Thursday, April 30, 2009

Bulgakov: Ruminations by Patriarch's Ponds

Berlioz, Woland, and Bezdomny
Near Patriarch's Ponds
Illustration by Charlie Stone

I'm now reading Burgin and O'Connor's translation of Bulgakov's novel, The Master and Margarita. Yesterday, I began it by first reading the annotations by Ellendea Proffer, which I found useful for their information about the Russian context but which I found insufficient in other ways.

For instance, Chapter 18 of Bulgakov's novel has the following remark by a bartender as he is confronted by a woman who suggests that he share some of his newfound cash with her:
"Leave me alone, for Christ's sake," said the bartender fearfully and quickly hid the money. (page 177)
Proffer's note tells us:
for Christ's sake -- the only mention of Christ in the novel, as opposed to the hundreds of casual mentions of the devil. (page 350)
But this can't be correct, for in Chapter 1, we have already learned that Berlioz and Bezdomny had been speaking of Christ just before the novel's opening scene:
The conversation, as was learned subsequently, was about Jesus Christ. (page 4)
Proffer also seems confused about Kant, for in the same opening scene with Berlioz and Bezdomny, after they are joined by the foreigner Woland and begin to discuss God, the 'proofs' of God's existence are mentioned:
"But, may I ask," resumed the guest from abroad after a moment's troubled reflection, "what do you make of the proofs of God's existence, of which, as you know, there are five?"

"Alas!" answered Berlioz regretfully, "all of those proofs are worthless, and mankind has long since consigned them to oblivion. Surely you would agree that reason dictates that there can be no proof of God's existence."

"Bravo!" exclaimed the foreigner, "Bravo! You've said just what that restless old sage Immanuel said about this very same subject. But here's the rub: he completely demolished all five proofs, and then, in a seeming display of self-mockery, he constructed a sixth proof all his own!"

"Kant's proof," retorted the educated editor with a faint smile, "is also unconvincing. No wonder Schiller said that only slaves could be satisfied with Kant's arguments on this subject, while Strauss simply laughed at his proof." (pages 7-8)
In Proffer's note on Kant, she writes:
Kant's proof -- the philosopher Immanuel Kant postulated three proofs of the existence of God, rejected them and came up with the one least likely to convince either the devil or a Muscovite of the 1930s: that God is to be postulated for the moral will. Bulgakov is either joking or miscounting here. Woland mentions five proofs, which makes Kant's own the sixth -- and the proof Woland provides, the seventh. (page 339)
Proffer seems unaware that there are five traditional proofs of God's existence and that Kant's critique has often been understood as undermining all five. Kant's moral proof (grounded in practical reason) is conventionally understood as a sixth 'proof'. Woland's 'proof' is thus a seventh.

Based on the evidence, I therefore suggest that readers take Proffer's notes with a grain of salt, for she doesn't appear to have been quite careful enough.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Taliban: Conquest of Pakistan?

Advancing on Mecca
Siyer-i Nebi
(Image from Wikipedia)

Many of us are watching with great interest and not a little apprehension as the Taliban make inroads into eastern portions of Pakistan. Recently, the government there turned over the Swat Valley to Taliban control, allowing implementation of Islamic law (sharia). Some readers will recall the recent video of a 17-year-old girl publicly whipped (34 lashes) for going outside her home without the escort of a close male relative. The comment of one moderate Muslim living in the city of Mingora is quite revealing:
When the Taliban took over Swat, they held a "peace" march. Thousands of men in black turbans and regulation beards stomped through the city. "There wasn't a single local among them," a schoolteacher in Mingora recalled. "I sat at home with my family and quivered with fear." Then he hesitated and made sure that my recorder was switched off, afraid that what he was about to say might be seen as blasphemous. "I felt like a non-Muslim citizen of Mecca the day it was conquered by prophet Muhammad's army. And I am a practicing Muslim." (Reported by Mohammed Hanif, "My Country, Caving to the Taliban," The Washington Post, Sunday, April 26, 2009)
To put this another way, the fearful schoolteacher felt that he would be treated by the Taliban as the infidels were treated by a conquering Muhammad: given the choice of submission to Islam . . . or death.

Now, it's true that not many Meccan infidels died when Muhammad marched victoriously in, but that's undoubtedly because they submitted to Islam and the destruction of the idols in the Kaaba. It's also true that 'monotheistic' non-Muslims are allowed to continue in their religion so long as the jizya is paid and other restrictions are accepted, but one purpose of the jizya and the various restrictions is to put pressure on non-Muslim 'monotheists' to convert to Islam, and the Taliban are already putting pressure on non-Muslims to pay the jizya, convert to Islam, or face execution.

The Taliban's aims are not limited to the Swat Valley. The great prize is Pakistan itself, and if the Pakistani government continues to 'cave' to the Taliban, then these Islamist militants could succeed.

And just to concentrate our minds, let's recall that Pakistan has an estimated 90 to 250 nuclear weapons.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Bulgakov: Three Versions of Hell in the Griboyedov Restaurant

Irina Shipovskaia, "Griboyedov"
(Image from Master & Margarita)

Readers will recall -- even if they do not care -- that I compared two translations of a passage from The Master and Margarita depicting hell in the guise of a paradise-and-lunch jazz-bar restaurant where Moscow's offially recognized literati meet.

Here's the passage as translated by Mirra Ginsburg from the original Russian in her 1967 edition:
Dripping with perspiration, the waiters carried sweating beer mugs high over their heads, shouting hoarsely and with hatred, "Sorry, citizen!" Somewhere in a loudspeaker a voice commanded: "Karsky shashlik, one! Zubrovka, two! Tripe polonais!" The thin high voice no longer sang but howled, "Hallelujah!" The clashing of the golden cymbals occasionally covered even the clatter of the dishes which the dishwashers were sending down the chute into the kitchen. In short, hell. (Chapter 5, New York: Grove Press, 1967)
I compared it to Michael Glenny's translation of hell's kitchen, also from 1967:
Pouring sweat, the waiters carried dripping mugs of beer over the dancers' heads, yelling hoarsely and venomously 'Sorry, sir!' Somewhere a man bellowed through a megaphone:

'Chops once! Kebab twice! Chicken a la King!' The vocalist was no longer singing -- he was howling. Now and again the crash of cymbals in the band drowned the noise of dirty crockery flung down a sloping chute to the scullery. In short -- hell. (Chapter 5, London: Collins and Harvill Press, 1967)
I noted that the two translators had clearly made some stylistic choices in rendering the Russian into English. Well, I've now received a copy of the translation by Diana Burgin and Katherine Tiernan O'Connor, and here's how they translate the passage:
Bathed in sweat, the waiters carried foaming mugs of beer above the dancers' heads, yelling hoarsely and venomously, "Sorry, sir!" Somewhere, orders were being shouted through a megaphone, "One shashlyk! Two zubrovkas! Tripe polonaise!" The thin voice no longer sang but wailed, "Hallelujah!" The crash of the jazz band's cymbals was sometimes muffled by the crash the dishes made as the dishwashers sent them down a slide into the kitchen. In a word, hell." Griboyedov (Chapter 5, Dana Point, California: Ardis Publishers, 1995)
The two translators Burgin and O'Connor tell us in their "Translators' Note" that they "have made every effort to retain the rhythm, syntactic structure, and verbal texture of Bulgakov's prose." Not knowing Russian, I cannot judge that, but from a comparison of their translation with the two others above, I'd say that they also "retain the rhythm, syntactic structure, and verbal texture" of prior translations.

I have only Ginsburg and Glenny -- both translating in 1967 and therefore very likely independent of one another -- but let's compare verbal similarities, using colored font to note parallels to Burgin and O'Connor. We'll ignore what all three have in common. First, Mirra Ginsburg's translation (using red):
Dripping with perspiration, the waiters carried sweating beer mugs high over their heads, shouting hoarsely and with hatred, "Sorry, citizen!" Somewhere in a loudspeaker a voice commanded: "Karsky shashlik, one! Zubrovka, two! Tripe polonais!" The thin high voice no longer sang but howled, "Hallelujah!" The clashing of the golden cymbals occasionally covered even the clatter of the dishes which the dishwashers were sending down the chute into the kitchen. In short, hell. (Mirra Ginsburg)
Next, Michael Glenny's translation (using blue):
Pouring sweat, the waiters carried dripping mugs of beer over the dancers' heads, yelling hoarsely and venomously 'Sorry, sir!' Somewhere a man bellowed through a megaphone:

'Chops once! Kebab twice! Chicken a la King!' The vocalist was no longer singing -- he was howling. Now and again the crash of cymbals in the band drowned the noise of dirty crockery flung down a sloping chute to the scullery. In short -- hell. (Michael Glenny)
Now, the translation by Diana Burgin and Katherine Tiernan O'Connor (with parallels to Ginsburg in red and Glenny in blue):
Bathed in sweat, the waiters carried foaming mugs of beer above the dancers' heads, yelling hoarsely and venomously, "Sorry, sir!" Somewhere, orders were being shouted through a megaphone, "One shashlyk! Two zubrovkas! Tripe polonaise!" The thin voice no longer sang but wailed, "Hallelujah!" The crash of the jazz band's cymbals was sometimes muffled by the crash the dishes made as the dishwashers sent them down a slide into the kitchen. In a word, hell." (Diana Burgin and Katherine Tiernan O'Connor)
Make what you will of these parallels, but to me, they suggest some degree of dependence by Burgin and O'Connor upon Ginsburg and Glenny that ought to have been acknowledged in the "Translators' Note" (though if we emphasized exact word order, the parallels would be fewer).

However, Burgin and O'Connor have, apparently, corrected the penultimate sentence in the passage to say that the noise of the dishes was sometimes louder that that of the cymbals (rather than vice-versa).

I'll leave to the Russian language experts to tell us if Burgin and O'Connor got that penultimate point right.

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Kacper Bożek: "The Seventh Proof" (Bulgakov)

"The Seventh Proof"
(Image from Master & Margarita)

In continuing to search for views on what Mikhail Bulgakov meant the "the seventh proof" of God's existence, I've found nothing yet that's worth reporting, so I'm still torn between 'proof' as true prediction of death in the novel and 'proof' as personal experience of death for everyone. But I did find something that might interest anyone who likes Bulgakov's Master and Margarita.

The above work of art by Kacper Bożek, an etching made using the aquatint technique, depicts the famous scene just before the close of chapter 3 in The Master and Margarita, where Berlioz is soon to encounter the seventh proof of God's existence but first encounters one of Satan's retinue, the buffoonish demon Koroviev (aka Fagotto):
'Are you looking for the turnstile, sir?' enquired the check-clad man in a quavering tenor. 'This way, please! Straight on for the exit. How about the price of a drink for showing you the way, sir? . . . church choirmaster out of work, sir . . . need a helping hand, sir . . . .' Bending double, the weird creature pulled off his jockey cap in a sweeping gesture. ( Michael Glenny, The Master and Margarita, Chapter 3, London: Collins and Harvill Press, 1967)
Rather astonishing description by Bulgakov . . . and for an astonishing image of the artist Bożek who captured this scene so well, see the very next image below:

Kacper Bożek
(Image from Nautilus)

According to the Nautilus website, Kacper Bożek was born in 1974 in Krakow and graduated form the Graphic Department of the Krakow Academy of Fine Arts, working under Professor Stanisław Wejman in the Copper Engraving and Lithography Studio. He devoted his graduation work under Wejman to depicting the characters of Bulgakov's novel in a three-year-long effort resulting in twelve prints, one of which is the etching above, "The Seventh Proof."

Bożek seemingly interprets Streetcar Nr. 7 -- bearing down on the spot where Berlioz will soon lie stretched out to die -- as the seventh proof's physical manifestation, but whether that signifies the truth of the Satanic Woland's prediction (available to all observers) or the experience of death itself (available only to Berlioz), I know not.

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Poetry: Further Reflections from the Milton List

Yesterday, I speculated that if one takes prose and puts it into recognizably poetic form, then it takes on the quality of poetry. James Rovira on the Milton List took my suggestion to parodic lengths:
One last bit about the poetic nature of the Tractatus. I said earlier that Wittgenstein's "drawing of a cube [in proposition] 5.5423 deserves special attention." I realize now that if you were to take this drawing of a cube and give it line breaks consistent with modern poetry:
you'd have a poem roughly akin to most of Billy Collins's or Charles Bukowski's work, though lacking some of their charm.

Thanks very much for you indulgence. I think I'll stop now as I don't believe it's possible to get any more ridiculous than this.
More ridiculous? Probably not, since Rovira's example lacks words, but it nevertheless led me to some further reflections, which I posted to the list, and which I now post here (accompanied by an image borrowed from the CRS Archives):
Yes, Jim, that would take your counterexamples to their 'logical' absurdity. But poetic form is hardly recognizeable here since words are absent. All that I see are "fill-in-the-blanks" awaiting words, possibly a grocery list. No reason even to assume that a poem is lurking there in its Platonic form, ready to shape words toward an ideal.

But your parody nevertheless raises a question for me: Can a real image be an essential part of a poem? Consider John Updike's "Shipbored," which includes an eight-line drawing to which it refers:

That line is the horizon line. (1)
The blue above it is divine. (2)

The blue below it is marine. (3)
Sometimes the blue below is green. (4)

Sometimes the blue above is gray,
Betokening a cloudy day. (5)

Sometimes the blue below is white,
Foreshadowing a windy night. (6)

Sometimes a drifting coconut
Or albatross adds color, but (7)

The blue above is mostly blue.
The blue below and I are, too. (8)
Is the image part of the poem? It's not a poem by itself, but it seems to be part of the poem, drawn by the author to illustrate and clarify in such a way that it becomes the first reference of the poetic lines, thereby drawing our attention on to the scene at sea.

By analogy, Wittgenstein's "cube" would need to retain its cubic form and accompany words in poetic form, which the cube would serve to illustrate and clarify. The cube could then be an essential part of the poem but not if abstracted from the words -- as little a poem as Updike's drawing abstracted from the words.
And there the discussion now stands.

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Poetry: Reflections from the Milton List

Choose Your Muse
"Muses Sarcophagus"
The Nine Muses and their Attributes
Marble, 2nd Century AD
Found by Via Ostiense
(Image from Wikipedia)

A discussion about the distinction between prose and poetry has emerged on the Milton List. The discussion began when someone noted that "poem" in the seventeenth century could include works that we would now call prose. Carrol Cox, one of the list's older scholars, wrote:
I would use "poem" that way. (I think in ordinary usage "poetry" and "poem" differ somewhat.) A poem or a fiction is a "made thing," a verbal artifact. (I wouldn't use it for movies.) I would also use it for many texts that the Renaissance would have called "history." Tillyard in his book on the "English Epic" included Gibbon's Decline and Fall. Gould's The Structure of Evolutionary Theory is a beautiful artifact as well as a science text, and I don't see why "poem" could not, in some contexts, include that. "Work of literature" is awkward, and the best single word for it is "poem." There's a tragic rhythm in Wittgenstein's Tractatus, and an epic sweep to Rusell's Human Knowledge.
James Rovira responded:
The question of what is or is not poetry has a long and distinguished history, of course, but doesn't it tend to follow two currents?
-Plato's distinction between poetry and philosophy, which emphasizes content rather than form.

-An emphasis upon form rather than content.
The question seems to me to get particularly confused when we try to blend these two types of responses. Those who emphasize that poetic form makes poetry can recognize occasional poetic qualities in Wittgenstein's Tractatus but would never call it a poem -- which would be a rather strange poem indeed because it includes calculus. If math is poetry then everything is poetry and the word itself ceases to function at all. Those in the first camp would exclude the Tractatus from poetry simply because it is philosophy. Both camps would also exclude history from poetry unless it were written in verse form.
I joined the discussion at this point:
Jim, while I generally agree with your critique of Carrol's use of the term "poem," I found much to admire in what Carrol said.

Anyway, concerning your remarks on Wittgenstein's Tractatus:
"Those who emphasize that poetic form makes poetry can recognize occasional poetic qualities in Wittgenstein's Tractatus but would never call it a poem -- which would be a rather strange poem indeed because it includes calculus. If math is poetry then everything is poetry and the word itself ceases to function at all. Those in the first camp would exclude the Tractatus from poetry simply because it is philosophy."
Did he use calculus in that work? I haven't read it in a while. At any rate, when I read it in German back in 1986, I had to read it slowly, and I was struck by Wittgenstein's choice of a numbering system that began with one and ended with seven. As I read the opening line, "1. Die Welt ist alles, was der Fall ist" ("1. The world is all that the case is"), I realized that Wittgenstein was 'creating' a world in seven days, and on the seventh day, he rests: "7. Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen" ("7. Whereof one cannot speak, thereof must one be silent"). There's a sort of poiesis to that.

I once wrote up a brief summary of my views on Wittgenstein's biblical allusion (and possible numerology), for I was interested in the way that he was subverting the logical-positivist endeavor even in a work where he seemed to be applying its principles, but that has gone missing in my many moves over the years as a gypsy scholar.
The discussion then segued into a series of posts in which James Rovira cast prose into 'ironic' poetic form to show that it does not work as poetry:
Maybe the poetic qualities of Wittgenstein's Tractatus would be more evident if I broke his lines up as poetry?

"Thus I do not

but 'f(a,a)'
and not
James later added:
Yes. The fact that a philosopher can talk about poetry intelligently (or say intelligent things that we can apply to the study of poetry) does not mean he is writing poetry when doing so.

Forgive me, let me correct myself:
The fact that
a philosopher can
talk about poetry
(or say
intelligent things that
we can apply
to the study of
does not
he is writing
when doing
About this 'poetry', I noted:
Jim, what I find interesting in the . . . is that you have taken prose and changed it into poetry by imposing a recognizably poetic form onto it. We are forced to read it as poetry -- perhaps bad poetry, but poetry nonetheless.

This doesn't quite disprove your point, since the form is a distinction between prose and poetry, but it does put offer a different perspective on things.
And there the discussion stands, for now.

But further opinions are welcome, so amuse yourselves to death.

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Bulgakov: The Seventh 'Proof' of God's Existence

Mikhail Bulgakov

Yesterday, I asked about the "seventh proof" of God's existence, a 'proof' referred to in Mikhail Bulgakov's magnum opus The Master and Margarita, and I promised to look into this proof.

Well, I did look into it, and I have nothing to report.

Just kidding. I found some speculations. This website by Jan Vanhellemont -- a Belgian man who read the novel and was so taken by it that he began to learn Russian in order to read the work in the original -- offers annotations, including one on "the seventh proof" of God's existence, introduced by the mysterious Professor Woland in chapter 3:
In this chapter Woland asserts the existence of yet a seventh proof, which is demonstrated to Berlioz minutes later when he is decapitated by a streetcar -- "At least believe that the devil exists! I no longer ask you for anything more. Mind you, there exists a seventh proof of it, the surest of all! And it is going to be presented to you right now!"

And a couple of minutes later Berlioz notices that Woland is right. The seventh proof could be called the experiential proof. Because Berlioz experiences that the devil exists, by which the seventh proof of God's existence is given.

It may be worth to mention that Bulgakov's close friend, the philosopher and literary critic Pavel Sergeevich Popov (1892-1964), was absorbed by the problem of the proofs of the existence of God.
(Parenthetical aside: Did Pavel Sergeevich Popov speak of a "seventh proof"?)

Calling this seventh proof the "experiential proof" is intriguing, but whose experience? We're not told explicitly what Berlioz experienced in death, but we do overhear this as he falls beneath the tram:
In Berlioz' brain someone cried out frantically, "Really?..." (Chapter 3, Mirra Ginsburg translation, 1967)
Whether this is Berlioz himself recognizing the truth of the devil's and thus of God's existence or some anonymous spectator expressing unfathoming horror in a voice that finds echo in Berlioz's final moments of consciousness, I don't know.

At any rate, the one who seems to 'experience' the seventh proof most powerfully is the poet Ivan Nikolayich Poniryov, better known by the pseudonym Bezdomny (i.e., "Homeless"), who pursues Woland and his two compatriots -- an unnaturally tall denizen of some foreign place and a black tomcat as large as a pig -- eventually concluding . . . well, no, not quite concluding anything supernatural (albeit perhaps subconsciously, given the icon that he pins to his chest in pursuit of Woland). Bezdomny has to be told:
"It was Satan whom you met last night at Patriarchs' Pond." (Chapter 13, Mirra Ginsburg translation, 1967)
Yet, Bezdomny remains skeptical, at least briefly. Apparently, the proof takes time to work its effect. Leslie Milne notes this delay of the proof's effect in Bulgakov: The Novelist-Playwright (Routledge, 1996), but rather than talk about an experiential proof, Milne notes the effect wrought by the accurate predition of Berlioz's death.

For more on the devil's existence as the "seventh proof" of God's existence, see "The Apocalyptic Vision of Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita," by Edward E. Ericson, Jr. (pdf), who investigates Bulgakov's debt to Russian Orthodoxy.

Personally, I wonder if there might be some obscure connection to the "seventh seal" of "The Apocalypse of John," especially given the title of this last article above. But more on this another time.

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Mikhail Bulgakov: A Vision of Hell

Mikhail Bulgakov
Unlike Varenukha, casting a shadow...
(Image from Wikipedia)

Hell in The Master and Margarita is depicted as the otherwise mundane paradise of the jazz-bar restaurant in the Griboyedov House, the meeting place for Moscow's offially recognized literati. Here's the scene of that hellish restaurant as translated by Mirra Ginsburg from the original Russian in her 1967 edition:
Dripping with perspiration, the waiters carried sweating beer mugs high over their heads, shouting hoarsely and with hatred, "Sorry, citizen!" Somewhere in a loudspeaker a voice commanded: "Karsky shashlik, one! Zubrovka, two! Tripe polonais!" The thin high voice no longer sang but howled, "Hallelujah!" The clashing of the golden cymbals occasionally covered even the clatter of the dishes which the dishwashers were sending down the chute into the kitchen. In short, hell. (Chapter 5, New York: Grove Press, 1967)
Hell, is it? Then, this world seems none so bad. Let's compare it to Michael Glenny's translation of hell's kitchen, also from 1967:
Pouring sweat, the waiters carried dripping mugs of beer over the dancers' heads, yelling hoarsely and venomously 'Sorry, sir!' Somewhere a man bellowed through a megaphone:

'Chops once! Kebab twice! Chicken a la King!' The vocalist was no longer singing -- he was howling. Now and again the crash of cymbals in the band drowned the noise of dirty crockery flung down a sloping chute to the scullery. In short -- hell. (Chapter 5, London: Collins and Harvill Press, 1967)
Clearly, the two translators have made some stylistic choices in rendering the Russian into English, but this hell seems a liveable one . . . almost, were it not for the sudden, unexpected death of the house director, Mikhail Alexandrovich Berlioz, whose unfortunate, or perhaps fated, decease will soon be rumored throughout the crowd and temporarily disturb those gathered in this pandaemonium.

Bulgakov's hell, in both translations, appears very worldly, too worldly -- but that's his point, I gather. The world has lost its reflection of transcendence and exists only as it is, solely an earthly paradise, guaranteed by the Communist Party's inner-worldly providence. But there is a slight problem that arises with mortals in charge of planning, a problem in the workers' paradise noted halfway into the first chapter by the mysterious professor and expert in black magic, Woland, to the poet Ivan Nikolayich Poniryov, who writes under the pseudonym Bezdomny (i.e., "Homeless"), and to the soon-to-expire Mikhail Alexandrovich Berlioz:
'But this is the question that disturbs me -- if there is no God, then who, one wonders, rules the life of man and keeps the world in order?'

'Man rules himself,' said Bezdomny angrily in answer to such an obviously absurd question.

'I beg your pardon,' retorted the stranger quietly,' but to rule one must have a precise plan worked out for some reasonable period ahead. Allow me to enquire how man can control his own affairs when he is not only incapable of compiling a plan for some laughably short term, such as, say, a thousand years, but cannot even predict what will happen to him tomorrow?'

'In fact,' here the stranger turned to Berlioz, 'imagine what would happen if you, for instance, were to start organising others and yourself, and you developed a taste for it -- then suddenly you got . . . he, he . . . a slight heart attack . . .' at this the foreigner smiled sweetly, as though the thought of a heart attack gave him pleasure . . . . 'Yes, a heart attack,' he repeated the word sonorously, grinning like a cat,' and that's the end of you as an organiser! No one's fate except your own interests you any longer. Your relations start lying to you. Sensing that something is amiss you rush to a specialist, then to a charlatan, and even perhaps to a fortune-teller. Each of them is as useless as the other, as you know perfectly well. And it all ends in tragedy: the man who thought he was incharge is suddenly reduced to lying prone and motionless in a wooden box and his fellow men, realising that there is no more sense to be had of him, incinerate him.

'Sometimes it can be even worse: a man decides to go to Kislovodsk,' -- here the stranger stared at Berlioz -- 'a trivial matter you may think, but he cannot because for no good reason he suddenly jumps up and falls under a tram! You're not going to tell me that he arranged to do that himself? Wouldn't it be nearer the truth to say that someone quite different was directing his fate?' The stranger gave an eerie peal of laughter. (Michael Glenny's translation, Chapter 1)
This, as one might expect, is precisely how Berlioz dies later that day. In fact, the good Professor Woland even goes on to predict in precise and clear detail exactly how Berlioz will expire, his head chopped off by the wheels of a tram, thereby establishing two things. First, human beings have plans that "gang aft agly" -- oops, I meant to say, "go often askew" (but inadvertently slipped into a Scottish brogue!). Second, there is a plan, apparently, for Woland knows what will happen to Berlioz, but it's a plan that obviously runs counter to mortal intentions. In that sense, it "rules the life of man," but can one say that it "keeps the world in order"? The accident that kills Berlioz brings disorder to his little literary world, so any maintenance of order would have to be understood on a larger scale -- a bit like an anti-entropic principle of the universe. Disorder on a small scale . . . but a larger order sustained, a larger-than-human order.

Professor Woland refers to this as the "seventh proof" of God's existence! But what sort of proof is a death foretold? There seems to be something of the contingency variant on the cosmological argument for God's existence. Or perhaps there's something of the teleological argument here. Yet, Woland has agreed with Berlioz that the five traditional arguments for God's existence prove nothing, and he has also rejected Kant's 'sixth' argument, the appeal to morality. So . . . what is this seventh argument, exactly? I'm not certain that it is something that can be precisely worded, but I'll reflect further on what Bulgakov might have meant. Keeping in mind that he's an ironist and satirist, of course . . .

Anyway, one can easily see how such a novel -- and such a novelist! -- would offend the Soviet orthodoxy of the 1930s, but on Stalin's whim, Bulgakov was allowed to work as literary consultant to the Moscow Art Theater until his personal experience of the seventh proof at the age of 48 in 1940.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

'Spengler' Outs Himself as David P. Goldman

(Image from Asia Times)

I haven't read 'Spengler' for a while. Not Oswald Spengler (though I've not read him for a while either). I mean the Asia Times Spengler. And not because I don't find him interesting. Rather, I find that I have less and less time for reading on the internet. I have just about enough time for blogging on some subject or other, doing the requisite reading for that.

But since I've posted a few blog entries on Spengler over the years, I guess that I ought to note that he has outed himself as David P. Goldman.

Who's that?

I didn't know, but the intellectual currents that I move in tend to be whirlpools of obscurity that go around and around, focused on some eccentric center far removed from the forces that really move the world. That's why I used to read Spengler but never read Goldman . . . except pseudonomously, by reading Spengler.

So . . . who is Goldman?

Well, he's certainly nobody if he's not interesting (to use an odd idiom). An associate of Lyndon LaRouche in the 1970s -- even writing something with LaRouche titled The Ugly Truth About Milton Friedman -- he also has had more reputable associations, e.g., membership on the Board of Governors for Mannes College: The New School for Music.

He's also a harpsichordist with doctoral work in music theory who has worked in the New York financial sector for Bear Stearns and Bank of America (hmmm . . . did I say reputable associations?), even writing columns for Forbes magazine, and he's a religious Jew who used to attend the Park Avenue Synagogue but now attends the Or Zarua Synagogue.

I note that last point because I had thought 'Spengler' to be some sort of Jewish Christian -- based on the Spenglerian persona and writings -- but the Park Avenue and Or Zarua synagogues are both solidly in the tradition of Conservative Judaism. Apparently, Goldman has idiosyncratic views . . . though I shouldn't be surprised by that, given the nature of those articles for his Spengler column.

Some bloggers far more astute than I had figured out the Spengler-Goldman connection. A blogger named Philip Weiss called attention to this last June, but another blogger, named Steve Sailer, had already alluded to the connection two years earlier in a post from October 2006. I found these posts by Googling the name "David P. Goldman," so I don't know a lot about the politics and larger views of either Weiss or Sailer except to note that neither of the two agrees with Goldman's views.

I've also found things to disagree with in Spengler's views, such as his suggestion of July 27, 2004 about inviting the Russian military into Fallujah to handle it as they handled Grozny -- a disagreement that I noted in a blog entry from October 6, 2006. Nevertheless, the man has his "lunacies of great insight" -- as demonstrated by his article "Americans play Monopoly, Russians chess" (Asia Times, August 19, 2008)

Apparently, he's considered sufficiently insightful to work at the journal First Things, for its editor, Joseph Bottum, has brought Goldman on full-time as an editor and writer. You can read Spengler's take on all this at the Asia Times, where he outs himself, and at First Things, where Bottum announces it. You can also read Goldman's first column there under his own name.

Oddly, Spengler-Goldman says nothing about his LaRouchean past . . . but who can blame him? I never write about my fifteen minutes as a Marxist back during my Berkeley daze while writing a paper on the Frankfurt School.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Mikhail Bulgakov: The Master and Margarita

Mirra Ginsburg

I'm re-reading Mirra Ginsburg's translation of The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov, a novel that I first read thirty years ago when I was immersed in Russian literature and reading everything that I could get in English.

In those jejune days, I didn't think about translators and translations, but now that I'm something of a translator myself, I think about these things every time that I pick up a foreign book in English, wondering what has been lost and gained.

Thus only this time, in taking Bulgakov off its dusty place on my shelf, did I wonder who Ginsburg was. From the Jewish Women's Archive, I learned that she was born in Russia in 1909, and from the following paragraph, which I quote from that archive, I infer that she was an interesting if difficult individual whose talents extended beyond literature:
Bohemian and fiercely individualistic, Mirra was intrigued by every kind of artistry. She herself painted, did metalwork, made jewelry and did intricate papercuts. Until her last years, she often entertained widely diverse gatherings of creative people at her home and took full advantage of New York’s theater, especially Yiddish and Asian theater, as well as ballet and concerts. Mirra didn't travel much but she once flew on the Concorde to visit friends in France, for she had friends all over the world who corresponded with her and visited her when in New York. Her childlike openness and curiosity extended to every nuance of life; her opinions were uncompromising.
That final clause suggest that she wasn't one to brook contradition, so I might not have found her a ready conversationalist . . . even if she were to have had some interest in speaking with me. Too late to find out, though, for she died in 2000.

Anyway, I'm re-reading her 1967 translation, but I think that I'll need to obtain a new one and read it after I finish this, which was based on a text that had been censored by the Soviet Union when it was published in the magazine Moskva in 1966.

Perhaps I should get several translations and read them sequentially until I find the one that I most enjoy. Or maybe I should just read the 1995 translation by Diana Burgin and Katherine Tiernan O'Connor since it has annotations by Ellendea Proffer.

Or do any Bulgakov aficionados have better suggestions?

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Susan Boyle: "Cry Me a River"

(Image from Wikipedia)

By now, everybody's heard of Susan Boyle's triumph on Britain's Got Talent with her rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Misérables -- she even earned a blog entry at Christianity Today -- but you might not yet have heard her singing Arthur Hamilton's weepy "Cry Me a River," which she recorded for a charity back in 1999 (and open two browsers to follow along as you listen):

Cry Me a River

(Arthur Hamilton)

Now, you say you're lonely.
You cry the long night through.
Come on and cry me a river,
Cry me a river,
I cried a river over you.

Now, you say you're sorry,
For being so untrue.
Come on and cry me a river,
Cry me a river,
I cried a river over you.

You drove me, nearly drove me out of my head,
Though you never shed a tear.
Remember? Remember all that you said.
Told me love was too plebian,
Told me you were through with me,

And now, you say you love me.
Well, just to prove you do,
Come on and cry me a river,
Cry me a river,
I cried a river over you.

You drove me, nearly drove me out of my head,
Though you never shed a tear.
Remember? I remember all that you said.
Told me love was too plebian,
Told me you were through with me,

And now, you say you love me.
Well, just to prove you do,
Come on and cry me a river,
Cry me a river,
I cried a river over you.
Hers is the best interpretation of this song that I've ever heard sung. If she comes out with a CD, I'll definitely purchase it, and rumor has it that Simon Cowell will be producing one. Now if you haven't yet overdosed on Ms. Boyle, just go here and listen to interviews, singing clips, odd moments -- whatever strikes your fancy.

But if you have had enough of Ms. Boyle, there's always Paul Potts.

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Tom Brown's School Days: "Fever in the School"

Tom Brown's School Days
Thomas Hughes
(Image from Google Books)

I've just read a striking passage from Tom Brown's School Days in which Tom Brown visits his younger friend George Arthur soon after the latter has begun to revive from a fever that had killed another boy and had endangered his own life:
It was evening when the housekeeper summoned him to the sick-room. Arthur was lying on the sofa by the open window, through which the rays of the western sun stole gently, lighting up his white face and golden hair. Tom remembered a German picture of an angel which he knew; often had he thought how transparent and golden and spirit-like it was; and he shuddered, to think how like it Arthur looked, and felt a shock as if his blood had all stopped short, as he realized how near the other world his friend must have been to look like that. Never till that moment had he felt how his little chum had twined himself round his heart-strings, and as he stole gently across the room and knelt down, and put his arm round Arthur's head on the pillow, felt ashamed and half-angry at his own red and brown face, and the bounding sense of health and power which filled every fibre of his body, and made every movement of mere living a joy to him. He needn't have troubled himself: it was this very strength and power so different from his own which drew Arthur so to him.

Arthur laid his thin, white hand, on which the blue veins stood out so plainly, on Tom's great brown fist, and smiled at him; and then looked out of the window again, as if he couldn't bear to lose a moment of the sunset, into the tops of the great feathery elms, round which the rooks were circling and clanging, returning in flocks from their evening's foraging parties. The elms rustled, the sparrows in the ivy just outside the window chirped and fluttered about, quarrelling, and making it up again; the rooks, young and old, talked in chorus, and the merry shouts of the boys and the sweet click of the cricket-bats came up cheerily from below. (Thomas Hughes, Tom Brown's School Days, Chapter 6, Gutenberg Project)
In reading this passage, I found myself wondering, "Have we lost our innocence or gained an insight?"

A hermeneutic of suspicion could take a possible reading of these two paragraphs rather far in an oblique direction, but would such a reading be rightminded? Or would it be rather like reading the word "fag" in the novel not in its original meaning of "a student at a British public school who is required to perform menial tasks for a student in a higher class," but in a more modern, novel sense? Misreading the past is easy to do because of cultural distance and the prejudices of our time.

In the Ozarks of my youth, the old folks still spoke of being "all fagged out." They meant by this that they were exhausted from overexertion. I wonder if anyone uses that expression these days. In the Ozarks of the early 19th century, men who were close friends might share a bed when visiting one another, but I doubt that Ozark men would do that these days. Old customs, like old expressions, drop away, even within the space of a generation or two, and we look back mystified by the things that our ancestors did and said.

The significance of masculinity and male friendship for Tom Brown's School Days is explored in a couple of pages from Margaret Markwick's New Men in Trollope's Novels: Rewriting the Victorian Male (Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2007), for those who might be interested. More could undoubtedly be said -- and no doubt has been said -- but I'm not the expert in this area and so leave all that could be said to be said by others.

Meanwhile, here's the great Peggy Lee singing "Fever."

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Vadim Kruglikov on the North Korean 'Audio-Gadget'

Proudly Waving at the Peaceful Ballistic Satellite
(Image Liberated from Bourgeois Wikipedia Site)

The imperialist forces that occupy the lower half of the great Korean peninsula run an open-source military gang for seizing information about the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) and using it for nefarious purposes. Recently, this hegemonic gang has translated a column by Vadim Kruglikov that appeared in the Russian paper Novaya Gazeta. Originally written to honor of the DPRK's peaceful ballistic satellite, the militarist barbarians have translated it in their vain scheme to pirate the North's gloriously advanced technology:
"Korean Wonder: the Incomprehensible, Malicious Reaction by the United States, Japan, and South Korea to the Launch of a Large North Korean Audio-Gadget"

By Vadim Kruglikov

On 5 April 06:32, Moscow Time, the many centuries of hope of the North Korean people was realized -- a Kwangmyongsong-2 satellite was launched into near-Earth orbit. According to the reports of the Korean Central Telegraph Agency, the flight is going according to plan. The "Song About General Kim Il Sung" and the "Song about General Kim Jong-il" is being played in real-time from the satellite throughout the universe. In addition, the space messenger is carrying North Korean measuring devices -- a ruler, a Slava wristwatch made in 1952, weights for scales, and a medical thermometer. All devices are working normally.

The Kwangmyongsong-2 wonder did not come from nowhere. The history of North Korean cosmonautics has rich and ancient traditions. The great primogenitor of all North Koreans, Dangun (24th century B.C.), felt love for the interstellar spaces and plowed the expanses of the Universe in his dreams. The 10th-century educator Chkhol Su [transliterated] overcame the Earth's gravity by thought and penetrated the depths of space with his fearless vision. He more than once tried to throw a stone up there and closely tracked its trajectory. In the 16th century the Confucian monk refugee Khon Khvanpkho [transliterated] built the first North Korean rocket in the world, hand-launched and of unpolished slate; it had a length of 18 meters with base. Structurally and based on the food stocks taken onboard, the rocket was supposed to go into near-Earth space, but in light of there not being a powerful engine in the development of technology at the time, it was unable to break away from the Earth. The North Korean Gagarin himself was condemned to death by the Japanese occupation for his audacity. Khon Khanpkho's feat breathed new life into the dream and stirred up the people's masses. Throughout North Korea simple ybeny* and peasants built interplanetary flying machines from hand-made materials in order to overcome the horizons of the unknown. But the lack of professional skills and ignorance of how to calculate the ablative effect led to tragedies, which nevertheless did not kill the traditional indefatigable reach of the North Koreans for the interplanetary roads. But now finally that centuries-old dream has been attained.

The Taepodong-2 launcher, which put the Kwangmyongsong-2 into orbit, is a strong, 45-meter, one-stage structure of types of wood native to North Korea -- Manchurian walnut and Korean and Chosen pine. The structure is covered in decorative weavings of bamboo reeds and decorated with a native mosaic of lobsters. The missile operates on the accumulated energy of the love of the North Koreans for the Great Leader. The satellite itself is made of ceramics in the form of a 7-meter bottle of punchkhon [transliterated], which is traditionally ornamented. A powerful 0.5-meter loudspeaker is installed in its neck, which broadcasts the songs about the Korean leaders to all of the Cosmos visible to the eye. The satellite functions autonomously and is designed for several million years of active operation.

Because of this, the hostile reaction on the part of the United States, Japan, and South Korea to the launch of the large North Korean audio gadget is completely incomprehensible. They accuse the satellite of being military. Of course, one could somehow attach a nuclear bomb to it. But the matter is that a nuclear bomb is heavy, and the satellite would not be able to take off with it. And this is why the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry has called on the world community in its official statement to view the space odyssey of our friends in the DPRK with understanding and sympathy, especially since the North Korean cargo ship sent out to track the rocket was forced to return because of a breakdown.

*Ybeny -- Korean partisans of the 14th (sic. 16th?) century who fought against Japanese invaders. In the journal Korea Today, these poetic lines were published:

The ybeny hide in the mountains
They inflict losses on the enemy
The enemy will never catch the ybeny
But mother waits for the ybeny at home."

They were well-known in MGU [Moscow State University]. One of the professors of the Nations of Africa and Asia Institute would not give a five in exams on Korean history if the students did not know "The Ybeny's Mother".
This article by Vadim Kruglikov appeared in translation in the Korea Open Source Digest (Volume II, Issue 73, Thursday, April 16th, 2009), and I admit that I had to peruse it twice to make sure that I wasn't reading a serious paean to the glorious achievements of the North Korean state, for Kruglikov's article captures rather well the tone of radical-left screeds scribbled in praise of North Korea's 'achievements' . . . but then takes that praise several steps in directions weird enough to signal to the reader that this article is satire. e.g.:
"The missile operates on the accumulated energy of the love of the North Koreans for the Great Leader."
Doubtless, that explains the rocket's great success in putting the 'satellite' into near-Earth orbit (though possibly so near as to be subaquatic).

My wife checked the transliterated terms but couldn't figure them out. Perhaps they are Russian terms, not Korean, but if any experts read this (e.g., Andrei Lankov) and can identify these obscure words, we'd all be gratefully in somebody's debt.

Nota Bene: I'd credit the translator if I knew the person's name, but it's some linguistically gifted individual in the US Army, I suppose.

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Expat Living: "Broke bankers: move to Kansas"

Small Change?
Unneeded in Kansas. . .
And You Can Bank on That!
(Image from Wikipedia)

At last, another "Expat Living" article by yours truly has appeared in this morning's edition of the Korea Herald. I fear that today's column will therefore look rather familiar:
Broke bankers: move to Kansas

Despite the world's recent economic downturn, I have no wish to traffic in the dismal science. Mine is the sunny science of loquacious economics, and this being a language column, I offer manifold words of advice. These might not amount to verbal economy, but I do truly desire to help those who have suffered the most in the current economic crisis: New York bankers.

Therefore, in the disinterested interest of helping this select few of those rendered unemployed or at least insolvent by the recession that has accompanied the ongoing financial mess, I offer as free advice the following tip: Move to Kansas and take up farming.

"But," you may well protest, "I'm a New York banker who knows nothing about running a farm."

No problem. You knew nothing about running a bank either, but that ignorance never kept your confidence in check. If you can simply regain that level of ignorant arrogance, you will be well-qualified for the farm "job" that I suggest.

Here is the deal, which I shall elaborate in my ramshackle style. My "Cousin Bill," a Kansas native, was recently on one of his "Weekly Ramblings" through Kansas and vicinity, taking in the broad vistas that stretch from one grain elevator to the very next one 20 kilometers off in the majestic distance. Up close, these elevators can be quite elevating. Cousin Bill, for instance, had an elevated conversation with a local grain-elevator farmer in the town of Offerle and offers us this synopsis in his "Weekly Ramblings" newsletter:

"At an Offerle service station, I briefly talked farming awhile with a tall, lean, elderly, baseball-hatted grain-elevator farmer obviously in need of communication with someone other than a prairie dog. He advised that his farming now consisted of collecting a monthly check from the state of Kansas, that entity paying him more to idle his ground than he was making with his corn and alfalfa crops. He did tell us that the main reason Kansas did that was 'cause they found he was pumping out way too much ground water for irrigation, and said if he'd shut off the pumps they'd just pay him not to grow. He was a nice guy, interesting and would have talked for several hours if we'd had the time."

This nice, interesting farming kind of guy would undoubtedly have had a lot more fascinating things to reveal to Cousin Bill, but the important point to note here is that you need only threaten to pump ground water to irrigate your Kansas farm, and the Great State of Kansas will pay you a good money not to pump that water.

"Hold on," you may well say. "I'm already not pumping ground water in Kansas, but I haven't received any money."

Yes, that happens, so I have to ask a personal question. Have you actually threatened to pump water? I thought not. Moreover, and this is the sticking part, you need to actually have some land in Kansas, else the threat will not work. Allow me to anticipate your next objection, that you own no land in Kansas and have no money to purchase any. Well, do not let your New York state of penurious repose shut you out from your Kansas state of pecuniary reward. According to the website "Kansas Free Land" (, there's free land in Kansas:

"Several communities in Kansas are offering free land and other incentives. Our goal is to help our rural areas sustain and grow economically. We welcome you to take a look at the various communities."

Just visit "Kansas Free Land," choose your preferred isolation, settle down to the modern farming way of life, and covertly but unmistakably threaten to pump some of that precious Kansas ground water. I guarantee you that this will work if you just have the right degree of ignorant arrogance. Of course, you may have learned something about basic economics from your recent debacle, so you might need to forget some of that. You need only learn to not ask too many questions about whether this all makes any sense and just wait for the money to start rolling in to your account in a local bank (if there is one) in return for your not farming.

Technically, you will still be unemployed, but at least you'll have land, home, and cash . . . a bit like what you had before. Not quite as much money, of course, but beggars can't be choosers.

Jeffery is a professor at Ewha Womans University and can be reached through his blog Gypsy Scholar at -- Ed.
As I warned, this one will have sounded familiar. Faithful readers will also recall my more serious entry concerning Professor Jasper Kim's informative column on the forces that precipitated our current financial crisis.

I'd chat more this fine morning, but I have student debates to judge . . . and grade.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

John Milton, the Greatest Literary Figure?

John Milton
The Greatest Writer?
(Image from Wikipedia)

Yesterday, I made light of the endeavor to rank Shakespeare or Milton, one or the other, as the greater literary giant. But Gregory Machacek, writing on the Milton List, reminds us that Milton demanded that we rank his work:
BUT, would Milton himself have shared our dismissiveness regarding literary evaluation, even ranking? Milton, who proclaimed that his epic would sing the better fortitude of patience and poetic martyrdom that previous epic had left unsung. Who early expresses his intent to soar above th'Aonian mount. Who dared to be known to think Spenser a better teacher than Scotus or Aquinas.

When we refuse Milton's invitation to rank his poem relative to others that have and might be written, do we miss something important about the epic? Do we refuse something Milton asks us to do?
Well, when you put it that way . . . I guess that I have to risk an opinion, so I did:
I can hazard a judgement even if -- to paraphrase Obama -- it's above my payscale.

I think Paradise Lost the greatest literary work in English, but I am at a loss to defend this opinion very well. I haven't developed my literary critical skills enough, nor have I read enough, to justify it.

I suspect that my opinion depends upon assumptions about poetry being the most difficult of the literary arts and epic poetry the most difficult sort of poem. Milton undertook an epic that would deal with the greatest of themes . . . and succeeded.

It's hard to see how anyone could undertake to surpass Milton except by writing an epic poem about the end of the story, i.e., Judgement Day.

A clever poet could then have God Himself pronounce a judgement in this difficult case -- presumably in favor of the clever poet.
Perhaps some obscure writer is somewhere scribbling away in obscurity on the next greatest epic poem . . . though perhaps it will be merely the 'next-greatest'.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Discussory Channel Presents: Canonical Face-Off



Shakespeare was a playwright who wrote some of England's greatest dramas. Milton was a poet who wrote what is disputably the greatest poem in English. But whose words had greater power? On Discussory Channel's Canonical Face-Off today, we'll see Shakespeare and Milton pitted against one another in a wild poetry slam to answer once and for all this overwhelming question.

(Bets to be Placed in Comments)

Inspired by a Milton List Discussion

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

John Andrews: "Sociology of Jihad"

John Andrews
"Sociology of Jihad"
July/August 2008

I don't think that I'd ever heard of The Counter Terrorist Magazine even though I've done a bit of digging around on the issue of terrorism, but I came across an interesting article by a former CIA agent, John Andrews, that had been published in this magazine last summer.

Here's the magazine's self-description:
With a reputation forged by hard work and determination to empower Homeland Security warriors, Security Solutions International is proud to offer The Counter Terrorist magazine.
I don't know much about Security Solutions International either, but their words sound pretty hardbitten, as though they consider themselves the Sam Spades of anti-terrorists.

Anyway, the article by John Andrews is titled "The Sociology of Jihad: How Rational People Commit Atrocities," and it appeared in the July/August issue of The Counter Terrorist Magazine. I call attention to it because it makes a remark about jihadist motivation for committing acts of terror that reminds me of my reading of the 'suicide note' left behind by the 9/11 terrorists:
Positive emotions motivate people to carry out horrific acts more easily than negative emotions. Killing in defense of family, friends or country is acceptable and encouraged. Perhaps the 9/11 perpetrators carried out their horrendous actions out of in-group love rather than out-of-group hate. (Andrews, "Sociology of Jihad," The Counter Terrorist, page 29)
Andrews concludes about suicide bombers:
These people are not raving maniacs. We must go beyond calling them terrorists and examine their ideology. They do not perform these acts in a vacuum. They are building a society and will use any means to achieve it. They do so not because they are sociopaths who hate people, but because they are true believers who want to save people. And so we are continually surprised when they turn out to be nice guys after all. (Andrews, "Sociology of Jihad," The Counter Terrorist, page 32)
The "nice guys" remark is a reference to what everybody seems to say about these terrorists after they've blown themselves and others up in a suicide attack, that were such "nice guys." I don't think that most people who encountered Mohamed Atta thought of him as a nice guy, but a lot of these terrorists seem to have been considered as such.

You can read the Andrews article in full in pdf format online.

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Monday, April 13, 2009

The Actual Blowing Stone from Tom Brown's School Days

Blowing Stone
(Image from Wikipedia)

My query concerning the originality of "sturm" or "stuym" received a noteworthy comment from Mr. George Zepp of Rugby, Tennessee:
My 1892 edition has the reader asking "Sturm?" One explanation for the difference might be that the scanning optical recognition software didn't quite pick it up right for the Gutenberg Project. You may be interested to know that the actual stone is still there, so far as I know. It was in the early 1980s when I visited it.
Undoubtedly, Mr. Zepp saw the stone from various angles, including this one:

Blowing Stone, Another View
David Nash Ford

From the passage in Tom Brown's School Days that I posted two days ago, we know that if one places one's mouth over a particular hole in this three-foot-tall stone and blows very hard through the y-shaped channel, a resonant, booming moan is produced that will reach five or six miles. The stone, by the way, is a hard sandstone known as sarsen, the same sort we find in Stonehenge. Anyway, in reply to Mr. Zepp, I wrote:
I believe that you're right about the original being "sturm." I had considered the possibility that the scanning for the Gutenberg copy was at fault, but something else seems too have happened, for I've discovered that some hardcopy editions have "stuym." I report on this in today's post (April 12, 2009).

I also came across a Wikipedia article on the stone itself and was thinking that I might report on the stone tomorrow (April 13, 2009) since it will have been the focus of two blog entries. Readers might like to see the photo.

I see that you are from Rugby. I assume that this is the same Rugby founded by Thomas Hughes. The citizens of Rugby must be very proud of their founder.
My assumption proved true, for by Googling, I discovered that Rugby resident Mr. George Zepp has long dedicated himself to maintaining the history of this utopian community founded by Thomas Hughes in 1880, along with many other Rugby residents.

I'd enjoy visiting Rugby someday if I make it back to that part of the United States, for it looks like a lovey little town.

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Thomas Hughes: "Blawin-stwun Hill"

Thomas Hughes
The Law Gazette, 1893
(Image from Wikipedia)

Yesterday, I asked about the original misapprehension of "stwun" (i.e., "stone") in Tom Brown's School Days, wondering if Thomas Hughes intended his hypothetical reader to inquire "stuym" or "sturm," for the Gutenberg Project's online copy of that book has "stuym," whereas my Wordsworth Children's hardcopy edition has "sturm."

A bit of digging around online led me to the likely answer for that query about the original word used by Hughes to convey the reader's misapprehension of "stwun." As a reminder, here's the relevant portion that I posted yesterday:
"What is the name of your hill, landlord?"

"Blawing STWUN Hill, sir, to be sure."

[READER. "Stuym?"

AUTHOR: "Stone, stupid -- the Blowing Stone."]
That was from the Gutenberg Project. My Wordsworth edition has this:
"What is the name of your hill, landlord?"

"Blawing STWUN Hill, sir, to be sure."

[READER. "Sturm?"

AUTHOR: "Stone, stupid -- the Blowing Stone."]
I think the original to have been "sturm," for I found this online:
"'What is the name of your hill, landlord?'

'Blawin-stwun Hill, sir, to be sure.'

[READER. 'Sturm?'

AUTHOR: 'Stone, stupid -- the Blowing Stone.']
This comes from a chapter on Elizabethan pronunciation in Richard Grant White's 1862 edition of The Works of William Shakespeare (Boston, Little Brown and Company), which would be rather authoritative since it was published merely five years after Hughes published Tom Brown's School Days (and also explains that the word "stwun" rhymes with "one," indicating that it therefore has no umlaut, contrary to my speculations).

I also see from the above that the original probably had "Blawin-stwun Hill" rather than "Blawing STWUN Hill." Perhaps a later edition altered this . . . along with "sturm" to "stuym," for we find "stuym" in a 2008 hard copy as well.

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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Thomas Hughes: Tom Brown's School Days

Tom and His Father
(Image from Wikipedia)

In my lark through the classics, I've taken what I thought was a minor detour, but this novel by Thomas Hughes has surprised me. I expected it to be children's literature, a light read -- and my edition is published as a Wordsworth Children's Classic -- but I can't imagine children being able to read it with pleasure or understanding, though I am reading it with both.

Before even getting to the story of Tom Brown's adventures, we're treated to a walking tour of England's Wessex region, where we stop to drink a pint at a countryside pub and engage the landlord in conversation:
"What is the name of your hill, landlord?"

"Blawing STWUN Hill, sir, to be sure."

[READER. "Stuym?"

AUTHOR: "Stone, stupid -- the Blowing Stone."]

"And of your house? I can't make out the sign."

"Blawing Stwun, sir," says the landlord, pouring out his old ale from a Toby Philpot jug, with a melodious crash, into the long-necked glass.

"What queer names!" say we, sighing at the end of our draught, and holding out the glass to be replenished.

"Bean't queer at all, as I can see, sir," says mine host, handing back our glass, "seeing as this here is the Blawing Stwun, his self," putting his hand on a square lump of stone, some three feet and a half high, perforated with two or three queer holes, like petrified antediluvian rat-holes, which lies there close under the oak, under our very nose. We are more than ever puzzled, and drink our second glass of ale, wondering what will come next. "Like to hear un, sir?" says mine host, setting down Toby Philpot on the tray, and resting both hands on the "Stwun." We are ready for anything; and he, without waiting for a reply, applies his mouth to one of the ratholes. Something must come of it, if he doesn't burst. Good heavens! I hope he has no apoplectic tendencies. Yes, here it comes, sure enough, a gruesome sound between a moan and a roar, and spreads itself away over the valley, and up the hillside, and into the woods at the back of the house, a ghost-like, awful voice. "Um do say, sir," says mine host, rising purple-faced, while the moan is still coming out of the Stwun, "as they used in old times to warn the country-side by blawing the Stwun when the enemy was a-comin', and as how folks could make un heered then for seven mile round; leastways, so I've heered Lawyer Smith say, and he knows a smart sight about them old times." We can hardly swallow Lawyer Smith's seven miles; but could the blowing of the stone have been a summons, a sort of sending the fiery cross round the neighbourhood in the old times? What old times? Who knows? We pay for our beer, and are thankful.
I can't imagine a child reading this passage, and I'm sorely tempted to think that I've long misunderstood in imagining Tom Brown's School Days as children's literature. As for me, I enjoy some of the linguistic puzzles in this passage. The dialect is sometimes accessible through recollecting what I heard from the old folks back in the Ozarks during my own childhood days -- though not especially in this passage (except for "heered").

I wouldn't have gotten 'blawing stwun' without a bit of authorial assistance. But on learning that it means "blowing stone," and recalling that the is in Wessex, which retains a strong Anglo-Saxon character (or so the author has informed us), I infer that we're supposed to be hearing an echo of the old Saxon dialect.

I don't know much about that, but "stwun" looks a bit like an attempt to render a Germanic-sounding umlaut, for the "w" before the "u" forces the lips to pucker in pronouncing the following "u" sound. Perhaps some learned reader can elucidate this.

But I also have a different sort of puzzle to wrinkle my brow. I've borrowed the selection above from the Gutenberg Project's' online edition, which has the reader asking, "Stuym?" My hard copy, however, has the reader asking, "Sturm?"

Which version is correct, the one with the "y" or the one with the "r"?

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Friday, April 10, 2009

Health Reminder: Changes in Appearance of a Mole

Typical, Harmless Mole?
(Image from Wikipedia)

Trevor, who blogs at Kalebeul and lives in Spain, has posted a fascinating investigation into the significance of moles in religion, literature, and culture that approaches the topic rather more broadly than my own (though he is kind enough to mention my posts).

Though his post does not focus on the issue of bodily health, we should also note that whatever the metaphorical significance of moles in religion, literature, or culture, we should never forget that they are also physical growths on our bodies and should be watched carefully for any physical changes that could signal a transformation from benign to malignant.

For instance, the above image from Wikipedia's entry on moles illustrates a typical mole reminiscent of the benign, life-giving nipple that offers us nothing less than the sweet milk of maternal kindness.

Be not fooled.

That 'harmless' mole can suddenly change into a large, dark, hair-covered, malignant one like the mole depicted below:

Atypical, Malignant Mole!
(Image from Wikipedia)

Obviously not benign, such a mole as this one can spread from your body to your garden and wreak havoc in your lawn, burrowing everywhere in its insatiable desire to fill its greedy maw! As Wikipedia informs us:
Moles burrow lawns, raising molehills, and killing the lawn, for which they are sometimes considered pests. They can undermine plant roots, indirectly causing damage or death.
Yes, even death! Moles can kill. Take them very seriously. If they are not stopped, they can even undermine an entire country by compromising its security.

Therefore, if you notice a radical change in a mole, seek medical attention immediately!

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