Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Howard Jacobson

Howard Jacobson

I recently finished reading a novel titled "J." That symbol is intended to be a crossed-out capital letter "J." Why? Because the main character's father always "put two fingers across his mouth, like a tramp sucking on a cigarette butt he'd found in a rubbish bin[, which] . . . he . . . did to stifle the letter j before it left his lips" (page 6).

Why stifle the letter "J"?

To avoid accidentally pronouncing the word "Jew," a word no one in the novel ever utters even though every character has a Jewish surname, a name apparently taken on as an act of atonement for something terrible that happened - if it did happen - to the Jews, but also to pretend that nothing happened, surely not, since everyone is now 'Jewish.'

Okay, that's enough of a hint at a plot spoiler, so I'll stop now except to say that I liked the novel enough to purchase a second one by Jacobson: The Finkler Question.

It won the 2010 Man Booker Prize for literature, so it comes with an imprimatur.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Hate Speech?

Hands Off Hate Speech?

Or: "Hate speech laws hate speech."

In the Korea Herald, veteran journalist Claire Lee looks into "Korea['s] struggles to enact hate speech laws" (December 28, 2014) and discusses the definition of hate speech:
In many countries, hate speech is defined as any speech - including speaking, writing and gesture - that attacks a person or group on the basis of race, gender, religion, disability, nationality, ethnic . . . origin and sexual orientation[, and i]nciting hatred against people on the grounds of such attributes can lead to imprisonment in a number of countries, including Germany, the U.S., Canada and [the] U.K., . . . [while] Croatia, Norway and the Netherlands . . . [even] go as far as to protect one's life philosophy and political views or any other beliefs from hate speech attacks.

South Korea, which like Japan does not ban hate speech and doesn't have anti-discrimination laws, ranked second among the OECD member countries in terms of social conflict last year[, and e]arlier this month, the Seoul City's enactment of the Charter of Human Rights was canceled due to fierce protests from gay rights opponents and Christians. In October, a U.N. envoy said the country has some "serious issues" with racism and xenophobia.

While many experts say that hate speech against immigrants, foreign nationals, women and the disabled must be banned, some find hate attacks between Koreans with different political or religious views much more difficult to regulate, particularly because of the peninsula's divided state.
I'm generally against laws forbidding 'hate' speech, though I personally prefer courteous discourse, but even those who favor laws against hate speech can surely see the problems in limiting speech that is critical of political and religious views, as Ms. Lee herself hints at in noting problems in regulating speech about "different political or religious views."

If I consider some political ideology to be fascist, I ought to be allowed to voice my opinion freely and call those who adhere to that ideology fascists. Similarly, if I consider some religious ideology absurd and its adherents fanatics, I ought to be allowed to say so. I ought to be free to speak my mind even if people are offended, insulted, enraged, or worse.

And what happens when politics and religion collide? Suppose a pro-gay rights group calls its religious opponents "homophobic"? Is that hate speech?

Is truth no protection against the charge of hate speech?


Monday, December 29, 2014

Storytelling: Trauma, Healing and Pedagogy - Feedback!

I recently received some feedback from one of the "Storytelling" conference organizers, who remarked on my talk, "The Mis-Education of Horace Hodges":
[Y]our talk was very impressive and inspirational to the students, and I deeply appreciate you for giving us the wonderful presentation . . . . [We] wanted to expand the scope of "storytelling" to different fields of study, such as films, education, etc. From that perspective, your presentation was just what . . . [we] wanted to have and I can swear that . . . [all of the audience] enjoyed it, too.
That was good to hear, for humor doesn't always cross cultural boundaries well, as I've previously remarked . . .


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Analysis of Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address"

Abraham Lincoln
Google Images

In his NYT article "The Sydney Awards, Part 1," David Brooks cites Diana Schaub's analysis of Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address":
For . . . uplifting reading, consider Diana Schaub's "Lincoln at Gettysburg" from National Affairs. It is a close reading of the Gettysburg Address. Did you know the address is only 272 words and because of repetitions contains only 130 distinct words? Moreover, the address exists in its own universal sphere. There is no mention of America, nor North or South, nor even a single proper noun, except the word God [unless one counts "Liberty," capitalized by Lincoln].

Schaub parses every phrase, showing where Lincoln got it, and the philosophical depths and strategic thinking contained in each sentence. For example, Lincoln's use of the word "conceived" evolved over the years, as his worldview deepened. The address was not just a masterpiece, it was the careful summation of a lifetime of reflection.
I've read it now, and it is worth your time - especially in our time of civil unrest.


Saturday, December 27, 2014

Student Appreciation . . .

Good Student
Google Images

I received the following "Thanks" from a student:
I'm an Ewha Womans University student . . . who have taken your Advanced English . . . class.

Thanks to your class, my writing and speaking skill highly improved. Now I can say and wright more fluently. Thank you for teaching me during this semester.

Merry christmas and happy new year!
A nice email to receive! You can see, however, that I still have much to do in educating my students! See my corrections to the above here below:
I'm an Ewha Womans University student . . . who has taken your Advanced English . . . class.

Thanks to your class, my writing and speaking skills have highly improved. Now, I can speak and write more fluently. Thank you for teaching me during this semester.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
As you see, there remains much to be accomplished, but receiving thanks is always pleasant.


Friday, December 26, 2014

Korean 'Pood' Humor!

My wife and I went to a nearby Mega Box cinema to see The Theory of Everything, and I thought I'd seen everything till I saw this (and clicking once, even twice, will magnify the images):

The big brown words ddong bbang (똥빵) mean "poop bread," and the character appears to be wearing a poop cap and holding a pile of poop bread! Let's take a clearer look:

Yes, definitely "poop," as one sees confirmed by the four poop patties atop the roof. Here's a different perspective:

The character is squatting and trying to poo, apparently producing in pooed form the very 'pood' (i.e., "pooed food") sold at this concession stand!

My wife and I didn't sample any - we prefer our food in its pre-digestion stage.


Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas
Click Image for Greater Christmas

My friend Carter Kaplan, editor of Emanations and other books,

sent the above image fashioned by Tiziana (aka Selkis)

to wish one and all a very merry Christmas!

- Passing the message on to all readers of Gypsy Scholar -

And the hour's never too late to have a very scary X-Mass . . .

Season's Greetings!


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Point of You?

"Depends on the point of you."

One of the scholars on the Milton List offered a priceless student malapropism:
I did not get any remarkable bloopers this term, but my favorite student miscue is the mention of a text's "point of you," which I have never realized would be pronounced more or less the same as the actual term.
I'd also never noticed this, but I now wonder how often I've accidentally misled students by referring to a text's "point of view," misheard as "point of you."

I have, however, had students render "I would've" as "I would of" . . .


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Islamist gets taste of his own medicine . . .

Junaid Jamshed
Begging Other Islamists for Mercy

According to an unsigned article from the Monitoring Desk of Pakistan Today (12/6/2014), "Junaid Jamshed has no immediate plans to return" to Pakistan and face the music:
Junaid Jamshed, the pop star-turned-televangelist accused of blasphemy by the sectarian Pakistan Sunni Tehreek, is in hiding in London and has no immediate plans to return to Pakistan, according to a member of the Tableeghi Jamaat . . . . Karachi police opened an investigation into Jamshed's alleged blasphemy after a viral video showed the 50-year-old evangelist citing the youngest wife of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to make a broader point about women's alleged inherent flaw of seeking attention.

A visibly distraught Jamshed apologised for his actions . . . . "This is my mistake and it happened because of my ignorance and lack of knowledge and I seek forgiveness from the Muslim world . . . . I request my brothers to forgive me and I am thankful to them for pointing out my mistake, . . . [which] happened unintentionally and I seek forgiveness from Allah."

However, Mohammad Mobin Qadri, a Sunni Tehreek leader who accused Jamshed of blasphemy, says this [ignorance] was "irrelevant," and demanded the former pop star answer for his alleged crimes.

The former singer maintains his innocence, but appears to have become dejected by the blasphemy allegations.
Ludovica Iaccino writes in an earlier article for the International Business Times (December 2, 2014) that this "Pakistani pop singer begs forgiveness after being accused of blasphemy," first informing us precisely what was said:
"Mother Ayesha was an attention seeker. She would often fake illness to gain the attention of the Prophet Muhammad," he allegedly said. "Even a prophet's companionship cannot change the nature of a woman."

Sarwat Ijaz Qadri, chief of the Pakistan Sunni Tehreek organisation said: "Juniad Jamshed should be immediately arrested and put on trial under the blasphemy laws . . . . He doesn't deserve to be forgiven for his sacrilegious remarks about the Mother of Believers, Hazrat [i.e., Honorable] Ayesha."

The police have opened a blasphemy investigation and it is also believed that Islamic authorities issued a fatwa - a religious ruling which sometimes results in a death sentence . . . . Blasphemy is a serious crime in Pakistan, which can carry the death sentence in some cases.
What an irony if Mr. Juniad Jamshed is allowed to remain in London of the infidels hiding from his fellow Islamists! He might as well now turn to Islam's Shia branch, for I'm told that they openly denigrate Ayesha, and if so, he can be an Islamist all over again!

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Monday, December 22, 2014

Stephens Lounge Revisited

Anne With Children

My old friend Anne from Germany found me online and sent a photo of herself with children, informing me:
I am back in Berkeley for 6 months with my 15 year old daughter Noémie. My son - 21 years old - is studying at the University of Bayreuth (in Bavaria). I'm here on a sabbatical doing some research about the aging of society and its implication for the social security system in Germany. It's a little bit like a travel through time - exactly 30 years after my first stay. Again I'm working in Stephens Lounge every day. Nothing has changed, even the cookies are the same (not exactly the same I hope but the same brand).
Nothing has changed, but something is changing:
Unfortunately the lounge will closed in one week and will no longer be accessible for graduate students (or old professors like me). The official reason: The lounge is not accessible for handicapped persons. But my guess is that this room is much to nice to leave it to students. I heard that it will be restored and used for donors...
Regular readers know of this closing of the Lounge. Anne, however, has a place to return to:
In Germany I'm living in a little vine village near Heidelberg with my children and my dog. I'm working in Darmstadt as a law professor, I'm pretty busy giving lectures and trying to influence politics in Berlin (mostly in vain). What I like best is backpacking in the French Sea Alps north of Nice!
As you may have surmised, I met Anne during my Berkeley days when I worked in the Lounge serving coffee and cookies. Anne also took care of me on my first trip to Europe, showing me around Bremen for two weeks before I headed for Switzerland.

Everything then began to change for me . . .

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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sometimes, one finds out years later . . .

Terrance Lindall
I wish this were in color!
1979 Warren Awards for Creepy and Eerie

My artist friend Terrance Lindall sent the above image in an email and remarked:
This was in Creepy #119. Never knew I got this award from Warren Communications until now!

In the book Ghastly Terror: The Horrible Story of the Horror Comics, Stephen Sennitt credits Lindall with the attempt to save the line of Warren horror magazines from extinction through his new style of cover art.
But, Terrance adds:
They went under anyway!
Such such is life. But the following anecdote from me to Terrance helps make up for all that:
I had a pleasant surprise the other day. In my position here at Ewha Womans University, one of my duties is to advise students in Professional English and assist them in finishing their senior thesis, usually 20 pages plus bibliography.

The student this year had written a shorter paper in another class and wanted to rewrite it into 20 pages. I saw that her argument was worthless and told her so. I had her explain the drama that she wanted to analyze, and I found a sentence that had a deeper theological meaning and told her that this was a key for unlocking the text's meaning.

She finished the paper in time, and I gave her a pass.

She was happy and wanted to give me a gift. I told her she could just purchase a copy of my novella on Amazon - and then buy me a coffee. Over coffee, she told me that she had visited the Amazon site but didn't know how to use it. She also hadn't understood the "Look inside the book" feature, so she hadn't seen the story's beginning.

But she did see the cover image, and asked me, "How did you get Terrance Lindall as illustrator?"

"You know this name?" I asked in surprise.

She said yes and explained that she spent two years in the States when she was 11 and 12, and to entertain herself, she read a lot of comics and remembered your name from some of what she came across in her reading.

I was much impressed. Terrance, consider yourself famous!
He replied:
That's terrific. A Christmas present to hear it!
All's well that ends well!

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Saturday, December 20, 2014

The New Criterion - How does one submit an article?

The query above is now moot since I found a different journal where I was able to submit my recent article on Stephen Vincent Benét.

I am curious, though, how one submits articles to The New Criterion, for a scholar I'm acquainted with advised me to submit my article there, but I found no icon stating "submissions" and had an email of inquiry automatically rejected by the site's spam detector.

Does anyone happen to know how to submit an article there? Or are submissions by invitation only?

Just curious . . .


Friday, December 19, 2014

Words on and in Howard Jacobson's J

In a book review of J (New York Times, December 12, 2014), a novel by Howard Jacobson, the reviewer Matthew Specktor draws our attention to the book's beginning, a parable:
Howard Jacobson's "J" opens with a parable, or, as the book terms it, an "argument." A wolf and a tarantula are comparing modes of taking down prey, with the wolf's rapacious efficiency pitted against the spider's patience.
I wonder if "argument" means something similar to "argument" as used in Milton's Paradise Lost. Curious, I went to Amazon to read the parable in the J book itself:
A grey wolf fell into conversation with a tarantula. "I love the chase," the grey wolf said. "Myself," said the tarantula, "I like to sit here and wait for my prey to come to me." "Don't you find that lonely?" the wolf asked. "I could as soon ask you," the tarantula replied, "how it is that you don't get sick of taking your wife and kids along on every hunt. "I am by temperament a family man," the wolf answered. "And what is more there is power in numbers."

The tarantula paused to crush a passing marmoset then said he doubted the wolf, for all the help he received, would ever be as successful a huntsman as he was. The wolf wagered a week's catch on his ability to outhunt the tarantula and, returning to his lair, told his wife and children of the bet.

"You owe me," he told the tarantula when they next met.

"And your proof?"

"Well I expect you to trust my word, but if you don't, then go ahead and search the wilderness with your own eyes."

This the tarantula did, and sure enough discovered that of all the wolf's natural prey not a single creature remained.

"I salute your efficiency,' the tarantula said, 'but it does occur to me to wonder what you are going to do for sustenance now."

At this the grey wolf burst into tears. "I have had to eat my wife," he admitted. "And next week I will start on my children."

"And after that?"

"After that? After that I will have no option but to eat myself."

Moral: Always leave a little on your plate.
As a child, I was always told to finish everything on my plate, also a sort of wisdom. Anyway, reader, I bought the book . . .


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Margaret Atwood on Robots . . .

Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood, a Canadian novelist, has written on future dystopias, though not on robots . . . until now, in "Are Humans Necessary?" (Atwood, NYT, December 4, 2014). Interestingly, she seems not so harsh on the robots:
Every technology we develop is an extension of one of our own senses or capabilities. It has always been that way. The spear and the arrow extended the arm, the telescope extended the eye, and now the Kissinger kissing device extends the mouth. Every technology we've ever made has also altered the way we live. So how different will our lives be if the future we choose is the one with all these robots in it?

More to the point, how will we power that future? Every modern robotic form that exists, and every one still to come, depends on a supply of cheap energy. If the energy disappears, so will the robots. And, to a large degree, so will we, since the lifestyle we have built and come to depend on floats on a sea of electricity. Hephaestus' bronze giant was powered by the ichor of the divine gods; we can't use that, but we need to think up another energy source that's both widely available and won't end up killing us.

If we can't do that, the number of possible futures available to us will shrink dramatically to one. It won't be the Hurrah; it will be the Yikes. This will perhaps be followed - as in a Ray Bradbury story - by a chorus of battery-powered robotic voices that continues long after our own voices have fallen silent.
In her dystopian writing, Atwood appears to treasure that inhuman silence . . .

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Islam has nothing to do with Islam!

Bumper Stickler for Accuracy
Artwork by barebiblios
Made by Zazzle Paper, San Jose, CA

I had this idea yesterday, then Googled it to see if any others had already conceived of it, and I found that it's actually not an uncommon Internet theme, perhaps even a meme.

I then came across this sticker and felt tickled enough to test its humor on my readers.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Islamist Terrorist in Sydney Café: Nothing to do with Islam

Islamist Flag

My sympathies to the victims and their families.

This terrorist incident had nothing to do with Islam, of course.

It has to do with Islamism, which different than Islam.

The difference is that Islam is a religion that uses Islamic law to set up a political system, whereas Islamism is a political system that uses Islamic law to set up a religion.

That's why this terrorist incident in which two female hostages were forced to display the Islamist flag of the Islamic State had nothing to do with Islam.

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Monday, December 15, 2014

The Knowledge of London Streets

The Knowledge, Brain Mapped
Photograph by Anthony Cotsifas
Prop stylist: Victoria Petro Conroy
The NYT Magazine

I've spent some time wandering London's streets and getting lost, sometimes with Sun-Ae back in the early 1990s, when we were still getting acquainted and angrily misreading London City maps, and in those days, one of the things we heard about was "The Knowledge," that mental map of London that the drivers of black taxicabs were supposed to know by heart, so I was excited to see an entire article on the subject written by Jody Rosen, "The Knowledge, London's Legendary Taxi-Driver Test, Puts Up a Fight in the Age of GPS" (NYTM, November 10, 2014), in which I learned that these cabdrivers must memorize not only streets but the buildings and history relevant to the streets:
It is said that the Knowledge is as much about learning history as learning your way around. After completing the Knowledge, [David] Hall undertook a years-long course of study to earn the "blue badge" of an official London tour guide. While Hall strolled around the City pointing - logging road works and making notes about new restaurants and bars - he led me on an impromptu walking tour: more Wren churches, medieval livery companies and guild halls marked with elaborate coats of arms, the Worshipful Company of Tallow Chandlers, the Innholders Hall, a carved likeness of Winston Churchill's face in the center of a clock above the doorway of an office building. Toward evening, we made our way back along Queen Victoria Street, passing a massive three-acre building site, the future home of Bloomberg L.P.'s European headquarters. The construction project had revealed further remains of the Temple of Mithras, a Roman ruin first discovered in 1954. The temple once stood on the banks of the Walbrook, a now-buried river that brought fresh water to Roman Londinium. Hall said: "In the religion practiced here, they used to have seven ordeals. If you were a Roman soldier, one of the ordeals was to put you over a fire pit. If you could withstand that particular ordeal, you went to the next stage in that religion."

Hall said: "The thing about London is, it's forever changing. The old city is preserved, of course, but there's always a new city coming forth. There really is no end to the Knowledge. It's infinite."
The same could be said about wine expertise. My school friend from elementary school days, Bruce Cochran, is a wine expert who serves as a guide on wine tours around the world, so he has to learn about soils, microclimates, grapes. architecture, art, history, and so on. Some jobs require that sort of learning, and this takes a retentive, inquisitive mind.

I have the curiosity . . . but not the retentiveness.

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Sunday, December 14, 2014


Andrew O'Hagan?
Contemplating Teetotalization
Jessica Craig-Martin/Trunk Archive
"PS1 Benefit Gala, New York, 2006"

In an article titled "A Farewell to Ales" (New York Times Magazine, November 28, 2014), Andrew O'Hagan owns up to currently being plagued by the thought of giving up even the ghost of a chance to partake of the spirit of Christmas, namely, of strong drink, for as you see in the photo above with its sight gag, an insightful visual pun on his wavering decision to forego another stiff one, this man is in need of therapy, and that ought not be too hard, given that he's already stretched out on a Freudian couch.

Who's Andrew O'Hagan, you ask?

Merely a Scottish novelist and non-fiction author, Editor at Large of Esquire, London Review of Books Critic at large for the New York Times Magazine, and currently creative writing fellow at King's College London, according to Wikipedia.

But I knew that . . . sort of.

Anyway, Mr. O'Hagan had better take care in giving up his high-spirited life, else he might turn out like the protagonist of my novella, caught up in metaphysical events beyond his control, let alone his comprehension!

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Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Mis-Education of Horace Hodges

Horace Hodges (L) and Horace Jeffery Hodges (R)
HH Takes a Closer Look at Literature

I gave my talk yesterday at the international Conference on “Storytelling: Trauma, Healing, and Pedagogy,” but I didn't know much about the themes, so I spoke about what I know best:
The Mis-Education of Horace Hodges

Horace Jeffery Hodges

Ewha Womans University
“When my love swears that she is made of truth
I do believe her, though I know she lies . . .”
- Shakespeare, Sonnet 138

I am a hopeless, incorrigible, uncurable chromatic, a man in love with the vast, rich chromaticism of stories. As in the case of Don Quixote, a vast spectrum of colorful, disorderly notions, entire worlds of them, plucked from books and other sources, have crowded into my misshapen, mis-educated imagination (Cervantes), forming and re-forming themselves there into a sea-change of new stories, so rich and strange (Shakespeare, Tempest, Act 1, Scene 2) “as to shock the conservative, and delight the frivolous” (Adams), against the background of “a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, . . . birds singing on the bushes, . . . various insects flitting about, and . . . worms crawling through the damp earth” (Darwin, 863). Worms? Where did that come from? This talk begins already to sound rather morbid, don’t you think, getting down there in the muck with worms? I mean, that’s where we all eventually end up, right, and nobody wants to think about that, do they? We’d prefer a happy ending, okay? So, let’s strike out that traumatic part about worms, pretend we’ll never lie there under the earth. We’re too evolved for that - we’ll lie here upon the earth instead. That’s what telling stories is about, isn’t it, lying upon the earth?

Telling Stories

When I was a little boy growing up in the obscure, isolated Ozark Mountains, I was warned not to tell stories, which meant - in the hillbilly dialect spoken there - not to lie. This sense of “story” as “lie” is just as strong in the culturally similar Appalachians, as explained by April Lynne Burge in her blog Appalachian English in a post for the date of July 29, 2005, in which she cites the linguistic anthropologist Shirley Brice Heath:
Another cultural difference between the Appalachian dialect and the standard dialect of the educational system lies in the concept of lexical elements. For instance, Appalachians have one concept of the word story, while the school environment entertains another concept of the same word. Heath found that when teaching reading, teachers in Appalachia would occasionally ask students to “make up a story,” but students were sometimes reluctant to complete the task, which could have been interpreted by teachers as inability . . . to do so. However, the reason for the reluctance was a result of the lexical understanding of the word story in Appalachian English [AE]; in AE telling a story means lying, which is punishable in the Appalachian culture. (Burge, July 29, 2005; citing Heath, 294, 296)
Like those Appalachian students, I knew that lying would get you punished, possibly even roasted in Hell! That was the worst punishment. But I loved stories, and confronted with a Huck Finn choice, I decided to be a liar and go to Hell (Twain, Adventures, Chapter 31).

Practice makes perfect, and here’s one of the perfectly good lies I eventually managed to conjure up and tell to my own two children when they were yet young enough to believe every word I said:
Why Wolves Howl at the Moon
Long, long ago, before there were any people, there were . . . Wolves!

Like today’s wolves, they ran in packs.

But unlike the wolves of today, these wolves had a ball.

No one knew where the ball had come from. For all the wolves knew, it had always been there. Because it was unique, the ball was very valuable. The wolves took very good care of it.

Once a month, they would take the ball out and play with it. Their games were simple - throwing, catching, and chasing.

Simple though these games were, they required teamwork. Care was taken neither to damage nor dirty the ball. Because they cooperated, the wolves were happy.

In the course of time, however, there arose a selfish wolf as leader of the pack. He was strong and clever, but his selfishness marred his character.

He wanted the ball for himself.

One day, as the pack was playing its monthly game, their leader saw his chance. He grabbed the ball in his enormous jaws and darted away from the pack.

At first, the others thought his move was part of the game, but when they saw him run off for the hills . . . they burst after him, but he was very fast.

He was so fast that the pack at first could not keep up, but fell further behind.

Joyously free in his sole possession of the ball, the lone wolf tossed it into the air, catching it and tossing it again and again.

But his exertions wore him down, and the pack slowly gained on him.

He failed to notice this, and as the hills turned to mountains, his pace slowed even more.

At the highest mountain peak, the pack trapped him unawares, and advanced.

Noticing them at last, the leader panicked. Not wanting to share the ball again after having had it to himself . . . the head wolf hurled the ball skyward will all of his considerable might!

The ball soared high, higher, highest . . . and stayed.

Look up in the night sky, and you’ll see it, too, a bit roughed up from the selfish wolf’s teeth and slightly smudged with earth from having been dropped a few times.

The wolves see it every night, too, and they howl in despair at their loss.

The moon, however, belongs to no one now, and sheds its borrowed light on the just and the unjust, the wise and the foolish . . . the pack, and the lonely leader of the pack.

On us all . . .
Now as I said, when my children were young, they believed the story, and so perhaps do we during the telling, and maybe even after the telling, but that was, in fact, a wolfish pack of lies. We all know the moon was never a ball, and we know full well that wolves don’t howl at the moon because it once belonged to them, for it never was theirs to possess. This is nothing more than a kind of Kipling ‘Just-So’ story (Kipling). And Kipling was a British Lion imperialist, so we can simply ignore him and any lying tall tales of his sort. Instead, let’s turn to another teller of tales.

Bob Dylan, Story Teller

The pop-musicologist Seth Rogovoy, writing in Bob Dylan: Prophet, Mystic, Poet, reviews volume one of Dylan’s memoires, Chronicles, and pegs him as a “storyteller”:
The most striking thing about Chronicles is how it introduces an entirely new voice - that of Bob Dylan, the colorful, garrulous storyteller. *More important than how closely he adheres or doesn’t adhere to the facts* is the language that he uses to recount his life and times, and the detours and byways down which he leads the reader, through literature, music, philosophy, and life’s learned lessons. (Rogovoy, Bob Dylan, 280; original quote revised between asterisks after consulting with Mr. Rogovoy)
The term “storyteller” here means someone who misleads the reader in entertaining ways, and having read a bit of Dylan’s Chronicles myself, I’d say that he ‘misleads’ with a nod and a wink, signaling to the wary reader that he’s not as good as his word, he’s better than that.

A passage early in volume one makes this point clear when Lou Levy, a higher-up in Leeds Music Publishing company, gives Dylan a big break and tells the head of publicity for Leeds, Billy James, to have a talk with Dylan and write promotional material on him for a press release bio. Here’s Dylan’s ‘memory’ of the talk, in which he admits to telling a story:
Billy dressed Ivy League like he could have come out of Yale - medium height, crisp black hair. He looked like he’d never been stoned a day in his life, never been in any kind of trouble. I strolled into his office, sat down opposite his desk, and he tried to get me to cough up some facts, like I was supposed to give them to him straight and square. He took out a notepad and pencil and asked me where I was from. I told him I was from Illinois and he wrote it down. He asked me if I ever did any other work and I told him that I had a dozen jobs, drove a bakery truck once. He wrote that down and asked me if there was anything else. I said I’d worked construction and he asked me where.


“You traveled around?”


He asked me about my family, where they were. I told him I had no idea, that they were long gone.

“What was your home life like?”

I told him I’d been kicked out.

“What did your father do?”


“And your mother, what about her?”


“What kind of music do you play?”

“Folk music.”

“What kind of music is folk music?”

I told him it was handed down songs. I hated these kind of questions. Felt I could ignore them. Billy seemed unsure of me and that was just fine. I didn’t feel like answering his questions anyway, didn’t feel the need to explain anything to anybody.

“How did you get here?” he asked me.

“I rode a freight train.”

“You mean a passenger train?”

“No, a freight train.”

“You mean, like a boxcar?”

“Yeah, like a boxcar. Like a freight train.”

“Okay, a freight train.”

I gazed past Billy, past his chair through his window across the street to an office building where I could see a blazing secretary soaked up in the spirit of something - she was scribbling busy, occupied at a desk in a meditative manner. There was nothing funny about her. I wished I had a telescope. Billy asked me who I saw myself like in today’s music scene. I told him, nobody. That part of things was true, I really didn’t see myself like anybody. The rest of it, though, was pure hokum - hophead talk. (Dylan, Chronicles, 7-8)
In short, Dylan told Billy James a pack of entertaining lies, and he did so because he “didn’t feel the need to explain anything to anybody.” People want a story anyway, so he gives them one for Mr. James to write up.

Dylan as Storyteller

But Dylan is not, primarily, a memoirist, he’s a songwriter and performer, and better known as a storyteller in his songs. Let’s listen to one of those stories in song, the 1975 tale of Isis, second track on his album Desire - co-written, incidentally, with Jacques Levy, a rare case of Dylan collaborating with another songwriter:
I married Isis on the fifth day of May,
But I could not hold on to her very long,
So I cut off my hair, and I rode straight away
For the wild unknown country, where I could not go wrong.

I came to a high place of darkness and light.
The dividing line ran through the center of town.
I hitched up my pony to a post on the right,
Went into a laundry to wash my clothes down.

A man in the corner approached me for a match.
I knew right away he was not ordinary.
He said, “Are you looking for something easy to catch?”
I said, “I got no money.” He said, “That ain’t necessary.”

We set out that night for the cold in the North.
I gave him my blanket, and he gave me his word.
I said, “Where are we going?” He said, “We’ll be back by the fourth.”
I said, “That’s the best news that I’ve ever heard.”

I was thinking about turquoise, I was thinking about gold,
I was thinking about diamonds and the world’s biggest necklace.
As we rode through the canyons through the devilish cold,
I was thinking about Isis, how she thought I was so reckless.

How she told me that one day we’d meet up again,
And things would be different the next time we wed,
If I only could hang on and just be her friend.
I still can’t remember all the best things she said.

We came to the pyramids all embedded in ice.
He said, “There’s a body I’m trying to find.
If I carry it out, it’ll bring a good price.”
It was then that I knew what he had on his mind.

The wind, it was howling, and the snow was outrageous.
We chopped through the night, and we chopped through the dawn.
When he died, I was hoping that it wasn’t contagious,
But I made up my mind that I had to go on.

I broke into the tomb, but the casket was empty.
There was no jewels, no nothing - I felt I’d been had.
When I saw that my partner was just being friendly,
When I took up his offer, I must’ve been mad.

I picked up his body, and I dragged him inside,
Threw him down in the hole, and I put back the cover.
I said a quick prayer, and I felt satisfied,
Then I rode back to find Isis just to tell her I love her.

She was there in the meadow where the creek used to rise,
Blinded by sleep and in need of a bed.
I came in from the East with the sun in my eyes.
I cursed her one time, then I rode on ahead.

She said, “Where ya been?” I said, “No place special.”
She said, “You look different.” I said, “Well, I guess.”
She said, “You been gone.” I said, “That’s only natural.”
She said, “You gonna stay?” I said, “If you want me to, yes.”

Isis, oh Isis, you mystical child,
What drives me to you is what drives me insane.
I still can remember the way that you smiled,
On the fifth day of May in the drizzling rain. (Dylan and Levy)
There it is, the entire song, a great story - arguably of emotional healing, among other themes - and sung by a great storyteller. But why do I call this song a story? Because things happen in a sequence that fulfills our expectations, expectations set up with the first line: “I married Isis on the fifth day of May.” You see? Something happened. We hear the line and wonder, “What’s next?” Dylan tells us: “But I could not hold on to her very long.” What happened then? Dylan continues to tell us, and in what Coleridge called our “willing suspension of disbelief” (Coleridge, Biographia Chapter XIV) - a suspension rendered through our experience of a story being told well - we trust the story and its teller, much as Shakespeare trusts his mistress, though he knows she lies, and who is his true mistress if not the muse, and what are her lies if not the literary works she inspires, for he addresses her directly in sonnets 38, 78, and 100 (and mentions her in many others, e.g., 21, 32, 79, 82, 85, and 103)? This trust in literary falsehoods inspired by the muse constitutes the very reason for Plato’s contention in The Republic that poets - think epic, narrative poets - must be expelled from the true republic for their truth-seeming lies.

Milton as Truth Teller?

Many centuries later, in books 14 and 15 of the mid-fourteenth century encyclopedia of pagan mythology, Genealogia deorum gentilium (Genealogy of the Gods of the Nations), the great Renaissance literary figure Giovanni Boccaccio defends poets against the charge that their stories are lies. Two hundred years later, Sir Philip Sidney offers the defense that: “Now for the poet, he nothing affirms, and therefore never lieth” (Sidney, 57). On an abstract level, Boccaccio and Sidney might have a relatively strong case, but on the level of experience, I have to demur. Stories compel our belief. And what are we to do with narrative poets like Milton? He goes even further, calling on the Holy Spirit as muse to ensure the truth of what he affirms in his cracking good story, Paradise Lost, which opens like this:
Of Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal tast
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat,
Sing Heav’nly Muse, that on the secret top
Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire
That Shepherd, who first taught the chosen Seed,
In the Beginning how the Heav’ns and Earth
Rose out of Chaos: Or if Sion Hill
Delight thee more, and Siloa’s Brook that flow’d
Fast by the Oracle of God; I thence
Invoke thy aid to my adventrous Song,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above th’ Aonian Mount, while it pursues
Things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhime.
And chiefly Thou O Spirit, that dost prefer
Before all Temples th’ upright heart and pure,
Instruct me, for Thou know’st; Thou from the first
Wast present, and with mighty wings outspread
Dove-like satst brooding on the vast Abyss
And mad’st it pregnant: What in me is dark
Illumin, what is low raise and support;
That to the highth of this great Argument
I may assert Eternal Providence,
And justifie the wayes of God to men. (Paradise Lost 1.1-26)
Milton wants not only truth, he wants it writ in capitals: TRUTH! And he wants from his readers not merely a suspension of disbelief; he expects full-throated belief.

From the perspective of Boccaccio and Sidney, Milton would therefore be an outlier, if not an out-and-out liar, particularly because he’s given to uttering such self-confirming verses as the following, which seem to affirm his poem as divinely inspired, if not dictated, by the Holy Spirit, the:
. . . Celestial Patroness, who deignes
Her nightly visitation unimplor’d,
And dictates to me slumb’ring, or inspires
Easie my unpremeditated Verse . . . (Paradise Lost 9.21-24)
Dictates? Inspires? Is Milton claiming divine inerrancy for his poem? Is that his intention? As a loyal reader of Milton, regardless of his intentions, I find that I believe his story as I’m reading it, caught up as I am in the experience of reading. Am I being misled? I am indeed, if Stanley Fish be correct in his monumental work on Milton in Surprised by Sin, for he there maintains that Milton intentionally misleads the reader toward initially identifying with a heroic Satan in order for the reader to experience sin and culpability firsthand through eventual disappointment with Satan’s low character.

Work on Myth

The German intellectual Hans Blumenberg wrote a great deal on mythos and logos, especially in his tome Work on Myth, in which he extolled the current importance of both ways of dealing with the world. In our existential situation, the truth of logos, or reason, must be nestled within mythos, or story, in order for us to find meaning and make sense of our lives. Partly for that reason, I was moved a couple of years ago to rewrite Stephen Vincent Benét’s Faustian story, The Devil and Daniel Webster, by combining it with Mikhail Bulgakov’s equally Faustian Master and Margarita and Milton’s Paradise Lost, along with other texts, including of course Goethe’s Faust, in order to derive a reworked mythos. I titled my story The Bottomless Bottle of Beer, and though I won’t recount the entire story here, to avoid plot spoilers, I would like to note the story’s opening lines:
The world sometimes just declines to cooperate with my good intentions. I had been drinking a bit more than my wife thought reasonable for my health and our pocketbook, and after a close encounter with a breathalyzer that I managed to confound by sheer dint of will, I bowed to her legalistic position on laws against drunk driving and even agreed to stop drinking altogether. I didn’t intend to pursue the twelve-step route to complete spiritual indoctrination, so I resolved to quit entirely on my own. But I reasoned that such a significant occasion called for a drink, and I wanted that drink to be extraordinary, even unforgettable. My wife grudgingly acceded to my desire for just one more bottle to celebrate my decision, and I began to wander the town looking for that perfect beer.

My quest took me down to an old part of the city that I’d never seen before, and I was surprised at its narrow and twisting, cobblestone streets. The area looked vaguely European, too archaic for the New World, but I shrugged the impression off, figuring the streets and buildings had been designed to draw tourists. Such traps are never what they seem to the unwary, but I had to marvel that the effect was so authentic. I noticed a few wine shops, and their selections were truly excellent - again an authentic touch - though the shops seemed to stock only older vintages, but I wasn’t looking for wine anyway.

At length, on a back street that twisted like a wandering maze, only to decline into a dead end, I came upon a shop above whose door was a metal arrow extending, sharp point outward, perpendicular to the shop’s façade and from whose shaft, suspended by two hooks, was a small sign bearing some rather puzzling words in Gothic script that I managed to make out after a fair bit of close inspection:
Our Back’s Ratskeller
Mr. Faland Em, Proprietor
I could at first only imagine an exterminator of rats, but the word was not “Ratskiller.” Definitely “Ratskeller.” Was it a misspelling? Curious, I attempted to peer through the window, but the shop was dark, and I could make out nothing of the vague room’s shape, nor of anyone within, nothing distinguishable in member, joint, or limb, just seemingly insubstantial shadow.
Erudite readers - as all of you of course are - would quickly catch such literary allusions as those to Goethe’s Faust or those to Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Yet, would any readers initially catch the ambiguity in the first line alone: “The world sometimes just declines to cooperate with my good intentions.” Two different interpretations present themselves. One can read “declines” as “refuses” or as “lowers itself.” Two incompatible meanings result, though the consequences are similar. If the world refuses to cooperate, then my good intentions find no support, so I fail. If the world lowers itself to cooperate, then my good intentions find support, but we must recall that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, hence consistent with a world that lowers itself! This latter meaning would gradually emerge upon subsequent readings of the entire story, and both interpretations are true, though not quite consistent with one another, and to affirm both simultaneously is to knowingly embrace a contradiction, hence perchance to lie, even as the text lies.


In his most popular work, Also Sprach Zarathustra, Nietzsche claims that “all poets are liars,” and speaking myself as one intimately acquainted with various sorts of poiesis, I agree. We storytellers are tellers of stories and cannot be trusted. But we are trusted. Why? And can any pedagogical lesson be drawn from this fact? Let us see, anyway. Perhaps the reason for the trust lies partly in the expectation set up by a story. Think of Dylan’s line, “I married Isis on the fifth day of May.” An expectation is established, not especially specific, but we listeners know that some event has to occur next, and it does: “But I could not hold on to her very long.” Our expectation is met, confirmed, thus shown to be true. Concurrent with that confirmation is another expectation, more specific this time, namely, that the speaker will perhaps leave, and he does: “So I cut off my hair, and I rode straight away / For the wild unknown country, where I could not go wrong.” A story, then, is more than a series of events in sequence, it is a series of expected events in sequence, with each confirmation establishing the ‘truth’ of the preceding event. This is the experience of reading a story! Of course, not every event conforms to the expectation set up, but such is acceptable if implausible twists in the plot don’t occur too often or don’t offend narrative sensibilities through some entirely improbable deus ex machina or the like, an implausibility rendering the story ludicrous, a reaction undesired unless a writer intends to evoke laughter, and that’s okay, too, for I’ve heard that laughter is the best medicine, and that’s about the best I can do to shape my presentation into fitting the theme of this conference: “Storytelling: Trauma, Healing, and Pedagogy.”

Thank you for listening!


Adams, Henry. The Education of Henry Adams. Online.

Benét, Stephen Vincent. The Devil and Daniel Webster. Online.

Blumenberg, Hans. Work on Myth. Translated by Robert M. Wallace. MIT Press, 1988.

Boccaccio, Giovanni. Genealogia deorum gentilium.

Bulgakov, Mikhail. The Master and Margarita. Online.

Burge, A. L. “Illiteracy in Appalachia.” Appalachian English. July 29, 2005 (Blog). Online.

Cervantes Saavedra, Miguel de. Don Quixote de la Mancha. Online.

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. Biographia Literaria. 1817. Online.

Darwin, Charles. On the Origin of Species: By Means of Natural Selection. 6th Edition. 1872.

Dylan, Bob. Chronicles, Volume One. Simon and Schuster: New York, 2004.

Dylan, Bob and Jacques Levy. “Isis.” Desire (album). 1975.

Fish, Stanley. Surprised by Sin: The Reader in Paradise Lost. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1997.

Goethe, Wolfgang. Faust. Online.

Heath, Shirley Brice. Ways with Words: Language, Life, and Work in Communities and Classrooms. New York: Cambridge, 1996.

Hodges, Horace Jeffery. The Bottomless Bottle of Beer. The Williamsburg Circle, 2013. Online.

Kipling, Rudyard. Just So Stories. Gutenberg. Online.

Milton, John. Paradise Lost. The John Milton Reading Room. Ed. Thomas H. Luxon. 2014. Online.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Also Sprach Zarathustra. Online.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Thus Spake Zarathustra. Online.

Plato. The Republic. Translated by Benjamin Jowett. Online.

Rogovoy, Seth. Bob Dylan: Prophet, Mystic, Poet. Scribner, 2009.

Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. Online.

Shakespeare, William. The Sonnets. Gutenberg. Online.

Sidney, Sir Philip. An Apology for Poetry. Ed. Forrest Robinson. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1970.

Twain, Mark (Samuel Clemens). Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. New York: Charles L. Webster and Company, 1885. Online.
I didn't read out the bibliography aloud, but the audience had the entire paper in hand, so you're seeing what they saw.

I hope this was enjoyable . . . I know I am an acquired taste, best taken with a grain of salt.

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Friday, December 12, 2014

Joe Biden tells Hirsi Ali "one or two things about Islam" . . .

Joe Biden
"one or two things about Islam"
Google Images

Ashe Schow reports that "Ayaan Hirsi Ali fights radical Islam's real war on women" (Washington Examiner, December 8, 2014), and almost gets into a 'fight' with Vice-President Joe Biden:
[Islam's] violence against women needs to be exposed, and Western liberals need to "review their thinking," she said.

That will prove difficult. In her speech to the dinner guests in Washington, Hirsi Ali recalled meeting Vice President Joe Biden. He informed her that "ISIS had nothing to do with Islam." When she disagreed with him, Biden actually responded: "Let me tell you one or two things about Islam."

"I politely left the conversation at that," Hirsi Ali said, to laughter.
Could Biden really be so sure of his knowledge as to attempt to lecture Hirsi Ali on the finer points of Islamic teaching?



Thursday, December 11, 2014

Our Friend, the Ginkgo?

Ginkgo, a Living Fossil?

Over at the Marmot's Hole, the noble ginkgo tree is being discussed with disgust, so I put in my two cents suggesting the fault is with us humans, not the ginkgo, which has been around since the age of the dinosaurs:
Just for the hell of it, let's write really short, really stupid ginkgo poems:

The ginkgo tree is living proof
that humans don't belong on earth!

Think of it this way - the worse, the better. Like a lot of art these days . . .

Jeffery Hodges

* * *
Check out the discussion thread for more amazing things about ginkgoes than the smell they exude!


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Thomas Friedman Redux: More on Moderate Muslims' Reactions to the Islamic State

Thomas Friedman Redux

A week or two ago, I reported some of Thomas Friedman's findings on Muslims' disgust with the Islamic State and even disgust not only with Islamism but even with Islam itself, some Muslims opting for atheism, and Friedman reports on more such reactions this week:
[There is an] online backlash against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, by young Muslims declaring their opposition to rule by Islamic law, or Shariah, and even proudly avowing their atheism . . . . Ismail Mohamed, an Egyptian on a mission to create freedom of conscience there, started a program called "Black Ducks" to offer a space where agnostic and atheist Arabs can speak freely about their right to choose what they believe and resist coercion and misogyny from religious authorities. He is part of a growing Arab Atheists Network. (Friedman, "How ISIS Drives Muslims From Islam," New York Times, DEC. 6, 2014)
Not all choose atheism:
Another voice getting attention is Brother Rachid, a Moroccan who created his own YouTube network to deliver his message of tolerance and to expose examples of intolerance within his former Muslim faith community[, for] he's converted to Christianity . . . . In . . . [a] recent segment on YouTube, which has been viewed 500,000 times, Brother Rachid addressed President Obama: "Dear Mr. President, I must tell you that you are wrong about ISIL. You said ISIL speaks for no religion. I am a former Muslim. My dad is an imam. I have spent more than 20 years studying Islam . . . . I can tell you with confidence that ISIL speaks for Islam . . . . ISIL's 10,000 members are all Muslims . . . . They come from different countries and have one common denominator: Islam. They are following Islam's Prophet Muhammad in every detail . . . . They have called for a caliphate, which is a central doctrine in Sunni Islam . . . . I ask you, Mr. President, to stop being politically correct - to call things by their names. ISIL, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al Shabab in Somalia, the Taliban, and their sister brand names, are all made in Islam. Unless the Muslim world deals with Islam and separates religion from state, we will never end this cycle . . . . If Islam is not the problem, then why is it there are millions of Christians in the Middle East and yet none of them has ever blown up himself to become a martyr, even though they live under the same economic and political circumstances and even worse? . . . . Mr. President, if you really want to fight terrorism, then fight it at the roots. How many Saudi sheikhs are preaching hatred? How many Islamic channels are indoctrinating people and teaching them violence from the Quran and the hadith? . . . . How many Islamic schools are producing generations of teachers and students who believe in jihad and martyrdom and fighting the infidels?"

ISIS, by claiming to speak for all Muslims - and by promoting a puritanical form of Islam that takes present-day, Saudi-funded, madrassa indoctrination to its logical political conclusion - has blown the lid off some long simmering frustrations in the Arab Muslim world.
I hope this new-found skepticism leads to an opening among Arabs and the Muslim world. Last time I posted on this, I noted that some Muslims were reading the hadith and sunnah for the first time and discovering that the Islamic State has textual support for its actions.

The question therefore poses itself: Where is the line between Islam and Islamism to be drawn?

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Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Shortest Short Stories . . .

Here's my entry for the shortest fairy tale ever:
Once upon a time, they all lived happily ever after.
Surely, this is the shortest of fairy tales still recognizably a complete fairy tale.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Who Ain't I? - Ko Un

Ko Un
Volume 25, Autumn 2014

The great Ko Un, poet and everyman, relates an amusing anecdote of an earlier, more innocent time:
Back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, there were a number of cases of false Ko Uns appearing in various parts of Korea. One acted as president of the jury at a regional poetry festival; one gained people's attention by speaking in Sanskrit; one obtained money and valuables by saying that he was about to go on a journey overseas, which was something extremely rare at that time, but did not have enough for the fare. Worse still was that someone pretending to be Ko Un married a graduate from a women's university in Seoul.

One of those false Ko Uns got arrested. I dropped the charges against him. After slapping him once on each cheek, I bought him a drink, encouraging him to go back to his own life. At that time I reflected that perhaps I might be the fake and that false Ko Un might be the true one. (Ko Un, "A Dawn Soliloquy," _list, Volume 25, Autumn 2014, page 14)
I like that he bought the counterfeit Ko Un a drink and began to wonder who really was the fake. That's the sort of thing I think I'd like to do if I were confronted by doppelgängers . . .

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Sunday, December 07, 2014

Conclusion in Progress . . .

Dylan's Muse?

I'm working on my talk's conclusion and attempting to fit it to my paper and the conference's theme:
In his most popular work, Also Sprach Zarathustra, Nietzsche claims that "all poets are liars," and speaking myself as one intimately acquainted with various sorts of poiesis, I agree. We storytellers are tellers of stories and cannot be trusted. But we are trusted. Why? And can any pedagogical lesson be drawn from this fact? Let us see, anyway. Perhaps the reason for the trust lies partly in the expectation set up by a story. Think of Dylan's line, "I married Isis on the fifth day of May." An expectation is established, not especially specific, but we listeners know that some event has to occur next, and it does: "But I could not hold on to her very long." Our expectation is met, confirmed, thus shown to be true. Concurrent with that confirmation is another expectation, more specific this time, namely, that the speaker will perhaps leave, and he does: "So I cut off my hair, and I rode straight away / For the wild unknown country, where I could not go wrong." A story, then, is more than a series of events in sequence, it is a series of expected events in sequence, with each confirmation establishing the 'truth' of the preceding event. This is the experience of reading a story! Of course, not every event conforms to the expectation set up, but such is acceptable if implausible twists in the plot don't occur too often or don't offend narrative sensibilities through some entirely improbable deus ex machina or the like, an implausibility rendering the story ludicrous, a reaction undesired unless a writer intends to evoke laughter, and that's okay, too, for I've heard that laughter is the best medicine, and that's about the best I can do to shape my presentation into fitting the theme of this conference: "Storytelling: Trauma, Healing, and Pedagogy."
Bold and presumptuous of me, I realize . . .

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Saturday, December 06, 2014

A Colorful Character . . .

Scarlatti Chromaticism?
Google Books

I'm trying to finish the talk I'm scheduled to present sometime next Friday at the BK21 Plus International Symposium, and here's my provisional introductory paragraph:
I am a hopeless, incorrigible, uncurable chromatic, a man in love with the vast, rich chromaticism of stories. As in the case of Don Quixote, a vast spectrum of colorful, disorderly notions, entire worlds of them, plucked from books and other sources, have crowded into my misshapen, mis-educated imagination (Cervantes, 4), forming and re-forming themselves there into a sea-change of new stories, rich and strange (Shakespeare, Tempest, Act 1, Scene 2), against the background of "a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, . . . birds singing on the bushes, . . . various insects flitting about, and . . . worms crawling through the damp earth" (Darwin, 863). Worms? Where did that come from? This talk begins already to sound rather morbid, don't you think, getting down there in the muck with worms? I mean, that's where we all eventually end up, right, and nobody wants to think about that, do they? We’d prefer a happy ending, okay? So, let's strike out that part about worms, pretend we'll never lie there under the earth. We're too evolved for that - we'll lie here upon the earth instead. That's what telling stories is about, isn't it, lying upon the earth?
Now if I can just figure out what else to say! The theme is supposed to be "Storytelling: Trauma, Healing, and Pedagogy."

And, yes, I know the word's "incurable," not "uncurable," but the sequence sounds better with this wrong spelling . . .


Friday, December 05, 2014

Mellon Grant, Digital Humanities at Berkeley, and Milton Revealed

Terrance Lindall's Paradise Lost
Digital Humanities Project
"Milton Revealed"
UC Berkeley Emeritus Professor of English
Hugh Macrae Richmond, Director
"Mellon Grant advances Berkeley's Digital Humanities"

From the WAH Center in New York City comes good news:
Artwork by Terrance Lindall for "Paradise Lost" is featured on a website for a digital humanities project, "Milton Revealed," directed by UC Berkeley emeritus professor of English Hugh Macrae Richmond.
I emailed Terrance to get more details, and he gave credit to Professor Hugh Macrae Richmond for drawing attention to his art on Paradise Lost through having it selected by UC Berkeley to illustrate the university's announcement of a Mellon Grant for Digital Humanities at Berkeley. Here are some excerpts from the article published by the UC Berkeley News Center:
With a $2 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, UC Berkeley will be making major advances in the integration of digital tools and technologies in humanities scholarship and teaching.

"Digital tools and methods such as data visualization, GIS, statistics, and text mining can have a transformative effect on research and teaching in the humanities, particularly with the mass digitization of texts and artwork. But they are unfamiliar to many humanities scholars and learning to use them effectively requires an investment of time and resources," said Anthony J. Cascardi, UC Berkeley's Irving and Jean Stone Dean of Arts and Humanities and principal investigator on the grant . . . . [This] is part of the larger initiative, "Digital Humanities at Berkeley . . . . This grant will enable us to offer intensive summer training workshops for faculty and students, to introduce them to a range of tools and methods, while providing the critical frameworks for reflection on their impact."

As part of the grant, a new fellowship program will also provide opportunities for faculty, graduate students and postdoctoral scholars to develop proficiency in the use of digital materials and tools, and to apply those skills to their research. Furthermore, the project aims to reach undergraduates by creating courses that integrate digital humanities tools and methods . . . . [T]he grant will enable students and faculty in the humanities to participate in other digital efforts on campus including the Berkeley Institute for Data Science and the D-Lab, which principally serve data-intensive research in the social sciences.
For the entire article, click here. And I hope I can be forgiven for noting that my novella is listed on Professor Richmond's website. More information is provided at Amazon.

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Thursday, December 04, 2014

"Give me back the Berlin Wall, Give me Stalin and St. Paul . . ."

Stalin in a 1932 Poster
Credit Collection of Merrill C. Berman
New York Times

In a recent New York Times article, Jennifer Siegel reviews the book "'Stalin,' by Stephen Kotkin" (November 26, 2014), and we receive a new, surprising view of the man:
Kotkin paints a portrait of an autodidact, an astute thinker, "a people person" with "surpassing organizational abilities; a mammoth appetite for work; a strategic mind and an unscrupulousness that recalled his master teacher, Lenin" . . . . Kotkin has given us a textured, gripping examination of the foundational years of the man most responsible for the construction of the Soviet state in all its brutal glory.
Kotkin was a colleague of mine at U. C. Berkeley when we were graduate students there, and though we weren't close enough to be friends, we were friendly, taking some history of science courses together and also working as teaching assistants for survey courses in history, which meant that we taught discussion seminars and graded papers and exams. He and I were just left of center in those days - a position that looked right-wing to Berkeley Leftists. We are probably just right of center these days. We have one other thing in common - we both married Korean women.

I can't say that I knew him well, but I'm glad for his success as a historian.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Fear of Islamism in Nigeria

Ukamaka Olisakwe at Nine Years

Nigerians aren't afraid of writing 'politically incorrect' articles about Islamism, as we see in Ukamaka Olisakwe's article, "Growing Up Fearful in Nigeria" (New York Times, December 1, 2014):
My father arrived in Kano one cold morning in the 1970s, with the dry, dusty harmattan wind blowing south from the desert. He was 23, and like many young Christians from Nigeria's lush southeast, he had gone to the Muslim-majority north after surviving the bloody civil war of 1967-70. [The northern city] Kano was a new business frontier then. But it was uneasy, too: While Muslims and Christians lived side by side, so did hope and fear. [Fear increased i]n December 1980, [and] hope took a terrible blow when Yan Tatsine, a group led by the Islamic preacher Maitatsine, took to the streets in a blaze of violence. Like Boko Haram today, Maitatsine reviled Westernization. He had declared himself a prophet and clashed with the police, but was supported by some Muslim clerics. My father remembers shuddering in fear alongside other Christians in their neighborhood, Sabon Gari, as the bloodshed snuffed out 4,000 lives. Eventually, the Nigerian Army arrived, Maitatsine was killed, and his followers fled to neighboring states to continue their insurgency . . . . One day in October 1991, when I was not quite 9, I walked toward a large mosque near our home. It was a Friday, and the street was closed. From afar, I could see worshipers on prayer mats in the road. The mosque's loudspeakers spewed out anger, and I wondered if this anger was why my parents warned us to stay away. Then, suddenly, worshipers spilled from the building, chanting in Arabic, punching the air with their fists . . . . I ran home dazed . . . . [Peaceful years passed.] Up north, we [now] hear, Boko Haram is the group that spreads fear today. But it has taken cruelty a step further. It focuses its rage on Western education. So its victims are often children.
Those of us elsewhere in the world hear about Boko Haram, too, and that's why I'm writing about it here, why I post so often about Islamism.

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