|... means never having to say you're apple. (Credit.)|
Wednesday, December 30, 2015
Thursday, November 5, 2015
Since I started Korean about four months ago, again and again I've come across an odd reaction when I mention that I'm working on the language. "At least it has an alphabet, right?" they say—as opposed to the enormous logogrammatic catalogs used to write Chinese and Japanese. Just as often, I hear, "At least it's not tonal like Chinese!" It always comes with the implication: At least it's not as hard as Chinese or Japanese!
At the risk of sounding defensive, I feel like those of us who study Korean at even the most elementary of levels need to start telling people: "Korean is a very hard language"—certainly no easier for a native English speaker than Chinese or Japanese, and perhaps even harder in some ways. The challenges may be different, but they are no less formidable. No one thinks that Arabic or Georgian or Cherokee are easier than Chinese just because they have alphabets. No one in her right mind thinks that Finnish is easier than Swedish simply because it's not tonal. So it's silly to think that Korean just opens up like a morning glory to the English speaker compared to Chinese or Japanese by virtue of being a non-tonal alphabetic language.
Friday, October 16, 2015
|Part of the MetKids website's massive cartoon map of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.|
I should explain that I've started working as the Media Fellow for the year at Dumbarton Oaks, a combination museum, historic house, rare book room, public garden, and humanities research center in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. One of the great parts of my job is that I get to explore how other museums and research institutes share, explain, and re-mediate their resources with both specialists and the general public. And along the way, I've been discovering some really amazingly smart, well-curated sites online! Here are two of my favorites:
Wednesday, August 26, 2015
|Can you say "Proustian moment" in Korean? (Image from Wikipedia.)|
"Would it bother you (vous) if we used tu to address each other?"
"How would it bother me? Come on! Joy! Tears of joy! Unknown happiness!"
"I thank you (vous) so much... [I mean,] thank you (te) so much. As soon as you start! It'll bring me so much pleasure that you don't have to do anything about Madame de Guermantes if you want; the using tu (le tutoiement) is enough for me."
"We'll both do it, then."
The wordplay is pretty hard to capture in English, the way the protagonist stumbles from "vous" to "tu." The sense of formality in French culture around pronouns has changed substantially over the past hundred years. In Maupassant and earlier, married couples address each other as vous; now, that would seem laughably cold. Likewise, if two young friends of the same age—like Proust and Saint-Loup—were still calling each other vous after having known each other for months, my impression is that in the present day, it would be hard to call them friends at all.
Thursday, August 20, 2015
|invenit novum amicum Greg Heffley—aut inimicum?|
(From the wikia for Diary of a Wimpy Kid.)
Tuesday, August 18, 2015
|The Badeau family. (newyorker.com)|
But what I liked most about MacFarquhar's profile of the Badeaus, and what I think it gets most right about the spirit of the most successful adoptions I have known, is the repeated insistence of both Hector and Sue that they were not acting out of a particularly demanding sense of moral duty at all. Indeed, in their own words, duty had very little to do with it. Instead, what created this sense of compulsion to adopt their children was, on their account, love. About adopting four siblings at a point when they already had five children and three foster children, the Badeaus say:
HECTOR: It’s hard to explain. It was like instant love.The Badeaus talk at length about the role of Christianity in shaping their beliefs and actions, and of praying for guidance. MacFarquhar, in her characteristic use of free indirect speech to render her subjects' thoughts, ascribes to them the belief that God intended them to adopt certain children, and the conviction that "they were doing God's work." But at no point do the Badeaus say that they felt obligated by their faith to adopt. MacFarquhar interprets their motivations as a kind of altruism fueled not by duty, but rather emotion:
SUE: It was as if they already were our kids, but they were somehow not with us and we had to go get them.
To many people, the love of a parent for his child should be urgent, primal, beneath thought. That love should come from longing; from a selfish clutching for happiness, not from an altruistic promise to help. It was not just that altruism was not enough; altruism seemed antithetical to what a parent’s love should be. A parent might sacrifice himself for a child, but because he was driven to do it, not out of duty. The love of a parent must be selfish or it was worthless.
To Sue and Hector, self-sacrifice came easily. To live a moral life in the usual way, resisting temptation and embracing righteous difficulty, was not hard. But they knew that what was required of them was more complicated than asceticism. To sacrifice pleasure for duty’s sake was to get everything wrong. To fulfill their parental promise they must feel delight; they must take pleasure in their children or their efforts would be useless.While I think that MacFarquhar's understanding of the Badeaus is admiring, and admirable in its own right, I find it is slightly at odds with their own words. They claim that they were acting out of a kind of "urgent, primal [love] beneath thought": it was not their choice; it was more emotional than deliberative; it would have caused them pain not to adopt, in a way that is, MacFarquhar and the ethicists might say (without blame), "selfish." The pleasure is there at the inception of the relationship, and—ideally—grows throughout, just as with any kind of parenthood.
Thursday, August 13, 2015
|The binary star Capella in the constellation Auriga.|
I watched last night and also early this morning; viewing is generally held to be best in the hour or two before dawn (which makes sense if you think about direction that the Earth rotates, I suppose). It was a perfect night here in west Michigan: cloudless, dry, a nearly new moon that was below the horizon all night anyway, and little enough light pollution to let the Milky Way emerge after your eyes adjusted to the dark. By 10:30, the Summer Triangle was high overhead, and you could actually see the Dolphin glowing faintly beneath Aquila. It's late enough in the summer that Arcturus and the Big Dipper had almost entirely sunk below the tree line around my parents' house—a sign I've come to associate with the advent of the school year. (The trees cover a good 25-30º of the sky above the horizon, though we are on a slight hill.) Even then, a few meteors were blazing across the sky. They don't last long—and they don't compete well with the glow of a city night—but they're hard to mistake.
Wednesday, August 12, 2015
|Bringing you the choicest random facts from all over time and space.|
So I decided to take the summer off and recover. It has been good to avoid the compulsion to write for any reason other than my own desire to do so; good to learn how to read books for fun again; good to figure out how to relax and even how to waste time, things I think I'd forgotten how to do.
Monday, March 9, 2015
|Borges's Library of Babel; sketch by Erik Desmazieres, Buenos Aires Review|
Thursday, February 19, 2015
|The Death of Safe Strength, with Grayman and Brightman at his side.|
When I was younger, I was entranced by some Native American names that were also plain-language words: names like "Ben Nighthorse Campbell" (the former Senator from Colorado). Google is helping me turn up other examples: "Creepingbear," "Lone Hill." The practice seems common to a number of nations and languages, and I presume that they are English translations of names that would have been common in languages that are now endangered or lost. There was a certain evocative beauty in having a part of your name lie so manifestly close to its signification. We all enjoy knowing the etymologies, the "real meanings," of our names (that George means "earth-worker," or that Jennifer is cognate with "Guinevere"). What if all that information lay on the surface of language? I love the way a name like "Nighthorse" turns something very familiar (namely, the words "night" and "horse") into something strange and beautiful.
Wednesday, January 21, 2015
Virginia Woolf once complained that sickness ought to be one of literature’s great themes and yet wasn’t. This seminar will aim to contest that assertion, taking sickness of many kinds—literal, metaphorical, mental, contagious—as a great literary theme. Why do we keep resorting to “illness as metaphor”—and what, if anything, can we learn about illness and society’s handling of illness from art about sickness?
Thursday, January 15, 2015
|A bibimbap burger (obviously my next food obsession).|