Tuesday, January 31, 2012

On the frontlines "of this great Argument" -- finding myself among the New Milton Critics!

There may be some interesting consequences stemming from my recent publication in the Milton Quarterly, for I suspect that I'll be perceived as having placed myself squarely in the camp of the New Milton Critics. Who are they? Three days ago, I couldn't have told you, but here's what they have to say for themselves:
The New Milton Criticism seeks to emphasize ambivalence and discontinuity in Milton's work and interrogate the assumptions and certainties in previous Milton scholarship. Contributors to the volume move Milton's open-ended poetics to the centre of Milton studies by showing how analysing irresolvable questions -- religious, philosophical and literary critical -- transforms interpretation and enriches appreciation of his work. The New Milton Criticism encourages scholars to embrace uncertainties in his writings rather than attempt to explain them away. Twelve critics from a range of countries, approaches and methodologies explore these questions in these new readings of Paradise Lost and other works. Sure to become a focus of debate and controversy in the field, this volume is a truly original contribution to early modern studies.

Among the New Milton Critics are Peter C. Herman, Elizabeth Sauer, Richard Strier, John Rogers, Judith Scherer Herz, Michael Bryson, Christopher D'Addario, Shannon Miller, Thomas Festa, Jeffrey Shoulson, William Kolbrener, and Joseph Wittreich, for these scholars contributed to the volume pictured above. I know several of them from the Milton List and also recognize the names of others from my acquaintance with Milton scholarship. I simply didn't realize that these trees made up a forest. I suppose I'm now perceived as a sapling on the perimeter. From the passage quoted above, I can see that I have some things in common. Like these scholars, I read Milton with a focus on "uncertainties in his writings," but unlike these same scholars, my approach to the uncertainties is to "attempt to explain them away," if possible. I don't embrace the uncertainties. I'm certainly no deconstructionist. I see the uncertainties -- or better, the contradictions -- as problems for Milton's great argument, and I think that he was aiming for logical coherence without entirely achieving it. But I know that I'll now be forever misunderstood as a New Milton Critic. Why? Here in the concluding sentence of my Milton Quarterly article -- immediately following my half-ironic remarks on Satan's necessary role in resolving an antinomy in Paradise Lost -- is why:
Milton has told us that his "great Argument" (1.24) does indeed "justifie the wayes of God to men" (1.26), but surely Milton did not intend a felix culpa, even if one might entertain destabilizing doubt at such contradictory complications . . . though merely sketching out the uncertain ramifications of such as these would go far beyond this brief essay and into realms of incertitude and ambiguity explored by Peter Herman, among others (cf. Sauer 15n1).

The citation is of Elizabeth Sauer in her "Introduction: The Art of Criticism," from Milton and the Climates of Reading: Essays by Balachandra Rajan (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006), which Sauer also edited. Concluding in this manner would seem to put my stamp of approval on the New Milton Critics -- among whom Sauer belongs (see list of scholars above) -- though I was in fact implicitly thanking Peter Herman for reading my article as I reworked it and offering his useful advice about seeking out primary sources from the 16th and 17th centuries to make my point about such terms as "cropt" and "uncropt." No one other than Peter would recognize this implicit thank-you note, of course, but there's more. Peter Herman also has an article published in the same issue of the Milton Quarterly, and it immediately follows my own -- mine thus appearing to introduce his -- and launches into a spirited defense of the New Milton Criticism through a strong offensive attack on an apparently polemical opponent:
I am not going to tax the reader's patience by repeating John Milton's mistake in Eikonoklastes and giving a tedious, point-by-point rebuttal of every single statement David Urban makes in his recent diatribe against the New Milton Criticism.

I finished reading Peter's counter-critique and then sent him an email:
I just yesterday received my copy of December's Milton Quarterly, and I learned of the heated debate between David Urban and the New Milton Critics. Wow! I've only read your article but will get to those of Wittreich and Strier soon.

There is some unintended irony in the concluding sentence of my article, which immediately precedes your own, in that my positive reference to your work on doubt, contradiction, incertitude, and ambiguity would appear to have been intended as an introduction to your article -- and the two that follow. I wonder if I will face consequences . . .

Peter quickly replied:
I was also very pleased by the happy circumstance of the last line of your article leading into mine. That [plus other things] . . . makes this the NMC issue of MQ, I think.

I strongly suspect that Peter's right. This issue of the Milton Quarterly will be seen as the New Milton Critics' issue, and scholars will infer that I've placed myself squarely within that camp.

Oh, well, all publicity is good publicity . . .

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Monday, January 30, 2012

Paul Berman on Václav Havel's "screwy ideas"

Václav Havel

The New Republic has an article on one of the political figures I most respect by one of the journalists I most respect, Paul Berman's "Democracy and the Human Heart: Václav Havel, 1936-2011" (January 26, 2012). Both are practical men who take -- or, in Havel's case, took -- ideas seriously. Oddly enough, Havel's seriously meant remarks about God could sound rather loopy, as in his musings to Berman during a 1997 interview:
A new god, he told me, would most likely be abstract and multicultural -- a god who brought together Allah, Buddha, Christ, and so on.

Berman himself refers to Havel's "screwy ideas" on a multicultural god, and even though Berman cites one of Havel's advisors as having used this expression to describe the concept, he doesn't appear to reject the label. Multicultural deities aside, why was Havel interested in such theistic views at all? Berman offers an intriguing explanation:
Now that he has died, I think I see the pertinence of this last and fuzziest of ideas a little more clearly. Havel was frightened by atheism. In his eyes, communism was atheism's apotheosis. Communism led everyone to focus on material circumstances and to dream of improving the circumstances, and to dream of nothing else. For why should anyone dream of anything more than material improvements? More does not exist. Such was atheism's message. To pine for a new automobile made sense, but there was no point in contemplating the state of your soul.

Communist despotism in the "post-totalitarian" period depended on people drawing this kind of distinction -- between the reality of material things and the non-reality of things having to do with the soul or with Being. So long as everyone adhered to materialist principles, the Central Committee could get along without firing squads. The regime stayed in power merely by manipulating the distribution of products and privileges. You wanted a Skoda? You mumbled the communist slogans, and you avoided mumbling anything else, and after a few years of reliable obedience your own name would ascend to the top of the waiting list, and -- oh greatest of all conceivable joys! -- a Skoda would be yours.

To counter this materialist atheism, Havel sought a useful language:
The whole point of his multiculti god was to look for a spiritual language that was not going to be tied to any particular religion, and therefore could address everyone. Then again, he did not want to leave everything in the hands of the multiculti god, either . . .

Even if he didn't say so, Havel may, like me, have found theism nearly as frightening as atheism, for even prior to 2001, in an address to the US Congress in 1990, Havel said:
"For this reason, the salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human humbleness, and in human responsibility."

Or, as glossed by Berman:
You have got to think for yourself, in short.

Berman then offers a fitting tribute to Havel that shows how the man's 'screwy metaphysical ideas' led him to greatness, and there's an interesting irony Berman notes:
Religious ideas are usually said to be an argument against what is called "relativism," or the idea that nothing in particular should be regarded as absolutely important. In one respect, though, the ideas that Havel liked to entertain did promote a kind of relativism, and this was in regard to his own life. If you think there is something more, a Being or transcendental something-or-other that goes beyond your own material existence, your own life is bound to end up seeming, by way of comparison, humbler, therefore easier to put at risk. Havel seems to have understood pretty clearly that his own life was not the greatest of all possible values. In 1983, when they carried him off in handcuffs to the prison hospital because he had refused to request a pardon -- at that particular moment his lungs had trouble breathing but his brain seems to have had no trouble recognizing that his own continued place on earth was not his highest goal. If he had come to a different recognition, would the rest of his life have spoken to us as eloquently as it does? He was one of the greatest and most heroic figures of modern times, or maybe of all time, but he was a great and heroic figure because his own thinking gave him the courage to risk not being anything at all.

This reminds me of a lengthy conversation that I recently had with a friend over coffee. We were discussing the big issues. God. Values. Mortality. Civilizations. Not in any particular order. He noted that he would fight for his values. I asked why. "Because they are mine." The conversation took a twist at that point, so I didn't get an opportunity to pursue that a bit further, but the next question, clearly, is this: "Would you fight for them to the death?" There has to be a sense in which my values are worth defending beyond the fact that they are mine. If that is all, mere possession, then why not trade those values in for other values if one's life is at stake? Surely my life is more important to me than my possessions, for without life, I possess nothing. The fact that one would be willing to die in defense of one's values implies that one places the values above one's own life, which means that one holds these values to be transcendent, and that they therefore give life meaning even after one is gone.

Havel seems to have thought so, anyway, and his screwy ideas made his life of lasting value.

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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Paradise Lost: "Fruit Uncropt and Fruit Cropt"

Milton Quarterly Logo

Yesterday, I was pleased to see that the Saturday mail service here in Seoul (actual delivery on Saturdays?) had brought my copy of the Milton Quarterly. I don't really have a subscription, but I was expecting to receive a copy because I've had an article published in it, "Fruit Uncropt and Fruit Cropt: Unnoticed Wordplay in Paradise Lost?" (Milton Quarterly, Volume 45, Number Four, December 2011, pages 252-257). Here's the opening paragraph:
In Paradise Lost 4.724-35, Adam and Eve together praise the creator for their happy love and his abundant blessings, which include the gift of trees bearing fruit that "uncropt falls to the ground" (4.731), and the innocent pair request offspring to share that fruitful abundance. Ostensibly in tension with this are the words of Eve in Book 9, for she there remarks on the many trees with "Fruit untoucht, / Still hanging incorruptible" (621-22), awaiting the hands of offspring yet unborn. The apparent contradiction between the words implying that unplucked fruit falls to the ground from the trees of paradise and that unplucked fruit hangs potentially forever on the boughs of those same trees also serves to bring into focus another apparent contradiction. In the prelapsarian garden, into which death has not yet entered, why should any fruit fall to the ground? Would that not imply death and decay? And what of the plucked fruit's uneaten portions? Are these tossed onto some prelapsarian 'compost' heap? Let us investigate this complex issue. (page 252)

If that interests you -- and it probably does not -- then rush over to the Wiley-Blackwell Website and order a copy! Some folks will be interested, I reckon, since the scholar Gordon Campbell, who edits Renaissance Studies, says, "If you want to publish to be READ, write for the Milton Quarterly." At the very least, I suppose Professor Campbell will read my article.

But even if not, I'm enjoying the rare pleasure of publishing an article in what is arguably the top Milton journal in the world.

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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Ozark Spring House: Mild, Rainy Winter Day

Ozark Spring House
January 27, 2012

Whenever I need my Ozark fix -- which is every morning -- I click over to the website maintained by Ozark photographer Tim Ernst and spend some time contemplating his latest photographs. This morning in Seoul is January 28th, but since Arkansas lies on the back side of the International Dateline, Mr. Ernst must have posted this update of January 27th only some hours ago, though the picture was taken a couple of days earlier. The Ozarks had gotten a bit of rain, apparently, so the Buffalo River Valley had hundreds of waterfalls pouring off its bluffs. Mr. Ernst had gone out to take pictures and also took one of this small spring house directly beside a tiny waterfall:
It rained all day Wednesday, but I was able to sneak out for a couple hours in the afternoon with camera and tripod to visit a couple of nearby waterfalls. I have been unable to get enough [photographs] of the [small waterfall alongside this] little spring house in Boxley, and it only runs well during flooded times for a few hours, so I stopped there first and spent some time with this old friend. There were a few raindrops coming down but nothing too bad. I just love the look and texture of the smooth stones they used for this little building, also the lush moss-covered little bluffline right next to it, and of course the splashing waterfall in between.

Boxley is a small Arkansas village on the upper Buffalo River, and I'm guessing that this is an old spring house from which the locals used to get their water, back in former days. The spring itself -- seen emerging from the pipe in the lower part of the above photo -- surely runs year round. Only the miniature waterfall requires rainy weather to run. Below is a close-up of the falls.

I find these two images so peaceful to gaze at, especially the upper one, with the full stone structure in view. In my younger days, I believed that I'd make my way back to the Ozarks after my worldly adventures, but in my case, Thomas Wolfe seems to have been right, for I likely won't be going home again, not to live, anyway. I guess Seoul is my home now, and I'm getting to know this great city of Asia, but I do need my Ozarks, if only in snapshots, so I'm glad that a man like Tim Ernst is around, daily taking photographs in the Ozark Mountains of Northern Arkansas.

I encourage others to visit his website and look around . . .

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Friday, January 27, 2012

The Polyglot Alexander Arguelles: Living on "unemployment checks and Korean translation work"

Alexander Arguelles

In a book review by Peter Constantine for the NYT, "The Art of Mastering Many Tongues" (January 20, 2012), we learn of Michael Erard's search for true language virtuosos, genuine polyglots who have mastered multiple languages, a quest that Erard writes about in Babel No More and that led him to Berkeley, as Constantine informs us:
One polyglot . . . [whom Erard] meets, Alexander Arguelles, who lives in Berkeley "on unemployment checks and Korean translation work," shows that anyone who hopes to achieve fluency in more than six languages must dedicate himself to the task rigorously -- in fact almost exclusively. Arguelles keeps his languages in shape by subjecting himself to an unforgiving schedule, keeping spreadsheets that record the hours and minutes he spends on each one. Arguelles "tracks his linguistic progress through the hours as saints once cataloged their physical self-sacrifices," Erard writes. Of 4,454 hours of language study Arguelles did over a period of 456 days, he spent 456 hours on his native language, English, and also 456 on Arabic, and then a descending number of hours on the remaining 50 languages on his spreadsheet. Though his learning techniques may seem strange, they also appear to be effective. In one, called "shadowing," students listen to language recordings on a portable player while briskly walking in a public place, gesticulating energetically as they shout out the foreign words and phrases they are listening to. Though one is bound to make a spectacle of oneself, this technique seems to help the beginner shed some of the self-consciousness connected with speaking a foreign language.

That's the very man in the photo above. Our globe-trekking paths have crossed, apparently, both of us having spent time in Berkeley. Arguelles is probably joking about the unemployment checks, for Wikipedia shows him more gainfully employed than that. He may have good advice for language learning, but I don't intend to take him up on shadowing. If I tried that technique here in Seoul to work on Korean -- "walking in a public place, gesticulating energetically . . . [and] shout[ing] out . . . [Korean] words and phrases" -- I'd be committed to an asylum . . . by my wife! Not that such a fate would necessarily be much different than the mad life I already lead, confined here in the bedlam called Seoul.

I wonder if Arguelles used his shadowing technique here in Korea. Wikipedia refers to his "his years of residence in South Korea," during which he studied "a wide range of languages." A citation is supplied that leads to a biographical entry by Dr. Arguelles in which Wikipedia's information is confirmed:
In order to live . . . [in Korea], I obtained a faculty position at Handong University on the eastern coast of the country. This university had only been founded the year before, and they needed somebody to develop and lead a foreign language program, so my initial duties were to teach French, Spanish, and German . . . . [To] get down to serious language study . . . . Handong . . . was exactly what I needed . . . , for the campus was on an isolated hill amidst pine and bamboo forests and rice fields with a view of the Pacific Ocean from my back porch. Furthermore, it soon became clear that, while the university was recruiting foreign faculty to give it international stature, we were viewed as outsiders and thus completely shut out of the administrative decision making process. Other people found this intolerable and soon left, but I turned the situation on its head by reasoning that as my sole duty was to teach languages, I could devote myself entirely to their study on my own . . . . Initially, of course, I focused on Korean and, after I got grounded, on Classical Chinese and Japanese in a comparative context. However, I also ranged very widely through the world of languages . . . . This period came to a close when I belatedly sat down with a calculator and did some serious time management projections. Developing structural knowledge and conversational ability in a language and refining and maintaining that ability can be achieved with just 15 or 20 minutes a day, each and every day, over a period of years. However, developing deeper knowledge and above all enjoying reading the literature of a language requires more like an hour a day, and there are all too few of these . . . . I . . . began to allow myself to simply enjoy reading in my more familiar ones. I also began to "get a life" by getting married, siring a son, and paying more attention to my career by writing and publishing more . . . . [I know many languages, but] in a class all by itself, there is Korean. I lived in its land for nine years, and when I left I took it with me personified in my wife. I have published numerous reference works about it and produced scholarly translations of it, and I have proven time and again that I can handle any situation life throws at me in it, and yet -- there is still so much I do not know.

Our paths truly have crossed! He seems to have been more successful, however, particularly in learning Korean. If he used his shadowing technique in Korea, I suppose Handong's isolation made that practice more comfortable.

But I'm almost motivated to again attempt learning Korean since Arguelles insists that mastering the tongue is mainly just a matter of hard work.

Almost . . .

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Ironic Pitfalls of a Public Intellectual: Niall Ferguson on the the Blight of Divorce and Illegitimacy

Niall Ferguson and Hirsi Ali
(Image from Daily Mail)

Some readers will recall the above photo from my snarky post from March 2, 2010 that parodied Ferguson's chaos theory on foreign affairs by applying it to the chaotic breakup of his own marriage, but I'll let you read that on your own.

I draw attention to that post now only because I see from William Skidelsky's Guardian article of a year later, "Niall Ferguson: 'Westerners don't understand how vulnerable freedom is'" (February 20, 2011), that Ferguson dislikes public attention focused on his private life:
I ask whether Ferguson has been surprised by the reaction their relationship provoked, the gossipy articles and so forth. His tone changes again and he suddenly sounds angry. "I was nauseated. Just nauseated. It makes me quite ashamed to be part of a culture that regards the private life of a professor as something that should be in the paper. It's just so tawdry . . . . making public things that should be private. It's a prurience that I've never understood. I don't give a monkey's about the so-called celebrities that they write about. But the idea that my private life should be the subject of articles I find deeply, deeply infuriating. Because there's absolutely no way to control or resist that process unless you're very rich, which I'm not.

Given his dislike of such attention, I'm relieved that Ferguson isn't rich! But as a public figure of such prominence, he has to expect attention. Moreover, marriage and divorce are not merely private affairs, as he himself knows, for these issues come up in a recent Newsweek article by Ferguson, "Rich America, Poor America" (January 16, 2012), in which he calls upon Americans to harken back to the traditional American values:
[W]e should pin our faith on the four traditional pillars of the American way of life: family, vocation, community, and faith . . . . But can there really be a way back to an America in which divorce and illegitimacy are almost unknown and wholly deplored? An America in which nearly everyone can find fulfillment in hard work? An America in which whole neighborhoods are bound together by ties of trust and voluntary association? An America in which half the population goes to church every Sunday?

In writing such words, Ferguson surely cannot be unaware of their irony in his case, for his own marriage broke up over his affair with Hirsi Ali, with whom he has just recently had a child (December 2011), a baby boy who only barely escaped illegitimacy because Ferguson married Ali in September 2011, when she would have been five or six months pregnant. Divorce or illegitimacy . . . sometimes, one has to choose, I guess.

I'm not judging, merely noting the irony, given Ferguson's own words. In general, I'm an admirer of the views espoused by both him and Ali, and I wish them happiness in what I hope will be a long, successful life together.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Terrance Lindall and the Death of Art . . .

Lindall and Coyotes

This image reminds me of that Simpsons Halloween episode that parodies Damon Knight's story "To Serve Man."

I imagine the title of what Lindall is so peacefully reading, The Death of Art, to actually state -- once the dust is blown away -- The Death of Artist, thereby putting Lindall in danger, except that when more dust is blown away, the title reads The Death of Artistry, to our partial relief, but another puff of breath dispells more dust and previous misunderstanding, for the title now reads The Death of Artistry and All Artists -- to our alarm -- till yet another puff reveals The Death of Artistry and All Artists are Secure, gladdening us once more, but a sudden, stiff draft uncovers The Death of Artistry and All Artists are Secured in Cages, again alarming, but another whiff shows us The Death of Artistry and All Artists are Secured in Cages for Protection, thank God, but on and on it goes, world without end . . .

Moral: "Artists: ever threatened, never cowed . . . not even by coyotes."

Fine Print: Though large Brahman bulls might leave them a bit cowed . . .

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Poetry Break: "The Love Song of Hamel the Mammal"

René Magritte
The Lovers
Love is Blind Unless Transactional!

Over at the Marmot's Hole blog, folks are arguing about prostitution, and one of the regulars there, Hamel, commented:
All human relationships are transactional. They continue only as long and to the extent that both parties preceive some sense of value from them. This is true of sex in a marriage, an FWB [i.e., friends with benefits] relationship, or sex-for-sale.

I disagreed, and replied:
I think that prostitution ought to be legal, though I also consider it a demeaning type of human relationship, but you get what you pay for, I guess. I don't think the transactional model accounts for all kinds of human relationships. As Sperwer implied, we're born into some -- a web of relationships that we never chose to have. Nor do I think that falling in love fits the paradigm of a transaction. Nor do men and women interact in ways that are entirely reducible to transactions. Here's an example. Around 1990 in Berkeley, a disturbed Iranian man entered a restaurant and pulled a gun with which he effectively held the entire staff and clientele hostage. One of his demands was that the men present offer to die in place of every woman present. Each man had a choice: The woman dies, or you do. Every man present chose to take a woman's place. Why? Transactional? A dead man gains nothing. Maybe some of those men were taking a date out for dinner and hoping to score later that night if they spent enough money, but they suddenly found themselves confronted by a choice they'd not included in their calculations, a choice that demanded they act on their deepest values and potentially pay the ultimate price. Sociobiologists might explain this by some variant of their transactional model, but I'd wager they’re explaining the phenomenon away rather than explaining it in a meaningful way.

In case anyone's curious how the story turned out . . . a SWAT team (or equivalent) managed to infiltrate the restaurant and take the culprit out before he shot anyone.

After a bit of thought, I decided that I needed more precision from Hamel, so I posted:
Hamel, maybe we need to start more simply. What do you mean by "transaction"? I'd assumed some sort of reductive economic model because the discussion began with the economic transaction of sex for money, something that sociobiologists would further reduce to biological imperatives.

I thus need to know what you mean by the term "transaction."

Hamel replied:
[B]y transaction I mean that each party receives something of value from the relationship that they want. This can be an emotional value, a religious value, a moral value, an economic value, a reputational value, a networking value, or any number of other things. When one or both members of the relationship no longer feel they are getting the same value, the relationship may fade away, break off sudenly, or need to be redefined.

Relationships where sex is involved have very interesting transactions going on. And sometimes there is a direct economic benefit.

In response to this, I wrote:
"[B]y transaction I mean that each party receives something of value from the relationship that they want."

This is a very broad understanding of "transaction," for "value" could mean almost anything according to your examples, but even so, not all human interactions are transactions according to this definition. Rape is a type of human interaction, but I can't see how a woman receives anything of value from it.

But even for cases in which each partner is obtaining something of value, I don't think that "transaction" necessarily exhausts the meaning of a human interaction. I would argue that a transactional analysis of love diminishes it.

Imagine falling in love with a woman and that the love is mutual and requited. However, in a postcoital moment of mental abstraction (for which you would never forgive yourself), you needlessly explain your view of love as a transaction. Your lover becomes offended by such a crass view that reduces her love to a negotiation.

"So, I’m no better than a prostitute!" she exclaims.

She then gets up, dresses, and leaves you lying there in a state of postcoital tristesse. You try to tell yourself, "Oh, well, if she can't accept my view of love as a transaction, then she wasn't the right one for me since she couldn't supply that value."

But your own words ring hollow even to you, for you really loved her, and for the rest of your life, you live with regret, forever caught between an abstract 'truth' you stated and an emotional truth you could have lived . . .

But I gave the issue a bit more thought and decided that a poem could make my point in a more effective manner:
The Love Song of Hamel the Mammal

My love thought my love from above,
Each time we engaged in love's action.
But I told the truth to my love:
"We’re really engaged in transaction."

My love took offense at the truth.
"But I thought you true-loved me!" she cried,
Got up and just left me, forsooth,
And my love unaccountably died!

My life thus has value no more,
Nothing left to negotiate now.
So treat not your love as a whore;
Rather swear a by-heaven-held vow!

Such truth oh too late learnéd I,
And caught fast in regret lies my soul.
Far better had been it to lie
With my love untransacted but whole.
And there it is, finally, today's poetry break . . .

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Monday, January 23, 2012

Student Thank-You Note With Sketch


A student from this past winter session of 2011-2012 left an impressive thank-you note in my mailbox on Thursday after the final exam:
Professor Hodges,

I just wanted to thank you for teaching me this winter semester. I really enjoyed every class and appreciate it.

Also, have a nice [lunar] new year holiday! I drew a magpie 'specially for you. In Korea, magpies are believed to bring good luck, so I hope this drawing leads you to lots of happy moments!

Thank you again for the class, and happy 2012.

- from Chaewon -

That's a nice note, and an astonishingly delicate sketch of a magpie! The beak appears more hooked than on any magpie I've ever seen, but I've not seen all varieties of this bird, which apparently (for what it's worth) is classified according to two different families, Corvidae and Artamidae.

As for why the course was so much fun . . . I can't pin down precisely. But one thing that I did differently this go-around in the course was to dedicate more class time to essay writing. I had the students re-write their essays in class and pair up with peer-partners to assist in proofreading their work. This also gave me time to offer individual advice on essays, and I could see that my students appreciated that.

I also took some time off from arduous classwork to teach them some songs -- "Fan It," "That's How I Got My Start," and "Green-Eyed Lady" -- which they seemed to enjoy greatly. One student even told me that the song "Fan It" had been running through her head all weekend, and she meant that as a compliment. She later told me that she had "loved this class."

These are the best remarks that I've received thus far in my experience as a teacher, so I must be doing something right after all this time. Like Thomas Pynchon, I'm a slow learner.

Anyway, if I do receive the good luck wished for me by Chaewon, I hope that the good fortune is concentrated upon my teaching, that I will continue to improve as a good teacher . . .

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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Kuwaiti Prince Abdullah al-Sabah Converts to Christianity?

File this one under the "Interesting If True" heading. In a recent issue of the Vatican Insider (January 16, 2012), Marco Tosatti reports on "Kuwait: The prince's mysterious conversion," informing us that "a Kuwaiti royal prince has become a follower of Jesus Christ" and has posted the affirmation in an audio file using his full name, Abdullah al-Sabah, on the Arabic Christian satellite TV channel al-Haqiqa, which transmits Christian religious programing:
In his audio file, Abdullah declared: "First of all, I fully agree with the distribution of this audio file and I now declare that if they kill me because of it, then I will appear before Jesus Christ and be with him for all eternity." In this statement, the prince demonstrates his awareness of the fate in store for a martyr of the faith, according to Christian doctrine. The television channel stated that Abdullah is a member of the royal family, and that he recently renounced his faith in Islam and became a Christian, without specifying which particular branch of Christianity he had chosen. After stating his full name, the prince declared: "I will accept whatever they do to me, because the truth in the Bible has guided me towards the right path."

This sounds like evangelical Christianity to me . . . except that it sounds more like a hoax, particularly since a Kuwaiti prince by the name of Azbi al-Sabah insists: "There's no one by that name in the Kuwaiti royal family." He could be lying about that, of course, but getting caught in a lie so easily checked leads me to think he's telling the truth. This doesn't rule out the possibility that Abdullah al-Sabah is a pseudonym taken on by a real convert to hide his true identity, though such would seem to contradict the reported audio. Anyway, if the reported conversion is genuine, we may be hearing more about this in the near future.

To this Kuwaiti report, Tosatti adds a bonus point about neighboring Iran and the growth of Christianity there, a worrisome issue for Iran's theocratic Shi'ite state, leading the Iranian authorities to utter typically paranoid statements:
After Heidar Moslehi, the Iranian intelligence minister, asked Muslim seminaries to become proactive in stopping the spread of Christianity, a high-ranking cleric declared that Evangelical Christianity is the most horrifying intelligence and security organisation in the world. This statement seems to have appeared on press agencies close to the Revolutionary Guard.

In a conference on "New Age cults" held in Varamin, a district south of Teheran, Akhond Mohsen Alizadeh declared: "We should not allow these cults to question Islamic jurisprudence under the cover of mysticism." He went on to add: "They tell the youth that God is wrathful and horrible in Islam but is love in Christianity. Also, Christian preachers answer the questions and doubts of youth in their own interest and try to attract them." Nevertheless a whole series of signs seem to indicate that non-traditional Christianity -- there are Catholics and Orthodox Christians in Iran as well as a large Armenian community -- is spreading. The regime's press recently spoke of them with concern and the number of cases of repression and condemnation following conversions is growing.

By "non-traditional Christianity," Tosatti means evangelicalism, which includes pentacostalism, a variant on evangelical Christianity that seems to appeal to a lot of individuals outside of the West. If these folks make up "the most horrifying intelligence and security organisation in the world," then I can only conclude that the Holy Ghost must be involved in espionage, which rather fits the insider lingo that refers to spies as "spooks"!

Spooky indeed, but with God of their side, meaning that on the side of the Iranian theocratic state is . . .

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Saturday, January 21, 2012

The NoZe Comes Knocking

The Noble NoZe Brotherhood of the Universe, Inc. -- a satirical fraternity of funnymen at Baylor University who dress up in tuxedos and Groucho Marx noses and go by such pseudonyms as Brother AgNoZetic (my own moniker) to remain anonymous while still attending school -- must be in decline.


Whaddaya mean, "Why?"

Oh, wait . . . that was my own, rhetorical question. Must've had a senior moment. Anyway, where was I? Oh, right. I was asking "Why?" I meant why do I say the NoZe is in decline? Well, because the current Noble NoZe Disorganization has implicitly recognized its unfortunate inability to judge the quality of its own satire, for the NoZe Brothers in charge of editing The Rope -- erstwhile parody of Baylor's student paper, The Lariat -- have apparently had the official editor send proofs of The Rope via e-list to us Brothers-in-Exile, asking us to check the quality of their humor:
Hello, exiles.

Here is [an attachment of] the latest copy of the award-winning Rope. It's not 100% done, but almost. I'd really appreciate any advice, edits, or any amount of funny you still possess to make it a little better.

I didn't vote for any of you,

Bro. Edgar Allen NoZe

I took this request very seriously -- even though Bro. Edgar Allen NoZe never used his power of transcending space and time to visit 1976 and join the other Brothers in unanimously voting me into the Brotherhood -- so I did my utmost to help:
I haven't bothered to read the attachment, but I don't need to because I already know it's not funny. My advice (based on a close non-reading): make it funny . . . like it used to be, back in the glory days of '76-'79.

Brother AgNoZetic

Exiled Since '79

Another Brother-in-Exile -- albeit some whippersnapping young graduate of 2006 -- couldn't understand my plain English and commented:
Somehow, AgNoZetic misspelled "2003-2006." Can somehow check on him?

I skimmed the Rope, and my favorite thing is the bright colors and the many, many punctuation errors.

Enjoy finding them all . . .

This Exile wisely neglected to sign his NoZe name but did use an infidel surname that Beggs to be baptized into NoZe lingo. Let's therefore avoid his infidel name for anonymity's sake, but lest he get off entirely Scott-free, call him "BumNoZetic." Brother BumNoZetic fears for my orthographic wits and has thoughtfully asked an aquaintance he calls "Somehow" (albeit uncapitalized) to check on me. I expressed my gratitude:
Thanks for the thoughts well-meant, BumNoZetic, but '76-'79 is no error in spelling 2003-2006, rather an abbreviation for 1976-1979. What are they teaching at Baylor this new millenium? If a BU degree has declined this much in value, the parousia must be near!

Compensate Elmo,

Brother AgNoZetic

Brother BumNoZetic responded . . . if one can call this a response:
Leave the Grape ad intact. They'll love the millenniumalist lack of contact info.

I'll parousia the paper some more, but everything looks good.

Except the words . . .

It's almost as if he isn't talking to me. But I see that he picked up some new words from my email and attempted to use them without even the minimal effort of checking a dictionary. Just peruse what he's written, you'll see.

But enough of this brouhaha, for a real brew or two -- ha! ha! -- awaits me later today if I can just finish my more legitimate work . . .

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Appreciative Note from a Student: Research on Jean Webster

Daddy Longlegs

I sometimes receive notes of appreciation from my Korean students. Such appreciation always goes beyond what I deserve, but it occasionally verges on the metaphysical. One student, who wrote a research paper during the Fall 2011 Semester on Jean Webster's famous novel Daddy-Long-Legs (1912), left me the following note just yesterday:
You are the first one [i.e., instructor] I'm writing to. First of all I want to express my gratitude to you. I really appreciate you. I owe you so much. You greatly helped me when I was goofing around from the first of the semester. I couldn't narrow down the right topic, I didn't know how to write a thesis statement, a proposal, works cited and I never knew how to google something to find information. Then you helped me to go through everything from A to Z. You told me how to come up with a specific topic, how to build a structure, how to google the resources, and how much I was surprised when you suddenly approached me and said "Spiderman: Daddy-Long-Legs as Ambiguous Benefactor -- that's your title."

That title always showed me the right direction when I was in a maze. While I was writing the thesis overtime [i.e., over time?], I couldn't help but think you Jeffery Hodges was [sic., "were"] ambiguous. Your first impression was scary somewhat, your eyes were so bright and straight like a pair of laser shots, you weren't sugar-coated, you weren't so funny but as time went by you turned out to be sooooooo generous daddy [sic., "such a generous 'daddy'"], always willing to help students, and sometimes even funny too! I believe you are also an ambiguous teacher. Are you Daddy-Long-Legs? You are NOT a spider and you are NOT strange Jervis Pendleton. Now I draw up a conclusion: you are an angel with a pair of laser shots . . .

Again, thank you very very much for teaching me academic writing. Now I have my own thesis. Actually I revised it a bit more and want to give it to you . . . .

Did I tell you I'll be an exchange student in State University of New York at Stony Brook this year? My adventure continues. I'm thrilled. Wish me luck.

After I come back to Ewha, I'd love to take [another of] your . . . class[es].

Thank you so much . . . .

An "angel"? Maybe a fallen one, but that gets us into Milton's territory, and we'd best stick to Jean Webster. Her novel -- in case you're unfamiliar with it -- is about an orphan girl (Jerusha "Judy" Abbott) who is given a college scholarship by an secretive benefactor (Jervis Pendleton), whom she calls "Daddy-Long-Legs" because she happened to glimpse his long-legged shadow. That's the reason offered by Jerusha, anyway, but I suggested to my student that this nickname might signify Jerusha's sense of an "ambiguity" in the benefactor's character since the nickname calls up an image of the identically named spider-like creature, spiders being the scary stuff of nightmares even if the arachnid known as daddy longlegs is less frightening in appearance than a true spider, and was sometimes considered beneficial by children (e.g., the game "Daddy Longlegs, Daddy Longlegs, where are the cows . . .").

Anyway, to assist in the search for secondary literature that might support an ambiguous reading of the novel, I directed the student to feminist articles, which I didn't doubt would supply more-than-adequate critiques of such a controlling figure as Daddy-Long-Legs. Those critical readings, combined with recognition of the benefactor's acts of generosity, filled in the details needed as evidence for an ambiguous reading -- and possibly a contribution to the critical literature on this novel.

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Condoleezza Rice to Baylor Students on Career Choice, Footnote by Gene Autry

Condoleezza Rice
Baylor Magazine

I see from my latest issue of Baylor Magazine (Winter 2011-12) -- a publication of my undergraduate alma mater -- that Ms. Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State under President George W. Bush, visited Baylor University on November 9, 2011 for "On Topic" (video), a series of conversations about contemporary issues led by Baylor president Kenneth Starr, and among the interesting things that she imparted were a couple of related remarks about 'choosing' one's career:
You have to find something that you love to do, and I am very fortunate that I found what I was passionate about, even though I thought what I was passionate about was that I was going to be a concert pianist. I had studied music from the age of 3; I could read music before I could read. And I went off in the summer of my sophomore year to the Aspen Music Festival School, where a lot of prodigies studied. And I met 13 year olds who could play from sight everything that had taken me all year to learn; I was 17. And I thought, "I'm about to end up teaching 13 years olds to murder Beethoven or maybe playing at Nordstrom's, but I am not going to play at Carnegie Hall" . . . . I decided to look for another major. I took a course in international politics; it was taught by a Soviet specialist, and I loved it. And that's how I got interested in international politics. Once I found what I loved to do, my passion, I felt that I wanted to get good at it. So I learned to speak Russian, and I worked very hard. And then I found people who helped me along the way . . . . So that's why I'm blessed to be doing the things that I'm doing now, but it all started with finding something that I absolutely loved to do. So to you college students out there, . . . I just say one thing. When my students ask me, "How do I become like you?" -- in other words, "How do I become secretary of state?" -- I say, "You start as a failed piano major. Don't plan every step of your life. Life takes funny turns."

Later in the conversation, she picked up the same theme, referring back to the university course in international politics that set her on her life's course:
I took that course in international politics, and that was it. So to the students, I would say, if you have not yet found what you're passionate about, keep looking, number one. Secondly, if you're looking for it, you may feel that you're not ever going to find it, but it may find you, as international politics found me. Third, when you finally find it, go for it. And don't be deterred by those who might say, "You want to study what?" Because the idea that a black woman from Birmingham, Alabama, ought to be a Soviet specialist is pretty farfetched, right? Just because you look a particular way or you are a particular gender, don't let anybody define your passion for you on that basis . . . . [F]ind somebody who's interested in your career. We have a strange idea that your role model has to look like you. Now, if I had been waiting for a black, woman, Soviet-specialist role model, I'd still be waiting. My role models, and actually my mentors were white men; in fact, old white men, because those were the people who were in my field. So just find somebody who is interested in you. It doesn't matter what they look like.

Pretty good advice, I think. I followed some of her suggestions in advance, but my biggest career flaw has been my radical, intemperate independence. One needs mentors to serve as guides, I now realize, and that never suited my temperament. My convoluted career, however, has taken me unexpected places. As the lady says, "Life takes funny turns." And it ain't through twisting around yet, I suppose.

I wouldn't want life's funny turns to take me on a 'twisted' career of the sort described below, however (and apologies for being unable to find an audio):
That's How I Got My Start

Gene Autry

When I grew up to be a man, I said I'd work no more.
But dad took me by the pants and kicked me out the door.
It's not because I'm lucky; it's not because I'm smart.
My old man said, "Get out, you bum!" That's how I got my start.
Yo-duh-lay-dee, yuh-lay-dee, dee-duhl-dee-dee . . .

One time I did try working. My wages they were fair.
On payday, I got tipsy, then I got the air.
It's not because I'm lucky; it's not because I'm smart.
I drink a lot of moonshine; that's how I got my start.
Yo-duh-lay-dee, yuh-lay-dee, dee-duhl-dee-dee . . .

I had a wife that loved me, and I loved her, you know.
She caught me with another gal, then I had to go.
It's not because I'm lucky; it's not because I'm smart.
I run around with other gals; that's how I got my start.
Yo-duh-lay-dee, yuh-lay-dee, dee-duhl-dee-dee . . .

Last night I met a nice little gal. we had lots of fun.
But when I met her husband, he put me on the run.
It's not because I'm lucky; it's not because I'm smart.
But when he started shootin', that's how I got my start.
Yo-duh-lay-dee, yuh-lay-dee, dee-duhl-dee-dee . . .

I been all around this country; been 'round most every place.
And all of the policemen have given me a chase.
It's not because I'm lucky; it's not because I'm smart.
I do the best that I can do; that's how I got my start.
Yo-duh-lay-dee, yuh-lay-dee, dee-duhl-dee-dee . . .

Don't let those twists and turns take you for this sort of whirl through life! But if this is what you make of your life, just remember that no one is useless. You can always serve as a bad example . . .

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Truth in Advertising?

I've been annoyed by the above cover for several weeks, ever since my wife's copy of this December 28, 2011 - January 4, 2012 issue of Newsweek arrived promising "2011 Pictures of the Year" inside.

Why my annoyance? Well, I had serious doubts about that promise. The magazine simply didn't feel hefty enough for 2011 photos. I finally counted yesterday and discovered merely 130 'pictures' in the entire issue! And that's a liberal counting that includes advertisements and the two covers!

Talk about bait and switch!

How can a national -- nay, international -- magazine of such prominent eminence promise 2011 pictures but follow through on only 130?

I want my wife's money back!

Oddly, my wife doesn't seem the least bit upset. Indeed, she seems not to understand my point at all. I guess her English isn't quite perfect yet.

Anyway, I thought I might try to "go viral" with my complaint. Maybe that'll get something done about this . . .


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Cousin Bill visits his parents . . .

October 4, 2006

Cousin Bill sent out his "Weekly Ramblings" newsletter, relating a visit with his aged, Ozark-born parents and recounting the following conversation:
I visited with Dad and Mom Saturday afternoon. Both are fine . . . both very talkative. Noticing . . . [Dad's] palm . . . I inquired if the cracked, chapped area was healing.

Dad responded with: "If . . . I could get out . . . , I'd find a rain-filled hollowed stump and soak my hand . . . . That'd cure it . . . . That's what the old-timers said anyway."

I asked if that'd cure butt rash . . .

Grinning, Dad advised, "If you could find a big enough stump."

So there you have it . . . .

Mom changed the subject to [her birthday this coming] March 31 . . . "I'll be 99 in March, no, make that 90 . . ."

Which lead into Dad's [remark:] "I didn't ever figure I'd be around to 89 . . ."

Mom's turn again, "Bill, you know, we've been married 68 years . . ."

Dad's response: "Yeah, I know, so let's change the subject."

I found this dialogue vastly amusing, particularly my uncle's quips. I hope that I'm as alert when I get old. I don't think I'll make it to 89, however, given my dissolute academic life of hard living as a Gypsy Scholar, but I'm already 54, and if I'd known I'd live this long, I'd've taken better care of myself!

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Monday, January 16, 2012

Benjamin Sommer and the Johannine Divine Name applied to the Son


In The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, Benjamin Sommer draws attention to examples of the 'fluidity' of divine identity (i.e., the 'ability' of a Semitic deity to maintain an identity in more than one place simultaneously), for example, as described in some ancient Near Eastern texts concerning the term shem, that is, "name":
The same phenomenon [of being at once an independent deity and a part of another deity] occurs also with the term shem. In a Phonecian inscription, we read that the king Eshmunazor built a temple for Baal of Sidon and a temple for . . . "Astarte, Name of Baal . . . . The same epithet is applied to this goddess twice in Ugaritic myths. One of the occurrences comes from the Kirta epic: . . . (May) Astarte, Name of Baal, (break) your scalp!" An almost identical passage appears again in a passage from the Baal epic. In these three texts, Astarte as the Name of Baal appears in parallel with another god. She appears on her own, however, with some frequency in Ugaritic and Phonician texts (as well as in Egyptian ones). Here again, a goddess who elsewhere has her own self appears as an aspect of Baal's self. As in the more abundant Akkadian texts . . . then, the selfhood of Canaanite deities was at times fluid: Gods could fragment and overlap, even though at the level of worship and mythology they usually were distinct from each other. (page 27)

Sommer later applies this model to a number of passages in the Hebrew Bible, but I want to draw attention to another parallel, in John's Gospel:
17:11 καὶ οὐκέτι εἰμὶ ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ καὶ αὐτοὶ ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ εἰσίν κἀγὼ πρὸς σὲ ἔρχομαι πάτερ ἅγιε τήρησον αὐτοὺς ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί σου ᾧ δέδωκάς μοι ἵνα ὦσιν ἓν καθὼς ἡμεῖς. 12 ὅτε ἤμην μετ᾽ αὐτῶν ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ, ἐγὼ ἐτήρουν αὐτοὺς ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί σου οὓς δέδωκάς μοι ἐφύλαξα . . . (Morphological Greek New Testament)

17:11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name -- the name you gave me -- so that they may be one as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me . . . (New International Version)

A bold, but careful hermeneut might venture to read this as meaning that the Son is the Name of the Father, analogous to how Astarte is the Name of Baal. Ben doesn't comment on these two Johannine verses, but I see by looking ahead that he later cites the Johannine prologue on page 96 in a particularly relevant discussion of John 1:14 concerning the manner in which the divine Word "tabernacled" in the world. Of special interest are Ben's notes 60 through 63 to this point, found on page 239, especially note 63's reference to "Name theology" in the Hebrew Bible, about which I'll comment upon when I've read that material thoroughly. I'd be curious to know what Ben makes of the two verses in John 17, as well as that chapter more generally.

Perhaps we can expect another book?

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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Williamsburg Circle of International Arts and Letters

I've been invited by the artist Terrance Lindall to join the Williamsburg Circle of International Arts and Letters, a group that I'd noticed listed on the website of the WAH Center (Williamsburg Art and Historical Center), but about which I knew next to nothing. Terrance's invitation offered some history:
In 1997, Terrance Lindall created the President's Club at the WAH Center and the "Williamsburg Circle" of scholars, artists, philosophers, curators. theater people, scientists and engineers to put forth new ideas on the intersection of these subjects in the latter part of the 20th Century. Papers were written by members including Adam Oranchak, Travis Stewart, Yuko Nii and others. Terrance wrote his "Epistemological Movement in the Arts" essay for the Circle. The Presidents' Club of the WAH Center held dinners in honor of outstanding figures in the arts . . . .

The Williamsburg Circle (WC) also has a mission:
The WC will allow its members to put forth ideas that sometimes are not acceptable to the mainstream academic communities . . . . Here at the WC, new ideas, no matter how odd at first appearance will find exposure. The Williamsburg Circle serves as a hub for discussion of new ideas about diverse subject matters. It is especially keen to pointing up intersections in areas of study that on first glance appear to be contradictory, especially as applied to art and literature. It is these endless seemingly chaotic and spontaneous, self organizing and dissolving processes that appear in nature around us that give rise to intuitive leaps of creativity and reveal to the receptive, enlightened mind new ideas in science and the arts.

There's also a Williamsburg Circle motto:
"Fidem Fati Virtue Sequemur"

"With courage follow the promise of Destiny!"

Perhaps my destiny is to join this circle and . . . set forth my ideas? Do I have any ideas worth promoting? Most of my ideas arise from interacting with the ideas of others, which makes me good to have around as a conversational partner, I suppose, so perhaps I can be of some use for the Williamsburg Circle. Anyway, I'm quite interested, and Terrance has requested autobiographical details, so I've supplied the following:
I've been asked to compose a brief autobiography, but since I have no car, I'll just write about myself, with references to other modes of transportation. I was born in 1957 to a carless family in the Arkansas Ozarks and grew up walking regularly to my smalltown library to read books of all kinds, though the selection was limited. I left in 1975 on a bus heading for Baylor University and spent four years there in Waco, Texas pursuing my BA in literature and psychology, though I finished only the former, lacking a two-credit laboratory course for the latter. In 1979, I left for Berkeley and graduate studies in the history of science, and I recall a couple of long cross-country train rides during my many years at the University of California, where I received my masters in the history of science and my doctorate in history. I also used the local subway system to visit San Francisco nearly every Saturday, where I would spend the entire day hiking the city, visiting galleries and bookstores and attending poetry readings. By the late 1980s, I ended up in Tuebingen Germany as a Fulbright Fellow, having flown there, of course, and in 1992, as I was on a train headed for a Friedrich Naumann meeting to accept another fellowship, I met my wife, Sun-Ae Hwang, whom I had inadvertently sat down beside in the only seat still unoccupied in the carriage that I had boarded. We married in 1995 and spent a few years flying about the world to postdoctoral positions in Australia and Jerusalem -- on Australian Research Council and Golda Meir fellowships, respectively -- before settling in Korea, where we have used trains to move from university to university in my Gypsy Scholar career as a professor teaching a variety of subjects, including literature, religious studies, theology, history, and political science, along with essay composition and research methods. We currently live with our two children in Seoul, where I regularly take the subway to teach students at Ewha Womans University. In addition to my university teaching, I also work at home, composing a daily blog, editing for a number of academic journals and a university newspaper, and assisting my wife with her translation work, which can be on anything from art to history to literature. As the mode of transporation for this 'local' work, I use my bare or socked feet, which early in the morning get me from my bed to my desk, but in my imagination, I sprout wings and fly off on a variety of wide-ranging and adventuresome intellectual journeys . . .

That ought to suffice . . .

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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Jakub Grygiel on the EU and European Identity

Jakub Grygiel

Jakub Grygiel, a professor of international relations at Johns Hopkins University and a fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis, has written a recent article for the Foreign Policy Research Institute on the Europen Union: "One Market, One Currency, One People? The Faulty Logic of Europe" (January 2012). I'll just quote a cut-and-paste summary and offer a brief, opaque commentary since I have little time this morning:
[N]o matter how much time and money European leaders put into this effort [of forging a common European identity], the outcome does not look promising . . . . The reason is that its causality is faulty . . . . The project of a united Europe is based on the belief that economic unity (itself poorly defined) will lead to political unity. The pooling of the economic aspects of state sovereignty . . . was meant to constrain and mitigate the nationalistic behavior of individual governments, thereby limiting the possibility of another war. Moreover, in the longer run, the expectation was that a growing economic integration, culminating in the establishment of a common currency, would create a common European identity . . . . Such a line of causation demanded a technocratic approach. Missing the underlying national unity, the establishment of a common market and a common currency had to be pursued by a supra-national elite with a very tenuous electoral accountability. Absent a demos, the technocrats had to take over the decision-making process. The hope, based on the assumption that a common economy creates a unified people, was that at a certain point a European demos would arise allowing the functioning of a European democracy. But until then, technocracy would have to suffice . . . . The "democratic deficit" of EU institutions is, therefore, a direct outcome of the faith in the transformative powers of economic structures. The economic, material conditions had to be first set up, then managed by the EU elites sheltered from electoral wishes (notice the EU's reluctance to allow, and fear of, referenda), and the effect would be the blurring of national differences and ultimately the birth of a European nation. One market, one currency, and -- sooner or later -- one people . . . . There was no need to figure out what Europe, as a cultural entity, really was because the new economic reality would have made a new nation. Hence, the EU technocrats strongly opposed any reference to a common religious background, Christianity, and ignored the three founding cities of Europe: Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome. In their stead, an anemic paean to universal values, reason, and tolerance was much preferred, and the less defined these terms the better. In a way, there were meant to be empty vessels, so anyone could fill them with any substance they desired because they were simply temporary placeholders for the unity that would have sprung from the material conditions created by a common market. One Europe under one currency . . . . [But] Europeans will not be created by the euro and a common market, and what we have right now is a set of EU institutions with no Europeans. But to recognize this leads to the question of what Europe is, a question that neither Merkel nor Sarkozy nor Barroso are willing to ponder because they seem to have little memory of the Christian roots of Europe. Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome are seen as contemporary sources of security and fiscal problems, not as symbols of a great civilizational and religious inheritance that truly unites Europe.

I think that Grygiel is largely right about the limitations intrinsic to employing economic unification toward driving cultural unity. But the European elite would respond that they have not neglected a larger identity, for they do appeal to "universal values, reason, and tolerance." Grygiel calls these three rather "anemic" compared to Europe's Christian roots. I don't think that anemia is the real issue, however. The problem with these three Enlightenment values is that in a postmodern Europe, they are redefined and even contradict each other, for the radical multiculturalism implicitly adopted undercuts appeal to any universal value except for the universal value of tolerance, itself self-contradictory, and reason is distrusted as an authoritarian arbiter of differences that would seek to impose its metanarrative upon the various cultural groups of Europe's multicultural reality.

That's what needs to be discussed.

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Friday, January 13, 2012

Expecting Rain . . . a "Hard Rain"!

A few days ago, I blogged on Dylan's 'plagiarism' ("Dylan on Cash . . . Or?") and cited  Scott Warmuth on Dylan's surreptitious use of Jack London. Unexpectedly for me, Mr. Warmuth visited my blog entry and commented:
Thanks for the link to my article. I dig your nod to Milton at the end of the post.

You can find more of my writing on Dylan's work on my blog. A good starting point might be the long list of Jack London similarities that I referred to in my New Haven Review essay . . .

Mr. Warmuth didn't stop at that. He also linked to my blog entry from a Dylan news site, Expecting Rain, for January 12, 2012, and at around 8:30 p.m., Seoul time, I was getting nearly 100 hits per hour on my blog, most of those directed from Expecting Rain! Perhaps some of those sent my way will linger and read other posts. I can hope . . .

The Milton reference, by the way, was to my post's words about Dylan leading us "in wandering mazes lost," a serpentine sinuosity described in Paradise Lost 2.561.

Anyway, thank you, Mr. Warmuth . . .

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Arrived: Bodies of God!

My copy of Benjamin Sommer's Bodies of God book has arrived, a text whose review I noted in a recent blog entry. I don't recall if I quoted any of the words from the Cambridge University Press advertising copy (though I think not), but here they are in full:
Sommer utilizes a lost ancient Near Eastern perception of divinity according to which a god has more than one body and fluid, unbounded selves. Though the dominant strains of biblical religion rejected it, a monotheistic version of this theological intuition is found in some biblical texts. Later Jewish and Christian thinkers inherited this ancient way of thinking; ideas such as the sefirot in Kabbalah and the trinity in Christianity represent a late version of this theology. This book forces us to rethink the distinction between monotheism and polytheism, as this notion of divine fluidity is found in both polytheistic cultures (Babylonia, Assyria, Canaan) and monotheistic ones (biblical religion, Jewish mysticism, Christianity), whereas it is absent in some polytheistic cultures (classical Greece). The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel has important repercussions not only for biblical scholarship and comparative religion but for Jewish-Christian dialogue.

I'll be reading Sommer's book in the near future and blogging when I have something to say, but today, I can only note that Ben has mentioned me in his "Acknowledgements" as one one of the many people with whom be talked, conversations that in my case took place in Jerusalem more than ten years ago when I spent a year there as a Golda Meir Fellow (aka Lady Davis Fellow) at Hebrew University (Mt. Scopus Campus):
While writing this book, I have benefitted from conversations with many friends and colleagues . . . . Useful feedback came from . . . H. Jeffrey Hodges . . . . (Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, New York: Cambridge University Press, March 2011, page xiv)

That's me . . . despite the "-rey" ending. Everyone makes this mistake, so I'm fighting a losing battle over the spelling of my name. Moreover, Ben is being excessively generous. I didn't contribute much, barely enough to mention. But I appreciate Ben's words -- as well as the recommendation that he wrote for me back around 2001 when I was still vainly striving to make my scholarly way in religious studies. I had hoped to contribute to Jewish-Christian dialogue of the sort alluded to in the advertising copy above.

My aim these days is to be a competent teacher, editor, and blogger as well as wise old man. On that last goal, I'm at least halfway there -- my students consider me old!

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Paul Simon's 'Christian' Interests?

Paul Simon

As someone who hangs around with the evangelical crowd, though mainly on the sidelines, I've often encountered references to the late British evangelical John Stott, so I was curious to read that one of my favorite musicians, Paul Simon, had liked the man. We learn this from Kim Lawton, of the PBS program Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly, who has written on the point in "Paul Simon: 'God Comes Up a Lot in My Songs'" for Christianity Today (January 9, 2012), which tells of Simon's "memorable conversation with John Stott":
Simon said he was recording in England when he saw a 2004 New York Times column by David Brooks, which described Stott's approach to faith.

"The piece was about how embarrassed some Christians were by the televangelists, and (it) said, no one ever talks about this guy, but he's a really good thinker," Simon said.

Paul Simon reads David Brooks? David Brooks reads John Stott? Maybe we should take a look at that column, which asks, "Who is John Stott?" (New York Times, November 30, 2004), and then offers an answer:
[I]f evangelicals could elect a pope, Stott is the person they would likely choose. He was the framer of the Lausanne Covenant, a crucial organizing document for modern evangelicalism. He is the author of more than 40 books, which have been translated into over 72 languages and have sold in the millions. Now rector emeritus at All Souls, Langham Place, in London, he has traveled the world preaching and teaching.

When you read Stott, you encounter first a tone of voice . . . . It is a voice that is friendly, courteous and natural. It is humble and self-critical, but also confident, joyful and optimistic. Stott's mission is to pierce through all the encrustations and share direct contact with Jesus. Stott says that the central message of the gospel is not the teachings of Jesus, but Jesus himself, the human/divine figure. He is always bringing people back to the concrete reality of Jesus' life and sacrifice.

There's been a lot of twaddle written recently about the supposed opposition between faith and reason. To read Stott is to see someone practicing "thoughtful allegiance" to scripture. For him, Christianity means probing the mysteries of Christ. He is always exploring paradoxes. Jesus teaches humility, so why does he talk about himself so much? What does it mean to gain power through weakness, or freedom through obedience? In many cases the truth is not found in the middle of apparent opposites, but on both extremes simultaneously.

Stott is so embracing it's always a bit of a shock -- especially if you're a Jew like me -- when you come across something on which he will not compromise . . . . Most important, he does not believe truth is plural. He does not believe in relativizing good and evil or that all faiths are independently valid, or that truth is something humans are working toward. Instead, Truth has been revealed. As he writes:

"It is not because we are ultra-conservative, or obscurantist, or reactionary or the other horrid things which we are sometimes said to be. It is rather because we love Jesus Christ, and because we are determined, God helping us, to bear witness to his unique glory and absolute sufficiency. In Christ and in the biblical witness to Christ God's revelation is complete; to add any words of our own to his finished work is derogatory to Christ."

Yeah, that's pretty uncompromising. I wonder why Paul Simon, who is also Jewish, expressed a wish to meet the man, though he apparently did, as Lawton tells us:
He decided he wanted to meet Stott, and a friend helped connect them. Simon called the theologian and offered to take him out for dinner. He said Stott told him he didn't go out much anymore and instead invited the musician to his flat for tea and biscuits.

"I'd say we spent two or three hours there," Simon recalled. "I talked about everything that was on my mind about things that seemed illogical, and he talked about why he had come to his conclusions."

Simon was very impressed by Stott. "I liked him immensely," he told me. "I left there feeling that I had a greater understanding of where belief comes from when it doesn't have an agenda."

"It didn't change my way of thinking," he added, "but what I liked about it was that we were able to talk and have a dialogue."

I guess Simon just wanted to understand evangelicals and have some of his questions answered by a thoughtful evangelical leader who is also a well-informed intellectual.

You can watch Kim Lawton's interview, "Paul Simon" (January 6, 2012), on her Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly program for PBS. He says less there than Lawton provides for us on the Christianity Today site, but there are other interesting things, such as the character of his most recent album, So Beautiful or So What, which the evangelical Irish blogger Cathleen Falsani, "who writes frequently about religion and pop culture," praised as "one of the most memorable collections of spiritual musical musings in recent memory." In citing Falsani, Lawton is quoting from an article that Falsani wrote for The Huffington Post, "So Beautiful or So What So Christian?" (June 30, 2011). In that article, Falsani also cites Steve Stockman, "a Protestant clergyman and music critic from Northern Ireland," who says that Simon's album is perhaps "the best Christian album of the year."

As a follow-up to that piece and the Lawton interview, Falsani tells in "God, PBS and Paul Simon, The 'God Chronicler By Accident'" (Sojourners, January 6, 2012) of a burgeoning friendship with Simon, who had read her article. Of Simon, she writes:
Simon is the real deal. He is thoughtful, kind and intellectually curious. He pulls no punches, digs deeper, seeking the truth -- whatever it may be.

He sounds like an interesting man, as I would have expected from his music -- which I started listening to when I was about 10 -- and today's blog post has been interesting for me to write, for it was unplanned and has taken me places that I didn't expect to go.

I hope that readers have enjoyed the journey . . .

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