Friday, October 22, 2004

And do they have four seasons there, too?

So goes one of the stereotypical questions that teachers of English get about their hometowns, I've been told. (And the answer is... depends.)

The area where I've been living has been in the direct path of typhoons twice now within one month, to no visible damage. Where are the Army Corps of Engineers to take notes? I ask you!

In ESL instruction parlance, kishotenketsu/kishoutenketsu which describes a certain type of essay construction--or lack of construction, as far as English speakers are concerned. (The definition I link to there seems to be the most accurate: it is sometimes used to refer to a "Rashomon-style".) However, when I questioned my teacher, she told me that 起承転結 was actually a rather specific structure, and that the point introduced in the "ten" (転) section is very important. In other words, it is always connected to the previous points, usually in an opposing way (apparently similar to how in certain style of American composition one's supposed to deal with counterarguments). She did say, however, that perhaps the connection between the points might take a little training to see in some cases.

Incidentally, do people really think that, regarding Rashomon, although "[w]e see the crime repeated 4 times with subtle variations, in the end there is no clear indication of who really is the criminal, the viewer must decide"? I always thought it very clear which version of the story was the most accurate, in the movie's eyes--the last one. The fact that it's presented last, for one! Despite the fact that the witness' character is critiqued. (The short story, incidentally, is a bit different, since it ends on the evidence of the ghost of the murdered man, but I had the same conclusion.)

The way the question is phrased, I don't interpret it as "who holds the real responsibility for this having happened" (although I think that answer, with the moralism in the framing elements, is also fairly clear: society and sad circumstance and coincidence, are the root cause), but "who ultimately stuck the man." And that, I do think is fairly clear from the movie. I'm willing to be an odd person out on this one, but I never really entertained any doubt. (Nor did I doubt that every storyteller in that movie had their own reasons for believing their version was true, but that is yet another question.)

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Words, words, words

I was just reading Judith Shulevitz's review of Robert Alter's translation of the Pentateuch in the New York Times, and it's saluatory enough to make me slightly suspect. Of course I'll reserve judgement (although I do hope that Naomi of Baraita will review the book sometime). But there was one thing that bothered me, but that perhaps someone can clear up.

She writes:
Moreover, in his notes, he points out that although this particular Hebrew verb for ''bound'' (as in, ''Abraham bound Isaac his son'') occurs only this once in biblical Hebrew, making its meaning uncertain, we can nonetheless take a hint from the fact that when the word reappears in rabbinic Hebrew it refers specifically to the trussing up of animals. Alter's translation thus suggests a dimension of this eerie tale we would probably have overlooked: that of editorial comment. The biblical author, by using words more suited to butchery than ritual sacrifice....
Apparently Alter doesn't make the comment explicitly, that the word comes from the butcher's trade--so's my guess from that passage of the review, anyway. And, binding up doesn't seem something completely uncommon to animal sacrifice (although I don't know the rituals for sacrifice as prescribed in the Torah or Talmud--just have a vague memory about something about doves for the Temple and the selling thereof, which may be completely confused). Presumably, if trussing is used in those prescriptions, the word is different.

But the confusing thing to me is that the dates for her influence question seem backward: rabbinic Hebrew is later from the Hebrew used in the Torah by a matter of many, many years, no? Why assume that the word meant the same thing, had the same associations, all that time? Plenty of words have changed in association from low to high or high to low over the years.

And, of course, my first thought was that perhaps the later word was picked out of association with the story of the binding of Isaac.

Even if there were other words one could have used, from Leviticus or such, it'd definitely be the more evocative choice. In this case, I'd think rather than having the aborted sacrifice of Isaac "brought down" to the level of slaughtering animals, you could consider it "elevating" the binding of animals to the same level as the binding of Isaac. At least at the start. (After all, even if one of the worst insults I know in Japanese has a very polite etymology, it doesn't make it less of an insult today.)

Although... that brings up another question: in the rabbinic passages the reviewer, and presumably Atler, mention, what sort of trussing was it? For what purpose? All-purpose, or specific? How is that word used, and how does it change over time? Because you can truss up animals for reasons other than butchery, too.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Starting out, in the evening...

Well, I shan't make any promises (of course), but I thought maybe I'd turn my hand at blogging.

So, why? Well, like many people in (or almost in) academia, I like to hear myself talk (and how!). I love conversation as well, so I figured I ought to move some things out of my personal correspondence if I wanted to find more people to, well, "speak" to. (And I also have the typical arrogance that what I have to say is insteresting, of course!)

I'm also hoping, in the pits of my lazy heart, that putting this out here might direct me to blogs of interest to me that I haven't found yet, oh-ho. I'm insatiably greedy when it comes to reading, really.

The third reason, is that I haven't seen any graduate student blogs that I felt reflected my own personal experience at all. Most likely, this is because I wasn't looking in the proper place for those--still, I felt a need to flesh out the picture a little. If I can.

This is going to be an anonymous blog. The reasons are paranoia (also common to academia); because, as a grad student, I'm not very established; and because my mentors have a tendancy to be bewildered by what people put on the internet sometimes. I tried various usernames with blogger, until in desperation, I started typing in words that I saw surrounding me. There's a cup of instant spinach soup on my desk, and since I'm in Japan, it's labeled ほうれん草クリーム. So I guess that I'm "Houren" for now. (Maybe I should have added the "sou". Perhaps.) Not as weird as some of the nicknames I've gotten in Japanese classes, I suppose, so I'll answer to it. One could do worse than spinach, after all.

(I really should look up the etymology of that word now, I think.)

Anyway, as I'd say in any other self-introduction: pleased to meet you, and I hope you'll be kind.