Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Poetry Break: Preteritic Memories

Fresh off of reading Hans Blumenberg's Legitimacy of the Modern Age some twenty years ago, and with images from an even earlier reading of Thomas Pynchon's epic Gravity's Rainbow still shimmering in my memory, I found myself musing on how the preterite might feel about God.

Who are the "preterite"?

To oversimplify: the preterite are those "passed over" by God in his arbitrary decision on whom to save, according to predestinarian systems such as those worked out by St. Augustine or Jean Calvin.

Actually, the preterite's situation is far worse: God arbitrarily selected them, before the foundations of the world, for damnation. At least, the Calvinist God does. I'm less sure about Augustine since I've not read him in such a long time.

For my poem, I chose the preteritic voice of one acutely aware that he has been passed over, arbitrarily damned, and who consequently reflects upon both the personal and world-historical significance of such a deity.
Preteritic Memories

The risen lord has passed over me.
I have felt his shadow, like the cold, dark
shade of a vicious bird of prey, seeking
out those whom he elects, into whom he
can surely sink penetrating talons.

I am glad he has passed over, this
cruel angel of death, wings beating with
cool passion roused in that one
ancient of days, Yahweh, semitic god
before whose solemn name men trembled.

Was it the darkness I felt passed then,
when I shivered, or was it my fear;
and did I hesitate, to raise my eyes,
afraid of what it was might be above?
Look not upon the form of god, and live.

Pronoia has passed from the world,
never fully persuaded, anyway,
by the word -- and neither could the mighty
divine will work its mysterious way,
recusant matter refusing ideal form.

Utterly lost, but haunted by the past,
an illusion, a cosmos we could trust,
nostalgic for the order broken then,
we now construct unhidden purposes --
but find concrete transcendence has its cost.
Horace Jeffery Hodges
Copyright 1985

Monday, January 30, 2006

An Abbreviated Visit to the National Museum of Korea

My wife and I took the two little Gypsy Scholarlings to Seoul's National Museum of Korea, whose official motto reads:
The Spirit of History, the Power of Culture, the Tribulation of Children
Okay, it doesn't really say "the Tribulation of Children," but it should say that. My six-year-old son En-Uk Sequoya, unlike his namesake, didn't show much interest in matters of the mind, so we failed to get as far as the Hangeul exhibit, which probably would have interested him about as much as the Cherokee syllabary. So much for the art of naming kids after illustrious figures in the vain hope of emulation.

Not that I'm surprised. I've not shown much interest in the Roman poet Horace.

Sa-Rah Ahyoga showed more interest in the exhibitions, but partly -- I suspect -- to distinguish herself from En-Uk. From her, we didn't get the lapidary observation: "This is boring." But her interest quickly flagged, as did our energy.

Sun-Ae and I gave up the ghost of a chance of getting through the entire museum but promised each other to return without kids sometime soon.

I especially want to see the Central Asian Art exhibit again and take more time. The curators knew about Central Asian Manichaeism and even had on display a page from one of the illuminated manuscripts found at Turfan.

The lighting was poor, however, so I couldn't make out the identity of the figures in the painting, nor could I see if the page contained any script. But the real mystery is how this Manichaean fragment ended up in the National Museum of Korea.

That, I'd like to know.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Enfancie de Nostre Seigneur: Christ Child on Sunbeam

Finally, from the Medieval illuminated manuscript Enfancie de Nostre Seigneur, we have the image before us of the Christ child sliding down a sunbeam, demonstrable proof that such an image did exist.

If only it were reproduced in color, but beggars can't be choosers.

So where did I go begging? With tipped hat in hand, to Roland Mushat Frye, who filled my empty sartorial accoutrement with the image above, which he identifies as:
Early thirteenth-century illumination, Christ Child on Sunbeam, from Enfancie de Nostre Seigneur, Bodleian Library MS. Selden supra 38, fol. 24.
But who is Roland Mushat Frye? According to the website where I found the image:
Roland Mushat Frye, a member of the Editorial Council of Theology Today, is Professor of English literature, [and has published works] such as God, Man, and Satan (1960), Shakespeare and Christian Doctrine (1963), and Perspectives on Man, delivered as the L. P. Stone Lectures in 1959.
The image appears on page 15 of Frye's article "Paradise Lost and the Visual Arts," Theology Today, April 1977, Vol. 34, No. 1, pp. 9-19, but the note tells us:
This present paper was originally read for a Symposium on John Milton and was published in the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 120. No. 4 (Aug. 4, 1976), pp. 233-244. The paper, with a few abbreviations, is reprinted with the permission of the APS. This discussion anticipates Dr. Frye's new, big book on Milton, to be published by Princeton University Press. (page 9)
The new, big book alluded to is Milton's Imagery and the Visual Arts: Iconographic Tradition in the Epic Poems (Princeton University Press, 1978). I may even have a copy of this text in my office. I've certainly heard of it, and of Frye, from my Milton studies, but I've never read the book.

But -- you ask -- what does this image of Jesus sliding down a sunbeam have to do with Milton, who had surely put away such childish things? According to Frye, here's what:
One of the features of Milton's treatment of angels which has been disputed by influential critics is his description of the arrival in Eden of the archangel Uriel. Uriel, the angel of the sun, does not fly to the earth, but rather slides down a sunbeam --"Thither came Uriel, gliding through the Even/On a sunbeam" (PL IV 555f) -- which has seemed to some critics a rather undignified and even preposterous entry for an archangel. Analogues may be found in those numerous pictures of the Annunciation in which the dove representing the Holy Spirit glides down a sunbeam to the waiting Virgin, and in less frequent cases we might cite angels who appear to be coasting down sunbeams as in a Nativity painted by Andreas Giltlinger in 1522. But to my mind, the most charming analogue (fig. 10) is found in the illustration of those medieval fictionalized accounts of the childhood of Jesus, in which the boy Jesus is shown to have played a game of sliding down a sunbeam, as another child might slide down the banister rail of a stairway. (page 15)
Frye has provided some interesting parallels to the image that we've been seeking. I guess for the Medieval mind, if the Holy Spirit and various angels could slide down sunbeams, then the higher heavenly being Christ, even as an incarnate little Jesus, could manage it as well.

The passage that Frye cites from Paradise Lost tells of Uriel gliding down a sunbeam to warn Gabriel and his cohort of angels guarding the paradisiacal garden of Adam and Eve that a fallen angel has entered Paradise. Here, in book 4, lines 539 to 560 of the online edition supplied by Dartmouth's Milton Reading Room, Uriel's descent is described:

Mean while in utmost Longitude, where Heav'n
With Earth and Ocean meets, the setting Sun
Slowly descended, and with right aspect
Against the eastern Gate of Paradise
Leveld his eevning Rayes: it was a Rock
Of Alablaster, pil'd up to the Clouds,
Conspicuous farr, winding with one ascent
Accessible from Earth, one entrance high;
The rest was craggie cliff, that overhung
Still as it rose, impossible to climbe.
Betwixt these rockie Pillars Gabriel sat
Chief of th' Angelic Guards, awaiting night;
About him exercis'd Heroic Games
Th' unarmed Youth of Heav'n, but nigh at hand
Celestial Armourie, Shields, Helmes, and Speares
Hung high with Diamond flaming, and with Gold.
Thither came Uriel, gliding through the Eeven
On a Sun beam, swift as a shooting Starr
In Autumn thwarts the night, when vapors fir'd
Impress the Air, and shews the Mariner
From what point of his Compass to beware
Impetuous winds: he thus began in haste.

Immediately following this report and Gabriel's promise to investigate, Uriel returns in lines 589-597 to the sun, again gliding down a sunbeam:

So promis'd hee, and Uriel to his charge
Returnd on that bright beam, whose point now rais'd
Bore him slope downward to the Sun now fall'n
Beneath th' Azores; whither the prime Orb,
Incredible how swift, had thither rowl'd
Diurnal, or this less volubil Earth
By shorter flight to th' East, had left him there
Arraying with reflected Purple and Gold
The Clouds that on his Western Throne attend:

In the brief time required for Uriel to report to Gabriel and hear the latter's brief reply, the sun has dipped low enough (or the earth turned just enough) for Uriel to slide down again, this time from earth to sun.

I'm indebted to Frye for reminding me of this passage. Incidentally, to show you what a small world we scholars inhabit, I note that Frye wrote a short piece for Theology Today, April 1985, Vol. 42, No. 1, reviewing Leo Steinberg's The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion (New York: Pantheon, 1983). Steinberg, you will recall, reported the link between Max Ernst's painting The Blessed Virgin Chastises the Infant Jesus Before Three Witnesses and The Bitter Withy's lines on Christ receiving a spanking at the hands of the Virgin Mary.

Frye, by the way, died just over one year ago, on January 25, 2005, and could perhaps report back to us if heavenly beings really do glide upon sunbeams. Should anyone hear from him, please let me know.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Withy Intertextuality: All the World's a Text

I mentioned this 1926 painting by Max Ernst (1891–1976) in a previous Bitter Withy post:

The Blessed Virgin Chastises the Infant Jesus Before Three Witnesses: A.B., P.E. and the Artist

This oil-on-canvas painting measures over 6 feet tall by 4 feet wide (77 1/4 x 51 1/4 in. (196 x 130 cm)) and hangs in Cologne's Museum Ludwig.

I've borrowed the image from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (Köln© 2004 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris).

As I noted in the previous post referring to this painting, the well-known art critic Leo Steinberg wrote a remarkable letter on "Max Ernst's Blasphemy" to the New York Review of Books (Volume 52, Number 14, September 22, 2005) noting the connection between Ancient and Medieval infancy gospels, the Bitter Withy folk song, and high-art figures as Max Ernst and André Breton, both of whom depicted Mary spanking the child Jesus.

Concerning Breton, Steinberg asks:
"Is there a French cognate to the English carol? Had its irreverence somehow infected André Breton, who suggested the subject of the chastising Virgin?"
Interesting question. Does anybody know the answer to this?

By the way, I'm not the only blogger interested in The Bitter Withy and its link to other things. A certain Englishman not in New York, Laban Tall -- whose Blogger Profile identifies "Agriculture" as his "Industry" -- maintains a blog titled UK Commentators and has noted the link between Max Ernst's famous painting and The Bitter Withy -- perhaps also alerted to it by Leo Steinberg's letter?

Interestingly, Tall provides a variant on the song, which I suppose is also in the public domain (or sue me):
As it fell out on a high holiday
Sweet rain from heaven did fall,
Our Saviour asked his mother Mary mild
If he might play at ball.

"At ball, at ball, my own dear son
It's time that you were gone
And don't let me hear of the games of youth
At night when you return."

So it's up the hill and down the hill
Our sweet young saviour run,
And there he met three rich young lords,
Good morning to each one.

"Good morn," "Good morn," "Good morn," they said,
"Good morning," then said he,
And which of you three rich lord's sons
Will play at the ball with me?

Oh, we are lords and ladies sons
Born bower or in hall
And you are naught but a poor maid's child
Born in an asses stall.

Though you be lords' and ladies' sons
Born in bower or in hall,
Yet I will show you at the last,
I'm an angel above you all.

So he built him a bridge of the beams of the sun
And over the river ran he,
Three rich lords sons came after him
And drowned they were all three.

So it's up the hill and down the hill
Three rich young mothers did call,
Crying, "Mary mild, call home your child,
For ours he's drownded all."

So Mary mild fetched home her child,
And laid him across her knee,
And with a handful of bitter withy twigs
She gave him lashes three.

Oh bitter withy, oh bitter withy,
The bitter withy caused me to smart,
The withy shall be the very first tree
That perisheth at the heart.
I've taken the liberty of 'correcting' some of the punctuation and have also altered "slashes" to "lashes" for the sake of sense and "Our sweet young saviour ran" to "Our sweet young saviour run" for the benefit of the rhyme with "one," which is how these words happen to appear in the liner notes to a Maddy Prior recording.

Not that it matters...

Friday, January 27, 2006

Explosive Concentration

Does Korea's Confucianism encourage "explosive concentration"?

I'm not even sure what the question means, but Orankay's post of January 25 has called it to my attention, along with a Business Week interview conducted by Asia Editor David Rocks and Seoul Bureau Chief Moon Ihlwan, speaking with Lee Kun Pyo, Director of the Human-Centered Interaction Design Laboratory at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology (KAIST).

They talked about Korean strengths and weaknesses related to the process of designing products.

Lee argues that Koreans are very good at designing "products that have a very short lifecycle," and when Rocks and Moon ask him why "Koreans [are] better at short-lifecycle products than long," he says:
According to the Western view, you need to systematically collect lots of data and try to find patterns and a set of principles before starting your design. And this takes a lot of time, so you tend to stick with those principles. This really fits in well with products with a long lifecycle.

But Koreans traditionally don't articulate what they're doing beforehand. They're very contextual. Of course they do customer research and product planning and user-centered design and so on. But they quickly arrive at solutions, then look at the solution to find any further problems. Some might say that's unsystematic, but it's really very dynamic. And it works well for products with a short lifecycle, like mobile phones or MP3 players.
This must be why my students wait until the night before the deadline to do their papers. Lee is right about the dynamism in Korea, and I see that I work very differently than most Koreans that I know. My pace is slower: I plan ahead, work on details, double-check everything, and try to finish before a deadline so that I have time to check everything again. Koreans work rapidly and finish right at the deadline or just after and seem unconcerned about minor errors. On short-term projects, the Korean approach might work fairly well, but on long-term projects, the energy required cannot be sustained, and the errors grow in seriousness because they both multiply and affect each other.

Anyway, I take it that Lee intends to connect Koreans' ability at "explosive concentration" to their talent for short-term projects, but he doesn't say so directly. Lee's concept of "explosive concentration" only comes up when Rocks and Moon ask him if "Korea's traditional Confucian hierarchies hinder good design?" Here's his response:
There are two sides to the issue. Confucianism can mean quick decisions, explosive concentration. That's good. But there are also problems. In hierarchical societies, when designers make a presentation to CEOs, the designers look at the boss's expression.

If he says, "Hmmm," the designer says, "Oh that's bad design. We'd better change it." They never challenge the bosses. So whenever I have a chance to speak with CEOs, I always tell them they shouldn't try to be experts. Don't say, "I don't like this color," but ask the designer why he chose the color.

Things are changing. In the past, product planning was done by marketing people who would choose product concepts by statistics, and engineers would present the structural requirements. The designers always lost the game. But now the head of Samsung's mobile division asks the designer to make a mockup and throws it to the engineer and says, "Make it." The opportunity has been handed over to the designers.
I think that Lee clearly expresses one of the problems that I've noticed with Korea's Confucian hierarchy, namely, the lack of discussion. Hierarchy rules, and bosses are never questioned. Lee gives the best advice that a smart boss should follow in Korea, given the cultural constraints: don't make statements; ask questions.

What I don't quite understand in Lee's remarks is precisely what he means by "explosive concentration."

Is he talking about the ability of Koreans as individuals to focus and concentrate upon a problem, or is he talking about the ability of Koreans as a hierarchical group to focus and concentrate upon a problem?

Does he mean the former? Well, my wife can certainly concentrate better than I can.

Does he mean the latter? Well, I can see how a hierarchically driven focus upon a short-term problem can concentrate all of a group's collective energy and skill and solve the problem quickly.

I assume that he means something like the latter since he links "explosive concentration" to Confucianism, which is a social ethos.

Of course, he could mean both, but I'd like to hear more.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Professor Bagley Replies...

I'm still tracking down images in The Bitter Withy, so for those of you not interested in this current wild hare of mine, forewarned is forearmed.

That's "fore-armed," not "for-ear-med."

After reading the Jesus at School article by Professor Ayers Bagley yesterday, I sent him an email inquiring about Jesus sliding down sunbeams or rainbows and promptly received a cordial reply, from which, I post the following relevant information:
Let's see what I can do in response to your questions. First, I went through my slides of Tring tiles displayed in the British Museum. I photographed the tiles late in the 1970s or early '80s. My photos show no depiction of a sunbeam rider on any of the tiles.

Not all the tiles from Tring Church are extant. In the full collection originally produced for the church, might there have been a tile showing the sunbeam rider? Possibly.

The "Jesus at School" essay is based on the sort of literature search that might be done by one not trained in medieval historiography or medieval literature. (Interest in the history of education imagery has led me into unexpected places.) In the Bodleian Library, I was able to consult Selden Supra 38 and Douce 237. No doubt I was led to those manuscripts by the published works of more specialized scholars cited at the end of the essay.
This answers the implicit question that I posed yesterday:
Not being familiar with either these Tring Tiles or the Enfancie de Nostre Seignour, I don't know if Bagley means that the sunbeam image appears on one of the tiles or only in the Enfancie book.
Now, courtesy of Professor Bagley, I do know. The sunbeam image appears not on one of the extant Tring tiles but on one of the illuminated pages of the Enfancie book.

Unfortunately, the images from this book do not appear to have been uploaded onto the internet, so I still cannot view them myself. I have, however, located an online description that would enable me to find precisely what I'd like to see if I ever found myself in the University of Oxford's Bodleian Library. Here in a pdf file is what I found online describing the Enfancie de Nostre Seignour, also known as The Infancy of Our Lord (Bodleian Ms. Selden supra 38):
The Infancy of Our Lord
MS. Selden Supra 38 /s c 3426) 36v.

Adviser : W. 0. Hassall, M.A., D.Phil., F.S.A.

A French verse version of the De Infantia Salvatoris, written in England c. A.D. 1300. For a transcription and comparison with Grenoble and Cambridge University Library copies see Gast — Die Beiden Redaktionen. The Cambridge MS. is later, without illustration, and is in a much shortened form.

The Infancy begins with the Annunciation and the story of Christ's birth in St. Matthew's-Gospel. At the point where the Holy Family go into Egypt the Infancy turns to apocryphal stories to fill the details into the gaps of the Biblical account of Christ's Childhood. These apocryphal stories come mainly from the Liber de Infantia or Pseudo-Matthew written down in the eleventh century from stories two centuries earlier. The sources of the Liber de Infantia are the Proto'evangelium and the Gospel of St. Thomas, but there are some untraced stories. These are supplemented by a few Greek and Syrian stories. For details and translated stories see M. R. James: "The Apocryphal New Testament". Throughout, the Infancy the apocryphal details are fitted into the Gospel account to make a continuous story. Thus the return to Nazareth initiates a new group of stories about Jesus as a child of five or six. Attempts to give him schooling lead to the insertion of the Gospel story of Christ in the Temple teaching the Elders. The Infancy ends with the Marriage at Cana in Galilee, merging into the Gospel account of Christ's life and ministry. To those reading or listening to this verse Infancy of Christ and looking at its naive pictures the life of Christ would have been made more contemporary and more real. Hence the inclusion of such stories as Jesus being apprenticed to a dyer — and having to learn his alphabet from the clerks. Both words and pictures capture a vivid impression of a more than human little boy — malicious as well as saintly and proud of his powers over life and death. Mary becomes a tactful intermediary between Jesus and his harassed father Joseph who was always being told that his son was out of control. The Infancy begins and ends with the pious wish that the donor may be remembered before Christ and the last picture shows him kneeling holding an empty scroll.
If one goes to this pdf file and scrolls down further, to Frame 21, one finds this description:
Frame 21 Fol. 24 Jesus slides down a sunbeam (4.6" x 1.8")

In Jericho Jesus is playing and slides down a sunbeam. Other children try to do it and all are hurt. Jesus cures them.

7.70. Vita Rythmica
Now, I know exactly where to find what I've been looking for. I'm simply not standing in the right place for looking. One would need better eyes than most to see all the way from Seoul to the Bodleian Library ... though if the Seoul smog would lift a bit ...

For those curious enough to ask about the Vita Rythmica, that's a text that scholars suggest as a source for the sunbeam-slide legend. According to Philip Schaff, The History of the Christian Church, Volume 4: Medieval Christianity, Section 160, St. Liudger, the Vita Rythmica was "written by a Werden monk about 1140." That would be Kloster Werden (Werden Abbey), a Benedictine monastery in Essen-Werden, Germany, on the Ruhr River.

But where does the Vita Rythmica get the sunbeam legend?

Ah, you see ... a scholar's search is never done.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Building a Bridge with Beams of the Sun

Concerning the sunbeam lines from the Bitter Withy:

Our Saviour built a bridge with the beams of the sun,
And over He gone, He gone He;

Although I've read online that this story of Jesus walking on a bridge of sunbeams comes from one of the infancy gospels, I haven't found the source online, except for a selected passage cited on a webpage titled The Childhood of Christ, hosted by Maryville College:
Christ and riding on a sunbeam: Text? (See under Bodleian Ms. Selden supra 38 ). See also, K. v. Tischendorf, Evangelia Apocrypha (Hildesheim, Georg Olms, 1966; photoreproduction of the 1876 edition) p. 106, note 1 (In Tischendorf's edition of Pseudo-Matthew): Sequitur hoc loco in codice B narratiuncula quae abesta cdd. A et B. Est autem haec: Et cum Iesus cum aliis infantulis super radios solus (? solarii ? Scriptum est sol') ubique plures ascenderet et sederet, multique simili modo facere coeperunt, praecipitabantur, et eorum crura frangebantur et brachia. Sed dominus Iesus sanabat omnes. (Once, Jesus sat and rode up on a sunbeam many times, while he was with other children. Many of them wished to do the same thing and they fell; they broke legs and arms. But the Lord Jesus healed all of them -- Cartlidge.)
This story is pictorially depicted in the 14th-century Anglo-Norman Holkham Bible Picture Book, which is housed in the British Museum. An online text (pdf) provides the details:
M.S. Add. 47682

'THE HOLKHAM BIBLE PICTURE BOOK' is probably the most remarkable manuscript surviving from the second quarter of the fourteenth century. Formerly in the Holkham Hall Library it is now in the British Museum.

The purpose of this manuscript is revealed on its first page, which discloses a preaching friar commissioning a secular artist and explaining that the book is to be shown to rich people.

The lighter vein introduced into some of the illustrations is irresistible, and the most delightful example is perhaps the pictorial representation of the Infant Christ sliding down a sunbeam and miraculously excelling His playmates in other ways. The explanatory text was written in Norman-French but certainly in England, for when the shepherds at Bethlehem hear the angelic 'Te Deum' they break into English.

Here is the story of man's creation and of man's loss of paradise told in pictures by a master of illumination, and this facsimile of the manuscript should be a delight to collectors of fine books, historians, theologians and other scholars.

The costumes, tools, weapons and buildings in the pictures are those of fourteenth century England. They were intended as "visual aids" for a popular preacher to show to wealthy merchants or craftsmen. They present a medieval panorama by almost cinematographic methods. Many early occupations such as dyer, smith, carpenter, midwife are shown in what are virtually "stills" of a medieval miracle play of 1330 showing the England into which Chaucer was born.
Although this introduction states that the image presents Jesus sliding down a sunbeam, the later description states that he slides down a rainbow:
Frame 29

fol.15v. Five infancy miracles. When the Virgin washes Christ's clothes balsam trees grow. Healing the boy who fell from an upper room when at play with Christ. Walking on water, sliding down the rainbow and banging pots together at the well. The other children fail disastrously always, but Christ mends all.
Unfortunately, the images are not given online.

According to Ayers Bagley, of the University of Minnesota, who has a website titled Jesus at School, the British Museum houses the Tring Tiles, a series of tiles (originally part of Tring Church) with imagery depicting the childhood of Jesus. Unfortunately some of the tiles have been lost:
Although the Tring tile series is incomplete, enough of it is extant to reveal correspondences with illuminations in manuscript of the same time. Entitled Enfancie de Nostre Seignour, this work is thought to be the most fully illuminated infancy gospel still extant. Rhymed in couplets, the text relates Jesus' childhood acts. These may be characterized on a scale ranging from harmless to horrendous. Some of Jesus' deeds are beneficent. He heals the lame. He multiplies a harvest and distributes the surplus to the poor. Other of his acts are simply marvels. At his touch, man-eating lions become tame as tabby cats. Beneath his hand, clay sparrows become animate, take wing, and soar aloft. He can walk up a sunbeam or slide back down. He can, but other children cannot. When they try, they fall and break their pales. Some texts suggest that Jesus tempted children to follow him, intimating that he could foresee the consequences.
Not being familiar with either these Tring Tiles or the Enfancie de Nostre Seignour, I don't know if Bagley means that the sunbeam image appears on one of the tiles or only in the Enfancie book.

If the image of Jesus walking on a sunbeam appeared in Medieval English churches, then finding a source for the Bitter Withy song perhaps becomes easier.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Edgar Lee Tyler on "Bitter Withy"

I posed my query on The Bitter Withy to my cyber-friend Ed Tyler, and here's what he said on the topic (plus my responses):
Always happy to be of help, such as it can be. The following is my take on Bitter Withy in the Ozarks, and I have appended a small bibliography.
As I previously noted, Ed is one of the most helpful people I know. When I was working on a scholarly article -- well, an attempt at a scholarly article -- on Beowulf, Ed (who knows Anglo-Saxon in addition to knowing Serbo-Croation, or vice-versa) pointed out scholarly works, gave some etymological explanations, and even read the rough-draft article to provide further suggestions.

He's just as helpful with this current, Bitter Withy obsession of mine:
First, a word on the willow.

I do not believe that this ballad has anything to do with the general opprobrium in which some mountain folk hold or held the willow tree. For one reason, as the attestations indicate, the ballad "Bitter Withy" is not at all widespread. There are several reasons for this, of course:

The primitive Baptist churches, and later Pentecostal churches, that populate the region would certainly find it blasphemous. The ballad survived to be recorded at all as hardly more than a curiousity.

Also, the willow tree is put to considerable use by the granny woman, who use its bark to make analgesics and treatments for fever, and use extracts of its sap and leaves for poultice ingredients, so its "mystical" qualities are just a little scary to the uninitiated.

Finally, the tree can be something of a pest. During the protracted droughts that often begin in June and run through September or October, the proximity of a willow tree can cause your well to drop to a distressing level, or suck a small pond dry.

So we need not turn to the ballad to account for the prejudice Chapman notes.
I think that Ed's right on all counts. My own astonishment upon reading this poem a couple of days ago (which I noted) probably stems from my own Ozark Baptist background. I never heard the ballad where I grew up and really doubt that any but a few people did if any at all. The ballad cannot be widespread. Only statements of its existence as a mountaineer ballad persuade me that it really was sung in places like the Ozarks and the Appalachians.

On that point, see a remarkable letter ("Max Ernst's Blasphemy") from Leo Steinberg to the New York Review of Books (Volume 52, Number 14, September 22, 2005) in which Steinberg notes the connection between infancy gospels, the Bitter Withy ballad, and such high art figures as Max Ernst and André Breton, both of whom depicted Mary spanking the child Jesus.

Of particular interest here is Steinberg's citation of a letter that he had previously received from a folksinger, Robin Roberts, on this 'heretical' story of Mary spanking Jesus that we find reflected both in high art and the ballad. In the words of Mr. Roberts:
This heresy did not originate with Mr. Ernst. There is a remarkable Scots cum Appalachian ballad, "The Bitter Withy Tree," in which Jesus curses the tree for providing the switch with which Mary beats him for murdering three young boys. They had refused to play ball with him.

We are sons of lords and ladies all
And born in bower and hall
While you are only a Jew maid's child
Born in an ox's stall.
He builded a bridge from the beams of the sun
And over the water danced he,
There followed him those rich young men
And drownded they were all three.

Somehow, it doesn't sound heretical when you sing it.
Steinberg follows this citation of the Roberts letter with a scholarly resource supplied:
Further correspondence with Ms. Roberts adduced copious scholarship (from the Journal of the Folk-Song Society, London, Vols. II, 1905–1906, and IV, 1910–1913) concerning text and tune of "The Bitter Withy."
Steinberg then notes that the likely background to both high- and low-art uses of the spanking theme is to be found in the various infancy stories of apocryphal gospels, point that I'll return to in a moment.

But first, let's return to Ed Tyler's remarks, which I interrupted:
The ballad is one of innumerable survivals of Elizabethan word art in the Ozarks. I would refer anyone interested to the prolific writings of Vance Randolph on these survivals. The particular ballad form itself is attested by Childs and others well back into the Medieval period -- my guess would put it at least a century prior to its earliest textual attestation of c.1350. It was widely circulated in England, and was transmitted in several multiforms including a versions called "The Holy Well." However, the lyrics as they exist in the editions I have seen could not have been composed before the first half of the 16th Century.
Vance Randolph is great for anything on Ozark folk culture. I've got in my office his book Pissing in the Snow, a 'study' of off-color Ozark jokes. I'd be interested, by the way, in knowing what other "Elizabethan" connections there are in the Ozarks. Some of these would probably reflect the use of the King James Bible up until recent times. I recall old folks praying in King James English, using thou and thee and thy and thine correctly, along with the archaic verb forms. They didn't generally speak this way, but they reverted to it when praying.

Anyway, back to Ed:
Of course the ultimate source of the tale is to be found in the various "infancy gospels" that proliferated since late antiquity. The incorporation of noncanonical tales and legends of Jesus into the European folk traditions is commonplace. For instance, a surviving text of an Old High German healing incantation tells of Jesus healing the lame horse of St. Peter as they ride to Thessalonika. It is a multiform of an older incantation in which Woden heals Baldur's horse. Noncanonical narratives from ancient texts proliferated in the oral tradition, transmitted through ballads, carols, legends, folktales, and other modes such as these incantations.
Interesting, this mixture of pagan and Christain, both orthodox and unorthodox. As I've often told students in my history course (and, for that matter, my literature courses), Western Civilization is a synthesis of pagan and Christian.

On this point, let me return, as promised, to the infancy stories of apocryphal gospels. Another online scholar, Dr Dianne Tillotson, has an interest in this stuff:
For a tale which seems to have escaped from even the medieval apocrypha into the wild woods of folklore, give your spine a shiver by listening to Mike Waterson's rendition of Bitter Withy.
For more on Tillotson's interests, see her website on Medieval Writings. But for now, let's return to Ed, who noted an online resource with information on the Bitter Withy:
A good representative version of the Bitter Withy can be found at:

Hymns and Carols
Ed must have missed this link in my blogpost. At any rate, he then added a brief bibliography on The Bitter Withy:
"The *Bitter Withy*" and Its Relationship to "The Holy Well"
W. J. Titland
The Journal of American Folklore, 1967 - American Folklore Society

*The Ballad of The Bitter Withy*
Gordon Hall Gerould
PMLA, Vol. 23, No. 1 (1908) , pp. 141-167:

*"The Holy Well": A Medieval Religious Ballad*
Janet M. Graves
Western Folklore, Vol. 26, No. 1 (Jan., 1967) , pp. 13-26

*An American Homiletic Ballad*
Phillips Barry
Modern Language Notes, Vol. 28, No. 1 (Jan., 1913) , pp. 1-5

*Folk Songs as Socio-Historical Documents*
John Greenway
Western Folklore, Vol. 19, No. 1 (Jan., 1960) , pp. 1-9

*Folk-Lore, Folk-Life, Ethnology*
R. U. Sayce
Folklore, Vol. 67, No. 2 (Jun., 1956) , pp. 66-83
Fascinating stuff. If any readers know more, please let us know.

Monday, January 23, 2006

"Bitter Withy" Revisited

Folks songs like The Bitter Withy provide circumstantial evidence that folk tradition in England had links to noncanonical stories about Jesus.

And not only in England.

Joe Offer has put online a folk belief about the willow tree -- "withy" means "willow" -- that still lingered in the Missouri Ozarks as recently as 100 years ago, recorded in Ballads and Songs Collected by the Missouri Folk-Lore Society (H. M. Belden, editor, 1940/1955):
Jesus and Joses

The following, a folk-legend, not a song, seems to be related in spirit and by its curse upon the willow tree, tho not in the motivation of the story, to the ballad of The Bitter Withy -- for which see G. H. Gerould in PMIJA XXIII 141- 67 and Barry in JAFL XXVII 79-89. It was sent to me [i.e., H. M. Belden?] in 1914 by H. A. Chapman of the Missouri School of Mines at Rolla.

'I have known for some time that the mountain folk had a fear or prejudice against the willow tree; and some time back I heard an explanation that may be the reason. An old man who trapped south of Warrensburg (Johnson County) gave it to me [i.e., H. A. Chapman?].'

"When Jesus was a child he had a brother named Joses, who tho younger was much larger and stronger. Near where they lived were willows, and Joses would tell fibs about Jesus to Mary and then bring willow switches for her to punish him (Jesus) with (to be exact, he said 'God rot it'). And the willow always brings bad luck, rots quicker than any tree and if a child is punished with it he will have much suffering and will die before he is old."
This H. A. Chapman, who in 1911 reports the story heard from an old trapper, informs us that the old man whom he spoke with was somewhere south of Warrensburg, Missouri. Since Chapman mentions "mountain folk," who had a superstition about the willow tree, then he must consider this old trapper one of them, and the only mountain folk in Missouri are those of the Ozarks, then I infer that this trapper was an Ozark trapper of the upper Ozarks.

I note all of this because I also come from the Ozarks, but I knew nothing of this folk belief about willows nor of the story of Jesus and Joses. I'd be curious to learn if any of the old folks around Salem, Arkansas knew either of these -- or at least of The Bitter Withy.

An online search for the folktale about Jesus and Joses leads me only to material on Folklore at California State University, Fresno, which says the following about The Bitter Withy:
Belden sees a connection between this song and the folk legend "Jesus and Joses," in which Joses (Jesus's brother; cf. Mark 6:3) tattles on Jesus and Jesus is beaten with willow twigs. There is a fundamental difference, however: In "The Bitter Withy," Jesus is genuinely guilty; in "Jesus and Joses," he is said to be innocent.
The "Belden" here is obviously the same as the "H. M. Belden" above, and the CSU website helpfully adds: "cf. Belden, p. 102, "Jesus and Joses" (a legend he connects with this piece)." As the CSU site's bibliography page shows, this post was taken from the same book that Joe Offer was citing (and probably the same page, 102). So, this doesn't actually get us very far in tracking down the source of the Jesus-and-Joses story, but it does refer to the story as a "folk legend," as though this is well known.

My online friend Lee Edgar Tyler, one of the most helpful people whom I know, might be able to supply something about this folk belief since he's a folklore expert and loves camping and canoeing in the Ozarks.

Perhaps I'll ask him.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Bitter Withy

I keep encountering old poems that I never knew.

Here's one that I read with astonishment (due to its strangeness) only a few days ago in the Norton Anthology of Poetry (New York / London: W. W. Norton & Company, 1983, Third Edition, Shorter, pages 45-46):

As it fell out on a holy day,
The drops of rain did fall, did fall,
Our Saviour asked leave of His mother, Mary,
If He might go play at ball.

"To play at ball, my own dear Son,
It's time you was going or gone,
But be sure let me hear no complaint of you,
At night when you do come home."

It was upling scorn and downling scorn!
Oh, there He met three jolly jerdins
Oh, there He asked the three jolly jerdins
If they would go play at ball.

"Oh, we are lords' and ladies' sons,
Born in bower or in hall."
"Then at the very last I'll make it appear
That I am above you all."

Our Saviour built a bridge with the beams of the sun,
And over He gone, He gone He;
And after followed the three jolly jerdins,
And drownded they were all three.

It was upling scorn and downling scorn!
The mothers of them did whoop and call,
Crying out: "Mary mild, call home your child,
For ours are drownded all!"

Mary mild, Mary mild called home her Child,
And laid our Saviour across her knee,
And with a whole handful of bitter
withy She gave Him slashes three.

Then He says to His Mother: "Oh, the withy! Oh, the withy!
The bitter withy that causes me to smart, to smart,
Oh, the withy, it shall be the very first tree
That perishes at the heart!"
My ignorance of this poem won't surprise anyone who knows me, but despite my generally recognized ignorance, my not knowing The Bitter Withy ought to be surprising because not only does it exist in the Norton, but it also exists in living memory as a recording by the Kingston Quartet, as we learn from Douglas D. Anderson, who has the website The Hymns and Carols of Christmas and devotes a page to The Bitter Withy, where he notes:
The Kingston Trio, on their album "The Last Month Of The Year" recorded a song called "Mary Mild" which the liner notes indicate was a version of the ballad "The Bitter Withy," which is found on an Oriental legend known is Europe before the end of the eleventh century. The story, not found in official church writings, tells of Jesus at the age of eleven being chastised by Mary for building a bridge of sunbeams to illustrate his divine power to neighborhood children who refuse to play with a child so humble born. The "bridge of sunbeams" miracle has been traced from Egypt to Ireland, and to the lives of the medieval saints. The song was recorded on June 16, 1960.
From the Kingston Trio's album The Last Month of the Year, here's the version of The Bitter Withy titled Mary Mild (Bob Shane/Tom Drake/Miriam Stafford):
As it fell out on a cold winter day, the drops of rain did fall.
Our Savior asked leave of his mother, Mary, if He might go play at ball.

"Go up the hill," His mother said, "and there you will find three jolly children.
But let me hear no complaint of You when You come home again."

But the children said, "We are royal sons and we will not play at ball,
For You are but a poor maid's child, born in an oxen stall."

"If you are Lord's and Ladies' sons and you will not play at ball.
I'll build you a bridge of the beams of the sun to play upon us all."

And He built them a bridge of the beams of the sun
and over the pools they played, all three,

And the mothers called, "Mary, call home your child,
their eyes all drowned in tears.

Mary mild (Mary mild, Mary mild),
Mary mild (Mary mild) called home her Child.
And when she asked Him, "Why?" Said He,

"Oh, I built them a bridge of the beams of the sun
so they would play at ball with me.
So they would play with me."
Since the album with this recording was released in 1960, I would have been a bit young to hear it, though I do recall listening to Peter, Paul, and Mary's Puff the Magic Dragon about three years later.

The Kingston version of The Bitter Withy leaves out just enough to make the song inexplicable without knowledge of the original, for the specific reason that the mother's cry -- "their eyes all drowned in tears" -- is missing.

The original version has its mysteries as well, such as the word "jerdin" in "three jolly jerdins."

Anderson has generously posted information provided by Martha Edith Rickert (1871-1938), an American scholar who served as Professor of English at the University of Chicago (1924 to 1938) and worked on Chaucer but who had earlier published Ancient English Christmas Carols, 1400-1700 (London: Chatto & Windus, 1910). Anderson notes that:
1. Rickert asks "Virgins?" But in the next note she states "The word jerdin seems to be unknown. It may have been corrupted from virgins to make alliteration, but the children were apparently boys."
Rickert's suggestion of "virgin" seems unlikely to me -- the words are too dissimilar. Perhaps following Rickert's other remark, my Norton suggests "boys" as the meaning, which would fit the poem's mention of going to "play at ball."

I wonder if the Kingston Trio's version, which has "three jolly children" instead of "three jolly jerdins," might point to the solution.

The word "jerdin" sounds to me like a corruption of the word "children."

But perhaps this puzzle has already found a solution. Anybody know?

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Saturday, January 21, 2006

"I will make you stand up."

Or so said Dr. Hwang back before he became the god that failed.

Friday's Korea Herald had an article titled "We still want to believe Dr. Hwang: patient's dad."

The father is Lee Wan-hee, professor of physical therapy at Sahmyook University, and his son is Lee Chae-myeong, who is seven years old and suffers from spinal muscular atrophy, "which paralyzes muscles for activities such as walking, crawling, head and neck control, and swallowing."

Professor Lee "cannot forget the night in July when his son's doctor excitedly telephoned him" and told him that "his son may have a chance to take part in clinical trials of custom-made stem cells then believed to have been created by Hwang Woo-suk's research team."

This was back in those wonderful days when "Hwang was a national hero and said his team could cure intractable diseases with the stem cells. On television news broadcasts, the charismatic scientist held the hands of wheelchair bound patients saying, 'I will make you stand up.'"

When I showed my wife this article with Hwang's promise, she disdainfully observed, "He acts like he's some kind of guru." In a previous blog entry, I've accused Hwang of having a "messiah complex." And Orankay has the above photo from Naver News speaking volumes on this point.

The saddest part of the article is this:

The boy ... [still] thinks Dr. Hwang will cure his disease.

When asked "Do you know Dr. Hwang?" Chae-myeong said, "Yes. He is the person who will cure my illness."

Chae-myeong is confined to a wheelchair with a hose stuck in his mouth to help him breathe.
As the father remarks later in the article: "Chae-myeong is too young to abandon hope."

I wouldn't go so far as Plunge in suggesting banishment to the infernal underworld as punishment for Hwang, but I do see the irony of a god being harrowed in hell, especially one who gave false hopes to so many and for whom, Dante's words would surely be appropriate:

"All hope abandon, ye who enter here."

Friday, January 20, 2006

Plagiarism Checker

Those of you who read my plagiarism series will be happy to learn that the war against plagiarism has just acquired a smart weapon.

Darren Hom, who teaches "science, Bible, and study skills classes" to "middle and high school students at Highlands Christian Schools in San Bruno, California," grew tired of tracking down plagiarism using Google:
I ... had to spend a lot of time doing several Google searches on each paper, as some students would copy parts of their papers and write the rest themselves. Using this method, I had to remember to type quotation marks around each phrase, or else the search engine would not find exact copies of the phrases I was typing in.
Rather than just complain like the rest of us, he decided to do something positive about this problem. First, he checked available services:
I spent a few months looking around for a better way to check for plagiarism. I rejected most of the solutions I saw because they wanted me to buy subscriptions to their services. Some were free but required me to submit an entire student's essay online, which was not possible for me because my students turn in printed copies of their work. The remaining free solutions were not any easier to use than Google, since they also required me to type special operators and would only search for one phrase at a time.
At this point, I would have given up and reconciled myself to using Google ... but not Darren Hom:

Because I didn't find a free and easy way to check for plagiarism, I learned Web programming and created one myself.

I'm impressed -- and even more impressed by his search engine. Here's what it offers:
PlagiarismChecker.com allows you to search for several phrases from a student's paper at the same time without having to type quotation marks or special operators, which most search engines require if you're trying to look for exact copies of a student's writing. This site automatically adds the quotation marks and special operators for you .... PlagiarismChecker.com is free and works on any papers, whether students e-mail them to you or turn in hard copies.
So if you're tired both of plagiarism and of Google, try out Darren Hom's Plagiarism Checker.

Jim Davila will be happy.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

A little more salt...

I think that Alan Wolfe may have missed the big story implicit in the fact that such a book as this one by Rodney Stark is being written by a Baylor University professor.

Why do I say that?

Because it means that the Protestant Reformation is finally over.

Okay, I'm exaggerating. But listen to what I mean. Back in the late 70s, when I was an undergraduate at Baylor, the place still had something of the rank oder of anti-Catholicism about it. To be sure, Baylor was changing with the times, but it was distinctively Southern Baptist and assertively Protestant.

What do we now see? That a man who coulld write The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success holds a distinguished position at Baylor as a special "University Professor."

So, why is this significant? Because the book -- so far as I can judge from having read about it -- could easily have been titled The Victory of Reason: How Catholicism Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success.

This signifies an enormous turnaround among Protestants, especially Evangelicals (who happen to be the Prostestant church's future). They are embracing the history of the pre-Reformation Western Church where they used to denigrate it as an age of corrupt Catholic obscurantism, darkness, and oppression. This doesn't mean that they'll all be converting to Catholicism (though some are), but it does mean more cooperation of the kind that we see in groups such as Evangelicals and Catholics Together.

That is the big story.

Reading with a grain of salt...

Rodney Stark has written a book that I'll probably never read: The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success (Random House, 2005).

I say "probably" because even though I am interested in the debate over the role that Christianity played in the rise of the West, the little that I've read about this book leads me to suspect that Stark attributes far too much to Christianity.

But I might read it just to see if it's as bad as Alan Wolfe thinks.

Wolfe, a contributing editor at The New Republic (TNR), has reviewed Stark's book in a current issue.

Wolfe genuinely detests the book, as the opening lines of his review, which quote Stark, will demonstrate:
"Had the followers of Jesus remained an obscure Jewish sect," concludes Rodney Stark in his new book, "most of you would not have learned to read and the rest of you would be reading from hand-copied scrolls." ... Firmly ensconced in the dark ages, our societies would be horrendous places to inhabit, lacking "universities, banks, factories, eyeglasses, chimneys, and pianos."

Thought experiments have their place, but Stark's, it must immediately be said, is vile: even the most notorious anti-Semites give Jews credit for the banks.
The retort about anti-Semites is witty, but there are other ways to read the line about Christianity not remaining an "obscure Jewish sect," nor is attributing Western Civilization's success to its Christian culture necessarily an antisemitic move.

Still, Wolfe might be correct, and I'm tempted to read Stark to find out.

However, I am not impressed by Wolfe's knowledge of some issues. Here is what Wolfe says about how Stark shows the Church using reason to reconcile Mary's virginity with the New Testament's mention of Jesus's siblings:
One of the examples Stark proposes to justify his attribution of special status to Christian theology illustrates this theological bricolage. Was Jesus born to a virgin? The early church leaders were not sure; Paul, for one, thought that Jesus had brothers, which would make the case for Mary's virginity difficult to argue. Aquinas, Stark writes, was able to step in and settle the matter. Using his powers of reason and deduction, he concluded that the brothers of Jesus were not blood relations and that, as a result, Mary was a virgin after all. The whole controversy, as Stark tells the story, testifies to Christianity's intellectual superiority. Aquinas was able to do what no theologian from any other religious tradition could do, which was to use "persuasive reasoning" to alter church doctrine.

Although the Catholic Church would revere Mary and insist on her virginity, Mary's story in fact owed a great deal to non-Christians. For one thing, Mary's virgin birth has what Freeman [i.e., Charles Freeman, The Closing of the Western Mind (Vintage, 2005)] calls a "shaky" scriptural basis, given that the Gospels mention her siblings and that one of them, John, does not mention her at all. There is a verse in Isaiah proclaiming, "Behold a virgin will conceive," but this verse, as Freeman continues, comes from the Greek version of the Old Testament, and uses the word parthenos, which could also mean young girl, rather than the Hebrew almah. When Christian thinkers in the fourth century developed their love for Mary, moreover, they borrowed extensively from paganism, especially the Greek goddesses Rhea and Tyche, as well as the Egyptian goddess Isis. Given this background, arguments on behalf of Mary's virginity testify as much to the needs of so many religions to contrast good and evil -- in Christianity's case, Eve's original sin with Mary's later purity -- as they do to powers of logic and reason.
In these two paragraphs, Wolfe conflates issues concerning the virgin birth of Jesus with the immaculate conception of Mary and adds a confusing remark about the Greek parthenos and the Hebrew almah.

On the virgin birth, Stark does not distinguish between the virgin birth of Jesus and the perpetual virginity of Mary. For the former, Mary need only be a virgin at the time of giving birth to Jesus; for the latter, she would need remain a virgin thereafter.

On the immaculate conception of Mary, which I assume is meant by the reference to "Mary's virgin birth" and the problem posed by "her siblings," Wolfe notes the shaky scriptural basis for the dogma and then cites Isaiah's proclamation that "Behold a virgin will conceive," which is not about the immaculate conception at all but has been taken by Christians as a prophecy foretelling the virgin birth of Jesus.

Concerning his citation of Isaiah 7:14 in this context, Wolfe appears to misunderstand the usual debate about the Greek term parthenos and the Hebrew term almah, which it translates, for biblical critics have in times past argued that parthenos means "virgin," whereas almah means not "virgin" but simply "young girl," and thus that the early Christians misunderstood the original text of Isaiah, which was not speaking of a virgin. Wolfe seems to reverse this traditional critique when he refers to Christians using "the word parthenos, which could also mean young girl, rather than the Hebrew almah." What does Wolfe think that almah means, "virgin"? If so, he would appear to have the traditional argument backwards despite what must have been his intention to cite it against Christian dogma concerning the virgin birth. At any rate, this entire debate has been superceded by the more recent scholarly recognition that almah can also mean "virgin."

Finally, what does Wolfe mean when he states that concerning Mary, the Gospel of John "does not mention her at all"? Does he mean merely that John does not mention Mary by name? So what? John certainly mentions the mother of Jesus -- several times, in fact. But what does this have to do with the virgin birth anyway? Presumably, Wolfe means to say that John does not include the virgin birth story in his gospel, but there are surely less obscure ways of saying this.

Talk about "theological bricolage"! And using broken materials, too!

Given the mixture of misunderstandings, then -- to shift metaphors -- I would take Wolfe's review with a grain of salt.

Has anyone out there read Stark and would care to comment?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Huer on Hwang

The Korea Herald has a column titled "A Reader's View" on its Opinion page. There, a reader can choose some topical issue, write up an opinion, and offer it for publication.

Yesterday, my friend Jon Huer published his opinion on the Hwang Woo Suk affair: "Hwang and the two Koreas at war" (Korea Herald, January 17, 2006, page 19).

By "the two Koreas," Huer doesn't mean the North and the South. He also doesn't mean 'East' and 'West,' so one shouldn't fall for that tempting binary opposition. Rather, he means: "The nationalistic-emotional-tribalistic Korea and the rational-objective-globalizing Korea."

Huer acknowledges that the Hwang case has not been a simple one to follow because it "involves a cutting-edge scientific development where evidence is not prone to be clear cut" and thus "has its scientific-technical difficulty," which might help account for the degree of support that Hwang still finds among too many Koreans. However, argues Huer, the Hwang affair's "'scientific' aspects are only a small part of the whole picture," and focusing on the science alone would only obscure the battle going on:

What it hides is the monumentally deep nationalistic sentiment that has occupied the largest part of the Hwang saga. In other words, it is not about science, or even Hwang himself, or even the medical benefits it is touted to bring to sufferers. It is about Korea -- the nationalistic-emotional-tribalistic Korea against the rational-objective-globalizing Korea. Not surprisingly, Buddhists, one of the oldest groups, are the staunchest supporters of Hwang (a leading Buddhist expressed his support of Hwang by saying, "As Koreans, we should applaud any endeavor that puts Koreans ahead of others.") while the most forward-looking group, young scientists at Seoul National University, has been at the core of Hwang's exposure. The proof of this conflict between the two Koreas -- old and new -- is easy to observe: The majority of Koreans are still in support of Hwang in spite of the verdict rendered by a neutral investigative committee. Scientists and journalists, those that are at the forefront of rational-objective-globalizing Korea, on the other hand, are quick to accept the conclusions that in the main Hwang's claims were bogus.

From the old Korean perspective, Hwang's accomplishment represents Korea itself, its stature, its prestige, its power. In this perspective, the Korean nation is more supreme than scientific rationality, more believable than any objective evidence, and is larger than the global community itself. To this perspective, it means very little whether Hwang turns out to be a charlatan, whether there is no real stem cell grown, or whether the touted benefits are fraught with moral difficulties. All that matters is that Hwang is a Korean scientist and the stem-cell success demonstrates Korean national prowess. Such sentiments run deep in the Korean blood and occupy the very depth of the Korean soul. They are mostly subconscious and defy self-analysis.
I'm not sure that the majority of Koreans support Hwang because I haven't seen any statistics on this, but my wife worries that too many Koreans are still fooled by Hwang because of his appeals to Korean nationalism.

Setting the question of statistics aside for the moment, if Huer is correct in seeing the Hwang affair as a battle in the war between the old nationalistic-emotional-tribalistic Korea and the new rational-objective-globalizing Korea, then I see a rich irony in the Old Korea's nationalist quest after status in this case, for the status sought would depend upon the New Korea's rational achievements.

Pointing to this irony won't sway passionate nationalists, but the headline and the before-and-after photos in the January 17, 2006 issue of the JoongAng Daily might:
"Hwang myth" spurs dubious stem cell tests: Rush to develop therapies leaves 12 dead, 80% in worse condition
Now, this is the English edition, but I hope that the Korean original hits with the same devastating effect: 12 dead, 80% worse.

Among other things, this article tells of the paraplegic Hwang Mi-sun (no relation to disgraced scientist Hwang Woo Suk, I assume), who underwent treatment with stem cells in 2004:

Hwang Mi-sun, 39, was once hailed as proof that miracle cures can happen. Paralyzed from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair because of a spinal cord injury she suffered when she was 19, she met the press on Nov. 25, 2004, and took a few steps with the aid of a walker.

The press conference was called by a team of researchers at Chosun University's medical school, Seoul National University's veterinary college and Seoul Cord Bank, a biotechnology company, who had treated Ms. Hwang with injections of adult stem cells.

Just over a year later, Ms. Hwang says her miracle has turned into a nightmare. She can no longer even sit in a wheelchair and now spends most of her time in bed and says she is in constant pain.

Scandals like this one might sway even the most passionate supporters of Hwang Woo Suk, for his hyperbolic mendacity in claiming that his scientific 'breakthrough' would lead to cures for previously untreatable diseases has led to relaxed procedures for risky stem-cell treatments that not only failed to help but that actually harmed other Koreans.

Look at these numbers:

The JoongAng Ilbo surveyed the aftermath of 73 experimental treatments conducted under those relaxed procedures and involving adult stem cell therapy. More than 80 percent of the patients developed serious side effects, and 12 people died.
If this is correct and means what it seems to say, then 12 out of 73 people treated died! That would be about 16.5 percent, a shockingly high mortality rate for experimental tests.

How will these stories affect the passionate nationalists? I'd be curious to hear Huer's opinion. In his article, he ends in ruminations on the Korean culture war's eventual winner:
For a detached observer, the conclusion shouldn't be too difficulty to draw: Obviously, the future belongs to the rational, objective and global, and the new Korea will win out eventually, if not at this crucial crossroads. But to those who know Korea, those who understand the deepest recesses of Korean nationalism and tribalism, such conclusions might seem too optimistic.
Perhaps. But the Korean suffering engendered by Hwang Woo Suk's deceptions might turn Koreans away from the old Korea and toward the new.

What do you think, Jon?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Tagged again!

What is this ... open season on a certain pseudonymous blogger?

People seem inordinately interested in the habits of a rare Gypsy Scholar. Now, even Dymphna of Gates of Vienna and The Neighborhood of God has tagged me, attached a radio transmitter, and begun tracking my paths by satellite.

Her scientific research project is titled the "Seven By Seven Meme." Or maybe, since it's now about me, this is really the "Seven By Seven Me Me!"

Okay, that was a seven times seven stupid joke. Can I be forgiven? Seventy times seven times? Or is a bad joke the unpardonable sin against the Spirit?

Anyway . . . (grumble, grumble) . . . what is it I'm expected to do? Dymphna wants to know seven things about me in each of seven categories:
Seven Things To Do Before I Die
Seven Things I Cannot Do
Seven Things That Attract Me to...Cooking
Seven Things I Say
Seven Books/Authors That I Love
Seven Movies That I've Loved
Seven People To Tag
Actually, that's only seven things about me in each of six categories since the last one is about other people.

Six categories? Hmmm . . . that's a bit better. But 7 x 6 (checks with calculator) = 42. That's still a lot of . . . !


Why . . . that's "the answer to life, the universe, and everything!"

This cannot be coincidence.

Nor can it be coincidence that 42 is a sphenic number, for every sphenic number has precisely three distinct prime factors generating exactly eight divisors.

This number of divisors matches number for word the number of words in the phrase "the answer to life, the universe, and everything."

Wow. Far out. Like, into the cosmos . . .

Monday, January 16, 2006

Tagged Once More...

Nathan Bauman is at it again. He tagged me once before, but I clawed off the tag, shook the transmitter loose, and escaped into the wild . . . as the photo to your right demonstrates.

The tag this time has been more firmly attached:
As a blogger, one never wants to be "tagged" by time-stealing "memes" or chain letters. Nonetheless, I hope that the bloggers here . . . will feel free to write about their three or four most inspiring and useful blogs.
By "bloggers here," Nathan means the bloggers whom he has just reviewed and thereby "tagged," as with my blog, for example:
First, hats off to Gypsy Scholar for his amazing blog! Dr. Hodges, who has a Ph.D. from Berkeley, is a more of a Renaissance Man than a gypsy. He writes intelligently on the issues of the day. He writes engagingly about ancient ecclesiastical historical personages and works of English literature of all periods. He writes humorously about all sorts of things. His background is in biblical studies and English literature (all periods, from Anglo-Saxon to modern), and so there's always something interesting at his site. One of the neat characteristics he has is that he often stays with the same topic for a few days. This leads to greater depth of coverage. Also, if you don't like the topic, you simply wait a few days, and there'll be a new one! But what is most inspiring for me about his blog is his commitment to lifelong learning that is particularly exemplified in his habit of analyzing and picking up new vocabulary. Dr. Hodges is still a Christian, but as a former believer, I still have no problem recommending his blog. Gypsy Scholar: intellectually sexy, solid, and chic!
So, I've been tagged. Or have I? This is more like being pegged than tagged. Yet, I wonder if Nathan has really captured me here.

As one who has been blogging for nearly a year now, I can attest that my online persona, Gypsy Scholar, has begun to take on a life of his own. He's partly the offline me, Jeffery Hodges, for he shares some of my passions and interests, but he also has a whole lot more to offer than I do. Gypsy Scholar is funnier, quicker, smarter, more analytical, and far more knowledgeable and precise than I.

For instance, whereas Jeffery Hodges did not recall that Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter hadn't written "Where Did You Sleep Last Night," Gypsy Scholar did recall this and even knew the details.

I therefore suspect that Nathan Bauman has tagged Gypsy Scholar rather than me, and I can't vouch for what blogs the Gypsy reads on his own for inspiration or utilization.

Perhaps the Gypsy is like me, however, and checks several online news sources and blogs daily for opinions and analysis. If so, then he doesn't have any favorite blogs but prefers to read the ones that are not politically correct so long as they also provide facts, give details, do analysis, cite sources, and offer suggestions.

Consequently, the Gypsy would probably like this blog entry on Islam and Women.

And while the Gypsy is looking into this, allow me to slip once more away into the Ozark woods...

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Uh ... thanks a lot, President Bak ...

I was just getting ready to blog and wondering what to blog about when ...

But maybe I'd better explain my context first.

We live in Seoul, South Korea on the top floor of an apartment building -- the 23rd floor to be precise -- and we like our view of the city, the mountains, the woods ...

Now if you've been keeping up with news about Korea for the past 15 years, you'll know that it has developed enormously in its economic power, its political system, and its civic society. All in all, it's a pretty decent place to live.

Yet ... there are still some problems stemming from the previous era of dictatorial rule.

One problem is that some structures built during that era are poorly constructed because the dictatorial government of the long-dead Bak Jeonghui (Park Chung Hee) pushed rapid development and damn the consequences!

Some of the consequences include fallen bridges and collapsed department stores.

So ... maybe the 23rd floor of a somewhat older apartment building is not quite the place to choose ...

At any rate ... as I was saying, I was just getting ready to blog and wondering what to blog about when I heard a raucous loud tearing, crashing sound and saw something obscured falling behind the frosted windows separating our study from the balcony.

Our cat Ankee leapt in shock from his catbed as I sprang up from my desk thinking that part of the ceiling had collapsed onto our balcony.

As Ankee dashed under our sturdy dinner table (smart cat), I rushed out to see what had fallen (foolish me).

There on the balcony, doors down, lay our high, heavy, packed cabinet.

Partially beneath and broken lay the aluminum framework on which we dry our clothes, its still-wet clothes now littering the floor.

Wondering why the cabinet had fallen and hoping that our other cat, Goya, had not been prowling there and losing all her nine lives in one blow, I went and shook my wife awake at the ungodly hour of 4:00 a.m.

We did our best to extract the destroyed aluminum framework -- I pulled up on the cabinet, she pulled out on framework. We then collected our now-dirtied clothes, checked to find Goya still sleeping on our daughter's bed, thanked God that neither Sa-Rah nor En-Uk had been playing on the balcony when the cabinet fell, and cursed the long-dead dictator Bak Jeonghui for his mad rush to modernize Korea at all costs despite the danger posed for the stability of our cabinet.

We still have a mess to clean up when the sun finally rises, but at least this dire event gave me something to blog about ...

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Advice on Seeming Profound

Today, I may seem to be channeling Laudator Temporis Acti, which would mean that I might be channeling that "praiser of time past" Horace (Ars Poetica 173), but actually, I'm channeling Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra . . . or, rather, the "lively and intelligent friend" (page 42) of his fictional counterpart in the Prologue to Don Quixote:

. . . as to quoting in the margin the books and authors from whom you collected the sentences and sayings you have included in your history, all you have to do is to drag in some trite phrases and tags of Latin that you know by heart, or at least that cost you little trouble to look up -- for instance, when dealing with liberty and captivity, to introduce:

Non bene pro toto libertas venditur auro

and in the margin cite Horace or whomever said it. (page 44)

As the scholarly footnote makes clear, the Latin quote in fact comes from Aesop and means "Liberty is not well sold for all the gold in the world" (Aesop's Fables III, 14) (page 44, note 3).

For those who like to trace such things, I'm reading Don Quixote in the Walter Starkie translation, the recent edition (New York: Signet, 2001) with an introduction by Edward H. Friedman.

The quote about freedom, by the way, appears inscribed above the entrance to the famous Fortress of Lovrijenac, constructed to defend the western approach to Dubrovnik, on the Dalmatian Coast of the Balkans, where freedom entailed walling up city and fortress in what looks from the outside like a prison and which must have cost a great deal of medieval gold to construct.

But I digress. Let me end this by quoting a genuine Horace:
"The past is but behind us, and we quote by talking out our ears, making asses of ourselves."
I wonder if Laudator Temporis Acti could translate that into Latin . . .

Friday, January 13, 2006

Hwang Woo Suk Utters Veiled Threat:

"Give me six months and I'll do it again, Hwang said."

Thanks for the warning, Dr. Hwang, but we'd pretty much already figured out that you'd cheat again.

Yes, that quote above was the actual caption -- appearing with big bold letters -- to a photo of proven fraud Hwang Woo Suk in the hard-copy issue of the JoongAng Daily for January 13, 2006.

The hard-copy issue showed a close-up of Hwang with his index finger raised to make his point emphatic. Unfortunately, the online issue has only the photo pasted above, but if anyone knows of an online copy of the photo with the emphatic finger (reminiscent of Bill Clinton's famous finger of truth), then I'll replace this one here with the better one.

The Kingdoms of This World

Yesterday, I was making my daily stop at Day by Day for a laugh, when something in the sidebar caught my eye.
A ram's head.
It had appeared, was disappearing. I began to pay attention. A message soon emerged:
. . . as it changes you.
This, too, faded away, replaced by a book whose title I didn't immediately catch. Then a strange, half-man, half-elephant creature . . . bearing an ax. This also faded. Another message appeared:
The adventure begins in our world but begins to change . . .
Realizing that this was the beginning, I watched more carefully, rearranged the two messages:
The adventure begins in our world but begins to change . . . as it changes you.
Having time to kill, I watched the images and words emerge and fade, emerge and fade. I caught the book's title . . .
The Kingdoms of This World
. . . ran my cursor across its image, hesitated . . . and clicked. Darkness, the strains of a guitar, and a low, rough voice singing:
"My girl, my girl, don't lie to me, tell me where did you sleep last night. In the pines, in the pines, where the sun never shines, I would shiver all night through . . ."
From the year that I'd worked in a music library as an undergrad, I recognized these words to an old Leadbelly version of the traditional, southern Appalachian folk song "In the Pines":
My girl, my girl, don't lie to me
Tell me where did you sleep last night
In the pines, in the pines
Where the sun never shines
I would shiver all night through

Her husband was a hard-workin' man
Till a mile and a half from here
His head was found in a drivin' wheel
And his body never was found

My girl, my girl, don't lie to me
Tell me where did you sleep last night
In the pines, in the pines
Where the sun never shines
I would shiver all night through

My girl, my girl, where will you go
I'm goin' where the cold winds blow
In the pines, in the pines
Where the sun don't ever shine
I would shiver all night through
Only the first stanza played its haunting sound while on the darkness appeared, successively, these words:
Tommy Woodbine thought he was homeless . . .

. . . but even if you don't know where your home is . . .

. . . everyone has a home

. . . everyone has a home.
Then appeared a page with a broken cattle skull. Below, the image of the book. I made out the author's name: Gabe Posey.

The word "Downloads" caught my eye. I clicked it and found the first chapter: "Before":
My name is Tommy Woodbine and I'm one of the many young drifters that wander this country in search of work, money and food.

I don't have a home . . .
Gypsy Scholar that I am, intellectual drifter, this immediately appealed to me, so I read the remainder of the chapter.


I won't say any more, but here's the author's approved summary from the back of the book:

Tommy Woodbine thought he was homeless. Even if you don't know where your home is, everyone has a home.

Drifting all his life from job to job and town to town, Tommy always assumed he knew exactly who and exactly what he was. In the sleepy little town of Drycreek, Texas, Tommy learns that all his preconceived notions of home, identity and reality are all gossamer thin.

Traveling from Drycreek, Texas to points unknown, Tommy finds a place more bestial and primal than any in the human world. Tommy seeks truth on a journey fraught with peril. His quest begins to change him, though, as he learns things about himself and about his role in a dark intrigue that spans two worlds.

I think that I'll order a copy.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Can Islam Reform?

I won't be settling this issue today, nor will anybody else, for smart people are saying very different things.

In the January-February 2006 issue of Democratiya, Kanan Makiya, author of such books as Republic of Fear and Cruelty and Silence, expresses hope:

Islam's relation to politics -- it's [sic: its] insistence that it legislates for day to day life -- can cause problems when you try to separate it from politics (quite different from Christianity where you can start to put religion and politics into two separate boxes). However we negotiate this reformation-transition, we know it is going to be different. But that it can take place is a proposition I completely believe. It hasn't taken place this far simply because the individuals, the subjective factor able to make it take place, have not yet emerged strongly enough from within Islam.

It's not the same thing for a person like me to write from a secular point of view about these issues, and for a cleric, breaking with his own traditions, to write about these issues.

Why, then, the hope?

In Iraq today there are such clerics. Think of Sayyid Ayyad, a remarkable man in his mid-forties. who has arrived at a series of conclusions utterly from within the Shiite tradition of Islam, which accept the separation of church and state. He's on the lists, he's up for elections, he's on TV, and he's a real firebrand. He is a new kind of force speaking a new kind of language, shocking traditional Muslim audiences. He has a very high opinion, for instance, of the American constitution and the Bill of Rights.

That sounds good. Is it working?
Many more people like him need to engage in the debate, as well as people like myself. I and others like me can't break through that wall by themselves; we need help from inside the fortress of Islam. Missing, at the moment, are the clerics who will fight from within and make their argument not in the way I make my argument (from western texts, general texts of human rights or from someone like Hannah Arendt), but from within the religion itself. This is, after all, how the reformation came about. It was largely by very religious, pious men constructing arguments for human rights from within their own tradition. That this can be done in Islam I have not the slightest shadow of a doubt. The nature of scriptural texts is that they are infinitely malleable.
I don't buy the "infinitely malleable" argument about texts, and I would have thought that the fact of their being scriptural texts, especially scriptural texts within a prophetic tradition that claims to have God's specifically dictated words, makes them rather less than malleable. On the other hand, the profound significance of scripture for the practical lives of millions of individuals does mean that pressure is constantly applied to the sacred texts to ensure that they remain relevant, which does give a role to interpretation:
It is what you chose to put forward that counts. In fact, it is really quite remarkable how the growing Salafi, or Jihadi, trend of Islam rests on a tiny body of text. It represents a very small minority position within Islam. It has succeeded largely through the strength, vigour and energy of its own militancy, which it has used to capture a whole section of the tradition. That's never happened before. There is, in principle, a huge body of texts and many traditions with which to create an alternative version of Islam. I haven't a shadow of a doubt that it can be done. It just needs the men and women from within to do it.
Whether this is true or not, I think that in the modern world, small, radical groups can easily do a lot of damage based on their particular interpretation of religious texts, but positive reform of an entire religion can take a very long time. The reformation that Makiya refers to is the Protestant Reformation, which was a bloody affair and took a couple of hundred years to sort out.

But what does Spengler have to say about democratic reform in Islam? In "When even the pope has to whisper," Asia Times Online (January 10, 2006), he agrees with Ratzinger . . . uh, Benedict . . . and tells us that the pope says nope to hope:
Pope Benedict XVI has let it be known that he does not believe Islam can reform. This we learn from the transcript of a January 5 US radio interview with one of Benedict's students and friends, Father Joseph Fessio, SJ, the provost of Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida . . . . Fessio described a private seminar on the subject of Islam last year at Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence:

["]The main presentation by . . . Father [Christian] Troll . . . was very interesting. He based it on a Pakistani Muslim scholar [named] Rashan, who was at the University of Chicago for many years, and Rashan's position was Islam can enter into dialogue with modernity, but only if it radically reinterprets the Koran, and takes the specific legislation of the Koran, like cutting off your hand if you're a thief, or being able to have four wives, or whatever, and takes the principles behind those specific pieces of legislation for the 7th century of Arabia, and now applies them, and modifies them, for a new society [in] which women are now respected for their full dignity, where democracy's important, religious freedom's important, and so on. And if Islam does that, then it will be able to enter into real dialogue and live together with other religions and other kinds of cultures.["]
As the Spartans replied to Philip of Macedon: "If." The pope, likewise, was skeptical:
["]And immediately the holy father, in his beautiful calm but clear way, said, well, there's a fundamental problem with that because, he said, in the Islamic tradition, God has given His word to Mohammed, but it's an eternal word. It's not Mohammed's word. It's there for eternity the way it is. There's no possibility of adapting it or interpreting it, whereas in Christianity, and Judaism, the dynamism's completely different, that God has worked through his creatures . . . . And so it is not just the word of God, it's the word of Isaiah, not just the word of God, but the word of Mark. He's used his human creatures, and inspired them to speak his word to the world, and therefore by establishing a church in which he gives authority to his followers to carry on the tradition and interpret it, there's an inner logic to the Christian Bible, which permits it and requires it to be adapted and applied to new

The interviewer then asked Fessio, "And so the pope is a pessimist about that changing, because it would require a radical reinterpretation of what the Koran is?" Fessio replied, "Yeah, which is it's impossible, because it's against the very nature of the Koran, as it's understood by Muslims."
I suppose that if anyone ought to know about the difficulty of reinterpreting scripture, the pope should, and this particular pope -- as Spengler points out -- happens to know quite a lot since his "comments regarding the nature of Muslim revelation are deliberate and informed, for his primary focus as a theologian has been the subject of revelation."

Who's right? Kanan Makiya or Pope Benedict XVI? Only the future will reveal.