Friday, February 28, 2014

Teju Cole on Derek Walcott's Astonishing Poetry

Derek Walcott
Chris Felver
Getty Images (2000)

The Nigerian-American novelist Teju Cole offers a useful reminder of The Poetry of Derek Walcott 1948-2013 in his review, "Poet of the Caribbean" (New York Times, February 21, 2014), though Cole opens with a somewhat perplexing paragraph:
"Writing poetry is an unnatural act," Elizabeth Bishop once wrote. "It takes skill to make it seem natural." The thought is kin to the one John Keats expressed in an 1818 letter to his friend John Taylor: "If Poetry comes not as naturally as the Leaves to a tree it had better not come at all." Bishop and Keats both evoked a double sense of "natural": that which is concerned with nature, with landscape, flora and fauna, and that which is unforced and fluent. In both senses, Derek Walcott is a natural poet.
I find this perplexing because Bishop's observation doesn't imply that the writing of poetry "is unforced and fluent," rather that such skill makes poetry seem so! But let that be. Cole is surely right about Walcott -- he makes poetry seem so easy . . . and yet, constantly so amazing, as in this passage from "White Egrets":
The perpetual ideal is astonishment.
The cool green lawn, the quiet trees, the forest
on the hill there, then, the white gasp of an egret sent
sailing into the frame then teetering to rest
That "white gasp" is so perfect, for not only Walcott and his readers gasp at the image, the egret's own abrupt appearance is itself a sudden gasp in the otherwise silent scene. Even Walcott's very poetry was like a gasp in my life when I discovered him sometime in the mid-eighties upon reading a review of Omeros in the International Herald Tribune, wherein merely a few quoted lines from that epic poem astonished me! I therefore bought the book and read it slowly, carefully, intensely.

As Cole in his review says, "Walcott did not fail" continually to surprise.

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Khaled Hroub Speaks Out Against Islamist Terrorism

Dr. Khaled Hroub (July 7, 2011)

We need more Muslims to speak out against Islamist terrorism, as has Dr. Khaled Hroub, described as a "Muslim Researcher At Cambridge University [Who] Calls For Establishing [An] Islamic Fund To Aid Victims Of Islamic Terrorism" (Special Dispatch No. 5656, Memri, February 24, 2014). I notice that Dr. Hroub has no qualms about calling this sort of terrorism "Islamic," but I'll stick with the more PC "Islamist." Anyway, here are some selections from Memri's selections of Dr. Hroub's remarks:
Where is moderate Islam . . . and . . . [where are] moderate Muslims, in light of the actions of a criminal minority that affiliates itself with them and carries out shameful terror acts in the name of . . . [Islam]? We have lost track of the terrorist acts carried out by [Islamist] groups that morphed into multiple other [Islamist] groups. Terrorist acts . . . carried out in the name of [Islam] . . . are staining all those with ties to Arabs or Muslims [such that the] . . . . image of Arabs and Muslims in the world is black, ugly, and terrorist . . . . [A]ll we have done [against this] so far is to say . . . they represent neither us nor our true religion. We hasten to cry out against the Western media . . . but there is no need for Western . . . plots against us or for distortion of our image . . . . [A]ll that is needed is . . . [to film] the actions of the groups that affiliate themselves with us . . . . Defending ourselves . . . [by insisting on Islam's] tolerance, its [capacity for] coexistence, and its past . . . will neither convince nor compensate any mother who has seen her children murdered in front of her by mujahideen bullets. They will also neither convince nor compensate any orphaned child, or any of the dozens of wounded, or any of the families of those murdered or tortured, or any of the [men or] women violated . . . . Words cannot contradict action, and we cannot put out the fires caused by the terrorism of these groups . . . with statements stressing that we are [actually] good. [Such statements] are meaningless [in the face of] slaughtered innocents. [Such statements] are a naïve, even . . . impudent . . . attempt to alleviate the pain . . . . The Muslim majority . . . must respond to Islamic terror in a concrete way, not just with words. This majority, the intellectuals and shapers of opinion, must . . . come up with ways for presenting . . . moderate Islam . . . to the world, to people, and to the casualties of . . . terror . . . . [One] duty [is] to establish an Islamic Public Fund for Compensating Victims of Terror. It . . . would . . . reach out to all those harmed by the criminal actions attributed to . . . Islam, to provide them with moral and humanitarian support, to show solidarity with them, and to compensate them monetarily for their loss of life and property . . . . [Of course, we] cannot [truly] compensate a man who has lost a son, brother, father, or mother . . . by evil terrorism -- but solidarity and material compensation can soften the blow and can also send an important and urgent message that these murderers represent neither Muslims nor . . . [Islam] . . . . [T]errorist slaughter by the Islamic Somali Al-Shabab movement [at the Nairobi mall in September 2013] must be considered . . . terrorism against defenseless civilians peacefully shopping with their children . . . . Where is . . . heroism and bravery, or . . . manliness[,] . . . when women and children are abducted, terrorized, separated out, and asked about their religion -- and when the Muslims are released and the Christians are murdered? . . . . [What] religious precepts did these criminals read to justify their rape of abducted children? . . . . What is the magnificent achievement of the mujahideen in murdering dozens of innocents, and wounding and crippling hundreds more? All they are doing is fomenting resentment and hatred against all those connected to Islam and Muslims, in Kenya and anywhere people witnessed such slaughter and saw it on television and in the media . . . [In] Pakistan[,] . . . terrorists . . . wage unnecessary war against churches or Shi'ite mosques, shouting religious slogans, in their madness and moral bankruptcy, as if they had won a tremendous victory . . . . Closer to home, in Syria, the mujahideen of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria [ISIS] continue with their heroic deeds -- smashing church symbols and crosses and terrorizing all those who do not obey . . . . [Or consider] the heinousness of the mujahideen in Iraq, who are immersed in the blood of innocents. Since the terror of 9/11, the image of Arabs and Muslims and their religion has deteriorated. In the age of instant media[,] . . . . [Islam] has come to be associated with violence, terrorism, and extremism. The deeds of . . . terrorist groups . . . carried out worldwide in the name of [Islam] . . . bring destruction upon all Muslims . . . and cause all the others to unite against them . . . . [We must be] honest with ourselves and acknowledg[e] . . . that most terrorism aimed against defenseless civilians has Islamic sponsorship . . . . [Our complaint] about the crimes of the West . . . is aimed at [allowing us to] shirk [our] responsibility . . . . [Will] this help stop the deterioration of the image of Islam and Muslims among ordinary people, say, in Kenya? . . . . [No, it won't, so the Muslim] majority must awaken and . . . strike out against these simpleminded groups . . . scuttling our own ship -- for if we do not, the ship will go down drowning all its passengers and erasing them from history.
Quite starkly expressed. I hope that Dr. Hroub's words find resonance in the hearts of Muslims. Beyond the charitable actions that he advises, moderate Muslims also need to actively oppose Islamists, proactively expose them, and investigate their plots. Moderate Muslims also need to cooperate with non-Muslims against Islamist terrorism, particularly cooperating with police and governmental investigations, and to speak out against Islamist groups like CAIR that discourage cooperation with such investigations.

Such actions might generate some good will for Muslims in these dreadful days of so much Islamist terrorism . . .

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Mark Galli on African-American Christianity

Plantation Burial
John Antrobus (1837-1907)
The Historic New Orleans Collection
The Bridgeman Art Library

The author Mark Galli has a fascinating account in an article for Christianity Today, "The Inconceivable Start of African-American Christianity" (February 21, 2014), on how African-American "slaves adopted their oppressor's religion -- and transformed it." He notes that very many slaveowners opposed the spread of Christianity among slaves, but under pressure from churches began to allow conversion, though only with teachings favorable to slaveowners:
The gospel presented to slaves by white owners, however, was only a partial gospel. The message of salvation by grace, the joy of faith, and the hope of heaven were all there, but many other teachings were missing.

House servants often sneered and laughed among themselves when summoned to family prayers because the master or mistress would read, "Servants obey your masters," but neglect passages that said, "Break every yoke and let the oppressed go free."

One white evangelist to slaves, John Dixon Long, admitted his frustration: "They hear ministers denouncing them for stealing the white man's grain, but as they never hear the white man denounced for holding them in bondage, pocketing their wages, or selling their wives and children to the brutal traders of the far South; they naturally suspect the Gospel to be a cheat and believe the preachers and slaveholder [are] in a conspiracy against them."
But many slaves were attracted to the emotional, experiential aspect of grace, faith, and the Spirit stressed by Methodists and Baptists, and as slaves converted to this style of Christianity, they found doctrinal implications that their white masters preferred to keep unspoken, so the slaves spoke about these implications, albeit among themselves only, and very quietly:
Lucretia Alexander explained that after enduring the white preacher's sermon ("Serve your masters. Don't steal your master's turkey . . . . Do whatsoever your master tells you do to"), her father would hold worship secretly in one of the slave quarters. "That would be when they would want a real meetin' with some real preachin' . . . . They used to sing their songs in a whisper and pray in a whisper."

To get a little distance between themselves and their masters, slaves would often meet in woods, gullies, ravines, and thickets, aptly called "hush harbors." Kalvin Woods recalled singing and praying with other slaves, huddled behind quilts and rags, hung "in the form of a little room" and wetted "to keep the sound of their voices from penetrating the air."

On one Louisiana plantation, slaves would steal off into the woods and "form a circle on their knees around the speaker, who would also be on his knees. He would bend forward and speak into or over a vessel of water to drown the sound. If anyone became animated and cried out, the others would quickly stop the noise by placing their hands over the offender's mouth."
But some grew bolder from what they found in their new faith:
Francis Henderson described her conversion this way: "I had recently joined the Methodist Church, and from the sermons I heard, I felt that God had made all men free and equal, and that I ought not be a slave -- but even then, that I ought not to be abused. From this time I was not punished. I think my master became afraid of me."
Such experiences as these clearly suggest the early origins of what is sometimes called Black Liberation Theology. Anyway, the article is, as I noted, fascinating and worth reading for understanding the African-American experience of life in a 'free' land . . .

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Cousin Bill's Home-Cooked Meal -- It's a Blast!

Cousin Bill recently lived the bachelor life while his wife Cheryl was briefly away, and he reports back on his great culinary success in fending for himself in a wifeless kitchen:
Cheryl bought one "easy fixer" for me, a "Marie Callender" beef pot pie, leaving me with specific written instructions on the necessary defrost . . . followed by the oven baking and how to use the oven. The instructions (preheat, oven time and temp) were promptly misplaced, so I decided on using the microwave, and if I'd done maybe one thing right, that might've worked. I didn't. I opened the door for a sneak peak at the four minute mark -- and dang, things were bubbling (boiling) . . . juices overflowing the plate . . . no problem, just a simple transfer to a bowl, right? I transferred, hit another one minute setting, and within thirty five seconds hear a minor explosion -- most of Ms Callender's finest was deposited on the microwave's ceiling and wall. Using a fork and several paper towels as scrapers I returned most of the fixings to the bowl and decided I'd better cease while ahead. The empty spot in the bowl got filled with cottage cheese and toast. Really, it wasn't bad, 'cept, the dough was pale and doughy, the meat and veggies a bit chewy, but all edible when wrapped inside the toast.
By putting this online, I hope I haven't given terrorists any new ideas on bomb-making. On the other hand, this bomb-plot boxed pot did go off prematurely . . . no seventy-two raisins for any Islamist terrorists following Cousin Bill's method!

Anyway, kudos for surviving! Now go seek out that missing wife, Billy-Boy!

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Monday, February 24, 2014

Roger Scruton's Notes from Underground: A Scene

I'm currently reading, on my iPad, Notes from Underground, a novel by the conservative English philosopher Roger Scruton about the twilight years of Communist Prague, and I came upon this passage, which occurs soon after the young protagonist has met an equally young, mysterious woman:
She was standing a pace away from me, her back to the chapel, her eyes fixed on the Nusle steps.

"Do you see that old woman?" she asked.

I turned my eyes in the direction of hers. The woman with the dog was coming down now, handing her body from step to step, gripping the rail and muttering.

"Like the poodle in Faust," she went on, "he comes in many forms."


"Mephistopheles. The spirit who always denies."
How would you feel about a woman you'd just met if she uttered those words to you? The protagonist is already in love, so we can imagine his feelings. I think such words would spark my interest if I weren't in love, and thrill me if I were.

But I'd be expected to like that sort of thing, wouldn't I?

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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Douglas Murray Reviews Larry Siedentop on the Story of Western Individualism

The British writer, journalist and commentator Douglas Murray, in his article "Christianity is the foundation of our freedoms" (The Spectator, February 22, 2014), reviews what sounds like an interesting book by the political philosopher Larry Siedentop, Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism:
If there is one underlying source from which all our other societal problems stem, it is surely this: we no longer know who we are or how we got here. Worse, we mistakenly believe our situation to be inevitable, presuming that we have arrived in this modern liberal state through something like gravity . . . . Larry Siedentop lays this problem out: "We no longer have a persuasive story to tell ourselves about our origins and development" . . . . The problems this leads to are exacerbated by the fact that "we are in a competition of beliefs, whether we like it or not" . . . . Beginning with a panorama of the Greek and Roman world, Siedentop goes on to excavate in terrain which may have been taken for granted only a generation ago, but which has currently become controversial. He points out that a major source of the modern conception of liberalism comes from . . . . the melding of the traditions -- the Greek and Roman with the teachings of Christ and St Paul -- and then leads the reader through a tour of the succeeding millennia with a learning which is itself almost miraculous. Taking us through the changing sense of time, he then guides us through Tertullian on freedom . . . , Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, Charlemagne and . . . . [a]long the way he gently demonstrates the manner in which charity -- a virtue which can hardly be divorced from the Christian tradition -- found its way from a theological idea into a common state of mind and expected action. Elsewhere the way in which Christianity helped shift the concept of the governed -- or even "owned" -- people into "souls" is filled with insight . . . . This kind of intellectual history is exceedingly hard to write . . . . But it seems to me that in this work, and in his highly practised hands, Siedentop has achieved something quite extraordinary. In this learned,subtle, enjoyable and digestible work he has offered back to us a proper version of ourselves . . . . In his closing pages he notes that the forgetfulness, ignorance and sometimes even hatred of our past with which the West is now afflicted is already having severe effects. In America he sees a growing evangelical tradition which is ignorant of the vital hand-in-hand tradition of western secular liberalism. Meanwhile, in Europe there exists a strain of thought which will give no credit whatsoever to the religious tradition from which we come. It is, he rightly says, "a strange and disturbing moment in western history" . . . . Siedentop asks, "If we in the West do not understand the moral depth of our own tradition, how can we hope to shape the conversation of mankind?" Indeed. All that need be said is that there can be few better ways to understand that depth of tradition, or feel appropriate gratitude for it, than to read this magisterial, timeless yet timely work.
The competition among beliefs mentioned early in this passage is not specified, but I can imagine that Islam is on Siedentop's mind, as it surely is on Murray's. One paradox to books of this sort is that even though they often aim at motivating us to prevail in the competition among beliefs by telling us who we are through the story of where we've been, they manage only to convey knowledge without eliciting the belief essential for the will to win in that competition.

We just can't quite go back after a bite from the apple that turned us from belief to knowledge, from faith to reason, from medieval to modern, so the most we can perhaps do is get every other civilization to have a bite, too . . .

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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Korea's Love for Frozen . . .

The brilliant art critic Moon So-young gets what's wrong with Frozen:
We have already seen these factors[, i.e., catchy music, exquisite images generated by cutting-edge computer technology and independent female protagonists,"] in another Disney film, "Tangled" (2010), which many say is better organized at least in terms of the plot than "Frozen."
As I told my daughter after seeing the film with my wife and son, "The plot is a mess!" She saw the film anyway, but then agreed with me -- as does Moon, who proceeds to find cultural reasons for the film's great success in Korea . . . but I won't belabor the points that Moon makes in her article, "'Frozen,' not 'Tangled,' breaks the ice in Korea" (JoongAng Ilbo, February 21, 2014)

Go read for yourselves.

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Friday, February 21, 2014

Adolf Eichmann: No Exemplar of the Banality of Evil, After All?

Adolf Eichmann
Photograph by Bettmann/Corbis
The New York Review of Books

Sohn Min-ho, in "The 'banality of evil' in Ahn's case" (JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 19, Page 31), compares Eichmann as banal bureaucrat to the Korean sports officials who inadvertently pushed Viktor Ahn (Ahn Hyo-soo) into the welcoming arms of Russia, for which he recently won an Olympic gold medal. As John Milton would say, this is "to compare great things with small" (Paradise Lost 2.921-922), but I won't get deeply into that particular issue; rather, I want to look briefly at Sohn's view of Eichmann, which is based on Hannah Arendt's depiction of the man:
Arendt, a German-American political theorist, came up with the concept of the "banality of evil" after observing the trial of Adolf Eichmann, a German Nazi war criminal. Eichmann, one of the major architects of the Holocaust, argued he had only followed orders, and Arendt concluded that great evil could be executed by ordinary people who accepted the premises of their state and, therefore, participated with the view that their actions were normal. She concluded that evil was not the actions by fanatics or sociopaths, but ordinary people who simply followed orders.
Whatever the truth of Arendt's general point about the banality of evil, this turns out not to have been true of Eichmann specifically, as reported by Mark Lilla, "Arendt and Eichmann: The New Truth" (The New York Review of Books, November 13, 2021), who quotes Eichmann:
The cautious bureaucrat, yeah, that was me . . . . But joined to this cautious bureaucrat was a fanatical fighter for the freedom of the Blut I descend from . . . . What's good for my Volk is for me a holy command and holy law . . . . I must honestly tell you that had we . . . killed 10.3 million Jews I would be satisfied and would say, good, we've exterminated the enemy . . . . We would have completed the task for our Blut and our Volk and the freedom of nations had we exterminated the most cunning people in the world . . . . I'm also to blame that . . . the idea of a real, total elimination could not be fulfilled . . . . I was an inadequate man put in a position where, really, I could have and should have done more.
Eichmann's own words convict him of conscious evil, not the banal mindlessness of a mere bureaucrat following orders! I'm indebted to my friend Kent Davy, who Wednesday evening informed me and two other drinking buddies -- Kim Seung-Tae and Kevin Shepard -- of this article by Lilla, among various other fascinating topics of conversation.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Uncle Cran's Follow-Up Farm Report

Ozark Frozen Pond
Google Images

Uncle Cran has good news -- winter is over in the Ozarks! He no longer has to break the ice on the pond . . . though I don't believe that he uses the above technique of stomping holes through! That would be like sawing off the limb on which you sit . . . or cutting off your nose to spite your face! Uncle Cran's too smart for that, and here's his follow-up farm report to prove it:
Last Thursday was the last time I have had to cut ice. The nights get into the low 30's, the days into the 40's and 50's,and today it is 64, tomorrow the same, with rain Thursday night. This would be the time we would have planted our early garden[, as] I mentioned recently. The geese have been going north for three weeks, and increasing in numbers each week. Winter isn't over, but usually there will be a warm cycle around the middle of the month with a window of opportunity to plant things, then others each spring month. We don't put out much of a garden now, just a few things in April and May. But when I was growing up, we lived out of our garden vegetables and "truck patch" . . . of corn, potatoes, pumpkins, melons and climbing beans, then turnips in the fall. Now we do most of our gardening at Wal Mart.
Those were the days . . . but you can't stop progressing through life, I guess. I do miss watching the geese flying in their v-formed skeins high overhead, so distant up there in the heavens, you could scarcely hear their gaggles' faint honking.

But I'm a city boy now, here in the Seoul of Asia . . .

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Bosch and Tush: Music of the Spheres?

Many of us are familiar with Hieronymus Bosch and his well-known painting The Garden of Earthly Delights, but not many have focused on the musical butt (no, not Joseph Pujol's butt) in the third, hellish panel of this triptych:

Well, here it is, for your delectation! Lest anyone think these markings are merely a random disarrangement of notes, consider the achievement of a certain "Amelia[, of Chaoskampf,] . . . a hard-of-hearing music and information systems double major at Oklahoma Christian University," who "decided to transcribe it into modern notation, assuming the second line of the staff is C, as is common for chants of this era," and arrived at "LITERALLY the 600-years-old butt song from hell"! I gather Amelia is blogging from the twenty-second century since the painting dates to about 1500, but she's perhaps the first to render this piece of ass music in modern notation and offer a performance, which you can listen to on her blog.

Apparently, she's still working on the details -- correcting some notes, working to improve the sound quality, that sort of thing -- but her first rendition has already gone viral! (Here's a follow-up!)

While she's correcting things, she might want to note that adjectives are ordinarily not plural.

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Is --> Ought . . . Invalid?

Google Images

I've often seen asserted (less often argued) the claim that one cannot legitimately move from an "is" to an "ought," i.e., from noting that something is the case to stating that it ought to be the case, and we can readily concede that some intolerable states of being (e.g., life in some totalitarian society) certainly offer no readily recognizable justification that such states ought to exist.

But suppose we have a human nature, grounded (let us say) in our biological inheritance, such that some states of being (e.g., life in a democratic republic) provide for better human flourishing than other states of being (e.g., life in some totalitarian society), then wouldn't the former be preferable to the latter?

Couldn't one therefore say, "If we want to be in a society that is suited for human flourishing, then we ought to choose a democratic republic over a totalitarian society"? In other words, don't conditionals like the one just stated move from an "is" to an "ought"?

Doubtless, this formulation could be more elegantly expressed than I have managed, and thinkers far more clearheaded than I am have surely already dealt with the issue of such conditionals, so what's the status of this idea that I've been vaguely mulling over for the past several months?

Can't one derive a prescriptive claim from a descriptive statement in this way?

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Monday, February 17, 2014

Ginevra Elkann: About Whom I Knew Nothing . . .

Among the Treetops
Villa Borghese
Photo by Simon Watson

Rob Haskell, in his Jamesian-titled "Portrait of a Lady" (New York Times Style Magazine, February 14, 2014), goes even more literarily allusive with his opening lines:
In his novel "The Baron in the Trees," Italo Calvino writes of a young Ligurian aristocrat who, fed up with the world around him, climbs a tree and decides never to come down. It's tempting to imagine that a similar feeling urged Ginevra Elkann, the eldest granddaughter of Gianni and Marella Agnelli, into the fifth floor of a limestone palazzo among the treetops at the edge of the Villa Borghese gardens. This bright aerie affords views of the jewels of Rome: the Villa Borghese, the Villa Medici and the dome of St. Peter's Basilica, but best of all a long and uninterrupted line of the city's famous pini parasole, the umbrella pine trees whose leafy tufts hang over the ruins like a ribbon of low clouds.
But . . . while I appreciate the stacked literary allusions, I find myself asking, "Why?" Meaning why is it "tempting to imagine that a similar feeling urged Ginevra Elkann . . . into the fifth floor of a limestone palazzo among the treetops at the edge of the Villa Borghese gardens"? Okay, I get that the Agnelli family has suffered more than its share of tragedy, but Ms. Elkann has not retreated from the world:
Elkann has been busy indeed, with myriad film projects and as the president of the Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli, the Renzo Piano-designed museum in Turin built around her grandparents' trove of masterpieces from Canaletto to Matisse.
This is hardly the role of world renunciation! Is Haskell, then, guilty of stretching to reach more than he can grasp? Maybe not entirely. He forced me to grasp at what he meant, that retreat from worldly affairs is always relative to one's responsibility in the world, a point that spurred me to suspend disbelief and identify with the partial withdrawal of a lady from some worldly entanglements, even though this Jewish-Orthodox-Catholic aristocratic woman is more entangled in the world than I am.

A worthwhile exercise of the imagination . . . and I also learned a few things writing this.

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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Happy Ballantine's Day . . . Belated?

Ballantine's Whisky
You Tube

Sorry for missing Valentine's Day, all of you'uns out there, so here's to a Happy Ballantine's Day:
Ballantine's Whisky - Old Commercial
Enjoy the multiculturalism! Or the multiethnicity! Or the Scotch whisky! Or all three!


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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Men and Women Different? Nay! 'Science' Wrong Again!

Larry Cahill and his Brain

My cyber-friend Malcolm Pollack recently blogged on the putative 'findings' of a so-called scientist, Mr. Larry Cahill, Principal Investigator of something called The Cahill Laboratory at the University of California, Irvine! Mr Cahill fancies himself an expert in Neurobiology and Behavior -- as if there were some link between the two -- and Malcolm tells us what this MAN is saying:
[T]hese profoundly disturbing new findings suggest that men and women might actually be quite different.
Malcolm seems concerned in his blog post that these 'findings' might be correct, so I reminded him:
This 'science' must be WRONG because if it were true, there would have to be innate differences between the 'genders,' and we KNOW that there are no real differences because there are no 'genders' except insofar as the socially constructed 'male gender' oppresses the socially constructed 'female gender,' an oppression that began when the socially constructed 'male gender' overthrew the matriarchy ruled by the socially constructed 'female gender' and established a socially constructed 'male gender' rule of PATRIARCHY, so this 'science' is WRONG!
Malcolm, nevertheless, seemed to remain under the sway of Cahill's pseudoscience and even suggested I was going a bit overboard in expressing the truth of what I know:
Your caricature is all too real, Jeffery.
I responded as only a fair-minded person can:
Caricature? I'll have you know that even genitals are socially constructed! Even among animals! Not that animals are to blame -- they also suffer under Patriarchy's horrible, disfiguring power. Pity the poor porcupine, disfigured by a thousand pricks!
I'll go even further: everything is socially constructed! Even Reality! Especially Reality! The honest truth is . . . NOTHING EXISTS:

And yes, it is sacred . . .

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Friday, February 14, 2014

Rickety-Split . . . Rather Slower than Lickety-Split!

Deadwood, Arkansas
Population: Two Humans,
Two Dogs, Likely a Cat or Two,
and Several Head of Cattle

Uncle Cran has sent yet another farm report -- what does he think this blog is, a country almanac? But I'm blood-bound by hillbilly kinfolk ties to post his agrarian musings . . .
This is likely TMI (Too much information) for most of you . . . uncalled for and unwanted.
Good call, Uncle Cran!
But after the past bitter cold, ice and snow days, plus all the trudging through the stuff to feed the livestock and chopping ice on the pond, it's pretty important to us. It has stayed below freezing for a long time. So far the local schools have dismissed school for about 15 days because of the snow, ice and cold.
Sounds like a schoolkid's dream and a parent's nightmare! But both visions are about to end:
Tomorrow they should be able to have school again. This morning the temp was 8 degrees, so I had to chop 9 holes in the ice, but it should be the last time for a while. Right now the temp is almost 40 degrees, and is going to keep increasing for the next two weeks.
I'm trying to discern the logic to Uncle Cran's actions: 8 degrees, 9 holes. Therefore 7 degrees, 10 holes? And 9 degrees, 8 holes? And 10 degrees, 7 holes? The math is beyond me, but I reckon the higher temperatures mean that Uncle Cran the Weather-Man and almanac prophet can stop complaining:
I brought in the last of our woodpile into the basement Monday, so Monday and Tuesday I cut down and blocked up several trees, Gay and I split it yesterday afternoon, and hauled it in and stacked it this morning. We now have 2 ricks on hand, and Gay thinks that should do us this year. I hope so, but it's still a long time until warm weather.
I remember when 40 degrees Fahrenheit was warm! But I'll never remember what "blocked up" means because I've never ever heard this expression used with respect to felling trees. Perhaps Uncle Cran will explain in a comment? And doesn't 'green' firewood from freshly felled trees need to dry before burning? I seem to remember that. Anyway, Uncle Cran has his memories, too:
When I was growing up on the farm, we would always start planting the garden about this time. We planted radishes and green peas, set out onion plants, and started tomato and cabbage seeds inside. There may have been some other things, but I don't remember. A lot of other things in March and April.
Was February always so warm in your childhood, Uncle Cran? I recall cold Februaries in my boyhood. Anyway, the photo above does show an impressive amount of wood in that stack. Well-stacked, too!

And thus ends the latest installment in Uncle Cran's continuing saga of life on a modern Ozark farm, a hillbilly reality show . . .

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Prose Sent on a Poetic Errand?

John Niemeyer Findlay
In, but not of, our quotidian world . . .

My online philosopher friend Bill Vallicella, who always posts something interesting, recently offered an intriguing passage from a book by the philosopher John Niemeyer Findlay:
And it [a sound phenomenology or existentialism] will surely find room for a phenomenological characterization of the brotherly, the sisterly and the cousinly, and will perhaps find room for a special chapter on aunts, that interesting transitional category between maternity and random femininity, devoting perhaps a special study to the romantic aunt, who, dark, interesting, and beautiful, brings into the nursery the rumour of strange voyages and amazing encounters, as well as sympathies almost unbearably touching. (Findlay, The Transcendence of the Cave, Allen and Unwin, 1967, p. 218)
Although composed by Findlay, the very fact that Bill found it worthy of drawing attention to demonstrates the truth of an observation I once made with reference to Bill as "a philosopher with the soul of a poet," though he and I would both agree that one doesn't send a poem on a prose errand -- although John Milton's Paradise Lost offers something of a rebuttal to that!

Bill doesn't explicitly say why he likes Findlay's philosophical views, nor does he explicitly clarify why he likes this passage, but he does say that if he were "banished to the moon tomorrow, and forced to choose . . . [between Findlay and some philosophical opponent of Findlay as his] sole philosophical reading matter, the choice would be an easy one," which is a rather romantic way of putting things, even more so than to imagine being sent off to some by-now-surely-overpopulated desert isle!

But why do I like this passage? Well, partly because it sounds like prose sent on a poetic errand, partly because it makes me curious as to what that errand is, and partly because it spurs me to considering whether or not I know any women who might fit Findlay's phenomenological interest: single, singular women of dark beauty who have traveled abroad on those strange voyages with amazing encounters and whose married siblings have small children.

My wife might have been one of those if I hadn't first captured her . . .

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Pete Hale Links Me to Alvin Plantinga!

Pete's Hale and Handsome Hand
Don't press that button!
Google Images

I don't seem to have a complete photo of my old Ozark friend Pete Hale, who's now a physicist working on some technological device with which he, like Cartoon Network's Mojo Jojo, aims to destroy the universe, so in lieu of a complete Pete, here's Mojo Jojo instead:

Mojo Jojo

I'll try to stifle an impulse to veer off on a tangent about another bad chimp, one who goes by the name of Bruno Littlemore and has a connection to Pete by way of Pete's multi-talented son Benjamin, so I'll rather stay the straight course, which today deals with an article Pete read and notified me about:
Interesting interview involving atheism, evolution, BRussell, beer, and refrigerators, at the very least . . .
That long phrase includes an allusion to how BRussell spouts off about a celestial teapot -- which somehow makes me think of Brussels sprouts, oddly enough, for they're not everyone's cup of tea -- but the central point for me actually concerns a beer in the refrigerator, as described by Alvin Plantinga in an interview for the NYT Opinionator site by Gary Gutting on the rationality of theism, an interview in which Plantinga argues:
I'm interested in the fact that beliefs cause (or at least partly cause) actions. For example, my belief that there is a beer in the fridge (together with my desire to have a beer) can cause me to heave myself out of my comfortable armchair and lumber over to the fridge . . . . [H]ere's the important point: It's by virtue of its material, neurophysiological properties that a belief causes the action. It's in virtue of those electrical signals sent via efferent nerves to the relevant muscles, that the belief about the beer in the fridge causes me to go to the fridge. It is not by virtue of the content (there is a beer in the fridge) the belief has . . . . [b]ecause if this belief -- this structure -- had a totally different content (even, say, if it was a belief that there is no beer in the fridge) but had the same neurophysiological properties, it would still have caused that same action of going to the fridge. This means that the content of the belief isn't a cause of the behavior. As far as causing the behavior goes, the content of the belief doesn't matter . . . . Materialism can't be sensibly believed, at least if, like most materialists, you also believe in evolution . . . . Evolution will have resulted in our having beliefs that are adaptive; that is, beliefs that cause adaptive actions. But as we've seen, if materialism is true, the belief does not cause the adaptive action by way of its content: It causes that action by way of its neurophysiological properties. Hence it doesn't matter what the content of the belief is, and it doesn't matter whether that content is true or false. All that's required is that the belief have the right neurophysiological properties. If it's also true, that's fine; but if false, that's equally fine . . . . [Therefore e]volution will select for belief-producing processes that produce beliefs with adaptive neurophysiological properties, but not for belief-producing processes that produce true beliefs. Given materialism and evolution, any particular belief is as likely to be false as true.
Materialism combined with evolution does not guarantee true beliefs and thus is not conducive to the rise of rationality. An intriguing argument! Note that Plantinga dismisses neither evolution nor materialism alone but rather their combination. He also offers an elevated argument from design -- one that does not preclude evolution -- as evidence for the existence of God:
One presently rather popular argument . . . [for God's existence is the] fine-tuning [of the universe]. Scientists tell us that there are many properties our universe displays such that if they were even slightly different from what they are in fact, life, or at least our kind of life, would not be possible. The universe seems to be fine-tuned for life. For example, if the force of the Big Bang had been different by one part in 10 to the 60th, life of our sort would not have been possible. The same goes for the ratio of the gravitational force to the force driving the expansion of the universe: If it had been even slightly different, our kind of life would not have been possible. In fact the universe seems to be fine-tuned, not just for life, but for intelligent life. This fine-tuning is vastly more likely given theism than given atheism.
Fascinating argument -- even if I have heard it before. I urge readers with metaphysical leanings to take a look at this article. Meanwhile, I had to thank Pete:
Well, I want there to be a beer in my fridge, and if I've grasped Plantinga's argument, that beer being there is far more likely if I assume theism, so I believe in God -- but I've just checked, and the beer isn't there, so I can only conclude that the devil took it, and I'm now waiting for a miracle to strengthen my faith . . .
About my manner of giving thanks, Pete replied:
Ha! Yeah, absolutely. I think my only hope is to cling to smarmy old agnosticism and move on . . .
Well, that's a decision to remain in ignorance, so I still choose theism because I really want to know that my belief in a beer in my fridge is a true belief about a real beer in my fridge (though not a bottomless beer) within a universe designed for life to its fullest.

Go for the gusto, I say!

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Big Hominid: 'Frost's A$$ is Grass, and I'm Lawnmower Man!'

My friend Kevin Kim must have felt challenged by my recent, appreciative post on the poet Robert Frost, for he even more recently wrote that "Robert Frost makes no damn sense" in that poet's most famous poem, The Road Not Taken.

Kevin's central beef is that "Frost provides almost no evidence, in his poem, that the supposedly less-traveled path actually is less traveled," and Kevin adds that "Technically, one road diverged and became two." Let's quote the entire poem:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
That's the poem, and based on what Frost wrote, I took issue with Kevin two points: the meaning of "diverged" and the difference between the two paths, first dealing with "diverged":
I assume this review is mostly tongue in cheek, but you raise an interesting point about "diverged," forcing me to give it some thought.

Imagine yourself standing at the point where the road forks. From that point of perspective, you see two roads diverging, each from the other. I don't see the inevitable absurdity to Frost's description that you see.
Kevin replied:
I suppose that much depends on how to interpret the word "diverge." If it's taken to mean something like "branch off," then the implication is that two paths (phenomena, etc.) start off as one -- in which case it doesn't matter where one is standing, because the objective, perspective-independent fact is that one road is becoming two.

If, however, "diverge" is taken to mean something more like "veer apart" or simply "differ" (e.g., divergent opinions), then yes, two roads can appear to diverge, based on one's perspective, and there's no contradiction in Frost's poem.

But there's still much that is nonsensical about that work.
Since Kevin had conceded the possibility of my reading of "diverged," I turned to another point of putative nonsense, the 'indistinguishability' of the two roads:
Well, "about the same" is not the same as "the same," so I see no contradiction there, and the slight difference, "Because it was grassy and wanted wear," gives the reason why he "took the other" . . . , and the fact that on both roads were "leaves no step had trodden black" is a point about that particular day on that particular morning, not a longstanding characteristic of both paths over some longer period of time.
Kevin replied:
I'm not sure how that's relevant. Obviously, he can only make his decision based on what he sees at that moment, but what he sees, if we take him literally (and I don't see why we can't take him literally), is two paths equally untrammeled. Now if that's the case, then he's contradicting what he'd said earlier (rather ambiguously) about unequal trammeling. So I still contend the poem makes no logical sense.
I responded:
The less worn path is judged less worn based on the the fact of being slightly more grassy, a relatively long-term condition; the untrodden leaves are a fact of that specific morning: "both that morning equally lay / In leaves no step had trodden black."

I think I'm reading rather literally at this point.
Kevin replied:
So we're agreed, then, that Frost isn't being a nonconformist at all, but is displaying watered-down conformism by taking a path that is merely less traveled as opposed to being untraveled. This isn't a Thoreauvian forsaking of people for the sake of embracing nature; this is a tourist's account of his travels to a slightly less-frequented site. There's nothing "off the beaten path" about this timid adventure. If those wooded paths ("roads"?) are "worn about the same," then "grassy" really means "slightly more grassy" and "wanted wear" means "wanted wear only to a slightly higher degree."
I said:
Yes, I agree with that interpretation.

At the meta-level, Frost is saying that some choices in life have to be made on little evidence of difference but that in the long run[, such choices] have nevertheless made all the difference.
I think that we reached agreement, more or less, and I suspect that Kevin's problem with the poem had more to do with illogical readings of the poem than with a close reading of the poem itself. But no debate about a poem is ever fully resolved, and I see that Wikipedia offers an interpretation closer to Kevin's, except that Frost was writing tongue in cheek. Incidentally, Wikipedia also notes that the poem motivated one English friend of Frost to make a tragic choice! I might also note that Thoreau, whom Kevin brought into the argument, was living beside a well-trod path during his time at Walden Pond. Just sayin' . . .

Any thoughts, anyone else?

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Monday, February 10, 2014

Paging Baz Luhrmann . . .

Editor-at-large for Los Angeles magazine and occasional New York Times writer Amy Wallace has an absorbing article, "Deep Inside Baz Luhrmann's Creative Chaos" (NYT, February 7, 2014), fascinating for its depiction of the orderly method to his chaotic madness in filmmaking. But for me particularly of interest was this information:
He has long talked of making a film version of Mikhail Bulgakov's 1966 novel "The Master and Margarita" -- a satire about Satan, in human form, roaming the streets and infiltrating the atheistic bureaucracies of 1930s Moscow. (His working title: "Sympathy for the Devil.")
That would be a great film . . . but I suggest he first take a look at my Bulgakovian satire, The Bottomless Bottle of Beer, and consider turning it into a film!

Maybe I ought to send him a memo . . .

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Sunday, February 09, 2014

Jay Parini's Good Advice on Writing!

In my blog entry yesterday, I cited a professorial authority on Robert Frost named Jay Parini, whose name I borrowed from the article that I was responding to, but I hadn't a clue who he was, so I looked into him by way of his website and discovered that I did know of him, for he wrote the book The Last Station, a novel about the last days of Tolstoy that became a major film starring Christopher Plummer as Leo Tolstoy and Helen Mirren as Sofya Tolstoy!

Knowing this, I figured he must be a well-known, popular writer, so I clicked around on his site and found a blog entry against software designed for grading essays, one of his points being that only a real writer can teach another person how to write better, and he gave an example from his student days:
The truth is, students rarely come to college -- any college -- knowing how to write well. This takes a lot of what one of my old profs used to call "correction." I remember sitting beside him in his office as he went over my papers. He would draw a red pencil through adjectives, suggesting that I find stronger nouns, not more bolstering words. Don't say it was a "long narrow street." Kill the adjectives. Call it an alley if it's an alley.

He also told me to get rid of those adverbs. Get a stronger verb and you won't need an adverb, he would tell me. So don't say: "He ran swiftly down the narrow street." Instead, try something like this: "He sped down the alley." I learned from this guy how to put my sentences into a more active voice, how to subordinate clauses, to embed them in a rolling syntax, making thoughts more subtle, arguments more persuasive.
Excellent advice on adverbs and adjectives! Such advice is far more rare than the also good advice on using active rather than passive voice. I've been trying to do this in my own writing, but an astutely expressed reminder is always worth the time given to listening.

If you've read this far, I reckon you're listening, too.


Saturday, February 08, 2014

Robert Frost Clothed in New Habilitations?

Frosty Family?
Or thawed out?
New York Times

Ever since I had to memorize "Fire and Ice" in the eighth grade under Mrs. DeShazo, I've loved the poetry of Robert Frost, but I learned how little I know about the man when I read that his memory had recently been rehabilitated.

Rehabilitated? Yep. Through his own, previously unknown, correspondence!

Talk about sartor resartus! I hadn't even known he'd been in the scholarly doghouse and needed redressing in habiliments proper for readmittance to the house of honorable artists! But apparently:
[H]is handpicked chronicler, Lawrance Thompson, . . . emerged from decades of assiduous note-taking with a portrait of the poet as a cruel, jealous megalomaniac -- "a monster of egotism" who left behind "a wake of destroyed human lives," as the critic Helen Vendler memorably put it on the cover of The New York Times Book Review in 1970. (Jennifer Schuessler, "The Road Back: Frost's Letters Could Soften a Battered Image," NYT, February 4, 2014)
One tends to trust a "handpicked chronicler," but new evidence of "more than 3,000 letters" offers a very different view, a sentiment seconded by "Jay Parini, a Frost biographer," who says that "The idea of Frost as a jealous, mean-spirited, misogynist career-builder . . . is nothing short of nuts."

That's good to know. His "handpicked chronicler" -- soon to be 'chronically henpecked' -- was WRONG!

The truth is likely somewhere in between -- most of us are a mixed bag of  saint and sinner, angel and demon, hero and wretch . . . and I know I tend more toward the latter of those, so even Frost, however better he may be, will still be found to have feet of clay . . .

But he was no monster.

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Friday, February 07, 2014

A Coffee Shop for Bibliophiles to Dream Of?

Good coffee shops are now so abundant in Korea that they have to try all sorts of gimmicks to draw customers, so there are cat coffee shops, internet coffee shops, meditation coffee shops, religious coffee shops, and book coffee shops, among others, and today, in a new shopping mall near our apartment, I saw one of those book coffee shops, a small one tucked away in a corner, but nevertheless a clean, well-lit place to sip coffee and peruse books that, by their titles, looked to be in English:

Yes, here am I, all prepared to select a book from those numerous ones on the shelf to my right -- there's one about Iggy Pop that's caught my eye, 'cause he looks like a drugged-out muscle builder, a skinny Arnold Schwartzenegger:

Iggy Pop

But as the whirled camera turned its candid eye more directly on the shelves, I noticed a problem:

The books are merely two-dimensional, 'truthy' facsimiles of our three-dimensional reality, so not a single text could be plucked from those unshelved books! I can offer my wife only a 2-D-full (and dutiful!) smile of leather-faced chagrin.

We were forced to turn to a form of entertainment from last century: conversation!


Thursday, February 06, 2014

Remember the Femen Protests?

Remember the Femen women who protested topless last spring in support of Amina Tyler, "a Tunisian woman who [had] posted topless photos of herself protesting religious oppression," as reported by Paul Schemm and Diaa Hadid ("Muslim Women Vs. FEMEN: Topless Protests Inspired By Amina Tyler Seen As Counterproductive By Mideast Feminists," Huffington Post, April 10, 2013), among other reports in other news services?

Of course, you do!

Well, so does one young Muslim woman, who decided to send a chador-clad Muslim superheroine to teach those Femen-ists a lesson:

The superheroine draws a sword in response to the Femen-ists' words. I suppose there's a sort of symmetry to that action, depending upon placement of the "s" in "sword" and "words." Anyway, once the Femen-ists are cowed and under control, the superheroine accuses them of ignoring women. Eh? Hmmm . . . okay, got it -- by concentrating on Amina Tyler, they ignore most women -- I guess. And the lesson? Here:

The Femen-ists have been hung out (hanged?) to dry (to die?), or so this cartoon panel implies. And the lesson? Free speech has a cost? (One's life?)

At least, this superheroine recognizes that women do face problems in the Muslim world, as we see here, here, and here. The cartoonist herself seems well-intentioned, but her true enemies are not the so-called 'Islamophobes,' but the Islamists, who themselves are accountable for what would better be called "Islamistophobia"!

But where is the line to be drawn between Islam and Islamism?

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Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Early Islam and the Copts?

Prof. Dr. Harald Suermann
Institut für Orient- und Asienwissenschaften
Orientalisches Seminar
Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn

Anyone who reads the international news on various events around the globe will have noted that the Egyptian Copts, the indigenous population of Christians in Egypt, have had many problems with Islamists over the years, and especially recently, what with the church burnings and drive-by shootings. This is somewhat ironic, according to some, since -- it has often been claimed -- the Copts welcomed the Muslims as liberators from the rule of Byzantium. I have had my doubts about this claim but never had the opportunity of looking into the evidence. Until now, for I see that the German scholar Prof. Dr. Harald Suermann, of the Institute of Oriental and Asian Studies, Bonn University, has written an article, "Copts and the Islam of the Seventh Century," published in Christian-Muslim Relations: A Bibliographical History, Volume 5 (1350-1500), which was published by Brill in 2013. Suermann looks into a number of texts and concludes with a paragraph showing the somewhat mixed views of Copts around and after the Arab conquest of Egypt:
Are some tentative conclusions about these attitudes possible? The History of the Patriarchs as well as the other texts show that relations between the Copts and their Muslim rulers were mainly good, and that the patriarchs were respected as holy men. On the other hand, the History of the Patriarchs also reports that the Copts were attacked under Patriarch Isaac (686-689): crosses were destroyed, and polemical statements against the doctrines of Incarnation and Trinity were written on the doors of churches. Furthermore, the Panegyric calls the Muslims 'oppressors'. This evidence suggests that the idea that the Copts received the Muslims as liberators is no longer tenable. (Suermann, "Copts and the Islam of the Seventh Century," page 109)
The reference to oppression comes from the Panegyric, as noted, and reads, "neither let us fast like the Saracens, oppressors who follow after prostitution and massacre" (Suermann, page 108). The term "Saracens" is what Arabs were called, and in addition to being "oppressors," they were said to seek out "prostitution" and to engage in "massacre." These latter two accusations might be mere hyperbolic polemics, but given that Islamists today have no qualms about committing massacres and taking captive women as sex slaves, we might be ready to read such texts as the Panegyric as more historically accurate than they have previously been read.

The destruction of crosses, mentioned in the History of the Patriarchs, is certainly credible . . .

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Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Chagall: The Pinch of Snuff

The Pinch of Snuff
Marc Chagall

For the benefit of readers who might have been unable to access the Basel Kunstmuseum's painting, here it is above, and as I noted yesterday, the 'illusion' of two left hands is even more visible in this version from 1923-26 than in the 1912 version! Is this mere chance, random accident?

This painting is also the version whose print poster hung on the wall of my off-campus, Waco room in Speight House, a room-and-board place near Baylor managed by a woman whose name actually was none other than "Buena Vista Verona"! We called her Mrs. V., and she was a tough-talking soft-hearted lady who liked me even though I had long hair and a beard -- I think she figured out pretty quickly that I wasn't so much hippie as hillbilly, a wild man who played basketball barefooted because I could dunk better, but also struggled to become an intellectual by intently staring at a Chagall print in hope of absorbing some culture . . .

And here I am, still trying to figure out Marc Chagall's elusive rabbi . . .

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Monday, February 03, 2014

Chagall: Two Left Hands?

The Pinch of Snuff (1912)
Marc Chagall
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

As an undergrad at Baylor University back in the latter 70s, I didn't know much about art, but I somehow acquired a poster of Chagall's Pinch of Snuff (also known as The Rabbi), though I didn't know the title back then. I called it "Rabbi with a Book." I liked it a lot and so taped it to the wall of my room, where I stared at it for hours, all told. There was some uncanny quality it possessed, and I took a long time in realizing what that "it" was. Eventually, however, I was drawn to focus on the rabbi's right hand, which seemed awkward, twisted in some way, until I saw that this right hand was another left hand.


I know from German that "zwei linke Hände haben" (to have two left hands) means "to be all thumbs," that is, "to be clumsy," but I don't know if this idiom is relevant here.

Incidentally, Chagall seems to have made at least two variants of this painting, for I've seen one of them with my own eyes at the Kunstmuseum in Basel, dated 1923-26, whereas the one above, dated to 1912, is displayed in The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. My poster's version was more like the variant in Basel. The Hebrew letters on the Torah scroll curtain differ, incidentally, the older painting displaying the abbreviation for God's name and the more recent painting displaying letters standing for "Torah Scroll," according to Benjamin Harshav in The Polyphony of Jewish Culture (2007).

Anyway, all the versions I've found online share this same uncanniness because of the two left hands. Does any reader know why Chagall did this?

I've searched long on the net failing to find any clue . . .

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Sunday, February 02, 2014

Terrance Lindall and Bienvendio 'Bones' Banez: Paradise Lost and Satanic Verses

Terrance Lindall has recently announced the upcoming Gold Elephant Folios, projected to be available by September 2014, in which Bien's Satanic Verses will be illustrated with his own images centered and Lindall's images along the periphery. Lindall's work of this sort has already been praised highly by renowned Milton collector Robert J. Wickenheiser:
Without a doubt, Terrance Lindall is the foremost illustrator of Paradise Lost in our age, comparable to other great illustrators through the ages, and someone who has achieved a place of high stature for all time.
That quote appears at the website linked to just under the above image, as does a quote from me:
The poetic conceit that Bones is working with is that we're already living in the tribulation of the eschaton, and the poem is his artistic vision, accompanied by vivid, electrifying artworks depicting, in some way, those troubled times.
I've said even more about Bien's art and self-commentary, in an email to Lindall:
Bien's a great artist. His writing is not always the clearest in meaning, but I've found that if I don't try to pin down too precisely what he means, then I can understand him well enough. His writing is, of course, bound to be of interest to future art critics and art historians.

There's a certain fallen glory in the images that he displays -- like stained glass windows of hell. I've never seen anything quite like them.
Bien's Satanic Verses might seem more clear than his raw words themselves, for they've undergone some editing by Lindall and me, but the words should never be taken quite so literally as one might think, but, rather, literarily!

I'll be interested in seeing the final product, which may differ to some degree from the version I edited . . .

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Saturday, February 01, 2014

Lodge about Sherry on Greene

David Lodge lives in writing?

In Lives in Writing, David Lodge reviews Norman Sherry's third volume on Graham Greene, The Life of Graham Greene, Volume 3: 1956-1991:
Sherry's book is self-indulgently and often eccentrically written. The discourse is frequently broken up into short sections consisting of a paragraph or two, separated by asterisks, which disrupt the cohesion of the narrative and afford the biographer too much freedom for digression and superfluous comment. Mixed metaphors run amok (e.g., "When Greene writes a letter to the press, it's a lightning rod for shoals of letters to be poured out in answer, swords drawn"). Similes often baffle (e.g., "Had he failed this couple, he'd have been as ashamed as a nudist caught with his clothes on"). Sometimes, like Nabokov's Kinbote in Pale Fire, Sherry addresses the startled reader directly: "Don't you feel that at times, writing a novel was for him a disease?" Toward the end of the book there are lurid disquisitions on the horror of death which seem to tell us more about the biographer than his subject. Either Sherry has been poorly served by his editors or he has ignored their advice.
The oddest thing about Sherry's weird sentences is that he must have worked hard to hone their flaws to perfection.

Take the madly mixed metaphors of "When Greene writes a letter to the press, it's a lightning rod for shoals of letters to be poured out in answer, swords drawn." The metaphors in this sentence surely required hard work and a certain ingenuity to get them all so god-awful wrong. Graham's letter is a lightning rod? The letters that attack his are schools of fish? Fish that are poured out . . . of what? Clouds, maybe -- remember that lightning rod? These fish have swords? And these swords are drawn? Good heavens and thunderation! I'm afraid to step outside!

Or consider the meaning of "Had he failed this couple, he'd have been as ashamed as a nudist caught with his clothes on." Eh? Does this imply that Greene would or would not feel ashamed?

As for "Don't you feel that at times, writing a novel was for him a disease?" I don't know that Greene's writing is pathological, but Sherry's might well be!

Logorrhea, maybe?

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