Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Primates and screwdrivers

From Christine Kenneally’s The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language (New York: Viking, 2007):

There is a saying among primate keepers . . . that if you give a screwdriver to a chimp, it will throw it at someone. If you give a screwdriver to a gorilla, it will scratch itself. But if you give a screwdriver to an orangutan, it will let itself out of its cage.
The First Word is a disappointing book: oddly organized, with much textbookese and many cumbersome sentences. (How many times can you begin with For example before catching yourself and breaking the habit?) I had to correct an error in the text (“give a give a screwdriver”) to share this passage, which is well worth sharing.

A related post
Note to self re: bookbuying (I need to follow my advice)

comments: 6

Stefan said...

Sorry the book isn't so great, but I really like the passage. I can't help but wonder though where this leaves us, given that we would be equally likely to do any of the three.

Michael Leddy said...

As we primates say, LOL.

Julia said...

I bought this book on a remainder table at Chapters, so I don't feel let down. I am reading it for content, but I haven't felt hung up on the writing itself.

I know I haven't commented on your blog in years! I have only made it through volume one of Proust but I did like it very much. In the meantime, I have discovered that Philosophy is my true passion and will be starting on my MA in the Department of Philosophy at Carleton University this fall. But the serendipity of the universe is playing out. I find that Proust loved Ruskin, and I got some Ruskin out of the library after reading Alain deBotton's "The Art of Travel", while I am thinking about how to knit together my first degree in art history with the next two degrees in law, and now philosophy. It is wonderful.

Michael Leddy said...

Hi, Julia! Talk about serendipity: I have something from Ruskin to put on later this week. I’ve meant to post it for a long time.

Michael Leddy said...

I should have added: all best wishes for your new studies.

Julia said...

Cool! While I was aware of Ruskin because of my art history degree, I never really read him. I have a library book "Oxford World Classics" series, with excerpts from Modern Painters, The Stones of Venice and many other essays. I was lucky enough to have taken the art history course that Queen's offers IN Venice, in the summer of 1979, so I am already predisposed to enjoy those essays! You should consider taking it! http://www.queensu.ca/art/arthistory/ba/courses/arth245.html