Not Much Left

People for whom the left is little more than a cultural sensibility, whose idea of social justice doesn't go beyond disparities between ascriptively reified groups, sometimes irritate me on a deeper level than libertarian conservative intellectuals. Why? Probably because I am fed up with the weaselish hypocrisy, the racial bad faith, the ease with which they rationalize the substantially inhumane for the sake of the symbolically satisfying. Few things are more emblematic of modern political dishonesty than a transparently narrow-minded person screaming that the only way to truly be openminded is to agree with them.

I once knew an asshole in college who would treat the dining hall staff like dogshit and insisted that true "oppression" was the absence of halal food from the dining hall. I have far more contempt for him than I do for Milton Friedman.

Between someone who is honestly wrong, and someone who is dishonestly half-right, I'm not so sure that the latter is always preferable.

At least the honestly wrong can —some of the time — have honest discussions, and may be open to new information.

The dishonestly half-right are on a steady diet of bromides.

Studying Down and Never Up

The more marginalized, disenfranchised or downtrodden a group is, the more likely they are to be an object of scholarly study. The Amish, the Roma, Middle Eastern Doms, Israeli Mizraḥim, Native American nations, Irish Travellers, Chukchis and dozens of other groups spring to mind off the top of my head.

The poor and the underclass in any modern industrialized country are objects of perennial fascination to sociologists and anthropologists, in everything from their speech habits to their driving styles. Conventional sociology of the well-bred, well-read and well fed is rife with bromides about the poor.

Few attempt to study the rich and powerful.

Fewer still of those who make the attempt have managed to gain a useful amount of access to really succeed.

And almost none of those who succeed have any impact in the larger culture. An anthropologist working in Beverly Hills is unlikely to gain much renown or notice for whatever work they put out. Such a work will simply not be read or heard of by policy-makers, anymore than was Ronald Dore's analysis of relations between large firms in Japan, or Mark Granovetter's study of the agents and executives of large American corporate firms.

The rich and powerful have historically had the means to craft their image to their liking, and every reason to divert as much attention as possible from the more discreditable aspects of their own behavior.

I often feel that societal curiosity of the academe is directed in precisely the wrong direction.

His Love Poem

My eyes had long forgotten how to see,
Blind tired of everything already known,
Until your sight knew them. You were for me
Water. There is such pain in drinking stone.

Some things will fall away from me: this hair,
These cheeks the years caress even in our bed.
Last night's sex will fall lost in mind, and there
Will come a day when one of us is dead.

Some things will fall away from me, not you
Who are as much as I could be of me.
Some things fall false, and others may come true
But I cannot forget now how to see.

Or so I wrote two years ago. Today
I got the stuff of mine you sent by mail.
Jack-moments jump from all boxes to bray
"Some things fall false. Others just fail."

Now all you were has left, remains in me
A memoir for my future to parse out.
I know, beyond our shadow, of a doubt
That I can not forget now how to see. 

Future Ex-Husband

"This is the therapy of the insecure
Pretending we are younger than we were" 

Now Is The Winter Of Approximately 1592

Another Shakespearean monologue in 16th century English. Click below to download

"Now is the winter of our discontent"

Little Left

I see little political consciousness whatsoever in my circles. Least of all among the most "politically-minded." There is such personalization of structural issues, a profound failure to think strategically, and a near-total inability to see politics as something other than a mere mode of self-expression and self-affirmation.

Now that Trump has won, even some of the more sensible have hopelessly devolved.


Is This A Dagger Which I See Before Me?

You ask for more and so more I deliver.

The "Dagger of the Mind" speech from MacBeth in 16th century English

Click to Download

Enjoy. 

The Poem Not Itself

Opinions like this make me headdesk.
"The poem's lyric qualities can hardly be brought over into English. The clear strong articulation of the Spanish vowels gives them a beauty not easily reproducible in Northern tongues"-Paul Rogers (The Poem Itself)
Leaving aside the fact that "clear" vowels are indeed to be found in more northerly languages (such as Welsh) and that complex phonology and many slurred or reduced vowels can be found in other southerly Mediterranean languages (such as European Portuguese, or Moroccan Arabic), stuff like this pisses me off because it assumes that native or native-like Spanish speakers aestheticize their vowel inventory in the same way a non-native would.

English vowels often seem complex and varied and reduced even to Spanish speakers who are fluent in it. But when we Anglophones read, say, Robert Frost or Emily Dickinson we do not experience their sound-play in terms of varied complex or unclear sounds.

There are some aesthetic universals related to phonology. For example high front unrounded vowels (as in the "ee" of sheen) have been experimentally demonstrated to sound more sprightly and happy (and, in names, more feminine) than low back rounded vowels (like the oo of boom) which in turn sound slow, heavy and sad (and, in names, more masculine) in a variety of different cultures from Scotland to Japan to Lebanon.

But such constancies are few and far between.

In understanding the sound-texture of verbal art in another language, it is important to not look at the sounds of one language in terms of another.

Stranger in a Strange Tongue

DID YOU KNOW

Germanic-speakers developed the habit in the middle Ages of calling their language variants of the word þeodisk meaning "What People Speak." (Whence the words Diets, Duits, Dutch, Deutsch, Tysk, Taytsh in various Germanic languages. If the cognate had survived into modern English, it would have been "theedish" or "theech")

By contrast, the word þeodisk was borrowed into Proto-Slavic as *tiudžǐ "foreign, strange, unintelligible." (c.f. Russian чужой, Czech cizí, OCS tuždǐ.) It is the word used in Saint Cyril's prologue to the Slavonic gospels to describe the unintelligible languages of Hebrew and Greek, as opposed to the clear language of the Slavonic translation.

A Sinical Question

Despite the absurd saturation of Arabic studies and the insane amount of students graduating in the US every year with Arabic degrees, majors, and/or minors, very, very, very few of them are at all proficient in the language. Few can read an academic article in Arabic without a dictionary, or discuss it with a native speaker. It's rather hilarious. And don't anybody tell me it's because Arabic is so hard. Sinologists do a far better job with Chinese, after all, than Arabists or even Persianists do with their languages of specialization. And Persian is quite frankly very easy as languages go.

When, I wonder, is the study of Arabic and Persian literature going to reach the maturity of literary Sinology? Arabists and Persianists ought to be roundly embarrassed by what they look like compared to Sinologists. They are in a lot of ways where Sinologists were in the 60s.

Loanwords: Who Cares?

Medieval Arabic had terms for various concepts but these have often been jettisoned in modern Arabic in favor of western calques, and oftentimes western loanwords. Despite the nationalist tirades, there really is nothing wrong with this. It is neither good nor bad. It simply is. The only good and bad things are what you do with this. English after all has borrowed something like 90-98% of its words from other languages, and it is doing just fine.

Trojan limerick

There once was a goddess named Venus
Whose beauty outshone Athena's
In the contest of Eris
For the judge was Paris
Who had taken a bribe through the penis

Blast

You can be shredded up by anything.
While rose and blood still color up the earth
There always will be certain times that bring
Good things that are not merely things of worth.

My heart is joltings, or merely reprieve
From more calculable intervals. Such great
Cenotaphs rise for those who got no leave
From going out against the obstinate.

The rocket be a symbol. Let it fly
And go when all its din is done on high
A senile flaccid tubulet dumbed to fall

On men who launch it... Just the fucking thing
A kid finds on the ground, is what I sing.
To hear the weird old pyrotechnics call.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow

Ok so you all want more Shakespeare in 16th century London English, do you?


"Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow..."

Egads

Gods, I have left behind your little Dames.
There are far better ways the Word can fix
The Weird. I fart against your murderous games.
You are pre-me now, past as a prefix.

Am I an olden man? I hew to craft
Such lines as simply do not mean a thing
Without that swing. No sleep in cenotaphs.
Give me the wine Hafiz and Horace sing.

I'll not forget all that is ours and mine.
I shall go forth because I will not budge.
I watch the brine-dark sea and drink of wine
Knowing the muck and murk that brave feet trudge,

Yet glad to be alive. No gods I see
But Homer's stars on the Aegean sea.

The Bard Is Hard

Shakespeare's Sonnets, unlike the plays, were produced more for consumers of the written word than anything else, who were literate and could afford the leisure to ponder and re-read closely. Every translation into another language that I have ever looked at, no matter the language, tends to not so much "dumb down" the sonnets as tidy them up and teach them to act like respectable canonical entities, and avoid the "unseemly" as much as the opaque. (This is quite true, also, of my own attempts to translate some of the sonnets into French.)

Below is one of Shakespeare's sonnets with my commentary. It furnishes a sterling example of the challenges, and camouflaged pitfalls, that obtrude themselves upon the modern appreciator of the sonnets - which really are quite a different and even subversive beast from what more recent reception has hallucinated into them, and mentally excised from them.

Sonnet 15
William Shakespeare
Click to hear me recite the original in 16th century London English 

When I consider every thing that growes 
Holds in perfection but a little moment. 
That this huge stage presenteth nought but showes 
Whereon the Stars in secret influence comment, 

When I perceive that men as plants increase, 
Cheared and checkt even by the selfe-same skie: 
Vaunt in their youthfull sap, at height decrease, 
And weare their brave state out of memory,

Then the conceit of this inconstant stay, 
Sets you most rich in youth before my sight, 
Where wastfull time debateth with decay 
To change your day of youth to sullied night, 

   And all in war with Time for love of you 
   As he takes from you, I ingraft you new.


Here, though, let me try a commentary just for shifts and tickles to show how staggeringly much I think modern readers almost invariably miss even as they feel they understand, and also how hard it is, thanks to the upstanding Shakespearean tradition no less than inevitable Devouring Time, to really "know the sonnets."

L1: moment has been greatly semantically narrowed in modern English. One should read here tones not merely of temporality, but also of power, import, direction and force of movement. The etymological siblings momentum, momentous and even movement give some of the flavor.

L3: presenteth nought but shows: a play of polysemy. The phrase on its own suggests "displays nothing beyond what is apparent" where but at the time could take the force of modern except that which. Shows of course here are more directly metaphorical performances. The idea of the world as a stage, for all that Shakespeare is given singular credit for it, was in fact a commonplace of the Renaissance with long standing.

L4: Switching to the idea that stars both comment on and influence human goings on in indiscernible ways...

L5: Increase: mostly the denotative meaning has remained the same. But literary use in poetry of the period had connotations of growth and flourishing, as well as of reproduction (c.f. "from fairest creatures we desire increase")

L6: cheered: meant "encouraged, given confidence, heartened, urged on" checked "slowed, detained" (c.f. "sap check'd with frost") 

L7: vaunt when intransitive meant both "brag, boast, make a show of oneself" and "exult, rejoice in triumph" depending on context.

L8: brave at the time meant "superior, splendid, excellent" (c.f. Francis Bacon "Iron is a brave commodity where wood aboundeth." Shakespeare was, however, given to punning on this word with the still-present meaning of courage e.g. "Wear my dagger with the braver grace.") State: to be understood in the sense of "condition".
Wear here likely intended to be understood in both the sense of being clothed, and wearing away.

L9: Conceit "perception, poetic figment"

L11: Wasteful "ruinous" as well as "excessive."

Debateth here holds great polysemy in the English of the time, now irretrievable. The word has been semantically narrowed. It did have the meaning of "disagreement, argument" but not necessarily in a formalized or public way. Other meanings that have since been more totally lost from the word include: "Discussion, speak about" in a more dialectic sense and also "engage in physical combat" especially in the sense of resolving a disputed matter via trial by combat.

L12: ingraft: this is a loaded one. The general shape of the meaning is: to insert either an idea or an object, into someone or something else so that it grows as part of the mind or body it is inserted into. It has overtones in its usage not only of the grafting of horticulture, but also of "implanting" ideas into the mind of another. There is clear play on the alternate adjectival meaning of "deeply-rooted, engrained" (also spelled engraffed in this sense in our orthographically regularized editions c.f. King Lear "the imperfections of long-engraffed condition.")

There is also a sexual connotation here. Much of the sexuality of Shakespeare is camouflaged by traditional reading by misreadings, but the sonnets most especially were so disconcerting in their earliest reception because of their unorthodoxy, that as Shakespeare made his way into canonicity a great deal of effort had to be expended by guardians of the Straight and Narrow (in both senses of both words) to either squash scandalous readings that acknowledged what many lines appeared to imply, or else dismiss the Sonnets as so inferior to the plays as to not be worth bothering about. Before which time, the general silence about the sonnets and the occasional lengths made not to be too overt in admiring them, is truly deafening. More deafening even than some of the anonymous handwritten margin notes in some of the early surviving copies, attesting to shock at such "wretched Infidel Stuff" among other things.

In any case, graft was a common Elizabethan and Jacobean euphemism for a certain category of sexual naughtiness, a sense used by genre-writers of comedy including Shakespeare (in Shakespeare mostly allusively, by overt reference to other more botanical meanings, leaving the subtext for the audience's mental lexico-semantic machinery to cough up.) The general idea is an expression of sexuality with corruptive influence, such as sullying the natural innocence of youth by inserting one's...ahem...graft where it does not belong, or more commonly of having sex with another man's wife (particularly if there is a possibility of resulting bastardy.) It could mean simply what we mean by "to screw" but the idea of a kind of adulteration as in "your wife grafts with another man" is more common in surviving writers, with "grafting" the horns of a cuckold onto another man's head as a kind of folk-etymology. The word ingraft in proximity to "for love of you" in the context of the preceding lines is to my mind unmistakably written with either the intent or at least the anticipation of being read as evoking something just a bit naughty. On the Down Low, as we might say. Being on the D/L, of course it does not overtly state anything impious or improper. It is merely deafeningly loud innuendo of the kind that could be denied plausibly ("Oopse that didn't come out right. I didn't mean for it to sound like that") if need be, but which a Jacobean reader would have found about as subtle as Americans found the phrase "that woman" when used as a pet name for Monica Lewinsky. Even though lexical scholarship of Elizabethan usage has come to terms with some of the naughtiness in Shakespeare (and even in the sonnets) even today many commentators are beset with an immedicable inertia when it comes to accepting the import of the naughtier facets of Elizabethan language for so ostensibly elevated and sublime a thing as The Bard's Sugar'd Sonnets. Especially in relation to another man. And particularly in volumes where a cleaned up Shakespeare is in demand for e.g. high-school English classrooms. You know, to save the children. Or something. 

Soundlet

The heart is a deluded admiral
Who, leaving his profession of the sea,
Essayed the passage that he chose to call
Happiness and home. Such a fool, he.

Stirring in landlock, rocked by his own chair
He contemplates the long-discarded ocean.
For there is nothing there and nothing there
In the exhaustion of so little motion.

A recompense now sweetens in the shadows.
The silence of the tide, its wordsome foray,
Can offer him more roses of the mind

Than saltsea strikes. In him are new armadas.
So charged against the power and the glory
He puts to wind, to find what he must find.

In Other Words

I have often noted that I have the clearest thoughts when I must improvise them in order to express or supplement the thoughts of others. My mind is like a flint that must be struck with a stone for sparks to fly from it. This is in general the character of my creative work as an author. With me, everything is either another's, or apropos of another's, and nonetheless it is all my own.

Я часто замечал, что у меня наиболее светлых мыслей тогда, как их надобно импровизировать в выражение или в дополнение чужих мыслей. Мой ум как огниво, которым надобно ударить об кремень, чтобы из него выскочила искра. Это вообще характер моего авторского творчества; у меня почти все или чужое, или по поводу чужого - и все, однако, мое.

— Vasili Zhukovsky, letter to Gogol dated Feb 6. 1847. Tr. Yours Truly.

Forgotten Poem of a Forgotten Endeavor

The poet Albert Waneham Newman, born in 1579, had intended to create English versions of Plautus' plays not to be read, as classical texts normally were, but to be staged in popular performance. His hope was to freely adapt Plautus to the English stage, as Plautus had adapted Greek comedy for Roman audiences. His ambitions were never realized. He died during a plague outbreak in London in 1604.

On the Englishing of Plautus
By Albert Newman
Click to hear me recite the original in 16th century London English pronunciation

Now doth my toungue with Tyraunt Tyme debate
In bloudie sport upon a ruin'd stage,
To second thy tir'd tongue, and lash the State
Whose centuries do beseige the famin'd page.
As ancient blades worne blunt in shocke with ages,
Thy lines which vaunted deathlesse at decay
Do fall with lesser moment in the pages
Turn'd by the powres which turne the world to-daye,

Onlesse thy voyce unto my tongue repaire
And, steeld afresh, match Time with force which flows
In change unchanging, as this yeares fresh heire
Of last yeares rose still beareth name of Rose.
To keepe my word to thee, I breake thy word
That tho the tounge bee mine, thy voyce bee heard.


Usage Notes:

Debate — had a wider sense in Elizabethan usage and could mean "battle, duel with"
(Spenser: with him in bloody arms they rashly did debate)

Sport — The Elizabethan semantic range included senses of "amorous dalliance, tryst" (Shakespeare: And, being intercepted in your sport) as well as "mockery, taunt" (Shakespeare: Then make sport at me; then let me be your jest) and "hobby, pastime" (Shakespeare: Think it but a minute spent in sport).

Tired — Perhaps meant also to echo the sense of "seized, rent apart" (Shakespeare: Even as an empty eagle, sharp by fast, / Tires with her beak on feathers, flesh, and bone) or of "equipped, outfitted"

State — polysemy here too. "State" could mean not just circumstance or state of mind or political unit but also "nobleman, dignitary."

Centuries — possible wordplay. "Century" may also be meant in the sense of a military unit (Roman centuria) composed of a hundred centurions. (Shakespeare: If I do send, dispatch / Those centuries to our aid.) The figurative "state" is deploying epochal armies to destroy the text.

Ages — wordplay. This word /ɛ:dʒǝz/ was a near-homophone of "edges" /ɛdʒǝz/. Thus the swords are blunted against the "edges" (i.e. opposing swords) of time. 

Lines — wordplay. Senses of "lineaments" (Shakespeare: those lines of favor which then he wore), of "borders" and of "soldiers in formation" as well as "lines of verse."  

Vaunt — when used intransitively meant "to speak boastfully"

Moment — wordplay. This was not only the term for a brief instant, but also the sense "weight, importance, thrust." The context makes me wonder if the sense "momentum" is meant as well. (Of great pitch and moment)

Powers — the sense "military forces" is to the point. (Shakespeare: Whose powers are these?)

Steeled — the senses "armed with steel" and "fortified" are to the point. Possible pun on "stealed", a now-defunct participle replaced by "stolen."

Match — also had the sense "to marry (one person with another), to unite in wedlock"

Force — the context makes me wonder if the sense "body of armed men" is also to the point.

Heir — obviously punning on "(fresh) air." Note "fresh air" meant something different at the time. One did not "get some fresh air" outside. It referred to coming spring in fact. Synonym of "breath of spring" and even "breath of heaven." The "fresh"ness echoing with the earlier "afresh."

Fresh — in addition to the more familiar senses, this word at the time could mean "holding good, unchanging, constant" as well as "lively."

All Droms Lead to Roam

I think there's a problem with access to resources when it comes to learning to read Romani literature. Generally learning materials for a dialect of Romani are only available in the national languages co-territorial with the dialect in question.

A English-speaker, unless they have the will and the ability to pour through specialized work written by linguists for linguists without language-learners in mind, has only Ronald Lee's Learn Romani: Das-Duma Rromanes which, excellent though it is, mainly deals with a dialect — North American Kalderash — that is seldom written. It contains a lot of evocative and moving songs, some oral poetry which makes one dearly wish there were audio files of the recitation available, some illustrative interview fragments and more. But the only non-oral texts it contains are two poems adapted — quite heavily — from other dialects. Though one can certainly use the book as a starting point for approaching other dialects, particularly Vlax dialects.

I do not mean to imply that oral, as opposed to written, literature is of lesser importance. It is not. But the difficulties involved with modern literate critics and scholars properly approaching an oral corpus are greater, as the history of study of oral literatures has by now well demonstrated. It would require of me an entirely different and much longer rant than this one. For one, much more participation from actual Roma in the scholarly enterprise would be in order just to get on the ground floor. Of course, academic participation from native speakers of Romani is desperately needed in general and — outside of Russia, at least — damnably lacking. But with the study of Romani oral literature, it is or should be obvious that such a lack will lead to analytic immiseration and parodic obtuseness all round, even if it didn't lead to the condescension that it already does. But I digress.

For an American or Briton to study the versions of Romani most commonly used as vehicles for written literature, they must know other languages than English, and probably other languages than the ones most commonly learned by English-speakers. Some good material does exist in German, most of it dealing with Sinti and also with the dialects brought to Germany more recently by migrants from the Balkans.

Mostly the really good learning materials for dialects with a lot of written literature are in Eastern European and Balkan languages, such as Romanian, Serbian, Albanian, Hungarian, Macedonian, Polish, Czech, Slovenian and Russian.

Were I unable to read Russian, I would've been unable to read Viktor Shapoval's enormously useful Самоучитель Цыганского Языка ("Self-Study Textbook for the Romani Language") which is much more than a description of a Romani dialect, more than a self-instruction book. Like Lee's English work, it is also a trove of fascinating and illustrative texts. Though in this case one finds also a wealth of written artistic literary samples (including a Romani verse-translation of one of Sergei Esenin's most famous Russian poems.) A learner would have to be quite incurious and dead-minded to not be fascinated and drawn in by the textured linguistic world which Shapoval offers to the learner.

Translations of such textbooks into French, English and German are much needed.

But there is another reason why a great many languages would be, and will be for the foreseeable future, necessary for serious study of written Romani literature as a whole. What is true of the Romani language is also true of written Romani literature: it is the product of prolonged and profound multilingualism.

Like Hebrew writers before the 20th century, all Romani writers are at least bilingual, and are writing for an audience they can assume to be at least bilingual. They therefore draw on the forms, stylistics and material of the majority language(s) they are in contact with. Multilingual puns like the title I gave this blog entry are common in a lot of Romani literature, particularly when it is humorous. Sometimes any element in the co-territorial national language is fair game for use as a loan element. Many Russian Romani speakers do not go for very long without some Russian code-mixing involved. Soviet Romani literature does not have great amounts of code-mixing at all, and there are purists who avoid it. But there are more naturalistic Russian Romani authors who do not. To fully appreciate Lera Yanysheva's poetry, and her achievements in it, one must not only be able to understand Russian (as phrases from Russian may be used at will) but also be aware of some of the genres and conventions of Russian popular verse. With her, of course, one must be prepared for even more twists. One poem of hers shifts between six different Romani dialects before ending with a series of puns in Hungarian.

The same goes for anywhere else.

A hypothetical scholarship of written Romani literature, if it were to do right by Romani literature and not treat it in a token or cursory way, would require a multilingualism and a multidisciplinarianism to match the pluricentrism of Romani. It may well be beyond the capacity of academia as it is currently constituted anywhere. Certainly not in the corporatized ruin of American academia where "interdisciplinary" is fast becoming an impressively bad joke.