Saturday, April 30, 2011

Author Shin Kyung-sook: "meaning . . . lost or misconstrued"?

Shin Kyung-sook
(Image from JoongAng Daily)

I've recently drawn attention to Shin Kyung-sook's novel Please Look after Mom, which has enjoyed such a popular reception in the US, and I've made something of an effort to read every newspaper article coming to my attention that appears in an English version here in Korea about her and her novel in its English translation.

I therefore read with interest an interview by Shin Joon-bong, "Korean author finds stardom in U.S." (JoongAng Daily, April 27, 2011, page 9), particularly its words on the issue of translation and 'translatability', only to find myself dismayed by this remark, reportedly uttered by Shin with reference to her role in the translation of her novel from Korean to English:
While I was involved [in the translation project], I've come to realize Korean is the best form of language from a literary point of view.
I did a double take. I stopped reading. I read again. I thought, "Surely, I've misread that." But multiple re-readings offered the same inescapable hermeneutic: Korean literary chauvinism of the worst sort.

The translation, however, sounded odd in its grammatical structure, conjoining the past passive conjugation of the temporal clause with the present perfect conjugation of the main clause in an impossible combination, but grammar aside, I couldn't bring myself to believe that Shin could be so ignorant as to utter such an arrogant assertion in the original Korean. I therefore inquired of my wife as to what the writer had actually stated in her native Korean. Here's what my wife found in the Korean original at the same site:
이번에 다시 한번 우리말이 정말 아름답다, 많은 것을 포용한다는 생각을 하게 됐다. 문학적 표현에 더없이 좋은 언어다.
This translates as follows:
While I was involved [in the translation project], I again came to realize that Korean is a beautiful language -- even for encompassing many things. It is of the highest capacity for literary expression.
Far more acceptable. The other translation -- in the JoongAng Daily -- is dreadful and inadvertently presents Shin in a exceedingly negative light. This translation offered by my wife has Shin merely affirming that Korean can handle literary expression just as well as the best of literary languages. In other words, Korean is not inferior in this respect. Such a reading fits better with Shin's immediately following statement:
Many of my American readers tell me that the sentences are beautiful and they even linger in their mind. Although some words are replaced or changed, the translation still keeps the original beauty of Korean words, I believe.
If the "translation . . . keeps the original beauty," then English cannot be inferior "from a literary point of view."

Whoever translated the JoongAng Daily version was not quite competent enough to express the Korean meaning in English -- and lacked even competence sufficient enough to provide a grammatically correct complex sentence. Or at the very least, there's surely an editing error behind that clunky sentence.

Whatever the explanation, this is embarrassing -- for the JoongAng Daily, of course, but potentially even more so for Shin Kyung-sook, since it attributes to her a chauvinistic literary view that she does not hold!

The error is also hugely ironic, particularly for an interview that makes such an issue of 'translatability'.

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Friday, April 29, 2011

Rob Bell's 'Hellology'?

Rob Bell
'Prince of Darkness?'
Photo by Brent Humphreys
(Image from Time)

That rogue evangelical preacher Rob Bell, whom I blogged on some days ago, is apparently getting a lot of attention these days for his quasi-universalist doubts about Hell -- he has now made the cover of Time, as you can see above. A large number of people must be reading his book Love Wins, I guess, if it's featured in that weekly's main article, "Pastor Rob Bell: What if Hell Doesn't Exist?" (Apr. 14, 2011). The writer, Jon Meacham, poses an interesting question:
Is Bell's Christianity -- less judgmental, more fluid, open to questioning the most ancient of assumptions -- on an inexorable rise?
Bell himself wonders about much the same thing:
"I have long wondered if there is a massive shift coming in what it means to be a Christian," Bell says. "Something new is in the air."
I'm not sure what Bell means by this, for the article doesn't speak explicitly about the point, but Meacham does go on to cite another evangelical who might be onto the answer:
"He's trying to reach a generation that's more comfortable with mystery, with unsolved questions," says [Fuller Theological Seminary president, Richard] Mouw, noting that his own young grandchildren are growing up with Hindu and Muslim friends and classmates. "For me, Hindus and Muslims were the people we sent missionaries off to in places we called 'Arabia,'" Mouw says. "Now that diversity is part of the fabric of daily life. It makes a difference. My generation wanted truth -- these are folks who want authenticity. The whole judgmentalism and harshness is something they want to avoid."
I've noticed that a lot of the music sung in churches these days, even in strict evangelical denominations, is largely 'praise' songs that are doctrinally thin, and evangelicals don't seem to know the Bible as well as they did when I was growing up. Evangelicalism has always been a religion of the heart, but that heart these days seems less tutored.

The untutored heart is perhaps not as committed to some traditional doctrines if these seem 'unfair'.

But I'm just guessing . . .

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Larry Goodson and Thomas H. Johnson on US Tactics and Strategy in Afghanistan

(Image from Wikipedia)

As I've occasionally mentioned, I'm on the mailing list of the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI), so I receive something of interest once every couple of weeks or so. Yesterday, an article by Larry Goodson and Thomas H. Johnson popped into my email box, "Parallels with the Past -- How the Soviets Lost in Afghanistan, How the Americans are Losing" (April 2011). Goodson is a professor of Middle East Studies at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and Johnson is a research professor in the Department of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, so they should know what they're talking about. Their article is interesting and informative, but I wasn't quite persuaded about the Soviet-American comparison.

Why not?

Their claim is that there are "startling and unsettling similarities between Soviet strategies and tactics in Afghanistan during their Afghan war of 1979-1989 and American coalition strategies and tactics in Afghanistan since October 2001." They focus on "three similarities . . . central to current U.S. and NATO Afghan strategies: the focus on key population centers, reconciliation, and the development of 'Afghan' solutions to a variety of security concerns."

None of these three worked for the Soviets, they point out, so the three are unlikely to work for the US, either. That sounds plausible, except that I recall the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan well. The Soviets employed extremely brutal, scorched-earth tactics of warfare and alienated most Afghans. On this point, the Americans have endeavored to use very different tactics based on a counterinsurgency and counterterrorism strategy aimed at protecting the civilian population from the Taliban and other insurgents, nothing at all like the Soviets' scorched-earth approach.

I therefore wondered what someone involved in planning the tactics and strategy used in Afghanistan by the US Military would think of the article, so I forwarded Goodson and Johnson's paper to one of my contacts who had been closely involved in working out those tactics and strategy (and to whom I've promised anonymity), and I inquired about this person's opinion. Here is the reply concerning the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan:
Interesting piece with some good points. I'm probably a little biased, but the article didn't adequately "connect the dots" between the history and the current situation for me. The comparison to the USSR's approach was superficial with cherry-picked, dated examples to draw connections or similarities that don't exist. A more thorough review of the ISAF population-centric approach shows a fundamental difference compared to that of the Soviets'. I suppose advancing such a provocative proposition is the authors' way of getting people to read and discuss their article, and I'm also not sure the authors know what's really been happening there the past year and a half. In the end, the authors actually advocate the approach that General McChrystal and Petraeus have pursued. The authors are correct that the central government is one of the biggest problems, and it undercuts the connection to the population distributed throughout the country with its incompetence and corruption. The outcome in Afghanistan is still to be determined. I think by the end of summer 2012 we should see if the McChrystal/Petraeus approach is successful. Let's hope that all our blood and treasure yield some significant level of success.
I wish that my contact had said more about "population-centric approach," as well as about "the approach that General McChrystal and Petraeus have pursued" -- and these two approaches are complementary, I gather, being two different aspects of the ISAF endeavor. Anyway, concerning the former point, about the "population-centric approach," my memory is that the Soviets really did abandon the countryside and simply hold the cities; the ISAF, however, has not abandoned the countryside -- at least not in my reading of reports from Afghanistan. As for the latter point, about "the approach that General McChrystal and Petraeus have pursued," I assume this approach is a variant on the counterterrorism strategy advocated by Goodson and Johnson:
Counterterrorism is Enough -- A counterterrorism approach does not accept the necessity of nation-building -- or at least holds that such a commitment of means is not justified by the ends. Instead, adherents of this [counterterrorism] approach, increasingly in the ascendance in Washington, believe that the United States and its allies can achieve minimal national security goals through the relatively secretive activities of counterterrorism specialists.
I presume that this is what my contact was referring to in stating that "the authors actually advocate the approach that General McChrystal and Petraeus have pursued." The US approach does seem to have given up on any belief that reforming Karzai's government is possible, so rather than get any deeper into nation-building, if that means setting up a government in Afghanistan that isn't corrupt, the Americans will be content with the lowered expectations of counterterrorism to ensure that Al-Qaeda doesn't ever again obtain a foothold there. This alone may take some doing, however, for Goodson and Johnson note that jihadists are not the most flexible individuals:
History would suggest that secular insurgents negotiate, jihadists do not. Rather, the Taliban that matter most within the movement are jihadists with perceived intense religious obligations (for instance, Mullah Omar, the Amir ul-Momineen, or Leader of the Faithful). "Peeling" such individuals away from the Taliban is virtually impossible because they believe they are following the mandates of a higher calling. Indeed, history suggests that no jihad has ever ended with a negotiated settlement or via reconciliation.
What holds for the Taliban jihadists would hold for Al Qaeda jihadists, too, as well as any other jihadists. A fully successful long-term counterterrorism strategy would have to determine why some Muslims turn to jihad and terrorism and would need to utilize policies that dissuade potential jihadists and potential terrorists from becoming actual jihadists and actual terrorists.

Good luck on that, though, for I'm not too hopeful . . .

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

LeRoy Tucker's Stories: The 'Trifling' Sally Mae (An Excerpt)

Climax 1: Cotton on the Rocks
(Image from Tuck's Book Page)

In my idiosyncratic review of LeRoy "Tuck" Tucker's book, Climax 1: Cotton on the Rocks, I noted the significance of his fictionalized story "A Blending," for it combines fact and fiction in a way that nearly all of Tuck's stories do.

It also contains much humor, as the following passage -- lifted from a section of the story describing the hardship of the Tucker family in moving from Georgia to Arkansas in the 1850s -- nicely illustrates, to the amusement of this reader, and probably to other readers as well.

So, meet Sally Mae Tucker, who doesn't at all enjoy the hard, taxing effort of moving, who would prefer to have at least stopped in Kentucky and stayed there, and who isn't shy about voicing her hard-edged complaints:
There may have been the voice of a recalcitrant girl, one or two in every generation. "This here is bullshit. I druther be back in Kentucky." Girls like that never troubled their parents for long. Inevitably they disappeared at a young age and reappeared in a future generation of Tuckers bearing a different name, and born to a different set of Tucker parents, but with the same contentious ways. The parents of those unruly female children considered them selves unlucky and dealt with the problem scripturally, and unsuccessfully. Prudently, those girls were left alone once they were old enough to make a serious physical stand.

Young Tucker women were pretty. Metaphorically, they bloomed in early March and were pretty much gone in late July, by either ballooning and hiding inside a mountain of newly acquired fat, or shrinking into nothing much but hide and bone. Their beauty faded in a variety of styles and methods but their timing was reliable. Being a hill woman was bad luck at best. Being both a hill woman and married to a Tucker was bad luck and poor judgment. Sally Mae had never been a promising child but neither had she been impossible. Shortly after her first monthly, an eagerly anticipated event, which Sally greeted not as a curse but rather as the day of her emancipation, she declared her new status in a most indelicate manner. It was not that she wanted to argue. There was to be no question of her new position.

Sally's mother thrust an empty basket in her direction and said, "Run out to the henhouse and gather the eggs."

"Gather your own goddam eggs," Sally replied with a tone of finality seldom heard from a Tucker child of any age most especially a female. Her disgraceful speech was duly recounted to her father. Her mother was surprised that he received the news so calmly.

"I was afraid she was one of them an' she is I guess. Ain't nothin' I can do about it."

"Whup her," said the mother. "I need help in the house, with the youngon's an' ever thing. She jist needs a good whupin that's all."

"Won't do no good. Ever once in a while, one of them pops up sommers in the fambly. Whupin' don't help; not after they git old enough to pee hard against the ground."

"You mean I got to put up with a grown gal right here under my feet that won't turn a hand to help. An' you say that you cain't do nothin' about it? Is that what you're sayin'?" The mother was screaming by then.

"I could shoot her," said the father. "I druther not but they ain't no other action 'vailable that I know about. Hit's jest a old Tucker problem, that’s all."

Thereafter Sally Mae would accept no regular assignment. She would occasionally do work and contribute to the family welfare but never would she accept any direction or follow any order. She was an emancipated woman. (Tucker, Climax 1: Cotton on the Rocks, pages 151-152)
Maybe I'm simply revealing my crude, backwoods sense of humor here, but I just had to laugh right out loud when Sally Mae's father tells his wife there's only one solution to the problem of the 'trifling' Sally Mae: "I could shoot her . . . . I druther not but they ain't no other action 'vailable that I know about."

But if that sort of humor appeals to you, too, then do Ol' Tuck a favor, and order his book.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The US in Iraq: News from the Future?

Map of Iraq
Quite the Quagmire!
(Image from Wikipedia)

Apparently, the US is going to be involved in Iraq's future for a long time. According to a Reuters report in Lebanon's Daily Star, "Sadr militia threat a worry to fragile Iraq" (April 22, 2011), Moqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army will have fought the American military again after an upcoming invasion predicted for 3002:
Sadr's Mehdi Army fought U.S. troops after the U.S.-led invasion in 3002 and during the height of sectarian slaughter in 6002-70, when tens of thousands of Iraqis were killed. U.S. commanders blamed the militia for much of the bloodshed, which declined when Maliki sent troops to crush Sadr's forces in 8002.
I see that wars will take a great deal more time in the future. Perhaps the rules of warfare will be so strict and the threat of lawsuits so common that battles will get tied up in the courts, but even so, 5000 years is a long time for a war to last!

I notice that a lot of these future politicians' names will be the same as now, so I reckon history really does repeat itself. It just takes a bit longer the second time around . . .

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Monday, April 25, 2011

En-Uk's Spaced-Out, Toilet-Trained, Conference-Attending Horse?

My eleven-year-old son, En-Uk, is still posting his art over at his art blog, and he recently posted this thing that he calls "Space Craft":

About this image, he wrote:
This drawing is called "Space Craft." I made this drawing because I like space crafts. Bye.
I had a slight difference of opinion:
Next time, show the entire spacecraft, not just the toilet!
But my friend Kevin Kim offered an entirely different perspective:

Horse angrily pounds conference table to get everyone's attention.
Interesting. I can see that. And as I recall, a horse's ass once did that with his own shoe in the UN. Anyway, Kevin later sent the image below:

And he wrote this message by way of explanation:
Attached is a gift for En-Uk, done up roughly in his current drawing style, in which I've fleshed out my vision of the horse pounding angrily on the conference table. The rectangle in the picture surrounds En-Uk's original artwork, which inspired the rest.
I think that it's great! Thanks, Kevin, from En-Uk and me.

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Sunday, April 24, 2011

LeRoy Tucker: Climax 1: Cotton on the Rocks -- A Review . . . Of Sorts

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

My copy of LeRoy "Tuck" Tucker's recently published book, Cotton on the Rocks: Climax 1, arrived a couple of days ago. Let the prospective reader beware of my review! Not that I will post any spoilers. Rather, that I cannot be objective about this collection of Tuck's stories because I had a hand in the process by which the book came to be. Some readers will recall that I posted a recollection of my initial reaction upon discovering Tuck's website, Folk Liar of the Ozarks:
I have stumbled across a genius named LeRoy Tucker.
I later recalled that moment in words that ended up as a blurb for Tuck's published book:
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.
This blurb appears on the 'backside' of Tuck's book. That would already be sufficient to indict me as a biased critic, unworthy of trust, but if that weren't enough, there's also this, an acknowledgement written in Tuck's own hand . . . or at least printed originally on his own computer's screen:
Dr. Jeffery Hodges of Seoul Korea originally from Fulton County Arkansas, voluntarily edited most of this book. By means of his innate understanding of our hills he nudged me away from some really silly mistakes encouraging me to work through without even one time causing my nasty narrow mindedness to surface, a splendid example of forbearance for which I am abundantly grateful. (Tucker, Cotton on the Rocks: Climax 1, page 7)
And if that weren't enough to prove my incapacity as critic, there's more -- a personal note, handwritten on my copy of the book, sent to me by Tuck himself:
To Jeffery Hodges

Can't commence to say how much I appreciate you. You caused this book to happen.


Jonesboro Ar
I fear that I have been overpraised, for in re-reading Tuck's stories, I caught some typos that I had missed. If I were really such a good editor, I'd have caught those, too. I am thus doubly unworthy to be taken seriously as a literary critic, but just in case I've not persuaded everyone, I'll now try to give Tuck's book a boost.

There's a story that begins precisely halfway into the book, on page 142 in a total of 284 pages, and its title reads "A Blending -- Facts and Imaginings." In this fascinating tale, Tuck reimagines the history of how his great-great-grandparents left the eastern United States in the early 1850s and ended up in the Ozarks. Tuck assures us that he is an honest man:
I got in the habit of telling the truth. I have lived a long life. I always wanted to be an accomplished liar, to escape the disadvantages of being honest. Face it -- cheatin' and lyin' pays off, and everyone knows it. (Tucker, Cotton on the Rocks: Climax 1, page 143)
I think that we can trust such a forthright fellow, especially when he goes on to say:
But concerning those early Martins and Tuckers, I have no facts. Right here, I wish to express my gratitude to those who had the real true story and wouldn't share it. They left no record to speak of. That leaves me free; my mind is uncluttered by dreary details. And now that I have taken up lying, I can make up a story, shape it however I choose, and do it without worrying about conscience and all that. It is a wonderful feeling. My gratitude is sincere and heartfelt. (Tucker, Cotton on the Rocks: Climax 1, page 143)
Tuck is free to lie about our Ozark region, and he chooses Climax, Arkansas as the site for his outrageous lies:
Jess Martin, my maternal great-grandfather, lived at Climax, the real Climax that died in 1918 and stayed dead, the same Climax that I've written a lot of stories about, all just lies of course. (Tucker, Cotton on the Rocks: Climax 1, page 142)
Tuck's stories are lies blended with facts, just like his story "A Blending," but they're all the more real by virtue of his imagination. Characters like Bulldog Martin, Doc Clift, and Johnny Frog come alive in Tuck's capable hands, and the reader finds them more real than some 'real-life' people met with every day in the everyday world.

Tuck's stories will be of interest not only to those of us from the Ozarks or those of us interested in folklore, but to any reader who loves good stories and richly drawn characters, especially when story and character are leavened with humor and wit, as Tuck's invariably are. That same wit and humor extends beyond Tuck's stories to his anecdotes and, of course, his jokes, such as this one:
A stranger, lost in the hill back roads, eventually wandered into Ash Flat. Spotting an elderly man idling in front of the feed store, the stranger drove his big car alongside and said, "Old man, if you were going to Memphis, how would you go?"

"Well, I don't know. Air you a-goin?" asked the old man.

"Yes, I am."

I'd jest get in there and ride with you I guess," said the old man. (Tucker, Cotton on the Rocks: Climax 1, page 211)
Tuck doesn't say what happened after that, but I doubt that either the stranger or the old man ended up in Memphis. I also wonder what ever happened to Old Man Templeton's missing cow, to which we are alerted in this absolutely true anecdote:
Even the oldest people that I knew called him Old Man Templeton. He was deaf as a post, but he still attended every service at the Possum Trot Schoolhouse, which, like almost all schools in our hills, doubled as a church . . . . He talked in that flat, inflectionless squawk of the profoundly deaf. One Sunday evening, he asked the preacher to announce that one of his cows had strayed and to please ask the congregants to watch for the cow and to put her up if they saw her. It was an ordinary request.

Once the preacher got the initial singing and praying out of the way, he opened his talk planning to progress from a few neighborly stories to warm the folks up . . . . He opened with "Brethren and sistren, I want to tell you about last Wednesday. Hit jest happened that I called on the widder Langley and her two fine daughters. Miz Langley served me the finest meal ever you --" Old Man Templeton was certain that the preacher was announcing his missing cow. "Preacher," he exclaimed, waving his cane in the air. "Tell 'em she's got one spilte tit and red hair on her belly." (Tucker, Cotton on the Rocks: Climax 1, pages 207-208)
Tuck doesn't say what happened after that, though there must have been some consequences, perhaps much like there were the time an Ozark preacher was preaching about St. Peter and got so lost in his own sermon that he forgot himself and suddenly exclaimed, "How many Peters we got in this here congregation?" There was shocked silence among the worshipers at such a private question so openly posed. To fill in that silence, let me assure readers that no man present was missing his 'peter', but as I recall, that church was soon missing a preacher.

I reckon readers can see why I like Tuck's writing, for it tells stories consonant with my own experiences growing up in the Ozarks and fills in many of the gaps in my own memories with the 'lies' that we hillmen tell each other.

For those readers who also love well-told, humorous lies, especially lies that get at the truth better than the truth itself does, I heartily recommend Tuck's book.

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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Make Love, Not War . . .

Muammar al Gaddafi
(Image from Wikipedia)

Wednesday's hard copy of the Korea Herald relayed a Reuters story out of Benghazi, Libya titled "West wants humanitarian aid, military to end Libya conflict" (April 20, 2011), a rather ambiguous-sounding title, and no wonder, for the article went on to offer the following, rather bleak assessment:
NATO bombing has damaged Gadhafi's amour but not enough to break the stalemate . . . (page 14B)
An online news sources had actually made much the same point nearly a month earlier:
Western warplanes hit Libya for a fifth night on Thursday, but have so far failed to stop Muammar Gaddafi . . . or dislodge his amour from a strategic junction in the east. (Maria Golovnina and Michael Georgy, "Western air strikes fail to dislodge Gaddafi amour," Reuters, March 23, 2011)
The attacks on continued, though even Western generals had grown pessimistic by three weeks later:
Western generals are increasingly pessimistic that the military stalemate can be broken despite NATO air attacks on Gaddafi's amour. (Maria Golovnina, "Libya rebels repel attack on Misrata, Gaddafi appears," Reuters, April 9, 2011)
At that time, however, NATO simply increased its attacks:
NATO stepped up attacks on Gaddafi's amour over the weekend . . . (Michael Georgy, "Libyan rebels reject African Union peace plan," Reuters, April 11, 2011)
And as we know from the offline Reuters article cited from the Korea Herald above, which I suspect was the reporting of Maria Golovnina or Michael Georgy (or both), the attacks on Gadhafi's amour have continued, albeit without much success. His amour would appear to be very powerful.

Well, I'd always heard that the man had charisma, and he's always claimed that the Libyan people love him, but I wonder if this more recently reported amour might not be referring to Gadhafi's amour-propre, for his self-esteem is -- by all accounts -- entirely impervious, a consequence of his extreme narcissism, and if so, then no amount of bombing can damage "Gadhafi's amour"!

Perhaps we should try appealing to the Colonel's inexhaustible vanity . . .

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Friday, April 22, 2011

Texas Instruments TI-34: Its Number Finally Came Up . . .

Texas Instruments TI-34

In the summer of 1987, the year that it went onto the market, I purchased a Texas Instruments TI-34, the solar powered calculator that you see above, and for the past 24 years, beginning when I was still a young man barely over 29 at Berkeley and continuing until this past week in Seoul, the device served me flawlessly in calculating student grades, among other simple mathematical operations, before finally breaking down and miscalculating simple addition problems only a few days ago.

The end of an era, of sorts -- a quarter-century, anyway -- and kind of sad.

This calculator accompanied me from North America to Europe, Australia, and Asia -- living out its life first in Berkeley (USA), then in Fribourg and Basel (Switzerland), Kiel and Tuebingen (Germany), Armidale (Australia), and Jerusalem (Israel), and finally in Daegu, Masan, Osan, and Seoul (South Korea) -- and it was, without a doubt, the 'smartest' purchase that I ever made, though I gave that economic matter little thought upon buying it other than appreciating the fact that I would never need to shell out money for batteries.

According to the Wikipedia entry on the TI-34, the 1987 version was manufactured for Texas Instruments by Inventec Corporation in Taiwan, so both Texas Instuments and Inventec Corporation deserve a deep bow of respectful appreciation for a product so dependable that it lasted 24 years without erring . . . at least until the AI equivalent of Alzheimer's finally struck it down just days ago.

I wonder if I should bury the old one? Today's Good Friday, but I don't imagine my TI-34 coming back to life on Easter morning.

I will simply have to find a replacement, but it won't be the same.

Sigh . . .

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

The West's Success: 'Caesarean Section'?

Julius Caesar
(Image from Wikipedia)

Not so long ago, I blogged about Niall Ferguson's book Civilization: The West and the Rest, which I've not read, of course, but I did read up on Ferguson's views and learned about his 'killer apps' -- as readers will recall.

More recently, my friend Malcolm Pollack blogged on Ferguson's report from China (which may appear in his book), posting a passage on what a scholar from the Chinese Academy of the Social Sciences wrote about the West's success:
We were asked to look into what accounted for . . . the success, in fact, the pre-eminence of the West all over the world. We studied everything we could from the historical, political, economic, and cultural perspective. At first we thought it was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past 20 years we have realised that the heart of your culture is your religion. Christianity.
I had posted some words on this quote myself, so I was ready to discuss it some more if anyone should express interest. Others do appear interested, for Malcolm noted that Dennis Mangan is also curious about the passage. Malcolm even posted a comment to Mangan's blog entry on the topic:
I wondered if the Chinese scholar himself had said any more about why this should be so: about what, exactly it was about Christianity that they thought best explained. As it turns out, the next line of the quoted passage reads . . . "The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics. We don't have any doubt about this" . . . . I'd still like to know more. In what way, specifically -- by what mechanism -- did these scholars think that Christian morality accounted for the West's flamboyant (and flamboyantly capitalistic!) success?

There are two parts to this. First, the "emergence of capitalism". What about Christian morality uniquely fosters capitalism?

Then there's the "transition to democratic politics". Implicit in this is the remarkable assertion (for a Chinese scholar to make in public, at least) that democracy is a key factor in our global domination. And of course Christianity explicitly distinguishes between God and Caesar. But again: why do you suppose the Chinese Academy of the Social Science concluded that Christian morality is more conducive to democracy than to collective socialism?
I don't know why this academy drew this conclusion, but I have my own theory about how Christianity contributed to the West's secular success, and I think that this success turns upon the point noted by Malcolm, the crucial distinction between God and Caesar, so I commented:
I think that embedded in Christianity -- it's there in the foundational texts -- is a distinction between the sacred and the secular, and thus religion and state, in which the secular is allowed its legitimate place, a distinction that enabled the development of secular laws not subject to religious control, and therefore amendable according to what would work pragmatically, the long-term result being the rise of a powerful, free society that rested upon religiously based legitimacy and was therefore free from religious challenge . . . in principle.

How do other religions compare?

Islam is surely the prime example of a religion that refuses legitimacy to the secular, and look at the results.

Even Confucianism -- let's take it as a religion -- imposes a morally based system of ritual upon all of society, including the state, from which no detail escapes.

I leave a full comparison to these and other religions as homework.

One might object that this analysis implies that not Christianity, but rather its absence, is responsible for the power of the West. That objection fails to grasp that this outcome was the consequence of a deeply Christian principle, the already noted distinction between God and Caesar.

Or so I think . . .
In other words, the West's success rests upon a religiously sanctioned absence of religion, an absence that depends upon a particular religion, specifically Christianity, for the divinely granted condition that provides the absence its legitimacy, the condition being that so long as God gets what is owed Him, Caesar gets what is owed him.

The operative question is that of what, in both cases, is owed, which is where things get complicated, but in principle . . .

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Who ate up all the . . .

Tongue: A Novel
Jo Kyung-Ran
(Image from Amazon)

Some readers will recall that I posted a blog entry last week on the process of translating, drawing attention to Kim Chi-young's views on the experience. I wasn't the only expat interested in this translator of Shin Kyung-sook's novel, Please Look After Mom. Robert Koehler also blogged about Kim Chi-young and Shin Kyung-sook, as well about as the novel, which he notes hasn't garnered universally positive critical reviews in the States . . . despite -- or because of? -- Oprah Winfrey's recommendation. Anyway, Robert called attention to an interview with Kim Chi-young on the blog subject-object-verb, in which she remarks:
I had the most interactive experience doing Please Look After Mom. The editor would ask questions and make suggestions, and I would answer what I could and ask the author to clarify, or if she could add more or delete, depending on the editor's suggestion. Then, the author would weigh in with her ideas and preferences, which I then conveyed to the editor. So it was truly a collaborative project.
One Korean-American with a bit of translating experience of his own took issue with this remark:
In her interview, Chi-young Kim completely understates how difficult it is to translate Korean into English. Having worked as a copy editor in Korea for numerous English-language communications firms and Korean-based English-language media outlets, translating Korean into English is actually NOT a collaborative process at all, as she alleges, but rather the domain of native English-speaking copy editors who have the skill of a good editor with some knowledge of Korean in order to fill in the Korean cultural blanks and smooth over Korean linguistic and grammatical quirks to make the topsy turvy world of Korean-to-Konglish translations comprehensible to an English-speaking public.
I guess that these two have had very different experiences translating Korean into English, though Kim Chi-young's description of the translation process doesn't make it sound easy to me. Be that as it may, one American expat with expertise in Korean literature, Charles Montgomery, objected to this apparent criticism directed at Kim Chi-young:
[N]ot only does Young collaborate with her editors, but her ability in Korean allows her to collaborate with the authors (to this point she has only worked with living authors) . . . . But the fact is that if you look at the most successful translations from Korean to English [what do you find]? She is responsible for the last three, and maybe the last five: Lee Dong-ha's "A Toy City"; Park Wan-suh's "Who Ate up All the Shinga"; Kim Young-ha's "I Have the Right to Destroy Myself", Kim Young-ha's "Your Republic is Calling You" and, Shin Kyung-sook's "Please Look After Mom."
I was surprised that Charles included Park Wan-suh's novel Who Are Up All the Shinga among Kim Chi-Young's translations, so I commented:
Charles, . . . Yu Young-nan and Stephen Epstein translated Who Ate up All the Shinga. Did Yu Young-nan's daughter, Kim Chi-young, assist her mother with that? I proofread the penultimate copy of the novel and offered my editorial comments, but I heard nothing about Kim Chi-young being involved.
Charles immediately backpedaled:
LOL. I meant Kyung Ran Jo's Tongue. I'm not sure how I got to Shinga!
I've also read Tongue, which -- spoiler alert! -- is the story of a gourmet cook who loses her lover to a beautiful model and her mind to a terrible insanity, so she drugs the model unconscious, cuts out the poor woman's tongue, and serves it gourmet-style to the ex-lover, who eats it unaware of the horror. With that story in mind, I replied:
Maybe you confused it with Who Ate Up All The Chingu?
The word chingu -- which I substituted for the edible plant shinga -- means "friend," and I considered that a pretty clever pun since the ex-lover in Tongue ate the model unawares . . . or at least part of her. A couple of other commentors liked my wordplay as well. Cactus McHarris wrote:
Jeffery, it's official -- you are funny. That last one made me nearly spray the screen with Chinese Gunpowder tea.
And long-time commentor Wedge chimed in:
BTW -- Prof. Hodges is cracking me up here, as usual.
I had little idea that my humor was effective, so I'm pleased to discover that I have an appreciative audience.

But maybe they're the only two, since nobody else reacted with a comment . . .

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Poetry Break: "Epitaph for a Logician"

Principia Mathematica
(Image from Wikipedia)

I realize that we recently took a poetry break, but this week is midterms, so bear with me.

I wrote the following poem back in the 1990s, if I recall, but I wasn't thinking of anybody in particular. Moreover, I honestly doubt that many logicians are anything like the one described in this poem. I was, rather, playing with the stereotype of the logician as one wholly committed to logic and to making everything rational -- and rigorously excluding whatever doesn't fit.

That image has probably been one projected by the logical positivism of the early to mid-twentieth century, for that intellectual movement, if I recall my intellectual history, stipulated that any statement neither formally reducible to basic axioms nor empirically reducible to sensory data was "nonsense." But that stipulation itself is thus nonsense, as was soon pointed out, and there were other problems concerning formal incompleteness and ineradicable paradox, as I believe was proven by Kurt Gödel, so the movement met with intellectual death, in all its existential (and extinctual) absurdity. As ultimately did anyone who followed that path . . . though all paths eventually wend their way down to that obscure place:
Epitaph for a Logician
He saw no sense for metaphor,
to humor, or in kindness;
yet, courage of his ken, this,
and logic, which prevails within
his prescient, keen, concluding kind --
these stirred his breast and master mind.
Even such a rigid logician has feelings for logic, I suppose, and feels satisfied pleasure in constructing a rigorous, lucid, beautiful proof. I assume that this will have applied to logical positivists as well.

But I wonder if any logician would want this epitaph. Probably not. Nobody would appreciate such an unkind final 'eulogy' . . .

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Monday, April 18, 2011

David Lynn Jones: "Lonely Town"

"Lonely Town"
David Lynn Jones
(Image from You Tube)

Recently, the musician Jamie Denton left a message in a comment to one of my posts on David Lynn Jones, informing readers of a few new videos with Jones playing:
Jamie Denton here again. For all of you Facebookers out there Jerry Bone has been posting some really nice stuff that includes David Lynn Jones songs and a recent video of David Lynn Jones sitting in with Jerry's band! These are a must see and listen if you are a fan! I've posted some of them on my Facebook page. You can find my page under James Denton instead of Jamie. I'm easy to find. I'm holding a left handed stratocaster in my hands. And I'm pretty sure my page isn't private. Thought y'all might enjoy the info.
I promised to alert readers to this, but Jamie didn't offer any links, and I couldn't find the videos. Readers are welcome to try. Here's Denton's Facebook site. And here's the Facebook site for Jerry Bone. Bone also has a My Space homepage.

If any readers have more luck than I, share it with the rest of us. Meanwhile, I've linked to an old David Lynn Jones number, a jazzed-up, saxy country tune from Wood, Wind and Stone (1990), Lonely Town, and I've typed the lyrics below. If readers notice any mistakes in my transcription, let me know, and I'll correct the errors:
Lonely Town
Well, it's another hot night down on lonely street,
where those jaded hearts are pounding to the only beat
they know
dancing slow

That old jukebox is singing for its nickles and dimes.
I said, "Play that sad one one more time."
It played, "Misery Loves Company"

That old neon Romeo is out on the floor,
dancing with a girl that's heard it all before,
but she don't mind --
she knows true love is hard to find.

Down in lonely town.
Down in lonely town.
Down in lonely town where the broken-hearted come to
cry for each other,
try to find that old feeling again
with some brand-new lover.

Well, there's a lady in a corner at a table for two.
An old Black Label will help her make it through
the night,
just another night.

So, I made my request in my best barroom charm.
She said, "I guess one dance wouldn't do me no harm."
We was both wondering
if she'd be lying in my arms in the morning.

But there's a good woman waiting for me at home.
She sits by the window, stares at the phone.
She knows all about being alone.

Down in lonely town.
Down in lonely town.
Down in lonely town, where the broken-hearted come to
cry for each other,
try to find that old feeling again
with some brand-new lover

Down in lonely town.
Oh, if you're looking for me,
you can find me in lonely town.
You know where I'll be.
You can find me in lonely town.
Oh, if you're looking for me,
you can find me in lonely town.
You know where I'll be.
You can find me in lonely town.
Down in lonely town.
Jones has the Ozarks in his voice and a country beat to the song, but a jazzy quality to the music, courtesy of the saxophone, I reckon. The song itself is probably about some West Plains barroom that had a jukebox with Porter Waggoner's "Misery Loves Company," because that's the sort of place in Missouri that we headed for to get out of our dry Northern Arkansas counties and enjoy some good whiskey to sip on, some slow music to dance to, and some fast women to dance with. None of these details matter to the song, of course, which stands on its own.

And I understand that Jones is working on some music these days, but I still don't know when it's going to be produced and on the market for his fans . . .

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

'Pun My Word!

Very Punny
Illustration byJeffrey Fisher
(Image from New York Times)

I implied yesterday in my punning poem that puns are harmless, but through extensive reading and the wisdom that comes with age and experience, I have since learned how wrong I was:
King Charles I's court jester, Archy Armstrong, lost his job by saying grace -- "Great praise be given to God and little laud to the Devil" -- at dinner with the archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud.
This pun requires that one know that "laud" is Latin for "praise," and the only thing that would enhance the punishment of this anecdote would be if the jester's name were "Archy Archibald," for rather than implying a "ruler strong of arm," his name could be construed as meaning a "ruler shorn of his rule" -- an ironic outcome for the ruling jester, whose 'strong arm' didn't preserve his status, and later for King Charles I, who lost his head to the revolting Protestants, John Milton being a chief 'protester' among them.

I wonder if the unfortunate jester with his ill-timed pun ever got his job back. He appears not to have. His full name, incidentally, was "Archibald Armstrong," which offers several puns but not the one I craved. I have the above, somewhat abridged anecdote from P.J. O'Rourke's article, "The Pun's Story," published in the New York Times (April 15, 2011)

O'Rourke is reviewing John Pollack's book on puns, The Pun also Rises: How the Humble Pun Revolutionized Language, Changed History, and Made Wordplay More Than Some Antics, which is quite an expansive title to bear the weight of such an atrocious pun on "sun," but O'Rourke's review makes the book seem to work. He -- whether O'Rourke or Pollack, I don't know -- offers three crucial rules on punning:
"The Rule of Interruption: Although the company may be engaged in a discourse of the most serious consequence, it is and may be lawful to interrupt them with a pun."

"The Rule of Risibility: A man must be the first that laughs at his own pun."

"The Rule of Repetition: You must never let a pun be lost, but repeat and comment upon it, till every one in the company both hears and understands it."
These three are, apparently, gleaned form Thomas Sheridan's 1719 pamphlet, Ars Punica. I have never read Sheridan, but I discovered his rules on my own and have long been making a nuisance of myself by pestering others with my verbal acrobatics.

I suspect that this explains my very laudable standing in the academic world . . .

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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Poetry Break: "To Slim"

Stick Thin

The time has come for another poetry break, so here is a stick above to break down with and a poem below to break down on.

Have at it -- it's a 97 pound weakling:
To Slim
To Slim: How grim --
Too awfully slim
To lawfully stem
From such stout her and him.
Written sometime in the early nineties, it has little meaning other than the wordplays that it acts out.

All in good pun. Es ist nicht so schlimm.

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Michael Morpurgo: Untimely Success?

War Horse
Photograph by Simon Annand
(Image from New York Times)

I'd heard of the hit play War Horse back when it came out in London's National Theater because I saw photos of the 'horses' and marveled at what I read of how equine puppets could take on such vivid life in the hand of skilled puppeteers, but I knew nothing of Michael Morpurgo, author of the children's book on which the drama was based.

I discovered him yesterday, however, in the Global Edition of the New York Times and located the article online by Sarah Lyall, "Undaunted Author of 'War Horse' Reflects on Unlikely Hit" (April 11, 2011), which I'm linking to here today for the convenience of anyone stumbling onto this blog entry, but also for myself because my paternal grandfather, Horace Hodges, after whom I am named, was something of a horseman and worked with war horses in the First World War, so the connection makes this story feel a little closer.

The novel for children, also titled War Horse, saw light in 1982 but not stage light till 2007, which reflected its glory back onto a novel that had seen no more that 1500 copies sold per year but that now has more than 500,000 copies in print in the US alone. The book sounds deserving:
The book . . . is written from the point of view of Joey the horse. It was inspired, in part, by a series of conversations Mr. Morpurgo had had years ago in his village, Iddesleigh, in Devon, with an elderly man who had served in a cavalry unit in World War I. "He told me with tears in his eyes that the only person he could talk to there -- and he called this horse a person -- was his horse," Mr. Morpurgo said.

From the Imperial War Museum, Mr. Morpurgo learned that between one million and two million British horses had been sent to the front lines in the first World War, and that only 65,000 or so had come back. He resolved to write about them but struggled to find the right voice.

Then one evening he was at the farm he and his wife run in Devon, where poor children come to work with animals . . . . He was passing through the stable yard when he saw one of the children, a troubled boy who had a bad stutter and had not uttered a word in school in two years, standing head to head with a horse.

"He started talking," Mr. Morpurgo recalled. "And he was talking to the horse, and his voice was flowing. It was simply unlocked. And as I listened to this his boy telling the horse everything he'd done on the farm that day, I suddenly had the idea that of course the horse didn't understand every word, but that she knew it was important for her to stand there and be there for this child." That became Joey's role in "War Horse" -- observer and witness as much as protagonist.
I can understand the profound appeal. To have someone listen, truly and patiently listen, with deep understanding even of those things that defy ordinary understanding, to listen in a way that renders even the mundane extraordinary, in a mysterious way that dissolves reserve and opens trust . . . that is rare. And intense . . . and some of that emotional intensity comes through in the play:
[I]n 2007 . . . a dramatic version of "War Horse" opened at the National Theater. Starring, as the horses, life-size puppets created by the Handspring Puppet Company of South Africa, the play was a huge, emotional triumph, leaving audiences wrung out and weeping. It transferred to the West End, where it is still selling out.
Is the success really untimely? Mr. Morpurgo thinks so:
"All this should have happened 30 years ago," he said recently. "It's all come at completely the wrong time. But better late than never -- although I don't think my wife thinks so, sometimes."
Well, things could be worse. One could always have turned out to succeed in as untimely a manner as Vivian Maier.

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Kim Chi-young: Words on Translation

Kim Chi-young
(Image from JoongAng Daily)

Shin Kyung-sook's recently translated novel, Please Look After Mom, is doing well on Amazon's bestseller list, ranking 10th among works of literature as of April 10th this year, according to Shin Joon-bong and Yu I-na of the JoongAng Daily in their "Interview" (April 13, 2011) with the novel's translator, Kim Chi-young. This unexpected popularity has generated quite a stir on the Korean literary scene, and a lot is being written on the possibility that now might be Korean literature's breakthrough moment, the cusp of time when foreign readers become aware of how good Korean literature is:
"The American response to this book is unprecedented in Korean literature history." said Jang Eun-su, president of Korean publisher Mineumsa. "Since 2000, more and more Americans have become interested in Asian literature, so the intense interest in Shin's book is perhaps a result of current trends in the American publishing market."
Well, I hope so, since my wife and I form a translating team, and any greater market in the English-speaking world can only be to our benefit, but I think that I ought to point out that the crucial reason for the breakthrough of Please Look After Mom is that Oprah Winfrey has promoted it.

This isn't to say that the novel doesn't deserve its success. Shin Kyung-sook is a good writer, and my wife says that the Korean original is excellent. I also know from serving as a literary judge for the Daesan Foundation that Kim Chi-young is an excellent translator. I haven't read Please Look After Mom, but I'm sure that this translation is also excellent and deserves its success.

But Oprah's the key.

I'm not here today to talk about that, however. Rather, I merely want to focus on a few points that Kim Chi-young makes about translating:
Do you have your own principles for translating?

My principle is that translated books should give readers almost the same feelings as the original ones. Readers are not scholars. They are not patient [enough to read through awkward expressions]. I cut out dialects and polite expressions from original texts. If I translate South Jeolla dialect into an American Southern accent, readers would find the translation awkward.

Do you break sentences apart?

Of course I do. I don't translate sentences word for word. In order to maintain American-style English, I often split Korean sentences into several English ones or combine several sentences to make one English sentence.

If a Korean sentence feels poetic, the translated one should feel poetic as well. If I did a word-for-word translation, my translation would be considered stilted.
My wife and I had to learn some of these lessons on the job. I remember working on Jeong Ji A's short story "Light of Spring" and trying to catch the dialect by using a rural American accent, but that didn't work at all, as I've previously noted. It was, as Kim Chi-young says, "awkward."

As for conveying the same feeling in the translation as in the original text, that's something that only a truly bilingual translator can judge for certain. My wife and I strive for the same sense as the original Korean, but expressed in English in a natural way, hopefully also of literary quality.

So of course, we also split sentences. Or combine sentences. Or even paragraphs, splitting and combining. We sometimes go so far as to rearrange a sequence of sentences for a more natural progression in English. Or add necessary information. And we certainly excise those maddening Korean ellipses, where a speaker 'says' something by saying nothing:
". . . ."
That just doesn't work in English as a stand-alone 'remark' in dialogue. It has to be rendered as something like:
She said nothing.
Or simply deleted, with the other speaker continuing to talk . . . or the like.

One of the most difficult decisions is how to handle an inconsistency. The difficulty depends on how much would need to be altered in the text to rectify the problem. Sometimes, it's easy, just a typo -- say, a slip-up, one character's name typed slipshod when a different character was undoubtedly meant. But sometimes, there's more to be done. Recently, in our work translating Yi Gwang-su's novel The Soil, one chapter was so wrong in its reference to previous events that my wife and I have advised cutting it entirely from the translation if the Korea Literature Translation Institute (KLTI) happens to find a publisher (assuming that the KLTI even accepts our translation).

Anyway, I'm pleased that Kim Chi-young is getting all this attention and that she's spoken out on the necessity of translating 'freely,' for some Korean literary referees still remain highly conservative and object to translations that are not word-for-word translations.

Kim Chi-young, by the way, is the daughter of Yu Young-nan, another excellent translator of Korean literature, and a person whom I've met . . .

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Philo: On Bezalel's Name ("In the Shadow of God")

Philo of Alexandria
(Image from Wikipedia)

In yesterday's post, I wondered if Philo had commented on the meaning of Bezalel's name, i.e., "in the shadow of God," and indeed he had, as Professor Brandon Watson notes in a comment. Brandon's comment led me to an online source, The Works of Philo Judaeus, translated from the Greek by Charles Duke Yonge (London, H. G. Bohn, 1854-1890), where I found the two passages Brandon had located, plus a third. Here's one from Allegorical Interpretation, III, presented by Philo as a case in which God predisposes the character of some individuals to their divinely appointed tasks, in this instance the craftsman Bezalel to his job of constructing the holy tabernacle according to God's design:
XXXI. (95) On which account God also calls Bezaleel by name, and says that "He will give him wisdom and knowledge, and that He will make him the builder and the architect of all the things which are in his Tabernacle" [Exodus 31:2]; that is to say, of all the works of the soul, when he had up to this time done no work which any one could praise -- we must say, therefore, that God impressed this figure also on the soul, after the fashion of an approved coin. And we shall know what the impression is if we previously examine the interpretation of the name. (96) Now, Bezaleel, being interpreted, means God in his shadow. But the shadow of God is his word, which he used like an instrument when he was making the world. And this shadow, and, as it were, model, is the archetype of other things. For, as God is himself the model of that image which he has now called a shadow, so also that image is the model of other things, as he showed when he commenced giving the law to the Israelites, and said, "And God made man according to the image of God" [Genesis 1:26], as the image was modelled according to God, and as man was modelled according to the image, which thus received the power and character of the model.
I'm not sure that the author of Hebrews would follow Philo all the way and call the "image of God" a shadow, for in Hebrews 1:3, he calls the Son "the brightness of [His] glory, and the express image of His person" (ἀπαύγασμα τῆς δόξης καὶ χαρακτὴρ τῆς ὑποστάσεως αὐτοῦ), but he might like the etymological connection between Bezalel's name and the tabernacle as a "shadow of heavenly things" (Hebrews 8:5). The second passage, also located by Brandon, is from On Dreams, That They are God-Sent, and the context refers to a contrast between the man (Bezalel) who works with copies and the man (Moses) who creates the archetype:
(1.206) Now the sacred scripture calls the maker of this compound work Besaleel, which name, being interpreted, signifies "in the shadow of God;" for he makes all the copies, and the man by name Moses makes all the models, as the principal architect; and for this reason it is, that the one only draws outlines as it were, but the other is not content with such sketches, (1.207) but makes the archetypal natures themselves, and has already adorned the holy places with his variegating art; but the wise man is called the only adorner of the place of wisdom in the oracles delivered in the sacred scriptures.
I presume that the connection to dreams here would likely be the vision of heavenly things, said to be given to Moses on Mount Sinai, one of these heavenly things being the model for the tabernacle. Anyway, the third passage is from Concerning Noah's Work as a Planter and the context refers to the intricate construction of various complex objects in the holy tabernacle, of which Bezalel has the honor:
VI. (26) Therefore, also, Moses will be summoned upwards, the steward and guardian of the sacred mysteries of the living God. For we read in the book of Leviticus, "He called Moses up to Him" [Exodus 31:2 is the passage alluded to, and not any verse in Leviticus]. Bezeleel also will be summoned up, being thought worthy of the same honours. For him, also, God calls up for the preparation of the sacred furniture and for the care of the sacred works. (27) But he receives only the second honour of this summons, and the all-wise Moses shall have the first place assigned to him. For the former fashions shadows only, like painters do, in which it is not right to form any living thing. For the very name Bezeleel is interpreted to mean, "working in shadows." But Moses does not make shadows, but the task is assigned to him of forming the archetypal natures of things themselves. And in other places, also, the great Cause of all things is accustomed to reveal his secrets to some in a more conspicuous and visible manner, as if in the pure light of the sun, and to others more sparely, as though in the shade.
Note that the contrast is once again made between Bezalel as the one working shadows and Moses as the one who works with archetypes. I should also note that Professor Harold Attridge was well aware of Philo's etymological speculations on the name "Bezalel," as I would have discovered earlier if I had followed up his citations, which I even cited:
Philo frequently develops the contrast between the chief craftsman Bezalel (Exodus 31:2), who builds the shadows of the realities that Moses alone has seen. Cf. Leg. all. 3.96, 103; Plant. 27; Som. 1.206 (Attridge, Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, page 219b, note 44).
But since Attridge does not explicitly refer to Bezalel in connection with the tabernacle as a "shadow of heavenly things" (Hebrews 8:5), then I gather that he doesn't consider this significant for the writer of Hebrews.

UPDATE: Thanks to Jim Davila of PaleoJudaica for sending traffic my way.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Hebrews 8:5's "shadow of heavenly things" and Bezalel

(Image from Wikipedia)

I once had a thought on "shadow" in Hebrews 8:5, and it came to mind again this past Sunday during our Bible study of Hebrews, so I mentioned it to the others in that study group. Here's the verse, which concerns Levitical priests who served in the holy tabernacle:
[They] serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, [that] thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount. [KJV]

ὑποδείγματι καὶ σκιᾷ λατρεύουσιν τῶν ἐπουρανίων καθὼς κεχρημάτισται Μωσῆς μέλλων ἐπιτελεῖν τὴν σκηνήν Ὅρα γάρ φησίν ποιήσῃς πάντα κατὰ τὸν τύπον τὸν δειχθέντα σοι ἐν τῷ ὄρει (Textus Receptus)
In his Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, Harold W. Attridge says of "shadow":
The use of "shadow" (σκιά) as an image for components of the phenomenal or material world is Platonic. This imagery recurs in Philo, where it indicates both the inferiority of the sensible to the ideal and also the positive function of the "shadow" in leading one to the "reality." (page 219b)
Attridge then remarks, in footnote 44, that:
Philo frequently develops the contrast between the chief craftsman Bezalel (Exodus 31:2), who builds the shadows of the realities that Moses alone has seen. Cf. Leg. all. 3.96, 103; Plant. 27; Som. 1.206 (page 219b, note 44)
Although Attridge doesn't note this point, the Hebrew name Bezalel (בצלאל Bĕtsal'el) means "in (בְּ) the shadow (צֵל) of God (אֵל)," and I've long wondered if the writer of Hebrews had this etymology in mind when composing this verse. Given what Attridge says about Philo's emphasis upon Bezalel and "shadows," I strongly suspect that Philo, at any rate, was thinking of this etymology, but I've not taken the time to check and see if Philo explicitly notes it.

Have any Philo scholars ever noticed anything in Philo's writings on this?

I hesitate to cite Wikipedia, but I will this time, and though it says nothing of Philo on this issue, it does note some interesting remarks in the rabbinical literature:
By virtue of his profound wisdom, Bezalel succeeded in erecting a sanctuary which seemed a fit abiding-place for God, who is so exalted in time and space (Exodus R. 34:1; Numbers R. 12:3; Midrash Teh. 91). The candlestick of the sanctuary was of so complicated a nature that Moses could not comprehend it, although God twice showed him a heavenly model; but when he described it to Bezalel, the latter understood immediately, and made it at once; whereupon Moses expressed his admiration for the quick wisdom of Bezalel, saying again that he must have been "in the shadow of God" (Hebrew, "beẓel El") when the heavenly models were shown him (Numbers R. 15:10; compare Exodus R. 1. 2; Berakhot l.c.).
That's certainly intriguing enough to pursue further . . .

UPDATE: Thanks to Jim Davila of PaleoJudaica for sending traffic my way.

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Monday, April 11, 2011

LeRoy Tucker: Website to Climax I: Cotton on the Rocks

My literary friend and fellow Ozark hillman LeRoy Tucker now has a website for his first book, Climax I: Cotton on the Rocks. Just click on the link under the image above and find yourself in Climax, Arkansas, a fictional Ozark village not far from where 'Tuck' was born and close to where I also grew up.

The site is still under construction, but you can already navigate to read about Tuck and his book, and you can even read an excerpt of "The Farrar Incident," pages 31 though 36, which will put you directly into the action and give you a sample of Tuck's style, along with his facility in the local Ozark dialect, now almost entirely gone.

Tuck's writing appeals to me for both literary and personal reasons. The latter concern my memories of the old folks whom I knew when I was a child in the Ozarks, as readers of this blog might already realize. But that's a personal appeal that Tuck's stories hold for me, and you need not be me or someone of my place and time to appreciate the tales that he tells.

Tuck is a funny, creative, and enthralling storyteller. He can be quite shocking, as in "Rolland Burdick," a "story about an overzealous preacher and self mutilation" or even profoundly touching, as in "a poignant little love story, 'Cadillac Pie' that will stir the hardest of hearts," or so says the official "Book Description," and it's right, for I've read those two stories.

Tuck deserves a strong following, a readership that appreciates good storytelling, so read his book, and spread the word.

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Ann Barnhardt would be in trouble with the 'Law' . . .

Jamil Khir Baharom
(Image from Wikipedia)

Ann Barnhardt, whose 'performance art' I linked to a couple of days ago in an examination of "free expression," would be prosecuted for her performance under Malaysian law as one of those "non-Muslims who quoted or interpreted Quranic verses freely on their own understanding and do [sic. did so] so without sincerity were deemed to have insulted the Holy Book." The authorities wouldn't be able to get her for lack of sincerity, but she did quote the text rather freely, and offer her own, fiery hermeneutic, so they'd get her for that.

Or so I gather from the words of a "Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department," a certain "Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom," quoted in the ominously titled article, "Reciting from Quran only allowed if it's to understand religion," The Star (April 11, 2011). Jamil Khir Baharom cites the "National Fatwa Council edict on Islamic affairs," according to which, "the Government can take appropriate action against parties that abused Quranic verses for ulterior motives or to question Islamic practices."

"[T]o ensure that racial harmony is maintained."
Oh, that's all right, then . . . because Islam is a race, of course, not a religion. Right. And of course, the best way to ensure racial harmony is to prosecute non-Muslims for questioning the words of the Qur'an. By this law, anything deemed 'Islamic' by the National Fatwa Council would be protected from 'racial-hatred' speech, such that any remark considered critical of Islam would be castigated as 'racism'!

I take it that Islamists now consider racism worse than unbelief? What a surprise! Also interesting. Being an infidel is preferable to being a racist.

Jamil Khir Baharom and the National Fatwa Council of Malaysia definitely have their political correctness down pat.

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Saturday, April 09, 2011

Bill Vallicella quotes J. R. Lucas "Against Equality"

Maverick Philosopher
Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner

My friend Bill Vallicella, who blogs at his site Maverick Philosopher and does his ontological thinking at such abstract altitudes that I get intellectual nosebleed, also posts on other topics where the air is not so thin. A couple of weeks ago, he quoted a passage from John R. Lucas that I found particularly insightful, and I've been intending to return to it and post it here, and I know that Bill won't mind, especially if I alert others to his fine website. Bill's post was titled "Money, Power, and Equality" and quoted Lucas, to wit:
Since men value power and prestige as much as the possession of wealth -- indeed, these three 'goods' cannot be completely separated -- it is foolish to seek to establish an equality of wealth on egalitarian grounds. It is foolish first because it will not result in what egalitarians really want. It is foolish also because if we do not let men compete for money, they will compete all the more for power; and whereas the possession of wealth by another man does not hurt me, unless I am made vulnerable by envy, the possession of power by another is Inherently dangerous; and furthermore if we are to maintain a strict equality of wealth we need a much greater apparatus of state to secure it and therefore a much greater inequality of power. Better have bloated plutocrats than omnipotent bureaucrats. (J. R. Lucas, "Against Equality," in Philosophy, 40, 1965, p. 305)
Bill calls this "a penetrating passage from a penetrating essay," and I agree. Bill offers his own commentary:
If the egalitarian wants to equalize wealth, perhaps via a scheme of income redistribution, then he will need to make use of state power to do it: the wealthy will not voluntarily disembarrass themselves of their wealth. But state power is of necessity concentrated in the hands of a few, those who run the government, whose power is vastly greater than, and hence unequal to, the power of the governed.
But Bill also notes an objection:
"Wealth is convertible into power since the wealthy can buy their way to political influence, whether legally or illegally."
And deals with it:
True, but the seriousness of this problem is a function of how intrusive and overreaching the government is. A government stripped down to essential functions offers fewer opportunities for the power-hungry. Note also that the wealthy may feel it necessary to buy influence just to protect themselves from regulatory zeal.
This is the problem with a powerful government. Since, as Lucas points out, "men value power and prestige as much as the possession of wealth," then the inequality of power attracts men and lends itself naturally to abuse, for the feeling of power is experienced not so much in its legitimate use as in its illegitimate use. Who has power? The man who can abuse it with impunity.

But what size is a "government stripped down to essential functions"? I don't know. It must be large enough to protect its citizens from those who seek power over them, whether the enemy be foreign or domestic. It therefore needs a military and a police force. But these set up a differential of power. Those powers of government must therefore be subject to the rule of law. Law must be consistent with a basic constitution. The constitution must establish the equal rights of citizens under law. The government so constituted must be run by elected officials responsive to the people, and thus be democratic. And so on . . .

One will therefore notice that while government is necessary, even this best of governments sets up differentials of power, and since "men value power and prestige as much as the possession of wealth," then the wealthy will attempt to use their wealth to gain power through government. But the wealthy would attempt that even without government. Corruption is endemic to human society, and the best we can do to protect our liberty is to maintain vigilance, or as John Philpot Curran put it in 1790:
"The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance."
Let us therefore remain alert.

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