Sunday, August 31, 2008

Images from Soraksan Vacation

The Gypsy Scholar Relaxed

In my blog entries of the 18th and 21st, I reported briefly about a trip with my family to Soraksan Nature Reserve. Readers will recall that my wife's great predictive powers proved once again correct when I did not blog from our hotel in Sokcho. I recall the precise words of her uncanny prediction: "You will not blog on our vacation!" Her emphatic manner of expression even invites speculation that she was not so much predicting as determining, a point that I've already noted. Either way, I did not blog.

But I wasn't entirely satisfied with my blogless days, as the photo above makes apparent.

Nevertheless, I stoically endured, despite the heavy pack that I'd had slung over my left shoulder for several kilometers trudging uprise, uphill, up-mountain. By the time of the photo, I felt as though I'd been accompanying the Big Hominid on his epic walk across America. Suffering may be good for the soul, but it's hell for the sole, as the Big Ho is currently discovering.

Hiking, though, does have its advantages. Here's a vantage point below:

Mountain Valley, Soraksan Nature Reserve

I don't recall if this scenic view came before or after the sign in the first photo, but as you can see, we were quite far up on our hike to Geumgang Cave, where the famous Buddhist monk Wonhyo (617-686) stayed alone meditating upon the Four Noble Truths of suffering. Undoubtedly, his mind was concentrated upon the fact of suffering by the blisters acquired in hiking up-mountain to the cave.

How Wonhyo managed to reach the cave, I don't know, for it seemed to be on the face of a sheer rock cliff that we could only reach by climbing some long, steep stairs bolted onto the wall of rock, which you might be able to imagine from the following image:

En-Uk and Sa-Rah High Up on Steep Stairs

The effect is far more impressive when one is literally staring down what looks like a nearly vertical drop . . . though the steps are not quite a ladder. They just give that impression when one is clinging onto them to steady one's buckling knees.

Despite the scary climb up those long steps -- even more anxiety-provoking when one's kids are along for the ascent -- we all reached the cave safely:

En-Uk, Sun-Ae, and Sa-Rah in Wonhyo's Cave

I was taking this photo, so you can infer my steady nerves despite the nerve-wracking climb with kids and wife.

We stayed in Wonhyo's cave about half an hour, looking at the Buddha statues in the back area of the grotto, gazing out upon the valley and surrounding peaks, and even quaffing a refreshing earth-smelling drink made using a particular root gathered from Korean mountain slopes. I doubt that it was found on that rock wall near the cave.

We also encountered a Spaniard. Even though he was blond-haired, I knew at a glance that he was not a North American English teacher, but a European tourist and also from the continent rather than the British Isles. Seven years living in Europe has given me an eye for subtle differences, I guess, but I was still a bit surprised to discover that he hailed from Spain.

He was named Alex, he was a Basque, he was an amateur filmmaker, and he was traveling alone in Korea, getting by despite limited English skills not only on the part of the Koreans whom he encountered but on his part as well. Koreans were treating him very well, he reported. Later, after he'd left before we did, I regretted that I hadn't taken his photo.

Soon after his exit came the time for us to leave Wonhyo's cave, make like Prufrock, "turn back and descend the stair," and head "toward some overwhelming question":

En-Uk, Sa-Rah, and Gypsy Scholar Descending the Stair

Oh, do not ask, "What is it?" We are finished with our visit.

Until tomorrow, which -- as Prufrock could have learned from Scarlett O'Hara -- is another day.


Saturday, August 30, 2008

Gopal Balakrishnan reviews Bobbitt's Shield of Achilles

Council of Four, Treaty of Versailles
"a constitution of the society of states"
Prime Minister David Lloyd George (United Kingdom)
Prime Minister Vittorio Emanuele Orlando (Italy)
Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau (France)
President Woodrow Wilson (United States)

(Image from Wikipedia)

In an attempt to clarify my understanding of Philip Bobbitt's thinking, I'm reading book reviews. The journal Foreign Affairs has a recent review by G. John Ikenberry of Bobbitt's Terror and Consent, but I don't have online access to that journal, so I've contented myself for now with looking elsewhere for analyses.

I've not yet found online a serious, scholarly review of Terror and Consent that I can access, but I have located an interesting academic review of Bobbitt's earlier Shield of Achilles by Gopal Balakrishnan, "Algorithms of War," published in New Left Review 23, September-October 2003.

Yes, I survey broadly in composing my reading list.

I've not yet finished Balakrishnan's rather longish review, for as the semester is about to start, I'm limiting my time online, so this will be piecemeal. In a section titled 'Strategy and legality', Balakrishnan gives some structure helpful for understanding the architecture of Bobbitt's thinking:
The Shield of Achilles is not . . . reducible to its many weaknesses and eccentricities. As a theoretical work, it possesses one core strength that sets it apart in the strategic literature of the current period. Bobbitt's unusual combination of backgrounds -- as constitutional lawyer and weapons expert -- has allowed him to combine two perspectives that, as he notes, are normally dissociated: the internal legal -- and social -- order of states, and their external military and diplomatic constellation. The originality of his book lies in its attempt to address the problem of how to conceptualize the state as, simultaneously, an inwardly and outwardly tested concentration of legitimate public force. In itself, the merit of this enterprise is plain. Bobbitt's way of negotiating it is the most significant criterion for judging the book. Here the architrave on which his account of the succession of modern state-forms as a coherent series depends -- the notion that allows him to unify their inner and outer fields as a single system -- is that of 'constitution'.

Domestically, of course, this is a familiar part of the political lexicon, denoting the juridical framework of state power within any given social order: in pre-modern societies, accepted by custom or tradition; in nearly all modern ones, codified in written charters. Bobbitt's key move is to extend its application from the intra-state to the inter-state arena. The Shield of Achilles posits a succession of international legal regimes that established the norms of war and diplomacy from late medieval times to the twentieth century:
It is my premise that there is a constitution of the society of states as a whole: that it is proposed and ratified by the peace conferences that settle the epochal wars previously described, and amended in various peace conferences of lesser scope; and that its function is to institutionalize an international order derived from the triumphant constitutional order of the war-winning state. [Footnote 9: "SA, p. 483"]
Bobbitt conceives of these historic peace conferences -- Augsburg, Westphalia, Utrecht, Vienna, Versailles -- as constitutional conventions following protracted violent conflicts, where the signatories agree to accept the fundamental precepts, over which they will then contend during the next Long War. The conferences that set the rules for this game sanction the strategic doctrine of a hegemonic state whose internal arrangements have proven themselves as the most effective mode of mobilizing and deploying forces.
This focus by Balakrishnan on "constitution" is useful for me because the same aspect characterizes Bobbitt's thinking in Terror and Consent. I hadn't seen clearly -- probably due to inattention -- that Bobbitt derives his concept of "a constitution of the society of states as a whole" from "the peace conferences that settle the epochal wars."

This is useful.

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Friday, August 29, 2008

Bobbitt . . . or 'Spengler' on Russia's role in the Caucasus?

Our Contemporary 'Spengler'
"of the boudoir eyes"
(Image from Asia Times)

I had wondered what Philip Bobbitt might have to say about the scenario in Georgia and how it fits his views on the current trajectory of states from nation states to market states. Here, in "Russia's aggression in Georgia is a portent of perils to come," (August 13, 2008), is his take on things in the Caucasus:
[In the wake of the USSR's collapse,] developed states began to move from the constitutional order of nation states, which had fought the Cold War, to market states. In Europe, the EU began to evolve away from a super-nation state toward a more flexible congeries of national enclaves: Scots, Lombards, Catalonians and others found a constitutional umbrella within which they could develop. In America, deregulation of everything from industrial practices to women's reproduction, the replacement of conscription by an all-volunteer force, the substitution of job retraining for unemployment compensation -- were all heralds of this change. In China, the embrace of free trade, private investment and market pricing were similar events. Elsewhere, sovereign wealth funds created further harbingers of this new order. A global system of human rights norms was given martial effect in the former state of Yugoslavia, another event that reflected this dramatic evolution of states.

But not in Russia. There political and economic leaders -- and their Western advisers -- confused the market with the market state, creating a vast criminal enterprise that more resembled the Mafia than the multinational corporation. In such circumstances, it is hardly surprising that the nation state has come roaring back. It was Vladimir Putin who described the end of the USSR as 'the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the [20th] century'. He will not be able to reverse the ultimate trend toward market states; this new constitutional order is too formidable an innovation meekly to give way. Indeed the Russian tactic of granting vast numbers of Ossetians Russian citizenship -- which gave it the legal pretext that it used to intervene -- is at bottom a market state manoeuvre which encourages multiple juridical identities. But the hope that the transition away from nation states could be done without bloodshed in Europe has been dashed. The end of the first era of globalised constitutional transformation has come with unpredictable consequences because war, as Clausewitz told us, has its own momentum. I should be surprised if there were no further violence in Georgia.
But this leads us again to the question of Bobbitt's distinction between a nation state and a market state, which I thumbnailed as:
The former promises to protect and increase its citizens' material well-being, whereas the latter promises to guarantee and maximize its citizens' opportunities (cf. Bobbitt, Terror and Consent, pages 11-12)
I was citing Bobbitt's recent Terror and Consent, but he made the same distinction in his earlier tome, The Shield of Achilles, which I haven't read but which some contributor to Wikipedia has, for we find there in the entry on Shield of Achilles a summary of Book 1, Part 3 that provides a more expansive explanation than my brief one:
The constitutional order of the 21st century . . . market state will supersede the 20th century nation state as a consequence of the end of the Long War [i.e., the 'war' lasting from 1914 to 1989]. A constitutional order is distinguished by its unique claim for legitimacy. Give us power, the nation state said, and we will improve your material well-being. But whereas the nation state, with its mass free public education, universal franchise, and social security policies promised to guarantee the welfare of the nation, the market state promises to maximize the opportunity of the people and thus tends to privatize many state activities and to make voting and representative government less influential and more responsive to the market. This does not mean that market states cease to be interested in the well-being of their peoples or that nationalism is any less potent but that the State no longer claims legitimacy on that unique basis.
That's well-put by some anonymous commentor on Bobbitt's Shield of Achilles. Now, bringing us back to Bobbitt's take on the Georgian crisis, we can better see what Bobbitt means in stating that for Vladimir Putin's Russia, "the nation state has come roaring back." Putin, as we know if we've been reading the papers, has reversed some of the market and political freedoms achieved by Russia in the 1990s and has promised more security for Russians in exchange for restrictions on freedom. Bobbitt thinks that this retrograde move by Russia will not be possible in the longer run, and he notes the irony that even "the Russian tactic of granting vast numbers of Ossetians Russian citizenship . . . is at bottom a market state manoeuvre which encourages multiple juridical identities."

But Russians always take a circuitous route toward the future. Last time, they detoured through the 20th century, taking 70 years to reach a future that they'd promised to leap over. This time, they're appealing to the Old Russia from before the Bolshevik Revolution and attempting to restore the old Czarist empire -- but now, as with the Czars, an empire in the interests of the Russian nation. This implies "nation" state in an even stronger sense than Bobbitt means, for we're really talking about an ethnic nationalism in which Russia uses minorities within its empire to further the power of Russians.

For this, they don't have much time.

In one of his many lunacies of great insight, "Americans play Monopoly, Russians chess," Asia Times (August 19, 2008), our current-day 'Spengler' writes:
Russia is fighting for its survival, against a catastrophic decline in population and the likelihood of a Muslim majority by mid-century. The Russian Federation's scarcest resource is people. It cannot ignore the 22 million Russians stranded outside its borders after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, nor, for that matter, small but loyal ethnicities such as the Ossetians. Strategic encirclement, in Russian eyes, prefigures the ethnic disintegration of Russia, which was a political and cultural entity, not an ethnic state, from its first origins.
The Russians, argues Spengler, are inviting loyal ethnic groups to become 'Russian' by joining its declining Russian majority -- not precisely an ethnic state, but an ethnically dominated one. If Spengler is right, then Putin's Russia is engaged in some long-term planning to ensure that ethnic Russians come out on top in the changing demographics of an uncertain future.

Who's right? Spengler or Bobbitt? I'd prefer to think that Bobbitt has his finger on the measured pulse of a rational history, but Spengler reminds us that in history, there will be blood.

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Conflict in Georgia, and NATO's interests

Georgian Nation
Caucasus Region
(Image from Wikipedia)

Although my blog has given no indications of my awareness that Russia has invaded Georgia, I have been paying attention to events there. I've written nothing here because I lack sufficient information and don't know the history of that region well nor the validity of conflicting claims made by various ethnic groups.

I have also been aware that the US has pressed its reluctant NATO allies to accept Georgia as a member of that military organization, partly as reward for contributing troops to the effort in Iraq, but I have wondered if that's a good idea, strategically. In the first place, for several nearly two hundred years Georgia was part of the Russian empire (if we include Soviet domination), and for even longer has been within Russia's immediate sphere of influence. In the second place, ethnic tensions within Georgia make it an unstable state and thus not clearly a proper candidate for inclusion within Nato. Both of these points -- Russian interests and ethnic tensions -- are interrelated, for ethnic minorities in Georgia look to Russia as their champion and Russia legitimates its policies there on that basis.

As William Pfaff points out in a recent article for the International Herald Tribune, "NATO membership for Georgia has war with Russia built into it" ("Why Georgia Does Not Belong in NATO," IHT, August 12, 2008):
In Georgia . . . [the intrinsic conflict] is between the linguistically distinct enclaves that in the past were Russian and wish again to be Russian, and the majority of Georgians who want to be part of the West, but are also determined to dominate their rebellious territories.

If they would peacefully renounce those territories, an ethnically and culturally united Georgia would have every right to demand NATO membership. But as things are now (or were, until the last few days), [Georgian president] Mikheil Saakashvili wants his country inside NATO to protect him from the consequences of forcing those dissident territories to remain under Georgian domination. NATO has no business doing such a thing, and as Russia supports the rebel enclaves, NATO membership for Georgia has war with Russia built into it. As we have just seen.
Right. Ethnic tensions. Russian interests. NATO membership? Why should NATO involve itself in such a region that is traditionally part of neither Europe's nor America's sphere of influence if that region is plausibly within Russia's sphere of influence and clearly so unstable? A reasonable, positive answer might exist for this question, but I've not yet seen a persuasive one.

Moreover, assuming that reports are correct, then as events have recently shown, Saakashvili cannot be relied upon to show wise restraint, for he provoked this current conflict on "Aug. 7 when Georgia launched a barrage targeting South Ossetia, which claims independence and close ties to Russia," or so states the ordinarily reputable International Herald Tribune in an Associated Press article of August 23, 2008, "South Ossetians happily loot village in Georgia." And nearly every other report that I've heard has stated the same point, namely, that Georgia's central government started the conflict by sending its military to bring South Ossetia back under its control, overunning Russian peacekeepers in the process and thereby making inevitable a Russian military response.

However, some dissenting voices have been raised about this chronology. Michael J. Totten, whose reports from Iraq over the past couple of years have been exceptionally informative, was in the Caucasus region when the conflict began, and he presents a heterodox view in "The Truth About Russia in Georgia" (Middle East Journal, August 26, 2008):
Virtually everyone believes Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili foolishly provoked a Russian invasion on August 7, 2008, when he sent troops into the breakaway district of South Ossetia. "The warfare began Aug. 7 when Georgia launched a barrage targeting South Ossetia," the Associated Press reported over the weekend in typical fashion.

Virtually everyone is wrong. Georgia didn't start it on August 7, nor on any other date. The South Ossetian militia started it on August 6 when its fighters fired on Georgian peacekeepers and Georgian villages with weapons banned by the agreement hammered out between the two sides in 1994. At the same time, the Russian military sent its invasion force bearing down on Georgia from the north side of the Caucasus Mountains on the Russian side of the border through the Roki tunnel and into Georgia. This happened before Saakashvili sent additional troops to South Ossetia and allegedly started the war.
If this is correct, then this war was more likely provoked by Russia as a step toward enforcing its interests in the Caucasus, an interpretation of events that I find reasonable -- whether or not this happens to be the case. Totten relies for his information on two individuals knowledgeable about the region, the German Patrick Worms, a former European Commission official (but currently a public relations advisor to Georgia), and the American Thomas Goltz, an author and academic (and an expert on the Caucasus). Totten's report is worth reading in its entirety for a different view of what has happened.

Yet be that as it may, the question remains: Why should NATO invite into its military coalition an unstable country in such a conflicted region?

I'm willing to listen to reasonable suggestions.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Michael Burleigh: Weakness of "Global Jihadists"

Michael Burleigh
"reluctant guru"?
(Image by Frank Baron for Guardian)

In searching for articles on problems associated with multiculturalism for my course on European multiculturalism this fall at Yonsei's Underwood College, I came across an interesting if tangential article by the British historian Michael Burleigh, "How To Defeat The Global Jihadists," in the June 2008 issue of the British magazine Standpoint.Online, apparently a conservative publication.

I say "tangential" because although the article does allude to problems with multiculturalism in Europe, for example, in referring to a German islamist terrorist cell "rounded up in late April 2008 from the purlieus of the Multicultural House mosque in Ulm -- an appropriately named monument to that disgraced ideology," Burleigh does not make multiculturalism his focus.

Interestingly, however, the article makes clear that Al Qa'eda has its own 'multicultural' problems:
The multi-ethnic composition of al-Qa'eda is one weak point, since rewards and risks seem to run along ethnic lines. The risks undertaken by Lebanese money-launderers handling conflict diamonds from West Africa are of a different order to those of a Moroccan suicide bomber. Interrogations of detainees reveal much bad blood between ethnic Chechens, Tajiks or Uzbeks and their Arab masters, who despise them. Al-Qa'eda's bid for supremacy extends to its own cohorts.
I write 'multicultural' -- but note the 'scare' quotes (indicating irony) -- where Burleigh writes "multi-ethnic," but neither term is exactly right since an ethnic difference between a Lebanese Arab and a Moroccan Arab might be a matter for dispute. If Arab is an ethnicity, then both are ethnically Arab.

Ironically, Al Qa'eda's problem would seem to be an insufficiently 'multicultural' perspective. The Arab elite who fill the upper echelons of the Al Qa'eda organization look down on the non-Arabs in the lower ranks -- a cultural (or is it ethnic?) arrogance not lost on those non-Arabs, according to Burleigh.

Be that as it may, Burleigh would seem to be a historian to become familiar with, for he's just this year published Blood and Rage: A Cultural History of Terrorism, which he features on his website.

Other than what I've learned today -- and a Guardian article by John Crace, "Michael Burleigh: The reluctant guru" (March 11, 2008), helps introduce him -- I know nothing about the man, so this is my first impression -- though I've previously come across his name in my historical researches.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Kenneth Anderson: Review of Bobbitt's Terror and Consent

Several blog entries ago, I mentioned that I was reading Philip Bobbitt's tome Terror and Consent: The Wars for the Twenty-First Century and that I would be writing more . . . eventually.

I'm not yet ready to write the definitive review, for the book is overwhelming, especially, in my case, because of my weakness in legal theory, one of the three fields from which Bobbitt draws his ideas and offers his proposals.

So, I am relying upon the words of others to shape my thinking. This morning I read a review written by Kenneth Anderson, who teaches law for the Washington College of Law at American University in Washington DC, but who is also a research fellow of the Hoover Institution, at Stanford University.

Anderson's review, "States of terror, states of consent: Philip Bobbitt's strategic transnational politics for the twenty-first century," appeared in The Times Literary Supplement on July 23, 2008. Since readers of this blog can go directly to Anderson's article if they have sufficient interest, I want to focus on just small bits of the review. Here's his summary of the book's scope and argument:
Terror and Consent . . . offers strategic thinking on an unapologetically grand scale. It is synthetic across three large fields: history, law and strategic international politics. Bobbitt is able to combine academic and real-world experience -- a Democrat by affiliation, he has served in senior positions in both law and intelligence in the Clinton and Bush senior administrations. His core insight is that transnational jihadist terrorism must be understood on the largest historical scale, and that requires understanding the shifting nature of the state and society in both the liberal democratic West and the rest of the world. For Bobbitt, jihadist transnational terrorism gets going by being able to exploit the interstices of the state system, not just on a geographical basis -- the failed state of Afghanistan, for example -- but on a historical basis, as the nature of the state moves from its incarnation in the twentieth century to something quite different in the twenty-first. Bobbitt's main point is that al-Qaeda terrorism, and what might eventually replace and transform it, cannot be understood without reference to the state system and its evolution over a long period of time. This leads Terror and Consent into a long walk through the history of the state in the West.

Narrow specialists will register many particular objections, and if one rejects in principle the notion of grand synthetic history, then one’s reaction will be positively allergic. Bobbitt outlines, as a deliberate caricature, a kind of rough historical sketch (picking up the thread of his earlier masterwork, The Shield of Achilles, reviewed in the TLS, June 21, 2002), that the "princely state" system of Europe eventually gave way to the nation-state system that gradually emerged in the nineteenth and then dominated the twentieth century. Wars of the twentieth century were wars between Westphalian nation-states . . . . [E]ven the wars of decolonialization were fought largely by parties that aspired to the status of nation-states. Since the end of the Cold War, however, liberal democratic nation-states -- what Bobbitt calls "states of consent" -- have been moving towards something different from the nation-state, which Bobbitt calls the "market-state". In the market-state, consent becomes less that of the citoyen [i.e., the citizen] and more that of the consumer, for whom the state is a supplier of services. The market-state itself bears some resemblance to a corporation, outsourcing and privatizing significant activities; it is more relaxed about its territorial sovereignty while at the same time being willing to extend its regulatory reach beyond its borders. Globalization's increased wealth is one driver of the market-state, but so is the secular (in both senses of the term) drive of individuals towards greater individual liberty. "States of consent" contrast with "states of terror" -- the end aim of the transnational, nongovernmental and, today, Islamist terrorist groups that are also able to grow in the eco-system of economic globalization and the relaxed conditions of, and among, market-states. States of terror are the evil twin of the states of consent -- parasitical upon and enabled by the states of consent, at once pre-modern and postmodern but never really modern, and hostile toward states of consent.
One might add by way of clarification Bobbitt's central distinction between a nation state and a market state. The former promises to protect and increase its citizens' material well-being, whereas the latter promises to guarantee and maximize its citizens' opportunities (cf. Bobbitt, Terror and Consent, pages 11-12).

But this distinction leads to a question that Anderson formulates as follows:
As a believer in liberty and consent, I should greatly like to share Philip Bobbitt's hopes for the market-state. It does not take a conservative to wonder, however, whether this is enough to sustain liberal democracy in the face of spiritual threats. A long tradition of what Lawrence Solum has called the "left Burkeans" -- Christopher Lasch, for example, or Zygmunt Bauman -- has argued that the market is as much socially corrosive of the values of liberal democracy as it is materially supportive. The market and democracy are both sustained by wells of social capital that stable material prosperity helps to deepen, but which are not the moral logic of the market itself.

The market of the market-state is not self-sustaining. On the contrary, it requires a form of social life that goes outside it in order to function in the long term. Honour, loyalty, sacrifice, gratitude to those who came before -- these are not the evident virtues of capitalism, but they are necessary virtues in a liberal-democratic-capitalist form of life. Without them, society eats its seedcorn, the social capital bequeathed by the past to bless the future. Even after the marvellous argumentation of this marvellous book, therefore, room remains to question whether the market-state pays sufficient attention to the spiritual habits of the heart that make the market-state -- and the willing defence of states of consent against states of terror -- over the long struggle of years in this twenty-first century even possible.
The expression "habits of the heart" is a nod to my old advisor Robert Bellah, who argues that the radical individualism of a capitalist society can undermine the values essential for a good society. Bellah's is a critique from the left, but it has some points in common with the Burkean conservative critique of capitalism in wondering if the market itself might undermine its own foundations. As Anderson puts this concern:
The logic of the market, after all, is to write off the past as past, cut losses and get out as soon as cost-benefit analysis says things are looking dim. Is that really enough? If these are indeed its market values, is the market-state sufficiently nurtured by other values to have the will to defend itself?
I guess that we'll find out.

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Monday, August 25, 2008

Coptic Gnostic Seminar: Anecdote of a Jarring Event

Not Classically Antique Mason Jars
"Anecdote of the Jar" . . . or two
(Image from Wikipedia)

In the late autumn of 1993, I was living and studying in Tübingen, Germany, and as part of that study, I attended -- along with Christoph Markschies, Michael Waldstein, Michael Theobald, Jim Kautt, Mr. Quack (unsure about that spelling), and one or two others -- a seminar conducted by Alexander Böhlig on Coptic Gnostic texts. One of these texts was The Apocryphon of John, from the Nag Hammadi Library.

Böhlig had asked me to prepare a long passage from the Apocryphon, so I read through it carefully in Coptic but only roughly sketching out in my mind German and English renderings. I figured that I could translate it readily enough into understandable German even if I were to make errors in doing so.

That didn't work out so well, as I recorded in my journal on November 12, 1993. Some of what I wrote in that entry was an attempt to reproduce the dialogue that took place in German, which I wasn't very good at, I confess. I'll post my entry in all its errors but also translate the German parts parenthetically into English:
My attempt at translating the Coptic of The Apocryphon of John directly into German failed miserably. I tried, but Professor Böhlig could not understand my German -- primarily, I think, for acoustic reasons . . . at least, now, I think so. At the time, I assumed the fault lay [entirely] in my faulty German.

I had just finished translating a clause about the entire creation lighting up -- I had used the term "ausstrahlen" (to shine) -- when Böhlig interrupted to ask me what I had done with [the Coptic expression] "o enouoeine" (as I recall). I answered that I was uncertain how one translated the qualitative here, but that the qualitative -- he interrupted again, telling me, rather brusquely, to translate it. So I repeated "Die ganze Schöpfung strahltete aus." ("The entire creation shone.")

"Strahlte" ("Shone"), he said.

I looked about the room, puzzled. "Vielleicht ist mein Deutsch falsch" ("Perhaps my German is incorrect"), I volunteered.

So Markschies inquired what I would say in English.

"The entire creation shone," I told him.

"Richtig" ("Right"), they agreed, and Waldstein suggested I continue in English.

But just to make sure, I said, "Ja, wenn niemand etwas dagegen hat." ("Yes, if no one has anything against that.")

No one objected, and so I began again, in English this time, though I had earlier prepared [if merely roughly] the whole exercise in my head in German as well as in English. I finished three lines, following each of which Böhlig impatiently translated into German. Then, after the third line, he stopped me with these words, "So, Sie haben es alles auf Englisch vorbereitet. Das geht nicht. Hier haben wir ein Seminar auf Deutsch -- Sie haben es night rightig getan. Herr Waldstein, könnten Sie übersetzen?" ("So, you have prepared it all in English. That won't do. Here, we have a seminar in German -- you have not done this correctly. Mr. Waldstein, could you translate?")

After a moment's stunned silence, he began [translating]. For a brief moment, I grew intensely angry, clenched my teeth, and fought back my urge to launch a verbal attack. But I remained angry for another five minutes -- plus I felt disappointed that no one had risen to my defense.

Later, however, I got my "revenge" -- though I remained polite (something I hope that I can always do in the face of rudeness). The end of the second hour had arrived, and we had just come across the form "ker-hote" in the BG text; Codices II and III (as I recall) had the qualitative "ko enhote," and Böhlig suggested that "ker-hote" showed an error somewhere, perhaps in the transcription from the original Coptic, explaining that the form "er," a Construct state, does not occur in the bipartite system. But, of course, he spoke German, using terms I didn't know, and it took me a few minutes to figure out his meaning. When I had it, he was already asking Herr Quack (my transliteration of his name, for which I apologize) -- an expert, one who comes to us from Egyptology -- his opinion on this odd form.

Quack said he could not say, speaking from an etymological perspective, where this came from, even assuming its validity as a form.

I had just opened my mouth to speak when Böhlig switched the focus to the next line of Coptic. I let it pass until that had been finished, then I began to speak, saying, "Wenn wir --" ("If we --")

"Wir haben keine Zeit mehr" ("We have no more time"), he announced.

I glanced at my watch, seeing that the minute hand had already moved a minute or two past 11:00, but I determined to speak anyway: "Ich habe eine Antwort für dieser Problem mit 'ker-hote'" ("I have an answer for this problem with 'ker-hote'"), I announced. "Es ist eine Ausnahme. Wenn es kein 'definite Artikel' gibt, dann kann man dieser Constuctus benutzen, in der erste Präsent." ("It is an exception. When there is no 'definite article,' then one can use this Construct form in the first present.")

For a moment, now, Böhlig grew silent. Then, "Ja . . . ja, das is möglich. Wenn es kein bestimmte Artikel gibt, dann könnte es sein . . ." ("Yes . . . yes, that is possible. When there is no definite article, then that could be . . .")

Nobody else spoke, but everybody knew that I had come out on top.
I wrote more about what then transpired, but I'll spare you and simply summarize. Professor Böhlig was much more polite after that and offered to help me with my German. Also, some of the other participants afterwards informed me that my German, while not perfect, had been passable enough, but that Böhlig simply had not been able to hear well enough to make out what I was saying. I could forgive him that, for he was over 80 years old. He probably had not heard the others give me 'permission' to switch to English.

However, I do still wonder why -- at the moment of that jarring event -- no one spoke up on my behalf. The Swiss Catholic theologian Hans Küng once remarked in his own seminar that Germans lack civic courage. I don't know if that was the reason in this case. Probably not. Most likely, the others simply felt too much respect for Böhlig to explain to him that his hearing was poor.

By the way -- just in case anyone is interested -- the grammatical point at stake in the Coptic discussion was the application of Jernstedt's Rule, which states that in Coptic, an infinitive cannot be used in the Construct form for the first present verbal conjugation. The expression "ker-hote" (from "er-hote," i.e., "to become afraid," with the second person singular pronoun "k" prefixed, thus "you become afraid") uses the infinitive in the Construct form, but this is acceptable because compound verbs are an exception to Jernstedt's Rule (unless the compound verb occurs with the definite article on the noun or if the nominal element is a part of the body, e.g., foot, hand, etc., in which case, it follows Jernstedt's Rule).

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Life's Lessons Learned

"friendship is a virtue"
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book 8
(Louvre Image from Wikipedia)

Yesterday, I alluded to religious studies as "a field in which I once worked," and some might wonder why I'm not still working in that field.

In a sense, of course, I do continue to work in religious studies; I just do it in disguise.

Thus while I may publish an article on Paradise Lost or Piers Plowman or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight or Beowulf as if I'm doing literary analysis, I'm secretly still doing religious studies but in the guise of a literary theorist.

Why the disguise? Short answer: I didn't get a job in religious studies.

Fortunately, I can do other things, and I have during my time in Korea -- teaching literature, history, political science, and even theology . . . along with grammar, conversation, and writing.

But why didn't I get a job in religious studies?

I have no adequate short answer to that. I suppose that I didn't get the right break at the right time. The job market was bad when I was just out of graduate school, and I had been doing my research in Germany for six years and not making the right connections back in the States, so even though I gave three lectures at the SBL/AAR conference in Boston in 1999 and received some attention from other scholars, I didn't have even one single interview for a job.

Around that time, but several months prior to the conference, I had applied for a position at a small but worthy college in the Ozarks and felt that I had a real chance, but the position called for someone who also could teach on women in religion. I hadn't focused on that issue in my years of study, but I had worked on a postdoctoral research program in Australia with a woman who was an expert in that field, and I had informally edited her book on women in religion, making improvements that she acknowledged at the time. Because we were friends, I assumed that she would help me by strongly supporting my application. Instead, she informed me:
"I am on principle opposed to a male teaching courses on women in religion."
That shocked me. It shouldn't have done so, I suppose, for I knew that some women held this view, but I hadn't expected my friend to think this way.

Anyway, she wrote a lukewarm letter, which in the States would be read as saying, "Don't give this guy the job" -- precisely as the letter was meant to be read.

Because of this incident, as well as some professional discourtesies on my friend's part concerning our mutual research on an area of Gnosticism, our friendship did not survive. That was hard, but one needs to outgrow one's imaginary friends.

I also learned an important lesson about life from that experience. One might suspect that the lesson learned was "Don't trust anybody!" I chose not to learn that lesson, however, which would likely have given rise to a manner of living in which I would in fact make myself unable to trust anybody . . . or for others to trust me.

I did learn to lower my expectations, of course, but the more important lesson was different. I learned to try to become more generous because too many people are not.

I could have drawn the opposite conclusion, learning to be ungenerous . . . but I didn't want to become like my former friend.

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Christoph Markschies - Gnosis: An Introduction

Gnosis: An Introduction
Christoph Markschies
(Image from

I mentioned that I finally found the time and opportunity to read Gnosis: An Introduction (London: T&T Clark Ltd., 2003), a concise little book at only 145 pages written by Christoph Markschies.

As I noted previously, Markschies and I were not well-aquainted, but we certainly knew each other after several years in Tübingen attending Martin Hengel's Friday seminars, which stretched from 8 to 12 p.m. with only a single break for sparkling apple juice and bretzels (a large German-style, soft pretzel). The first time that I heard Markschies speak, I realized -- despite my poor German -- that he was brilliant. He seemed to recall everything that he had read, could cite it to chapter and verse, and was able to evaluate its significance for some argument or other.

I asked another student about him, and she told me that Markschies was very good at reading books but less good at reading people. I don't know if that was correct, but I did note that when I once brought along to Alexander Böhlig's seminar on Gnosis an offprint of my article "Gnostic Liberation from Astrological Determinism: Hipparchan 'Trepidation' and the Breaking of Fate" (Vigiliae Christianae , Vol. 51, Nr. 4, 1997, E. J. Brill: Leiden, 359-373) and was showing it to the Austrian scholar Michael Waldstein, Markschies also looked at it and kept it for himself, apparently assuming that I was offering him that particular copy when Walstein asked Markschies if he had seen my publication. I was happy to provide him a copy, of course, for I had enough offprints for the seminar's participants, but I don't know if Markschies ever read the article, for he never mentioned it to me after that. Böhlig, for his part, requested a copy and later told me that it was "very interesting."

Well, I find Markschies's little introduction to Gnosis 'very interesting' and have very little disagreement. I had at one time read about every Gnostic text known, including ancient reports on Gnostics and even all of the Manichaean fragments -- expecting to pursue a career religious studies (but life got in the way) -- so I am satisfied that Markschies knows what he is talking about even though he acknowledges that his book is merely "a short survey . . . and not a developed argument with all the evidence, together with a critical discussion of the secondary literature" (Markschies, Gnosis, p. ix). Perhaps, however, we simply share the same prejudices.

I like that Markschies provides a typological model for his conception of Gnosis:
[B]y 'gnosis' I understand those movements which express their particular interest in the rational comprehension of the state of things by insight ('knowledge') in systems that as a rule are characterized by a particular collection of ideas or motives in the texts.
1) The experience of a completely other-worldly, distant, supreme God;

2) the introduction, which among other things is conditioned by this, of further divine figures, or the splitting up of existing figures into figures that are closer to human beings than the remote supreme 'God';

3) the estimation of the world and matter as evil creation and an experience, conditioned by this, of the alienation of the gnostic in the world;

4) the introduction of a distinct creator God or assistant: within the Platonic tradition he is called 'craftsman' -- Greek demiurgos -- and is sometimes described as merely ignorant, but sometimes also as evil;

5) the explanation of this state of affairs by a mythological drama in which a divine element that falls from its sphere into an evil world slumbers in human beings of one class as a divine spark and can be freed from this;

6) knowledge ('gnosis') about this state, which, however, can be gained only through a redeemer figure from the other world who descents from a higher sphere and ascends to it again;

7) the redemption of human beings through the knowledge of 'that God (or the spark) in them' (TestVer, NHC IX, 3, 56, 15-20), and finally

8) a tendency towards dualism in different types which can express itself in the concept of God, in the opposition of spirit and matter, and in anthropology.
This typological model, which is used as a basis here, corresponds, moreover, to the concept of 'gnosis' depicted by many ancient Christian theologians and non-Christian thinkers. (Markschies, Gnosis, pp. 16-17)
Some might consider this to be question-begging, setting up a model of Gnosis and then going forth into the ancient texts to find confirmation, but I think that what Markschies means to say is that this typological model of Gnosis expresses its most interesting complex of characteristics because these are precisely the ones that lie at the heart of whether Gnosticism as a system is pre- or post-Christian.

I agree with his assessment that Gnosticism developed from Christianity, not vice-versa.

By the way, John Bowden's translation -- or perhaps the original German -- is generally clear enough but occasionally odd. I wonder, for example, about the following remark concerning the Manichaen text Xuastvanift:
In this work, . . . unwitting sins against human beings animals, birds, fish and reptiles are addressed. (Markschies, Gnosis, p. 107)
Animals? Shouldn't that be "mammals"? People back in the Ozarks of my childhood used to say "animals" when they meant "mammals," but a scholarly translation should be more precise (or is British English different on the meaning of "animal"?).

Also, I think that the following distinction could have been better expressed:
The system of the later so-called 'Barbelo-gnostics' would thus belong, like the systems of Simon, Menander, Saturninus or Basilides, with the presuppostions of the great synthesis of the 'Valentinians', and the clear differences would be explained by a reduction and correction of the wealth of mythology.
I think that this means that the Barbelo-gnostics shared the same presuppositions as the Valentinians but had developed a far more elaborate mythological system . . . yet, I am not entirely certain. Perhaps this is less a translation oddity on Bowden's part and more an obscure manner of expression on Markschies's part.

Despite the occasional oddities of expression, the book is generally clear and accessible for the non-expert and even for the non-scholar, and I found it especially useful for refreshing my knowledge of a field in which I once worked.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

More on Mattthew Skenandore's Eve's Dream: Eat a Peach

Mattthew Skenandore
Eve's Dream: Eat a Peach (1990)
Paradise Lost Series

(Image: Courtesy of Mattthew Skenandore)

On August 12, 2008, I posted on my serendipitous encounter with the Paradise Lost art series painted by Mattthew Skenandore: Eve's Dream: Eat a Peach.

Mattthew read my blog entry and posted a couple of comments. Here's the first comment:
Thank you for posting my painting, and for the e-mail regarding Terrence Lindall. I am sending you a larger version of Eve's Dream should you care to post it. This painting is one of thirteen oils painted in 1990-91 and measures 4ft x 5 ft, illustrating John Milton's epic.
In the second comment, he added:
By the way, my thoughts on the peach were inspired the 'downy' reference and also by the idea of Eve having an auto-erotic hypnogogic fantasy (we are all adults here). The peach is the paranoid-critical image representing her genitalia feminina externa.
I'm not certain that we are all adults here, but as one can see from the image posted above, there's nothing pornographic -- or even sexually explicit -- about the painting, so I think that it's safe to post on my 'family' blog.

Eve's Dream refers primarily to Paradise Lost 5.28-95, in which Eve relates to Adam her dream of having been offered the forbidden fruit by an angelic being standing near the Tree of Knowledge:
And as I wondring lookt, beside it stood
One shap'd and wing'd like one of those from Heav'n
By us oft seen; his dewie locks distill'd
Ambrosia (PL 5.54-57)

[Thomas H. Luxon, ed. The Milton Reading Room, August 2008.]
The word "ambrosia" is here used to describe this attractive being -- who is actually Satan disguised as a angel of light -- and it has the effect of identifying the tempting angel with the fruit itself, for in Paradise Lost 9.850-852, which is also where Skenandore encountered the "downy" reference, we find the fruit's odor ambrosial:
. . . in her hand
A bough of fairest fruit that downie smil'd,
New gatherd, and ambrosial smell diffus'd. (PL 9.850-852)

[Thomas H. Luxon, ed. The Milton Reading Room, August 2008.]
Since Eve has already partly confused Satan's voice in the dream with the voice of her husband, Adam (PL 5.35-48), we can understand that Skenandore has reason for portraying Eve's tempting dream as an erotic one. As Robert Appelbaum has shown in his article "Eve's and Adam's "Apple": Horticulture, Taste, and the Flesh of the Forbidden Fruit in Paradise Lost" (Milton Quarterly, Volume 36, Issue 4, pages 221-239), Medieval and Renaissance art often portrayed the eating of the forbidden fruit as equivalent to a sexual seduction, so Skenandore is in good company in his aesthetic rendering of Eve's dream.

In my response to Skenandore's comments, I remarked:
Concerning "downy," by the way, you and Appelbaum seem to have responded to the same line in Milton.
In an email to me, Skenandore sent the image that I've posted above -- previously posted, but larger here -- and explained:
The painting Eve's dream I interpreted as Eve being seduced by Lucifer and the use of hallucinogenic fruit to show her flight etc.
Milton also seems to attribute some sort of mind-altering power to the forbidden fruit, for he describes Eve and Adam after eating it as though they were high on wine (cf. PL 9.792-793, 1007-1009).

Just for the record, for those interested in this Paradise Lost series, in his email, Skenandore added:
It was a fascinating project and some of the paintings were more or less successful nterpretations of Milton's epic. I used the pregnancy of my wife and the birth of our son to sort of inform the paintings. Using the process as metaphor that is heaven within the womb . . . the lamentation of Eve as birth and so on.
Like Wordsworth, then, perhaps Skenandore sees birth as "a sleep and a forgetting" -- a fall, if you will.

But I'll leave that to the art critics to determine.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Back from Soraksan Nature Preserve

Daechongbong Peak (대청봉), Soraksan (설악산)
Taebaek Mountain Range (태백산맥)
(Image from Wikipedia)

My wife's 'prediction' turned out correct. I did NOT blog during vacation.

Nevertheless, I had a good time, and have photographs to prove it . . . eventually. For the nonce, satisfy yourself with an official image from Wikipedia's collection. This one's of Daechongbong Peak (대청봉), which at 5,603 feet (1,708 meters) towers more than a mile above sea level. That might not sound like much, but it rises from a low altitude, for nearby lies the coast of the East Sea (i.e., Sea of Japan).

I also managed to read the very short book Gnosis: An Introduction, by Christoph Markschies, a man whom I knew during my time at Tübingen. I can't say that I knew him well, but we attended Martin Hengel's Friday evening seminar on Judaism and early Christianity for about four years together and also took part in a couple of seminars on Gnosticism under Alexander Böhlig. I'll have more to say about these things in the next few days.

For now, though, I have more than 70 emails to drudge through.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Heading for Soraksan Nature Preserve

Ulsanbawi Peak
Soraksan Nature Preserve
(Image from Wikipedia)

I'll be away with my family until Thursday, vacationing on the eastern coast of Korea at Soraksan Nature Preserve, which boasts the highest point in the Taebaek Mountain Range, the 'famous' Daechongbong Peak (대청봉), which rises to 1,708 metres (5,603 feet) and thereby makes for the third-highest point in South Korea and -- by the way -- 1,564 feet higher than the towering Mt. Sunflower of Kansas!

My wife insists that I won't be doing any blogging from there. I'm not sure how she knows that, but she's sometimes right about the things that I can't do. Like when I can't have that third beer. She's sometimes right about that. It's a mysterious thing, how she can be right, but that third beer will sometimes return to the fridge. I don't fully understand this predictive power that she has, and I often suspect that she's not so much 'predicting' as actually . . . well, this sounds odd, but as actually determining the future. It's a little scary.

While I'm away from blogging (should my wife be correct again), I'm concerned that Uncle Cran will have nothing to occupy himself, and as we all know from experience, the Devil makes work for idle hands. In my uncle's own words from an early email this morning:
With the cooler weather, the daylight hours shorter, and shadows longer, the feeling of fall is in the air. We still have a lot of hummingbirds here on Hummingbird Lane, they will start heading south in a couple of weeks.

Last week our first golden orb spider built her nest by our back patio. Her tiny potential boyfriend was carefully trying to approach her. I think he suffers the same fate as the black widow male if he makes a false move. I sometimes catch a small grasshopper and put it on the nest to watch the action. She has poor eyesight, and just waits patiently until the hopper wiggles, places her feelers on different strands, locates the victim, checks him with her feelers, determines whether predator or lunch, then shoots out webbing, takes her hind legs and flings the webbing on din-din, wraps him up, and keeps adding more webbing as she spins him around and around, then and only then does she do the fatal bite and inject the venom. Then she goes back and rests as the venom dissolves the insides of the hopper. Later, she leisurely inserts her feeding tubes and dines sumptiously (or as I do at mealtimes, downs a bellyfull).

You can see a person's idea of a pastime changes with old age. I still read and work the crossword puzzle, so I have other interests beside spider watching.
I'm surprised to learn that Uncle Cran also downs a bellyful of 'grasshopper', for Ozark hillbillies don't generally do that, but I've seen fried grasshoppers in various places, and here in Korea, people even 'enjoy' silkworm larvae. I can't quite work up the nerve to try those.

At least I'm not yet idle, unlike Uncle Cran, and therefore undergo no temptation to toy with spiders and their prey. Saint Augustine warned about such dangers posed by that sort of curiosity:
Nevertheless, in how many most minute and contemptible things is our curiosity daily tempted, and who can number how often we succumb? How often, when people are narrating idle tales, do we begin by tolerating them, lest we should give offence unto the weak; and then gradually we listen willingly! I do not now-a-days go to the circus to see a dog chasing a hare; but if by chance I pass such a coursing in the fields, it possibly distracts me even from some serious thought, and draws me after it,—not that I turn the body of my beast aside, but the inclination of my mind. And except Thou, by demonstrating to me my weakness, dost speedily warn me, either through the sight itself, by some reflection to rise to Thee, or wholly to despise and pass it by, I, vain one, am absorbed by it. How is it, when sitting at home, a lizard catching flies, or a spider entangling them as they rush into her nets, oftentimes arrests me? Is the feeling of curiosity not the same because these are such tiny creatures? From them I proceed to praise Thee, the wonderful Creator and Disposer of all things; but it is not this that first attracts my attention. It is one thing to get up quickly, and another not to fall, and of such things is my life full; and my only hope is in Thy exceeding great mercy. For when this heart of ours is made the receptacle of such things, and bears crowds of this abounding vanity, then are our prayers often interrupted and disturbed thereby; and whilst in Thy presence we direct the voice of our heart to Thine ears, this so great a matter is broken off by the influx of I know not what idle thoughts. (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I, Volume I, Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, Book X, Chapter 35, Paragraph 57)
Such are the dangers posed to the souls of the curious. Take care, Uncle Cran, in my absence. Guard your thoughts and actions carefully.

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Terrance Lindall and the Upcoming Milton Bash

John Milton (Engraving, 1741)
(Image Courtesy of Terrance Lindall, WAHCenter)

I seem to be receiving a lot of Milton-related emails these days. Yesterday saw the actor and performance artist John Basinger contacting me about my blog on his Milton recitation, and today sees the surrealist artist and WAHCenter director Terrance Lindall contacting me about his upcoming Milton celebration.
Hi Jeffery:

Yes, I follow your blogs and Matthew is a very interesting artist.
That would be the artist Mattthew Skenandore, whose Paradise Lost work I noted a few blogdays ago.
Things are going well for the Paradise Lost event. Everything is together. Now if I can only sell tickets!
This, of course, refers to the upcoming Milton celebration at the WAHCenter, which I've previously blogged about.
I did exchange emails with Prof. Fallon. He may be able to come next year to my annual PL event and talk. I appreciate his thesis, "Milton is NOT a religious writer." He is expounding at the University of Queensland in August 2008. If you are in the USA in May 2009, get in touch. I expect to have a few scholars on hand for the program.

I notice that Prof. Rumrich is lecturing "down under" too.
Professors Fallon and Rumrich are two of the three scholars (the third being William Kerrigan) who have edited a recently published book, The Complete Poetry and Essential Prose of John Milton, that has an illustration from Lindall's Paradise Lost series on its cover. Fallon and Rumrich are, apparently, lecturing in Australia this month. The annual Paradise Lost event that Lindall refers to is a yearly gathering at the WAHCenter of Milton experts and others who give talks on themes related to Milton. Lindall is graciously extending me an invitation because he's under the illusion that I actually have some expertise on Milton. I suspect that he'd be exceedingly disappointed if I actually did show up, for I'd likely manage to reveal little more about Milton than my own stark ineptitude as a putative Milton expert.
Attached is my 6 X 9 postcard which has just been printed. I credited you along with other scholars and institutions who have endorsed my work on bringing Milton into contemporary public life. When I get a chance I have to do my own writing on Milton. If the Midwestern College that expressed interest in my project takes up the cause, I will do so.
Lindall -- for those new to these posts on him and his work -- is not only an artist and art director but also an intellectual who has done doctoral work in philosophy. I'm not sure if he's considering finishing a doctoral thesis or simply pursuing some research interests on Milton.

The postcard referred to is a PDF attachment, so I cannot post it here, but the portrait referred to next is reproduced above:
I just acquired a beautiful portrait of Milton: Collection of the Right Honorable Arthur Onslow. Speaker of the House of Commonses. Impensis I.& P. Knapton Londini. 1741. Engraved in Amsterdam, 1741 Houbraken.
After which, Lindall closes:
All Hail Milton!!!

Yours Truly,

Terrance Lindall
I can honestly say that when I started this little blog -- and it remains a minor one in the blogosphere -- I never expected my posts to get attention from such interesting and prominent people as Terrance Lindall or John Basinger.

Blogging does have its rewards.

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

John Basinger's Paradise Lost Performance: Preliminary Remarks

John Basinger
"Paradise Lost Performance"

Nearly three years ago, a new semester had begun, and I was teaching a graduate course on Paradise Lost at Korea University but lamenting my students' lack of enthusiasm for reading the entire, long, complex, slow-moving epic, so I searched for innovative approaches and came across John Basinger's website, which reassured me that students would find the results worth their time, and I wrote:
The good new is that Milton takes his time because he's got a great story to tell.

Actor John Basinger knows this and has taken the effort not just to read the poem but to memorize and perform it.In December 2001, he gave a 3-day, one-man performance of all twelve books at Three Rivers Community College. He plans to give another performance of all twelve books on December 9, 2008, the 400th anniversary of Milton's birth. Meanwhile, anyone interested in tapes or discs of his 2001 performance can contact him by email:

I would bet that his performance justifies the effort.
Recently, that performance from 2001 was made available on DVD, so I ordered it and began listening. Unfortunately, technical flaws in the third disk interrupted my viewing pleasure, so I couldn't watch Basinger's performance of books 10 through 12.

I reported the problem and have since received a replacement, and I intend to blog about the entire performance once I've had the opportunity to finish watching it. That might not happen for a couple of weeks, for the Olympics are on this week -- taking up my television time as Sun-Ae and the kids watch South Korea's athletic efforts -- and we take a short vacation next week.

Meanwhile, Mr. Basinger has discovered my blog entry, and he sent me an email:
Dear Jeffery,

I just found your Sep 7, 2005 reference to my PL efforts. I hope your kind hopes have been born out by your viewing.


J. Basinger
At first, I wasn't sure if he meant my blog . . . or if he were referring to having just discovered the email that I'd sent three years ago when I made my original inquiry about his project and had asked him about possible tapes or disks, so I inquired:
Dear John,

Are you referring to one of my Gypsy Scholar blog entries? Or -- more likely -- to an email that I sent earlier?

Either way, the answer is yes, I am quite happy with what I've seen so far. The replacement for the flawed third DVD has arrived, so I should be able to view Books 10 through 12 soon.

It's an impressive achievement -- not just the commitment to memory but also the performance. I hope that you're getting the attention that you deserve this four-hundred-year anniversary of Milton's birth. Do you have something big planned for the actual birthday?

Anyway, I intend to blog on the DVDs after I've seen the entire performance.

Best Regards,

Jeffery Hodges
Mr. Basinger replied:
Dear Jeffery,

To a Gypsy Scholar blog. Sep 7, '05. My first visit to a great site. While aware of your specialty, I love the breadth of your interests. I have a good friend who washed up here in Middletown, CT a decade or so ago who also qualifies as a polymath, Roy Lisker. He would repay a google glance. His main web-effort is his magazine, Ferment. I hope the new DVD works okay.

One other tangential point of interest. My wife and her two sisters were born in Arkansas, in a very little town called Ravenden. The family removed to Brookings, SD when she was 5. But whenever the sisters get together, the years fall away and the accent delightfully reasserts itself.

You see, there's always an Arkansas connection! I've been through Ravenden countless times, for it's situated in the Ozarks on the highway between Hardy and Black Rock (and I even attended church camp at the nearby Ravenden Springs). In fact, my brother drove me and my family through Ravenden on our way to Memphis last February at the end of our Ozark vacation.

As for Roy Lisker and his Ferment Magazine, I've taken a look, and Dr. Lisker certainly does appear to qualify as a polymath . . . unlike me, despite Mr. Basinger's impression.

Anyway, take the time to vist Mr. Basinger's website, Paradise Lost Performances, where you can get a foretaste of the entire Paradise Lost feast.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Calling all scholars...

Answer to Deva's Woes?
(Photo at TBDEC, Courtesy of Kirby C. Stafford III, CAES)

Readers will recall from a recent post on "Mental waves upon awaking from long stupor" that my old Ozark friend Deva Hupaylo is currently struggling with a Lyme disease infection, the awful ticks that are responsible, and the old question that these things raise as to the meaning of life.

Knowing from experience that I'm useless on the first and third questions, Deva has turned to me for advice only on the second question, one that I'm eminently qualified to answer due to my 4H project in entomology -- in which I placed second at the 4H state contest two years in a row! Technically, of course, I'm qualified only to help in fighting insects, a category to which ticks don't belong, but I try to have some knowledge of adjoining fields.

Anyway, here's Deva's specific inquiry:
My German friend pointed me to this wasp that parasitizes ticks. Do you . . . know any good sources of info about these . . . or how to buy some? I can't find much, even though wiki says it has been researched extensively. I think they would be quieter than the Guinea fowl.
Wasps! Why, those are insects, so maybe I can use my expertise to help after all! Of course, professional help like mine doesn't come cheap, so the filthy lucre annoyance may exceed the fowl Guinea noise.

The wasp that Deva refers to is the "Chalcid wasp Ixodiphagus hookeri," which "lays its eggs into ticks" by utilizing "a symbiotic virus to weaken the tick's immune system," or so says the Wikipedia entry that Deva has linked to.

The entry adds that "[b]ecause of the importance of I. hookeri as a natural enemy of ticks, it has been extensively researched," but as Deva points out, Wikipedia has little more to say on the topic.

I'll try to help, of course -- else what are friends for? Currently, I'm searching through Aristotle's works on 'animals':
History of Animals (Historia Animalium)
Parts of Animals (De Partibus Animalium)
Movement of Animals (De Motu Animalium)
Progression of Animals (De Incessu Animalium)
Generation of Animals (De Generatione Animalium)
Thus far, I've found nothing on the Ixodiphagus hookeri, but I'll keep looking. Meanwhile, any other scholars who might be interested in this query are welcome to search through other Ancient and Medieval texts and report back here.

Fear not, dear Deva, scholarly assistance is on its long and wearisome way.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Milton's 'Apple' of Discord?

Peter Paul Rubens, The Judgement of Paris, ca 1636
No wonder there was discord!
(Image from Wikipedia)

Because today is a very busy one for me, I'll just post a remark by John Leonard, which I've lifted from his edition of Paradise Lost (Penguin Classics, 2003), for it contains Milton's oblique allusion to an 'apple':
[Milton] likens Eve to 'the fairest goddess feigned / Of three that in Mount Ida naked strove' (v 381-2). This refers to the beauty contest in which Juno, Minerva and Venus strove naked for the apple of discord. Paris awarded Venus the apple and so precipitated Troy's fall. Eve too will win an apple and bring about a fall. The simile is ominous. (Leonard, "Introduction," Paradise Lost, page xiii)
This "apple of discord," or malum discordiae (and note the pun on "evil of discord"), was probably not what we mean by "apple," for the Latin "malus" -- as we've already seen, and like the earlier use of the English word "apple" -- could mean practically any fruit.

Of course, since Milton is alluding to the malum discordiae, his own understanding of the expression would be useful to know. He does, at least once in his writings, use the expression "apple of discord." In Considerations Touching the Likeliest Means to Remove Hirelings Out of the Church, Milton refers figuratively to "an apple of discord in the church," but this says little to nothing about his view of the original affair.

As for figurative uses of malum discordiae, the scholar Eugene Stock McCartney states that the expression malum discordiae was "used figuratively by Justinus," and he gives a number of citations: "Justinus, xii, 15, 11. 2 Dial. Mar. 5; Dial. Deor. 20, 7. Cf. Hyg. Fab. 92; Tzetzes on Lycophron, 93; Myth. Vat. I, 208; II, 205" (Eugene Stock McCartney, "How the Apple Became the Token of Love," Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Vol. 56, (1925), pp. 70-81). I'll need to figure out these references on my own later, but readers can have them for homework.

That's enough to chew on for today.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Andrew Marvell's "curious peaches"

Andrew Marvell
'far from a garden, standing still'
(Image from Wikipedia)

John Milton's friend and fellow poet Andrew Marvell refers -- perhaps somewhat elliptically -- to "curious peaches" in stanza five of his poem The Garden. Let's take a look at this poem:
The Garden
How vainly men themselves amaze
To win the palm, the oak, or bays,
And their uncessant labors see
Crowned from some single herb or tree,
Whose short and narrow-vergèd shade
Does prudently their toils upbraid;
While all the flowers and trees do close
To weave the garlands of repose.

Fair Quiet, have I found thee here,
And Innocence, thy sister dear!
Mistaken long, I sought you then
In busy companies of men:
Your sacred plants, if here below,
Only among the plants will grow;
Society is all but rude,
To this delicious solitude.

No white nor red was ever seen
So amorous as this lovely green;
Fond lovers, cruel as their flame,
Cut in these trees their mistress' name.
Little, alas, they know or heed,
How far these beauties hers exceed!
Fair trees! wheresoe'er your barks I wound
No name shall but your own be found.

When we have run our passion's heat,
Love hither makes his best retreat:
The gods who mortal beauty chase,
Still in a tree did end their race.
Apollo hunted Daphne so,
Only that she might laurel grow,
And Pan did after Syrinx speed,
Not as a nymph, but for a reed.

What wondrous life is this I lead!
Ripe apples drop about my head;
The luscious clusters of the vine
Upon my mouth do crush their wine;
The nectarine and curious peach
Into my hands themselves do reach;
Stumbling on melons as I pass,
Insnared with flowers, I fall on grass.

Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,
Withdraws into its happiness:
The mind, that ocean where each kind
Does straight its own resemblance find;
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other seas;
Annihilating all that's made
To a green thought in a green shade.

Here at the fountain's sliding foot,
Or at some fruit-tree's mossy root,
Casting the body's vest aside,
My soul into the boughs does glide:
There like a bird it sits and sings,
Then whets and combs its silver wings;
And, till prepared for longer flight,
Waves in its plumes the various light.

Such was that happy garden-state,
While man there walked without a mate:
After a place so pure and sweet,
What other help could yet be meet!
But 'twas beyond a mortal's share
To wander solitary there:
Two paradises 'twere in one
To live in Paradise alone.

How well the skillful gardener drew
Of flowers and herbs this dial new;
Where from above the milder sun
Does through a fragrant zodiac run;
And, as it works, the industrious bee
Computes its time as well as we.
How could such sweet and wholesome hours
Be reckoned but with herbs and flowers!
The scholar Andrew Monnickendam (or Andrew Monnickendam Findlay?), professor of English Literature at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, writes on this poem in "Fallen Fruit, Fallen Men and a Fallen State: images in Marvell's Pastoral Poetry" (SEDERI: yearbook of the Spanish and Portuguese Society for English Renaissance Studies, Number 2, 1992, pages. 181-192), and he calls attention to stanza five, so let's focus on it as well:
What wondrous life is this I lead!
Ripe apples drop about my head;
The luscious clusters of the vine
Upon my mouth do crush their wine;
The nectarine and curious peach
Into my hands themselves do reach;
Stumbling on melons as I pass,
Insnared with flowers, I fall on grass.
The emphasis upon falling in a garden might lead the reader to thoughts of sin -- not sinful thoughts but of the sin original. As a skeptical Monnickendam shows, William Empson did so in Some Versions of Pastoral (only to be challenged by John Carey in Andrew Marvell):
Such readings must first consider the bizarre battle of the books over the fruity fifth stanza. William Empson started it all off:
Melon, again, is the Greek for apple. (Empson, 1935: 132)
More was to come:
Although it has been more than once noted that 'melon [sic. 'melon'] of Marvell's fifth stanza is derived from the Greek 'malum' meaning 'apple', it is doubtful that there has been any comment on the noun 'peach', which, elliptical for 'Persicum malum', Persian apple, is another reference to the apple of Eden. The apple, named four times in the stanza, since the nectarine is 'a variety of the common peach', is the evil fruit of the Garden of Eden which drops upon the poet's head and causes him, ensnared in the flowers of pleasure, to fall". [sic. to fall.] (ed. Carey, 1969: 247-8)
In other words, out of melons, peaches, nectarines, apples and grapes, only grapes are not apples. If this is beginning to appear nonsensical, we might be relieved to hear that
... the apple is not 'named' four times in the stanza. The apple is named once, the peach once the nectarine once, and the melon once. It may be that Marvell was aware of etymological reflections among the words and intended his readers to be aware of them. I think it pretty. unlikely. (ed. Carey, 1969: 238 [sic. 248?])
Although it might be received as a return to common sense, this comment does not take us any nearer to understanding the significance of the fruity items, nor does it consider the perplexing question of apple madness. What pithy subtext can be found at an apple's core? Apples can hardly universalise fruit simply because apples are not an exotic fruit for a northern European, whereas peaches, grapes, melons and nectarines belong to that catalogue of southern pleasures that the nightingale's song evoked for Keats. Furthermore, for people with dental problems, apples could be painfully associated with bleeding gums and pain, whereas peaches are soft, yielding and pleasurable. It is perfectly true that a peach is a Persian apple and that nectarine is a kind of peach; is also true, and equally useful to remember, that melon is an anagram of lemon. ("Fallen Fruit, Fallen Men and a Fallen State: images in Marvell's Pastoral Poetry," page 196)
Although I disagree that apples cannot universalize fruit -- for as we've previously seen, "apple" in the 17th century could still mean "fruit in general" -- I nevertheless agree with Monnickendam (who agrees, albeit obliquely, with Carey) on Marvell's poem. Marvell is not drawing attention to the forbidden fruit in stanza five of The Garden.

Granted, we might be tempted by the "curious peach" to think of Eve's curiosity for knowledge, yet there is no Eve in this garden, as stanza eight makes clear:
Such was that happy garden-state,
While man there walked without a mate:
After a place so pure and sweet,
What other help could yet be meet!
But 'twas beyond a mortal's share
To wander solitary there:
Two paradises 'twere in one
To live in Paradise alone.
Minus Eve, the poet as a solitary Adam is in no danger of falling from his blessed state, and the fruit itself does not appear forbidden:
The nectarine and curious peach
Into my hands themselves do reach
My only second thought about my ready agreement with Monnickendam lies in the possibility that Marvell intends to suggest that no fruit was forbidden to Adam prior to Eve's appearance. To suggest this, however, Marvell would have to be reading Genesis in a very heterodox manner, for Genesis 2.15-22 places the restriction upon Adam alone first, just prior to the depiction of Eve being formed from Adam's rib.

Of course, one might argue that the entire poem should be read ironically, that the poet is already a fallen man only imagining a paradise alone, still blaming Eve even while gorging himself on the forbidden 'apple' and falling in the grass.

Maybe. Maybe not.

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