Friday, December 31, 2010

A Review of Reviewers

I’ve learned the hard way that most critics don’t really like most other critics, and nowhere is this more evident than in their reviews of The Pillow Book. The Pillow Book is either a beautiful celebration of traditional cultures, a dark yet strangely touching erotic story, and one of the best films of the 1990s; or else it’s the cancer that is killing film and doesn’t even rise to the level of fetishistic pornography. There is no middle ground, and if you think there is, you must be one of THEM. Or a critic from the Christian Science Monitor. One or the other.
            As with so much else, the drama over The Pillow Book was originally, in essence, Roger Ebert versus Everyone Else in the World. Ebert, a Japonophile who frequently gets the ‘one of us!’ treatment from anime geeks, really loved it, saying that it was a film for the ages and a dark, beautiful exploration of certain aspects of Japanese culture (including, yes, some of the more hentai aspects of said culture) from an original perspective that wasn’t really British but wasn’t really anything else. Everyone else in the world probably left the theatre thinking ‘what the fuck did I just see?’ Unless they were watching Batman and Robin instead, in which case they still left the theatre thinking ‘what the fuck did I just see?’, just for different reasons.
            But Ebert was right about North; that movie really did suck and really was beneath Rob Reiner’s true abilities! So maybe he was right about this! Right? Right?
            TIME’s Richard Corliss thought so, and like Ebert he could find almost nothing bad to say about The Pillow Book. Many other critics did not agree.
            The strange thing is, it really didn’t start out as a controversy. Film critics disagree on movies a lot, actually, especially if one of them is Ebert (or the late Gene Siskel, who actually liked The Pillow Book as well). It was only when the Internet became a more end-user-oriented place and when Japanese things started to become one of the Internet’s specialities that people who hated this movie started hating it TEN TIMES MORE, in one instance saying:

If your idea of a good movie is watching Ewan McGregor walking around naked with his uncut equipment flopping around going from sex with one fat old asian man to another then yeah you’ll love this movie and you can hide behind the same critiques about the films mis en scene that these other critics are blowing hot air about. Otherwise forget it. This film is both boring and disturbing and not in a cool way either. There are some colorful visuals with the beautiful young starlet and her fetish for writing Mandarin on bodies but it doesn’t save the film. How are we supposed to take him seriously as Obi Wan after seeing this?’

First of all, I don’t think that the fact that Ewan McGregor is uncircumcised is really relevant to the quality or lack thereof of any movie that he is in, from Trainspotting to The Island. But that could just be what is apparently (according to my ‘friends’) my ‘Victorian antisexualism’ talking. Second of all, I actually like Mr McGregor as an actor, but how were we supposed to take him seriously as Obi-Wan after finding out that he wasn’t Sir Alec Guinness? Third of all, he only has sex with one fat old Asian man. Fourth of all, Mandarin is a language, not a script. The script in question is kanji, and the characters use it to write Japanese, not Chinese. Fifth of all, there are many legitimate criticisms to be made of The Pillow Book; the mis en scene is not among them. Paul Greenaway, who made this movie, is actually a visual rather than a literary artist, and it shows. These are the film’s strengths, not its weaknesses. It’s like faulting Simoun for the accordion music. Sixth and last of all, it wasn’t this review, but one of these same Amazon reviewers also claimed that Steerpike is the ‘good guy’ of Gormenghast.
            I’ll just…let that one hang itself.
            This is not to say that people who like The Pillow Book can’t be equally ridiculous, because they can. Oh, they so can. I’ve seen people say ‘it just wasn’t my thing’ and get called stupid philistines who should shoot themselves to remove themselves from the gene pool! One wouldn’t think this sort of a movie would inspire such fanatical loyalty, but people get worked up about a lot of strange things. And this one is just…NO:

‘If you love to stare at nude luscious men, this is the VIDEO! I enjoyed it for hours! All the other reviews were right, this video is GREAT. The quivering male organs...the gleam of light on supple hairless skin...the curves of each exquisite’s ART in its purest form. If you love to examine the nude male, and marvel at its beauty, this is a GREAT video for you!’

            There really is a shocking lack of research in these reviews. The original Pillow Book (the work of literature, that is) is described as an ‘erotic novel’. Which it is not. Really is not. It’s a book of lists, basically. And one person claims that Sei Shōnagon lived in the eighth century, which she didn’t.

Let me lay it out: The Pillow Book is a very specific sort of thing. If you feel that you will enjoy, be aroused by, be shocked by, be moved by, or otherwise derive benefit from a dark love story about the publishing industry in which Ewan McGregor and Vivian Wu copy the works of Sei Shōnagon on to each other’s bodies, good. You’ll like this movie. If that does not strike you as in any way appealing, don’t watch it in the first place, and if you are somehow forced to, don’t say I didn’t warn you. Just bear in mind that there is, in fact, more to the movie than McGregor walking around naked. There is also Wu walking around naked. And other people walking around naked. And, more seriously, tenth-century literary studies. And a love story. And a revenge story. And as for the most original thing about the movie—the calligraphy sessions—I actually quite enjoyed them. The actors involved (at least until we get to the sumo guy in the climax) are mostly fairly attractive, especially Wu. The calligraphy is beautiful, the literature is classic, the revenge plot is ingenious; I don’t myself understand what’s not to like. If you still think it’s pretentious, pornographic, or both, or that Ewan McGregor is metaphorically raping Sei Shōnagon from beyond the grave, that’s your right. Just don’t expect Heian diehards, or people with language fetishes, or people like me who fall into both categories, to agree with you. After all, we don’t expect you to agree with us.
            Besides, how often is a dramatic movie seriously commended for ‘interesting use of nudity’, anyway?

Writing Project: Part IV of God-Knows-How-Many

The Nish’s Story


‘All right,’ said Schlomo, ‘let us try it again.’
            ‘What have we learned from this?’ asked Cosgrove.
            ‘I learned that what we’re being shown isn’t necessarily accurate,’ said the Nish. ‘—Or that it’s misleading, anyway.’
            ‘Is it possible that…’ Cosgrove gulped. ‘Forgive me, please, for saying this, I know you really like her, but is it possible that you misjudged Hildy Wildermann’s personality?’

Friday, December 24, 2010

'This is where I am' into 'Que si el cangrejo se muere todo en su totalidad...'

A serious and good work of philosophy, focusing on philosophy of the values of acts (otherwise known by the somewhat more imprecise terms of normative and applied ethics) and the 'philosophy of the immortality of the crab' (i.e. the philosophy of the violent cognition that overpowers thinking in times of critical faith or desire), could be written entirely, or almost entirely, on the subject of Yun.


Monday, December 20, 2010

Discriminatory Federal Law-chic

Just right now, while browsing through news stories about the repeal of Don't Ask-Don't Tell, I found this one. I'm not sure why it was in the news section but it is. Here's a quote.

And now, we can take the idea of “don’t ask, don’t tell” a little less seriously. After all, there are plenty of things we think actually deserve being put into this category. Liiiike telling us about how wasted you got last night. Or the terrible sex you had with somebody else’s boyfriend. And especially talking about the explosive diarrhea you had this morning after breakfast. So, tell us: what’s on your personal “don’t ask, don’t tell” list? 


...okay, let's try this again.

And now, we can take the idea of “separate but equal” a little less seriously. After all, there are plenty of things we think actually deserve being put into this category. Liiiike separating us how wasted you got last night. Or how the terrible sex you had with somebody else’s boyfriend is equal to the dissipation of your life in general. And especially [I can't spin the gratuitously disgusting third example]. So, tell us: what’s on your personal “separate but equal” list? 
 Or this:
And now, we can take the idea of “enfeofed working for all” a little less seriously. After all, there are plenty of things we think actually deserve being put into this category. Liiiike...

You know what? I'm not going to go on with this. There's taking something "a little less seriously" and then there's disrespecting what it really is in every way, shape, and form. No. Please, no. 

Friday, December 17, 2010

In defence of Christmas.

For all the talk about Santa/Father Christmas as a harbinger of a total commercialisation of Christmas, I'd like to actually take some time to talk about what I think this figure means. I think that Santa fills an important role in the Feast of the Nativity in that he is in effect the tutelary deity or prime spirit involved in what amounts to a sacramentalisation of childhood, the same childhood that is seen and worshipped in the infant Christ.

When a parent reads a letter that a child has written to Santa and answers it with gifts, that parent is, in that moment, Santa Claus, in the sense that Santa becomes a role that the parent plays in a mystery play of the child's devising and for the child's benefit. In this role the parent absorbs the mythos of a benefactor and a comforter, whose operation in the enjoyment of the holiday is in effect a translation into material terms of the operation of the Holy Ghost in the enjoyment of spiritual graces. To a large extent the scruples and dedication of the parent are measured, by the child, in a subconscious examination of how this role is filled. The parent in effect becomes a household god, balancing this role with his or her role in the quotidian family unit and thus attaining a sort of priesthood, a position between Earth and Heaven in other times of the year reserved for more formalised religious functionalities.

It's only later that the child's evolving understanding of the spirit of giving and of the nature of parenthood allows for the roles that the parent plays to be collapsed into a more earthly understanding of generosity and the giving of gifts as operations that occur within and lend beauty to the everyday world. In this part of the system the role of Santa goes into abeyance as the child and the parent (and other gift-givers) enter into a more one-on-one relationship of exchange.

Later on, if the child becomes a parent or even just has children in his or her life as an adult, he or she likewise will come into the Santa role, having prepared the child or children for the nature of the mythos as an inheritance from the generation before.

This is not to say the system is not commercialised or filled with shit, because it is, by advertisers among others. But at its heart, the role of Santa in Christmas is a very strong and very real signifier of the transmission of the ideas and experiences of childhood, and as such is certainly relevant to the celebration of the Nativity and God-as-Child.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Speaking of which.

About six weeks ago, I tried to read Hana monogatari, by Yoshiya Nobuko, for as long as I could before completely getting lost--in, yes, the original Japanese. The first couple of sentences were easy enough: It's an evening in early summer, and seven girls are meeting at this Western-style mansion to trade stories. As you do. It's proto-shoujo. But then, a few characters into the third sentence, I completely lost all sense of what was going on. All I knew was that it had to do with one of something saying something about pupils.

This morning, I tried it again. I still wasn't able to read whole sentences past the second one, mainly because of unfamiliar kanji, but I had a much clearer handle on what was going on. One of the girls tells a story about her time at a mission school someplace. Her father does or did something in the florist or possibly gardening business and her mother does or did something with this school. So the girl and her mother came to know this lady who played piano at the mission. I'm not sure why the fact that it's a mission school is relevant, but if I had to guess I'd say that it's because that way it's easy to make the piano player a beautiful blonde European lady.

So we follow the exploits of this girl as she watches the piano player play piano for the balance of the first page. At the end of the page, there's something about returning to some town somewhere, and then I completely lose track of what Yoshiya is talking about.

But still! Two sentences to one page! Progress, am I right?

Monday, December 13, 2010

My goal for the winter break.

Find one promising-looking story in Hana monogatari and translate the shit out of it, by any means necessary.

I'll have almost a month, a low-intermediate command of written Japanese, access to the Burlington County Library (with its kanji dictionaries), possibly the first two seasons of Maria-sama ga Miteru, and I'll be wearing fuzzy sweaters and eating comfort food.

If I can't pull this off then I have no business in this scholarship.

Nathan's Journey

The ground is not slippery; therefore it is.

So this morning, I went to church.

This was a usual undertaking unusually performed, in several senses. First, I did it earlier than I normally do, specifically at eight o' clock am. This was practical necessity, my usual schedule being a casualty of the impending finals. Since I stayed up all night last night (and am indeed going to bed after I post this, only to awaken for food and friends in the mid-to-late evening), my feeling was that my normal approach--go to the ten-thirty service, stay for tea and chitchat afterwards--was useless here. And indeed, right now I'd certainly be too tired to go, going by my current feeling. And I had tea.

Unfortunately, as superficially good an idea as this was, there were two problems with it. First, I live a little over a mile from my church. Getting there entails passing the Baptist church, the woodcutter with the dog who lives near the Baptist church, the Korean community centre, Kendrick Park, the high-end clothing store with worryingly sexless underwear models in the windows, the workers'-run socialist book collective, the Bank of America, and about half of the green. So usually I take the bus.

The Sunday buses don't start until ten. The service was at eight. I finished getting dressed at seven-forty-nine.

The second problem, which compounded the first, was one of the weather. Those of you who don't live in Massachusetts may not be aware of the phenomenon of freezing rain. This differs from frozEN rain (hail) in that it falls in perfectly normal, if cold, liquid form and hits the ground and splashes like any other rain. But then, because the ground is colder than the air in these conditions, it freezes, which results in a thin patina of ice that covers basically all open land area, often invisibly and thus dangerously. I had to walk through this for a mile in fancy shoes if I was to go to church. And I'm a good little Episcopalian (for whatever that's worth), so not going to church during Advent was NOT an option that I was willing to entertain.

So I embarked.

Upon reaching the home of the woodcutter with the dog who lives near the Baptist church, I found the first significant patch of mud of my journey. Mud was good because it is relatively immune to the slippy slidey ice world treatment but bad because it got on the fancy shoes. Also the woodcutter's dog doesn't like me and started woofing and wouldn't stop until I had passed.

Upon reaching Kendrick Park I gave some change to a bum so he could catch a bus to Northampton in two hours' time. I'm still scratching my head on that one, but he was obviously sober and he needed it more than I did.

Upon reaching the workers'-run socialist book collective, I encountered an enormous patch of ice that was impassible except for literally skating across it. The good news is that this cleaned the fancy shoes pretty well. The bad news is that I fell down two times.

Finally, I got to church and took my seat, already halfway through the Nicene Creed. I joined in somewhere around 'was crucified, dead, and buried'. It was at this time that I realised that I had the profound need to record my morning for posterity, for the good of the Church and the World.

Prepare the way, O Zion! Your actual snow is drawing near.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The things I put up with for this degree.

Below is the actual text that I memorized the general contents of for my Japanese speaking test tomorrow, including a translation (by me, no less!) so that the rest of you can bask in its magnificence:

Speaking test 2

 日本人のよう子さんは アメリカのホストファミリーに てがみをかきました。
Japanese person Youko wrote a letter to her American host family.
こんにちは。私のなまえは よう子です。
Hello. My name is Youko.
日本人です。らい年のなつ、アメリカに べんきょうしに行きます。
I am Japanese. Next summer, I will go to America to study.
私は 今 大学一年生で、アメリカ文学を べんきょうして います。
I am now a college freshman, and am studying American literature.
 私は せが あまり高くなくて、やせています。
I am somewhat tall, and thin.
それから、とても元気で、 やさしいです。
Also, I am very lively and kind.
私のかぞくは 父と母とあにです。
My family has a father, mother, and older brother.
父も、母も、あにも、アメリカが すきです。
My father, mother, and older brother all like America.
あには えい語が じょうずです。
My older brother speaks English well.
私は えい語が へたですが、えい語のべんきょうが すきです。
I do not speak English well, but I enjoy studying it.
アメリカで たくさん えい語をべんきょうします!
In America I will study English a lot!
私は りょうりするのが じょうずですから、
Because I am good at cooking,
ときどき 日本りょうりを つくりましょうか。
Id like to know if we could make Japanese food sometimes.
アメリカ人は すしが すきだと思いますから、すしを 食べましょう。
Because I think Americans like sushi, lets eat sushi.
Also, my friends said that Americans are fat.
Is this true?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Hi, I'm from the Family Research Council, and our Research indicates that your Family is evil.

Currently involved in America's politics are two outfits called the National Organization for Marriage and the Family Research Council. It would be natural to assume that these groups would have fairly broad bases of support for ideals relating to marriages and families. It would be natural, but it would be wrong, because of how these people's support for 'marriage' and 'family' is calibrated.

Here is a hint: Their support for such things is almost always based on their support for their marriages and their families. This is perfectly natural and even admirable, since it shows that they are to at least some extent grounded in a reality that they can perceive rather than high-flown ideologies alone. It only becomes problematic when you realise why these people like their own marriages and families.

They love their spouses and families, essentially, for the same reason that one might love a myna bird.

As long as Maggie Gallagher's marriage continues to be heterosexual and as long as Tony Perkins's family continues to be whitebread, they'll support them, and hence 'marriage' and 'family' in general, because they define marriage and family in terms of their own experience without any caring for what other people's marriages or other people's families might be like. But the second one thing goes awry--the second Maggie Gallagher interacts with a married couple who are the same sex, or of different ideologies or backgrounds, or in any other way noticeably different from her own--the mask collapses. And if Tony Perkins was suddenly in a world in which one of his children was gay, or had leftist sympathies, or was forced to drop out of high school to have her rapist's baby, then I don't doubt that he'd turn on them and everything they cared about, like Alan Keyes did with his lesbian daughter. I have seen this happen with very conservative families again and again, and in my view one of the saving graces of very conservative families, the way that you can tell that the members of a particular very conservative family really love each other, are a real family, and mean serious business with their love, is them not doing this if the situation arises. (This is, for instance, the one thing that, if anything will, could possibly lead Dick Cheney to redemption.)

I don't mean to sound alarmist or over-the-top. I genuinely think that this is how venal, self-serving, hypocritcal, and bigoted these people's reasons for supporting 'marriage' and 'family' as concepts are. I know that they outright oppose gay people's marriages and gay people's families and hate their members and want them to go away and be miserable and die. I don't doubt that many of them have similar feelings on interracial marriages--after all, one of the only interracial couples in the Bible was also lesbian--or extended families--giving a shit about anybody whose relation to you can't be easily explained with 'I had sex with X' is DANGEROUSLY CLOSE TO COMMUNISM, obviously--or anything else that forces them to remember that 'marriage' and 'family' aren't concepts that their marriages and their families have a global fucking monopoly over, that people who aren't like them exist, that other types of love exist, and that they have to share the world with other living things that have loved ones and human relationships just like they do.

It's worse than bigotry. It's a desire for outright and absolute control over what constitutes marriage, what constitutes family, and, in the end, what constitutes love.

Please, for all that's good and holy, with the love of your marriage (if you have one) and your family (we all have our family, whatever that may be), resist them. Resist them, for the good of America, and for the good of love.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Verses on Reading Koshoku Godai Onna

Ihara’s lovers
Coming so oft to bad ends
Love falling like rain.

Gengobei’s woman
Pressing, clambering, climbing
For her happy end.

Osaka’s houses
Were pleasure-quarters then—hear
The songs of those days.

Lovers’ tears falling
Like innumerable scales
From a shaved herring.

Ted de Bary’s words
Enhancing intertextual
Pleasure in reading.

Gold and sex and death
Blossoms falling—in the sea
Dorados flashing.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Shadows of Yearning

Shadows of Yearning
An Oratorio

Kings of the Earth

CHORUS:      Hear the word of the Lord Incarnate
                        Made a man in Palestine;
                        Read in letters of gold and silver
                        Across the land from hill to brine
                        The Gospel of the distant saudade
                        Eternal on the lily-shore
                        Hear the words that shook the Temple
                        And its veil asunder tore:

Friday, November 19, 2010

Book Impressions: Kokoro

Kokoro, by Natsume Soseki, is not an easy book to read.
The basic plot of the book is as follows: young man meets middle-aged man, strikes up a pedagogical friendship. Realises that the older man is deeply depressed; asks his wife; she doesn't know why. Goes home, acts like a jerk to his dying father. Gets a letter from the 'sensei'; reads it; realises why he's depressed; helplessly waits for his train to get to Tokyo so he can deal with the aftermath of Sensei's suicide.
Sensei killed himself out of guilt for causing the death of another friend through his selfish and callous behaviour (which did not, of course, in the end lead to his own happiness at all), and he chose the time to coincide with the end of the historical era that his generation defined itself in relation to. The traditions he cannot escape fail him. The modernity that he tries to escape into fails him. Family is fatally compromised by his secret guilt. Faith brings back horrible memories associated with that guilt. This is a book about deracination: it seems lovely if you just look at the word qua word ('de-race'-ing the world, right? Or something like that?--but); no. It's just the word in the study of history and culture for what Marx called alienation.
There are, by my count, exactly two hope spots in this entire book. One is the narrator's family, which is hopeful in that it maintains a traditionally meaningful existence out in the boonies (though the narrator disparages this and considers himself, a bit superciliously, 'of Tokyo'). The other is Shizu, Sensei's wife, who is a competent, intelligent, sensitive modern person. The people caught up in the flowing change from 'non-modern' to 'modern', from periphery to metropole, are the ones whose lives are broken against history in this book--and that is indeed the main theme of the book. As Meiji passes into Taisho, the characters realise that they have to scrap the idea of progressive modernisation for something different. The optimism of the Taisho Democracy takes hold, but it wrenches out the heart first; Dai-Nihon becomes Japan, but the wars have to be fought again. Kokoro is the greatest fictional chronicle of the history of the human feelings that dashed against, and broke, the dreams that justified modernity; it is the tragic epilogue to the story that something like Rurouni Kenshin or Yojimbo purported to begin. It tells of the melancholy that overtakes you when you have modernised and have to figure out what to do with yourself as a nation once modern; the sins that are bred into the bone of people living in interesting times; yet the fundamental loneliness that sets in during a time with no change or driving purpose. Progress is a mad dance that breaks the dancers to mourning pieces, yet tradition is nightmarish in its lack of beginnings or ends.
The only hope comes from individual persons living together as communities of people who actually care and are honest. It's not a magic formula of marriage or family or nation or progress. It's a marriage with care and integrity; a family with care and integrity; a nation with spirit and vigour; progress into spirit and vigour.
Sensei's broken heart and waves of crushing guilt and melancholy say: Good luck.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Writing Project, Part III of God-knows-how-many.

Spooky Stuff
[Pre-Day 7—Day 10]

My Lords,
Murder is widely thought to be the gravest of crimes. One could expect a developed system to embody a law of murder clear enough to yield an unequivocal result on a given set of facts, a result which conforms with apparent justice and has a sound intellectual base. This is not so in England, where the law of homicide is permeated by anomaly, fiction, misnomer, and obsolete reasoning. One conspicuous anomaly is the rule which identifies the ‘malice aforethought’ (a doubly misleading expression) required for the crime of murder not only with a conscious intention to kill but also with an intention to cause grievous bodily harm. It is, therefore, possible to commit a murder not only without wishing the death of the victim but without the least thought that this might be the result of the assault. Many would doubt the justice of this rule, which is not the popular conception of murder and (as I shall suggest) no longer rests on any intellectual foundation. The law of Scotland does very well without it, and England could perhaps do the same. It would, however, be fruitless to debate this here, since the rule has been established beyond doubt by R. v. Cunningham [1982] A.C. 566. This rule, which I will call the ‘grievous harm’ rule, is the starting point of the present appeal. –Opinions of the Lords in Appeal for Judgment in the Cause: Attorney-General’s Reference №3 of 1994

Fatima’s Story


It began, as such things so typically do, with decolonisation.
            The end of the Fourth French Republic came in 1958, due to the perceived failings of the parliamentary system and ongoing mismanagement of the civil war (France’s position) or independence war (the position of the groups native to the area in question) in Algeria. After the newly-installed Prime Minister of France, Pierre Pfimlin, implied that he would try to negotiate with Algerian nationalists, the French generals in Algeria refused to recognise his Government. They took control of Algiers and threatened to conduct a parachute assault on Corsica and Metropolitan France unless retired General Charles de Gaulle was placed in charge of the country.
            René Coty, the President at the time, was in no position to point out that this was not how parliamentary democracy worked, chiefly because the anthropologist, technocrat, and all-around public intellectual Jacques Soustelle was by now essentially holding Paris hostage with a ragtag army of common men, dissident military officers, conservative thinkers (such as himself), and quasi-retired colonial officials. De Gaulle indicated that he would be willing to assume emergency powers, laughing off fears that he would dismantle civil liberties by saying ‘Have I ever done that? Quite the opposite, I have re-established them when they had disappeared. Who honestly believes that, at age sixty-seven, I would start a career as a dictator?’
            The people in Algeria took Corsica in a bloodless military action, de Gaulle orchestrated a referendum on changing France’s system of government from parliamentary to semi-presidential, and the Fifth Republic was born. All French colonies (Algeria was considered a département, not a colony) were given a choice between immediate independence and accepting the new Constitution. All colonies except Guinea chose to remain affiliated with the Fifth Republic. They gained independence two years later in a different circumstance.
            Djibouti at this time was the Territory of Afars and Issas and held the somewhat vaguely-defined status of ‘Territoire français d’outre-mer’. This meant that France could do pretty much whatever it liked with the area, including instituting a citizenship law that favoured Afars for unclear reasons (this was in large part why the Issas were so keen to seize as much power for themselves as they possibly could after independence). Even after de Gaulle changed policy on Algeria and granted its independence in 1962, France kept a death-grip on this tiny part of Africa because of its strategic location on major shipping routes. It took another fifteen years for the French to quit Afars and Issas.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A comment from

'There are alot of problems with the Dream Act.

1, 35 age limit too old.
2, It is ongoing - never ending.
3. Once these illegal aliens get to be citizens they will be busy sponsoring their illegal families into the country. So the number involved in the amnesty is a lot more than just the one student - you all are forgetting about their families members,

illegal families




I'm sorry. This person has just lost the right to hold forth on any issue of rights or dignities ever again.

I mean really.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Like Heidegger...but RIGHT!!!





Monday, October 25, 2010

Red Leaf Travelling Blues

Red Leaf Travelling Blues
By Nathan Turowsky

Allowed by the conductor to get on the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority bus despite not having enough money and being at the very edge of the PVTA service area at best, they settled down into two isolated seats at the very back, their heads resting against the cold metal behind them as they listened to the power train’s almost maternal hum. They went through the fields south of Bernardston and down the old streets of Greenfield. Past there, they crossed the big river at Turners Falls, where it fell over the power-dam in triple cataracts. South of Sunderland they got off and looked down past Amherst to the distant humps of the Holyoke Range. The hills north of the Quabbin were blazing with foliage to the east beneath the morning sun.
            ‘So what’s new with you?’ asked one of them casually, clapping her hand down on her friend’s shoulder.
            Her friend cleared her throat and said ‘Not much. Not much.’
            ‘Oh, come on. I haven’t seen you in quite a while, you know, Mattie.’
            Mattie nodded and blushed and looked shyly down at her girly little black shoes. ‘Well…’ she said, and seized up. She looked up a little—only a little. Ellie was short enough that Mattie needed only to change her gaze a tick upwards for her face to come into the top edge of her vision. It was a pretty face, firmly round with heavily-lidded grey eyes and unevenly cut auburn hair falling down to either side. Ellie had a big forehead, which years ago she had self-consciously covered with bangs. She didn’t do this any more. She looked better with the forehead visible, Mattie thought.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Facts about Revolutionary Girl Utena.

David Lynch Ikuhara Kunihiko, the anime director, was also the leader and main creator of the Utena project, which was his personal response to the lack of creative freedom he had endured while working on Sailor Moon. Utena was his brainchild and had been from the beginning.

The manga artist, Danielle Steel Saito Chiho, joined the project as one of the last members to come aboard, and she and Ikuhara clashed on a lot of the elements he had always intended to include, including the lesbian themes. Ultimately, she did what she wanted with the manga, which by her own admission sought to be a more commercially viable, mainstream work.

The manga is basically alternate universe derivative fiction of the anime, which is the original creator, Ikuhara's, vision.

So if anybody uses Saito's manga to justify theories about Ikuhara's anime, they are DOING IT WRONG.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Importance of Being Russian-American.

My mother grew up in a conservative Italian and Polish Catholic enclave in Springfield, Massachusetts in the 1960s and by her account barely came out with her sanity intact. She did like many aspects of these cultures, as do I, but right now I’d like to talk a little about why she grew up in that milieu. It would, one might think, have been equally reasonable for her to have been raised Russian-American—especially since her parents had married in the 1930s and had their early batch of children, not including her, around Double-ya Double-ya Two.

Now this was a time of a great Communist icon standing in opposition to the Church and a great Christian icon standing in opposition to the Party: Josef Stalin and Mikhail Bulgakov.

Now ironically good old 'Uncle Joe' began life as a devout seminarian in a little religious college in Georgia where he wrote love poetry and was radicalised and dropped out to become a revolutionary. When he came to power a quarter of a century later many people often don’t realise that it was over the objections of a man who wanted an admittedly more moderate communist union to aggressively attack the countries around it, whereas Stalin was content with a hardline, but regional, hegemony—such was the double-bind of the Russian thing. And just before Stalin came to power a civil war had ended, in which the West supported well-meaning but brutal and potentially even more oppressive monarchists and democrats—the Whites, who fell as much to squabbling amongst themselves as they did to the Reds.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

I will beat Bobby Flay like a MAN.

Watch this.

Notice that it doesn't specify how one is to beat Bobby Flay, just that one is to beat him.

And since he describes making an omelet as a 'flambee', it's clear that he himself has a very fast-and-loose relationship with English semantics.

Therefore, I propose to beat Bobby Flay with pistols at dawn.


Reflections on Ugetsu Monogatari. The original book by Akinari.

My favourite stories in here were what are apparently the 'usual' ones: 'The Chrysanthemum Vow', 'The Reed-Choked House' (the basis for one subplot in Mizoguchi's excellent film), 'The Carp of My Dreams', and 'A Serpent's Lust' (the basis for another subplot in the film). 'The Kibitsu Cauldron', which is apparently another highly-regarded one, I didn't quite understand and will have to read again.

'The Reed-Choked House' has a feel and aesthetic very similar to that of the film in addition to very similar events occurring (though the potter is gone for longer and Miyagi dies of unclear causes), whereas 'A Serpent's Lust' is more lustily macabre, delves with more gusto into the demonic. The woman of the book's 'A Serpent's Lust' is named Manago, not Wakasa, and is a snake demon, not a ghost. The one thing that does not change is her sympathetic and tragic portrayal.

'The Chrysanthemum Vow' is about a gay samurai who is waylaid on his way to a tryst with his lover, a Confucian scholar. The samurai kills himself and then, as a ghost or zombie (it's not really clear which), goes back to see his lover after all. The scholar then plots his revenge against the men who wronged him. It is basically Dumas's great novel The Count of Brokeback Mountain and I liked it a lot.

'The Carp of My Dreams', which has nothing to do with anything in the film Ugetsu, is my personal favourite story. It's short and sweet. A painter-monk who has spent his life rendering exceptionally beautiful and accurate pictures of koi fish is transformed into one in a dream and undergoes a harrowing experience in a net and in a sushi cookery before awakening. After this he grants life to all of his paintings and allows them to swim freely in the ponds of his monastery.

Tales of Moonlight and Rain is a great book as well as a great movie and I would recommend the stories in it to anyone who is interested in Japanese literature or the forebears of modern fantasy.

One-Act Play: Exorcising Maxwell's Demon with the Peri and the Platypus

Exorcising Maxwell’s Demon with the Peri and the Platypus
By Nathan Turowsky


The Peri, a good and beautiful fairy from Persian mythology
The Platypus, an immortal platypus
The Player, a narrator/bridge device of sorts

The Scene: Sparse, with a gate-type thing on one side of the stage. This gate is meant to represent that of Heaven.

The characters pace a bit when speaking, and occasionally talk with their hands, but rarely make defined, purposive movements. There is relatively little intonation; delivery is by and large monotone for all three characters. These are not human beings.

THE PLAYER: So, guys. Heeeyyy. Can I get your opinion on…humans?
THE PLATYPUS: They always come up with these things when the alternative is to despair of the world in which they have been floating. For so long they moved there, moved in a transparent world, reached out and touched the eternal ephemerality of beauty. They grasped out at it after it ended, without looking for something else, without making something else. They only tread a circle, entering the whirlpool.
            The problem with depicting the true nature of history is only that a map is not a timeline and a timeline is not a map. A four-dimensional object, both map and timeline, can be seen from here, our eyrie, this perch before the Gateless Gate; but they know it not. Seeing history laid out before them in its true relation to nations and tribes is not a luxury that mortals have.
THE PERI: A luxury? Why a luxury? I find the path of their lives hateful.
THE PLATYPUS: You find it hateful, my dear peri, because it is an agglutination of two separate paths. See down there?
            She pointed to a spot where two walls came together at an acute angle.
            That is some point in the 1920s. Somebody’s dying dream gummed up the works at that point. Salvation from outside history will be needed to clean up this mess, I’m afraid.
            Oy vey, it never ends.
THE PERI: I might point out, dear platypus, that the present state there is in some ways worse than before, but in some ways not really better or worse.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Big-Ass Writing Project Part Two of (projected) either Sixty-Three or Eighty-Four

Vanity of Vanities
[Day 11]

There are five types of homicide in Israel:
1. Murder - The premeditated killing of a person, or the intentional killing of a person whilst committing, preparing for, or escaping from any crime, is murder. The mandatory punishment for this crime is life imprisonment. Life is usually commuted (clemency from the President) to 30 years from which a third can be deducted by the parole board for good behaviour. Arab terrorists are not usually granted pardons or parole other than as part of deals struck with Arab terrorist organisations or foreign governments and in exchange for captured Israelis or their corpses.
2. Reduced sentence murder - If the murderer did not fully understand his actions because of mental defect (but not legal insanity or imbecility), or in circumstances close to self-defence, necessity or duress or where the murderer suffered from serious mental distress because of long-term abuse, the court can give a sentence of less than life. This is a new addition to the Israeli penal code and has been rarely used.
3. Manslaughter - The deliberate killing of a person without premeditation (or the other circumstances of murder) is manslaughter for which the maximum sentence is 20 years. The sentence depends on the particular circumstances of the crime and its perpetrator.
4. Negligent killing or vehicular killing - Maximum sentence is 3 years (minimum of 11 months for the driver). The perpetrator in this situation can expect to receive some jail time of about 6 – 12 months.
5. Infanticide - The killing of a baby less than 12 months old by its mother where she can show that she was suffering from the effects of the birth or breast-feeding. Maximum sentence is 5 years. –The Israeli Penal Code


Mary Cosgrove awoke outside in a pool of a sticky substance. It smelled strange, tangy, coppery, with a strange hint or trace of eucalyptus.
            Her head was killing her and her stomach hurt like the devil.
           ‘Ugh…how long has it been since I ate…?’ Cosgrove, dazed, pulled herself upright. She looked at her watch. It was eleven in the morning. She looked around. She was outside, in an alleyway.
            ‘Where am I…?’
            Well, this was certainly strange. Almost a novelist’s idea of what happened to people going about their lives. It reminded her of a bad mystery show that ITV had aired three episodes of before cancelling a few years ago.
            Her mouth was dry and sticky. There was a thin pap of whitish-yellow scum, presumably consisting mostly of saliva, coating her lips. She looked down. She was wearing her white seventies dress and mud-coated shoes.

…A-a-a-and then she saw the bodies.
            ‘Oh God…’ Cosgrove lurched to one side, bracing herself against the brick wall of the alleyway. ‘Oh my…oh God…’ She glanced back over her shoulder and gulped. She tasted something rank and disgustingly sour. She sank to her knees, opened her mouth again, and let slip a few spurts of light greenish-brown liquid vomit.
            There were four or five bodies as far as she could see, all of which had been shot in the chest or stomach. The stomach shots were by far fouler. Cosgrove could not bring herself to look at them directly; all she could see in peripheral glimpses were great dark yawning holes amid twisted haloes of wet redness.
            Two of the bodies had long hair, one short, and one almost no hair at all. The fifth, if there was a fifth and it was not just a detached part of one of the others, was partly hidden in the alleyway shadows.
            Cosgrove ran.
            She ran out into the street, got her bearings, and sprinted off toward Tsarfat Square. It was Thursday the eleventh of September, eleven-oh-six in the morning, and there were horrific mutilations right behind her, where she had come from, where she had got to without remembering how. The only mercy was that they had obviously been killed with a gun…Cosgrove had no gun…she had not done…done anything…
            She vomited again, right in the street near Tsarfat Square. The passers-by gawked.
            ‘I need to…need to call the Nish…’
            Cosgrove had no idea where her roommate was. She had only a vague memory of the past few days. The Nish hadn’t been at work a lot, but she hadn’t been in the flat either for great stretches of the day. Cosgrove had no idea what had happened to her explicit memory, how those people had died, or who they even were (she had not been able to bring herself to check the bodies).

Eventually she found a public phone and placed a call to the Nish’s cell phone.
            ‘Pick up…please, Nish, for the love of God, pick up…’
            The phone rang six times. Midway through the sixth ring there was a click and a low voice saying ‘Hello?’
            ‘Nish? Oh, thank the L—’
            ‘MARY!’ shouted the Nish. ‘Where are you?!’
            ‘I…I don’t know!’ Cosgrove cried. Her thoughts were out of control, her feelings coming apart at the seams. ‘I’m…in Tsarfat Square, but…there was a…’
            ‘Mary,’ said the Nish. ‘Calm down. Calm down, and tell me what’s going on.’
            ‘I don’t know what’s going on,’ said Cosgrove. ‘There…murder, there was…’
            ‘Wait,’ said the Nish. ‘What did you say?’
            ‘Murder,’ said Cosgrove.
            Cosgrove could not describe the noise that the Nish now made or imagine how she might be making it. It sounded like a wombat in heat might have. ‘I know,’ said Cosgrove, ‘right?’
            ‘What are you talking about?’
            ‘There was…a…’ Cosgrove gulped. ‘I woke up in an alleyway. Four or five people are dead.’

Monday, September 27, 2010

In conclusion, I mock because I love.

Kara no Kyoukai: Satsujin Kousatsu
A potential interpretation
By Nathan Turowsky

Shiki: I represent the horror genre. While I have an incredibly fucked-up, dark, twisted, hurting heart, I make the conscious choice to contain it and seek a better life.

Mikiya: I represent fans of the horror genre. While the things that I love about Shiki are her best traits, my willingness to tolerate the darkness within her and help her bear her sins makes society regard me as an enabler or even somewhat ‘creepy’.

Touko: I represent Charles Williams, creator of the urban fantasy subgenre and author of Descent into Hell and The Place of the Lion. My interest in Shiki has somewhat ulterior motives but I genuinely do care about her, and although I jerk around with Mikiya sometimes I care about him too.

Shirazumi: I represent Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dollhouse. My goal in life is to reach Shiki’s sick, twisted, dying heart and make it conform to my own nihilistic and unpleasant ideas about what it is.

Azaka: I represent Nasu Kinoko, the author of Kara no Kyoukai. While I think that it is possible to redeem Shiki and even Shirazumi, and in fact get along reasonably well with both of them, my protective attitude towards Mikiya makes me extremely suspicious of them most of the time.

Shiki: I should also mention that I am voiced by Maaya Sakamoto. You will worship me. Build a shrine to me now, geek boy.

Mikiya: Yes, my mistress.

Monday, September 13, 2010

What I realised

What the right wing of the Republican Party is telling Americans, and has been telling them ever since Barry Goldwater fell from grace and took whatever HONESTY was involved in American conservatism with him, is actually very simple. It's simple, and it's clear, and it's what people want to hear because we're so masochistically in love with capitalism in this country: 'You're not a person. You're not a real child of God or of America. You're just a factor to be solved for on a rabid graphing calculator.

'You're not a person. You're just the profiteer class's good little property, and we'll keep you placated with our talk of a 'freedom' that has no sense of either mercy or justice. Chaos except for the profiteer class. Sink or swim. Social Darwinism for everyone!--and by the way, the same theory applied to biology is Satanic. Tough on crime, except when it's by bankers or against women and minorities. It's perfectly fine to fool around with secretaries but if you dissemble and then apologise rather than just denying it we'll impeach you and if you're a homo we'll dehumanise you and use you as an 'issue'.

'America, America! Die for America! Only in America. An America of the banks, a kind of banking that would make Alexander Hamilton spew. America for the insurers who gamble on the right to good health. America for the people who two hundred years ago would have made it just fine in Britain or Germany or anyplace else.' What, then, exactly, is the point?

This doesn't necessarily apply to the right in other countries. Some countries, like Australia and Germany, have (vaguely) more moderate political consensus. Some, like Japan, don't even HAVE left and right, just different interest sections in the Diet. I'm not outright condemning conservatism and calling it inhuman. I'm only condemning American conservatism in the year 2010 and calling it inhuman. There is a difference, and it is chasmal in its depth and breadth and dolorous in the fate that it bespells for a perfectly acceptable word and concept that's being twisted into that special blend of radical libertarianism, I've-got-mine pillaging, and dehumanisation of the Other that, back when 'conservative' meant 'just kind of a killjoy' and 'liberal' meant 'just kind of a dick', Edmund Burke was trying to WARN us about.

Australian conservatives? Okay by me. British conservatives? Go nuts. Japanese conservatives? Fine. Mexican conservatives? Not my thing, but hey, if that's what makes you happy, go for it. American conservatives at other points in history? Probably right about some things.

Newt Gingrich, John Boehner, Glenn Beck, Sharron Angle? It's not even clear that you even like this country, guys. You're certainly not willing to pay for its upkeep, for one thing. Even if you excuse yourself with American liberty you're just fooling yourself because liberty defined in the negative is a Julianic 'no-deed'. Seriously, if you really dislike America and American justice and American mercy so much, get the fuck out.  It'll be easier on us and on you.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

My current Big-Ass Writing Project: The first several chapters.

(Don't orry, it becomes more interesting later on when memory-eating tapir spirits, ghosts that can travel at superluminal speeds, and think tanks that employ zombie goons become involved. This is just the NORMAL PEOPLE DOING NORMAL THINGS part at the beginning of any work in this sort of genre.)


When Mary Marguerite Cosgrove was twenty-five years old and just the last month ordained in the Church of England, she came to the opinion that she should rent a flat in Jerusalem for some time, from a few months up to a few years, before returning to her family’s home in Great Snoring. A decision like moving from Norfolk to Israel for a change of airs is not one that is or should be made lightly, and upon looking out over the line of brick houses and the weather-beaten war memorial for what would probably be the last time in quite a while, Miss Cosgrove heaved a great sigh. She bent down and picked up a piece of stone from the ground: Norfolk flint, which would serve as a reminder of home.
            Miss Cosgrove had several personal reasons for wanting to go abroad. First, going abroad, as an experience, had intrinsic merit, going to Jerusalem even more so. Second, her parents, Mr Plantagenet and Mrs Amelia Cosgrove (née Random), were both fifty-five years old and as such had seen fit to quit Great Snoring, move to the south coast of England, and leave the house to Miss Cosgrove’s older brother, Mr Henry Cosgrove. Fifty-five was a very young age to retire to the south coast but the elder Cosgroves had been in poor health for a while now and were apparently of the opinion, unfounded or not, that the Norfolk climate was not doing them any wonders. Miss Cosgrove did not think that the south coast would be that different, but her parents said that, well, they could feel it. It made their joints ache less.
            Miss Cosgrove felt a bit depressed sharing the family house with just her brother. Although she had been ordained she had been quietly taken aside and the Bishop of Norwich had told her as gently as he could that she probably would not actually have a parish for quite some time. And so this was the second reason.
            Third, Miss Cosgrove had had a bad relationship. It had never become physical beyond hugging and kissing—just Miss Cosgrove’s luck, no relationship in her life ever had—but it had been emotionally intense, and Helen’s betrayals and privations still hurt quite a lot. Miss Cosgrove did not even want to get into the whole ‘ordained lesbian’ thing. She thought that was part of the reason why the Bishop of Norwich was reluctant to give her a parish. The whole situation made Miss Cosgrove a little disappointed in the people and organisation she loved. So a break was in order.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


More books I might want for Christmas:

A Theology of Liberation by Gustavo Gutierrez
Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved? With a Short Discourse on Hell by Hans Urs von Balthasar
God in the World: A Guide to Karl Rahner's Theology by Thomas F. O'Meara

Books that I'll be reading in the next semester of college:

Five Women Who Loved Love by Saikaku
The Narrow Road to Oku by Basho
Quicksand by Tanizaki
Kokoro by Soseki
Wild Geese by Mori
Something by Akutagawa whose title I can't remember.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Also, Rage Yun.

Why yes, I AM blogging mainly for the benefit of Simoun fans these past couple of days, thank you for noticing.

Monday, August 23, 2010


Unlike other Simoun-themed advisors such as Inner Strength Aaeru or Romance Floe, who may lead you astray, Courage Mamiina WILL show you the way to greatness.

Monday, August 16, 2010

What I Want for Christmas by Nathan Turowsky, Age 17 (BY NO MEANS FINALISED SINCE IT'S ONLY AUGUST)

In the Hands of a Happy God: The 'No-Hellers' of Central Appalachia

The minute I learned that there exists something called the 'Primitive Baptist Universalist Church', I gained a tiny bit of faith in the underdeveloped mountain South.

Maria-sama ga Miteru (at least Season 1, I'd hope Season 2)

THIS IS THE FIRST TIME I HAVE EVER ASKED FOR A 'SOCIAL REALISM' ANIME, ONE THAT IS NOT SOME KIND OF SCI-FI OR FANTASY. Yes, it's set in an all-girls' Catholic high school. Yes, there is a reason for this (it's apparently to strip the setting of extraneous elements that would otherwise interfere with the character drama, since Japanese faith schools tend to discourage things like cell phones). Yes, according to everybody I know who has seen any of it including me, it has relationships and drama that rival Ibsen at his best (it helps that it's based on Actual Text Novels). Yes, part of my alleged masculinity dies every time I watch some of it or somebody brings it up to me. Yes, I am TOTALLY FINE WITH THIS.

The Little World of Don Camillo

It's about the friendship between a conservative priest and a communist mayor in postwar Italy. How could I not love this??

In which I explain why I want Etsuko Makioka to be my firstborn

Name a fictional character you would like as your child
Makioka Etsuko (The Makioka Sisters)

(This is actually a picture of the character in question's mother (second from left) and aunts.)

Etsuko is a little like D.W. from Arthur, except older (six to eleven in the story's timeframe), a bit more intelligent and lot more compassionate, and smarter about her brattiness. Also, she lives in pre-war Japan, so that makes some difference as well. I adore Etsuko and she needs somebody to take care of her and smother her with hugs after her aunt Yukiko--who's functionally a second mother or a much-older sister--gets married to Lord Mimaki at the end of the novel. I mean, they imply that Lord Mimaki will let Yukiko more or less do whatever she wants since it's a marriage of convenience, but World War II is also going on. Etsuko will need extra hugs and love as she goes into puberty while bombs fall all over her country.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

For God's sake, Mr Fry, no no no.

I mean it's perfectly obvious that if there were ever a God he has lost all possible taste. You've only got to look - forget the aggression and unpleasantness of the radical right or the Islamic hordes to the East - the sheer lack of intelligence and insight and ability to express themselves and to enthuse others of the priesthood and the clerisy here, in this country, and indeed in Europe, you know God once had Bach and Michelangelo on his side, he had Mozart, and now who does he have? People with ginger whiskers and tinted spectacles who reduce the glories of theology to a kind of sharing, you know? That's what religion has become, a feeble and anaemic nonsense, because we understood that the fire was within us, it was not in some idol on an altar, whether it was a gold cross or whether it was a Buddha or anything else, that we have it.

--Stephen Fry, acting like a prick.

The idea that 'religious people aren't creative any more' has absolutely no possible justification or basis in reality outside of the heads of Stephen Fry and people who already agree with him. It's deliberately small-minded ostrich-thinking. Kajiura Yuki is Shintoist and rather devout about serving the gods. Mashimo Kouichi, her frequent collaborator, is Catholic and in a position for the title of 'modern Dante' as far as I am concerned. If he wants to talk about music, and visual art? Philip Glass. Religious omnivore. Olivier Messiaen. Catholic. John Cage. MOTHERFUCKING GAY BUDDHIST ANARCHIST, HELL YEAH. And...honestly, I think most modern painting is bankrupt anyway, but I'd be pleasantly surprised if anybody can point me in the direction of some good stuff.

Let's extend this to the relatively recently deceased in the world of writing. Philip K. Dick and Marion Zimmer Bradley, perhaps a bit surprisingly, were both churchgoing Episcopalians (although both were a little crazy also). Christopher Fry, the greatest modern playwright, was a Quaker who deliberately let it influence his writing. Very surprisingly, Jorge Luis Borges was also a Quaker, at least for some of his writing period. Getting back to the living, we have Catholics Les Murray and Seamus Heaney in the world of poetry and Umberto Eco, who is lapsed but far more disdainful of people like Stephen Fry than he is of the Church, in prose.

For God's sake. I could go on and on.

It's just.

This really pisses me off.

When Mashimo Kouichi gets his hands on lesbians with guns, religion happens.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Church and State

In light of recent legal developments in the United States, a question in law called ‘rational basis’ has seen a lot of discussion both by legal scholars and in the general public. Rational basis is the least stringent test for determining whether or not a law restricting people’s behaviour meets the due-process requirement of the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution. The stricter level of scrutiny revolves around something called ‘compelling state interest’, but it can be generally held that if a law does not stand up to a rational basis test it will not stand up to a compelling state interest test either, simply because rational basis is the lowest and loosest level of scrutiny in such cases[*].
            In the case of the recent developments in case law, which have occurred mainly in the US District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco but also in the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston, the rational basis and compelling state interest tests have been much discussed as regards the institution of civil marriage. The immediate question at hand is ‘Is there a rational basis for or compelling state interest in restricting civil marriage to couples of the opposite sex?’; the broader question that has to be answered first is ‘What is the state’s interest in registering marriages anyway?’
            Marriage was for most of human history a distinctly ad-hoc and theocratically organised institution—as, indeed, were most institutions, including government itself (the nation-state emerged as a concept in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and was only substantially divorced from the religious authorities of the country in question from the eighteenth century onwards). Religious organisations performed nuptials, which were then granted a certain legal cachet by relevant authorities, chief among which were property exchange and heritability and, in the next generation down, the right to not have to inquire too deeply into who exactly one’s parents were. This system, since it was administered by religious law, was (and in many jurisdictions still is) defined solely in religious terms. Common church interests in marriage (in Europe) included legitimising sexual behaviour, keeping track of family units for the purpose of parish registers, and advancing what was seen as a series of divine mandates related to reproduction and biological parenthood. Obviously, these interests were at the time and to a large extent even to-day only served through the marriage of opposite-sex partners.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Ideals of Womanhood and Pride and Prejudice as a Conservative Text

And the third, what my professors (though not me) considered my best paper in my first year of college.

Ideals of Womanhood and Pride and Prejudice as a Conservative Text
By Nathan Turowsky

Feminist readings of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice tend to go in one of two directions. The first reading is that with the character of Elizabeth Bennett Austen sought to create a subversive female figure who belies the gender roles of the time by ending up in the best possible marriage on her own terms (Brown). The other is that Austen was a deeply conservative and antifeminist writer who sought to vindicate traditional marriage and female subjugation to the whims of men (Handler and Segal). Both perspectives take as a fundamental given the idea that there was a generally accepted order in Britain at the time, in which men uncontroversially exercised the upper hand.
            But Britain at the turn of the nineteenth century was not a socially monolithic country and even the most conservative parts of society were not as conservative with regards to gender roles as modern feminists seem to imagine. When Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, she was addressing it to a Frenchman, Bishop Talleyrand, from a Britain in which questions of things like education, job opportunities, and social standing for women were already more relevant and heavily debated than in any country since time immemorial (Wollstonecraft; Dedication to M Talleyrand-Périgord).

Buddhism in Contemporary Japanese Society

The second of three reposts of papers from my first year of college that I remain proud of even now.

Buddhism in contemporary Japanese society
Nathan Turowsky

            Buddhism, especially forms of Buddhism imported from China and adapted to the Japanese cultural and spiritual consciousness, has played an important role in the history of the nation and people of Japan. From its nascence in Japan in the fifth century, through its legitimisation under the Suiko Empress, all the way up to its militaristic state lip service in the Taisho and early Showa periods, Buddhism has been the Boswell to Japanese history’s Johnson.

Plato's Soul and the Concept of Guf

This is the first of three reposts of academic papers from my first year of college that I'm particularly proud of now, a month from going into my second (after a false start last year).

Plato’s Soul and the Concept of Guf 
Nathan Turowsky

            Plato’s dialogue Phaedo is notorious in some circles for apparently putting Plato’s thoughts in Socrates’ mouth, unlike earlier dialogues that are generally thought to serve as more accurate representations of Socrates’ own thinking. Phaedo’s Socrates talks about the ideal forms, argues explicitly for the immortality of the soul and the existence of an afterlife rather than making the best of either eventuality like he does in the Apology, and generally uses the infamously circuitous logic of the student rather than the clear, linear thinking of the master.
            Unlike Socrates, Plato feels comfortable in positing highly complicated metaphysical realities if he feels that there is a good reason to do so. One of his major arguments is that all learning is done by recollection—remembering and forming patterns from things previously seen. He demonstrates this by having Socrates talk to a slave who has never studied mathematics and coax out of the slave a correct understanding of how squares and square roots work. Since the slave could not possibly have learned this in this life, and since Plato does not admit of the possibility of new synthetic truths being formulated, he concludes that before bodily birth the slave (and, thus, everybody capable of learning anything) must have existed in the world of ideal forms, Plato’s Heaven, where you can see moral, mathematical, and semantic truths face-to-face.