Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Archibald MacLeish: "The End of the World"

Archibald MacLeish

I've long liked this poem by Archibald MacLeish, though only recently did I realize it's a sonnet:
"The End of the World"

Quite unexpectedly, as Vasserot
The armless ambidextrian was lighting
A match between his great and second toe,
And Ralph the lion was engaged in biting
The neck of Madame Sossman while the drum
Pointed, and Teeny was about to cough
In waltz-time swinging Jocko by the thumb --
Quite unexpectedly the top blew off:

And there, there overhead, there, there hung over
Those thousands of white faces, those dazed eyes,
There in the starless dark the poise, the hover,
There with vast wings across the cancelled skies,
There in the sudden blackness the black pall
Of nothing, nothing, nothing -- nothing at all.
In fact, I noticed its sonnet form only as I was typing it here, so "recently" was yesterday (now that I'm posting it). I've never read any literary criticism on this poem, though I'm sure that reading some would be enlightening, but I think I previously failed to recognize the sonnet form because I was so taken by the poem's subject matter: the encounter with "nothingness."

Nothingness is difficult to conceive properly because our natural tendency is to ontologize it, i.e., to attribute "being" to it, when "nothingness" is in fact the absence of any and all being.

To get to that radical absence intellectually, one must subtract one thing after another from the world until all has been subtracted, whereupon one also subtracts "being" and finally oneself, the thinker thinking these subtractions.

The mind revolts . . . and fails to notice the sonnet form . . .

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Columbia University Press Notes Translations of Korean Literature by Sun-Ae and Me!

Another review has recently appeared, though more on the KLTI's Library of Korea series generally (Dalkey Archive Press) than specifically on individual translations, but Esther Kim -- publicity assistant at Columbia University Press -- has at least mentioned the two translations that Sun-Ae and I did:
The editors of the "Library of Korean Literature" have included the writings of artists who have moved and still move against the grain, and their selection is key in implicitly working to undo the 'new depthlessness'. Some of the works are chosen from the canon, such as Yi Kwang-Su's The Soil. But some are transgressive and experimental and defy the conformity encouraged by Korean values. One example of this kind of writing is Jang Jung-il's When Adam Opens His Eyes (Translated by Hwang Sun-ae and Horace Jeffrey Hodges). Published in Korean in 1990, When Adam Opens His Eyes defies the conservative climate of South Korea with its frank descriptions of sex and a school dropout protagonist, who's obsessed with cultural theory and rock music in the 1980s. Inspired by Georges Bataille's pornographic writing, Jang Jung Il's novel is a transgressive coming-of-age story. These stories demonstrate how Korean literature has maintained a dialogue with European writing for the last two centuries. These stories are history, too, punctuations in a historical continuum. (Esther Kim, "Thursday Fiction Corner: The Library of Korean Literature Series," April 24th, 2014)
I have to admit that Jang Jung-il's "frank descriptions of sex" were at times excruciating to work on, but that's another story. Sun-Ae and I are each grateful for this brief review, which mentions both of our translations, but I see that I have a struggle ahead of me in getting reviewers to spell my middle name correctly -- not that I'm annoyed, mind you, for this sort of thing happens so often that I've come to expect it. But I'll notify the heterographic offenders anyway.

My name's at least rightly written here!

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Monday, April 28, 2014

Tony Blair: Threat of Radical Islam not Abating

Tony Blair
The Spectator

Former Prime Minister of England Tony Blair gave a speech recently on the continuing, still growing threat of Islamism, and the complete transcript is available on The Spectator website at "Full text: Tony Blair's speech on why the Middle East matters" (April 23, 2014). I'll merely call attention to a few main points:
[T]he Middle East matters. What is presently happening there, still represents the biggest threat to global security of the early 21st C. The region, including the wider area outside its conventional boundary -- Pakistan, Afghanistan to the east and North Africa to the west -- is in turmoil with no end in sight to the upheaval and any number of potential outcomes from the mildly optimistic to catastrophe.

At the root of the crisis lies a radicalised and politicised view of Islam . . . . The threat of this radical Islam is not abating. It is growing. It is spreading across the world. It is de-stabilising communities and even nations. It is undermining the possibility of peaceful co-existence in an era of globalisation. And in the face of this threat we seem curiously reluctant to acknowledge it and powerless to counter it effectively.

In this speech I will set out how we should do this, including the recognition that on this issue, whatever our other differences, we should be prepared to reach out and cooperate with the East, and in particular, Russia and China.
Blair goes on to offer reasons the Middle East matters to Europe (and the world), among them, energy, proximity to Europe, and alliances with Israel, and also because "the Middle East . . . [is where] the future of Islam will be decided." Why? Because:
The reason this matters so much is that this ideology is exported around the world. The Middle East is still the epicentre of thought and theology in Islam.
I agree that this is why the Middle East still matters, and I'd also like to see cooperation on this issue with Russia and China, but those two behemoths distrust the West so much that they might not have it in them to cooperate. On that, we will just have to see what the future holds, but things look dire in our future if we fail to recognize something obvious, the fact of religious violence on Islam's part:
[There] is the absolutely rooted desire on the part of Western commentators to analyse these issues as disparate rather than united by common elements. They go to extraordinary lengths to say why, in every individual case, there are multiple reasons for understanding that this is not really about Islam, it is not really about religion; there are local or historic reasons which explain what is happening. There is a wish to eliminate the obvious common factor in a way that is almost wilful. Now of course as I have said, there is always a context that is unique to each situation. There will naturally be a host of local factors that play a part in creating the issue. But it is bizarre to ignore the fact the principal actors in all situations, express themselves through the medium of religious identity or that in ideological terms, there is a powerful unifying factor based on a particular world view of religion and its place in politics and society.
Exactly! And we are in a real war with Islamism:
This is not a conventional war. It isn't a struggle between super powers or over territory. But it is real. It is fearsome in its impact. It is growing in its reach. It is a battle about belief and about modernity.
You might not be interested in this war, but this war is decidedly interested in you . . .


Sunday, April 27, 2014

Eden's Cinnful Apple!

Cinnful Apple
Angry Orchard

I'd been putting together a test all day yesterday, so I had no time for thinking about blogging, but my regular RateBeer Weekly email came to my rescue with an introduction to a hard cider site called "Angry Orchard" with an intriguing drink on offer, an offering I passed along to the Milton List:
This is a fun website to investigate for Edenic allusions.

Angry Orchard seems to specialize in hard ciders, like this one:
"Our Cinnful Apple cider is crisp and refreshing with a spicy twist. The sweet, slightly tart apple flavor is balanced with cinnamon spice, adding hints of cocoa and a slight heat."
Turns out, "sin" has the flavor of "cinnamon"!
This ties in with a Milton List discussion over the type of fruit Milton imagined dangling from the branches of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and I thought that the expression on the 'face' on that tree above appears rather knowing -- even knowing enough to alarm an animated Pocahontas -- so I posted the info and link at the risk of being thought unserious.

Which I am . . .

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Saturday, April 26, 2014

U. C. Berkeley: Stephens Hall Graduate Student Lounge to Close

Stephens' Lounge
Photo by Michael Ball/Staff

Another part of my past is going the way of all worldly things -- Stephens' Lounge is closing:
On March 31, UC Berkeley graduate students received an email from Dean of the Graduate Division Andrew Szeri stating that the Stephens Hall Graduate Student Lounge, which has been in operation for more than 90 years, will close May 16. (Michelle Pitcher, "Graduate student lounge closure causes unrest," The Daily Californian, April 23, 2014)
I worked in that lounge for about five years, from 1984 to 1989 (though with time away for stays in Switzerland, mainly Fribourg and Basel), and as the above photo shows (especially if you click on the photo), it is a beautiful room, and a great place to work:
Located at 440 Stephens Hall, the wood-paneled room is reserved exclusively for use by UC Berkeley graduate students and staff. The space, filled with natural light, is equipped with numerous study areas, and coffee and cookies are available for purchase.
Yes, I worked there, and in two senses, as grad student poring over texts and as UC employee pouring coffee. Verily, I was a barista before my time and the term! A very simple barista doing an easy job that somebody had to do. But all that work -- the hard grad-grind and the easy ground coffee -- is all gone now, apparently, if Dean Szeri has his way.

What remain are friendships forged in the lounge -- such as with Natalie Macris, who sent me this sad report -- and memories, of course, one of which long-time readers of Gypsy Scholar might recall, a previously told tale of the lounge . . .

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Friday, April 25, 2014

Burn in Hal!

Last Friday evening, I joined friends Seung-Tae and Kent at Burn in Hal for drinks and conversation. The proprietor -- whom you see in the above photo and who reminds me somewhat of Mr. Em in my novella -- was friendly and already knew Kent (for around ten years), so he spoke with us a bit to make the acquaintance of Seung-Tae and me. I discovered that he was born in 1957, my own birth year, so I asked him what day.
"I'm older," he said, with remarkable confidence.

"Really?" I asked. "What day?"

"January 1st," he said.

"Okay," I conceded, "but I look older."
He smiled, and we continued our more general chat. I learned that he comes from Turkey, that he's been here in Seoul a long time, but has only recently opened Burn in Hal, a smoking place for people who like to partake of fine cigars. Interesting to me was that even as the place filled up with other folk, many of them smoking cigars, it didn't fill up with smoke, so I had no difficulty breathing.

I was half considering trying a cigar myself, but I decided to wait on that, maybe next time. Instead, I drank beer and ate some of the tasty dishes available there as Seung-Tae, Kent, and I talked about politics and history here in Korea . . .

As for Burn in Hal? I recommend it for the civilized atmosphere, a place where you can enjoy a beer or other drink and indulge in conversation without having to shout over loud music.

It's likely also good for smoking fine cigars . . .

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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Kim Jong-un Far, Far Younger Than Previously Believed

Four-Year-Old Kim Jong-un

Experts on North Korea have debated Kim Jong-un's real age ever since he assumed power three years ago, but that debate is now over as the North's media have disclosed recent photographs of a clearly very young Kim, officially said to be but four years old, going about his duties as a precocious litle dictator: left photo, proudly saluting the glorious socialist future; central photo, keeping both eyes directly on YOU; right photo, peremptorily ordering his Uncle Jang's execution. Here follows the KBS report based on the official NKCT news release:
The North Korean media has disclosed photos of its leader Kim Jong-un . . . . The North's Korean Central Television on Tuesday released . . . photos showing a four-year-old Kim [at various duties, such as] wearing an air force uniform at a performance of the Moranbong Art Troupe.
The Moranbong Art Troupe is the North Korea Wave of the Future, which Kim is shown saluting in the left-most photo above, as already described. The North's surprising disclosure of Kim's actual age has left foreign experts stunned -- and groping for appropriate ways to engage Kim in dialogue about his nuclear weapons, his ballistic missiles, and his space satellites, for he appears very reluctant to give up what he calls his "toys."

I suggest seeking advice from child psychologists on how to deal with immaturity at this level . . .

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Muslims Converting to Christianity?

Image: Courtesy, WIGTake Resources

In "Why Muslims Are Becoming the Best Evangelists" (Christianity Today, April 22, 2014), Timothy C. Morgan interviews career missiologist David Garrison on Muslim conversions to Christianity:
Muslim background believers are leading Muslims to Christ in staggering numbers, but not in the West. They are doing this primarily in Muslim-majority nations almost completely under the radar -- of everyone . . . . "What did God use to bring you to faith in Jesus Christ? Tell me your story." This was the core question Garrison asked . . . . In Algeria, after 100,000 died in Muslim-on-Muslim violence, 10,000 Muslims turned their backs on Islam and were baptized as followers of Christ. This movement has tripled since the late 1990s . . . . Garrison estimates that 2 to 7 million people from a Muslim background worldwide now follow Christ . . . . [According to Garrison,] "Muslim-background believers [say] that they had met Jesus[,] . . . . people whose lives had been shaken and rattled by their encounter with Christ . . . . They look into their Koran and they see references to Jesus. In the Hadith, they hear stories about Jesus . . . . Abdul-Ahad, a Sheik from Mogadishu, Somalia . . . . had been involved in drug running, prostitution, and extortion . . . . [but] the Sheik was saved . . . . [and he] said, "You know when you see people like me with the beard and with the prayers, skull cap, you stay away from us because you're afraid of us . . . . The truth is we want you to be afraid of us . . . . But when you see people like me you need to know that we're empty and we're lost" . . . . [Garrison] often see[s that fear,] anger and hatred . . . . The sad thing is this fear is grounded in reality. You've got 14 centuries in which tens of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions, of Christians have been gobbled up into the world of Islam. It makes communism look like just a cheap parlor trick. Communism came and went in a century . . . . One reason Muslims are responding today is [their new situation]. They are in independent nations. They don't have colonial powers occupying them. As a result, they're turned in on themselves. They don't get along very well with one another. Several of the big movements . . . across the Muslim world coincide with Muslim-on-Muslim violence, horrible violence like in Algeria, Bangladesh, or Indonesia . . . . [as] self-government in Muslim-majority nations has triggered violence between Muslim factions . . . . Muslims are fighting Muslims both in the name of Allah, [but a]fter a while, people say: "Can this really be Allah's will? Can this really be his ideal for mankind? If this is Islam, I don't want any part of it" . . . . [For instance, i]n Afghanistan, one man who had been an imam said, "We were killing everybody in this village because they were a different branch of Islam than us. I took this little girl, one-and-a-half years old, in my arms. We had already killed her parents. She held my finger, looked me in the eye, as I stuck a knife into her and killed her. That was the beginning of my conversion [from Islam]" . . . . [As] for Christians[, says Garrison, t]his is not a time to . . . fear Muslims. This is a time to love, win, and reach Muslims . . . . [I]n the house of Islam, . . . [there are] movements breaking out in multiple places . . . . [One hears about Muslim dreams of Jesus, and Muslims take dreams very seriously.] It's part of the reality of their world. Mohammad listened to dreams, and he gave Muslims the impression that God could speak through them. So they do listen to them, and they do talk about them . . . . [Many of the Muslims interested in Jesus] are having dreams of a living being glowing with bright light and drawing persons to him or just exuding love or offering them a book to read . . . . [One evangelist would hear Muslims speaking of such dreams, and he would hand them a Bible, point to Matthew 17:1-2, and ask them to read.] They would start reading. "After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light" . . . . Muslims [would] read that and [say,] . . . . "That's the guy. That's the guy in my dreams. Who is this? And how do I know more about him?" . . . . A Muslim's direct encounter with the Bible seems crucial . . . . [Of these Muslim-background converts, t]here is a range [of views on Islam] . . . . Some Muslims who come to Christ and seem on the surface to be the most Islamic, hate Islam. They hate Mohammad. They would . . . [say]: "We will wipe this virus out from our people. It's just destroyed our people." And yet if you were an outsider, and you met them, you'd never even know they were a Christian, because they continue to live in the culture. And some of them are even imams and Sheiks who stayed in their culture. For many Muslims, Islam is central to the way their people function. It was their mother. It was their family. It was their community. And they had no [problem] . . . with Islam [as a culture]. What they want to do is to follow Jesus and to love their parents better and to draw them into faith. I found very few people who wanted to take on Islam. They just felt like that was a secondary battle. The real battle was to follow Jesus and to spread Jesus.
This is interesting, but even if we assume the high estimate of seven million Muslims converting every year from Islam to Christianity, that's a very low percentage out of one and a half billion Muslims, so I can't quite see much general impact, hardly the "staggering numbers" promised at the outset of this article . . .

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Anthony N. Celso on Never-Ending Jihadism?

Anthony N. Celso
Google Images

I came across this enlightening paper yesterday about a dark topic with a gloomy thesis:
This paper conceptualizes a wave theory of continuous jihadist warfare composed of four phases: mobilization, extremism, implosion and rebirth . . . . Each phase involves a sequence of events that characterize jihadist terror. The general evolution of the wave is easily discernible. After an initial burst of organizational dynamism and mobilization, Jihadist movements employ counterproductive violence to satisfy their millenarian ambitions. The ideological extremism of the jihadist group prompts internal divisions, popular revulsion and galvanizes opponents. This juxtaposition of forces leads to jihadist failure and a concomitant inability to create a stable Islamic state. The Algerian GIA and Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), for example, suffered severe reversals at the hands of security forces and local militias. Egypt also has witnessed bursts of jihadist violence throughout the 1980’s and 1990's with high profile attacks against security services, foreigners and tourist resorts. Long thought dormant Egyptian jihadi terrorist violence has been catalyzed by the July 2013 military coup that deposed Muhammad Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood's democratically elected government. The same extremist visions that led to implosion, however, contribute inexorably to the group's regeneration. (Anthony N. Celso, "Jihadist Organizational Failure and Regeneration: The Transcendental Role of Takfiri Violence," Paper prepared for presentation at the Political Studies Association Meeting, Manchester, England. April 14-16, 2014, page 7)
Since these spasmodic waves of jihadism direct their violence against infidels and Muslim 'apostates', they would tend -- in the long run -- to clear the ground for less radical Islam's expansion, or so I extrapolate, based on Celso's analysis. Despite their irrationality, then, jihadist groups actually advance Islam's interests by spreading Islam. At the same time, they undermine Islam's ability to govern with stability, for no moderate form of Islam is ever sufficiently pure and rigorous.

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Monday, April 21, 2014

Spencer Case Reviews Roger Scruton's Notes From Underground at National Review Online

Spencer Case, in "Polemics and Philosophy from a British Contrarian" (National Review Online April 19, 2014), reviews two works by Roger Scruton, but I will comment only on Case's words about Notes From Underground. Early in his review, Case makes the general observation that Scruton's novel deals "with the dualities of beauty and ugliness, love and betrayal, freedom and tyranny, piety and sacrilege," and Case is correct, but he neglects the greatest duality in Scruton's thought as expressed in this novel, that between truth and falsehood.

Indeed, Scruton informs the reader of precisely this theme, for in his "Author's Note," he states, "This is a story about truth." Even more precisely, Scruton's fictional account of Prague in 1985 is about "living in the truth," as Vaclav Havel expressed it, or rather, the great difficulty of living in the truth within a system that demands, at the very least, compromises.

This problematic of truth comes to a head in a section of the novel that Case finds weak:
Chapter 22, which details the visit of a liberal American philosophy professor, is fine polemic, but it is largely irrelevant to the plot, dropped in to advance the author's point of view.
I think Case means chapter 21. Anyway, I disagree that the chapter is not relevant to the novel's plot. The "liberal American philosophy professor" is integral in two ways. First, he is central to the opportunity for emigration to the West sought by the protagonist's lover. Second, he is integral to the confrontation between living within truth and living with relativism:
He mentioned Richard Rorty, whose name we were hearing for the first time, and who had changed American scholarship with a new theory of truth. The true belief, we learned, is the useful belief, the one that enables you to affirm the rights of your group, and to gain the illuminated plateau of liberation. Truth means power, just as Nietzsche and Foucault had said.
Interestingly, this new theory of truth leads to a 'true' discussion, for as the protagonist notes:
What struck me in this was not the vigorous nature of the argument, unusual though that was, but the fact that it really was an argument, about a concrete matter concerning which modern people ought surely to make up their minds.
The American professor thus plays a role crucial to the plot on two levels -- it moves the plot forward, and it raises the novel's central theme of truth. But I can't entirely set myself at odds with Case's critique:
Ironically, Scruton has written a novel whose content makes the argument for spontaneous order and liberty, but the book overall suffers from authorial central planning. The result is a worthwhile read that doesn't sustain its best moments.
I partly agree that Scruton maintains control, but such is necessary in a novel of ideas, as I know from experience! Anyway, I find Scruton's novel more of a success than Case does . . .

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Sunday, April 20, 2014

EBS 'Report' on Yi Kwang-su's Novel The Soil

Headlines + News Close Up
Posted December 23, 2013

I just happened to stumble across this four-month-old announcement (and grammar lesson!) yesterday on Korea's Educational Broadcasting System (EBS), specifically, at EBS Morning Special's You Tube site, starting at 2 minutes and 19 seconds into the video:
U.S. Journal Recognizes 2 Korean Translations

English translations of two Korean literary works - Yi Kwang-su's The Soil, and Hyesim's Magnolia and Lotus - were included among 75 Notable Translations in an American international culture and literature magazine's December edition. Hwang Sun-ae, one of The Soil's two translators, said it was difficult to use natural English without any of the original novel's meaning getting lost in translation.
EBS's English grammar lessons are often played on city buses, so a lot of Koreans may have heard our translation of The Soil used as an example of how easily things get lost in translation. (Thanks a lot, there, EBS.) The broadcaster then goes on (in the video's notes) to explain this idiom, "lost in translation," for the benefit of Koreans:
1) to get lost in translation (v.)
the original meaning of something is misunderstood or not clear because of differences between languages
번역 한계 때문에 뜻이 어색해지다

ex) This song sounds strange in English because a lot of it is lost in translation.
The magazine -- coyly referred to as "an American international culture and literature magazine" -- was, of course, World Literature Today, and I've previously noted the honor.

Anyway, those of you interested in a great big grammar lesson can order a copy of The Soil at Amazon Books.

And while you're there at AB, check out my novella . . .

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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Scott Corey on Carl Schmitt's Influence on Neoconservatives

Carl Schmitt
Google Images

Scott Corey -- one of my old friends from Berkeley, where he earned his political science doctorate in revolution and political violence -- has published an online op/ed piece titled "Release the Entire Torture Report!" In this op/ed, he looks at the torture used by Americans on suspected terrorists and asks (among other questions), "why did the torture regime arise and take hold?"
The why is easily found in neo-conservative doctrine and praxis. Once a respectable strand of conservative theory, the neocons departed into subversion by combining the thinking of Carl Schmitt with the practices of ex-Trotskyites who joined them during the 1980's. Their core belief is that legal/rational government is inadequate for a world of catastrophic dangers that may appear in forms and at times that are uncertain (hence the drivel about fearing "the unknown unknown" and the need to somehow overcome the tautology that "we don't know what we don't know").
I have to admit that I'd always found Rumsfeld's systemization of our knowledge and our ignorance (known knowns, known unknowns, unknown knowns, and unknown unknowns) rather intriguing, intellectually, as well as a humorous way of stating our epistemological state. But what really interested me in Scott's article is the assertion above that neoconservatives turned to the legal views of Carl Schmitt (the legal theorist used by Germany's National Socialists), so I was disappointed that more wasn't said on this point.

Scott, however, is a careful scholar, so I accept that there must be some research supporting this assertion, and I suppose I'll just have to ask him. He did -- in one of his email circulars -- mention that he is "not the first to note the neocon link to Schmitt," and he also speaks of a run-in with a neoconservative professor who was instructing an inner group of students in the political thought of Schmitt.

Perhaps he'll comment . . .

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Friday, April 18, 2014

Phillip Somozo on Emanations: Third Eye

My friend Terrance Lindall -- artist and provocateur -- forwarded a recent review by art and literary critic Phillip Somozo of last year's literary anthology Emanations: Third Eye, which in part is praise of the artist "Bienvenido Bones Banez, Jr." and in part is praise of writer and literary critic Carter Kaplan, though also in part critique of them both! I will focus on the positive:
Book Review

Emanations: Third Eye anthology by International Authors introduces Surrealmageddon of Davao surrealist

By Phillip Somozo

Surrealmageddon (surreal + Armageddon), a term Banez coined to describe his phantasmagoric vision of the final battle between good and evil, was picked up by books author Carter Kaplan who used it as introductory title for his anthology Emanations: Third Eye, third of a series. This reviewer is motivated by Kaplan's reception of Banez's Surrealmageddon to scrutinize the former's introduction to Emanations: Third Eye.

Carter Kaplan is an American professor who had taught English and Philosophy for 30 years in many U.S. Colleges and in Scotland. He is a poet and had written a number of novels with philosophical and mythological themes.

Describing Banez as "pioneering philosopher of Surrealmageddon," Kaplan considers the Dabawenyo's vision of apocalyptic psychedelia as "a catalytic spec floating in the global crucible of morphing civilizations." What shapes the future, Kaplan rationalizes, is the global consumerist culture and he admits it doesn't seem very bright. Self-destruction, he elaborates, is built-in in the Homo s. sapiens because of greediness which, in the civilized world, is considered "not insanity." Kaplan's introduction, in effect, also concludes his interpretation of the anthology (subtitled Art of Ecstasy and the Ecstasy of Experiment) in the context of collective human thought deciding its own destiny. It is remarkable Kaplan corroborates Banez's cataclysmic semanticism.

The union of the terms surreal and Armageddon, a brilliant etymological updating, by Banez, modernized its semantic significance by redefining modernism's pinnacle to which society prophetically (and now affirmed by Kaplan's sound psychosocial arguments) is heading. The term could had been invented by Saint John the Apostle two millennia ago, if only John had knowledge of modern behavioral psychology and social dialectics. Bridging the gap between Prophet John and hermeneutic surrealist Bienvenido "Bones" Banez is artistic evolution.

Yet, I am sure not everyone agrees with Kaplan and Banez, not the inventors of artificial life-support systems (e.g. biotech, genetic engineering, transhumanism) who aim to perpetuate human life regardless if they have to alter nature, and the vested corporates who tweaked the nostril of the planetary Tao so that it has been desperately sniffing for the vanishing direction to its future since Modernism dawned.
There is more, much more, all of it somewhat obscure, though discernible with some effort, but I've received no website address, so I've nothing to link to. Part of my interest is that some of my poetry appears in the anthology, which can be ordered here.

I suppose this is less obscure for me than for some of my readers because I'm familiar with the individuals and their ideas -- and also because I've been reading a bit about "biotech, genetic engineering, [and] transhumanism" lately . . .

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Some Moments of Silence for the Many Who Died Yesterday in the Korean Ferry Boat that Sank off Korea's Southwest Coast . . .


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Bulgakov's Fesiya is Goethe's Faust?

Distorted Image by An(other) Englishman in Germany

A recent commentator, Thomas, from the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium asked me a difficult question about my novella's dependence on Bulgakov:
You said your "story relies more on Bulgakov's retelling of Goethe's story in his inimitable magnum opus, The Master and Margarita".

Actually I've always been enormously intrigued by Boelgakov's work, and in particular by its relation with Goethe and the Faustian theme. The formal and "superficial" allusions are clear enough, but could you tell me more about the deeper substantive and thematic relation, beyond the central appearance of Satan as such for example, and the love between the Master and Margarete? Thanks a lot for any information on that point.
I don't actually know very much about that, but the question got me thinking:
I'm no expert, and thus offer no depth, but Margarita seems the one bargaining with Satan (Woland) over the Master and his manuscript.

That looks like a reversal of roles, but I'd need to re-read with that in mind to see what is implied by this reversal.

The Master seems oddly un-Faustian, weak-willed and dependent. If there's a Faust in this tale, it would appear to be Margarita, except that she's playing both roles -- Faust and Gretchen.

But you've probably already noticed these things . . .
And he likely had, for he replied:
Thanks for your interesting reaction, Jeffery!

Recently I read in a Boelgakov comment that in the primitive version of the novel, the Master was a certain Fesija, a savant who was concerned with medieval satanic arts, and standing much closer to the Goethean Faust. This figure of Fesija is supposed to have been inspired by the religious philosopher Pavel Florenski (1882-1937), who was arrested in 1928.

Later on the Master became in the first place Boelgakov himself (or maybe Gorki).

Do you know something about these things?
I admitted my ignorance:
No, I knew nothing about those things. Thank you! I'll look into this.
I did as I said I would and looked into this, finding:
In Bulgakov's early versions of the novel the part of the Master was played by Fesiya, a wise man who was interested in the devilry from the Middle Ages and the Italian Renaissance. Fesiya was occupied with demonic powers much more than later the Master, he was much closer to Goethe's Faust. Fesiya was probably inspired by the philosopher Pavel Alexan-drovich Florensky (1882-1937), who was arrested in 1928.
I found that information on the website Master and Margarita, a site I'm familiar with, though I wasn't familiar with this particular page.

See? One really can learn something new each day . . .

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

And now for something completely different: Graphene!

Photo by Nicholas Petrone

I sometimes -- well, all right, often -- post on topics I know nothing about. Nick Bilton, for instance, in "Bend It, Charge It, Dunk It: Graphene, the Material of Tomorrow" (New York Times, April 13, 2014), just recently told me about my ignorance of graphene:
Graphene is the strongest, thinnest material known to exist. A form of carbon, it can conduct electricity and heat better than anything else. And get ready for this: It is not only the hardest material in the world, but also one of the most pliable.
I'm just smart enough to understand that this will bring about a radically new form of computing devices that will be thin, light, strong, and flexible. Oddly enough, I dreamt the night before last of an iPad-sized tablet that I could fold into a small rectangle and slip into my pocket, and the day after that dream, I read about graphene and its computing implications:
In 2012, the American Chemical Society said that advancements in graphene were leading to touch-screen electronics that "could make cellphones as thin as a piece of paper and foldable enough to slip into a pocket."
This leads me to suspect that I might have read that statement two years ago without paying attention and that my brain mulled it over for a while and finally decided to bring it to my mind's attention . . . but how did my brain know I'd read a report on stuff like this the next day? There's a bigger mystery here than the mystery of graphene itself. But graphene might also help accomplish this other über-phenomenal thing:
[A]n international team of researchers based at M.I.T. has performed tests [on graphene] that could lead to the creation of quantum computers . . .
Finally, there's a potential use for quantum mechanics! Subatomic physics hasn't been a waste of time after all!

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Shannon Hodges: One of My More Successful Brothers . . .

Dr. J. Shannon Hodges
Shoshanna Cogan

The photo above is of my brother Shan and his wife Shoshanna, who sent me the picture and bragged on Shan:
Here's a photo taken minutes after Shannon's Keynote Address to a sold-out crowd of 350 professionals at NY Statewide Mental Health Conference. I'm so proud of his amazing work . . .
He deserves the boasting! Keynote speaker! Wow! I'll certainly never attain that status! Shan himself is modest:
Pretty good for a guy from Salem, Arkansas who once was considered the dumbest kid in his class.
I'd say it's even pretty good for somebody at the top of his class, too. Due to his modesty, he therefore needs a woman like Shoshanna to promote him. He has several areas of expertise, so I was naturally curious to see what he had spoken on, and a quick Google later, I found this:
Keynote Speaker: Dr. J. Shannon Hodges

Dr. Hodges will talk to us about "101 Careers in Counseling". He will illustrate the broad range of counseling careers open to Mental Health Counselors and counselors in general and has recently published a book titled 101 Careers in Counseling. The talk will include occupational information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the wide variation in occupational possibilities for Mental Health Counselors (e.g., agencies, university counseling centers, human resource positions, counseling in a foreign country, etc.). A significant aspect of his keynote speech is to make prognostications of the future of the counseling profession and what this means for Mental Health Counselors and Counselor Educators. Because an important part of his address deals with change, emphasis on multicultural competence will be emphasized as the emerging global profession necessitates such.

Dr. Hodges will also tell us about his experiences working in the Australian outback with Aborigines!!
Shan has long now overtaken me as a world traveler! Next, he'll be visiting Antarctica to work with penguins, counseling them on their unwarranted fear of polar bears . . . More seriously, he also conducted a workshop:
Pre-Convention Workshops: (12-3 pm on Friday, April 11th)

101 Careers in Counseling

Presenter: Dr. J. Shannon Hodges, LMHC

The workshop will include ways Mental Health Counselors and future Mental Health Counselors can prepare for future changes brought on by technology and an ever expanding counseling profession.

The session will cover concrete information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook regarding rapidly growing counseling professions, the emerging international counseling profession, cultural competence, traditional and non-traditional counseling careers, changes due to technology (e.g., Skype counseling, ethical issues related to social media, international collaboration - particularly for counselor educators, etc.), adapting to a dynamic future. The session will also address the value of promoting and advocating for the counseling profession (and Mental Health Counseling profession).
Those of you interested in what sort of things Shan probably discussed might want to watch this video.

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Joseph Braude Talks to "A Saudi Psychologist on Jihadism, Clerical Elites, and Education Reform"

Joseph Braude

In an E-Note from FPRI, Joseph Braude reports on the Saudi attempt to rehabilitate jihadists, "A Saudi Psychologist on Jihadism, Clerical Elites, and Education Reform," which makes for interesting reading even if one retains skepticism about long-term results. For example, I found of interest this passage on the use of Islam as justification for terrorism, an explanation by the Saudi Psychologist:
It is a matter of how a group of so-called clerics interpret, or misinterpret, Islam. In Surat Al 'Imran of our Holy Book, it says, "No one knows [the Qur'an's] true interpretation except God, and those who are well-grounded in knowledge say, 'We believe in it. All of it is from our Lord.'" But some clerics stop in the middle of the verse, and just say, "No one knows [the Qur'an's] true interpretation except God and those who are well-grounded in knowledge." Then they put it to you that they alone are well-grounded in knowledge, and go on to use the half-sentence as a divine mandate for their own authority. If we claim that our religion is a peaceful religion, calling for peace between nations and between religions, then these false foundations need to be addressed.
A problem with this is that in insisting that no individual can rightly interpret the Qur'an, one means that reason plays little role, so one simply believes through an act of abject fideism. But even if the Qur'an is obscure, there are the hadith, which are often quite clear and very violent.

Nevertheless, the article (an interview, actually) is worth reading.

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

"I am chatting with a modern Goethe!"

A recent visitor stopped by on an early blog entry of mine on Derrida (where I claimed that my then-five-year-old son En-Uk believed that nothing exists outside the text), and this visitor made an intriguing, if puzzling remark about recursive stories:
Stories within stories, ok, but telling the story they are told by! That's the inevitable recursion we will always be doomed to . . .
Deeming this an opening to promote myself, I replied:
Here's 'my' story . . .
The visitor took a look:
Waw... Looks great . . . I am chatting with a modern Goethe! Particularly the following comment is intriguing me:
"Hodges very successfully argues that moral choice lies at the center of the problem of the human condition, and he drives home his point -- without metaphysics and without moralizing -- that our situation in the Cosmos is precarious indeed; and that recent progressive claims for the transformation of society and the human race through a postmodern revolution in consciousness are premature, naive, self-deluding, and very possibly self-destructive."
Is this an accurate comment?
Not having received a customary notice from Site Meter that a query was awaiting my response, I only happened to notice this comment when I was deep within my blog's inner mechanism deleting spam, so I only then replied:
[S]orry, but I didn't get a notice of your comment with its query:
"Hodges very successfully argues that moral choice lies at the center of the problem of the human condition, and he drives home his point -- without metaphysics and without moralizing -- that our situation in the Cosmos is precarious indeed; and that recent progressive claims for the transformation of society and the human race through a postmodern revolution in consciousness are premature, naive, self-deluding, and very possibly self-destructive."
That was a reader's review, and you asked:
"Is this an accurate comment?"
My belated reply:
I hope so . . . because it sounds good . . . but I don't quite comprehend the praise. That reader must have understood more than I did . . . . Anyway, if you do read my story, I hope it's worth your time and effort.
I hold that same hope for all readers, and you can find out for yourself at this site here, though a site where you will also clearly see that I am no modern Goethe (a remark perhaps meant ironic), but merely one of that great man's epigones . . .

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Friday, April 11, 2014

Idle Request . . .

Donald Duck

Does anybody of a certain age recall this childhood ditty -- sung to the tune of "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" (or for you Brits, "God Save the Queen") -- popular among kids in the early sixties:
I hate my country,
I'll go to Germany
To see the king.

His name is Donald Duck,
He drives a garbage truck
To every city dump,

And how it stinks!
I recall singing this when I was about five, but I had -- and still have -- no plausible idea what it's about.

Anyone out there know its origin and meaning?

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Wright stuff I left behind . . .

N. T. Wright
Christianity Today

Over 15 years ago, back when I was striving hard to become a scholar in religious studies, I grew interested in the writings of N. T. Wright, and I met him at the 1999 SBL/AAR Conference, where I gave three ground-breaking presentations but garnered no interviews. Within three months of that conference, I was walking a couple of kilometers four times a day to teach English conversation in a language institute in Daegu. I was lucky. I had a job.

Yesterday, I encountered an article by Jason Byassee, "Surprised by N.T. Wright" (Christianity Today, April 8, 2014), that called forth memories I'd forgotten of Wright's attraction as a scholar:
Wright's goal in his teaching and writing is to massively revise the way Christianity has been articulated for generations. Christian faith, for Wright, is not about going to heaven when you die. It is not about the triumph of grace over the law of the Old Testament. He says its key doctrine is not justification by grace alone, the cornerstone for the Protestant Reformers. The church has misread Paul so severely, it seems, that no one fully understood the gospel from the time of the apostle to the time a certain British scholar started reading Paul in Greek in graduate school.
In short, Wright was a pot-stirrer, an iconoclast, a trouble-maker . . . except that he presented a novel conservative reading through his radical approach, so his writings offered a bracing challenge to things I had previously learned, whether liberal or conservative.

But I've left that scholarly realm behind, for life is full of surprises . . .

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Wednesday, April 09, 2014

War is a Boon?

Stanford historian Ian Morris has book on war, and British historian David Crane reviews it for The Spectator, informing us that Morris means "War is good for us" (April 5, 2014), and explaining that in War: What is it Good For? The Role of Conflict in Civilisation, from Primates to Robots, Morris offers the possibly counter-intuitive claim that "in the long run, the very, very long run, 'productive war' has always made the world a safer and richer place for the losers as well as the winners" by creating larger, more peaceful societies.

The problem lies in what is meant by that expression "productive war," for this turn of a phrase suggests there are also "unproductive wars," leaving us to wonder if we should win or lose the long 'war on terror' and other conflicts, except that Morris hopes we win:
In Morris's opinion these next three or four decades are going to be the most dangerous in human history. But if we do happen to survive not just all the known and unknown threats that Islamism, resources, climate change, China or a resurgent Russia might throw up, but also all the 'unknowable unknowns' as well -- if, as he says, we get lucky with our timing and do survive all this, then that very biological predisposition to violence that has made us so good at cooperating, organising, innovating and evolving in the pursuit of better ways of waging war and wielding power will finally put war out of business.

Then human beings (or at least the 'trans-humans' and 'post-human' hybrids that will succeed us in about 2050) will find themselves at the end of the 10,000-year-long trek that has taken our species from Stone Age violence to that mythical Happy Valley of tolerant, inclusive, multi-cultural, crime-free civilisation.
Let's see . . . in 2050, I will be 93. Except I won't be, probably, since I don't expect to live that long, not being one of those "trans" or "post" sorts expected to inherit the earth.

Without reading the book, I can't comment directly, so go and read for yourself Crane's entire review to get a sense of what you may think . . .

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Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Jacob N. Shapiro - The Terrorist's Dilemma: Managing Violent Covert Organizations

This book by Professor Jacob N. Shapiro (Yale) sounds like an interesting, insightful, and useful book on terrorism's dilemma: how to run a terrorist organization's bureaucracy while simultaneously maintaining secrecy. I don't know if I'll have time to read it, but I found a useful interview in the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs. Here, for example, he speaks on how to exploit the weaknesses in terrorist operations:
There are several things being done already, such as aggressively tracking down various leads, following the signals that are created, and giving them relatively higher priority. It is not the case that the threat prior to 9/11 went undetected, because it was detected. What happened is the signals were not treated with sufficient gravity, and that has been rectified. What I think could be done, or what is not being done in a particularly aggressive way, at least as far as I know, is sowing more seeds of discord within organizations: getting on the chat-rooms and black websites that various militant organizations use and stoking ideological disagreements. Stoking disagreements about what's tactically acceptable. Providing misinformation about technical matters. All kinds of things that increase the need for communications within organizations are going to lower the production possibilities frontier that organizations can get to, given their levels of activity.

I think the other thing that is not being done enough is working to publicize the externalities that groups cause. We know that people in many countries get angry at the consequences militant groups cause for civilians, and it lowers support for them. We know that in most cases, these guys are tremendously vulnerable to information shared by noncombatants, by civilian and by nonparticipants who happen to notice something going on. And that suggests that there is a lever that can be used by policymakers, which is really aggressively getting the word out about just how bad the activities of many of these groups are. And it happens to some extent, but not as much as I think would be valuable. If the Voice of America says it, in many populations, it doesn't have the credibility of a local press outlet saying it. But there are lots of ways you can subsidize NGOs and other organizations that make it easier for local press outlets in lots of countries to report on what groups are doing. I think a lot of our public diplomacy is very centrally focused and coordinated on getting out the message of the U.S. government, as opposed to making it easier for the people to get basic facts about what the groups that we find problematic are doing. (Interview by Ian Philbrick and Henry Shepherd, Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, October 10, 2013, Washington, D.C.)
I'm struck by the fact that the first of these two can be done freelance, by private individuals who have the necessary skills for passing as a terrorist and infiltrating online communities to disrupt them. I wouldn't recommend this, however, because if one is too skilled in passing as a terrorist, one might end up arrested by the government on the charge of terrorism.

As for the second of these two, blogs such as my own can play a role in critiquing Islamism, not that Islamist terrorists care about what infidels think, but they do care what Muslims think, and I know that some Muslims read my blog . . .

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Monday, April 07, 2014

The Kindness of Strangers . . .

As regular readers know, I posted that I recently had an interview at the Asan Institute for the position of chief editor but that I declined the honor due to my recognition of my own limitations as a man turning 57 next month . . . and aging fast! Some people, however, have more trust in me than I have in myself, e.g., Liberty Belle, who left this comment:
I think you'd be a fantastic editor, Jeffery. Every time you post writing advice, I print it out and refer to it often.
Yes, I'm good at advice on writing, but not so good at administrative duties, so Belle offered some advice:
Here's my half-cent's worth. Being an effective administrator is the same as being a good leader. Be fair and consistent. Set clear goals and expectations. Give concise directions, with clearly articulated timelines for completion and follow-up. Repeat, as necessary.
Good advice . . . but I'm not good at following this advice. Belle then added:
My main failing when I first supervised people was delegation -- I did too much of the work myself and didn't hold my folks accountable for not completing tasks. It's a learning curve and you're so talented at writing and editing that they'll be hard-pressed to find a better candidate.
I appreciated the exhortation, but replied:
Thanks, Belle, for the kind words. If I were 40 instead of [almost] 57 (and aging fast!), I'd perhaps take the job[, but] . . . . I've thought of someone more qualified and have recommended him.
I hope the man I've recommended gets the position . . . . Meanwhile, if I'm really "so talented at writing and editing," then more people ought to be reading this!

Belle isn't quite a stranger, by the way, for I've been reading her blog since she started it last year . . .

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Sunday, April 06, 2014

M. A. Orthofer - Review of Jang Jung-il, When Adam Opens his Eyes

M. A. Orthofer
Critical Mass

Mr. M. A. Orthofer, depicted above from an interview by Critical Mass, has reviewed -- in his Complete Review -- the translation by my wife and me of Jang Jung-il's novella When Adam Opens his Eyes. Orthofer's summary is that the book is a "fine, quick Korean Bildungsroman," but he has more to say than that:
A young man's novel, youthfully exuberant and unpolished, and with a mix of the predictable and the experimental (not all of which works -- "If I cried, neon would flow from my eyes" -- but points for trying), it offers enough that it is certainly of interest and worth the quick read.
This is about as close as Orthofer comes to commenting on the success of the translation effort. Most of the review is summary, so if you want that -- with all its plot spoilers -- follow the link given above (or here).

I'm taking the general silence of reviewers on the quality of our translation effort as meaning that they have no complaint.

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Saturday, April 05, 2014

Interview at the Asan Institute

I was interviewed yesterday at the Asan Institute for a position as editor in charge of their English publications. A couple of good scholars whose papers I've edited recommended me on the basis of my editing skills. I have the rare combination of wide-ranging knowledge, writing ability, attentiveness to detail, and years of experience. The job probably could have been mine for the taking . . . but I lack administrative skills, and I know it. I'm not a people person and just wouldn't be good at directing personnel. I told them the truth, so they appreciated my honesty and seemed to like me anyway. They asked if I knew anybody I could recommend. I reflected but couldn't think of anyone with my combination of abilities, not even to mention the skills that I lack, so I told them that, unfortunately, I didn't know anyone. Handshakes all around, and I left.

Any of you out there with all of the relevant skills might want to look into the Asan position . . .

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Friday, April 04, 2014

FPRI's Jakub Grygiel on Putin's Aims . . .

Jakub Grygiel

For some thoughts on Russia and Ukraine that stress "reality," see Jakub Grygiel, "Ukraine and Three Forgotten Realities: What Would Robert Strausz-Hupé Say?" (FPRI)
Russia's invasion of Ukraine is an unwelcome reminder of time-tested realities that we have been tempted to forget over the past two decades. These realities, namely [1] that history is written by men, [2] that force must be met with force, and [3] that wars are rarely local affairs, appear throughout history and are undoubtedly unpleasant because they do not lead to sunny optimism. It is not surprising therefore that we prefer to ignore them. But we ignore them also because of an arresting naïveté about the world and a perennial wish to see an irresistible march toward freedom in history. The now notorious statement by Secretary of State John Kerry that Russia is behaving "in a 19th century fashion" -- suggesting that Moscow has failed to adapt to modern, or post-modern, times -- is indicative of this worldview.
Drawing on the view of FPRI's founder, Robert Strausz-Hupé, Grygiel elaborates on these three realities, countering current-day postmodern assumptions (with my emphases):
[1] The first reality that we tend to forget is that history is made by men, not by impersonal forces. What this means is that there is no clear and irresistible progressive direction in it. Men can change history's course for the better, but often for the worse . . . . Strausz-Hupé observed, "World history is not a succession of happy endings." We do have strong and willful enemies who will use every opportunity to undermine and weaken us and our friends, and who want to defeat us and our world view . . . . Russian troops in Crimea, and the armored columns along Ukraine's eastern border, are a reminder that there is nothing -- not democracy, not wealth, not globalization -- inevitable in history.

[2] The second forgotten reality is related to the first one. We tend to believe that we can win simply because of passing time, as history moves inexorably toward the desired objective. There is therefore little need to oppose an enemy with force: rumbling tanks will be defeated by the allure of democracy and the spread of globalization. Moreover, once a victory has been achieved, our belief is that the outcome is settled, firmly written in history . . . . This, of course, is not true. It never was, but the war in Ukraine made it abundantly clear. Europe from London to Kiev is not secure. Again, to quote Robert Strausz-Hupé . . . "Europe is debated ground . . . . As in the past, the menace of [Russia as an] Asia[n power] presses now upon a Europe that is plunged into a general malaise compounded of lassitude of power and the alienation of society." The fragility of the European peace, threatened by the westward push of Putin's Russia, is again made evident.

[3] Finally, third, we have been lulled into believing that a local war is simply that, local. The post-modern faith in the gradual disappearance of violent conflict leads us to see wars as little localized bursts among peoples and nations who have been lagging in the march of history. Russia's war in Ukraine is, in this view, a small local vestige of ancient thinking, destined to remain limited to that area. It's a small island of 19th century behavior amidst a sea of 21st century thinking . . . . In reality, all wars are local, and all local wars have global connotations. World wars did not start globally, but in very precise places, often with the widespread belief that they would be limited to that locale . . . . Strausz-Hupé put it thus: "Historical analogies are like the wings of butterflies: firmly grasped they crumble into particles which may be of interest to a biochemist but no longer evoke the marvelous whole of functional and aesthetical perfection" . . . . Nonetheless, they do convey the idea that a local skirmish often is part of a much wider contest and may lead to geographically more expansive violence.
How, then, are we to understand Putin's Ukraine policy:
Putin did not invade Crimea simply because he wanted direct control over that peninsula, or even because he wants to exercise influence over Ukraine writ large. He acts locally but thinks globally. He wants to alter the post-1991 order by proving that the Western order is predicated on an empty promise of security. Hence, while President Obama defines Russian as a mere "regional" power whose reach is limited to small, globally insignificant places, Russian leaders define the region as "Eurasia," a big piece of [the] world's real estate. Ukraine is thus a local war fought with a much larger geopolitical game in mind . . . . The principal theatre of operations is now, as it has been for nearly three centuries, eastern and southeastern Europe, and Russian policy in the Middle and Far East has been largely derivative. Only when Russia was blocked in Europe, on the Baltic and Moldavian Plains, only then did she turn to Asia. Russia exercised pressure on the Asiatic rim-lands, especially on Britain's positions in southwestern Asia, in order to obtain concessions in Europe. Russian expansionism, although it harvested rich territorial gains in central and eastern Asia, did not let itself be deflected from its primary goals, to wit, Russia's strategic frontiers in the West.
To this view, I would add my opinion that Russia is an essentially expansionist power, given that its borders are unstable, for which reason, it looks both east and west, coveting and conquering ever greater territory, seeking that stability that requires firm borders, but such are never available, for the more Russia presses for them, the less firm they become.

What does Grygiel suggest we do? He concludes: "history is not a string of successes, force needs to be met with force, and the larger geopolitical context is present even in small local wars." But how are we to act on this? How do we face up to this reality? Isn't the reality here that Putin now has the Crimean Peninsula? What can be done about that? Force has to be met with force? I don't think this means open war. Rather, Europe needs to become a potent military power through the EU's shedding of its postmodern assumptions about security through economic integration, and the US needs to retain its potent military force and not fall for the postmodern illusions about history's inevitably 'progressive' direction. Russia takes a long view. So should the West.

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Thursday, April 03, 2014

Mr. Em Fades Away?

Mr. Em and I?
Terrance Lindall

That's an old image from my novella, but I now have a new dialogue that I can twist the image to fit, a dialogue I've been working on lately in the interstices of my time, a dialogue in which Mr. Em is speaking with 'me' as author, but seeking the upper hand over me in my own story:
"I assure you I am more than fiction," insisted Mr. Em. "Let us recall what else I said in that book Dostoevsky wrote. Like Goethe, he considered me the spirit that ever denies. From the foundations of the world, apparently, I was predestined 'to deny,' to play the role of critic in all creation. As Mephistopheles, I declared to Faust that I desired evil, but did only good. When I recalled these words to Ivan, I pretended I was a different adversary than Mephistopheles, one whose evil worked no good, but those are merely two distinct, diabolical roles played by the same world-negating spirit, my humble self. Like with the poodle in Faust, I come in many forms, as that clever, scrutinizing author noted, for my philosophy regards everything in life as negotiable, exchangeable, even life itself, especially life itself."

"I see you are not above plagiarizing," I said.

"I've never been truly creative, that's not my role," he reminded me. "But I can do astonishing things. Even if I were but a demon born between the covers of a book, I have managed to jump from book to book and have now landed in that book you call your life. Indeed, you've helped bring me here."

"I can also send you back," I said.

"I'm not so easily gotten rid of," he retorted. "And how do you know you aren't also a character in a book, created by some other would-be deity that every author strives to become?"

"I'd hope for a little grace," I replied.

"Ah, grace," he echoed, though with irony, "that gaming of the system. Unlikely, though. Most great novels favor failure. Easier to depict evil than portray good. Though if grace is a means of cheating the devil, then it's also evil, wouldn't you say, even if evil against evil? If so, there's no way out!"
Will Mr. Em win this time? Stay tuned . . .


Wednesday, April 02, 2014

C. S. Lewis and His Legacy: A Conversation Among Baylor Professors

For C.S. Lewis fans out there, you'll find an interesting discussion among Baylor University scholars of Lewis's influence upon the concept of a Christian education, a perennial theme at Baylor, for I clearly recall Baylor President Abner V. McCall giving a talk on precisely that topic during Freshman orientation week way back in 1975! If I recall, he gave the illustration of water boiling in a saucepan on a stove, and that there were two possible answers to the query as to why the water was boiling, a scientific answer (because the heat imparted by an electrical coil under the pan was heating the water molecules and thereby causing them to jostle each other at ever greater rates) and a teleological answer (because I'm making coffee), and that the latter answer was a matter related to queries on the meaning of the universe. (No, the meaning's not coffee, though that does come pretty close!) Fresh from the Ozarks at the time, I wasn't accustomed to drawing such sharp distinctions in a word's meaning, but I found that concrete analogy so clarifying that I've retained it all these years . . .

Anyway, the discussion in this issue of Baylor Magazine is an excellent introduction to themes in Christian education as understood by several Baylor professors (nine, in fact), whose dialogue is found in the Winter 2014 issue. One of the professors, David L. Jeffrey (Distinguished Professor of Literature and Humanities), noted the current-day profound ignorance about Christianity even on the part of Christian students:
One of the challenges for Christian universities today might be the relatively low order of hold that many of our students have on their own culture. I would say in particular their own religious culture. They come in often better educated perhaps in some technical ways than they were 20 years ago, but I suspect more poorly educated as Christians than they were 20 years ago and most certainly than 30 years ago. By that I mean that biblical Christians tend not to know the Bible very well. Liturgical Christians tend not to have attended church enough to really understand what the liturgy is intended to do. And almost all of them lack a sense of their tradition in the largest sense, Christian history in the largest sense. So, among us, Christian identity that has intellectual substance is not maybe what it ought to be, and that is a challenge.
I've noticed some of these same things, and the superficial understanding of Christianity is evident in the lyrics of the so-called 'praise' songs. They're often fun to sing but say very little. Another Baylor professor, Alan Jacobs (Distinguished Professor of Humanities), notes the lack of rigorous education in many university students:
What I find myself thinking about as we have this conversation is a character in one of Lewis' novels. In That Hideous Strength, one of the two central characters is Mark Studdock. There's a passage about a third of the way into the book in which Lewis describes Mark's extreme vulnerability to manipulation -- he pauses in the action and says, "It must be remembered that Mark had at his fingertips scarcely a scrap of genuine learning. The severities of a traditional humanistic education and a rigorous scientific education alike had passed him by. He didn't have either one. And, therefore, he was utterly vulnerable to rhetorical manipulation, as he just didn't have the intellectual equipment." It's interesting that the two words that Lewis uses are "severities" and "rigor." Those are interesting words. What Lewis is saying very clearly, is that if Mark had had either one, if he had had either a first-rate scientific education or a first-rate humanistic education, he would have been equipped to offer at least some resistance. But he had nothing. He always did well in "essays and general papers" -- if he had the opportunity to bloviate he could sound good, you know? But that was really all there was to it. He was, Lewis says, a "hollow" man.

Not to be disparaging of our students, but we need to remember how little they know when they get here and how few "rigors" and "severities" that they have undergone, in order that we may educate them more rigorously, but also to be compassionate towards them and realize that they are not going to be able to catch up overnight. It's going to require a lot of patience from us to get them up to speed in these matters. But we do well to think of our students as being in many ways like Mark Studdock, beset on all sides by rhetoric from television, movies, the Internet, even the books they read; they are getting buffeted by this stuff and they don't necessarily have what it takes to stand up straight in a gale like that. That's how I think of our job in a lot of ways.
Interesting, this characterization of the character Mark Studdock, for I've worked in an allusion to Lewis's novel That Hideous Strength in my novella, The Bottomless Bottle of Beer, and the anonymous protagonist of my tale is partly reminiscent of Lewis's Studdock. I didn't exactly model my main character after Lewis's, but I did think of him as I described the profound ignorance of my protagonist. Here's the outright allusion made in my novella, a scene in which a lawyer named Dan Webster assists the main character by agreeing to take him on as a client and thus looks over a contract that the protagonist had signed with a certain "Mr. Em":
He leaned over the table and perused the document. "Hmm . . . spirit for spirit. Yes, it's typical of Old Scratch to play loose with words. That's his hideous strength, but also his grave weakness."
The direct reference is clearly to Lewis's novel, but behind that lies David Lyndsay's poem of 1555, Ane Dialog betwix Experience and ane Courteour of the Miserabyll Estait of the World, which contains this couplet, "The shadow of that hyddeous strength, sax myle and more it is of length," which refers to the Tower of Babel and hence all that this image entails about the power of instrumental knowledge and the intellectual poverty of linguistic confusion.

Anyway, I'd like to have been part of that Baylor conversation, but I'm not, of course, a Baylor scholar, other than in the sense that it's my undergrad alma mater, and that it prepared me well for Berkeley . . .

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