‘Rhetoric’ By Aristotle


I probably owned this book for at least a decade before I started reading it recently. Just a quick glance would have indicated it’s not nearly so long as it appears. First, because it also have the Poetics, which I’ve already read (not that it would hurt me to read it again, but we are focusing on reading Rhetoric for the first time) and second, because the left hand side of the page is just for notes on the text, which, even if you read them, means lots and lots of empty real estate on half of the pages.

I’ve been on a minor ancient (western) philosophy kick, having also read some Sextus Empiricus recently.

My motivation for picking this book was two fold: availability (I owned it) and a (misguided) belief that this would actually contain a great deal of logic. I don’t know where I got the idea, but I had been under the impression that a good chunk of Aristotle’s inductive logic writings could be found here. Smart readers of this blog will have figured out by now that I was wrong (less intelligent readers may still be waiting for the answer to be revealed).

Can’t really say that I got many deep insights in the actual art of rhetoric. In that respect, Quintilian is a much better guide. There was a little logic, in the form of Aristotle’s frequent references to enthymeme’s, a type of syllogism. But, of course, syllogisms themselves are discussed in the Topics, not Rhetoric.

So do I get some more Aristotle? Something beyond his Politics or De Anima and try to find one of his actual books on logic?

Maybe, but it seems like a lot of work and possibly relatively expensive and I’d have to hide the purchase from my better half.

No, I’ve got a nice looking copy of Cicero’s De Oficia on the shelf that I saw the other day, and that seems like a much more likely choice.

Amber


9780380809066Some years ago, I bought The Great Book of Amber at a used bookstore. The Amber books were one of those books I remember seeing on shelves in used bookstores when browsing for sci fi and fantasy as a kid, but were not ones that I read at the time.

These collection actually contains ten books and I only read the first five, but that first five contains the initial, extended story line of how Corwin saved Amber and possibly the entire known universe from… well, let’s just it’s a complicated plot.

The setting is interesting: the ‘real’ world is Amber and what we know as ‘Earth’ is one of many (limitless?) ‘shadows’ of Amber, some of which were created by the disappeared king of Amber and his many children. There is also the ‘Courts of Chaos,’ which is very poorly described and explained and winds up sounding very much like something from Michael Moorcock (Moorcock and Zelazny were both part of a new wave of British fantasy).

The hero, Corwin, embarks on a swashbuckling journey quest, which is thrilling, but, as you can probably guess, not as engrossing to me as it might have been. There are those who swear by these books. For me, I was totally gripped at the noirish mystery with which opened, with an amnesiac Corwin waking up in a mental hospital on ‘Earth’ and trying to figure out what the heck is going on, but once he learned, it became less interesting to me.

Nonetheless, better writing than most and not sorry I read it.

Greatest Movie Fight Scenes


  1. Flash Gordon beats up Ming’s guards using kung-football
  2. Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris in the Coliseum
  3. The Crimson Pirate leads the Spanish soldiers on a merry, if circular chase
  4. The greatest fight scene featuring an ex wrestler in an alley in a Marxist science fiction allegory
  5. The man with no name (Clint Eastwood) avenges his mule’s shame
  6. The Dread Pirate Roberts duels Inigo Montoya left handed
  7. William Holden, Dirk Bogarde and a Gatling gun (’nuff said)
  8. Strike me down and I shall only become more powerful than you can possibly imagine 
  9. A plane, an archaeologist, and a bald German mechanic
  10. From Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to House of Flying Daggers, all those bamboo forests are just ripping from A Touch of Zen

Contemporary North Korean Art: The Evolution Of Socialist Realism


On the very last day of the exhibit, my better half and I went to the Katzen Gallery (the art museum of American University) to see a visiting selection of North Korean. There was also an exhibit of contemporary South Korean but, as interesting as that was, the real driver of our desire was not the autocratic society’s democratic neighbors.

At the end of this, I’ll include links to an article about the exhibit, as well as the gallery’s page on it.

My own thoughts…

I really liked it. A lot.

I didn’t go in expecting certain things. Formal innovation, for example. Deep subtext. I went open to enjoying what I was likely to encounter (and did also encounter some stuff that surprised me).

The large scenes of heroic military and industrial figures, but despite the size, focusing on a small number of relatively nondescript people, so that the otherwise quotidian individual becomes the focus – the hero of the painting.

I expected that. I did not expect the small ink paintings (actually, they were all ink wash on rice paper in a style/technique called chosonhwa) of dismembodied flowers/branches/flora framing some rough calligraphy (I really wish they had translated the calligraphy for us; were they poems? paeans to the Korean people or leaders? mapquest instructions to reach a nearby gas station?).

My favorite was an unfinished painting of people waiting at a bus stop. It was so marvelously prosaic and contemporary looking. While obviously a painting of Korean people, it was not otherwise culturally distinct, which made it weirdly wonderful. Little touches, like a young man who seemed like he might have been glancing at a pretty young woman who was at the comparative center of the painting.

As an art lover and, more importantly, someone who believes in public support for the arts, North Korea’s massive investment in artistic production and support for the artist as a professional is enheartening… but this North Korea. You can’t say anything good about the regime, can you? It’s brutal, totalitarian, and directly responsible for so many deaths.

Artsy editorial on the exhibit.

Katzen’s page on it.

North KOREAN ART

I had seen this painting before; I think it is relatively famous; the title is “Farewell” by Park Ryong

Church


About a month ago, my better, my parents, and I visited the ancestral homeland in rural Arkansas. A bit of a culture shock for my better half, as a POC and an immigrant, to make her way there, to say the least.

On Sunday, three of us (father, wisely perhaps, stayed in) went to a pentecostal style church with other members of the extended family.

I was kindly warned by other family members (ok, by my mother) and passed on some of those warnings to my better half.

But I didn’t think much of the warnings. I had, after all, been the pentecostal and evangelical churches before. Many times, in fact. Those were all African-American churches, and I didn’t realize how big a difference that would make.

The service itself (a little odd, for someone raised in the Episcopal tradition and presently an imperfect Catholic churchgoer) lacked ritual, but was, instead, twenty minutes of music and nearly two continuous hours of preaching.

Ahh… the preaching.

I give credit to any person who can pontificate (pun intended) for so long, but the content was absolutely horrifying to my own spiritual/religious/faith sensibilities.

The black prophetic tradition that I have encountered, even when talking about things that are wrong in the world, is ultimately, a positive one. Dr. King noted that he might not make it to the mountain, but the focus was not on that, but on the fact that the mountain was there and within reach of humanity.

For this (white) preacher, the focus was on despair and the negative. Yes, the positive (salvation is attainable) was mentioned, but the focus was on the negative. Same content, if you will, but emphasis matters. Oh, does it matter.

For most my time as a Catholic, I’ve had the fortune to have a wonderful sermonizer at the pulpit, in the form of a jovial priest named Father Byrne. Like most priests I have met, he’s a happy guy (based on my small sampling, job satisfaction seems through the roof for people who have taken orders). His sermons often opened with a challenge, but quickly moved to a loud and happily declaimed declaration along the lines of, “But I’ve got good news for you!”

The contrast was stark and, ultimately, horrifying to behold.

My better half luckily skipped the bible study before the service. Luckily, because there probably would have been altercation had the same comments been made while she was there as were made while she wasn’t (and I have to suspect that the person who made the most reprehensible remark lacks the self awareness to have picked up on the fact that saying what she said around a POC would be no less inappropriate, but wildly more personal offensive).

You’re probably wondering what she said, right?

Somehow, racism came up (along with the impending collapse of civilization, which one can’t help but feel they interpreted as ‘white civilization’) and a woman told the group about how her apparently perceptive/prophetic grandfather had, in the 1950s, predicted an eventual race war between white and black.

Now, a little reflection on that story might lead one to ask, what might have been happening in the 1950s to lead a white man in the South to say this?

Could it be a nascent civil rights movement? Could it have been early moves towards integration, like Truman’s integration of the military or the 1954 decision, Brown v Board?

But every seemed quietly acknowledge the woman as having made a valid point of some kind. Or maybe, like me, the rest of the attendees were cowards who said nothing.

I read this conversation between the poet Jenny Zhang and Nate Brown wherein a story is told about teaching a workshop where someone presents a story about several white college students in a mostly white town who encounter a black man who is, in the story, referred to/named as ‘Black.’

The teacher tries to drive the conversation towards some kind of dialogue about that, but no one seemed to get that referring to the only POC in the story by their color as being at all problematic.

That struck me, because I couldn’t help but think back to that moment at bible study… did the woman never stop to think that there might be more to this sixty year old prediction of a race war than mere insight?

And, once again, I call upon the wisdom of this line:

When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.

And Yet…


9781476772066The most recent (though probably not last) of the posthumously published collections of Christopher Hitchen’s essays lends itself to a sort of narrative arc, as the pieces inch closer to his terminal diagnosis with esophageal cancer and the reader’s mind naturally tends to see relationships (prophecy?) between his death and the chronologically later essays.

As someone who spent the first five years of the new millennium as a professional political campaign professional, the political essays around the 2004 election and shenanigans in Ohio were a painful reminder of a time that, until my memory was sparked, felt very long ago. Pleasingly, those and other discussions of then current events from the middle of that decade did not feel as dated as they could have.

His book reviews – at their best, excuses for lengthy rambles that show off, but provide the best platform for Hitchens ‘holding court’ – are the highlights, especially the long ones on biographies of Che Guevera and V.S. Naipul (Hitchens shows off his Britishness by referring to him as Sir Vidia).

It’s no secret that Orwell was a touchstone for Hitchens. As an essayist, he is often compared to Orwell; and I have often heard Orwell described as the great English essayist of the twentieth century.

But what have you read by Orwell? I’ll wager, gentle reader, that it doesn’t extend beyond his best known novels, 1984 and Animal Farm. And if you have read an essay, it was probably that short one he penned on the proper way to make tea. While an admirable tidbit, hardly what reviewers are referring to when they praise Orwell the essayist.

My point is related to a question that came to me when Hitchens died: how long will be remembered?

Having not written a pair of timeless novels, who will read his essays, beyond a handful of academic scholars, in twenty years? His reach will be less than that Edmund Wilson wields today (which, let’s not kid ourselves, isn’t much). His book length works are too timely, methinks. Maybe Letters to a Young Contrarian will be read, but it feels to self congratulatory to me to be the source of long lasting, posthumous relevance.

‘Sextus Empiricus And Greek Scepticism’ By Mary Mills Patrick


This book should really say ‘by Mary Mills Patrick and Sextus Empiricus’ because the final forty odd pages is actually a translation of a sort of primer on Sextus’ brand of Scepticism (Pyrrhonism, if you’re curious). As far as I can tell, this book (which I downloaded from Project Gutenberg) is an 1894 doctoral thesis.

Dr. Patrick certainly does fill up the original writing (not the translation) with a lot of filler, some of which feels contradicted by the subsequent translation of Sextus’ actual words. It’s not uninteresting; the section where she tries to determine where Sextus likely taught and lectured was pretty cool, actually. But then she goes into an odd attack on the Sceptics and Pyrrhonists for ultimately being a sterile school of philosophy. She writes that they set the stage for future scientific advances, with their focus on method and examination of phenomena, but kind of wuss out on actually taking it to the next level.

Especially after reading the actual writing of Sextus, I call garbage on that.

It reminds of when my former stepmother asked me about a college course I was taking – symbolic logic, so be precise. Though raised Catholic and, at that time, attending the Episcopal church, her personal brand of faith was very much in the Southern, white, evangelical tradition. So naturally she asked me what I was learning had to say about abortion. I really didn’t know how to answer that except, ‘well, um… nothing, really.’

‘Well, shouldn’t it?’ she asked.

And, of course, the answer was, no, not really.

And the same here. I’m sorry that a philosopher of late antiquity didn’t properly follow through and start the Copernican Revolution for you over a thousand years ahead of schedule, but maybe we could just be satisfied with what he actually wrote and did, which was pretty cool.

To briefly talk about the bits that make up the majority of the translation, it’s about various ‘tropes’ that explain why we should suspend judgement in terms of claiming knowledge. These are things like noting that various animals clearly perceive things differently, so why should we assume our perceptions are more accurate? Similarly, different people perceive differently. There’s more, but I’m not going to list them all because the book is free, for heaven’s sake, so you can read it yourself. But suffice to say, it made a lot of sense to me an I got a kick out of it. I do wish that she hadn’t chosen to leave so many Greek words and phrases untranslated. Sometimes, through context, I knew a word to be ataraxia (a state of being untroubled) and once I was certain it was an anecdote that I was familiar with (about it supposedly, according to ancient Greeks, being acceptable in India to have sex in public; a weird example of a two thousand year old urban myth), but often I just wound up shrugging my shoulders.