Saturday, July 27, 2013

Noticed in Coleridge

This week I happened to open Biographia Literaria to the end of Chapter XI, "An affectionate exhortation to those who in early life feel themselves disposed to become authors". The chapter closes with a quotation from Herder, in German but translated in a footnote. The English runs
With the greatest possible solicitude avoid authorship. Too early or immoderately employed, it makes the head waste and the heart empty; even were there no other worse consequences. A person, who reads only to print, to all probability reads amiss; and he, who sends away through the pen and the press every thought, the moment it occurs to him, will in a short time have sent all away, and will become a mere journeyman of the printing-office, a compositor.
It sounds to me a fine argument against blogging, particularly the last clause. Oh, dear.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Tee Shirts

In the last several days I have seen a number of odd tee shirts:
  • One listing the seven deadly sins, by their Latin names. The young woman wearing it said that she had bought it at Urban Outfitters. 
  • A blue tee shirt with the Union Jack, and underneath it the word GREECE. We were heading out of the farmers market and I did not have the chance (and might not have had the nerve) to ask the wearer. Perhaps it was a commentary on the origins of Prince Philip.
  • A gray tee shirt with the words "Girls Go For Guys With Mustaches". Since the wearer appeared to be about six months pregnant, I glanced around for the Guy, but did not see him.
  • Fifteen minutes later, a tee shirt headed "Styles of the Indian Mustache". This wearer was male, probably in fact of subcontinental descent, and skinny.  The shirt appeared to indicate many styles, and might have been very funny to those in the know, but it disappeared into a store before I could make out more than the heading.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

You Only Think You Dislike That Translation

Various remarks in Cultural Amnesia about bad translations of Scripture brought to mind something I had read of 30 years ago in a book since lost, the Athens Gospel Riots of 1901.  I find that I must have thoroughly forgotten what I read, for it was my impression that they arose when a translation from Koine into Demotic was imposed on unwilling congregations. According to a most interesting article by Philip Carabott, this is not so.

In fact

  • The translation at issue was not used in liturgies. It was a translation of St. Matthew's Gospel, serialized in the newspaper Akropolis that provided the excuse for the demonstrations.
  • The anxieties about translations had been stimulated by another that had appeared shortly before, one sponsored by Queen Olga.
  • Two Patriarchal Encyclicals of the 1830s, responding to concerns about Demotic translations provided by Protestant missionary organizations had  in fact condemned the use of any translations, even those previously undertaken by the Orthodox church.
  • The dispute was part of the quarrel between the Purists, adherents of the "katharevousa" or literary Greek, and the Demoticists.
  • That anxieties about the encroachments of Pan-Slavism, not only because of Queen Olga's Russian origin, played a part.

The upshot, though, was certainly riotous. Akropolis had its windows broken on November 5, 1901. On November 7, "half a dozen" mounted police were wounded, and some number of demonstrators, three seriously. On Thursday, November 8, between 25 and 30 thousand demonstrators turned out. The demonstration was peaceful until late afternoon, when some number tried to break through the police cordon. Apparently shots were fired from the crowd: the police and military opened fire, killing eight and wounding about 60. The prime minister, Theotokis, resigned, though his government had survived a vote of confidence.

In the aftermath, the ban on translations was reaffirmed, and read from pulpits. When Parliament reconvened in January 1902, opposition deputies challenged the oaths of two new members as being taken on a translated Gospel. The book turned out to be foreign, but not a translation. The 1911 Constitution included a ban on such translations without the Patriarchate's sanction; this was modified in 1975.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Neither Flowed Through Them

This past weekend, I picked up a copy of Cultural Amnesia, a book I fell in love with at the first word of the essay on Margaret Thatcher, namely "Solzhenitskin", but had never bought for myself. I have been dipping into it here and there, enjoying it. Along the way, I encountered sentence or two I had seen quoted:
I don't want the teachings of Jesus taken from me. He might not longer be my redeemer, but still he is my master. If I no longer know that my redeemer liveth, I know that he speaketh not like Tony Blair.
I have little good to say about bad modern translations and liturgies, but this reminded me of a passage in Santayana that the sight of Harvard Yard a few weeks ago had also brought to mind:
On the whole, it was the architecture of sturdy poverty, looking through thrift in the direction of wealth. It well matched the learning of early New England, traditionally staunch and narrow, yet also thrifty and tending to positivism, a learning destined as it widened to be undermined and to become, like the architecture, flimsy and rich. It had been founded on accurate Latin and a spellbound constant reading of the Bible; but in the Harvard of my day we had heard a little of everything, and nobody really knew his Latin or knew his Bible. You might say that the professor of Hebrew did know his Bible, and the professors of Latin their Latin. No doubt, in the sense that they could write technical articles on the little points of controversy at the moment among philologists; but neither Latin nor the Bible flowed through them and made their spiritual lives; they were not vehicles for anything great. They were grains in a quicksand, agents and patients in an anonymous moral migration that had not yet written its classics.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Pitting Proceeding Parallel by Parallel

In Maryland, one can count on about ten weeks of  local corn and tomatoes, maybe a bit fewer of peaches. But small fruits come and go quickly. You will not see strawberries much past the beginning of June, and the cherries that have been at market the last two weekends may not be next weekend.

Strawberries require only so much preparation, blackberries none but rinsing. Cherries to be cooked will need to be pitted though, and that takes time. Yesterday I pitted something close to a quart of loose cherries. Even with a chair to rest my knee on, I found it a little tiring to the back. I suspect that even those with better small-muscle coordination would have found it a slow business.

There are machines to pit cherries. Friends have one, but they make trips to pick their own fruit, they cook more desserts, though very moderate drinkers they infuse vodka with the flavors from crushed fruits. I can't see cluttering the kitchen with a tool that I might use three times in an unusually busy year.

But what if one could arrange to share a pitting device with households where the cherries ripen earlier or later? A household in Henrico County, Virginia, might be able to share a pitter withAdams County, Pennsylvania, and one in Montgomery County, Maryland,  with one in Sullivan County, Pennsylvania. As a form of social networking, the sharing of cherry pitters would be more useful than many. Someone would have to arrange that the devices arrived at the southern limit of growing with a sheaf of two or three UPS tags for the northerly households; and at the end of the year, the northernmost would have to return them to the depot. I don't imagine that anyone would make a lot of money from the scheme, though. Maybe some college alumni association could take it up.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

That Cat

On April 19, 1956, Flannery O'Connor wrote to J.F. Powers
This is a review [of The Presence of Grace] from the backwoods and it is very backwoodsy of me to send it to you but I would like you to know that I admire your stories better than any others I know of even in spite of the cat who, if my prayers have been attended to, has already been run down.
My best wishes to you and your family.
The cat evidently is the "favorite" in the story "Death of a Favorite". He is in fact run over late in the story, but having the canonical nine lives returns in triumph. It would have been a shame to lose him, for that would have been to lose the progress of the hard-luck priest Fr. Burner in "Defection of a Favorite." But O'Connor wasn't one to take "sass" from anyone, and as a fowl breeder might not have sympathized with cats.

The two stories, along with one Fr. Burner has to himself (or at least doesn't share with a cat), "The Prince of Darkness", can be found in the NYRB collection The Stories of J.F. Powers.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Pictures From an Institution

At Kramerbooks some weeks ago, I happened to notice that Pictures from an Institution is back in print, part of the University of Chicago Press's Phoenix Fiction series. I was glad to see this, though I won't just yet be buying a copy--the hardback that I bought forty years ago is in good shape.

Pictures from an Institution is thought by some to be the classic academic novel. It is set at Benton College, a lightly disguised version of Bennington: the students are all women, the curriculum progressive. Most of the novel involves a handful of people: the president, a novelist brought in to teach, a sociology professor and his family, a couple of European emigres. Flannery O'Connor wrote to a friend that she considered a chapter of it in the Kenyon Review to be "good Randall Jarrell but not good fiction", and it is true that not much happens.

Most of the interest in the book is in the writing, largely the descriptions of the characters. There is the president
About anything, anything at all, Dwight Robbins believed what Reason and Virtue and Tolerance and a Comprehensive Organic Synthesis of Values would have him believe. And about anything, anything at all, he believed what it was expedient for the President of Benton College to believe. You looked at the two beliefs and lo! the two were one.  (Do you remember, as a child without much time, turning to the back of the arithmetic book, getting the answer to a problem, and then writing down the summary hypothetical operations by which the answer had been, so to speak, arrived at? It is the only method of problem-solving that always gives correct answers--that gives, even, the typographical errors in the back of the book.)
and his wife, South African born but English raised
For her mankind existed to be put in its place. She felt that the pilgrim's earthly progress is from drawer to drawer, and that when we are all dead the Great Game will be over. Mrs. Robbins poured tea as industrial chemists pour hydrofluoric acid from carboys.
Benton has brought in the novelist Gertrude Johnson to teach creative writing:
Gertrude pointed at the world and said, her voice clear and loud: "You see! you see!" But as you looked along that stretched shaking finger you didn't see, you saw through.... People who were affectionate, cheerful, and brave--and human too, all too human--felt in their veins the piercing joy of Understanding, of pure disinterested insight, as they read Gertrude's demonstration that they did everything because of greed, lust, and middle-class hypocrisy. She told them that they were very bad and, because they were fairly stupid, they believed her.
She is the second teacher of creative writing after the old, Southern, genteel Camille Turner Batterson, who
was a diffused, Salon photograph; and yet she must have had in the depths of her wistful soul a Gift or Daemon that once or twice a year awoke, whispered to her a sentence she could repeat--to the world's astonishment--and then turned back to sleep. Dr. Rosenbaum had first been aware of this Daemon when Miss Batterson retorted, to a colleague's objection that all Benton students read that in high school: "There is no book that all my students have read." Dr. Rosenbaum knew that it is in sentences like this, and not in the pages of Spengler, that one has brought home to one the twilight of the West. He gave a brotherly laugh and agreed: "Ja, dey haf de sense dey vere born vidt."
Gottfried Rosenbaum, a composer, and his wife Irene, a retired singer, have a house that
was full of the works of man: there were, badly arranged on its rarely dusted bookshelves, books in English, German, Russian, French, Latin, Greek--all the languages of he earth, Constance felt; and there were printed scores, photostats of scores, sores in manuscript, scores in Esperanto, almost. In the living room, over the fireplace, there was a copy of Cro-Magnon painting of a buffalo: Gottfried said that it showed how American they had become.... There was no end to the confusion and richness of the house. Constance felt that it was in some strange way the world: that just as there are Sea-Cucumbers and Sea-Anemones and Sea-Horses, so there was at the Rosenbaums' the shadow of everything in the world.
There is Art Night, with Gertrude laying waste to the professors of art and to the guest speaker. The painter is second to get the treatment:
To Gertrude's extended, unfavorable, but really quite brilliant comparison of his jungles with those of Max Ernst and the Douanier Rousseau, he retorted: "I'm not interested in other painters' paintings."
Gertrude looked at him with delight, and said: "You're from the West Coast, aren't you?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, aren't you?"
"How did you know?"
Gertrude said modestly, "Oh, I just knew."
And yet at the end, the sculptor who came in for similar treatment has produced an impressive piece of art. "And yet" is a refrain with Jarrell--he insists on seeing not through but all around, and leaving it open to question whether he has seen all round.

As fiction, Pictures from an Institution is slight. As a document, it is plausible, but the academic world of the early 1950s has disappeared as thoroughly as if it had been the 1590s. Still, Jarrell's writing makes it worth reading and rereading. I am pleased to see that the University of Chicago Press has brought it back into print, and I will try to find someone to buy it for.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Mules and Mulch

There is a story that I have read of an early Greek philosopher, probably Thales. The man was also merchant, and during one of his trading journeys a mule happened to slip and fall while crossing a stream. The mule was loaded mostly with salt, some of which dissolved and washed away. The mule, having noticed the lightened burden, made sure to fall into the next stream also. The philosopher put a quick end to this by loading the mule with sponges for the next trip.

I don't suppose that mulch absorbs water to the extent that sponges do, but then none of the sponges I have dealt with have been measured in cubic feet. Today I fetched four bags of mulch back from the garden center, and was disappointed to hear that I should stack them back by the fence for fall use; they'd be sure to soak up water in that time, and be heavier to haul. As it turned out, a couple of the bags had already got their soaking, and are unlikely to be worse.