Does "grief" here mean "sadness"? (sadness of the fact that the nature of existence has no pattern or map?)

The presentation of randomised collections – often in the style of the wunderkammer, the cabinets of curiosity displayed by the early natural philosophers – is a favoured way of reflecting a delight in nature and in human existence, tinged with more than a little irony to suggest the foolhardiness of any belief in fixed hierarchies and taxonomies and also to imply an underlying grief about the routeless nature of existence.

(from a book titled Art and Science by Sîan Ede, describing an art exhibit)

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    Doesn't grief usually mean sadness? And should it be rootless or routeless? It's usually rootless existence. See Ngram. – Peter Shor Jul 16 '15 at 10:40
  • Apparently (according to Wikipedia) "Grief is a multifaceted response to loss"; as well as sadness its definition also include woe, desolation, despair, etc. Another multi-faceted (but non-English) word is dukkha. – ChrisW Jul 16 '15 at 10:44
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    @PeterShor I thought it mean trackless or unchartable, given the context that making taxonomies is foolhardy. – ChrisW Jul 16 '15 at 10:54
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    @ChrisW: it's still a pun: "rootless existence" is an established expression, and I suspect the author is playing off it. – Peter Shor Jul 16 '15 at 11:12
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    @Peter: Bearing in mind "nature red in tooth and claw" and all that, I'd have thought ruthless nature of existence was more likely. At least that one does actually occur a couple of times in Google Books. – FumbleFingers Jul 16 '15 at 13:02

Grief may mean "sadness" here, but not necessarily: because "grief" can also mean trouble – for example, "he gave me grief" means "he gave me trouble".

Given that (it says), "the nature of existence makes it foolhardy to believe in fixed hierarchies", then creating those hierarchies isn't necessarily "sad" but might rather be "troublesome" or "difficult" (or more-or-less impossible) – perhaps a Sisyphean task.

  • I think you were on the right track in your comments above, when interpreting "routeless" to mean "trackless". Routeless suggests random changes of direction. I think we can understand "underlying grief" in the same context--a feeling of loss and emptiness in response to the apparent meaninglessness of what had long been regarded as intentional "design". – TRomano Jul 16 '15 at 11:25
  • @TimRomano "Trackless" means there are no designated paths. Why can't "routeless" mean a refusal to select one of those? If you selected an undesignated path, why would it necessarily have to include "random changes"? Where does Ede suggest that the meaninglessness (or whatever it is) is apparent and not real or that intentionality is involved? What's the difference between design and "design"? – deadrat Jul 16 '15 at 14:47
  • @deadrat: In the phrase "the routeless nature of existence" there is no implication whatsoever of anyone refusing to do anything. Rather it means Nature does not have routes, that is, tNature does not choose preordained paths as there are no such paths to be taken. From that sense of pathlessness it's but a stone's throw to randomness. "Apparent" does not necessarily mean unreal; it means "as it appears to us". It does imply that knowledge is bounded. The quotation marks I put around design are a shorthand reference to the opinion that Nature evinces the intentions of a Designer. – TRomano Jul 16 '15 at 15:27
  • Are either of you making some suggestion towards improving my answer? – ChrisW Jul 16 '15 at 15:30
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    @ChrisW Look at your answer -- "perhaps," "if," "isn't necessarily," "perhaps" (again). There's nothing wrong with your answer, but like all interpretations of the idiosyncratic language of culture theory, it is itself idiosyncratic. No other answer will be an improvement; it will just be different. – deadrat Jul 16 '15 at 15:51

"Routeless" makes sense in the above, when you consider it to mean "aimless" or "random", with no "map", no "guiding hand". This sense is mirroring the use of "randomized" at the start of the excerpt. (I see no intent to form a pun here.)

The "grief" is a sadness because the "routelessness" implies that there is no overriding "scheme" or "plan". Many scientists would like to believe that such a master plan exists and might eventually be discerned with sufficient research, but the writer is saying this won't happen.


It sounds like they author is describing 'frustration' or 'annoyance'

grief : trouble or annoyance http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/grief

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    You might try spelling it correctly. – Hot Licks Nov 14 '15 at 13:08
  • That would help. :) – shimsham Nov 17 '15 at 17:11

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