Sunday, November 28, 2010

Basho: 1644-Nov. 28, 1694

In Memoriam

This is not Basho's "official" Death Song, but it was "[d]ictated to approximately 60 disciples surrounding his deathbed." (a)

Fallen sick on a trip
Dreams run wildly
Through my head.
-- Basho --
trans. Dallas Finn

Ill on a journey
All about the deep fields
Fly my broken dreams
-- Basho --
trans. Edward G. Seidensticker

Ill on a journey
dreams in a withered field
wander around
-- Basho --
trans. Jane Reichhold

ill on a journey:
my dreams roam around
over withered fields
-- Basho --
trans. David Landis Barnhill

Wandering, dreaming
in fever dreaming that dreams
wander forever.
-- Basho --
trans. Harry Behn

Sick on my journey,
only my dreams will wander
these desolate moors
-- Basho --
trans. Sam Hamill

Fever-felled half-way,
My dreams arose to march again . . .
Into a hollow land
-- Basho --
trans. Peter Beilenson

Homages to Basho

Basho departed
And since then
The year has never ended.
-- Buson --
trans. Alex Kerr

In a old pond a frog ages while leaves fall
-- Buson --
trans. Thomas Rimer

At dear Basho's grave
Pale thin transients
We pause . . .
Spring mist, sad pupil
-- Joso --
trans. Harold G. Henderson (?)

Since dear Basho died
What poem-maker
Dares to write
"Year-end revelling"?
-- Buson --
trans. Henry G. Henderson?

Bamboo hat, straw coat--
the very essence of Basho--
falling winter rain
-- Buson --
trans. Sam Hamill

On the Anniversary of the Death of Basho

Winter rain on moss
soundlessly recalls those
happy bygone days
-- Buson --
trans. Sam Hamill



The Classic Tradition of Haiku: An Anthology

edited by Faubion Bowers

Basho: The Complete Haiku
Editor and trans. Jane Reichhold

Basho's Haiku: Selected Poems of Matsuo Basho
Editor and trans. David Landis Barnhill

More Cricket Songs
trans. Harry Behn

trans. Harold G. Henderson (?)

The Sound of Water
trans. Sam Hamill

A Little Treasury of Haiku
trans. Peter Beilenson

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Joseph Wood Krutch: Nov. 25, 1893--May 22, 1970

The following is taken from the "Preface" to Joseph Wood Krutch's The Great Chain of Life. The "Preface" is written by Edward Abbey and includes his appreciation of Krutch and also part of an interview with him. (A side note: Abbey had sat next to Julian Huxley at a dinner and had spent an evening with George Gaylord Simpson and his wife at their home.)

EA: In the voice of Mr Krutch, I found the clearest definition in contemporary literature of what many of us have felt, emotionally, intellectually, instinctively, to be the central meaning of the word "civilization."

Civilization, we felt, if it means anything, and if it is ever to exist at all, must mean a form of human society in which the primary values are openness, diversity, tolerance, personal liberty, reason.

EA: "Have you any favorite books or favorite authors on the subject of the desert? on nature in general?" (I can't believe I said that. But, it's on the tape).

JWK: "From the standpoint of factual information I suppose Edmund Jaeger is as good as any on the Southwest. On the general subject of man's relation to the natural world I prefer the biologists who take what I call an out-of-doors attitude as opposed to the laboratory outlook. For example, Loren Eiseley, a beautiful writer, and the American naturalist Marston Bates."

EA: "How about George Gaylord Simpson? Julian Huxley?"

. . . . .

JWK: "Huxley and Simpson," Mr. Krutch responded, "come more under the heading of formal science than of nature writing, but they're both the best in their fields."

This was interesting. I had asked Dr. Simpson if he would like to meet Mr. Krutch. He said no. When I asked Mr. Krutch if he would like to meet Dr. Simpson, Mr. Krutch said yes. Is this one of the key differences between the formal scientist and a mere literary type--the wider tolerance and greater curiosity on the part of the latter?

EA: I said, "Isn't Simpson's approach to biology a great deal more mechanistic than yours?"

JWK: "Yes, but nevertheless he doesn't go the whole way. I'd much rather read him than a full mechanist. And Julian Huxley makes what I think is a responsible concession to my point of view, in that he allows at least some role to the idea of purpose in the evolutionary process."

EA: "Have you a name for your style of humanism?"

JWK: "I've come around, I think, to a form of philosophical monism, so I suppose you could call me a monistic-humanist. Or a humanistic monist. The terms don't mean much in themselves but they do mean that I am still not convinced that the universe is merely a machine, in the limited sense of that word. That is, I don't think it means anything to speak of 'materialism,' for example, because the potentialities of matter have just recently begun to be realized. When matter can be transformed into energy, we don't really know what the true nature of matter is."

EA: "Or mind? Consciousness?"

JWK: "That too. So that if one says that 'vitalism' is dead, as a theory in biology, he'd better add that 'mechanism' is also dead. It seems to me that the world is all one thing, not two. Mind and matter are not opposites but aspects of something underlying both. Matter becomes less and less material while mind is clearly one of the inherent potentialities of matter. But a lot of orthodox biologists are still unwilling to recognize this. They continue to think in nineteenth-century terms, assuming an absolute discontinuity between matter and consciousness, so that they're unable to explain how the latter can emerge from the former."

The following comes from the Krutch's "Prologue" to The Great Chain of Life and explains the purpose of this work.

This book makes no pretense at being a treatise. I am not a trained scientist; only what is sometimes contemptuously called a "nature lover." I have drawn from books written by learned experts and also upon my observation of living creatures other than man in whom I have long delighted and with whom I have perhaps more sympathy than some of those who remain austerely scientific. If I express opinions on subjects which some will maintain a mere nature lover has no right to discuss, it is because, having read much and observed a good deal, I am sometimes forced to the conclusion that the whole truth is not always represented in certain of the orthodox attitudes. The intuitions of a lover are not always to be trusted, but neither are those of the loveless. If I have also sometimes given way to that irritation which the layman often feels in the presence of the expert, I hope it will not be assumed I have forgot an essential fact, namely that I owe to the experts the technical information I appropriate.

In selecting examples of animal behavior for presentation in what is first of all a descriptive book, I have found myself usually choosing those which suggest a thesis that I hope will gradually emerge. Certain questions have been nearly always at the back if not in the foreground of my mind: To what extent is the animal that is doing any one of the thousands of remarkable things animals do aware of what he is doing? Doe he always do best what seems to be consciously purposeful? And-- since the answer to this second question is no--then what is the function of consciousness and why did it perfect itself in a world where, so we have been told, nothing persists except in so far as it has survival value?

We shall begin with the simplest creatures we know anything about and with the fact that they are not really simple at all. We shall then pass to others "higher" in the scale but from certain points of view hardly more remarkable. And we shall raise questions as we go along. If we end with some that are very fundamental perhaps some readers will agree they are at least legitimate questions.

Some of Joseph Wood Krutch's books about the Southwest:

The Desert Year

The Voice of the Desert

Grand Canyon

His books of social commentary:

If You Don't Mind My Saying So

And Even If You Do (
the obvious followup to the previous work)

The Modern Temper

And about this book: The Great Chain of Life? Edward Abbey has this to say:

In this book, The Great Chain of Life, first published in 1957, Krutch explores in detail many of the themes barely mentioned in my depthless interview. He begins with protozoa and ends with the human-- and the song of a cardinal outside his window, finding in the latter the suggestion that perhaps joy, not the struggle for survival alone, is the essence of life, both its origin and its quest. . . .In his unwavering insistence, to the very end of his life, on the primacy of freedom, purpose, will, play, and joy, and on the kinship of the human with all forms of life, Krutch defended those values which form the elan vital of human history.

Joseph Wood Krutch was a humanist, perhaps one of the last of that endangered species. He believed in and he practiced the life of reason. He never submitted to any of the fads, or ideologies, or fanaticisms of the twentieth century.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Day Proclamation

According to an April 1, 1864, letter from John Nicolay, one of President Lincoln's secretaries, this document was written by Secretary of State William Seward, and the original was in his handwriting. On October 3, 1863, fellow Cabinet member Gideon Welles recorded in his diary that he complimented Seward on his work. A year later the manuscript was sold to benefit Union troops.

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,
Secretary of State

Friday, November 19, 2010

Something to think about

For all we know, the wholly harmonious individual might be without the impulse to push on, and without the compulsion to strive for perfection in any department of life. There is always a chance that the perfect society might be a stagnant society.

Eric Hoffer
from The Passionate State of Mind

Given that this would be possible: Is this bad--to be without the impulse to push on and not strive for perfection? Why?

In addition, perfection is generally conceded to be impossible to attain, so those who strive for perfection are always dissatisfied.

Again, if possible: would a perfect society be a stagnant society? Is this a bad situation? Why?

Hoffer seems to be going against the current here, for there are thousands, if not millions, of people out there with their preconceived ideas about how to achieve the perfect society. Are all these people wrong, not so much as in what their ideas are, but simply in so far as they are attempting to create the perfect society?

Would you want to live in the perfect society--whatever that may be?

Or, do you think we already live in a perfect society?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Malevolent Willows

I'm not exactly one of the speediest readers around, and I suspect the reason is that I'm easily distracted. I would be reading a story or a poem or an essay, and the author would write some thing that would remind me of another story that I had read or perhaps something that had happened to me. Several minutes later I would return to whatever I was reading and move along until the next distraction. To be honest, that really doesn't disturb me for I find that one of the joys of reading.

Recently I was reading Death in Willow Pattern, one of W. J. Burley's mysteries featuring the eminent scholar, criminologist, and amateur detective, Dr. Henry Pym. I had moved on to these after having read most of Burley's "Superintendent Wycliffe" stories. I started reading the Wycliffe novels after having noticed the title of the first novel in the series: Wycliffe and the Three-Toed Pussy."

Speaking of being distracted . . . To return to my theme, the title of this novel refers to a willow. In the story is a stanza from a poem by William Thackeray, "The Willow-Tree." It occurs twice in the novel: once as the epigraph and once again after a mention of a particular willow tree.

"Know ye the willow-tree
Whose grey leaves quiver,
Whispering gloomily
To yon pale river?
Lady, at eventide
Wander not near it:
They say the branches hide
A sad lost spirit!"

W. M. Thackeray
from "The Willow-Tree"

The story behind the poem is of a young woman who sat under a willow-tree by a river and waited all night for her lover who never appeared. In the morning the willow-tree was there, but the young woman was never seen again.

Death in Willow Pattern is concerned with several missing and possibly murdered young women. And, there is an old, a very old and large willow tree on the estate of the landowner who has received poison pen letters accusing him of the same crimes that his ancestor centuries ago had committed. Several of the inhabitants of the estate express their dislike of the tree--saying that it is depressing. Others dismiss this as being influenced by the poem by Thackeray, and also by stories about those who had worked in the mine in the vicinity. The tree was haunted by their souls. Later, to reinforce this ominous air about the tree, there is a reference to the "vague spectral outline of the great willow."

This reminded me of one of my favorite short stories, "The Willows," by Algernon Blackwood. For those interested, I posted an entry about this story on Oct. 31, 2009 (Halloween Night, of course). Two men are on a boating trip down the Danube River and elect to stay the night on an island filled with willows. The narrator is disturbed, uneasy as it gets dark.

"But my emotion, so far as I could understand it, seemed to attach itself more particularly to the willow bushes, to those acres and acres of willows, crowding, so thickly growing there, swarming everywhere the eye could reach, pressing upon the river as though to suffocate it, standing in dense array mile after mile beneath the sky, watching waiting, listening. And, apart quite from the elements, the willows connected themselves subtly with my malaise, attacking the mind insidiously somehow by reason of their vast numbers, and contriving in some way or other to represent to the imagination a new and mighty power, a power moreover, not altogether friendly to us."

And, later the narrator tells us:

"With this general hush of the wind--though it still indulged in occasional brief gusts--the river seemed to me to grow blacker, the willows to stand more densely together. The latter, too, kept up a sort of independent movement of their own, rustling among themselves when no wind stirred, and shaking oddly from the roots upwards. When common objects in this way become charged with the suggestion of horror, they stimulate the imagination far more than things of unusual appearance; and these bushes, crowding huddled about us, assumed for me in the darkness a bizarre grotesquerie of appearance that lent to them somehow the aspect of purposeful and living creatures. Their very ordinariness, I felt, masked what was malignant and hostile to us."

Blackwood's tale has the suggestion of the willows being imbued with a malignant spirit. The thought of a malignant willow brought another work to mind--J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. In the first volume, "The Fellowship of the Ring," the four hobbits have a dangerous encounter with Old Man Willow and have to be rescued by Tom Bombadil.

"Suddenly Frodo himself felt sleep overwhelming him. His head swam. There now seemed hardly a sound in the air. The flies had stopped buzzing. Only a gentle noise on the edge of hearing, a soft fluttering as of a song half whispered, seem to stir in the boughs above. He lifted his heavy eyes and saw leaning over him a huge willow-tree, old and hoary. Enormous it looked, its sprawling branches going up like reaching arms with many long-fingered hands, its knotted and twisted trunk gaping in wide fissures that creaked faintly as the boughs moved. The leaves fluttering against the bright sky dazzled him, and he toppled over, lying where he fell upon the grass."

Each of the stories features a willow that is infused with a malignant spirit of some sort, or at least is perceived as threatening in some way. I wonder why the willow is singled out in this way. I can't think of any stories that focus on dangerous pines or oaks or maples. There probably are some, but I can't think of any now.

I'm not referring to a forest, but to a type of tree that's been selected to house evil forces in some way. Dangerous forests have probably played a role in stories for thousands of years. Several Greek myths tell of the dangers encountered by travelers or hunters in the forest. Many of King Arthur's knights had adventures there, and Hawthorne set several of his stories in the deep woods. And, of course, Tolkien himself had three forests that were more or less dangerous to the unwise, unwary, and unwelcome traveler.

Why willows? What is it about them that lends itself to playing this role in various stories?

Are there other types of trees that play similar roles to that played by the willows in the stories I've mentioned above?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Something to think about


"One of the great lessons of Zen is to take total responsibility for your own life. Unfortunately, many of us have been conditioned to believe, feel, and act as though the world owes us something. We complain that, as George Bernard Shaw put it, 'the world will not devote itself' to making us happy. Zen says, 'Why waste time and energy with regrets and whining? We have the gift of life and the opportunities of this moment.'

I once asked a Zen master for his philosophy of life. In reply, he said simply, 'I do not regret having been born.' For me, it was a moment of illumination. When we truly celebrate and do not regret our birth, we embrace the whole of our lives."

-- Laurence G. Boldt --
from Zen Soup

Of course, if we take responsibility for our lives, then we can't blame our parents, the government, society, the police, or some other group. We must take responsibility for our sins and failures as well as for our virtues and successes. I see many who attempt to shift responsibility for the evil they have done or for their failures on to their parents or society or anyone in the vicinity, but I've never heard anyone refuse responsibility for the good they have done or for their successes and shift the credit to their parents or society.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Alfred, Lord Tennyson: "Ulysses" (excerpts)

This is for those of us upon whom at times the years seem to settle down too heavily and discourage us from trying something new and perhaps arduous. These are some excerpts from Tennyson's "Ulysses."

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Matched with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel; I will drink
Life to the lees. . .

. . . . . . .

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
At tho' to breathe were life! Life piled upon life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
An this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

. . . . . .

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail;
There gloom the dark broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought with me,
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads--you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil.
Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;
The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It maybe we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)
from "Ulysses"

I hope some will find these excerpts sufficiently interesting to seek out the complete poem at

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Rubaiyat: Quatrain XXXIV

This quatrain has puzzled me, mainly because of the phrase "secret Well of Life" which appears in the first and second editions. However, it disappears by the fifth edition. Perhaps FitzGerald has learned that it puzzles other readers also.

First Edition: Quatrain XXXIV

Then to this earthen Bowl did I adjourn
My Lip the secret Well of Life to learn:
And Lip to Lip it murmur'd--"While you live
Drink!--for once dead you never shall return."

Second Edition: Quatrain XXXVIII

Then to the Lip of this poor earthen Urn
I lean'd, the secret Well of Life to learn:
And Lip to Lip it murmur'd--"While you live,
Drink!--for once dead you never shall return."

Fifth Edition: Quatrain XXXV

Then to the Lip of this poor earthen Urn
I lean'd, the Secret of my Life to learn:
And Lip to Lip it murmur'd--"While you live
Drink!--for once dead you never shall return."

The basic elements are the same in all three: (1) a bowl or urn (2) from which he expects to learn a secret, about life it appears, and (3) the secret--drink, for he "never shall return.' This, of course, is neither secret nor new. The poet has already expressed this several times in different ways in previous quatrains: "The Flower that once has blown forever dies" is just one example.

Several changes have occurred over the five editions. The earthen bowl of the first edition becomes the earthen Urn in the second and fifth editions. "Earthen" suggests dirt or clay, especially since it is pottery. In Genesis we are told that God made Adam out of clay-- and in the Christian funeral service we hear "dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return." That the Bowl or Urn speaks to him, lip to lip, hints, that possibly this clay bowl had once been part of a human being. The bowl or urn image appears again in the two following quatrains and again alludes to this possibility.

The "secret Well of Life" in the first two editions becomes "the Secret of my Life" by the fifth edition. According to my dictionary, a "well" could also be "a source to be drawn upon, as a well of information." That could refer to the "Well of Life," for he, therefore, would be trying to learn the secret source of life. However, in the fifth edition, he seems to have given up on learning the secret source of life and hopes only to learn the secret of his own life. Regardless of whether he seeks the source of life in general or just the secret of his own life, he gets the same answer--"While you live/Drink!--for once dead you never shall return."

The poet has now tried sages and saints, the heavens, and now the earth, but never gets the answer he wants; it's either a blind understanding, if any understanding at all, or eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow comes death, and no return.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Loren Eiseley: "Another Kind of Autumn," a poem

I was surprised when I discovered that Loren Eiseley was a poet, as well as an essayist. However, the style of his prose writings should have told me. Here is one, an autumn poem.

Another Kind of Autumn

The petrified branch with the harsh look whose mineralized
splinters are needle sharp
was living a hundred million years ago,
bent to invisible wind, put out leaves on the mountain.
the mountain is gone and this fragment
lies on my desk imperishable and waits for me in turn
to be gone.
Living once it has taken to minerals for survival.
This hand that writes
stiffens, but has no such powers, no crystalline absorption
to hold a pen through eons while slow thought gutters
from lichen-green boulders and fallen pinnacles.
Ink will congeal and perish, the pen rust into its elements,
the thought here, the realization of time, perish
with the dissolving brain. It appears the universe
likes the seams of the coal, the lost leaf imprinted in shale,
the insect in amber, but thought it gives to the wind
like the season's leaf fall. Where is the wind that shaped
this branch?
It perhaps still moves in the air, but the branch has fallen.
Its unfamiliar leaves are now part of my body
and I let the pen drop with my hand, thinking
this is another kind of autumn to be expected.
Leaves and thought are scarcely returnable. The wind
loses them
or one remains in the shale like an unread hieroglyph
once meaningful in clay.
-- Loren Eiseley --
the title poem from Another Kind of Autumn

We too often think that our intellectual powers and consciousness make us creation's finest achievement, but, even if true, it's a short-lived reign at best. I doubt that even our most magnificent architectural structures or our most imposing intellectual compositions will last as long as that petrified branch.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker, 30th Anniversary

Russell Hoban is one of my favorite authors, and Riddley Walker, his post holocaust novel, is one of my favorite works. I've read it several times and will read it again. This is the 30th anniversary of its creation.

Part of its attraction is the story and part comes from his language. It's based on the idea that after the catastrophe, no one is quite sure now what happened, England would revert to being, once again, an oral culture. Only a few would be able to read and write. During the following five hundred years, the language, without the benefit of English teachers, would change. The novel is Hoban's guess as to what English might look like five centuries after the catastrophe.

This is not a book for readers who like transparency in their reading material; one must work a bit to figure out what is written. Reading it aloud helps.

Opening lines for Chapter One. It's a first person narrative and Riddley is speaking:

"On my naming day when I come 12 I gone front spear and kilt a wyld boar he parbly ben the las wyld pig on the Bundel Downs any how there hadnt ben none for a long time befor him nor I aint looking to see none agen. He dint make the groun shake nor nothing like that when he come on to my spear he weren't all that big plus he lookit poorily. He done the reqwyrt he ternt and stood and clattert his teef and make his rush and there we wer then. Him on 1 end of the spear kicking his life out and me on the other end watching him dy. I said, 'Your tern now my tern later. . ."

Opening lines for Chapter Two: Riddley introduces himself:

"Walker is my name and I am the same. Riddley Walker. Walking my riddels where ever theyve took me and walking them now on this paper the same."


Walker is my name
and I am the same.
Riddley Walker.
Walking my riddels
where ever theyve took me
and walking them now
on this paper the same.

Since England is now an oral society, poetry has become extremely important for rhyme and meter aid the memory. Here's a working song, one used to coordinate the efforts of a work crew:

Gone ter morrer here to day
Pick it up and walk a way
Dont you know greaf and woe
Pick it up its time to go
Greaf and woe dont you know
Pick it up its time to go

London Town is drownt this day
Hear me say walk a way
Sling your bundel tern and go
Parments in the mud you know
Greaf and woe dont you know
Pick it up its time to go

Traveling shows provide entertainment, and they also convey what might be the history of these people. One of these entertainments is called "The Eusa Story." It's long, so I'll only give the first two paragraphs. In the book, they are in given in paragraph form, but I find them easier to read if I see them in a rough verse form:

"1. When Mr Clevver wuz Big Man uv Inland
they had evere thing clevver.
Thay had boats in the ayr &
picters on the win &
evere thing lyk that.
Eusa wuz a noing man vere qwik
he cud tern his han to enne thing.
He wuz werkin for Mr Clevver
wen thayr cum enemes aul roun
& maykin Warr. Eusa sed to Mr Clevver,
Now wewl nead masheans uv Warr.
Wewl nead boats that go on the water &
boats that go in the ayr &
wewl nead Berstin Fyr.

2. Mr Clevver sed tu Eusa,
Thayr ar tu menne agenst us this tym
we mus du betteren that.
We keap fytin aul thees Warrs
wy doan we jus du 1 Big 1.
Eusa sed, Wayr du I fyn that No.?
Wayr du I fyn that 1 Big 1? Mr Clevver sed,
Yu mus fyn the Littl Shynin Man
the Addom he runs in the wud."

As you may guessed, the quotations are giving my spell checker fits.

There is now an expanded edition, published by Indiana University Press, that includes an Afterword, Notes, and Glossary.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Quotation

Nature attains perfection, but man never does. There is a perfect ant, a perfect bee, but man is perpetually unfinished. He is both an unfinished animal and an unfinished man. It is this incurable unfinishedness which sets man apart from other living things. For, in the attempt to finish himself, man becomes a creator. Moreover, the incurable unfinishedness keeps man perpetually immature, perpetually capable of learning and growing.

Eric Hoffer
from Reflection on the Human Condition

Interesting thought--but I wonder if nature does attain perfection. Does he mean that ants and bees are perfect or have stopped changing and have achieved the maximum development possible for them?

Are we incurably unfinished and therefore perpetually immature?

I wonder how this makes us creators, or some of us anyway.

What would happen if we did finally achieve the finished state, whatever that may be?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Natural City: an SF film from Korea

A Korean SF film--

That was what intrigued me most about this film when I first read about it. I don't think I have ever watched a Korean film before, and I'm positive that I haven't seen an SF film from Korea. I didn't bother reading the rest of the description and simply placed it in my Netflix queue.

When Natural City arrived, I again didn't bother reading the brief paragraph about it and loaded it into my DVD player. It was a bit confusing at first; part of the problem was adjusting to simultaneously reading the subtitles and following the action . However, some of the opening scenes began to make sense after I had watched a bit more of the film. It was then that I started to notice some rather familiar themes, which surprised me. If I had read the brief description, I would not have been as surprised as I was.

The setting is the future, 2080 to be exact, just after a devastating war. The action takes place in a futuristic city, set side by side with the ruins of a city destroyed in the war. We first encounter Cyon, a young woman who lives in the ruins along with numerous other outcasts who either can't live in the city or have fled it. She lives by her wits--a thief at times, a prostitute at times, and a fortune teller most of the time.

We also encounter the lovers, one of whom is a member of the MPs, which apparently stands for Military Police. The woman, Rea, is a dancer, a cyborg created to be a superb dancer, far superior to anything humans can do. Cyborgs are created humans, who resemble "born" humans so closely that one can't tell the difference.

Warning: I discuss a number of significant plot elements and issues. However, I do not reveal the ending.

The first action scene provided some wake-up clues: a group of cyborgs led by a combat cyborg attacks the medical center and have to be driven off by the MPs, led by an officer called Noma. A member of his unit is his closest friend, "R," who happens to be the MP who is in love with the cyborg dancer. The cyborgs, while in control of the medical center, do a complete scan of the DNA records for the human citizens of the area.

The humans are not certain as to why the cyborgs wanted this information, for it didn't seem to have anything to do with what they knew about Cyper, the combat cyborg who is the leader of the cyborg group. Cyper's actions have always been connected with the cyborgs' termination date. While the cyborgs are physically superior to the humans, they are cursed with the knowledge that they have been created with a limited life span. Cyper's past actions had concentrated on finding ways to extend his termination date.

R's cyborg lover carries a small device, about the size of a cell phone, around with her that she occasionally places against her skin. She then hears a voice that tells her that she has only three days, __ hours, __ minutes, and 15 seconds left--14 seconds--13 seconds--12 seconds . . . before her termination date.

Cyborgs indistinguishable from humans? Cyborgs physically superior to humans? Cyborgs with a termination date? A combat cyborg struggling to find a way to cancel or somehow get around this termination date?

And talking billboards soaring high above pedestrians in the city streets extolling the beauties of a vacation on a paradisaical planet?

And several scenes that take place in a noodle shop in a mall, but in the background one can see the crowds pass by?

Blade Runner?

Imagine Rick Deckard split into two characters: Noma (no man?), an officer focused solely on his job; and R (strange name--he's the only one with just a letter for a name--R--Rick?) who is in love with a cyborg and finds that it interferes with his job with the MPs. Ironically, he and Cyper, the combat cyborg, have the same problem--the cyborg termination date. The conflict between Noma and R regarding R's lack of focus on his job caused by his distress over Rea's coming termination could be seen as coming from Deckard's own ambivalence regarding his job of terminating replicants and his affection for Rachel, a replicant. Rachel and Rea--the cyborg love interest in the two films.

A solution has been found--neuronal transfer. A classic mad scientist has created a way of transferring the consciousness of one being to another. In this way, the cyborgs, or anyone else I gather, could have immortality by just transferring their consciousness to a younger and healthier human.

There is a catch though--the two involved in the transfer must have similar DNA. This is where the young woman in the opening scenes, Cyon, becomes important. She alone has DNA similar to the cyborgs. Once this is discovered, then both Cyper and R search for Cyon. R's dream is to transfer Rea's consciousness into the body of Cyon and then escape to the paradisaical vacation planet.

Three battle scenes split the film into thirds--one at the beginning, one roughly in the middle, and one at the end, naturally. The humans, physically outclassed by the cyborgs, rely on firepower. The cyborgs focus on attacking the humans with superior martial arts techniques. Unfortunately for the humans, the cyborgs can be stopped only by a direct hit to the head, which is almost impossible given the cyborgs' superior agility and strength. The battle scenes are quite impressive.

The only problems I have with the film are the subtitles, of course, and some plot problems. But, it is possible that the plot problems are the result of being distracted by the subtitles. For example, at one point in the film, I thought that Cyon had been captured by the cyborgs, but in the next scene she is free, back in the ruins where she lives. Another viewing might resolve this problem.

I want to be sure that all understand that I do not see Natural City as a remake of Blade Runner. Byung-chun Min, who is both director and screenwriter, has taken a number of elements from Blade Runner and constructed a different film with them.

Overall Reaction: A very interesting, intriguing, and entertaining homage to Blade Runner. Recommended for those interested in SF films, especially foreign SF films, for Blade Runner aficionados curious about a different interpretation of some common themes, and for those looking for something unique.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

Nietzsche on Deities.

For the highest images in every religion there is an analogue in a state of the soul. The God of Mohammed--the solitude of the desert, the distant roar of a lion, the vision of a terrible fighter. The God of the Christians--everything that men and women associate with the word "love." The God of the Greeks--a beautiful dream image.

from The Portable Nietzsche (p. 49)

What do you think? Is he right on or way off, or somewhere in between?