Dec 17, 2012

Mr. Bliss

First: a perfect moment. On day 86 of a 3-month trek to and from the South Pole, adventurer Aleksander Gamme discovered something he'd stashed under the ice at the start of his trip. He wasn't expecting such a rush of happiness in that cold, hungry instant, but he hit the bliss jackpot. (Scroll down to the bottom of the page to watch the video.)

But what if you're after something a little bigger than just a moment of happiness? Producer Tim Howard brings us the incredible and tragic story of Charles Bliss—the man that inspired this show. As Charles's friend Richard Ure and writer Arika Okrent explain, Bliss believed that war was often caused by the misuse of language, and he believed it could be overcome if we could create a way to communicate the truth without the trickery of words. Having lived through the hell of Nazi concentration camps, he set about creating the perfect language, based on symbols and logic. Not surprisingly, his language didn't catch on. But then, years later, Shirley McNaughton accidentally discovered it, and started using it to communicate with her students, kids with cerebral palsy who quickly picked up the language and made it their own. At first, Charles was thrilled...until he started to feel his original dream of saving the world was slipping from his fingers.

Below is a piece of stained glass art by Shirley McNaughton, called "Communication." It's composed of 10 Bliss symbols:


Click to zoom.


Our thanks to the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia for use of audio from the documentary Mr. Symbol Man, by Bob Kingsbury (1974).  For more info on NFSA's vast collection of film, television, radio, and music, visit their website.


Akira Okrent, In the Land of Invented Languages

Aleksander Gamme reaches Cheez Doodle Nirvana:

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