Monday, May 24, 2010

Dissertation Retreat Day 1

Good day of reading and working: three full essays completely read through and annotated. One I got through was "Huahuar the Cat" which shows up on a Baidu blog along with this illustration. The essay begins:

I probably can't be counted a cat lover, because I have only loved one or two cats, and even then only because they weren't like other cats, and even almost surpassed the feline.
I was happy to have stumbled into that corner of the internet!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Renegade (2004)

Renegade: the Ahayuasca trip

Thanks to D. for introducing us to Renegade, which we watched again just the other day.

The film is incredibly fun, through and through, at least for anyone who likes graphic novels or entheogenic substances (preferably both).

I'd like to use it as a teaching tool in a theory class sometime. I'll explain the term "episteme" and the larger patterns of French thought using mostly just the above scene alone.

Thoughts on the Grotesque

Gummo (1997) a film by Harmony Korine

I happened to watch the movie Gummo just after I had finished the novella Yellow Mud Street 黄泥街 by Can Xue, and I was really struck by how both advance a portrait of grotesque communities. Both have horror elements that are buried deeply in the scenery -- trash, mess, odd growths like black mushrooms, fat albinos with no toes, maggots that appear everywhere, pots of dried up spaghetti, stands of fruit that immediately rot and drip into the drains. Both focus on how misdirected and now anarchic communities aim to live, but are only able to do so in a limited way -- blistering in heat, prey to insects and larger predators.

There is a strong element of black comedy to both stories as well, without which the pieces would be unambiguously negative overall. Little boys curse each other, but they are still clearly little boys. An old man learns to eat black spiders, but hey, he's eating, right? There is an ambiguous idea that life is beautiful in all its forms, even if it is grotesque after experiencing a great disturbance.

This disturbance is also clearly evident in both works. In Can Xue, it was Maoism, including state industry, collectivization, and the use of mass communication to make every speak a common, if empty, rhetoric. For Korine's Xenia, Ohio, the trauma is a tornado that had passed through 20 years before -- the audience is left to wonder just how metaphorical to take that 'tornado.'

Since I had also recently watched a TED Talk on coral reef devastation and the tremendous crisis facing world oceans, I have begun to think of both Yellow Mud Street and Gummo as having an ecological element. The grotesque element that stands out the most in both stories is nothing more or less than the force of life to continue along even after tremendous trauma. After a devastating tornado or pollution event, the life that first returns is always the most grotesque possible, because it must feed off of the waste that is left behind. And this is ambiguously beautiful -- it is beautiful that life will always go on, and it is terrible that the healthiest path of life is so seldom offered.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Grading thoughts

One Model Writing Teacher

As I push along with the grades, I find more and more notes to put into my next edition of the syllabus -- notes on a full lectures series that takes students through writing research papers step by step, in greater detail than I've ever taught before. I'm doing something like a cross between The Craft of Research and How to Read a Book, I think, with a healthy dose of McKee's "Story Seminar" in it as well.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Workdays absorbed by Teaching

The Punishment of Strangulation -- from this site with poorly scanned images of a book of punishment illustrations.

It's not surprising that my entire workday is expended in the course I'm teaching for the past few days and the next few as well.

Still, work goes on a sluggish pace.

Last night at our classical Chinese reading group, I had an exchange with one younger history student from China. He said he'd heard of a professor at the University of Chicago who had published an article in Chinese. Wow! For this student, that was a real symbol of accomplishment.

So now I have a goal to earn some real cultural capital...

A bit of reading group vocabulary. Once again, this is from my classmate HXY's work on legal history of the Qing dynasty:有司 a general class of local officials. See Hucker, says Ann
後經改議隱逃窩主擬絞秋決 After revision of this interpretation, the person who hid the fugitive would be strangled to death after the Autumn Assizes.
株連 implicated
累及 implicated
無任情困辱 don't punish or humiliate them at will 任情 is a really nice word -- see the baidu entry
特嚴法示懲 specially-made strict law as deterrent


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Struggle to Read, pt. MCMLXX: Dictionary Work

Snippet from my dictionary work, 5/4

I'm really struggling to get time to read and write as I finish up this class I'm teaching, along with other duties, and of course my normal lazy leisurely activities. I haven't done such a good job since Thursday, but I did re-discover the need to consult dictionaries.

"Dictionary work" is becoming a household term. As in,
A. : "Oh I do want to watch that Cromwell film. I suppose not tonight...?"

J. : "Sure we can watch it. Just let me have the next 15 minutes for some dictionary work."
This works splendidly as a way to get 15 minutes. When it comes to crafting sentences or reading anything seriously, 15 minutes is a laughable amount of time. But when it comes to dictionary work, 15 minutes can be a great amount of time to force yourself to look up the list of terms you've circled as you've read through a chapter or essay.

There's a bit of useful tension in this activity. I might come across terms like "push-knock," tuiqiao 推敲 that really can't be defined without telling a little story. And in the course of the story, we must needs learn quite a bit about the context in which this term is used. The term itself stands for a story that tells you how to use the term. That fascinates me to no end!

But I have only 15 minutes. I must get through the dictionary work to the end so that:

a. I know all the new words in the piece that I didn't know before.
b. I can use my vocab list to write, later on. The writing will come later on.

So. It took longer than it should have, but I finished the dictionary work for Yang Jiang's essay "The Experience of Failure: On Translation." It was a fine piece that I hope to write about in a chapter on Yang Jiang's methods of translation. Now, on to the next thing!


Saturday, May 1, 2010

伊奧兒之憤 The Frustrations of Eeyore

It's not quite true that I did no writing on Thursday; I did write the following book review:
The Te of Piglet (The Wisdom of Pooh) The Te of Piglet by Benjamin Hoff

My rating: 1 of 5 stars
The Fèn of Eeyore.

One day I was walking through the bog, gazing wistfully at the muddy water, when I came across Eeyore in his den. A lovely smell was coming out of the crumbling donkey shelter.

"Hallo old friend. What's cooking?"

"Hola, amigo. Why this is just a simple zuppa verde. Thistles and nettles from the bog you know, but quite good when cooked in buttered broth. Farina grains add bulk and thickness, what what. Ho ho! But what's this, you're looking a bit doom-and-gloom, my friend. What has happened to your cheerful demeanor?"

"Oh Eeyore, it is Very Good to see you again. I've just been reading The Te of Piglet you see, and it has got me feeling...that is, a bit..."

"Ho-ho! Say no more. That book has the wrong title, to start with. Actually it has the wrong everything. It's not really about anything. Though of course certain parties are trodden on..."

"Yes, I believe that's what's left me so conflicted. And, well, so you know, then, that...uhm..."

"Yes, I know. Oh I know. It was me what was trod, yup? I'm the odd bits which got smithered on. I certainly know all this. You needn't mention it. And after all, one can't complain. I have my friends. Somebody spoke to me only yesterday. And was it last week or the week before that Rabbit bumped into me and said 'Bother!'. The Social Round. Always something going on."

"You know, Eeyore, I can't help but feel that this time this Tao and Te fellow has gone over the line. I mean, really, Educational System Eeyores? And what's this nonsense about 'Eeyore Amazons'? Could you make head or tail out of that (so to speak)?"

"Ah yes, those misfit feminists with their 'overabundance of masculine energies.' Do you mean to say you find the fellow unqualified to measure the proper amount of 'masculine energy'?"

"The thought had occurred to me."

"Haha, well it's all quite amusing really. In a quiet way, that is, and without being really helpful. As you no doubt gathered, the book is said to be about Piglet, but there's really very little of Piglet in it at all."

"Quite true -- I was surprised at that."

"You shouldn't be, my friend! Oh, I tell you, in this world nearly every creature suffers from a Positively Startling Lack of Brain. The result of course is that the books they write aren't about what they thought they would write about. Probably this book did start out about Piglet, but soon a bit of chaff flew by, or else a new smell entered the air, and before the author knew it, he was Whining again, as he is of course wont to do.

Now for your information, in China, Whining is actually an art."

"Really? But isn't that annoying to readers?"

"Not at all! Not when done properly. And not if the listeners feel the same way about matters. Why, down in the bogs and swamps of China I have visited with Donkeys, Monkeys, DonkMonks, and Key-Dons of all shapes and sizes, all perfectly able to spend an entire evening Whining. Whining's good for the soul, after all, for once you're done you've cleaned yourself out. You've taken out all your bile and whatnot and spillt it out into the bog water, where it makes no difference at all."

"Oh! I think I see where you are going with this. And so The Te of Piglet..."

"Right. It's entirely whining, from beginning to end. What little we see of poor Piglet is purposely obscured to make it seem as if we are all actually already either Whiners or Worth Whining About. Which is perfectly true, by the way!"

"I see. So back to the title. You said it had the wrong title. Perhaps it should be called Whining?"

"Yes. Since our friend likes Chinese terms so much, he might have called it after the Chinese term for a "whining," which refers to the scattering and drawing out of the bile, or indignation, which is called "fen." "Whining" is a verb, but "fen" is a nice solid noun which refers to the bile in the heart. So I do think he should have called it The Fen."

"I see, yes. But then again it wouldn't do to call it The Fen. It needs an Animal, don't you think? Perhaps The Fen of Piglet would be better?"

"Don't be daft. That silly bit of fluff hasn't the confidence to Whine in a full-throated, belly-emptying way. No, no, Piglet would never do."

"Come to think of it, as we said before, the Animal that whines most is you, Eeyore."

"Why thank you very much. I was so hoping someone would notice!"

"Ah! Now I have it. Our friend only seems to dislike you, Eeyore. He whines about Eeyores. But since Eeyores are the whiners, then he too is an Eeyore. Why don't we call the book The Fen of Eeyore?"

"Oh, my goodness. I couldn't accept that. Oh, no, really. Me? The star of a book? Well, suppose I do know a thing or two. I've a brain. Say, do you want to stay awhile? Have some zuppa?"

"Wonderful! I've some beer in this bag, if that interests you."

"It may interest me, sir. Perhaps as much as anything ever does, in any case. Drinking beer never did anyone any good. Then again, the world is in such a state, a few beers are certainly called for. Oh! Everybody has been Wrong about Everything. I tell you! Especially Wrong about Me. Why, what Whining we shall have tonight, sir..."

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Farewell to Sloth, Pt. XXXVII

Johnson's reading tables, 1729.

No writing on Thursday or Friday due to meetings with students, lecture, meeting with others, social gatherings, and frequent attacks of Sloth.

This morning I read about an online exhibit of Samuel Johnson memorabilia, including the earliest known letter he wrote, at age 16, looking to his cousin for a teaching job, and the "libellus" (little book) that he started in 1729, aged 19-20, to fight Sloth with a suggestion of the possibilities of reading.

In the table above, we can see him imagining how much he could accomplish over the course of weeks, months and years if only he read 10, 20, 30, etc. lines of Latin per day. I am inspired, and happy to find that in my current state I am thinking much along Johnson's lines when he was a 20-year old. Of course I'm 30, and so a bit slower than Johnson, but then again that's no surprise.

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