Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Quotes for today

Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if we live for a hundred years more, we will still say, 'This was our finest hour.'"

--Imitating Winston Churchill
Sanity and happiness are an impossible combination. No sane man can be happy, for to him life is real, and he sees what a fearful thing it is. Only the mad can be happy, and not many of those.

--Mark Twain

Listmania: Chinese Novels I've Read

The Complete List of Chinese novels I've read, in Chinese, cover to cover:

  1. Xizao 洗澡 by Yang Jiang 杨绛 (1986)
2011-2012 school year, scholarly works I read, complete: 
  1. Polygamy and Sublime Passion: Sexuality in China on the Verge of Modernity, by Keith McMahon (2010, almost done!)
Hrm. Clearly I read slowly and shallowly. Is that actually a problem, though?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Thanksgiving on Netflix Instant

A.'s parents like mainstream Hollywood film. The soda pop of the art -- but why not watch, at least with attention to the craftsmanship of film? My Fake Fiancé actually won me over with a few snappy scenes of forced heternormativity, and Kick-Ass was a queer psychological portrait. Nicely done, both of them.
 A Jackie Chan feature had mixed up politics, but I chose to focus on the most progressive side it presented: nation is a construction that doesn't always serve the people, and so deserves some criticism, especially from the 99% who don't rule.
 Blade Runner: best science fiction movie ever? With layers of subtexts, and totally bizarre styling, the film ages incredibly well.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Film: Margin Call

On Thanksgiving, we saw Margin Call.

The collapse of America's financial institutions during 2008 is clearly so ripe for film that even this poor effort got critical attention. 

I'm struck by a resemblance between Zachary Quinto and Farley Granger -- both are tall, handsome in a slightly off-kilter sort of way, but hard to place with a leading lady because they are so gay. 


I still consider this a worthwhile insight, though A. told me otherwise. Quinto fairly screams to be used in a thriller in which he plays a guilt- and anxiety-ridden patsy, used by a more charismatic queen like Rope's John Dall or Robert Walker in Strangers on a Train

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

World Literature Polemic

There is an important political and cultural point to be made…by answering Saul Bellow's question... "Who is the Tolstoy of the Zulus? The Proust of the Papuans?" with the names of Ousmane Sembene or Ngugi wa Thiong'o, who are entitled to ask in reply what has Bellow written lately that is all that great?.
-- John Beverly, "The Real Thing"

Friday, November 18, 2011

From the Chinese: A Hard Sentence

Free-lance translation brings me into large bureaucratic sentences at times. These are like puzzles:
The Mayor of Trier is a good friend of China
My first crack:
The delegation also divided into groups for talks with the Chinese Mission to the European Union and officials from the Chinese Embassy in Germany, as well as the German representative of the United Nations and officials from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the DAAD Information Centre, seeking support for implementation of joint degree education and cooperative research projects within the framework of the China-Europe Centre. 
Final version after two editors (the second of which does not have Chinese) worked on it:
The delegation also held talks with the Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the European Union and officials from the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Germany, as well as representatives from the Federal Republic of Germany, officials from the German Ministry of Education and Research and from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), for the purpose of seeking support for joint degree education and cooperative research projects within the framework of the China-Europe Centre.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

From the Chinese

Ding Ling's hapless honest male, in "When I Was in Xia Village:"
"He had an honest-looking nose, but of what use was it to him now?"

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Film: Paranormal Activity Series

I was a little hurt when one of my friends said he thought Paranormal Activity was hokey. A. and I have been addicted to the whole series.

Powers of Ten: A Metaphor for a Lecture

KT uses this video to visualize the introductory lecture to a novel (in reverse, I suppose).

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Poem: "Approaching the Exams, To Zhang Ji"

Illustration by Shaoyang No. 1 Middle School

"Approaching the Exams, To Zhang Ji"

In the bridal suite last night stood a red candle,
Awaiting dawn in the hall where she'll bow for the in-laws. 
All made up I whisper to your worship,
Do my mascara'd brows count for fashion?


Friday, November 11, 2011

Term: Figure

I begin by defining, in an inescapably simplistic way, what I mean by the three terms in the title: sublime, figure, and history….“Figure”…points to the subject, the concept of preference for denoting the makeup of the individual psyche, its conscious and unconscious workings, and all its social, cultural ramifications. But “figure” is more sensuous, imagistic, and specular, and it bears the traces of historical and cultural formations at their most visible and palpable. The figure can be a plastic figure, a figure of speech, a figure for mirror identification, or a historical figure enveloped in a mythical aura. I use the word to denote sensory or figural representations in contrast to the more abstract term “subject,” which in current theoretical formulations has revealed its manifold, historical contingent figurations.
– Ban Wang, The Sublime Figure of History, 1–2

Term: Pulsion

Pulsions (psychanalyse) Le mot pulsion vient du (latin pulsio, action de pousser, pellere, pulsum, il est une traduction du terme allemand Trieb) qui a été utilisé par Freud. --Wikipédia: L'encyclopédie libre
Je pousse, tu pousses, elle pousse, nous poussons, vous poussez, elles poussent.

...for centuries we have been overly interested in the author and insufficiently in the reader; most critical theories try to explain why the auhor has written his work, according to which pulsions, which constraints, which limits...
--Barthes, "Writing Reading"

Thursday, November 10, 2011

German Through Nietzsche

Missverständniss des Traumes
The Missunderstanding of Dreams
"Missverständniss" is the plural of "Missverständnis." "Des" is the definite article in the genitive case (gender?). Strange that "Missverständniss" is not preceded by an article:
Die Missverständniss des Traumes

Mißverständnis, Siebdruck, 21x31cm, 1975, von Margret Hofheinz-Döring

World Literature Theory: Complex structures?

Demonstrating the pitfalls and difficulties of an opening statement, we have:
It is their consummate artistry, their ability to express complex signifying structures, that gives access to multiple dimensions of meaning, meanings that are always rooted in a specific setting and cultural tradition but that further constitute, upon comparison, a thought-provoking set of perspectives on the varieties of human experience.
--Sarah Lawall, The Norton Anthology of World Literature

Theory: Nietzsche the birdcatcher

Enough, I am still alive; and life has not been devised by morality: it wants deception, it lives on deception—but wouldn’t you know it? Here I am, beginning again, doing what I have always done, the old immoralist and birdcatcher.
--Human, All Too Human

From the Chinese: 逆道而反德

The Superior Man has worries all his life, that he not have a single morning of catastrophe, for he behaves adhering to the Way, speaks according to principle, enjoys without excess of ease, and grows angry without adding difficulty.
-- From the Shuo yuan 說苑 (compiled by Liu Xiang, 2nd century BC)
Rouzer on the range of 而 as a connector of verbs:
Inferior Man goes counter to the Way and opposes Virtue.

The wise person constrains himself but does not constrain others.

The ruler implements benevolence and righteousness and so puts the state in order.
The ruler administers the state by implementing benevolence and righteousness.
The ruler uses benevolence and righteousness to administer the state.
The ruler implements benevolence and righteousness and then and only then puts the state in order.
The ruler implements benevolence and righteousness and then and only then will the state find order.
--A New Practical Primer of Literary Chinese
Kings of the Warring States (3rd cent. BC), a contemporary Chinese impression

Theory: Writing Reading

Reading Barthes at the office:
...I kept stopping as I read this text...Recalling the camera's first feats in decomposing a horse's trot, I too attempted to "film" the reading of Sarrasine in slow motion: the result, I suspect, is neither quite an analysis (I have not tried to grasp the secret of this strange text) nor quite an image (I don't think I have projected myself into my reading; or if I have, it is from an unconscious site which falls far short of "myself"). Then what is S/Z? Simply a text, that text which we write in our head when we look up....

[D]ealing with a story...we see clearly that a certain constraint of our progress (of "suspense") constantly struggles within us against the text's explosive force, its digressive energy: with the logic of reason (which makes this story readable) mingles a logic of the symbol. This latter logic is not deductive but associative: it associates with the material text (with each of its sentences) other ideas, other images, other significations...

[T]here is no objective or subjective truth of reading, but only a ludic truth; again, "game" must not be understood here as a distraction, but as a piece of work -- from which, however, all labor has evaporated: to read is to make our body work (psychoanalysis has taught us that this body greatly exceeds our memory and our consciousness) at the invitation of the text's signs, of all the languages which traverse it and form something like the shimmering depth of the sentence....
--"Writing Reading," The Rustle of Language

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

World Literature Theory: Crosscurrents, Perspectives, Resonances

Wang Anyi (thanks to WanderMonkey)
The world’s disparate traditions have developed very distinct kinds of literature, even very different ideas as to what should be called “literature” at all. This anthology uses a variety of means to showcase what is most distinctive and also what is commonly shared among the world’s literatures. Throughout this anthology we employ three kinds of grouping…

--David Damrosch, Preface to The Longman Anthology of World Literature

Grouping terms by Damrosch et. al., 2004
Crosscurrents Highlights overarching issues or developments many cultures have faced,
e.g. creation myths (or World War II)
Perspectives Provides cultural context for a cluster of major works,
e.g. death and immortality in the ancient Near East
(or childhood experiences of transgression)
Resonances Links works across big reaches of time and/or space,
e.g. Odyssey and responses by Kafka, Walcott, Seferis
(or Song of Everlasting Sorrow by Wang Anyi (Shanghai, 1995),
“Song of Everlasting Sorrow” by Bai Juyi (Chang’an, 800s))

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Still from 小厂主 (1925, The Young Factory Owner) Thanks to The Chinese Mirror
[G]iven the intricate nature of Chinese polygamy, we should begin to wonder what remolding people had to undergo in order to assume post-polygamous identities.
To be "Lacanian," as I interpret it, is to occupy the position of the analyst, the fourth of his four discourses of subjectivity, which are also crucial to this discussion and are as follows: Master and University (which comprise the masculine pole), Hysteric and Analyst (which comprise the feminine pole). In particular, the analyst is one who, like a Zhuangzian Daoist, engages in the continuous exposure of the arbitrary and self-enclosed nature of the Confucian master's discourse. Lacan points out that in the paradigm-shifting passage from one discourse or social formation to another, the discourse of the analyst always emerges for a brief moment. He is referring to the moments in history in which one master regime gives way to another, during which the inherently arbitrary and contingent nature of any regime is at least revealed.
-- Keith McMahon, Polygamy and Sublime Passion, "Introduction: The Male Consort of the Remarkable Woman"

From the Chinese

She was just like any other high school girl: able to read Western fiction, she loved best the male heroes of novels: tall, dark, and handsome -- and unrestrained, too, though accomplished.

At university, though, he could read all the books he wanted, because there were enough for him to read closely and to skim those that he liked.

His smile melted the sternness of his teacher.

Yancheng laughed -- ha! ha! -- and said that he was just then reading a book, considering a theoretical problem, and had gone off into a trivial matter (cow-horn-tip).

With the snow still blustering, the two of them became more intimate the more they spoke.  One was a fool for love, the other honest and sincere; one was in love, the other was filled with gratitude.

-- Yang Jiang, Baptism, chapter 7

Barthes: "From Science to Literature"

"From Science to Literature" is the first entry in The Rustle of Language -- thanks to gH for leaving your copy in our Cina office. The piece first appeared in The Times Literary Supplement in 1967.
...[T]here is certainly not a single scientific matter which has not at some moment been treated by universal literature: the world of the work is a total world, in which all (social, psychological, historical) knowledge takes place, so that for us literature has that grand cosmogonic unity which so delighted the ancient Greeks but which the compartmentalized state of our sciences denies us will become literature, insofar as literature -- subject, moreover, to a growing collapse of traditional genres (poem, narrative, criticism, essay) -- is already, has always been, science; for what the human sciences are discovering today, in whatever realm: sociological, psychological, psychiatric, linguistic, etc., literature has always known; the only difference is that literature has not said what it knows, it has written it. >

Monday, November 7, 2011

Film: Strangers on a Train

I still think it would be wonderful to have a man love you so much he'd kill for you.  -- Barbara, Strangers on a Train.

Test-Writing Digression

Students should be working in Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development. Ideally instruction is aimed at the level where students can learn with the aid of a teacher or more knowledgeable peers (Vygotsky 1962).
-- Carol Jago, Classics in the Classroom

The Best Way to Write...

I'm working to optimize my "workflow" by starting all professional writing with a wonderful software package called Scrivener, using the MultiMarkdown codes for simple formatting like italics, lists, tables, images, and footnotes, which results in fair copy that I can then send, in whole or in smaller modules, to LaTeX for typesetting as a .pdf or to .rtf/.doc for collaboration and editing.
Detail from "Blue Maunderings," one of the Lost Divers series by Josh Dorman (Cerise Press)

Teaching: Unpacking writing

One of my students writes a response paper with the sentence, 
For example there was a story in the end where his brother says that to help your sick mother you must feed some of your flesh and the narrator remembered this at the time of his sister’s death and believed that his brother had eaten her and was sad because maybe he wasn’t full and was wanting to eat someone else, and that this world is kind of like survival of the fittest."
The student is being a bit lazy, writing quickly, mangling syntax. Worst of all, they make a weak gesture at an idea "survival of the fittest" that is complex and even intriguing. 

Nevertheless, the response is basically correct. So the role of the teacher then, is to make them slow down, take more time, and expand on their answer, right? I offered: 
This is a really good thought, but I'd like you to expand it a bit: how does the first part of this sentence, up to "eat someone else," make us feel that the world ensures the "survival of the fittest?"

The Stump-Watcher

From a response paper by one of my students:
Based on further research I have found that in ancient China there was a widely-known tale about a farmer who found a dead rabbit in his field one day who had run into a stump and broken his neck upon impact. As the story goes on, the hopeful farmer then proceeded to disregard his work in order to watch the stump, hoping that more unfortunate rabbits would meet their end by it. Instead of capturing more rabbits, the farmer became the laughingstock of his community and therefore became known as the stump-watcher. The title of stump-watcher eventually became coined as a term for “those who think they can take the ways of the ancient kings and use them to govern the people”.
I looked this up; it's from Han Feizi.
守株待兔 (illustration from MyChinaConnection)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Johnson's Definition of Wit

Thanks to PowerOfBabel
A wit, Mr. Rambler, in the dialect of ladies, is not always a man who, by the action of a vigorous fancy upon comprehensive knowledge, brings distant ideas unexpectedly together, who, by some peculiar acuteness, discovers resemblance in objects dissimilar to common eyes, or, by mixing heterogeneous notions, dazzles the attention with sudden scintillations of conceit. A lady's wit is a man who can make ladies laugh, to which, however easy it may seem, many gifts of nature, and attainments of art, must commonly concur. He that hopes to be received as a wit in female assemblies, should have a form neither so amiable as to strike with admiration, nor so coarse as to raise disgust, with an understanding too feeble to be dreaded, and too forcible to be despised. The other parts of the character are more subject to variation; it was formerly essential to a wit, that half his back should be covered with a snowy fleece, and, at a time yet more remote, no man was a wit without his boots. In the days of the Spectator a snuff-box seems to have been indispensable; but in my time an embroidered coat was sufficient, without any precise regulation of the rest of his dress. --Samuel Johnson

Story Reading

The cyst turned out to be a benign tumour. Kat liked that use of benign, as if the thing had a soul and wished her well. It was big as a grapefruit, the doctor said. "Big as a coconut," said Kat. Other people had grapefruits. "Coconut" was better. It conveyed the hardness of it, and the hairiness, too.
-- Margaret Atwood, "Hairball"

One has to admire the Americans. Who else would come up with the idea of turning the belly of a fighter into a robot's head and then proceed to create a machine that executes the transition so flawlessly?
-- Bi Shumin 毕淑敏, "Broken Transformers"

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Folktale: "Die Vagina"

In olden times the vagina went around on her own. She had not yet fused with the woman. The vagina wandered about all parts of the earth. She was constantly on the move. She let anybody sleep with her. ... The vagina met the scorpion and said to him: 'Have sexual intercourse with me.' The scorpion did so. But the scorpion stung the vagina with his tail while they were making love, whereupon the vagina screamed with pain. Frightened, the vagina ran away. She ran to the woman and hid herself there. The vagina said to the woman: 'Hide me and protect me!' The woman did so. Ever since that time, women have had a vagina."

--Old Tale of Guinea

-- quoted in "Borderlines of the Body in African Women's Writing," by Flora Veit-Wild.

Concept: Lacan's Nothingness

McMahon, Polygamy and Sublime Passion:
Ultimately, qing involves an experience of abyssal nothingness, whether sacrificial death, castration, or the severing of one's flesh, all being forms of the dissolution of the self...

...[in Liaozhai zhiyi stories] The man's foolishness, the literal and metaphorical acts of the self-negation of severing the flesh, and the liminal quality of the remarkable woman -- all these are signs of the negativity of the frame, and in themselves amount to the empty core of the individual subject...
Previously, McMahon gave:
...To say that the subject is fundamentally split is a way of referring to the impossibility of full and present self-consciousness or self-understanding. In simplest terms, there will always be a gap between what subjects think they know of themselves and what is hidden from them. The subject can only fantasize that "I am what I say I am." ....The I is a pure void, an empty frame only knowable through the predicates that make up except through the endless series of predicates and statements that fill out what the I thinks....(8-9)

Friday, November 4, 2011

Profound Thought: Rorty on two desires

Quoted in Testiminio: The Politics of Truth, by John Beverly (2):
There are two principal ways in which reflective human beings try, by placing their lives in a larger context, to give sense to those lives. The first is by telling the story of their contributions to a community. This community may be the actual historical one in which they live, or another actual one, distant in time or place, or a quite imaginary one, consisting perhaps of a dozen heroes and heroines selected from history or fiction or both. The second way is to describe themselves as standing in immediate relation to a nonhuman reality. This relation is immediate in the sense that it does not derive from a relation between such a reality and their tribe, or their nation, or their imagined band of comrades. I shall say that stories of the former kind exemplify the desire for solidarity, and that stories of the latter kind exemplify the desire for objectivity.

Book: Polygamy and Sublime Passion

Keith McMahon, Polygamy and Sublime Passion: Sexuality in China on the Verge of Modernity (University of Hawaii, 2010)
[On Honglou fumeng a 19th century sequel to Honglou meng (Dream of the Red Chamber) ] Even though Baoyu now has twelve wives, he is fair to all, harboring no favorites. Reborn as Mengyu, he is all "sentiment" and no "lust" (that is, all qing and no se), as the narrator describes in a stunning take-off on the motif of gender fluidity, such that when he consorts with this wives and maids, "he is not even aware that he is female and they are female. ... Even if one of the women is sponging herself or taking a bath, he comes and goes as he pleases and no one minds... 
[On Qilou chongmeng and Honglou huanmeng, other sequels of the 19th century] In both, Baoyu resembles the sexually active polygamist of Ming and Qing erotic novels who enjoys cozy and harmonious relations with them all his wives. ... He has five wives by age sixteen...Before marriage, he learns the trick of having sex with prepubescent girls, especially maids, so that none will get pregnant. He learns erotic arts form a nineteen-year-old female acrobat, after which he practices the arts with a new group of twenty-four maids, of whom he takes four each night... (Chapter 2, "Qing Can be With One and Only One" 39-40)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Jobs: Common Interview Question 1: 1. What attracted you to this position?

Pass 1: 

B__ University combines the best of a research institution and a liberal arts college. There’s the East Asian Studies major, which is hard at work producing equities analysts, hospital managers, political scientists, and so forth, and there’s the department of German, Russian and Asian languages, which is clearly an outstanding home base for cultural exchange among specialists in language education and the role of literature and the arts in society. I’m interested in doing cross-cultural translation and thinking through the big questions offered up by a deep consideration of art and language, and also in imparting the urgency of this work to young people even if — especially if — they will be making their new knowledge just one part of a larger liberal arts experience intended to prepare them for leadership and innovation in fields far beyond literature and the arts.

Jobs: Common Interview Questions

  1. What attracted you to this position?
  2.  How can your courses assist our institution in strategic goal (to increase equity, diversity, social justice, sustainability, etc.)
  3. What was your greatest teaching challenge?
  4. How is your work interdisciplinary?
  5. This position calls for a teaching load and an active research agenda. How will you balance these two things?
  6. Please describe your research plans for the next five years.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Bibliography: Polygamy and Sublime Passion

McMahon, Keith. Polygamy and Sublime Passion: Sexuality in China on the Verge of Modernity. (University of Hawaii, 2010).
Singapore edition of Heroic Sons and Daughters, a major Confucian Romance.

For centuries, polygamy was a basic organizing principle of Chinese families, and so romance stories in China need not denigrate "polygynous-philanderers," and "remarkable women" can organize concubines for their men with no loss to their virtue, at least in theory. Drawing on Lacan's analysis of narrative as fantasy, McMahon reads a wide variety of late Imperial Chinese literature to show us the tension between the deeply conservative Confucian patriarchy and a rapidly emerging native form of romanticism -- what McMahon calls "qing egalitarianism." Accepting McMahon's model of qing egalitarianism, I show how Yang Jiang's fiction and essay merge the model of the "remarkable woman" with still more notions of sexuality and family responsibility inherited from the Western picaresque and comedies of manners. Where McMahon concludes by saying that China's heritage of polygamy continues to exert a "shadowy influence" on sexuality in China today, I argue that Yang Jiang's appropriation of the category of "remarkable woman" is one way that Confucian notions of virtue inform her social and political values.

Poem: "Gatha" 偈 by Sikong Tu

"Gatha" 偈 means Buddhist devotional verse, though as my advisor comments this one by Sikong Tu 司空图 (837-908) is not very Buddhist (my advisor's translation):
Photo via John Pappas


 If others hate the times
      then I too hate them:
To flee from fame the vital thing
      is to have no talent.
Later generations! I beg you,
      to lay waste to your sensual urges,
And turn yourselves into silent monks,
      who dwell in the deep woods.
. Funny it seems so simple, yet neither of us are sure how the lines all go together.

Story: "The Real Story of Ah Q"

‘Hurrah for revolution!’ Ah-Q thought. ‘It’ll do for the whole rotten lot of them!…I’m going over to the revolutionaries as soon as I get the chance.’ His sense of grievance against the world sharpened first by the rather embarrassed circumstances in which he had recently found himself, and second by the two midday bowls of wine he had drunk on an empty stomach, Ah-Q floated ruminatively along his way. -- Lu Xun, "The Real Story of Ah-Q," tr. Julia Lovell (Penguin and Other Tales of China: The Complete Fiction of Lu Xun (Penguin Classics, 2010) (p. 109).