Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Post-Masculine America?

Pajama Boy
Google Images

I became aware of Pajama Boy late in the day, I suppose, because every other blogger in the world has already blogged about him and undoubtedly come up with more interesting things to say than I will today, but since the image above so unselfconsciously depicts precisely what Camille Paglia thinks is wrong with America and the West -- an emasculation of males that produces boys instead of men -- I'd like to add a few (very few) words.

The individual who took on this PJ-role is a certain Ethan Krupp, about whom I know nothing, so he may be a decent fellow and all that, and anything that I say about Pajama Boy should not be taken as a reflection upon the actual individual Krupp.

Anyway, when I first did see this ad for Obamacare, I thought it was another conservative dig at President Obama that had used Photoshopping to make the President look foolish, for no serious politician would use such an infantile image and expect to gain anything other than laughs. But since the image was made in all seriousness, the message we're getting is that the people who made this image expect their target audience to be the sort of little boys who should be in bed but who have persuaded their mamas to fix them a final cup of hot chocolate before they go, and the mamas allow them that. Now, the little boy is supposed to be us, but who's the mama here? The Nanny-State who made the hot chocolate and promises to always take care of us? And our role? To e-mail everyone we've ever 'friended' and spread the word?

Call it the "New E-masculinity"! And get talking . . .

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Monday, December 30, 2013

Camille Paglia on Vanishing Manliness

Camille Paglia
Neil Davies
The Wall Street Journal

In seeking potential articles for next year's Academic English students to read, I happened upon a link over at my friend Bill Vallicella's site promising something interesting and controversial written by Bari Weiss about "Camille Paglia: A Feminist Defense of Masculine Virtues" (September 28, 2013, The Wall Street Journal):
What you're seeing is how a civilization commits suicide . . .
That's Paglia's indictment -- quoted by Weiss -- of how feminists in the West are emasculating men and leaving the West defenseless against its still masculine enemies . . . apparently. How is this supposedly happening? Weiss summarizes Paglia's view:
The military is out of fashion, Americans undervalue manual labor, schools neuter male students, opinion makers deny the biological differences between men and women, and sexiness is dead.
Consider the military's status, in Paglia's view:
She starts by pointing to the diminished status of military service. "The entire elite class now, in finance, in politics and so on, none of them have military service -- hardly anyone, there are a few. But there is no prestige attached to it anymore. That is a recipe for disaster," she says. "These people don't think in military ways, so there's this illusion out there that people are basically nice, people are basically kind, if we're just nice and benevolent to everyone they'll be nice too . . . [The elites] literally don't have any sense of evil or criminality."
No sense of evil. That clearly is the problem of the therapeutic left, the leftism that sees no malice, just oppressed victims in need of counseling and rehabilitation, unless the 'evil-doers' happen to belong to some oppressor group, of course, in which case they're beyond the pale, e.g., ghost-white masculine evil-doers. Or soon to be ghost white, unless manliness is rescued from its near-extinction, implies Paglia. What cure can prevent its ultimate death? Here's a beginning:
A key part of the remedy, she believes, is a "revalorization" of traditional male trades -- the ones that allow women's studies professors to drive to work (roads), take the elevator to their office (construction), read in the library (electricity), and go to gender-neutral restrooms (plumbing).
Paglia has been making this sort of argument rather a lot recently, or maybe I'm simply noticing it more. Anyway, the article is worth reading if you like Paglia -- and worth even more if you don't . . .

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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Both the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis want an Islamic Caliphate . . .

Murad Wahba
Special Dispatch No. 5578

The Egyptian philosopher Murad Wahba explains what the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis want:
Both the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis want to impose their understanding of Islam upon society in its entirety, in an effort to establish an Islamic Caliphate. The Islamic Caliphate supersedes countries and states. This leads directly to the Islamization of planet Earth and taking control over it.
In short, Wahba means these two Islamist groups want control of Egypt, then Muslim countries, then the world. This is certainly what they want, of course, but I can't see that its a realistic desire, nor would Wahba think so either. He considers them reactionaries:
The Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis are fundamentalist movements, which means that they are committed to refrain from using the intellect when it comes to religious texts. Therefore, they are by necessity committed to stick to the past. They follow what has been said in the past to the letter. That is why they fight to include the phrase "shari'a rulings" in the constitution. If you oppose this, they try to get it into the preamble. They would do anything to shackle you to a specific tradition and to the past, thus abolishing the future.
I recall reading somewhere (or in several places) that in reaction to the rationalist thought of the Muslim philosopher Averroes, Islam rejected reason and a deity with a rational nature in favor of revelation 'grounded' in an inexplicable, arbitrary deity whose will must be strictly followed -- regardless what reason says -- because this divine will is inexplicable: Allah decrees what he decrees and needs no justification, no theodicy. Islamists thus model their beliefs, rituals, and acts upon the earliest Muslim leaders so as to be certain of remaining precisely upon the correct path.

With no recourse to reason, there remains only force to ensure submission. For this reason, perhaps, Wahba -- in reply to an important ambassador from one of the Gulf states inquiring how to "develop" -- advised him "to expel Ibn Taymiyyah and bring in Averroes instead." Ibn Taymiyyah is the Muslim thinker of the 14th to 15th centuries whose writings have been powerfully influential upon current-day Islamism. To replace him with Averroes -- whose philosophical views are sometimes said to have influenced the development of secular thought in the West -- would be to exalt reason over revelation and all that this entails.

Wahba is thus advising that the Islamic world follow the Western path to modernity . . .

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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Christmas: Once a Year Too Often?

Hani Nakshabandi
Liberal Saudi Author and Journalist

Like every holiday, I suppose, Christmas comes but once a year, but that's once too many times for some, apparently, though not for the 'liberal' Saudi Mr. Nakshabandi, whose more positive opinion is implied in his words on Christians and (I guess) on some Islamists:
I listened to the Christmas sermon in a few churches, and they called for love and forgiveness. I also listened to a few Friday sermons [in the mosques] and most dealt with the ban on celebrating Christmas and threatened [anyone doing so] with hell. One side calls for love and the other side threatens damnation! ("Saudi Author: Nothing Wrong With Muslims Joining Christmas Celebrations," Memri, Special Dispatch No. 5577, December 26, 2013)
Well, there's got to be at least a balance between hatred and love! But maybe even that balance is insufficient for some haters who want the utter destruction of love, as Mr. Nakshabandi goes on to point out:
Tune the radio to any news channel. Most of the news items concern a killing here and a bombing there . . . and the vast majority, most unfortunately, are connected to Muslims. To [dissociate] ourselves [from these acts], we term [those perpetrating these actions] extremist terrorists. However an extremist is also someone who rules that celebrating the holidays [of non-Muslims] is forbidden because he objects to a world engulfed in love and prefers hating and ostracizing the other and even hopes that the other will die, if possible.
Mr. Nakshabandi hopes for peace on earth, "that love should prevail throughout the world." He believes that we would be happier if we all tried harder for that . . . but we find ourselves as fathers, mothers, siblings confronted by those who haven't left hatred behind. Mr. Nakshabandi nevertheless has hope:
Do we need love or killing? I hope the day will come when Muslim religious scholars have the courage to admit that participating in the celebrations and festivities of another -- any other -- is a good deed that is not motivated by love for this religion or other but by the desire that love should prevail throughout the world.
If only the Islamists agreed . . .

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Friday, December 27, 2013

Caravaggio's 12-Bead Rosary?


In reading a passage of art criticism yesterday, I encountered Caravaggio's Madonna of the Rosary and noticed something. There are twelve figures set in a rough circle whose center is a hollow space fixed in the middle of the painting. The notion occurred to me that the painting itself was a rosary for Caravaggio, each of the twelve figures representing a bead. I Googled "12-bead rosary" and learned that such a rosary does exist, but it does not appear to be common. Caravaggio, however, might have had his reasons for using twelve, the number being a significant one in Christian symbolism -- twelve tribes, twelve disciples. Not to forget the obvious twelve months, or the twelve numerals of the clock. There are also twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit, according to Catholic teaching, though I don't know the origin of this tradition.

Unfortunately, I know too little to carry this notion any further, so I'm open to the suggestions of readers on this mystery . . .

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Thursday, December 26, 2013

An Intellectual Who Can't Fix Things . . .

Mr. Un-Fixit
Fast and Loose with Facts
The Gang of Four

Like too many intellectuals, I don't know how to fix things. Unlike many intellectuals, though, I have done a lot of manual labor. Unfortunately, it was all the unskilled kind. The heavy lifting sort of work that builds muscles but doesn't exercise the brain. I'm glad I don't have to do that sort of work for a living, but I do wish I'd learned about things like plumbing, wiring, carpentry, and the like. I admire men who can do those things. I should add that I admire women who do those things, too. But building and repairing things seems to be mainly a man's world.

That brings me to a fact that I'd never really reflected on before -- and here, in reflecting, is where being an intellectual comes in handy -- but it seems to me that much feminist literature focuses almost entirely upon the dreadful ways in which women's choices have been limited by patriarchy, which apparently lurks everywhere, but says little on the ways in which women's lives have been made easier by the modern world constructed primarily by men. There ought therefore to be some balance in the feminist assessment of men. Yes, there has been patriarchy, but let's think outside of that box for a bit. I was brought to these thoughts by two bloggers I read every day: Malcolm Pollack and Bill Vallicella. Malcolm had noticed some thoughtless musings of Maureen Dowd in a debate:
So now that women don't need men to reproduce and refinance, the question is, will we keep you around? And the answer is, 'You know we need you in the way we need ice cream -- you'll be more ornamental.'
Malcolm didn't much like that coquettish condescension, so he linked to someone who didn't like it a whole lot more, Mr. Fred Reed, who really pushes men's accomplishments in Ms. Dowd's face:
Listen, Corn Flower. Let's think over this business of obsolete men. Reflect. You live in New York, in which every building was designed and built by men. You perhaps use the subway, designed, built, and maintained by men. You travel in a car, invented, designed, and built by men -- a vehicle that you don't understand (what is a cam lobe?) and couldn't maintain (have you ever changed a tire? Could you even find the tires?), and you do this on roads designed, built, and maintained by men. You fly in aircraft designed, built, and maintained by men, which you do not understand (what, Moon Pie, is a high-bypass turbofan?)

In short, as you run from convention to convention, peeing on hydrants, you depend utterly on men to keep you fed (via tractors designed by men, guided by GPS invented, designed, and launched by men, on farms run by men), and comfy (air conditioning invented . . . but need I repeat myself?)
And the list goes on and on and on, though I think he ought to have left out "peeing on hydrants" (and, anyway, isn't that sort of peeing done exclusively by male dogs). Interestingly, another feminist at the same debate where Ms. Dowd mused about the uselessness of men, Camille Paglia -- hat tip to Bill -- spoke her contrarian mind:
[M]en are absolutely indispensable right now, invisible as it is to most feminists, who seem blind to the infrastructure that makes their own work lives possible. It is overwhelmingly men who do the dirty, dangerous work of building roads, pouring concrete, laying bricks, tarring roofs, hanging electric wires, excavating natural gas and sewage lines, cutting and clearing trees, and bulldozing the landscape for housing developments. It is men who heft and weld the giant steel beams that frame our office buildings, and it is men who do the hair-raising work of insetting and sealing the finely tempered plate-glass windows of skyscrapers 50 stories tall.

Every day along the Delaware River in Philadelphia, one can watch the passage of vast oil tankers and towering cargo ships arriving from all over the world. These stately colossi are loaded, steered and off-loaded by men. The modern economy, with its vast production and distribution network, is a male epic, in which women have found a productive role -- but women were not its author. Surely, modern women are strong enough now to give credit where credit is due!
Damn, that almost makes me proud to be a man . . . except that I don't know how to fix things. But I do see that I have a responsibility to point out the role played by men in our modern world whenever men are denigrated solely as useless oppressors.

Not that I intend to be heavy-handed about it . . .

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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Portraits of the Artful Dodger as an Aging Man

Sun-Ae and I went out on the late morning to mid-afternoon of Christmas Eve for a movie, a lunch, and a year's end talk about what we've resolved to do in the coming year. Sun-Ae wants to write more blog-post book reviews, and I want to finish the story I'm currently working on. The film we saw was About Time, a sweet little film about time travel in which the men in a certain family could travel back in time to the same moment over and over until they get it right, and though the film doesn't get into the science fiction complexities one might expect, it really made me think about its main point, namely, that we should each experience our life here in this universe as something truly extraordinary, regardless how ordinary our life may be. With that in mind, I have also traveled back to the same point in time, 2:30 p.m. yesterday, and attempted to crack a smile for the camera:

2:30 p.m.: Unprepared . . .

2:30 p.m.: "You want a smile?
Okay, I'm smiling now. See?"

2:30 p.m.: "Not good enough? Okay,
how's this? Eh? You don't see one?"

2:30 p.m.: "Let's try a different angle.
See? I can smile. What? You still can't
see it? Maybe you need new glasses!"

2:30 p.m.: "But I am smiling! No, I
don't wanna show my teeth -- that'd
be a sign of aggression amongst
our nearest cousins, the chimps."

2:30 p.m.: "No, and I'm no orangutan,
either! I said 'cousins,' dammit! But
there might be some chimps lurking
nearby, and I don't wanna get attacked!
Now, how many times I gotta smile
for this damn camera? Just once more?"

2:30 p.m.: "What? Still not good enough? And
you say you aren't a perfectionist?
All right, fine. I'll give you my best
frickin' smile ever in the next photo!"

2:30 p.m.: "Great. I finally offer a
beatific smile bright enough to illuminate
all of North Korea for a year, and
you get the damned lighting wrong!"

So much for getting the moment right. I gave up. Or maybe she did. We drank our coffees, enjoyed a slice of chocolate cake together, and picked up where our conversation had left off.

Oh, by the way, Merry Christmas! At least, I got that right . . .

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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Kim Jong-un 'Pissed' While Purging?

Kim Jong-un
Pissed Pistolier

Drawing upon a report in the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun, Korean reporters Kim Hyun-ki and Kim Hee-jin (JoongAng Daily, December 23, 2013) tell us that "[Kim] Jong-un [was] drunk when he ordered some purges," starting with the two aides Ri Ryong-ha and Jang Su-gil, who worked under his Uncle Jang Song-thaek:
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was drunk when he ordered the execution of two aides close to his uncle Jang Song-thaek, the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun reported on Saturday . . . . [In turn, t]he Yomiuri cited a source that claimed Ri Ryong-ha, the first deputy director of the administrative department of North Korea's ruling Workers' Party, and Jang Su-gil, a deputy director of the department, were executed because they did not immediately follow an order by Kim to hand over their control of a profitable business to the military . . . . [Apparently,] when Kim made the order, Ri and Jang responded that they first had to report to director Jang -- the man in charge of the administrative department -- which made the young leader "upset" . . . . [Reportedly, w]hen Kim ordered the execution of the two aides, he was "very drunk," the source told the Yomiuri.
Kim Jong-un appears to have been pissed in both colloquial senses of the word, namely, "drunk" and "angry." The Yomiuri Shimbun (December 21, 2013) itself, translated from the Japanese by the Korean Open Source Digest (Volume VI, Issue 247, December 23, 2013), offers the same view: "Failure By Aides to Chang [i.e., Jang Song-thaek] To Immediately Carry Out Kim Jong Un's Order Infuriates Kim":
The two subordinates were Ri Ryong-ka, first deputy director of the Administration Department, and Chang Su-kil, deputy director of the same department. According to the source, they did not quickly respond to the instruction by saying, "We need to report this to Director Chang." An enraged Kim Jong Un ordered their execution though he was "dead drunk" at the time, the source said.
I'd consider altering "though" to "because." My grandfather once told me there were two kinds of drunks, the happy sort and the angry sort. Kim Song-un seems to belong to the latter category, but his impulsive character seemingly accounts for his abrupt orders, regardless whether he is drunk or not, as we see from the Yomiuri Shimbun's further report:
Touching on Kim Jong Un's alleged instruction, a South Korean government official said: "He tends to give instructions on impulse and without taking into account the reality. We doubt if he can maintain unifying power." According to concerned officials, Kim Jong Un issued an order to plant lawn[s] on the yards of citizens' residences to make the yards look like ones he saw in Switzerland during his stay in the country for study, although those [North Korean] yards are used as precious food[-]supplying fields for residents. He also ordered [underlings] to install parking lots on the premises of apartments to be built in Pyongyang by claiming, "An era of private vehicles has come." Further, WPK cadres were allegedly appalled when they heard Kim saying, "We can solve our food shortages if we eat meat instead of rice."
And cake instead of bread. Assuming that all these reports are true (and I do have some skepticism), then baby-faced Kim Jong-un lacks the smarts for the calculations necessary toward retaining and maintaining power. His immaturity and lack of self-control, exacerbated by appalling ignorance, suggests that he is not long for this world, for there are -- waiting from the sidelines and calculating their odds -- those in full possession of what the young Kim lacks.

And they will be ruthless with him . . .

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Monday, December 23, 2013

Sun-Ae and I in the Korea Times

Yi Kwang-su's The Soil
and its translators
Horace Jeffery Hodges and Hwang Sun-Ae
Not looking our best . . .
Korea Times

Reporter Chung Ah-young has published an article in The Korea Times, "US journal recognizes 2 Korean translations" (December 22, 2013), that includes words from a brief interview with Sun-Ae and me on our work translating Yi Kwang-su's novel The Soil:
Korean literary translations have been recognized . . . [among] the 75 Notable Translations by World Literature Today (WLT), a U.S. magazine of international literature and culture in its December issue . . . . Introducing a variety of international literature to its worldwide readers, the journal was first established in 1927 as Books Abroad and then changed its name into the current World Literature Today in 1977. The magazine is the second oldest periodical in the U.S., becoming a channel for understanding other cultures through literature under the motto of "Light from Abroad." [Among those translations recognized was] . . . The Soil[,] . . . one of the Library of Korean Literature Series published by the Dalkey Archive Press in November consisting of 10 Korean modern literary works. [The Soil was t]ranslated by Hwang Sun-Ae and Horace Jeffery Hodges, . . . [and it] tells the story of an idealist who dedicates his life to helping the inhabitants of the rural community in which he grew up during Japanese colonial era. It's about enlightening the poor farmers of the time in order to protect their fortunes, help them become self-reliant, and ultimately change the reality of colonial life on the Korean peninsula. The book is regarded as a crucial novel that shows the social conditions of the time, an equivalent to such English-language novels as Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle."
Chung then quoted Sun-Ae:
"Yi is a very important writer, but his work has not been translated much, aside from 'Heartless,' the first modern Korean novel. The Soil was on the Literature Translation Institute of Korea recommendation book list, and we thought the novel was still significant and informative about an extremely difficult time in Korean history. Yi's oeuvre has been largely ignored because of his ambiguous relationship to Japan, but we felt that his supposed politics should not prevent his literary standing from being recognized," said Hwang, a translator . . . . [She added] that Yi's novel was written in the Japanese colonial period, so some of the words were unfamiliar in contemporary Korean, but even harder was retaining the original sense while rendering the novel in a literary style readable for contemporary English speakers. "The best translation stays close to the original text but uses language natural for the foreign reader," she said.
We also thanked the Literature Translation Institute of Korea:
"It's a great honor for us, and we are also very happy that Korean literature is getting some attention worldwide. This honor shows the importance of the Literature Translation Institute of Korea in supporting translators through grants. Without their support, we would not have been able to undertake such a project," Hwang said.
There's more at the link, mainly about the other translated work, 58 poems by the Zen poet Hyesim (1178-1234) of the Goryeo period, titled Magnolia and Lotus and translated by Ian Haight and Ho Tae-young.

So far as I know, The Korea Times got the scoop on our story, beating out such English-language competitors as The Korea Herald and The JoongAng Daily . . .

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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Kim Jong-un: Parroting Parody or Floundering Fool?

Kim Jong-un
Parodying his Grandad?
Google Images

There has been a discussion over at the Marmot's Hole about North Korean propaganda as North Korea expert Brian Myers sees it. Myers argues that what serves as public-image propaganda these days by Kim Jong-un -- e.g., openly playing with foreigners at 'his' amusement park, publicly hanging out with a 'strange' Dennis Rodman, unnecessarily humiliating his 'corrupt' uncle on national television, and other such 'feats' -- is surprisingly bad, for it makes Kim Jong-un look not only utterly immature, but also even disrespectful of his elders in the eyes of North Koreans. One commenter disagreed with the position taken by Myers, arguing that the regime in Pyongyang could use any sort of propaganda it wished, and the North Korean people would have to swallow it, even if it were as irrational as bad mathematics, because, "Up north, 2+2 can equal 5 today, 3 tomorrow." I disagreed with that point, so I posted my own comment:
"Up north, 2+2 can equal 5 today, 3 tomorrow."

Only for small values of 5 and large values of 3.

Propaganda can be consistent with people's values or inconsistent with people's values. The former tends to be more effective.

Kim Jong-un has shown himself both publicly frivolous and impulsively brutal in a culture that expects leaders to appear serious and deliberative.

He therefore lacks gravitas, despite his girth, and looks like a parody of Kim Il-sung.

Kim Il-sung
The Original?
Google Images

My interlocutor, a reasonable fellow going by the eminently sensible moniker "George Smiley," accepted that my argument "makes sense," thereby giving me the confidence to post my views here, where truth alone is admitted through the gate and presented for posting! Falsehood must remain outside, languishing in the dust and pleading through bitter tears to be allowed entrance, but the gates are forever shut to such foul error. Unfortunately, that doesn't prevent the occasional inaccuracy from sneaking in through the sewers, but their stink eventually betrays them, and they are purged! Not like Uncle Jang Song-thaek was purged, though, for I don't even own a machine gun or a flamethrower . . .

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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Art and Art Criticism

In an article on the English stained glass artist Patrick Reyntiens, "God in a stained glass window" (The Spectator, December 14, 2013), Andrew Lambirth opens with comments on art and art critics:
Writing about [the English artist] Graham Sutherland in 1950, the critic Robert Melville observed: 'When one looks at a picture one finds oneself over the frontier or one doesn't. Criticism has no power of making converts to an experience which occurs without the intervention of reason . . . . Criticism considers the sensitive flesh of the image and discovers its spiritual stature: indeed, unless we pursue the meaning of the image as language, painting may well fall silent and rest content in the pride of its flesh.'
Lambirth then remarks:
This quotation is of relevance here for several reasons: because one of my principal roles as a writer is to function as an art critic; because Melville rightly identifies the limitations of criticism; and because he also points out criticism's ability to uncover the spiritual stature of a work of art. I see my brief as a critic primarily as a purveyor of information, a sort of animated signpost, attempting to point out something that readers should then judge for themselves. I hope my enthusiasm or censure will inspire others to look and think independently. It is the act of looking at art -- of sharing in this fundamental but highly sophisticated activity -- that means most to me.
I'm wondering what Dave Hickey would say to this. Recall Hickey's words reported in an earlier blog post:
In images, beauty is the agency that causes visual pleasure in the beholder, and since pleasure is the true occasion for looking at anything, any theory of images that is not grounded in the pleasure of the beholder begs the question of art's efficacy and dooms itself to inconsequence! (Dave Hickey, The Invisible Dragon: Four Essays on Beauty)
Melville's remark about finding oneself "over the frontier" in one's experience of an artwork sounds a bit like Hickey's "visual pleasure in the beholder,"  but I'm not sure that they agree on the purpose of art criticism.

If any of my readers know more about this than I do -- and that would include most readers -- please feel free to comment.


Friday, December 20, 2013

Martin Kramer on Islamism: "a moral universe left behind by time"

Arab Protest

In "The Arab crisis" (Sandbox, December 17, 2013), Professor Martin Kramer, expert on the politics and culture of the Middle East, offers an intriguing analysis on the current changes disrupting the Arab world:
This is a crisis of culture[,] . . . . to be precise, the implosion of the hybrid civilization that dominated the twentieth century in the Arab world[, a hybridity that constituted a] . . . . defensive, selective adaptation of Islamic traditions to the ways of the West. The idea was that . . . [such] tradition[s] could be preserved, that . . . [their] essence could be defended, while making adjustments to modernity as needed. The [supposedly] timeless character of the political, religious, and social traditions of the region could be upheld, even as upgrades were made to accommodate modernity[, in short, then,] . . . . a hybrid of the Arab-Islamic tradition[s] with Western-style modernity . . . . [Pretending] to be revolutionary, . . . it permitted the survival of those pre-modern traditions that block progress, from authoritarianism and patriarchy to sectarianism and tribalism. This hybrid civilization has now failed, and what we have seen [in this failure] is a collapse, not of a political system, but of a moral universe left behind by time . . . . [In] the great centers of Arab-Islamic civilization, from Cairo to Damascus to Baghdad, the crisis of the political order is primarily a symptom of the collapse of their own hybrid of tradition[s] and modernity . . . . [The failure of this hybrid culture] is most dramatically evidenced by the rise of sectarianism. The Sunni-Shiite divide has lots of layers, including a disparity of power, often the legacy of [modern] colonialism. But the mindset of sectarianism is thoroughly pre-modern. Modern nationalism was devised at least in part to blunt sectarianism among Muslims[, so the] . . . . jihad of Muslim against Muslim is a huge reversal . . . . [Because] tradition[s] had to be respected, the hybrid civilization of the region tolerated the exclusion of Jews and the marginalization of Christians[, leaving] . . . . only one step from there to the defamation by Shiite of Sunni, by Sunni of Alawi, and on and on. The jihad of Muslim against Muslim, whether waged by Lebanon's Hezbollah in Syria, or by extreme Islamists in parts of Iraq and northern Syria, is a huge reversal. It is like a page taken straight out of eighth- or ninth-century Islamic history. Here we are in a Middle East where the major divide isn't over the form of government, or the nature of the economic system, or the extent of individual liberty. It is over a[n old] dispute dating from the seventh century of Islam -- the sort of thing Europe left behind when it secularized during the Enlightenment.
With this breakdown of the Middle East's hybrid civilization, we see the rise of Islamist radicalism in Muslim against Muslim -- the homefront of Islamist attacks on Western Modernity -- for ridding the world of infidelity requires not merely that one eradicate unbelief in the non-Muslim realm but also, and even more imperative, that one eradicate unbelief in the Muslim realm itself, with "unbelief" being defined as any innovation in Islamic traditions. Thus the accusation of takfir leveled by Muslim against Muslim.

Professor Kramer concludes that "millions of people [in the Middle East] . . . must reconfigure the way they see themselves and the world, not just through a political revolution, but through a cultural one," that no "power outside can deliberately accelerate or channel this transformation, " and that "we are much closer to the beginning of that process than the end," so the Middle East "will remain a cauldron for years if not decades to come."

We have a lot of ancient history to look forward to . . .

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

With Gratitude to the LTI Korea

LTI Korea Banner Image

My wife and I are still enjoying the after-effects of the good news, partly from receiving congratulatory messages such as this one from the Director of the Literature Translation Institute of Korea, Professor Seong-Kon Kim:
Dear Prof. Hodges,

I am sure you know already that your (and your wife's) translation of Yi Kwangsu's The Soil published by Dalkey Archive Press has been selected as one of "The WLT's 75 Notable Translations 2013." My heartfelt congratulations on the honor!

LTI Korea is excited to hear the news and greatly encouraged by it. Needless to say, we are very grateful to you.


Seong-Kon Kim
We were honored by the congratulations, but I felt that the gratitude should really be from us to the LTI Korea, so I replied as follows:
Dear Prof. Kim,

Thank you for the note of congratulations. We had indeed heard the news. My wife was alerted by someone at the LTI Korea early yesterday, but I was so busy that I didn't check my mail and only found out after 3 in the afternoon, when I arrived home and heard a brief report from my wife just before she left for a meeting.

I wasn't at first sure what to make of the news, for I was unfamiliar with the WLT. But I blogged on the honor (I'll blog on anything, you know) and linked to my blog entry where the scholars on the Milton List could access it. The Milton scholars' hearty congratulations made me realize that this must really be a big deal (to borrow an expression from your KH column this week).

I hope this recognition will be of some benefit to the LTI Korea, for without the translation grant, my wife and I would never have been able to undertake such a large-scale project. Please let us know if we can be of some assistance to the LTI Korea.

Best Regards,

Jeffery Hodges
Let me underline this point: Without LTI Korea's strong support through a sizable grant, our translation would never have even been undertaken, so much of the praise should go to this institute and to its Director, Professor Seong-Kon Kim, for their support.

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

World Literature Today Recognizes The Soil

My wife and I received the good news yesterday that one of our translations has been recognized as numbering among the "WLT's 75 Notable Translations 2013," as the WLT noted that "working with the Literature Translation Institute of Korea, Dalkey Archive launched its Library of Korean Literature, bringing out several titles," including Yi Kwang-su's novel The Soil:
Yi Kwang-su, The Soil, Hwang Sun-Ae and Horace Jeffery Hodges, tr.
I was in seventh heaven, so to bring me back down to earth, my wife observed that our translation was undoubtedly selected more for Yi Kwang-su's stature than our work's quality. That's likely the case. (Dammit!) But we can pretend!

One thing is certain: Yi Kwang-su never imagined that an Arkansas boy from the Ozarks who can't even speak Korean would play a contributing role in rendering The Soil into English.

I can hardly believe it either -- though I quickly remind myself that without wonderful Sun-Ae, this wouldn't have been possible . . .

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Lyin' Eyes

Kang Mi Jin, reporting for Daily NK, says that the "North Sees [a] Mixed Response to [the] Execution" of Jang Sung Taek (December 13, 2013):
News of Jang Sung Taek's execution has been met with mixed responses from ordinary North Koreans, one of Daily NK's sources has revealed.

The source, located in North Korea's Yangkang Province, told Daily NK on the 13th that, "Word of the execution is spreading rapidly throughout the country. Most people are openly critical of Jang, saying, 'He got the punishment he deserved,' and, 'How could he be so traitorous after receiving the love of the General (Kim Jong Il)?'"

However, she went on, "Their eyes and way of speaking seem to tell you that they don't really believe what they are saying."
They just can't hide their lying eyes, so these tricky circumstances call for some almost entirely inappropriate music!

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Monday, December 16, 2013

Ozark Winter Weather: Uncle Cran and Cousin Bill

Uncle Cran in Ozark Snow

The Ozarks have been getting some snow recently, and as you see, Uncle Cran has sent the above photo. Here's another:

Cranless Snow

That extra blue tint makes the scene look even colder! Uncle Cran offered a few words along with these photos, beginning with a brief geography lesson:
This is not Alaska . . . . Just the frozen fields of Arkansas . . . . You have to bundle up, and even wear a ski type mask when you go out.

[These photos were] taken from the South side of the house . . . . You can see that I haven't been able to clear the snow with the tractor or snow shovel. It took a lot of shoveling to just get tracks cleared for the tractor to get to the barn and out to the field. Even then it took a lot of tries to finally get to get the hay bales in the barn area. The snow was so powdery, with ice underneath, that the tractor would just spin and not move anywhere, until I finally was able to get a path cleared.

You can't see my pet dog Buddy [in my arms in the first photo], just the tip of his tail, but every morning after breakfast I have to carry him to the tractor shed so he can unload his breakfast. The only way he can navigate is to follow the tractor tracks and where I shoveled a path. I carry him down, but make him follow me back.
That was Uncle Cran's report from North Central Arkansas -- though I'm still a bit unclear on how the tractor's spinning wheels are connected to the cleared path since Uncle Cran hadn't been able to clear the snow with tractor or shovel, but somehow shoveled a path for the tractor to move upon. Well, there's always a bit of ambiguity in a weather report. Anyway, more snow has fallen since Uncle Cran's email, and Cousin Bill now offers a somewhat ironic report on the weather situation in Northwestern Arkansas:
It's cold here, 29 [degrees fahrenheit] at typing time. We've had mostly lousy weather here all week. Sunshine and blue skies made an appearance twice, otherwise it's been gray and dreary.

Sunday past Scott and Morgan arrived at Buena Vista's Town Center intersection from Olathe[, Kansas] in less than three hours . . . from there to our house required only one hour and fifteen minutes . . . what? . . . yep the roads were so bad here they had a few necessary re-routes. We gave them just enough time to get over the shakes and the road horror stories before I announced "Well guys and gals, I've called Crystal Bridges [Museum,] and they're open, so let's get headed that way." I hadn't driven a half mile when I questioned my sanity (silently), all the while my optimistic mindset telling me the next curve of the road would offer a summer like Arkansas highway view . . . that didn't happen . . . the roads were snow packed and icy all the way to Bentonville's J St and Museum Way . . . the final quarter mile looking like the Arkansas summer highway I'd envisioned.

The best part of the Crystal Bridges visit was the staff's undivided attention . . . answering any questions we asked and offering answers to questions we didn't ask . . . "Did you know . . . the ceiling beams were cut from Arkansas pine?, the benches are made from trees cut right here on the grounds and Rosie the Riveter's pose is exactly as that of Michelangelo's painting of Isaiah". Our answers "Nope, nope and nope". We did observe (on our own) that Rockwell's included a halo above Rosie's head . . . I hadn't noticed that in previous viewings, perhaps the nearby nude bronze female figure got me distracted. I might add the personalized tour wasn't account my esteemed status in the Benton County community, but rather the fact that we were but four of maybe twenty people crazy enough to risk life or limb to visit in inclement weather.
Cousin Bill didn't supply any photos, though I'd like to see one of that Rockwell painting of Rosie the Riveter and compare it to Michelangelo's painting of Isaiah.

Fascinating . . . for me. Seeing the familiar winter snow but reading about an unfamiliar, important art museum in the Ozarks . . .

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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Dave Hickey on Art and Criticism

Dave Hickey
"Here's looking at you, kid."
Art Critic

I'm reading Dave Hickey's critique of the art world, namely, The Invisible Dragon: Four Essays on Beauty, which I love for its great prose, but to understand its critical stance with respect to the art world, I'll need to read a second or third time, for it seems to have made a strong impression there, as Hickey reports in the objective third-person:
In the Dragon's wake, he gave lectures in university auditoriums during which the faculty rose en masse from their seats in the back row and walked out. Honorariums were withheld. Dinners were canceled. Litigation was threatened. The endowed lecturer was deposited unceremoniously at a Ramada Inn beside an empty highway and left to dine out of the candy machine.
Why was he so despised? No, not for writing in the third person. Rather, because he said:
In images, beauty is the agency that causes visual pleasure in the beholder, and since pleasure is the true occasion for looking at anything, any theory of images that is not grounded in the pleasure of the beholder begs the question of art's efficacy and dooms itself to inconsequence!
In short, how art appears comes before what art means, an implication that the academic purveyors of art's meaning found threatening:
How was he to know that critiques of the sort he had been writing, however apt or inept, would threaten the livelihoods of well-scrubbed young Americans and scruffy, dolorous Brits. It never occurred to him that he was tilting at windmills upon whose continuing rotation jobs, promotions, raises, tenures, homes, pools, skis, bikes, spas, Audis, and academic reputations were absolutely dependent.
Therefore was he disliked. I'll report more if I find some pithy remark to record . . .


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Christmas Comes Early For Uncle Jang . . .

Jang Song Thaek
"Jingle, jangle, jingle
I can hear those 'slay' bells ring"

Kevin Kim calls attention to Joshua Stanton over at One Free Korea for his intriguing insight into the Child-King's possible faux pas in having his Uncle Jang so publicly executed for plotting a coup:
The very fact that North Korea concedes that a recently-esteemed and trusted leader secretly despised and plotted against Kim Jong Un is an acknowledgement of the unthinkable. It shatters one of the most sacred illusions of North Korean propaganda. Had someone tried to overthrow Kim Jong Il (and someone probably did) Kim Jong II would never have admitted it (and he didn't). Both Jang's execution and this announcement suggest that Kim Jong Un is a much more volatile man than his father, and much less schooled in the ideology that explains his father's longevity. For once, I'm astonished by North Korea's candor.
Joshua's point is that the Kim-family's spell has been broken. Every North Korean now knows that the man closest to Kim Jong Un hated him. There may now be a lot of desperate officials who were indebted to Jang and don't want to suffer his fate, and if the Man-Child Leader is perceived as volatile, unpredictable, and brutal, then he is making a problem for himself, as I noted about a week ago:
If he's executing people on a whim, then nobody in the high elite can trust him. An intelligent dictator can be harsh, but if the rules are clear and applied consistently, people will generally obey them and thus know that they are secure. But if there are no rules and punishment is arbitrary, conditions are ripe for revolt.
But we'll see. Meanwhile, let's appreciate the "Brilliant General" for this early Christmas present . . .

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Friday, December 13, 2013

OIC Blames Extremist Free Speech for Islamophobia

Organization of Islamic Cooperation
"Engulf and Devour"

Soeren Kern, in "OIC Blames Free Speech for 'Islamophobia' in West" (Gatestone Institute, December 11, 2013), informs us of the OIC's goal of limiting free speech about Islam, so I decided to look at the Sixth OIC Observatory Report on Islamophobia (October 2012 - September 2013) to see for myself what it says about free expression:
[T]he worldwide provocation caused by the publication of the nefarious caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) by a Danish cartoonist in the Jyllands-Posten newspaper on September 30, 2005. This irresponsible act of abusing freedom of expression by a single individual that was among the first of many that were to follow in humiliating and negatively stereotyping Muslims, effectively contributed towards developing a culture of intolerance of Islam and Muslims in the West. (1)
I'm glad that's set straight. I had erroneously imagined that the worldwide rioting of Islamists over the Muhammad cartoons bore more responsibility for the negative image of Islam. Even worse:
[T]he perpetuation of Islamophobia, both in terms of the phenomenon's momentum and outreach, is disquieting. It is particularly alarming that what had initially started as mere exploitation and abuse of freedom of expression by some extremist elements, gradually found resonance in political spheres, ultimately leading to the institutionalization of Islamophobia. (1)
I had attributed the politicization of this issue to Islamist violence. How wrong I was!
[We OIC] Member States . . . strongly convey our grave concerns on growing Islamophobia to our western counterparts within the ambit of their bilateral consultations and to impress upon them that the sanctity of freedom of expression and freedom of religion cannot be allowed to be endangered by those few radical extremists who are determined to create unrest and divisions in our present day world of diversity by giving them a free hand in fomenting Islamophobia. (2)
The radical extremists are not the Islamists, but those who resort to freedom of expression! I didn't know that! Here's more about those extremists who so freely express their radical views on Islam:
The outcry against these extreme radicals may be universal but little could be done to contain them as they enjoy a free hand in inciting intolerance of Islam and Muslims under the pretext of freedom of expression. (7)
I hadn't realized that free expression was so dreadful -- not that the OIC or Muslims are actually against this dreadful practice in which people speak their minds:
Many distorted facts and ill conceived ideas about Islam continue to be accepted and justified despite the clear danger they represent in societies. These include the perception that Islam is linked to terror; that it is intolerant of other religious beliefs, that its values and practices are incompatible with modern democratic systems; that it favours repression of freedom of expression and undermining human rights and other misperceptions. (33)
The opinion that Islam favors repression of freedom of expression is wholly wrong! Freedom of expression is fine so long as it's not used to say anything negative about Islam. For instance, you wouldn't want to resort to free expression to link Islam to violence, though you might have been allowed to link Islamism to violence if the spelling weren't so close as to make people think of Islam, so just refer to those many violent misunderstanders of the Religion of Peace as "radical extremists," "insurgents," or even "youths," depending on the context.

You wouldn't want to lose your head over something as minor as the sanctity of free expression . . .

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

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

A good two weeks have passed since my English Lounge reading from my novella, but the ripple effects perdure. A bit more notice. A few more sales. One online acquaintance was apparently thereby enticed to read it -- and reported back:
Kudos, Jeffery, on a very enjoyable and thought-provoking read.
Another acquaintance, my old Russian history professor Wallace L. Daniel, wrote me to say:
This is wonderful . . . . I have seen the illustrations, following them through the links . . . , and they certainly entice the reader. Also, I am glad you still find [the] Bulgakov [novel] appealing, especially since it is such a favorite of mine.
Moreover, another five-star customer review appeared on the Amazon site:
I read this book with much trepidation since I knew that the writer, a scholar of history and religion, would not/could not write a book without 'some meaning.' I was right! The novella contains many many allusions to Milton's Paradise Lost, biblical figures, historical facts and knowledge of good beer, the really good kind. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the novella because of the quirky characters and eloquent sentences that helped to mitigate my panic of being an ignoramus in biblical studies and Milton. By the end of the novella, I really wanted that bottomless bottle of beer, which I am certain, was not the author's intention. I think I would like to read it again upon more self study and perusals of some of the allusions Dr. Hodges used to get more out of this very meticulously written, but still good read of a book.
The reviewer writes as if an acquaintance of mine, but I can't quite place who this individual might be. I'll have to ask around.

Anyway, I've been hearing only positive remarks, though there will surely be readers who don't like my story . . .

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Every Good Thing Must End . . .

Uncle Jang Song Thaek
Video at 8 minutes, 45 Seconds

The current rumblings in North Korea over the party's purge of Jang Song Thaek, the uncle by marriage of the young North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, are making even the North's ordinarily boring propaganda fascinating to read -- and even more fascinating to play around with, in the interest of truth, naturally, so let's keep in mind that we're reading about an uncle and his nephew:
"Report on Enlarged Meeting of Political Bureau of Central Committee of WPK (Workers Party of Korea)," Korea Central News Agency (KCNA), translated from Korean by Korea Open Source Project, Volume VI, Issue 238, December 10, 2013

In this historic period for carrying forward the revolutionary cause of Juche[,] the chance elements and alien elements who had made their ways into the party committed such anti-party, counter-revolutionary factional acts as expanding their forces through factional moves and daring [to] challenge the party, while attempting to undermine the unitary leadership of the party . . . . [T]he Political Bureau of the C.C. (Central Committee), the WPK, convened its enlarged meeting and discussed the issue related to the anti-party, counter-revolutionary factional acts committed by [Uncle] Jang Song Thaek . . . . [F]ully laid bare [were] the anti-party, counter-revolutionary factional acts of [Uncle] Jang Song Thaek and their harmfulness and reactionary nature . . . . The entire party, whole army and all people are dynamically advancing toward the final victory in the drive for the building of a thriving nation, meeting all challenges of history and resolutely foiling the desperate moves of the enemies of the revolution under the leadership of Kim Jong Un [nephew of Jang Song Thaek] . . . . The [Uncle] Jang Song Thaek group, however, committed such anti-party, counter-revolutionary factional acts as gnawing at the unity and cohesion of the party . . . . [Uncle] Jang pretended to uphold the party and leader but was engrossed in such factional acts as dreaming different dreams and . . . . behaving against the elementary sense of moral obligation and conscience as a human being . . . . [for Uncle] Jang desperately worked to form a faction within the party . . . . [and] tried to increase his force and build his base . . . . [Uncle] Jang and his followers did not sincerely accept the line and policies of the party . . . . The [Uncle] Jang group weakened the party's guidance . . . . Such acts are nothing but counter-revolutionary, unpopular criminal acts of giving up the class struggle and paralyzing the function of [the] popular democratic dictatorship [of Uncle Jang's nephew, Kim Jong Un], yielding to the offensive of the hostile forces to stifle the DPRK . . . . [Uncle] Jang seriously obstructed the nation's economic affairs and the improvement of the standard of people's living . . . . The [Uncle] Jang group put under its control the fields and units which play an important role in the nation's economic development and the improvement of people's living in a crafty manner, making . . . impossible for the economic guidance organs including the Cabinet to perform their roles[,] . . . . [thereby] throwing the state financial management system into confusion and committing such [an] act of treachery as selling off precious resources of the country at cheap prices, the [Uncle Jang] group made it impossible to carry out the behests of [his father-in-law] Kim Il Sung and [his brother-in-law] Kim Jong Il on developing the industries of Juche iron, Juche fertilizer and Juche vinalon . . . . [Uncle] Jang committed irregularities and corruption and led a dissolute and depraved life . . . . abusing his power, . . . [and having] improper relations with several women . . . . [Uncle] Jang and his followers committed criminal acts baffling imagination . . . [acts] perpetrated by the group of [Uncle] Jang Song Thaek . . . . Speakers bitterly criticized in unison the anti-party, counter-revolutionary factional acts committed by the [Uncle] Jang group and expressed their firm resolution to remain true to the idea and leadership of Kim Jong Un[, pure nephew of the corrupt Uncle Jang Song Thaek] . . . . The meeting adopted a decision of the Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee on relieving [Uncle] Jang of all posts, depriving him of all titles and expelling him and removing his name from the WPK [and his image from official photographs, of course] . . . . The party served warning[s] to [Uncle] Jang several times and dealt blows at him, watching his group's anti-party, counter-revolutionary factional acts[,] as it has been aware of them from long ago[, but try not to dwell on this point too much, as that might lead to groundless doubts about the party's superior wisdom]. But [anyway,] . . . [the Uncle Jang Song Thaek group] did not pay heed to [the party] . . . but went beyond [the] tolerance limit. That was why the party eliminated [Uncle] Jang and purged his group, unable to remain an onlooker to its acts any longer [-- but again, don't think about this point too deeply --] dealing telling blows at sectarian acts manifested within the party . . . . The discovery and purge of the [Uncle] Jang group, a modern day faction[,] . . . [has] made our party and revolutionary ranks purer . . . . No force on earth can deter our party, army[,] and people from dynamically advancing toward a final victory, single-mindedly united around [the pure] Kim Jong Un[, nephew of the corrupt Uncle Jang Song Thaek].
Family problems . . . (sigh) . . . every family has them. But there's a serious side to this, of course. The North might be growing unstable, motivating Kim Jong Un to distract everyone through serious provocations against South Korea.

Something to think about . . .

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Jihadi Leader in Syria Prays for Peace

Sheik Saqr Al-Jihad
May Be Closer Than Appears

Short entry this morning on a prayer for peace in Syria by Sheik Saqr Al-Jihad:
Oh Lord blah blah blah make us victorious soon. blah blah blah Oh Lord blah blah blah Grant us victory. blah blah blah Oh Lord, we are not here because we love this world, but because we want to chop [the enemies'] heads off. blah blah blah
What? You see nothing peaceful in this prayer? Maybe you ought to have your own head examined? Get your brain washed? Have it infused with proper understanding of this sheik's spiritual position? Let me put it as succinctly as possible: If all enemies' heads get chopped off, there'll be perfect peace. You had better understand that. Or else you just might need to suffer an excess of peace yourself.

But you may have to be longsuffering in your wait for that perfect peace, for this prayer was raised to the heavens back in April, yet the good sheik still has enemies in Syria who have yet to lose their heads over his prayer and thus continue fighting him with heads attached firmly to necks.

I reckon they just don't believe in perfect peace.

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Monday, December 09, 2013

Malcolm Pollack: Words on The Bottomless Bottle of Beer

Malcolm Pollack

I read Malcolm's blog, Waka Waka Waka, every day, occasionally commenting in some non-substantive, hopefully witty way that Malcolm tolerates from me since we're friends. I didn't even know he was reading my novella, The Bottomless Bottle of Beer, but there he was, abruptly recommending it under a post titled "Links":
Read this book.
I thanked him for that:
Thanks for plugging my little book. If readers accept your recommendation, I hope they like what I wrote -- or at least like Terrance Lindall's illustrations!
Malcolm replied:
You're welcome, Jeffery! I've just bought and read the book, and I thought it was brilliant. (I will have to read it at least once more, though, before I begin to grasp all the wordplay and references.)

It deserves a much wider audience.
I offered Malcolm a means of grading himself:
At some point, I can send you a 'cheat sheet' that gives away a lot -- though not all -- of the wordplays and references.
At that point, The Big Henry -- a regular commenter at Malcolm's blog -- responded:
I bought the Kindle book and [am] reading it as we speak. Please send the "cheat sheet" to me via Malcolm; he has my email address.
I have done so for The Big Henry . . . and for Malcolm, whose words I greatly appreciate. Malcolm is a very gifted, erudite fellow who knows science, music, literature, and culture generally, so he's not one to mince words (though he might be kind in my case). I hope that The Big Henry -- also a formidably intelligent, cultured individual -- doesn't feel let down by the actual story after it came so highly recommended . . .


Sunday, December 08, 2013

Donne, They Say - John Savoie

Yesterday on the Milton List appeared a link to a poem by John Savoie, and because I had a bit of time, I clicked on the link and was taken to Poetry Daily, where I read his poem:
Donne, They Say

Donne, they say, duelled death,
preached his own funeral,
hymned his own requiem,
then slid his sunken corpse
into the clear flowing stream.
So let us breathe our own
elegy, weave our own shroud,
or spread and billow the blanket,
then sneak beneath like laughing
children before it falls,
and there we'll sleep, hand in hand,
as bladed grass beneath the snow.
The site Poetry Daily apparently borrowed it from the poetry journal ellipsis (Volume 49, 2013). Anyway, I liked it and so posted to the Milton List my reading of a line I liked:
I like the way "as bladed grass beneath the snow" picks up on "duelled death" -- as though Donne's duel with death goes on and on, including all of us undone ones grappling with our own mortality . . .
Matthew Jordan liked the way I liked it:
That is a lovely point regarding what is at least a very competent poem, if that doesn't sound too faint as far as praise goes.
I don't think the praise of Savoie's poem too faint -- allowing that "very competent" shades over into "excellent," which it probably does, given Dr. Jordan's possibly British understatement.

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Saturday, December 07, 2013

Bulgakov Renaissance?

"It was an enormous, black tomcat,
heavy, nearly as large as a hog,
sprawled out in an armchair
and apparently napping."
-Horace Jeffery Hodges
The Bottomless Bottle of Beer
Google Books

If I can believe noted Russian historian Orlando Figes, "Hamming Up Bulgakov" (The New York Review of Books, November 14, 2013), "Mikhail Bulgakov has enjoyed a renaissance during recent years" with his "hind-leg-walking cats and The Master and Margarita," which can only be good for my own 'Bulgakovian' satire. As I commented to Mr. Figes:
I'm glad to learn that "Mikhail Bulgakov has enjoyed a renaissance during recent years," for I fell in love with his works upon first reading The Master and Margarita way back in 1977.

Maybe I'm also caught up in that renaissance since I've recently penned a story with one of those "hind-leg-walking cats" you've noted.

Anyway, the television series sounds enjoyable even if it's not completely faithful to the original. Thanks for calling this to our attention!
In looking around for more on Bulgakov's great novel, I noticed Behemoth the cat sprawled out in an armchair on this cover of The Master and Margarita, Wordsworth Classics edition, and though I searched, I couldn't locate information on whom to cite as responsible for this great cover art, but it so closely fits my description of Behemoth when he first appears in my novella that I just had to borrow it for today's blog entry!

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Friday, December 06, 2013

Everybody Must Get Stoned . . .

The Swinging Bob Dylan
Should have pulled his punches?
Fred Tanneau/AFP/GettyImages

If you live outside the law, you must be honest, but that won't stop the law from coming after you, as Dylan is discovering, or so we might conclude from Ed West's report, "Bob Dylan falls foul of Europe's neo-blasphemy laws" (The Spectator, December 4, 2013):
Dylan is the latest victim of Europe's neo-blasphemy laws, in which offending someone's group identity is treated in the same way that offending God once was . . . . I wonder how the great secular reformers of yesteryear would have felt about blasphemy being effortlessly replaced in this way . . . . [N]ow that identity, whether of race, religion, class, sex or sexuality, is the new sacred, hate crime laws have become blasphemy laws in all but name. The things that will get someone arrested, investigated, shunned, boycotted, made unemployed or end their political career -- all relate to the blasphemy of identity.
So . . . what, exactly, did Dylan say? Oh, something weirdly Dylanesque:
"If you got a slave master or [Ku Klux] Klan in your blood, blacks can sense that. That stuff lingers to this day. Just like Jews can sense Nazi blood and the Serbs can sense Croatian blood."
Um . . . that's really weirdly Dylanesque. I can see why some folk would be offended. So far, though, only Croats have pushed for France to enforce its hate-crime law -- the Klan and Nazis still maintaining silence, not yet throwing any stones.

I doubt Dylan is giving this legal challenge much thought, other than to retort, "Nah, nah, nah, it ain't me babe," but I do think Mr. West is correct about identity as the new sacred. Not every identity, of course. Just identity in a group widely recognized as oppressed. Hence clarifying why victimhood has become the highest 'virtue,' trumping the more authentic virtues and forgiving even the most egregious of faults.

Civilizational weather report: it's a hard rain's a-gonna fall . . .

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Thursday, December 05, 2013

May I Have this Dance?

Angels Dancing on Head of a Pin
Where's the point of that?
Google Books

I've had no time to scrape together something original, so I'll just post this passage from the story I'm working on, a passage in which Vladimir and Kropot teach the protagonist a new dance step:
"Where are we going?" I asked, once we had stepped outside the apartment building and into the chill of a windy, overcast day, the clouds hanging low and murky.

"To see an old friend of yours," replied Vladimir, "a man with the curious name of 'Wei Guk-in.' He might be able to tell us of Sharikov's whereabouts."

"Why would he know that?" I asked.

"He knows Seoul as well as any Korean," said Kropot.

"And," added Vladimir, "he has contacts in this city who might know about Sharikov."

"But we don't," said Kropot.

"Nor do we know where he lives," said Vladimir, "but we know you know."

"How do you know that?" I asked.

"We know some things, not everything," Vladimir replied, his tone intimating that I shouldn't inquire too deeply.

"The point," said Kropot, indicating me with the long sharp nail of his left index finger, jabbing it forward to make his point, "is that you can take us to him."

"No cause for concern," Vladimir gravely added. "We only wish to talk with him, ask him a few questions."

"Maybe rough him up a bit," Kropot growled.

"But only if necessary," said Vladimir.

"By 'only,' we mean 'usually,'" explained Kropot.

"We do," agreed Vladimir.

"Stop right there!" I cried, halting myself as I spoke.

My two companions looked puzzled.

"Stop where?" asked Vladimir. "Right here?" He tapped a foot to indicate a spot.

"No," Kropot reminded him. "He said 'right there.'" With his foot, he pointed to the same spot.

"That's where I meant," said Vladimir, sounding irked.

"But," replied Kropot, triumph in his tone, "he said 'there,' not 'here.'"

"It's all relative," countered Vladimir, sounding more irked.

“You think you’re Einstein?” retorted Kropot with a tinge of ridicule to his tone.

"Drop it," Vladimir warned. "We're agreed on the spot. My 'here.' Your 'there.' That's where we stop."

"Both of us?" asked Kropot. "In the same spot? That'd be like standing on the head of a pin!"

"Should be easy for us," observed Vladimir, "since we've danced where angels fear to tread."

"May I then have this dance?" Kropot asked, hand extended in courtly fashion, transformed into all charm.

"Delighted!" replied Vladimir, delicately accepting the proffered hand.

The odd couple clasped hands, leaned away from each other, and spun about a mysteriously stable center of gravity as they tapped out a rhythmic beat, alternately striking either toe upon the exact same spot, while singing:
To stand upright will ask thee skill?
That was a bit of overkill!
We smitten with amazement fall?
Oh, that won't happen, not at all!
Come join us in a happy throng --
And see if you can dance along!
We prance as on a steel pin head --
You do it too, or you'll be dead!
With those mortal words, the two reached out and grabbed me by my hands, pulling me abruptly into their spinning circle, where I too tapped away as we spun faster and faster and faster and faster till I could no longer see the world whirled round us, nor our madly tapping feet, nor the rapidly shuttering lips of Vladimir and Kropot, but only the unmoved moving parts, particularly their dark eyes, relentlessly fixed upon me, so fascinating in their darkness, a black mass that seemed to expand until all light was gone and even my eyelids closed under the heavy darkness . . .
Hmmm . . . sounds rather grim. But all is not lost. The unconquerable mind lurks in that heavy darkness . . .

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Wednesday, December 04, 2013

No Genius . . .

Artwork by Terrance Lindall

Some time back, when Terrance Lindall was working on the illustrations to my story, The Bottomless Bottle of Beer, I remarked that the devilish number "666" resembles "BBB" written lower case: "bbb." In the above image, one can see this better.

Well, a graduate student in English literature who attended my literary reading last week was looking through my blog entries on Lindall's illustrations and noticed my remark:
It was delight to find, while reading the comments on your blog, that BBB in lower case bbb, resembles 666! Did you intend it? Gosh, you are a genius!
While I'd like to be thought a genius -- but only if I were one (otherwise, the label is an unendurable burden) -- I replied:
I'm no genius. I didn't plan the similarity, but I did first notice it.
At least, I don't recall intending the visual connection, though connections are sometimes made unawares, and perhaps this is one of those. From the looks of it, that image above suggests that Lindall himself may have also made an unconscious connection.

Anyway, if anyone's a genius here (other than Lindall himself, of course), that student is the one. She's done some brilliant work with text and image. She and I sat together in Starbucks for two hours one early morning last summer looking through her portfolio illustrating Milton's Paradise Lost using very abstract, distinctly colored images. It was wonderful!

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Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Ewha Voice on My Literary Reading

Ewha Voice
Photo by Chung Yun-jo

As you see, my reading was covered by the Ewha Voice, the student newspaper for Ewha Womans University. Reporter Yoon Hye-joon, in "English Lounge hosts literary reading on The Bottomless Bottle of Beer" (Ewha Voice, December 1, 2013), described it as "a free literary reading [by me] with slide illustrations . . . . by Terrance Lindall, a well-known artist and illustrator." Ms. Yoon very effectively sums up the plot to The Bottomless Bottle of Beer:
The novella is based on Goethe's Faust and other various stories. The basic storyline is about a naive young man who sells his soul for a bottomless bottle of beer. However, the man misunderstands the meaning of the "bottomless bottle" of beer, and the misunderstanding leads him to sign a contract in blood with the devil.
Those other stories are Paradise Lost, The Master and Margarita, The Devil and Daniel Webster, and more. Ms. Yoon had interviewed me before the reading, inquiring about my inspiration:
Professor Hodges states that there is no special source of inspiration: He starts writing, continues to write, and once the writing is finished, he had a story. "I find that I have a story to tell, and as I am writing, ideas come," professor Hodges said. "There is always some rewriting to do, of course."
Ms. Yoon also interviewed the woman who introduced me:
"The book reading by professor Hodges was a lot of fun," professor Lee Soo-kyung (English Program Office) said. "I have read the book but hearing it live by the author and seeing the illustrations simultaneously was a different experience."
There's more at the Ewha Voice webpage, for anyone interested, and I add that I'm grateful for the publicity (and, of course, there's YouTube).

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