Saturday, November 22, 2014

Funny how things return . . . or the times, they aren't a-changing . . .

Archibald MacLeish

In Chronicles, Volume 1, Bob Dylan reminisces about Archibald MacLeish, who 'wrote' Dylan a letter, inviting collaboration:
Archie's letter said that he'd like to meet with me to discuss the possibility of me composing some songs for a play that he was writing, called Scratch, based on a Stephen Vincent Benet short story. (Dylan, Chronicles, Volume 1)
That collaboration never transpired, but of interest to me is that the short story by Benet was "The Devil and Daniel Webster," the tale that so deeply influenced my novella, The Bottomless Bottle of Beer.

And I've used a MacLeish poem, "The End of the World," as the 'prescript' to a new story of mine . . .

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Bob Dylan telling stories . . .

Bob Dylan

Seth Rogovoy, writing in Bob Dylan: Prophet, Mystic, Poet (Scribner, 2009), reviews volume one of Dylan's memoires and pegs him as a "storyteller":
The most striking thing about Chronicles is how it introduces an entirely new voice - that of Bob Dylan, the colorful, garrulous storyteller. *More important than how closely he adheres or doesn't adhere to the facts* is the language that he uses to recount his life and times, and the detours and byways down which he leads the reader, through literature, music, philosophy, and life's learned lessons. (Rogovoy, Bob Dylan, 280)
The term "storyteller" here means someone who misleads the reader in entertaining ways, and having read a bit of Dylan's Chronicles myself, I'd say that he 'misleads' with a nod and a wink, signaling to the wary reader that he's not as good as his word, he's better than that. A passage early in volume one makes this clear when Lou Levy, a higher-up in Leeds Music Publishing company, gives Dylan a big break and tells the head of publicity for Leeds, Billy James, to have a talk with Dylan and write promotional material on him for a press release:
Billy dressed Ivy League like he could have come out of Yale - medium height, crisp black hair. He looked like he'd never been stoned a day in his life, never been in any kind of trouble. I strolled into his office, sat down opposite his desk, and he tried to get me to cough up some facts, like I was supposed to give them to him straight and square. He took out a notepad and pencil and asked me where I was from. I told him I was from Illinois and he wrote it down. He asked me if I ever did any other work and I told him that I had a dozen jobs, drove a bakery truck once. He wrote that down and asked me if there was anything else. I said I'd worked construction and he asked me where.


"You traveled around?"


He asked me about my family, where they were. I told him I had no idea, that they were long gone.

"What was your home life like?"

I told him I'd been kicked out.

"What did your father do?"


"And your mother, what about her?"


"What kind of music do you play?"

"Folk music."

"What kind of music is folk music?"

I told him it was handed down songs. I hated these kind of questions. Felt I could ignore them. Billy seemed unsure of me and that was just fine. I didn't feel like answering his questions anyway, didn't feel the need to explain anything to anybody.

"How did you get here?" he asked me.

"I rode a freight train."

"You mean a passenger train?"

"No, a freight train."

"You mean, like a boxcar?"

"Yeah, like a boxcar. Like a freight train."

"Okay, a freight train."

I gazed past Billy, past his chair through his window across the street to an office building where I could see a blazing secretary soaked up in the spirit of something - she was scribbling busy, occupied at a desk in a meditative manner. There was nothing funny about her. I wished I had a telescope. Billy asked me who I saw myself like in today's music scene. I told him, nobody. That part of things was true, I really didn't see myself like anybody. The rest of it, though, was pure hokum - hophead talk. (Dylan, Chronicles, Volume One, Simon and Schuster: New York, 2004, pages 7-8)
In short, Dylan told Billy James a pack of entertaining lies, and he did so because he "didn't feel the need to explain anything to anybody." People want a story anyway, so he gives them one.

But Dylan is primarily a songwriter and performer, and he is better known as a storyteller in his songs. One blog post by Jason Boog, "Best Bob Dylan Songs That Tell a Story" (Galleycat, June 15, 2011) lists 24 of his best storytelling songs.

As regular readers know, I've already blogged on one of these, namely, Isis.

UPDATE: The text had "Less important than how closely he adheres to the facts", but after checking with Mr. Seth Rogovoy, I've edited to reflect what he intended to write: *More important than how closely he adheres or doesn't adhere to the facts* . . .

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Congratulations to Suh Ji-moon

Suh Ji-moon (Middle) and Other Winners
Winners of 12th Korean Literature Translation Award
Mahmoud Abdel Ghaffar and Cho Hee-sun on Left
Suh Ji-moon in Middle
Im Yun-jung and Maria Kuznetsova on Right
Photo: LTI Korea

My literary friend from my Korea University days, Professor Suh Ji-moon, received a prize for her translation of Kim Won-il's book House with a Sunken Courtyard, as reported by Ahn Sung-mi in "Translation award honors Suh Ji-moon" (Korea Herald, November 18, 2014):
When emeritus professor Suh Ji-moon first began translating Korean literature into English in the 1970s, she used to write by hand or use a typewriter, which required writing and retyping over and over again before submission.

Though times have changed, the prominent Korean scholar with a 40-year career in teaching, research and literary translation still admits that translating is difficult, often accompanied by frustration and distress. Yet, it is a fulfilling experience, just like a time-consuming and strenuous search for hidden jewelry.

Now, the 66-year-old scholar has received an award for her efforts. On Monday, Suh won the top prize at the 12th annual Korean Literature Translation Awards for translating Kim Won-il's "House with a Sunken Courtyard" into English. The award is given by Korea’s state-run Literature Translation Institute of Korea.
Ji-moon actually allowed me to take a look at the translation in manuscript, and I could already see its very high literary quality rendered in her excellent translation - plus, the story was enthralling! I encourage everyone to read it!

Moreover, she worked upon the translation at a difficult time of her life, as the article relates, so for acess to the entire article, which gives more details, click here.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Sunni Muslims in Mosul: "considering becoming . . . atheist"

Thomas L. Friedman

In an op-ed piece, "Who Are We?" (New York Times, November 15, 2014), by Thomas L. Friedman, a writer whose columns I ordinarily just skim (no offense intended, Mr. Friedman, I do a lot of skimming), I found the stunning words that I've cited above and now explain below:
Rasha al-Aqeedi is an Iraqi editor from Mosul working at Al-Mesbar. She has stayed in touch with people in Mosul since ISIS took over. "What is happening," she told me, is that the Sunni Muslim population of Mosul "has now awakened from the shock. Before, people would say, 'Islam is perfect and [the outside world] is after us and hates us.' Now people are starting to read the books that ISIS is based on. I hear from people in Mosul who say, 'I am considering becoming an atheist.'"
Why do I call these words "stunning"? Because this means that some educated Muslims in ISIS-dominated territory are looking into the sources of the Islamic State, probably in an attempt to refute ISIS ideology, but are discovering that ISIS is correctly reporting what these sources say, and the problem is that these sources are classic early Muslim writings: the Qur'an, the Hadith, and the Sunnah.

As classics, such books cannot be shrugged off, as though the Islamists who call themselves ISIS are extremists at the margins of Islam. No, Islamists are radicals at the core of Islam. Some moderate Muslims living in Mosul recognize this, and those moderates considering atheism to be a proper response have decided that Islam itself is incapable of reform.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Strange things in a new book . . .

I've just finished reading Michel Faber's recent novel about interstellar mission work (yes, sharing Christ with space aliens), and it's outstanding, though not perfect - I'd say 4.5 stars out of 5 on the Amazon ranking (though the readership gives 4).

I was relieved that the story didn't take a Heart-of-Darkness turn, though I feared for a while that it might - and maybe it will, if Faber writes a sequel.

I did think there were a couple of implausible coincidences in the story - you know, the coincidence that gets a character out of trouble. Unless I misread . . .

By the way, Faber gives credit in his Acknowledgements to the people who worked at Marvel Comics, and his reference to the 1960s and 1970s means that he and I were reading the same comics at the same time, more or less:
I would like also to express my appreciation for the team of writers, pencilers and inkers who worked at Marvel Comics during the 1960s and 1970s, giving me such enjoyment as a child and ever since. All the surnames in The Book of Strange New Things are based on theirs, sometimes slightly altered or disguised, sometimes not.
Faber says more, but what am I, your secretary?! Go read the book for yourself!

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Monday, November 17, 2014

Bob Dylan as Storyteller

Photo by Ken Regan, Fall 1975
Rolling Thunder Revue

The song "Isis," the second track on Dylan's album Desire, was co-written by Bob Dylan and Jacques Levy, as was also the case with "One More Cup of Coffee," a song I recently blogged on. You can listen to the song here, and follow with these lyrics, to which I've added punctuation:
I married Isis on the fifth day of May,
But I could not hold on to her very long,
So I cut off my hair, and I rode straight away
For the wild unknown country, where I could not go wrong.

I came to a high place of darkness and light.
The dividing line ran through the center of town.
I hitched up my pony to a post on the right,
Went into a laundry to wash my clothes down.

A man in the corner approached me for a match.
I knew right away he was not ordinary.
He said, "Are you looking for something easy to catch?"
I said, "I got no money." He said, "That ain't necessary."

We set out that night for the cold in the North.
I gave him my blanket, and he gave me his word.
I said, "Where are we going?" He said, "We'll be back by the fourth."
I said, "That's the best news that I've ever heard."

I was thinking about turquoise, I was thinking about gold,
I was thinking about diamonds and the world's biggest necklace.
As we rode through the canyons through the devilish cold,
I was thinking about Isis, how she thought I was so reckless.

How she told me that one day we'd meet up again,
And things would be different the next time we wed,
If I only could hang on and just be her friend.
I still can't remember all the best things she said.

We came to the pyramids all embedded in ice.
He said, "There's a body I'm trying to find.
If I carry it out, it'll bring a good price."
It was then that I knew what he had on his mind.

The wind, it was howling, and the snow was outrageous.
We chopped through the night, and we chopped through the dawn.
When he died, I was hoping that it wasn't contagious,
But I made up my mind that I had to go on.

I broke into the tomb, but the casket was empty.
There was no jewels, no nothing - I felt I'd been had.
When I saw that my partner was just being friendly,
When I took up his offer, I must've been mad.

I picked up his body, and I dragged him inside,
Threw him down in the hole, and I put back the cover.
I said a quick prayer, and I felt satisfied,
Then I rode back to find Isis just to tell her I love her.

She was there in the meadow where the creek used to rise,
Blinded by sleep and in need of a bed.
I came in from the East with the sun in my eyes.
I cursed her one time, then I rode on ahead.

She said, "Where ya been?" I said, "No place special."
She said, "You look different." I said, "Well, I guess."
She said, "You been gone." I said, "That's only natural."
She said, "You gonna stay?" I said, "If you want me to, yes."

Isis, oh Isis, you mystical child,
What drives me to you is what drives me insane.
I still can remember the way that you smiled,
On the fifth day of May in the drizzling rain.
There it is, the entire song, a great story sung by a great storyteller! But why do I call this song a story? Because things happen in a sequence that fulfills our expectations, expectations set up with the first line: "I married Isis on the fifth day of May." You see? Something happened. We hear the line and wonder, "What's next?" Dylan tells us: "But I could not hold on to her very long." What happened then. Dylan continues to tell us . . .

Very different than "One More Cup of Coffee," which offers a portrait of a lady: "Your breath is sweet / Your eyes are like two jewels in the sky / Your back is straight your hair is smooth / On the pillow where you lie." Nothing's happening in this scene. Nothing much happens in the entire song. In that song, we're between stories, maybe, but we'll never know what those stories are.

Not that there's anything wrong with that . . .

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Pleasant Jihadi Dreams . . .

Glorious Jihad

Memri (November 4, 2014, Clip No. 4585) recorded the words of "Islamic scholar [Hussein Muhammad Hussein] Pledg[ing] Allegiance to ISIS Emir Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi Live on Al-Jazeera TV," and the man said a number of politically incorrect things about Islam that we aren't supposed to believe, let alone mention, but that he can say because he's an Islamist:
[A]ll the Arab peoples yearn for the rule of Islamic law . . . . Allah be praised, he gave me the honor to pledge allegiance to the Emir of the Believers, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, whether people like it or not . . . . Jihad is a duty carried out by the Caliphate . . . . Capturing infidel women is permitted by Islamic law . . . . Islam functions as both a religion and a state . . . . [The plan of ISIS is to] establish the Islamic State . . . . [in] all the Muslim countries . . . . The world is divided into two camps - the camp of heresy and the camp of faith. The infidels are the enemies of the Muslims . . . . If the whole world is infidel, we will be hostile toward it . . . . The world consists of Muslims and infidels. We are here, and they are there. We rule the Muslim lands, but if you attack us, you will see nothing but war - you and your lackeys . . . . The peoples that are not yet governed by the Caliphate yearn for it . . . . All of them, without exception. They yearn for the rule of Islamic law. Yes, [they yearn for] the beheading of the infidels, lowlifes, and criminals.
Very pleasant dreams . . . for Hussein Muhammad Hussein and other Islamists. Very unpleasant nightmares for the rest of us, but good to know what Islamists want. They certainly aren't trying to hide their aims, though they still practice deception. Hussein says that if non-Muslims attack the Islamic State, there will be war against the non-Muslims, but he doesn't add that there will be war against the non-Muslims anyway.

It's a game of heads I win, tails you lose . . .

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Saturday, November 15, 2014

Yi Yook-sa: The Vertex

The Vertex
Yi Yook-sa
Translated and Introduced by Sung-Il Lee
Google Images

I had a surprise awaiting me when I stepped into the EPO yesterday, a copy of the poetry book depicted above, personally sent to me by the translator Sung-Il Lee himself - the Beowulf translator I've mentioned before - who wrote these words:
For Professor Horace Jeffery Hodges,
With best wishes,
Sung Il Lee
November 8, 2014
That was very kind of him. I'll have to treat him to a coffee, or a lunch, sometime soon.

Here's one of the poems:

Disheveled mane,

Eyes that have lost their luster,

Hair standing like chesnut bur -

Ah, horse, weary of a long journey!

Horse, worn with continual whipping!

Languidly drooping,

Tail falling down, as if lifeless,

Yet, hooves glistening in the frost -

Ah, horse, ready to scatter the clouds!

White horse, neighing to the New Year!
Nicely done! Thank you Professor Lee. Written by Yi Yook-sa in 1930, translated into English and published now, in 2014 . . .

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Friday, November 14, 2014

"I have seen the future, it is murder"

Smarter Weapons
Long Range Anti-Ship Missile
Designed to Maneuver without Human Control
Photo Credit: Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency

Speaking of the Singularity and Deep Learning, let's listen to what John Markoff has to say on "Fearing Bombs That Can Pick Whom to Kill" (NYT, November 11, 2014):
On a bright fall day last year off the coast of Southern California, an Air Force B-1 bomber launched an experimental missile . . . . Initially, pilots aboard the plane directed the missile, but halfway to its destination, it severed communication with its operators. Alone, without human oversight, the missile decided which of three ships to attack . . . . Warfare is increasingly guided by software . . . . [S]ome scientists say, arms makers have crossed into troubling territory: They are developing weapons that rely on artificial intelligence, not human instruction, to decide what to target . . . . As these weapons become smarter and nimbler, critics fear they will become increasingly difficult for humans to control - or to defend against . . . . After launch, so-called autonomous weapons rely on artificial intelligence and sensors to select targets . . . . Britain's "fire and forget" Brimstone missiles, for example, can distinguish among tanks and cars and buses without human assistance, and can hunt targets in a predesignated region without oversight. The Brimstones also communicate with one another, sharing their targets . . . . In recent years, artificial intelligence has begun to supplant human decision-making in a variety of fields, . . . [b]ut technological advances [are occurring] in three particular areas[, namely, in] . . . [n]ew types of radar, laser and infrared sensors[, all of which] are helping missiles and drones better calculate their position and orientation. "Machine vision," resembling that of humans, identifies patterns in images and helps weapons distinguish important targets. This nuanced sensory information can be quickly interpreted by sophisticated artificial intelligence systems, enabling a missile or drone to carry out its own analysis in flight.
Reading of such technological developments, I can almost imagine the reality of the Terminator movies' dystopian vision of a future ruled by military machines!

This is the future . . .

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Singularly Deep Learning

Roh Soh-yeong
Director, Art Center Nabi

I read in yesterday's JoongAng Ilbo an article by Roh Soh-yeong on "The advent of 'Singularity 99'" (November 12, 2014), beginning with these fateful words:
Pandora's box is finally open: 2014 is likely to be recorded as the year that humanity has crossed the river of no return. Artificial Intelligence (AI) has come out of the box. With the name tag, "Deep Learning," the AI technology that resembles the human thinking and decision-making process has been introduced. Just as a network of countless neurons perceives, processes and judges information, a computer can perceive, infer and decide by itself. The future when a computer surpasses human thinking is approaching.
I wasn't aware that 2014 is so significant, though I've previously encountered the term "singularity," but not the expression "Deep Learning." Maybe because it "has been introduced" only recently? "Singularity" refers to the moment that AI "surpasses human intelligence," as Ms. Roh explains - and as I've known for some time - but she never again refers to "Deep Learning." I therefore turned to Wikipedia:
Deep learning . . . is a set of algorithms in machine learning that attempt to model high-level abstractions in data by using model architectures composed of multiple non-linear transformations.
Hmmm . . . I'm not sure I followed all that, but I do understand that it has something to do with Al Gore's rhythm, which is rather machine-like, and that's maybe enough for me to know, in order to know that I want no part of such a future, no matter what wonderful things that imminent future's super-intelligent, Al-Gore-rhythmic, calculating cyborgs can do, for example, take away my job, take away my future, leave me redundant!

But who says computers will outpace human intelligence? Biogeneticists will be monkeying around - so to speak - with improving human intelligence as well.

We'll be getting a lot smarter, too, I fear.