Thursday, November 30, 2006

"A little violence never hurt anybody..."

Greek Island of Santorini
(Image from Wikipedia)

Or so one of my part-Cherokee Ozark uncles used to say.

Now, I'm not one to advocate going around punching people in the nose, but I've seen enough to see my Uncle's point.

So has this fellow Mikel Jollett, who wrote a touching if unconventional tribute to his dad: "Me vs. The Bully" (h/t Gar).
When I was 15, I was terrorized by a 12th-grade headbanger. A big, mean S.O.B. who ran with the skinheads, snorted coke before school, and walked the halls with a menacing scowl on his face and a 4-inch switchblade tucked in his vest .... Everyone at the school was afraid of him. I was afraid of him. I had no idea what to do about it.

So, I told my dad. Now, Dad and I were nothing alike .... He'd been an outlaw in his youth, running drugs to Mexico, writing fraudulent checks, and spending 3 years in prison....

Everyone in prison thought my dad was crazy. Whenever someone came too close, he'd go berserk, yelling with that incredibly powerful voice of his, intimidating whoever approached him, convincing them that he was a cannon ready to go off .... They left him alone....

Which is why he seemed like the right guy to talk to about the headbanger. I sat him down one morning and told him about the threats, the intimidations, the months spent with my stomach in knots. He listened intently and thought for a moment, furrowing his weathered brow as I did during geometry class. Then he looked up and said, simply, "Well, you're going to have to kick his ass."
Well ... you might think that this particular advice wouldn't take much brow-furrowing thought, that this ex-con advising his son to kick that bully's ass is just some loser giving primitive advice, but if you read the story, you'll see that this dad understood his son's situation, knew what had to be done, didn't give the advice lightly, and prepared his son both mentally and physically for following through.

The advice was basic, not primitive -- an important distinction.

Now, I've never punched anybody -- even grew up assuming that the moral position was to "turn the other cheek" -- but I can think of a few times when a sharp punch in some jerk's nose might have assisted that guy's moral development.

Read the story and draw your own conclusions.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

After yesterday's ridiculous, today's sublime...

Pope Benedict XVI and Turkey's Religious Affairs Director Ali Bardakoglu
(AP Image from Yahoo! News)
(Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press)
(Copyright © 2006 Yahoo! Inc.)

Pope Benedict appears to be trying to soothe relations with Muslims, shaking hands with Ali Bardakoglu, head of Turkey's Religious Affairs Directories and stating:
"Peace is the basis of all religions."
Let's hope that it is. Bardakoglu, anyway, doesn't object to greeting the Pope and shaking his hand, unlike this fellow who blogs at The Ignored Puzzle Pieces of Knowledge and who would refuse to shake hands with a Christian, as explained in his November 27th entry "Shaykh 'Azzam: Let Them Find Harshness In You":
[T]hey said to Ibn Hajar al-Haythami: "Is it allowed for the Muslim to extend his hand when greeting a Christian, so that he could shake it?" He answered: "No, because the Christian will feel at peace when he is shaking your hand. So, it is not allowed for you to extend your hand for him to shake." ... It was narrated to me by the leader of the Islamic Movement in Jordan -- our teacher, Muhammad 'Abd ar-Rahman Khalifah....
Not knowing anything about the teacher Muhammad 'Abd ar-Rahman Khalifah nor about Muslim views on this issue of refusing a handshake -- though it sounds Salafi to my ears -- I'll ignore the missing pieces of my knowledge in this puzzle and leave the research to others.


Because I've got other fish to fry ... such as to finish grading, by classtime this morning, the final three of those hundred essays that I've been busy with for over a week now...

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Students' unintentional humor...

(Image from Wikipedia)

I should be saving up the inadvertently funny things that some of my students write about literature, but my own examples would pale to humorlessness beside the lines that Peter Herman has assembled from years of student papers in:
"The New Literary History: the Bible to the Renaissance."
This can be read in its entirety in the Milton List Archives, but the format is screwed up, making the text obscenely difficult to read, so in the interest of recovering fine literature for the masses, I'll post the most memorable lines below, beginning with this anonymous epigram penned by a student and attached by Herman as a motto to the entire text:
"Many phallacies are believed but not understood."
Well ... some phallacies must actually be seen to be believed. But, yeah, belief isn't quite enough. You need to work at getting a handle on them so you'll be ready when others try using them to manipulate you. Be careful, though, for if you play around too much with phallacies, you can even go blind:
In Oedipus the King by Sophocles I, Oedipus exasturbates his pain by blinding himself."
And you thought that this bit of childhood rumor was just a phallacy! Anyway, moving on from the dangers of onanism to other perversions, we find that:
"Through Jane Chance's analization of Beowulf, we see the poem through a female's eyes."
If that's not to your taste, then the scholar John Leyerle is reputed to provide the white male gaze:
"Leyerle's [analization] comes through the eyes of a male."
A difficult feat, remarkable even -- but what is this fascination with voyeurism, anyway? We need true men of action, men like the great and courtly Gawain in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, who does his mighty best to resist seduction by the beautiful, alluring Lady Bercilak ... though it's sometimes really, really hard:
"Gawain acted like a boar by shooting upright when the Lady came in."
Shakespeare's rough, rude-hewn Vincentio, however, had no such compunctions:
"[I]n The Taming of the Shrew, Vincentio shows that he likes to flex his patriarchal muscle."
More complex, though, are the posterior views of Richard II with respect to his desparate, rearguard action:
"Richard the Second houses his political movements and doctrine within his inflated ego. By ornamenting himself with a crown, he fully believes he will be endowed with an ultimate power to rule his seat's right royal majesty."
I think that the student was using "ego" as a euphemism for the "ultimate power" thing that Richard is "endowed" with ... but this is all rather oblique. Another student, fortunately, takes a more direct approach to Shakespeare interpretation:
"I believe these Sonnets can be viewed as Shakespeare's device to attack Victorian morality as they touch on the obvious sexual organs."
Now, that's going to the root of the matter. Shakespeare obviously knew what was coming down ... even 300 years before the events! Ah, Shakespeare, you prophet bard of naughty England!

But as Milton knew, Victorian morality all began with man's first, unhappy fall:
"After the Fall, Adam and Eve cover up their genial organs."
The real meaning of felix culpa? Alas, the world has been uncongenial ever since, and ever awaits the missed congeniality...

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Monday, November 27, 2006

A pretty decent nonplagiarized essay...

Jesus as Pantokrator
6th-Century Mosaic
Ravenna, Italy
The Christ, but no Christian hero?
(Image from Wikipedia)

... has landed on my desk, and since I bemoan the work of the cheaters, then I ought to praise the work of the honest, especially if it aims high and does well.

This particular essay begins so well that I initially thought that it must indicate yet another instance of plagiarism:
Controversy swept over Christians around the world as the Harry Potter books became international bestsellers. Was it a dangerous book that could influence people, especially young children, to confuse the fundamental beliefs of Christianity with the fictional but pagan ideas from the world of magic? Or was it just a children's fantasy story that didn't deserve such a huge reaction? Even now, as the seventh Harry Potter book is yet to be released, some people claim that it is anti-Christian because it explains the world order in laws of magic that holds no room for Christian doctrines. Others say that it actually promotes Christian values such as love, courage to do what is just, and forgiveness. Similarly, Beowulf is often among heated controversy on whether he is a Christian or pagan hero figure, as there are frequent references to the Bible and acknowledgements of one divine God that rules the earth in the text. In this essay, I will try to prove in a completely textual perspective that Beowulf in Beowulf cannot be identified as a Christian hero in comparison to Gawain in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight because Beowulf dissatisfies the crucial conditions of a Christian hero that are visible in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
I'm not sure that one can properly use "dissatisfy" in this impersonal sense. Ordinarily, the word puts emphasis upon the mood of a disappointed individual, not upon an abstract failure to meet criteria, but this provides such a useful extension of the word's semantic range -- by concisely capturing the sense of the wordier phrase "fails to satisfy" -- that I'm nearly willing to accept it.

In fact, I think that I will accept it, and for all I know, my student's usage might even, technically, be correct. Anyway, I'm feeling generous due to the overall good writing and the student's mastery of the engaging introduction.

That said, I don't happen to agree with this student's thesis, and the paper goes on to define "Christian hero" too narrowly as "a hero who is a Christian." As I point out to my student, this definition would exclude King David and every other Old Testament hero, who are -- admittedly -- not themselves Christian but who are certainly heros to Christians. It would even exclude that greatest of heros revered by Christians: Jesus himself. He may have been the Christ, but he was no Christian.

Ultimately, this narrow definition detracts from the student's otherwise fine effort because it makes the analytical job too easy. All that one need do is show that the hero Beowulf is not a Christian, and one has proved that he is not a Christian hero.

That might work -- in a bare, technical sense -- but it ignores as irrelevant all the interesting things that one might otherwise notice concerning Beowulf's status as a symbol of Christ.

Thus, the paper can't quite achieve the highest mark, but it's nonetheless a joy to read.

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Since Gord has defended my integrity...

Early Egyptian Juggling Art
Networking can be an art in itself...
(Image from Wikipedia)

... and because we go way back to our shared childhood roots, and because we drink together "every night until 2:00 am, 3:00 am, 4:00 am when ... [we] have to get up for work at 7:00 am the next morning," and because we are going to network our own good ol' boys' group with Gord in charge -- hence calling it the "Gord ol' boys" -- to ensure that we always have enough contacts and influence to land tenured jobs in big-name universities, and because...

... well, actually, none of this is true, except for Gord's having defended my integrity against a trolling Anonymous -- but that's reason enough, so I'm urging everyone to surf over to Gord's eclexys site and read "My Girlfriend's Grade," which sketches a fascinating if dismaying picture of the right stuff for becoming a successful medical doctor in Korea, which turns out to be the same right stuff for becoming successful in other professions here: networking.

By networking, one makes the right grade, the high grade, the success-enhancing grade. So why doesn't Korea collapse into a sheer, incompetent mess?

It doesn't collapse because Koreans aren't stupid, and they know what the high grade means, so the system adjusts for expected incompetence of the high-flyers:
The one reassuring thing from the conversation was this: when I complained that, say, if I develop bowel cancer and go to the hospital, I don't want some idiot who does everything halfway, but managed to get a top grade because he was a supervisor's buddy, to be the one treating me. I want a good doctor, someone who was careful, who has experience, who knows what she is doing. "Oh, don't worry. All the doctors who get the top grade all want to make a lot of money," she said, "So they never specialize in anything that has to do with life-saving procedures. They all become plastic surgeons and things like that. So you don't need to worry about life-threatening illness. The doctors who got top grades will never be the ones you meet."
Reassuring ... unless you need to have your fanny tucked. I find appropriate the fact that those doctors who obtain a merely superficial medical education are precisely the ones who deal in superficial medical practices like plastic surgery and who pursue the superficial goal of making a lot of money.

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

Speaking of high-flying careers, see Gord's post on the scientific art of the new juggling.

For the record, I don't know Gord personally, but it's true that he defended me (so he obviously doesn't know me at all).

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Most foolish plagiarism ever...

(Sistine Chapel, 1535-1541)
Plagiarism: putting oneself in another's skin?
(Image from Wikipedia)

Yesterday, I began to correct a student paper titled:
"A Comparative Study of Structure and Theme in Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight"
Oddly enough, it has the same title as a journal article by a scholar named Yang Hyun-Chul, which raised my suspicions since my student has an entirely different name.

Now, this could be coincidence. Expressions like "Comparative Study" and "Structure and Theme" can be quite common, and lots of folks must have compared Beowulf to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Still, that's quite a lengthy sequence of words for an exact match.

Let's look more closely. Here's a passage from the paper's body:
I think according to Frye's theory of nature-myth (Frye 429), that the inner structure of four parts in the Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight reflects the seasonal cycle of the year, and the organic cycle of human life. So I will describe these four parts which are referring to the myth, symbols and meaning.
This is not a perfectly constructed sentence, but it looks to be well above the level attained by most students in my classes and best fits the language level of a scholar using English as a second language (hence that superfluous definite article in "the Beowulf").

So ... I think that my student has plagiarized this article.

But I'd hate to risk making a false accusation on such a serious issue, so to be sure about my suspicions -- which I assume you share -- let's compare the sentence quoted above with the paper's thesis statement, for I require students' papers to have a thesis statement with a logical form that I've specified (A --> B b/c A --> C), thus making very likely that the student would have to compose at least this one small part of the paper. Here's what my student wrote:
The two poem's themes or motifs are combined to produce a work of impressive organic unity because two poems have heroic ideal, Christian humiliation and chastity.
This is a very poor sentence, much poorer than the one quoted earlier. Though it starts out well enough, it deteriorates toward the end. I think that my student borrowed the first half and simply appended the because-clause: "because two poems have heroic ideal, Christian humiliation and chastity." This because-clause clearly has a different style and makes far more mistakes than the sentence's first half, which only gets the apostrophe in "poem's" wrong (and which might simply be a typo). One could quibble that "produce a work" should be "produce works," but we're surely meant to understand the meaning as "produce a work in each poem."

At any rate, the because-clause would need a bit of reworking to bring it up to the stylistic level of the sentence's first half. Let's try reworking it (also correcting "poem's"):
The two poems' themes or motifs are combined to produce a work of impressive organic unity because they express the heroic ideal along with Christian values of humility and chastity.
This sounds better, but it's a very weak thesis statement since the reason provided in the because-clause is insufficient to support the claim made in the sentence's first half. Also, the because-clause is wrong about "humility" in Beowulf, which is not a poem that extols Christian humility -- or humility of any sort, for that matter.

Consequently, I have no doubt that this paper is plagiarized and that the student deserves an "F."

Hint to student: At least alter the title the next time that you plagiarize an entire article.

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Friday, November 24, 2006

Prelapsarian Sex

Peter Paul Rubens, Adam and Eve (1597)
Prelapsarian sex conceivable?
(Image from Wikipedia)

Concerning prelapsarian sex in Milton's Paradise Lost (4.736-743; cf. DDD 1.4) and the potential implications of a prelapsarian pregnancy, one scholar on the Milton List recently wrote:
The main "problem" I've heard of is that of children possibly 'conceived' prior to the fall. If any such, did they inherit original sin? Didn't Defoe write on this problem?
I don't know about Defoe, but my guess is that Milton would have considered such children to be fallen as well, since all of creation fell along with Adam and Eve:
So saying, her rash hand in evil hour
Forth reaching to the Fruit, she pluck'd, she eat:
Earth felt the wound, and Nature from her seat
Sighing through all her Works gave signs of woe,
That all was lost. (PL 9.780-784)

She gave him of that fair enticing Fruit
With liberal hand: he scrupl'd not to eat
Against his better knowledge, not deceav'd,
But fondly overcome with Femal charm.
Earth trembl'd from her entrails, as again
In pangs, and Nature gave a second groan,
Skie lowr'd, and muttering Thunder, som sad drops
Wept at compleating of the mortal Sin
Original; (PL 9.996-1004)
Of course, Milton probably had more specific views concerning embryology and how inheritance worked that would explain the particular details of how the fallenness of a fetus could occur even after conception.

Does anybody know? For that matter, how does Milton conceive of all creation falling with the fall of Adam and Eve? I presume that this has something to do with Adam and Eve being in a position of authority over creation.

And now that I reflect upon this point, it also fits with Milton's portrayal of the fall of those angels that fell, all of whom seem to have been under Satan's command.

The faithful and obedient Abdiel who rejects Satan's authority (PL 5.896-900) is the outlier here, but otherwise, the hierarchical pattern seems to fit. When those in authority fall, that which is under their authority also falls.

Incidentally, why does Milton write "Femal" rather than "Female" in PL 9.999? Is this a pun on "mal," i.e., "evil"? Would "fe" be a pun on "fée"? I've seen "fe" as a variant of "fée" and "faye" -- as in "Morgan le Fe" for "Morgan le Faye." Since Morgan le Faye practiced magic, this fit Milton's line "Femal charm." Sorry for all these wild wanderings through etymology, but this blog is Gypsy Scholar, after all.

And for the esoteric interests of Eshuneutics and Jonathan Olson, does 9.999 have any numerological significance?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Something baffling about my Korean students...

Don't use this 'wicked encyclopedia'...
(Image stolen from Wikipedia)

I'm busy correcting and grading the first drafts of my students' essays, and something that most of them have done has quite baffled me.

Several times during the semester, I warned my students against using Wikipedia as a source, explaining how Wikipedia works, that it has open editing for its articles, which means that articles can undergo editing by anyone, that articles can change at any time, and that articles will not meet academic standards of reliability.

So ... what have my students done? They've used Wikipedia, of course.

Now, I happen to like Wikipedia -- as anyone who reads this blog knows -- and I cite it all the time in my blog entries, but this blog functions as a freer space for brainstorming on my speculations and musings, not as a scholarly format for serious publication.

The occasional visitor who pops in here without realizing how I use this blog can get annoyed when I don't meet scholarly expectations. For instance, I had an anonymous reader last spring who combed my musings obsessively, looking for the even the smallest degree of inconsistency, and accusing me of various sorts of intellectual sins. I finally grew tired of him, decided that he was an odd sort of 'troll,' told him so, and -- to my astonished joy -- got rid of him that way.

In short -- and to return to my point -- I'm not trying to meet scholarly standards here, so I can use Wikipedia if I want.

But my students had better not use it on their academic papers -- as I have repeatedly warned.

Yet, they have done so, and when I've delved into this with them, I discover that they did listen to my warnings and that they do know that they're not supposed to use it.

"So, why did you use it?" I ask.

A weak smile appears, but no explanation is forthcoming, merely a "Sorry."

"Well," I reply, "then you must be expecting a 'sorry' grade."

And that's precisely what they receive.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Tariq Ramadan Interview After 9/11: My Brief Remark and Anecdote

Tariq Ramadan
(Image from Islam Online [9/5/03])

A recent comment by Michael B. on a previous post caught my attention and directed me to Transatlantic Intelligencer, a site maintained by John Rosenthal, whose observations on Tariq Ramadan gave me still more reason to be suspicious of Ramadan's putative moderation.

Rosenthal also links to an interview ("Attentats aux USA: Ben Laden, coupable idéal?"), conducted by Nicolas Geinoz for the 9/22/2001 edition of the Swiss newspaper La Gruyère (which I used to read back in my Fribourg days), in which Tariq Ramadan acknowledges that Bin Laden probably was responsible for the 9/11 attacks but allows for some doubt.

Geinoz presses Ramadan on this point (in French, but see also my English translation):
Pourtant, ce ne serait pas la première fois que des extrémistes musulmans commettent un attentat...

Nevertheless, this would not be the first time that Moslem extremists have made an attack...
To which Ramadan quickly responds:
Bien sûr que non, mais en l'occurrence il faut aussi se demander «à qui profite le crime». Aucune cause arabe ou islamique ne tirera profit de ces événements, au contraire: les peuples et tous les musulmans vont en pâtir. Quant à ceux que l’on a identifiés comme les auteurs, ils buvaient, sortaient en boîte et ne pratiquaient pas. Curieux extrémistes religieux. Je m’interroge: Ben Laden n'est peut-être qu'un épouvantail utile comme l'est Saddam Hussein. La représentation diabolique que l'on en fait sert peut-être d'autres desseins géostratégiques, économiques ou politiques. Il ne faut rien simplifier.

Of course not, but in fact, it is also necessary to ask, "Who profits from this crime." No Arab or Islamic cause will benefit from these events. On the contrary: the people and all the Muslims will suffer from it. As for those identified as the ones who carried out this attack, they drank, went to nightclubs, and were not observant Muslims. Curious religious extremists. I ask myself: Is Bin Laden not perhaps a useful bugbear, like Saddam Hussein? Indeed, demonizing him is perhaps useful for other geostrategic, economic, or political motives. One should not oversimplify anything.
In these remarks, as Rosenthal points out, "Ramadan went so far as to insinuate that the United States government itself -- or perhaps Israel? -- could have been the guilty party."

Although I find absurd the notion that the United States or Israel might have planned and carried out 9/11, this view seems rather widespread outside of the United States. In fact, only two weeks ago, one of my students wanted to write his semester essay on the events of 9/11 and argue for the thesis that the U.S. government had carried out the attack. I told him bluntly, "If you write that, you'll fail because the thesis is utterly wrong."

I then relented a bit, telling him, "Look, if you want to write on that and argue that the U.S. attacked itself, then go ahead, but you'll have to write a very, very persuasive essay with lots of logical argumentation and plenty of supporting facts because I am convinced that this view is totally wrong."

He decided to write that the U.S. had used propaganda about 9/11 after the attack in order to pursue its geopolitical aims.

I told him that this would be a more advisable approach.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Am I "sincere"?

Actual Photo of Gypsy Scholar
Lecturing in the provinces of Korea...
(Image stolen from Wikipedia)

In my search for new employment, I have a few friends looking out for me, including a friend and professor at a top Korean university in Seoul, who tells me this:

I had several times to talk about you with a ... collegue. At least, this collegue is convinced on your academic sincerity and genius. They are preferring younger new ph. D. from the Eastern Establishment including England, I guess. A person suggested me to give you an information about a univ. in province. But I declined, because it does not match your academic sincerity. I'm also looking for a post where you can concentrate your energy to your intellectual passion with a maximal condition.
I've deleted the colleague's affiliation, which is not relevant to this post (though dismayingly relevant to my careerlessness).

As for my friend, he's Korean -- and more fluent in French than in English -- so I sometimes find myself mulling over cryptic notes that he sends my way.

Like this note above.

Since my friend spent years in France working on his dissertation, my first association to his mention of "a univ. in province" was:

"A university in Provence? Hey, I'll take it!"
Until I realized that he was referring not to a region in the land of good bread, great cheeses, and fine wines but to some provincial Korean university. No thanks. I've been there and don't intend to go back. My friend is right:

"[I]t does not match your academic sincerity."
But what does he mean by "sincerity"? Evidently, not what Koreans often mean by "sincerity," a topic upon which I've previously blogged.

I think that I understand what my friend means by my "genius," and he doesn't really mean that I'm a genius, which I'm not. He probably means that I'm "brilliant." I'm not that either, but it's nice to imagine the hypothetical case in which I would be brilliant ... or even a genius! But that would be a 'me' in some other world among those hypothesized by the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics -- a world in which I would actually understand quantum mechanics and its many implications. In this actual world, I'm blessed primarily with two gifts: willpower and endurance. And just enough intelligence to make these work for me.

But not quite enough intelligence to figure out my above-mentioned "sincerity."

So, I had to go find a Korean expert to find out what my friend meant. This Korean expert, who shares my blogging office, laughed at the "genius" label as ridiculous but did suggest that by "sincerity," my academic friend meant "seriousness." My "academic seriousness." That would make sense, for I never joke about serious academic stuff, so I thanked my treasured lady Wortschatz and got back to blogging this seriously self-referential blog.

Now if I can just find that academic "post where ... [I] can concentrate ... [my] energy to ... [my] intellectual passion with a maximal condition."

Monday, November 20, 2006

The 'Incredible Bulk' came to dinner...

The "Big Ho" Himself
In the moment of his initial awakening...
(Image stolen from BigHominid's Hairy Chasms)
(Caution: faintheart alert below)

Let no one -- not even himself -- tell you that the Big Bloggin' Hominid is fat. He's just a big, bulky bloke ... an incredibly big, bulky bloke.

He's even bigger now, for last Friday evening, he stalked in and fed himself here at the Hwang-Hodges household.

On that same Friday evening, gorged like Grendel, the Big Ho returned to his lair and blogged about the feast. He titles his blogpost "stuffed," which I have pasted below, along with clarifying commentary [and occasional, bracketed remarks]:
It always seems to work out this way when I'm invited to dinner in Korea: I end up stuffed.
That often happens when you devour the children:
I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Hodges, his lovely wife, and their two wonderful children [burp] this evening. Conversation was comfortable and, as is appropriate in a family of scholars and children, it ranged all over. One minute we're talking Islam and Buddhism; the next we're talking about different kinds of pasta and "The Polar Express." Switching registers on the fly isn't easy when you're interacting with professors at one end of the table and kids at the other end, but I think I managed to keep the different lines of discourse straight in my head. I wasn't entirely successful, though: Dr. Hodges's daughter gave me a look at one point and said, "You talk strange."
Before she was silenced by the Big Ho's glowing eyes:

...him of éagum stód
from his eyes issued,

ligge gelícost / léoht unfaéger·
most like a flame, / a distorted light; (Beowulf 726-727)

And no fate-defying hero like Beowulf in sight...
The kids are totally bilingual; it was a hoot watching them interact with each other. Dr. Hodges's son is a bundle of energy; his daughter strikes me as very thoughtful (a future academic?).
But she only struck him once, and as for that aforementioned bundle of energy, it supplied all of the Big Ho's daily kilojoules-per-bite requirements.
Dinner was excellent: we started off with a very nice, creamy vegetable soup (I'm guessing broccoli as the main ingredient, but don't quote me on that), accompanied by some delicious homemade bread. "A meal in itself," as Dr. Hodges noted. I had to agree. The main course was bacon-wrapped chicken breast baked with rosemary; along with this were various vegetables: Korean sweet potatoes, squash, and regular potatoes.
We tried to redirect the Hominid's attention toward the bread. "A meal in itself," I suggested, but the Hominid devoured that 'meal' in one small bite. Merely an appetizer...

At one point during dinner, I suddenly felt claws gently tugging at the fingers of my right hand, which was resting on my thigh. This turned out to be one of the family's two cats, both of which are [were] very friendly. I'm happy to report that, unlike many Korean cats, these cats both have [had] their tails, and the tails are [were] unbroken! I gave both cats the chance to sniff my fingers. They must have decided I wasn't worth killing, because I finished dinner with no further clawing.

Also, no further cats.
Dessert was two kinds of grapes plus chocolate from around the world. Most tasty. Through it all, conversation was pleasant, both erudite and earthy. Very down-home. I came away from dinner with both a full stomach and the impression that I had just been welcomed into a very happy home. Sincere thanks to the good professor and his family for hosting me this evening. I hope one day to repay the favor, though I doubt I can do it by inviting everyone into my studio-sized dorm room.
Good God! The Hominid is still hungry and threatening to eat more! Yet ... he's a pleasant enough monster, well-spoken, polite, as erudite as Victor Frankenstein's great creation but even bigger. He passes himself off as human ... though he is surely something different, and dangerous.

Ah, Big Ho, "Did he who made the Lamb make thee?"

By the way, for the non-fainthearted who don't do but do want to read the Big Ho's blog, be sure that you're really NOT fainthearted. Consider this a faintheart alert.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Daniel asks a little theological question...

Michelangelo, Creation of the Sun and Moon
Detail of Sistine Chapel
Basically a nice guy?
(Image from Wikipedia)

Daniel, also known as "Herr Richter" -- and who has a fascinating blog of his own experimental writing -- has posed a simple question:

I've got a question. I've asked this question to a few people of various religious beliefs. Here it is.

If there is a god who is infinitely benevolent and infinitely powerful, why would he/she/it create a world with evil people? The question assumes that there are evil people, people who seem to have been made to do evil. So, the question isn't "Why would such a God make people who suffer?" but "Why would such a God create people who would cause suffering, because causing suffering seems to fulfill them?" I'm thinking of not just the obvious examples such as serial rapists or killers, but people who get a kick out of taking a stab at someone because they've noticed they're shy and therefore won't strike back. Why would such a God create evil people, and alongside them, a Hell, where they will suffer for eternity? Maybe they have chosen to be evil, but it doesnt seem to me that everyone chooses freely. Do you think people are really as free as Christianity claims?

And along with that, evolution. Why would such a God (infinitely benevolent & infinitely powerful) set up a universe where might makes right, where a species thrives based on how ruthless it is(the reason we have lions running around Africa is because they didn't hesitate a moment before sinking their teeth into their prey), and then expect his creations to act against the way they had been created to act. My question doesn't regard the injustice of this killing as much as it does, why would God create this universe, where might makes right, and then reveal to his creations in a book that he meant for the universe to run conter-clockwise, in a self-less manner instead of in a selfish manner, and whoever does not accept the truth of this book, against the evidence of the universe, shall be punished for eternity?

This is my question, or questions. I don't mean this as an affront to anyone's beliefs, I respect Christianity, and understand why someone would decide to adopt the Christian belief. I am simplifying the situation, but I will limit myself to: Christianity is based upon faith. If everything made sense, and it was clear what was right and wrong because God's voice thundered down from the clouds: "THOU SHALT NOT ETC", then many more people would obey the commandment, but there would be nothing special because it was obvious and straight forward. Who wouldn't obey a mysterious voice that thundered down from the clouds? You would have to be insane not to. My point is, faith is meaningful because of the ambiguity of the world.

However, this faith is not for me. I am at this point an atheist, not an atheist who believes there is necessarily no god, but an atheist who has not found any answers in religion that satisfy. I do not consider myself any more enlightened than the next individual, be he Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, or what have you.

Anyway, if you've got any thoughts regarding this question, I would be interested.
Okay, maybe that wasn't quite the simple little question that I announced above ... but I'm going to treat it as one.

One can take either of two serious approaches in responding to a question like this.

One can choose to pursue a fullscale theodicy and attempt to answer in detail all of the points posed and more -- a bit like Milton attempted in his great epic Paradise Lost. The problem with such an approach is that it presumes our ability to accomplish this, but doing so would require that we be God. Since we're not God and therefore lack the divine attribute of omniscience, we're bound to encounter severe epistemological limitations, both concerning things that are simply beyond our ken and things that are beyond our current knowledge, and thus fall into error -- perhaps ridiculously so. Thus, we might laugh at Milton's presumption about knowing God's mind in such detail or at some of Milton's now-outmoded views on astronomy, astronomy, and the interpretation of dreams.

Or ... one can choose to pursue a limited theological defense and offer possible answers in more general terms. For instance, one could consider the query above to be asking how God can be omniscient, omnipotent, and omni-benevolent and yet allow evil. A theological defense would turn the question back on the questioner and ask why these are considered mutually contradictory. The questioner is then burdened with the onus of explaining precisely where the contradiction is to be found. The point here is not to be difficult but to get the questioner to reconsider the basis for the assumption that a contradiction exists. God, in his omniscience, might have a good reason for allowing evil. The details might be beyond our comprehension. The reason might have something to do with free will, moral responsibility, spiritual growth, or other possible suggestions.

I suppose that reading Lewis -- as Richardson suggests -- might help one in considering such possible answers. I'd add such philosphers as Alvin Plantinga or Peter van Inwagen, who focus on theological defenses (and avoid theodicies).

A far better man than I for dealing with such philosophical concerns would be Bill Vallicella, whose blog -- Maverick Philosopher -- deals with such issues and who could suggest specific philosophical books and articles for reading.

Meanwhile, commenters are free to pose their own responses to Daniel's query.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Don't hold back, Hugh, tell us what you really think of C. S. Lewis...

Photograph by Arthur Strong, 1947
"...the face and figure of a hog-reeve or earthy-stopper"
(Image from Wikipedia)

For our prurient erudition, here's a quote from a letter that Hugh Trevor-Roper wrote about C. S. Lewis to Bernard Berenson, describing Lewis with intellectual and aristocratic disdain as:
"a man who combines the face and figure of a hog-reeve or earthy-stopper with the mind and thought of a Desert Father of the fifth century, preoccupied with meditations of inelegant theological obscenity: a powerful mind warped by erudite philistinism, blackened by systematic bigotry, and directed by a positive detestation of such profane frivolities as art, literature and (of course) poetry: a purple-faced bachelor and misogynist, living alone in rooms of inconceivable hideousness, secretly consuming vast quantities of his favourite dish -- beefsteak-and-kidney-pudding; periodically trembling at the mere apprehension of a feminine footfall; and all the while distilling his morbid and illiberal thoughts into volumes of best-selling prurient religiosity and ... reactionary nihilism."
You can read this fine quote in Richard King's review (in "arts, books, other reviews") of Letters from Oxford: Hugh Trevor-Roper to Bernard Berenson (edited by Richard Davenport-Hines, published in England by Weidenfeld and Nicolson).

King, who calls Trevor-Roper "an acquired taste," also cites one of his old teachers, who in commenting on seventeenth century historiography informed him "that it was sad and troubling that the Marxist historian and Master of Balliol Christopher Hill was such a nice man but wrong, whereas the Regius Professor of Modern History, Hugh Trevor-Roper, was a very unpleasant man but right" about politics, economics, and history.

He wasn't right about the forged Hitler Diaries, of course.

For your further reading, the webpage "arts, books, other reviews" is published in the September 2006 issue of the online journal New Directions, which is part of a larger website, Trushare (aka The Cost of Conscience), "an Association of Anglican priests from all over the world ... committed to Safeguarding our Heritage: the Deposit of Faith, once delivered to the saints, which has been entrusted to us for the present time."

Amazing, the places that Gypsy Scholar leads the unwary reader, advancing "swiftly rowld / In tangles" through "wandering mazes lost"(cf. Paradise Lost 9.631-632, 2.561)...

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Friday, November 17, 2006

Blue Letter Bible on circumcising the heart's foreskin...

Online Bible Resource
(Image from BLB)

On the Milton List that I belong to, one of the scholars -- the ever helpful Nancy Charlton -- passed along this information about a useful tool for those of us who investigate Milton's biblical sources: the Blue Letter Bible.

Its use is not limited to researching Milton, nor was it even developed with Milton in mind. One can simply look up any verse in the Bible and find links to translations, concordances, commentaries, correlating verses, lexicons, grammatical analyses, and more.

Also, it's free, online, and user-friendly.

Knowing Greek and Hebrew helps for some of what it offers, but it offers a lot for everyone. I haven't looked at its theological orientation, but for narrowly technical questions of the sort that interest me, it looks pretty good.

One disclaimer on this point, though. Being far off the beaten track here in Korea, where I don't have people around whom I can ask, I don't know what's available in software programs for biblical analysis. The little that I've seen at Society of Biblical Literature Conferences has been out of my price range, so when something like the Blue Letter Bible comes online, I might overrate its usefulness.

But it is useful. Take Deuteronomy 30:6:
And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live. (KJV)
Click on the box with "K" inside, and you'll find a host of correlating passages -- many of them with that strange image of circumcising the foreskin of the heart (were these folks anatomically challenged, or what!).

Click on the box with "C" inside, and you'll get some information on the Hebrew as well as the Greek translation from the Septuagint.

Then, there are "L," "V," and "D" for commentaries, translations, and dictionaries, respectively.

For those of you with time and interest, you can probably enjoy playing around with the site and see what you find both fun and interesting.

As for Deuteronomy 30:6, I find it interesting that something has to be removed from the heart -- implicitly, the heart's 'foreskin' -- before one can love God with all one's heart. Symbolically, what is removed is the impurity (which by its addition subtracts but by its subtraction adds), as I learned more precisely from the linked Easton's Bible Dictionary:
In the Old Testament a spiritual idea is attached to circumcision. It was the symbol of purity ( Isa 52:1). We read of uncircumcised lips ( Exd 6:12, 30), ears ( Jer 6:10), hearts ( Lev 26:41). The fruit of a tree that is unclean is spoken of as uncircumcised ( Lev 19:23).
I found this by clicking "D," choosing "circumcision" under "Easton Dictionary Entries," clicking "Go," and scrolling down a little.

By the way, by clicking "K," and looking at the correlating passages, you'll find Deuteronomy 10:16, about how you should "Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked," but I don't even want to go there...

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Bare Memory and Mortality

Star of David
From Oldest Surviving Complete Copy of Masoretic Text
Most things survive longer than we do...
(Image from Wikipedia)

Yesterday's post brought up various memories for me, some of which might or might not prove interesting for others.

For instance, I remember my Baylor friend Margaret Robinson telling me that she had learned how to cook a few Jewish dishes from her brother Leland's mother-in-law, Goldie Koortz, who was Jewish. At the time, Margaret wanted to learn more recipes, but Goldie was protective of her cooking secrets -- as is any good cook worth her salt, pepper, and assorted spices.

That's part of the mystique, the magic, of good cooking. Lots of smoke and mirrors ... a dash of deception, even a mite of misleading:
... all human history attests
That happiness for man -- the hungry sinner! --
Since Eve ate apples, much depends on dinner.

(Lord Byron, Don Juan, Canto 13, Stanza 99)
Much depends on dinner, true, and dinner depends much upon appearances, as Eve can attest, for what young man, gazing upon a tender beauty and "thrown into despair / By those great honey-colored / Ramparts at ... [her] ear," would wish to glimpse or straightly see "the skull beneath the skin"?

Knowing these things, perhaps, Goldie kept her secrets safe even from Margaret, only gradually, incrementally, revealing them as Margaret helped her in the kitchen ... or so Margaret told me.

Maybe Goldie revealed more of her secret recipes to her daughter Leah Sue Koortz, who had married Margaret's brother, Leland.

I don't know, but then, what do I know of these people that I'm writing about? I knew only Margaret personally, and that was over 25 years ago. Of the four individuals mentioned in the previous paragraph, only Margaret is still living. I know because I saw Leah's death mentioned in Leland's obituary, so I checked online for Leah's own and found that she died on June 4, 2002. She was only 55 ... but she had a full life:
Leah was born on February 1, 1947 in El Paso, Texas to David and Goldie Koortz. She graduated from El Paso High School in 1965 where she was Head Varsity Cheerleader and Homecoming Football Queen. She was also a member of Who's Who, Freshman Spring Fiesta Duchess, Sophomore Class Favorite and Class Beauty for 3 years. She attended the University of Arizona and the University of Texas at El Paso prior to graduating from the St. Paul School of Nursing in 1969 as a Registered Nurse (RN). It was in Dallas that she met her future husband, Leland H. Robinson Jr. They were married shortly after her graduation from nursing school. She worked as an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurse at St. Paul Hospital in Dallas until shortly before giving birth to her first child in 1972. For the next 30 years, Leah dedicated herself to being a full-time mother to her children and a supportive wife to her husband. She considered her roles as a wife and mother to be of the highest calling and always placed them above any personal career ambitions. She not only was a full-time mother to her own children, but frequently found herself to be a second-mom to her children's friends. Her home was always a safe haven for young people and a gathering place for her children's friends, even when her own children weren't present. She seemed to have a knack for making young people feel loved and comfortable in her presence. She taught a children's Sunday School Class at Surrey Hills Baptist Church for many years in addition to being a home-room mother for her children and a volunteer teaching assistant in the Yukon Public Schools for several years. Additionally, she chaired the Martha's Kitchen Ministry at Surrey Hills Baptist Church for several years.
I suppose that some people might think that she had wasted a potential career, but she sounds as though she were "an angel in the house."

Why am I writing about these people whom I knew only through my friend Margaret? Not out of morbidity, but because they seem more real to me now than many of the people whom I knew casually at Baylor. They stand solid among the many ghosts who populate my memory.

Still, they are gone ... so, you two women, Golda and Leah, neither of whom I ever actually knew -- and who surely had never even heard of me -- as in yesterday's parting words to Leland, Requiescat In Pace.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Memory and Mortality

Jerusalem Cross at Western End of Bozeat Church
(Image from Wikipedia)

In one of my recent websearches, a randomly surfacing obituary in the The Dallas Morning News caught my eye:
Leland H. Robinson, Jr.
The name rang a bell and awakened memories. I didn't know Leland Robinson personally, but his younger sister Grace Margaret Robinson was a special friend of mine at Baylor.

According to the obituary, for April 6, 2006:
Leland was born on December 1, 1942 to parents Grace and Leland H. Robinson, Sr. in McKinney, Texas. Leland grew up on a farm in Plano, TX leaving to join the Air Force where he spent 2 years serving overseas in Japan. Leland attended college in Texas, and it was in Dallas where he met his future wife Leah Sue Koortz. They married in 1969 and had two children Tammy and Leland Robinson III.
Margaret once told me that her brother accidentally ran over her in his car as he was backing up. She was only about 3 or 4 and thus very short, too short to be seen standing behind the automobile as he shifted into reverse and looked behind to back up.

Only when he had backed up enough and saw his baby sister lying on the ground in front of his car did he notice her. His first thought was that he had killed his little sister, but when he rushed out to get her, he found her completely unharmed -- and indignant: "Brother hit me!" she accused.

Surprising to me in this obituary is the information that Leland Robinson grew up on a farm. That means ... I guess ... that Margaret grew up on a farm. Somehow, that downhome information never got conveyed to me despite the many long conversations that Margaret and I had, and I've always thought of her as somewhat of a city girl because her town Plano had gotten swallowed up by an expanding Dallas in her adolescence.

Knowing that she was a "farm girl" clarifies some things for me, possibly her ingenuousness, but certainly our easy friendship, for I also came from a rural background.

But one thing that I've never understood is something that I'll leave without inadequate elaboration or inexplicative speculation.

Her mysterious goodness.

As for her brother, Leland Robinson, he died of cancer on Monday, April 24, 2006 at the untimely age of 63, a sad reminder that we're all growing older and more fragile with age.

Requiescat In Pace, Mr. Robinson. We didn't know each other, but I trust that we had a connection.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A little thoughtlessness goes a long way...

Personification of Thought (Greek Εννοια)
Could there be a personification of non-thought?
(Image from Wikipedia)

I recommend for all who like to read memories of a quirky childhood to go to Herr Richter's blog, The Burrow of Bucephalus and read his posts, "A la recherche du quiz diabolique" and "From one memory another springs."

The latter story, which is hugely hilarious yet somehow sad, reminded me of an incident from my first-grade year.

Minus the hilarity.

In my early childhood years, I sometimes found myself -- if I found myself at all -- lost in non-thought. This was a bit like being lost in thought, and to external appearances probably gave that very impression, yet I had no thoughts. I was just being, I suppose. Perhaps I was achieving some Zen state of total enlightenment. More likely, I was merely shutting down, zoning out, even going autistic (if that's possible).

This wasn't my choice nor exactly pleasant, but neither was it unpleasant, for it put me in a timeless place and kept the world very far away.

I was sitting in my first-grade classroom and had entered into this strange state, lost in my non-thoughts while the teacher was talking about something. She must have begun calling on students to answer questions, and she must have called on me, even calling out my name several times.

I don't know.

I know only that I had received a sudden, utterly unanticipated hard slap across my cheek. Astonished, I looked up to find my teacher furious and telling me in a very angry voice to "Answer me when I speak to you!"

My punishment -- the slap being merely a reaction -- was to be banished from the Bluebird reading group, which was the highest, to the Redbird reading group ... the lowest.

I sat through those words wordless, then bowed my head in shame, cupped my face in my hands to hide slow tears, and sniffed as quietly as I could.

I didn't want more trouble.

The slap had hurt, but the embarassment at being slapped hurt more, and my shame in being brought so low hurt the worst of all.

I found myself lost in the single thought of my banishment and stuck in a lingering moment of shame that stretched on and on.

From the back of the classroom, I could hear the Bluebird group members meeting and reading in their clear, confident, advanced and chirpy Bluebird tones their Bluebird tomes.

I grew sadder in the knowledge that I had been banished forever from their community, that I would now be forced to read simple Redbird dialogue in halting, painful Redbird tempo:
"Look. Mary. See. Bill. See. Bill. run. Run. Bill. run."
Yes, run Bill. Run away forever.

When the Redbird's session started, I joined them, still ashamed, but my teacher's fury had passed, replaced by regret ... perhaps ... for she spoke to me very kindly, praising my reading skills, which probably shamed the poor Redbirds but made me feel better.

Yet, that evening and on into the next day, I could think only about the shame of my banishment from the Bluebirds, my eternal exile among the Redbirds...

Until the Bluebirds rushed joyfully to the back of the room, and my teacher called, "Jeff, aren't you going to join us?"

I suppose that I should have borne a grudge at this teacher. She was also the one who insisted that my name must be spelled "J-e-f-f-r-e-y" and that the word "Shan" did not rhyme with "man" because "Shan" did not exist ... though he was one of my younger brothers.

I was an odd child, however, and bore no grudge.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Commendable Contranarcissism

Kazakh Tubeteika
Not quite my cap...
(Image from Wikipedia)

I see that the hero of yesterday's blog entry, Scott Nokes, has possibly been frightened away from this blog by the apotropaic mechanism of his very own image:
I have to admit, that big, centered picture of me on Gypsy Scholar is a little scary. Even I'm intimidated!
This contranarcissistic impulse on Scott's part is not only commendable but would have saved the world a lot of woe if only Milton's Eve had evinced a similar reaction to her own reflection in Paradise Lost:
As I bent down to look, just opposite,
A Shape within the watry gleam appeard
Bending to look on me, I started back,
It started back, but pleas'd I soon returnd,
Pleas'd it returnd as soon with answering looks
Of sympathie and love; there I had fixt
Mine eyes till now, and pin'd with vain desire... (PL 4.460-466)
Actually, I hope that Scott returns and continues to post, on his own blog, nice messages about me and my attire:
Of special interest to the blogosphere is Jeffery Hodges, whose site Gypsy Scholar I read every day. Jeffery is a very nice guy with a very nice hat, for those who are wondering. In fact, I urge him to post an image of said hat post haste, so that the world may wonder at it!
I doff my 'hat' at these words, Scott ... but it ain't a hat. It's a cap. I direct your eyes to a previous post here at Gypsy Scholar where I -- with an "olde curteisye" worthy of Sir Gawain ("Squire's Tale" line 95) -- make clear the essential distinction between homely hats and comely caps.

And with that, due to a very busy day, I regretfully take my leave of you all until tomorrow.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

"Medieval and Renaissance Studies in the Age of Globalization"

"Medievalist without Boredom"
(Image from Unlocked Wordhoard)

For the past two days, I've been visiting Seoul's Yonsei University to attend the 2006 MEMESAK International Conference, which I have been attending since 2003, missing only last year due to the flu.

MEMESAK stands for "Medieval and Early Modern English Studies Association of Korea," which was established in 1991 to bring together various scholars in Korea "devoted to medieval English studies," was expanded in 2002 to encompass early Modern English and thereby "widen its membership and area of interest," and was forced by dire circumstances to accept even non-medievalist me as a member in 2003.

Those dire circumstances included the parlous state of the humanities in Korea ... and elsewhere, for that matter.

Medievalists, however, are thinking ahead, becoming proactive some 600 years after the Middle Ages ended, and riding the wave of globalization ... or trying to.

One of those who came surfing in to this conference on "Medieval and Renaissance Studies in the Age of Globalization" was fellow blogger, genuine medievalist, and world-renowned professor Scott Nokes, whose paper, "Medievalists without Borders," suggested ways that scholars working on the Middle Ages might use computer technology and the internet to promote interest in things Medieval, and he noted the way that email, websites, and blogs can open borders and bring together an international community of scholars. Here's what Scott said about the international reach of blogs:

Blogs not only reach over the border between scholarly and professional audiences, but they also reach across international borders. My own blog, Unlocked Wordhoard, for examply, takes the vast majority of its traffic from North America, but has regular visitors from every continent except for Antarctica. Viewers have translated its pages into Spanish, Portuguese, and Chinese. MEMESAK's own Horace Jeffery Hodges' blog, Gypsy Scholar, receives comments from around the world. Blogs, then, are the place of closest communication between scholars and their audiences, and more and more medievalists are taking advantage of that connection.

I'm flattered that Scott mentioned my blog, for it only occasionally treats Medieval topics, but it does help make his point about the borderlessness of the internet, for my blog has received comments not only from North America and Korea but also from other parts of Asia as well as from Europe, North Africa, and Australia. I don't recall if I've had any comments from South America, but I know that I have readers from there -- as well as from sub-Saharan Africa.

Of course, Scott knows -- and notes -- that blogs are neither intrinsically scholarly nor frequented only by scholars, as befits a borderless medium, but so long as we all recognize this fact, we can use blogs for what they offer, e.g., a space for interactive brainstorming, which is how I often use mine.

Occasionally, bloggers such as Scott and I find ourselves targeted by the slings and arrows of outraged readers, but we just send them over to Strongbad to teach them a real lesson.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Academic Adumbrates Umbrage

Academic Taking Umbrage
Is it he or me?
(Yes, I know that's ungrammatical.)
(Image from Free Dictionary)

Regular readers may recall my two posts on Milton's understanding of sacred in the "sacred fruit" that grew on the tree of knowledge.

The article that I was working on at the time has now been accepted by a journal and will soon be published. Of course, I had to make some changes -- and resist making others -- based on suggestions offered by three referees.

Most referees attempt a fair reading, but some merely pretend to. My second referee fell into the latter category, seemingly taking 'scholarly' offense at my article (and I've put the unjustified remarks in red font):

This paper is based on a etymological study of the word "sacred" used by Adam to describe the Tree of Knowledge in order to argue that 1) Adam is indeed expressing Milton's own view that the tree's fruit is originally sacred 2) that by "sacred," Milton seems to mean not the dynamic power of holiness but the holy as pure and set apart, whereas Adam's view on this point remains unclear and 3) Milton portrays the fruit as no longer sacred after its plucking but as "unhallowd" in the strong sense of being imbued with a force of impurity, a point that Adam fails to recognize.

I found the reading "chaotic," digressive, fractured and still unsure as to why something so obvious and limited in scope need even be discussed in a scholarly paper. Yet, I am going to suggest that it be published in this journal in the hope that others might discover gold where I only see pebbles.

The following corrections are suggested:

1) The abstract and keyword should go to the back of the article.
2) One question that comes to mind is what does the section on "Excursus: Chaos and Evil" have to do with the overall topic on Tree of Knowledge? It could be my lack of understanding or it could be that the author fail to make the connection in the paper: in which case, the author should either explain why the discussion on chaos is integral to the paper on the sacred nature of the Tree of Knowledge or delete it.
3) Are all the different versions of the bible and dictionaries listed in the Bibliography really necessary?
There it is, with the harsh remarks highlighted. I suppose that I owe this referee some modicum of gratitude for recommending publication, but I rather think a caning over the head more appropriate.

I accepted suggestion number one since I was going to do that anyway, but everything else in the review was objectionable -- aside from the recommendation that my article be published (an inexplicable recommendation, given the referee's critique, but I won't complain about that). For the benefit of the journal that had accepted my article (and possibly for the referee, to whom it might be forwarded), I penned a response, and here's what I wrote (with block quotes of the referee's words in red):
The second referee summarizes my article:

This paper is based on a etymological study of the word "sacred" used by Adam to describe the Tree of Knowledge in order to argue that 1) Adam is indeed expressing Milton's own view that the tree's fruit is originally sacred 2) that by "sacred," Milton seems to mean not the dynamic power of holiness but the holy as pure and set apart, whereas Adam's view on this point remains unclear and 3) Milton portrays the fruit as no longer sacred after its plucking but as "unhallowd" in the strong sense of being imbued with a force of impurity, a point that Adam fails to recognize.

My article is based on more than an 'etymological' study of the word "sacred," which is only one of the terms that I've subjected to philological investigation. Moreover, I use my investigation in an attempt to sketch Milton's system for organizing his concepts of the sacred, the common, the impure, and the pure and to apply this system toward explaining in what sense these terms are being used with respect to the fruit of the tree of knowledge, as well as to other, connected things such as chaos and creation and the topic of evil.

The second referee then characterized my effort as follows:

I found the reading "chaotic," digressive, fractured and still unsure as to why something so obvious and limited in scope need even be discussed in a scholarly paper.

I cannot dispute the "reader response" of this referee in finding my article "chaotic," "digressive," or "fractured" (though some supporting examples of these would have been helpful), but the referee surely did not intend to imply that my article is "still unsure."

Presumably, what was meant was that the referee was still unsure. But as for what was "so obvious and limited in scope" that it "need [not] even be discussed in a scholarly paper," the referee has left unspecified. I infer that the referee is referring to the three points summarized above, but I do not see that these are either "obvious" or "limited in scope." Perhaps the referee could have been more explicit, specifying, e.g., the obviousness of Milton's view that "sacred" in the expression "sacred fruit" meant "not the dynamic power of holiness but the holy as pure and set apart."

The second referee also suggests:

2) One question that comes to mind is what does the section on "Excursus: Chaos and Evil" have to do with the overall topic on Tree of Knowledge? It could be my lack of understanding or it could be that the author fail [sic] to make the connection in the paper: in which case, the author should either explain why the discussion on chaos is integral to the paper on the sacred nature of the Tree of Knowledge or delete it.

As noted above [in remarks related to referee number one], I open my excursus with these words: "The view that impurity is linked to the 'infernal' dregs of chaos touches upon an issue that has received some attention, namely, whether or not chaos is evil." The point is thus explicitly linked and has deeper connections for Milton's system of the sacred, the common, the impure, and the pure. The referee misunderstands my paper to be about "the overall topic on Tree of Knowledge," but it is actually about the sacredness of the tree and its fruit and the relation of this sacredness to Milton's larger system, including the question of where impurity comes from, which raises the issue of chaos and evil. At any rate, I have added the clarifying phrase noted above [i.e., in a response to referee number one: "The view that impurity -- and thus also the impurity of the fallen fruit -- is linked to the "infernal" dregs of chaos touches upon an issue that has received some attention, namely, whether or not chaos is evil"].

Another suggestion was made:

3) Are all the different versions of the bible and dictionaries listed in the Bibliography really necessary?

Yes, they are necessary, for I cite them in my article and therefore need to list them in a bibliography titled "Works Cited."

That this second referee failed to notice that I had cited these various dictionaries and Bible versions suggests a hasty reading of my article, an inference supported by what appears to have been a hastily written review.
That's what I wrote, and I hope that it reaches the referee's eyes. Fortunately, the other two referees liked my article. Here's part of what referee number three said:
This essay is quite strong in its close reading and its astute attention to the provenance and history of the major terms, and it no doubt works quite well at that level of philological scrutiny, which I believe this journal has a strong preference for .... [T]hree cheers to the vigilant philological labour; indeed, that alone is enough to grant the paper a space in this journal.
Referee number one also wrote some nice things, but if I posted them here, I'd have to translate them into English for most of my readers, so I'll just leave matters as they stand and hope that this blogpost has been at least mildly entertaining.


Friday, November 10, 2006

Poetry Break: "Courage"

Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
(Image from Wikipedia)

No, not "Courage, the Cowardly Dog"! My own courage. Or lack thereof.

Actually, the poem below is not about the virtue of bravery, but about habits of the heart. Why, then, the word "courage"? Think etymologically.

Ribbed in by bone
curved 'round like bars,
whitened sepulchers,
the captive
wild thing paces far
in its strange cage
of caught desire.
I wrote this brief poem of encouragement in Germany around 1991, a year or so before I met Sun-Ae, with whom I found all the encouragement that I needed.