Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year 2007

Happy New Year
(Image from Wikipedia)

Best Wishes This New Year's Eve 2006

For The Upcoming New Year 2007


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Gypsy Scholar


New Year's Eve

Champagne Toast

Saturday, December 30, 2006

"something not said" by Milton...

Chapel of the Bargello Palace, Florence
Tempted by the intemptatas?
(Image from Wikipedia)

Long-time readers who have glanced at the past two entries will have noted that I appear to be on one of my academic perambulations through obscure regions of the Western tradition.

That is correct, but I don't know how far this walk will lead me. The Bitter Withy walk took several posts and never reached its aim.

My walks are rather like those hikes that Gerard Hoffnung used to take with his wife on rainy days, when they'd walk around the table in their dining room for hours and hours, have a picnic when they reached the right spot, then walk back. Once, he was halfway to their favorite spot when he realized that he'd forgotten the knapsack with their food, so he had to retrace his steps to get it. Of course, he could have just reached over and taken it off the nearby counter where he'd left it, but that wouldn't have been right, for Hoffnung was a man of integrity, so he traipsed back the way he'd come, he and his wife repeatedly encountering yet studiously ignoring each other since they were, in principle, soon several kilometers apart as he was going back while she was continuing on ahead.

Luther had his table talks, Hoffnung his table walks. Consider my intellectual perambulations as the academic equivalent of a Hoffnung table walk -- except that you're free to reach over for that forgotten knapsack.

Anyway ... to return to yesterday's stretch of my table walk on Milton's claim to have done "Things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhime" (PL 1.16), I want to pick up on a point that the biblical scholar Stephen C. Carlson commented upon. In my post, I had stated:

I don't see the strong connection between Spenser's line "Whose praises hauing [having] slept in silence long" and Ariosto's line "Cosa non detta in prosa mai né in rima," except as an ironic, understated manner of saying that a theme has never been broached, but even so, it only parallels in the very general sense of claiming originality and doesn't seem to me to warrant Cheney's reference to Spenser's line as a "translation" of Ariosto's.
Stephen made an observation on this point before adding some helpful information:
Sometimes "translates" means "paraphrases," but, even so, it would be a rather poor choice on Cheney's part in light of the term’s more usual meaning for the same context.

I would translate literally the Italian of cosa non detta in prosa mai né in rima as "something not said in prose ever or in rhyme." Milton's "unattempted" for detto instead of the more literal "said" is a nice touch, but it still falls in the realm of "translation" where Spenser's use of the topos more clearly does not.
To this, I responded:
Stephen, thanks for the literal translation.

On the issue of "unattempted," one of the Milton Listservers who wishes to remain anonymous has helped out:

In treating the many topics typical in the Exordium, Curtius** first treats the topos "I bring things never said before," which "appears even in ancient Greece." Curtius cites Choerilus. He then cites passages in: Virgil, Horace, Manilus, the poet of the Aetne, Statius. And Dante, who could "rightly" say that "in his _Monarchia_ he wished to present truths which others had not yet attempted ("intemptatas ab aliis ostendere veritates": I, 1, 3)." And in the _Paradiso_ (II, 7): "L'acqua ch'io prendo già mai non si corse."

So, Jeffery, Fowler's ref. to Curtius page 85, mentioned in your gypsy text, helps with "things unattempted yet."

**European Lit. and the Latin Middle Ages

Looks to me as though Milton might have altered Ariosto by way of Dante.
Curious about this Dante allusion in Milton's line about attempting "Things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhime," I Googled and found this online citation of a page from Dante's Monarchia:
[3] Hec igitur sepe mecum recogitans, ne de infossi talenti culpa quandoque redarguar, publice utilitati non modo turgescere, quinymo fructificare desidero, et intemptatas ab aliis ostendere veritates.

[3] Thinking often about these things, lest some day I be accused of burying my talent, I wish not just to put forth buds but to bear fruit for the benefit of all, and to reveal truths that have not been attempted by others.
Dante's entire Monarchia is available at Dante Alighieri on the Web, but it lacks any accompanying English translation.

Just out of curiosity -- a 'vice' much criticized by St. Augustine and subsequently put on trial -- since Dante and Milton both thought and wrote about the consequences of humanity's original sin, and thus about the original temptation concerning fruit, I wonder if they might not have been punning a little on "tempted" in referring to things previously unattempted/intemptatas...

Friday, December 29, 2006

More original borrowings...

Staunch defender of Milton's originality...
(Image from Wikipedia)

For your amusement, more musings on the literary muse...

The Spenserian scholar Donald Cheney, writing in his article "Spenser's Parody," Connotations 12.1 (2002/2003), pages 1-13, links Ariosto's line "Cosa non detta in prosa mai né in rima" not only to Milton but also to Spenser:

Edmund Spenser, the poet's poet, affords a likely site for such a search [investigating "sympathetic parody"], since by temperament and historical moment he consistently and conspicuously flags his relationship to prior texts. I propose, therefore, to look at a few passages in the 1590 Faerie Queene and ask how they might usefully be described as parodic.

The opening stanza of the poem illustrates the combination of imitation and variation that we find throughout Spenser's project. The first four lines are an apparently straightforward imitation of the opening of the Aeneid as it was known to the Renaissance: [page 2]

Lo I the man, whose Muse whylome did maske,
As time her taught, in lowly Shephards weeds,
Am now enforst a farre vnfitter taske,
For trumpets sterne to chaunge mine Oaten reeds [...]2

Spenser had indeed taken care to imitate this rota virgiliana by previously publishing a pastoral volume under the pseudonym of "new Poet" or "Immerito." In the fifth line, however -- which is the turning point of the nine-line Spenserian stanza as it was not, of course, for Virgil -- he announces a subject which is not Virgil's "arms and the man" but a version of Ariosto's parody of that subject: "And sing of Knights and Ladies gentle deeds," "Le donne, i cavalier, l'arme, gli amori / le cortesie, l'audaci imprese io canto."3

Here again, Spenser seems to be giving a straightforward version of the prior text: "gentle deeds" can be taken as the deeds natural to knights and ladies, namely courtesies and bold undertakings. The remaining four lines of the stanza provide an elaboration or gloss that will affirm or modify our reading of this as an Ariostan project:

Whose praises hauing slept in silence long,
Me, all too meane, the sacred Muse areeds
To blazon broade emongst her learned throng:
Fierce warres and faithfull loues shall moralize my song.

The verb "moralize" has leapt out at nineteenth-century readers of the poem, since the Orlando furioso seemed to them anything but moralistic. And if Spenser's sixth line, "Whose praises hauing slept in silence long," translates Ariosto's promise of "Cosa non detta in prosa mai né in rima [I.2]," this very claim to novelty is itself traditional, like Milton's similar version of Ariosto, "Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme."4 Furthermore, Spenser's mention of a "sacred" Muse at the outset of a book of "Holinesse" has led readers to question her identity, whether she is one of the classical nine, the muse of history or epic say, or a new, Judaeo-Christian one—another question that Milton will brood over when he appeals to his own heavenly muse.


2.Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, ed. A. C. Hamilton, rev. ed. with text ed. Hiroshi Yamashita and Toshiyuki Suzuki (London: Longman, 2001), I.proem.1.

3.Ludovico Ariosto, Orlando furioso, ed. Emilio Bigi (Milano: Rusconi, 1982), I.1.

4.See Ernst Robert Curtius, Latin Literature and the European Middle Ages, translated by Willard R. Trask (New York, NY: Pantheon, 1953) 85-86.
Forgive the lengthy quote, but I felt a need to provide the context. Like Alistair Fowler, who cited Curtius in noting that "The claim to novelty was a common opening topic," Cheney himself also cites Curtius in remarking that "this very claim to novelty is itself traditional," and all three were commenting upon Ariosto's apparently well-known line: "Cosa non detta in prosa mai né in rima."

I don't see the strong connection between Spenser's line "Whose praises hauing [having] slept in silence long" and Ariosto's line "Cosa non detta in prosa mai né in rima," except as an ironic, understated manner of saying that a theme has never been broached, but even so, it only parallels in the very general sense of claiming originality and doesn't seem to me to warrant Cheney's reference to Spenser's line as a "translation" of Ariosto's.

Milton, however, clearly does translate, and we find an interesting observation on this in chapter 21 of Norman Douglas's Old Calabria (Marlboro Travel), which can be found online:
It has been customary to speak of these literary appropriations [by Milton of various authors] as 'imitations'; but whoever compares them with the originals will find that many of them are more correctly termed translations. The case, from a literary-moral point of view, is different as regards ancient writers, and it is surely idle to accuse Milton, as has been done, of pilferings from Aeschylus or Ovid. There is no such thing as robbing the classics. They are our literary fathers, and what they have left behind them is our common heritage; we may adapt, borrow, or steal from them as much as will suit our purpose; to acknowledge such 'thefts' is sheer pedantry and ostentation. But Salandra and the rest of them [whom Milton borrowed from] were Milton's contemporaries. It is certainly an astonishing fact that no scholar of the stamp of Thyer was acquainted with the 'Adamo Caduto'; and it says much for the isolation of England that, at a period when poems on the subject of paradise lost were being scattered broadcast in Italy and elsewhere -- when, in short, all Europe was ringing with the doleful history of Adam and Eve -- Milton could have ventured to speak of his work as 'Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyma' -- an amazing verse which, by the way, is literally transcribed out of Ariosto ('Cosa, non detta in prosa mai, ne in rima'). But even now the acquaintance of the British public with the productions of continental writers is superficial and spasmodic, and such was the ignorance of English scholars of this earlier period, that Birch maintained that Milton's drafts, to be referred to presently, indicated his intention of writing an opera (!); while as late as 1776 the poet Mickle, notwithstanding Voltaire's authority, questioned the very existence of Andreini, who has written thirty different pieces.

Douglas is implicitly accusing Milton of plagiarism. Horrors! Gypsy Scholar should be aghast, dismayed, and indignant at Milton's dishonesty. If Milton were doing this today, of course, he'd face legal challenges, for laws have become rather strict about intellectual property rights, but Milton's day was different. Moreover, Milton doubtless expected his 'plagiarism' to be uncovered and probably didn't imagine that any later reader would accuse him of cheating. Rather, he probably expected to be congratulated upon his broad erudition and ability to surpass everyone, both the classical writers and his contemporaries.

Incidentally, note Douglas's misremembered quote from Milton (assuming that it's not a transription error by whoever put this online):

"Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyma"
Douglas has let his Ariosto influence Milton even more than Milton himself did, slipping in the final "a" of "rima" from Orlando Furioso:
"Cosa, non detta in prosa mai, ne in rima"
Milton's line, as we already know, reads:
"Things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhime"
That final "e" of "Rhime" erases the final "a" of Ariosto's "rima" and substitutes its silence instead ... an excision necessary for Milton's pentameter.

Richard Bentley, in his 1732 edition of Paradise Lost, attempts to defend Milton's borrowing:
V. 16. In Prose or Rime] The Author gave it,

Things unattempted yet in Prose or SONG.

But the 13th Verse being once chang'd into Adventurous SONG, that Word could not be here repeated; and so for Song was substituted RIME. It may be said, He took Rime from Ariosto, Cant. I.

Cosa, non detta in PROSA mai, ne in RIMA.

But Ariosto's Poem is in Rime, Milton's neither in Rime nor Prose: So that this Argument is even yet unattempted in either of them.

Bentley's defense of Milton is pettifogging pendantry. It's also absurd. Milton was writing unrhymed poetry, so of course what he accomplished could have been accomplished "neither in Rime nor Prose" because then they wouldn't be rhyme or prose. If one wants to be so 'strict' as Bentley, then one would make equal sense to say that Milton failed to achieve "Things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhime" because he wrote "neither in Rime nor Prose."

Which is no sense at all.

UPDATE: I see now that I have misread Bentley:

V. 13. To my adventurous Song, &c.] Some Acquaintance of our Poet's, entrusted with his Copy, took strange Liberties with it, unknown to the blind Author, as will farther appear hereafter. 'Tis very odd, that Milton should put Rime here as equivalent to Verse, who had just before declar'd against Rime, as no true Ornament to good Verse, but the Invention of a barbarous Age, to set off wretched Matter and lame Meter. I am persuaded, this Passage was given thus:

Invoke thy aid to my adventurous WING,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above th' Aonian Mount; while I PURSUE
Things unattempted yet in Prose or SONG.

Bentley's argument is more interesting now that I've looked at the context. He's arguing that a later redactor altered Milton's "SONG" to "RIME," and that this anonymous redactor borrowed from Ariosto.

Bentley's analysis has not been accepted by mainstream scholars.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

I need not always be original...

Statue of the poet Ludovico Ariosto
Located in Reggio Emilia
(Image from Wikipedia)

... pursuing the ever new in prose or rhyme.

I have a precedent in this in Milton, who opened his great Paradise Lost epic with these words:
Of Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal tast
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat, [ 5 ]
Sing Heav'nly Muse,that on the secret top
Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire
That Shepherd, who first taught the chosen Seed,
In the Beginning how the Heav'ns and Earth
Rose out of Chaos: Or if Sion Hill [ 10 ]
Delight thee more, and Siloa's Brook that flow'd
Fast by the Oracle of God; I thence
Invoke thy aid to my adventrous Song,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above th' Aonian Mount, while it pursues [ 15 ]
Things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhime. (PL 1.1-16)
On the Milton Listserve this morning (morning for me, anyway), Professor Jameela Lares mentioned the well-known fact -- though unknown to me -- that Milton (1608-1674) was borrowing from Orlando Furioso by Ludovico Ariosto (1474-1533) in stating that his flight "pursues / Things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhime" (PL 1.15-16).

I should have known this, for Alastair Fowler notes it in his annotated edition of Paradise Lost (Longman, 1998):
16. Echoing Ariosto's boast Cosa non detta in prosa mai, né in rima (Orl. Fur. i 2). (Fowler, 59)
Fowler then dryly adds, "The claim to novelty was a common opening topic," and cites pages 85f of Ernest Robert Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages (1953) for more on this topic -- which means that Fowler owes a debt of his own to Curtius (borrowings all around, it seems).

Also, the greatly useful online Paradise Lost hosted by Dartmouth College at the Milton Reading Room tells us this in a footnote:
Line 16. The line ironically (maybe even sarcastically?) recalls the stanza 2 of canto 1 of Ariosto's Orlando Furioso.
That link itself was provided by the Milton Reading Room and takes us to this translation of Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, where in Canto 1, Stanza 2, we find as promised:
In the same strain of Roland will I tell
Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme,
On whom strange madness and rank fury fell,
A man esteemed so wise in former time;
If she, who to like cruel pass has well
Nigh brought my feeble wit which fain would climb
And hourly wastes my sense, concede me skill
And strength my daring promise to fulfil.
Ariosto's translator here was William Stewart Rose (1775-1843), who by his choice of words -- "Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme" -- obviously intended to echo Milton's echo of Ariosto.

But for those who know Italian, here's Ludovico Ariosto's original Italian for Canto 1, Stanza 2 of Orlando Furioso:
Dirò d'Orlando in un medesmo tratto
cosa non detta in prosa mai, né in rima:
che per amor venne in furore e matto,
d'uom che sì saggio era stimato prima;
se da colei che tal quasi m'ha fatto,
che 'l poco ingegno ad or ad or mi lima,
me ne sarà però tanto concesso,
che mi basti a finir quanto ho promesso.
Whether or not Milton's allusion to Ariosto was ironic is much debated. James H. Sims, in "Orlando Furioso in Milton: Heroic flights and true heroines," Comparative Literature, Vol. 49, No. 2 (Spring, 1997), pp. 128-150, argues on page 129:
Given the obvious fact that Orlando Furioso continues the basic plot and most of the characters of Orlando Innamorato, however, Milton would neither have understood Ariosto as claiming absolute originality nor have made such a claim about his own poem. What was unattempted before Ariosto was to show the prudent Orlando driven mad by love, and what Milton attempts is the first use of the epic form to make a Christian God's ways appear just to men.
If you don't mind those annoying pop-ups and gobs of advertisements, then you can read this article online at Find Articles.

Anyway, to repeat, I have nothing original to say this morning, but I claim no originality in this my inability, for I have many precedents, even in such greats as Milton, whose more than middle flight above Ariosto I do not intend to soar, but merely intend to point out that great poets themselves have borrowed from previous poets, whether great or not, and often without explicit admission of their borrowing -- which my students, incidentally, should NOT take as a nonpoetic license to commit plagiarism with impunity!

One has to be a poet to carry that license...

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Five things about me that you don't know...

A Portrait of the Gypsy Scholar as a Young Hominid
The Big Ho's got nothin' on me...
(Image from Wikipedia)

... and probably don't even care to know:
1. I wore 5-pound (2.25-kg) leg weights on each leg and ran up a 500-foot (approximately 150-meter) knob in the Ozarks nearly every day for three years from age 16 through age 18 to stay in shape for basketball.

2. I have Neanderthal brows and was given the nickname "Missing Link" at age 18 when I had long hair, a beard, and came through my freshman judo class's arm-wrestling contest as undefeated champ.

3. I rode my bicycle from Tahlequah, Oklahoma to Waco, Texas in five days at age 19 -- sleeping under tables at rodeside parks and nearly dying of thirst on one long stretch of mountainous dirt road -- just to prove to myself that I could do it without getting myself killed.

4. I could easily slam dunk a basketball two-handed from about age 19 through age 22 or thereabouts even though I stood only a bit over 6 feet (approximately 186 cm).

5. I didn't tumble 1000 feet (approximately 300 meters) down the face of an ice cliff on Mount Whitney at age 28 even though I feared that I was going to.

Bonus fact: Back in our lost youth, all five of my brothers were far better athletes than I was.
Probably, most of you didn't know these relatively uninteresting facts about a younger version of myself, and I've only noted them because Hathor tagged me. You all have my permission to forget all of these trivial facts.

Meanwhile, I'm supposed to tag other bloggers and continue this chain of admissions about our youthful follies. In a previous game of tag, I tagged everybody in the whole world, but I believe that several million individuals have been born since then, so would everybody born since February 18, 2006 please blog on five things about themselves that the rest of us don't know?


Tuesday, December 26, 2006

B. R. Myers in the WSJ: "'Concerted Front'"

Han Sorya and North Korean Literature
(Image from

One of my readers, who calls herself "Conservative in Virginia" but whom I usually call "CIV," has asked me what I think of the article "'Concerted Front'" by B. R. Myers in the Wall Street Journal.

B. R. Myers, of course, is Brian Reynolds Myers and is known to those of us in Korea as the author of Han Sorya and North Korean Literature: The Failure of Socialist Realism in the DPRK (Cornell, 1994) but is known in the States more for being the author of the article "A Reader's Manifesto: An Attack on the Growing Pretentiousness of American Literary Prose," published in The Atlantic Monthly (Jul/Aug 2001) and growing into a book by the same title.

Although our lives have overlapped -- Myers studied in Tübingen (Ph.D. 1992) about the same time that I did and was at Korea University's other campus until last year (2005) -- I've never met the man.

I did't have access to Myers' WSJ article (or to other restricted WSJ articles, as my readers will recall), so CIV sent me the entire article by email. Oddly, the article is accessible today in the WSJ as I post this, but it could again disappear suddenly. Nevertheless, copyright restrictions prevent my posting it in its entirety here, but I can lift a few judiciously selected quotes:
No country today is as misunderstood as North Korea. Journalists still refer to it as a Stalinist or communist state, when in fact it espouses a race-based nationalism such as the West last confronted during the Pacific War. Pyongyang's propaganda touts the moral superiority of the Korean race, condemns South Korea for allowing miscegenation, and stresses the need to defend the Dear Leader with kyeolsa, or dare-to-die spirit -- the Korean version of the Japanese kamikaze slogan kesshi.


[South Korea's] desire to help North Korea derives in large part from ideological common ground. South Koreans may chuckle at the personality cult, but they generally agree with Pyongyang that Koreans are a pure-blooded race whose innate goodness has made them the perennial victims of rapacious foreign powers. They share the same tendency to regard Koreans as innocent children on the world stage -- and to ascribe evil to foreigners alone. Though the North expresses itself more stridently on such matters, there is no clear ideological divide such as the one that separated West and East Germany. Bonn held its nose when conducting Ostpolitik. Seoul pursues its sunshine policy with respect for Pyongyang.
Myers goes on to make an interesting but somewhat flawed analogy to the distinction between a moderate Muslim state like Turkey and a fundamentalist one like Iran, South Korea being like the former and North Korea being like the latter -- the main flaw being that Turkey is Sunni, whereas Iran is Shi'ite, but I won't quibble, for I get Myers' point.

I'm somewhat familiar with Myers' argument, and he knows a lot more about North and South Korea than I do, but I can't help thinking that he has exaggerated the situation here on the peninsula. He is correct to find some common ground. South Koreans do feel an affinity for the North by reason of their shared ethnicity, their passionate ethnic nationalism, and their shared ethic of Confucian hierarchy. Yet, as Myers notes concerning unification with the North, "South Koreans are happy to put [this] off indefinitely" because of the huge economic burden, so the shared ethnicity and nationalism seem to falter in South Koreans when faced by the damage to their pocketbooks. The regime in the North, for its part, doesn't really want unification either, since even if integrating the South under its own 'communist' regime were feasible, it knows that it couldn't handle a tripling of its population in which two-thirds would be made up of individuals with the experience of democracy and capitalism.

Also notable these days is extreme unpopularity of the current administration here in South Korea, which is at least partly due to its failure to prevent North Korea from obtaining nuclear weapons. President Roh's popularity had dipped below 6 percent the last time that I checked a poll's results. His left-leaning Uri Party, which is rather too sympathetic to the North, is likely to lose big in the next national elections, much as they've already lost big in local elections. A large percentage of South Koreans, probably a majority, still want close relations with the United States, and an even larger majority want to continue the ROK-US alliance in some form.

I realize that I should provide sources and more precise statistical data as well as a more penetrating analysis, but I've got to prepare for a job interview coming up this morning. For now, I'll only conclude by saying that I'm not as pessimistic as Myers, though I think that he makes an interesting point about an affinity between North and South Korean nationalism, and I'd certainly enjoy meeting him to discuss his impressions not only of the South Koreans but also of the Germans -- and to ask him about his favorite eating and drinking places in Tübingen, especially since our times there overlapped.

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Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas 2006

Merry Christmas
Gypsy Scholar
(Image from Wikipedia)


Poetry Break: "Christmas Ringing '93"

Church of Santa Maria Maggiore (1978)
(Image from Wikipedia)

On Christmas Eve of 1993, I proposed to Sun-Ae in Rome in a fine Italian restaurant just down the street from the Church of Santa Maria Maggiori, which I mentioned in a post over a year ago.

At the time, our conversations were usually in German, for that was the language in which we had met, so my report of over a year ago and my poem below do not map perfectly onto one another. You can also blame my poor memory ... maybe that long "senior moment" that I learned about just two days ago.

At any rate, here it is, my Christmas sonnet, written last Friday as a gift for my wife in our current penurious times because she told me, "Write me a poem for a Christmas present this year":
Christmas Ringing '93

Recall that time in Rome when you said, "Oh!
It's lovely," but just held it in your hand
As though to keep it there a wedding banned,
And said: "I keep the ring if I say, 'No'?"

At which, I smiled, but it was I said, "No.
You want the ring, it brings a wedding band."
And then, I half expected you to hand
It back into my hand. And I'd say, "Oh."

That was the wakeful moment on which turned
The fateful twining, or untwining, of
Our love. You said, "Okay," and I said, "Yes?"

And you said, "Yes," and finally thus turned
Away not me but the untwining of
Our love. For nonetheless, you did say, "Yes."
I've never written a sonnet before, and I won't claim that this is a great one, but it tries to do some things that a sonnet is supposed to do. Mine is an Italian -- or Petrarchan -- sonnet composed of two four-line stanzas forming an octave (rhyme scheme abba abba) and two three-line stanzas forming a sestet (rhyme scheme cde cde). Although I follow the Italian rhyme scheme, I keep roughly to the English rhythm of iambic pentameter.

Typically, a sonnet states a proposition in its octave, then responds to that proposition in its sestet. The ninth line, which is therefore the first line of the sestet, is called the "volta" -- or "turn" -- because it introduces the moment of a turning (often a sharp turning) from proposition to response.

My poem may seem simple because I've not only used the rhyme scheme abba abba cde cde, I've even kept the same words (except for the wordplay "banned" and "band"). I could have done this differently, but I wanted to use the same words because I was presenting a moment in which two people either entwine themselves further together or completely untwine themselves from one another as the same words either devolve into different meanings or evolve into, more or less, the same meaning.

Thus do our two lives together form a single poem...

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Seven types of intellectual?

Intellectual of Ambiguity
(Image from Wikipedia)

Dennis Mangan, scientist, intellectual, and vegetarian kook (just kidding about the "kook" thing), has recently read a "most interesting sentence" written by Robin Moroney, which Dennis likes for its "neat dichotomy":
Twentieth-century intellectuals can be defined by two extremes: the Paul Valery types who made their discoveries in the abstract laboratory of their minds and the Graham Greene and Ernest Hemingway types who made their discoveries while drunk in brothels in countries where the president had just been shot.
He finds this in Moroney's article "'Seven Types of Ambiguity' And a One-of-a-Kind Critic," written for the Wall Street Journal, to which I have no subscription since I'm too poor but which is apparently about the poet and literary critic William Empson, for the article begins:
As a poet and critic, William Empson upset the British literary world of the 1930s with the force and abruptness of a scientific discovery. His poetry -- devoted to the ordinary, unashamed of its cleverness -- was the opposite of W.H. Auden's. Empson didn't praise a longed-for revolution or write lines like "We must love each other or die." With jagged phrases, erudite allusions and complex rhyming schemes, he wrote about the fermentation process, buildings under construction, German horror movies, even about the odd beauty that your property rights acquire as they extend below your house and far above it ...
Nice opening. Makes me want to run out really fast and get a subscription just to read the rest -- except that it'd be an expense of excess spirit in a waste of penurial shame over my suddenly recalled poverty. If only I'd listened to Dennis's financial advice...

But I know a little about Empson. He had a gift not merely for literature but also for mathematics, which he loved but abandoned for the literary muse, studying in the 1920s under the literature critic I. A. Richards and producing a work of genius, Seven Types of Ambiguity, by the age of 22, publishing it by 24. You'd think, "obvious tenure-track material," and he did go on to publish a great deal, including an attack on Christian theology in the guise of a literary analysis of Paradise Lost in Milton's God.

Empson, however, was a bit of an intellectual adventurer, a wild spirit that carried over into his personal and professional lives, for he was ejected from Cambridge despite his brilliance when condoms were discovered in his room, circumstantial evidence that he'd not only had sex but had actually intended and even planned to have sex, and he accepted academic posts in the 1930s teaching English literature in Japan initially and then in China, where he discovered himself endangered by the Japanese invasion and consequently spent his time there teaching on the run without benefit of books.

But you can get that and more -- so long as you don't really trust it -- from Wikipedia, which (by the way) provided me a synchronic moment this morning by quoting the exact Shakespearean line that I alluded to above ... after I had already alluded to it! Now what could the excessively mysterious, spiritual forces of the universe have meant by that? It'd be a waste of shame if this coincidence were mere coincidence.

But to return to the Moroney line quoted by Dennis...

Lacking the context as I do, I see the dichotomy in its naked abstraction, but assuming that I'm an intellectual -- rather a stretch, I admit -- then of what sort am I?

When I introspect, I find no abstract Dexter's Laboratory of the mind wherein I make my intellectual discoveries, so I'm not the Paul Valery type. I'm probably closer to the Graham Greene and Ernest Hemingway type though I've avoided brothels and countries where presidents get shot ... although President Park Chung Hee did get shot here in Korea back in 1979, but that was long before my time.

And where would Empson himself fit?

His personal improprieties with uncondoned condoms and his professional path through a disoriented orient might suggest that he was the sort to make his intellectual discoveries in the brothels of unsettled countries. But that wouldn't have him "pinned and wriggling on the wall," for Empson discovered his seven types of ambiguity as a student gifted with a mathematically abstract laboratory of the mind.

So, perhaps a dichotomy is the wrong analysis here. Might we need rather an Empson to set up a heptachotomy for classifying seven types of intellectual?

I'm no Empson, but I'd split the Greene-Hemingway type into three distinct types (and we're talking extremes here): the drinking, the promiscuting, and the politicking intellectuals, such as William Faulkner, D. H. Lawrence, and George Orwell, respectively. That gives us four if we retain the abstracting intellectual, like Dexter Tartakovsky. We need three more. Let's see ... there's the brawling intellectual like Norman Mailer, the quipping intellectual like Bonne Motts (whose name reminds me of Don Knotts), and the mysticating intellectual like G. K. Chesterton.

That's seven ... sort of.

Then there's that extra category of pseudointellectuals who like to make up words, but I can't, offhand, think of any names.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Proof that you can learn something from anybody...

19th-Century Depiction of Geoffrey Chaucer
But is it really him?
(Image from

... even if you might not exist.

Truly asiduous readers might recall my blogging from Singapore in the summer of 2005, when I was attending a Society of Biblical Literature conference and presenting a paper on the concept of "holiness" in Mark's Gospel. At that time, I was told of rumors that I didn't exist, to which I responded:
My nonexistence has been greatly exaggerated.

Somebody thinks that I don't exist. No, not here at the conference, where nobody is yet conflating me with the docetic Christ. Rather, it's somebody whom I've never met . . . but maybe that goes without saying. If I had met him, he'd have to believe in my existence, right?

Jeffrey Gibson informs me that a certain Geoff Hudson has been emailing various scholars to alert them to the 'fact' that I am actually an alias for Gibson.

I won't waste my time trying to prove Mr. Hudson wrong. But if you various scholars out there are willing to attest to my existence as the genuine Horace Jeffery Hodges attending this SBL Conference in Singapore . . . well, have at it.
I guess that nobody managed (or tried) to prove my existence to Mr. Hudson, for I received an email from him only yesterday in response to a note that I had posted to one of the biblical studies listserves that I participate in. The listserve had been discussing a certain Gnostic Gospel of Judas and using the acronym GoJ for convenience. I'd previously done a lot of work on Gnosticism and the Gospel of John, so at one point, when a scholar named Hindley referred to the Gnostic GoJ, I got my signals crossed and asked why he though that the Gospel of John was Gnostic. Hindley reminded me:
Jeffrey: That stood for Gospel of Judas, the subject of the post. THAT gospel, I'm sure, most everybody will agree is "Gnostic".
Notice that he called me "Jeffrey" rather than "Jeffery." That was enough for the apparently ever-alert Geoff Hudson, who sent me an email:
I am surprised you have not complained that Hindley has spelt your middle name incorrectly. So why doesn't he call you Horace? May be he knows your real name is Jeffrey -- his Freudian slip, or senior moment, may be?
I replied to this as succinctly as I courteously could:
You have me mixed up with someone else.
To which, Mr. Hudson retorted:
So it seems did ... Hindley who called you Jeffrey. As a long-standing member of the group, he should have known better, shouldn't he?
I could see where this was going -- into an endless string of emails -- so I replied as politely (and briefly) as possible:
I won't try to convince you of my identity, for I recall you making a similar confusion a year or two ago. Have a Merry Christmas anyway.
And I hope that I've seen the end of this. Meanwhile, I have Mr. Hudson to thank for teaching me a new expression: "senior moment."

To be precise, he didn't 'teach' me, for he used the expression without explaining it, leaving me baffled. Because I'm living in Korea, where Koreans often use the word "senior" to refer to somebody above them in Korea's hierarchical society, my initial, unreasonable thought was that Mr. Hudson was suggesting that Hindley had called me "Jeffrey" out of some sort of Confucian evaluation of my hierarchical position relative to his -- but I wasn't sure if this put me above or below Hindley. Who was the 'senior'? Who the 'junior'?

In re-reading Mr. Hudson's email, however, I realized that "senior moment" must be an analogous to "Freudian slip" and that it must be a fixed expression.

So, I Googled it and found the answer on a webpage hosted by the Macmillan English Dictionary:
The term senior moment was coined in America in the mid-nineties, but has become more widely used in the UK during the past couple of years. Originating with specific reference to seniors or senior citizens -- people aged sixty or over -- it has now entered more general use and can be applied in any situation where someone experiences a momentary lapse of memory, regardless of their age. The term highlights the idea that our brains simply weren’t built to cope with the information overload and stress generated by life in the 21st century. An absent-minded activity, like putting cornflakes in the fridge or milk in the cupboard, can also be referred to as a senior moment.
Macmillan even provided a humorous anecdote as an example, "A True Senior Moment":
An elderly couple had dinner at another couple’s house, and after eating, the wives left the table and went into the kitchen.

The two elderly gentlemen were talking, and one said, 'Last night we went out to a new restaurant, and it was really great. I'd recommend it very highly.'

The other man said, 'What's the name of the restaurant?'

The first man thought and thought and finally said, 'What's the name of that flower you give to someone you love? You know ... the one that's red and has thorns.'

'Do you mean a rose?'

'Yes,' the man said, then he turned toward the kitchen and yelled, 'Rose, what's the name of that restaurant we went to last night?'
So, that's a senior moment! I have those all the time. And the expression was coined in America in the mid-90s and resided there before emigrating to the UK more recently. Interesting. Either I've missed it completely in my long absence from the States and the long time since my last UK trip, or I heard it but have suffered a long senior moment since then, for I really don't recall the expression.

Anyway, Mr. Hudson -- if you really are Mr. Hudson -- a hat tip to you for the inadvertent but fascinating English lesson.

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Friday, December 22, 2006

My alarm clock didn't go off this morning...

Wind-Up, Spring-Driven Alarmingly Retro Alarm Clock
Alert: all'arme and face the day!
(Image from Wikipedia)

... so, of course, I'm less alarmed than usual.

I've sometimes wondered why the clocks that wake us up in the morning before our bodies and heads are really up to getting up are called "alarm" clocks.

What's the alarm?

It's not as if we're in mortal danger, but even if we were, would we want some loudly ringing bell calling attention to our location? That'd be as foolish as the fellow in a very old joke from the fourth or fifth century, as told by that laughter-lover "Philogelos":
"There were these two cowardly eggheads. One hid in a well, the other in a bed of rushes. When the soldiers who were after them let down a helmet to get some water, the one in the well thought a soldier had come down to get him, started to beg for mercy and so was detected. The soldiers said that they would leave him alone if he would only shut up. Hearing this, the other egghead hidden in the rushes called out, 'Hey, leave me alone as well; I'm not saying anything!'"
This joke can be found on page 96 in Barry Baldwin's edition of Philogelos's jokebook: The Philogelos or Laughter-Lover (London Studies in Classical Philology Series, 10 (J. C. Gieben, 1983)). Other samples can be found online at Diotima, or at James J. O'Donnell's website, or at Phil Harland's Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean, which is where (hat tip) I found reproduced the one from Baldwin above.

But back to alarm clocks. Perhaps they're aptly named, after all, for the really bad news each day is so dreadful that it probably deserves an alarm.


Thursday, December 21, 2006

Poetry Break: "Feral Child"

Gazing Upon the Highest Heaven
From Gustave Doré's Illustrations to the Divine Comedy
Trailing clouds of glory to their source...
(Image from Wikipedia)

Some of my recent posts, especially "Pearl of Memory," have touched upon the unusual way in which my old friend Margaret and I have reestablished contact.

Up until about a decade ago, we had sporadic contact because she and her husband, Mark, had lived near Texas A&M University since their marriage in late 1978, so I always knew where they were during my worldly travels.

In fact, I had sent them a poem of mine in 1998, but that was the last of our sporadic contacts, for I moved quickly several times -- to Israel, to Australia, to South Korea -- following postdocs and jobs, and they moved away from Texas.

Oddly, for I'm usually careful with such things, I misplaced my own copy of the poem that I'd sent and worried that it was lost forever ... but Margaret's recent, serendipitous discovery of Gypsy Scholar opened a way to recover this fragment of my scattered past along with a whole host of memories.

So I reminded Margaret:
By the way, I emailed a poem of mine about miscarriage to Mark way back in the previous century (1998 or 1999). I've since misplaced that poem. He wouldn't happen to still have a copy, would he? I'd appreciate having a copy again.
She replied with a remark about something that resonates -- if perhaps only weakly -- with the synchronicity of recent events:
Mark will dig deep into the lost archives for that poem. Ironically he was reading another poem by a friend regarding a miscarriage and was thinking of your poem today, and how well written he remembered it to be.
Several days later, the poem arrived:
Feral Child

Perhaps I held you in my hands,
For you were hot as blood, and red,
And trailing clots of gory strands,
You clung like life, and like it bled,
But did not choose your world of kin.
I wonder who you would have been.
I guess that the subject matter explains itself. When it was lost, I sometimes tried to piece it back together, but as I told Margaret:
Oddly, I couldn't recall my words in this one. Rather, I could recall the words and even individual phrases, clauses, and sentences, but I couldn't reconstruct the totality in my mind, unlike with many of my other poems, despite this one being relatively recent.
I wonder if there was some deeper significance in my inability to put it back together...

Anyway, along with the recovered poem, Margaret added a note:
Mark spent most of the weekend going through boxes in the basement, and yesterday came across the box that held your poem. When he was working at Texas A&M University, he would print out all of his email correspondence and bind them by year. It was 1998 when you sent him this poem. He transcribed it for me to take to work today, and Sarah read it. She noticed the Wordsworth connection -- trailing clouds of glory, and said good writer, who is it?
Good question, that. Who am I?

I think that the answer to this ontological query is best to be found trailing its own clouds of glory here, in Supertramp's "Logical Song."

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

"It is Prohibited to Prohibit"

Macbeth and Banquo with the Witches
Johann Heinrich Füssli (aka Henry Fuseli)
"Fair is foul, and foul is fair."
Macbeth: Act 1, Scene 1, Line 11
(Image from Wikipedia)

A girl in my American Culture course borrowed for her essay's title a quote about 'forbidding forbidding' from Ronald Fraser's book 1968: A Student Generation in Revolt, which included among its many photos one image of a protester carrying a sign announcing that "It is Prohibited to Prohibit!"

I hadn't remembered that one, perhaps because it was more European than American, but my student writes that it was "one of the famous slogan (sic) used in this period," i.e., in the 60s.

At least the protester had a sense for paradoxical humor if not quite a sense of propriety. I wonder what that protester would say now, some 40 years later.

My student likes the slogan and approves of it for expressing a "spirit of freedom" -- though I could point out that it's self-refuting -- so I guess that at age 20, she's feeling the need to rebel a bit, or maybe a whole lot, against the restrictions imposed by Korea's hierarchical society.

In her essay's introduction, however, she's talking about America:
In Shakespeare's play "Macbeth" a phrase showing the theme appears during the play: "Fair is foul, and foul is fair." In fact, it applies not only to the play itself but also to reality. Almost all incidents or social movements are interpreted in controversial ways. For example, some people interpret the French Revolution as disorder and chaos, while others interpret it as [a] movement of liberty and freedom. There also exists one of the most disputable moments in American history. The period is around the year 1968. The whole atmosphere of [the] 1960s-1970s term was totally different from that of the calm and stable term before it. The movement away from the conservative fifties continued and eventually resulted in revolutionary ways of thinking and real change in the cultural fabric of American life. However, it is rather a superficial viewpoint that regards this period as just turmoil. American society became more democratic through the 1960s-70s because it went through the countercultural movement of youth at that time.
"Fair is foul, and foul is fair." My student used the witches' words to describe the totally opposing ways in which people can interpret the same events, but those words also express the paradoxical, self-refuting consequences of prohibiting prohibition.

I'm even reminded of the words attributed to Hassan i Sabbah, founder of the cult of the Assassins and known as the "Old Man of the Mountain":
"Nothing is true. Everything is permitted."
Also self-refuting, but suggestive enough to inspire a Jim Carroll song, "Nothing is True," on his album Catholic Boy (probably taking it from William S. Burroughs's novel Cities of the Red Night). When I first heard that song over 20 years ago, I'd never heard of Hassan i Sabbah, but the words reminded me of Dostoevsky's famous line from The Brothers Karamazov:
"If God does not exist, then everything is permitted."
Not that Dostoevsky phrased it precisely like that ... as it turns out ... but he certainly meant something like that. And I wonder if Sabbah did too. Or was Sabbah proleptically borrowing a page from Pope Benedict's Regensburg Lecture and concluding that if Islam's God, Allah, is fundamentally irrational, then nothing is true, so everything is permitted? The logic of the Assassins and suicide bombers? If the 60s logic of prohibiting prohibition leads to permitting everything, does this explain why the Left has aligned itself with radical Islamists?

Begin with a paradox, end in violence?
Things just go from bad to worse
Starts like a kiss and ends like a curse
But nothing's true, she said everything is permitted

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Looking for a new university...

56,000 Light-Years in Diameter, 60 Million Light-Years Distant
Jobs are available if you're willing to move...
(Image from Wikipedia)

Now that my contract position with Korea University is nearing its end, I've gone on the job market, which means undergoing interviews over this break, even on the day after Christmas -- and at a Christian university, at that! In England, that day's known as Boxing Day, in honor of St. Pugnacious, I suppose, so I expect to be a bit feisty.

Some people don't like interviews, but I enjoy them. I wouldn't say that I do especially well at them, for I'm the sort of individual who likes to ponder an uncomfortably long time before responding to a serious question -- and interviews are serious, right? -- so I might sit and think for ten whole seconds before I speak ... which tends to make folks a tiny bit nervous:
"Didn't he hear us?" they're thinking. "Or is he insane?"

"Of course I hear you!" I exclaim. "I can even hear your thoughts!"
That always gets some nervous smiles. I think that they're in awe of my prescience. But to return to my point ... I like interviews because for a brief time, I get to feel important. People are asking me earnest questions and actually listening to what I say.

Be honest, how often does that actually happen?

Anyway, because I'm again job-hunting, I'm casting my net broadly in the hope of netting several offers. So, I'm even returning to offprints of articles that I wrote years ago for religious studies in the probably vain hope that I'll land a position in that area.

So for your disinterest, here's a ten-year-old passage from my article "Society as Cosmos: Mary Douglas's Analysis of How Societies 'Naturalize' Themselves," which I wrote for Australian Folklore: A Yearly Journal in Folklore Studies (Journal No. 12, August 1997), reviewing the 1996 edition of Mary Douglas's Natural Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology, which is a work on cultural anthropology, by the way, not some New Agey encounter with astrophysics:
A example of the clash of elaborated code with restricted code occurs in a passage from A. S. Byatt's novel Babel Tower, in which a middle-class intellectual Frederica Potter has married an upper-class, landed-gentry businessman Nigel Reiver. Their marriage is a linguistic failure:

"[Nigel] is not a verbal animal .... [W]hat he says ... is dictated by the glaze of language that slides over and obscures the surface of the world ..., a language ... quite sure [of] what certain things are, a man, a woman, a girl, a mother, a duty .... [Such l]anguage ... is for keeping things ... in their places." (A. S. Byatt, Babel Tower (Chatto and Windus, London: 1996), pp. 38-39)

Nigel speaks the restricted linguistic code characteristic of a 'positional' family (Douglas, p. 24), one in which the members have 'ascribed role categories' (Douglas, p. 24) that determine identity and duty:

"If ... [one] asks 'Why must I do this?' the answer is in terms of relative position. Because I said so (hierarchy). Because you're a boy (sex role). Because children always do (age status). Because you're the oldest (seniority)." (Douglas, p. 24)

Frederica, however, comes from a 'personal' family (Douglas, p. 27), one in which 'the autonomy and unique value of the individual' is emphasized (Douglas, p. 27). Thus Frederica's complaint at her ascribed role:

"'You can't see me, you've no idea who I am, I am someone, I was someone. I am someone, someone nobody ever sees anymore --'" (Byatt, p. 38)

Frederica no longer experiences herself as a unique individual with value of her own; instead, any value that she now has is due solely to her ascribed role.
I suspect that a lot of us Westerners working in Korea feel rather like foreign 'Fredericas' confronted by Korean 'Nigels,' for we generally come from 'personal' cultures emphasizing 'the autonomy and unique value of the individual,' whereas Korea is a 'positional' culture emphasizing 'ascribed role categories.'

But you're wondering what all this has to do with my search for a job teaching religious studies since the above passage sounds more like cultural anthropology applied to a critical analysis of literature. Briefly put, the larger article deals much more with religion than literature, and Mary Douglas is a big scholar in the field of comparative religion and the cultural analysis of religious systems, especially concerning things like the holy, the common, the impure, and the pure.

All of which are dear to my heartfelt yearning for learning...

Monday, December 18, 2006

"alle the nobel prize of pisse from 1996 to 2006"

Also awarded for piss?
(Image from Wikipedia)

Seldom do I top the list of items generated by a Google search, but some kind soul from Algeria (Visitor Number 68,854) used the French version of Google to search for "alle the nobel prize of pisse from 1996 to 2006," and coming at the top of 210 contenders was my very own blog, Gypsy Scholar.

I am humbled by this honor.

Surprized, too. I had no idea that my blog had won the Nobel Prize for Piss. I didn't even know that there is a Nobel Prize for Piss. I must be about as 'ignernt' as Kudzu's Uncle Dub, who won the Nobel Prize for Automotive Mechanics without even knowing what a Nobel Prize is. Okay, I'm not that ignernt.

But why wasn't I told? And when's the ceremony? And do I need to prepare some words?

Above all ... how did a little piss ant like me win? Let's see if I can recall any blog entries of mine that might have boosted me to the top...

Maybe for "A brief interlude... "?
My little seven-year-old son En-Uk rushes into the bathroom while I'm brushing my teeth, announces "I have to pee!", begins his business while singing a Korean song containing an English line, and belts out that line so enthusiastically--


--that he manages to mark the toliet seat, toliet brush, wastebasket, nearby floor, and most of that corner of the bathroom along with my bare feet as his own private territorial range.

Life for poor En-Uk got suddenly rather worse...
That was a classic ... even if it was only two weeks ago.

Or was the prize for "Childhood Misunderstandings: 'The Princess and the Pea'"? The prize probably wasn't for "I thought that I'd seen a lot . . . (and don't read this if you've got a weak stomach)," though "piss" is mentioned. Also likely not for "Amphibious Assault: Der Tod Comes For 'Frog'" and its mention of the word "urinate." And surely not for "Excursions through Hell," despite its reference to my kids singing about pissing on gorillas.

So far as I can see, I've only five times mentioned the bodily function of passing water, and thrice only in passing. Hardly enough for this noble honor.

Could anybody help me get to the bottom of this?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Our Cyborgian Future?

Borg Drone Seven of Nine
Police of the future?
(Image from Wikipedia)

After reading yesterday's quasi-paean to how technology is revolutionizing scholarship -- and transforming all of us musty old scholars into musty old cyborgian scholars along the way -- a fellow-traveller in this cyborgian process, Herr Richter, who maintains his own, extraordinary blog, The Burrow of Bucephalus, attempted to post a comment:

I was trying to post a reply on your blog, but it wasn't working, so I closed the page and tried again, it still didn't work, so I tried again, then all of a sudden there were 3 replies. The ironic thing is the first post was singing the praises of technology and how it will revolutionize scholarship, etc, and I'm pretty sure it got lost, but who knows, maybe it will pop up too eventually.
That is ironic. Maybe it will pop up 'eventually' -- as Herr Richter hopefully suggests -- but I've been waiting several years now for some of my missives into cyberspace to reach their designated mark.

I wonder what happens to them ... do they just continue forever whizzing about hypercyberspace at hypercyberdrive speeds?

Even if Herr Richter's comment never achieves its aim and is lost to us forever, you can still read some of his thoughts on high-tech-assisted scholarship and our coming cyborgian selves in his most recent blog post: Technology: friend of foe? Meta cliché titles: blessing or curse?

Hmmm ... "friend of foe"? Is that a typo or an insight? How about "blessing of curse," too? Or maybe "curse of blessing"? Anyway, the "of" would fit Herr Richter's more dystopian fears:
[I]t's only a matter of time before we'll be putting computer chips in our heads .... With technology applied to us, we could remember every experience and moment of our lives, use our eyes as microscope or telescope, hear things happening miles away, have access to an encyclopedia of information in our head .... [W]e'll have pin-point accuracy and coordination...
Dystopian? But this sounds too good to be true. Herr Richter worries that it is:
The police of the future will have all these features, as well as the power to read thoughts.
That doesn't sound good, does it? Dystopian indeed. On the other hand, would the police really be able to deal with all of the thought-generated data? The growing mountain of information might be too big for them to handle.

We might be growing too big for them to handle...

Saturday, December 16, 2006


By Gerard Brils, of Belgium (1407 AD)
Latin Bible, Malmesbury Abbey, Wiltshire, England
Intertextual Image: First Epistle of Peter
Peter holding a book in the book of books...
...and the hypertextual key!
(Image from Wikipedia)

Scott Nokes of Unlocked Wordhoard has posted part two of a response to a question that I posed to him when he was in Seoul last November 10th and 11th:
It's been about a month now since Jeffery Hodges of Gypsy Scholar asked me about hypertext and medieval studies at a conference, and, since it was drawing close to lunch, I dodged the question and promised to answer it later. In order to get closer to answering the question, I posted an historical model to use in thinking about the development of textual technologies.
When I posed my question about the scholarly uses of hypertext (of which this blog itself is an example), I was expecting a reply along the lines of "Yeah, it's useful. You can click on a word that you don't know instead of having to tediously thumb through a dictionary," but from Scott's two-part response, I see that he'd already been doing a good deal of thinking about the issue, for he has subsumed the category "hypertextuality" under the larger category "intertextuality":
With hypertext ... the important element is intertextuality -- the connections between one hypertext and other texts. In manuscript culture this could be achieved through interlinear glosses, and in print culture this could be achieved through footnoted references....
Scott then quickly adds that "neither [gloss nor footnote] matches electronic culture for emphasis on non-linear reading," and this point is one that I'd like to see developed, though Scott also rightly notes "[t]the difficulty of speculating ... [because] it often relies on straight-line thinking that tends to obscure [the ways] that new technologies change us."

But the fact that this new technological medium changes us tempts me to quote Marshall McLuhan's mantra, "the medium is the message" -- and I guess that I just did -- which McLuhan coined in his book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (and which I read in Baylor University's Honors Program way back in the 70s), and ask if we're becoming the medium itself.

What do I mean by this?

Not something literally Cyborgian (though things may, through a more intimate human-machine interface, eventually come to that), but metaphorically Cyborgian ... yes, something like that.

I think that there's a difference between the learning that takes place in either manuscript or print culture. They both requires us to move through large spaces to acquire information. If I'm sitting in a library looking at a book, and some obscure word has me puzzled, I have to get up, walk over to the nearest dictionary, and take that tedious time to look the word up. Multiply that by all the times that one has to go to the shelves for additional texts -- maybe to check a footnote, maybe to learn more about some intellectual point -- and we're describing the typical day of a traditional scholar in a library. This eats up both time and energy. The intertextuality of glosses and footnotes leads one to move around a lot to look further.

The intertextuality of hypertext, however, reduces this expense of space, time, and energy to the click of a button.

This 'hyperintertextuality' -- and I emphasize the hyper -- fuses us, metaphorically speaking, to our computers, and I think that we begin to learn differently, which may be what Scott was getting at in his remark about "electronic culture['s] ... emphasis on non-linear reading," for I've noticed that I'm more willing to follow up my associative, lateral, nonlinear thinking because I know that I don't need to expend as much time and energy traversing spaces to do so (e.g., no need to go hunting among the shelves for that book that somebody may have misplaced anyway).

But maybe I'm just obscuring things with my speculations. Perhaps all that I mean to say is that a hypertext's use of intertextual linking allows me to follow up my interests faster and therefore to learn and to work more efficiently.

Any thoughts, Scott ... or others?

Friday, December 15, 2006

A pretty decent nonplagiarized essay ... revised!

Jesus as Pantokrator
6th-Century Mosaic
Ravenna, Italy
The Christ, and also a Christian's hero!
(Image from Wikipedia)

In my blog entry for November 27th, I praised a student for writing an interesting, very intelligent essay, and I posted the student's introductory paragraph (and I'll explain the red-fonted part in a moment):
Controversy swept over Christians around the world as the Harry Potter books became international bestsellers. Was it a dangerous book that could influence people, especially young children, to confuse the fundamental beliefs of Christianity with the fictional but pagan ideas from the world of magic? Or was it just a children's fantasy story that didn't deserve such a huge reaction? Even now, as the seventh Harry Potter book is yet to be released, some people claim that it is anti-Christian because it explains the world order in laws of magic that holds no room for Christian doctrines. Others say that it actually promotes Christian values such as love, courage to do what is just, and forgiveness. Similarly, Beowulf is often among heated controversy on whether he is a Christian or pagan hero figure, as there are frequent references to the Bible and acknowledgements of one divine God that rules the earth in the text. In this essay, I will try to prove in a completely textual perspective that Beowulf in Beowulf cannot be identified as a Christian hero in comparison to Gawain in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight because Beowulf dissatisfies the crucial conditions of a Christian hero that are visible in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
For a first draft, that was very good, and the essay warranted a "B" (but got a "C+" for being one day late). I had no doubt that the student could rise to an "A" level, likely even an "A+" level ... but with a few minor changes based on my critique:
I don't happen to agree with this student's thesis, and the paper goes on to define "Christian hero" too narrowly as "a hero who is a Christian." As I point out to my student, this definition would exclude King David and every other Old Testament hero, who are -- admittedly -- not themselves Christian but who are certainly heros to Christians. It would even exclude that greatest of heros revered by Christians: Jesus himself. He may have been the Christ, but he was no Christian.

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

That might work -- in a bare, technical sense -- but it ignores as irrelevant all the interesting things that one might otherwise notice concerning Beowulf's status as a symbol of Christ.
Okay, the changes required weren't so "minor" after all, but my student rose to the occasion, revising the thesis statement, along with the transitional sentences leading into it -- hence the red font above (original) and below (revised) -- and substantially revising the entire essay (which I won't reproduce here, of course):
Controversy swept over Christians around the world as the Harry Potter books became international bestsellers. Was it a dangerous book that could influence people, especially young children, to confuse the fundamental beliefs of Christianity with the fictional but pagan ideas from the world of magic? Or was it just a children's fantasy story that didn't deserve such a huge reaction? Even now, as the seventh Harry Potter book is yet to be released, some people claim that it is anti-Christian because it explains the world order in laws of magic that holds no room for Christian doctrines. Others say that it actually promotes Christian values such as love, courage to do what is just, and forgiveness. Similarly, Beowulf is often among heated controversy on whether he is a Christian or pagan hero figure. However, since this discerning process is a delicate matter, some scholars try to find a 'grey' interpretation, one that does not belong to the solid black or solid white areas that do not have room for each other, but somewhere in between with claims towards which of the two colors this grey area has a tendency to be closer to. With this in mind, I, too, have tried to find a middle ground on which to lay out my own sufficient definition of the identities of the heroes on which to lay out an interesting argument. Therefore in this essay, I will try to prove in a completely textual perspective that Beowulf in Beowulf is closer to the concept of a 'Christian's hero' than Gawain in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is because Beowulf succeeds in maintaining an unwavering attitude in his test of faith that Gawain fails to match.
I don't have to worry about plagiarism with this student, who shows mastery in reasoning as well as in style. I especially like how the student reworked my critique to express the concept of a "Christian's hero." One could apply the concept to characters from The Lord of the Rings, the Narnia series, or even the Harry Potter stories, none of which have obvious Christians as heroes. Anyway, as one might expect from such an introduction, the whole essay proceeds brilliantly. I'm not fully convinced that Beowulf is undergoing a "test of faith," but I need not be persuaded on every point in order to award a student a top mark.

I might add that this student is a very intelligent individual who is writing in English as a second language. All the more impressive...