize. This is so because they, like the samples you find in a fabric store, exemplify some of their properties. They do this in certain contexts but not something that sets them apart from other types of objects in the world, for indeed exemplification is something that ordinary things can share with artworks. (Paparella)

Intriguing that both critiques side-step the above insight of Goodman, simply to go on and gratuitously disparage the whole presentation. In any case, if what Goodman says has any validity, than it follows that any ordinary things (even a urinal) share exemplification with artworks and thus, in the so called eyes of the beholder (whether or not the beholder is blind or color blind), anything and everything can become a work of art. E.g., given your well displayed fascination with the poetics of defecation, Mr. S., one can conceivable picture you in a museum getting some cathartic pleasure out of the contemplation of a piece of shit on a canvas, smell and all, especially if it makes some ideological or propagandistic point, such as the bashing of religion. I am curious, when you go around calling people who disagree with you “assholes” is that conceived poetically and artistically or is it a mere fascination with bodily functions per se? I can wager that the question will not be answered or if answered, true to form, will be answered in a boorish and devious mode, but then in philosophy the answers are not as important as the questions.


Emanuel Paparella2009-01-02 18:41:06
Regarding the typos which you, true to form, insist on callign inability to spell, those who live in glass houses ought not to be throwing stones so liberally. See the comments under you poem where weather is mispelled as whether and then conveniently called a pun to get oneself off the hook.


Emanuel Paparella2009-01-02 19:05:42
By the way, the correct spelling of what Mr. S. would have called "a slip of the finger" if he had made the same typos but deviously calls "sly misspelling" when the done by others, are Willem de Kooning, Piet Mondrian, and Andy Warhol.


Emanuel Paparella2009-01-02 19:26:55
The contemporary art scene is a very complex one. At a minimum it encompasses the following schools and trends: Abstract Expressionism, Surrealism, Pop Art, Non-Art, Minimal Art, Op art, Kinetic Art (Bauhaus School of Industrial Design), Conceptual Art, Photo-Realism, Post-Modernism, Art Happenings, Art Performance, etc. Considering this plethora of art schools the above cherry picked list of artists that agree with your viewpoint is certainly not exhaustive and probably biased for it is not representative of the whole of modern and post-modern art. The whole needs to be considered in devising a comprehensive holistic theory. As I said, hold your horses, and stay tuned.


Sand2009-01-02 19:52:45
It's good to know your misspelling of the three artists' names was due to your inept typing and editing of your submission rather than some grudge you held against their works. Clarity is one characteristic of your writing that seems most elusive to you. Since you have enthusiastically adopted my term of "a slip of the finger" to describe your execrable typing I assume you vigorously lubricate your hands before typing.

Your persistent insistence that the title of my poem was a spelling error instead of a conscious pun more thoroughly underlines your difficulty in comprehending what you are reading. Considering your profession you must spend a good deal of your life in total confusion.

You must eventually forgive my accusing you of being an asshole. After reconsidering your posts and articles to this site further I am at somewhat at a loss to discover a term of larger magnitude and force to describe your horrifying ineptitude. Since you consider yourself more qualified than me in the language I'll take you at your word and request a new term more outrageously disgusting that I should apply to your output. Your cooperative help in this matter would be most appreciated.

Whether a work of art is symbolic is, of course, in many pristine unrepresentative creations, very much an individual inclination. Some pieces are obviously created as symbolic and a general can easily be reached as to their intent but human minds are very individual and even a suprematist blank canvas can find symbolic associations in some minds. There is no way to curb the human mind from discovering symbols in the most non-symbolic events like sunsets or tornadoes etc. That's where the insanities of religion fester.



Sand2009-01-02 19:56:33
The last paragraph should read:

Whether a work of art is symbolic is, of course, in many pristine unrepresentative creations, very much an individual inclination. Some pieces are obviously created as symbolic and a general conclusion can easily be reached as to their intent but human minds are very individual and even a suprematist blank canvas can find symbolic associations in some minds. There is no way to curb the human mind from discovering symbols in the most non-symbolic events like sunsets or tornadoes etc. That's where the insanities of religion fester.


Emanuel Paparella2009-01-02 22:50:18
I am afraid that is your specialty and if they gave a Ph.D. in it you would probably have one ad honorem by now. There is however a passage in Dante’s hell that fits your prurient and devious interests right within the poetics of defecation. You need to go to Canto 21 of Inferno, in the 8th circle where one finds the likes of people you’d feel very at home with: the fraudulent, the slanderers, the pimps and seducers, those who have committed sins of sorcery, simony (among which a Pope which means that Dante looks into nobody’s face when assigning the proper place) political corruption, hypocrisy.


Emanuel Paparella2009-01-02 22:55:54
Here Dante describes several devils who torment corrupt political officials to whom he assigns some inventive names: Bad dog, Sneering Dragon, Curly Beard, and so one. But there is one he names “malacoda” “Evil tail”; he is he leader of the demons in that circle. He calls his troops and sends them off in a particular mode, Dante describes it as “del cul fece trombetta” whose best translation is “and he made a bugle of his ass,” which is right up your neck of the wood and will warm your heart and make you sleep better tonight. However, the aesthetical puzzle remains: instead of a metaphorical description using mere words, ought Dante have been more graphic and required that people like you, so inclined by their love of the poetics of defecation, fart at that point of the epic poem? Would that enhance (as you probably would agree) or degrade the poem aesthetically? The other puzzle is this: was Dante expressing some debased personal interests of his or merely suggesting how repugnant the whole scene and an asshole of a devil was to him? Does it matter, since the epic poem speaks for itself? Food for thought! Surely you'll soon been competing with Dante whom you surely consider your inferior as a poet, after all he was medieval.


Emanuel Paparella2009-01-02 23:04:11
errata: been ought to be "be".


Sand2009-01-03 00:19:21
Not interested in Dante. Poetry doesn't translate and I don't speak Italian.


Sand2009-01-03 09:44:19
One of your most noteworthy and outstanding characteristics, Paparella, is your assumption of absolute truth in well constructed and well regarded fictions and your abhorrence of scientific speculation that has been found valid by close investigation of factual experience. Myths and religions invest reality with human motivations as a mirror to human expectations but the hard facts of the total obliviousness of natural forces to human ambitions and aims seems unacceptable to minds such as yours floating in boundless seas of fantasy.
Dante with his forceful schadenfreude delights in torturing his enemies, Kant with his unfounded musings that humans have an embedded morality somehow intertwined with Christian morality, Plato with his projection of his abstractions on the nature of reality which are, of course, merely his nervous systems procedure to filter horrendously huge sense input into manageable data in a way to produce something that can be handled by limited mental capability, even the exalted tales from the Bible with its strange brutalities and odd folktales intermixed with some decent social constrictions and a few historic and rather doubtful realities, these are the rickety foundations for your mental constructs and no doubt it might be amusing and even well spoken at times but it cannot be accepted by a mind that thinks and considers and debates within itself as to how the universe is made and what its varied functions might be. That acceptance has lead to frightful consequences both in history (which you ignore and deny) and at present when the world is rapidly sliding to several types of destruction.


Emanuel Paparella2009-01-03 12:36:48
Is that what the voices, among other distorted reporting, have suggested to you lately? Don’t believe them; they are liars and slanderers. Next time they visit, tell them that before they proceed with a critique (that makes them look ridiculous because it reveals how unfounded their accusations are and how little they have reflected on any of my contributions to this magazine, not to speak of learning anything)they ought to remove the animus that blinds them and leads them to gratuitously cast aspersion to satisfy their obsession with the drive to grind an ax against religion and the whole humanistic enterprise, always dishonestly parading as love of science and rationality which on second look it is mere dehumanizing rationalism rationalizing things that ought nevr be rationalized. Most importantly, tell them to stop peddling this notion that I am against science and technology; that in fact, my academic expertise and my Ph.D. dissertation at Yale University is actually on a great philosopher of history whose magnum opus is titled not the New Humanism, not the New Liberal Arts, but The New Science, incorporating and synthesizing in an interdisciplinary mode and holistically the whole of human knowledge, not excluding science. One of my first lengthy contributions to this magazine was on Vico’s philosophy. Obviously it went right over their head or it was simply scanned so that one could jump on one’s horse for a personal attack. Too bad!


Emanuel Paparella2009-01-03 12:43:23
Here, for the interested reader, is the link to the above mentioned first contribution on Vico, and there are others if one searches for them.

http://www.ovimagazine.com/art/1772



Sand2009-01-03 13:13:50
This from Wikipedia on Vico.

“Vico is best known for his verum factum principle, first formulated in 1710 as part of his De Italorum Sapientia[5]. The principle states that truth is verified through creation or invention and not, as per Descartes, through observation: “The criterion and rule of the true is to have made it. Accordingly, our clear and distinct idea of the mind cannot be a criterion of the mind itself, still less of other truths. For while the mind perceives itself, it does not make itself.” This criterion for truth would later shape the history of civilization in Vico’s opus, the Scienza Nuova (The New Science, 1725), since he would argue that civil life – like mathematics – is wholly constructed.”

Since science is nonexistent without observation and confirmation of speculation through observation, the idea that reality can be obtained by pure speculation is in good conformity with my observation that the bulk of Paparella’s resources resides in speculative and fictive sources outside of observation. Without observation, as I mentioned in my previous post, the mind swims in seas of fantasy often leading to amusing conjecture but no reality.

It should be noted that mathematics may be applied to reality and produce fruitful results but it is also very full of self-consistent ideas with no basis in reality that has yet been discovered. To confuse mathematics with reality is a gross error of huge magnitude.


Emanuel Paparella2009-01-03 16:17:25
And so with a paragraph from the Wikipedia Encyclopedia, voilà Vico is duly disposed of and brought to the metaphorical pyre. Dante and Vico are not to be read because one does not know Italian. Kant neither because one does not know German. Plato neither because one does not know Greek. So how does the modern philistine with no knowledge of foreign languages resolve the conundrum? Not by reading those luninaries in translation, that would take too much time and they are not worth it. He simply condemns them all nonetheless, not by reading them carefully and reflecting on them and understanding them before critiquing them, but by merly consulting google and Wikipedia to cherry pick from an already schematic presentation what supports and confirms his pre-conceived positivistic materialistic anti-humanistic ideas and then resolves any disagreement with any expert on any of those intellectual giants or issue with a question to which one has to answer yes or no under penalty of mental torture. That is called “enlightenment” nowadays. Those people think they are part of the solution to the rampant philistinism of the times, but they are very much part of the problem; they are the neo-barbarians of the intellect, much more lethal than the barbarians of old. They can plan an holocaust in one hour and half and rationalize it scientifically. O tempora, o mores.


Sand2009-01-03 16:20:15
Speculation without observational verification is bullshit, Paparella, and you glory in rolling in it.


Emanuel Paparella2009-01-03 16:31:39
And of course that statement, the rationalist will tell you showing his intruments of toruture, has been duly empirically verified by observation and experimented with and it works all the times, never mind Khun and his observations on the nature of scientific revolutions. In fact, he will tell you, by incontrovertible empirical evidence, the human body, is worth $ 2 of its chemical components, and therefore we can make it stop functioning at will (no need to wait for nature to take its course), says the modern Nazi mind-set in love with the wonders of science and technology, and then use it to make lampshade with its skin, or use it as fertilizer for our vegetables. Quite logical and scientific indeed, but unfortunately clever by one third only, since Man, ss the Greek philosophers well understood more than 2000 years ago, is also composed of mind and spirit.


Sand2009-01-03 17:08:43
Right. Scientists are Nazis and the ancient Greeks knew all about calculus, electronics, astrophysics, DNA and whatever. Why didn't we listen?


Sand2009-01-03 17:30:36
And you seem to indicate the ancient Greek Philosophers were Schutzstaffel (SS) so, according to your submission they were Nazis also. The world is full of surprises.


Sand2009-01-03 17:43:06
Anyway, if you are unsatisfied with the Wikipedia section on Vico, why don't you enlarge and clarify it. It's right there for your modification and since your prime effort in your life was obtaining your PhD with your dissertation on Vico you certainly should be able to do a fantastic job in laying out his accomplishments.


Emanuel Paparella2009-01-03 18:33:54
True to form, the modern philistine takes a typo and twists it to suit his agenda, without having the rectitude to acknowledge that he makes them too and that “whether report” is not a pun but a typo that can only confuse the reader. As far as Wikipidia on Vico, if you had bothered to scroll down you would have noticed a bibliographical list on Vico where my book on Vico is also listed. But I suppose you were merely interested in cherry picking the right paragraph to support your obsessive agenda in this forum: religion bashing parading as scientific rigor and rationality. Unfortunately it is only rationalism of the worst kind, the one practiced by the SS and their cohorts


Emanuel Paparella2009-01-03 18:36:55
Errata: Wikipidia ought to be Wikipedia. It is a typo!


Emanuel Paparella2009-01-03 18:51:27
To the interested reader willing to keep an open mind about the issue: C.P. Snow in one of his famous lectures then turned into a book describes the two world of Humanistic culture (which indeed includes the sciences as the likes of Da Vinci and Galileo (considered a master of Italian prose well demonstrate) and the purely scientific positivistic, empiricist materialistic world which deludes itself as having the answer for every existential situation of man, there is no dialogue; the two simply talk past each other like ships in the night. In his lectures, which were published under the title, Science and the Modern World, Alfred North Whitehead claims that a fruitful road to progress is the cross fertilization of ideas between disciplines. William James meandered through many academic fields: his doctorate was in medicine, a field in which he never practiced, and in a long academic career he meandered through physiology, psychology, religion, and philosophy though he never had a single course in any of those fields apart from the courses which he taught himself, except physiology. In an address he gave at a Harvard commencement entitled "The Real Harvard," (published in a posthumous volume put out by his brother Henry James entitled, Memories and Studies) he described in so many words the "academic vagrants" synthesizing disciplines and indeed the whole field of knowledge (which Vico surely was) as the very salt of the earth.


Sand2009-01-03 19:08:19
Yes indeed your book is in the bibliography at Wikipedia so therefor you feel that is sufficient and the body of the article gives sufficient information. I know your favorite advice, in lieu of answering a direct query, is to tell your questioner to read a small library before approaching you but that, of course, aside from being an obvious attempt not to answer directly can only be assumed to be a ploy to avoid exhibiting ignorance. It works well in a classroom where students are loathe to press an overbearing instructor but here it only exposes you as a fool.

If you object to be misunderstood for your greasy fingered typing mistakes you must discipline yourself better to edit your submissions. They are frequently so full of intended nonsense it is impossible to comprehend what you mean and what you had not intended.


Emanuel Paparella2009-01-03 22:17:35
Since you are the one who used the expression "slip of the finger" to rationalize your own typos, you ought to make sure that indeed you wipe your greased fingers when you write your submissions so that weather does not end up appearing as whether. It is the height of folly and stupidity to boot to be throwing stones when one is living in a glass palace. As far as the content of my submissions is concerned, is what's bothering you the fact that quite often they are picked up by other magazines and blogs. Do you wonder why that is so since as you have repeatedly expressed in this forum (while continuing to read them)they are full of nonsense and confusing? Could it be that they would be found objectionable to you no matter what, that you couldn't care a fig about the content? As far as my book on Vico is concerned, it is there on the bibliographical list on Wikipedia because it was published under the Distinguished Dissertation Series of 1993 by the Mellen Press of New York. Indeed, not unlike throwing stones from a glass palace, to spit at the sky is eventually to have the spit come back on one's face


Emanuel Paparella2009-01-03 22:21:48
http://integral-options.blogspot.com/2008/12/art-philosophy-from-ovi-magazine.html

To the reader: the above is an example of what I mentioned in the previous comment.


Sand2009-01-03 23:51:19
As I have written repeatedly to the profoundly stupid Paparella the spelling of "Whether" in my poem title was a conscious and deliberate pun on the word "weather" and the man seems totally bereft of a sense of either wit or humor. There is no point in arguing with an idiot so I won't.


Emanuel Paparella2009-01-04 06:28:32
Ah, the wonders of rationalism! The man has found my contributions stupid and confusing from the beginning but he continues reading them and commenting on them more than on any other, invariably in a boorish, bullish and personal mode. Now, if that is not hilarious and bizarre I don't know what is; it has in fact the appearance of a fanatical pathological obsession.


Sand2009-01-04 10:21:59
There is an element of truth in what you say and I am chastened by it. This obsession I have is that of a blue bottle fly with a piece of horseshit and as a blue bottle fly with possibilities for better diet I will fly away.


Emanuel Paparella2009-01-04 10:47:00
Well you certainly are not a Socratic gadfly, so there is indeed more than an element of truth in your smelly metaphor which fits perfectly with your foul-mouthed unimaginative obsessive poetics of defecation. You should aim higher than being a blue bottle fly, for one eventually becomes what one thinks one is; in fact one becomes what one likes to eat; but the issue remains: would a blue bottle fly be able to distinguish its preferred diet from a chocolate cake or does it have it all confused in its mind?


Emanuel Paparella2009-01-04 23:18:29
To get aways from the poetics of defecation and back to the reader interested in the idea of transdisciplinary approach to learning and teaching open to the link below for an illuminating article by Eric Weislogel (in Global Spiral) titled The Transcisciplinary Imperative where he begins with the idea that the increase of knowledge and know how without widosm creates as many problems as it solves.

http://www.metanexus.net/magazine/tabid/68/id/10669/Default.aspx



Sand2009-01-05 05:16:47
Which makes you a salesman for ignorance?


Emanuel Paparella2009-01-05 10:05:18
Indeed, knowledge without wisdom leads to a misguieded rationalism planning and rationalizing in one hour and a half what ought never be rationalized. It would be better that such people never go to school, not even one of industrial design, and learn there how to be clever by half


Sand2009-01-05 10:42:14
Or even better, that they should be chained to a post and burnt like Bruno and Joan of Arc.


Emanuel Paparella2009-01-05 15:20:50
Cleverness by one per cent proven; thank you.


Sand2009-01-05 16:18:43
Burning people seems more to your taste than burning books. But they both do well in your religious traditions.


Emanuel Paparella2009-01-05 22:17:27
Have the voices been visiting again? Don't believe them, they are liars and slanderers and make you look pretty bad when you repeat their proposterous declarations.


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