Sunday, January 26, 2014

Albert Schweitzer And My Kittycat George, And Science And Religion And Art

I gather that Albert Schweitzer claimed that science cannot tell us why we love our children. Some scientists would disagree. Some years ago I wasted a part of my life arguing with a particularly unpleasant theologian, who at one point claimed that science's explanations were robbing life of its wonder. I said I disagreed, and used the example of the big beautiful lazy silly wonderful loving cat I had at the time, George, who would often sit in my lap and purr while I sat at my computer and engaged in these Internet fooferahs. I said that the fact that I had learned that George's DNA was very similar to mine had increased my sense of wonder and awe about life, and about how amazing George and other living things were, not decreased it at all. My point is that I think that people, possibly including Schweitzer, who are afraid of losing something precious and beautiful if science makes them lose their religion, are simply underestimating science.

(I say "possibly including Schweitzer" because it's not clear whether or not he actually believed in God. I'm coming more and more to the position that if a person lived in the 20th century or later in Europe or the Americas, and therefore had the option of announcing that he or she didn't believe in God, and it's not clear whether or not he or she did, as in the case of Schweitzer, and the case of Einstein -- then it's not particularly important what he or she believed in regard to God. Because if it had been terribly important, and essential to understanding other things he or she had said, he or she would have made his or her position clear. If, that is, it had been possible to do so. Quite often such a thing is not possible, simply because a person is a true agnostic who leans neither one way nor another, has no clear position on God's existence, and simply doesn't know what to think about it.)

These fooferahs rage, with atheists such as myself on one side insisting that there is an inherent conflict between science and religion, and on the other side believers, who either are scientists or claim not to be completely ignorant of science, insisting that that there is no such inherent conflict. You know, if they just said "science and art" instead of "science and religion," and made all the claims for art which currently they make for religion, I'd completely, enthusiastically agree with them. Religion and art have one very big thing in common, of course: in both pursuits it's essential to constantly make things up. In both pursuits make-believe is an irreplaceable part of the process. Grasp that, and suddenly it makes perfect sense why one is so much more likely to encounter religious believers among great artists than among great scientists.

The huge and essential difference between art and theology, of course, is that artists have the common decency to admit that they're making things up, and theologians don't.

But just change one word, say "art" instead of "religion," and I'm on board, 100%: Yes, people with no feeling for art are dead inside. Yes, art makes life worthwhile. Art gives life meaning. It offers essential comfort. It offers joy. Yes, there is no inherent conflict whatsoever between science and art, in fact, there's a lot that they can do for each other. All of the things which these yutzes keep claiming for religion, if they'd make those claims for art instead, boom, suddenly I'd have no problem with them anymore.

One word, guys. That's all I'm asking for.

Friday, January 24, 2014

A Complete Ancient Edition Of Livy Will Probably Not Be Found In The Western Sahara Anytime Soon

Night before last I dreamed that somewhere in Tunesia or Algeria, somewhere around there, a large collection of papyrii had been found, including 14 codices containing all 142 books of Livy, copied out in the 3rd century. (AD.) (That would be 10 books per volume except 12 in the last volume. For the past couple of centuries it seems to have been most common to publish 5 books per volume. Earlier, 10 books per volume wasn't unusual. Lately it seems to be growing more common to publish 2 or 3, or even 1 per volume. I'm not entirely sure, but I believe many of the early printed editions contained ALL of the known books in one volume: 30 up until the 1520's, and then 35. I don't think very many people have any justification in grumbling about any supposed good old days, but classicists might be among those few. The trend toward less and less ancient text per volume affect all the classics, not just Livy. 35 books of Livy is about as many words as the Christian Bible or the collected works of Shakespeare, and you can get those for free or very cheap. Why do those guys have all the fun? Grumble, grumble.)

And so when I woke up I began to think about discoveries of ancient papyrii, and to wonder why I had heard of -- well, not of few major discoveries made west of Egypt, but actually of none.

You see, after Alexander conquered Egypt in the 4th century BC, up until the 7th century AD, Greek was a major written language in the area, and for great periods of time it was the predominant written language. This did not change when the Romans conquered Egypt in the 1st century BC. In Egypt, and in Greece itself and Asia Minor and Judea and Galilee and Syria, Greek was the major written language. As you moved west of Egypt into present-day Libya, Tunesia, Algeria and Morocco, Latin became more common. This had been the territory of the Carthaginians or Phoenicians, and after the Romans wiped them out in the Third Punic War, ending in the mid-2nd century BC, use of their language in those western regions declined very sharply, and Latin prevailed until the Muslim conquests of the 7th century AD. So while Greek is by far the predominant language of the ancient papyrii discovered in Egypt, texts on papyrii recovered in Tunesia or Algeria would be much more likely to be written in Latin.

And my main man Livy wrote in Latin, not Greek. And Livy was so popular in the Roman Empire that even among the papyrii recovered from overwhelmingly Greek-speaking Roman-era Egypt, a few scraps have been passages from Livy or summaries of parts of his work. Imagine how many Latin payrii await excavation in the western Sahara.

Except, no, there aren't. I was dreaming in more ways than one: only a few regions within Egypt, in or near Faiyum, and including Oxyrhynchus, have the climate required to preserve papyrus buried in the ground for thousands of years. Outside of those regions, it's much more likely to rot away and become dirt, unless a freak accident of preservation occurs. Or so it says on the webpage of the Papyrology Collection of the University of Michigan, and I can't think of a good reason to doubt those guys about that, or even a mediocre reason. For just a little while I thought I had a reason: the Dead Sea Scrolls, found hundreds of miles east of Faiyum. But, oops: I had mistakenly assumed that the Dead Sea Scrolls were papyrus. Only a small fraction of them are. They're mostly parchment.

And so it appears that the best chances of finding significant chunks of the lost text of Livy on ancient papyrus remain in Egypt. And those chances don't look great even to a cock-eyed ridiculous optimist like me. but hey, papyrology continues to be a miraculously wonderful thing for people studying ancient Greek, and to a somewhat lesser extent for those studying Coptic, and only to a much, much lesser extent when it comes to ancient Latin. But hey, good for those other guys. I've got nothing against them. On the contrary, they are partly us: our fields overlap. My horrible, horrible disappointment should not rain on their sunny parade.

It was a nice dream for a day or so. 3rd century, that was a very nice detail, I don't know whether there actually are any manuscripts of the major Latin classics which are that old. Probably a half-dozen or so, and probably some of them on papyrii which were discovered in Egypt. There's a 4th-century copy of a passage from book 1 of Livy found at Oxyrhynchus; the text goes something like: regiam uenire pastoribus ad regem impetum facit et a domo Numitoris alia comparata manu adiuuat Remus ita regem obtruncat Numitor inter primum tumultum hostes inuasisse urbem atque adortos regiam dictitans cum pubem Albanam in arcem praesidio armisque obtinendam auocasset postquam iuuenes perpetrata caede pergere ad se gratulantes uidit extemplo aduocato concilio scelera in se fratris originem nepotum ut geniti That's the oldest Livy MS I know of -- but don't take my word for that, because although I'm pretty smart in some areas, one of them is not following the convoluted descriptions of manuscripts delivered by some classicists who also, maddeningly, do not include dates of the MSS on their sigliae, which would compensate greatly for said convolutions. Also, expert opinions about the dates of old manuscripts do change occasionally. Apart from papyrii, I think that the oldest known MSS of Livy are 5th-century. But one more MS might be as old or older as that 4th-century fragment from book 1: many websites repeat the information that around 40 words of the otherwise-missing book 11 are on a piece of papyrus found in Egypt, whose text was published in 1986. But they don't tell you who published the text, or where they published it (I'm 98% sure or so that years ago I held the periodical in question in my hands and gazed upon the transcription), nor how old the copy is estimated to be, nor none of that useful stuff. After extensive googling I telephoned a professional papyrologist and asked for help. I'll stick a PS on here as soon as I know more.

PS, February 1, 2014: Thanks to the very kind help of Monica Tsuneishi, the University of Michigan's Papyrology Collection Manager, I now know more. I was wrong in several respects about that fragment of book 11: it was found in 1986, in Naqlun, near Fayum, Egypt. The text was first published in 1988. It's 5th-century, and it's not papyrus, it's parchment. And it's 2 fragments, two different episodes, on the front and the back of one piece of parchment. And I know now why everybody kept saying it contained "about" 40 words: because the writing is broken up to the point that at several different points there could be fewer long words or more numerous long words. And now I'm more than 99% sure I saw it once before in the Classical Quarterly, New Series, vol 53, no 1 (May 2003), p 248, in the library of the University of Alaska, Anchorage. And it goes something like this: [------ .e(m) [----- ing]ens [ei era]nt ha[u]t pro[cul G]abiis [u]rbe. cu[m] [Ga]uios nouos exer[cit]us indictus [e]sset ibique centuriati milites essent, cum duob(us)milib(us) pe[ {.} ]ditum profect[u]s in agru(m) suom cons[ul?] and g[-------] ar[------] se[d] reaps[a nega]tam eo [[e]]dicto f[acturum] quoa[d inuissu suo in pr[ovi(n)-] cia maneat, et [si] pergat dicto non parar[e], \[s]e/ [i]n praese(n)tem habiturum imper[i]um. Fabius, [acc]eptus mandatis-----]

Get it? Got it? Good. Keep an eye out for the PPS. (Oh yes, there will be more.)

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Noch einmal auf Deutsch weil warum nicht

Vor ein paar Wochen erwaehnte ich, dass die Lektuere von Karl Kraus mir ein weing zu schaffen gab. Gestern blickte ich wieder einmal darin, und es ging schon. Ich fragte mich, was vorhwer schwierig gewesen. Vielleicht war vor ein paar Wochen mein Deutsch einfach ein wenig gerostet. In der Zwischenzeit las ich einige anderen deutschen Schriften. Unter anderem las ich ein wenig herum in dieser Sammlung von Authoren des deutschen Vormaerz,ein Band der Reclam Universal-Bibliliothek wie der der Wiener Modernen in dem ich Hermann Bahr und Karl Kraus kennenlernte und Kraus mochte weil er Bahr so sehr hasste, sehr begeisternd dieser Vormaerz-Band, weil voller Marx und Ruge und Heine und Dronke und so Kram, Vormaerz eben, und natuerlich: kein bisschen Bahr. Keine furcht, dass wenn man den Band aufs geratewohl aufschlug, Bahr verdammt noch mal auf einen wartete.

Heute morgen fragte ich mich ob wohl es einen Aufsatz ueber Kraus in Franz Blei's Portraetsgab, und wurde daran erinnert, dass ich Blei fast so wenig gern habe wie Bahr. Gerade jetzt faellt es mir ein, mal zu gucken, ob es dort wtwas ueber Bahr gibt. Moment mal -- ja. Gibt es. Ein Band, 500 Seiten, fuer -- na ja -- Portraets von den bedeutesten Schrifstellern aus allen Laendern, von allen Zeiten, die dem Blei ueberhaupt bekannt waren, und es gab Platz darin fuer Bahr.

Von allen beruehmten Schriftstellern die ich kenne, die auf Deutsch Schrift stellten, habe ich entweder Hermann Bahr oder Franz Blei oder August Wilhelm Schlegel am allerwenigsten gern. Vor mehr als 20 Jahren, waehrend meines letzten Versuch, Akademiker zu sein, hatte ich einmal in einmal Seminar with Professor Wiehiesserdoch die Aufgabe, etwas ueber Schlegel zu sagen. Ich war nie ein sehr diplomatischer Student, aber dies was ein sehr undiplomatischer Moment sogar fuer mich. Ich sagte geradeaus, dass ich Schlegel ekelhaft fand. Ich weiss nicht mehr genau, welche Woerter ich waehlte. Es ist moeglich, dass ich Schlegel einen unmoeglichen Esel nannte. Oder einen erbaermlichen Windbeutel, oder einen Narr der nicht einmal unabsichtlich lustig wahr, oder eine kriminelle Verschwendung von Papier. Ich erinnere mich sehr genau daran, wie mitten in meiner Tirade ein anderer Student, ein grosser dicker Typ, Wiehiessermal, seinen Ueberdruess mit mir einem Prusten ganz hoerbar machte. Ich habe akzeptiert, dass dieser viele abwerterten Lauten ueber mich gemacht hat, die ich nicht hoerte. So war er. (So war ich.) Ich habe keinen Zweifel, dass er es inzwischen bis zu ungefaehr Full Professor in der Ivy League gebracht hat, so einer, der es nicht akzeptiert, dass ein Student einen Schriftsteller grob beliedigt, der in Reclams Universal-Bibliothek gedrueck ist, and der... und der... and who cheats on tests. Es ueberrascht mich, aber ich weiss gar nicht wie man das auf Deutsch sagt. Ich nehme an, dass es mal ab und zu in Zentraleuropa passiert. So einer wie der Dicke bringt es weit in amerikanischer Akademie -- wenn ein Herzinfarkt oder Schlaganfall ihn nicht erwischt and wenn er nicht von Professor zu Verleger ueberwechselt, wo er versichert dass Celebrities Millionen pro Buch kriegen und dass eigentlich talentierte Dichter unerkannt bleiben.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Dream Log: Flay Gives It Away

Not last night but some previous night, I dreamed I was in NYC, and that Bobby Flay and I were buddies. He and I and some other people were having lunch family-style at a long table on the sidewalk. Bobby was seated to my left, wearing nothing from the waist up but an undershirt. Across the table there was a barechested teenage boy. He had a $10 bill in his hand: he was offering to give Bobby $10 for the undershirt. Bobby started to take the undershirt off, but I stopped him, and told him that nobody wanted to see either him or this kid barechested, especially not when we were eating, and that he had some clean white T-shirts in a drawer just a few seconds' walk away. Bobby went and got one of those T-shirts and tossed it to the boy and declined to take the 10 bucks, and everybody ooh'ed and ahh'ed about how generous it was of the multimillionaire Flay not to take what was probably all the money this poor kid had in exchange for a T-shirt. (Everybody but me. I didn't ooh and ahh. On the contrary, I was thinking that people were entirely too quick to treat Bobby like a saint. If it hadn't been for my suggestion Bobby would've taken $10 for an undershirt that was probably a little funky, and then sat there at the table barechested, making us all sick. As it was, I was a little disgusted by Bobby sitting next to me with his chest hair spilling out of that undershirt.)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

"Joel Osteen looks more and more like the Joker every day..."

"... but I don't want to make fun of his looks."

You can't have it both ways, Joel. You can't be homophobic and love gay people at the same time, any more than I can make fun of your looks and at the same time not make fun of your looks. Don't worry about the mockery too much, I only did it to make a rhetorical point, and the truth is that we're both in our 50's, and I look it, and you don't. I should be half as handsome as you.

You said that homosexuality is a sin, but that you didn't want to preach about it. Well, that was preaching about it. Saying that you want to be nice isn't enough to make you nice. That big smile of yours lights up the room, but it doesn't take any of the sting out of your words. You want to accept the GLBT community? Then you're going to have to give the conservative evangelical community a big jolt, and reverse your position about homosexuality being a sin. You can't please both communities. You have to pick one.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

"Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities[...]"

That's how this story about a recent survery begins. 97%. What immediately came to my mind is how badly I want information concerning the other 3%. How many of those 3% are working for the petrochemical industry and its thinktanks and lobbyists, how many graduated in the top 50% of their classes when they got their science degrees, how many got those degrees from places like DeVry and Bob Jones University, in short: how many of those 3% actually agree with the 97% but are lying for big bucks, and how many are dumb as rocks?

But the crucial demographic is not 97% of scientists but 50% of consumers and voters. Once 50% of the people even in places like Oklahoma and Alaska understand, really understand what's happening, oil-company execs and Republican politicians will have to start looking for new careers.

How bad will things have to get before we're at that point? In some discussion of what to do, oh what to do about the enviroonment, I've mentioned options such as disallowing all privately-owned motor vehicles, and met with the flat response, from usually-rational people, that the public -- the Amurrkin public at least -- would never allow the gummit to shut down their cars, trucks, motorcycles, snowmobiles, ATV's, private planes, mopeds, lawn mowers, etc, etc. What these debate partners of mine don't seem to grasp is that we are headed toward huge climate changes very quickly -- Hell, we're there -- and that the bigger those changes get, the bigger the public's willingness will be to address the problem with measures which now might seem unthinkable.

So let's start thinking about these things now, shall we? Why wait? Which would you rather keep, your air-conditioning or your car? Pristine countrysides free of wind farms, or the right to shower? Would you rather start taking the bus today, or fight to the death for drinking water 20 years from today? Things are the kinds of things we need to be thinking about, sooner rather than later. Cause we're in deep shit.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

John Beckwith's 'Art of Constantinople' Contains No Colour Photographs

This shocked and saddened me: a book on Byzantine art, indeed, what appears to be considered a standard work on the subject,containing 203 photographs over 153 pages -- every single one of them in black and white.

I'm referring to the 2nd edition of 1968. The 1st was published in 1961. I thought that just possibly, what with Beckwith having spent the intervening 7 years in riotously-colorful Swinging London, it might have occurred to him add more color to his book on the very beautifully-colorful art of the Eastern Romans. This is an example of how buying books in used-book stores instead of online could have spared a horrible disappointment.

Beckwith begins his chapter on the iconoclastic period by remarking that there is an almost total lack of visual evidence relative to the time just before iconoclasm erupted. How ironic that Beckwith complains about this, the author of a book entirely lacking color photographs. Did color photography really suck that hard in 1968? Was Beckwith in 1968, not yet 50 years old, nevertheless already such a fogey that he was hopelessly out of touch with contemporary developments in color photography? Can it be that Swinging London did affect him, but negatively, so that he published his works in a black and white fashion as a form of conservative protest? (You know what would be really ironic, is if it turns out that the 1961 1st edition is chock fulla color.)

Something else which surprised me, much less unpleasantly so than the lack of color, is the very first sentence in Beckwith's book, at the beginning of the Acknowledgements, thanking Steven Runciman "for constant encouragement and advice." I'm so used to seeing lesser writers, enraged because Runciman has demolished their traditionalist, romantic, pro-Western notions about the Crusades with his consummate professionalism and command of many relevant source languages other than Latin and French, impotently attacking him or attempting to damn him with faint praise, but I can't remember having read anything nice about him in print before written by someone other than myself or William Gaddis or the writers of his obituaries.

Although I knew of course that Runciman had friends and admirers, still it was nice to see a dissent among all the usual anti-Runciman sniping. Still, it rebounded a bit against Runciman. Yes, I'm afraid I'm still on the photographs. You see, I'm the sort of guy who likes art books very much, but to look at much more than to read. I don't think I've ever actually read an entire art book. What've I got against Runciman now, because Beckwith was apparently his protogee to some extent? A renewed suspicion of elitism, is what. Now don't get me wrong, I'm all for elitism in some cases, it's just that I'm against it in others. I'm all for it, for example, when in the preface to The Sicilian VespersRunciman bluntly informs the reader the the prose of the book to follow is complicated because the events it portrays were complicated, and advises readers confused by history to stick to fiction. But if Beckwith had nothing but black and white photos in his book because he, like Runciman, constantly traveled from one sumptuous collection of the actual objects under consideration to the next and gave little thought to those unable to do the same, well then there's an elitism against which I am, to imitate Winston Churchill.

It's only a suspicion, far from a certainty, and for all I actually know no-one was more upset by and protested more energetically against the lack of color illustrations in Beckwith's and Runciman's book than Beckwith and Runciman. An author, after all, is not the same thing as a publisher.

Anyhoo. Perhaps this will be the first book about art whose text I actually read from start to finish, and perhaps reading it will actually benefit me when and if I actually come across a book full of quality color photographs of Byzantine art. The fact that Runciman encouraged Beckwith definitely makes me more interested in his prose.

(And btw, yes, I am aware that quite a few of my blog posts, like this one, refer to books which I am about to read, instead of, much more conventionally, books which I have already read. A few thoughts about that. For one, a difference between a post like this and many a conventional book review is that I freely admit I haven't read the book, while book reviewers often lie and claim they have. One of many good reasons to read jack green's FIRE THE BASTARDS!is the way he busts big-time book reviewers for this rather serious sin. The entire book is about the shortcomings of the reviews of William Gaddis' first novel The Recognitions,which I, like green before me, have actually read. For the full delicious effect of righteous indignation I recommend reading the novel first, and then green's book. And two, eh, I think I write interesting stuff. So, just two thoughts about that, not a full few as promised.)