Thursday, January 31, 2008

Barack Obama: The Black Candidate?

Barack Obama
Conway, South Carolina
August 23, 2007
(Image from Wikipedia)

All this time, I'd been thinking of Obama as representing more of a postracial America.

But -- if I may slip into my Arkansawyer dialect for a moment -- I reckon some folks are electioneering to change that.

I suppose that this next tidbit, from columnist Alan R. Hunt, falls into the category of hearsay evidence, but it conforms to my impression of what lengths the two Clintons running again for president are willing to go to win:
Bill Clinton, his denials notwithstanding, has played the race card. On Saturday, commenting on Obama's South Carolina victory, he likened it to the primary victories by Jesse Jackson two decades ago; there are few parallels. Ron Fournier, the chief political reporter for the Associated Press, describes a top Clinton adviser as bragging that they'd made Obama "the black candidate.'' (Albert R. Hunt, "Clinton Paying a Price for Duplicity on Obama," Bloomberg News, January 27, 2008)
The hearsay comes from Fournier's anecdote, which you can get more directly from Fournier himself:
Hillary Rodham Clinton has won in South Carolina . . . . What she has won in South Carolina is the larger campaign to polarize voters around race and marginalize Obama (in the insidious words of one of her top advisers) as "The Black Candidate." (Ron Fournier, "On Deadline: Hillary wins race on race," Associated Press, January 25, 2008)
I'd like to know more about the details on this "top advisor" to Hillary Clinton who reportedly spoke about marginalizing Obama as "The Black Candidate," but since he's not being identified, then he must have been speaking off the record.

Actually, I don't think that the Clintons have succeeded in portraying Obama as the black candidate. Race is doubtless an issue, just as ethnic identity is an issue everywhere in the world, but Obama the candidate -- like Obama the person -- is more complex than that, as are his supporters.

Roger Cohen, who always has something intelligent and interesting to say, has written a recent column, "Obama's youth-driven movement," for the International Herald Tribune (January 27, 2008) and picked up on Obama's own words to argue that the Obama "is not about black versus white but about the past versus the future." Cohen writes of the many young white supporters who find Obama enormously appealing and who have made the campaign into a movement, which means that it is not so much directed from above as driven from below. Cohen thinks that Obama's ability to draw this kind of support means that his campaign is "beyond race."

I think that Cohen is largely correct, but the Clintons seem to believe that Obama is vulnerable on the racial issue. Like Hunt above, Cohen has noted Bill Clinton's remark about Jesse Jackson's earlier victories in South Carolina back when he campaigned for the Democratic nomination:
Certainly, Bill Clinton lost no opportunity to inject race, alluding to Jesse Jackson's victories here in the 1984 and 1988 Democratic primaries, as if to minimize the significance of Obama's win and clothe him in Jackson's marginal mantle. Candidates, he said earlier, were getting votes "because of their race or gender," suggesting black-versus-white might be his wife's undoing [in South Carolina]. (Cohen, "Obama's youth-driven movement")
Bill is nothing if not astute, and Hillary did pick up gender support in New Hampshire when she revealed a softer side. She even impressed me by that, especially because she didn't break down but maintained an ability to speak articulately despite her emotions.

But her campaign in South Carolina has returned our attention to her hard face, the face that not many people, women included, seem to like. I think that Hillary's gender support is weak, and unlike Obama's campaign, her own campaign is more narrowly based and directed entirely top-down. It's no movement.

Here's my opinion on what has happened. By trying to 'blacken' Obama, the Clinton have not merely increased his support among black voters without damaging his support among non-black voters, they've made themselves look cynical and calculating about the one issue that most of us had thought that they truly cared about, their civil rights legacy.

Barack Obama recently spoke in Martin Luther King's old Atlanta church, and an African-American friend of mine sent me a link to the video, which she had seen on the plezWorld blog. At the time, I was inundated by other responsibilities and so put off watching the video, which I knew would take some 20 minutes of my time, but I finally clicked the link two days ago to watch Obama give his speech:
I finally had some time to check the link and watch Obama give his speech (though the video froze halfway through, so I had to read the more emotive part near the end).

It was interesting to listen and compare him to King, whose rhetorical voice I can still hear from my childhood after all these years.

Where King was hot, Obama is cool, and his appeal is more to our minds than to our hearts, which is not to say that he does not stir, for he can, but more to note the contrast.

I like Obama even though I suspect that his politics is a bit more to the left than I'm comfortable with, and I've come to like him more lately as I like the Clintons less. Being from Arkansas, I'd always had an instinctive comfort with [Bill] Clinton even while I recognized him as a slippery rascal. A rascal, certainly, but our Arkansan rascal.

But the Clintons are so intent on getting elected that they've turned their identity politics of division against their own civil-rights legacy! The one thing that Bill Clinton seemed truly to care about, that legacy, he's been willing to jeopardize in the hopes of casting Barack Obama as unelectable due to the color of his skin. And in recognizing that Obama would win and probably win big in South Carolina, Bill Clinton pushed the line that Obama would only do so because blacks were going to be voting overwhelmingly for Obama as a black candidate . . . implying that whites would not support him.

I don't think that it worked because young white voters ignored the Clinton-speak as irrelevant.

I had considered blogging about this issue, but the Clintons are slippery enough in their political statements to maintain plausible deniability, and I hate to play j'accuse unless I've got the smoking gun.

I think that Obama will get the Democratic nomination and may very well win the election, depending upon whom the Republicans nominate. John McCain would be a strong contender, but the other Republicans don't look good next to Obama.

But a campaign can wither like a whim, and there's still a lot of time...
The upshot of all this is not that I'm planning to vote for Obama. I don't yet know who I'd be willing to cast my vote for. To be frank, I'll likely never announce that on this blog -- and I usually regret my vote later, anyway. I'll only say that foreign policy plays a big role in my political thinking, probably because I live overseas.

The upshot, rather, is that the Clintons have weakened their campaign and strengthened Obama's, doubtless much to their chagrin.

Not that I would entirely write off Bill Clinton when he's campaigning, but he's no longer the 'comeback kid,' for he's lost a lot of his innocent rogue's charm and reminds me less of the Kennedy that he always wanted to be and more of Faubus that he once rejected...

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Expat Living: "Fan Dumb"

Fan Death!
Fanatical Fans Fancy Fatalities
(Image from Wikipedia)

My second column on Language has appeared in the Korea Herald. The print version graces the paper's edition this morning, but the online version was already posted at the paper's website yesterday evening. Again, some editing has occurred, which I accept as inevitable, and it's mostly innocuous . . . aside from one point that I'll note later.

If you wish to read the column as printed, you can -- and should -- buy the paper's hard copy at a newstand if possible, but those who cannot do that can also go to the Korea Herald website, but be forewarned. The site has one or two popups, and also does not allow me to link directly to my article. If you do go there, scroll down slightly and check the lefthand links for Expat Living. Click on that and scroll down however far is necessary for finding the following column headline:
[Jeffery Hodges on Language] Demystifying fan. death
My original headline was "Fan Dumb," a pun on "fandom," but I expected that to be altered (though I hardly 'demystify' fan death). I'm assuming that "fan" with the dot has been used to suggest an abbreviation. More on this point later. For now, you can read my original version:
Jeffery Hodges on Language: Fan Dumb
Despite my strenuous efforts to publicize the threat posed to humanity by electric fans, most everybody in the developed world still falls asleep on hot, humid summer nights in close proximity to those electrically powered, whirling blades of mortality, blissfully blind to the danger, perhaps never more to awaken.

Theories abound on how fans kill, but the empirical fact cannot be reasonably denied even though many expats living here in Korea stubbornly refuse to acknowledge the Korean truth that electric fans left blowing overnight can kill a full-grown, sleeping man.

I admit that I once stood among the stubborn scoffers, but what made me a believer, even a proselytizer for the truth, was a close brush with fan death in the late summer and early fall of 2006. Hoping to persuade disbelievers, I posted my experience online:
How can people doubt fan death!? Fans kill thousands each year, but most deaths go unreported because the fans are in different rooms. A little-known fact is that whirling blades disturb the ether pervading our universe, and ripple effects impair organisms up to 500 feet distant.

This summer, fans killed several of my son's pets. First a stag beetle died when our younger cat, driven mad by etherial ripples, overturned the beetle's plastic terrarium and fought the poor insect to death. Miraculously, the cat survived. Our eel was not so lucky. Driven insane by the whirling blades' insidious disturbance of the ether, it managed to flip itself from its aquarium -- through a tiny hole in the top!! -- and die. We found it on the floor . . . shriveled and dry. That could happen to you! Since then, two other stag beetles have died. Snails as well. And a goldfish has turned deathly white! Scary.

Thankfully, our cats and children have survived, but we are taking no more chances, especially now that our two fans have started altering weather patterns in our apartment. In these past two autumn days, they have actually been blowing cool air at night -- even without air-conditioning units attached! We think the fans are trying to freeze us to death, so we are putting them away in a closet, completely covered in bags zipped carefully shut to prevent them wreaking even more damage.
Nearly all non-Koreans reading this sincere, personal testimony resist the truth. Typical response: "You are stupid." Indeed, I have been called not merely stupid but also crazy, drug-addled, and ignorant. Even my scientific knowledge has been questioned -- yes, questioned, despite my master's degree . . . in history of SCIENCE!

More disappointing than personal attacks from non-Koreans, however, is my premonition of losing the battle, for one recent challenge comes not merely from another fan-death skeptic but from a Korean fan-death skeptic ridiculing her mother's concerns:
My mother used to awaken EVERY night at 3 a.m. to open my brother’s bedroom door because he slept with the ceiling fan on. Since he would never heed her advice about leaving the bedroom door open if he was going to have his fan on, she was horrified that the fan would SUCK the air from the closed room and leave only the empty shell of a human being as her son.
Such loving care -- careful love that only a Korean mother could bestow -- wasted on ingrates!

Yet even if I am losing against fan-death ignorance, I shall never, ever surrender. Why? Because fans are killers. Proof? Here comes proof in a language lesson. Why do you think they are called fans? "Fan" abbreviates "fanatic." You cannot trust fanatics. Trust no fan, either.

Jeffery is a professor at Kyung Hee University and can be reached through his blog Gypsy Scholar at – Ed.
That was my original version, and for the most part, it's been printed as is, with a few minor edits. The only substantive edit was a transitional phrase inserted after the large block quote about my own brush with fan death:
Back to reality. Nearly all non-Koreans reading this sincere, personal testimony resist the truth.
The phrase "back to reality" doesn't quite work. I can see why the editors felt the need for a transition following the block quote, but this particular transition seems to say that my personal anecdote was not 'real' -- and I didn't want to explicitly say that. Indeed, I would never explicitly say that about fan death! (Or almost never.)

And in fact, my anecdote was real. Everything mentioned actually did occur . . . although my febrile imagination may have contributed the role attributed to the electric fans, but that's a minor point.

Finally, concerning the headline, Demystifying fan. death, I suppose that I should comment on the abbreviation implied by the dot that the editors supplied following the word "fan."

My column plays on two different words spelled and pronounced exactly the same: "fan" meaning a device to propel air for cooling and "fan" meaning a person who strongly supports someone or something. I pretend that these are the same word, but they have different etymologies.

The former word "fan" stems from from the Old English word "fann," borrowed from the Latin word "vannus," both words referring to a "winnowing-fan."

The latter word "fan" stems not from "fanatic" (as I claim in my article) but from the word "fancy," which it abbreviates and which you can read more about at the online Free Dictionary at the entry "Fan (person)."

I felt that I ought to set that straight.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

"Mere curious pleasure, or ingenious pain"

Alexander Pope, ca 1727
Studio of Michael Dahl
National Portrait Gallery
(Image from Wikipedia)

One of my more regular readers, who calls himself "Kapok," recently contacted me by email to ask about Alexander Pope's line that the "proper study of mankind is man" (An Essay on Man, 1734) and wondered if this were a limitation on curiosity stemming, ultimately, from the writings of Augustine.

My initial response was tepid, for I imagined that Augustine would not focus so much upon man as upon the state of his own, individual soul in its fallen condition and its need for guidance from God.

Moreover, the couplet that opens Part 1 of Epistle 2 of Pope's Essay on Man stems more directly from the pre-Christian Greek world:
Know, then, thyself, presume not God to scan;
The proper study of mankind is man.
The expression "know thyself" (Greek: γνωθι σεαυτόν or gnothi seauton) comes from the ancient Greeks and is popularly associated with Socrates, whose turn from cosmology to anthropology fits the advice well, but according to the second-century AD Greek writer Pausanias, in his Description of Greece (10.24.1), the expression was an inscription carved into the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, so any number of ancient writers would have known it well -- which may explain how the expression came to be attributed to such various figures as not only Socrates but also Heraclitus, Chilon of Sparta, Thales of Miletus, Pythagoras, and Solon of Athens, if Wikipedia's entry is to be believed.

Pope could thus have been drawing on any one of a number of thinkers, perhaps even being aware of them all.

But some less direct link to Augustine might be lurking in Pope's Christian heritage, for in his "Argument of Epistle 2," he summarizes Part 1 as teaching that "The business of Man [is] not to pry into God, but to study himself," the operative word here being "pry," with its implication of "busybodiness," "nosiness," or various other aspersions that Augustine and other Medieval Christian thinkers heaped upon "curiosity."

Indeed, the five couplets terminating Part 1 could have come from the incisive pen of St. Augustine:
Trace Science, then, with Modesty thy guide;
First strip off all her equipage of pride;
Deduct what is but vanity or dress,
Or learning's luxury, or idleness;
Or tricks to show the stretch of human brain,
Mere curious pleasure, or ingenious pain;
Expunge the whole, or lop th' excrescent parts
Of all our vices have created arts;
Then see how little the remaining sum,
Which served the past, and must the times to come!
Particularly the half-line "Mere curious pleasure," by which Pope dismisses so much of human knowledge, sounds remarkably Augustinian -- though it could have come from the Medieval tradition more generally.

For those interested, here's the entirety of Part 1 in Epistle 2:
Epistle 2.

I. Know, then, thyself, presume not God to scan;
The proper study of mankind is man.
Placed on this isthmus of a middle state,
A being darkly wise, and rudely great:
With too much knowledge for the sceptic side,
With too much weakness for the stoic's pride,
He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest;
In doubt to deem himself a god, or beast;
In doubt his mind or body to prefer;
Born but to die, and reasoning but to err;
Alike in ignorance, his reason such,
Whether he thinks too little, or too much:
Chaos of thought and passion, all confused;
Still by himself abused, or disabused;
Created half to rise, and half to fall;
Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all;
Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurled:
The glory, jest, and riddle of the world!
Go, wondrous creature! mount where science guides,
Go, measure earth, weigh air, and state the tides;
Instruct the planets in what orbs to run,
Correct old time, and regulate the sun;
Go, soar with Plato to th' empyreal sphere,
To the first good, first perfect, and first fair;
Or tread the mazy round his followers trod,
And quitting sense call imitating God;
As Eastern priests in giddy circles run,
And turn their heads to imitate the sun.
Go, teach Eternal Wisdom how to rule—
Then drop into thyself, and be a fool!
Superior beings, when of late they saw
A mortal man unfold all Nature's law,
Admired such wisdom in an earthly shape
And showed a Newton as we show an ape.
Could he, whose rules the rapid comet bind,
Describe or fix one movement of his mind?
Who saw its fires here rise, and there descend,
Explain his own beginning, or his end?
Alas, what wonder! man's superior part
Unchecked may rise, and climb from art to art;
But when his own great work is but begun,
What reason weaves, by passion is undone.
Trace Science, then, with Modesty thy guide;
First strip off all her equipage of pride;
Deduct what is but vanity or dress,
Or learning's luxury, or idleness;
Or tricks to show the stretch of human brain,
Mere curious pleasure, or ingenious pain;
Expunge the whole, or lop th' excrescent parts
Of all our vices have created arts;
Then see how little the remaining sum,
Which served the past, and must the times to come!
Apparently, I would do well in my 'curious' studies to look further into this work by Alexander Pope for its links to Augustine (hat tip to Kapok) as well as for the other things that it offers -- but for the moment, it's just another curious distraction from more pressing matters.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Alexander Boguslawski: "Theotokos of Kazan" and "Blessed Silence"

Theotokos of Kazan
(Image provided by Alexander Boguslawski)

My wife showed me how to transfer images stored on my computer to Photobucket, which I referred to yesterday, so I can now reveal the above icon by Alexander Boguslawski as well as seven more more icons of Christ the Blessed Silence.

Actually, Boguslawski calls his icon the "Mother of God of Kazan," but "Theotokos" means "God-Bearer" in Greek and is less literally 'translated' as "Mother of God" in English. The expressions are used in Orthodox and Catholic Christianity to refer to the Virgin Mary but aren't intended to imply that Mary herself was divine, simply to emphasize her role as Christ's mother. Perhaps Professor Boguslawski himself could say more on this if he happens to visit here and has time for commenting.

There exists, by the way, an original "Theotokos of Kazan," which I've provided below for ease of comparison:

Theotokos of Kazan
Russia, 16th Century
(Image from Wikipedia)

Boguslawski has subtly altered the direction in which the eyes of the Virgin and the Infant are focused. The Virgin in the original icon looks directly at us, and her head is slightly less inclined. Boguslawski's Virgin, her head more bowed and her face so serious, seems lost in contemplation, as if reflecting down upon the earthly pain to come, but her uplifted eyes suggest a reliance upon God. By having the head bowed and the eyes raised, she gives the impression of looking both down and up simultaneously. Interestingly, Boguslawski has made the Infant more youthful but also, like the Virgin, so very serious, whereas the original Infant seems to have the hint of a smile despite being depicted as aged beyond his infancy. In neither icon does the Infant look at us. In the original, he appears to gaze upward, but Boguslawski's has him gazing downward, perhaps reflecting upon his earthly mission ahead. But these are my subjective impressions, for I lack any expertise on these works of sacred art.

Below are the images of the seven icons showing Christ the Blessed Silence that Professor Boguslawski fowarded from the art expert and dealer Richard Temple to me, including the two icons with the seraphim depicted in a manner similar to the depiction of the seraph in the icon posted yesterday (and also prior to that). Since these seven were not identified, I cannot provide any further information as to their origins, but we can still appreciate their beauty:

Christ the Blessed Silence
(Image provided by Richard Temple)

Christ the Blessed Silence
(Image provided by Richard Temple)

Christ the Blessed Silence
(Image provided by Richard Temple)

Christ the Blessed Silence
(Image provided by Richard Temple)

Christ the Blessed Silence
(Image provided by Richard Temple)

Next come the two icons with the seraphim depicted: first with the blue ones and then with the red ones:

Christ the Blessed Silence
Depicted with Blue Seraphim
(Image provided by Richard Temple)

Christ the Blessed Silence
Depicted with Red Seraphim
(Image provided by Richard Temple)

And for our convenience, a detail of the traditional, red seraphim:

Detail of Christ the Blessed Silence
The Three Red Seraphim
(Image provided by Richard Temple)

So, here they are in all their glory. Icons, I might add, are believed by the devout to be windows into the sacred realm, so one is not simply staring at a religious object, one is gazing into paradise itself, even if the specific image depicts an earthly scene from the life of Christ or some saint. Thus, they really are depicted here in all their glory. Or possibly not . . . for I've only provided images of the originals. A sort of borrowed heaven.

And that's about all that I can show or say on this topic of the 'winged' Christ in Christian art.

UPDATE: Alexander Boguslawski has informed me: "As far as the Blessed Silence icons are concerned, only four of them came from Richard Temple's Gallery; the rest were collected over the Internet." However, since I don't know which are from where, I'll leave the identification as is (until I should happen to find the online sources).

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Alexander Boguslawski: More on Seraph in Bosom of "Christ the Blessed Silence"

Christ the Blessed Silence
Russian, circa 1700 (30.7 x 27 cm)
(Image from The Temple Gallery)

Christ the Blessed Silence
Detail with Seraph
(Image from The Temple Gallery)

In my Thursday post providing Alexander Boguslawski's fascinating and useful, detailed information about this Russian icon showing a seraph nestled in the bosom of Christ the Blessed Silence, I closed with these words:
Perhaps some reader who knows the explanation to this puzzling image of the the seraph in Christ's bosom will take the time to lead us through the labyrinth to the answer.
Well, a reader did step forth with more information, none other than, once again, Professor Boguslawski himself, who provided "Some news on the Blessed Silence":
I contacted Richard Temple (an old friend) and discovered from his reply that he had on his site two other icons featuring seraphim (or cherubim). I am attaching a series of pictures for you, as well as Temple's commentary on those icons. He has no idea why the iconography changed or allowed these variations (there are, for instance, blue cherubim in one of the icons).
I'd like to post those images that Boguslawski sent, but I couldn't locate them at The Temple Gallery, and I don't yet know how to copy them from my computer onto my site at Photobucket, the online service that I use to store the images that I post here on my blog. If I figure that out, I'll post them, for the two mentioned by Boguslawski differ from the icon above in that they each show three seraphim -- one in the center and two on each side.

Meanwhile, here's what Richard Temple has written:
BLESSED SILENCE. ("Blagoe Molchanie")

Christ depicted as an angel is based on Isaiah 9:5 who refers to "The Messenger ("Angelos") of Great Counsel". He is the "Word in Eternity" and, according to Coomber in The Icon Handbook, (Springfield Illinois, 1995), the iconography is "associated with the Creation and the Plan of Salvation, ordained from Eternity".

Other references from Isaiah are relevant: 42:2 "He shall not...cause his voice to be heard in the streets"; 53:7 "He was afflicted yet opened not his a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opens not his mouth".

Two four pointed stars, one superimposed on the other, are seen within Christ's halo; their eight points are said to symbolize Eternity and the whole of Creation. (The Octave is the symbol of completion).

Christ is clothed as a bishop (cf Hebrews 4:14 "...we have a great high priest that is passed into the heavens, Jesus Christ, Son of God...". Seraphim, six-winged, bodiless and traditionally red, adorn the upper part of his chest and arms. The Seraphim, according to Dionysius the Areopagite, are the highest order of Angels and stand at the entrance into Paradise. Below Christ's navel is a Cherub, also bodiless and regarded as second in the angelic order. Christ holds the traditional Russian eight pointed cross and an inscribed scroll: "Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).

The subject was introduced into the iconographical canon in Russia in the 16th century. At that time Moscow, which had recently declared itself the Third Rome, was a milieu of intense theological and iconographical activity. (See N.P. Kondakov, The Russian Icon, OUP 1928, Chapter Mystical and Didactic Subjects).
I'm not sure which of the three images depicting a seraph in the bosom of Christ that Temple is referring to, for I don't see the cherub above Christ's navel, but given this information and the two additional images, Boguslawski has concluded:
Therefore, my statement that the icon was "absolutely unique" needs to be changed to "unusual." My explanation that it indicates the closeness of the heavenly forces to Christ still holds... Well, and now we have a nice collection of images...
And we may soon have one more, for Boguslawski tells me:
I am even tempted to paint my own icon of the Blessed Silence, since I am a modern day iconographer (see an example of one of my works -- the recently finished Mother of God of Kazan).
Again, I would like to provide that Theotokian image, but it is stubbornly stuck on my computer rather than 'unstuck' on Photobucket. You can, however, visit Boguslawski's own website for exhibiting his art, including several of his icons, but I don't see his "Mother of God of Kazan" included.

In his closing remarks, Boguslawski added some kind words:
And one more comment -- I love your blog! What a relief to find a literate person!
To this, I replied:
I'm glad that you like my blog. I don't know that I'm really so literate, but I do have a lot of interests -- mostly of things that I can't so easily comprehend, but a man's reach must exceed his grasp, else what's a heaven for?

I wish that I had even a modicum of your linguistic and artistic talent . . . and your other talents as well. Perhaps mine is a talent for blogging. But like the winged Christ with seraph, I am not unique. I've found a host of intelligent, literate bloggers. My own blog might be unusual for the range of things that I post on. Just today, I blogged about my Ozark home...
But I'll leave the degree to which my blog is 'unusual' to the judgement of my peers, those who peer here.

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Exploring Izard County: Mill Creek

The day is fast approaching for our trip back to the Arkansas Ozarks, and we're looking forward to a number of excursions with family and friends.

One friend with whom we'll be enjoying a hike is "D. Daddio Al-Ozarka," a 'professional' hillbilly whom I met online about a year and a half ago when I posted a photo showing an outhouse like the ones that I used to visit whenever 'nature called' back when I was a hillbilly kid myself. Although I had borrowed that image from a different website, I also linked to Daddio's Exploring Izard County for its many lovely Ozark photographs.

Daddio has a real name, of course, but I'm not sure if he wants it used online, though he doesn't appear too shy to appear online, for he posts photos that include himself -- as in this one below, where both the landscape and the hiking party are dominated by his enormous, capped head (though that's probably an optical illusion):

Daddio will be meeting us -- me, Sun-Ae, Sa-Rah, and En-Uk (with possibly a few other relatives) -- on the afternoon of Sunday, February 10 (2008), to act as informed guide to a nice spot on Mill Creek, the end point of a hike that he briefly described in an email to me a couple of weeks back:
If you haven't been to Exploring Izard County lately, check the latest post. Yesterday Rick, Cal, and I were shown an inspiring place on Mill Creek called "Needles Eye and Moon Eye". It is near Boswell . . . waaaAAAAYYY back in the woods. From the parking area, it is about a 30 minute hike on relatively level ground to the site. Our host, Wayne Hill, told us the the UofA had excavated the cave there and hauled off a number of artifacts decades ago . . . including a dugout canoe that his (Wayne) grandfather remembers seeing protruding from the cave floor.
I'm looking forward to this hike, for I haven't seen enough of Izard County even though the Cherokee side of my family mostly hailed from there. In my late teenage years, I used to visit the Sylamore Hills region of the White River in Izard County on my bicycle, and Daddio also has photos of that area.

I sometimes wish that I could land a job teaching in a university back in the Ozarks -- such as the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville (the UofA that Daddio mentions) -- but that's not likely to happen.

Instead, I make these online trips, as can you, too, if you visit Daddio's Exploring Izard County or his Hunkahillbilly site on You Tube.

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Friday, January 25, 2008

An Instructive Exchange

Lorin Maazel
"a noted conductor"

Gypsy Scholar is pretty well-informed about things, but Jeffery Hodges is still rather ignorant and therefore tends to learn something new every day . . . as you shall see in today's borrowed dialogue.

Over at Waka Waka Waka, my online friend Malcolm Pollack noted my blog entry on Tawfik Hamid and was impressed by . . . well, you'll see what impressed him. In his own words:
There are those who would have us believe that the root causes of Islamic terrorism are poverty and political oppression, and that if we Americans weren't such swaggering imperialists, and could just get along a little more amicably with other cultures, we'd have less to worry about. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Our friend Jeffery Hodges (is he really out of bed and writing blog posts at 4:09 a.m.?) offers further evidence here.
Since Malcolm had asked for confirmation of what had particularly impressed him in my blog post on Tawfik Hamid, I provided it:
Out of bed at 4:09 a.m.? Me? Is that what the blog entry showed?

Ha! Ha! Ha! Of course I'm not.

No, I'm out of bed at 3:00 a.m., doing my best to save Western civilization. I don't know why the time recorded was so late. Maybe I websurfed too long. I'll try to do better from now on...
Malcolm, nontheist though he may be, sought divine explanation:
Three o'clock? Why in God's name are you up at such an hour??? Do you have cows to milk?

I shall charitably assume you simply haven't got to bed yet; after all, that's only an hour two after I usually hit the sack.
Although I do milk the cows of solitude during these early morning hours, my clarification focused on a greater than bovine task:
In God's name, I am up at that godforsaken hour because -- as previously mentioned -- I am doing my best to save Western civilization.

Pay attention!

Saving the West is a tough job, but somebody's got to do it, especially in those godforsaken hours when even the abstract entities are somnolent and neglecting their duties, so I do indeed rise early.

No need to thank me. Virtue is its own reward.
Which led Malcolm into an oblique allusion to The Dark Knight (itself possibly an even more oblique allusion to bats in somebody's Far Eastern belfry):
I guess saving Western civilization can only be accomplished while the banks are open in Los Angeles, or something.

But to get up at three a.m. (!!!) you must have to go to bed at about eight in the evening or so, an hour at which, in most of the civilized world (or here in Gotham, at least), one is more apt to be discussing an appropriate selection with the sommelier, or flipping through Playbill, waiting for the curtain to rise.

We appreciate your sacrifice, of course.
To which, I racheted up the degree of my great sacrifice:
I usually get to bed between 10 and 10:30, so my sacrifice of sleep in indeed great.

But saving the West -- unlike saving money (which nobody does anymore anyway) -- requires no open banks, whether in Gotham, The City of Angels, or my very own Seoul.
And I also gave evidence of the sufferings that I so quixotically endure:
Uh . . . "is indeed great." I guess that I need some more shut-eye to have better open-eye.

But orthography is merely one of those sacrifices...
For which, Malcolm graciously if indirectly thanked me:
Well, Jeffery, we in the West are in your debt. Your efforts seem to be paying off, so far at least: the seats are full on Broadway, and Lorin Maazel is still swinging the lumber up at Avery Fisher Hall.
Which led to my couplet of ignorance:
Malcolm, I'm tempted to quip:

Who in the hell
Is Lorin Maazel?

Which would be a nice couplet and my shortest poem but also demonstrate my ignorance, so I Wikied him and now know the man.

I'm gratified to learn that my early morning efforts are paying off my own debt to Western civilization.
Leading, in turn, to Malcolm's own amusing nod to the muse (and note his noteworthy pun):
If I may be your instructor --
He's a noted conductor.
A dialogue that I wrapped up (maybe) with a comment on the unfinished project of the West:
Thanks, Malcolm. I've been so busy defending Western civilization that I've not had much time to learn about it.

Next time you pass Avery Fisher Hall, give my regards to Mr. Maazel for swinging the lumber and directing his work crew in the ongoing construction of the West...
Gypsy Scholar readers, meanwhile, should feel free to laugh at my bold ignorance in its trajectory toward the coincidence of opposites that characterizes Nicholas of Cusa's learned ignorance...

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Alexander Boguslawski: Seraph in Bosom of "Christ the Blessed Silence"

Detail, Christ the Blessed Silence
Russian, circa 1700 (30.7 x 27 cm)
(Image from The Temple Gallery)

Two blog-days ago, I posted the entire icon of which the above image is a detail, and for ease of comparison, here is the full icon, albeit much reduced in size:

As previously noted, Brandon Watson (who blogs at Siris) drew my attention to this Russian Orthodox icon some days ago when I was blogging about various depictions of Christ as a winged figure in Western art.

I noticed that the icon depicted a seraph held in the bosom of Christ, and in my response to Brandon, I called his attention to the seraph and wondered if it were an allusion to the story of St. Francis receiving the stigmata from a six-winged 'Christ' in that puzzling vision, where Christ, a seraph, and the soul of St. Francis appear to coincide in identity -- a baffling vision to which I devoted several blog entries.

Brandon doubted an allusion to St. Francis, and I myself had thought the possibility remote but wanted at least to air it.

Just to be certain that this was not such an allusion to St. Francis, and also to learn more about the icon, I emailed an expert, Professor Alexander Boguslawski, who had noticed (and commented on) an earlier post of mine on Andrei Rublev's icon of The Old Testament Trinity, for I had cited Boguslawski's analysis of that icon in my blog entry.

Before sending the email to Professor Boguslawski, I posted my query in a reply to the comment that he had posted on Rublev's icon:
By the way, if you have time, perhaps you could explain this icon showing a winged Christ the Blessed Silence with what appears to be a seraph in his bosom.

When I saw this, I wondered if there were some allusion to the winged 'Christ' of St. Francis's vision when he received the stigmata, for 'Christ' took the form of a seraph there (though such a Catholic allusion would be unexpected in an Orthodox painting).
I then sent Professor Boguslawski the mentioned email, just to make sure that he was aware of my query:
Greetings from Jeffery Hodges (aka Gypsy Scholar). I was pleased to hear from you in the comment to my blog post on Rublev. I left a reply there, and also a query, directing you to my most-recent blog entry. I'm curious about the six-winged seraph in the bosom of a winged Christ (in the form of the Blessed Silence). What does the seraph signify? If you take a look at the blog entry (and some of its links), you'll understand my query.
Here is his reply, which he posted as a comment to my blog entry of two days ago on this seraph in Christ's bosom:
I can answer some of the questions you posed, but, unfortunately, not all... The seraphim is definitely not an allusion to St. Francis, even though St. Francis did have a vision of a seraphim! The icon from the Temple Gallery seems to be absolutely unique; I looked through my extensive book collection and through the Russian Orthodox sites and found not even one similar icon of the Holy Silence. On all icons, the angelic figure is shown with hands crossed at the bosom. So why the seraphim at this particular icon? The only possible explanation I can think of would be that the author of this icon wanted to stress the closeness of the seraphim to God.

The God-loving six-winged SERAPHIM stand closer than all before their Creator and Maker, as the prophet Isaiah saw, saying: "And the seraphim stood around Him, each having six wings" (Isaiah 6:2). They are fire-like since they stand before That One of Whom it is written: "For our God is a consuming fire." (Heb. 12:29); "His throne was a flame of fire" (Dan 7:9); "the appearance of the Lord was like a blazing fire" (Ex. 24:17). Standing before such glory, the seraphim are fire-like, as it said: "Who maketh his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire" (Ps. 103:4). They are aflame with love for God and kindle others to such love, as I shown by their very name, for "seraphim" in the Hebrew language means: "flaming".

Icons of Holy Silence (Blessed Silence) were most popular among the Old Believers, but they, as dedicated traditionalists, would not accept any significant change in iconography. Therefore, the question why the seraphim was included in this icon remains unanswered... I wonder whether Richard Temple realized what kind of a unique work he had in his gallery.

I hope all this helps. Looking forward to finding more about this and other icons.
That the icon was "absolutely unique" thrilled me -- in an intellectual way -- and I replied:
[T]hank you for your reply to my query about the seraph in this icon.

I looked more closely at the icon at Richard Temple's website, and since the site allows close-ups of details, I was able to see the seraph more clearly. Although the figure is clearly a seraph, given the six wings, it seems to have no body and looks more like an image of the sun -- which would connect to the Hebrew meaning of "seraph" as "flaming."

This looks like a topic for an article, but I lack the expertise in icons. Perhaps you will write something?

Meanwhile, I'll post your comment as a blog entry, for this is informative stuff.
And today's is that 'promised' blog entry. Perhaps some reader who knows the explanation to this puzzling image of the the seraph in Christ's bosom will take the time to lead us through the labyrinth to the answer.

UPDATE: Concerning the seraph's lack of a body, Professor Boguslawski informs me that "In Russian tradition, seraphim are always represented this way (they can be larger in size)," so my speculation about a possible resemblence to the "sun" is perhaps way off target.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Tawfik Hamid on the Jihadist Mind

I recently read a fascinating article in the Jerusalem Post. Written by Tawfik Hamid, a moderate Muslim who passed through an Islamist phase as a young man, the lengthy article describes how a young, highly intelligent Muslim was easily turned toward fanaticism . . . but also how he escaped from that iron cage of unreason.

The article, "The development of a jihadist's mind," appeared in the Jerusalem Post's January 18th edition, but this is a reprint of an earlier printing (with footnotes) in volume 5 (pdf) of the Hudson Institute's series on Current Trends in in Islamist Ideology.

The Post's issue is spread out over several pages, which involves a lot of clicking back and forth if one wishes to check a point, and the Hudson's pdf version includes the 5 other articles in the publication, which makes the file rather long (at 90 pages), but a the entire text alone on a single page, albeit without the footnotes, can be easily read on another webpage hosted at the Hudson site.

I will post a few excerpts (citing the pdf version) to indicate what the article has to offer.

Hamid encountered Islamist teachings in the 1980s, during the jihad against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. He was a young medical student in Egypt and was powerfully influenced in his developing radicalism through a talk given by Aiman al-Zawahiri, a physician who is now better known as the intellectual spokesman for Al Qaeda:
At one afternoon prayer session, an imam I had never met before gave a sermon. He was one of the fiercest speakers I had ever heard. His passion for jihad was astonishing. He advocated complete Islamic dominance, urging us to pursue jihad against non-Muslims and subdue them to sharia -- the duty of every true Muslim. His rhetoric inspired us to engage in war against the infidels, the enemies of Allah. He particularly condemned the West for the freedom of its women. He hated the fact that Western women were permitted to wear what they pleased, to work and to have the same opportunities as men. He dreamt of forcing the West to conform to a Taliban-style system in which women were obliged to wear the Islamic hijab, were legally beaten by men to discipline them, and were stoned to death for extramarital sex. After the Imam's speech my friend, Tariq Abdul-Muhsin, asked me if I knew this speaker. When I said I did not, Tariq told me that he was Dr. Aiman Al-Zawahiri and, because I was a new member of Jamaah, offered to introduce us.

Al-Zawahiri was exceptionally bright, one of the top postgraduate students in the medical school. We called him by his title and first name -- Dr. Aiman. He came from a well-known, highly-educated and wealthy family. As was customary for Jamaah members, he wore a beard and dressed occasionally in the Pakistani style of the Taliban. He disapproved of Egypt's secular government; he wanted Egypt to follow sharia law and Coptic Christians to be made dhimmis -- second-class citizens submissive to Islam. To disparage secular Arab governments, he cited the following verse: "For they who do not judge in accordance with what God has bestowed from on high are, indeed, Infidels" (Quran 5:44).

When I met him, Zawahiri welcomed me affectionately. He spoke quietly, gazing intently at me through his thick glasses. With a serious expression he placed his hand on my shoulder and said, "Young Muslims like you are the hope for the future return of Khilafa [Caliphate or Islamic global dominance]." I felt a great sense of gratitude and honor. I wanted to please him by contributing to his "noble" cause. Throughout my membership in Jamaah, I would meet with Zawahiri on six more occasions. He did not have much time to spare however, for he was deeply involved in several Islamist organizations.

One of Zawahiri's significant achievements was to personalize jihad -- that is, to have transformed it from a responsibility of the Umma, the Islamic collective, to a duty of Muslim individuals. His goal is to spread the empire of Islam through the actions of individual radical Muslims, each of whom is incited to wage a personal jihad. This allows young Muslims to carry out suicide bombings without the endorsement of the collective body. Zawahiri and his fellow jihadis base their philosophy on the verse that states, "Then fight in Allah's cause -- you are held responsible only for yourself -- and rouse the believers (to fight)" (Quran 4:84). (Tawfik Hamid, "The development of a jihadist's mind," Current Trends in in Islamist Ideology, Volume 5 (pdf), pages 16-17)
Several significant conclusions can be drawn about Zawahiri from Hamid's description. First, he hates the West primarily because of the freedom that it gives women rather than keeping them covered in hijab and beaten into submission. Second, he wants Islam to dominate the West and the entire non-Muslim world and force everyone to submit to Muslim law. Third, he encourages a worldwide jihad carried out by each individual Muslim as a means toward achieving Islam's domination over the world. Whatever additional motives Zawahiri and other Islamists might have, we should never forget that the Al Qaeda and many other such Islamist groups share the imperialist aim of radical Islamic rule over all non-Muslims.

Hamid also describes the process by which he personally came to share Islamist obsession with hatred and violence:
I passed through three psychological stages to reach this level of comfort with death: hatred of non-Muslims or dissenting Muslims, suppression of my conscience, and acceptance of violence in the service of Allah. (Hamid, "The development of a jihadist's mind" (pdf), page 18)
What saved Hamid from a jihadi fate was the resurrection of his conscience through his irrepressible habit of critical thinking:
As I considered attending a terrorist training camp, however, my conscience reasserted itself. The habit of critical thinking that my parents had instilled in me when I was growing up began to undermine the violent indoctrination to which I had been subjected. If I had taken the next step toward jihad, I might well have become a terrorist killer. Instead, I experienced an intense inner struggle that felt like an earthquake shaking my principles. I realized that harming innocent people is immoral and that a religious ideology pledging war on non-believers must be bankrupt. (Hamid, "The development of a jihadist's mind" (pdf), page 19)
The habit of critical thinking that Hamid could not entirely suppress resurfaced and led him to listen to his conscience rather than to his Islamist mentors, but Hamid did not learn critical thinking from his education, and certainly not from the Islamists (who emphasize rote memorization and demand unquestioning obedience). Rather, he had learned critical thinking from his parents, and he returned to their values, which he had earlier described in his article:
I was born in Cairo to a secular Muslim family. My father was an orthopedic surgeon and an agnostic at heart; my mother was a French teacher and a liberal. Both considered Islam to be, primarily, an integral part of our culture. With the exception of my father, we would fast on Ramadan. Even though my father was not religious, he understood our need to fit into the community and never forced his secular views on us. He espoused diverse philosophical ideas but encouraged us to follow our own convictions. Most importantly, he taught my brother and me to think critically rather than to learn by rote. (Hamid, "The development of a jihadist's mind" (pdf), page 11)
I suspect that Hamid's childhood was radically unlike the childhood of most Muslims, which suggests that his habit of critical thinking would probably not be widely shared, but it also suggests that the West has as its most powerful 'weapon' against Islamism the power of critical thought.

And critical reasoning can be seductive.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Icon of Winged Christ the Blessed Silence with a Seraph in His Bosom

Christ the Blessed Silence
Russian, circa 1700 (30.7 x 27 cm)
(Image from The Temple Gallery)

I am inspired this morning to make some brief remarks on this icon to which Brandon Watson (who blogs at Siris) drew my attention some days ago when I was blogging about various depictions of Christ as a winged figure.

Especially intriguing for me in the above icon is the seraph held in the bosom of Christ. In response to Brandon, I wondered if the seraph were an allusion to the story of St. Francis receiving the stigmata from a six-winged 'Christ' in a baffling vision in which Christ, a seraph, and the soul of St. Francis all three appear identical. Readers will recall that I devoted several blog entries to this puzzling vision.

But perhaps the icon above is presenting the Holy Spirit as emanating from the bosom of the Son -- except that I've never heard of the Spirit being depicted as a seraph. A dove, yes; but a seraph, no . . . which may suggest nothing other than my ignorance.

I'm hoping that Alexander Boguslawski, professor of Russian Studies at Rollins College might have some illuminating remarks on this icon, for he noticed that I had quoted his remarks on the depiction of a winged Christ in Rublev's famous icon presenting the Old Testament Trinity, so he posted an interesting comment on that particular blog entry.

But we'll just have to wait on that.

Meanwhile, here's a modern-day icon, a beautiful, angelic Sophie revealing words about her role in creation -- and one can also find this same Sophie linked to Milton's Paradise Lost.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Expats and Korean Culture!

Dokdo Rocks!
Expats, Get in the Rhythm!

A little over one week ago, I got together with Gord Sellar and Charles La Shure for a meal and conversation, as I noted on my blog, though without going into details, for that evening was just one part of a rather long day, but I do recall the three of us discussing the way that many in the expat community react to life in Korea.

Those readers interested in hearing more about this specific point might want to visit an online site that fellow-blogger Big Hominid has called to our attention, Expat Interviews, which has posted an interview with Charles in which he expresses views that encapsulate some of what he, Gord, and I discussed that evening. I particularly concur with the substance of his answer to the question about whether he had any tips for readers about living in South Korea:
This answer is probably not going to win me too many friends in the expat community here, but I have very little patience for foreigners who come to Korea and spend all their time complaining without bothering to learn about the culture. I'm not saying that all foreigners who complain do this, but a lot do. I'm also not saying that we don't have a right to complain when we are treated unfairly. But understanding comes first. Without understanding, you won't even know exactly what it is you are complaining about. Without understanding, you will get little understanding in return from those whose opinions you seek to sway. So my tip would be this: I don't care how long you plan on staying in Korea -- you could be here on a one-year teaching contract or you could be here for a few decades -- you owe it to yourself to at least try to understand the culture. If you're going to insulate yourself from the culture, don't complain when things don't go your way. ("American Expat Charles in South Korea")
Charles also had some words on the process that one undergoes if one does engage with the local culture:
When people first encounter a new culture, they usually go through a "honeymoon phase" where everything is so new and wonderful, and they are enchanted by their host culture. As they become more accustomed to the culture, though, the cracks begin to show, and this leads to a swing toward the opposite end of the spectrum -- an intense dislike of the host culture. Some people never get past this stage, and they become bitter. Others learn to adjust and find their place in the host culture. ("American Expat Charles in South Korea")
As I've already noted, Gord, Charles, and I talked about these two, related issues in our dinner conversation. I recall telling Gord and Charles that a lot of the expats who waste time complaining about life in Korea seem never to have lived abroad before and don't realize that they would be having much the same negative reactions to the local culture no matter where they might be living their expat lives. I lived in Germany for six frigging years, and I remember going through a 72-month stage in which I complained about the stupid Germans doing stupid things in their stupid German way. If I had been living in Korea instead, I'd have been complaining about the stupid Koreans doing stupid things in their stupid Korean way, but because I'd already gone through that sort of thing in Germany, I circumvented this stage here in Korea, so I almost never complain about the stupid Koreans doing stupid things in their stupid Korean way.

Instead, I try to learn as much about Korea and Korean culture as I possibly and sincerely can, and I'm fortunate to have authoritative sources for doing so. Some readers will recall my MemoRive post of a few days ago. Well, in addition to providing me with the means for dealing with my 'big data', the good Korean people at MemoRive offer this important and fascinating tidbit concerning Korean culture on a piece of cardboard included in the packaging:
Dokdo consists of two tiny rocky islets surrounded by 33 smaller rocks. The Dokdo islets are located about 215 kilometers off the eastern border of Korea and 90 kilometers east of South Korea's Ullung Island. The islets are an administative part of Ullung Island, North Kyongsang province, under the control of the Department of Ocean and Fisheries. Dokdo is also 157 kilometers northwest of Japan's Oki Islands. Its exact position is 37° 14' 45" N and 131° 52' 30" E. Of the two Islets that make up Dokdo, Suhdo (the West islet) is a steep-sided rock about 100 meters high, while Dongdo (the East islet) is 174 meters high. The approximate total surface area of Dokdo is 0.186 square kilometers (56 acres).
Obviously, Koreans are a people of high culture, the sort of people who offer fascinating and informative encyclopedia entries about culture even on pieces of cardboard that Americans would reserve for such lower, purely utilitarian functions as explaining how to use one's purchase correctly, which the packaging neglects to do (even in Korean, as my wife has noted).

I also like how this informational tidbit capitalizes "West" and "East" -- as though the two tiny islets somehow stand for something greater than themselves. West meets East, or something. Sort of like my Western self being in this Eastern place.

The cardboard piece even includes a helpful map showing the location of the Dokdo islets in the middle of the East Sea -- otherwise known as 'Sea-That-Must-Not-Be-Named', but being that body of water lying just west of Japan, it could also perhaps be safely called the West Sea.

My cardboard further informs me:
The Korean flag flies at Dokdo. The Chinese characters declare Dokdo to be Korean land.
Chinese characters! Now that's culture! There's even a photo with proof of this, the national flag flapping in a stiff breeze high above a huge sign with enormous Chinese ideographs that I can't read but that doubtless declare, convincingly and with impressive authority, that Dokdo is Korean land.

I wish that I knew Chinese so that I could feel the full impact of Korean culture on this crucial point. But even without my knowing Chinese, Korean culture has made a forceful impact impressive enough for me to quickly and explicitly acknowledge Korea's claim to Dokdo, and I've found that openly accepting this bit of Korean culture helps enormously with my fitting in here.

I can therefore agree with Charles La Shure that expats would fit in a whole lot better here on the peninsula if they took the time to learn at least a bit about Korean culture -- the significance of Dokdo, for example. Charles deserves our collective expat thanks for his reminder about the importance of culture.

I also ought to thank Charles for mentioning my blog as one of the few that he reads regularly:
I do have some friends who live here in Korea, . . . and I read their blogs on a regular basis . . . [because] they do offer insight on life here . . . . The Gypsy Scholar is a university professor and a medievalist with a quirky sense of humor.
Professor. Medievalist. And a real quirk. All three of which qualify me as a man of insight...

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Paradise Lost: Sound Advice for First-Time Readers

William Blake, The Temptation of Eve
"but to keep ye low and ignorant"
(Image from darknefs vifible)

A couple of years ago, on December 9 2005, an anonymous student emailing from some University of Massachusetts campus posted this open-ended query to my favorite e-list of scholars, the Milton-List:
"what fate does mankind deserve following the fall?"
That was all, not even a capitalized "W"! The poor student was pretty obviously looking for help with a term paper and probably desperate at the end of a fruitless semester filled with procrastinating activities. Various Milton scholars on the list had little sympathy, and didn't hide their annoyance (so I'll hide their identities):
"I suspect that's something your teacher wants you to determine."

"If you expect to get a useful answer to this question, you're going to have to provide some context."

"At least try to contribute something beyond this, like, say, maybe the entire draft text of the paper you're obviously trying to get us to write for you."
And so the 'answers' went . . . . Well, regular readers know how much sympathy I have for those unfortunate students who have stumbled into less than upright means of fulfilling assignments, so I decided to help with the stumbling:
Pay no attention to those other scholars. They wish to hide knowledge from you, to keep you low and ignorant. Why? Because in the day that you receive an answer, you shall be like them, knowing good texts from bad -- if there be bad.

Here, accept what I offer: After eating the apple, which turned out to be unripe, mankind deserved a bellyache, and that is exactly what mankind received.

All scholars are secretly agreed upon this, but I am revealing it openly for the first time. Share it freely with other students. Put it into your term papers. Quote me on it.

But don't bellyache afterwards.
I was alluding, of course, to Satan's words directed toward Eve Paradise Lost 9.684-732 as he tempted her to receive the apple:
Queen of this Universe, doe not believe
Those rigid threats of Death; ye shall not Die:
How should ye? by the Fruit? it gives you Life
To Knowledge, By the Threatner, look on mee,
Mee who have touch'd and tasted, yet both live,
And life more perfet have attaind then Fate
Meant mee, by ventring higher then my Lot.
Shall that be shut to Man, which to the Beast
Is open? or will God incense his ire
For such a petty Trespass, and not praise
Rather your dauntless vertue, whom the pain
Of Death denounc't, whatever thing Death be,
Deterrd not from atchieving what might leade
To happier life, knowledge of Good and Evil;
Of good, how just? of evil, if what is evil
Be real, why not known, since easier shunnd?
God therefore cannot hurt ye, and be just;
Not just, not God; not feard then, nor obeyd:
Your feare it self of Death removes the feare.
Why then was this forbid? Why but to awe,
Why but to keep ye low and ignorant,
His worshippers; he knows that in the day
Ye Eate thereof, your Eyes that seem so cleere,
Yet are but dim, shall perfetly be then
Op'nd and cleerd, and ye shall be as Gods,
Knowing both Good and Evil as they know.
That ye should be as Gods, since I as Man,
Internal Man, is but proportion meet,
I of brute human, yee of human Gods.
So ye shall die perhaps, by putting off
Human, to put on Gods, death to be wisht,
Though threat'nd, which no worse then this can bring.
And what are Gods that Man may not become
As they, participating God-like food?
The Gods are first, and that advantage use
On our belief, that all from them proceeds;
I question it, for this fair Earth I see,
Warm'd by the Sun, producing every kind,
Them nothing: If they all things, who enclos'd
Knowledge of Good and Evil in this Tree,
That whoso eats thereof, forthwith attains
Wisdom without their leave? and wherein lies
Th' offence, that Man should thus attain to know?
What can your knowledge hurt him, or this Tree
Impart against his will if all be his?
Or is it envie, and can envie dwell
In Heav'nly brests? these, these and many more
Causes import your need of this fair Fruit.
Goddess humane, reach then, and freely taste. (
PL 9.684-732)
I don't know if the student caught my allusions or even followed my well-intended advice, but my "bellyache thesis" actually has much to commend it . . . even if no other scholars seem to have recognized the chasmic depths of its engulfing profundity.

Now, however, those procrastinating students looking for help in writing their last-minute papers have a legitimate resource, a new, user-friendly website designed by students for first-time readers of Milton's Paradise Lost:
darknefs vifible
I think that they mean "Darkness Visible," but whom am I to take issue with nostalgia for the lisping orthographic conventions of Early Modern English?

Humor aside, I like the website and recommend a visit -- and not only for first-time Milton readers.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Calvin's nonvoluntarist deity

John Calvin
Original Oil Painting
University Library of Geneva
(Image from Wikipdia)

I've recently become aware of more and more Calvinists among Southern Baptists, the church in which I grew up, but when I was young, I never heard anybody in my church speak up in favor of predestination. That doctrine was for the Presbyterians. Most Baptists adhered to a sort of popular Arminianism, which emphasizes the free will of individuals to make their own choice in accepting or rejecting grace.

My grandmother had even heard of 'official' Arminian theology and mentioned it once in explaining to me her rejection of predestination. The term stuck in my head, but I hadn't seen it written down, so I later confused it with Armenian Christianity as my knowledge increased beyond my understanding, so I imagined in my sophomoric views that the early theologian Pelagius (born 354), who emphasized free will, was an Armenian and that his theology had so influenced the Armenian Church that Pelagianism came to be known as Armenianism.

Eventually, sometime after my sophomore year, I got that point straightened out.

Anyway, as I was saying, I've noticed more Calvinist among Southern Baptists these days, and my anecdotal impression has now been confirmed through an article in Christianity Today by Ken Walker, "TULIP Blooming" (1/17/2008), which reveals the following fact:
Although only 10 percent of SBC pastors identify themselves as Calvinists, nearly 30 percent of recent seminary graduates do.
The influence of these new graduates on the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is already being felt:
Long considered more Arminian in orientation -- emphasizing an individual's need to respond to the gospel rather than God's election in salvation -- the nation's largest Protestant denomination is grappling with doctrines of grace and election amid a seminary-led revival.
I suppose that I'll be hearing more about this issue in the years ahead, so I'd best start boning up on the predestinarian and free-will theologies of Calvin and Arminius, respectively. In fact, one of the leaders of the Bible study class that I attend at Seoul International Baptist Church (SIBC) is a Calvinist, and he's a very well-informed, interesting individual.

This man regularly refers to God's "sovereignty," a theological point that I've often heard Calvinists emphasize in such as way as to nearly suggest theological voluntarism, an extreme view emphasizing the power of God to do anything he damned well pleases. Obviously, this would make Calvinism similar to the Medieval Nominalism of Duns Scotus or to the mainstream theology of orthodox Islam (insofar as I understand these).

However, the Christian philosopher Michael Sudduth, writing in his unpublished paper "Calvin and the Medieval Dialectic of Divine Omnipotence" (1997), argues that Calvin was no voluntarist, and he cites this passage from Calvin:
That Sarbonic dogma, therefore, in the promulgation of which the Papal theologians so much pride themselves, "that the power of God is absolute and tyrannical," I utterly abhor. For it would be easier to force away the light of the sun from his heat, or his heat from his fire, than to separate the power of God from His justice. Away, then, with all such monstrous speculations from godly minds, as that God can possibly do more, or otherwise, than He has done, or that He can do anything without the highest order and reason. For I do not receive that other dogma, "that God, as being free from all law Himself, may do anything without being subject to any blame for doing so." For whosoever makes God without law, robs Him of the greatest part of His glory, because he spoils Him of His rectitude and justice. Not that God is, indeed, subject to any law, excepting in so far as He is a law unto Himself. But there is that inseparable connection and harmony between the power of God and His justice, that nothing can possibly be done by Him but what is moderate, legitimate, and according to the strictest rule of right. And most certainly, when the faithful speak of God as omnipotent, they acknowledge Him at the same time to be the Judge of the world, and always hold His power to be righteously tempered with equity and justice. (Calvin, A Doctrine of the Secret Providence of God (1558) in Calvin's Calvinism: Treatises on the Eternal Predestination of God and the Secret Providence of God, tr. Henry Cole (Grand Rapids: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1987?), p. 248)
By "Sarbonic dogma," I'm assuming that Calvin was referring to theologians associated with La Sorbonne (the University of Paris), that Medieval university founded in Paris by Robert de Sorbon in 1257, for one of its early theologians was the theological voluntarist Duns Scotus, who taught there from 1293 to 1297.

At any rate, Sudduth comments on the passage above from Calvin:
Perhaps more than any other single passage in Calvin this statement is crucial to understanding Calvin's position on both voluntarism and the Distinction [i.e., between "the potentia Dei absoluta (absolute power of God) and the potentia Dei ordinata (ordained power of God)"]. What is striking about this passage is that in it Calvin clearly denies that God can do just anything without being subject to blame for doing so. Similarly he denies that God is exlex or super legem (beyond law). Furthermore, Calvin is explicit that God has reasons for what He does, and they are just reasons, but they are simply hidden from us in this life. These points set definite moral constraints on what God can do. I take this to be evidence against the voluntarist reading of Calvin alluded to earlier (in section II). For the voluntarist, God cannot act inordinately because whatever God does is just by virtue of his doing it. The divine act makes the moral fact. Calvin, however, following theologians such as Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas, maintains that God cannot act inordinately because of the consistency of the divine nature. God's being righteous may be epistemically mysterious in many respects, but it is not ontologically vacuous.
This emphasis upon God's consistent nature thus precludes a radically voluntarist reading of Calvinism (though some hyper-Calvinists might even deny Calvin on this point and return to Duns Scotus). But Calvin is also worried about the Euthyphro dilemma, which he wants to circumvent through these words concerning God:
He is a law unto Himself. But there is that inseparable connection and harmony between the power of God and His justice.
Calvin wants to ensure that God is just, but Calvin's emphasis upon God being a law unto Himself leaves unclear what makes the 'justness' of God just. Calvin does not wish to leave God's justice arbitrary, as though God's absolute might makes what he does absolutely right even though he could have done utterly differently than he has done. But he also does not wish to impose justice upon God by referring to a standard external to God. But is God, then, divided within Himself into a capacity for willful absolute power and a standard of divine, infinitely wise justice? Would the latter act as God's conscience, as though an imperial God were to think, like Nixon, "Yes, we could do that -- but it would be wrong." Calvin probably wouldn't like to imagine God in this way either.

Be that as it may, Calvin's insistent Christian belief that God has a divine nature that in some nonarbitrary way grounds divine justice, and also divine love, places Calvin's thinking in the mainstream of Christian theology and, as it happens, distinguishes his position from that of mainstream Muslim theology, which holds that God does not have a nature and can do as he arbitrarily pleases.

Or such is my understanding of Islamic theology...

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