Thursday, December 31, 2009

Milton's Eden: "There is a season"?

(Image from Wikipedia)

Yesterday, I noted that Milton seems to give Adam and Eve a prelapsarian understanding of the seasons that will characterize only the postlapsarian world, so let us turn unto the seasons that occur throughout Paradise Lost.

I've gone through the text looking for the term "season" in both singular and plural, and I've gathered below the occurrences other than those noted yesterday (though I might have missed some, I suppose). My purpose is not yet to analyze in much depth but to merely record with a few observations.

First, in Eve's rather too-submissive words to Adam:
To whom thus Eve with perfet beauty adornd.
My Author and Disposer, what thou bidst
Unargu'd I obey; so God ordains,
God is thy Law, thou mine: to know no more
Is womans happiest knowledge and her praise.
With thee conversing I forget all time,
All seasons and thir change, all please alike. (PL 4.634-640)
Note that Eve refers to "All seasons and thir change," though there were none and was no seasonal change in prelapsarian Eden.

Next, after the rebuking words of Abdiel to Satan:
So spake the fervent Angel, but his zeale
None seconded, as out of season judg'd . . . . (PL 5.850)
This reference could be figurative, but without seasons (for surely none in heaven!), what is the reference? Perhaps this reflects solely the narrator's postlapsarian understanding.

Now in God's creative act, among the Lord's own words:
Again th' Almightie spake: Let there be Lights
High in th' expanse of Heaven to divide
The Day from Night; and let them be for Signes,
For Seasons, and for Dayes, and circling Years,
And let them be for Lights as I ordaine
Thir Office in the Firmament of Heav'n
To give Light on the Earth; and it was so. (PL 7.339-345)
Is the Lord pre-arranging the Fall? Stated as a purpose for the "Lights / High in th' expanse of Heaven" is to "be for Signes, / For Seasons." Or is the meaning that celestial seasons pass even though no earthly changes from spring to winter take place?

More divine creativity:
Mean while the tepid Caves, and Fens and shoares
Thir Brood as numerous hatch, from the Egg that soon
Bursting with kindly rupture forth disclos'd
Thir callow young, but featherd soon and fledge
They summ'd thir Penns, and soaring th' air sublime
With clang despis'd the ground, under a cloud
In prospect; there the Eagle and the Stork
On Cliffs and Cedar tops thir Eyries build:
Part loosly wing the Region, part more wise
In common, rang'd in figure wedge thir way,
Intelligent of seasons, and set forth
Thir Aierie Caravan high over Sea's
Flying, and over Lands with mutual wing
Easing thir flight; (PL 7.417-430)
What is meant by the birds being "Intelligent of seasons" in a prelapsarian world where such 'intelligence' is unnecessary? Does the narrator mean that the birds are aware of the sun's annual passage along the celestial equator (not yet an ecliptic) even though this has no practical significance? Or are they given knowledge that they will soon enough require?

And in a many-worlds hypothesis:
Witness this new-made World, another Heav'n
From Heaven Gate not farr, founded in view
On the cleer Hyaline, the Glassie Sea;
Of amplitude almost immense, with Starr's
Numerous, and every Starr perhaps a World
Of destind habitation; but thou know'st
Thir seasons: among these the seat of men,
Earth with her nether Ocean circumfus'd,
Thir pleasant dwelling place. (PL 7.617-625)
Other worlds with their own seasons? God only knows!

But asking questions is okay:
To ask or search I blame thee not, for Heav'n
Is as the Book of God before thee set,
Wherein to read his wondrous Works, and learne
His Seasons, Hours, or Dayes, or Months, or Yeares:
This to attain, whether Heav'n move or Earth,
Imports not, if thou reck'n right, the rest
From Man or Angel the great Architect
Did wisely to conceal, and not divulge
His secrets to be scann'd by them who ought
Rather admire; (PL 8.66-75)
Read from the book of nature, written by God, and "learne / His Seasons," whatever that might import.

But the great lapse grows near on the morning of the great temptation:
Now when as sacred Light began to dawne
In Eden on the humid Flours, that breathd
Thir morning incense, when all things that breath,
From th' Earths great Altar send up silent praise
To the Creator, and his Nostrils fill
With grateful Smell, forth came the human pair
And joind thir vocal Worship to the Quire
Of Creatures wanting voice, that done, partake
The season, prime for sweetest Sents and Aires:
Then commune how that day they best may ply
Thir growing work: for much thir work outgrew
The hands dispatch of two Gardning so wide. (PL 9.192-203)
All living things rise to "partake / The season"? Perhaps of 'eternal' springtime?

But things are soon fallen enough, and seasons begin to make sense:
How much more, if we pray him, will his ear
Be open, and his heart to pitie incline,
And teach us further by what means to shun
Th' inclement Seasons, Rain, Ice, Hail and Snow,
Which now the Skie with various Face begins
To shew us in this Mountain, while the Winds
Blow moist and keen, shattering the graceful locks
Of these fair spreading Trees; (PL 10.1060-1067)
Now, with the "inclement Seasons," the turning world begins to make sense.

The word "season" now fits, in the Archangel Michael's words to Adam:
. . . go, waken Eve;
Her also I with gentle Dreams have calm'd
Portending good, and all her spirits compos'd
To meek submission: thou at season fit
Let her with thee partake what thou hast heard,
Chiefly what may concern her Faith to know,
The great deliverance by her Seed to come
(For by the Womans Seed) on all Mankind. (PL 12.594-601)

[Thomas H. Luxon, ed. The Milton Reading Room, December 2009]
The metaphorical "season fit" now has a practical referent.

Speaking of fit seasons, as the year itself now turns toward 2010, think on the stone-gathered words of Kohelet:
"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven."
Go then to You Tube and listen to The Byrds sing their version of "Turn! Turn! Turn!"

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Milton's Prelapsarian Seasons?

The Four Seasons
(Image from Wikipedia)

In Book 5 of John Milton's Paradise Lost, the angel Raphael descends from heaven to warn Adam and Eve to beware of the fallen angel Satan, who intends to do them evil if he can. As Raphael initially approaches the first couple's bower, Adam spies him coming and calls out to Eve to prepare for an arriving guest a table of fruits for noontime refreshment. We are told of Eve's response to Adam's words:
To whom thus Eve. Adam, earths hallowd mould,
Of God inspir'd, small store will serve, where store,
All seasons, ripe for use hangs on the stalk;
Save what by frugal storing firmness gains
To nourish, and superfluous moist consumes . . . . (
PL 5.321-325)
Eve replies by reminding Adam that everything needed for the midday meal is amply supplied, for the ripened fruits of all seasons hangs ripe on stalks, except for what is improved by plucking and storing. Later in the same book, the narrator describes Eve's table, laden with fruits:
. . . Rais'd of grassie terf
Thir Table was, and mossie seats had round,
And on her ample Square from side to side
All Autumn pil'd, though Spring and Autumn here
Danc'd hand in hand. (
PL 5.391-395)
Here, we learn that autumn's fruits were piled upon the table. But what 'seasons' were being referred to earlier by Eve, and what 'spring' and 'autumn' are here being referred to by the narrator, for the earth had no actual seasons until Book 10, where God commands the angels to alter creation so as to produce the four seasons as part of the punishment for the original sin of Adam and Eve:
Some say he bid his Angels turne ascanse
The Poles of Earth twice ten degrees and more
From the Suns Axle; they with labour push'd
Oblique the Centric Globe: Som say the Sun
Was bid turn Reines from th' Equinoctial Rode
Like distant breadth to Taurus with the Seav'n
Atlantick Sisters, and the Spartan Twins
Up to the Tropic Crab; thence down amaine
By Leo and the Virgin and the Scales,
As deep as Capricorne, to bring in change
Of Seasons to each Clime; else had the Spring
Perpetual smil'd on Earth with vernant Flours,
Equal in Days and Nights . . . . (
PL 10.668-680)

[Thomas H. Luxon, ed. The Milton Reading Room, December 2008]
Only now does the shifted celestial pole -- or perhaps the sun's altered orbit -- "bring in change / Of Seasons to each Clime" through the course of the year, so what is meant by the prelapsarian references to seasons? The narrator, being of postlapsarian times, could be speaking figuratively, having greater knowledge of such things, but how would Eve know anything of seasons?

Perhaps I'll look further into this point.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Marginal Controversies: Between Islam and Christianity

Islamo-Christians? Christo-Muslims?
(Image from Christianity Today)

An intriguing missiological discussion taking place within Evangelical Christianity broke open in the pages of Christianity Today's "Global Conversation" section a couple of weeks ago (follow the link and scroll down the righthand side), the debatable issue being how closely a Muslim-Background Christian (MMB) could identify with Islam and still be considered "Christian."

Joseph Cumming opens the discussion in his article "Muslim Followers of Jesus?" by identifying six categories of MMBs:
C1: MBBs in churches radically different from their own culture, where worship is in a language other than their mother tongue.

C2: Same as C1, but worship is in the MBBs' mother tongue.

C3: MBBs in culturally indigenous Christian churches that avoid cultural forms seen as "Islamic."

C4: MBBs in culturally indigenous congregations that retain biblically permissible Islamic forms (e.g., prostrating in prayer), investing these with biblical meaning. They may call themselves something other than Christians (e.g., "followers of Jesus"), but do not see themselves as Muslims.

C5: Muslims who follow Jesus as Lord and Savior in fellowships of like-minded believers within the Muslim community, continuing to identify culturally and officially as Muslims.

C6: Secret/underground believers.
As Cumming notes, the serious debate is between C4 and C5 (and note that C6 is off the continuum, for individuals within C6 could take any of the C1 through C5 positions). Cumming empathizes with C5 individuals, noting the case of a certain 'Ibrahim':
C5 believers like Ibrahim challenge assumptions about what it means to be Muslim or Christian. We all have more than one identity and community. For example, most American Christians assume one can be both a patriotic American (loyal to that community) and a faithful Christian, though they may disagree with some things their fellow-Americans do or teach. Believers like Ibrahim seek to be both authentic Muslims (loyal to the community of their birth) and faithful disciples of Jesus, critically evaluating what their fellow-Muslims do and teach in light of the teachings of Christ -- sometimes accepting, sometimes reinterpreting, sometimes disagreeing. Do such disagreements require American believers to repudiate American identity and community, or require C5 believers to repudiate the Muslim community and their Muslim identity? How can believers best be "critically loyal" to the community of their birth and to their family heritage, respectfully critiquing what is unscriptural, while upholding God’s Commandment to "Honor your father and mother"?
Christian critics of this particular C5 argument would probably cite the words of Jesus in Luke 14:26:
If any [man] come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
Whether this is a valid retort to the C5 argument is merely for me to note, not to decide. Similarly, from the Muslim perspective, an objection to the C5 individuals -- who are "critically evaluating what their fellow-Muslims do and teach in light of the teachings of Christ" -- might be that Islam does not leave room for personal interpretation on such crucial issues, for Islam is a religion of laws that enforce particular beliefs, and if the consensus of Muslim scholars has agreed that belief in the 'deity' of Christ constitutes polytheism (shirk), then the individual has no freedom on this point. Those who would defend the C5 position are presupposing a sort of 'Protestant' Islam.

The debate over the C5 position isn't new. In "God Is Doing Something New," John Travis notes that the C5 issue has been around since at least the 1930s:
While the term C5 is relatively new, the basic concept is not. It was described in the late 1930s by missionaries working in the Middle East. Their reports mentioned that the term "Christian" in many Muslim lands had only an ethnic, political, or cultural association that was largely negative, with no implications of a spiritual rebirth. In addition, they noted that numbers of Muslims had become followers of Jesus Christ, yet refused to separate from the Islamic community, so that they could continue to live with their people and share their new life in Christ. In Lebanon in 1969, Baptist missionary Virginia Cobb emphasized that we are saved by Christ, not "religion." Cobb stated, "We are not trying to change anyone's religion. Religion consists of affiliation with a group . . . [a] dogma, structure of authority. . . . [T]he New Testament is quite clear that none of this saves. It is possible to change all of them without knowing God . . . our message is a person we've experienced, not a doctrine, system, [or] religion . . . ." In the following decade, mission leader John Anderson (1976) and missiologists Charles Kraft (1974, 1979) and Harvey Conn (1979) all encouraged the idea of groups of Muslim followers of Christ who would be salt and light to their own people. Each of these writings has engendered both enthusiasm and criticism.

What these missionaries described is exemplified in the life of Ibrahim, the Qur'anic scholar mentioned by Cumming. Ibrahim closely examined verses commonly understood to deny Christ and the Bible, and found alternate interpretations in line with the Bible. He concluded that he could follow Jesus and remain inside the religious community of his birth. Soon members of his family and community came to share his faith in Jesus. While many Muslims would not take the bold step to reinterpret aspects of Islam for themselves, some do.
Again, this seems to presuppose that 'Ibrahim' has the right to interpret the Qur'an privately, a point already addressed above. But I'd also expect Christian critics to note that if the C5 position has been around since the 1930s, then where are the results? Christian percentages in the Middle East have declined precipitously since that time.

But what do C5 individuals have to say for themselves? In "A Muslim Follower of Jesus," Mazhar Mallouhi seems to place himself in the C5 category, and he poses some questions:
Muslim followers of Jesus are being transformed by the same Holy Spirit that transforms all followers of Jesus. We read the same Holy Bible that Christians throughout the centuries have read. Shouldn't we believe the Holy Spirit will show us if we need to re-learn how to pray or change our forms and customs? Shouldn't we be free to follow Christ without being forced to adopt 2,000 years of Western religious culture? How can an outsider know the impact of our customs on our hearts? If we say our religious customs do not negate what is in our hearts, how can others negate our faith?
This would seem to radicalize even the extreme individualism sometimes found in American Protestantism, but also seems to constitute a thoroughgoing critique of Western Christianity, and likely also of Western civilization generally.

In "The Main Question Is Identity," John Azumah points to what he considers some problematic tendencies among the C5 advocates:
I believe C5 advocates bear some responsibility for the animated and sometimes acrimonious discourse. In his earlier writings, John Travis appealed to Christians that "much of our missiological energy should be devoted to seeking a path whereby Muslims can remain Muslims, yet live as true followers of the Lord Jesus." (See "Must All Muslims Leave Islam to Follow Jesus?" by John Travis, Evangelical Missions Quarterly, 34 (4), 1998, pp. 411-415.)

Some C5ers speak of "encouraging" or "urging" MBBs to remain within the Muslim community as "Insiders." Others have urged and even required their missionaries to officially become Muslim in order to be effective. In several articles C5ers have devoted their missiological energy to demonstrating from the Bible that leaving one's religion of birth ("extraction") is unbiblical, and that Jesus and the apostles were all "Insiders," thereby suggesting that the existence of the church in its present diverse traditions (C1 to C4) is an aberration.
Azumah goes on to sharpen some of these points, especially where Islamic radicalism forces one to choose between a Qur'anic Isa and a New Testament Jesus, for how can one affirm both?
Cumming rightly states that "the prophethood of Muhammad is non-negotiably essential to Muslim identity." Yet when the question of Muhammad is raised, C5ers think it is "unimportant." It is true that "Muslim" means different things to different Muslims. In several communities in sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, the term "Muslim" is a specifically and exclusively religious designation. Jesus is called "Muslim" in the Qur'an as part of Islamic replacement theology. The Muslim Jesus is deliberately set in opposition to the Jesus of the New Testament. To accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, as C5ers do, automatically puts one beyond the pale of such a Muslim community.
Well, aside from the questions that I raised above, I'm more than willing to sit out this controversy and simply watch as a spectator from the sidelines, but I did want to at least note this interesting development at the interstice between Christian and Muslim civilizations.

I should also perhaps add that what really matters in the long run is the overall trajectory of populations -- the religion that is increasing in numbers will determine which direction the C5 'believers' will head, i.e., more deeply into resurgent Christianity or back into surgent Islam. Relevant to this point, recall that Islamization took place gradually in the conquered Christian lands, and some scholars have argued that Sufism encouraged Islamization by allowing Christians to maintain an identification with Jesus while adopting the forms of Islam, a process that over generations led to Islam supplanting Christianity.

For the C5 'Christians' to have any significant impact upon Muslims generally, Islam will have to loosen its restrictions on individuals, and that doesn't seem to be the current trend . . . but we shall see.

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Monday, December 28, 2009

"on the knife edge of life and death"

Dhū l-Fiqār
(Image from Wikipedia)

In church yesterday, I heard a man speak words that I've heard many times before, but they struck with special force this time:
"We live on the knife edge of life and death."
Perhaps it pierced more deeply because the man -- a military officer in his 50s -- was stationed in Afghanistan and here on merely brief leave for Christmas, so his words were spoken with deeper than usual conviction.

But he wasn't speaking only of his soldier's life in Afghanistan. He was referring to our life in the world, and his words came directly after those of a young American man who had spoken of a friend from India who had recently gone to her homeland to scatter her father's ashes there and returned to the States via Amsterdam on Christmas Day with Northwest Airlines Flight 253.

That was the plane chosen for an ultimately failed Christmas suicide bombing by Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab, an Islamist who must have imagined that he carried the legendary scimitar Dhū l-Fiqār that Muhammad is said to have bequeathed to Ali, but which proved for the young Nigerian Islamist a sword of Tyrfing that turned against its wielder.

We tread, as A. J. Dawson might agree, "a double edge, . . . a blade to cut [one] . . . twice dead."

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Afghanistan Dynamic Planning: Official Site!

Afghanistan Dynamic Planning
Just a little plan . . .

I know that I'm behind the curve on this flow chart, but I've been busy these past few weeks with grading, editing, publishing, and . . . um, being a good family man (i.e., no golfing around).

Anyway, a military officer of my acquaintance sent me the above diagram to 'clarify' NATO's plan for countering the Afghan insugency. Remember "Shock and Awe"? Well, this is similar: "Wonk and Gah!"

Sorry, bad pun . . . truly bad. But, honestly, this strategy is so gah-dang wonkily complex that its main aim must be to confuse the insurgents. Will it work? I can imagine them conferring:
"Well, Brother Osama, what is the proper shariah-based response to this latest infidel atrocity?"

"Amir Omar, I say we cut off the heathen hand of whoever drew this!"
Little do they yet realize that computers have no hands. That dawning realization will break their hearts and cause them to give up altogether -- like what happened with Jim Smiley's proverbial dog, Andrew Jackson, when it fought that nameless dog with no hind legs, a sad tale that Mark Twain somewhere relates.

Anyway, if you want to better understand the above diagram, then this officially released video explains all.

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Happy Boxing Day!

St. Pugnacious
(Image Ubiqitous)

I've had so many requests for an old Boxing Day favorite in honor of the man who has praised suicide bombings against non-Muslims, who has declared Britain the 'realm of war' (i.e., Al-Harb), and who has demanded that any celebration of Christmas be outlawed -- leaving only Boxing Day, I presume. I'm therefore reposting the song "Infidels" from two years ago:
(Sung to the tune of "Silver Bells")
Ex-mas makes you feel emotional...
It may rain body parts through thoughts devotional.
Whatever happens, inshallah, may be,
Here is what Ex-mas time means to me.

City sidewalks, risky sidewalks,
Dressed in houri-day style,
In this lair, there's
a feeling of Ex-mas.

Children coughing, people passing
out mile after mile,
And from every street coroner, you'll hear:

Infidels (infidels)...
infidels (infidels)...
It's Ex-mas time in the city:
(Clear the infidels, go...)
Wring-the-things (wring-the-things)...
hear them scream (hear them scream)...
Soon it will be Ex-mas Day...

City street lights, even stop lights,
blink a bright red and green
As the chopped ones' crushed homes
lose their treasures.

Hear the snow crash, like an avalanche.
This is Al Harb's big scene,
And above all this hustle, you'll hear:

Infidels (infidels)...
infidels (infidels)...
It's Ex-mas time in the city:
(Clear the infidels, go...)
Wring-the-things (wring-the-things)...
hear them scream (hear them scream)...
Soon it will be Ex-mas Day...
Happy Holidays to all my readers . . . and even to Saint Pugnacious, who has been sadly banned from the 'Realm of War' and now unwillingly resides in Lebanon, as I last heard.

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Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

Adorazione del Bambino
(Adoration of the Child)
Beato Angelico
(Image from Wikipedia)

Merry Christmas to All Visitors

And if you don't mind making another Christmas visit, go over to Kevin Kim's blog, where he is keeping vigil with his family for his mother, who is dying of cancer, take a little time to read some of his posts, which tell of a walk that he started across America that has turned into a different sort of walk, and offer him and his family some words of support in this, their somber Christmas season.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

More Pynchonesque Mischief . . .

ARPAnet Map
Circa 1977
(Image from Wikipedia)

I'm currently in Daegu, the third-largest city in South Korea and home of my wife's maternal family. We're here for the first-year anniversary of my father-in-law's decease, a ceremony called "chaesa" (or "jaesa" and variants). This will be a short post because I'm working with an unfamiliar computer.

On page 53 of Inherent Vice, Doc Sportello is introduced to an early version of the internet in the form that it had in 1969, or eight years prior to the image above. The techhead Fritz Drybeam, who's playing with this newest tech thing, tells Doc what it is, but Doc misunderstands:
"ARPAnet," Fritz announced.

"Ah, no I'd better not, I've got to drive and stuff, maybe just give me one for later --"
Obviously, Doc misunderstands Fritz to be offering him a drug of some sort. But what, precisely, is the misunderstanding? "ARPAnet" misunderstood as "Have a 'net'"? I don't get it.

Can somebody enlighten me on this? What does the 'Doc' imagine that he's heard?

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Pynchonesque Dialect in Inherent Vice?

Inherent Vice
Thomas Pynchon
(Image from Wikipedia)

I could easily have become one of those Pynchon addicts. No, not the sort that he writes about. The kind that get addicted to reading his books. I read Gravity's Rainbow when I was a senior in college way back in the 1970s and got blown away by its complexity. I also found it very funny. I went on to read nearly each of his other works but never found any of the others quite as entertaining . . . until now. Inherent Vice is a very different type of Pynchon novel. It has all the same features, of course -- the drugs, the paranoia, the weirdly named characters -- but they fit together in a different way. A gestalt thing, I suppose, with the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

But I'm not yet up to doing any literary analysis of the book. I just have a tangential query stemming from the following freaky dialogue between a hippie named Denis (pronounced with a long "e," as in Venus) and the main character, Doc Sportello, who's also a hippie but works (if you can call it that) as a private investigator:
"So Doc, I'm up on Duncrest, you know the drugstore there, and like I noticed their sign, 'Drug'? 'Store'? Okay? Walked past it a thousand times, never really saw it -- Drug, Store! man, far out, so I went in and Smilin Steve was at the counter and I said, like, 'Yes, hi, I'd like some drugs, please?' -- oh, here, finish this up if you want."

"Thanks, all's 'at'll do 's just burn my lip."
Without being of a certain place and time (of America and of the sixties), a reader would likely find this dialogue rather difficult to follow. Denis's part of the conversation is perhaps not too hard. You only have to know that "far out" means something like "wow" . . . but what does Doc Sportello's reply mean? What has Denis just offered him? For someone who remembers the sixties, it's pretty clear. Denis has just offered Doc the butt end of a marijuana cigarette, only to have the offer turned down and the reason given. "Thanks" here means "Thanks, but no thanks," and the reason supplied by Doc is that the butt end is so short that the still burning marijuana cigarette is too little to get him high but just enough to burn his lip. In plainer English:
"Thanks, all that will do is just burn my lip."
Okay, that's clarified for anyone who might have been unsure. Now comes your turn to help me out. Here's my merely tangential query:
What does the "s" in "all's" mean?
Is it a contraction of "is," mistakenly carried over from the "all is" of, for example, "all's well"?

I don't dispute the fact that the expression used by Pynchon exists. I've also used the form "All's that'll do is . . ."

But where does the "s" come from?

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Dances with Viperwolves

(Image from Wikipedia)

I took my 13-year-old daughter out yesterday afternoon to see the 3-D version of Avatar, also known as Dances with Viperwolves.

The story is already well known (so no need to summarize it here), and the characters are stereotypes (albeit interesting stereotypes with enough complexity to keep one's attention), so the real attraction is the 3-D visuality of a primeval world filled with wild nature of the sort that Kaczynski would surely love and of a motion-capture technique so highly developed that it has even succeeded in capturing and depicting lifelike eyes.

The visual effects were so good that I could almost ignore the attempts at topicality. Almost. I couldn't quite ignore Colonel Miles Quaritch's remark about using "shock and awe" to cow the native tribes of the planet Pandora into submission so that the 'sky people' (i.e., the earthlings) can obtain the mineral 'unobtainium' (as if that were possible!). I mean, in 2154 AD, some hundred and fifty years after the Iraq War, the US military is still using that failed Rumsfeldian expression? As if the military never learns anything about how to deal with counterinsurgency?

Despite the crudity of the anti-American, even anti-Western stereotypes -- especially of ruthless capitalist corporations and brutal military techniques -- I (and my daughter) enjoyed the film and just couldn't help siding with the Na'vi, the local Pandoran tribe that the main character Jake Sully in his avatar form joins.

But I suppose that I and my daughter (Sa-Rah Ahyoga Hwang) aren't entirely Western.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Acta Koreana, Volume 12, Number 2 (December 2009): Review of Park Wan-suh

Acta Koreana
Vol 12, Nr 2, Dec 2009
(Image from Seoul Selection)

I've recently received notice -- and hard copy -- of a book review that I wrote for Acta Koreana:
Who Ate Up All the Shinga?
By Park Wan-suh. Translated by Yu Young-nan and Stephen Epstein.
Horace Jeffery Hodges 229–234
To whet the appetite of those with faint hunger, here's the opening to my six-page review:
Park Wan-suh: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl

(Review of Who Ate Up All the Shinga?)

Horace Jeffery Hodges

Ewha Womans University

"O life, I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race."
- James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

1. Introduction

Although a highly respected and very popular writer in her native Korea, Park Wan-suh is less well known in the English-speaking world, but that relative anonymity is gradually changing, and will surely continue to do so with this excellent translation by Yu Young-nan and Stephen J. Epstein of the autobiographical 'novel' Who Ate Up All the Shinga?, which tells Park's story from her earliest memories of life in a tiny agricultural hamlet, through her elementary school years of Japanese education in Seoul, on through the uncertainty of WWII and the immediate post-liberation years, and finally into the horrors of the Korean War, all of which she speaks on as a voice of conscience.

The author herself appeared somewhat late on the Korean literary scene with her first novel, Namok (The Naked Tree), published in 1970, when she was nearly forty, and though one might imagine that she had also come late to recognize her vocation as a writer, Shinga informs otherwise. In the penultimate paragraph of the final chapter, significantly titled "Epiphany," the bewildered and frightened Park finds herself and her family caught up in the wartime chaos, confronted with the threat of the South’s imminent reoccupation by Communist forces, and trapped in an utterly abandoned Seoul, apparently a cul de sac:
But an abrupt change in perspective hit me. I felt as though I’d been chased into a dead end but then suddenly turned around. Surely there was meaning in my being the sole witness to it all. How many bizarre events had conspired to make us the only ones left behind? If I were the sole witness, I had responsibility to record it. (248)
In the passage that follows, which is the final paragraph of the book, Park adds, "From all this came a vision that I would write someday, and this premonition dispelled my fear" (248). The abruptness of her epiphany might suggest that Park's development as a writer stemmed from that moment as its initiatory point, but the author herself shows us that the process was already long in motion. Five extended experiences, which can be only briefly outlined here, contributed toward her early development as a literary artist, a process that the literary critic Kyeong-Hee Choi has elsewhere described as "A Portrait of the Artist as a Little Girl."
Those interested in reading the entire review will need to go to the Acta Koreana website and order a hard copy . . . though if you search for Park Wan-suh on this blog, you'll find many of my ideas worked out through various entries.

Tomorrow, back to my regular blogging . . .

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Persuasions Article: Jane Austen on Resentment and Love

Persuasions On-Line

Some readers will recall from last summer and into the following autumn that I was working out my ideas on Darcy's love for -- and resentment of -- Elizabeth in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. My subsequent article, fittingly titled "Darcy's Ardent Love and Resentful Temper in Pride and Prejudice," has recently seen publication in the Winter 2009 issue of Persuasions On-Line.

I believe that I've previously posted preliminary stages of the introduction and the conclusion to this article, but just in case anyone is interested in the final form of each, I'll post both below -- starting, naturally, with the introduction:
In 1759, Adam Smith wrote in Part 3 of his Theory of Moral Sentiments that "Love does not judge of resentment, nor resentment of love. Those two passions may be opposite to one another, but cannot, with any propriety, be said to approve or disapprove of one another" (192). Kenneth Moler has argued that Smith's work on the sentiments exerted an influence on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, written some forty years later (567-69). Similarly, Peter Knox-Shaw examines Elizabeth Bennet's query, "'Is not general incivility [toward others than the beloved] the very essence of love?'" (160) and finds in it an echo of Smith's observation in Moral Sentiments (Pt. 1) that "though a lover may be good company to his mistress, he is so to nobody else" (87-88, n. 44) -- although the similarity seems rather faint to be heard as an echo. On the "incivility" of lovers, anyway, Smith and Austen would generally seem to agree, but possible influence by one writer on another can be found as readily in disagreement as agreement. Despite her apparent convergence with Smith on some points, would Austen have accepted Smith's views on love and resentment, namely, that neither can judge the other?
Not to leave anyone hanging on this point, here follows the answer in my conclusion:
Adam Smith may have thought that the opposed feelings of love and resentment did not judge one another, but Jane Austen -- whether or not she knew specifically of Smith's view -- appears to have held a radically different opinion. Ever since Juliet McMaster's 1978 book Jane Austen on Love, we have known that Austen conceives of proper lovers as each taking on roles as the teacher and the taught in a pedagogical economy concerning love, and of proper love as achieving the "integration of head and heart" (45) in a manner that does not lose passion because "the full and mutual engagement of head and heart is what is passionate" (46). But if love involves the heart as well as the head, then love plays a unique pedagogical role, for it also provides an impassioned epistemological framework for understanding the world and acting within it. In Austen's understanding, the heart's romantic love must be imbued with the head's charitable Christian love, which can judge pride and resentment as improper to love and thereby seek a better way. Douglas Bush, writing in 1975, spoke of Austen's "fusion of Christian virtues and principles and eighteenth-century reason, . . . sensitized and fired by controlled feeling" (196). Perhaps this remark gets at what Austen was up to, namely, responding to the eighteenth-century Enlightenment with a renewed Christian view of the human being. The best education by itself would not overcome one's natural evil, as Darcy himself remarks of his own "implacably" resentful temper, but a genuine love -- neither proud nor resentful, but charitable -- could empower one to do so, and in Darcy's case actually does so.
But if you want to know why I conclude these things, then you'll have to go read my online article. You'll want to, of course, since the editor, Susan Allen Ford, praises it so highly:
"C. Durning Carroll, Horace Jeffery Hodges, and Edward Kozaczka read individual novels through very different but strangely compatible perspectives."
Now that you've heard such highfalutin praise -- me and my article likened to C. Durning Carroll, of "Willoughby's Apology," and Edward Kozaczka, of "Queer Temporality, Spatiality, and Memory in Jane Austen's Persuasion" -- who could resist an urge to read more?

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Terrance Lindall: Paradise Lost Scroll

(Detail with 'Br. Wickenheiser')
Terrance Lindall

The contemporary artist of pop-surrealism Terrance Lindall, after a too long, nearly 20-year break as a curator, has returned to his first love, producing art, with the unveiling of his recent Paradise Lost Scroll, an artwork 14 inches high and over 4 feet long. Mr. Lindall has recently sent me an email announcing the artwork's release and giving permission to blog about it. I'll let the details be provided by the press release from the Yuko Nii Foundation at the Williamsburg Art & Historical Center:
Terrance Lindall in his year long celebration of John Milton's 400th birthday, which started on December 8, 2008, has just completed as of December 8, 2009, what is considered by the few who have seen it already to be the most unusual painting for Milton's Paradise Lost ever done. It is in the form of a scroll that reads from right to left like a Torah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the upper left hand corner of the scroll, the great eye of God has closed! "I am the Alpha and Omega, I am the Beginning and the End," so sayeth the Lord, "I am the Almighty." Thus, as God opens the universe with His Great Eternal Eye and THE WORD, He also closes His Great Eternal Eye at the end of time, and nothing more is perceived about our universe!

About Lindall's philosophy: he adheres to the precept "esse est percipi" (per George Bishop Berkeley). There is no proof that anything exists outside of perception or idea. Even today, physicists have come to the conclusion that the subbasement to the "material universe" is composed of "events." Events are things perceived. As Leibnitz, the inventor of the infinitesimal calculus, explains, "we are all aspects (thoughts) of the mind of God." Thus the great eye of God in my art and the large eye of the Visionary Foal represent Perceptions in the Mind of God. All is Perception; all is God. There is much more to Lindall's philosophy, but that explains a point in his scroll. For further reading on Lindall's philosophy: [see here].

The Yuko Nii Foundation is working with Dr. Robert J. Wickenheiser to produce full-scale facsimiles of this scroll. The facsimiles will come with options for the collector:

1) Signed by Terrance Lindall with a signed letter from Robert Wickenheiser explaining the work and authenticating the facsimile. Bound in leather with gold tooling and die (from the Schunke collection) stamped (gold) with the coat of arms of Katherine of Aragon. The painting will have a silk protective covering. Facsimile will be on paper or vellum, per choice of collector. This is a very high-end limited edition and can be ordered through Robert Wickenheiser or directly from the Yuko Nii Foundation. These are produced one at a time and only a very limited number will be done.

2) Various levels of printed reproduction and various bindings or no binding.
As is perfectly fitting for an interpretation of the 'unorthodox' Milton, Lindall's painting depicts an 'unorthodox' felix culpa Christianity -- a God whose mercy extends even to Satan himself for the role that this arch-fallen angel played in the divine economy of salvation! Although this soteriological possibility is largely foreign to Western Christendom, Eastern Orthodoxy has a tradition of prayers to God for the redemption of Satan himself . . . though whether Lindall was following this tradition or the consequences of his own thinking, I know not.

By integrating Dr. Wickenheiser into the painting, Lindall harkens back to a high Renaissance practice of including the artwork's patron into the work of art itself, but Lindall does so in a humorous manner by representing Wickenheiser in the garb of a Benedictine monk, as seen in the panel above.

For a viewing of the entire scroll, albeit panel by panel, go to the You Tube site for a nearly 10-minute presentation to the accompaniment of Frédéric Chopin's Fantaisie-Impromptu in C-Sharp Minor.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

"Korean Identity?" in Philosophy and Reality

Korea in Asian Context
(Image from Wikipedia)

At the request of a Korean friend of mine, Yoon Pyung-joong (윤평중), who teaches philosophy at Hanshin University (where I once taught English), I've recently written a somewhat general article on "Korean Identity" ("한국인은 누가 될 것인가?") and had it printed in the quarterly journal Philosophy and Reality (철학과 현실), a publication issued by the Research Institute of Philosophy and Culture (철학문화연구소), which has put out three other articles on Korean identity in the same volume, each of these three having been written by Koreans.

Some will note that the article's title in Korean differs: ("한국인은 누가 될 것인가?" = "What is a Korean to be?" (rather than "Korean Identity"). That was an editorial choice on the part of the journal. Anyone who might go to the trouble to read both the English and the Korean versions of the article itself might also notice that the former is longer. The shortened Korean version is also an 'editorial' decision -- by my wife. In translating, she shortened the parts that would be obvious to Koreans . . . so as to preclude my appearing like a fool (which might or might not have succeeded). I don't expect anyone to be greatly impressed by my views anyway, for I state what is fairly well known and offer no fine-grained analysis.

At any rate, the article follows below, and regular readers will recognize some passages from blog entries in which I worked through my thoughts.

Korean Identity?

Horace Jeffery Hodges

Ewha Womans University

1. Introduction

In his insightful book Eccentric Culture: A Theory of Western Civilization (Europe, la voie romaine), a fascinating analysis of European cultural identity, the French philosopher Rémi Brague relates an anecdote about Ortega y Gasset. The latter had recently returned from America and was asked the reason for his return. He answered with a pun of ambiguity:
"Europa es el único continente que tiene un contenido."
The Spanish word "continente" means both "continent" and "container," permitting either of two translations for Ortega's reply: "Europe is the only continent that has a content" and "Europe is the only container that has a content." He meant both, and one sees what he meant. Europe has a cultural unity that other continents lack.

Perhaps Europe's cultural unity is less impressive as a unique fact when one reflects that this continent is the artifact of an arbitrary line drawn to separate what is considered 'Europe' from what is considered 'Asia.' Looked down upon from above, Europe seems merely an Asian peninsula.

But the imaginary line exists in everyone's mind. To its west, Europe. To its east, Asia. West of the line, we find a civilization that integrated Athens and Jerusalem. East of the line, however, we find many civilizations. To be identified as "Asian" is therefore only a geographical distinction and implies nothing about one's cultural identity. Whereas a German might casually remark, "I am a European," and thereby make a recognizable statement of cultural identity, a Korean would not formulate a corresponding remark in stating, "I am an Asian."

For a Korean to offer a parallel statement of cultural identity, the formulation would have to be, "I am a Korean."

But what does that mean -- what is a Korean?

2. Eccentric Inclusions

Perhaps a contra-Braguean turn can help us approach an answer to this question. Brague begins his analysis of European cultural identity geographically by drawing a pair of cartographical dichotomies, a north-south axis to separate West from East and an east-west axis to separate North from South. These axes have shifted over time -- east or west and north or south -- with the vicissitudes of history, but they are understood as lines of cultural exclusion. Yet, let us initially approach the question of Korean identity in an opposite manner, as a series of inclusions, a procedure that entails surveying some rather familiar territory.

First would perhaps be Buddhism, which arrived on the Korean peninsula as early as the fourth century AD, with the monk Sundo entering the Kingdom of Goguryeo in 372 and the monk Marananta entering the Kingdom of Baekje in 384. Buddhism was slower to enter the Kingdom of Silla, where it was resisted by the upper classes until 527, when the court official Ichadon announced that he had become a Buddhist and was promptly beheaded. Legend says that Ichadon's head flew off into the distance and that milk rather than blood streamed from the body as the earth quaked, the sun grew dark, and glorious flowers rained down from the heavens. Whatever might actually have occurred that day, Ichadon's martyrdom led to acceptance of Buddhism as Silla's official religion. By the sixth century, therefore, Buddhism was well established on the peninsula, and it continued to grow in power and influence during the Unified Silla period (668-918) and the Goryeo period (918-1392). Although Buddhism explicitly encourages its adherents to seek individual enlightenment on a path toward nirvana, which can be characterized as its vertical dimension, it has also an implicitly egalitarian horizontal dimension in which Buddhists are exhorted to identify with all sentient beings, who are suffering in this illusory world of desires, and to instruct all beings in renouncing desire, which is responsible for suffering. As an otherworldly religion with implications for moral action in the temporal world, Buddhism shaped Korean metaphysics and infused Korean ethics with what the writer Lee Gwang-su (이광수) articulates as "the Buddhist philosophy of sacrificial service, treating everyone as likewise benevolent and interconnected" (The Soil). Understood in terms of its cultural influence, Buddhism brought to Korea the ethical-meditative aspect of Indian identity, albeit mediated by its passage through Central Asia and China.

Despite its longstanding power and influence, Buddhism and Buddhist values and ethics were partially eclipsed by a surgent Confucianism pressing its countervailing values and ethics with the rise of a new unified state under the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). This shift may have come suddenly, as Joseon abruptly superceded Goryeo, but Confucianism's presence on the peninsula actually went back several centuries. It seems to have entered by way of Goguryeo, but Baekje more thoroughly integrated Confucianism into its administrative system, thereby ensuring its influence on the culture. As was the case with Buddhism, Silla was last to adopt Confucianism for administrative purposes, and Goryeo inherited its use of Confucianism from Silla, but only in the Joseon period was Confucianism established as an all-encompassing system intended to displace Buddhism. For over 500 years, the Joseon government encouraged Koreans to internalize Confucian teachings on establishing harmonious relationships through the three cardinal principles and the five ethical norms (samgang-oryun). The three cardinal principles (samgang) comprise: 1) loyalty to the ruler, 2) filial piety to parents, and 3) a wife's fidelity to her husband. The five ethical norms (oryun) govern human relationships and may be listed as: 1) love between parents and children, 2) faith between rulers and people, 3) distinction between husband and wife, 4) order between elders and juniors, and 5) trust between friends. Three additional rules informed women on the obedience due to men in their lives (samjongjido): 1) obeying her father before marriage, 2) obeying her husband after marriage, and 3) obeying her sons after her husband's death. All of these principles and rules pertain without exception to relationships. All apply to direct, personal relationships -- except for the limiting case of faith and loyalty to the ruler, which can be distant and abstract. All of these direct, personal relationships are understood in hierarchical terms -- except for the limiting case of close friendships, which can offer the possibility of equality. A society organized by these Confucian duties will thus be strong in vertical obligations but weak in extended horizontal relations. Because strangers in such a society lack personal relationships, they will seek to ascertain their relative status for proper hierarchical interaction, and the at times attendant jostling for position can foster disharmonious relations. Moreover, the explicit emphasis upon maintaining harmony by observing hierarchy does not encourage a culture of open discussion despite Confucianism's admirable emphasis upon education, the latter of which has left its indelible mark upon Korean culture. Understood in terms of its cultural influence, therefore, Confucianism has brought to Korea the hierarchical aspect of Chinese identity, with its emphasis upon learning the Confucian classics and applying them toward governing the state and society.

Both Buddhism and Confucianism have profoundly shaped Korean identity, and despite their obvious differences, both agree upon at least one crucial thing: the intrinsic goodness of the human being. For Buddhism, the goodness is to be uncovered by stripping away desires. For Confucianism, the goodness is to be drawn out by encouraging proper obligations. A third great external influence upon Korean identity has come to Korea with a more negative view of human nature: Christianity. This religion initially entered Korea with the Japanese invasions of the 1590s through the Catholic commander Konishi Yukinaga, but Catholicism had no impact upon Korea at that time because the priests were not allowed to proselytize. In the early 1600s, however, Korean diplomats began returning from China with Jesuit material on Catholic theology that gained the interest of some scholars, and Christian ideas obtained an indigenous foothold without the direct influence of foreign missionaries. By 1784, Catholicism had grown enough for the diplomat Yi Sung-hun, who had been baptized in Beijing, to establish a prayer-house in Pyongyang. But the new religion of Christianity was resisted by most Confucians and even persecuted by the state and thus did not begin to make mass converts until the late nineteenth century when the Korean government began to allow Protestant missionaries into Korea in the hope of gaining Western protection. Christianity in both its Catholic and Protestant forms was associated with Western science and technology, for the early Jesuit treatises also brought the fruits of the scientific revolution and the later Protestant missions brought Western medicine and education. In Korea, therefore, Christianity was perceived as inseparable from Westernization. Not even the 35-year-long period of Japanese colonization diminished this impression despite the fact that the Japanese suppressed Christianity in favor of Shintoism and continued the 'Westernization' of Korea without the attendant Christian ideology. Perhaps Japan's policies even encouraged the opposite result, for in the post-liberation period, Christianity began its truly phenomenal growth and now accounts for roughly one-third or more of the South Korean population. The percentage of Christians in North Korea is not known, but the number is perhaps quite low -- despite the extensive Christian population prior to the Korean War -- because the North's totalitarian government has ruthlessly suppressed Christianity there. The issue of North Korea will have to be returned to later in this discussion, for the Christian influence on Korean identity mostly concerns South Korea. As already noted, Christianity holds to a more negative view of human nature than does Buddhism or Confucianism. But there is nuance here. For Christians, human nature may be fallen, but the individual person is nevertheless formed in God's image and is oriented in a vertical dimension toward God. The horizontal dimension of Christian ethics thus makes high demands but anticipates human failure unless the effort is sustained by God's hand. One particularly steep ethical expectation is that of universal love, what Lee Gwang-su describes in The Soil as the "Christian love for humanity," a love extended even to one's enemies. In social terms, this means that Christianity contributes to a society in which strangers have obligations to one another based upon an ethic of service that treats as equal every person, whether possible enemy or potential friend. The exemplar is Christ, understood as having come to serve others, even his enemies, and draw followers into a community oriented not exclusively upon its members but also outwards toward others, as if they too belonged. Understood in terms of its cultural influence, Christianity has brought to Korea an egalitarian aspect of Western identity, with an emphasis upon the responsibility -- both collective and individual -- to treat as equals the others that one encounters, even if they be strangers.

3. Ethnocentric Exclusions

In the longer run, Christianity tends to reshape society from a shame culture to a guilt culture, for the real value of an individual is found not in what others think but in what God knows. Christian influence in Korea, however, has been of significance for only a very brief time, and Confucian values continue to predominate, maintaining a society where that which matters most of all is one's hierarchical status, undergirded by honor and threatened by shame. Confucianism would thus seem to be the dominate quality in Korean identity, though the long Buddhist presence on the peninsula has left an underlying substratum, and Christianity is growing in its significance. Korean identity would therefore appear to be what Brague calls "eccentric," centered on places that -- to its own geo-cultural sphere -- are external, namely China, India, and the West. But not all is as it appears. Koreans experienced thirty-five years of Japanese colonialism, and the post-liberation period has seen an exponential rise in Korean nationalism, a surge of feeling that pervades society and infuses the political right, left, and middle. Especially North Korea has emphasized Korean nationalism of an extreme form, for what is the North's ideology of juche other than a radically nationalistic elaboration of exclusively Korean identity? Hostility to the US and Japan, and distrust toward Russia and even China characterize the North's ethnically based ideology. The North Korean case is extreme, of course, but South Korea shares some degree of the North's ethnic nationalism and still claims Korean purity of blood as the basis for this nationalism. Koreans therefore appeal to an indigenous Korean identity that would predate Western Christianity, Chinese Confucianism, and Indian Buddhism, thereby centering Korean identity in nativist ethnocentrism.

From a thirteenth-century history book by the Buddhist monk Iryeon, Samgukyusa (삼국유사), comes a story that supposedly pushes the date of Korean origins back to 2333 BC. According to this story, the Emperor of Heaven had a son, Hwanung, who requested the right to rule what would eventually be called the Korean peninsula. The request was granted, and coincident with this request, a tiger and a bear were fasting in a cave not far from where Hwanung had descended from heaven to earth and were praying to become human beings. The tiger gave up too soon, but after 100 days patiently enduring weariness and hunger, the bear became a beautiful woman whom Hwanung made his queen. This royal couple produced the child Dangun, who engendered the Korean 'race' and became the first King of Korea, ruling from his throne in what is now Pyongyang, North Korea. Probably very few modern-day Koreans accept this story literally, but most perhaps take it as figurative of actual events. Anthropologically considered, the story might plausibly be interpreted as relating the invasion of the Korean peninsula by an advanced tribe that made an alliance with a tribe whose totem animal was a bear against a tribe whose totem animal was a tiger. Even if the story is entirely invented and purely mythological, it serves as a foundational myth for the Korean people and has been interpreted by Koreans as justifying an ethnic nationalism based on purity of blood. Understood in this manner, the myth offers a vertical dimension in the descent of all Koreans from Dangun and a horizontal dimension oriented toward exclusive inclusion of all Koreans in a tightly bound society of kin.

4. Excursus: The Guest

This use of the Dangun myth might at times be extended from purity of blood to purity of thought and thereby serve as ideological counter to outside influence. As such, only a pure Korean shamanism would be truly and entirely Korean, all other ideological systems being rejected as foreign. Koreans seldom go quite so far, but an interesting case of radical exclusiveness can be found in Hwang Sok-yong's recent novel The Guest. In this novel, the character Big Grandma holds to Korea's traditional shamanistic beliefs despite her own son's conversion to Christianity, and she demands that her great-grandson accept shamanism along with other indigenous Korean beliefs, explaining:
Our ancestor, the founding father of our race, was Tan'gun. He came down from the heavens a long, long time ago. (page 40)
Concerning her son's conversion to Christianity, Big Grandma angrily explains that smallpox -- which was called "the Guest" by Koreans and was believed to have its home to the west, in the southern part of China -- is a spirit identical with the Holy Spirit of Christianity:
Ever since we were children we have known that the Guest is a western disease. A barbarian disease, they call it, from a country to the west, so it's certain that it came from the land where they believe in the Western Spirit, you see? I had to send away two sons, your grandpa's two older brothers, with the Guest. So would I be overjoyed, would I be ready to believe in the Western Spirit like my one surviving son -- or would I be angry at it -- angry forever? (page 44, changes in translation mine)
Big Grandma refers to the Holy Spirit as the Western Spirit and identifies it as the same spirit from the direction west of Korea that has always been known to bring smallpox. Let us look closely at Big Grandma's reasoning. Note that she calls smallpox a "western disease" (서쪽 병: seojok byeong), indicating the direction west, because it comes from a "country to the west" (서쪽 나라: seojok nara). However, when she refers to the "Western Spirit," she uses the Korean expression yanggushin (양구신 [양 (洋) + 구신]), where yang (양 [洋]) is an abbreviation of seoyang, "The West" (서양) -- and gushin (구신) is dialect for guishin (귀신), meaning "spirit" or "ghost." Thus does Big Grandma succeed in identifying the direction "west" (서쪽) with the place "The West" (서양). In giving such voice to the character Big Grandma, Hwang Sok-yong would seem to be presenting views with which he strongly identifies, for the intense ideological fervor of the Christian characters in this novel expresses itself in cruel massacres during the Korean War, as though the old smallpox spirit had returned with vengeance in a new form to infect the very minds of Koreans.

But Hwang's critique may go even deeper by playing further on the direction "west" (서쪽) and the place "The West" (서양). Anything that had come from a western direction might be understood as suspect because not indigenously Korean. Hence, Catholicism, Confucianism, and Buddhism, which like smallpox all arrived in Korea by way of China, the country to the west, would implicitly count as western diseases (서쪽 병: seojok byeong). And Protestantism, which arrived in Korea from the West (서양: seoyang), would therefore be a Western disease. By extension, Westernization itself would amount to a Western disease, whether in the guise of Japan's colonization of Korea, which accelerated Korea's pre-colonial Westernization, or even in the guise of Marxism, another Westernizing ideology. Rather than accepting all these things western (서쪽) and Western (서양), Koreans should "Believe in the God of Chosŏn," as Hwang's non-Christian character Pak Illang exhorts the Christians who are leading him off to his execution (page 195). To believe in the God of Chosŏn (조선으 하나님: chosŏn u hananim, dialect for chosŏn ui hananim) -- the God of Korea -- would apparently mean to believe in Korea's traditional God. The term hananim (하나님) for "God" in Pak's exhortation is also the term used by Protestants, but in Pak's usage, it would seem to mean the same as Big Grandma's reference to hanunim (하느님) in her insistence on remaining faithful to Korean religion:
"Here in our Chosŏn, we say the son of God is Tan'gun." (page 42)
For "son of God," she uses hanunim adeol (하느님 아덜). Both terms, hananim and hanunim, appear to be longstanding Korean expressions for God and have been explained as dialectical variants. At any rate, Hwang seems to have identified them for the purpose of his central theme, the call for a return to what is traditionally, exclusively, and authentically Korean.

5. Mixed-Up Koreans

Most Koreans do not go so far as Pak Illang urges or Big Grandma demands in terms of Korean exclusiveness, though many, perhaps a majority, do still appear to hold to the purity of blood ascribed to the Dangun myth. But does this myth in fact teach 'racial' purity? The assumption seems to be that Koreans have all descended through Dangun from that original pair, Hwanung and his queen, and never mixed with other groups. Yet even if one were to grant that Koreans have not mixed with Chinese, Japanese, Mongolians, or any other non-Korean tribes over Korea's putative 5000-year history, the Dangun story is itself a tale of mixing, as Korean anthropologists have recently begun to acknowledge. Whether one takes it literally or symbolically, mixing is presupposed, for Hwanung and his queen have radically different origins -- either from a divine being and a bear-woman or from the son of an invading tribe and the daughter of an indigenous tribe. As such, Koreans are from the outset implicitly understood as a mixed people.

Broader recognition of this mixed Korean identity implicit in the Dangun story might well be needed these days because of the precipitous rise in the percentage of international marriages or gukjaegyulhon (국제결혼). Already by 2005, international couples accounted for 10 percent of all marriages for that year in South Korea, according to official government statistics, and the numbers have been rising every year due to more foreigners settling in Korea and to many Korean men seeking foreign wives, especially from such countries as China and Vietnam, but also from Japan, Thailand, the Philippines, the United States, Mongolia, Uzbekistan, and Russia, among others. Foreign men residing in South Korea and marrying Korean women come from such countries as Japan, China, the United States, the Philippines, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, but also from other places. As these mixed marriages bear fruit, a new, undeniably mixed population will begin to emerge, generally differing in appearance from previous generations of Koreans. This process of mixing is often called "multiculturalism" by Koreans. Multiculturalism, however, exists in Korea only as a term, not as a clear and distinct concept, for it is commonly conflated with multiethnicity, as though the two terms meant the same thing. Admittedly, an ethnic group usually does carry its own culture, but no necessary connection binds ethnicity to a particular culture. This is not especially difficult to grasp, and the Korean language does have different terms for multiculturalism, damunhwajui (다문화주의), and multiethnicity, dainjong (다인종), but the latter term rarely gets used in Korea because it sounds pejorative among a people long accustomed to the assumption of Korea's blood-based ethnic superiority. Multiethnicity can hardly be a positive thing in a country that still celebrates the purity of its Korean blood. Koreans therefore prefer to use the term "multiculturalism" even when they are talking about "multiethnicity." The children of international marriages are thus referred to as multicultural children even when these children are growing up in Korea, attending Korean schools, and becoming culturally and linguistically Korean. Such children are not multicultural, but could more accurately be called multiethnic, in the limiting sense of mixed ethnicity. Korea may therefore be developing into a multiethnic society if we mean by this the ethnically mixed children who are becoming ever more numerous, but such a process will not invariably lead to multiculturalism in Korea. For a multicultural Korea to develop, large-scale immigration of entire communities settling into self-isolating enclaves and maintaining their own cultural values would have to take place, and that does not yet seem to be happening. Nor would that be a good thing for Korea if it were to happen, for the result would likely be an unworkable radical multiculturalism of the sort that currently looms in Europe.

6. Conclusion

Perhaps we should now finally return to the question with which we began our inquiry: "What is a Korean?" One is tempted to respond with platitudes. For example: a true Korean combines the universal sympathy of the Buddha and the all-encompassing love of Christ with the solemn dignity of Confucius, the teachings of all three having been grafted onto the ancient trunk of the sandalwood tree under which Dangun sat and taught. Such a nation of eccentrically centered individuals would be an imagined community indeed! Granted, these four great teachers have had profound pedagogical influence in Korea, and Korea is a land that respects teachers, but their teachings do not mutually cohere. Conflict is therefore inescapable, even in a nation that highly extols harmony. Moreover, the teachings of a particular tradition are not always well-learned. We thus too often meet with the indifferent Buddhist, the hateful Christian, the arrogant Confucian, and the exclusivist 'Dangunian'. But whether we encounter the good or the bad, we begin to recognize that for better or for worse, Korea itself is rapidly changing into an even more complex, increasingly multiethnic society that contains the world.

The question is therefore not so much "What is a Korean?" as "What is a Korean to be?"

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Reinhold Niebuhr in President Obama's Political Theology?

Reinhold Niebuhr
March 8, 1948
(Image from Time)

Although I haven't read a great deal of his writings, I first dipped into the works of the great theologian and political theorist Reinhold Niebuhr when I was studying with the historian Samuel Haber at UC Berkeley back in the mid-eighties. My slight familiarity with Niebuhr's views was just enough to make me wonder about the extent of Niebuhr's influence on President Obama's Nobel Prize Lecture and his political thought generally, an influence that the President has at times acknowledged.

Turns out, I'm not the only one thinking about Niebuhr here. In the New York Times article that I cited yesterday, Ted Widmer noted the influence of Niebuhr on the President's Nobel Lecture:
Yet another source, to my ears, was a writer who went unnamed -- Reinhold Niebuhr, whose 1944 classic, "The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness," probed deeply into the justice of war at a time when the most total war in our history was being waged. Despite the fact that he remains a saint of the American left, Niebuhr left no doubt that he approved war under the right circumstances, as Obama surely knows. (Widmer, "Obama's Nobel Speech: Sophisticated and Brave," New York Times, December 11, 2009).
Widmer's remark was published on the eleventh. The very next day, David Brooks puts President Obama in the tradition of so-called "Christian Realism" and cites Niebuhr as a precursor:
As the midcentury theologian Reinhold Niebuhr declared: "Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary." (Brooks, "Obama's Christian Realism," New York Times, December 12, 2009).
Widmer's reference to Niebuhr's book The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness might lead those who haven't read it to conclude that Niebuhr held so-called 'Manichaean' political views on good versus evil -- with "us" as the good guys and "them" as the bad guys -- but one point of the book was that we are all capable of great evil, even in the pursuit of great good. The citation from David Brooks fits with this view, and he calls it "Christian Realism" for its chastened understanding of human nature. Brooks suggests that President Obama's ethnicity played a role in his familiarity with Niebuhr and "the Christian realism that undergirded cold war liberal thinking":
Obama's race probably played a role here. As a young thoughtful black man, he would have become familiar with prophetic Christianity and the human tendency toward corruption; familiar with the tragic sensibility of Lincoln's second inaugural; familiar with the guarded pessimism of Niebuhr, who had such a profound influence on the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In 2002, Obama spoke against the Iraq war, but from the vantage point of a cold war liberal. He said he was not against war per se, just this one, and he was booed by the crowd. In 2007, he spoke about the way Niebuhr formed his thinking: "I take away the compelling idea that there's serious evil in the world and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn't use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction."
Brooks would recall that quote well, for it came in an interview that he conducted in 2007 with then-candidate Barack Obama, who explained:
I take away [from Niebuhr] . . . the compelling idea that there's serious evil in the world, and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn't use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction. I take away . . . the sense we have to make these efforts knowing they are hard, and not swinging from naïve idealism to bitter realism. (Brooks, "Obama, Gospel and Verse," New York Times, April 26, 2007)
Candidate Obama's summary of Niebuhr led to an intellectual discussion of the extent to which the latter had truly influenced his political thought, along with the possibility that he was merely citing Niebuhr to 'pander' to Brooks and that his truer political theology was the social gospel. For those interested in this issue, go to the Pew Forum site on "Obama's Favorite Theologian? A Short Course on Reinhold Niebuhr," for the remarks of Wilfred M. McClay (University of Tennessee at Chattanooga) and the response of E. J. Dionne Jr. (The Washington Post), who agrees with Brooks that Barack Obama has genuinely been influenced by Niebuhr.

But I've said enough for now . . .

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

President Obama's Nobel Prize Lecture

President Obama
(Image from The White House)

I have finally watched a video of President Obama's Nobel Prize Lecture, about one week after it was given, and I've also read the transcript.

Without reservation, I find myself in full agreement with one of the President's opening remarks, that "compared to some of the giants of history who've received this prize . . . [his] accomplishments are slight." Like President Obama himself, I believe that he hadn't deserved this honor . . . even if the Peace Prize has been derogated in recent years by some of its recipients and therefore confers less honor than it once did.

That said, I think the President made an excellent speech, one that, in the words of Ted Widmer, "was a most serious public utterance, delivered with appropriate solemnity, on the weightiest matter a head of state can reflect upon" ("Obama's Nobel Speech: Sophisticated and Brave," New York Times, December 11, 2009). That matter was war, about which Obama presented some hard truths, as Widmer notes:
It threw down gauntlets left and right, challenging lazy assumptions of his liberal base (that war is avoidable) and his conservative opposition (that war is glorious). It gently chided his European audience, reminding them that the remarkable achievement of 64 years of relative peace has been possible because America "helped underwrite" it. (Widmer, "Obama's Nobel Speech")
I'm not sure that so many conservatives argue that war is glorious, but I suppose that some do. Nor do all liberals assume that war is always avoidable. Still, Widmer accurately draws out several important points, so go and read his entire op-ed article if you want a quick, analytical summary of what the President said.

Whether addressing the left or the right, President Obama simply had to present a lecture explaining how war can be pursued in the cause of peace, for he was offering his remarks in response to having been awarded a prize for peace. He chose to cast his case for war explicitly in terms of just-war theory, as we see from the lecture itself:
War, in one form or another, appeared with the first man. At the dawn of history, its morality was not questioned; it was simply a fact, like drought or disease -- the manner in which tribes and then civilizations sought power and settled their differences.

And over time, as codes of law sought to control violence within groups, so did philosophers and clerics and statesmen seek to regulate the destructive power of war. The concept of a "just war" emerged, suggesting that war is justified only when certain conditions were met: if it is waged as a last resort or in self-defense; if the force used is proportional; and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence. (President Obama, "Remarks by the President at the Acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize," The White House, December 10, 2009)
This is a good summary of just-war theory and needed to be stated as a reminder to both left and right. Indeed, I thought that the following passages were what the left especially needed to hear:
I do not bring with me today a definitive solution to the problems of war. What I do know is that meeting these challenges will require the same vision, hard work, and persistence of those men and women who acted so boldly decades ago. And it will require us to think in new ways about the notions of just war and the imperatives of a just peace.

We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations -- acting individually or in concert -- will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.

I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King Jr. said in this same ceremony years ago: "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones." As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there's nothing weak -- nothing passive -- nothing naïve -- in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.

But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism -- it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason. (President Obama, "Remarks by the President")
All of this is well expressed, and has to be, for President Obama is speaking primarily to his liberal-left base . . . and perhaps to an earlier version of himself, using an argument that he's lived out in his own development. I don't know if it will convince those erstwhile supporters of his, but it at least gives them something to reflect upon, pointing them in the direction of a respectable intellectual tradition on the ethical imperative for those wars whose cause is just.

The lecture has a lot more to say than what I've quoted or summarized, but much of it concerns the moral appropriateness of force in an imperfect world that we strive to make a better place.

I'd urge those who haven't watched the speech yet to set aside 37 minutes and watch the President's lecture. Open up two browsers so that you can read the transcript as you follow the lecture -- if that helps you concentrate (as it helps me).

I certainly don't agree with President Obama on every issue, and I do worry a lot about the costs of our current economic policies, as well as the projected costs of the proposed health-care system, but on the issues broached in the President's Nobel Lecture, I largely agree.

We'll now see how things turn out in this imperfect world.

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