Saturday, May 31, 2014

Translation: Etymology

June 20, 2013

Perhaps an inquiry into the roots of "translation" will help me think about how to prepare for my upcoming keynote speech. I say "roots," for there are two parts to the word "translate":
Middle English translaten, from Old French translater, from Latin trānslātus, past participle of trānsferre, to transfer : trāns-, trans- + lātus, brought
I have this from the Free Dictionary, which credits The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language (Fourth Edition, copyright ©2000, by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved). I know what "brought" means, but what about "trans-"? Let's revisit the Free Dictionary:
trans- 1. a prefix meaning "across," "through," occurring orig. in loanwords from Latin, used in particular to form verbs denoting movement or conveyance from place to place (transfer; transmit; transplant) or complete change (transform; transmute), or to form adjectives meaning "crossing," "on the other side of," or "going beyond" the place named (transmontane; transnational; trans-Siberian).
The word "translation" is a noun formed, I assume, from "translate," for with respect to the meaning of translating from one language to another, the verb predates the noun in English by about 40 years:
a. 1300 Cursor M. 232, Þis ilk bok it es translate / In to Inglis tong to rede. (OED, Vol. 2, 1971, 265c)

[Translation: {T}his same book is translated / into the English tongue to read.]
The noun form isn't found until about 1340, as previously noted. I therefore infer that the noun form in English derives from the verb, so the "trans-" of "translation" means "across" or "through" (not "crossing," "on the other side of," or "going beyond"). The verb "translate" thus literally means "to be brought across," so the noun "translation" therefore means "something brought across."

A somewhat fuzzy etymology, as the image above suggests . . .


Friday, May 30, 2014

"Bless thee, Bottom! Bless thee! Thou art translated."

Bottom as an Ass
Google Images

The character Nick Bottom in Shakespeare's comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream is famous for being transformed into an ass.

That's fitting, of course, since he's something of an ass anyway and is named "Bottom." Actually, only his head is transformed, but he's all 'Bottom' below the neck, so we're not wrong to say he's an entire ass!

The character Peter Quince is famous for the expression of surprise upon seeing the transformed Bottom in Act 3, Scene 1, lines 118-119:
"Bless thee, Bottom! Bless thee! Thou art translated."
He means "transformed," but is "translated" wrong? No, because "translation" can mean "transformation":
II. 3. Transformation, alteration, change . . . (OED, Vol 2, 1971, p. 266c)
This usage dates from 1382. Unfortunately, the British variant "ass" meaning "arse" dates officially only to 1721 (OED, Vol. 1, 1971, p. 498b), so there appears to be no Shakespearean pun on "Bottom" as "ass."

Unless Shakespeare's choice of "Bottom" as name of the character fated to receive the ass's head is itself evidence of an earlier date for "ass" as "arse" . . .

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Thursday, May 29, 2014

True Translation: Translating Knausgaard's Struggle

I've previously blogged on Knausgaard, but my reason for re-blogging is more limited this time. I've just read Liesl Schillinger's review -- "His Peers' Views Are in the Details: Karl Ove Knausgaard's 'My Struggle' Is a Movement" (NYT, May 21, 2014) -- and she observes in passing:
If you are an author, editor or critic, chances are you are lining up for [the book] . . . . If you are a lay reader, you may not have heard of Mr. Knausgaard; or if you have heard of him, you may have put off tackling the books, daunted by their Proustian bulk and uncertain of what that menacing title holds in store. ("My Struggle," or "Min Kamp" in Norwegian, is "Mein Kampf" in German -- the title of Hitler's notorious manifesto.)
Interesting that the translation of Min Kamp into English is the literal My Struggle rather than the far more resonant Mein Kampf. The question I have is this: Is My Struggle a true translation? Had there been no Hitler and thus no such book as Mein Kampf, then My Struggle would have been a perfectly true translation of the title.

But there was a Hitler and a Mein Kampf, a title that Knausgaard was obviously playing upon in choosing Min Kamp, so perhaps a better, truer translation would have been Mein Kampf. Native speakers of English would recognize the title and catch the allusion. Or maybe not. They might assume it were the work by Hitler. Nobody would buy it other than racist wingnuts! (It would be a bestseller.)

Maybe the best solution would be to title it Min Kamp, as a Norwegian would. That would cast a pall and light a fire, the truest translation thus being no translation at all! The allusion would have been preserved in the play on the title Mein Kampf, but the title would also be different enough for potential readers to distinguish the two.

Or one could title it My Jihad . . .

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Let's try Google Translate!

I'm still thinking about what to say in my keynote address since I don't know Korean but have to say something about translation . . . so I'm thinking, maybe Google Translate can help, so let's see:
Let's try Google Translate!
Google Translate renders this in Korean as:
의 구글 번역 해보자!
Let's see what Google Translate does in rendering that into English:
Let's Google Translate!
Now, back into Korean:
의 구글 번역하자!
And back into English:
Let's Google Translate!
Ah, have we reached stasis? Behold:
의 구글 번역하자!
Why, yes, we have!

Thus, "Let's try Google Translate!" means "Let's Google Translate!" -- and "의 구글 번역 해보자!" means "의 구글 번역하자!"

If only Sun-Ae and I had used this Google helper in translating Yi Kwang-su's novel The Soil!

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Speaking of LITERally 'pour' translations . . .

Aleston Brown Ale
Google Images

This one tricked me, as I admitted to a fellow beer aficianado:
I tried a new beer this weekend. The can said "Aleston Brown Ale" and showed London's Tower Bridge, so I bought a can to sample at home. The first sip was okay, a bit of hoppiness, but that faded fast, and the rest of the experience was like drinking water. I looked closer, this time with reading glasses, and saw that this beer was merely a "Classic British Style Beer"! I had my daughter check the small print, in Korean, and she said, "O.B. beer." So much for that!
This attempt by Oriental Brewery to 'translate' a British brew into Korea just didn't work, and if this is the best we can expect from O.B., then the true craft beer industry here in Korea can expect to gain ever greater market share!


Monday, May 26, 2014

Translation: word-for-word and sense-for-sense

Richard Rolle of Hampole

In getting ready for my keynote address at the upcoming Seoul International Book Fair, I looked up the meaning of translation, and in the Oxford English Dictionary, I found the meaning of "translation" and the word's first occurrence in English with this meaning:
The action or process of turning from one language into another; also, the product of this; a version in a different language. a 1340 Hampole Psalter Prol., In Þe translacioun i folow Þe lettere als mykyll as i may. (OED, Vol. 2, 1971, 266b)
Wikipedia informs me that "Hampole" refers to Richard Rolle of Hampole, a wandering hermit who translated the Psalter, a collection of psalms from the Old Testament, from Latin into English, though the spelling is not quite our modern alphabet, and there's also that odd word "mykyll" (though some might recall it from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet), which means "much" (a word to which it is etymologically related).

Hampole is saying, "In the translation, I follow the letter as much as I may" -- in other words, literal translation, which I also have done with his words -- though he quickly adds:
And Þare i fynd na propire ynglis i folow Þe wit of Þe worde, swa Þat Þai Þhat sall red it Þaim Þare noght dred errynge.
Literally, this says, "And there I find no proper English, I follow the wit of the word so that they that shall read it, them there not dread erring." But here, the literal rendering fails us, so we ought to follow the "wit," i.e., the sense: "And where I find no proper English, I follow the sense of the word so that those who read it need not fear to err."

We thus see Hampole working with two implicit theories of translation: word-for-word and sense-for-sense. The former would never work between Korean and English!


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Seoul International Book Fair 2014: I am a Keynote Speaker!

Two days ago, I received this bone-chilling invitation from the Literature Translation Institute of Korea, requesting that I serve as a keynote speaker this coming June 20th at an international workshop on translating Korean literature:
This [email] is . . . from [the] LTI Korea . . . . During the Seoul International Book Fair, we will hold the 13th International Workshop for Translation and Publication of Korean Literature in COEX building on Friday, June 20 [and] . . . . would like to invite you as a keynote speaker in the workshop; our president Kim Seong-kon strongly recommended you, and he kindly asks you to accept our request. You are expected to have a presentation for about 30 minutes as a keynote speaker . . . . [on the] theme . . . "The Role of Translators and Literary Agents in Globalizing Korean Literature", and you will participate in the first session which will be about educating and nurturing culture and literature translators. In presentation, we would like to have your experience and ideas about . . . working as a translator.
I blanched at the request, fearful of presenting myself before the kindness of strangers, for I really know little about the craft of translation -- and absolutely nothing about the role of "Literary Agents"!

My wonderful wife, Sun-Ae Hwang, is the real translator -- she transfers the Korean text into clear English -- whereas my job is to transform that lucid text into literary English.

I, therefore, am a transformer. No, not this kind! More like this kind. But what I really ask myself is, "Well, how did I get here?"

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Saturday, May 24, 2014

Another 'Literary' Excerpt . . .

James Reynard as Mephistopheles
James Reynard Photos

James Reynard in this 1999 photo is somewhat how I envision Mr. Em, particularly in this scene of the story I'm working on:
[Mr. Em] appeared to have regained his poise. "I'll find a way out of this 'uncanny' story . . . . I always manage to. And I'll make your own 'story' uncanny," he hissed. "Your weakness is that you don't believe I really exist, so you imagine me trapped in the world of fiction."

I looked at him more seriously, curious what new revelation might await.

His face abruptly expressed a particular solicitude. "Don't believe it then," he said, smiling congenially. "What good to believe in me against your will? Even proofs are no help toward believing, especially the material proof you see before you, such as it is in these stories you think fictional."

"I'm not afraid," I told him. "I'll get the better of you no matter how metafictionally high I have to ascend. I won't be taken in by your mad deceptions."

Mr. Em smiled. "I listen to you," he observed, "and am rather surprised to find you are actually beginning to take me for something real, not simply your fictional fancy."

"Nonsense," I told him. "You just say what I am writing . . . and are incapable of saying anything new!"

"Satan sum et nihil humanum a me alienum puto," he declared.

"I am Satan, and nothing human is alien to me," I translated. "That's not new. It's what you told Ivan Karamazov."

"It was new when I said it then," he replied.

"No," I objected, "that was just Ivan's feverish hallucination."

"Ivan didn't think so," said Mr. Em. "He said it was a rather clever thing for the devil to say, and he was then struck by the thought that I hadn't gotten the remark from him."

"He was right about that," I said. "You didn't get it from him. You got it from Dostoevsky."

"So did you," Mr. Em pointed out. "How do you know you're not as fictional as you think I am?"

"Cogito ergo sum," I replied. "I think, therefore I am."

"Bravo!" cried Mr. Em. "I think, therefore I am." He paused, smiling, and added, "You see, I can say it, too."

"All you did was quote me," I objected.

"All you did was quote Descartes," he retorted.

For a moment, I was stumped.

"Can't think?" asked Mr. Em, shooting me a devilish smile.

I felt light-headed, insubstantial. "Get a grip," I finally thought, grasping my desk and forcing myself to remain alert.

"Having an existential crisis?" inquired Mr. Em. "An encounter with nothingness?"

"Not quite," I said. "Just a momentary misconstrual of Descartes. You confused me with a causal reading of his cogito."

"I?" said Mr. Em.

"Or, rather," I corrected, "I confused myself. That's your best manner of deception."

"My best manner?" Mr. Em offered an ironic smile. "You contradict yourself."

"Not really," I said. "You're a character in this story I’m writing, and even fictional characters have characteristics. I can't make you do just anything . . . well, actually, I could, but that would mar the tale."

"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?"
As you see, the passage is metafictional and intertextual, but yeah, it still needs some work to work . . .

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Friday, May 23, 2014

U.K. Islamist Women Agree: "Slavery is Freedom"

U.K. Islamist Woman (Left Photo)

In a recent article, "U.K. Islamist Women: Kidnapped Nigerian Girls' Conversion to Islam Is No Surprise – Islam Liberates Women" (Memri, Special Dispatch No. 5750, May 20, 2014), we learn the views of two Islamist women who feel 'liberated' by 'Islam' and explain that the kidnapped Nigerian girls who were forced to convert to Islam also assuredly feel liberated:
[An anonymous] U.K. Islamist woman, face covered by niqab . . . [is questioned about the] kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls in Nigeria by Boko Haram[, which] has once again focused the world's attention on Islam and the treatment of women. Images of the girls covered in khimar [head scarf] and jilbab [robe], declaring the Testification of Faith, have raised the question of whether these girls have been forced to convert to Islam . . . .

"The U.S., Israel, Britain, France, and others have offered their support and assistance in locating the girls[," says the first Islamist woman, speaking through her niqab. "]But why are they so bothered about 276 Nigerian girls? . . . The truth is that the allies fear the growing support in African countries for the establishment of an Islamic state. The truth is that the U.S. and the U.K. don't care about the welfare of women even in their own countries."

[A s]econd U.K. Islamist woman, face [also] covered by niqab . . . [adds,] "In light of this, it is no surprise that tens of thousands of women around the world embrace Islam every year -- because Islam is the only religion that liberates women from the shackles of slavery, and subservience to human beings . . . . [No] one should be surprised at the conversion to Islam of the Nigerian schoolgirls."
Right. No surprise there, because "slavery is freedom," as George Orwell noted in describing totalitarian ideologies. And obviously, as these two Islamist women also demonstrate very well, "ignorance is strength," for their ignorance is surely invincible. And, of course, "Islam" means "peace," but "war is deceit," so "war is peace," and we simply have to accept these equivocations in a humiliating state of submission, or else . . .

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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Terrance Lindall: Proposed Paradise Lost Library Mural

Proposed Paradise Lost Library Mural
(Click Image for Better Viewing)
Terrance Lindall

In an email yesterday to me (and of course to others) came this bold announcement from the WAH Center:
Terrance Lindall proposes to libraries world-wide to do a mural for their walls or ceiling with images from one of the greatest literary achievements, John Milton's Paradise Lost.
I hope Terrance manages to arrange this project, but he'll need funding, for as he noted in his email yesterday, "[I]t is an expensive project," and it "[n]eeds architects and maybe three or four assistants over 2-4 years if it is a big wall or ceiling or both." He adds, "Only one large scale mural [is] possible," so if some library is interested, better move quickly!

If Lindall does manage this, he'll cap a long career's fascination with illustrating Milton's epic poem. Is he qualified, some might ask. Consider these words of praise from the great Milton bibliophile, collector, and scholar Robert J. Wickenheiser:
Without a doubt, Terrance Lindall is the foremost illustrator of Paradise Lost in our age, comparable to other great illustrators through the ages, and someone who has achieved a place of high stature for all time.
For more information, send an email to "Milton at wahcenter dot net" and anticipate a prompt reply.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Peter Raposo on Jang Jung-il's When Adam Opens His Eyes

Mechanical Typewriter
Peter Raposo

Peter Raposo, writing "When Adam opens his eyes," a blogpost on December 16, 2013 (though I only discovered it yesterday), offers some positive words on this novella (translated by Sun-Ae and me):
My favourite novel of this year has to be When Adam Opens His Eyes by South Korean writer Jang Jung-il. The Adam of this novel is a South-Korean literary guy, specialising in literary competitions, a loner, at times a bit loony too, and a young man who isn't afraid to experiment when it comes to sex.
Yes, and the author, Jang Jung-il, wasn't leery of explicit description, which made translating many passages rather harrowing! The genre is not, however, pornography. The story uses sex as a means of critiquing South Korea's harshly competitive society, a critique resulting in some rather disturbing consequences:
The novel spans the year between Adam's initial failure to gain admission to university in Seoul and his successful second exam, during which time he has two coming-of-age affairs. The first is with Hyun-jae, a melancholy and sexually promiscuous high school student who mediates her intimacies through the music she continuously listens to on her Walkman; the second with a mature artist who takes him for a model and lectures him about the accelerated state of contemporary media. The conspicuous problem which emerges through this narrative concerns character formation: what happens when the phoniness Adam detects in others' tastes extends to the tastes of people he values? His identification with Hyun-jae's love for 'the classics' -- 'the three Js': Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin -- is crushingly predictable, for instance, while his artist-lover's Bohemia can only be described by a list of glamorous locations such as Paris, Munich and New York, an image of an artist's loft, and a morning-after scene deliberately reminiscent of a pantyhose advertisement.
The protagonist actually has three lovers -- the two noted by Mr. Raposo, and a third one, Eun-Sun (responsible for the "list of glamorous locations"). Anyway, such a book depicting Korean life in the latter 1980s would naturally raise controversy:
Controversial at his time of release in South Korea in 1990 this novel still has the power to shock, and also to make you go back in time and remember your own teenage years. These are the first lines of the novel: I was nineteen years old, and the things that I most wanted to have were a typewriter, prints of Munch’s paintings (Edvard Munch famous painting Puberty is mentioned a lot throughout the book) and a turntable for playing records. For a moment I thought I was reading a biography. I always liked Edvard Munch paintings but was never a big fan of Van Gogh, but art is like literature and we all have our favourite artists in both arts.
Thanks to Peter Raposo, who blogs in London, England at The Great Cosmopolitan Attraction. He also does other things, but he doesn't tell us what they are in his profile. A search on Amazon determines that he's a writer.

From looking there, I see that he's written more than I have! I'd better get to work . . .

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Spurious = Spurred by the Curious!

Spurious Correlations
Click Image to Enlarge

Did you realize that "US spending on science, space, and technology correlates with suicides by hanging, strangulation and suffocation"? Doubtless you have indeed thought so, as had I, but we now have proof that spending on sciency stuff chokes out other things. Sort of takes your breath away, doesn't it? We smother under the pall of science and its partners in crime -- space and technology!

There are many more of these 'curious' correlations here. Hat-tip to Malcolm Pollack . . .

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Monday, May 19, 2014

Samsung Didn't Steal Apple's Design, Just Borrowed It for a Bit

Lee Kun-hee and Steve Jobs in a Friendly Spat
Vanity Fair - June 2014

In the June 2014 issue of Vanity Fair, Kurt Eichenwald reports on "The Great Smartphone War," Apple's legal battles with Samsung, which began after Apple's designers had studied, in mid-2010, Samsung's Galaxy S, which they concluded was outright piracy, a copy of Apple's iPhone:
The overall appearance of the phone, the screen, the icons, even the box looked the same as the iPhone's. Patented features such as "rubber-banding," in which a screen image bounces slightly when a user tries to scroll past the bottom, were identical. Same with "pinch to zoom," which allows users to manipulate image size by pinching the thumb and forefinger together on the screen. And on and on.
Could be coincidence. Apple didn't think so, and took action on August 4, 2010:
Jobs decided to take the gloves off. Hence the meeting in Seoul. The Apple executives were escorted to a conference room high in the Samsung Electronics Building, where they were greeted by about half a dozen Korean engineers and lawyers. Dr. Seungho Ahn, a Samsung vice president, was in charge, according to court records and people who attended the meeting. After some pleasantries, Chip Lutton, then Apple's associate general counsel for intellectual property, took the floor and put up a PowerPoint slide with the title "Samsung's Use of Apple Patents in Smartphones." Then he went into some of the similarities he considered especially outrageous, but the Samsung executives showed no reaction. So Lutton decided to be blunt.

"Galaxy copied the iPhone," he said.

"What do you mean, copied?" Ahn replied.

"Exactly what I said," Lutton insisted. "You copied the iPhone. The similarities are completely beyond the possibility of coincidence."
Samsung didn't agree, and apparently had nothing to hide. Nothing in particular:
One day in March 2011, cars carrying investigators from Korea's anti-trust regulator pulled up outside a Samsung facility in Suwon, about 25 miles south of Seoul. They were there ready to raid the building, looking for evidence of possible collusion between the company and wireless operators to fix the prices of mobile phones.

Before the investigators could get inside, security guards approached and refused to let them through the door. A standoff ensued, and the investigators called the police, who finally got them inside after a 30-minute delay. Curious about what had been happening in the plant as they cooled their heels outside, the officials seized video from internal security cameras. What they saw was almost beyond belief.

Upon getting word that investigators were outside, employees at the plant began destroying documents and switching computers, replacing the ones that were being used -- and might have damaging material on them -- with others.
Pure coincidence. The activity was just in line with Samsung chairman Lee Kun-hee's long-standing advice that Samsung employees change everything except for their wives and children. Obviously, they were changing with the times.

As for stealing Apple's design, that is better described as "borrowing," for as Eichenwald points out, Samsung's corporate strategy was to "countersue [Apple], . . . [t]hen, as the litigation dragged on, snap up a greater share of the market and settle" out of court after "develop[ing] new and better phones throughout the litigation to the point where . . . the Korean company is . . . a strong competitor on the technology and not just a copycat anymore."

See? Not stealing. Just borrowing.

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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid Criticizes "Islamophobia," i.e., the Term "Islamophobia"

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid, writing for the Friday Times (May 9, 2014), again (for we have seen him before) critiques the "Shameless apologia" of those who would exculpate Islam of any responsibility for the recent actions of the Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram:
The Islamist group Boko Haram currently has around 200 schoolgirls enslaved in Nigeria . . . . Reports of multiple rapes have already surfaced and this week Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has revealed that he considers the school girls his slaves who he will "sell off" in marriage. He justifies his plan in a recently released video saying: "I want to reassure my Muslim brothers that Allah says slaves are permitted in Islam." And here is Shekau's plan in his own words: "I will marry off a woman at the age of 12. I will marry off a girl at the age of nine" . . . . Boko Haram believes that Western education is haraam[, i.e., forbidden], even more so for girls, who according to their ideology should not be allowed to do much without their male guardians . . . . When Muslim countries burn themselves with rage . . . [through] protests against [anti-Islamic] cartoons or videos [ridiculing Muhammad], the lack of . . . [protest] against the most monstrous of acts resoundingly sets up our [Muslim] order of priorities. [Even the m]ost progressive Muslims' efforts . . . have been dedicated to cooking up apologia for their religion, and claiming how Boko Haram is blatantly misinterpreting its scriptures . . . . [When] terrorist organisations in . . . different continents are "misinterpreting" the Islamic texts identically -- mirroring a millennia-and-a-half of [the] same interpretation -- to wreak havoc in their respective regions, [this fact of identical interpretations] connotes that highlighting the "misinterpretation" isn't quite as important as highlighting the fact that the text can be [so consistently] interpreted to such devastating effect . . . . [But s]tating the obvious fact that . . . Boko Haram [and other Islamist groups] are driven by their religion -- as the militants proclaim themselves -- is dubbed "Islamophobia" in unison by both the progressive Muslims and overwhelming parts of the liberal left in the West . . . . The focus . . . is on how the ideology [of Islam] shouldn't, or doesn't (bizarrely), lead to violence. Political correctness . . . [deems the critic of Islam to be] "culturally insensitive", or an Islamophobe . . . . [Liberial] Western reports highlighting Islamist terrorism are brimming with disclaimers, stressing . . . various versions of Islam . . . . [W]hat is the immediate relevance of these disclaimers in a report narrating terrorists' acts and their own justification for . . . [the] attacks? Why is there reluctance in using the term "enslaved" in the mainstream media ever since Abubakar Shekau stated that his religion sanctions slavery? . . . It is ironic that all the endeavour of progressive Muslims is dedicated to shielding . . . [Islamic] ideology from criticism, when . . . actually this critique . . . [is what] would lead to necessary reform . . . . By claiming that criticism is unjustified, and denying the rather obvious influence of religion on religious extremism, one contradicts the "progressive" and "reformist" labels . . . . [T]he term "Islamophobia", used to shield the [Islamic] ideology . . . from scrutiny -- and hence [from] reform -- . . . becomes a self-defeating misnomer . . . . Playing "true and false" [Islam] . . . while thousands continue to . . . [suffer] under the Islamist gun is a very dangerous game . . . . Anyone who claims that the terrorism . . . [of] Islamism needs to be countered and condemned should focus on ensuring that no punches are pulled in condemnations for the acts. [Arguing over w]hether or not the Islamist ideology is a blatant misinterpretation of "true" Islam is tantamount to needless apologia in the immediate aftermath of an Islamist attack.
Shahid is a brave man to write such scathing words while living in Pakistan, where such critiques can invite accusations of "blasphemy" -- the mere accusation of which is a death sentence even if there be no evidence.

As for those of us living in safer places, why allow concern over being labeled an "Islamophobe" deter one from criticizing Islamism, or even Islam itself, when such critics as Shahid write fearlessly despite the mortal danger?

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Saturday, May 17, 2014

Toilet Door Drone Insult!

Toilet Door Drone!
Korea Real Time

The Norks have really gone down and dirty to strike a low blow with the latest insult! First, this blog has reported reports of President Park as a "prostitute," then reports of President Obama as a "monkey," now reports of a toilet door as a drone. Here follows a report with details 'slightly' edited so as to twist the report according to my ironic aims:
A toilet door fragment on Wednesday caused momentary alarm in South Korea, after the object found near Seoul was . . . [identified as] a North Korean drone . . . . [Also, t]he Defense Ministry said a passerby reported the object as a suspected part of a drone . . . door from a portable toilet . . . . [The identification] appears to have arisen from the fragment's light-blue color, similar to that of the three unmanned aerial vehicles that Seoul said last week had been sent from North Korea . . . . [and these] three drones, each differently-shaped but sporting similar-colored paint, were found between late March and early April hundreds of miles from each other near the inter-Korean border . . . . [Naturally,] North Korea has denied sending them and calls South Korea's claims a fabrication. (Jeyup S. Kwaak, "Toilet-Door Fragment Briefly Sets South Korea on Edge," Korea Real Time, May 14, 2014)
How insulting! The Norks sent a toilet door flying over South Korea just to show how little they think of this country! Don't these communists know the South could send an entire brick sh*thouse -- toilet paper included! -- to spy on their own sh*tty little country?

Only from the goodness of its heart has South Korea restrained itself . . .


Friday, May 16, 2014

Henry Darger: Writer and Artist?

Henry Darger's Writings
Photo by Gavin Ashworth

I've only recently learned of Henry Darger, the outsider artist who wrote a 15,000-page novel. Remarkably, he first wrote it longhand, but when finished, he typed it all, beginning to end! The photo above shows all his writings, thus including his 15,000-page novel, titled, The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion. Now, there's a descriptive title! You know what you're in for before you start reading, but he apparently had some talent:
The rooms and wars, were crowded thick with sufferers, too many to be counted, broken and shattered in every conceivable way by wars machinery of death.
I have this sentence thanks to the art journal Hyperallergic's Jillian Steinhauer, who transcribed it about a year ago during a visit to the American Folk Art Museum, when she was allowed into its archives to see Darger's work. As she points out, a sentence of this sort -- aside from its faulty punctuation -- is rather Dickensian:
Melodramatic, yes, but well-written, too -- even a bit Dickensian (A Tale of Two Cities was among the books found in Darger's room after he died), and it evokes an intense image of the brutality of war.
But no matter how good it might or might not be, 15,000 pages is a lot to read. It's not even clear that anyone has read all of it! His artwork is far more accessible, as you can see below, from Google Images:

Most of these writings and images were discovered after Darger's death (though the discovery began shortly prior to his demise). His case reminds me somewhat of another 'Vivian Girl,' Vivian Maier . . .

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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Jihadis on the Kidnapping of Nigerian Girls

Girls Kidnapped by Boko Haram
Image from Memri

Memri reports that jihadis are debating Boko Haram's action in kidnapping over 300 girls and threatening to sell them as slaves:
Reacting to the uproar over the kidnapping nearly a month ago of hundreds of high school girls by Boko Haram . . . in Nigeria, some online jihadis criticized the kidnapping, while others justified it as the legitimate use of the tactic . . . . Abdallah Muhammad Mahmoud, a frequent writer on the jihadi forums, wrote a post on the Al-Fida' forum urging Boko Haram to free the kidnapped girls, saying that the tactic may harm Muslims in general. In the post, titled "An Appeal . . . : Release the Girls," Mahmoud wrote: . . . . "From the supporters of jihad and mujahideen to the brothers . . . in Nigeria, peace be upon you. The peoples of the [Islamic] nation . . . . hear from the channels news that [which] we never hoped to hear -- namely, the kidnapping of Muslim and non-Muslim girls and your announcement that you intend to sell them as slaves . . . . [I]f you proceed with [this,] it . . . will become a dangerous precedent and will bring about grave calamities such as the nation of Islam has never heard of for centuries. Your announcement of 'imprisoning' hundreds of girls will not benefit Islam and the Muslims in any manner. On the contrary, it will reflect tragically . . . on their image . . . . Do not open the gates of evil, . . . protect your religion's reputation . . . . [and k]now that not everything that is permitted in Islam is proper to do at all times and in any manner without considering its advantages and disadvantages . . . . Preventing harm takes precedence over making gains, according to famous jurisprudential principle. We do not know what advantage for Islam and the Muslims will be gained if you do this.
Note that Abdallah Muhammad Mahmoud couches his words only in terms of not harming Islam's reputation, that he apparently accepts Boko Haram's Islamic right to kidnap and enslave, objecting only "that not everything that is permitted in Islam is proper to do at all times." Other jihadis were not so liberal:
[O]ne prominent writer on the forum, who goes by the handle rooooh, objected to this criticism. He wrote: "Honorable brothers, we are in an Islamic forum, and you are discussing an issue of Islamic law which has rules written in the Koran and Sunnah . . . . [and we know that i]mprisonment is permissible according to the consensus among Muslim scholars. Likewise, there are texts in the Quran and the Sunnah that permit it. It is not allowed to forbid something that Allah permitted . . . . [I]t remains in our law, and the international laws do not nullify it" . . . . Another member wrote in support of Boko Haram's actions: "On the contrary, [we should] imprison [as much as we can]. Ripping out the hearts of the infidels who have no morals in war is a legitimate administration of justice. As a Muslim, I think that the brothers, the mujahideen in Nigeria, did a good thing. I pray to the great Allah to give them victory and power throughout the land."
And thus stand things among jihadis, as both the liberal and radical wings agree on the permissibility of kidnapping and enslavement in Islamic holy wars.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Rodney Stark: Statistics on Persecution of Christians

In an interview by Daniel Philpott with Baylor sociologist of religion Rodney Stark on "Why the World Is Becoming More Violent" (Christianity Today, May 12, 2014), Stark disputes some figures I've also seen bandied about:
Much of what has been written about terrorism and the Middle East simply isn't true. There was the recent, widely publicized claim of 100,000 Christians a year dying for their faith. That's pretty stunning. When I found out how that 100,000 number was calculated, I realized it was absurd. More likely, the number was less than 7,000 a year.
As noted, I'd also heard the hundred-thousand figure claimed (though I learned it as a worldwide figure, not solely for the Middle East), and I had little reason to doubt it, until Stark challenged the statistic. He doesn't explain his reasons (those are in his book, I guess), but since he's generally pro-Christian, I think we can accept his figure. However, he also adds some disturbing news:
The most stunning finding: It had been widely reported by people who were looking at survey data that majorities throughout the Middle East disapproved of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Then I discovered something. The reason that overwhelming majorities disapproved is because they think it was a frame-up done by George W. Bush. Among those who accept that it was committed by Arab terrorists, most of them approve of the 9/11 attacks. That shocked me. Overwhelmingly, people approved to the extent that they rightly understood what happened on 9/11.
Stark wants to avoid attributing the increase in religious violence to an intrinsically violent Islam:
Religious violence isn't something new in the world. Lord knows there were 90 brands of Christianity all busy hating each other not long ago. Tolerance is hard to come by. I hesitate to think there is anything peculiar to the Islamic tradition. There is a problem, to be sure, in that Muhammad butchered people for their irreligion. But the fact is, Christians have killed each other by the millions too.
Yes, there is a problem, to put the case mildly, in that the moral exemplar for Muslims is Muhammad, much as the moral exemplar for Christians is Jesus . . .

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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Bottomless Bottle of Beer - Listed in Milton Revealed Website!

The website Milton Revealed is an online project initiated by Emeritus Professor Hugh Macrae Richmond, who serves as director, and hosted by U.C. Berkeley. The aims are described as follows:
Milton Revealed is a collaborative project to collect audio-visual materials related to John Milton and his work, to re-examine his relation to theatricality, and to develop teaching approaches to Milton that use performance across a variety of media. Our principal concern is to enhance the appeal of Milton to a broad audience by such dynamic approaches of all kinds.
How does my novella fit with these aims? It serves as one instance of "Bibliographies: 2. Milton's Creative Influence":
Hodges, Horace Jeffery. The Bottomless Bottle of Beer. Kindle Edition. Terrance Lindall, illustrator. New York: The Williamsburg Circle, July 20, 2013.
I didn't realize until now that my novella with Lindall's illustrations had made this list maintained by Professor Brendan M. Prawdzik for Professor Richmond and his Milton Revealed project! This implies a degree of acceptance by the scholarly world that the story is considered Miltonic . . .

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Monday, May 12, 2014

North Korea's Racist Diatribe Against Obama

One Free Korea
(Click Image to Enlarge)

Joshua Stanton, a Washington, D.C. lawyer who maintains the blog One Free Korea, has translated a North Korean racist diatribe against President Obama to draw attention to the North's vulgar, crude barbarity. Here's a sample of the North's description of Obama:
Dark head-dome and dull gray eyes, cavernous nostrils, thick-lipped maw, the more I gaze at him, the more I see him as a monkey in a primeval African forest.
You can also see this passage in the image above (but go to OFK for the entire diatribe). Mr. Stanton has noted that some expressions were difficult to translate, and he has called for readers with Korean skills to check his translation and assist him in improving it.

Stanton's report has been picked up by the Washington Post.

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Sunday, May 11, 2014

West to Wade in Troubled Gene Pool

Nicholas Wade

Ed West, writing in "Darwin's unexploded bomb" (The Spectator, May 6, 2014), reviews Nicholas Wade's recent book, A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History, which gets into some long-contested, highly fraught territory, as the title itself shows.

I've not read the book, but West also makes it sound provocative:
[T]he most sensitive [issue in the book], and [one] potentially troubling to the modern psyche, is the difference between human population groups that have evolved over the past 50,000 years. As Wade writes: 'The fact that human evolution has been recent, copious, and regional is not widely recognized, even though it has now been reported by many articles in the literature of genetics. The reason is in part that the knowledge is so new and in part because it raises awkward challenges to deeply held conventional wisdom' . . . . [Moreover,] evolution can take place far quicker than people once thought. Greg Cochran and Henry Harpending, in their book The 10,000 Year Explosion, argued that human evolution had sped up since the advent of the first cities. The drastic changes in our ancestors' environment created new evolutionary pressures; among them were selection for qualities that were beneficial in our larger communities, such as lower levels of aggression, deferred gratification (vital for farmers), a greater willingness to trust people outside of close kin group, and the qualities required for craftsmanship, finance and various other complex skills. Thus civilisation had increased the rate of evolution, and was continuing to do so . . . . The implications of this will trouble many people, seeing as it suggests that certain traits differ on average among population groups . . . . [Wade] cites the MAO-A enzyme; people with only 2 copies (rather than 3, 4 or 5) have a much higher level of delinquency. And 'if individuals can differ in the genetic structure of their MAO-A gene and its controls, is the same also true of races and ethnicities? The answer is yes.' A team in Haifa looked at people from seven ethnicities and found 41 variations in the portions of the genes they decoded, with 'substantial differentiation between populations' . . . . [Why, then,] do so many people confidently argue that there is no such thing as race, because there are 'no clear distinct racial boundaries'. This he calls 'verbal subterfuge', arguing: 'When a distinct boundary develops between races, they are no longer races but separate species. So to say there are no precise boundaries between races is like saying there are no square circles.'
Interesting findings with significant implications, but Wade's analogy bothers me. To say that "there are no square circles" is to express a necessary, mathematical truth that cannot be logically denied. But to say that races don't exist because "there are no precise boundaries between races," is not so clearly contradictory. Between a circle and a square, there are "precise boundaries." But the boundaries between races are not clear. I've not done research to know for sure, but I suspect that races are defined as large populations of individuals sharing many of the same genes with one another but not with another large population. But how large? Two tribes might be distinguished in the same way, or two ethnic groups, or almost any two populations, I -- in my ignorance -- suppose. And two populations could intermingle and become one, but a square and a circle could never unify.

The analogy therefore does not fit, but I reckon I ought to read the book . . .

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Saturday, May 10, 2014

Been working on exam questions . . .

Why do we complain? Easy! It's hard! I spent a lot of time constructing this one, for instance:
In no more than 500 words, offer a postmodern assessment of antiquity as perceived in medieval Spain, drawing upon images of the West as portrayed by Eastern Occidentalists.
Now, that would be an interesting exam question! Naaah . . . just kidding. It would be a terrible exam question, but I can imagine encountering that sort of question in some of the courses taught in academia these days.

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Friday, May 09, 2014

Cambridge Companion to Paradise Lost: Cover Design by Terrance Lindall

You see in the photo above Terrance Lindall -- the pertinent part, anyway -- holding a copy of The Cambridge Companion to Paradise Lost, edited by Milton scholar Louis Schwartz, and with a cover designed by Lindall himself!

Yes, that's the very same Lindall who illustrated my novella, The Bottomless Bottle of Beer, and you see why I was lucky to get him.

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Thursday, May 08, 2014

Abubakar Shekau says: "What do you know about human rights? "

Abubakar Shekau
"Now, don't get me wrong . . ."
Google Images

This latest Boko Haram crime of abducting little girls for sale as sex slaves has some journalists finally doing their homework, as we see in Michelle Faul's article, "Nigeria Group Threatens to Sell Kidnapped Girls" (May 5, 2014, Associated Press), for she notes:
In the video, Shekau also said the students "will remain slaves with us." That appears a reference to the ancient jihadi custom of enslaving women captured in a holy war, who then can be used for sex.
This is a major step forward for mainstream media, actually recognizing a jihadi practice for what it is, i.e., not an innovation, but traditional. Perhaps Nigerians like Ms. Faul are less politically correct.

The quote in this blog post's heading, by the way, alludes to the Islamic belief that rights are bestowed by Allah and that Allah's law, or shariah, identifies those rights, including Shekau's right to abduct girls and sell them as sex slaves.

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Wednesday, May 07, 2014

David J. Danelo: Obama's 'Realist' Foreign Policy

David J. Danelo

When David J. Danelo, writing in "The Thin Red Line: Policy Lessons from Iraqi Kurdistan" (E-Notes, FPRI, May 2014), referred to Obama's foreign policy as "realist," I stopped skimming the article, read more closely and carefully, and saw that "soft power realism" was meant: "President Obama's foreign policy has been lifted entirely from a soft power realist's playbook." The problem is that states like Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, and Syria don't believe that soft power will get them what they want -- unless it's America's soft power, which does get them what they want. Not that Danelo is quick to push any military buttons, but here's what he does think:
Great nations do not go to war recklessly, but they do not repeatedly draw rhetorical red lines without consequence. Beyond drone strikes and special operations raids, Obama Administration officials seems to view American military force -- and U.S. hard power in general -- as a necessary evil to be suffered rather than a tool to be prudently employed. In Syria, when the President imposed and removed a red line on chemical weapons, and Ukraine, when he bluntly stated the U.S. would not use direct military action to deter Russian aggression, the President has, in Adam Garfinkle's words, engaged in "gratuitous diplomatic self-mutilation."

Although the President lectures Americans that his Russian counterpart's bullying signifies weakness, eastern Ukraine's instability suggests the opposite. Having lost credibility twice (Syria, Ukraine) from Russian red line diplomatic maneuvering, the Obama Administration must demonstrate through actions, not rhetoric, what red lines it will fight for if crossed. Such a statement may come across as bombastic, but enlightened exploits are as critical to realism as practical restraint. In a multipolar world, such tactics must be part of a realist's policy calculus. Pragmatic choices after considering options represent wisdom; white flags after red lines denote spinelessness. Preserving peace requires preparing, and perhaps even posturing, for war.
Danelo's message is an old one: "If you want peace, prepare for war." In Latin, that's "Si vis pacem, para bellum," and it's said to be a rewording of a statement penned by Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus in Book 3 of his tract De Re Militari (4th or 5th century A.D.), not that I know very much about that.

Anyway, I doubt that the Obama administration will change much. Obama doesn't seem to like foreign policy, but sees himself as a domestic policy president instead, in which there are also problems . . .

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Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Why Privilege?


A few days back, I followed up a link on Malcolm Pollack's blog and read a piece written by Tal Fortgang, a freshman at Princeton who was challenged, "Check Your Privilege," because he was a male and more or less white, so he took the advice and did check his privilege, with some interesting results that should remind people not to judge a book by its color.

Reading his story reminded me of a similar challenge I faced way back in 1990 in Berlin on a Fulbright trip. I was friends with an African-American artist who was also there on a Fulbright. The two of us were in conversation when we were approached by a woman, yet another Fulbright scholar, a radical leftist in the field of political science, if I recall, who chose us to speak with because we looked politically correct, I guess (probably the ankh earring dangling from my left ear and my friend's dark skin), and to be honest, I was a bit left of center in those days.

Anyway, my friend soon disengaged himself from the ensuing conversation, undoubtedly aware that it would lead through a political minefield. I was left alone with the activist. She had recently been involved in political issues with Palestinians on the West Bank and was gushing about how 'democratic' they were. I merely listened.

At some point, she interrupted herself to inquire about me.

I acknowledged that I was a Fulbright scholar, but added (in my humility, of course) that I wasn't special , and that if I could obtain a Fulbright fellowship, then anybody who would put in the effort could succeed. I believe I said, "If I can do it, anyone can do it."

Rather than ask why I held that opinion, she pounced: "Oh, but you had it easy compared to him!" she exclaimed, pointing to my friend, now safely across the room.

I was stopped cold. She knew nothing about either of us, but anything I now said would sound like special pleading. I therefore did not say:
I was born in 1957 in the very rural Arkansas Ozarks to a part-Cherokee family and raised by my grandparents along with my four brothers. The first ten years or so of my life, I slept in a basement in an old bed above a dirt floor, and we used a wood stove in winter. The first five years or thereabouts, we had no indoor plumbing, so we got water from a well and used an outhouse. Clothes were hand-me-downs. Toys were few. Money was little. I worked on the Youth Corps a couple of years in my early teens, handling what we called a 'sling' to chop weeds. I delivered newspapers for three years. In the mid-teens, I worked with school buddies hauling hay. I got into university on work-study for 20 hours per week or more, along with a federal loan and grant, as well as a valedictorian scholarship ($200 a semester). I worked every year as I studied, never had much money, and following several years of such privilege ultimately qualified for a Fulbright. But you may be right -- I probably didn't have it as hard as him.
As I said, I did not say that then, and I'm not so much saying it now as reporting what I didn't say, because I'm checking my great privilege . . .

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Monday, May 05, 2014

Kimchi Trolling . . .


Over at the Marmot's Hole, I've had another run-in with a troll, one who calls himself "J. Kimchi" and takes ultrasensitive offense at the way I sign off. I had just commented on a post about a subway accident last Friday that occurred on Line 2 at Sangwangsimni Station:
I ride the Green Line (Nr. 2) through Sangwangsimni every working day! Good thing this wasn't a working day for me . . .

Jeffery Hodges

* * *
And I signed off as usual with my name and three asterisks (as you see), which annoyed J. Kimchi no end:
Seriously, I've followed this blog for a year or so.

Why do you write your FULL name as a sign off on EVERY f***ing comment? I give you props if you're trying to induce rage because you're an expert at it.


* * *



He had asked once before, as I reminded him:
Not my full name. Just "Jeffery Hodges," so people won't call me "Horace" -- as I told you last time you asked. Pay attention!

Jeffery Hodges

* * *
J. Kimchi failed to respond, so I told him:
P.S. Mr. Kimchi, you are either a callow youth or an old fool, but allow me to give you some advice -- though if you are the former, you won't listen, and if you are the latter, the advice will come too late.

Never put yourself in the weak position of admitting that your apparently precarious emotional state depends in some way upon your opponent.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *
No response as of yet, but he'd just type some outrageously trollish remark . . .

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Sunday, May 04, 2014

Love, in love . . .

Anna Akhmatova
Portrait by Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin

In his column "Love Story" (NYT) of May 1, 2014, David Brooks writes of Isaiah Berlin's encounter with Anna Akhmatova:
[I]n Leningrad in 1945[,] . . . . [Isaiah] Berlin was hanging out when a friend asked if he'd like to go visit Anna Akhmatova. Not knowing much about her, Berlin said yes . . . . Berlin was taken to her apartment and met a woman [twenty years older than he was, though] still beautiful and powerful, but wounded by tyranny and the war. At first, their conversation was restrained. They talked about war experiences and British universities . . . . By midnight, they were alone, sitting on opposite ends of her room. She told him about her girlhood and marriage and her husband's execution. She began to recite Byron's "Don Juan" with such passion that Berlin turned his face to the window to hide his emotions. She began reciting some of her own poems . . . . By 4 in the morning, they were talking about the greats. They agreed about Pushkin and Chekhov. Berlin liked the light intelligence of Turgenev, while Akhmatova preferred the dark intensity of Dostoyevsky[, and] . . . . [d]eeper and deeper they talked, baring their souls. Akhmatova confessed her loneliness, expressed her passions, spoke about literature and art. Berlin . . . [needed] to go to the bathroom but didn't dare break the spell. They had read all the same things, knew what the other knew, understood each other's longings. That night, . . . Berlin's life "came as close as it ever did to the still perfection of art." He finally pulled himself away and returned to his hotel. It was 11 a.m. He flung himself on the bed and exclaimed, "I am in love; I am in love."
What more can one say?

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Saturday, May 03, 2014

A Few Words on Resurrection: A Zombie Novel, by Michael J. Totten

Resurrection: A Zombie Novel

I don't read horror fiction for the simple fact that it terrifies me due to my vivid imagination, so I was faced with a dilemma when Michael Totten announced the publication of his very own 'zombie' novel, for I've been reading his journalism several years now, and I like his writing on the Middle East, North Africa, and Eastern Europe, various places where the West dwindles and ends.

Totten's zombie novel is the same sort of story -- as I discovered when I finally manned up and read the thing -- the end of Western Civilization, world civilization, for that matter, and the emergence of barbarism in the form of zombies who spread like a plague and attack like jihadis hyped up on angel dust, for they create nothing, preserve nothing, and destroy everything, whether through intent or inadvertence, as a hardy crew of human survivors see from a sailboat they've manned in an attempt to find safety by sailing to an island:
They couldn't see Seattle yet. Vashon Island stood in the way. They'd have to clear that before they could see the big city. The glow on the clouds above the city, though, was clearly visible above the dark hills in the distance.

But the power wasn't on. The glow was flickering. And the color was off. It wasn't yellow or white. It was orange.

"That's not city light we're looking at," Hughes said.

And that wasn't a cloud over the city. It was a column of smoke the size of a mountain. (p. 177)
With the breakdown of civilization, everything goes to hell. Seattle is experiencing a firestorm, and zombies are undoubtedly frying to a crisp (not that that's a bad thing). But nature, in all its dreadful mystery, goes on:
The Olympic Peninsula produced the only true temperate rain forest on earth. Not even the other lush forests of Washington and Oregon are like the forests in the Olympics. Everything's wet all the time. Baby trees grow from the sides of fallen dead trees, sucking nutrients from their predecessors like cannibals. Curtains of moss the size of houses hang from the canopy . . . . [in a forest of] midnight . . . darkness . . . . [without] even stars[,] . . . . [a] world . . . shrouded in pitch . . . . [and thick with] hungry, 350-pound [creatures] . . . just waiting . . . [to tear] to pieces by claws and by teeth. (p. 38-39)
Totten's point, in part, is that the zombies are as natural as those cannibalizing 'Baby trees' and those lurking hungry teeth, and that if you're going to survive the collapse of civilization, you've got to recognize that nature isn't always benign. Neither are people. This is the collapse of civilization . . .

Totten's novel is genuinely a page-turner, something I rarely experience, and the novel is not so much horror fiction as it is post-apocalyptic fiction. I recommend it as a good read and an interesting 'thought-experiment' as to what happens when civilization collapses.


The story did leave me with a few puzzles. Here was a brow-wrinkler for me: One character suffers two month's amnesia, yet turns out to have been ill for merely three days, whereas another character who falls ill for three days has trouble recalling only those three days. Odd.


Anyway, while everybody wants to write a novel, Totten has written a good one!

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Friday, May 02, 2014

Confucianism and the Sewol Ferry Sinking?

Sewol Sinking
Google Images

Choi Hyung-Kyu, the Beijing bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo, wrote about a dinner with a Chinese professor with whom he discussed reasons for the tragic sinking of the Sewol ("Humbling encounter at an altar in Beijing," JoongAng Ilbo, April 29, 2014):
I had a dinner with a Chinese professor. The Sewol news naturally dominated our conversation. He said the Chinese took an interest in the South Korean education system after the ferry tragedy. "We were awed how students unquestioningly followed the rules and stayed below deck just because they were told to through the loudspeaker. If they were Chinese students, they all would have run outside and jumped into the sea. None would have believed or paid attention to the instruction."

I was dumbfounded by this observation and could not make out whether it was a bad joke or not. "I think the Koreans are still under the Confucius teaching of being obedient to authority," he added.
There has, in fact, already been a significant amount of discussion on Confucianism's role, some people blaming it entirely for the students' unquestioning obedience, others saying it played no part whatsoever. I'm not one to dismiss Confucianism's role, for culture surely plays a part in everything, but I wouldn't single it out in this case. If I were an American teenager -- and likely if I were even the adult I am now -- I would probably also follow instructions in such a case. Why? Because we know that in an emergency, we're supposed to follow instructions. The basic assumption is that those in charge are experts and know what they're doing.

The problem posed for obedience in this Sewol case was the incompetence, ignorance, and ignobility of the captain and most of the Sewol crew.


Thursday, May 01, 2014

The Times Literary Supplement: Review of The Soil, by Yi Kwang-su - Translated by Sun-Ae Hwang and Horace Jeffery Hodges

Professor Mark Morris (University of Cambridge) recently published a brief review, "Resting Against the Sunlight: South Korean Fiction Comes in from the Cold," in The Times Literary Supplement (April 18, 2014) of the translation my wife and I did of Yi Kwang-su's novel The Soil within a broader review of seven stories from the entire ten-volume series of Korean literature supported by the Literature Translation Institute of Korea and published by Dalkey Archive Press:
Park Wan-suh, Lonesome You; Translated by Elizabeth Haejin Yoon.
Yi Kwang-su, The Soil; Translated by Hwang Sun-Ae and Horace Jeffrey Hodges.
Kim Joo-young, Stingray; Translated by Inrae You Vinciguerra and Louis Vinciguerra.
Li Ki-ho, At Least We Can Apologize; Translated by Christopher Joseph Dykas.
Jang Eun-jin, No One Writes Back; Translated by Jung Yewon.
Jang Jung-il, When Adam Opens His Eyes; Translated by Hwang Sun-Ae and Horace Jeffrey Hodges.
Jung Young Moon, A Most Ambiguous Sunday and Other Stories; Translated by Jung Young Moon et al [The "et al" are Yewon Jung, Inrae You Vinciguerra, and Louis Vinciguerra].
Alert readers will note that my middle name, "Jeffery," was misspelled. I also noted it and figured that I ought at least dispel the 'mispel' amd have it be corrected online, so I wrote to the reviewer, Professor Morris, and explained the problem. He regretted the misspelling, adding that one of the editors was likely responsible, and he told me whom to contact. He also added some kind words about the translation by my wife and me:
You two have done heroic work to bring the book to life in English, not falsely up-dating the style of language, trusting your readers to check background/contextual info rather than inserting clunky detail, etc. I just wish TLS had allowed me more than a handful of words to cover the translation.
That was nice to hear. Anyway, I contacted the editor suggested by Professor Morris. The editor also regretted the mistake, corrected the misspelling, and sent me the entire review, from which I excerpt the following:
There are now . . . signs that South Korean fiction may finally make a dent in the consciousness of British readers. Last week the London Book Fair devoted its "Market Focus" to a range of Korean publishers. Since February London's Korean Cultural Centre has been hosting monthly literature nights. And then there is the new partnership between South Korea's well-funded Korean Literature Translation Institute and Dalkey Archive Press. A series of twenty-five books has been agreed -- The Library of Korean Literature -- covering prose fiction from the colonial era until the present day.

The oldest and weightiest in content of the series so far is Yi Kwangsu's The Soil. First serialized in a newspaper between 1932 and 1933, the long, sprawling narrative is one of the classics of colonial East Asian literature. Its author first made his mark as a writer in 1917 with the novel Heartless, set during the Japanese occupation of Korea, which had begun seven years before. Like The Soil, it is concerned with Korea's diminished status as a colony. The protagonist of The Soil is Heo Sung, a poor but bright young man who migrates from the countryside to Seoul -- known then as Keijô to the conquerors and Gyeongseong to the new "natives". He becomes first a live-in tutor, then a member of a wealthy aristocratic household. Sung clings to the memory of the girl he left behind, but falls under the spell of Jeong-seon, the beautiful daughter of his patron, Mr Yun. When Yun offers Sung his daughter's hand, the young man executes an intellectual and moral somersault to persuade himself to accept. The result is disastrous for all concerned.

The novel contains a cast of minor characters who seem to function more as colonial types than clearly delineated individuals. There is the upper-class playboy who schemes for a soft job in the colonial hierarchy while seducing his friend Sung's wife for the sport of it; the young female intellectuals with new ideals but few viable independent means; the mentor who seeks to convert university students to the cause of liberation for their captive country; the handsome intellectual who returns from America with a PhD, only to find that it is of little use. The answer to this urban malaise is offered in the title. Eventually, Sung and his adulterous wife yield to the pull of the land. Gazing from the window of a train, Sung "felt the sunlight filling the sky and the life-giving power of the earth were there especially for the farmers". And yet the "paddies no longer belonged to their clans. They were all nowadays the property of a company, a bank, a co-operative, or a farm". The later chapters dealing with Sung's return to the countryside contain scenes of power and lyricism. But the idealism shared by the author and protagonist -- "I'll see how much can be improved without changing the social structure" -- is embedded in contradiction, the unconvincing happy ending a case of wishful thinking.
Morris then notes that one of Park Wan-suh's stories refers to Yi Kwang-su's influence and mixed legacy:
In . . . [one] of Park Wan-suh's stories from Lonesome You, "That Girl's House", Man-deuk is the village intellectual who, back in the colonial days, got others interested in Yi Kwang-su: novels such as Heartless and The Soil "circulated among young people and were read until the pages became tattered". Among the ten stories gathered in the collection [by Park], this is the only one that looks back with any sense of nostalgia; it reminds us how passionately readers once engaged with Yi's fiction -- writing that now looks creaky and old-fashioned, and tainted by Yi's eventual collaboration in Japan's war effort.
I infer that by "not falsely up-dating the style of language," my wife and I successfully preserved Yi Kwang-su's "writing that now looks creaky and old-fashioned." I suppose that's a compliment. Anyway, Morris says nothing negative about our work, so I'll take that as a positive!

And if Yi Kwang-su's modern classic is too long, there's this other 'classic' of a man lost in our postmodern world . . .

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