or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Environ Mental

In 1982, actress Diana Rigg wrote a wonderful book called No Turn Unstoned (a great play on words, a parody of the expression "no stone unturned"), which is a collection of negative reviews of stage productions and performances. Naturally, it's out of print (I have a hardcover copy that I've read I don't know how many times), but thanks to the miracle of the Internet, you can buy a used copy, and probably should.

Her second chapter is called "A Critic's Device", and is devoted to the proposition that when a particular work is so bad that the you're speechless, opening and closing your mouth fishlike in exasperation, your only resort is to employ the critic's device: recount the plot as straightforwardly as possible and let the thing destroy itself with sheer preposterousness.

Christopher Orr has taken that tack in his New Republic review of "The Happening", the new and obviously dreadful M. Night Shyamalan environmental-horror movie. (Ridiculous title. It seems intended to be ominous, but it sounds more like "A Bunch of Bad Shit That, Y'Know, Happened". It's also the name of a late-sixties movie, one of those wretched counterculture comedies greenlighted by studio executives who knew that something was happening, but didn't know what it was.) The review is essentially one long spoiler, and it's hilarious. It does spoil every single plot element, so don't read it if you're planning to go see the movie, but otherwise, have at it.


"Environment". Where might that come from?

You can easily pick it apart into at least some of its components. "En-", the French-derived prefix with a number of meanings, here probably means "in" or "around". The suffix "-ment" is also French, and turns a part of speech, usually a verb, into a noun. That just leaves the core, "-viron-", which we can most likely reduce to "-vir-". As I mentioned once, there are two version of "-vir-" in English, the one meaning "man" ("virile") and the one meaning "turn" ("veer"), and it's the second one that's at play here. "Viron" is an Old French word meaning "circle" (the modern term is "cercle"), and so the environment is a thing that completely encircles or encompasses us.


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