Friday, October 31, 2014

A Simple Tapestry . . .

God Accuses Adam and Eve after the Fall (ca. 1648)
(Click Image to Enlarge)
Pieter Coecke van Aelst
(August 14, 1502 - December 6, 1550)
Photo by Bruce White

New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art is displaying a beautiful exhibition titled "Grand Design: Pieter Coecke van Aelst and Renaissance Tapestry" (October 8, 2014 - January 11, 2015). I especially like this scene depicting Adam clothed with a natural thong of what looks like a vine - but ought to be fig leaves - accusing Eve of the tresspass. God, by contrast, is clothed in a glowing red robe - and the serpent is clothed in its own red, white, and blue skin! In the distance - representing the future, but not the distant future - God clothes the two fallen humans with animal skins. I wonder what sort of animal (not the serpent, obviously, though that would have been appropriate), and why is God robed in red - has he been trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored? Most amazing of all, this image isn't painted, but woven!

Milton's serpent, incidently, is also colorful in PL 9.499-501:
. . . his Head
Crested aloft, and Carbuncle his Eyes;
With burnisht Neck of verdant Gold
Different colors, of course, but this leads me to wonder about traditions concerning the serpent's coloring . . .

Anyway, go and see this exhibition for yourself.

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Left-Hand Screw Turns to the Right . . .

"Behead the Infidels"
London Islamists
Google Images

Man of the Left Brian Whitaker warns us that "Most Arab states share Isis's ideology" (The Guardian, October 28, 2014), and then tells us about it:
Compulsion in religion is the ideological foundation stone of Isis and Islamist movements in general. Believing they have superior knowledge of God's wishes for mankind, such groups feel entitled - even required - to act on his behalf and punish those who fail to comply with the divine will. In doing so, of course, they do not claim to be seeking power for themselves but merely trying to make the world more holy.
Tell us all about it, Mr. Whitaker. Some of us have long been talking about this problem. Where've you been? But maybe you've also discussed this issue before, too - I can't read everything - and at least you're now talking about it, so maybe the Left more generally is coming around to seeing the Islamist danger.
Bombing Isis and banning Islamist movements may suppress such movements for a while but it does nothing to address the ideological problem. Unless the question of compulsion in religion is tackled head-on, and in a serious way, they [i.e., Islamists] will resurface later or similar groups will emerge to replace them.
Exactly right. But how do we address "the ideological problem . . . of compulsion in religion"?
Although freedom of belief is a widely accepted principle internationally, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, it is still far from becoming established in the Arab countries. This is true of both governments and society.
Whitaker goes on to show various other Arab states with laws similar to those cited by ISIS, but let's turn to another Leftist speaking truth to Leftist power, Jeffrey Tayler, writing "Reza Aslan's atheism problem: 'Fundamentalist' atheists aren't the issue, apologists for religions are" (Salon, October 25, 2014):
Bill Maher's recent monologue on "Real Time" about the failure of liberals to speak out about the routine atrocities and violations of human rights carried out in the name of religion in the Muslim world has unleashed a torrent of commentary, much of it from progressives advocating more, not less, tolerance of Islam . . . . One pundit in particular . . . has busied himself opining on Maher and nonbelievers in general - Reza Aslan, Islam's most prominent apologist of late. Delivered via multiple media outlets, his remarks, brimming with condescension, tinged with arrogance and laden with implicit insults to thinking people, deserve special scrutiny for one main reason: among well-intentioned liberals who don't know much about religion, his words carry weight . . . . Aslan accuses the benighted critics of religion of a . . . grievous misapprehension: the assumption that words mean what they actually mean . . . . Aslan is essentially taking a postmodernist, Derrida-esque scalpel to 'scripture' and eviscerating it of objective content. This might pass muster in the college classroom these days, but what of all those ISIS warriors unschooled in French semiotic analysis who take their holy book's admonition to do violence literally? As they rampage and behead their way through Syria and Iraq, ISIS fighters know they have the Koran on their side - a book they believe to be inerrant and immutable, the final Word of God, and not at all "malleable." Their holy book backs up jihad, suicide attacks ("martyrdom"), beheadings, even taking captive women as sex slaves. This is not surprising; after all, the prophet Muhammad was a warrior who spread Islam by the sword in a dark, turbulent time in history.
Wow. Tayler is really speaking his mind on this, but he's done so before, as I've pointed out in an earlier blog entry.

Read the rest of Whitaker and Tayler on your own, if interested - and you should be interested.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Book of Life

The Book of Life
Image: Twentieth Century Fox
Christianity Today

In a movie review titled "The Book of Life" (Christianity Today, October 24, 2014), Nick Olson begins the review with a hook from the beginning of the movie baited to catch even readers as wary as we:
A busload of spitball slinging schoolchildren are unloaded at a museum, expecting to spend the day menacing the world around them. However, they are greeted by Mary Beth, a quick-witted tour guide who seems knowledgeable in dealing with mischievous tricksters.

Grabbing their attention with an optical illusion that leads to a secret passageway, Mary Beth leads the children to an obscure room where she introduces them to a mysterious book. It's the "Book of Life," she tells them, and it contains all of the world's stories.
Not the Book of Life Christians usually talk about, but this one sounds like a fun movie for a man of my sort, a fellow interested in telling tales, so let's check out a trailer: Here. Or another: Here.

Well, it's certainly colorful.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Immersion in 'Superior' Chinese Education?

Congratulating a Student
Photo by Jane Peterson
New York Times

In "An American School Immerses Itself in All Things Chinese" (NYT, October 26, 2014), Jane A. Peterson publishes an informative article - though also something of a 'puff' piece - about a school in Minneapolis, Yinghua Academy, that immerses American students in Mandarin Chinese to teach all of its classes from from kindergarten to eighth grade, which is fine and dandy by my reckoning, but I have a few reservations about some of the praise:
Math results, which are particularly strong, are partly attributed to the Singapore Math curriculum and its eight-step approach to word problems, as well as the Chinese-educated teachers who move through material more quickly than their American peers.
Ms. Peterson is a journalist stationed in Singapore, so she should know something about its approach to math education, but she might also be wont to consider it more positively than if otherwise stationed. I note this only as a possibility - and one should always practice some skepticism about what one reads. Consider, for instance, these words of praise for Mandarin:
Mathematical terms in Mandarin are also clearer. The word for "triangle," for instance, "sanjiaoxing," means three-sided. And when counting to 100, the Chinese use only 10 numbers to build all others; 71, for instance, is written 7-10-1. "The number system is easier to work with," said Mary McDonald, a seventh-grader who takes an extra university math class once a week. "It's faster and more organized."
Hmmm . . . Let me just point out that "triangle" means "three-angled," which is no more difficult than "three-sided." Moreover, I can't see the Chinese number system as easier since the Western number system also uses only ten numbers - 0 through 9 - to compose all others. But who am I to argue with a seventh-grader?

And perhaps I've simply missed the point about how math is "clearer" and "easier" in Mandarin. Might somebody explain to me how?

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Monday, October 27, 2014

"All your perfect imperfections . . ."

"All Of Me"
John Legend and Lindsey Stirling

I heard this song recently one morning while sitting in Ewha's ECC Starbucks sipping an extra-strong cappuccino and reading the New York Times, and I fell for the whole song on the strength of the fourth trenchant line in these four: "'Cause all of me / Loves all of you / Love your curves and all your edges / All your perfect imperfections . . ."

Here are the entire lyrics (and you can listen, too):
"All Of Me"

What would I do without your smart mouth?
Drawing me in, and you kicking me out
You've got my head spinning, no kidding, I can't pin you down
What's going on in that beautiful mind
I'm on your magical mystery ride
And I'm so dizzy, don't know what hit me, but I'll be alright

My head's under water
But I'm breathing fine
You're crazy and I'm out of my mind

'Cause all of me
Loves all of you
Love your curves and all your edges
All your perfect imperfections
Give your all to me
I'll give my all to you
You're my end and my beginning
Even when I lose I'm winning
'Cause I give you all of me
And you give me all of you, ohoh

How many times do I have to tell you
Even when you're crying you're beautiful too
The world is beating you down, I'm around through every mood
You're my downfall, you're my muse
My worst distraction, my rhythm and blues
I can't stop singing, it's ringing, in my head for you

My head's under water
But I'm breathing fine
You're crazy and I'm out of my mind

'Cause all of me
Loves all of you
Love your curves and all your edges
All your perfect imperfections
Give your all to me
I'll give my all to you
You're my end and my beginning
Even when I lose I'm winning
'Cause I give you all of me
And you give me all of you, ohoh

Give me all of you
Cards on the table, we're both showing hearts
Risking it all, though it's hard

'Cause all of me
Loves all of you
Love your curves and all your edges
All your perfect imperfections
Give your all to me
I'll give my all to you
You're my end and my beginning
Even when I lose I'm winning
'Cause I give you all of me
And you give me all of you

I give you all of me
And you give me all of you, ohoh
Granted, the lyrics are uneven - aside from a few lines, they don't look like much just to read them, and even seem a bit contradictory (is you, ain't you, is you ain't my baby?) - but John Legend's artful interpretation brings out the best meaning, particularly, of the "perfect imperfections."

Lindsey Stirling is great, too, on the violin . . .


Sunday, October 26, 2014

What the world needs now . . .

Walter A. McDougall

. . . isn't love, sweet love. Instead, writes my old Berkeley professor Walter McDougall, channeling Kissinger's new book, World Order:
What the world needs is a steering committee of responsible powers akin to the 19th century Concert of Europe.

But no longer is it even the 20th century, let alone the 19th, and not even America, let alone Europe, bestrides the whole world. Our moment in history is unique in that other, non-Western and especially Asian societies have assimilated western technology and economics and emerged as potential peer competitors. In particular, the United States now confronts, for the first time in its history, an authentic China: a coherent, confident, Confucian China that knows it is the Middle Kingdom and is bidding to become a regional hegemon to which all other states are tributary. Likewise, during the life span of the United States, no serious Islamic jihad had arisen before the 1970s. Whereas today Muslim terrorist movements and regimes aspiring to a universal caliphate have become pandemic, while Iran, of course, asserts its own Persian and Shi'ite concept of legitimate world order. India, Russia, and Japan also nurture historic notions of legitimacy and order that are unique to themselves. Kissinger only makes one brief reference in an end-note to Samuel Huntington, but the world he describes sounds an awful lot like a Clash of Civilizations.

In other words, the Westphalian order remains as an excellent model - or at least the only model - of an international order in which five or more Great Powers limited conflict among themselves and cooperated for goals of mutual interest. Why can't such an order be established today? Perhaps it can. But the only region with experience in that system is relatively impotent Europe, while the Great and Emerging Powers today are all bearers of non-Westphalian universalist ideologies. The classical Indian model of foreign policy, though muted today, is rigidly hierarchical. Its great classic, written by the prime minister Kautilya from the fourth century BCE, is the Arthashastra which Kissinger says is like Machiavelli and Clausewitz rolled into one. The Chinese model, associated with Sun Tzu and Taoism, takes for granted that the Chinese Imperial Dynasty is the sole source of legitimacy and peace under heaven. Hence it made no room for foreign policy at all, just relations with barbarian representatives to be administered by the Ministries of Rituals and Border Affairs. (But China, unlike Islamic and Christian civilizations, was not a missionary society.) The Islamic caliphate, in its most tolerable form, would probably look like the Ottoman Empire that terrorized Christendom for centuries. (Walter A. McDougall, "Kissinger's World Order," Geopoliticus: The FPRI Blog, October 13, 2014)
Will mankind have sufficient insight to work out a balance of power among the various civilizations? Or will Islamist aggression upend everything, and the other civilizations take on the clashes along Islam's "bloody borders"?

Stay tuned into reality . . . and find out.

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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Ednan Aslan on Islam and the Islamic State

Ednan Aslan
Archivbild: Religionspädagoge Ednan Aslan
Bild: Stanislav Jenis

Ednan Aslan is a Turkish-Austrian expert on Islam and also a teacher of religion who has some interesting words to say about the Islamic State's legitimacy on Islamic grounds in an interview by Köksal Baltaci for Die Presse:
Köksal Baltaci, "Religion Teacher Ednan Aslan: 'Muslims Need Peace Concepts'" (The Press, September 26, 2014)

(Köksal Baltaci, "Religionspädagoge Ednan Aslan: 'Muslime benötigen Friedenskonzepte'" (Die Presse, September 26, 2014))

Baltaci: How do you define "Islamic State"?

(Wie definieren Sie "islamischer Staat"?)

Aslan: A state under Islamic law, as IS-Chief al-Baghdadi would like it.

(Ein Staat nach islamischem Recht, wie ihn IS-Chef al-Bagdadi gern hätte.)

Baltaci: Including Sharia, Caliphate, Holy War, stoning, and so on.?

(Inklusive Scharia, Kalifat, des Heiligen Krieges, Steinigung etc.?)

Aslan: Yes.


Baltaci: If the faith community consists of organizations that seek such a state, it cannot so easily find critical words. It would have to distance itself from itself.

(Wenn die Glaubensgemeinschaft aus Organisationen besteht, die einen solchen Staat anstreben, kann sie ja schlecht kritische Worte finden. Sie müsste sich von sich selbst distanzieren.)

Aslan: There is some truth in that. Neither from the associations nor from the faith community have I seen an opinion that distances itself from political Islam or an Islamic state according to classical theological standards. If one cannot detach oneself from the illusion of a highly idealized Islamic state, one must always reckon with the violent attempts to establish such a state. The faith community believes that Sharia is not possible in Austria because Muslims are in a minority. Let this statement melt on your tongue (i.e., digest this well). It implies, namely, that Muslims in Austria cannot live by their own laws, though they would certainly like to do so.

(Da ist etwas Wahres dran. Weder von den Verbänden noch von der Glaubensgemeinschaft habe ich eine Stellungnahme gesehen, die sich vom politischen Islam bzw. von einem islamischen Staat nach klassischen theologischen Normen distanziert. Wenn man sich von der Illusion eines hoch idealisierten islamischen Staates nicht ablösen kann, muss man immer mit den gewalttätigen Versuchen zur Etablierung eines solchen Staates rechnen. Die Glaubensgemeinschaft vertritt die Meinung, dass in Österreich die Scharia nicht möglich ist, weil die Muslime hier in der Minderheit sind. Diese Aussage muss man sich auf der Zunge zergehen lassen. Sie impliziert nämlich, dass die Muslime in Österreich nicht nach ihren eigenen Gesetzen leben können, das aber gern tun würden.)

Baltaci: Do you consider that the terror group IS legitimately bases its activities on the Koran?

(Halten Sie es für legitim, dass sich die Terrorgruppe IS bei ihren Aktivitäten auf den Koran beruft?)

Aslan: Theologically, it is 100 percent legitimate. Everything that the IS does and calls for is theologically sound and occurs in all basic works of Islam. A Caliph does have a war contract, no peace order. He has to spread Islam through violence and should should wage war at least once a year.

(Theologisch betrachtet ist es zu 100 Prozent legitim. Alles, was der IS macht und fordert, ist theologisch richtig und kommt in allen Grundwerken des Islam vor. Ein Kalif hat nun einmal einen Kriegsauftrag, keinen Friedensauftrag. Er muss den Islam auch mit Gewalt verbreiten und sollte dazu mindestens einmal im Jahr Krieg führen.)
Those who know German can read the entire article here. What I find fascinating is that criticisms earlier labeled "Islamophobic" or "Orientalist" now constitute real questions deserving honest answers . . .

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Friday, October 24, 2014

Pixar's 22 Rules to Storytelling?!

Pixar's 22 Rules on Slides
Posted by Gavin McMahon

And there you were thinking there were only five rules! These 22 aren't your easy rule-of-thumb rules, either. Let's take a look at these 22 rules for storytelling, which I'm borrowing from Cyriaque Lamar at io9:
#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what's interesting to you as an audience, not what's fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won't see what the story is actually about till you're at the end of it. Now rewrite.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You'll feel like you're losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it's not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

#9: When you're stuck, make a list of what WOULDN'T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you've got to recognize it before you can use it.

#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you'll never share it with anyone.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it's poison to the audience.

#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What's the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That's the heart of it.

#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don't succeed? Stack the odds against.

#17: No work is ever wasted. If it's not working, let go and move on - it'll come back around to be useful later.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best and fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d'you rearrange them into what you DO like?

#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can't just write 'cool'. What would make YOU act that way?

#22: What's the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.
These must be good advice because everybody says so! Apparently, these 22 were first formulated in a series of tweets on Twitter by Emma Coates, former story artist at Pixar. Someone then made this enticing image:

Click the image to expand. Courtesy of The Masters Review Blog. I think these 22 aren't so much rules as pieces of seasoned advice, words of wisdom derived from years of working on stories.

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Andrew Stanton - "Five Rules of Storytelling"

"Five Rules of Storytelling"
Click Image to Enlarge
Andrew Stanton

Andrew Stanton, a voice actor, screenwriter, film director, and producer at Pixar Animation Studios, has formulated five rules of storytelling, and these rules - according to the site Educational Technology and Mobile Learning - were taken by Karin Hueck and Rafael Quick (Brazilian culture and science magazine Superinteressante) and turned into the above visual for Stanton's TED Talk.

Here are the five rules, boiled down to a few words:
1. Make me care (i.e., about the protagonist).

2. Take me with you (i.e., with the protagonist).

3. Be intentional (i.e., about the protagonist's motives).

4. Let me like you (i.e., about the protagonist's likeability).

5. Delight me (i.e., about the audience's joy at the protagonist's success).
Obviously, these five rules are for stories with happy endings. Subverting one or several - as the diabolical Carter Kaplan suggested concerning Sean D'Souza's merely three rules of storytelling - makes for fun of the sort enjoyed by academics and literary critics!

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Narrative - Technical Definition Offered by Paul McKean

Paul McKean

I turn today to Paul McKean's technical piece on "Narrative" (Concepts in Communication Study, August 2012), which is interesting for me if not for others:
Definition and Etymology

The word narrative is likely derived from the Latin words narrāre, meaning to relate or recount, and narrātiō, which refers to a story, a tale, or a section of a speech establishing the facts of a case (Oxford English Dictionary, 2012, n.p.). According to the Oxford English Dictionary (2012), one of the oldest uses of narrative was in a legal context, meaning "A part of a legal document which contains a statement of alleged or relevant facts closely connected with the matter or purpose of the document" (n.p.).

In some contexts such as the study of literature and literary criticism, narrative has been defined narrowly as a series of events or facts within a story. For example, Jahn (2005) defines narrative as "a form of communication which presents a sequence of events caused and experienced by characters" (n.p.). This usage can be traced back in English to the late sixteenth century (Oxford English Dictionary, 2012, n.p.).

Narrative has been studied in such fields as: rhetoric, literary theory, philosophy, history (see for example: White, 1980), psychology, political communication, journalism, studies of folklore, persuasion theory, and media studies.


Jahn, M. (2005). Narratology: a guide to the theory of narrative. English Department, University of Cologne. Retrieved from

Narration. (n.d.) In Oxford English Dictionary online. Retrieved from

Narrative. (n.d.) In Oxford English Dictionary online. Retrieved from

White, H. (1980). The value of narrativity in the representation of reality. Critical Inquiry. 7(1), 5-27.
There's more at the site if any reader should happen to have an interest. The article is not especially long. My interest lies in these words:
"In some contexts such as the study of literature and literary criticism, narrative has been defined narrowly as a series of events or facts within a story."
One can't get a much more concise definition than that, other than by pruning that long introductory expression:
"narrative has been defined narrowly as a series of events or facts within a story."
Actually, I believe I can prune some more:
"narrative has been defined as a series of events or facts within a story."
Even shorter:
"narrative, a series of events or facts within a story."
Another cut:
"narrative, a series of events within a story."
One more time:
"narrative, a series of events in a story."
Or even:
"narrative, a story's series of events."
I believe I've pruned this far enough . . .


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Sean D'Souza on Storytelling: Three Core Elements

In "The 3 Core Elements of Good Storytelling," Sean D'Souza offers good advice to novice writers. He begins with the basics of storytelling:
If we examine the Cinderella story closely we see three basic elements:
- The sequence

- The suspense

-The roller coaster
I argue that these same elements exist in every great story
Whether or not that's the case, I think that D'Souza is generally right, as we see:
Let's take a look at each of these three elements in the Cinderella story, and see how you can use them to your advantage:
1. The sequence:
We have the daughter who's mistreated and made to do menial work in the kitchen.

Then there're the other daughters romping about, having a great old time, doing what spoiled daughters do. These ladies fancy their romantic and social climbing chances with the prince.

But things don't go their way, and in turn, Cindy manages to get a fairy godmother. And blah, blah, blah.
There's a sequence of events building into each other here. But a good story must have some drama, some suspense.
2. The suspense:
Cinderella's mother dies and she's doomed to sleeping near the fireplace (which is how she gets the name, Cinderella).

But the fairy godmother appears from the blue - and suspense builds, because now Cinderella has a chance like everyone else. Will she make it? Won't she?

She does. And then, just as Cindy's hitting it off with the Prince, the clock goes nuts and her life is miserable once more.
What on earth is happening? What's with this girl? Is she just going to be a loser? Yup, that's all suspense.
3. The roller coaster
Good times, then bad. Then good, then bad.

Your story doesn't have to swing wildly, but it helps to have contrast, because contrast changes the pace of the story.

So, just as things are really yucky, along comes the knight in shining armour.

Or, just as things are looking great, an avian flu threatens to kill the entire population.
Cinderella's fortunes seem to bounce up and down, which keeps the interest in the story.
D'Souza now asks you to check your story (apparently, you've written one):
Every piece of story content you write must have a clear sequence, because without sequence a story has no meaning.

But what about suspense? You have to insert a certain amount of suspense. It's always there in your story, but when you insert a 'what the heck is happening' factor, you instantly build suspense.

And finally there's the roller coaster. If your story has been coasting with the fairies for a while, then it's time to bring out the ogres - and vice versa.
I think D'Souza's offered some good advice on basic storytelling. Recounting a tale takes more than a mere sequence of events. The reader needs to be held in suspense. And as I think about this, I see that the roller coaster element itself builds suspense, even bringing the suspense to a climax.

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Angela Carter on 'Narrative'?

Angela Carter

The writer Angela Carter (1940-1992) thought fairy tales important in her identity and development as a writer of fiction, as Michael Schmidt informs us, basing his information on a remembrance by A. S. Byatt:
Carter talked about the centrality of fairy tales to her writing. Indeed, "she had realized that she was a writer because of fairy tales, because she was hooked on narrative as a child, not by realist novels about social behavior or how to be a good girl, but by these very primitive stories that go I think a lot deeper." (Michael Schmidt, The Novel: A Biography, 905)

The writer intervenes in the reader's memory as well, recasting stories, the fairy stories that shape our sense of narrative and of the potential roles of the heroes and villains that conventionally inhabit them. (Michael Schmidt, The Novel: A Biography, 905-906)
Note the importance of narrative. But what is narrative? What did Carter mean by the term? Does Byatt's full remembrance offer more? Let's look at Schmidt's source, Philip Hensher's interview of Byatt for The Paris Review, "A. S. Byatt, The Art of Fiction No. 168" (Fall 2001):
I remember my first meeting with Angela Carter, with whom I became great friends later. We all went to hear Stevie Smith reading her poetry - lots of writers around her, rather like a bullring - and she stood in the middle and read. On the way out this very disagreeable woman stomped up to me, and she said, My name's Angela Carter. I recognized you and I wanted to stop and tell you that the sort of thing you're doing is no good at all, no good at all. There's nothing in it - that's not where literature is going. That sort of thing. And off she stomped. Then about five years ago she said that she had realized that she was a writer because of fairy tales, because she was hooked on narrative as a child, not by realist novels about social behavior or how to be a good girl, but by these very primitive stories that go I think a lot deeper. It wasn't until she said it that I felt empowered, which is why I have to acknowledge that she said it. As a little girl, I didn't like stories about little girls. I liked stories about dragons and beasts and princes and princesses and fear and terror and the four musketeers and almost anything other than nice little girls making moral decisions about whether to tell the teacher about what the other little girl did or did not do. My poor grandchildren live in a world where children's books are about how awful it is to live in horrible blocks of flats in deprived areas of cities, which they ought to know, but you can understand entirely why everybody fell upon Harry Potter, which is more grown-up also.
Is "narrative" what we're talking about here, or fantasy? But enough inquiry for today . . .

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Telling a Story: How Art Made The World . . .

How Art Made The World
You Tube

According to this documentary, apparently, some 'god' named Arthur made the world!

Just kidding, i.e., telling a story. I share this predilection toward honest dishonesty with Boccaccio and Sidney. According to Michael Gillum on the Milton List:
Regarding Jeffery's blog topic, "telling a story" = "lying" in some dialects, Boccaccio found it necessary to argue that the writer of fiction cannot lie because he doesn't pretend to tell historical truth.
Hugh Wilson on the same listserve chimes in on Sir Philip Sidney:
Sidney repeats Boccaccio: "Now for the poet, he nothing affirms, and therefore never lieth." From An Apology for Poetry, ed. Forrest Robinson (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1970) 57.
I lie in good company, and there must be other great storytellers who concur, which leads me to this morning's blog topic, a documentary on ancient storytelling:
THE HISTORY OF ANCIENT STORYTELLING (documentary) history/entertainment/art

The storytelling history is quite ancient, lost in the mist of time. Nobody knows when the first story was actually told. Did it happen in the gloomy recess of a cave around a flickering fire told by a primitive hunter? Well, we may never know. But it is believed that [the] origin of storytelling may have come across as an excuse for failure. Perhaps stories were used long time ago to calm the fears or doubts of a family. As families grouped with other families and formed clans, the storyteller, who was good at telling heroic events or other important events of the tribe began to reach position of respect and power. People found them interesting and began to listen to them. The priest, the judge and the ruler were perhaps the earliest to use this art effectively in the history of storytelling. Storytelling days were considered important.

The history of storytelling reveals that the stories came in all variety. Myths, legends of all kinds, fairy tales, trickster stories, fables, ghost tales, hero stories, and epic adventures, these stories were told, retold. Passing down from generations, these stories reflect the wisdom and knowledge of early people. There are stories often used to explain important but often confusing events and disasters in nature at those early times. For example - fire, storms, thunder, floods, tidal waves, lightening etc; It was common for people to believe in the stories of gods, which bound them to a common heritage and beliefs.

In fact, it is believed by most historians and psychologists that storytelling is one of the many things that define and bind our humanity. Humans are perhaps the only animals that create and tell stories. ("The History of Ancient Storytelling," You Tube)
Note the line that reads, "But it is believed that [the] origin of storytelling may have come across as an excuse for failure." This line is in some ways not so far from the accusation adults aimed at me as a child when they thought I was lying, namely that I was telling a story, a type of excuse.

I've not watched the actual documentary, due to lack of time, but if any reader has watched, let us know if the time spent watching was truly time well spent . . .


Saturday, October 18, 2014

"Dead letters! does it not sound like dead men?"

Herman Melville (1870)
Oil Painting by Joseph Oriel Eaton

Perhaps all of my readers have read Herman Melville's most poignant story, Bartleby, The Scrivener: A Story of Wall-street. If not, the story can be read online here - ironically, at "bartleby-dot-com - but what interests me is the story's penultimate paragraph, reproduced below, a sort of afterword, written in the aftermath of Bartleby's peculiar demise:
There would seem little need for proceeding further in this history. Imagination will readily supply the meagre recital of poor Bartleby's interment. But ere parting with the reader, let me say, that if this little narrative has sufficiently interested him, to awaken curiosity as to who Bartleby was, and what manner of life he led prior to the present narrator's making his acquaintance, I can only reply, that in such curiosity I fully share, but am wholly unable to gratify it. Yet here I hardly know whether I should divulge one little item of rumor, which came to my ear a few months after the scrivener's decease. Upon what basis it rested, I could never ascertain; and hence, how true it is I cannot now tell. But inasmuch as this vague report has not been without a certain strange suggestive interest to me, however sad, it may prove the same with some others; and so I will briefly mention it. The report was this: that Bartleby had been a subordinate clerk in the Dead Letter Office at Washington, from which he had been suddenly removed by a change in the administration. When I think over this rumor, I cannot adequately express the emotions which seize me. Dead letters! does it not sound like dead men? Conceive a man by nature and misfortune prone to a pallid hopelessness, can any business seem more fitted to heighten it than that of continually handling these dead letters and assorting them for the flames? For by the cart-load they are annually burned. Sometimes from out the folded paper the pale clerk takes a ring: - the finger it was meant for, perhaps, moulders in the grave; a bank-note sent in swiftest charity: - he whom it would relieve, nor eats nor hungers any more; pardon for those who died despairing; hope for those who died unhoping; good tidings for those who died stifled by unrelieved calamities. On errands of life, these letters speed to death.
I wish to speculate on a puzzling sentence that Melville has his narrator offer:
"Dead letters! does it not sound like dead men?"
I call this one sentence since Melville uses a small "d" in the word "does." At any rate, consider how one might answer Melville's question. I suspect that even with the utmost good will in all the world - indeed, in all the universe - no reader would imagine that "letters" sounds like "men"! For myself, I can scarcely conceive two words less alike! One's answer would thus have to be, "No, Mr. Melville, they sound nothing alike." What, then, is Melville up to? Possibly this:
"Dead 'mail'! does it not sound like dead 'male'?"
But perhaps "mail" was not used in the sense of "letters" in Melville's time? Oh, but it was! According to the OED, this sense goes back to at least 1654, and Melville's good friend Nathaniel Hawthorne used the word in this crucial sense in 1852, one year prior to Bartleby's publication in 1853, so Melville surely knew this usage. And just in case any ultra-skeptics would express doubt about the word "male" - its use with reference to "men" traces back to at least 1631.

I therefore humbly suggest that Melville had this unspoken pun "mail-male" in mind when he wrote, "Dead letters! does it not sound like dead men?" But why leave unspoken the pun in "Dead 'mail'! does it not sound like dead 'male'?" The query answers itself, for expressed, the pun is intolerable; unexpressed, it's brilliant!

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Friday, October 17, 2014

"To Tell a Story"

When I was a child in the Ozarks, the expression "to tell a story" meant "to lie." Of course, one could be a storyteller and tell a story without being accused of lying so long as there were no aspect of deception involved. Anyway, I don't hear that expression much anymore, but I see that its use in the larger English-speaking community still lingers, for the sociologist Francesca Polletta notes it in her book It Was Like a Fever: Storytelling in Protest and Politics (University of Chicago Press, 2006): "to 'tell a story' means to lie" (page 175). A certain Larry Winebrenner also notes - in an Amazon Customer Review - that "To 'tell a story' meant 'to lie.'" Also, a blogger writing in a blog titled ChiTown Girl notes that "telling a story means lying" (February 11, 2009). This sense of "story" as "lie" seems even stronger in the Appalachians (and Ozarks), as explained by A.L. Burge in his blog Appalachian English for the date July 29, 2005, "Illiteracy in Appalachia" (in which he cites the scholar 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 complete to do so. However, the reason for the reluctance was a result of the lexical understanding of the word story in Appalachian English; in AE telling a story means lying, which is punishable in the Appalachian culture.
Burge cites pages 294 and 296 of Heath's Ways with Words: Language, Life, and Work in Communities and Classrooms (New York: Cambridge, 1996). I recall this strong meaning of "to tell a story" and always grew worried as a child when an adult accused me of "telling a story" because I felt guilty just by hearing the accusation and feared that I would sound guilty even if I denied the accusation!

I felt the same way as a child when being accused of 'sputin' some adult's word - i.e., "disputing" in the sense of challenging the adult's veracity.

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

"God is allowing ISIS to expose Islam"?

Christian Refugees from Mosul
Finding a home in Merga Souva, Iraq
Gail Orenstein / AP Images

Most Muslims insist on Islam being a religion of peace, but according to Cairo-based, Egyptian Pastor Atef Samy (and I've reversed the order of these quotes):
Islam's peaceful nature . . . would not be recognized by many Christians in southern Egypt . . . . The ISIS mentality exists in rural village settings even where the group itself has no representation.

"God is allowing ISIS to expose Islam . . . . They are its true face, showing what Islam is like whenever it comes to power." (Jayson Casper, "Facing ISIS, Middle Eastern Evangelicals Exchange Strategies," Christianity Today, October 14, 2014)
Other Christians of the Middle East express more ecumenical views, so go read the article for their opinions.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

"Writers aspire to be more than storytellers" - Michael Schmidt

Research Professor Su-kyung Hwang of Chung-Ang University has asked me to present a paper at an upcoming conference:
[We will] have the international conference on the 12th and 13th of December. The big theme of the conference is going to be "STORYTELLING" and I'll let you know further details when I have them. We welcome various research topics related to storytelling and most of the time schedule thirty minutes for each presentation (twenty minutes to deliver the paper, and ten minutes for open discussion) although it has not been fixed yet. We hope that you can come and present a paper for us.
I'm certainly happy to try to get something worked up, and I came upon an interesting remark just yesterday Michael Schmidt's literary critical magnum opus, The Novel: A Biography:
Writers aspire to be more than storytellers: they play with and against the rules. The "reality" of fiction is unlike the reality of linear narrative and unlike the complex intersecting realities of daily life . . . . Art entails artifice, and in form a novel must be true to itself, an instance of itself, its first artistic purpose. Its consistency, its coherence within the conventions it proposes and within which it operates, are paramount. (Schmidt, The Novel, page 814)
Perhaps I can work up something on that . . .

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Big Hominid Reviews The Bottomless Bottle of Beer

Kevin Kim (aka Big Hominid) reviews The Bottomless Bottle of Beer on Amazon, awarding my little book five golden stars:
Well and carefully written in a calm, deliberate, professorial-but-humorous tone, this charming short story is a pastiche of cultural and literary references that chronicles the arc of a thirsty soul in jeopardy. Imagine making a deal with the Devil and signing a contract--in blood--for that one perfect bottle of ever-flowing beer! If you realized your error and desired to escape the contract, whom would you engage as your lawyer if not the courtly-but-formidable Daniel Webster himself?

The universe of this adventure is peopled with characters from other stories, which is enough to make one wonder about the characters' ontological status: how real are these fictions? And speaking of ontological status: the trial at the end of the story features the Devil in at least three roles that all function simultaneously in the courtroom: defendant (Em), justice (Belial), and counsel (Beelzebub). What are we to make of the Devil's attempt at splitting himself in three? Is this supposed to be an unholy trinity? If so, it seems to operate in a fascinatingly disharmonious manner, as Justice Belial strives for objectivity while the infernal defendant and his counsel are at pains to make their case. There's nothing perichoretic about our diabolical Three-in-One.

This and other fascinating ideas float freely through the plot, which is also liberally sprinkled with wordplay both subtle and not-so-subtle. Alas, some of the literary references flew right over my head (I've never read Bulgakov, for instance), but this detracted nothing from my enjoyment of Dr. Hodges's tale. Engaging and not for mental slackers, "The Bottomless Bottle of Beer" is an appealingly weird, borderline psychedelic tour of the moral landscape--a story that will resonate with astute readers of all persuasions. Joseph Campbell would have been delighted by the cast of characters, and he would have reveled at the way in which famed artist Terrance Lindall brings Dr. Hodges's story to full mythological flower with his powerful, evocative illustrations.
Thanks, Kevin, for taking the time to re-read and re-view this wayward story of mine. I appreciate your very positive review, and your use of "perichoretic" has increased my vocabulary, so I will intercede for you on Judgment Day.

One thing, though, I'd reword a phrase you used - from "this charming short story" to "this charming short novella" - since it's actually rather long for a 'short' story, and clocking in at more than 20,000 words, it's above the minimum for a novella.

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Monday, October 13, 2014

Trafika Europe Now Online

Some weeks back, I posted a bit on Trafika Europe, mainly on etymological musings, even going so far as to contact Andrew Singer, the editor of the journal, and inquire about the origin of "trafika," and I received a reply:
Greetings Jeffery and thanks for the post on Trafika Europe on your blog. Regarding your question:

The previous project, the print quarterly Trafika, began in Prague. A "trafika" in Czech language is a little kiosk or the like where you can get a little of everything -- daily paper, cigarettes, chewing gum -- part newspaper stand, part corner shop. This is where the name of the project comes from.
That was good to know, and thereby increased my vocabulary! And as reward for my curiosity, I was allowed a preview and given permission to blog on it as a teaser if I wished:
I've just now looked through it page by page . . . , and it all looks great. I'll not do a teaser, though, since I doubt I could do the volume justice. I'll wait for its debut. Keep me posted!
To get to the point, the journal is now online, and I urge readers to visit the website and read the stories and all other literary forms found therein. The journal really is great!

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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Fermi Paradox: The Solution!

Enrico Fermi looked up into the night sky and asked, "Where is everybody?"

He had seen a paradox. No, not Canis Major and Canis Minor! Not a pair of dogs! A paradox! Roughly (not ruffly!):
Given the age of the universe, there ought to be an enormous number of far superior civilizations out there that have mastered the science of hyperdrive space travel and therefore should have the ability to contact us, so why haven't they?
Theorists have postulated a barrier they call "The Great Filter." This hypothesized barrier stops even all great civilizations dead in their tracks.

What could this barrier be?

My old friend Dennis Mangan has an answer, beginning with the current Ebola crisis, about which he asks:
Is Ebola our Great Filter? No, probably not. However many people die, it won't wipe out the earth.

But this whole episode [with its politicization of the disease] suggests another explanation of the identity of the Great Filter. It's leftism. All civilizations eventually become leftist, and after that they accomplish nothing, or even actively die off.
I think Dennis is onto something here. Leftists glorify 'victims,' and what greater victory for victimology than to fail the "Great Filter Test"? "The entire universe is set against us!" they can then complain! Complain to whom is another question, one that would seemingly presuppose some argument from design. Bad design, though, and a culpable designer. A form of Gnosticism with no way out . . .

But anyway, if the best can't pass through the Great Filter, why should we?

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Saturday, October 11, 2014

Terrance Lindall at the End of the Old, Weird America . . .

Removal to Hell (1963)
(Charon Crossing Lake Mukooda?)
Terrance Lindall

In the image above, we see Terrance Lindall being removed to hell by . . . a Charon who looks inexplicably similar to a youthful Doppelgänger of Professor Robert Wickenheiser! But Terrance didn't know that then - not making Wickenheiser's acquaintance till 50 years later - and remembers instead:
Back at my time at the U of Minnesota after the army I worked as a night man at the mortuary in the early 1960's. After a few months on the job, the other fellows who were my seniors left for other jobs or had graduated from the University, so I got the main bedroom, the only one that was not shared. Meanwhile, . . . a new night man [arrived] who got the smallest room separated by a curtain from the living room. It was very small since it was once just a large closet. The new fellow never showed his face. Most new guys came out to say hello and chat to get to know each other. This one only came out to go to the bathroom or go down to work in the evenings as the night attendant, totally ignoring everybody. So the others grew to dislike him roundly . . . . After talking to the other guys who were saying that they did not like him, I decided to go and talk to him to see what he was all about. He was somber and truculent. I asked what he was reading, why he got a job here and about where he grew up etc. It turned out he was a poet. Eventually I entreated him to show me his work. It was superlative! He finally came around and out of his shell. After that we became very good friends. I invited him to my room and showed him my paintings and some of my own writings . . . . [He] and I did quite a few things together. We would walk through Minneapolis, down to the Mississippi. He always had a notebook. Even though he was scholarly, he had never graduated from high school. He was always on the verge of taking the high school equivalency exam, but I am not sure he ever did. He said he had an IQ of 145. I believed him . . . . One day he showed up driving a little Sunbeam car, a very sporty yellow convertible. He said he was behind on payments and he was going to enjoy it until it was repossessed. "Let them try to find it!" he said. We drove out of south Minneapolis, at high speeds of 70 MPH, blue sky overhead, sun shining and wind blowing, out to fields where we would search for bones of long dead animals. He was really good at spotting them among the weeds. We came back, hungry as hell, and chowed down with fried rice and tea at a Chinese restaurant . . . . [Once, w]e decided to buy a small rubber boat, take a bus up to Northern Minnesota and paddle across big Crane Lake to Lake Mukooda a very isolated clear water lake in the chain of lakes on the Canadian border . . . . [E]ventually my time came to leave for New York to follow a beautiful woman. I did not have room for my largest painting "The Removal to Hell." It was the largest painting I ever did, about 4 x 8 feet.
Those were times into which I was born (1957), but which Terrance (born 1944) experienced far more of, times when one could take off hitchiking across the land or paddling across some lake on an adventure into the still wild, wide, weird America.

Terrance doesn't say what ultimately became of the painting . . .

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Graceful Linkings . . .

Lila's inklings:
When a house is shut up like that in the middle of a summer day the light that comes in through any crack is as sharp as a blade.
Cohen's inklings:
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in.
Bulgakov's own inklings have Woland utter similar words about cracks in walls . . . revealing that there's nothing new under the sun.

Including this blog . . .

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Thursday, October 09, 2014

Pascal's Wager: Betcha Can't!

Blaise Pascal
Portrait by Jean Domat, around 1677-1681,
After a Portrait by Francois II Quesnel

In "Can Wanting to Believe Make Us Believers?" (NYT, October 5, 2014; hat-tip to Pete Hale), Gary Gutting, professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, discusses the will to believe in God with Daniel Garber, professor of philosophy at Princeton who specializes in philosophy and science of the 16th and 17th centuries, and they touch on Pascal's famous wager (which I myself refer to in my novella):
Gary Gutting: Wanting to believe in God suggests Pascal's wager argument, which remains for many the most appealing case for religious belief. What do you think about it?

Daniel Garber: Formally, the argument has many well-known flaws, though it also has its friends. Even knowing the flaws, I do find myself somewhat moved by it. The reason is that at the core of the argument there are some very compelling intuitions. Basically, the argument turns on the idea that if there is a God, and we believe in him, we then have a shot at eternal happiness. If God doesn't exist, then we are stuck in this very finite and imperfect life, whether we believe in him or not. So, it would seem, for all sorts of reasons, we should want to believe in him. The problem (perhaps insuperable) is taking these plausible considerations and turning them into a genuine argument.

But the real worry about the argument comes at a later moment, I think. It is important to remember that Pascal's wager it isn't an argument for the truth of the proposition that God exists, but an argument for why we should want to believe that God exists: It only tells us that it is to our advantage to believe, and in this way makes us want to believe, but it doesn't give us any reasons to think that God actually exists. In a way, I'm already convinced that I should want to believe. But there is a step from there to actual belief, and that's a step I cannot personally negotiate. Pascal tells us, roughly, that we should adopt the life of the believer and eventually the belief will come. And maybe it will. But that seems too much like self-deception to me.

Gary Gutting: You seem to be ignoring what is often taken as the heart of Pascal's argument: a cost-benefit calculation that you should believe in God because the likely benefits of belief are greater than the likely benefits of nonbelief. Put that way, the argument seems morally dubious, leading to William James's comment that God would likely exclude from heaven precisely the sorts of people who believe because of such an argument. Is this a misreading of Pascal?
Readers interested in Garber's response can go to the article. I have my own problem with Pascal's Wager, a problem that goes unmentioned in the article, namely, that Pascal doesn't tell us which God we should believe in. Christianity's God? Or Islam's Allah? Or Hinduism's Brahma? Or some other differently conceived divinity? What happens if we back the wrong horse? Allah, for instance, seems unwilling to forgive Christians for their Trinitarianism.

One doesn't, therefore, make a single decision on where to put one's chips with this wager, but hedging one's bets presents the same problem.

And what if God doesn't like betting, anyway?

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Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Islamic State Killing in the Name of Allah?

Die Schlacht von Uhud
The Battle of Uhud

In the article "Gewalt und theologische Tradition im Islam: Töten im Namen Allahs" (Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 6.9.2014), the Catholic theologian Martin Rhonheimer informs us:
Islamistische Terroristen berufen sich zur Rechtfertigung ihrer Untaten auf ihre Religion. Geben Gründungsgeschichte und Gründungsidee des Islam eine Handhabe, um im Namen Allahs begangene Gewalttaten theologisch prinzipiell zu verurteilen? Nein – der Islam müsste sich erst in seiner religiösen Substanz wandeln.

Der Terror der Miliz Islamischer Staat (IS) gegen «Ungläubige» und Christen entsetzt und verängstigt die westliche Öffentlichkeit. Offizielle muslimische Stimmen, die diesen Terror verurteilen, sind wenige zu hören. Und wenn, dann richten sie sich nur gegen die schockierende und für den Islam imageschädigende Brutalität des Vorgehens, nicht gegen dessen Prinzip, oder sie verwickeln sich, wie unlängst eine wenig überzeugende Fatwa von britischen Imamen, in Widersprüche. Der IS ist keine Häresie, wie diese Fatwa behauptet, sondern handelt genau nach dem in der Geschichte wiederkehrenden Muster kriegerischer islamischer Expansion. Das Vorbild ist Mohammed selbst. Legitimationsgrundlage sind der Koran und das islamische Recht, die Scharia.
This portion of the article - "Violence and Theological Tradition in Islam: Killing in the Name of Allah" - translates very roughly as:
Islamist terrorists invoke their religion to justify their crimes. Given the foundation history and founding idea of Islam, is there in principle any theological condemnation on hand against acts of violence committed in the Name of Allah? No - Islam must first be transformed in its religious essence.

The terror of the militant Islamic State (IS) against "infidels" and Christians has shocked and frightened the Western public. Official Muslim voices condemning these terrorists are few to hear. And when heard, they are directed only against the shocking brutality of the acts for damaging the image of Islam, not against the principle, or there is, finally, an unconvincing fatwa from a few British imams speaking against the brutality. The IS is not heretical, as these fatwas claim; rather, the brutality is due to ever-recurring patterns in the history of Islamic military expansion. The model (or moral exemplar) is Muhammad himself. The bases of legitimacy are the Koran and Islamic law, the Sharia.
Or so says the Catholic theologian Martin Rhonheimer, professor for ethics and political philosophy at the Päpstlichen Hochschule Santa Croce in Rome.

For the remainder of Rhonheimer's article, click here, then use Google Translate.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Rabia Kazan: "This is not my Allah"

As reported in an article titled "Turkish journalist Rabia Kazan launches 'This is not my Allah' global campaign against extremism" (International Civil Liberties Alliance), we learn that Ms. Kazan speaks out against radical Islam, which she considers a perversion of genuine Islam:
As someone raised in Islam, I am horrified to my core to see killings and persecution in the name of Allah. Does Allah wish for child marriage, which is essentially rape? Does Allah want to make Muslim women into whores [through the practice of nikah mut'ah, i.e., temporary marriage]? Does Allah sanction the beheadings of innocents [just because they're not Muslim]? Does Allah glory in the spilling of blood? Does Allah believe that non-Muslims are infidels? There is a dangerous perversion of an old and noble religion in our time and sadly, not enough resistance. I want to empower people to speak out against this perversion; I want to end the silence. That is where This is Not My Allah comes in. (Bracketed expansions mine. - HJH)
Here's her website: "This is not my Allah!" I'm all for moderate Muslims raising their voices against militant Islam . . . but what if support for this militant sort of Islam has a strong textual basis in the official sources of Islam and its law? What are moderate Muslims then to do?

Leave Islam?

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Monday, October 06, 2014

Saatchi Art: The Bottomless Bottle of Beer

Bottomless Pleasure
Terrance Lindall

I discovered yesterday that Terrance Lindall's artwork above - an illustration in my Bottomless Bottle of Beer story - is listed on the Saatchi Art website in its rather more colored, final form. The site says:
A fantastic tale of serendipity and high misadventure by master storyteller Horace Jeffery Hodges, illustrated by the famed cover artist for Warren's CREEPY and EERIE magazines and Heavy Metal.
Saatchi Art ought to have added Terrance Lindall's name in that description:
A fantastic tale of serendipity and high misadventure by master storyteller Horace Jeffery Hodges, illustrated by Terrance Lindall, famed cover artist for Warren's CREEPY and EERIE magazines and Heavy Metal.
The site does introduce Lindall at the top . . . and notes that the artwork is not for sale.

The book, however, is . . .

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Sunday, October 05, 2014

Milton's Satan: "how awful goodness is"

Marilynne Robinson
Alec Soth/Magnum

I posted the following on the Milton List a couple of days ago:
Wyatt Mason interviews Marilynne Robinson and reports back in "The Revelations of Marilynne Robinson" (NYT, October 1, 2014), in which there is a brief allusion to Milton:
The drama of how a human mind can become an inhospitable home to its owner is old and well documented. "The mind is its own place,” Milton gives Satan to say in "Paradise Lost," "and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven." But in Robinson's new novel, that drama is renewed, Robinson managing her most daring, as she would put it, testimony. If, in "Gilead," Lila is mentioned by name only once by her reverend husband, the 77-year-old John Ames, in "Lila," we now hear from the woman herself.
This seems to be Mason's musing, but he applies it to Robinson's writing in her recent novel, Lila.
In response - perhaps to Satanic 'badness' - Milton List member Nancy Charlton posted a link to another review of Ms. Robinson's Lila, a review (in part) about "goodness":
Today's NYT Book Reviews has a full and lovely review of "Lila" by Diane Johnson. This paragraph stood out to me:
Central to all the novel's characters are matters of high literary seriousness - the basic considerations of the human condition; the moral problems of existence; the ache of being abandoned; the struggles of the aging; the role of the Bible and God in daily life. It's courageous of Robinson to write about faith at a time when associations with religion are so often negative and violent. And goodness, a property Midwesterners like to think of as a regional birthright, is even harder than piety to convey without succumbing to the temptation to charge it with sanctimony or hypocrisy. That is not the effect of this lovely narrative.
It sounds to me as if the last Miltonic word on this book might be from III.470-71: O Goodness infinite, Goodness immense,/ That all this good of evil shall produce . . . ."
That line quoted by Charlton goes on to say, "And evil turn to good." I am reminded of Milton's Satan, struck down by virtue: "abasht the Devil stood, And felt how awful goodness is" (PL 4.846-7). That's "awful" in the older sense of "awesome."

I think I need to read Robinson's books . . .

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Saturday, October 04, 2014

Uncle Cran's 'Farm' Report . . .

Two Strokes!
Putting Him Out Twice!

I finally heard from Uncle Cran, and his first line was alarming:
I had my second TIA (Mini Stroke, transient ischemic attack) Tuesday. The first was last November.
I remember that one . . . did I blog on it? If not, here's the story of Uncle Cran's earlier, November 2013 report (and I'm both following on and banking on his good humor in both of his emails):
I thought I should let you know about the last few days. Monday night I woke up about 11:00 pm and remembered I forgot my blood pressure pill, but thought I would take next morning. Tuesday we had a lot to do, so I [AGAIN!] forgot the pill. After a late breakfast Gay and I, with granddaughter Tiffany, took the truck and 6 x 16 ft trailor to the woods and loaded up about 2 ricks of wood, and brought it to the house, about 12:30 pm. I did some weed trimming by the house, burned the trash, and decided to get the ATV hooked up to the wood splitter and split some wood. About 1:30 pm I went to the little garage building to get started. I got on the ATV . . . and next thing . . . I found myself sitting in my living room chair, about 2:30 pm. Gay said I gave her a scare. She said she came to see about me and I was standing by the machines with a gas can in my hand, going from one to the other, looking in the gas tanks, starting the splitter a couple of times, and trying to start the ATV. She said I told her I was mixed up. She said she told me we should take the battery out and put it on the charger, and go to the house. I don't remember a thing about all this.
So far, sounds like an average day with Uncle Cran . . .
Anyway, I ate a sandwich, cleaned up and we got ready to go to family night at the funeral home in West Plains, for the pre-funeral visitation.
Wasn't that sort of jumping the gun?
When we got home, Gay took my blood pressure and it was 176/92 m, way above my normal 125/70. I took the blood pressure pill about 9:00, but it kept going up: 170-101 to 183/99, so I took another b/p pill, about 9:40, then 198/102, then 10:30 218/115.
Obviously, these were pills designed to increase blood pressure!
So I called the hospital, and they said to come to the emergency room, and we got there about 10:30. They did an EEG, which was normal, then a CAT scan, and there was no damage showing, then an EKG and took blood samples. The blood pressure wouldn't come down, so they gave a high powered pill, and the b/p started coming down. There were so many emergencies that I was way down on the list, and the doctor said they would admit me to a room. It was about 4:00 am by then, so Gay went home, and I got to the room about 4:30. Next day they did an X-ray; and kept running tests all day. By afternoon all the tests showed everything was back to normal, so they released me about 6:00 pm. They told me to keep a close watch on my blood pressure, take it easy for a few days, and if anything else happens, get back to the hospital right away. Today, I feel fine. This is a lot of information you likely don't need, but it's kind of important to me, and saves me a lot of phone calls.

In summary, I tell people they checked my brain, and didn't find a thing . . . checked my heart, and it showed I had a hard, cold heart but was as close to normal as they could get. I did get a look at the brain scan, and noted it was signed by the EEG specialist, whose name was AB-Normal.
So, Uncle Cran watched Young Frankenstein, too? Anyway, that was then (November 2013) - this is now (September-October 2014):
Like the other one [i.e., the transient ischemic attack (TIA) back in November], I don't remember anything except for a few momentary things. It pretty much scared Gay, so she called the VA doctor and they told her to get me to the emergency. I don't remember much, except walking into the ER, and the nurse asking me my name, date of birth, and who was President. I couldn't remember.
I sometimes wish I couldn't remember who was president . . .
The nurse said we are sending you for a C/T scan and lab work. I cant remember being wheeled down there and just heard someone say keep your arms across your body. I'm not sure exactly what happened . . . but I kind of think a big black dog came in, sniffed me all over, wagged his tail and left:
That was Mephistopheles . . .
Then a yellow tomcat came in, sniffed me all over, purred, then left also:
That would be - probably - Behemoth . . .
Next thing I remember I was in a room with Gay there. Then the doctor came by and said the Lab Work and Cat Scan was good . . . JUST KIDDING!
Labradors and cats? What else was raining down? Is this the kidding season, Uncle Cran? Do you have goats? Has anyone ever gotten your goat? Other than me?
But the doctor did say there was no apparent damage.
What about the unknown uknowns, as Rumsfeld would put it?
I am going to start taking Plavix for now on, I suppose. They did tell me to slow down on working so much, and it sounds like Gay is going to enforce that order. I feel a lot better today, and this afternoon I worked a crossword puzzle, sudoku, and a jumble puzzle, so I am back to as normal as possible. I just tell people I'm all here, just not all there.
All joking aside, Uncle Cran, we want you to stay healthy and keep sending the occasional humorous email!

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