Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Excusions through Hell...

Woodcut Illustration by Gustav Doré
The Divine Comedy: The Inferno: Canto 10
(Borrowed from Wikipedia)

On Lost Nomad's blog, in response to a post on Korea and the upcoming World Cup, I left the following remark on my experience living in Korea when it was hosting the previous World Cup:

At the last World Cup, a Korean colleague at Hanshin University asked me what it was like being a foreigner in Korea during the World Cup.

I looked around at the many Red Devil Korean fans decked out with flame-red horns and flame-red shirts — the shirts often even sporting Dogebi-Demon designs — and I replied: "I feel like I'm in Hell!"

Hell, yes, but I didn't suffer much. I rather enjoyed it, as did my two little half-Korean kids, who were running around in the red-devil shirts singing "Oh, piss on gorilla!"

Yeah, I know that "오 필승 코리아!" ("Oh, Pilseung Korea!") means something like "Oh, victory to Korea!", but it sure as hell sounded to me like pissing on gorillas.

A sure-fire way to piss them off, by the way, and not something that you'd want to do to creatures as powerful as gorillas, or you might end up in a level of Hell like the one experienced by this guy in a dream:

On November 22, 1998... I was catapulted out of my bed into the very pit of hell. My point of arrival was a cell that was approximately fifteen feet high by ten feet wide with a fifteen-foot depth...

I was not alone in this cell. I saw two enormous beasts, unlike anything I had ever seen before .... entirely evil, and gazing at me with pure, unrestrained hatred, which completely paralyzed me with fear....

The creatures weren't animals, but they weren't human, either. Each giant beast resembled a reptile in appearance, but took on human form. Their arms and legs were unequal in length, out of proportion -- without symmetry....

Two more creatures came into the cell, and I had the feeling that these four beings had been "assigned" to me. I felt as though I was being "sized up" and that my torment would be their amusement....

One of the creatures picked me up. The strength of the beast was amazing .... approximately one thousand times greater than a man.... Then the beast threw me against the wall. I crumbled onto the floor .... as though every bone in my body had been broken...

The second beast, with its razor-like claws and sharp protruding fins, then grabbed me from behind in a bear hug. As it pressed me into its chest, its sharp fins pierced my back.... He then reached around and plunged his claws into my chest and ripped them outward....

Rather worse than raging gorillas, actually. As for the fellow who says that he experienced this torment, his name is Bill Wiese, and he has detailed the experience in a book, 23 Minutes in Hell, for which he'll surely get his 15 minutes of fame.

A man with a far less painful excursion to Hell is none other than the hero of yesterday's blog entry, Joseph Michael Gandy. We find his story in Christopher Woodward's Guardian article, "Let there be light" posted on April 1 (no foolin'), 2006. Gandy, who also dreamt of hell, encountered a rather different place than Wiese describes, and a far more sophisticated devil:

In his dream he was standing on a staircase, watching a man sweet talk a girl at a window. Gandy was in love with the girl. Suddenly, a stranger took his arm. You must take her by force, he whispered; I am your friend, and will show you how. The man took him to palaces and dinners, and gave him presents. You are the Devil, Gandy exclaimed. He was seized, and woke in Hell. It was a city manufacturing luxuries in glass and gold, where "heavy cranes ... lift Foreign Goods from Ships". Hell was modern London.

Gandy escaped from "a low dungeon" by climbing a mile towards the light while the Devil drank with "lawyers, aldermen, &c". Outside was a mountain of empty wine bottles. Gandy made a sudden run up the slope, but the clatter of bottles alerted Satan. "I find you are like the rest of the world," he sneered: Ungrateful. But in a flicker of the eye, he relented and conjured up a circle of wine bottles to dance in the air around him: "Take a bottle of whatever you please and we will make it up again." Gandy took a bottle and hit the Devil. Pieces of glass stuck in his bald head. He hit him again, and escaped into the light.

Gandy's later painting of Pandemonium, which we saw in yesterday's entry, doesn't look much like London, but both the painting and this dream suggest a place far more refined than Wiese's vision.

I suppose that Gandy, Wiese, and I all three experienced a hell appropriate to our sins.

As Woodward tells us, Gandy interpreted his own dream:

What was the moral? Do not accept favours from the rich, he concluded. If you cannot repay them pound for pound, they will "play with the temper of a grateful mind ... debauch it, and make you their slave."
Gandy was a prototype of the Romantic genius, the one needing but spurning patrons, and his dream shows him struggling with his inner demons -- a cliché vividly experienced.

But not quite as vivid as Wiese's vision. I haven't read this man's book, so I don't know what, specifically, his punishment was for, but I suppose that I should note that he was a California realtor.

As for me and my most real of these three unreal hellish experiences, I was punished for the sin of being from a country that has never taken the truly global World Cup seriously and that insists on calling its annual, national baseball playoff between the American League and the National League by the quaint title of World Series.

As Koreans have often reminded me...

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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Joseph Michael Gandy, architect of Pandemonium

Joseph Michael Gandy
Pandemonium or Part of the High Capital of Satan and His Peers (1805)
Borrowed from Hugh Pearman,
"John Soane's magician: the tragic genius of Joseph Gandy," Gabion
First published as "Illusions of grandeur"

Hugh Pearman, a London-based architecture-and-design critic with The Sunday Times, London, maintains the website Gabion to preserve and present writing that he has done for various media. As can be seen in the above image from "John Soane's magician: the tragic genius of Joseph Gandy," he has provided a fine reproduction of Joseph Michael Gandy's Pandemonium or Part of the High Capital of Satan and His Peers, a painting certain to catch the attention of Milton fans.

John Soane, we've all heard of, but who is Joseph Michael Gandy (1771-1843)? Pearman tells us:

Once upon a time, there was a wizard who knew what Heaven and Hell looked like. In fact, he designed them. He also drew the greatest royal palaces that Britain has ever dreamed of, and a massive new Parliament building. He assembled complete, monumental cities and prototype skyscrapers. The name of this magician was Joseph Michael Gandy, and he did all this in the first few decades of the 19th century. Gandy was doomed to disappointment -- he built very little in the real world, and was destined to be comprehensively eclipsed by another architect. He died a mad, penniless, abandoned old man. But he was no failure, because his extraordinary visions survive.

For the entire, fascinating story of the obscure Gandy, and his professional, personal relation to the man who became Sir John Soane, go to Gabion and read the rest of Pearman's article. Meanwhile, here's what he writes of Gandy's interest in things above and below:

He tried his hand at great historical and mythical and religious subjects. You've heard of the stairway to heaven? Gandy painted it. Pandemonium? Ditto. In fact, heaven and hell appeared to be much the same in Gandy's imagination -- which is to say, great cities of supercharged classical palaces. Long colonnades and great domes. Old Nick's domain was just a bit smokier.

Old Nick and the other demons would have been happy with Gandy's depiction. Indeed, the infernal Mammon claimed to perceive little distinction between the two realms:

...How oft amidst

Thick clouds and dark doth Heav'ns all-ruling Sire

Choose to reside, his Glory unobscur'd,

And with the Majesty of darkness round

Covers his Throne; from whence deep thunders roar

Must'ring thir rage, and Heav'n resembles Hell?

As he our darkness, cannot we his Light

Imitate when we please? (PL 2.263-269)

Apparently, you can now see this painting in London until August 12 at the Soane Museum's exhibition: "Soane's magician: the tragic genius of Joseph Michael Gandy" (Lincoln's Inn Fields).

Or can you? According to Souren Melikian, "A talented architect/painter and a flight into the unreal," International Herald Tribune, (Saturday-Sunday, May 27-28, 2006, Seoul Edition) the painting is on view in New York at the Richard Feigen Gallery until July 22:

Joseph Gandy, an architect, sank into oblivion the minute he died in an asylum in 1843. The first retrospective ever devoted to his work, "Joseph Gandy: Visionary Artist," on view at the Richard Feigen Gallery until July 22.

I guess those of you world travelers desiring to see this work had better 'call' first to find out if it's at the Soane Museum in London or the Richard Feigen Gallery in New York, but as long as we're checking what Melikian has to say, let's see what he has to say:

[In 1805, Gandy] drew a watercolor as weird as its title, "Pandemonium or Part of the High Capital of Satan and His Peers." The inspiration, Lukacher writes, came from a poem by Milton. The repetition of perfectly Classical pillars that stretch endlessly under blackish clouds give the imaginary Ancient Greek city an obsessive, threatening feel. Never seen in public before, the large watercolor is one of the great surprises in the Feigen show.

The Lukacher mentioned is Brian Lukacher, who has a recent book out on Gandy: Joseph Gandy: An Architectural Visionary in Georgian England (Thames & Hudson, 2006). The reference to Milton strikes me as a bit odd -- "a poem by Milton." That sounds a bit understated. Perhaps Melikian didn't want Milton to steal Gandy's thunder and so didn't emphasize that the inspiration comes from Paradise Lost, Book 1:

Anon out of the earth a Fabrick huge

Rose like an Exhalation, with the sound

Of Dulcet Symphonies and voices sweet,

Built like a Temple, where Pilasters round

Were set, and Doric pillars overlaid

With Golden Architrave; nor did there want

Cornice or Freeze, with bossy Sculptures grav'n,

The Roof was fretted Gold. Not Babilon,

Nor great Alcairo such magnificence

Equal'd in all thir glories, to inshrine

Belus or Serapis thir Gods, or seat

Thir Kings, when Ægypt with Assyria strove

In wealth and luxurie. Th' ascending pile

Stood fixt her stately highth, and strait the dores

Op'ning thir brazen foulds discover wide

Within, her ample spaces, o're the smooth

And level pavement: from the arched roof

Pendant by suttle Magic many a row

Of Starry Lamps and blazing Cressets fed

With Naphtha and Asphaltus yeilded light

As from a sky. (PL 1.710-730)

Gandy would seem to have captured well the smoky darkness and glowing light intermixed in Milton's vision of hell.

At any rate, if someone is in London or New York and happens to visit this Gandy exhibition, please inform me and all Gypsy Scholar readers of its actual location.

Monday, May 29, 2006

On the promiscuous amours of ladybugs...

Two Asian Ladybugs (Harmonia axyridis)
Joined by a Male Convergent Ladybug (Hippodamia convergens)
(Borrowed from Microecos)

This instance of polymorphous promiscuity among ladybugs comes from the fine blog Microecos: Minor Musings on the Macrocosm, which also supplies an explict close-up for those prurient enough to be curious about the specific details of this particular tumble in the jungle. As Microecos points out:
As if polyamory wasn't risque enough, these beetles are blatantly breaking the "inter-species sex taboo."

For that peculiar perversion, these ladybugs have a wide range of choices, there being over 4,500 species of ladybugs! Or so say those fine scholars at Wikipedia, who also presents some moderately explict photos of ladybugs mating en masse. Perhaps this propensity for mass mating coupled with interspecific sex explains the enormous number of species -- they're all hybrid offspring!

Today's blog entry will, no doubt, be further grist for the rumor mill grinding out the scuttlebutt that I'm "really into porn."

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Hardly a Lady!

Ladybugs Making Lovely
(Intentionally Blurry Image Borrowed From MojoFlix)

Whether you know her as "Ladybug" or "Ladybird," she's hardly a lady!

Look at these two little bugsters buggin' out!

Wait! Before you click that, please be aware that you must be over 18 years of age. If you are over 18, be warned that these video images are not work safe! They are decidedly auto-erotic.

Lost Nomad, you of "Wednesday Girl" fame, eat your heart out.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Green-Eyed Ladybug...

Seven-Spotted Ladybug
Not The Green-Eyed Variety, Which Are Hard To Find
(Borrowed from Wikipedia)

I once ruined a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem for my undergrad literature professor Tom Hanks by reciting the lines "and striding / High there" as if they said "and striding / 'hi there!'" as I waved my arm in exaggerated greeting.

He never forgave me. Hence my banishment to these uttermost parts of the earth.

The poem, incidentally, was "The Windhover: To Christ Our Lord," so I'm probably even guilty of blasphemy, which will get me eternally banished to the uttermost parts of outer darkness.

Meanwhile, I'm being punished here in this world. I was singing "Green-Eyed Lady" as a lullaby for my kids the other night, and the song ... somehow ... got transmogrified by them into this kiddie-giddy ruination:

Green-eyed ladybug, lovely ladybug
Strolling slowly towards the sun.
Green-eyed ladybug, ocean ladybug
Soothing every ragin' wave that comes.
Green-eyed ladybug, passions' ladybug,
Dressed in love
She lives for life to be.
Green-eyed ladybug feels life I never see,
Setting suns and lonely lovers free.

Green-eyed ladybug, wind swept ladybug
Rules the night, the waves, the sand.
Green-eyed ladybug, ocean ladybug
Child of nature, friend of man.
Green-eyed ladybug, passions' ladybug,
Dressed in love
She lives for life to be.
Green-eyed ladybug feels life I never see,
Setting suns and lonely lovers free.

Who knew that a ladybug had such power...

Friday, May 26, 2006

Poetry "needs not rhime"

Andrew Marvell (1621-1678)
(Borrowed from Wikipedia)

Andrew Marvell, prefacing Milton's epic Paradise Lost with his own lyric "On Paradise Lost," assures Milton that:

Thy Verse created like thy Theme sublime,
In Number, Weight, and Measure, needs not Rhime.

Note that in stating this, Marvel kept his own lines rhymed -- perhaps the more to persuade critics of unrhymed verse.

Apparently, Milton's unrhymed verse was a sore point for many, for Milton feels compelled to defend himself. In the "Front Matter" to the 1674 edition of Paradise Lost, Milton, sensitive to criticism that his 1667 edition didn't rhyme, presents in "The Verse" his reasons for deciding not to use rhyme:

The Measure is English Heroic Verse without Rime, as that of Homer in Greek, and Virgil in Latin; Rhime being no necessary Adjunct or true Ornament of Poem or good Verse, in longer Works especially, but the Invention of a barbarous Age, to set off wretched matter and lame Meeter; grac't indeed since by the use of some famous modern Poets, carried away by Custom, but much to thir own vexation, hindrance, and constraint to express many things otherwise, and for the most part worse then else they would have exprest them. Not without cause therefore some both Italian, and Spanish Poets of prime note have rejected Rhime both in longer and shorter Works, as have also long since our best English Tragedies, as a thing of itself, to all judicious ears, triveal, and of no true musical delight; which consists onely in apt Numbers, fit quantity of Syllables, and the sense variously drawn out from one Verse into another, not in the jingling sound of like endings, a fault avoyded by the learned Ancients both in Poetry and all good Oratory. This neglect then of Rhime so little is to be taken for a defect, though it may seem so perhaps to vulgar Readers, that it rather is to be esteem'd an example set, the first in English, of ancient liberty recover'd to heroic Poem from the troublesom and modern bondage of Rimeing.
Note that Milton defends his poem's lack of rhyme as an "ancient liberty recover'd" from the "modern bondage of Rimeing."

I wouldn't go so far with Milton as to state that rhyme offers "no true musical delight," for I happen to like rhyme and think that it does offer "true musical delight." But what's he talking about when he refers to restoring ancient poetic liberty by breaking the modern chains of rhyme? Although he cites Homer and Virgil, he might also be thinking of the old poetic tradition in English. Old English poetry didn't use rhyme.

Let's look at an example.

Within its great labyrinth of Old English poetry, Georgetown University provides an online text of the 7th-century Anglo-Saxon poem Caedmon's Hymn, using the West Saxon Version (to which I've added right slashes to signal the caesura, or pause, separating the half-lines of each line):

Nu sculon herigean / heofonrices weard,
meotodes meahte / and his modgeþanc,
weorc wuldorfæder, / swa he wundra gehwæs,
ece drihten, / or onstealde.
He ærest sceop / eorðan bearnum
heofon to hrofe, / halig scyppend;
þa middangeard / moncynnes weard,
ece drihten, / æfter teode
firum foldan, / frea ælmihtig.

Even those who can't read Old English can see that this text doesn't use rhyme. It does, however, use sound in special ways, especially alliteration -- the repetition of an initial sound. Take line two, for example: "meotodes meahte / and his modgeþanc." The sound represented by the letter "m" occurs thrice: "meotodes," "meahte," and "modgeþanc." Other lines do similar things with initial sounds.

For those of you without Old English training but who are interested in the meaning, here's the text with translation provided, from pages 24-25 of The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Seventh Edition, Volume One (New York / London: Norton, 2000), which also capitalizes proper nouns and italicizes the alliterating sounds:

Nu sculon herigean / heofonrices Weard,
Now we must praise / heaven-kingdom's Guardian

Meotodes meahte / and his modgeþanc,
the Measurer's might / and his mind-plans,

weorc Wuldor-Fæder, / swa he wundra gehwæs,
the work of the Glory-Father, / when he of wonders of every one,

ece Drihten, / or onstealde.
eternal Lord, / the beginning established.

He ærest sceop / eorðan bearnum
He first created / for men's sons

heofon to hrofe, / halig Scyppend;
heaven as a roof, / holy Creator;

þa middangeard / moncynnes Weard,
then middle-earth / mankind's Guardian,

ece Drihten, / æfter teode
eternal Lord, / afterwards made --

firum foldan, / Frea ælmihtig.
for men earth, / Master almighty.
For the Anglo-Saxons, poetry didn't rhyme. Rhyme in English poetry only became significant after the Norman Conquest of 1066.

The Old English poetic style didn't die out, however. It continued, albeit out of favor, and resurfaced in the Middle English poems of the so-called "Alliterative Revival." Interestingly, the finest poet of this 'revival,' the anonymous "Gawain Poet," used both alliteration and rhyme in his greatest work, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, but not as we might expect, for he composes each stanza by using alliteration in the first lines (which vary in number from as few as 10 to as many as 30 or more) and only introducing rhyme in the last five lines.

Here's an online example from the Gawain text provided by the Electronic Text Center of University of Virginia Library, using Part 1, Stanza 2:

Ande quen þis Bretayn watz bigged bi þis burn rych,
Bolde bredden þerinne, baret þat lofden,
In mony turned tyme tene þat wro3ten.
Mo ferlyes on þis folde han fallen here oft
Þen in any oþer þat I wot, syn þat ilk tyme.
Bot of alle þat here bult, of Bretaygne kynges,
Ay watz Arthur þe hendest, as I haf herde telle.
Forþi an aunter in erde I attle to schawe,
Þat a selly in si3t summe men hit holden,
And an outtrage awenture of Arthurez wonderez.
If 3e wyl lysten þis laye bot on littel quile,
I schal telle hit as-tit, as I in toun herde,
with tonge,
As hit is stad and stoken
In stori stif and stronge,
With lel letteres loken,
In londe so hatz ben longe.

Note the alliteration in the first quoted line: "Bretayn," "bigged," "bi," and "burn." Each succeeding line has other alliterative examples until we reach the final five lines, which use both alliteration and rhyme, the latter being "tonge"-"stronge"-"longe" and "stoken"-"loken."

For those who can't make out the Middle English, here -- again from my Norton Anthology, Volume Seven -- is Marie Borroff's translation, also available online through Pace University's CSIS page for Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (cf. Beowulf to Lear):

And since this Britain was built by this baron great,
Bold boys bred there, in broils delighting,
That did in their day many a deed most dire.
More marvels have happened in this merry land
Than in any other I know, since that olden time,
But of those that here built, of British kings,
King Arthur was counted most courteous of all,
Wherefore an adventure I aim to unfold,
That a marvel of might some men think it,
And one unmatched among Arthur's wonders.
If you will listen to my lay but a little while,
As I heard it in hall, I shall hasten to tell
As it was fashioned featly
In tale of derring-do,
And linked in measures meetly
By letters tried and true.

Borroff has striven to retain both the alliteration and rhyme, but the former has far more weight for the "Alliterative Revival."

Why, then, did Milton complain at the restrictive bonds of rhyme and feel the need to break free? Probably because of that rhyme-schemer Chaucer, who in the centuries following his publication of The Canterbury Tales became "canonized as the father of English poetry" ("Introduction," Norton Anthology of English Literature, Seventh Edition, Volume 1 (2000), page 11). One need only recall that Edmund Spenser paid homage to Chaucer's work as a "well of English undefiled" (Norton Anthology, Vol. 1, page 614) and that Milton, for his part, paid homage to Spenser as "a better teacher than Scotus or Aquinas" (Norton Anthology, Vol. 1, page 616).

I wonder if this has anything to do with Michael Drout's meme-based views on how tradition works...

Anyway, since I've run on about long enough for today and have previously posted several entries on Chaucer anyway, I'll stop here and briefly reaffirm, with Milton and with Marvell, that poetry "needs not rhime."

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Poetry Break: "Prodigal Fears"

Ghostly Female Ascending a Staircase
(Borrowed from Wikipedia)

Wonderdog, of that Southern California blog What's the Rumpus, has recently referred to me as "kinda the James Brown of the literary world."

I think that he means that I'm a toothless wonder who splits infinitives.

For your 'kinda' words, Wonderhounddog, thank you. Thank you very much.

In appreciation for Wonderdog's high praise, I offer a literary effort from my extremely short series of vampire poems:

Prodigal Fears

And thus, my little sister, you are here
like Lazarus, come back from the abyss,
revealed in shadows, hidden in the air,
a mystery of some faith we don't profess.
Shall you turn back, descend again that stair?

For what within such darkness do you yearn?

What visions had you in your charnel home?
What hieroglyphic secrets on the walls?
Who measured time that crawled across your bones
like Golem seeping deep down hollowed halls?
. . . such foulness withered in the heart of stone.

Is that where you, my sister, now belong?
I wrote that circa 1985, but no, I don't have a little sister. Or a big sister. Or a twin sister. Only brothers. According to my son En-Uk, girls are 14 times more difficult to conceive than boys, so I blame my parents for screwing the process utterly, malfunctionally up.

That's why I had to dream up my own sister ... a nonexistent, deceased little sister who returns as a vampire?

I need professional help...

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Surprised By Syntax

(Borrowed from Wikipedia)

The Green-Eyed Lady's beckoning waves are leading me into waters over my head. Two days ago, I introduced Stanley Fish's analysis of how Milton used language in ambiguous ways to surprise our expectations. As illustration, I quoted Milton:

Nor did they not perceave the evil plight
In which they were, or the fierce pains not feel; (PL 1.335)

I then quoted a passage by Fish analyzing this:

"The double negative is unexpected and for an instant the sense of the line remains unresolved. Do they or don't they perceive? Actually, they do and they don't and by forcing the hesitation Milton leads the reader to understand how the alternatives he hovers between are equally true .... 'Nor did they not perceive' is particularly nice since a defect in language is only the visible phase of a problem in perception" (Surprised by Sin, 99-100).

My use of Stanley Fish provoked a trenchant response from Stanley Fowl:

Stanley Fish is one helluva crap linguist, unfortunately. His view of language is that we take in a sentence word-by-word.

To that, I wrote:

Stanley Fowl, I agree with you that we don't generally read the way that Fish describes, but I find that with ambiguous constructions, I am 'surprised by syntax' and slow down to read it word-by-word.

The language then has me hovering between two possible interpretations in much the way that Fish describes.

Thus, his analysis fits my experience, e.g., with "Green-Eyed Lady."

To this, Fowl wrote:

If you know what syntax means, you will see that you do not slow down to read the sentence word-by-word, even when faced with ambiguity. This is because syntax does not recognize words, but rather word classes or even constituent phrases. Thus, ambiguity is the result of being unable to decide what word class a particular lexical item belongs to. That is what occasions your surprise as well as (unfortunately) your agreement with the crap linguist, Stanley Fish.

I suppose that I'm guilty of introducing the word "syntax," but I couldn't resist the pun in "surprised by syntax." I was using syntax to refer to the order of words in a sentence, which it can mean for the layman like me, but I'm ready to concede its real meaning to the experts.

Conveniently, Fowl provided a definition from Wikipedia, which I here quote in part:

Syntax, originating from the Greek words συν (syn, meaning "co-" or "together") and τάξις (táxis, meaning "sequence, order, arrangement"), can in linguistics be described as the study of the rules, or "patterned relations" that govern the way the words in a sentence come together. It concerns how different words (which, going back to Dionysios Thrax, are categorized as nouns, adjectives, verbs, etc.) are combined into clauses, which, in turn, are combined into sentences.

If I understand this correctly, then "syntax" refers not to the word order (despite the Greek etymology) but to the rules that govern word order. That being the case, my reading of a sentence operates on two levels: 1) the surface level, on which I generally encounter the words sequentially and 2) the deep level, in which I interpret the words by reorganizing them into grammatical categories.

I say "generally" because I acknowledge that we often don't encounter the written word sequentially. We skip around in a sentence or paragraph. But this doesn't mean that word order is unimportant. Let's look again at the song's lines that occasioned these past few posts:

Green-eyed lady feels life I never see,
Setting suns and lonely lovers free.

I argued that the position of "free" at the end of the final line introduces an ambiguity that leaves me hovering between two possible interpretations. I asked:

How are we supposed to take these final two lines? Does the life that my green-eyed lady feels include her experience of setting suns and lonely, if free-spirited lovers? Or does she possess some mysterious, magical power for setting free those suns and lonely lovers?

That ambiguous word "free" at the very end forces us to wonder at the meaning. Is is an adjective: free(-spirited) lovers? Or is it part of a phrasal verb: to set free?

To see why word order is important, let me ruin the song's lines by reordering them:

Green-eyed lady feels life I never see,
Setting suns and free lonely lovers.

Gone is any ambiguity, any hesitation between two readings, any hint of being set free. Thus, word order is crucial to how I understand that lines.

Let me anticipate the linguist's objection: Word order is important, but that doesn't mean that we read word-by-word. True, but it also doesn't mean that we can't read word-by-word, and I know that I sometimes do.

Yet, perhaps Fowl is right about me anyway. Perhaps it doesn't matter that I can slow down and read the song's words sequentially. Perhaps all that matters is my surprise at finding, dangling from the end of a line promising those "Setting suns and lonely lovers," the word ... free.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

"Neither Fish Nor Fowl?"

With Large Pectoral and Pelvic Fins
(Borrowed from Wikipedia)

Yesterday's post on Stanley Fish hooked one fellow with strongly critical views:

Stanley Fowl said ... "Stanley Fish is one helluva crap linguist, unfortunately. His view of language is that we take in a sentence word-by-word. This can be demonstrated to be false by a variety of different methods: slips-of-the tongues and the fact of collocation, to name just two."

We're all familiar with slips-of-the-tongue (and Mr. Fowl will be pleased to read that I first typed "slops-of-the-tongue") -- but "collocation"? What's that?

Let's turn to the experts, Wikipedia:

Within the area of corpus linguistics, collocation is defined as a sequence of words or terms which co-occur more often than would be expected by chance.

Some scholars might prefer The Free Dictionary:

col·lo·ca·tion n. 1. The act of collocating or the state of being collocated. 2. An arrangement or juxtaposition of words or other elements, especially those that commonly co-occur, as rancid butter, bosom buddy, or dead serious.

Actually, and being quite serious now, I'd prefer an online linguistics encyclopedia but haven't found one. Nevertheless, I get the point, namely, that we don't always read word-by-word sequentially. (Parenthetically, I note that we probably read an expression such as "dead serious" as if it were a single lexical term, so collocation might not be so powerfully decisive as evidence against Fish's analysis.)

In my response yesterday to Fowl on Fish, I wrote:

Stanley Fowl, I agree with you that we don't generally read the way that Fish describes, but I find that with ambiguous constructions, I am 'surprised by syntax' and slow down to read it word-by-word.

The language then has me hovering between two possible interpretations in much the way that Fish describes.

Thus, his analysis fits my experience, e.g., with "Green-Eyed Lady."

Writing styles differ, and reading styles probably do as well. In gross terms, reading does take place sequentially -- we turn one page after another as we make sequential progress through, for example, a book.

However, Fish's emphasis upon the surprising ambiguity posed by the next word in a sequence presupposes that we read word-by-word, and we all know that we don't, generally, read that way. My own eye is always darting back and forth along a sequence -- sometimes even skipping ahead to glance at the next paragraph! Thus, I'm unlikely to be surprised in quite the same way that Fish imagines.

Yet in reading Milton, I do often find myself hovering -- in much the way that Fish describes -- between two possible interpretations. Despite Fish, this doesn't depend upon reading in a lexically sequential manner. I don't have to be surprised into hovering. But in support of Fish, I find that I do tend to read difficult texts word-by-word, and Paradise Lost is a very difficult text that often does surprise me in the manner described.

Some readers might find Paradise Lost an easier text than I experience it and thus might never experience this delightful shock of surprise. For some, perhaps, Milton's style is as easy to read as:

"a classic journalistic style ... [with] concrete nouns, active verbs, graceful sentences, solid paragraphs, [and] subtle transitions" (Pete Hamill, review of "Reporting: Writings from the New Yorker, By David Remnick," International Herald Tribune, May 19 (Seoul Edition), 2006, page 10B).
But as for me, I don't read Paradise Lost quite so easily as that.

Monday, May 22, 2006

"life I never see..."

Stanley Fish, Literary Critic of the Reader-Response School
(Photo Borrowed from Florida International University)

If you've been following the past couple of blog entries, you'll already know that I consider "Green-Eyed Lady" a great song.

I hear a few of you mutter "De gustibus non disputandem est."

Unfortunately, I don't know much Latin, so I've had to look that up in Wikipedia's list of Latin phrases, which informs me that "there is not to be discussion regarding tastes." Well, that's certainly a conversation-stopper.

No matter. I'll talk to myself. On blogs, you can do this without being considered crazy.

As I was saying, I consider "Green-Eyed Lady" a great song. However, I find it rather flat as a poem. Minus the music, it doesn't work, and those of you who've never heard the song have probably wondered why it hit me so powerfully.

Nevertheless, this song does achieve something of literary quality in its last two lines, and it does so by a clever linguistic trick:

Green-eyed lady feels life I never see,
Setting suns and lonely lovers free.
How are we supposed to take these final two lines? Does the life that my green-eyed lady feels include her experience of setting suns and lonely, if free-spirited lovers? Or does she possess some mysterious, magical power for setting free those suns and lonely lovers?

That ambiguous word "free" at the very end forces us to wonder at the meaning. Is is an adjective: free(-spirited) lovers? Or is it part of a phrasal verb: to set free?

In his book Surprised by Sin: The Reader in Paradise Lost (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1967, 1997, Second Edition), Stanley Fish argues that Milton's intentionally ambiguous syntax draws the reader into an intricate maze of language that calls attention to itself and to the reader's own, fallen condition. For example, of the fallen angels who awaken in hell, Milton writes:

Nor did they not perceave the evil plight
In which they were, or the fierce pains not feel; (PL 1.335)

On this, Fish remarks:

"The double negative is unexpected and for an instant the sense of the line remains unresolved. Do they or don't they perceive? Actually, they do and they don't and by forcing the hesitation Milton leads the reader to understand how the alternatives he hovers between are equally true .... 'Nor did they not perceive' is particularly nice since a defect in language is only the visible phase of a problem in perception" (Surprised by Sin, 99-100).
Without delving any deeper into the marine depths of Fish's analysis of Paradise Lost, we can at least latch onto his linguistic insight into how ambiguous syntax can hook the unwary reader.

In unsubtle terms, every pop song needs a hook, and "Green-Eyed Lady" has one in the ambiguity of that dangling word "free" in its final clause, "Setting suns and lonely lovers free."

Sunday, May 21, 2006

"Brown-eyed lady, lovely lady..."

(Borrowed from Wikipedia)

Sun-Ae read yesterday's post on the song "Green-Eyed Lady" and noticed something:

"What!" she cried. "What! Is! This!"

"Huh?" I gutteraled.

"What's this?" she clarified.

"What's what?" I asked. (My wife and I have a lot of conversations of this sort -- was it C.S. Lewis who complained that women don't use nouns?)

"This!" she further clarified, pointing to the computer screen.

Looks like a computer to me, I thought ... but also thought better than to say that. Besides, she soon genuinely clarified things by reading the lines aloud:

"I listened and felt, with mysteriously overwhelming familiarity, a profound longing for something that I'd never experienced," she read ... pausing ... then, her voice changing color, continued "love for a green-eyed lady strolling at sunset down a long beach!"

"Oh, that," I explained.

"What do you mean 'that'?" she retorted.

"Sun-Ae," I told her, "that was in 1971, and I was very young."

"Oh?" she said, looking again at my blog.

"Uh ... " I ventured, "what did you think of the rest of the post?"

"I didn't read the rest," she admitted. "Just these lines about you being in love with a green-eyed lady."
Well, as I pointed out to Nathan Bauman, the green-eyed lady didn't exist, and Sun-Ae and I have mutually come to agree that the song would be so much better if it were titled "Brown-Eyed Lady."

And that David Crosby was wrong to write that "Guinnevere had green eyes / Like yours, mi'lady like yours..."

Those were also brown.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

"Green-eyed lady, lovely lady..."

Sugarloaf, Greers Ferry, Arkansas
(Borrowed from thomas23's photostream)

In 1971, I bought one of those small, portable radios that ran on radio waves, so it didn't need batteries, and that was its main attraction since I was dirt poor.

It was only about 5 inches long and wide, was tuned by turning a big dial that covered its front, and was dependent for power on a long wire ending in an alligator clip that had to be attached to a large piece of metal. The electromagnetic radiation pulsing through that metal would set up corresponding waves in the wire that would eventually reach the earplug and be transformed into music.

That little radio was, literally, powered by the music.

I found that if I attached the clip to my bed's heavy old iron bedstead, I'd get the best reception. Lying on my bed in the dark, an oversized earplug squeezed into my ear, I'd listen to the world beaming in from beyond the Ozarks.

One night, I heard Sugarloaf play Green-Eyed Lady:
Green-eyed lady, lovely lady
Strolling slowly towards the sun.
Green-eyed lady, ocean lady
Soothing every ragin' wave that comes.
Green-eyed lady, passions' lady,
Dressed in love
She lives for life to be.
Green-eyed lady feels life I never see,
Setting suns and lonely lovers free.

Green-eyed lady, wind swept lady
Rules the night, the waves, the sand.
Green-eyed lady, ocean lady
Child of nature, friend of man.
Green-eyed lady, passions' lady,
Dressed in love
She lives for life to be.
Green-eyed lady feels life I never see,
Setting suns and lonely lovers free.
I listened and felt, with mysteriously overwhelming familiarity, a profound longing for something that I'd never experienced ... love for a green-eyed lady strolling at sunset down a long beach...

Gypsy that I am, I followed those beckoning waves, and have heard the mermaids singing ... each to each.

Friday, May 19, 2006

A damned rich argument...

(Borrowed from Wikipedia)

Milton's greatness as an epic poet lies partly in his willingness to give the devils their due and allow them good arguments.

Take the demon Mammon's remarks on the impossibility of forgiveness for the fallen angels, and their potential greatness in accepting their damned conditions:

... Suppose he [i.e., God] should relent
And publish Grace to all, on promise made
Of new Subjection; with what eyes could we
Stand in his presence humble, and receive
Strict Laws impos'd, to celebrate his Throne
With warbl'd Hymns, and to his Godhead sing
Forc't Halleluiah's; while he Lordly sits
Our envied Sovran, and his Altar breathes
Ambrosial Odours and Ambrosial Flowers,
Our servile offerings. This must be our task
In Heav'n, this our delight; how wearisom
Eternity so spent in worship paid
To whom we hate. Let us not then pursue
By force impossible, by leave obtain'd
Unacceptable, though in Heav'n, our state
Of splendid vassalage, but rather seek
Our own good from our selves, and from our own
Live to our selves, though in this vast recess,
Free, and to none accountable, preferring
Hard liberty before the easie yoke
Of servile Pomp. Our greatness will appeer
Then most conspicuous, when great things of small,
Useful of hurtful, prosperous of adverse
We can create, and in what place so e're
Thrive under evil, and work ease out of pain
Through labour and indurance. (PL 2.237-262)
The fallen angel Mammon makes two points. First, submission again to God after such a rebellion as theirs would be impossible, for how could they ever again serve the one whom they hate? Second, freedom in hell is preferable for rebels such as they, and the hard freedom that they enjoy there will serve to enhance their stature as they learn to thrive under evil.

Milton makes the fallen angels almost admirable in their honesty and fortitude. Of course, he's also careful to remind us of their fallenness and inadmirable traits:

Mammon, the least erected Spirit that fell
From heav'n, for ev'n in heav'n his looks and thoughts
Were always downward bent, admiring more
The riches of Heav'ns pavement, trod'n Gold,
Then aught divine or holy else enjoy'd
In vision beatific: (PL 1.679-684)
Even in heaven and unfallen, the guy was bad news ... which raises the question as to why God created him, especially if "his looks and thoughts / Were always downward bent"! That temporal adverb "always" makes incrementally harder Milton's task of "justify[ing] the ways of God to men," for taken literally, it would mean that God created Mammon with an already bad character.

That aside, however, Milton usefully employs Mammon's excellent points to imply God's justice. God is not harsh in refusing to extend forgiveness to the fallen angels, for they don't want it; rather, God is lenient in allowing the fallen angels liberty to pursue their willfulness wherever it might lead ... within circumscribed bounds, of course.

Thus does Mammon -- as did Belial -- unknowingly imp upon the wing of his small arguments Milton's greater argument to "assert the eternal providence, / And justify the ways of God to men."

Thursday, May 18, 2006

"Words of the Invitation"

I've received an invitation to a wine party organized by the "student council of the English department."

Student council? The English Department has a "student council"?

I've often heard of departmental politics but hadn't realized the degree to which it has become institutionalized!

Here's the letter in full (with my parenthetical, 'teacherly' remarks):
Words of the Invitation (Just "Invitation" will do fine.)

Dear our revered professor. (Try: "Dear Professor:")

We are from the student council of the English department. (Aside from the oddity of a department having a student council, this sounds okay, but consider capitalizing "department.")

With genuine and youthful passion, we could open our wine party for the fourth time, which has started only a few years ago. (You "could," but you're not sure? Sounds like a looong party, too ... though I'm not quite clear on this use of a specific time in the past with the present perfect tense.)

In the Meanwhile, the wine party has been the major part of our department's annual ceremonies. (I like that inflated "Meanwhile.")

Also in this semester, we are hosting the wine party as our biggest ceremony. (This is the same wine party, right?)

Thus, we are inviting our revered professors to the wine party which will be a great chance for unification between professors and students. (I doubt that unification will take place soon. This could take 30 years. The regime needs time to reform. If events move too quickly, collapse could occur, which would be in no one's interest.)

All the members of the student council did their best with one accord. (Did their best at what?)

Though it is a busy time of season, it would be our honor to have you in the wine party. (Actually, this time is the lull before the storm.)

Location: Diningroom for the valuable guest in Inchon memorial hall.
(인촌기념관 귀빈식당) (Other guests will be escorted elsewhere.)

Date: 6 pm Thursday, May 18th, 2006 (Am I being too picky if I suggest "p.m."?)

Host: Student council of the English Department (There's that odd Student council again!)
I wish that my students had approached me for a proofreading of this first, but I suppose that they wanted to surprise us. Anyway, let's reword this letter of invitation:

Dear Professor:

We are students representing the English Department.

As you may know, we began hosting departmental wine parties four years ago and will be holding our fourth party this week.

Over the past four years, the wine party has become a major part of our department's annual ceremonies.

This semester, our wine party will actually be the department's biggest ceremony.

Thus, we are inviting our professors in the hopes that the experience will bring professors and students together.

We have worked hard to make this year's wine party a success.

Though this may be a busy time of the semester for some of you, we would be honored by your presence.

Location: Dining Room of Inchon Memorial Hall.
(인촌기념관 귀빈식당)

Date: 6 p.m. Thursday, May 18th, 2006

Host: Students of the English Department
Such would be my first approximation at a corrected letter. I'm not really sure that I have understood each point. Maybe a "student council" really does exist in the English Department. And is this party an "annual" event? I think that these parties occur every semester, so that would have to be clarified.

At any rate, I'll be there tonight ... for the wine, not the politics.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

"that sure was worse"

Gustave Doré, Plate 2:
"Forthwith upright he rears from off the pool
His mighty stature" (Book 1. 221-222)
From Doré's "Illustrations"
in John Milton's Paradise Lost
(London: Cassell and Co., 1882)
Borrowed from George Klawitter's online selection of
of the University of Texas at Austin, Summer, 1995"
I've previously mentioned that my nine-year-old daughter and I are reading Milton's Paradise Lost together ... slowly.

Currently, we're in Book II, reading what advice the various fallen angels have to offer on what they ought to do now that they've lost the war in heaven and been cast into hell.

The fearsome Moloch has just counseled for another war, arguing that even if the fallen angels lose again, they have little to fear:
Th' event is fear'd; should we again provoke
Our stronger, some worse way his wrath may find
To our destruction: if there be in Hell
Fear to be worse destroy'd: what can be worse
Then to dwell here, driv'n out from bliss, condemn'd
In this abhorred deep to utter woe;
Where pain of unextinguishable fire
Must exercise us without hope of end
The Vassals of his anger, when the Scourge
Inexorably, and the torturing hour
Calls us to Penance? (PL 2.82-92)

Graceful Belial responds:

What can we suffer worse? is this then worst,
Thus sitting, thus consulting, thus in Arms?
What when we fled amain, pursu'd and strook
With Heav'ns afflicting Thunder, and besought
The Deep to shelter us? this Hell then seem'd
A refuge from those wounds: or when we lay
Chain'd on the burning Lake? that sure was worse. (PL 2.163-169)

When Sa-Rah had finished reading "that sure was worse," she laughed. So did I -- and I seem to recall having chuckled to myself when I first read that line some years ago.

And that raises for me a question: Did Milton intend humor here? If he did, then why? Perhaps laughter at Belial's 'dark humor' tends to lessen our horror of the hellish punishment inflicted upon the rebellious angels. If so, then might this not be part of Milton's attempt at theodicy? God must be lenient, for he has not inflicted the worst possible torments upon the fallen angels, as Belial himself notes, and has even left them free to improve their conditions. They've escaped from the burning lake, where they had previously lain in chains. No longer bound, they are now sitting in their battle gear, consulting about war. Things, Belial cautions, could be worse.

Belial is right, and because he is right, he makes hell seem less terrible and God seem more lenient than might justifiably have been.

Thus does Belial unknowingly imp upon the wing of his small argument Milton's greater argument to "assert the eternal providence, / And justify the ways of God to men."

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Yesterday was "Teacher's Day" in Korea

from the lovely selection

Teacher's Day arrives every year on May 15 here in Korea, and it's a bit of a big thing. Students visit their teachers and offer flowers or gifts.

Korea being a Confucian country (even the evangelical Christians are Confucian), teachers receive a lot of respect ... though I've observed this respect decline over the years. When I came to Korea the first time, back in 1995, the Confucian ethos was much stronger, and students told me that they had been taught by their parents that they should not tread on even the shadow of their teacher (let alone the teacher's foot!). I thought that part a bit excessive, but I enjoyed the status.

These days, no Korean student would ever exalt a teacher's shadow, and I think this alteration for the best. Too much status leads to a sense of entitlement and a corresponding degree of corruption, whereby even lazy or incompetent teachers are accorded undeserved respect.

I recall a discussion back in 1995 that I inadvertently initiated by introducing a discussion topic concerning a teacher in America who had been fired for acting in a pornographic film. We never got to that issue, for I prefaced my remarks in this way:
"We would all agree that an incompetent teacher should be fired, but what about a teacher who acts in a pornographic film?"
At least, I intended to preface them so, but I only got this far:
"We would all agree that an incompetent teacher should be fired..."
And several students said "No." Assuming that they had misunderstood the term "incompetent," I explained in more detail what I had meant, but they didn't budge. When I came to see that they understood but disagreed, I took a count of hands and discovered that about 70 percent of the class did not agree with me. They held teachers in such regard that in their opinion, even an incompetent teacher should not be fired.

So, we discussed this issue instead, and several of the students changed their minds -- after listening to those students who did agree with me -- and decided that an incompetent teacher should be fired since such an individual is hardly a teacher. But at least 30 percent were diehard opponents of firing.

One girl even argued that an incompetent doctor should not be fired! (Is a doctor a teacher?)
"What if the doctor accidentally kills someone through incompetence?" I asked.

"Then, the doctor should be fired," she decided.

"So, we should wait until the doctor kills somebody, then fire the doctor," I concluded.
She fell silent.

Fortunately, teachers don't usually kill anybody. I haven't yet, and for that, my students are truly grateful. One of them even gave me candy and a note:
Dear Professor Hodges

It's teacher's day today! Thank you very much for everything you've done for me & my essays. I really like your class. I think this literature class is much more interesting than the history one although I've enjoyed them both a lot as well ^^

Anyway, thank you again for your hard work. I really appreciate it.


Nice message ... and a nice card, too. The card, by the way, is made in Korea by the Yegong Everyday Card Company and is similar to the card above, also designed by Yegong. Mine is quite a lovely card showing three yellow flowers as in the card above but with a yellow rather than pink bow and without the green leaves. It's code number is C-404-05, but I couldn't locate this on the website.

By the way, if any students are reading this blog and wondering what to give their foreign teachers for Teacher's Day next year, consider one of the lovely cards by Yegong, whose products I'm shamelessly plugging in the hope that I won't be sued for borrowing the above image from their website.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Korea's Potential for "NonKilling"

Professor Glenn D. Paige

On Saturday at the KAIS Conference, Professor Glenn D. Paige, of the University of Hawaii and a director for the Center for Global Nonviolence, spoke on nonkilling.

At the outset of his talk, he posed this question: "Is a nonkilling society possible?"

First, he asked those of us who think that such a society is not possible to raise our hands. I raised mine along with about half of those present.

Then, he asked for a show of hand by those who believe that it is possible. The other half raised their hands.

Paige agrees with the latter. He hasn't always believed so, neither in his youth nor in his academic work, as this portrait of him on the Soka Gakkai International website makes clear:

Early in his life, Paige supported the use of military force. More than 50 years ago, as a 16-year-old newspaper boy, he took pride in delivering the news of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, "the act that ended the Pacific War." Then, several years later, while a student at Princeton University, he joined the army and fought in the Korean War. Eventually he returned to school, later going on to Harvard University and Northwestern University, writing his doctoral thesis on the reasons why the United States took part in the Korean War.
According to the website, as Paige learned more about the bombing of Hiroshima, he began to reflect upon his views on the justification of war, and his doubts seem to have led him to a type of conversion:
One day, when he was pondering these questions, he felt a great energy suddenly arise from within him. A new conviction began to take hold: Human beings must never kill one another under any circumstances or for any reason.
This is the classic, deep-pacifist view of nonviolence, one that I find attractive but cannot share, perhaps because I haven't had this sort of conversion experience. I won't go into all of that right now. Rather, I want to quote Paige's paper and note a couple of points.

First, concerning nonviolence in Korean culture, Paige related the following anecdote:
Meeting with revered teacher Ham Suk Hon in Seoul and respected historian Pak Si Hyong in Pyongyang, I asked each if there were any roots of nonviolence in Korea's cultural tradition. Both responded in exactly the same way. They referred to the peaceful nature of the Tan'gun 2333 B.C. foundation story and emphasized that Koreans have never been aggressors against their neighbors.
While I don't deny the normative value of myth, we ought to keep in mind that the Dangun story is mythical and thus doesn't provide much of conclusive value for Korea's capacity for nonviolence. As for Koreans having never been aggressors against their neighbors, I've never quite understood the point of this observation. If it were even true, the fact would require explanation, and a possible answer might be that Korean states have always been too weak to attack their neighbors. But I doubt that this observation is true. To take but one example, consider how the ancient Korean kingdom of Shilla attacked the neighboring Korean kingdom of Goguryeo to unify the Korean peninsula in battles ranging over the years from 661 to 668. Koreans will point out that this was one Korean state attacking another Korean state. Point taken, but the inherent violence remains, so the larger, implicit point -- that Koreans are uniquely peaceful -- is contradicted.

Second, Paige argued that Korean experience in the 20th century has left Koreans uniquely qualified to work for peace in Northeast Asia:
Colonized by imperialist Japan, divided by the United States and Russia, and devastated by War that brought American and Chinese intervention, Koreans understand well the languages and lethality of the four cultures that have impacted upon them. Their knowledge is aysmmetrical. Generally, Koreans know more about Japan, the United States, Russia, and China than the interveners know about them.
This is partly true but mostly incorrect. Koreans do generally know more about these other cultures than the other cultures know about Korea, but generally speaking, they still don't know much, and much of what they do know is refracted through the distorting lens of Korean assumptions that then project a colorful but exaggerated image of the other countries. And as for Koreans understanding well the languages of the four cultures that have intervened on the peninsula, all of us foreigners who teach in Korea know that this is not correct.

Consequently, I don't see that Korea has a unique ability to work for either a nonviolent society or a peaceful solution to the problems of Northeast Asia.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

KAIS Conference: What I really said was...

In my talk yesterday for the 50th Anniversary Conference of the Korean Association of International Studies, which was held in Seoul, I summarized passages from an article that Myongsob Kim and I are working on, "The Two Koreas and the Clash of Civilizations in East Asia."

In case anyone's interested -- and because I'm feeling lazy after all the conference activities -- I'm posting a fuller version of a passage that I merely summarized in my talk yesterday:
Although not inevitable, Chinese nationalism will probably grow and could come to play domestically the functional unifying role performed earlier by the now rapidly declining ideology of Communism. The larger concern is that Chinese nationalism could express itself as a type of expansionist imperialism, as suggested by some studies.[1] We do see the Chinese constructing revisionist histories of some of its outlying areas. Chinese historians participating in China's well-funded[2] Northeast Asian Project (Dong Bei Gong Cheng: 東北工程) have for the past several years argued that the Manchurian region of China — once part of the Goguryeo Kingdom and today home to many Koreans — was always part of the Chinese nation.[3] Indeed, the Guangming Ribao, a daily scholarly publication of the Chinese Communist Party, claimed in June 2003 that "Goguryeo is part of China."[4] Consequently, there were several Korean protests in front of the Chinese embassy in 2004,[5] and anger at China has sometimes even brought the two Koreas together in reunified opposition as "[m]any . . . called for . . . [South Korean] government support of the Northern efforts"[6] against China in the North's "bid to put its Goguryeo tomb murals on the U.N. World Heritage List."[7]

Perhaps by laying claim to Goguryeo, China merely intends to ensure that a reunified Korea does not demand a border change that would extend Korean territory to encompass the area where China's two million ethnic Koreans reside. But if China's burgeoning nationalism should turn out to be expansionist, then more would be at stake. In principle, laying claim to historical Goguryeo by the Chinese government poses some problems for the status of North Korea, especially if the North's government should become dysfunctional, for Goguryeo's borders stretched halfway down the Korean peninsula.[8] Thus, the current, divided status of the peninsula puts Chinese statements about Goguryeo into a very problematic context, especially since North Korea is within China's sphere of influence and is dependent upon China for economic support, investment, and trade. If North Korea were to begin tottering politically, a conceivable scenario would involve China sending military support to help shore up the North's government and maintain its 'territorial integrity.' Such a scenario is likely remote, but if Chinese nationalism were to take an expansionist form then China's historical 'legitimacy' to Goguryeo might prove tempting. One can hope that Chinese nationalism will not prove expansionist, but history is replete with shattered hopes.

[1] See Gary Schmitt, "The Real Empire," Weekly Standard, August 27, 2003, for his review of Ross Terrill, The New Chinese Empire: And What It Means for the United States (New York: Basic Books, 2003) as well as a number of
other works on China.
[2] According to an editorial, "Goguryeo Was Not Chinese -- Care to Bet W3 Trillion?" in The Chosun Ilbo, December 6, 2003, China has funded the project with "a five-year budget worth the equivalent of W3 trillion."
[3] See Mark Byington, "The Creation of an Ancient Minority Nationality: Koguryo in Chinese Historiography," Embracing the Other: The Interaction of Korean and Foreign Cultures: Proceedings of the 1st World Congress of Korean Studies, III (Songnam, Republic of Korea: The Academy of Korean Studies, 2002). Byington notes that "Beginning in 1993 . . . a sharply increasing number of articles [by Chinese historians of the People's Republic] clearly refer to Koguryo as a Chinese nationality," and he adds that "Chinese scholars . . . perceive Korean nationalism as a potential threat to . . . [China's] territorial sovereignty."
[4] See again: "Goguryeo Was Not Chinese."
[5] For some online photographs, see Today in Photos, Frontpage, The Chosun Ilbo, January 6, 2004, and "Champions of History," Mainpage, The JoongAng Daily, National, January 6, 2004. More recently, see Austin Ramzy, "Rewriting History: China and the Koreas Feud over the Ancient Kingdom of Koguryo," Time Asia, August 16, 2004.
[6] Kim Tong-hyung, "Culture minister warns against Goguryeo frenzy," The Korea Herald, January 8, 2004, 1b–c. The article cites South Korean Culture Minister Lee Chang-dong as urging Koreans to show restraint in their protests and not to make the issue a political one. The issue, of course, is already political.
[7] Kim Tong-hyung, "North Korea denounces China's claim on Goguryeo," The Korea Herald, December 15, 2003, 9e–f. Interestingly, the article notes that North Korea and China have had a "conflict over the legacy of ancient Manchuria" dating "back to the early 1960s, when the North Korean academia officially declared Gojoseon, Goguryeo and Balhae as part of their national history," spurring China to stop a "joint archaeological research project with North Korea on Manchuria" (9f).
[8] Cf., for example, "HK Textbook Depicts Northen Half of Korea as Chinese Territory," The Chosun Ilbo (August 17, 2004), which provides a troubling image of a page in a Hong Kong middle school textbook showing the northern half of the Korean peninsula as part of China's Wei Dynasty.
So, there it is ... though what I really said was far more succinct.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

History Lesson: "Vasalam Ala Man Ataba'al hoda"

Ahmadinejad Writes to Bush
(Borrowed from Website of Presidency of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Copyright: May 9, 2006)

I don't know much about the New York Sun, but somebody on the editorial staff knows a bit of history, for a recent editorial, "Iran Declares War" (May 11, 2006), reveals:
President Ahmadinejad's letter [html, pdf] to President Bush, widely interpreted as a peaceful overture, is in fact a declaration of war. The key sentence in the letter is the closing salutation. In an eight-page text of the letter being circulated by the Council on Foreign Relations, it is left untranslated and rendered as "Vasalam Ala Man Ataba'al hoda." What this means is "Peace only unto those who follow the true path."

It is a phrase with historical significance in Islam, for, according to Islamic tradition, in year six of the Hejira -- the late 620s -- the prophet Mohammad sent letters to the Byzantine emperor and the Sassanid emperor telling them to convert to the true faith of Islam or be conquered. The letters included the same phrase that President Ahmadinejad used to conclude his letter to Mr. Bush. For Mohammad, the letters were a prelude to a Muslim offensive, a war launched for the purpose of imposing Islamic rule over infidels.
I'm familiar with this Muslim tradition but can't find it at the moment. I have found one of the hadith on which the tradition is based. The Muslim Students Association of the University of Southern California has helpfully provided an English translation of Sahih Bukhari, Book 60: "Prophetic Commentary on the Qur'an" (Tafseer of the Prophet):

Volume 6, Book 60, Number 75: Narrated Ibn Abbas:

"In the Name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful. This letter is) from Muhammad, Apostle of Allah, to Heraclius, the sovereign of Byzantine........ Peace be upon him who follows the Right Path. Now then, I call you to embrace Islam. Embrace Islam and you will be saved (from Allah's Punishment); embrace Islam, and Allah will give you a double reward, but if you reject this, you will be responsible for the sins of all the people of your kingdom (Allah's Statement):--"O the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians)! Come to a word common to you and us that we worship None but Allah....bear witness that we are Muslims.' (3.64)"

Let me make a couple of points about this hadith. First, it is considered by Western scholars to be an invented tradition, though Muslims accept it as historical. Second, it is ambiguous as to whether the threat for rejecting Islam is a military attack by Muhammad or punishment in hell by Allah.

However, in keeping with other Islamic traditions, interpreting the threat as one of military attack makes sense. The Muslim Students Association of the University of Southern California has again helpfully provided an English translation of a foundational Islamic collection of hadith, this time from Sahih Muslim, Book 19, "The Book of Jihad and Expedition (Kitab Al-Jihad wa'l-Siyar)," in which we find Hadith 4294:

It has been reported from Sulaiman b. Buraid through his father that when the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) appointed anyone as leader of an army or detachment he would especially exhort him to fear Allah and to be good to the Muslims who were with him. He would say: Fight in the name of Allah and in the way of Allah. Fight against those who disbelieve in Allah. Make a holy war.... When you meet your enemies who are polytheists, invite them to three courses of action. If they respond to any one of these, you also accept it and withold yourself from doing them any harm. Invite them to (accept) Islam; if they respond to you, accept it from them and desist from fighting against them.... If they refuse to accept Islam, demand from them the Jizya. If they agree to pay, accept it from them and hold off your hands. If they refuse to pay the tax, seek Allah's help and fight them.

Given this tradition, then the putative letter to Heraclius and Ahmadinejad's actual letter to Bush take on ominous overtones:

Will you not accept this invitation? That is, a genuine return to the teachings of prophets, to monotheism and justice, to preserve human dignity and obedience to the Almighty and His prophets?

A "genuine return" to these things would mean a return to Islam. One might object that Bush never was a Muslim and thus can't be expected to 'return' to Islam. From an Islamic perspective, however, this call makes sense. Muslims believe that Christians have corrupted the true revelation brought by Jesus, who was a Muslim. The call most likely refers to this. Also possible is an allusion is to the Muslim belief that everyone is born Muslim but that most are corrupted away from it by the false religious systems in which they are raised.

At any rate, Amadinejad is not merely suggesting that Bush become a better Christian, for a return to the teaching of the prophets would include the greatest of them, Muhammad.

Obviously, Bush is not about to convert to Islam, and the New York Sun's editor has provided an astute reading of Vasalam Ala Man Ataba'al hoda: "Peace only unto those who follow the true path."

Only to those...

UPDATE: Better translation: "Peace be to the one who follows the right/true path." Thanks to an "Anonymous" reader who noted this and to Nathan Bauman for help in correcting the translation. The lack of "only" lessens the implicit threat, in my opinion.

Friday, May 12, 2006

New Scientific Evidence: Dead Fish Shook Hands!

"Dead Fish" Handshake
(Borrowed from

"Every human handshake echoes the Devonian: the structures we shake with -- shoulder, elbow, wrist -- were first seen in fish living in streams 370 million years ago..."

Or so says Arts & Letters Daily for May 11, 2006 in the column labeled "Essays and Opinion" as the lead-in words linking to a website (Edge) featuring an excerpt from John Brockman's Intelligent Thought, an essay by Neil Shubin titled "The 'Great' Transition," which states:
The take-home message of this essay is a simple one: The transition of animals from water to land in the Devonian period, 370 million years ago, was profoundly important .... The effects of the transition are all around us .... We even see them when we shake hands. [.../..../...] The structures we shook with -- our shoulder, elbow, and wrist -- were first seen in fish living in streams over 370 million years ago. Our firm clasp is made with a modified fish fin.
Huh? Talk about a bait-and-switch! I was really expecting to learn that those old dead fish shook hands. Or at least an explanation for the dead-fish handshake.

Setting aside the ridiculous for a moment, I should state that the article is actually very interesting, and for the following reason:
In 1987 my colleague, Jenny Clack, began new studies in East Greenland and found ... [an] important piece of evidence bearing on this water-land transition .... She discovered the skeleton of another truly extraordinary tetrapod .... [T]his creature has limbs with fingers and toes. It also has a very tetrapod-like hip, neck, and ear. What is remarkable is that this, the most primitive known tetrapod, is aquatic. It is not remotely specialized for life on land. It has fingers and toes but they are set within a limb that looks like a flipper. The limbs are delicate structures and seem unable to have supported the weight of the animal on land. It has a pair of hind limbs, but behind that is a tail that resembles that of a fish. Most important, this tetrapod has big gills.

The inescapable conclusion is that the most primitive tetrapod was an aquatic creature. The implications are profound: The fish-to-tetrapod transition likely happened not in creatures that were adapting to land but in creatures living in water. Moreover, everything special about tetrapods -- limbs, digits, ribs, neck, the lot -- might well have evolved in water, not on land.

Delicate limbs with fingers? Maybe this is the origin of the dead-fish handshake after all. Sorry, I'm supposed to have left the ridiculous behind.

So let me just add, in all seriousness, that the essay is fascinating and is part of a book intended to counter the arguments of those who advocate Intelligent Design (ID) by showing that complex structures could arise in one environment but come to be useful in an utterly different environment. That's an old argument, of course, and doesn't in itself answer Michael Behe's use of irreducible complexity to challenge evolutionary theory. I presume that the book does respond to that challenge as well, but I'll likely never get around to reading it, so if anybody else has read it, please fill us in on the details.

Now, I'm off to my KAIS conference...