Friday, January 31, 2014

Some Writing a Writer Might Read: Joan Didion

Joan Didion
ca. 1967
Google Images

One of my students from the intensive essay-writing course that I taught this summer asked for advice on how to write literary essays, so I gave the request some thought. I could at first come up with nothing to recommend, not even a writer to read, because I've not really learned from any single writer, but the name "Joan Didion" gradually emerged from among the weltering clutter of things in my mind. I'm not sure why her name came up, since I've never read much of her writing, except I knew she had written a lot of essays, so I Googled her name and found a website, The Electric Typewriter, with links to several of her essays. One title leaped off the page: "Why I Write." I sat back in my chair and started to read, idly at first, just to see if the essay were worth recommending to my student, but soon with growing interest, for she was talking about herself in terms that could largely, though not entirely, apply to me:
I am not a scholar. I am not in the least an intellectual, which is . . . only to say that I do not think in abstracts. During the years when I was an undergraduate at Berkeley I tried, with a kind of hopeless late-adolescent energy, to buy some temporary visa into the world of ideas, to forge for myself a mind that could deal with the abstract.

In short I tried to think. I failed. My attention veered inexorably back to the specific, to the tangible, to what was generally considered . . . the peripheral. I would try to contemplate the Hegelian dialectic and would find myself concentrating instead on a flowering pear tree outside my window and the particular way the petals fell on my floor . . . .

I had trouble graduating from Berkeley . . . because I had neglected to take a course in Milton . . . . [but] the English department finally agreed, if I would come . . . every Friday and talk about the cosmology of Paradise Lost, to certify me proficient in Milton . . . . I can no longer tell you whether Milton put the sun or the earth at the center of his universe in Paradise Lost, . . . a topic about which I wrote 10,000 words that summer, but I can still recall [from that time] the exact rancidity of . . . butter . . . and the way . . . tinted windows . . . cast . . . a grayed and obscurely sinister light. In short my attention was always on the periphery, on what I could see and taste and touch, on the butter . . . . During those years I was traveling on what I knew to be a very shaky passport, forged papers: I knew that I was no legitimate resident in any world of ideas. I knew I couldn't think. All I knew then was what I couldn't do. All I knew then was what I wasn't, and it took me some years to discover what I was.

Which was a writer.

By which I mean not a "good" writer or a "bad" writer but simply a writer, a person whose most absorbed and passionate hours are spent arranging words on pieces of paper. Had my credentials been in order I would never have become a writer. Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write. I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. (New York Times Book Review, December 5, 1976)
Not me to a tee -- I am, after all, a scholar, and possibly an intellectual. Not the best of these two categories, but a club member nonetheless. Like Didion, however, I am drawn to the specific and the particular, and I write to find out what I'm seeing, thinking, meaning -- as though writing serves to complete the self-referential circuit of awareness that enables me to be myself.

That's just me, maybe, but I recommended the essay to my student . . .

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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Uncle Cran's Farm Report: Exchanging Roles?

Uncle Cran has sent along another of his regularly sporadic, reliably unannounced, philosophically postmodern Ozark farm reports:
Do you ever wonder just what a farmer does in his spare time?
I have to admit that this very question has preyed deeply on my mind, and I'm bustin' to find out:
Well, in addition to the daily feeding of the cats and dogs, taking hay and grain to the cows, chopping holes in the ice on the pond so the critters can get a drink, and cutting and hauling wood for the stove most weeks, there are times when you have to become a mother to a calf, whose real mother doesn't have enough milk for the calf to survive.
Uncle Cran does all this in his spare time? Where does he find time for the farm work? And -- as we also see from the photo above -- Uncle Cran even uses some of his leisure time in taking on a mothering role toward a creature of another species! But why doesn't that real mother have enough milk for her own offspring? What's she doing with most of her milk, anyway? And why does Uncle Cran use a comma after "calf"?
The mother is always suspicious of me, and checks me out every time to make sure I'm not hurting her baby. I give her a few range cubes to keep her occupied. After all, a guy doesn't want another broken hip from an angry critter.
Broken hip? By a one-head-of-cattle stampede? That'll never happen . . . so long as Uncle Cran is more restrictive with cattle than with his relative clauses. But why's this mother cow so suspicious towards Uncle Cran? She's the one to be an object of suspicion, not giving her own calf enough milk! But what does the calf think about all this?
I don't think the calf cares whether I'm male or female, as long as I give it a bottle of calf milk replacer twice a day. The bottle holds two quarts. When I go out to feed him, all I have to do is call, and it comes running. I add some corn syrup and molasses each time, so it will like the stuff, and every other day I beat up an egg in the milk mix, so it's doing ok. Now I get some grain in my hand, and stick on its tongue. It's starting to nibble a little bit. Once I get it to eating it, it should really begin to grow.
The indefinite pronoun "it" is way out of control in this passage, especially in that there last sentence: "Once I get it to eating it, it should really begin to grow." I think "it" has already grown quite enough, thank you.
Otherwise, we are coping with the cold weather fairly well. Keep warm.
Thanks, but Seoul is not quite so cold this winter as the Ozarks are. So much for Uncle Cran's farm report. Oh wait. Talk about regularly sporadic and reliably unannounced! Another report has just come in, along with this curious photograph:

What more does Uncle Cran have to say for himself?
Some of you may be wondering if I still have my wife, Linda Gay.
I have to admit that this very question has also preyed deeply on my mind, given Uncle Cran's new role as mother to a calf. A mother doesn't generally need a wife, but in today's postmodern times . . . well, let's hear Uncle Cran out in his words about his wife Linda Gay:
She is so busy with house cleaning, laundry, cooking, and all the other things here in the house, she doesn't get in the pictures very often. But she also has another job assignment: She is my designated wood splitter.
No leisure time left for that activity, Uncle Cran? But what qualifies Linda Gay for that particular job?
Here she is, all dressed in her sunday-go-to-meeting clothes, and just finished up splitting that pile of wood behind her. I know she is only 4 feet eleven inches tall, but don't let that fool you. SHE HAS JUST FINISHED SPLITTING A HUGE PILE OF WOOD, WITH THE POWER OF FIVE HORSES, AND EXERTING A FORCE OF TWENTY TONS AT THE POINT OF IMPACT. And she did it by using only the power of her little right hand. Now you know one of the reasons I married her. I needed a personal protector.
Ah, a very powerful woman, one who can even protect Uncle Cran . . . leading inquiring minds to wonder just why Uncle Cran needed protection in the first place. Maybe from those angry cattle that he worries so much about? Is there some history here that we don't know yet?
We have been using this much wood every two weeks, with the extreme cold, snow, ice and high winds. Hopefully the weather will improve the rest of the winter.
Hope springs eternal that spring is just around the corner . . .

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Bienvenido "Bones" Banez Jr. - Rising Fame?

An email from my friend Terrance Lindall informs me that "New sites have picked up Bien." He refers to 'psychedelic' surrealist artist Bienvenido "Bones" Banez Jr. and his artwork. One site that has picked Bien up is the Kulay-Diwa Gallery of Philippine Contemporary Art, which has this to say about itself:
Kulay-Diwa Gallery of Philippine Contemporary Art is a privately owned venue for artistic expression. It is strategically located within a cluster of progressive communities South of Manila. It has an independent exhibition area able to accommodate large-scale works, and a spacious garden ideal for outdoor programs, performances and sculpture installations.
Goals of Kulay-Diwa:
To discover and promote the works of talented, young and deserving Filipino Artist[s]; To serve as a cultural outpost and make the arts more accessible to the fast-growing communities South of Manila; and To foster cultural interaction and exchanges with the local regions, Southeast Asia and other countries.
Kulay (Color)
Diwa (Spirit, Thought)
Phillip Somozo, writing for the website of the Kulay-Diwa Gallery of Philippine Contemporary Art, says: "At a time when Manila is rocked by controversies surrounding the questionable declaration of some personalities as National Artists, a Davao-born art talent quietly carved a niche among history's greatest surrealists," adding that "his name, profile, and sample work recently are published in a German edition of The International Encyclopedia of Fantastic, Surrealist, Symbolist, and Visionary Artists." Here's a sample of what this gallery offers as characteristic of Bien's work:

This artwork is a photo of Bien's famous statue of Satan, but modified by mixed media colors on the photograph. Of these colors, Gerhard Habarta, writing for the The International Encyclopedia of Fantastic, Surrealist, Symbolist, and Visionary Artists, has this to say:
What makes Banez a paradox among surrealists is his depiction of hellish conditions not as murky depths, but psychedelic sceneries where spectra of colors enthrall viewers. Figures -- human, geometric or biomorphic curiosities -- lose tactility and become translucent images and luminosities swirling, shimmering, or disintegrating in a world bereft of gravity . . . . Esthetically mesmerizing [as] the colors are in a Banez canvas, the portrayed perversion and misery of humankind are as morbid and offensive to good taste. Apparently, the artist captures the viewer with chromatic wonder; then, in succeeding moments, pounces on his cognitive faculties with horrors of the wages of sin.
Bien, I gather, is a very religious artist, and his "666 Art World" seemingly depicts the trials of the Christian "Tribulation" as set forth, rather murkily, in the Book of the Apocalypse, but Bien's vision shines through that murk with an aesthetically captivating chromatic miracle of a seeming paradox between artistic color and morbidly 'tasteless' imagery -- to put the matter in Habarta's terms!

Another art site, the Visionary Art Gallery, offers this colorful painting:

Our World 666 Extinction

The site also shows one of Bien's paintings on display in the Phantasten Museum, Vienna, Austria, but I'm not able to copy the image for my Gypsy Scholar site.

Yet another website, Our Own Voice, offers several images (also uncopyable, unfortunately) and says this:
Bañez's art revolves around the reign of evil in the world, which he likes to refer to as 666. To Bañez, the perpetrators of wars, poverty, injustice, environmental degradation, cultural decadence, and terrorism -- are already the incarnates of 666; no need to look further, or make paranormal theories and computat[i]ons. Evil is here, doom is close by. And Bañez expresses all these in a kaleidoscope of psychedelic human and sub-human figures.
As I noted, a very religious artist, in his motivation and also in his manner of expression, so take a look, a very long look, into this colorful abyss, and consider Bien's words, namely, that "Satan brings color to the world" . . .

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Islam and Democracy: Negative Association?

Robert D. Woodberry

Through searching the internet for more on Robert D. Woodberry and his work, I came across his doctoral thesis, "The Shadow of Empire: Christian Missions, Colonial Policy, and Democracy in Postcolonial Societies," submitted in 2004 to the faculty of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for the degree of doctor of philosophy in the Department of Sociology. In that dissertation, I found evidence offered for something I'd been wondering about: the consequences of Islam for democracy:
Past research suggests a strong and consistent negative association between the percent Muslim in a society and the level of political democracy. Muslims societies also have more unstable democratic transitions. (155)
Woodberry cites several scholars on this negative association of Islam and democracy:
Clague, Christopher, Suzanne Gleason, and Stephen Knack. 2001. "Determinants of Lasting Democracy in Poor Countries: Culture, Development, and Institutions."Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 573: 16-41.

Gasiorowski, Mark J. and Timothy J. Power. 1998. "The Structural Determinants of Democratic Consolidation: Evidence from the Third World." Comparative Political Studies. 31(6): 740-771.

Huntington, Samuel P. 1991. The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.

Huntington, Samuel P. 1993. "The Clash of Civilizations?" Foreign Affairs. 72(3): 22-49.

Karatnycky, Adrian. 1999. "The 1998 Freedom House Survey: The Decline of Illiberal Democracy." Journal of Democracy. 10: 112-25.

Karatnycky, Adrian. 2003. "Liberty's Advances in a Troubled World." Journal of Democracy. 14(1): 100-13.

Lipset. Seymour Martin. 1994. "The Social Requisites of Democracy Revisited: 1993 Presidential Address." American Sociological Review. 59(1): 1-22.

Midlarsky, Manus I. 1998. "Democracy and Islam: Implications for Civilizational Conflict and the Democratic Peace." International Studies Journal. 42: 485-511.

Woodberry, Robert D. and Timothy S. Shah. 2004. "Christianity and Democracy: The Pioneering Protestants." Journal of Democracy. 15(2): 47-61.
Woodberry does not analyze the reasons for this negative association between Islam and democracy -- though he rather generously allows that it might be due to the lack of Protestant missionizing in Muslim areas, which might otherwise have motivated Muslims to promote education, literacy, civil societies, and more in order to compete with Protestants, as sometimes happened when Protestants opened mission fields in some places, e.g., Catholic areas.

Perhaps some of the scholars Woodberry cites have made suggestions?

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Monday, January 27, 2014

Robert D. Woodberry: "The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy"

Robert D. Woodberry
Google Images

In yesterday's blog entry, I noted Robert D. Woodberry's article, "The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy," American Political Science Review Vol. 106, No. 2 May 2012). He seems to have proven his thesis, that stable modern democracies are significantly dependent upon the presence of independent Protestants who missionized various places around the world. I won't deal with his statistical data since I have no competence in that area; I will instead quote extensively from his paper in passages where he offers substantive reasons for why Protestant missions led to democracy. Here's his summary of the argument, which describes the role of nonstate, conversionary Protestants (CPs):
I discuss the following arguments in more detail in the history section, but in brief, CPs such as Protestant missionaries wanted people to be able to read the Bible in their own language and wanted to facilitate lay religious involvement. Thus, as CPs tried to spread their faith, they catalyzed mass education, mass printing, and civil society -- hampering elite attempts to monopolize these resources. Protestants themselves did not always provide the most educational, printing, and civil society resources, but Protestant initiatives spurred others to invest heavily in these areas and to pressure governments to create schools that restricted Protestant content. These resource transfers to non-elites helped alter the class structure, fostered the rise of political parties and nonviolent political movements, and facilitated broader political participation.

In addition, Nonconformists (i.e., non-state-supported Protestant denominations) historically suffered from discrimination and persecution by governments and state churches. Thus they fought for religious liberty and against state interference in civil society. In addition, both Evangelicals in state churches and Nonconformists wanted a "converted clergy." Thus in the eighteenth through early twentieth centuries, CPs generally sided with Enlightenment elites against state churches and their conservative allies. When they lacked this religious support, Enlightenment elites had a small power base and typically set up either autocratic or unstable and illiberal democratic regimes.

Finally, nonstate missionaries moderated colonial abuses, particularly when abuses undermined conversions and in British colonies (where CPs had greater influence). To reach their religious goals, nonstate missionaries punished abusive colonial officials and counterbalanced white settlers, which fostered the rule of law, encouraged less violent repression of anticolonial political organization, and facilitated peaceful decolonization. Of course, Protestant economic and political elites were as selfish as anyone else. Protestant slaveowners fought slave literacy, and Protestant settlers exploited indigenous people; however, when missionaries were financially independent of the state, of slaveowners, and of white settlers, missionaries undermined these elite co-religionists in ways that fostered democracy. (246a)
Woodberry's thesis is not entirely straightforward. The particular circumstances, as much as religious beliefs, shaped nonstate, conversionary Protestantism's activities. But the CPs did play a significant role:
Those who doubt the religious roots of democracy typically overemphasize its Athenian, Enlightenment, and Deist roots. However, religious factors are also important. Modern democracy differs greatly from Athenian democracy, and Enlightenment theorists incorporated many legal and institutional innovations from earlier religious movements. In fact, arguments for political pluralism, electoral reform, and limitations of state power were originally framed in religious terms.

For example, Calvinists tried to reconstruct states along "godly" lines and limit sinful human institutions. Perhaps as a result, most Enlightenment democratic theorists came from Calvinist families or had a Calvinist education, even if they were either not theologically orthodox or personally religious (e.g., John Locke, Rousseau, Hugo Grotius, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Patrick Henry, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton), and they secularized ideas previously articulated by Calvinist theologians and jurists. For example, Hobbes' and Locke's social contracts are secular versions of Puritan and Nonconformist covenants, and Locke's ideas about the equality of all people are explicitly religious.

Although stated in secular form, the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights derive most directly from earlier colonial covenants, compacts, and bills of rights that were generally justified explicitly in biblical and theological terms; many were written before Hobbes and Locke expounded their ideas. Only 7 of the 27 rights enumerated in the U.S. Bill of Rights can be traced to major English common law documents. Even between 1760 and 1805, political writings quoted the Bible more often than either Enlightenment or classical thinkers (34% versus 22% and 9%, respectively).

Furthermore, the strength of Calvinism and Non-conformism better predicts where democracy emerged than does the strength of Greek and Enlightenment influence. (248a)
I wonder if these numbers cover the substantive story that needs to be fleshed out. Perhaps the Bible was cited more because it held more authority for most people, not because it contained democratic ideas. In other words, secular and Enlightenment views may have 'borrowed' the cloak of religious authority to make their position more persuasive. This assumes, of course, that the Bible is vague enough -- on the political system it supports -- for democratic ideas to be read into the text. Nevertheless, the impact of CPs was real:
One mechanism through which CPs dispersed power was massively expanding access to printed material and news. Scholars often claim that printing and capitalism birthed the public sphere and that the public sphere in turn enabled democracy. CPs greatly accelerated the development of mass printing, newspapers, and the public sphere for several reasons. First, CPs changed people's ideas about who books were for. According to CPs, everyone needed access to "God's word" -- not just elites. Therefore, everyone needed to read, including women and the poor. Moreover, books had to be inexpensive and in language that was accessible to ordinary people, not in foreign languages or classical versions of local languages. Second, CPs expected lay people to make their own religious choices. They believed people are saved not through sacraments or group membership but by "true faith in God"; thus, each individual had to decide which faith to follow. CPs used printed material to try to convert people, which forced other groups to use such materials to compete for ordinary people’s allegiance. This competition helped give rise to mass printing. (249a)
The principle of free individual choice clearly played a huge role, sometimes by example:
CPs advocated mass literacy so that everyone could read the Bible and interpret it competently. Their attempt to convert people through education threatened other elites and spurred these elites to also invest in mass education. (251a)
These are all plausible explanations, but Christianity in general -- if we include Catholics and Orthodox -- would not seem, in itself, to be obviously conducive to the development of stable democracies. In fact, state-supported Protestantism seems to have been as nonconducive to the development of stable democracies as were Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Two things, I think, remain to be done: 1) detailing the ideological links between stable democracies and the religious beliefs of independent Protestants to show how these religious views supported the secular ones, and 2) explaining in detail how the democratic character of these religious beliefs arose within the context of a Western Christendom that had never been especially democratic. These are important for a bigger question that interests me, namely, whether or not Christianity, in general, was in some way more conducive to the emergence of modernity.

In other words, is there something about Christianity -- in contradistinction to, say, Islam or Buddhism or Hinduism -- that makes its democratic reinterpretation more easily accomplished?

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Protestant Missions and Democracy?

Missionary Men
Alice Seeley Harris / Panos Archives
Christianity Today

Andrea Palpant Dilley, writing "The Surprising Discovery About Those Colonialist, Proselytizing Missionaries" (Christianity Today, January 8, 2014), has something of genuine significance to report on the unexpected findings of one contemporary scholar, a sociologist named Robert Woodberry:
One afternoon . . . [in graduate school, Woodberry] attended a required lecture . . . . by Kenneth A. Bollen, a UNC–Chapel Hill professor and one of the leading experts on measuring and tracking the spread of global democracy. Bollen remarked that he kept finding a significant statistical link between democracy and Protestantism. Someone needed to study the reason for the link, he said.
Woodberry knew that he'd found his vocation:
Soon he found himself descending into the UNC–Chapel Hill archives in search of old data on religion. "I found an atlas [from 1925] of every missionary station in the world, with tons of data," says Woodberry with glee. He found data on the "number of schools, teachers, printing presses, hospitals, and doctors, and it referred in turn to earlier atlases. I thought, Wow, this is so huge. This is amazing" . . . . Woodberry set out to track down the evidence for Bollen's conjecture that Protestant religion and democracy were somehow related. He studied yellowed maps, spending months charting the longitude and latitude of former missionary stations. He traveled to Thailand and India to consult with local scholars, dug through archives in London, Edinburgh, and Serampore, India, and talked with church historians all over Europe, North America, Asia, and Africa.
Not just a vocation, but a vacation, too -- albeit a working one -- and an important trip:
In essence, Woodberry was digging into one of the great enigmas of modern history: why some nations develop stable representative democracies -- in which citizens enjoy the rights to vote, speak, and assemble freely -- while neighboring countries suffer authoritarian rulers and internal conflict. Public health and economic growth can also differ dramatically from one country to another, even among countries that share similar geography, cultural background, and natural resources.
In 2001, he noticed something significant in pursuing these differences:
In search of answers, Woodberry traveled to West Africa in 2001. Setting out one morning on a dusty road in Lomé, the capital of Togo, Woodberry headed for the University of Togo's campus library. He found it sequestered in a 1960s-era building. The shelves held about half as many books as his personal collection. The most recent encyclopedia dated from 1977. Down the road, the campus bookstore sold primarily pens and paper, not books.

"Where do you buy your books?" Woodberry stopped to ask a student.

"Oh, we don't buy books," he replied. "The professors read the texts out loud to us, and we transcribe."

Across the border, at the University of Ghana's bookstore, Woodberry had seen floor-to-ceiling shelves lined with hundreds of books, including locally printed texts by local scholars. Why the stark contrast?

The reason was clear: During the colonial era, British missionaries in Ghana had established a whole system of schools and printing presses. But France, the colonial power in Togo, severely restricted missionaries. The French authorities took interest in educating only a small intellectual elite. More than 100 years later, education was still limited in Togo. In Ghana, it was flourishing.
His advisor, Christian Smith, cautioned him:
What began to emerge was a consistent and controversial pattern -- one that might damage Woodberry's career, warned Smith. "I thought it was a great, daring project, but I advised [him] that lots of people wouldn't like it if the story panned out," Smith says. "For [him] to suggest that the missionary movement had this strong, positive influence on liberal democratization -- you couldn't think of a more unbelievable and offensive story to tell a lot of secular academics."
His faith was strong, but he needed proof:
Woodberry was equipped to do something no one else had done: to look at the long-term effect of missionaries using the wide-angle lens of statistical analysis . . . . [He] created a statistical model that could test the connection between missionary work and the health of nations. He and a few research assistants spent two years coding data and refining their methods. They hoped to compute the lasting effect of missionaries, on average, worldwide . . . . One morning, in a windowless, dusty computer lab lit by florescent bulbs, Woodberry ran the first big test. After he finished prepping the statistical program on his computer, he clicked "Enter" and then leaned forward to read the results.

"I was shocked," says Woodberry . . . . "The impact of missions on global democracy was huge. I kept adding variables to the model -- factors that people had been studying and writing about for the past 40 years -- and they all got wiped out. It was amazing. I knew, then, I was on to something really important."
But he wanted to be sure:
Determined to be his own greatest skeptic, Woodberry started measuring alternative theories using a technique called two-stage least-squares instrumental variable analysis . . . . "[The theory] kept on holding up" . . . . Woodberry's results essentially suggested that 50 years' worth of research on the rise of democracy had overlooked the most important factor.
And what do other scholars think of Woodberry's work:
In spite of Smith's concerns, Woodberry's historical and statistical work has finally captured glowing attention. A summation of his 14 years of research -- published in 2012 in the American Political Science Review, the discipline's top journal -- has won four major awards, including the prestigious Luebbert Article Award for best article in comparative politics. Its startling title: "The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy."
Similar to Max Weber's thesis on Protestantism and capitalism, but much better grounded! My question is: "Why did Protestantism have this effect?"

Anyway, fascinating . . . to learn that Annie Lennox was wrong!

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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Iraqi Celebration: 93rd Anniversary of Iraqi Armed Forces Day

My Iraqi student, Farah Al-Dujaili, from a year ago in my intensive writing course (and whose MA thesis on women's rights in Iraq I proofread last spring), invited Sun-Ae and me to Iraq's 93rd celebration of what she called "Army Day":

I see from the official banner that it's more precisely called "Iraqi Armed Forces Day." Here's a photo Sun-Ae took of me and Ms. Al-Dujaili -- the woman in the center -- accompanied by a young Iraqi Kurdish woman to her right:

The Kurdish woman -- whose name I didn't catch but whose father is a military attaché -- speaks five languages: Kurdish, Arabic, Dutch, German, and English and is learning Korean! My student speaks Arabic and English, also French, I think, maybe more.

Incidentally, Sun-Ae and I even met the well-known Susan Lee MacDonald, whom I remembered from my first stay in Korea, way back in 1995, when she appeared on television using her Korean and English skills -- she's half-Korean -- to teach English to Koreans, but I neglected to get a photo made of her with Sun-Ae and me, so you can believe me or not. In case you need some prompt to nudge your memory, here's an official photo of Ms. MacDonald from Arirang TV, for which she works as "the host of the new talk show INNERview," so she's come a long way since her early English-teaching days:

Anyway, while we didn't think to get a photograph of ourselves with the very personable and friendly Ms. MacDonald, we did receive her business card.

Sun-Ae photographed other scenes, however, and we did manage to get a picture of this ice sculpture, along with me in frame to prove that there's something even colder than ice:

Sun-Ae was taking the photo, so she's safely on the viewer's side. Notice that I'm trying to smile. Or maybe I'm trying not to smile. I'm never quite sure.

The celebration lasted from 6:30 to 8:30, not nearly sufficient time for the ice sculpture to melt, but just long enough to break the ice, and after only a few conversations and food eaten while standing, the event was over. Sun-Ae and I both enjoyed ourselves immensely -- we even shook hands with the Iraqi ambassador, Farah's uncle, and I praised Farah's intelligence to him because I'm striving to be more personable and because she is intelligent.

I must admit, by the way, that I've never seen so many soldiers of various countries in one room! But I've led a sheltered life, I guess.

Now back to the regular postings from the shelter of my apartment . . .

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Friday, January 24, 2014

Small World . . . In Fact, Tiny

The Running Man

Some readers may recall my friendship with Richard Artschwager's daughter, Eva. Yesterday, in one of the many art newsletters I receive (courtesy of Terrance Lindall), came an art critic's piece on some of Artschwager's late works, such as the above image, and I learned that he had died last year -- rest in peace, sir -- and I also checked to see the name of the art critic, discovering thereby a woman named Sóla Agustsson:

Ms. Agustsson is described as:
. . . a writer and graduate student in English Literature at Brooklyn College. She has contributed to Whitewall, Artlog, Flaunt and Zink Magazine. Excerpts from her upcoming novel have appeared in Konch Magazine and A Wild Feeling. She was short-listed for the San Francisco Foundation's Phelan Award for her work in fiction in 2013. She graduated from UC Berkeley in 2010.
Novelist? Berkeley? Interesting . . . so I looked for her writing online, and found this: Chapter 3 of Pretend I'm Jesus. This chapter of her novel appeared in Konch Magazine (August 2013), a literary magazine founded by Ishmael Reed:

Like I said . . . small world . . . with strange loops . . .

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Ishmael Reed: "But Nobody Was There"

I was thinking about Ishmael Reed the other day while cleaning up after dinner, though I don't know why, precisely, I was thinking of him since I've read only a few of his novels and essays, though maybe because I sing to myself as I wash the dishes, for I was suddenly struck by the beauty and truth contained in the lines, "I heard a spider crawl across the silverware . . . but nobody was there," from one of Reed's poems set to music by Olu Dara, which I first heard on a CD given to me in Tuebingen by a German man who directed the German-American Institute while I was teaching there in the early nineties, and as I washed the silverware the other evening, I tried to sing that lovely line expressing loss of a loved one, for what more perfect image of loss can there be than that of a man so at loss for love that he sits in his silent home, so quiet that even the faint sound of a spider crawling across the silverware is audible enough to make him imagine that his lost loved one might be there, though it's only a spider finding a place for spinning her web among the now-unused utensils, useless now that nobody was there:
I heard a crying child in the other room
I entered the room, but nobody was there
I heard a spider crawl across the silverware
I opened the drawer, but nobody was there
I heard your steps creeping up the stairs
I opened the door, but nobody was there
But nobody was there, but nobody, but nobody
But nobody was there

I saw your spirit sitting in a chair
I turned my head, but nobody was there
I heard a knock and the doorknob turned
I answered the door, but nobody was there
I saw my love in her funeral bier
I turned on the lights, but nobody was there
But nobody was there, but nobody, but nobody
But nobody was there

I heard your laughter on the summer’s air
I called your name, but nobody was there
I saw you bare, riding your favorite black mare
I ran to the woods, but nobody was there
I saw you by the moon, you were combing your hair
I rushed outside, but nobody was there
But nobody was there, but nobody, but nobody
But nobody was there
I searched for the lines I'd remembered -- after finishing the dishes -- and finally found them in the above poem, "But Nobody Was There," on page 416 of Ishmael Reed's The Reed Reader (Basic Books, 2000), though I wonder if "stairs" should rather be "stair" (and what's with this "turned"?). While searching, I'd also learned of the man who wrote the music:
"Nobody was There," with music by [Olu] Dara, is the first really successful track of this second album. Dara scats over washes of organ and twitting guitar, then sings the poem with the feeling for and involvement with the words that the earlier tracks lack -- "I saw your spirit sitting in a chair / I turned my head, but nobody was there." His trumpet solo is again a diamond formed under great pressure. (W. C. Bamberger, "'Ishmael Reed: Neo-HooDoo,' in Words and Music," Perfect Sound Forever, April 2010)
I now know the words and who wrote the music, but I can't quite match the song to my voice like Dara did to his. As for Reed himself, who taught many years at Berkeley, my only actual contact with him there came when I was in a local coffee shop near campus, the famous Sufficient Grounds, standing at the counter and about to order a cappuccino, when the man himself stepped right in front of me -- perhaps thinking nobody was there -- and ordered before I could. The barista looked embarrassed, but served Reed first, and I said nothing, figuring the slight delay was a price worth paying for such a brush with fame.

I've long wondered if I should've at least asked for an autograph, but a mere brush with fame is a slender reed indeed on which to ask a man to sign his name . . .

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Another Five-Star Amazon Review of The Bottomless Bottle of Beer

A fifth five-star review has appeared on my novella's Amazon site, this time by a scholar specializing in the rise of the modern novel, Dr. Hyewon Ryu, whose doctoral thesis was The Metropolitan Body in the Rise of the Early English Novel. I know her thesis fairly well since I proofread it -- and found it an excellent scholarly work! I don't recall if I mentioned my own novella to her, or if she noticed the Amazon web address in my email signature, but we crossed paths a week or two ago, and she told me that she had started reading it and found it a bit scary (as a number of other readers have also admitted). Anyway, here's what she posted at Amazon:
I have just read the last page of this book, The Bottomless Bottle of Beer. What a fascinating piece Mr. Hodges has created! It was a thrilling experience to read it through. If he plans to publish any other book, I hope someone will please keep me updated.
Short but sweet! Thanks for that, Dr. Ryu. Coming from a true literary critic, those are welcome words! I hope that any Gypsy Scholar readers who might be wavering over purchasing a copy of the BBB will be nudged into shelling out for the admittedly high price of $2.99 ($4.99 in Korea) by reading Dr. Ryu's praise.

I'll have to ask her what she thought of Terrance Lindall's illustrations . . .

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Announcing Art Performance at the WAH Center: The Satanic Verses of Bones Banez

WAH Center Logo

My online artistic friend Terrance Lindall has announced a special performance at the WAH Center:

Terrance Lindall's Reading of The Satanic Verses of Bones Banez
and a Piano Recital, The Satanic Rhapsody,
by Bienvenido Bones Banez Himself
Saturday, January 25th, at 6 PM
135 Broadway,
Williamsburg Brooklyn, NY 11211

Here's the Satanic Verses Poster:

And here's a clearer image of that poster's artwork, My Warlock Dream, accompanying promotion on New York Public TV Channel 13:

Finally, there's a You Tube promotion here:

As you may notice from the You Tube promo, I'm identified as the editor, and I did indeed edit the poem titled The Satanic Verses of Bones Banez, though Terrance and Bones may have reworked a bit, but I might still be able to add some explanation, insofar as I understand the poem. The poetic conceit that Bones is working with is that we're already living in the tribulation of the eschaton, and the poem is his artistic vision, accompanied by vivid, electrifying artworks depicting, in some way, those troubled times.

I wish I could attend, but perhaps Terrance will supply You Tube with a video . . .

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Monday, January 20, 2014

Ellery Washington on Baldwin in Paris . . .

James Baldwin in 1962
Photo by Carl Mydans
Time and Life Pictures
Getty Images

An interesting, if enigmatic, look at "James Baldwin's Paris," by Ellery Washington (New York Times, January 17, 2014):
One bright afternoon in Paris, on the terrace of the cafe Deux Magots, in St.-Germain-des-Prés, I found myself engaged in an increasingly animated conversation about the writer James Baldwin and the notorious feud that broke out between him and his fellow African-American expatriate Richard Wright . . . . "It started right here," . . . said [expatriate African-American novelist -- and Baldwin enthusiast -- Jake Lamar,] of the dispute between Baldwin and Wright, as our waiter swept away our plates to make space for his forthcoming espresso and my cafe allongé. Jake was reminding me that Baldwin and Wright's quarrel had begun upstairs from where we sat, facing the cobblestone Place St.-Germain-des-Prés and l'Église St.-Germain-des-Prés itself, the oldest church in Paris.

Had we been actually sitting inside the cafe that day, in the winter of 1948, he explained, we would have surely caught a glimpse of an earnest young Jimmy Baldwin, slightly disheveled from having arrived from New York only hours before, climbing the narrow steps up to the cafe's second floor, where he was greeted by Wright and the editors of Zero magazine, a rather small but important literary journal that would shortly publish Baldwin's essay "Everybody's Protest Novel."

Baldwin was only 24 when he arrived in Paris, with just $40 in his pocket. Virtually unpublished, he had left New York to escape American racism -- an escape that he believed literally saved his life and made it possible for him to write. His first essay in Zero argued forcefully against the idea of the protest novel, claiming, among other things, that it was inherently sentimental, and therefore dishonest. Wright, who had already established himself as an international literary force based on the critical success of several novels, was deeply offended by Baldwin's essay, reading it as a direct attack on the validity of his work. Shortly after the essay was published, the two men ran into each other at Brasserie Lipp, less than a block from Les Deux Magots, and Wright immediately lit into Jimmy, who by all accounts held his own.
I love reading these literary essays about literary figures -- and this essay has a nice hook in the "increasingly animated conversation" between Jake Lamar and Ellery Washington about James Baldwin's "notorious feud" with Richard Wright. Why do I love this sort of writing? Because I feel like I'm in on some literary gossip, I suppose, as if I'm privy to the literary scene and one of the insiders.

I'm a bit unclear on the chronology of the feud between Baldwin and Wright, however. Baldwin's essay, "Everybody's Protest Novel" -- which implied that Bigger Thomas, the main character of Baldwin's Wright's novel Native Son, was a flat character deficient in psychological complexity and thus not credible and which led to the end of the two writers' friendship -- was published in 1949. Washington seems to be speaking of 1948 in quoting Lamar's words as to when the feud started, but the climax of the disagreement seems to have occurred during an accidental meeting after publication. Can any erudite readers clarify the chronological details?

Update: Thanks due to the author, Mr. Ellery Washington, for contacting me and correcting my typo.


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Speaking of Beauty . . .

"a portion of the 100,000 cigarette butts collected in downtown San Rafael"
Marinscope Community Newspapers
Text and Photo by Gregory Andersen
Novato, California

As readers know, I've been speaking of beauty lately, and my old Berkeley friend Carla Koop is still a beauty. But since she's not artificial, she cannot be considered art. The art is to her left, but I don't know that I'd call it beautiful even though it qualifies as art, given that it's made by artists:
Three months after its installation, a public art piece called a "cigarette eater meter" has collected 50,000 cigarette butts and in turn raised money for a local nonprofit.

The 7-foot-tall meter was placed in the San Rafael city plaza on Fourth Street on May 30 as part of an effort by the San Rafael Clean Coalition to get litter off city streets. The coalition, a group of organizations and volunteers focused on keeping the city tidy, wants people to retrain themselves not to throw cigarette leftovers on the ground. (Megan Hansen, "Cigarette eater meter in San Rafael collects 50,000 cigarette butts," Marin Independent Journal, August 28, 2013)
Form follows function in this case, I reckon. The cause is a good one. As of August 28th, they had "just hit the halfway point," according to Carla, as quoted by Megan Hansen, but by October 7th, they'd reached their goal of 100,000 butts, as the above photo by Gregory Andersen indicates.

What next? A cigarette eater meter on every square in every town?


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Fast Food, Slow People

Fasting  Slowly
Photo by Chang W. Lee
The New York Times

A couple of days ago, one of my colleagues -- another Southerner, Brian -- gave me a head's up on this article by Sarah Maslin Nir and Jiha Ham, "Fighting a McDonald's in Queens for the Right to Sit. And Sit. And Sit" (The New York Times, January 14, 2014)
Mr. Lee said . . . he and his friends -- a revolving group who shuffle into the McDonald's [in Flushing, Queens, NYC] on the corner of Parsons and Northern Boulevards on walkers, or with canes, in wheelchairs or with infirm steps, as early as 5 a.m. and often linger until well after dark -- had, as they seem to do every day, long overstayed their welcome.
These are old Korean men, doing what they also do in Korea, or as old men back in my Ozark hometown do, and likely as old men everywhere in the world do, except that these Korean men must be the world champions at hanging out for hours and hours to chew the fat and while away their little time left on earth because these old Koreans are in fast-paced New York City sitting at a fast food joint that allows just twenty short minutes for customers to occupy a table. MacDonald's has tried calling the police:
"They ordered us out," Mr. Lee said from his seat in the same McDonald's booth a week after the incident, beneath a sign that said customers have 20 minutes to finish their food. (He had already been there two hours.) "So I left," he said.

"Then I walked around the block and came right back again."

For the past several months, a number of elderly Korean patrons and this McDonald's they frequent have been battling over the benches inside. The restaurant says the people who colonize the seats on a daily basis are quashing business, taking up tables for hours while splitting a small packet of French fries ($1.39); the group say they are customers and entitled to take their time. A lot of time.

"Do you think you can drink a large coffee within 20 minutes?" David Choi, 77, said. "No, it's impossible."
Wrong! It's entirely possible. And not only possible! It's inevitable! Unless you're using the natural laws of evaporation to drink that coffee through your nose! And these old guys do seem to have made a science of it! More importantly, I see in these old Korean men the same sort of disrespect for the police in NYC as I see they have here in Seoul.
Workers at the restaurant say they are exasperated.

"It's a McDonald's," said Martha Anderson, the general manager, "not a senior center." She said she called the police after the group refused to budge and other customers asked for refunds because there was nowhere to sit . . . . The police in the 109th Precinct, which serves the area, say that calls to resolve disputes at businesses are routine, though the disruptions are more often caused by unruly teenagers than by septuagenarians.
So . . . why are they there? Inquiring minds want to know:
Outside the McDonald's on Saturday, Sang Yong Park, 76, and his friend, Il Ho Park, 76, tried to explain what drew them there. They come every single day to gossip, chat about politics back home and in their adopted land, hauling themselves up from the banquettes with their canes to step outside for short cigarillo breaks. And they could not say why they keep coming back -- after a short walk around the block to blow off steam -- every time the officers remove them.
Of course, they don't know. It's a habit, not a reflective choice. And they're stubborn old Korean men who KNOW they're right no matter what the law says. They can't be ordered away by a forty-year-old police officer half their age! What does that young whippersnapper know?

Welcome to New York City! Welcome to Seoul, Korea!

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Friday, January 17, 2014

Religion is not an ideology?

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.
Photograph by Matt Rourke
Associated Press

Matt Apuzzo, reporting for the New York Times, writes "U.S. to Expand Rules Limiting Use of Profiling by Federal Agents," (January 15, 2014):
The Justice Department will significantly expand its definition of racial profiling to prohibit federal agents from considering religion, national origin, gender and sexual orientation in their investigations . . . . The move addresses a decade of criticism from civil rights groups that say federal authorities have in particular singled out Muslims in counterterrorism investigations.
To the rational mind, this sounds so weird that I have to at least wonder if the report has been inadvertently edited in a way that conflates "profiling" with "racial profiling" -- except that I've too often seen the term "racist" itself deployed as an epithet against those who subject Islam to critical questioning (which perhaps has its intellectual origin in Edward Said's abusive use of the term "Orientalist"). I therefore find regrettably all too plausible this report that the Justice Department will expand its definition of race to include religion. (Not to mention gender and sexual orientation.) Wouldn't this mean, for example, that a Christian who converts to Islam is suddenly a different race? Perhaps the Justice Department labors under the arguably racist notion that all Muslims are Arabs?

Whatever else it might entail, a religion is an ideology, and whether one thinks Islamism is Islam pure and simple or Islam tainted and distorted, Islamism itself is a religion. Will the Justice Department refuse to consider Islamism as a factor in its investigations of terrorism?

Is the expression "religious terrorism" to be an oxymoron?

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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Joining Google+

I've joined Google+ . . . and (see photo) it makes me look so small! Why did I join? Google kept begging me to . . . and people kept wanting to connect to me through Google+ . . . so I finally joined. Now what? The site isn't exactly intuitive. I decided to add my novella cover:

Part of the cover, anyway -- the site forced me to crop it. Looks rather odd cut this way, but I tried to get most essentials. Regrettably, Terrance Lindall's name got cropped. Perhaps some visitors will show some interest, anyway, and they'll come across Terrance's name soon enough if they do delve deeper due to interest.

Meanwhile, the site asked me to fill in some details about myself on a page labeled "About."

Under "Work" came a heading "Occupation," so I explained the obvious, "I occupy whatever space I happen to find myself in." This was followed by a heading "Skills," to which I responded, "I notice things that don't matter -- such as 'Skills' has 'kills' in it." There was then a question asking what I do at Ewha Womans University as an Assistant Professor, to which I replied, "I teach composition and research -- though research normally comes first."

That ought to have sufficed, but the site wanted more: it wanted my "Story." I was all set to talk about my novella, The Bottomless Bottle of Beer, but I then realized that the site wanted 'biographical' details, for instance, a "Tagline," which required some deep reflection on my part, till I came up with this: "I'm always right . . . except this time." The site asked for more, namely, an "Introduction" so that people can be sure I'm the right "Horace Jeffery," and I complied with this very important request: "I'm the correct Horace Jeffery because my family name is 'Hodges,' and my middle name is spelled with '-ery'!" This led to an odd heading, "Bragging rights." I don't like to brag, but the site did ask, so I wrote the truth: "I'm smarter than I am." And that's true. Taken separately, my various abilities are each mediocre, but as the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, I 'add up to' something more than mediocre. How do I know? Because I don't understand myself!

I thought I was finished, but the site wanted "Basic Information." It asked first for my "Gender." As there were merely two choices -- and I'm pretty sure I'm not a woman -- I clicked "Male." Then came an odd query: "Looking for." I was ready to reply, "I'm usually looking for the right word," but the site clarified its request: "Who are you looking for?" I wanted to retort, "Whom are you looking for?" But there were only pre-set answers, and none of those fit. The site already knew my birthday: "May 14." There appeared to be no interest in the year I was born. Then came "Relationship" -- to which the safest answer seemed "Married." I would have chosen "Deeply Married," but there were no degrees of marriedness. The site then asked me the oddest question of them all: "Other names." Eh? If I had other names, why would I reveal them on a site that would enable the authorities to trace them and track me down? Upon reflection, I realized that Google wouldn't be that evil, so the site probably meant to ask what names other people might often call me. I therefore replied, "Unrepeatable!"

That was fun! Now, what else can I join . . .

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Abrogation of Sura 5:8?

Professor David Bukay, of the University of Haifa, writing in the Middle East Quarterly (Fall 2007, pp. 3-11), asks "Peace or Jihad? Abrogation in Islam"? He notes that Sura 5:8 -- which I wondered about yesterday -- is among the Qur'an's peaceful verses:
Proponents of Islamic tolerance point to a number of Qur'anic verses which admonish violence and advocate peace, tolerance, and compromise.
These peaceful verses include:
Qur. 2:256; 2:285; 3:64; 4:134; 5:5; 5:8; 5:48; 11:118; 29:46; 49:13; 60:8-9. All references are from Ahmed Ali, Al-Qur'an: A Contemporary Translation (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001). [Footnote 6]
But there is a complication, Bukay explains, a little hermeneutic principle called "abrogation" that is linked to stages in Muhammad's career:
The Qur'an is unique among sacred scriptures in accepting a doctrine of abrogation in which later pronouncements of the Prophet declare null and void his earlier pronouncements . . . . Rather than explain away inconsistencies in passages regulating the Muslim community, many jurists acknowledge the differences but accept that latter verses trump earlier verses. Most scholars divide the Qur'an into verses revealed by Muhammad in Mecca when his community of followers was weak and more inclined to compromise, and those revealed in Medina, where Muhammad's strength grew.
Bukay also notes a refinement of this point about these stages in Muhammad's life:
During the lifetime of Muhammad, the Islamic community passed through three stages. In the beginning from 610 until 622, God commanded restraint. As the Muslims relocated to Medina (623-26), God permitted Muslims only to fight in a defensive war. However, in the last six years of Muhammad's life (626-32), God permitted Muslims to fight an aggressive war first against polytheists, and later against monotheists like the Jews of Khaybar. Once Muhammad was given permission to kill in the name of God, he instigated battle.
Bukay then introduces Sura 9, a mother-of-all abrogators known as the Ultimatum Sura:
Chapter 9 of the Qur'an, in English called "Ultimatum," is the most important concerning the issues of abrogation and jihad against unbelievers. It is the only chapter that does not begin "in the name of God, most benevolent, ever-merciful." Commentators agree that Muhammad received this revelation in 631, the year before his death, when he had returned to Mecca and was at his strongest. Muhammad bin Ismail al-Bukhari (810-70), compiler of one of the most authoritative collections of the hadith, said that "Ultimatum" was the last chapter revealed to Muhammad[, which] . . . . coming at or near the very end of Muhammad's life . . . . trumps earlier revelations.

Because this chapter contains violent passages, it abrogates previous peaceful content. Muhsin Khan, the translator of Sahih al-Bukhari, says God revealed "Ultimatum" in order to discard restraint and to command Muslims to fight against all the pagans as well as against the People of the Book if they do not embrace Islam or until they pay religious taxes. So, at first aggressive fighting was forbidden; it later became permissible (2:190) and subsequently obligatory (9:5). This "verse of the sword" abrogated, canceled, and replaced 124 verses that called for tolerance, compassion, and peace.
Bukay calls attention to an important Islamic scholar's assessment:
Abu al-Kasim Hibat-Allah bin Salama (d. 1019) argued that the starting point of any investigation of the Qur'an is the science of abrogating and abrogated verses. He identified four categories of abrogation: 43 chapters unaffected by abrogation; six chapters that augmented the concept of abrogation but were themselves not abrogated; 40 chapters with abrogated wording but authority intact; and 25 chapters with both their wording and authority abrogated.
Among those suras abrogated in the fourth category are the following:
Qur. 2-3, 5, 8-9, 14, 18-9, 21-2, 24-6, 33-4, 40, 42, 51-2, 56, 58, 73, 103, 108. [Footnote 39]
That would seem to include the peaceful sura 5. If so, then jihadis will have a ready answer to this graphic novel against jihad in Syria: "Sura 5:8 has been abrogated and is therefore inapplicable. Continue the jihad!"

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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Graphic Novel Against Jihad in Syria

The Journey of a Mujahid with Jabhat Al-Nusra

According to Memri, Special Dispatch No. 5597 (January 10, 2014), an "Online Graphic Novel Challenges Jihadi Indoctrination In Wake Of Syria War," and Memri summarizes:
A graphic novel, "The Journey of a Mujahid with Jabhat Al-Nusra," posted on the Internet in seven installments in November and December 2013, recounts the story of Mustafa, a young Muslim living in a Western country, who goes to Syria to wage jihad. There he discovers that young men like him are callously mistreated and exploited, and sometimes even used as cannon fodder.
Memri provides some excerpts, from both the transcript and the video. The graphic novel is apparently intended for young Muslim men who've grown up in Western countries. Obviously, I've seen only excerpts, but there's an interesting verse from the Qur'an that the disillusioned young man Mustafa, the story's protagonist, reads near the end:
"Oh you who believe! Be upright for Allah, bearers of witness with justice, and let not hatred of a people incite you not to act equitably. Act equitably, that is nearer to piety, and fear Allah. Indeed, Allah is acquainted with what you do."
That's the Qur'an 5:8, and it sounds fine and peaceful enough, though I'm often disappointed by these peaceful-sounding verses when I dig a bit further and learn that the doctrine of abrogation applies to them. Does it apply here, too? I'd like to know.

I'm also curious to know who sponsored this graphic novel, but Memri apparently doesn't know.

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Monday, January 13, 2014

The Peach as Forbidden Fruit?

Foreboding, Not Forbidden?
Upright Brewing

Yesterday, I posted a link on the Milton List to the above image, labeling it "A Twist on the Eve Motif?" I wrote:
Eve clothed (sort of) and just biting [into] a peach from which music winds serpentine up into the nearby peach tree . . .
One scholar suggested:
If Eve were wearing a slip, it probably wouldn't so tatty!
I posted a rejoinder:
Anyone can slip up now and then . . .
Another scholar wondered if the fruit was really a peach:
I'm not so sure those are peaches, either--they look more like little pumpkins (which, granted, don't grow on trees)--but then, violins wouldn't have been lying in the grass, either--not even broken ones. And Eve wouldn't have looked so common before she bit into the Fruit.

All in all, pretty bizarre.
I rather agreed:
The fruit does look odd, but I checked and made sure that they are peaches.
Another scholar liked the idea of peaches:
Peaches always seem right to me. Apples have settled in as the traditional interpretation, but as many of you likely know there were other candidates among early exegetes, including grapes. There's something cheeky about a peach, though, with that little cleft and all that fuzziness. The taste is also something to die for.
That one, perhaps, prompted Salwa Khoddam to post on our work together:
Jeffrey and I have already written a paper on the apple/peach image as used by Milton, Marvell, and T. S. Eliot. It includes all the motifs and related fruits that you mention. We have submitted our paper for publication and we are hoping that it would by published soon. We'll let you know what happens.
Since the list has a "Jeffrey," I thought I'd better jump in and correct my name:
Lest there be any confusion, that "Jeffrey" would be me, i.e., "Jeffery."

One scholar who has explored the peach image in Milton's Paradise Lost is Robert Appelbaum, in Aguecheek's Beef, Belch's Hiccup, and Other Gastronomic Interjections: Literature, Culture, and Food Among the Early Moderns.

I believe Professor Appelbaum subscribes to this list -- at least, he used to.
As for Upright Brewing's own account of Fantasia, just click the image below:

Hmmm . . . doesn't say if the beer comes in bottomless bottles . . .

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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Clarice Lispector . . . again

Clarice Lispector
They say she had catlike green eyes . . .
but I found no color image.

I blogged on Clarice Lispector once before, and found her a mysterious presence that I can't get off my mind even though I know so little about her, but here's a little more:
Her first novel, Near to the Wild Heart, published in 1943, took its title from a line in James Joyce and discomfited Brazil's parochial literary establishment with its determinedly modernist cut and surreal, unsmiling humour. Overnight, Lispector became a succès d'estime and was idolised by the young. Intrigued by her movie-star allure, Brazilians claimed Lispector as one of their own, even if her 'Brazilianness' seemed to be overlaid by something strange. A part of Lispector was anchored in a cold northern soil somewhere in Russia, where the people had black bog earth on their boots and lived hard, stoical lives.
That's from Ian Thomson's review, "'She's the most important Jewish writer since Kafka!'" (The Spectator, January 11, 2014), of Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector, by Benjamin Moser.

Makes me wish I knew Portuguese . . .


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Stranger than paradise?

Mickey and Minnie?

Carolyn Arends, writing an article titled "When God Wears a Costume" (Christianity Today, January 8, 2014), tells of being a teenager babysitting a 2-year-old girl squirming in a high chair and whom she tried to pacify by holding up the little girl's laminated placemat featuring a photo of Mickey and Minnie Mouse, and the following dialogue took place:
"Is this a picture of Donald and Daisy Duck?" I asked.

"€œNo," she giggled.

"Is it Goofy and Pluto?"

"Nuh-uh!" she squealed.

"Well, who are they?" I asked, gearing up for the inevitable right-answer celebration. But her reply caught me off guard.

"Strangers in costumes."
Ms. Arends says that she's been reflecting on Laura's pragmatism as a toddler already capable of offering a no-nonsense view of the world, inadvertently providing an example "of what sociologist Philip Rieff and philosopher Allan Bloom both" termed a "€œlow symbolic hedge," i.e., a maze formed with hedges, such that a low one would be too easily seen through and solved. One need not use imagination to find one's way, so imagination remains undeveloped. Thus, because "our culture lacks potent symbols" and has merely Mickey Mouse symbols, we suffer a paucity of imagination.

Well, maybe, but there's a sense in which that two-year-old toddler Laura was using her own burgeoning imagination to demystify a mundane reality behind a prominent, powerful cultural image.

The kid deserves some praise . . .

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