Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Obama-Inspired Kitsch!

President Barack Obama
(Image from En-Uk's Art Blog)

Yesterday morning, I showed En-Uk this website featuring "Bad Paintings of Barack Obama," and the aesthetic shock so unsettled little En-Uk that he simply had to add his own contribution . . . which looks somehow Peruvian, Egyptian, and Pentecostal simultaneously. It sort of serves to pep one up! At En-Uk's website, I commented:
Note Obama's cool, yet fiery aura!
And for those who like a soundtrack to accompany their kitsch, here's the You Tube version of "Bad Paintings of Barack Obama"! If I could only master up-loading videos, I would tape Sa-Rah playing my own "Yes, he can campaign" song as soundtrack to En-Uk's depiction of Obama and get millions of hits!
The Campaign Song
Oh, I think we may maintain
that Obama can campaign!
We hardly need explain
that he's got a campaign-brain!

Yes, he can campaign!
Yes, he can campaign!
Yes, he can!
Yes, he can!
Yes, he can campaign!

Oh, conservies, don't complain,
for Obama can campaign!
Why, he out-campaigned McCain!
Even Clinton felt his pain!

Yes, he can campaign!
Yes, he can campaign!
Yes, he can!
Yes, he can!
Yes, he can campaign!

Oh, we might sound not quite sane,
but Obama can campaign!
He'll prove each bane-foe vain
in an eight-year campaign-reign!

Yes, he can campaign!
Yes, he can campaign!
Yes, he can!
Yes, he can!
Yes, he can campaign!
Perhaps this would spark a new career that could turn out better than my previous one . . .

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

As long as I'm feeling sorry for myself . . .

Golden Triangle
(Image from Wikipedia)

I received such an outpouring of sympathy yesterday, I feel I ought to go fishing for more of the same today, so I'll open this entry with an intervening comment by my friend 'Sperwer' over at the Marmot's Hole:
Globalization anyone? I'm now sipping the local hootch sitting in a French hotel, managed by an American company, that is perched in the mountains overlooking the junction of the Mekong and Ruak rivers and the borders of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos. The staff comprises peeople from 5 different hill tribes and some down river Thais. The menu has dishes from Thailand, Southwestern China, France, Italy and Japan, all expertly prepared by local sous-chefs under the supervision of a French owner of three Michelin stars. Entertainment during lunch was provided by a three piece band -- guitar, bass and banjo -- played by Thais in check shirts, jeans, straw cowboy hats and shitkickers, who expertly played a mixture of American hillbilly country music that would have made Gypsy Scholar nostalgic for Arkansas and adaptations of local music -- interestingly the banjo is the perfect western analogue of the gamelan. 40 years ago, you might imagine something like this if you didn't have your mind fixated on something else -- after ingesting a significant quantity of the local opium, assuming you lived long enough to score some. I'm going swimming now.
I know little more than Sperwer about that hallucinogenic local crop. All I require to reach seventh heaven is a Mason jar of moonshine and that aforementioned hillbilly music . . . though the hillbilly allusion incidentally reminds me that my cantankerous Ozark character has often acted as the brake on my career -- better than careering out of control, I suppose, which does happen to some. But anyway, since 'Sperwer' mentioned my online persona over at the Marmot's Hole, I figured I ought to offer a comment:
Sperwer, I wish I could show up and hear that hillbilly music . . . but somebody's always gotta pay the fiddler. I'm up to my ears in student homework, proposals, essays, and bibliographies.

And to think, I spent all those years working on Coptic, Greek, and Hebrew when I could have just been getting a TESOL degree and working for the same salary!

I guess I'm still paying the fiddler for all those years of following my own interests . . .

But all the same, you have a good time.
And that goes for all you readers as well. You'uns go on and have a good time. I'll pay the fiddler for this here barn dance, so drink that hootch and enjoy the hootenanny.

Oh, and I hope that one and all reading today's entry know the crucial idiomatic distinction between "'little more" and "a little more" . . .

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Regina Spektor . . . and speculations

Regina Spektor
ca. 2004
(Image Borrowed from the Universe)

Since I'm currently swamped in the currentless swamp of student grading, I just can't remain constantly serious, so I investigate music that I've not previously listened to . . . such as Regina Spektor's song "Us," from the unbearable lightness of Soviet Kitsch:
They made a statue of us
And put it on a mountain top
Now tourists come and stare at us
Blow bubbles with their gum
Take photographs have fun, have fun

They'll name a city after us
And later say it's all our fault
Then they'll give us a talking to
Then they'll give us a talking to
Because they've got years of experience
We're living in a den of thieves
Rummaging for answers in the pages
We're living in a den of thieves
And it's contagious
And it's contagious
And it's contagious
And it's contagious

We wear our scarves just like a noose
But not 'cause we want eternal sleep
And though our parts are slightly used
New ones are slave labor you can keep

We're living in a den of thieves
Rummaging for answers in the pages
We're living in a den of thieves
And it's contagious
And it's contagious
And it's contagious
And it's contagious

They made a statue of us
They made a statue of us
The tourists come and stare at us
The sculptor's marble sends regards
They made a statue of us
They made a statue of us
Our noses have begun to rust
We're living in a den of thieves
Rummaging for answers in the pages
Were living in a den of thieves

And it's contagious
And it's contagious
And it's contagious
And it's contagious
I listened several times to the song on video, watching Ms. Regina Spektor's idiosyncratic antics, and then told a friend:
I saw this video yesterday . . . and thought of . . . the "den of thieves" line that encapsulates our current times. Oddly, though Spektor's been around since 2001, I'd never listened to her music, but maybe because I've not been around the US for over 20 years now.

I look at young Regina in the video and wonder if I had made better decisions would my [academic] life be better? I had a great junior year at Baylor, but after that year, I made a series of bad decisions that . . . affected my career. Those decisions reflected my character, which in turn reflected the culture of the place where I grew up. I was independent and opinionated and disdainful of consequences. That worked well enough in the Ozarks, where people didn't have careers anyway. The years have brought some perspective, and I look back on arguments that I've had [with other scholars] that did little to further my career . . . .

I suppose that some people could criticize others even more harshly than I have and yet prosper, but those people are smarter than I . . . . Now, I expect little from my career. I'm not depressed about that. I just have to pursue my scholarly interests and . . . my job. Things are not so bad, actually . . . for a den of thieves.

And one never knows what the future might have in store.
That's both a hope and a fear, of course. I'm in the odd position of seeing my scholarly life work out fairly well even as my academic career stalls, for I've managed to publish on John's Gospel, Gnosticism, Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Piers Plowman, Don Quixote, Paradise Lost, Pride and Prejudice, Natural Symbols (Mary Douglas), The Clash of Civilizations (Samuel Huntington), Al-Qaeda's 9/11 attacks, the future of Christianity, Korean identity, and a smattering of other things.

But who reads -- or even cares about -- scholarly articles, anyway?

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Terry Eagleton: "Culture & Barbarism"

Terry Eagleton
(Image from Wikipedia)

Terry Eagleton, the influential British literary theorist, has published in the liberal Catholic journal Commonweal an excerpt from his recent book, Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate. The excerpt, "Culture & Barbarism: Metaphysics in a Time of Terrorism," seems to have appeared last year, but I only noticed it yesterday. Eagleton makes a number of interesting and insightful points about religion and our late-modern or postmodern condition, but he gets something important wrong, I think:
Why are the most unlikely people, including myself, suddenly talking about God? Who would have expected theology to rear its head once more in the technocratic twenty-first century, almost as surprisingly as some mass revival of Zoroastrianism? Why is it that my local bookshop has suddenly sprouted a section labeled "Atheism," hosting anti-God manifestos by Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and others, and might even now be contemplating another marked "Congenital Skeptic with Mild Baptist Leanings"? Why, just as we were confidently moving into a posttheological, postmetaphysical, even posthistorical era, has the God question broken out anew?

Can one simply put it down to falling towers and fanatical Islamists? I don't really think we can. Certainly the New Atheists' disdain for religion did not sprout from the ruins of the World Trade Center. While some of the debate took its cue from there, 9/11 was not really about religion, any more than the thirty-year-long conflict in Northern Ireland was over papal infallibility. In fact, radical Islam generally understands exceedingly little about its own religious faith, and there is good evidence to suggest that its actions are, for the most part, politically driven.
Whatever the case concerning the resurgence of talk about God, I think that Eagleton misses the point on radical Islam in maintaining that it does not understand its own religious faith and in characterizing it as politically driven instead. He has perhaps been misled by noting, correctly, that Bin Laden lacks expertise in Islamic theology and law and thus failing to notice that a lot of other Islamist leaders are in fact richly steeped in these things. He has also failed to realize that Islam is profoundly political, and so (unsurprisingly) is radical Islam. He therefore misunderstands 9/11:
Assured since the fall of the Soviet bloc that it could proceed with impunity to pursue its own global interests, the West overreached itself. Just when ideologies in general seemed to have packed up for good, the United States put them back on the agenda in the form of a peculiarly poisonous brand of neoconservatism. Like characters in some second-rate piece of science fiction, a small cabal of fanatical dogmatists occupied the White House and proceeded to execute their well-laid plans for world sovereignty. It was almost as bizarre as Scientologists taking over 10 Downing Street, or Da Vinci Code buffs patrolling the corridors of the Elysée Palace. The much-trumpeted Death of History, meaning that capitalism was now the only game in town, reflected the arrogance of the West's project of global domination; and that aggressive project triggered a backlash in the form of radical Islam.
Islamism is no mere backlash reaction to Fukuyama's end-of-history thesis or to America's foreign policy under George Bush, nor was 9/11 a reaction to some neoconservative 'cabal'. Eagleton forgets that the first attack on the World Trade Center occurred in 1993, early in the hardly neoconservative Clinton administration. Islamist aggression was long in the making and draws on deep sources in Islam. It is not merely a reaction to anything.

Nevertheless, Eagleton's article offers intellectual riches, especially for what it says about culture versus civilization . . . but I'll leave that for readers to enjoy firsthand.

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Moon So-young: "Art in Everyday Things"

Armada Portrait of Elizabeth I
(Image from JoongAng Daily)

I subscribe to Korea's JoongAng Daily primarily because it comes with a parallel subscription to the International Herald Tribune, i.e., the international edition of the New York Times. I started reading the Tribune nearly 25 years ago, when I first lived abroad, in Switzerland, and have read it more or less continuously ever since. In lean times, I've had to depend on the library copies, but most of the time, I read it on my own dime.

Anyway, because I depend on my subscription to the JoongAng Daily for my copy of the Tribune, I make a point of reading the Daily as well . . . perfunctorily. Or I did so until a little over one month ago, when I discovered a reason to read it with interest. An article by Moon So-young, "Jesus: Savior, martyr, antitrust crusader" (February 19, 2010), captured my attention, for it analyzed, in quite intelligent, well-written English, the 1650 painting Christ Driving the Merchants from the Temple by Jacob Jordaens (1593-1678):
The work by Jordaens is a typical Baroque-style historical painting, with a wide canvas and a spectacular tableau full of people and animals engaged in dynamic movement and reactions to one another. The livestock sellers are busy trying to avoid the lash of Christ, while some people at right watch as if enjoying the scene.

One man in the center particularly attracts the eye. Still sitting in his chair, he's falling backward, screaming. Coins pour out everywhere beside him, while accounting books scatter, identifying him as a money changer.

Baroque painters frequently painted this scene for perhaps two reasons. The first is specific to the Baroque era: The episode is dramatic and is accompanied by violent action, which was appealing to the tastes of the time. But the second will be familiar to anyone outraged by a bank bailout in the aftermath of last year's financial crisis: Many of the painters just enjoyed having a good laugh at the financial elite.

In the 17th century and the time of Jesus, money changers were not just currency dealers but also offered comprehensive banking services. In particular, in 17th-century Flanders, where Jordaens lived, money changers were at the center of a major development of commerce and international trade in the region. Most of them also lent money as well, receiving interest in return.
Moon embeds her analysis of this particular painting within a larger historical analysis of the changing pictorial depictions of this scene from John's Gospel (2:13-16), and I invite you to take a look.

Yesterday's analysis by Moon, however, was of a painting political, not religious, except implicitly. The article -- "Propaganda via portrait paintings" -- offers an analysis of the above painting by an unknown artist, the Armada Portrait of Elizabeth I:
In this painting, the queen dons elaborate lace, ribbons and countless strings of large pearls. It is said that she wore extremely splendid dresses like this to inspire others. She loved to wear pearls, in particular, because they symbolized purity and chastity, in keeping with her nickname "The Virgin Queen."

In the background of the portrait are two windows showing significant events during her reign. The left window depicts the Spanish Armada confronting the English fleet. Spain, the strongest power on the high seas at the time, was prospering thanks to its intense focus on trade with the Americas. But England began taking an interest in the region as well, disrupting Spanish trade. As a result, Spain attacked England in 1588.

England defended itself using ships with excellent mobility and long-range cannons, striking a victorious blow on the Spanish fleet with a fire attack. The Armada hastily retreated but was further damaged by storms. The window on the right side of the painting depicts this turbulent scene.

In the portrait, the queen's hand lies triumphantly on a globe. A closer look shows that her fingers cover the Americas -- a statement that England, which emerged as a new naval power after defeating Spain, would exercise its influence in earnest in the New World across the Atlantic. English people at the time must have felt a surge of pride for their queen when they saw the painting. What an effective piece of propaganda this is!
And a good analysis of this Armada portrait, sometimes called "the Drake version." I would have added only the religious significance of "The Virgin Queen." Elizabeth reigned in a time of religious turbulence throughout Europe, and England was still merely superficially Protestant. In the image above, we see Elizabeth as a near 'Queen of Heaven' -- ruler, anyway, of the world -- and bedecked in almost celestial glory, even to the quasi-halo of lace about her neck. During a time of spiritual confusion, her image could serve as an icon to a not-entirely-secular faith vested in England. This is part of its power and significance as propaganda (though any fine-grained analysis is complicated by the fact that the portrait was retouched by a different hand in the seventeenth century).

Moon undoubtedly knows much of this, but as a journalist, she's beholden to word limits, and what she does include in already interesting enough to keep me reading -- and to keep me looking forward to her articles, which can be found archived by the JoongAng Daily under "Art in Everyday Things."

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Mus'ab Hassan Yousuf: Uncompromising 'Islamist' Views?

Mus'ab Hassan Yousuf
(Image from Memri)

We've previously met this son of a Hamas leader, Mus'ab Hassan Yousuf, under a different spelling, "Musab Yousef," where we first learned that he had become a Christian, apparently an evangelical, and moved to California for safety since as an apostate from Islam, he faces assassination by Islamists, who wish to apply the death penalty required by shariah.

In an interview with BBC Arabic that was aired on March 12, 2010, Yousuf expresses some rather harsh views on Islam, and I quote from the transcript:
"[T]he God of Islam suffers from a split personality. All the Muslims who follow the God of Islam interpret Islam as they like, but this does not negate the terroristic and murderous character of Islam, which incites people, through the Koran, to kill people and blow themselves up."
Yousuf is clearly speaking rather carelessly about what the Qur'an literally says, for that book says nothing specifically about blowing oneself up. He has some hermeneutic space for backing up if necessary since the English term used here is the somewhat imprecise "incite." I'd be curious to know what he says in Arabic. At any rate, Yousuf is challenged by his interviewer to state where the Qur'an says this, so he cites chapter and verse:
"Go to Surat Al-Tawba, verses 5 and 29."
Let's take a look, and I quote from Pickthal:
5. Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then leave their way free. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

29. Fight against such of those who have been given the Scripture as believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, and forbid not that which Allah hath forbidden by His messenger, and follow not the Religion of Truth, until they pay the tribute readily, being brought low.
I can see pretty clearly a rationale here for the jihad of war with the aim of spreading Islam, but I can't quite see any justification for terrorism or suicide bombing. Yousuf would need to make a stronger case. There follows an exchange between the interviewer and Yousuf:
Interviewer: "But don't you agree that Islam recognizes other religions, exalts Jesus, recognizes Judaism, and so on? Do you or do you not accept this?"

Mus'ab Hassan Yousuf: "There are several unreliable views of several Islamic thinkers, but their authority does not supersede that of the God of Islam, who said: 'Slay the People of the Book wherever you find them.'"

Interviewer: "How can you say that? Did the Koran call to slay the People of the Book?"

Mus'ab Hassan Yousuf: "He said: 'Slay the polytheists wherever you find them.' Read the surah."

Interviewer: "But the People of the Book are not polytheists, are they?"
This is the question, of course. Strictly speaking, the Qur'an does at times accuse the Christians of polytheism, though it appears to misconstrue the Trinity as God the Father, God the Son (Jesus), and God the Mother (Mary). But the text does not explicitly call for the killing of People of the Book as polytheists. Indeed, it offers them protection if they submit to Islamic rule and accept third-class 'citizenship' (Muslim women being second-class 'citizens').

If Yousuf were speaking specifically about radical Islamists, he would be largely correct in characterizing their Islam as calling for the death of Christians and Jews as polytheists, and we see this Islamist influence in many parts of the world where Muslims outnumber Christians, but Yousuf too quickly imputes a radical Islamist view to the Qur'anic text. He needs to offer a more complex hermeneutic of the Qur'an and to acknowledge not only that are there "several . . . views of several Islamic thinkers" but that his own reading is one of these several views -- and acknowledge that he needs to provide convincing evidence that his is the reliable view.

Yousuf also does not make an entirely positive impression due to his excessive defensiveness and his overly combative demeanor, though I'm judging this based on watching him in the original Arabic on video, so I might be misinterpreting his tone and body language since I don't know the language or culture (and can thus only follow the subtitles).

Watch and listen for yourself . . .

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

David Peace: Preoccupied City?

"Tokyo Vice"
(Image from New York Times)

Concerning David Peace's recent novel, Occupied City, which I haven't read, Justin Cartwright has written for the New York Times an intriguing review titled "Tokyo Vice" that begins like this:
When I started to read David Peace's new novel, I had, frankly, absolutely no idea of what was going on. The opening line: "In the occupied city, you are a writer and you are running." As it turns out, the idea of running -- "step by step-step by step" -- is endlessly, mind-numbingly repeated and reworked in this novel.
That doesn't sound like entirely unambiguous praise to start a review, but I really had no idea what Mr. Cartwright was up to, for he soon proceeds to assure us:
Mercifully, it soon became apparent that "Occupied City" is an extraordinary and highly original crime novel, based on a notorious true-life poisoning of bank workers in occupied Tokyo in 1948.
Cartwright eventually returns, by review's end, alternately quoting and unquoting, enchanted and dismayed, to ambiguous high praise:
At times the novel's prose takes on an almost hypnotic rhythm as it settles into a kind of modernist repetition of ­phrases: "Tear by drop-drop, foot by step-step . . . drop-drop, step-step." For pages at a time, sentences start with "In the occupied city." Peace presumably intends for all this repetition to lend his book a lyrical authenticity and poetic exoticism, but really it makes him sound like Rain Man. But stick with him. Once you get past the irritation and the claustrophobia the language sometimes induces, this is a truly remarkable work. It is hugely daring, utterly irresistible, deeply serious and unlike anything I have ever read.
Has Cartwright been hypnotically absorbed by a flawed novel? Is it truly so absorbing? Would I, too, be absorbed? Would the very flaws absorb me? Am I to be absorbed, preoccupied by my own flaws?

Courtesy of Amazon, we can all have a "Look Inside". . .


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Nickeled and Dimed to Death . . .

Jefferson Nickel
(Image from Carl's Coins)

My mother once told me an amusing story of a storekeeper in my Ozark hometown of Salem, Arkansas back in the 1940s or 50s who must have been a few bales shy of a full load -- or, less colloquially, not the sharpest tool in the shed. If I recall, he was also a bit of a tightwad, but despite his intrinsic stinginess -- probably because he needed business to pick up, and maybe because had some sweets that were getting old -- he decided to offer a special deal on pieces of cheap candy one fine day. He therefore made a sign and taped it to the candy jar:
"Special Sale: two for a nickel, three for a dime."
Now, some readers might think that this shopkeeper was out to trick slow-witted customers, but my mother insists that the storekeeper was the slow one. She didn't say how the sale worked out, so I don't know for a fact, but I suspect that he obtained very few dimes, yet got one or two clever folk trying to pay with two nickles . . . and arguing with him about the promised deal:
"Here's two nickels," says a customer. "Gimme four pieces."

"Four?" The shopkeeper looks askance. "That's three pieces fer a dime."

"I ain't give you a dime," the customer points out. "Jes' two nickels."

"Hold on," says the shopkeeper, reflecting. "Two nickels is a dime."

"Nah, that ain't right. Two nickels is ten cents," concedes the customer, "but they ain't no dime."

"Wait a second," the shopkeeper cautions, "a dime is ten cents, jes' like two nickels is ten cents. That's three pieces of candy."

"Nah, cain't be right," the customer insists. "A dime is one thang. Two nickels is two thangs, and fer two nickels, I get four pieces of candy."

"Nope," insists the shopowner. "The sale is two fer a nickel. That's one nickel. I ain't wrote nothin' 'bout two nickels."

"Awright," says the customer, "jes' gimme a nickel back and two pieces of candy."

The shopkeeper complies, and the customer steps out, then immediately back in, surprising the shopkeeper. "Fergit somethin'?" he asks.

"Nope," replies the customer. "I'm shoppin' agin. Here's a nickel. Gimme two pieces of that thar candy."
As admitted above, I don't know for a fact that any scenario like this actually unfolded, but it could have, and I can imagine the shopowner refusing to give two pieces of candy for that second nickel, maintaining that the latter purchase is part and parcel of the first purchase, that the second nickel combines with the first to equal one dime, and refusing to give in despite, or perhaps based on, the wording of his advertised special sale. The verbal altercation could go to court and make for an interesting case as lawyers argue over the ontological vs. monetary status of two nickels.

LeRoy Tucker ought maybe to incorporate such a scene into one of his stories . . .

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The 'net -- dragging us nowhere?

(Image from New York Times)

The literary critic Michiko Kakutani has an interesting New York Times article, "Texts Without Context," speculating on where the internet is taking us, apparently nowhere, and we'll all be unreal nowhere-men in a dystopian monadological universe of discourse. Well, that's my rather imprecise, metaphysically solipsistic take on Kakutani's argument, so there may be some irony to what I'm doing in this post.

What Kakutani actually says, among other interesting points that she makes, is that our "snip here, paste there" approach to writing -- as with David Shields's recent book Reality Hunger, consisting of "618 fragments, including hundreds of quotations taken from other writers" -- has been made so easy by the internet that it is simultaneously altering our method of reading by making radically subjective deconstructionists of us all:
As for the textual analysis known as deconstruction, which became fashionable in American academia in the 1980s, it enshrined individual readers' subjective responses to a text over the text itself, thereby suggesting that the very idea of the author (and any sense of original intent) was dead. In doing so, deconstruction uncannily presaged arguments advanced by digerati like Kevin Kelly, who in a 2006 article for The New York Times Magazine looked forward to the day when books would cease to be individual works but would be scanned and digitized into one great, big continuous text that could be "unraveled into single pages" or "reduced further, into snippets of a page," which readers -- like David Shields, presumably -- could then appropriate and remix, like bits of music, into new works of their own.

As John Updike pointed out, Mr. Kelly’s vision would in effect mean "the end of authorship" -- hobbling writers' ability to earn a living from their published works, while at the same time removing a sense of both recognition and accountability from their creations. In a Web world where copies of books (and articles and music and other content) are cheap or free, Mr. Kelly has suggested, authors and artists could make money by selling "performances, access to the creator, personalization, add-on information" and other aspects of their work that cannot be copied. But while such schemes may work for artists who happen to be entrepreneurial, self-promoting and charismatic, Mr. [Jaron] Lanier says he fears that for "the vast majority of journalists, musicians, artists and filmmakers" it simply means "career oblivion." (page 3)
This isn't a danger only for journalists, musicians, artists and filmmakers, and I'm curious what Carter Kaplan and Michael Moorcock might have to say on this point with respect to literary authors, given Kaplan's permitted use of Moorcock's characters, concepts, and topics, for this sort of overlap seems already a step in the deconstructive direction. But I won't expound on that excursus. I merely wish to mention it and quickly return to my own point of noting that not only journalists, musicians, artists and filmmakers face oblivion in the subjective appropriation of their material. Despite the ubiquitous footnoting in scholarly works, scholars also confront this oblivion:
And online research enables scholars to power-search for nuggets of information that might support their theses, saving them the time of wading through stacks of material that might prove marginal but that might have also prompted them to reconsider or refine their original thinking. (page 2)
No one reads scholars' entire texts anymore! One need only note the scholarly use of Google Books and Google Scholar to see this at work. I know firsthand -- from my own use of these specialized search engines -- of the tendency to find only what one is already sure of, for a sharpened search often takes one precisely there. Conflicting findings are not ignored; they are often not even seen! Even the immediate context to a nugget of information is too often ignored, scarcely to mention the larger context, and the scholar who constructed the entire text is thereby also lost. Arguments and the person who made them no longer exist as scholarship grows ever more solipsistic.

Being aware that this often happens, as an artifact of the search-engine process itself, enables one to circumvent the danger of self-fulfilling investigations. I can if I really try, but I was schooled in research before the digital age and have read widely enough to a degree of depth sufficient to have provided me with a bit of judgment in evaluating what I find.

What of the younger, digital generations, though. Do they read entire books? Or is nowhere now here?

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Ozark Photos: Tim Ernst

Dug Hollow
Tim Ernst

In his Weekly Ramblings e-circular, my cousin Bill Hodges linked to an Ozark website that I'd not yet discovered on my own webular meanderings. The site is called Cloudland Cabin Journal and is maintained by Tim Ernst, who has been keeping the journal since since May 1998 and at some point added images to illustrate his journal entries.

From my cursory look around his site, I gather that Mr. Ernst lives in Newton County, Arkansas, famous for its Buffalo National River and probably the most rugged area in the entire Ozarks. The image above gives some indication of the ruggedness even as it suggests accessibility. That sums up the Ozark charm, I think. It's full of isolated, rugged spots that are not that difficult to access.

As for Mr. Ernst himself, he's apparently well known and successful as a photographer:
Tim Ernst is Arkansas' Wilderness Photographer. He has been hiking, driving and crawling around the wonderful Ozark Mountains for most of his life, preserving the images he sees on film for everyone to enjoy. His photographs have appeared in hundreds of national, regional and local publications. Some of his credits include National Geographic, Audubon, Backpacker, Outside, Outdoor Photographer, American Hiker, Natural History, Country, Chevy Outdoors, and Arkansas Times magazines, Sierra Club and Hallmark calendars, National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service maps and brochures, Readers Digest Books, and The New York Times.
I'm a little bit jealous . . . but a lot more glad that someone professional is out there photographing the Ozarks for all to see since his efforts enable me to visit my back-home hills any time that I have a hankering to.

A site well worth repeated visits . . .


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Second Ether and the Multiverse?

(Image from Wikipedia)

I've learned from Mr. Carter Kaplan -- in a couple of blog comments and emails -- that the "Second Ether" concept in his novel Tally-Ho, Cornelius! is borrowed from Michael Moorcock's literary fiction. From Kaplan's own novel, I had made the connection to the multiverse of modern physics and philosophy -- for Peter Forrest and I used to discuss the multiverse during my three years at the University of New England in New South Wales, Australia.

To further my knowledge of the Second Ether, Mr. Kaplan offered a link to a piece that he wrote on the concept and published in New Boundaries in Political Science Fiction (University of South Carolina Press, 2008), but the link is to a site on the 'Multiverse', and I -- for some reason, perhaps my insufficiently evolved state -- cannot enter the 'Multiverse, as I explain:
For some reason, . . . the 'multiverse' links that I've seen always return me to the homepage for Yahoo. I've noticed this in trying to access Michael Moorcock's site. If I Google his name and then click on 'multiverse', I end up at Yahoo. Baffling. I suppose that I've not evolved sufficiently to enter the Second Ether.
But I invite my readers to test Kaplan's link and report back from the Second Ether of the multiverse if they can . . . and try Moorcock's larger site for that matter. I'm still assuming that the concept is a riff on the original, first ether of pre-Einsteinian physics, with a debt to the old, Medieval concept of the etherial quintessence.

Let me know . . .

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

"Well, how did I get here?"

(Image from Wikipedia)

Midway through my Berkeley years, I encountered the 'Deutsch Elm Disease.' She was a young German scholar with a surname that sounded like "elm" who had completed her graduate studies at Cambridge or Oxford, if I recall -- so let's call it Oxbridge -- and was teaching the History of Christianity for the Religious Studies Department with a half-position in History.

As a textbook, she used Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy, of all books! She would sometimes sit in front of class and -- eyes fixed upon that text -- read aloud passages from Russell's 'learned' views on such things as Gnosticism or the Arian heresy. Other times, she would 'lecture' on the Eastern and Western Roman Empires, drawing superficial distinctions or making strained analogies.

Once, she was uttering something about the apostle Peter and noted that he was also called "Kēphas," which she explained was short for the Greek term "kephalē," meaning "head" and thereby implying, she explained, that Peter was "head" of the Church.

Astonished at such ignorance from a Berkeley professor, I raised my hand and informed her that "Kēphas" was Aramaic, not Greek, and that it meant not "head" but "rock," i.e., "petra," and was thus a wordplay between the Aramaic "Kēphas" and the Greek "Petros", i.e., "Peter," and therefore implied that Peter signified the rock of faith upon which the church was to be built.

The 'Deutsch Elm Disease' grudgingly expressed something that resembled 'thanks' . . . but then went on to offer the same false etymology a week or two later in a course on the New Testament. Speechless at such incompetence, I said nothing that time. But other times, I raised more points and asked more questions, ever politely I thought, though she grew ever more annoyed. After one such question, she confronted me at the end of the class as I was about to step out the door:
"You are 'Jeff Hodges'?" she demanded.

"Yes," I replied.

"You will come to my office!"
That didn't set right by me. At the age of 32, I wasn't about to let myself be ordered to anybody's office. We had an argument, and I informed her that if I wasn't cowed by the crack dealers gunning down their rivals in front of my place on Alcatraz Avenue, then I wasn't about to be intimidated by the likes of her.
"I'm not coming to your office," I said. And I didn't.
But I found myself thinking, "If someone as incompetent as this 'Deutsch Elm Disease' can obtain a tenure-track position at U.C. Berkeley, then I will surely encounter no obstacles on my path to academic success.

How wrong I was . . .

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Professor Pop on Adorno and Horkheimer's "Dialectic of Enlightenment"

Adorno and Horkheimer
(Image from Wikipedia)

Yesterday, we heard Cappy Cahtah Kohenum's critique of Shakespeare for the latter's ideological defense of a hierarchical society in which rebellion gets punished by death, but we know -- if we've read all of Carter Kaplan's novel, Tally-Ho, Cornelius! -- that this same 'Cappy', Captain of a Corsair Crew of Rebel Angels (if I might capitalize on multiple allusions), may be an untrustworthy stand-in for that great rebel Satan. One of Cappy's confederates in 'crime', Professor Pop, speaks up today in defense of the Corsairs ('Coarse Airs'?) for their infiltration of the "Second Ether," that complex realm known as the multiverse that enables those who have entered it to achieve immortality. There's some riffing off of John Milton's views here on the sublimation of matter into spirit, I think, but I haven't figured that out entirely. Anyway, the first ether doesn't get mentioned in Kaplan's book, not that I recall, but I'm guessing that it refers to the supralunar realm of the Medieval cosmos. The "Second Ether" would be the realm beyond even that, outside the cosmos. Getting there requires rebellion in the name of freedom and reason, but there are some suspicions about the legitimacy of this rebellion that Professor Pop addresses in his critique of Adorno and Horkheimer's views in their article "Dialectic of Enlightenment." He calls their own views the Dialectic of Reactionary Closure:
The Dialectic of Reactionary Closure was designed to penetrate and subvert the very same reason that would allow species to evolve into forms which could enter the Second Ether. It varies from system to system, but the contours of the Dialectic and the way it takes hold of a species are the same. First, a tragic event is seized upon, and in describing the causes of that event the Dialectic of Reactionary Closure places blame squarely at the feet of Reason and freedom. Reason and freedom are made into a straw man, a villain. Reason is portrayed as instrumental and technocratic, as an overarching philosophy of history based on the notion of the domination of nature, and it argues that any civilization, impelled by the instinct of self-preservation, will destroy itself and the world through the technology that Reason allows beings to create. Although Reason overcomes the terrors of nature, the illusions of magic, and the deceptions of myth, the Dialectic of Reactionary Closure attributes to this same spirit of Reason a sort of technological barbarism that frightens entire civilizations and deceives them into rejecting the spirit of Reason in toto. (Kaplan, Tally-Ho, Cornelius!, page 149)
The "tragic event" mentioned by Professor Pop is the Holocaust, of course, at least in this particular universe, but Pop's critique of Adorno and Horkheimer is self-interested, for the Corsairs' use of 'Reason' does appear to be entirely technocratic and instrumental, given their use of information technology to enter into the Second Ether. Moreover, Cappy the Corsair Captain reminds us (or me) of that exemplar of instrumental reason, Odysseus, a nobody who could step into the role of just about any somebody or other if necessary, just to survive. Here Cappy-Odysseus stands at the helm of a stolen airship, making his great escape on a 'celestial voyage' to rescue his Corsair Crew and re-enter the Second Ether. The 'gigantic' Reverend Dr. Cornelius, who has sort of been kidnapped, has just broken into the airplane's cockpit:
The Reverend Dr. Cornelius was startled by the scene. It was the pilot's chair strapped down and blocking the door, and there was Cappy standing on the cockpit floor with his feet braced against the wall and the center console, the oversize headset squeezing his ears, his back arched proudly, his chest thrust forward, one hand on the tiller at his side, the other grasping the control wheel -- the Reverend Dr. Cornelius was damned if his little friend didn't resemble some kind of miniature buccaneer! Then the lad turned to confirm the giant's progress was checked by the chair and cried, "Yo-ho! You better hold on, Padré. I've just been cleared to the active runway. Prepare for take-off!" (page 190)
The Reverend Dr. Cornelius, having made a pact with the devilish Cappy, is in for more than he bargained for and may indeed be "damned" . . . but the book doesn't make this entirely clear, nor does the author, Carter Kaplan, fully show his own hand.

But that very ambiguity offers a puzzle to reflect upon, the sort of thing that keeps me preoccupied in this mortal universe . . .

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Cappy Cahtah Kohenum: Shakespeare as Poet for the 'Brain Police'

Tally-Ho, Cornelius!
Carter Kaplan
(Image from Highbrow)

You think that you like Shakespeare, but your eyes have yet to be opened by the devilishly clever Cappy Cahtah Kohenum, antihero of Carter Kaplan's novel Tally-Ho, Cornelius!, who tells us -- in the guise of a precocious little boy calling himself "Capricorn" -- precisely why "Shakespeare stinks":
Well, in Shakespeare's universe people are supposed to play their role. And when people don't play their roles the social equilibrium is upset. Then the people who don't play their roles all die -- maybe it's tragedy, but somehow they deserve it -- and then the people who sheepishly play their roles take over and the social equilibrium is restored. End of story. Every one of his stupid plays follows the same formula.

. . .

Look at poor Cordelia. She tells her stupid old dad that he's playing the fool -- and he is -- but in Shakespeare's universe she is in the wrong because telling the silly old goat he's a fool means she's gone outside her role as daughter. So, even though she's right, Shakespeare has to kill her off because that's his code. By the middle of King Lear they're all acting outside their silly roles, and the silly Bard of Avon has the temerity to suggest this is a bad thing -- all those stupid allusions to witchcraft, old wives tales and madness -- then equilibrium is restored and everyone who transcended his or her role has to die -- all so Shakespeare can make his point that everybody must confirm to the status quo. Same thing with Hamlet. He dies and the person who is willing to play his role takes over; and as in the play Henry V, the people who correctly play their roles and who restore the social equilibrium are mass murders who wear crowns. (Kaplan, Tally-Ho, Cornelius!, page 125)
All you Shakespeare fans are thus dupes of lovely language written to lull you into accepting a hierarchical cosmos in which you really ought to know your place and simply stay there . . . or else. Perhaps D. H. Lawrence had it about right when he read Shakespeare:
How boring, how small Shakespeare's people are!
Yet the language so lovely! like the dyes from gas-tar.
I confess that I've never quite suspected Shakespeare in this hermeneutic-of-suspicion fashion, though there's something to it, but does Carter Kaplan truly expect us to trust his alter ego Cappy Cahtah Kohenum, who's possibly a stand-in for Satan, likely stained by transworld depravity, and certainly a trickster?

More another time . . .

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Not the British, too!

Carter Kaplan
(Image from Highbrow)

I'm currently reading Carter Kaplan's first and, so far, only novel, Tally-Ho, Cornelius!, which I'm enjoying . . . but more on that another time, after I've finished and had time to reflect.

Today, I wish merely to ask a question, after a brief quote describing some divines and assorted women at a dinner table as seen through the eyes of the Reverend Dr. Jeremiah Cornelius:
Sitting to Catherine's right, the Reverend Dr. Cornelius studied this closely and rather grimly wondered how the lot of them might appear sitting behind the glass of a museum diorama. Sitting beside him, his brother smiled up and down at the diners and -- completely oblivious to American table customs -- freely and shamelessly expelled the compressed gas that had gathered inside his large intestine. Oona bust out laughing. Her chortles and snorts were so voluble that Bishop Achebe looked round confused, while Bishop Marvel thought to raise his napkin to cover his smiling lips. The postmodern divine turned to his wife and softly growled through the corner of his mouth, "Is that your friend laughing, or did a stuffed hyena follow you home from the museum this afternoon?" (Kaplan, Tally-Ho, Cornelius!, pages 112-113)
This might be a rather confusing passage to excerpt since it includes so many characters to whom one has not yet been properly introduced, namely, Dr. Cornelius, his wife Catherine, her friend Oona . . . but let that be for now. On to my questions, for as things turn out, I have two.

First, do the British actually pass gas so shamelessly during meals? I've visited Britain several times without noticing this phenomenon. I know that Icelanders do it freely and unselfconsciously . . . but the British?

Second, is "bust" a past tense of "bust"? Or should that read "burst"? Let me check the Free Dictionary for "bust" . . . hmmm, yes, "bust" as past tense does seem possible. I'd always thought that the forms were "bust, busted, busted," but maybe this verb "bust" takes after its more legitimate cousin, "burst, burst, burst"?

Perhaps Mr. Carter Kaplan, who has previously visited and commented on this blog, could verify these two points?


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Terrance Lindall: The Gold Illuminated Scroll

Paradise Lost Scroll
Terrance Lindall

We have today another polyptych painting, not of the Last Judgment but of the first one, the judgment leveled upon Adam and Eve as described in John Milton's Paradise Lost and depicted in this painting by the illustrious illustrator Terrance Lindall -- a surrealist-fantasy artist and a "latter day Bosch," according to the art critic Dr. Leo Steinberg.

This polyptych painting is in the form of a scroll that reads right to left, but I'll let the information offered by the Yuko Nii Foundation explain:
Terrance Lindall in his year long celebration of John Milton's 400th birthday, which started on December 8, 2008, has just completed as of December 8, 2009, what is considered by the few who have seen it already to be the most unusual painting for Milton's Paradise Lost ever done. It is in the form of a scroll that reads from right to left like a Torah.

The scroll is now in the Milton collection at the Yuko Nii Foundation. It contains one of Lindall's "complete" versions of PL. It is 14 inches high [and about 68 inches long] with 24 K (23.75) gold illuminated miniature inset paintings plus many other cartouches of the Bodleian Library, the Visionary Foal, Milton dictating, Nemo's submarine, etc.

The scroll begins with the great omniscient eye of God in the upper right hand corner. In the iris of the eye reads "THE WORD." Below the eye is the Tree of Life, roots extending upwards with a bird of paradise perched atop. The Tree of Life becomes a vine that twines across the bottom of the scroll. The upper portion of the scroll contains the miniature paintings depicting scenes from Milton's epic. The bottom part is the text that is only to be read as captions, not complete Miltonic quotes.

The opening panel shows an angel wrestling with a snake over the Garden of Eden and piercing the serpent with his sword. The angel and serpent are in the form of a cloud and the sword piercing the serpent delivers gold lighting bolts . . . portending the tragedy that is to come.

At the bottom in the next panel Milton is dictating Paradise Lost to his daughter, giving birth to the serpent with a burst of flame from his forehead like Athena from the head of Zeus or Sin from the head of Satan. A bottle is pouring forth a stream water that symbolizes the purity of God's Spirit or God's "Historical Will." It flows throughout the panels beneath the Pillars of the Universe. The water also represents Milton's reputation which starts off small and by the 19th century becomes an ocean in which we see Captain Nemo's 19th Century submarine Nautilus. Nemo is somewhat like Satan, rebelling against what he perceives as the injustice of a greater power.

There is a mysterious winged creature riding the Visionary Foal at the bottom of the panels. The Visionary Foal is an aspect of the omniscient God. At the end of the scroll we see who the mystery rider is: it is none other than Satan himself who has been performing God's work. He has been redeemed because God has used him to seduce Adam and Eve so God could actualize his Divine Grace and Mercy by having His alter ego, His Son, sacrifice Himself and take the sins of Adam & Eve back upon himself. God's mercy is not perfect if it is not actualized, and Satan has helped actualize (perfect) it by rebellion and seduction thus initiating God's perfect mercy. But God's Mercy being infinite, God has also redeemed Satan who leans back upon the Heavenly Foal in the next to last panel. Satan is back to Satan's former self, no longer ruined. A rainbow, the promise of God, over Cavalry Hill confirms the redemption or promise of His Perfect Mercy.

The last panel is a library with a Benedictine monk named Wickenheiser holding a book. Wickenheiser is the Universal Librarian, maintaining the records of Man's great thoughts and works recorded in books, especially those of John Milton. The vaulted ceiling of the library becomes a stairway composed of books leading up to the second coming of Christ surrounded by Apostles and the learned men Davinci, Plato, Socrates, Newton and others. Knowledge, forbidden by God to Adam & Eve as a test of their obedience to Goodness, has been vindicated and redeemed for and through Man by God's Grace. Note that another bottle of water on Wickenheiser's library table pours the spirit of God's Will and Milton's reputation back into the scroll the opposite way from the bottle at Milton's feet. It represents the fact that by Wickenheiser's building of the great Milton collection Wickenheiser has sustained, preserved and reestablished Milton's reputation until the end of time.

In the upper left hand corner of the scroll, the great eye of God has closed! "I am the Alpha and Omega, I am the Beginning and the End," so sayeth the Lord, "I am the Almighty." Thus, as God opens the universe with His Great Eternal Eye and THE WORD, He also closes His Great Eternal Eye at the end of time, and nothing more is perceived about our universe!
I think that this says things rather better than I could. Full disclosure: I am a member of The Paradise Lost Committee -- as I believe that it's called. My job is to sit 'virtually' on the committee and do little other than offer occasional scholarly remarks, though other scholars on the committee do that rather better than I.

For a larger image of the final three 'panels' of this polyptych, go to the The Gold Illuminated Scroll site. For a video presentation, go to You Tube.

At the linked website, one can even order copies of this exclusive scroll. I make no money for announcing this, by the way, nor does Mr. Lindall make any money for selling copies of his scroll. Profits go to the Yuko Nii Foundation to support the arts.

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Peter Hitchens: The Rage Against God

The Last Judgment, c. 1445–1450
(215 x 560 cm)
Rogier van der Weyden (1399/1400-1464)
(Image from Wikipedia)

Peter Hitchens -- younger brother to the very much more famous Christopher Hitchens, who has 'raged' against God in such books as God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything -- speaks up for God in a recent book, The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith.

These brothers certainly make for interesting bookends.

I haven't read either book, so I won't be comparing or offering reviews, but I did read an interesting excerpt from the book by Peter Hitchens in The Daily Mail Online: "How I found God and peace with my atheist brother: Peter Hitchens traces his journey back to Christianity" (March 12, 2010). In a fascinating passage, he confesses that fear propelled his return to Christianity:
No doubt I should be ashamed to confess that fear played a part in my return to religion, specifically a painting: Rogier van der Weyden's 15th Century Last Judgement, which I saw in Burgundy while on holiday.

I had scoffed at its mention in the guidebook, but now I gaped, my mouth actually hanging open, at the naked figures fleeing towards the pit of Hell.

These people did not appear remote or from the ancient past; they were my own generation. Because they were naked, they were not imprisoned in their own age by time-bound fashions.

On the contrary, their hair and the set of their faces were entirely in the style of my own time. They were me, and people I knew.

I had a sudden strong sense of religion being a thing of the present day, not imprisoned under thick layers of time. My large catalogue of misdeeds replayed themselves rapidly in my head.

I had absolutely no doubt that I was among the damned, if there were any damned. Van der Weyden was still earning his fee, nearly 500 years after his death.
That polyptych painting is found in the Museum of the Hospices Civils de Beaune, but for convenience is also pasted above, and while I find it quite impressive, I don't find the conversive power that brought Peter Hitchens to his knees and opened his mouth to speak.

Perhaps because of the 'irrational' character of his own religious experience, Peter Hitchens doesn't seem to put much stock in rational persuasion for belief in God, especially with such cases as his passionately atheist older brother, Christopher Hitchens:
It is my belief that passions as strong as his are more likely to be countered by the unexpected force of poetry, which can ambush the human heart at any time.
Not even good prose can do the trick:
Beyond that, I can only add that those who choose to argue in prose, even if it is very good prose, are unlikely to be receptive to a case which is most effectively couched in poetry.
By "prose," Peter Hitchens seems to mean discursive reasoning aimed at rational persuasion aimed toward fully grounded knowledge, but that doesn't usually lead to faith, apparently, for on the point of God's existence or non-existence, he tells us:
I have become more convinced we cannot know such a thing in the way we know anything else, and so must choose whether to believe or not. I think it better by far to believe.
Why he thinks so is perhaps further articulated in the book, but the excerpt does offer this reason for his choice of Christian belief:
For a moral code to be effective, it must be attributed to, and vested in, a non-human source. It must be beyond the power of humanity to change it to suit itself.

Its most powerful expression is summed up in the words 'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends'.

The huge differences which can be observed between Christian societies and all others, even in the twilit afterglow of Christianity, originate in this specific injunction.
That appears to be in prose rather than poetry, so it might not do the trick for others . . . as Peter Hitchens would likely concede. For him, I gather, the experience of faith is like falling in love. It is overwhelmingly persuasive but not an experience that can be effectively shared through rational argument. Only a foolish man would expect to win the heart of a woman through discursive reasons. Poetry is more effective in such cases.

But after falling in love, or into faith, one might still reflect upon reasons, for one can fall in with the wrong crowd . . . like too many converts to 'Islamism' these days.

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Pregnant Pause . . .

Newborn Baby
Conceived by Misconception?
(Image from Wikipedia)

In my research writing class last Friday, students were busy honing their topics and sharpening their focuses as they prepared their individual research projects for this semester. I was wandering about the classroom, offering assistance, advice, comments, whatever was required. Students needed only beckon, and I would approach.

One student called out, "Professor, over here!"

I walked over to see what she needed

"I'm thinking about getting pregnant before marriage," she said.

Astonished, I could only stare at her.

She waited a moment for me to speak, and when I didn't, she asked, "Can you help me?"

That left me even less capable of formulating a proper response. I mean, what can one say?

Again, she took the initiative. "A lot of celebrities are having babies before marriage, and I see them as role models for this."

I was starting to think that I'd need to regulate more carefully what television programs my kids can watch if celebrities have powers sufficiently great to evoke such emulation, but I still didn't know how to respond to the student.

She then said, "Because of their bad example, lots of young people are having premarital sex and even having babies. I don't think this is good for the children because they often grow up in a fatherless home, which is a disadvantage for them in Korea's Confucian society."

Everything suddenly clicked as I understood. "Oh!" I exclaimed. "You want to write about having babies before marriage!"

"Yes," she replied, giving me a puzzled look. "What did you think I meant?"


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Kenneth W. Starr and Baylor 2012

This is month-old news, but Christianity Today recently reported on Kenneth Starr as the new president of my undergrad alma mater, Baylor University, quoting him on the prospects for the academic goals mapped out by Baylor 2012 in "Q & A: Kenneth Starr, Baylor's Next President" (March 11, 2010), an interview by Sarah Pulliam Bailey:
Question: Baylor 2012 announced the institution's intent to become a tier one institution. Do you think that goal will become a reality in the next decade?

Starr: I don't want to offer future predictive judgments. The future is unknown and unknowable. I do believe Baylor 2012 is a comprehensive plan for excellence and the expansion of learning, and the further and central integration of faith and learning is extraordinary and courageous. I embrace it wholeheartedly and enthusiastically. The grand vision of Baylor 2012 is one of the very important dimensions of Baylor life that has drawn me this great institution. The board of regents unanimously supports Baylor 2012. Here we are in 2010, so it is time thoughtfully to assess where Baylor is as an institution, and after that assessment, the process will be to prayerfully contemplate the next step.

Question: The original plan for Baylor 2012 called for many new additions to the university, including an honors college and 10 new doctoral programs, with 200 new faculty appointments. Do you know what the state of Baylor 2012 is right now?

Starr: Many of the goals have in fact been accomplished admirably. Others remain as aspirational and noble objectives. The task now is to assess comprehensively and thoughtfully where the university is on that march toward 2012.
In my years as a Baylor undergraduate, I was an Honors Student, and I look back fondly on those days, so I'm very supportive, in spirit, of the Baylor 2012 vision.

I remember a decade ago, when the goal was announced by President Robert B. Sloan, that the aim to raise Baylor to the ranks of a tier one university was controversial. If I recall correctly, the fear among some was that Baylor would lose its distinctive Christian ethos in striving for higher academic ranking. Oddly, the other fear seems to have been that President Sloan was a closet fundamentalist who wanted to smuggle creationism into the Baylor curriculum in the guise of intelligent design because of his support for William A. Dembski. I didn't attempt to read Sloan's mind, but I liked his articulated intellectual vision, and it now appears to be acclaimed as visionary (though I suppose that it has developed in ways unanticipated by Sloan). I suppose that only time will tell, given that "[t]he future is unknown and unknowable," but I wish Baylor the best.

Not that my wishes have anything to do with it . . .


Friday, March 12, 2010

Saudi Irony of the Day?

Maureen Dowd
Fred R. Conrad, Photographer
(Image from New York Times)

Ms. Maureen Dowd recently traveled to Saudi Arabia to get a clearer picture of Islam and discovered something unexpected in our globalized world:
It was nearly impossible for me to experience Islam in the cradle of Islam.
Rather ironic, as she implicitly goes on to note in her New York Times column, "Pilgrim Non Grata in Mecca" (March 9, 2010), because:
You don't have to be a Catholic to go to the Vatican. You don't have to be Jewish to go to the Western Wall (although if you’re a woman, you're squeezed into a slice of it at the side). You don't have to be Buddhist to hear the Dalai Lama speak -- and have your picture snapped with him afterward.
But in Saudi Arabia, Ms. Dowd was not allowed in a mosque . . . unofficially. Apparently, Saudi Muslims, or at least some of them, believe that there's some unwritten rule forbidding nonbelievers from entering places sacred to Islam, for in Jidda, she asked to attend a mosque but "was told that non-Muslims could not visit mosques," which isn't true, technically, as Prince Saud al-Faisal also insisted, though he did admit:
Well, you know, it depends who you ask . . . . Somebody . . . who doesn't want to run into trouble may tell you no.
But why would any Muslim in Saudi Arabia imagine running into trouble for letting a non-Muslim enter a mosque? Perhaps because for so long Saudi Arabia''s Wahabist form of Islam has called for a "wall of resentment" between Muslims and non-Muslims and has informed Muslims that:
[E]veryone who does not embrace Islam is an unbeliever . . . and . . . they are enemies to Allah, his Prophet and believers. (Saudi Publications on Hate Ideology, Freedom House, 2005, page 24)
That might be a reason . . .

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

En-Uk's "Singer"

En-Uk Sequoya Hwang
(Image from En-Uk's Art Blog)

My ten-year-old son is still continuing his art blog and recently sketched and colored the figure above, titled "Singer," about which En-Uk tells us:
This drawing is called "Singer." I made this drawing because I like singers.
Well, I like singers, too, but I've never sketched and colored anything remotely like this, so there must be more going on in En-Uk's mind than I can fathom. I have to agree with commentor CIV:
Wow. This is outstanding. Nice work, En-Uk.
En-Uk has blogged on an artwork of his own making daily since beginning his art blog on January 13th, and he's now started another blog: En-Uk's Animal Blog. This one also has some points difficult to fathom, e.g.:
A grown polar bear can hit something very hard -- it is about like a 3 ton piece of metal hitting something.
I may have to fathom this one with a grain of slowly dissolving salt . . . though En-Uk does seem to know more about animals than I do.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Remembered, Fictionalized Ozarks . . .

Bridge Over an Ozark Lake

Mr. Harry Styron, a Missouri lawyer located in Branson, Missouri, has a blog post from late January titled "The Ozarks in fiction: a work in progress" and has requested that interested folks "work together to build an annotated list of fiction about the Ozarks," and some of you might want to help him on that.

Meanwhile, under the heading "The soul of the Ozarks in fiction," Mr. Styron has included our friend Mr. LeRoy Tucker, the 'Ozark Folk Liar', and notes that Mr. Tucker's "blog . . . contains fiction and tales." He then quotes, in an apparent update, an early February message from Mr. Tucker's blog:
Almost everything I write is set in my fictional town of Climax, Arkansas. I move around in time because to me, Climax was always there and I merely tell stories about what might have happened or might someday happen or something like that, stories that I don't understand any more than you do and I can't tell what is coming next either. There is no beginning and I suppose the end will come when I die or become physically unable to continue. Certainly there is no plan and never will be.
Readers who have been following me on Mr. Tucker's blog will know that the fictionalized town of Climax, Arkansas is set in the rather more fictional political and geographical entity La Clair County, situated somewhere in the Ozark region along the border between Fulton and Sharp Counties.

I say that Climax, Arkansas is "fictionalized" because Mr. Tucker tells us in May of last year that some of his ancestors "lived at Climax, the real Climax that died in 1918 and stayed dead: the Climax that I attempt to imagine back to life."

I thought of Mr. Tucker's 'fictional' pursuit as I was reading an article yesterday in The New York Times titled "Library Science," a review by Pagan Kennedy of Marilyn Johnson's recent book about librarians, This Book is Overdue. Kennedy lets us in on what fascinates Johnson about librarians . . . and about obituary writers(!):
They are people who struggle to bring the dead back to life. Johnson's characters desperately care about half-forgotten brawlers, freedom fighters and canine celebrities. They are the guardians of all there is to know. It doesn't matter whether they carry on their efforts in analog or digital format. For they are waging the holy battle to resurrect the entire world, over and over again, in its entirety -- keeping every last tidbit safe.
That's what Mr. LeRoy Tucker is doing with his fictional La Clair Country -- bringing the dead, the old Ozark dead, back to life.

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Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Jeong Ji A: "Light of Spring"

Koreana, Spring 2010
(Image from Koreana Homepage)

One of the earlier translations from Korean into English that my wife Sun-Ae and I did of a Korean short story has appeared in the Spring 2010 issue of Koreana: Korean Art and Culture (Vol. 24, No. 1). The story is "Light of Spring," by Jeong Ji A, and the text was somewhat difficult for us to deal with because it was in dialect, so our first effort was overworked into a 'rural' American dialect that didn't really fit. We reworked it after advice and improved it some, but it still has flaws, all my own fault because my job was to make the English work to a literary effect, so don't blame the author, Jeong Ji A, or the translator, Sun-Ae Hwang. Blame solely Horace Jeffery Hodges, and since you need a sample in order to do any blaming, here's the opening paragraph:
Father was smoking a cigarette as he sat in a comfortable squat by the forsythia hedge, its branches lavish with dazzling yellow blossoms, when the car pulled up. He did not in any way resemble an educated intellectual, the proper schoolteacher that he had actually been, despite the fact that, out here in the countryside where people rarely do, he was dressed formally in the exact same navy blue suit that the son remembered having worn on his first day of work at his first job, and which mother had retrieved some time later on one of her visits to see him in Seoul, saying she might find a use for it as work clothes or something. Father was now just one of the old country folk. Stopping the car a few meters away, the son turned off the engine. Father blew out a puff of cigarette smoke and watched as it dispersed in the warm spring air. The space around Father seemed somber, as if proximity to death gave his body the power to absorb the forsythia's bright yellow hues and even the dispersed cigarette smoke. Father showed no sign of noticing the car parked close by or that a pair of eyes was watching him intently. For some years already, he had been so deaf that turning the television up to its maximum volume had been necessary. (Jeong Ji A, "Light of Spring," Koreana, Spring 2010, page 92)
My stylistic insufficiencies are obvious for all to see. I'm dissatisfied with the very first sentence and would now rework it at least to read:
When the car pulled up, Father was smoking a cigarette and squatting comfortably by the forsythia hedge, its branches lavish with dazzling yellow blossoms.
I think that works a bit better, but it still needs more reworking. So does the second sentence, which I'd now perhaps rework as follows:
In no way did he look well educated, the proper schoolteacher of years ago, despite being dressed in a formal suit, unlike most country folk. The suit was the same navy blue one the son remembered wearing the initial day of his first job. His mother had later taken it with her after a visit to Seoul, saying it might be of use as work clothes or the like.
I'd want to keep tinkering with this sentence until the words run along smoothly -- and I might as well try to fix the rest of the paragraph:
Father was now just one of the old country folk. Stopping the car a few meters away, the son turned off the engine. Father sharply exhaled a puff of cigarette smoke and watched it disperse in the warm spring air. The space around him appeared somber, as if proximity to death had altered his body, making it absorb the forsythia's bright yellow hues, and even the dispersing cigarette smoke. Father revealed no awareness of the car close by or the eyes intent upon him. For some years, he had already been so hard of hearing that a television on full volume was necessary.
I think that these changes show improvement. It'll never be perfect, but in the light of this year's incipient spring, it looks better.

Readers may have other opinions . . . as might my wife.

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Monday, March 08, 2010

Muhammad Musa Al-Sharif: "Atheists, Christians, and Fornicators Are Responsible for Human Rights Treaties"

Muhammad Musa Al-Sharif
(Image from Memri)

Finally, an issue upon which atheists, Christians, and fornicators can agree: human rights. According, anyway, to Saudi Arabian Muslim cleric Muhammad Musa Al-Sharif, who informs us:
"We are committed to international treaties as long as they do not violate Islamic law. If they violate Islamic law, we should throw them out, because they are not worth the ink they were written with. With all due respect, the international treaties are worthless."
Worthless? Why would that be? The unvarnished truth from Mr. Muhammad Musa Al-Sharif:
"Who is responsible for the human rights and international treaties? The atheists, the Christians, and the fornicators, with all due respect."
Muslims, atheists, and Christians are, I suppose, mutually exclusive groups, but none of these exclude actual fornicators, who can always be found everywhere. Mr. Muhammad Musa Al-Sharif, however, is referring to 'fornicators' who exist only in his mind, where they multiply their numbers and conspire with 'atheists' and 'Christians' also present there to foment for thoughts of human rights and against thoughts of sharia.

But the conspiracy is even bigger than Mr. Muhammad Musa Al-Sharif imagines, for some 'thoughts' remain hidden even to himself, specifically, the 'Jews' of his mind who stand behind the scenes manipulating the 'fornicators', 'atheists', and 'Christians' . . . all in the interest of human rights.

With all due respect, Mr. Muhammad Musa Al-Sharif, you haven't yet figured out the entire conspiracy, so try to introspect just a little bit more.

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Sunday, March 07, 2010

Lady Anne Southwell: "All maried men desire to have good wifes"

Creation of Eve
(Image from Wikipedia)

Yesterday after I had been thoroughly thrashed among the Miltonists for my "blatant misogyny," another Milton scholar posted a wonderful poem by Lady Anne Southwell celebrating Eve, "All maried men desire to have good wifes": good wifes:
but.few.give good thir lives
They are owr head they wodd have us thir heles.
this makes the good wife kick the good man reles.
When god brought Eve to Adam for a bride
the text sayes she was taene from out mans side
A.simbole of that side, whose sacred bloud.
flowed for his spowse, the Churches savinge good.
This is a.misterie, perhaps too deepe.
for blockish Adam that was falen a sleepe
I have this from the Milton scholar's post but also from page 62 of Early Modern Women's Manuscript Poetry (Manchester University Press, 2005), edited by Jill Seal Millman and Gillian Wright, which remarks on the odd punctuation but doesn't explain it, and I can't either. But I can, perhaps, modernize the poem for most people's comprehension:
All married men desire to have good wives,
but few give good example by their lives.
They are our head; they would have us their heels.
This makes the good wife kick, the good man reels.
When God brought Eve to Adam for a bride,
the text says she was taken from out man's side,
a symbol of that side, whose sacred blood
flowed for his spouse, the church's saving good.
This is a mystery, perhaps too deep,
for blockish Adam that was fallen asleep.
I encountered a bit of difficulty with the word "reles," which had me stuck between "releases" and "reels," but I found the answer on page 120 of Erica Longfellow's Women and Religious Writing in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2004), which also quotes the entire poem (so I suppose that I also have the poem from that book).

The poem is a very clever use of scriptural passages, reminding men who would employ St. Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 11:3, "the head of every woman [is] the man," that Paul also says, in Ephesians 5:25, "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it," thereby suggesting, by means of Southwell's implicit Pauline prooftexting, that being the head entails sacrificial responsibilities, which Southwell complexly alludes to in her symbolic cross-references to Genesis 2:21-24 ("taene from out mans side") and John 19:34 ("that side, whose sacred blood flowed"), showing that the husband is not to dominate the wife by treating her as his heel but is to love her even unto death, for if he is her Christ, she is Christ's blood.

And if the husband doesn't understand this, Southwell implies, then he's not the head but a mere blockhead.

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