|At a market stand in Sokcho, Korea.|
Monday, August 14, 2017
Thursday, July 27, 2017
[Mrs. Ramsay] was glad, Lily thought, to rest in silence, uncommunicative; to rest in the extreme obscurity of human relationships. Who knows what we are, what we feel? Who knows even at the moment of intimacy, This is knowledge?
—Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse ("The Window")
It is like what we imagine knowledge to be:
dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free,
drawn from the cold hard mouth
of the world, derived from the rocky breasts
forever, flowing and drawn, and since
our knowledge is historical, flowing, and flown.
—Elizabeth Bishop, "At the Fishhouses"
To say you know when you know, and to say you do not when you do not, that is knowledge.
—Kongzi, Analects 2.16
Thursday, June 29, 2017
|Kaeseong, North Korea, as seen from the South Korean border.|
(From Wikimedia Commons.)
But I've also been surprised by the number of times that I've said I'm going to Korea for the year, and people ask me, "Not North Korea, right?"—as if any American ever goes to teach English in North Korea for the year, as if any Korean-American in their right mind would go there on purpose, as if one can simply foxtrot across the border and be back in Seoul for afternoon tea. I'm shocked that people on one hand seem to think of the North as a living dystopian hellscape, and on the other seem to know so little about the situation that they think it's simply another fun exotic destination.
Thursday, June 8, 2017
|Life and Works of Confucius by Prospero Intorcetta, 1687. |
[13:15] Duke Ding asked if there were a single phrase which could uplift a country. Confucius replied: “Words in themselves cannot have such an effect. Nonetheless, there is a proverb which says, ‘Being a ruler is difficult, and being a minister is not easy.’ If you really understand the difficulties of rulership, might this not be enough to uplift a country?” The Duke asked further: “Is this not close to the saying ‘there a single phrase which could ruin a country?’” Confucius answered, “Again, words in themselves cannot have such an effect, but the people also have a proverb which says: ‘I do not enjoy ruling; I only enjoy people not disagreeing with me.’ Now if you are a good man and no one disagrees with you, it is fine. But if you are evil, and no one disagrees with you, perhaps you could destroy the country with a single utterance.”The political philosopher who has come to my mind most often lately, and especially today, is Confucius. I'm not a scholar of ancient Chinese thought, to be certain. I only read Confucius' Analects for the first time in the fall after I graduated, about eighteen months ago. My thoughts are those of a neophyte.
Still, this essay by Ezra Klein reacting to James Comey's testimony put me in mind of the Analects, and in particular their implicit contention that malfeasance in a state stains the entire political order from the top down. When the head of state is virtuous, that virtue trickles down through the whole state, reflected in the head's choice of ministers, aides, and subordinates, and thence in their choices, all the way down to the least powerful people. However, when the head of state lacks virtue—through viciousness, laziness, greed, or other negative traits—those vices destabilize the work of even the best people working below.
Monday, June 5, 2017
|Bohumil Kubišta, "Promenade in the Rieger Gardens" (1908).|
From Wikimedia Commons.
The first symphony of Bohuslav Martinů (the "other" Czech Romantic) was playing on the public radio station in Kalamazoo today. I had no idea what it was when I turned on the radio in the middle of the third movement—but I was enchanted. It's strange and wonderful and bold. Just when you think things are getting a little too sentimental, he takes a harmonic left turn, and you're in a different emotional universe again:
Someone recently told me I had to listen to the music of the jazz pianist Jason Moran, and I finally got around to doing that today. Already, I'm thrilled I did. In particular, Moran has done a re-interpretation/re-styling/transformation of an arresting late Brahms piece most kids in piano lessons play at some point, and he manages to make the piece totally heartbreaking all over again. Take a listen:
Friday, May 26, 2017
I realized a while ago that precious few things make me happier than a quiet afternoon in a sunny room with a cup of tea and an insurmountably large stack of books. What follows is a list of what I would want to read right now if there were world enough and time: things I haven't read (including some embarrassing admissions!) but would be happy to start tomorrow. Obviously, this is the work of a lifetime, not an afternoon. But why am I posting this? I honestly want to hear from others what on this list they think deserves priority; what has moved or affected them the most; and what they think I might be missing that I need to read. Comments, here or on Facebook, are welcome!
Sunday, April 23, 2017
Why? I suppose Orwell seems clear and accessible, not so far removed from the way we write now that a student has to engage in quite the amount of work involved in understanding the prose of Austen or Dickens. Those essays are also a good length for a manageable classroom discussion. "Politics" and "Why I Write" are reflexive in their subject matter. The novels are short, and ripe for introducing terms like metaphor, allegory, and irony. 1984 is pleasingly close to science fiction for those so inclined. Then there is ideology: in the American classroom, Orwell often gets painted as nothing more complicated than an anti-Communist—a picture which leaves out a lot, but which will not raise the hackles of parents or school boards. (If the average American better understood Orwell's politics, the chances are good he wouldn't be taught at all.)
Thursday, March 23, 2017
|Myron's Discobolus. The British Museum.|
mirabarque duces Teucros, mirabar et ipsum
Laomedontiaden; sed cunctis altior ibat
Anchises. mihi mens iuvenali ardebat amore
compellare virum et dextrae coniungere dextram;
accessi et cupidus Phenei sub moenia duxi.
ille mihi insignem pharetram Lyciasque sagittas
discedens chlamydemque auro dedit intertextam,
frenaque bina meus quae nunc habet aurea Pallas.
—Evander at Aeneid 8.160-68
Back then, the first blush of youth covered my cheeks with a flower.
& I stood in awe of the Trojan chieftains, & certainly in awe of
the son of Laomedon himself—but taller than all strode
Anchises. Oh my brain burned with young love
to go right up to that man & grasp his right hand in mine;
I drew near &, full of longing, led him under Pheneus' walls.
As he parted, he gave me his famous quiver, his Lycian arrows,
his cloak with the gold woven in, & the double reins of gold
which now belong to my son Pallas.
[Bodily decrepitude is wisdom; young / We loved each other and were ignorant.—Yeats]