Saturday, November 30, 2013

Islamophobia is Real!

In 2010, Time Magazine asked, "Is America Islamophobic?" Now, in 2013, Commentary Magazine provides the statistics for 2012 that enable me to say, "Yes!" And here's the proof:
Of the 1,340 incidents of anti-religious hate crimes reported, 674 or 62.4 percent were anti-Jewish in nature. Only 130 incidents or 11.6 percent involved Muslim victims. These figures are not much different from those assembled by the government for previous years. In virtually every year, the number of anti-Semitic incidents is a multiple of those involving Muslims.
That's in a report "FBI Stats Again Belie Islamophobia Myth" (Commentary, November 26, 2013) by Jonathan S. Tobin. How these figures demonstrate Islamophobia might not be obvious to the mathematically challenged, so let me spell it out for the innumerates in a block paragraph to appear more official:
The number of anti-religious hate crimes in America is an enormous number: one thousand, three hundred, and forty-zero! Why, that's thirty-five letters, even without counting spaces, hyphens, and commas! A whopping number! But not nearly so big as the whopper that follows. Fully one-hundred and thirty equals eleven point six percent of these involved Muslim victims! That's fifty-five letters, counting every space -- twenty spaces more than the entire number of anti-religious hate crimes! How can that be? Shocking indeed! Moreover, these fifty-five letters fully dwarf the thirty letters (spaces and hyphens excluded) of the three-hundred and fifteen million of America's population!
And so, my friends, anytime anyone anywhere tries to argue that Americans are not Islamophobic, just send that individual to this Gypsy Scholar blog entry to set the person and the record straight!

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Friday, November 29, 2013

You Tube: Bottomless Bottle of Beer Video Online

Thanks to Ji Kyunghee, computer expert on the EPO staff, my Tuesday evening BBB reading is now online on You Tube!

The first video starts with Lee Soo Kyung -- doctoral candidate in English Literature -- introducing me and allowing me to begin the evening by explaining who Terrance Lindall is and why he's important not only as illustrator but also as artist and why he illustrated my story in a free style, after which I open my story (at about 7 minutes, 15 seconds into the video).

As the recording shifts to the second video, I'm describing the descent into . . . the beer cellar!

Thereafter (which somehow calls up the hereafter) comes the third video, with me describing a Faustian contract signed in blood!

Finally arrives the fourth video, which shows me answering questions, specifically as to how different people interpret the story differently.

For convenience, here are all four videos listed together:
BBB Video 1

BBB Video 2

BBB Video 3

BBB Video 4
All together, the four videos stretch to about an hour, which I hope proves worth the viewing time despite my stiff presentation, awkward gestures, inexpressive voice, and impassive, Neanderthal face . . .

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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Former Student's Card: Congratulations

A former student of mine named Agnes Loh came to my Tuesday evening reading and handed me a card of congratulations before my 'performance.' Agnes hails from Singapore and speaks very good English, as you can infer from her Facebook page and from what she wrote in her card:
Dear Professor Hodges,

Congratulations on your recently published novella, The Bottomless Bottle of Beer! Being a huge fan of you, I'm so excited and thrilled for you upon knowing about your new book. May your book top the charts of Amazon and New York Times' bestseller! Who knows, our "Professor Dumbledore" may be the next famous author of our contemporary time! Looking forward to your literary reading at the English Lounge later around 5:00 p.m. See you there!

Yours Sincerely,

Agnes Loh
Agnes calls me "Professor Dumbledore" because of my half-lens glasses, partly, but because I am old, mostly.

I can only hope her wish comes true about my novella hitting the bestseller lists . . .

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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Bottomless Bottle of Beer Reading

I gave my reading yesterday evening to a small but friendly audience of about 25 people. More students might have come, but I had some unexpected competition: Running Man. SBS was filming the show on Ewha's campus and even in the ECC itself, and since the show's regulars are celebrities, a large crowd of students were gathered in our building to see the popular comedian Yoo Jae-suk compete with his fellow celebrities to avoid capture while seeking some quested treasure. Ironically, and much to my dismay, the show's filming was slated for precisely the same time as my reading! But the shows must go on . . .

My wife Sun-Ae took the photos and first caught me approaching the Lounge:

She next photographed me waiting for people to arrive:

Then came a photo of me preparing:

And chatting with early arrivals:

Finally, the reading itself . . . while looking down, apparently around the beginning since that slide's the book cover:

Still reading . . . reciting, while looking up:

After that photo, Sun-Ae relaxed and enjoyed the performance. She says I read well, and since she's my best critic, she must be right, but I'll wait until I see the video to judge for myself, and if that recording is good enough, we'll put it on YouTube for all interested to see.

Until then, thanks for the interest . . .

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Ironic Gifts of Death and Life: A Somewhat Fictive Account

I just this past weekend received offprints of my article "Ironic Gifts of Death and Life: A Somewhat Fictive Account" (Trans-Humanities, 2013, Volume 6, Number 3), and here's the abstract:
In an abrupt, yet hopefully plausible transition using serious playful irony -- what the Renaissance thinkers called serio ludere, or playful seriousness -- in order to transit, tresspass, and transgress rigid disciplinary boundaries, as well as difficult, resistant boundaries of various sorts, this brief paper moves abruptly from the secular economics of our contemporary postmodern world through the sacred economy of salvation in the thinking of such varied earlier figures as St. Paul, Mark Twain, and Jean Calvin to such related, if distinct, religious writings of antiquity as the Gospel of John and Gnostic texts on the economy of gift-giving, reflecting upon the relevant Greek terms along the way, and translating from the Hebrew, German, and Syriac, where needed, while also drawing upon the cultural anthropology of Mary Douglas, among other writers on food and drink, and then moving on into the paper's decentered center, an un-derided jack-of-all-trades Derrida, then out again by means of literary critic David Lodge's ironically postmodern comedy-of-manners novel Small World, to an optimistic conclusion through a counter-Feuerbachian deus ex machina move via the Czech philosopher Jan Patočka, though with a nod of metaphysical appreciation to the contemporary analytical philosopher William F. Vallicella and his concept of the extramental "external unifier," all the while dealing with the paradoxical notion of the unreturnable gift that can, after all, be returned, such that reciprocity in divine-human dealings is maintained, with the result that the denoument of my essay dwindles ineluctably off into an indefinite ellipse . . .
That's all I have time for today . . .

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Monday, November 25, 2013

C. S. Lewis: Converted Later than Believed?

Jerry Root, associate director of the Billy Graham Center Institute of Strategic Evangelism at Wheaton College and an expert on Lewis, asks, "Does C. S. Lewis Have Something to Hide?" in a review of Alister McGrath's C. S. Lewis - A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet for Christianity Today (November 22, 2013). Root thinks not, but he does acknowledge this:
McGrath does uncover some information that's barely known even among Lewis scholars and aficionados. For example, Lewis's conversion to Christianity actually took place several months to a year later than the dates Lewis himself seems to suggest. The chronology of these events reveals how carefully McGrath pays attention to detail.
I noted this point on the Milton List -- Lewis was an expert on Milton's Paradise Lost -- and Professor Salwa Khoddam, another expert on Lewis, filled in the details:
What Alister McGrath in C. S. Lewis: Eccentric Genius. Reluctant Prophet--A Life writes is that Lewis came to believe in God in 1930 rather in 1929. But the famous conversation between him, Tolkien, and Dyson in Sept. 19, 1931 is still the pivoting event that drove the process of his conversion to Christianity, by his accepting the true "myth" of Christianiy. According to McGrath, this conversion process culminated not in what is traditionally taken to be the correct date of his belief in the divinity of Christ (28 Sept. 1931), during a trip to the Whipsnade Zoo in a motorbike driven by his brother Warnie, but in June 1932, while being driven to the Whipsnade Zoo in a car by Edward Foord-Kelcey. McGrath has interesting evidence to prove these new landmarks (135-59).
There it is, for all you Lewis fans: The Truth! Well, accuracy about dating, anyway . . .

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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Reminder: Literary Reading Tuesday, 5:00 p.m., Ewha Womans University, ECC B235

This coming Tuesday is the day of my literary reading from my novella -- details available upon clicking the poster. I've added some prefatory words about the artist and illustrator, Terrance Lindall, which I will read in conjunction with a showing of the first three slides:

Slide 1 (not an image, just the title and mine and Lindall's names):

The Bottomless Bottle of Beer
Story by Horace Jeffery Hodges
Illustrated by Terrance Lindall

As you see, my story is titled The Bottomless Bottle of Beer, and it's illustrated by Terrance Lindall. Perhaps some of you have heard of Lindall, for he's a somewhat renowned American artist and illustrator whose work appeals to both popular and high culture. Thus, his art has appeared on the covers of such magazines as Creepy and Heavy Metal, but also on the covers of scholarly books. For instance, two different illustrations by Lindall of scenes from John Milton's Paradise Lost appear on covers of The Complete Poetry and Essential Prose of John Milton and The Cambridge Companion to Paradise Lost, the latter book being a publication of Cambridge University Press. Additionally, Lindall is co-director and chief administrator of the Williamsburg Art and Historical Center in Brooklyn, New York.
Slide 2 (also viewable here):

You see here Lindall's illustration for the cover of my story. I should first state that I gave Lindall complete artistic freedom with the illustrations, so the images don't always strictly correspond to the words. Let's take a brief look at these images on this cover. The book lying flat on the shelf has the title Areopagitica written along its spine. That's the title of a long essay by John Milton defending free thought, free expression, and free publication -- in short, a defense against censorship -- and this essay is considered one of the great works in the struggle for free speech in the West. There's no reference to Areopagitica in my story, but thanks to individuals like Milton, a book such as mine is able to see publication. Next to the book stands a bottle of Shoggoth's Old Peculiar, the bottomless bottle of beer that plays a major role in the story as the "sad instrument of all our woe." I realize that's oblique, but you'll soon understand. Beside the bottle sits a grim reminder of our greatest woe, our mortality. It's literally a memento mori, "the skull beneath the skin," and topped off with a burning candle to remind us that our time is short. And not only our time! The quote upon this low shelf states, "For he knoweth his time is short." That comes from Revelation 12:12 and refers to Satan, who has been unleashed upon the world, but just for a short time, which only serves to exacerbate his malice and thereby provides a motive to his practice of driving hard bargains, such as the Faustian ones that we often read about in Western literature. Neither the skull nor the quote from Revelation appear in my story, but Lindall has nonetheless provided a fitting interpretation of my tale. As for the rats, they do appear in the story, as a case of mistaken identity . . . though I didn't quite imagine the top rat to look like Hitler! Finally, I call attention to the quote from Dostoevsky's famous book, The Brothers Karamazov: "I am Satan, and nothing human is alien to me." Quite a fitting quote for a story of this sort.
Slide 3:

Dostoevsky is, in fact, one of my favorite writers, and I read all of his books many years ago, so as a tribute to him, I've titled each of my book's eight chapters after a different book of his and found a devilish quote from each of those books to follow each chapter title. This first chapter is titled Notes from Underground, followed by a relevant quote: "The devil only knows what desire depends upon . . ." In this illustration, we see the naïve protagonist -- let's call him "The Naif" -- walking along the cobblestone street toward the shop wherein he will meet his doom. That's described in the story. But the woman holding the Shoggoth's, a seductress in this Faustian tale, does not appear in the story's first scene. Lindall has placed her here at the opening of the story as foreshadowing. That's his interpretation, but it fits. And now, without further ado, the story begins . . .
But I end here . . . for now . . . though you can read further with Amazon's free preview . . .

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Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Underwater Welder

Among stories that go deep to the heart of anyone who's had a father who failed, this graphic novel must be one of the best, and there have to be a lot of failed fathers since this story was one of Amazon's top 10 graphic novels of 2012.

No . . . we don't all know that, and unlike Jackie, we don't necessarily get the chance to find out . . . but go get a copy . . . and find out for Jackie . . .


Friday, November 22, 2013

Christianity and Liberty?

Roger Williams
Roger Williams University

Baylor President Ken Starr sent forth "Thanksgiving Blessings from Baylor" (November 20, 2013) to current and former students, so I received one and was greatly interested in a couple of paragraphs on religious freedom:
The early English settlers in the New World included Roger Williams. Founder of the State of Rhode Island and co-founder of the first Baptist church in America, Williams stood as a bold early champion of religious freedom. As tirelessly advocated by that great Christian leader and patriot, the principles of "soul liberty" and freedom of conscience have for centuries served as bedrock tenets of Baptist thought. These foundational principles deeply inform Baylor's rich history and mission. Today, nearly 375 years after Roger Williams founded that congregation in New England, religious freedom remains an essential attribute of personal liberty and human dignity. At Baylor, we are fully committed to maintaining and deepening the culture of freedom. Tragically, that culture is in danger around the world.

Next month, I will have the high privilege of participating in an international conference concerning Christianity's role in the never-ending struggle for religious liberty. The conference -- entitled "Christianity and Freedom: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives" -- will be held in Rome. Organized by Georgetown University's Religious Freedom Project and co-sponsored by Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion, the global conference will explore Christianity's contributions to human freedom in the face of two millennia of strenuous opposition and cruel persecution. As we look ahead to this internationally significant conference, I was honored to have the opportunity recently to author an opinion piece on this very topic, published in the Dallas Morning News. The op-ed addresses the upcoming conference, the cause of religious freedom more generally, and the here-and-now persecution globally of the Christian church. This is a topic of profound importance to our hurting world and to all who lift up the ideal of religious liberty. In the spirit of Roger Williams, let us rededicate ourselves to these noble, deeply Biblical principles.
But I wonder how deeply Biblical this religious liberty is. President Starr himself acknowledges a spotty history of Christianity on this issue in his op-ed piece, "The triple tragedy of Christian persecution in Middle East" (Dallas Morning News, November 10, 2013):
Christians have brought to the Middle East and elsewhere the ideas and institutions of freedom. While Christianity has its own mixed history, it has in the modern era championed equality under the law, economic opportunity and religious freedom for all people.
But the crucial question is: Has Christianity championed these because they are Biblical . . . or because they are modern? Presumably, this very question will be broached at the conference President Starr refers to, "Christianity and Freedom: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives," and for more on that conference to be held in Rome this coming December, go to Georgetown University's Religious Freedom Project, which likewise acknowledges Christianity's spotty record:
The Christianity and Freedom Project is timed to coincide with the 1700th anniversary of the Edict of Milan of 313 CE, which officially granted religious freedom to adherents of all faiths throughout the Roman Empire. This initiative will catalyze scholarly exploration and focus global attention on our hypothesis: that Christianity has made important contributions to defining and promoting freedom. The project and its research will fully recognize that Christianity has had a mixed record concerning freedom and human rights. Its broad objective is to explore critically the ways in which Christianity has fostered civic innovation and political and economic progress even -- or especially -- in the face of opposition. Although other religious and non-religious traditions have also made important contributions to the development of freedom, we believe Christianity's contributions in history and in the contemporary world have not received adequate scholarly and public attention, and therefore merit focused investigation.
The Edict of Milan under the emperor Constantine in 313 did promulgate religious freedom to all, but as the Church gained strength, and Christianity became the Roman Empire's official religion under the emperor Theodosius I in 380, religious freedom began to decrease, with Christians becoming the persecutors of other religions.

Christianity's record on freedom is therefore spotty in deed and spotty indeed . . .

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Paradise Lost, Book Three: Spoilers!

One of the scholars on the Milton List linked to a very funny blog entry by Esther Inglis-Arkell on "10 Ways John Milton's Paradise Lost Is Like a Bad Comic Book," and here's what she writes about Book Three:
This is an interstitial book that's more focused on character study than actual plot development. This is fine. I've often found God to be a bit underdeveloped in books. Milton has God looking down at Satan flying up towards Eden. He remarks to his Son that he knows what Satan is going to do, and in fact he knows what Adam and Eve will do as well -- give in to Satan and fall from heaven -- but he's not going to interfere, because he needs to allow everyone to have free will. Fine. That's as good an explanation as any.

But then he goes on to spoil the whole story. And when I say, "the whole story," I don't mean just sucking the tension out of Paradise Lost. I mean God keeps gabbing until he reaches the book of Revelation. He talks about man's fall, he talks about Jesus's saving of humanity, he talks about how Satan will eventually be defeated once and for all, and how there shall be an eternal paradise. Letting alone that this is a kind of a reverse-villain's speech, he's totally ruining it for those who haven't read the Bible. Respect other people's work, Milton! Did God really have to speechify all the way through to the end of time? It's like a bad crossover, where one issue spoils the other.
I thought this 'critique' was hilarious, and so did some of the scholars at the Milton List, but other scholars there were annoyed at the humor -- reading it more as sophomoric ridicule of Milton than as humorous parody of blogger-style critique (though even if it were the former, it'd still be funny . . . and partly on the mark).

If I wanted to get picky, however, I'd note that Satan is not "flying up towards Eden" because he doesn't yet know of Eden; rather, he's flying up towards the universe, in search of mankind, of whom he has somehow heard a rumor . . .

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Don't Know Much About This Story . . .

I recently read Olen Steinhauer's novella, You Know What's Going On, a story in which -- despite the title -- none of the characters know what's going on. Here's a sample in what follows:
The opening hook:
What troubled him most was that he was afraid to die. Paul believed, though he had no evidence of it, that other spies did not suffer from this. But evidence holds little sway over belief, and so it was for him.
The touching murder:
"Take it out, then," said Sam.


"The gun. Take it out and do what you have to do. I personally don't think you can. Not here in your own house. Not with your own hands. And how would you explain it to Nabil? He wants me. Like you, he wants the money. He-" Sam stopped himself because he recognized that he was rambling. Panic was starting to overcome him.

Dutifully, though, Kwambai removed a revolver from his pocket and placed it on the table, pointing it at Sam much the way Sam had pointed the Beretta at Paul Fisher. Unlike the Beretta, this was an old gun, a World War II model Colt.45. Kwambai's eyes were red around the edges. "I like you, Sam. I really do."

"But not that much."

"No," Kwambai said as he lifted the pistol and shot three times before he could think through what he was doing.
The congenial denoument:
"If I forget it, maybe it'll just go away," Benjamin said, smiling pleasantly as he got in and started the car. In no time at all, they had passed the incoming traffic and made it over the hills and back into the city. It was as if the burning house had never been. Despite the sweltering heat, Benjamin had even stopped sweating.
And thus it ends . . .
Maybe those bits reveal the charm of this story, maybe not, but I find the work to be Steinhauer's best-written, most tightly constructed story.

For more, see the Amazon site, or go to Google Books.

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

'Lewising' the Metaphor

Blue Spectacles
Kantian Optics
Google Images

In his essay "Bluspels and Flalansferes: A Semantic Nightmare" (pdf), which I noted yesterday, C.S. Lewis explores the putative loss of a hypothetical metaphor's etymological origin, treating what he calls the Master's Metaphor, i.e., a metaphor used by a teacher to illuminate the meaning of some difficult topic, in this instance, the meaning of the Kantian categories of understanding, such as the category of causality, which 'colors' our perception of reality somewhat like wearing a pair of blue spectacles would:
The question of the Master's Metaphor need not detain us long. I may attempt to explain the Kantian philosophy to a pupil by the following metaphor. 'Kant answered the question "How do I know that whatever comes round the corner will be blue?" by the supposition " I am wearing blue spectacles."' In time I may come to use 'the blue spectacles' as a kind of shorthand for the whole Kantian machinery of the categories and forms of perception. And let us suppose, for the sake of analogy with the real history of language, that I continue to use this expression long after I have forgotten the metaphor which originally gave rise to it. And perhaps by this time the form of the word will have changed. Instead of the 'blue spectacles' I may now talk of the bloospel or even the bluspell. If I live long enough to reach my dotage I may even enter on a philological period in which I attempt to find the derivation of this mysterious word. I may suppose that the second element is derived from the word spell and look back with interest on the supposed period when Kant appeared to me to be magical; or else, arguing that the whole word is clearly formed on the analogy of gospel, may indulge in unhistorical reminiscences of the days when the Critique seemed to me irrefragably true. But how far, if at all, will my thinking about Kant be affected by all this linguistic process? In practice, no doubt, there will be some subtle influence; the mere continued use of the word bluspel may have led me to attribute to it a unity and substantiality which I should have hesitated to attribute to 'the whole Kantian machinery of the categories and forms of perception'.
Lewis is exploring the way in which metaphors die, though he doesn't consider "bluspel" an example of such, apparently because he is describing a teacher who understands Kant well but has forgotten the coining of "bluspel." The metaphor has been entirely lost. Lewis's point is one I'll have to read and reflect upon, but I really like the metaphor --  blue spectacles do help to see what Kant meant.

Unless one takes the analogy too far, of course, and thinks that causality is a depressing concept (where's our free will?), and that's why it's like blue spectacles, which give us the blues about everything . . .

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Monday, November 18, 2013

C. S. Lewis on Imagination and Truth

C. S. Lewis

Here, in the final paragraph of Lewis's essay "Bluspels and Flalansferes: A Semantic Nightmare" (complete on pdf), is something to ruminate on:
It will have escaped no one that in such a scale of writers the poets will take the highest place; and among the poets those who have at once the tenderest care for old words and the surest instinct for the creation of new metaphors. But it must not be supposed that I am in any sense putting forward the imagination as the organ of truth. We are not talking of truth, but of meaning: meaning which is the antecedent condition both of truth and falsehood, whose antithesis is not error but nonsense. I am a rationalist. For me, reason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning. Imagination, producing new metaphors or revivifying old, is not the cause of truth, but its condition. It is, I confess, undeniable that such a view indirectly implies a kind of truth or rightness in the imagination itself. I said at the outset that the truth we won by metaphor could not be greater than the truth of the metaphor itself; and we have seen since that all our truth, or all but a few fragments, is won by metaphor. And thence, I confess, it does follow that if our thinking is ever true, then the metaphors by which we think must have been good metaphors. It does follow that if those original equations, between good and light, or evil and dark, between breath and soul and all the others, were from the beginning arbitrary and fanciful -- if there is not, in fact, a kind of psycho-physical parallelism (or more) in the universe -- then all our thinking is nonsensical. And so, admittedly, the view I have taken has metaphysical implications. But so has every view.
I came across this quote by chance, and I've had time only to skim the essay, so I have nothing significant to say about this . . . but I wanted to save it for further reflection on the relation of truth to metaphor.

I can add that Lewis offers some good advice on writing a couple of pages earlier:
[H]e who would increase the meaning and decrease the meaningless verbiage in his own speech and writing, must do two things. He must become conscious of the fossilized metaphors in his words; and he must freely use new metaphors, which he creates for himself. The first depends upon knowledge, and therefore on leisure; the second depends on a certain degree of imaginative ability. The second is perhaps the more important of the two: we are never less the slaves of metaphor than when we are making metaphor, or hearing it new made.
Good advice, as I said, and connected -- as in everything Lewis wrote -- with his larger views on imagination, reason, and truth.

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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Korean-Lit Wave Beckons to America

Craig Fehrman

The LTI Korea is making waves . . . Korea Waves:
The Library of Korean Literature's first ten titles appear this November, with the rest arriving next year. Already, the initial batch offers that bird's-eye view. A Western reader can start with The Soil, [a] . . . novel by Yi Kwang-su first published as a serial in 1932. But there's also When Adam Opens His Eyes (1990), the Jang Jung-il novel that stirred up a scandal with its explicit descriptions of straight and gay sex. (Craig Fehrman, "Korean Lit Comes to America," The American Prospect, November 13, 2013)
Both were translated by my wife and me, so nothing new there, but Fehrman's synopsis of Yi Kwang-su major novel, The Heartless, was new . . . and yet familiar:
Under Japanese rule, . . . Korea's writers turned to novels and short stories, with Yi Kwang-su's The Heartless (1917) generally seen as the key book. It's a bit like Robinson Crusoe in this respect -- tough to pin down as the earliest but easy to see as a turning point. Yi belonged to a wave of thinkers and writers who'd watched their country collapse. Now they wanted to embrace Western ideas like educational reform and marrying for love.

The Heartless dramatizes those ideas through a love triangle between a representative Korean man, a traditional woman, and a more Westernized woman. In other words, it barely dramatizes them at all, with Yi prioritizing his causes over his characters and imagery. The writers who followed chose new causes -- some calling for further change, others lamenting what had been lost -- but they joined Yi in producing a largely didactic body of literature.
Much the same summary could also have been written of The Soil. Fehrman doesn't say what he thinks about the translation result of The Soil and When Adam Opens His Eyes, but he at least says nothing disparaging.

For the rest of the article, which has some intriguing observations deserving of discussion, follow the link!

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

An Early Image from Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer #1

Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer #1
Google Images

I mentioned yesterday that despite the colorful cover, Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer #1 is black-and-white artistry, and you see an excerpt here above.

This is an early scene in the story, but apparently from an earlier edition than the one I ordered, which has darker shadows, especially effective in not letting us see too much when Pinocchio's nose grows as a consequence of his lie about being a real boy! Illustrator Dusty Higgins improved on the original seen above. Better in this 'chic' scene to obscure Pinocchio's weakness made strong.

If the image is too small for you to see clearly, simply click on it, and watch a vampire who's just bitten into the wooden boy react in shock as Pinocchio readies the comeuppance.

But the crucial question is: Can poor, tragedy-ridden Pinocchio maintain wood long enough to generate an incessant supply of stakes to rid himself, his village, and apparently the whole world of the evil blood-suckers? Or will he pine away "as he were wood" over friends lost to the 'immortal' vampire realm?

For that answer, we'd need to read the entire series . . .

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Friday, November 15, 2013

Pine Nuts Against Vampires: Better Than Garlic?

Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer #1

I'm relieved to see that Terrance Lindall and I are not the only illustrator and writer reworking old stories! Illustrator Dusty Higgins and writer Van Jensen have reworked the Pinocchio tale into a horror story for Top Shelf Productions:
Everyone's favorite wooden puppet may not be a real boy . . . but he just might be a real hero. When bloodthirsty monsters invade Pinocchio's hometown and kill his father Geppetto, Pinocchio discovers a new benefit to his magical nose: telling lies produces a never-ending supply of wooden stakes to combat the vampire hordes! Will Pinocchio be able to defeat these horrors, avenge his father, and save his friends? The critically acclaimed series begins here, as Van Jensen (Green Lantern Corps) and Dusty Higgins (Knights of the Living Dead) craft an addictive twist on the classic fairy tale.
A reworking of this sort could grow horribly tedious -- one bald-faced easy lie after another for an incessant supply of wooden stakes -- or it could be done in quite a witty way. Reviews suggested the latter. I therefore bought a copy to read on my iPad.

Not bad, rather clever, in fact, but don't be misled by the colorful cover, for this graphic novel is black and white (as better befits its horror theme). Worth the $4.99 I spent on it even though (or because?) I afterwards dreamed vampire dreams . . .

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Rezo Gabriadze's Old Puppet Theater

Rezo Gabriadze's Old Puppet Theater
Tbilisi, Georgia
Simon Roberts

Wish I had one of these 'old' things . . . well, it used to be old:
Rezo Gabriadze's puppet theater stands in the heart of Tbilisi's Old Town, which is very old indeed. Around the corner are the sulfur baths, where, according to legend, Georgian King Vakhtang I decided to build the city in the fifth century. Up the street is the great Sioni Cathedral from the seventh century.

Gabriadze himself is a Georgian national treasure. I saw his marionette version of the Battle of Stalingrad when I first came to Tbilisi 10 years ago and fell in love with the city. I was ushered into a dank, run-down basement, where I watched, enthralled, as Gabriadze's tiny puppet tanks advanced to the rousing strains of Shostakovich. It was unforgettable.

The theater was a dump, but then, so was the rest of the city. The old buildings were missing many of the elegant narrow bricks first introduced there by the Byzantines. The covered balconies with their delicate latticework, a gift of the Ottomans, were listing and rotting. There was litter everywhere. An apartment's garbage disposal was often its front window.
That has changed, obviously:
It is impossible not to be struck by how much the city has changed since I had last seen it, maybe four years ago. Gabriadze has a renovated theater, which opened in 2010. He designed it with the same cockeyed whimsy he puts into the puppets he makes. A crooked clock tower, encrusted with Gabriadze's handmade tiles, sprouts a pomegranate tree from its roof. A gold-winged angel strikes the hours.

The changes go well beyond the theater. The whole surrounding neighborhood, what the history books used to call Old Tiflis, looks freshly minted. The houses wear bright new paint, and their sagging balconies have somehow pulled themselves up straight. The streets are clean, or at least much cleaner, and there are scores of new cafes and restaurants.
There are other nice images from Tbilisi, Georgia to be seen in Joshua Levin's article, "In Tbilisi, Georgia, Bold New Buildings Rise From the Ruins of Dead Empires" (The New York Times Style Magazine, November 1, 2013).


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Episode from my new story . . .

Don Quixote and Sancho Panza

In my new, as-yet-unfinished story, Vladimir and Kropot speak with Wei Guk-in over shot glasses of munbaeju, a traditional distilled liquor of Korea that has the scent of wild pear even though pears have no part in its brewing:
After the two had enjoyed three or four rounds and made small talk about Seoul and Moscow -- some on similarities, but more on differences -- Guk-in asked, "Well, gentlemen, to what do I owe this visit? It can't be for my munbaeju, which isn't famous."

"Your munbaeju ought to be!" exclaimed Kropot.

"It will be now," promised Vladimir. "We'll tell everyone."

"It's certainly good enough to enjoy with a fine cigar at The Smokehouse," Kropot stated, raising his glass of munbaeju toward his lips and giving Guk-in a searching look.

Guk-in set his own shot glass on the table and stared at Kropot. "The Smokehouse?"

Kropot's glass stopped mere centimeters from his lips. "You don't know The Smokehouse?"

"Naturally, I know The Smokehouse," Guk-in countered. "Rather, I knew it. I visited the place a few times back in the seventies. I was told it burned down."

"There did happen to be a tinge of burnt odor in the air there," I pointed out.

"There's always been that," said Kropot, allowing the shot of munbaeju to reach and pass his lips. He then held out his glass for more, dutifully filled by Guk-in.

"Right," agreed Vladimir. "The Smokehouse has always had that acrid smell."

"I noticed the hint of a burnt smell myself," Guk-in acknowledged, "but I assumed it came from the smoking room."

"Nonsense!" cried Kropot. "The smoking room offers solely fine cigars and excellent pipe tobacco! That acrid odor rises from further depths!"

"The Underground, he means," offered Vladimir.

"Right," agreed Kropot. "I mean Seoul's subway system, which runs below the smoking room."

"But the subway system has no acrid, smoky odor," Guk-in insisted. "Besides, there was no subway there in the seventies."

"We must leave it as a mystery, then," intoned Vladimir. "Merely an imagined odor from never where."

Guk-in looked puzzled, but dropped the issue, adding only a promise to visit The Smokehouse soon.

"You won't find it," Kropot warned.

"My directions . . ." Guk-in began, his eyes darting me a look.

". . . were accurate," affirmed Vladimir.

"But alas, useless," Kropot sadly observed.

I quickly explained about the mysterious, seemingly trompe l'oeil door.

"Why can't I use that door?" asked Guk-in.

"It works only for us," was Vladimir's unexplanatory explanation.

“Perhaps I could meet you there sometime,” Guk-in suggested, “if I bring along some of this munbaeju?”

"Perhaps we could work something out," agreed Kropot.

"Fact is," said Vladimir, "you might be able to assist us in a quest."

"A quest?" Guk-in echoed. "That sounds almost Medieval!"

"We try to make it so," Kropot replied, "but the story always turns out Postmodern."

"What do you mean?" Guk-in said.

Vladimir leaned forward, his enormous torso stretching over the table and his nose nearly in Guk-in's face. "We mean Sharikov!"

Guk-in, looking simultaneously alarmed and puzzled, shrank back from Vladimir's huge bulk. "Who?" he said.

"The Russian cur," Kropot explained, "the one eugenically transformed into a man -- if a man is a man with a heart of a dog!"

Guk-in's face contorted in dark concentration, as if lost to the world and in search of an old, long unused neural pathway whose way was distantly recalled. "Ah!" he abruptly cried out, his face brightening. "Bulgakov's Heart of a Dog! That Sharikov!"

"So!" exclaimed Vladimir. "He remembers now!"

"Conveniently," observed Kropot.

"Now that you've confessed to knowing Sharikov,"'' said Vladimir, leaning back, but with a gentle threat in his tone, "'tell us where in Seoul he's hidden himself."

Guk-in stared at Vladimir, then at Kropot, initially in bafflement, but soon in growing resolve, and he seemed to reach a decision. "Sharikov could be in a hundred, even a thousand places in Seoul, but he happens to be here in this house."

Kropot and I now stared at Guk-in with surprise, but Vladimir looked skeptical.

"He's just in the other room," explained Guk-in. "I'll go get him."

As Guk-in rose and left the table, Vladimir muttered, "But I don't smell Sharikov . . ."

We had waited in tense silence for some twenty or thirty long seconds, when Guk-in re-entered with a book. "Here," he said, tossing it on the small table. "Heart of a Dog. By Mikhail Bulgakov. Sharikov's hiding in there."

Krapov looked annoyed. "That's no help. Sharikov's escaped from there. We've tracked him to this town, but he somehow keeps one step ahead of us."

"And just how," asked Guk-in, "could Sharikov have escaped from a story?"

"Simple," Vladimir volunteered. "We've escaped from several."

"Simple?" Guk-in said. "Tell me how. Just how did you rise above a particular story?"

Vladimir and Kropot, looking confused, glanced at each other. "Perhaps," Kropot ventured, "we were 'self-rais'd by our own quick'ning power'?"

Vladimir nodded. "That's what Mr. Ence always says."

"Give me details," said Guk-in. "I want to know how. Surely you remember."

"I recall . . ." offered Kropot, hesitantly, "being on my own and chased by Sharikov into a bathroom, but I managed to escape by crashing through a pane of glass high up toward the ceiling and landing amidst glass shards in a large oval dish on a kitchen table." Kropot paused to chuckle. "That dish cracked lengthwise, but I leaped from there to the floor, did a victorious pirouette on three of my legs as I waved the fourth in a manner worthy of Nijinsky, and exited the story through the partly opened door to the back stairs!" Kropot ended his anecdote with a triumphant tone.

"You exited that story?" Guk-in said. Kropot nodded, so Guk-in continued. "The second story, apparently, since you left by the back stairs."

Kropot opened his mouth as though to utter a retort, but stopped, looked confused, and said nothing, though his jaw still gaped open.
The story continues, naturally . . . or unnaturally enough . . .

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Fighting Crime!

Security Camera

My fellow blogger Malcolm Pollack alerted me via his blog's recent Pic-Of-The-Day post to the above image of a tattered American flag guarded by a security camera, which led to a lengthy discussion among some of the regulars at Malcolm's blog on the question of whether security cameras decrease criminal activity or have no effect. Well, I have some experience with and therefore expertise on this issue, so I offered my two cents:
Whenever I go out minding my own business of filming people also out minding their own business, the people I'm filming can suddenly become aggressive, even to the extreme of trying to assault me and take my camera!

In my experience, then, filming people raises the crime rate . . . though I'm not sure why.
But for whatever reason, universal surveillance therefore means universal criminality! So what happens when the universal panopticon turns the vision of its candid-camera eye upon itself?


Monday, November 11, 2013

Cousin Bill's Ozark Autumn Tour

Cousin Bill and his wife Cheryl took an Ozark tour recently -- from Friday to Monday, he says, so I'm guessing the 1st through the 4th of November -- and they seem to have had a beautiful time driving through the Arkansas Ozarks, if we can trust the words of 'Hillbilly Bill':
Our 893.5 mile "Catching Fall Colors" trip was a success . . . examples attached. We left Friday morning, made headquarters in Russellville, and ventured out each day, taking in the beautiful scenery along a few miles of Arkansas's meandering byways . . . and taking short hikes in varied points, to wit . . . Lake Dardanelle State Park, Petit Jean Mt, Mt Nebo, and Mt Magazine.

One drive, AR 123 just south east of Jasper, contained more switchbacks than any road I've ever traveled, every turn offering gorgeous views of mountains and deep valleys, all with spectacular foliage with nary a place to pull over for photos (bluffs on one side, guard rails on the other)…wish I could transfer the images ingrained in the memory bank.

Colors and weather cooperated each day . . . and colors were at their peak . . . if we'd waited 'til the past Wednesday for the trip as planned, we would've seen rain, cooler temps along with a majority of the color on the ground.
Those are Cousin Bill's words. Let's now see the facts on the ground:

Ozark Highway

Ozark Bluff

Ozark Valley

Ozark Mountains

Ozark Stream

The facts confirm Cousin Bill's words. Not even Uncle Cran can dispute these photographs.

Good job, Cousin Bill!

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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Surveillance is sometimes too easy . . .

Fahad Qureshi Speaks . . .

The Islamists sometimes make surveillance so easy that the NSA is hardly needed! In Memri's Special Dispatch No. 5515 (November 8, 2013), "Norwegian Islamic Leader Fahad Qureshi: All Muslims Believe In The Death Penalty For Homosexuals," the Islamist Qureshi speaks openly of his views:
"Every now and then, every time we have a conference, every time we invite a speaker, [the media] always comes with the same accusations: This speaker supports the death penalty for homosexuals, this speaker supports the death penalty for this crime or that crime, that he is homophobic, that he subjugates women . . . I always try to tell them that it is not that speaker that we are inviting who has these 'extreme radical views' . . . . These are general views that every Muslim actually has. Every Muslim believes in these things. Just because they are not telling you about it . . . doesn't mean that they don't believe in them . . . . How many of you agree that the punishments described in the Koran and the Sunna -- whether . . . death, whether . . . stoning for adultery, whatever [punishments] . . . from Allah and His Messenger . . . [-- are] the best punishment[s] ever possible for humankind, and that is what we should apply in the world[? (Every hand goes up.)] . . . . What are the politicians going to say now? What is the media going to say now? That we are all extremists? That we are all radicals? That we all need to be deported from this country?"
Good questions, Qureshi! What are the answers? Especially the answer to that ultimate question? Qureshi's rhetorical answer? Not quite so easy as the surveillance itself in this case, for most of those raising their hands would be citizens of Norway . . .

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Saturday, November 09, 2013

Olen Steinhauer on Spying . . .

Illustration by Nous Vous

Some few years back, I went on a Steinhauer kick and read all of his Eastern European espionage novels, reviewing several of them quite positively -- and getting some response from the man himself. So with my recent acquisition of an iPad and the accompanying ability to access literature instantly, I've begun reading Steinhauer's subsequent 'Tourist' series, in which surveillance is almost omnipresent . . .

Surveillance is, of course, a recurrent theme in contemporary literature -- it even lurks just under the surface of my novella -- and presupposes a world in which nothing is accidental, for the watchers are not merely observing. Given this shared presupposition, along with my recent return to the imagined world of Steinhauer, I found coincidental, but unsurprising, my encounter with an op-ed piece of his published in Bloomberg, a column on the everyday espionage revealed by Edward Snowden's release of classified information on the amount of spying that's going on in the world.

In that piece, "Spying Isn't Stranger Than Fiction" (Bloomberg, November 2, 2013), Steinhauer remarks: "As an espionage novelist, I certainly had an opinion on the matter." As he reveals:

Following that citation of his own words from two months previous, he adds: "Like my fictional persona, I'd already guessed this sort of data-vacuuming was de rigueur." So had I! And I thought, there's an upside and a downside to this. The former? We catch more terrorists. The latter? We catch ourselves with our pants down. Is that a necessary trade-off? I hope not, or we'll have to live with the paranoia of kings wearing no clothes!

As consolation, there's the compliment of what Steinhauer wryly alludes to as the "satellite envy" of those less technologically well endowed . . .

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Friday, November 08, 2013

The Bottomless Bottle of Beer: Completed Poster Announcing Book Reading

As you see, I now have an image of the finished poster. An entire stack of them arrived yesterday afternoon, and many of these have already been put up around Ewha campus. If you can't read the words as they appear (and who can), just click on the image to enlarge, though these words simply repeat what I stated yesterday morning as being written on the poster.

If you live in Seoul, but don't know the ECC building, then go to yesterday's post and get the more complete directions there.

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Thursday, November 07, 2013

Announcement: A Reading From My Novella on November 26

"Literary Reading Announcement!"

What: Professor Horace Jeffery Hodges will give a free literary reading
with slide illustrations from his recently published novella,
The Bottomless Bottle of Beer.

Where: The reading will take place in the English Lounge, ECC B235.

When: The reading will be on Tuesday, the 26th of November,
beginning at 5:00 p.m. and taking about 35 to 40 minutes.

For More About The Novella:


All of the details above are actually on the poster itself, but the image is a PDF,
and I don't know how to convert it to a JPG.

Any readers of this blog who can attend the performance are welcome to come.

Be aware that the ECC is conceived as an underground building,
with the top floor consisting of the B100 rooms,
so the second floor from the top is where B235 is found.

Enter Ewha campus from the front gate,
go straight ahead to the ECC,
and enter the righthand side.

The ECC is the Ewha Campus Complex:

Baum Architects

Described Here.

Designed by Dominique Perrault

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Wednesday, November 06, 2013

The Flibbertigibbet?

The Flibbertigibbet (2012)
51cm x 65cm
Iain Andrews

I've always wondered what a flibbertigibbet looks like. I now know -- it looks like one of the figures in this painting by Iain Andrews. But which one? While we think about that, let's see what the Manchester artist Iain Andrews has to say about his art generally:
We live at a time where shifting cultural assumptions have shattered fixed notions of continuity and value. The essential truths that Postmodernism has denied -- love, evil, death, the sacred, morality and soteriology -- have become absent from much contemporary art as they have from wider contemporary culture. Yet Postmodernism's failure to offer consolations or answers to these enduringly relevant subjects means that as an artist, an awareness of modern developments must be balanced by a dialogue with established traditions and past narratives, and yet not become nostalgic. Terry Eagleton and Peter Fuller have both argued for the importance of art to be able to tackle these big subjects. Whereas in the past, the artist or thinker had the shared symbolic order provided by religion within which to refer and ground their work, the artist today must find a way of surviving the bewildering plurality and subjectivity that has become the norm, if the truth of what they have to say is to maintain any force or credibility. My paintings begin as a dialogue with an image from art history -- a painting by an Old Master that may then be rearranged or used as a starting point from which to playfully but reverently deviate. My recent work is concerned with the struggle to capture the relationship between the spiritual and the sensual, apparent opposites that are expressed in my work through the conflict of high narrative themes and sensuous painterly marks. The sheer enjoyment of making these marks is not intended to be a Dionysian pursuit that drowns out the appearance of the real through a curtain of subjective, expressionistic gestures, but rather an attempt to transform and redeem the form through the act of making. Fuller talks about how, in the past the artist could 'transform the physically perceived by the manifestation of allegoric devices like haloes and "human" wings, whereas now this can only be realised through the transfiguration of formal means like drawing, colour and touch'. The act of making becomes inseparable from the message that is being conveyed through the marks, one of the importance of transformation and redemption. It is vital that pictures are not sedatives, but are capable of evoking sensation and awakening feelings. I hope to frustrate the process of recognition through treading a path that plays between the borders of figuration and abstraction, and thus slow down the viewer by creating a space for sensation to emerge. I want my works to be sensuously addictive, worldly and material, yet also to have a sense of contemplative silence akin to a religious icon.
Ah, I now understand my difficulty with the image above, given what Andrews has said:
I hope to frustrate the process of recognition through treading a path that plays between the borders of figuration and abstraction, and thus slow down the viewer by creating a space for sensation to emerge.
I'll have to keep looking. Those of you close enough to visit the Atkinson Gallery on Millfield Street in Bath, England can see the original work from 4 Nov 2013 to 7 Dec 2013.


Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Internet as Brain-Booster?

As a follow-up to yesterday's news about stimulating our brainpower, I report today on Walter Isaacson's review ("Brain Gain," The New York Times, November 1, 2013) of Smarter Than You Think, Clive Thompson's book on how technology is making us smarter. We humans might have felt collectively dumber back in May 1997, when the chess-playing computer Deep Blue apparently defeated Garry Kasparov, arguably the greatest grandmaster ever, but most of us missed what happened next:
The year after his defeat by Deep Blue, Kasparov set out to see what would happen if he paired a machine and a human chess player in a collaboration. Like a centaur, the hybrid would have the strength of each of its components: the processing power of a large logic circuit and the intuition of a human brain's wetware. The result: human-machine teams, even when they didn't include the best grandmasters or most powerful computers, consistently beat teams composed solely of human grandmasters or superfast machines.
Interesting . . . but what of it?
Thompson's point is that "artificial intelligence" -- defined as machines that can think on their own just like or better than humans -- is not yet (and may never be) as powerful as "intelligence amplification," the symbiotic smarts that occur when human cognition is augmented by a close interaction with computers. When he played in collaboration with a computer, Kasparov said, it freed him to focus on the "creative texture" of the game. In the future, Thompson writes, we should not fear being beaten in chess by Deep Blue or in "Jeopardy!" by Watson. Instead, humans will find themselves working in partnership with the progeny of these supercomputers to diagnose diseases, solve crimes, write poetry and become (as the clever double meaning of the book's title puts it) smarter than we think.
Better poetry through cooperating with a computer? As if that weren't scary! But against pessimists who would worry that such interaction is making us dumber, Isaacson lets Thompson speak for himself:
Thompson counters that . . . [pessimists have ever failed] to foresee "the types of complex thought that would be possible once you no longer needed to mentally store everything you'd encountered," [such as also happened with the mental relief provided several thousand years ago through the invention of writing, deplored by the pessimists of those days,] and he surmises that the same will turn out to be true of our ability to digitally store and easily access huge amounts of information and memories outside of our own brains. "What's the line between our own, in-brain knowledge and the sea of information around us?" he asks. "Does it make us smarter when we can dip in so instantly? Or dumber with every search?"

His answer is that our creative minds are being strengthened rather than atrophied by the ability to interact easily with the Web and Wikipedia. "Not only has transactive memory not hurt us," he writes, "it's allowed us to perform at higher levels, accomplishing acts of reasoning that are impossible for us alone."
Isaacson agrees, and again quotes Thompson:
"Before the Internet came along, most people rarely wrote anything at all for pleasure or intellectual satisfaction after graduating from high school or college . . . . This is something that's particularly hard to grasp for professionals whose jobs require incessant writing, like academics, journalists, lawyers or marketers. For them, the act of writing and hashing out your ideas seems commonplace. But until the late 1990s, this simply wasn't true of the average nonliterary person."
True, everybody's writing more nowadays, but I suspect that this phenomenon is a transitional stage between no internet and software that can understand spoken language perfectly, when the vast majority can stop text-messaging and return to chatting out loud.

But Thompson is right about the Internet as "transactive memory" -- it has enabled me to perform at a higher level, assisting me greatly when I was writing my novella, The Bottomless Bottle of Beer, which I basically hammered out in a couple of weeks, sped up by instant access to literature online for checking the accuracy of my literary allusions.

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Monday, November 04, 2013

A Truly Effective Thinking Cap

An Extra Jolt of Brainpower?
Nigel Parry
The New York Times

For all of you readers -- like Thomas Pynchon and me -- who are slow learners, there's hope! Dan Hurley, in "Jumper Cables for the Mind" (The New York Times Magazine, November 1, 2013), reports astonishing findings from the world of science on something called transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS). No, sorry, there's nothing about transcranial alternating-current stimulation even though that would've made for a better acronym (tACS). Anyway, the electrifying news is that weak volts of electricity to the scalp can enhance your learning and stimulate hair growth. Okay, I lied about hair growth, but the enhanced learning is true. This is no bolt from the blue, either! Research goes back thirty years:
In 1981, Niels Birbaumer, a neuroscientist at the University of Tübingen, Germany, reported that by applying extremely low doses of direct-current electricity -- one-third of a milliamp, not enough to power a hearing aid -- to the heads of healthy volunteers, he could speed their response on a simple test of reaction time.
But other scientists -- doubtless needing scalp stimulation themselves -- were slow to react to Birbaumer's findings and conduct experiments of their own, with over a decade passing before more work was done, this time by a certain A. Priori, whose work not only confirmed Birbaumer's but, in doing so, also demonstrated that one's name is not necessarily one's fate:
The Italian neurophysiologist Alberto Priori began his own experiments in 1992, applying just a tiny bit more electricity, about half a milliamp. He found that enough of the electricity crossed through volunteers' skulls -- electrons flowing from the cathodal electrode to the anodal electrode -- to cause brain cells near the anodal to become excited.
But those other scientists couldn't get excited over Priori's findings:
Despite repeating the experiment multiple times to be sure of the results, it took Priori six years to get his findings published in a scientific journal, in 1998. As he told me, "People kept telling me it can't be true, it's too easy and simple."
Finally, though, those other scientists began to focus on the findings:
One of the first researchers to take Priori's results seriously was Michael A. Nitsche, a clinical neurophysiologist at the University of Göttingen in Germany. "There were two lines of criticism that I heard in those days," Nitsche said. "One line was that it couldn't work, because it's a very weak stimulation and it couldn't get through the cranium. The other was that it should be very dangerous." [But in] . . . a paper published in 2000, Nitsche showed that the stimulating influence of tDCS lasts for at least five minutes after the electricity stops flowing [and with no harm done to scalp or brain].
Since then, there has been an overwhelming current of confirming results, including data showing enhancement not only of reaction time but also of various cognitive functions. But how can such a tiny jolt of electricity to the scalp for a few minutes improve our thinking? Hurley asked Roy Hoshi Hamilton, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Laboratory for Cognition and Neural Stimulation. Hamilton began with a question:
"What is a thought? . . . A thought is what happens when some pattern of firing of neurons has happened in your brain. So if you have a technology that makes it ever so slightly easier for lots and lots of these neurons, these fundamental building blocks of cognition, to be active, to do their thing, then it doesn't seem so far-fetched that such a technology, be it ever so humble, would have an effect on cognition . . . . There's this mantra in neuroscience, coined by Donald Hebb: Neurons that fire together wire together. So I have this tool that makes it more or less likely your neurons will fire. Now, while I'm applying the current, I'm going to have you engage in some behavior, a working-memory task, say, or attempting to name objects even though you have aphasia following a stroke, which is my area of interest. So now that network of neurons is being activated in an environment that slightly nudges it, makes it slightly easier for the neurons to fire and the behaviors to be successfully carried out. Then it's not too far-fetched that, when that happens over and over again, during weeks of practice, those pathways will be reinforced."
That sounds plausible, so I might need to get myself one of those thinking caps and learn to 'cerebrate' the body electric . . .

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