An assortment of poems from the T'ang dynasty, including verse from Tu Fu and Li Ho, two of the most celebrated poets in Chinese history. These translAn assortment of poems from the T'ang dynasty, including verse from Tu Fu and Li Ho, two of the most celebrated poets in Chinese history. These translations are among the most beautiful and deeply-felt translations from Chinese that I've ever read, and this slender volume makes a superb introduction or digression into one of the great golden ages of literature the world has known. Very highly recommended. ...more
I was recently listening to a BBC interview with two historians on the An Lushan rebellion, and the interviewer read a passage from Pinker's book in wI was recently listening to a BBC interview with two historians on the An Lushan rebellion, and the interviewer read a passage from Pinker's book in which he argued that this Chinese civil war was primary evidence for his thesis that human violence used to exist on a scale we would find hard to believe, from our current perspective. When the interviewer read some of Pinker's fact and statistics about the rebellion, both of them spontaneously burst into laughter and one of them asked "What on earth is his evidence for that?"
What, indeed? Pinker relies throughout this book overwhelmingly on the death statistics for major historical events compiled by a librarian and published to his personal website in his spare time. If you think I'm exaggerating, look for yourself.
No, I'm afraid this book is the joke, and it makes a joke of its credulous audience, making specious, anti-empirical, and fatuous arguments fueled by breathtaking narcissism.
What if the situation were reversed? That is, what if a history professor wrote an eclectic book on cognitive linguistics that was fundamentally at odds with the consensus of linguists everywhere, and that relied overwhelmingly for support on a single source, which was itself entirely the work of an untrained amateur?
I think such a book would quite likely be universally regarded as a laughingstock. However, we live in a generation in which the increasing consensus among intelligentsia holds that scientists hold the answers to questions that used to be addressed by the humanities, and so Pinker's book is not only accepted as plausible, but widely lauded and championed.
I expect this is in no small part due to another factor - this is a work that very much flatters its secular humanist audience by suggesting we have learned our lesson and, by and large, moved past our brutish origins, carried on the wings of science, progress, and bourgeois values. ...more
In 1253, the Flemish Franciscan friar William of Rubruck made his way to the courts of the Mongol rulers Batu and Möngke bearing a letter from the FreIn 1253, the Flemish Franciscan friar William of Rubruck made his way to the courts of the Mongol rulers Batu and Möngke bearing a letter from the French Crusader king Louis IX. This book is an annotated a translation from Latin of his subsequent report to the king. It is a fascinating and rare glimpse of the life of the Mongols during the heyday of their empire in the aftermath of the conquests of Genghis Khan, and a true masterpiece of European medieval travel literature. William is a keen observer who writes throughout with clarity and discernment of the many wonders he encounters on his journey, and we see through his eyes as he makes the enormous journey to the fabled "Tent City" capital of the Mongols, Karakorum. Along his way he frequently rubs shoulders with Muslims, Nestorian Christians, soothsayers, and Chinese and Tibetan priests and monks, and makes what is very probably the first European report of the Tibetan system of reincarnating lamas.
I was certain going in that this would be a fascinating read, but I was surprised by how engaging and brisk it is. It is superbly translated and annotated by Peter Jackson and David Morgan, who unobtrusively offer excellent support in their rich footnotes, detailing the geography, politics, and cultural background with great erudition.
I believe subsequent generations of historians will take for granted a fact that we seem to be in the slow process of waking up to realize now - the mobile and dynamic cultures of Central Eurasia, including but not limited to the peoples of the steppe, are not peripheral or incidental to the history of Europe and Asia, but central to it. The dynamics of the high civilizations of the landmass cannot be understood on an elementary level without attending to the rich systemic interplay between its various centers, which inevitably plays out historically through the movements of these peoples. This book offers a rare first-hand glimpse at one of the greatest of these nomadic civilizations, and is a thrilling and illuminating work of a high order. ...more
This impressive and fascinating book is an extremely important contribution to our understanding of Tibetan religious culture, practice, and history.This impressive and fascinating book is an extremely important contribution to our understanding of Tibetan religious culture, practice, and history. To my knowledge, it provides the first book-length treatment of the vital topic of violent imagery in the Tibetan religious imagination, which is in itself extremely odd, given the centrality it occupies in iconography and practice.
It is perhaps a sign of our own ambivalence in treating this topic, and perhaps indicative of the delicacies and complexities of how Tibetan culture has been re-conceptualized in the west in past decades, with focus dwelling far more attentively on the philosophical sophistication of Tibetan tenets and the centrality of Tibetan emphasis on generating compassion, possibly tinged with embarrassment for previous generations' vision of "Lamaism" as a degenerate form of Buddhism contaminated with native shamanistic practices.
Dalton persuasively establishes that this same concern, that Tibetan tantric practice was overrun by non-Buddhist demonolatry, has been a key part of Tibet's own religious and social self-critique for over a thousand years, presenting at various points in Tibetan history an ideological justification for the suppression of marginal sects or legitimating various centralized monastic institutions, which were regarded as a civilizing power necessary to contain the wild, autochthonous indigenous tendency toward violent and bestial rites. Under this aegis, for example, the Tibetan monarch Yeshe Ö re-established a centralized Tibetan hegemony after the period of fragmentation known by many today as the Tibetan "dark age."
The mythological root of this pattern of violently ordering and pacifying powerful and diabolical energies ultimately lay in India. As a kind of ur-text, Dalton ably translates and excavates a long Dunhuang text describing the pacification of the diabolical being Rudra, a tantric master gone wrong, who becomes an antinomian and out-of-control agent of chaos and anomie. After being pacified by the superior powers of Herkua, Rudra is bound to serve the dharma.
This myth codified the basic structure of containment of violent forces on every level, which Dalton traces through the evolution of tantric pacification rites intended to subdue evil or to protect the country against hostile invaders, whether Mongol, English, or Chinese. At times viewed as a tool of vital importance, and at times viewed with suspicion as essentially a form of blood offering or human sacrifice, these practices and energies remain always at the margins of Tibetan culture.
Although Dalton does not bring it up, my mind was forcefully brought to the recent controversy over the propitiation of Dorje Shugden by the Gelukpas, which culminated in tragedy and murder in the Himalayan town of Dharamsala not long ago. I would refer the interested reader to George Dreyfus's account "The Shugden Affair" for a modern-day story illustrating the real-world consequences of the ambivalence of these practices, where one yogi's enlightened protector is another yogi's demon.
This book is a stunning and powerful contribution to the study of Tibetan religious culture, and Dalton is a welcome new voice in the academic literature. Dalton shows himself to be versatile and insightful on every level, whether historiographical, doctrinal, philological or psychological. The magisterial concluding section raises deep questions about violence which effectively link this fascinating study to vital concerns of our own times and minds, and brings his analysis well within the field of practical concern. This is an important book, and I will very much look forward to following Dalton's career with great interest. ...more
Thomas Mann's novel presents a Bildungsroman of sorts, chronicling the moral, intellectual, and spiritual maturation of young Hans Castorp at the BergThomas Mann's novel presents a Bildungsroman of sorts, chronicling the moral, intellectual, and spiritual maturation of young Hans Castorp at the Berghof sanitarium in Switzerland, where he undergoes prolonged treatment for tuberculosis. In that time he encounters a microcosm of European bourgeois society in the years leading up to World War I, sands off the rough edges of his being, and gradually becomes an engaging, discerning, and admirable person of moderate intellectual ability but enormous character. On the surface his life contains little action, but as he moves through his journey toward individuation, his process of inner discovery frequently reflects various mythological themes which Mann, largely under the spell of Wagner, believed to be basic structuring patterns of human psychology.
I was prompted to read this book by its frequent comparison with Ulysses, with which it indeed shares numerous philosophical and thematic affinities, though the two books could not be more dissimilar in style or tone. In my opinion, Joyce's masterpiece is superior in nearly every way, and by contrast, Mann's work feels quite stuffy and old-fashioned. In contrast to Joyce's unflinching intimacy, Mann holds his characters and events at arm's length with overwrought formality, which I found quite alien. Writing under this polite-society constraint, in which many key events are implied with a wink but kept off stage, as it were, one gets the sense that Mann would blush to address his own protagonist by the informal "Du."
As a consequence, although we learn with a great flourish of disclosure, for example, that our hero has begun regularly seeing a psychiatrist, the reader may be surprised as I was to find that this is mentioned precisely twice, once early on, and again, briefly, at the end of the novel. It is quite incomprehensible to me that a novel that dwells so entirely on the inner life of its primary character could introduce and then completely drop that avenue of insight, but one truly gets the sense that Mann felt it would be indecent to pry.
The author's sense of proprietary, and the keenly artificial and self-conscious manner of his third-person omniscient narration, left me with a deep and pervasive feeling of contrivance. This book contained few revelations for me, and on the whole I was somewhat disappointed, ever hungering for works of the first order, and not finding one here. Still, I know a masterpiece of craft when I see one, whether or not it is amenable to my aesthetic interests, and the book undeniably contains moments of blazing intensity. ...more
This book offers a really helpful framework for thinking about investing. Some of the empirical data can be skimmed as it's pretty old, but Zweig's coThis book offers a really helpful framework for thinking about investing. Some of the empirical data can be skimmed as it's pretty old, but Zweig's commentary and notes do exactly what you would want in terms of explaining the relevance of Graham's ideas to a contemporary landscape.
It's easy to see why this book is so widely enshrined as canon; it smacks of prudence, insight, and wisdom on every page. Graham offers a simple and actionable framework for investors to familiarize themselves in a realistic way with their own character and goals before moving into various strategies that are optimized for his two categories of investors, which essentially boil down to people who want to spend a lot of time on it, and people who don't. He also explores some of the most common investment mistakes and looks for explanations within consumer psychology, to explain, for example, why investors so frequently buy securities when they're expensive and sell them when they're cheap, completely contrary to common sense.
As far as I can tell, his basic approach has been consistently borne out long after this book was first published, and continues to offer a sound strategy.
I would recommend this book to pretty much anyone, especially to those youths running around without a thought for tomorrow. ...more
This touching memoir of Beach's years as proprietress of the infamous Shakespeare & Company bookshop in Paris deserves a place of honor on the booThis touching memoir of Beach's years as proprietress of the infamous Shakespeare & Company bookshop in Paris deserves a place of honor on the bookshelf next to Hemingway's "A Moveable Feast." Any fan of early 20th Century literature and art will be delighted by her intimate reminiscences of Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Valéry, Fitzgerald, and especially James Joyce. Her long years' friendship with the latter author and her indefatigable labors on his behalf makes up about a half of this short book, and it is a vital source of insight on his life and character.
It is filled with unforgettable anecdotes, such as her work with Hemingway to find and fund a compatriot to operate out of Canada and smuggle first-edition copies of Ulysses across the border into the US, literally in his pants, so they could be shipped to subscribers without being confiscated and burned.
The brief account of her harrowing years living under the Nazi occupation and the end it brought to her wonderful bookstore may well bring a tear to your eye. Beach emerges as a tireless, heroic, kind, perceptive, and altogether wonderful woman who had the great good fortune to be at the center of one of the high watermarks of European art and literature, and fully knew and savored it. ...more
I have many times experienced a pronounced cognitive dissonance in approaching the Norse religious and mythological material, as the summary literaturI have many times experienced a pronounced cognitive dissonance in approaching the Norse religious and mythological material, as the summary literature tends to present the various gods and legends as if they form a more or less well-ordered pantheon, analogous to the clean structural lines one finds in Homer's Olympians.
But when I turn to the matter itself, I find a source literature that is deeply bewildering - weird heterogeneous composites of Christian and pagan beliefs, fragmentary and elliptical poems, and dense, difficult narratives.
This close study of the evolution of a handful of key Norse symbols and constructs, tied to careful reading of the archaeological material, was enormously helpful in clarifying why I always find the source material so confusing - because it IS confusing, and these "Myths and Legends of the Norsemen" type books deeply obfuscate the profoundly problematic nature of the source material.
In reality, as Andren points out, we don't even know in the Prose Edda alone if we're reading of one cosmic tree or several trees. Are the tree of Mimir's well, the tree upon which Odin hung, and the World Tree one and the same? It's impossible to determine from the literary evidence, though it's often taken for granted that they are.
As an aside, I would note that it was typical of Wagner's genius that he maintained precisely that ambiguity with respect to the World Tree by making the foundation of Sieglinde's home an ash. But I digress.
The picture that Andren gives of Norse mythology is a shifting constellation of key images that are exalted, forgotten, rediscovered, lost again, and recovered from the outside over the long centuries. Some of the key symbols, such as the enigmatic divine twins that appear on a great deal of rock art, seem to be rooted in the same ubiquitous Proto-Indo-European motif that was known to the Greeks as the Dioscuri. Other symbols, such as the sun, may have originally come from the same root, only to be forgotten, and then restored to centrality after being reintroduced from without by the Roman legionaries and their cult of Sol Invictus.
The literary and historical evidence is so fragmentary and problematic that one can only sift carefully through the rubble, trying to contextualize as best one can the various meanings ascribed to different images, which may or may not persist over time, depending on how the material is read. For example, there appears to be a great cycle involving the cycle of the sun, as it travels through the sky by day, descends under the earth, and moves through the antipodes of the netherworld by night, only to re-emerge each dawn.
Can that cycle truly be read from apparently cosmological drawings showing a sun-like object at the apex, and flanked by twin figures? It is extremely hard to say.
All Andren can do is speculate, and if at times he perhaps makes more than is strictly possible from the skeletal evidence, at least he continually foregrounds the problems of evidence and interpretation, unlike many unwary practitioners of the archaeology of religion who are dead certain that the spiral is a symbol of the generative powers of the earth.
This book primarily centers on three close studies - of the world tree, the cosmological organization of rock forts, and the transformation of the solar myth. It's stiff academic writing and I wouldn't recommend it to a reader who lacks a significant appetite for that kind of prose, but I found it extremely enlightening on the whole. ...more
One of the great ironies of world literature is that the sole extant novel by the Greek author Longus is actually quite short.
Okay, now that I've gotOne of the great ironies of world literature is that the sole extant novel by the Greek author Longus is actually quite short.
Okay, now that I've gotten that out of my system ....
"Daphnis and Chloe" is one of the quintessential works of the Hellenistic period, and it's tempting to conclude with the classicists of the 19th century, reading this trifle, that Hellenism was a period of decadence in Greek culture. We've come a long way from Aeschylus and Homer, to this artful pastoral diversion written for city-dwellers who had never set foot in the country. In Longus' idyllic vision of the rural world, bees are all honey and no sting, and even the fearsome god Pan has been reduced to a character from the Beethoven sequence of Disney's Fantasia.
The plot, such as it is, involves the star-crossed lovers Daphnis and Chloe as they stumble their way into love's mysteries and each others' arms, faced with minor trials of sub-Herculean scope, such as not understanding how one is to comport one's self in satisfying the needs of the body.
I couldn't help but think of the glorious pediment statue of the Archaic precursor to the Parthenon, housed in the Acropolis museum - a vivid and enormous depiction of a lion bringing down a bull. It remains one of the most powerful images of religious art I've yet seen, and I can only shake my head at the decline of insight and intensity that wound Greek culture down from that searing encounter with the heart of nature to this mere ornament, which has the insight and profundity of one of Mozart's comedies.
I was strongly reminded of von Eschenbach's Parsifal in his fool state, reading of Daphnis' proclivity to burst into tears whenever frightened or confused, and his stone-dull inability to reason through the basic facts of life.
That said, it is a piece of its time, and reflects the anxieties and outlooks of the leisure class of late-period Hellenistic culture. It is one of the world's first novels, and it attempts a psychology of sorts which is more amusing than persuasive. I can't speak for the quality of the translation, other than to my ears it landed as vernacular and a little clunky throughout. If there is lyricism in the original, that's where it mostly stayed. ...more