Thursday, December 28, 2006

Frankfurt am Main

Tower at Night, Frankfurt a/MMy European life and sensibilities have always to some extent orbited around Frankfurt am Main. On my first trip to Europe in 1991, I had a layover at the airport before heading further east. While waiting for my flight, I called my friend Sascha whom I knew from our East Texas community college band days and who was from this city on the Main River. I'll write more about Sascha later.

Old Town Half-Timber Bldg., Frankfurt a/MWhen I actually moved to Europe to conduct research for my thesis in 1995, I flew to Frankfurt to begin my six-month excursion. Sascha was working in Köln at the time, so I was entirely lost on my own in this strange city that reminded me so much of my own Dallas--boxy glass skyscrapers and all--but remained totally alien to me. The armed guards at the airport I expected from my first time there. And after getting into the city by train carrying a huge backpack, a duffle bag full of books, and a couple of smaller bags, I walked across the street from the main train station--Hauptbahnhof would become one of the first words of German I learned--and checked into the first hotel that looked acceptable. It was run by some Russians who seemed quite confused that I intended to spend the night. The entire night. My experience at the front desk made much more sense after the sun set: the entire neighborhood literally turned on red lights that because of jetlag I ended up staring at all night; that is, when I wasn't watching the guys on the street below get high. The next day I checked into a youth hostel. After a few days of visiting the museums that dotted the south bank of the river, the zoo, and Jonathan Borofsky's Hammering Man in what seemed to be the business district, I left Frankfurt and took the day train on to Prague.

Christmas on Ziel Street, Frankfurt a/MThe following March I retraced my journey back to Frankfurt, hoping that I would get to see Sascha this time. I finally got a hold of him. He invited me to crash at his place for the night, and we went to the Frankfurt Music Fair because he had passes because of his job. I really can't remember now if I spent one or two nights hanging out with him and his girlfriend Ilka, and he doesn't remember either. Regardless, I do remember that he introduced me to Vietnamese food, and he even taught me how to use chopsticks. It became a bit of a joke later when I would come home to Texas while I was teaching in Japan and people would ask me about eating with chopsticks. Replying that I learned to use them in Germany always threw them off.

Christmas at Old Town, Frankfurt a/MWhen my contract in Japan ended in 1999, I intended to move indefinitely to Europe. My friend Ezawa-sensei, whom I was helping translate some English short stories into Japanese, insisted on helping me make my travel arrangements to leave Japan. I asked him to reserve me a ticket to anywhere in Europe--the cheapest ticket--and I would train to Poland from there (I was going to spend about six weeks in Lublin before making more definite plans). My one-way ticket was to Frankfurt. This time, I knew exactly how to get into the city from the airport and where to find a decent hotel that didn't have hourly rates. I felt entirely spoiled sleeping in a human-sized bed and bathing in a human-sized shower after leaving Japan! I spent a few glorious and relaxing days rediscovering the city before heading out east. It was really my first summer in Western Europe and one of the few times I had a pocket full of freshly converted yen.

On this last trip, we went into Frankfurt a couple of times. We trekked along the shops of Ziel Street and spent a few crowded hours checking out the winter market in the Old Town. We also spent a few hours in the bizarrely constructed Museum of Modern Art.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Mainz

Chagall Windows, St. Stephen's ChurchThe first time I visited Mainz was early March 1996. My guidebook mentioned the Chagall windows at the St. Stephen's Church--some of his last works--so I left my usual base of Frankfurt, deciding to spend an afternoon and night out there. The main train station at Frankfurt, in its strange ability to immobilize me for hours, trapped me in indecision, so I arrived late in the afternoon. After checking into the hostel, I walked about the city of Mainz in search of a church I had no idea how to get to. Assuming that all important churches are in or very near the city center, I headed that way. But I never found the stained-glass windows. Instead, I bought a few postcards with the images for my collection. (I've been collecting postcards since I was ten years old when my best friend Mitzi sent me my first postcard while she was on a family vacation in Mexico.) Vowing to return eventually to see the windows, I returned to Frankfurt the following morning, planning to head to Luxembourg later that day.

St. Augustine's Church, MainzOn our first full day in Germany, we headed to Mainz to finally see the windows I had sought out more than ten years ago. We had no problem finding the church with the navigation system in Chris's car. We also visited St. Augustine's Church, an ancient Roman gate in ruins, and the winter market.







St. Augustine's Church (Detail)Roman Gate in Ruins (Detail)Mainz Public ArtGutenberg Engraving Plates (Detail)

Friday, December 22, 2006

Heidelberg

The first Sunday we drove about 90 minutes south to Heidelberg to walk through its old town market and climb the hill to the castle. Heidelberg is known for its university--the oldest in Germany--and the roster of important thinkers associated with it: Hegel, Gadamer, Habermas, Jaspers, and Apel. We also saw the site where Hannah Arendt once lived. It's a bit weird, I think, for tourists to use these philosophers as points of interest. I can name a handful of colleagues from my university who would visit this town solely because Hegel walked these streets. I just went to see what I could see, not to do the pretentious "walk of fame" circuit. I swear. We didn't even stop at the university to search for the lecturn where Hegel preached dialectics. (Why do I feel like I need to defend myself...?)


Castle from BelowCastle TurretLion Gate at the CastleCastle StepsOld Town ArchitectureView from the Castle

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Hildegard von Bingen

View from BingenVisionary, herbalist, composer, adviser to popes and kings, scholar, theologian, artist, and saint--Hildegard was an early twelfth century nun who spent her life in the villages on both sides of the Rhine River.




We visited a Benedictine abbey in Rüdesheim am Rhein where some of Hildegard's relics are kept and where the sisters still make products according to her specifications. We also purchased a couple of bottles of wine from their Rheingau vineyard: a 2001 Riesling Spatlese Halbtrocken and a 2005 Spätburgunder Trocken.

IN HONOREM DOMUS DIVINAE SOLI INVICTO MITRAELater we made it to Bingen itself at the junction of the Rhine and Nahe Rivers to see the historical museum's Hildegard exhibit. Bingen--and really the entire region--was several centuries ago a thriving Roman settlement, so the museum also had a complete set of surgical instruments from those times. There was also a memorial plaque to the "Invincible Sun" Mithra from the ruins--the first one I've seen in person.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Inbound

We return home Monday. I'll post an update later this week with some photos.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Where we've been so far ...

We're having a great time playing tourists to all the nearby cities. Here's a map in progress of some of the highlights of our trip so far. I'll upload some photos when I get back.

Click map to enlarge.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Outbound

The only chore I was given to do before 10:30 this morning was to make the bed. That's almost impossible, I now realize, when one sleeps until almost 10:00. And now I have to wrangle three 12-year-olds out of the bedroom--my geriatric cats--before the Taskmaster returns. Pray I get some extra sleep while on vacation.

Click on the map to enlarge.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Ketchup 12/05

Last Wednesday I sat at home sweating profusely with the windows and doors thrown wide open in hopes of a breeze blowing my way. Last Thursday the heat finally broke, and Dallas was privy to one of the most beautiful and glorious snow flurries in years. Such is the weather in these parts. Needless to say, I’ve been fighting a sore throat for the past week.

I have finally completed all my papers and final projects and have graded all my final exams. This term about killed me, but mostly because I make my work much more difficult than I need to by doing far too much research and writing too much. The hardest part of completing my assignments is to cut and edit everything down to a manageable (and acceptable) size. I’m hoping to take it a bit easier in the spring semester by taking one independent study and choosing my third class among those that don’t require a lot of busy work. I wish I could just skip over all the course requirements and get to writing the damn dissertation already!

A collection of statements I wrote on my course evaluations this semester—and I meant every word:
The role the professor has played in my education and development as a scholar is immeasurable. The only criticism I have at all is toward the university’s—and more specifically, the program’s—policy of open enrollment. You would think that a basic requirement to be a graduate student would be a developed vocabulary and acceptable use of English grammar, especially if English is one’s native language. That is simply not the case here. The quality of my classmates’ work is appallingly bad. Paris Hilton shows more intellect and insight than these losers! And I’m only referring to the one’s who actually stay awake throughout the entire class period and try to participate in the conversations the professor and I have. The idiots who fall asleep on either side of me every Thursday afternoon need to be kicked out not just of the classroom, but off campus, and out of the program altogether. It is time to raise—if not to initiate—standards of work and behavior; otherwise, my degree from this university is worthless.
I’ve barely had time to look forward to leaving the country Thursday: we’re off to Wiesbaden, Germany, for about ten days. I'll post from the trip, if time allows.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Brueghel's Two Monkeys, Part VI

The poet's work ends. The words are fixed on the page and reconfirmed in various critical editions and special editions of collected or selected works. Anthologized. Rarely--after such publication history--does the poet return to the text to tease it into (another) shape. But the translator must always go back, back and forth from the original fixed poem to the recreated poem in a new language (a "new house of being" if you want to get Heideggerean about it), and onward toward a better, more authentic translation/interpretation. Here is my second (and always already still imperfect) draft.
Brueghel’s Two Monkeys (Draft II)

This is how the big final appears in my dreams:
two monkeys confined with chains are sitting in the window,
in the distance the sky is aflutter
and the sea is awash.

I’m stammering and blundering my way
through the history of civilization.

One monkey, gazing at me, listens ironically,
the other seems to be nodding off—
but when I hesitate after a question,
he nudges me along
with the stifled jangle of his chain.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Brueghel's Two Monkeys, Part V

A trot is a word-for-word correspondence of a text during the translation process--a process, by the way, which never ends. It is supposed to reveal the various nuances and possibilities within the new language as the poet-translator seeks to recreate the original work. It is really the closest thing to a literal translation ... which (despite the inherent impossibility of being both literal and a translation--much like "literal interpretation"--another impossibility no matter the number of idiots out there who want such a reading of a so-called sacred text despite not knowing the original language ... but I digress....) ... should make obvious the multidimensional quality of interpretative/translative acts within the translation/interpretation process itself. Here is my trot of Szymborksa's poem:
Two (fem. pl.) monkeys [of] Brueghel

So/thus appears/looks my great/large/big/vast secondary-school (adj.) sleep/slumber/(dream)
[they] sit in the window monkeys chained/rooted/confined [with] chain/fetters
beyond [the] window flies (about)/flits (about)/flutters sky (the skies)/heaven(s)/firmament
and bathes/takes a bath/soaks sea

[I am] passing/standing the test/(taking a test) of history [of] people
[I am] stammering (out)/stuttering/stumbling (in one’s speech) and wading/floundering/working (my) way through/blundering

Monkey, with fixed gaze/staring/gazing intently at me, ironically/derisively listens,
second as if/as though/like/as it were this/that/it drowsily/sleepily
and/but when after question ensues silence
prompts me
[with] low/soft/gentle/muffled/quiet/stifled/silent [with] strum/thrum/thump/clank [of] chain

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Brueghel's Two Monkeys, Part IV

Brueghel’s Two Monkeys

This is what I see in my dreams about final exams:
two monkeys, chained to the floor, sit on the windowsill,
the sky behind them flutters,
the sea is taking its bath.

The exam is History of Mankind.
I stammer and hedge.

One monkey stares and listens with mocking disdain,
the other seems to be dreaming away–
but when it’s clear I don’t know what to say
he prompts me with a gentle
clinking of his chain.

– Trans. Barańczak & Cavanagh (1993)
Barańczak and Cavanagh are probably the most prolific English translators of Szymborska's poetry. Before studying Szymborska on my own in the original Polish, I never had a problem with their versions. But now phrases like "chained to the floor" stick in my mind and sound all wrong and out of place. Why do you need to stick your own phrases into an already perfect poem, especially ones that make no sense? The monkeys are chained to the floor but they're sitting in the window?!?! I first read this poem almost 15 years ago, and it wasn't until last week that I looked up the Brueghel painting, but still that phrase rang false.

Also, the monkey's "mocking disdain" is more of a misinterpretation/mistranslation than the monkey-as-ape version from Rejak in 1978. Szymborska is known for her wit and irony, it's true. But she likes to have a good time. Her laughter is never mean-spirited but instead is playful and level-headedly optimistic (that is, not blindly optimistic). The trick is to accept the original "[he] listens ironically" as if that were purely logical and obvious, for how can one indeed listen ironically? But Szymborska insists it is something we can observe on the face of her monkey--that creature that best mimics the human creature. Is the test-taker aware of her/his own expression of irony that the monkey is mirroring? Who sees the irony of this scene? The reader/observer? The test-taker? The monkey? And yet the monkey is helping the nervous test-taker along every time she/he pauses. Would someone who listens with "mocking disdain" really care to help anyone in this situation? This double-mirroring (of both chains and expressions) is one of the truly brilliant moments in Szymborska's poetry. And there are so many more.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Brueghel's Two Monkeys, Part III

In 1981, two translations of this Szymborska poem were published. Which do you prefer?
Two Monkeys by Brueghel

I keep dreaming of my graduation exam:
in a window sit two chained monkeys,
beyond the window floats the sky,
and the sea splashes.

I am taking an exam on the history of mankind:
I stammer and flounder.

One monkey, eyes fixed upon me, listens ironically,
the other seems to be dozing–
and when silence follows a question,
he prompts me
with a soft jingling of the chain.

– Trans. Krynski & Maguire (1981)


Brueghel’s Two Monkeys

Here’s what my great dream of my final exam is like:
two chained monkeys are sitting in a window,
the sky is fluttering outside
and the ocean is bathing.

I’m being examined on human history.
I stammer and cast about for words.

One monkey, staring at me, listens ironically;
the other appears to be dozing–
but when silence descends after a question
he coaches me
with the soft rattling of his chain.

– Trans. Levine (1981)

Friday, November 17, 2006

Brueghel's Two Monkeys, Part II

The Two Apes of Brueghel

This is how I dream my final examination:
two apes chained together are sitting at a window,
outside the window the sky is flying
and the sea is taking a bath.

I'’m passing an exam on the history of people.
I'’m stammering and floundering.

The ape staring at me listens ironically,
The other seems to be dozing–
but when there is a pause after a question
he prompts me
with a soft jangle of chains.

– Trans. Barbara Rejak (1978)
I first read this poem shortly after I began studying Polish in the early 1990s. It was the first poem by Szymborska I ever read. There is something about the comedy of the chained monkey helping the person get through the history exam--is it a reminder of our own intellectual and/or political chains?--that resonates still with me after nearly 15 years ... perhaps because I'll be working on my own comprehensive exams and subsequent oral defense of my dissertation in the next few years.

As if to further corroborate that all translation is first and foremost interpretation, Rejak's mistranslation of małpy as "apes" seems acceptable both for the year of Szymborska's original composition (1957) and Rejak's translation (1978). The two apes for Poland throughout the twentieth century were Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. In this scene they are blocking the view out the window of the motion and movement of sky freely fluttering and sea freely bathing itself.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Brueghel’s Two Monkeys, Part I

Pieter Brueghel, Two Monkeys in Chain, 1562, oil on wood,<br />20 X 23 cm
Pieter Brueghel, Two Monkeys in Chain, 1562, oil on wood, 20 X 23 cm
Dwie małpy Bruegla

Tak wygląda mój wielki maturalny sen:
siedzą w oknie dwie małpy przykute łańcuchem,
za oknem fruwa niebo
i kąpie się morze.

Zdaję z historii ludzi.
Jąkam się i brnę.

Małpa, wpatrzona we mnie, ironicznie słucha,
druga niby to drzemie—
a kiedy po pytaniu nastaje milczenie,
podpowiada mi
cichym brząkaniem łańcucha.

– Wisława Szymborska (1957)
Following is my translation of this poem:
Brueghel’s Two Monkeys (Draft I)

This is how my final exams appear in my dreams:
two monkeys confined with chains are sitting in the window,
in the distance the sky is aflutter
and the sea is awash.

I’m testing on the history of civilization.
I’m stammering and blundering my way through.

One monkey, gazing at me, listens ironically,
the other is nodding off—
but when silence ensues after a question,
he prompts me
with a quiet jangling of his chain.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Widest Sphere

I: Hints need the widest sphere in which to swing ...…
J: ...… where mortals go to and fro only slowly.
In this space between these two absences--the arrival and the departure--I wait for some signal. A gesture. A genuflect. A genuine presence to present itself as a present, signaling from the shore of these muddy waters. The sunbathers walk to and fro (only slowly) between the beach and the bar. It reminds me of Odesa--Ukrainian spelling, when we drank and drank and drank ourselves into the oblivion of the Black Sea. The horizon does not meet merely out there, but now and here (as in nowhere). I am the point at which sky meets earth. The point at which lips meet lips. I embrace my own mortal vastness. And you? And you?

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Elaboration of Logic

I: The unbroken rule of metaphysics establishes itself even where we do not expect it——in the elaboration of logic into logistics.
A bushman begs a nun for a sip of gin. He benignly hums; she numbly sums up the tally sheet and crumples her mesh skirt into the bin. The window hinge squeaks its salutation, its resurrection. He feels snubbed. She shuns, begins to hum. The sunbeam draws nigh. The sign hung above the door swings in the breeze. She sings. The hens are nabbed and ambushed--tied into a bag. "What's on the menu?" he smugly questions. She wants to banish him. She replies in iambs. She soaks the plate in the basin. The hem unravels. My neighbor mine. The hangman leaves the diner and kicks the dog with mange. Ahem. Amen. Shame wipes its sweaty brow. What's that color? Henna? Ashen? What do you mean, "What's my name?" It's the same as the day before. The bum shags the hag. He wraps the gash. A gunman enters from the town of Nimbus. "Ha! I'm out of gas." Can I get a ham sandwich to go?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

From the future

I: But origin always comes to meet us from the future.
Last night I dreamed of the aperion and of the boundlessness of all origins. You were there. And you and you. As I write, out of the corner of my eye I see a cat. It is there. And I am here. It is aware of me, sensing a pause in my typing fingers, it jumps up to meow and rub against my leg on its way to the food bowl. We stand in relation to one another. There is no Heideggerean chasm between us. It speaks its mystery to me: the meow——a greeting in passing, a dismissal, an appeal. I tug its tail and delay its passing. I call its name, and it turns to face my face. We see each other seeing each other. And you are there. And you and you.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The word that is to be said

J: We understand only too well that a thinker would prefer to hold back the word that is to be said, not in order to keep it for himself, but to bear it toward his encounter with what is to be thought.
When I called out to you, it was as if my voice were traveling through some strange, opaque medium ... like water at night ... and that this liquid was deafness itself. You never heard me when I spoke and never spoke up for me. You never spoke on my behalf. And now ... years later ... amid all the ellipses and parentheticals--all these theoreticals--you come calling again as if deafness were sound and not silence. As if you used words to stuff your ears into not hearing. As if your hand were mere gesture and not a slap on the face.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Wellspring of Reality

J: And while I was translating, I often felt as though I were wandering back and forth between two different language realities, such that at moments a radiance shone on me which let me sense that the wellspring of reality from which those two fundamentally different languages arise was the same.
And while I was translating myself across borders of not only geography--the barren logos of gaia--but the disrupture of chronology as well, I dispersed my packages and gifts. All that I had gathered unto myself was sent outward to the others. And their gathering usurped my dispersal, claiming my presencing as disrupture itself. She and I and he were one and the same ... always already arriving in departure. Arriving home before we even left.

Thursday, November 9, 2006

This Voice

sinnombre
J: It is that undefined defining something …
I: … which we leave in unimpaired possession of the voice of its promptings.
J: At the risk that this voice, in our case, is silence itself.
Who do I say that I am? I am that I am. Who am I to say? Simply I and no other. Who is he who recognizes his face reflected back from the face of the other? No other than he. Yet he and I are brothers--no other kinship exists between these two. And I keep him to myself, revealing my self in these small revelations. I excavate myself through his uncovering.

Monday, November 6, 2006

Gallows Humor

I love how the United States can find cause to celebrate the sentencing of Saddam Hussein to death by hanging. Here there is such a steadfast and obligatory bond between our version of democracy and capital punishment. While all modern democracies have eschewed the death penalty, the US has clung to it as an anchor in the self-deluded rhetoric of deterrence. I mean, hell, the state-sponsored murder of Timothy McVeigh on June 11, 2001, kept America real safe from terrorists for at least three months. I bet the Department of (Orwellian) Justice was real mad that the 9/11 hijackers committed suicide instead of waiting around for the government to do its job. Is this the freedom and democracy we intended to impose upon Iraq? Surely yes. Is this progress in the Middle East? Yes, but my name’s not Shirley. The true banality of this sentence (with apologies to Hannah Arendt) is that Saddam is being sent to the gallows for 148 deaths while there have been more than 45,000* civilian deaths since the US invasion. Who is going to hang for those deaths? (I can only hope it will be people like Andrew Sullivan who supported the illegal and immoral invasion in the first place.)

If you’re American, remember to vote (for the lesser of two evils) tomorrow.

_________________________
* CORRECTION: The latest estimate of civilian deaths in Iraq since the US invasion is closer to 150,000.

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Jacks '06

Halloween Jack-o'-Lanterns 2006
Here's the glamour shot of the Jacks this year. They look great, no? Although I have to admit that this Halloween was the crappiest one in years. I worked all day on campus yesterday--from 9:30am to 10:00pm: my typical Tuesday. I didn't dress up. I didn't go to the Oak Lawn Halloween "parade." I didn't watch The Crow or Nightmare Before Christmas--two films I almost always watch to get in the mood. I didn't listen to the Halloween compilation tape I made some time before I moved to Japan. I didn't make cards this year. I didn't even have the energy to light the Jack-o'-Lanterns when I got home last night. Wah wah wah! The only indication that it was the greatest holiday of the year was the handful of students I saw who dressed up and both Roseanne Bar and Marilyn Manson on The Tonight Show.

Next Halloween I'm going all out. And I'm taking the whole fucking day off!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

New Jack(s) [in the] City

Bought our three pumpkins this morning and just finished converting them fully to the Jacks they were meant to be. Check out the cam shot (to the left). Listened to SomaFM's Doom channel while carving and digging our knives into the orange rind--great spooky music for the high holy days ahead, including Bauhaus, Skinny Puppy, Joy Division, and lots of German soundz.

Watched "Shortbus" this afternoon. It was probably better than 75% of the films I've seen in my life. I also thought it was better than 75% of the porn I've seen in my life--the difference: I actually liked the people and their characters. And the sex wasn't gratuitous, or worse--stupid and uninteresting--like in "9 Songs." [Check out my review of "9 Songs" entitled "Pretensions Toward Porn."] After seeing two very dark and depressive films lately ("Science of Sleep" and "Half Nelson"--both brilliant but maddeningly bleak), I was happy to watch one with at least a glimmer of redemption and forgiveness ... if only for oneself.

Tomorrow is Hell Night. Then Halloween (and the birthday of my uncle/namesake). All Saints' Day (and Grzegorz's birthday--sigh). All Souls' Day/El dia de los muertos. S. already has this year's altar built. I'll point the cam on it later this week.

Stay spooky.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Half a Year in Review

Stephen turned me on to a fun and wonderful web site TagCrowd which creates tag clouds as a way of visualizing (visually analyzing) a text. I input all the posts from January to June 2005 from Crash Course and this is what it came up with from the top 100 words:





Friday, October 20, 2006

Coginess--it's a word; look it up!

Tonight is my last Friday evening to teach this term. I've been teaching the express semester for the past year, wherein I cover everything between the Big Bang and postmodernism over the course of three weekends: four-hour Fridays, eight-hour Saturdays, and five-hour Sundays. I've been very happy with the quality of students: they, for the most part, are up to the challenge of completing an entire college course within this condensed timeframe. If I think about it too much, however, I recognize my own coginess within the conveyor belt of higher education.

I abhor the accreditation board-required pre- and post-exams. First off, they make no sense, especially on the questions that I don't cover at all. I can't cover everything between the Big Bang and postmodernism! That would take millions of years, and human beings are finite. That's one thing I'm most certain of these days. What are they interested in measuring anyway: the students' memory? my teaching ability? Regardless, it's yet another hoop I must jump through in order to retain my professional credentials. And my own coginess within the conveyor belt of higher education.

I recognize that my job is literally to pump out credentialled drones who can successfully complete standardized exams and not ask too-difficult a question when it comes to reality or anything between the Big Bang and postmodernism. Especially "god." My one student--who stayed up till 2:00am one evening Googling everything I taught earlier that evening just so he could sound intelligent arguing against everything I taught the next night--will be perfect for the new economics. I elect him to be master of us all. And may his NASCAR-watching bastard brood rule in succession from the throne of drone. Just goes to show you that if you can find it on the Internet, then it must be TRUE ... like all the conspiracy theories about how scholars rewrote history to disprove huge chunks of the Bible. "I yawn in your general direction, not only because I'm tired of teaching your hillbilly ass something worth knowing, but because your 'scholarship' via Google puts me to sleep." I disengage from my own coginess within the conveyor belt of higher education. It looks like I have a new contender for my job.

Class dismissed.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Sententiae

  • Īnfīnītus est numerus stultōrum. (Ecclesiastes) Infinite is the number of fools.
  • Paucī virī sapientiae student. (Cicero) Few men are eager for wisdom.
  • Pecūnia avārum irrītat, nōn satiat. (Publilius Syrus) Money excites, not satisfies, avarice.
  • Sēcrētē amīcōs admonē; laudā palam. (Publilius Syrus) Admonish your friends in secret; praise them openly.
  • Rapite, amīcī, occāsiōnem dē hōrā. (Horace) Seize, friends, the opportunity of the hour.
Just some random translations from (simplified) Latin. Funny how I spent so much time last fall teaching myself Latin! May Prof. West (as in the Bicked Bitch of the...) rot in her Christian hell.

Of course, you know it's going to be a difficult day when the dean of the college is announcing that your professor passed away the evening before as you rush into your morning class out of breath and fifteen minutes late. Rest in peace, Professor Hambly. The loss of the Alexandria library was nothing compared to our losing you.

Just a question: why does Nicole Kidman get the Chanel gig while poor Mexican actress Salma Hayek has to settle being spokeswoman for Avon?

Last six songs bought on iTunes:
  • "Bloodsport" - Sneaker Pimps
  • "I Burn for You" - The Police
  • "Non Me Lo Puedo Explicar" - Tiziano Ferro
  • "Wo willst du hin?" - Xavier Naidoo
  • "Losing My Religion" - Ryan Star
  • "Within You" - ThouShaltNot

Friday, October 13, 2006

Silence Itself

Malina. Born into a noble Nahuatl clan. Crying for her dead father. Sold into slavery to a Mayan tribe. Her own death faked by the mother who sold her away. A new people, a new language. Baptised Doña Marina by the Spanish: new conquerors, new loves. A new master tongue. The Nahuatl added the noble -tzin suffix: Malintzin. The lazy Spanish tongue tripped over the native language and renamed her Malinche. Her lover Cortés, too, shared her name. Both slave and master, both native and alien were called by the same name. Mother of the first mestizo, mother of all of Mexico. Her half-breed children murdered. She was passed on to other men. Cortés declared, "After God we owe this conquest of New Spain to Doña Marina." She spoke out of both sides of her mouth, interpreting between Cortés and Moctezuma. Malina - abandoned child, survivor, warrior for the new globalization, linguist, messenger, bringer of tidings, mother. Malinche - la conquistadora.

This Columbus Day, embrace and celebrate your own malinchismo.

Sunday, October 8, 2006

State Terror & the Cost of Freedom

Yet again Putin's Russia proves to be detrimental to human life and prescient, insightful understanding of power. Rest in peace, Anna Politkovskaya, who was murdered in her Moscow apartment Saturday.



English PEN Society bio
Time Magazine's Heroes of 2003
Article & Interview (Danish Support Committee for Chechnya)
Novaya Gazeta

Of course, we still don't know who ordered the murder of Galina Starovoitova.

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Rejection is one thing...

... but rejection from a fool is cruel.

You sorry fuck-face piece-of-shit asshole. I never betrayed you, even when you married that fucked-up skank you met in the mental ward. Sure I was surprised. You were too young. I never trusted her. And after she tried to stick her tongue in my ear while we were watching Blue Velvet on your floor while you were at work at the fire station I knew there was nothing left between you. Or us. Remember how you told me we were not to be friends any more? A cold letter about how life was like the air pressure announcement on an airplane: you have to put your own mask on before helping someone else. I wasn't asking for help. I was offering it, shit-for-brains. Because you needed it. Much more than me. So, I'm assuming Kristi finally left you. Or perhaps you wised up to your pre-Kristi standard and left her crazy, psycho-bitch ass. Either way, I was just sending a friendly hi. I never once looked for you online. How's that for what friendship I once thought we shared, you stupid prick? But when you appeared in the search results for my alma mater, I thought, "Why the hell not?" "Just a friendly note to see who you became after so many years." Yeah? Well, fuck you, you goddamned shit bastard fuck prick! I won't be holding my breath as you adjust the straps on your own oxygen mask. And if the plane's going down, I'm glad you're sitting next to me. No, really: I wish you well ... in your hillbilly hell. Every time I drive through Terrell, I think to myself: at least I don't live in this shit-hole town. But I'm glad to know you do.

And that, my friend, is closure.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

A Quick Question

If the Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" is about LSD, then what is Elton John's "Bennie and the Jets" about?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

End of Time


The second year I lived in Japan, I found a image of one of Hiroshi Sugimoto's seascapes in a magazine. I cut it out and stuck it to my refrigerator with a magnet, mesmerized by the comment in the caption that Sugimoto teaches us to see. I meditated on this image almost every day, trying to learn or relearn how I saw and to learn how to see with new eyes - no small feat considering the Japanese rarely even see the sea despite the miles and miles of coastline of that island nation. When I left Japan (and therefore the sea), I tucked away this clipping in my scrapbook, but I never forgot about my seeing exercises based on Sugimoto's minimalist photograph.

Saturday we attended a preview of End of Time, a retrospective of Sugimoto's work over the past thirty years at the Fort Worth Modern. The collection included selections from all of his well-known series: dioramas, theatres, portraits, architecture, and seascapes.

In his seascapes, the perspective never changes: the horizon is perfectly placed at the same level (in the center, in perfect balance) in each photograph. Obviously the time of day changes from photograph to photograph, but there are no other elements to disturb the sea, the sky, or the light. It's not until you read the "titles" posted near the entrance that you even realize that each sea is completely different; that is, one is the Baltic, another the Atlantic. He erases typical expressions of time (not the simple night/day dichotomy, but rather the "when [in the Geshichte sense] was this photo taken" quality: last year? the nineteenth century? at the beginning of time?) as well as geography. Each photograph is the same in its difference, and each viewing of each seascape is the same despite centuries of difference. My view of the sea is the same as every other view of the sea, whether it's Magellan's or Noah's: the elements do not change. And yet the sea is constantly changing.

Stevie Nicks sang in "Edge of Seventeen": "But the sea changes colours, but the sea does not change." (I like the double "but" - the necessary self-contradicting/self-interrupting to get the point across.) And before her, Heraclitus wrote that one does not step into the same river twice, meaning not only that the river has changed (and yet is the same) but also that the person is the same (and yet has changed). More recently, the Wallflowers sang in "One Headlight": "Man, I ain't changed, but I know I ain't the same." But perhaps I'm digressing.

Or perhaps I'm trying to make a point (in a roundabout way) that these seas are the same and yet they are not the same (except in their difference). And yet these images are merely static photographs and do not change from exhibition to exhibition. But I certainly have changed since the first time I saw them as well as since the second time I saw them. And yet I'm still the same old me, no?

I encourage any "good postmodern" (a la Susan J.) to think (in the Heideggerean sense) about Sugimoto's work. But (in the Stevie Nicks sense) not to merely reduce it to nihilism (like any bad or misinformed postmodern (a la Susan J.)) but to let the world (again in the Heideggerean sense) open up to the truth of being. And to finally learn to see.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Death of "New Texas"


More than a politician, more than a mother, more than a teacher, more than a woman, more than a smart quip, more than her hair, more than a funny story, more than a photo-op, more than a celebrity, more than a Democrat, more than a Texan. She was more than all that, calling us to be more than we thought we were. She was the best part of Texas (and not just from 1991-95).

Rest in peace, Governor Ann Richards (September 1, 1933 - September 13, 2006).

Friday, September 15, 2006

Which language do I what?

"Which language do you think in?"
"English."
"Oh, so you've lived here long enough to use English even in your head?"
"I was born and raised here." Jokingly: "Are you saying I sound like a foreigner?"
"Oh no, I didn't say that. I just thought you were from somewhere else."
"No. I'm from here. And I think in English. But sometimes I dream in Polish."
"Really?"
"Or Japanese."
"I can't imagine...."
"Yeah." Jokingly: "It's great to wake up and not know where you are."
Just another daily encounter I have with the americanos in my classes. Is it my expensive Danish shoes? The more than pea-sized amount of hair gel I apply religiously every morning? (Although that's a result of my conditioning during the '80s and bears no reflection on the stamps in my passport.) The fact that I don't wear tee-shirts on campus? (It's not that I go shirtless, I just wear collared dress shirts. Ironed. And tucked in. (I mean, after all, they aren't 'collared' people.))

In my Ottoman Empire history course, I'm considered the Ukrainian expert. If these people knew how I was almost thrown out of that country perhaps they'd start seeing me as "one of them." I guess it's really just by default: there's a Polish woman in the course, so she obviously trumps my expertise in her country. (And yes, she does sound like a foreigner. But that's why I like her.) Being the Ukrainian expert merely means that every time the professor - with his proper Cambridge accent - mentions Ukraine, he turns to make eye contact with me. In our class, there's also the slavery expert, the religion expert, the borderlands expert (we, of course, overlap, so it's a good thing we sit on the same side of the room), the women's history expert, etc. The professor turns his head a lot.

I don't have preconceived ideas about where my classmates are from or what languages they do and don't speak . Or dream in. I dream of asking them the question that the whale asked the scientist when it learned to communicate: "Do all oceans have walls?" just to see what responses I'd get. My response to the whale: "No. Some oceans are as limitless as you are."

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Order of Things

Last night on the University of Texas at Arlington campus I stretched out on a picnic table bench to stargaze through clumps of tree limbs and other sight barriers. I couldn't see any of the constellations I knew, so I spent the time creating my own. I've been thinking quite a bit about systems of knowledge and patterns lately. For my humanities course, I created the following "quiz" based on an article I read in the paper a few weeks ago: Which of the following doesn't belong: banana, lemon, orange, or tennis ball? Based on a system of shape, the banana doesn't belong. Based on a system of color, the orange doesn't belong. Based on a system of use, the tennis ball doesn't belong. Therefore, the answer to the original question is the lemon (based on a system of difference): it is the only one that isn’t excluded from all the other systems. My own constellations were looking too much like straight lines and simple curves. I thought about how these two points of light had nothing in common: not only were they utterly outside any of the systems I was familiar with, but they were also billions of light years apart if they even still existed. Humans impose too much order on the universe. I liked my wobbly, lop-sided constellations with no historical referent. Just then a flock of birds appeared high in the night sky. They were flying due south in a U-shape that morphed into a perfect V before flowing gradually into something more like a check-mark. And then I lost sight of them. Shapes and patterns are wonderful things when they appear out of the blue naturally. I think I’ll try to limit the order I try to impose on my world just to see what order appears when I least expect it.

Monday, September 11, 2006

A simpler time...

"Bush Mourns 9/11" read the headline. All I could think was of course he mourns 9/11: it was the last time he actually got (uncritical) points for his faux leadership. Remember the shots of him with the bullhorn just a few days later at the WTC site? "We hear you!" If someone would've popped a paper bag, he would have shit all over himself.

Five years and he and his administration have squandered all the world's goodwill and sympathy. Five years and he and his administration still have not been brought to justice for allowing the attacks in the first place (or for all the illegal and immoral things they've done since). Ultimately a government is charged with protecting its people. They failed, they failed. In the pre-Enlightenment world (and for some time afterwards), government leaders who failed in their duties would've found themselves on the guillotine. It truly was a simpler time.

Friday, September 8, 2006

Mi espacio ...

... es tu espacio.

It's official: I (finally) have an account on MySpace. It's not much, but it's probably a higher trafficked site than my poor little blog here at nigredo.biz. Feel free to add me to your friends list!

Skajlab @ MySpace.com

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Last 10 Sites

Last night the following question was asked: Knowing that you were soon to die, which 5 places would you want to revisit? There was no way I could I choose only 5, so after some minor adjusting, I came up with the following list of 10 (in no particular order):
  • New Orleans, Louisiana - for a latte at Cafe du Monde, a stroll down Pirate Alley, and a walk through the St. Louis Cemetery to scratch an X on the Voodoo Queen's grave

  • Brugges, Belgium - chocolates on the square, a stroll along the canals, take some photos of the lion statues, and a stop for a golden ale

  • Prague, Czech Republic - book-browsing and a latte at the Globe, brunch at Radost FX, an all-night disco, a walk across Charles Bridge on my way up Castle Hill to look through the shops on Golden Lane

  • Lublin, Poland - one last look out from Thursday Hill, lunch at Szeroka, and one last tour of the Byzantine frescoes at the chapel

  • Mojiko (Kitakyushu), Japan - a ferry ride from Shimonoseki, a walk along the boardwalk, people-watching & sketching at the train station, lunch at Naima

  • the Grand Canyon, Arizona - one more sunrise

  • Greenwich, UK - one more ferry ride down the Thames from London in order to stand at 0 degrees longitude again

  • San Francisco, California - one more 3-hour chat with Jola over a good cup of coffee at pretty much any cafe

  • Venice, Italy - to watch the gondolas emerge from and disappear back into the fog

  • Missoula, Montana - to shake the dust off over a hefty breakfast at the Raven Cafe with Shayne after a few more nights sleeping on the road
In the meantime, I'm going to try to visit new places and have even more magical experiences with my friends so I can add to this little list. Or maybe I'll just stay at home with the love of my life (and best friend) and watch my cats sleep. It's all good.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

On the nightstand

Heidegger's "Letter on Humanism" - after it took me 2-1/2 days to decipher each word with Webster's dictionary & the Greek alphabet, an online Latin & Greek dictionary, and the OED; Sartre's "Existentialism is a Humanism" (to which Heidegger is presumably responding); the Tao Te Ching (two different translations); the Bible (NIV) - especially I Thessalonians; an introduction to Heidegger's "Letter" from another anthology; mechanical pencil with which to fill the margins with my emendations; a cup of coffee; Griga - not on the table but who always needs to be pressed against me, asleep, while he throws off heat like a little furnace must be mentioned as part of the scene; Inalcik's The Ottoman Empire: The Classical Age 1300-1600; remote control for when the headiness gets too much; dirty mouth guard I wear in order to breathe at night; a box of TLC crackers; a used yoghurt container - licked clean; dirty spoon; cell phone that never rings (or is never answered when it does); old comic sections from last week's newspaper; a wooden bowl; various articles about translation theory & practice; my feet

Monday, August 28, 2006

Homeward Bound (I Wish I Was)


I’ve been meditating on “home” lately, coming around to realizing that this concept has not only driven me to chase the wind around the world several times but has also made my mourning always a process of wishing to be elsewhere. To be (here) in a (perceived) perpetual state of absence, or not to be (here) and to be full – these are the false choices that always (already) present themselves to me.
Tao Te Ching 80

Let your community be small, with only a few people;
Keep tools in abundance, but do not depend upon them;
Appreciate your life and be content with your home;
Sail boats and ride horses, but don't go too far;
Keep weapons and armour, but do not employ them;
Let everyone read and write,
Eat well and make beautiful things.

Live peacefully and delight in your own society;
Dwell within cock-crow of your neighbours,
But maintain your independence from them.
"Home is where I want to be, but I guess I’m already there." ["This Must Be the Place" -Talking Heads]

Friday, August 18, 2006

Fashion with a gun my love



I'm a Psychedelic Furs fan. Not a crazy, over-the-top fanatic, but I really like the band. I first saw them in concert in the summer of 1987. They played the Bronco Bowl - rest in peace - and the reason I went was because The Call opened. I knew only a few songs by the Furs at the time, but I was really into The Call. (I'm certain I was one of two people in Texas at the time who knew of them.) By the end of the night, I was a convert.

When I moved back to Arlington in 1993, I was dirt poor and barely employed. But I made the bold purchase of the All of This and Nothing two-track at Half-Price Books for $2.99. The price tag is still on the plastic case, and this is still one of my most listened to audio cassettes.

I was so worked up about all those crazy lyrics and twisted word games that I used them in my sig file when the Internet was barely hatched. After initially dismissing "Pretty in Pink" just because of the John Hughes film, I learned to relove that song, listening to it over and over on those long drives to my graduate school during rush-hour traffic. I even somehow managed to get my university to issue "pinkboy" as my official university email ID. I'm not quite sure anyone ever realized that was in reference to a Psychedelic Furs songs....

When I was in Beijing in the summer of 1999, the opening lyrics to "Love My Way" summed up my experience at the disco:
There's an army on the dance floor
It's a fashion with a gun, my love
Everyday I excavate new meanings from these old songs. And I now have tickets to their concert tonight. They open for Devo and When in Rome at the Fair Park Band Shell. But after spending all morning reading about them online, looking through old photos, and listening to various versions and covers of their songs, I found out they cancelled their show in El Paso yesterday. Will they actually be here tonight?
Love my way, it's a new road
I follow where my mind goes
So swallow
All your tears my love
And put on
Your new face
You can never win or lose
If you don't
Run the race
Words to live by. Words to love by.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

HBJ ...

I met you in 1999 just a few months before leaving Japan, and we became fast friends. Since then, I've loved keeping in touch with you ... even all those teary-eyed international phone calls. Your funny, little voice always makes me smile. I still tell the story of how you taught English to unsuspecting Japanese housewives and made up arbitrary rules of gender for animals: dogs are masculine, cats are feminine, monkeys and birds are always male. I hated the times we lost contact, but I'm glad to know you're not too far away now ... in Toronto. Even though you never (ever) gave me a photograph of yourself, I remember your Enrique Iglesias features. (Without the mole!) You prepared a Middle Eastern feast for me - falafel and all. I introduced you to Morrissey and Laurie Anderson, and you shared your Fairuz with me. I hope we always remain friends.

... Happy Birthday, Jihad.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Landmark VII: The Angel of History


My wing is poised to beat
but I would gladly return home
were I to stay to the end of days
I would still be this forlorn
-- Gershom Scholem, "Greetings from Angelus"

There is a painting by Klee called Angelus Novus. It shows an angel who seems about to move away from something he stares at. His eyes are wide, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how the angel of history must look. His face is turned toward the past. Where a chain of events appears before us, he sees one single catastrophe, which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it at his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise and has got caught in his wings; it is so strong that the angel can no longer close them. This storm drives him irresistibly into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows toward the sky. What we call progress is this storm.

--Walter Benjamin's "Ninth Thesis on the Philosophy of History" Sholem's poem on the Klee painting was written for Benjamin's twenty-ninth birthday (July 15, 1921). Benjamin purchased the Klee painting in 1921.

"The Dream Before" by Laurie Anderson (for Benjamin)

Hansel and Gretel are alive and well
And they're living in Berlin
She is a cocktail waitress
He had a part in a Fassbinder film
And they sit around at night now drinking schnapps and gin
And she says: Hansel, you're really bringing me down
And he says: Gretel, you can really be a bitch
He says: I've wasted my life on our stupid legend
When my one and only love was the wicked witch.

She said: What is history?
And he said: History is an angel
Being blown backwards into the future
He said: History is a pile of debris
And the angel wants to go back and fix things
To repair the things that have been broken
But there is a storm blowing from Paradise
And the storm keeps blowing the angel
Backwards into the future
And this storm, this storm is called Progress

A painting by Bauhaus artist Paul Klee. A poem by a Jewish mystic. An essay by a German Jewish philosopher who was both a Marxist and a surrealist. (I suspect that he was a better surrealist than Marxist.) He penned these words mere weeks before taking his own life on the Spanish border after he and his group of refugees were denied entry as the Nazi death-machine closed in on them. A song by American performance artist Laurie Anderson. In her video for this song, her digitized twin sings the lyrics - a midget man with a moustache (a la Duchamp, perhaps) and a low voice. Anderson's lyrics add a new creation myth to the Benjamin text: a postmodern and appropriately urbanized Adam and Eve, fable characters we haven't seen since our own childhoods; they are all grown up now like us. Their dream, however, is over, having lived through the logical trajectory of their illusions. What Fassbinder film is it? The one where the one-armed man comes into the flower shop and says, "What flower expresses: Days go by and they just keep going by? On and on. Endlessly going by?" And the florist says, "White lily." Everything returns to what the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Herclitus wrote 2500 years ago: "The fairest universe is but a heap of rubbish piled up at random" (Fragment 40). But we, in our overly technologized and productionist view, still call this progress, but it's a progress of discovering that all that we assume we know is wrong.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Landmark VI: Charlie the Tramp

Charlie Chaplin's Tramp character in Modern Times questions productionist modes of being in ways that would make even Heidegger proud. His job is unfulfilling and monotonous, and he is driven to not only insanity but probably the first reported case of repetitive motion disorder. His only other option, however, is unemployment. He accidentally becomes a leader of a unionist march when a red flag falls off the back of a flatbed truck and the unemployed masses appear from around the corner as he attempts to return the flag, waving it to catch the eye of the driver. His boss is a capitalist ogre, taking time out from working on a jigsaw puzzle to order the workers to speed up production. Ever in the pursuit of trying to "increase productivity" and to further technologize the workplace, he commands Charlie to try out the lunchbreak machine that feeds employees while they continue working on the line. It is the feeding machine that throws the pie in his face. Just as nature imposes itself into the factory (in the form of the bee and the bathroom break), technology breaks down and causes more problems, especially when Charlie literally becomes part of the "daily grind" - he is swallowed by the great machine and winds up moving throughout its gearwork. Charlie has become a mere human turd being pushed through the bowels of the industrial machine.

Unemployment and workers' rights. Starvation. Surveillance. Police brutality and unchecked authority. Religious pretensions. Drug abuse. Charlie's world is not unlike our own modern world. The only safe and comfortable place is in his jail cell, but he is evicted back into the real world as a "reward" for foiling a prison break while buzzed out of his mind on cocaine. From Marx to Heidegger, Charlie is the bridge from contemporary philosophy to the laughter that did and still does unite the workers against their faceless and nameless existence as mere workers.

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Landmark V: Coatlicue

The Mother of all the gods. The Mother of the Moon and Stars. The Goddess of the Sun and of War. Our Lady of the Serpents. Patron of those who die while giving birth.

In Nahuatl her name means "one with the skirt of serpents." She has been decapitated, and her missing head replaced with two great snakes. Her hands and feet are claws. In her, eagle-nature and serpent-nature are joined. Not merely earthbound and mortal, not merely heavenly and divine, she is the combination of both natures - the original dragon-lady, the serpent that takes flight. Her nature is still displayed on the Mexican flag: an eagle with a serpent in its mouth. She still rules over the heirs to the Aztec lands.

Above her skirt of writhing snakes, she wears a necklace of human hands, hearts, and skulls - the voluntary sacrifices of her faithful. Without their blood, she would wither and die, so her people line up 40,000 strong to climb to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun to present their gifts. The decapitations go on for days. She is both Mother and Monster, symbol of the womb and the tomb, insatiable in her thirst for blood and sacrifice.

Gloria Anzaldúa reminds us, "Coatlicue is a rupture in our everyday world. As the Earth, she opens and swallows us, plunging us into the underworld where the soul resides, allowing us to dwell in darkness." She is our fate when we refuse to live up to our own personal potential, impeding the evolution of the soul.

Coatlicue can now be found in the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico, D.F.

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Landmark IV: Siva Nataraja

Lord Siva represents the positive aspect of the destruction of the world because creation comes out of every destruction. He dances the world into and out of being surrounded by tongues of fire with his right leg firmly on the back of the small dwarf - representing human frailty and the lie of all dualities. He displays his omnipotence by waving his many arms throughout the dance. And yet he is frozen in time within the sculpture. In this way, he is both static and dynamic; both creator and destroyer. He is the oldest and the youngest; he is the eternal youth as well as the infant. And the sage. He is the source of fertility in all living beings. He is omnipresent and resides in everyone as pure consciousness. As Nataraja (Lord of the Dance), Siva symbolizes the dance of the universe, with all its heavenly bodies and natural laws complimenting and balancing one another. He dances away maya, the world of illusion, so that each person can attain enlightenment. He has tamed the poisonous cobra, and the sacred Ganges flows from his hair. When he lowers his left leg, the universe will cease to exist ... until a new dance begins.

Monday, August 7, 2006

Landmark III: Jerusalem

Currently home to the three warmongering (i.e., monotheistic) Mesopotamian religions, Jerusalem was depicted as the center of the world on medieval maps. This city has been destroyed twenty times. A Kabbalist legend says that YHWH created ten blessings and ten curses. To Jerusalem, He gave nine of the blessings and nine of the curses, spreading the remainders to the rest of the world.

Western Wall, Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Dome of the Rock - the entire history and culture of Jerusalem revolves around Mt. Moriah and its rocks. It is the site of Abraham's (almost) sacrifice of Isaac, of Jesus' ministry and crucifixion, and of Mohammed's ascent into Heaven. It is also the site of not only the petty antagonisms of these three religions against one another but also the various wars waged amongst members of their various sects: Orthodox Christians against Catholic, Ethiopian against Armenian, Orthodox Jews against Reform, and perhaps to a lesser extent Shi'ites against Sunnis.

The Western teleological worldview sees the end of time and of history beginning here (despite St. John's revelation that Mt. Megiddo, i.e., Armageddon, plays a significant role). Daily there are corpses flown in to be buried on the slopes of the city. Much like the Ganges River - the most sacred (and therefore polluted) site to Hindus - Jerusalem will continue to be piled high with dead bodies long after the next millenial event.

I imagine the Jebusites laughing in their Jebusite heaven.

Sunday, August 6, 2006

Landmark II: Artemisium Zeus


This larger-than-life sculpture of Zeus (or possibly Poseidon) was made in bronze circa 460 - 450 B.C.E. It is 2.09 m (6' 10.5") high and 2.10 m (6' 10.75") fingertip to fingertip. It was found in the sea near Cape Artemisio. It is housed at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, Greece.

There is some debate whether or not this sculpture depicts Zeus or Poseidon, but I think the most important aspect of this work is that it depicts a god in purely human form. It was most likely carved by a master craftsman (possibly Kalamis) using an Olympian athlete as a model. The muscles, the beard, the genitalia are all perfectly masculine and human. The gods interacted with the Greeks with their petty jealousies and arrogances - that is, their human frailties - fully intact. It has been said that the Greeks' interest in the gods was really only as an exploration of the human - the human psyche, the human body, the human soul.

The name Zeus became Deus in Roman Latin and later Diós, or "God" in Spanish, giving us an explanation for words such as adiós: literally "to Zeus." We have the same sort of farewell in English with goodbye, a contracted form of "God be with you."

Saturday, August 5, 2006

Landmark I: Venus of Willendorf

Preface

One of the assignments I give my humanities students is a Landmark Journal - short free-writing exercises about seven landmarks from the various historical periods or cultural themes we explore as a group. I've decided - based on a conversation with Stephen - to create my own online version of the entries I have my students write about in class. Here is my offering of what a professor does when the tables are turned.


Venus of Willendorf
The Venus of Willendorf is a Paleolithic (Old Stone Age) statuette about 11.1 cm (4 3/8 inches) high. It was discovered by archaeologist Josef Szombathy in Willendorf, Austria, in 1908. It was carved from non-native limestone and tinted with ochre 22,000 to 24,000 years ago. It is currently housed at the Naturhistorisches Museum in Vienna.

Fertility charm? Good-luck fetish? Child's toy? We do not know what purpose the Venus had, if any, to the people who carved her. Her swollen belly, breasts, and vulva as well as her huge ass suggest a sympathetic magic ritual for abundance. Her face is hidden by rows of braids; her tiny arms fold over her breasts. Her small feet do not allow her to stand upright on her own.

Earth goddess? Mother to us all? When we understand her, we will understand ourselves.

Friday, August 4, 2006

The Week in Review

Madonna

Before going to bed every night I scan the entertainment headlines of the BBC, ITN, and Reuters. I used to read the "real" news, but it became unbearable. My favorite headline last night was "Rome unites to condemn Madonna." All three news sources covered this story. Apparently the Catholic Church (thinks it) has a monopoly on crucifixion imagery (despite the fact that it was the heathen Romans who utilized this particularly effective form of state torture/murder - Gitmo wasn't developed till centuries later), and they want Madonna to stop wearing a crown of thorns on stage while gyrating around a cross. Several Jewish and Muslim groups based in Rome have also spoken out against her. Leave it to a slutty girl from Detroit to unite all three backwater religions. We all know that the only way Madonna is ever going to get the Catholic Church from speaking out against her is if she starts raping the parishioners' children.

Proxy War: US vs. Iran

Professor Robert Pape made a significant contribution to the latest Middle East crisis:
What these [Lebanese] suicide attackers [from 1982-1986] -— and their heirs today - shared was not a religious or political ideology but simply a commitment to resisting a foreign occupation. Nearly two decades of Israeli military presence did not root out Hezbollah. The only thing that has proven to end suicide attacks, in Lebanon and elsewhere, is withdrawal by the occupying force.

Thus the new Israeli land offensive may take ground and destroy weapons, but it has little chance of destroying the Hezbollah movement. In fact, in the wake of the bombings of civilians, the incursion will probably aid Hezbollah'’s recruiting.
My prediction: no one will listen to him.

I loved how Israel, after murdering a few dozen children, decided to stop bombing for a bit to give people the chance to leave the area. It reminds me of when "the experts" told people to leave New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina hit. Poor people don't have the luxury of leaving, whether it's for a hurricane or an Israeli bomb!

Maybe some day I'll share my theory with the world that contemporary America is but a mirror of ancient Persia, created in its image, in order to play out their teleological view of history. It's a really fascinating theory.

Mel Gibson

So Mel's a bigot who can't hold his liquor? Sounds like every other self-righteous Christian I've ever met. What's the big deal? Hollywood may be uniting to oust him from their celebrity circles, but Hillbilly-wood is uniting to organize busloads of congregations to watch his next flick. So, who ultimately has the most power: the Jews who make Mel's movies or the white trash assholes who watch them? Please let it be a fight to the death.

Silver Medals for Silver-Haired Ladies

Congratulations to the Motor City Menopause for winning the silver medal at the Gay Games in Chicago. You ladies rock!

Thursday, August 3, 2006

Land of Ur, Here I Come

Nanna the Moon God
I am already so excited - in that hyper-nerdy, über-intellectual sort of way - about my trip next week to Houston. First on the list of things to hit is the "Royal Tombs of Ur" exhibit at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Ur was one of the main city-states of Sumer, a region considered to be the Cradle of Civilization in ancient Mesopotamia and site of the world's first written language (cuneiform) as well as the world's first alcoholic beverages. (Is Ur the origin of the drunk author?!?!) The Sumerians were also the first people to dwell in permanent settlements and the first to use the 60-second minute and 60-minute hour because of their sophisticated mathematical systems. The region has been settled for at least nine thousand years. In 1922, British archaeologist Charles Leonard Woolley excavated Ur, discovering Queen Puabi's unlooted tomb filled with all sorts of nifty items.

Ur is also considered the (traditional) site of the Garden of Eden and home to Abraham, revered patriarch of Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Dog-Day Cicadas

When I was a kid I used to spend my summers searching for the abandoned cicada shells left around the huge oak tree in front of my grandma's house. Painting them with nail polish and marching them in the sand occupied my youth in the years before Star Wars and its subsequent action figures. I'd put them on my sisters and aunt to hear them squeal until eventually an adult would yell at me. It stopped being fun when one of the scratchy legs broke off and got in someone's eye.Cicada Meeting

Every summer in Texas I listen to the cicadas whine and whine; their electric buzzing drones during the hot dusk. When I walk out my backdoor, I always see several cicada shells on the stairs and steps. Today they were having a meeting, which they let me attend.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Moon and the Banana Tree

In the old days of Madagascar it is told that the Great Spirit created the heavens and the earth, the stars and the beasts, the seas and great desert. And he also created the banana tree. He gave to each of these beings their own particular lives as well as their specific deaths. Finally, he created people. But to encourage their own creativity and free will, he decided to let them choose how they would prefer to die. "Do you choose to die like the moon," asked the Most High, "or will you pick the death of the banana tree?"

The moon begins each month full and round. Slowly it wilts, disappearing every fourteen days. But in the night of the fifteenth day, it begins to give birth to itself yet again. From a slim sliver above the sea, it increases until it returns to its full strength.

But the lifespan of the banana tree is finite: it begins as a seed. With nourishment and sun, water and care, it grows throughout the years, giving birth to great fruit. Finally, the wind scatters its seeds, and a new generation arises from the death of that one banana tree.

The people considered the question posed to them by their Creator. To die like the moon means to always return to your own complete perfection; but the death of the banana tree is nourishment for those that come after. And besides, the moon is lonely up there in the night sky, always seeking its mate the sun and so far away from its friends the stars. The people decided on the death of the banana tree so they would have their children and their children's children to accompany them throughout this short life.

Which would you choose?