Thursday, March 31, 2011

Gerard Delanty on Rémi Brague

Gerard Delanty

Yesterday, I linked to Gerard Delanty's article on European identity, "Conceptions of Europe: A Review of Recent Trends" (European Journal of Social Theory, 6(4) 2003), which reviews nine books presenting views of Europe. The article dates from 2003, which is not so long ago, but given the enormous changes since then, especially Europe's ongoing economic crisis and its surging immigration, the debate over European identity has probably moved on. Delanty's article remains valuable, however, especially for it succinct presentation of various views, including the summary of Rémi Brague's understanding of European identity, so I'll post it here for readers' convenience:
Europe as a Philosophical Idea
Works on Europe as a strictly philosophical idea are rare. A few notable exceptions in recent times are Derrida (1992), Gadamer (1992), Kristeva (2000) and Patočka (2001). The English translation of Rémi Brague's La voie romaine is a major contribution to the constitution of Europe as an object of philosophical reflection. Originally published in 1992 in response to the Maastricht Treaty, this subtle book can be easily misunderstood. This is an essay about the philosophical essence of Europe and it is Brague's argument that this is to be found not in the content of European traditions but in their form: the uniquely European is to be found in the nature of the transmission of culture rather than in any specific cultural content. Europe is based on a particular cultural form that transforms that which it takes over but does not have a culture of its own. The essence of Europe is its capacity to transform culture. For Brague, Europe cannot be defined by geography, by politics or by a disembodied Platonic idea. It is not a place or a particular political order. Europe is a variable notion and defined as a particular kind of cultural belonging, which Brague associates with Rome. 'Europe is not only Greek, nor only Hebrew, nor even Greco-Hebraic. It is decidedly Roman' (p. 26). This may sound extraordinary, but Rome for Brague denotes something more European than Greek, Judaic or Islamic modes of belonging because Rome is not European at all in its fundamental nature -- 'this culture is not Latin, or European, but foreign' (p. 92).

For Brague, Europe has always defined itself through otherness, a condition that he associates with Rome. 'The Romans have done little more than transmit', he argues (p. 32). Roman culture was based on innovation, commencement, a search for the new. To say that we are Romans is the contrary of identifying ourselves with a great ancestor; it is to recognize that fundamentally we have invented nothing, but simply that we learned how to transmit the cultures of others. Thus what distinguishes Europe is its mode of relating to itself, which is one of distance: 'The distance that separates us from the ancient Greeks is not in principle, less than that which separates us from other modern cultures' (p. 142). Europe constantly has to confront a consciousness of having borrowed everything from sources that can never be regained. Brague associates with Rome a form of cultural translation in which something new is always created in the act of interpretation. In contrast, in Islam, the original content is retained to a greater extent whereas in Europe the origin is always foreign. The ancient world can only be known in its traces. This leads Brague to his thesis that at the heart of the European consciousness is the phenomenon of 'secondarity': Europeanness is based on the act of cultural creation in which all cultural content is never a copy of an origin. This capacity for self-transformation leads to the interesting insight that Europe does not belong to the Europeans, who do not exist as such. 'Europe is a culture' and cannot be inherited but only created (p.149) is the conclusion Brague reaches.

This is a decidedly deconstructive reading of European culture as already decentred, 'eccentric' and containing alterity within it. Moreover, it reflects a processual and transformative conception of Europe -- echoing Renan, 'Europe is a continual plebiscite' (p. 5) -- since the political implication, not fully developed by the author, is that Europe is never tied to its origin but can and must constantly recreate itself. To be sure, Brague seeks to tie the idea of secondarity to some notions in Catholic theology, obscuring some of his fascinating ideas and it is indeed arguable that the condition of cultural secondarity needs to be related exclusively to Rome. In more conventional approaches this is often associated with the idea of modernity, as in the work of Blumenberg, who has clearly influenced Brague. But the central thesis that European culture needs to be defined in terms of its form rather than identified with a particular cultural content solves some of the problems of essentialism. It also gives a different twist to the idea of the uniqueness of Europe, since what is claimed is that this consists of the capacity for secondarity. But there is a philosophical slight [sic. sleight] of hand in the seductive argument that '"Eurocentrism" is a misnomer' on the grounds that 'no culture was never so little centred [sic. centered] on itself and so interested in the others as Europe' (pp. 133–4). Notwithstanding this problem which is not adequately addressed, this book offers one of the most important philosophical theorizations of the meaning of Europe. (Gerard Delanty, "Conceptions of Europe: A Review of Recent Trends," European Journal of Social Theory, 6(4) 2003, pages 485-486)
This is a rather good summary of Brague's views, but I think that Delanty exaggerates the degree to which European identity is to be found in its form rather than its content. To be European is not just to be characterized in its form of "secondarity" as a transmitter of foreign cultural contents that transform and are transformed. Europe has a more particular cultural debt to Greek and Jewish culture. I think that Delanty also misstates Brague's point about Islam concerning the manner in which foreign cultures are taken over: "in Islam, the original content is retained to a greater extent whereas in Europe the origin is always foreign." Brague's point about translation in the Islamic world is not that Muslims were more accurate in their translations of foreign materials into Arabic, but that they stuck with those original translations, holding that the Arabic language had perfected the meaning and that there was no reason to return to the foreign sources since the translations were superior. Europeans, by contrast, always sought more accurate translations because they knew that the superior text was to be found in the original. Once they had the originals, of course, they were free to transform these through reinterpretation -- the transformative part of transmission -- but the originals were never considered to be superceded.

I recommend that interested readers go directly to Brague.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Europe's Barbarous 'Other'?

Timothy Garton Ash
(Image from Homepage)

I'm teaching a history course in the Division of International Studies this semester on cultural diversity and the politics of European integration . . . or something like that. I can't quite recall the title that I came up with (which is why I've left the words uncapitalized here). Despite my flawed memory, the course is working out fairly well, I think. This week, we're reading on European identity, and we discussed an article yesterday by Timothy Garton Ash, "Europe's true stories" (Prospect Magazine, February 2007, Nr. 131), in which he attempts to identify six strands being woven together to form the fabric of a new European identity: "The strands are freedom, peace, law, prosperity, diversity and solidarity." By these six, if I might summarize, he means liberal democracy, conflict resolution by negotiation, legal protection of human rights, market economy generating wealth, moderate European multiculturalism, and social welfare. There's more to say in characterizing these, but Ash does it better than I can, so go to his article, linked to above (or if that requires registration, go here).

Ash doesn't just focus on the positive, however, for he proposes something negative as well, an 'other' that must be resisted and against which Europe must define itself, but not in the way that this has been done before:
Nor should our sense of European togetherness be achieved by the negative stereotyping of an enemy or "other" (in the jargon of identity studies), as Britishness, for example, was constructed in the 18th and 19th centuries by contrast with a stereotyped France. After the collapse of the Soviet communist "east," against which western Europe defined itself from the late 1940s until 1989, some politicians and intellectuals now attempt to find Europe's "other" in either the US or Islam. These attempts are foolish and self-defeating. They divide Europeans rather than uniting them. Both the negative stereotyping of others and the mythmaking about our own collective past are typical of what I call Euronationalism -- an attempt to replicate nationalist methods of building political identity at the European level.

In this proposal, Europe's only defining "other" is its own previous self: more specifically, the unhappy, self-destructive, at times downright barbaric chapters in the history of European civilisation. With the wars of the Yugoslav succession and the attempted genocide in Kosovo, that unhappy history stretches into the very last year of the last century. This is no distant past. Historical knowledge and consciousness play a vital role here, but it must be honest history, showing all the wrinkles, and not mythistoire.
This is an interesting concept, an 'other' against whom one defines one's identity can be one's own barbarous past. The idea reminds me, in a sense, of Rémi Brague's remark that the good 'Roman' -- by which, he means the good European -- must remain aware of a barbarism within himself that must be subdued (Brague, Eccentric Culture: A Theory of Western Civilization, South Bend, Indiana: St. Augustine's Press, 2002, page 39). The difference, though, is that Brague doesn't call this barbarism in oneself an "other." For Brague, the "other" would be the extrinsic, Greek and Jewish cultures that Europe has borrowed for its own eccentric identity, an "other" thus to be identified with rather than against. I'd be curious what Ash makes of Brague, but I don't suppose he'll post any comment here to clarify his views.

Brague, by the way, also discusses Islam in his book. I don't believe that he calls it an "other," but he does see it as a rival civilization and clearly prefers the West. My class will be discussing Brague's views tomorrow, along with eight other conceptions of European identity, borrowed from Gerard Delanty's discussion in "Conceptions of Europe: A Review of Recent Trends" (European Journal of Social Theory, 6(4), 2003, 471-488), a hard article for freshmen, but I have the students preparing in groups, so the discussion will probably turn out okay.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The heavens declare the glory of God, the earth is less secure . . .

Michelangelo's God
Sistine Chapel
He does look sort of like an angry old man . . .
(Image from Wikipedia)

In a post on Japan's recent earthquake, "God's Love, Delivered," my cyberfriend Malcolm Pollack noted nature's apparent indifference to human purposes:
The hideous indifference of Nature! Again it yawns and extends a finger, shearing us away en masse, and I think: "we are nothing".
Despite the title of his post, Malcolm doesn't actually make an explicit point about God, though perhaps "Nature" stands in for "God" here. In an "Addendum," Malcolm notes that one reader objected:
To me, G_d is synonymous with the Explanation for Everything; for you, He is an angry, immature old man.
Actually, the deity in Malcolm's post seemed more bored and indifferent than angry, and not necessarily a man, but possibly Mother Nature. At any rate, Malcolm demurs that he doesn't believe in the sort of angry-old-man God inferred by the reader, but then explains his reason for the post:
I've been re-reading the Bible and the Koran over the past few weeks. That's the sort of "God" I'm referring to here; and it's the one that most people believe in, and that they think of when they use the word "God". It amazes me that people are capable of the cognitive dissonance required to witness natural disasters like this, or the awful earthquake in Haiti that killed and maimed multitudes of the innocent faithful, square it somehow with the idea of an involved, active, personal God who is nevertheless infinitely loving and merciful, and then keep coming back for more. It just boggles my mind [in the same way that it boggled Voltaire's mind after the Lisbon earthquake of 1755], and I can’t help remarking on it from time to time.
Hence the post "God's Love, Delivered." Malcolm states that he finds the belief of many people in an "active, personal God who is nevertheless infinitely loving and merciful" to be mind-boggling since it appears to run counter to all the evidence. Well, I have a simple, quasi-psychological suggestion that might help unboggle the mind:
People want to believe that life has purpose, and the apparent indifference of nature only serves to reinforce that need to believe, and since purpose is identified with the intentionality characteristic of persons, then people believe in a God who is personal.
I think that this helps to explain why so many people maintain theistic beliefs. Whether such a God exists or not is, of course, another issue.

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Muslim Brotherhood Rising in Egypt

Prime Minister Essam Sharaf (Center)
Muslim Brotherhood Member Mohamed el-Beltagi (Left)
Tahrir Square
Photo by Mohamed Omar
European Pressphoto Agency
(Image from New York Times)

I thought that Egypt's well-organized Islamists might try to take over the January 25 Revolution, though I expected them to do so more violently if Egypt's government fell and chaos ensued:
If the protests bring down the Egyptian government, the Islamists will almost certainly take control.
The government didn't entirely fall since the military took control and promised democracy, but I then noted that Charles Kupchan was warning Westerners not to expect Western democracy to result from the Arab revolutions sweeping North Africa and the Middle East. Now, Michael Slackman reports from Cairo for the New York Times that an "Islamist Group Is [the] Rising Force in a New Egypt" (March 24, 2011). He means the Muslim Brotherhood, of course:
In post-revolutionary Egypt, where hope and confusion collide in the daily struggle to build a new nation, religion has emerged as a powerful political force, following an uprising that was based on secular ideals. The Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group once banned by the state, is at the forefront, transformed into a tacit partner with the military government that many fear will thwart fundamental changes.
What happened to the secular youth with their laptops, Facebook pages, and Twitter accounts who were pushing for freedom and democracy?
It is also clear that the young, educated secular activists who initially propelled the nonideological revolution are no longer the driving political force -- at least not at the moment.
As one might have expected, those secular leaders were a minority:
"We are all worried," said Amr Koura, 55, a television producer, reflecting the opinions of the secular minority. "The young people have no control of the revolution anymore. It was evident in the last few weeks when you saw a lot of bearded people taking charge. The youth are gone."
The International Crisis Group thinks that the military struck a deal with the Muslim Brotherhood to control the direction of the revolutionary movement because the Brotherhood is so well-organized and can easily order 100,000 people off the streets. Be that as it may, the Brotherhood is certainly aiming for power:
The question at the time [of the January 25 Revolution] was whether the Brotherhood would move to take charge with its superior organizational structure. It now appears that it has . . . . When the new prime minister, Essam Sharaf, addressed the crowd in Tahrir Square this month, Mohamed el-Beltagi, a prominent Brotherhood member, stood by his side. A Brotherhood member was also appointed to the committee that drafted amendments to the Constitution.
The Christian minority is naturally worried, especially over the recent referendum, which called for speeding up the election process:
"Freedom is nice; so is democracy," said Rifaat Abdul Massih, 39, a construction worker. "But I'm a Christian, and we are a bit worried about the future. I voted 'no' to give more time to the secular parties. I don't want to have the Muslim Brotherhood here right away."
And the Christians -- whether Coptic or other denominations -- probably don't want the Brotherhood there after a while, either.

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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Dario Rivarossa inspires En-Uk Sequoya Hwang!

As I noted some days ago, my multitalented cyberfriend Dario Rivarossa has started his own art blog, and I wonder if he might have been inspired to do so by my son, En-Uk, who has been maintaining an art blog for over a year now and has caught Dario's attention with some of the images drawn. Whatever Dario's source of inspiration, his own blog has in turn now inspired En-Uk to post an art entry nominating Dario's blog, (He)Art by dhr, for a Liebster Award.

Here's the specific art blog entry by Dario, titled "Meek Hell Angel," that inspired En-Uk:

And below comes the image drawn by En-Uk in response, "Monster Grasshopper":

Moreover, I now see that Dario has already seen En-Uk's blog entry and blogged on it here! The art world moves fast -- so quickly that one must run as fast as one can just to stay in one place!

One just can't keep up, though maybe two can . . .

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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Hell hath no fury?

Pastor Rob Bell

I'd already read about this controversy in Christianity Today some mornings ago but found too little there to report and the issue itself too big to research, given my lack of time these days, so I let the moment pass and forgot about the issue until I came across a humorous piece by Alex Beam for the Boston Globe demurely titled "A heck of a theological debate" (March 18, 2011) but reprinted in the International Herald Tribune under the less abashed title, "The knell doesn't summon thee to hell" (March 25, 2011).

Wait a minute, you say? Who's Rob Bell? Beam us up to Mars Hill, Alex:
The big noise on the God front this week comes from Rob Bell, the evangelical Christian pastor of the 10,000-member Mars Hill Bible megachurch in Grandville, Mich. Bell, who is nothing if not social-media-savvy, is pushing a new book, and pushing it hard. His co-pastors informed congregants a few days ago that Bell was out-trending Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber on Twitter, whatever that means, and that his book is outselling Pope Benedict's book, "Jesus of Nazareth," on
But what's the book? Love Wins. It has a modest subtitle: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. The sort of thesis topic your English professor warned you against. Too broad, you'll recall. All over the place. Not focused. Some evangelicals also dislike it. The book, anyway. 'Tis heretical:
One big heresy that Bell has been blasting on YouTube and elsewhere is that non-Christians may not be condemned to burn in hell. "[Mahatma] Gandhi is in hell?" Bell asks. "He is? And someone knows this for sure? Will only a few religious people make it to heaven?" Ix-nay, quoth Bell, who must have the inside scoop on this. He is after all, the author of "Sex God," another book with enviable sales figures.
You can see Pastor Bell broaching this devilishly tricky topic here on YouTube, or you can find the same video on his website. No, not on Sex God. On Love Wins. Stay focused. But you're wondering why I called Alex Beam's report humorous. Because he writes:
For obvious reasons, I take a personal interest in news of the underworld. I will be packing my flame-retardant pajamas for my final journey, and I am counting on a long stay, surrounded by lifelong friends and many, many fascinating writers and journalists. To say nothing of all those Wall Street types and corporate lawyers, with their clever one-liners and acerbic sense of humor. What was Mark Twain's famous line? Heaven for the climate, hell for the company.
Beam, however, also takes a more serious interest in this realm where angels fear to tread and contacts Harvard Divinity School to speak to a professor there and get the lowdown about the bottomless pit:
But what about Bell's so-called universalist heresy, which would allow for all manner of the unwashed getting into heaven? "The Bible is very diverse in its voice on this question," says Matthew Boulton, an associate professor at the Harvard Divinity School. "If God is not going to save everyone, that gives you some sort of hell. But some theologians are expressing the hope that hell may be empty."
Empty? But some entity should be there, else what the hell's hell for? Is it merely some furious infernal furnace furnished for firing up to heat the universe? I wonder if Boulton -- or better, Bell -- has anything to say about that. Beam, by the way, doesn't mention whether or not Professor Boulton cited the specific diverse universalist and non-universalist verses on hell.

But here's what I have to say about hell, and the place ain't empty of reprobates, so be forewarned: hell's language is not for the faint of heart.

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Friday, March 25, 2011

Ironies of this Arab Spring . . .

Amr Moussa
(Image from Wikipedia)

I read an interesting excerpt in the New York Times yesterday from a recent interview of Amr Moussa in Cairo by Raghida Dergham, diplomatic correspondent for the Al Hayat. Titled "The Goal in Libya Is Not Regime Change" (NYT, March 23, 2011), I gather from Moussa's remarks that his thoughts concerning Syria also do not include regime change:
Dergham: You haven't said much about Syria. Why so quiet so far?

Moussa: Because the situation there is still unclear.

Dergham: Do you want to wait until a lot of people die before it is clear?

Moussa: No, certainly not. We do not have the full picture as to what is going on. Is it in Deraa alone, or is there violence and crackdown in other places?

Dergham: You have seen the people asking for change, and you supported them strongly in Egypt, but you are hesitant to support them in Syria? There are demonstrations, and people are dead and people are wounded in Syria. What is your message as secretary general of the Arab League on that issue?

Moussa: I am certainly on the side of the free expression of the people, and I am certainly on the side of revolutions and the new uprising in the Arab world. No question about that.
Amr Moussa is the former (or at least 'departing') secretary general of the Arab League and has declared his candidacy for the presidency of Egypt, and while I can understand his difficult position on the issue of calling for regime change in somebody else's country, I think that Dergham has underlined the irony well. Moussa supports the "revolutions" without openly supporting "regime change," but isn't that what revolutions do? Change regimes? Didn't that happen recently in Egypt? Isn't Moussa a beneficiary of that Egyptian regime change? Isn't he running for the presidency of Egypt.

That's all I have time for today . . .

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Andy Selsberg: Twixt Tweet and Text

Andy Selsberg
Penning anon 'nymous' notes . . .
(Image from Workman)

I've just read in the New York Times of an idea whose time may have come:
[A] few years ago, I started slipping my classes short writing assignments alongside the required papers. Once, I asked them, "Come up with two lines of copy to sell something you're wearing now on eBay." The mix of commerce and fashion stirred interest, and despite having 30 students in each class, I could give everyone serious individual attention. For another project, I asked them to describe the essence of the chalkboard in one or two sentences. One student wrote, "A chalkboard is a lot like memory: often jumbled, unorganized and sloppy. Even after it's erased, there are traces of everything that's been written on it."
Great idea for those of us instructors weary of dealing with "font-size manipulation, plagiarism and clichés" in "the five-paragraph essay and its bully of a cousin, the research paper." The solution, according to Andy Selsberg? Don't go long! Go short!
A lot can be said with a little -- the mundane and the extraordinary. Philosophers like Confucius ("Learning without thought is labor lost. Thought without learning is perilous.") and Nietzsche were kings of the aphorism.
Excellent learnéd aphorism from Confucius. Somebody now go tell the Confucians here in Korea that not all learning is long-rote memory work.

For the entire humorous but insightful short piece, see Selsberg's "Teaching to the Text Message," NYT (March 19, 2011).

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

An odd figure of speech . . .

Out of Place?
(Image from Wikipedia)

I noticed in Hebrews 6:17-20 -- which happens to be a rather long, convoluted sentence about God's encouraging oath to back up a promise for those who have 'fled' to the hope in Jesus as High Priest who has entered the veil to the Holy of Holies in the heavenly tabernacle -- that an odd figure of speech occurs:
(17) Accordingly, when God desired to demonstrate more abundantly to those who are heirs of the promise the immutability of his will, he guaranteed (it) with an oath, (18) so that through two immutable things, in which it is impossible for one who is God to lie, we might have a strong encouragement, we who have fled so as to lay hold of the hope which lies before us, (19) which we have as an anchor of the soul, steady and firm and reaching into the interior of the veil, (20) where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek, forever. (Harold Attridge, Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1989, page 178a)
The oddity among oddities in this odd convolution is that misplaced anchor. Oh, before I forget, here's the Greek original, for those readers who like too say "It's all Greek to me!"
17 ἐν ᾧ περισσότερον βουλόμενος ὁ θεὸς ἐπιδεῖξαι τοῖς κληρονόμοις τῆς ἐπαγγελίας τὸ ἀμετάθετον τῆς βουλῆς αὐτοῦ ἐμεσίτευσεν ὅρκῳ 18 ἵνα διὰ δύο πραγμάτων ἀμεταθέτων ἐν οἷς ἀδύνατον ψεύσασθαι τὸν θεόν ἰσχυρὰν παράκλησιν ἔχωμεν οἱ καταφυγόντες κρατῆσαι τῆς προκειμένης ἐλπίδος 19 ἣν ὡς ἄγκυραν ἔχομεν τῆς ψυχῆς ἀσφαλῆ τε καὶ βεβαίαν καὶ εἰσερχομένην εἰς τὸ ἐσώτερον τοῦ καταπετάσματος 20 ὅπου πρόδρομος ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν εἰσῆλθεν Ἰησοῦς κατὰ τὴν τάξιν Μελχισέδεκ ἀρχιερεὺς γενόμενος εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα. (GNT Morph, Blue Letter Bible)
The Greek term for anchor is "agkyra" (ἄγκυρα), which clearly has an etymological connection to our English term "anchor," but what's an anchor doing within the veil to the Holy of Holies? I realize that this is a fanciful metaphor, not an actual anchor, but the image is odd. Believers are all on a ship at sea and have let the anchor out not in the depths of the sea but in the heights of the heavens, for this Holy of Holies is located in the innermost sanctuary of the heavenly tabernacle.

Attridge himself notes that this anchor "strikes a different and somewhat incongruous note" (p. 183b) and that "[t]he nautical imagery, already strained by the note that the anchor 'enters,' is broken with the reference to the place where the anchor reaches, 'the interior of the veil'" (p. 184a).

But this does make sense, finally, of that odd line that used to puzzle me in stanze 2 of Edward Mote's hymn "My Hope is Built on Nothing Less":
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus' blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus' name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

His oath, His covenant, and blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When every earthly prop gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found,
Clothed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne!
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
I'm referring to the line "My anchor holds within the veil," which I always thought had a misspelling for "vale," i.e., "valley," and that was odd enough, but the spelling now makes sense.

In an odd sort of way . . .

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Dario Rivarossa starts to blog . . .

EkHeart in Eden
Dario Rivarossa
(Image from (He)Art by dhr)

My cyberfriend Dario Rivarossa, who posts comments here quite often, is an amusing, humorous, multitalented fellow, combining erudition with intellect, curiosity with discipline, and artistry with ethic, among other things, such as a talent for languages and skill as a translator.

He is also now a blogger, and his Blogspot blog is titled (He)Art by dhr.

Actually, I hadn't realized that he wasn't already a blogger. But I guess that I'll have to accept that he's a neophyte to the art of blogging, for here's the evidence from his initial post:
Why, hello. Or is it, "Hello?"
Dear Reader & Blogger
Gasp! How did he know that?! I am a reader, obviously, but how did Dario know that I also blog? Naturally, he knows that I am a blogger, but how did he know that I would visit and read his first entry? This man has preternatural foresight! Unless he was referring to the web host for Blogspot blogs, namely, Blogger, and for some obscure reason was apostrophizing it with a greeting . . .
welcome to my first attempt to start a Blog. I will know if it worked only after seeing it online.
It 'seems' to be working. Ah, here's some more:
Since I am no mother-tongue, the texts will contain several mistakes, but it doesn't matter: they will be outnumbered by the mistakes in the contents. E.g. I already registered this web address two times, and cannot delete the 2nd copy . . . I dunno-how skipped the Instruction page, so I am improvising . . . Now, will our hero one day succeed in modifying the Profile
I could probably give some advice . . . but what fun is there in that? Let this 'none-of-a-mother-tongue' struggle with the new medium of blogging. Why, blogging is the cutting edge of cyberspace, so one must blaze one's own path with that keen, avant-garde edge. Besides, I'll be overjoyed to see some other fellow's self-inflicted wounds, for the vanguard carry sharp, two-edged swords. Dario's careless cuts will make me feel so much better about my own wounded self.
Basically, the Blog aims at showing my drawings, mostly Fan Art devoted to classical Japanese Anime characters (reworked), and odd&ends freely based on the verses of poets like John Milton.
Uh-oh, people. Another Miltonist hawking his Miltonia. But at least Dario's blog will display art that hasn't been recycled from Wikipedia, unlike the found-art images supplied by yours truly. Dario will be recounting the future adventures of a certain "EkHeart," apparently a cyborg of the 23rd century.
This is the first drawing, sort of a Manifesto.
The revolution will be blogged.
Bye! --------- and, buy, in case ;-)
There it is, the initial double-punning, sales-pitching, counter-cultural dénouement, enclosed in case, yours for the low price of . . . free.

You can't do better than that.

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Monday, March 21, 2011

LeRoy Tucker, Climax I: Cotton on the Rocks Press Release

Press Release
Climax I: Cotton on the Rocks
LeRoy Tucker

Mr. LeRoy Tucker sent me the following press release for Climax I: Cotton on the Rocks, so I suppose his book is now officially available. Readers of this blog might be able to click on that image above to enlarge for readability, but I've reproduced a slightly edited version of the document below for easiest convenience:
Lives Unfold In Climax

New book presents a collection of stories that capture the flavor of earlier times and events that happened in a small southern town over a period of thirty years.

Xlibris, the print-on-demand self publishing services provider, announced today the release of Climax I: Cotton on the Rocks. Authored by L. "Tuck" Tucker, this book presents thirteen short stories all connected and all reflect unusual circumstances including incest, murder, humor and more all occurring in the remote village of Climax, Arkansas over a period of thirty years.

Climax I Cotton on the Rocks, presents thirteen short stories and a mixed lot of twenty pieces of hill lore including hill humor, pathos, joy and sorrow, gardening and hunting the old way.

It opens with "The Farrar Incident" in which Sheriff Alfred "Bulldog" Martin is challenged as he deals with the knotty problems resulting from a murder that disturbed the community and tries the sheriff's ethics as never before.

This work is united along one theme, the community of Climax, Arkansas, a community of poor hardscrabble people joined together in common, making a living from the poor rocky and gravely soil of the fictional La Clair County. Inevitably there arise combinations of circumstances resulting in stories that are sometimes funny, sometimes strange, and stories that are merely humorous, like "The Electric Chicken," and stories that have it all including mystery, like "Hoops." Even one story about an overzealous preacher and self mutilation and a poignant little love story, "Cadillac Pie" that will stir the hardest of hearts.

With just the right blend of mystery, humor, adventure and wit, Climax I: Cotton on the Rocks captivate and shock readers with the raw earthiness, with the wit and with its variety and surprises with every turn of the page. For more information on this book, interested parties may log on to Xlibris.

About the Author

L. "Tuck" Tucker was born Jan 7 1931 in Fulton County, Arkansas, hill country where the great depression lasted on into the early fifties. He started grade school at age five in California's central valley, "a grapes of wrath experience," he jokingly explains. Later, he attended school in Texas where he delivered the Texarkana Gazette and The Dallas Morning News. At the war's end, the family returned to the hills, where Tuck finished high school and was soon married to his high school sweetheart Patsy Sutherland.

Tuck says, "I really never gave college a thought." He was employed by GM two times as an hourly employee. After ten years service, he entered management and completed thirty years of service and retired in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, where he managed a Parts Distribution Center. "I write for fun," he laughs, "never learned grammar. Like a country picker, I do it by ear." Humor comes naturally to Tuck. "I have achieved more failures than most men have held jobs," he claims.

He is a former marine, drafted in 1952 and was inducted in Little Rock along with seven other draftees and one volunteer and marine regular, a youngster named Charles Portis who was the man in charge during the boozy three-day train ride to the marine base in San Diego and who later wrote the great classic True Grit and other fine novels.

Tuck now lives in Jonesboro, Arkansas with his wife of sixty-one years. They have three daughters and many grandchildren.
That "sixty-one years" refers to the length of LeRoy's happy and successful marriage to his charming, lovely, and intelligent wife Patsy, whom I met last summer when the two of them visited me in Salem, Arkansas during my return to the Ozarks for a few weeks in August.

Anyway, I strongly recommend Tucker's book. You can find a bit more information online here, a slightly different version of this press release. Or you can order here.

For those who need the proof of the pudding, I've offered a preview from the story "Rolland Burdick" here.

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Harold W. Attridge on Melchizedek in Hebrews

Harold W. Attridge

I reported briefly on Melchizedek in the New Testament book of Hebrews back in October, and since my Bible study group is looking into this mysterious figure later this morning, I thought that I'd post what Harold Attridge has to say in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, starting first with his translation of Hebrews 7:1-3:
(1) Now this "Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of God Most High," he "who met Abraham when he returned from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, (2) to whom Abraham apportioned a tithe of all things," who is interpreted first as "king of righteousness," then also "king of Salem," that is 'king of peace," (3) being without father, mother, or lineage, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but likened to the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually. (Attridge, Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1989, page 186a)
Attridge then offers a five-page commentary that I won't quote, but I will quote an excursus of his that's not quite as lengthy, though it's also long:
Excursus: Melchizedek

The mysterious figure of Melchizedek generated considerable interest, beginning in Jewish apocalyptic circles and continuing, partly on the basis of Hebrews's brief remarks, throughout the patristic period. While for historians such as the anonymous Samaritan known as Pseudo-Eupolemus and for Josephus Melchizedek remained a human priest-king, for other Jewish authors he became something more.

Philo typically finds in Melchizedek an allegorical symbol. In interpreting Gen 14 he begins, as does Hebrews, with etymology and an argumentum e silentio [i.e., argument from silence]. His allegory then becomes complex, uncovering a variety of referents in the many scriptural symbols in the passage. In two respects his handling of Melchizedek parallels the moves he makes in allegorizing other scriptural priests. A political interpretation of Melchizedek in terms of a good king leads into a psychological interpretation in terms of the human mind (νοῦς [i.e., nous]). Finally, as with other priests, Melchizedek becomes a symbol of the divine Logos, although in a revelatory rather than creative function. There are no traces of any particular Melchizedek myth and there is no warrant for the view that Melchizedek is understood to be a heavenly figure. Whether, as in the case of his notion of priestly angels, speculation on a heavenly being ultimately underlies Philo's allegory is unclear.

More solid evidence of speculation on a heavenly Melchizedek has been found at Qumran in a fragmentary document, 11QMelch. The text, which forms part of an eschatological midrash on Lev 5:9-13, is paleographically datable to the early first century CE [i.e., =AD], or, more likely, to the late first century BCE [i.e., =BC]. In the fragment, the Jubilee year of Leviticus is interpreted as the eschatological release of the captives of Belial, the name of the angelic leader of the forces of darkness common at Qumran. The agent of this release is Melchizedek, whose function is primarily judgmental. As part of the eschatological redemption that he provides, iniquities are removed and expiation effected. These are clearly priestly functions, although Melchizedek is not explicitly called a priest. As a judge he is identified with the אלהים [i.e., 'elohiym] of Ps 82:1, who "stands in the assembly of El and judges in the midst of the Elohim." He is thus a heavenly being, probably modeled after or even identical with the angel Michael, Belial's regular adversary. This image of Melchizedek indicates one strand of speculation on his heavenly status, but, like the notion of a priestly messiah to which it may be related, this speculation is hardly the direct source of Hebrews's image of the priest-king.

Further evidence of possibly relevant speculation on Melchizedek as a heavenly being is found in 2 Enoch and among the Nag Hammadi texts. Dating the first work, which survives only in Old Slavonic, is problematic and its manuscript tradition complex. The work was probably composed in the first century CE, and the basic Melchizedek legend, found more fully in witnesses to a longer recension, is certainly not a Christian interpolation and is probably an original component of the work. According to this legend, the great-grandson of Enoch and the brother of Noah, the priest Nir, has a son, miraculously conceived and born from the corpse of his mother. This child, Melchizedek, is chosen to be saved from the flood to continue the line of priests that began with Seth. How the succession is to occur is not clear, since the child is taken by Michael [i.e., Michael the angel] to paradise where he is to remain forever. The Melchizedek whom Abraham is to meet is another individual, possibly a reincarnation, and at least a copy of the original, now heavenly, Melchizedek. From the Abrahamic Melchizedek a succession of priests will culminate in an eschatological High Priest, the "word and power of God." He too will be a Melchizedek, whose precise functions are unclear, apart from performing great miracles. While there are probably Christian interpolations in this account, the basic scheme of successive Melchizedeks, modeled on the original and exalted one, is hardly Christian.

A very similar notion seems to underlies the fragmentary Nag Hammadi tractate Melchizedek (NHC 9, 1 [i.e., = Nag Hammadi Codex 9, 1]), dated between the second and fourth centuries. Although the text has undergone Christian and Gnostic revision, the framework of the story and its conception of Melchizedek are earlier. According to this account, Melchizedek, a human figure modeled on the heavenly Christ, has a vision of the eschatological tole he is destined to play, in which he is equated with Jesus. This Melchizedek story has interesting formal similarities to the legend in 2 Enoch and could have been adapted from such a source where a heavenly and eschatological Melchizedek of the sort found at Qumran was identified with Christ.

The inspiration for Hebrews' treatment of Melchizedek probably derives from one or another of these speculative trends, one that saw Melchizedek as an angelic defender of Israel (Qumran) or as an exalted, possibly angelic, heavenly priest (Philo?, 2 Enoch, 3 Enoch, Nag Hammadi). In neither case are the parallels exact and exhaustive, but they do indicate contexts in which the "eternal life" of Melchizedek would be more than a literary conceit.

Subsequent reflections on Melchizedek in Jewish circles occasionally portray him as an eschatological figure and he is sometimes identified with Michael [i.e., Michael the angel]. More commonly, possibly for apologetic purposes, Melchizedek is domesticated by being identified with Shem. In other contexts, his significance is diminished, since he loses his office because he has blessed Abraham before God. Accordingly Ps 110 is construed unfavorably for Melchizedek.

More fanciful speculation develops in Christian circles, some of which may be based on Jewish traditions of Melchizedek as a heavenly being. Particularly interesting are reports of the so-called Melchizedekians. In Rome of the late second century, certain Monarchians, led by one Theodotus the banker, maintained the view that Christ, who came upon Jesus at baptism, was inferior to Melchizedek, the name of a major "heavenly power." This mythic structure parallels that of 2 Enoch and the Nag Hammadi tractate Melchizedek, while the language of a heavenly "power" is found frequently in early Gnostic sources. The earliest witness to this movement, Hippolytus, does not give any indication of the use of Hebrews or Ps 110 in the development of the theory about Melchizedek, and this theory probably derived directly from Jewish models.

The image of Melchizedek as an angelic priestly intercessor, found particularly in Ps.-Tertullian may suggest the sort of Jewish Melcizedek speculation that was involved. That speculation bears a striking resemblance to the tradition of Jesus as a heavenly priest that probably underlies the christological portrait of Hebrews. Perhaps the heavenly Melchizedek known to our author was such a figure. If so, it is at most implicit in his title (7:1). Further intimations of the speculation on Melchizedek as heavenly intercessor may be found in Origen's opinion that Melchizedek was an angel and in the Gnostic Pistis Sophia and Books of Jeu. There, Melchizedek, the "paralemptor [i.e., "light-bringer"?]," periodically descends from the world of light into the archontic spheres, gathers up light particles or souls, and brings them on high. The older function of angelic intermediaries who bring human prayers to God has here been transformed into a specifically Gnostic scheme.

Later speculation, much of it catalogued by Epiphanius, proposed a variety of further identifications of Melchizedek in Hebrews, as a pre-incarnation of the Son, a manifestation or incarnation of the Holy Spirit, or even of the Father. These patristic opinions indicate the suggestive ambiguity of the figure of Melchizedek in Hebrews, although they contribute little to the question of "Melchizedek's" origin and function. (Attridge, Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1989, pages 192a-195a)
Thus ends Professor Attridge's excursus and my extensive typing. This is what I'll offer to read aloud in this morning's study of Hebrews, adding my own clarifying expansions on what Attridge might sometimes have only referred to.

I've twice met Professor Attridge, incidentally, once in 1999 at an AAR-SBL conference in Boston when he showed up at Professor Michael Stone's 'Jerusalem Seminar' reunion during that same conference and a second time in 2005 at an SBL international conference in Singapore when he showed up for a talk that I gave on gift-giving in John's Gospel. I liked the man and wish that we could have had more contact.

But here I am, rather far these days from religious studies . . .

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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Gospel of John 12:31 - "Now shall the prince of this world be cast out."

Saint Francis Borgia (1788)
Francisco Goya
(Image from Wikipedia)

Recently, a scholarly friend remarked that whereas the synoptic gospels depict Jesus casting out demons as a rather frequently performed miracle, the Gospel of John records no exorcisms. I replied that one could say that the fourth evangelist thinks of the entire cosmos as possessed by Satan.

I've since given the matter a bit of thought, though I've not had time to develop the idea, but here's a little to reflect upon.

The name "Satan" occurs only in John 13:27, where Satan takes particular possession of Judas, but this gospel uses a few other expressions that appear to refer to Satan, for example "the devil" (8:44; 13:2) and "the ruler of this world" (12:31; 14:30; 16:11). The latter expression is of interest for my suggestion that the entire cosmos is possessed by Satan in the fourth gospel. Anyone familiar with John's Gospel will recognize that it presents the cosmos was originally a good creation, a product of the Word's creative power, but that this cosmos has somehow become an evil place. I could spend some time and verses supporting this point, but I don't think that the effort is necessary. My suggestion that the fourth evangelist might think of this evil as a consequence of "possession" rests partly on John 12:31 (Blue Letter Bible):
νῦν κρίσις ἐστὶν τοῦ κόσμου τούτου νῦν ὁ ἄρχων τοῦ κόσμου τούτου ἐκβληθήσεται ἔξω (Textus Receptus)

Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. (KJV)
I've used the Textus Receptus, but it does not differ from the GNT Morph on this verse, and the King James Version translates the verse as I also would, more or less. Anyway, the expression "shall be cast out" (ἐκβληθήσεται) is the inflected form of the Greek verb for "cast out" (ἐκβάλλω), and this verb is consistently used in the synoptics to describe exorcisms (cf. Matthew 8:16, 31; 9:33, 34; 10:1, 8; 12:24, 25, 27, 28; 17:19; Mark 1:34, 39; 3:15, 22, 23; 6:13; 7:26; 9:18, 28, 38; 16:9, 17; Luke 9:40, 49; 11:14, 15, 18, 19, 20; 13:32).

None of these synoptic uses of "cast out" for exorcisms demonstrates that the fourth evangelist believed that the cosmos was possessed by Satan and that Satan needed to be exorcised from the cosmos, but the interpretation is intriguing to consider and perhaps deserves more attention. Possibly, others have already broached the issue.

As for the exorcism painting by Goya offered above, it has little to do with John's Gospel, other than borrowing from the scene of John 19:34, where blood comes forth from the pierced side of Jesus.

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Friday, March 18, 2011

LeRoy Tucker: Climax 1: Cotton on the Rocks

Climax 1: Cotton on the Rocks
LeRoy "Tuck" Tucker
(Image Used by Permission)

LeRoy Tucker's first set of Climax stories is now on the book market and looks something like the mock-up cover depicted above. As can dimly be seen, a blurb by yours truly appears on the back:
I still remember my reaction when I first read some of these stories online: "I have stumbled across a genius named LeRoy Tucker." I had been searching for information on the Ozarks and stumbled across Mr. Tucker's blog, Folk Liar of the Ozarks. When I looked more closely, I realized what an authentic treasure I'd discovered. This self-proclaimed 'folkliarist' writes with a gifted literary hand, captures the Ozark dialect that was already fading in my childhood, and has a gift for storytelling like the one ascribed to one of his more memorable minor characters, the preacher Az Bronson:
"Ole Az can start spinnin' out another'n now. It's the beatenist thing. Most preachers has about a half a dozen sermons, an' that's all they needs. Ole Az, he jest starts talkin' . . . . Sermons jest rolls out of Ole Az like mule turds rolls down a steep hill."
Like Az with his sermons, Mr. Tucker gets one story after another rolling down a slippery slope. The reader is in for a wild but enjoyable ride.
The publishers not only reveal my name, but even my 'horsepower' (as Mr. Tucker calls my PhD), though I'm not sure that these will actually help sell any books. What will sell them is Mr. Tucker's own excellent writing, of which you can be reminded -- or first become aware -- by reading the selection below from the story "Rolland Burdick," which features the characters Sheriff "Bulldog" Martin, Doctor "Doc" Clift, and Johnny "Frog" Robbins and which also supplied the above quote concerning "Ole Az," a 'scoundrelous' Ozark preacher in the great state of Arkansas:
"Damn!" exclaimed Bulldog. "There is ole cussin' Rolland Burdick, at church. I saw his team tied in front of the courthouse last night."

"That's right," said Frog. "He took a load of ties off yesterday. You don't suppose he got religion over in Hardy? That don't hardly seem possible. Quiten' cussin' will spile his personality. He won't be his self no more. I reserves my opinion. Us give this a little time. They is somethin’ unnatural about it."

"He pays his debts. Not in money if he can 'void it, in whiskey, an' he makes the best homemade I've ever found. I hope he don't ketch too bad a case. Whiskey makin' is an art. Not many of 'em ever learn how to do it right," observed B.D.

"Rolland might quit for a little while if he takes up with them Campbellites," said Frog. "Mor'n half them fellers keeps a gallon in the barn. No, they'll need ole cussin' Rolland jest as bad atter they take him to the pond. Hit'll be alright."

"Jest fer a while, 'splain that?" said B.D.

"Hit takes a while fer a Campbellite to do his 'prentiseship. At first he would be jest a learner without none of the rights an' privileges that goes with the position. At first his job is to be peaceful and quiet, observin' and learnin' how it's done an if he don't let his mind wander too bad he won't have to go home nekkid more'n a couple or three times 'fore he gits aholt of it an' then he can start bein' a good Campbellite like all the others 'cept the real old ones or the ones that's sick and skeered."

"Well now," said the doctor, "it seems like you have given this a good deal of thought, more than I have to be sure. You lost me there somewhere about the going home naked part."

"First a new Campbellite has to learn how to forgive the Campbellite way. The way they sees things is that anything's fair. Cheatin' on Sunday afternoon is risky, the riskiest part of the whole week to swap a feller out of ever thing, includin' even his last pair of overalls. Sinnin' on a Sunday after church is the riskiest time they is. The safest time would be on a Sunday mornin' jest before Sunday school takes up. Pint is that ever Sunday they gets together and forgives each other. Whether a feller needs it or not he gits forgave. Timin' is important. Hit's a matter of exposure. When a Campbellite is tradin', the farther he is from Sunday the dangerouser it is. Late Saturday or early on a Sunday is best 'cause they ain't too much exposure 'fore he gits forgave again. You have to be a Campbellite to plumb understand it. That's the best I can do."

"And that's all there is to it Frog?"

"They is more but that is the big one. They sings hymns an' they have the pursue'nst preachers of any. Preachers talks about Jesus and hell an' heaven while the older more 'sperienced Campbellites sets an' plots out the week's business 'cause the forgivin' part is already done over with."

"Doctor Clift, Frog here ain't got much use for that perticuler brand of Christian. He might be a little harsh on 'em," joked B.D.

"No Sheriff, that ain't right. I done considered my own personal prejudices an 'lowed fer that. Doc, is them Campbellites good pay?"

"Frog, you know I can't talk about that."

"I rest'es my case," said Frog. Then he asked, "Have you fellers noticed how that little Baysinger gal has growed lately?"

"I noticed that you noticed an' I doubt the preacher will overlook it," said Bulldog. "An' most of the young fellers that's more in her age bracket. The doctor here, he don't never lust. He sees ever thing in a purely professional, clinical sense. Ain't that right Doc?"

"That's true as a general thing," said the doctor, "but I'm no eunuch. But Johnny, how does a man become so prejudiced? I know most of those folks. Your narrow minded assessment don't fit'em. If you're serious you are the most prejudiced guy I've ever known and then some, so tell me."

"Hit's the levity of it. The Campbellites is the one's havin' a meetin' right now. You ortn't to believe me when I'm jest jokin'."

"And you ortn't to use words like levity either, not here in Climax anyway. Folks will lose their confidence in you."

"Folks ain't here. Ain't nobody here but jest us. Us bein' the three most pusillanimous, oh pardon me, Doc, scoundrels in Climax. That's right though; I ort to be keerfuller. I'll tell you fellers sumthin' else. By the time this meetin' is over ole Preacher Bronson will have the dimensions of ever purty Campbellite woman in Climax set so solid in his mind that he could ride a wind broke mule all the way to Texas and pick out a new frock fer ever one of 'em. Ole Az got a eye fer the ladies. I don’t hold that agin' him much. I'm kind'er jealous, that's all. It seems to me like he is in the wrong trade fer a feller which is disposed like that."

"Frog, preachers don't pick their trade like other fellers," observed Bulldog. "Preachers jest wakes up one mornin' with a hard on, cravin' fried chicken. They ain't in control of their own fate, as the feller said."

"What can we do to keep Rolland making at least a little whiskey?" asked Dr. Clift.

"Does he like you or does he owe you?" asked Bulldog."

"Both I hope."

"I see. He owes you. Rolland don't like nobody, but he pays what he owes, with whiskey if he can. He makes maybe fifty gallon a year. He drinks about a gallon a month. He don't exactly sell none. Rolland trades where he can pay with whiskey. If he goes Campbellite, they ain't no tellin' fer shore but my feelin' is he'll keep right on makin' about fifty gallon ever winter. Rolland saves. He saves ever dime he can. He don’t like to swap money for anything. Tradin' with reg'lar money nearly makes him go to bed, sick. He would have to use money to buy sugar to make whiskey an' he jest cain't do that. He makes his'n out of jest corn that a'course he grows his self. He is the only one we got like that. All the other'ns makes jest sugar, rot gut. He ort to make a good Campbellite though. I doubt he'll go home nekkid even once. Them Campbellites better watch their own britches. They done met their match. Anyway, all of 'em are gathered up in the buildin'. Ole Az can start spinnin' out another'n now. It's the beat'nist thing. Most preachers has about a half a dozen sermons an' that's all they needs. He jest starts talking.' without no idie what he's goin' to say. Sermons jest rolls out of ole Az like mule turds rolls down a steep hill.
There. If that lyin' don't fetch 'em, I don't know Arkansas!

UPDATE: Some folks were asking about how to order a copy, so I found the publisher's site: Xlibris.

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Coptic Again . . .

Introduction to Sahidic Coptic
Thomas O. Lambdin
(Image from Amazon)

After a break of nearly five years, I've recently started reviewing Coptic grammar again, using Lambdin's Introduction to Sahidic Coptic.

At one time, I was quite good in Coptic and even corrected Alexander Böhlig, but when I failed to obtain a position in religious studies after a postdoctoral year in Jerusalem, I had less time to work on it. I tried for a few years. I recall using flash cards to learn new vocabulary as I trudged along dark paths among rice paddies at five in the morning on my way to teach English to Korean students during winter months, using a small flashlight to illuminate the cards and guide my steps. I wore gloves with the thumb and forefinger cut off to leave me freer use of my hands for the flash cards, but the winter chill froze my fingers, and I had to alternate between one hand with the cards and the other in my coat pocket, not a simple procedure while while holding a even a tiny flashlight. But by around 2005 or 2006, I could see the handwriting on the wall and realized that I was never going to teach religious studies, so in my discouragement, I set my Coptic aside.

But as I said, I've recently begun reviewing it. I don't have a practical reason for this, for I expect no job opportunities in which I could put it to use. Rather, I felt sad to lose my facility in a language that I had worked so hard to learn. Moreover, I had begun to outgrow my discouragement over the career path that I failed to follow despite my efforts.

I therefore briefly review a bit of Coptic grammar and vocabulary every day, and I try to keep my ears open to reports about the Coptic Church in Egypt since it's in the news these days.

Not that I know much about that, for their liturgy is in Bohairic Coptic, and I study the Sahidic dialect.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bernar Venet: Artful Figures?

Parabole de la fonction y=2x^2+3x-2 (left)
Gold Saturation with four N (right)
(Image from JoongAng Daily)

A couple of days ago, I mentioned that "I like to read articles on things that I know nothing of to see if they spark ideas on things that I know something about," and I've now come across the French artist Bernar Venet, who has a similar method for seeking inspiration:
"I confess, I don't understand math well . . . . I get fascinated by what I cannot understand. As I cannot understand math, I can express it as abstract paintings."
Being an artist, Venet would undoubtedly know something about painting, and I can see how mathematics as inspiration would lead to abstraction in painting.

Though Venet is renowned, I learned of this French artist only yesterday in an article by Moon So-young, who often writes fascinating articles on art for the JoongAng Daily. Yesterday's was titled "Making art of numbers and figures" (March 14, 2011) and alerts readers to the Venet exhibition running until April 14 at the Seoul Museum of Art near Deoksu Palace in central Seoul. Moon usually offers something to reflect upon in her art reviews, and she doesn't fail to do so here in this exhibition announcement, either:
American art critic and poet Donald Kuspit wrote in his book Bernar Venet Art and Mathematics: In Search of the Sublime that Venet's mathematical murals "are more sublime than mathematical, or rather use mathematics as a springboard to the sublime."
To put this statement into context, Moon adds:
The 18th century German philosopher Immanuel Kant said the feeling of the sublime, unlike the feeling of the beautiful, is accompanied by awe, fear or some kind of displeasure from an object due to its overwhelming and unfamiliar qualities.
This suggests that those individuals with math anxiety who visit the exhibition should be able to enjoy an experience of the sublime in Venet's mathematical paintings. But I wonder what mathematicians might make of such paintings.

Anyway, for those intrigued by the idea of math as inspiration, visit the exhibition, read the short JoongAng article, or -- even better yet -- click over to Bernar Venet's own website and explore on your own.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Diogenes: Carter Kaplan

Carter Kaplan
(Image from Amazon)

Carter Kaplan, a fellow scholar of John Milton who sometimes visits here and offers comments, has published another creative work. Some readers might recall his novel, Tally-Ho, Cornelius!, for I blogged about that book. This time, Kaplan has written a play, Diogenes, set in Hellenic Greece precisely on the cusp of Hellenistic antiquity. It's actually a play within a play, a cross-dressing tragedy tricked out as comedy, with inside jokes on famous lines from antiquity and infamous philosophers from modernity, and it's both humorous and thought-provoking. In a scene where Tyrannosaurus and Demeter, the parents of an absent young Achilles, along with Ionedes and Chloe, the parents of an absent young Chrysis, query "[t]he very flower of Athens' intellectual power," a heady "bouquet of philosophers" (p. 54), concerning the whereabouts of the missing young couple, Kaplan pokes fun at continental philosophy in a send-up of two modern French thinkers:
Tyrannosaurus: What about that dancing fellow there with the white face? (Points to a philosopher in black leotard with white face makeup.)

Dean of Philosophers: That is Derridada. He does not speak because to him words refer only to other words.

Tyrannosaurus: But his movements communicate meaning. Look there, it looks like he is pressing his hands against a wall.

Dean of Philosophers: But there is no wall. It is but an illusion signifying nothing.

(Derridada's miming motions increase to a welter of confusion.)

Tyrannosaurus: What a silly fellow! How has he come to be among the philosopher if he cannot express himself?

Dean of Philosophers: (stares at Derridada and shrugs) He just seems to fit in.

Ionedes: What about this foreign-looking Johnny?

Dean of Philosophers: Ah, that is Foucaultes. He has plenty to say. Don't you, Foucaultes?

Foucaultes: It is about time you gentlemen called upon me, or rather my historic function, because my function has figured out everything. My function has reduced it all to a theory of interrogating dialogues, by which all affairs can be measured and explained. Where you have made your error is in not understanding the function of history and social force focused through the apparatus of punishment, which culminates in the apex of the human organism, at last liberated and transformed as unit-component in the totalized social system. You have failed to punish your children according to the punishment they should receive. Hand your children over to me and I shall make them independent of their disobedience; and thus independent of their selves they shall be. I will tie them up, place rubber masks over their heads, and press my convincing fists deep into their fluepipes.

(All stare at Foucaultes a full twenty seconds.)

Demeter: Unbearable! Bitter! Bitter! No mother can tolerate such words.

Chloe: (with dry and uncharacteristic sobriety) Ionedes, this one is a very unpleasant person.

Ionedes: Tyrannosaurus, I know Athens is a brave marketplace of braver ideas, but would it be possible to put this one to death? (pages 56-57)
And Tyrannosaurus proceeds to do just that for Ionedes, thereby providing empirical demonstration for the usefulness of having a tyrant as friend. But not everything is fun and games. The play goes on to make a serious point that I shall not reveal here so as to avoid divulging any plot-spoilers . . . but also because I've not yet quite figured out what that serious point is. I'll keep at it, though, till I understand, for that's the part I have to play.

Meanwhile, I recommend the play. I don't read a lot of dramas, for I'd generally prefer to watch them staged, but I enjoyed reading this one, finding it humorous enough at times to make me laugh out loud. My cyber-friend Dario Rivarossa, artist and erudite translator who visits here from Italian cyberspace, also likes the play, and in his amusing Amazon review, "Kaplan Plays the Oracle Well," says the following:
When someone speaks by a "double tongue", it means that "the gods' presence is making itself felt in the room". So, as you read this book, you can be sure that the gods are surrounding you, because no one is more double-tongued than Carter Kaplan. Meaning that he is a liar? Not at all: he is the sincere singer of that twisted and twisting mirror which, in fact, is our life. Something like the labyrinth in Dürrenmatt "Minotaurus", but here Kaplan has fun in playing with Greek traditions even more than that.

For a starter, the drama takes place no less than in Atlantis, where a comedy set in Athens is on stage. The showing of Athens within Atlantis would already prove interesting enough, but the writer doesn't stop here: besides a quite recognizable philosopher Diogenes, in fact, he introduces such characters as Tyrannosaurus, Derridada, Foucaultes, and hints at GMOs [i.e., genetically modified organisms] as the means by which ancient Greece solved the problem of food. However, there's much more than easy puns and updated satire against the American Empire and the Western Thought in all of this. The plot, if experimental, is well built; the basic, troubled love story follows "that Shakesperean Rag---". And the Commedia dell'Arte, much appreciated e.g. by Arthur Schopenhauer? Anyway, the events succeed in both catching our attention and making us "reflect". As well as laugh and dream.

I hope that it won't be only enjoyed as a book to be read privately, but that some company will actually stage it too. Meanwhile, tell us, Diogenes: What is Man? A plucked chicken . . . ahem . . . a featherless biped. Just, play your part! Until the goddess Athena emerges "at that shimmering break in conscience".
Break in conscience, or break in consciousness? Maybe both. But America as the Greeks? I thought we Americans were supposed to be the crude if pragmatic Romans! Well, as I said, I haven't yet figured out all of Kaplan's message.

But you should all be able to . . .

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Peter Zumthor: Architect

Peter Zumthor
(Image from The New York Times)

I like to read articles on things that I know nothing of to see if they spark ideas on things that I know something about, and I came upon an interesting statement by the Swiss architect Peter Zumthor quoted by Michael Kimmelman in "The Ascension of Peter Zumthor" for The New York Times Magazine (March 11, 2011):
"I think the chance of finding beauty is higher if you don't work on it directly," Zumthor has said in describing his philosophy. "Beauty in architecture is driven by practicality. This is what you learn from studying the old townscapes of the Swiss farmers. If you do what you should, then at the end there is something, which you can't explain maybe, but if you are lucky, it has to do with life."
I'm not entirely sure what to make of Zumthor's statement, but I find an elusive beauty in the images of his works within the Times article, so he must know what he's talking about even if I don't know for certain. I suspect he means that beauty cannot be readily grasped at in the abstract by the artist, but is better found through working within the constraints of deep experience, which informs the beauty that "has to do with life."

I know nothing of architecture, but I have a bit of experience with poetry, and I find some sense there to what Zumthor says. My most effective poems stem not from an attempt to write poetry, but from a need to express myself, within the framework offered by experience, upon the desire for something greater than what life ordinarily offers, given through what life has to offer.

Perhaps I'm not alone. What, for instance, is John Milton's Paradise Lost, if not an expression of that imperiled desire, an oculus of, and for, the blind?

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Terrance Lindall: Grand End of the World 2012 Celebration

Terrance Lindall and Friends
(Image from WAH Center)

Famed surrealist artist Terrance Lindall invites you to his End of the World Costume Ball, sometime around Halloween 2012. The ball, that is. The consumation of the ages is scheduled that year for December 21st, on the other side of the International Date Line from where I live, meaning the date here in Seoul will already be the 22nd, so I suppose the East Asian world will escape the end. But those of you on yesterday's side of the International Date Line won't want to miss Terrance's "Big Send-Off." He's even inviting suggestions already, for this will be a very, very big event, global if not cosmic, depending on what one means by "world":
I want to know how YOU envision THE END OF THE WORLD! In many cultures the world is predicted to end in 2012, so why not celebrate it with BIG send-off!!!! Artists will gather in FALL 2012 at the . . . END OF THE WORLD in Williamsburg Brooklyn to celebrate it with a BIG SEND-OFF!
Terrance's last big celebration, arguably about the very origin of the world, was his 2008 Milton Festival:
In 2008 I created the world's largest ever Milton Festival, covered or mentioned by major papers around the world including a major article in the NY Times (1,000,000+ subscribers). The NY Times even captioned my show on their FRONT PAGE, not usually done for any art shows!
I happened to be on Terrance's Paradise Lost Committee, where I was charged with the responsibility of taking credit for the work done by others. Maybe I can finagle my way into that position again. I can certainly use the good publicity, and the end of the world should be even bigger news . . . if there's anybody around afterwards to read about it. But the possibility of total annihilation is all the more reason to attend before the end! If you miss this last chance to celebrate, you'll have no excuse, for you've been forewarned!

Lindall lists several "Possible Endings for the World," including that most ubiquitous knight among the four horsemen of the apocalypse, "War." Perhaps war in the troubled Middle East:
Look at the Middle East where countries are in a rush to get weapons to "protect themselves." All it would take is one lunatic! Have you noticed any lunatics in the Middle East?
Hmmm . . . a tough question, but I'll give it some thought. Suggestions welcome on that point. Meanwhile, those interested in attending the festivities should apply sometime this coming September for entry to the Grand End of the World 2012 Costume Ball Celebration.

Hurry, for time's wingéd chariot draweth nigh . . .

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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Poetry Break: "Sea Mist"

San Francisco Fog
(Photograph by Robert Cameron)

Time for a poetry break . . . since I've been working so hard:
Sea Mist
Ah, seaweed-reeking, tendrilled, seeking,
Sea-breeze-blown and tumbling,
Sea-breach-streaming, chilled and
San Francisco fog . . .
This, obviously, stems from my San Francisco days, sometime around autumn of 1988, I reckon.

Enjoy the chill . . .