From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Monday, April 30, 2012

La Pensée Cyclique (12)—Mulan Granet-c

[a] Looming change RF
The next few posts in La Pensée Cyclique take a detour into territory that Marcel Granet would not have envisioned. It was, quite simply, inspired by him. One of the things that has startled me in my ongoing intellectual biography of Marcel Granet is the fuel created by reading his work—and even his personal history—often leads me to think of new avenues in my own writing. For years—and especially since Disney's release of the Mulan movie in 1998—I have thought about ways to explain not only how badly Disney got it wrong, but things in the Mulan tale that I feel have been missed precisely because the Joan of Arc mythos absolutely dominates Western cultural interpretations of strong women. What follows is a retelling and re-analyzing of the Ballad of Mulan...inspired by my reading of Marcel Granet. I call it Mulan Granet (but Marcel Mulan sounds pretty good, too).
[b] Domestic, order RF
Marcel Granet’s focus on the rural Chinese village presents us with the picture of a closed domestic order that must be “opened” periodically (and systematically) in order to sustain itself. This was done, to use terms from Chinese cosmology, by exchanging yin (the “female” principle in the universe) while keeping yang forever in place. 

To make the point more starkly, women were raised in order to leave the family. Their role in their birth families was temporary. Inspired by a “Granetian” reading of social structure in the Mulan ci, we can begin to see the ballad as more than the story of a brave young girl who crosses her society’s gender lines to serve her family and her ruler. Indeed, it seems to me that the greatest misinterpretation takes place at the outset. Many popular readings of the ballad stress the “masculine” role of Mulan, or the theme of gender reversal as merely a play on male and female physical strength. They are less inaccurate than incomplete. There is much more to the tale.

While Mulan is a strong young woman in the text of the ballad, she plays her female role within the agnatic kinship network to its social structural conclusion. In (yin) essence, the Mulan at the end of the ballad will leave her family twice in order to revive it—first surreptitiously and selflessly, and second in the manner of all marriageable women in her society. In the first instance, she leaves her family to serve her ruler; in the second, she will leave them in order to serve a new mother-in-law. The Mulan ci, then, can be read as the story of an extraordinary woman going to enormous lengths to perpetuate the traditional domestic order. This reading links the martial and the marital in a tale of a strong young woman in a traditional social order.
[c] Click, click RF

Weaving Maiden, Inner Quarters
We begin with a picture of traditional woman’s work—work that is, indeed, never done (“click, click, forever click, click”). We are presented with a picture of the inner quarters of the household and the young woman weaving within it. In a mere two lines the sexual division of labor—as well as the dramatic backdrop—of the narrative is announced. Mulan sits and weaves (the traditional, and even stereotypical, occupation of women in early China). She is separated even from the men in her family, much less those in the wider world beyond her home.

          Click, click, forever click, click;
          Mulan sits at the door and weaves.
          Listen, and you will not hear the shuttle’s sound,
          But only hear a girl’s sobs and sighs.

When the narrator states that the shuttle’s whir cannot be heard—only the crying of a young woman—it is hard for the experienced reader of Chinese poetry not to assume that she is pining for someone, since the theme of a woman missing her love even as she halfheartedly attempts her spinning is one of the most common images in all of Chinese literature.

          "Oh tell me, lady, are you thinking of your love,
          Oh tell me, lady, are you longing for your dear?”

[d] Abrupt change RF
The tone of the ballad changes abruptly at this point, breaking with the image of the pining lover missing her departed man. The men for whom she weeps are her agnatic kin, and she is fully devoted to the care of her father and her brothers. She takes her role in the domestic order as an elder sibling and moral force very seriously.

          "Oh no, oh no, I am not thinking of my love,
          Oh no, oh no, I am not longing for my dear.
          But last night I read the battle-roll;
          The khan has ordered a great levy of men.
          The battle-roll was written in twelve books,
          And in each book stood my father’s name.
          My father’s sons are not grown men,
          And of all my brothers, none is older than me.
          Oh let me to the market to buy saddle and horse,
          And ride with the soldiers to take my father’s place.”[1] 

It is not difficult to guess what the answer to such a request would be in a tradition in which even appearing unaccompanied in public areas of the household could be scandalous for an unmarried woman. Moving from work that sustains the family to subversive action that could ensure its survival, Mulan is the protector of the domestic order par excellence. From silk to leather—worms to horses—she thinks only of her male kin. Despite her structural position as a temporary member of the family, she is in a position to restore the family’s order precisely because she is dispensable in the larger kinship structure. Without asking for permission, she creates the groundwork for structural change that possessed the possibility of destroying the domestic order, even as it sought to restore it.
[e] On the move RF
[1] Victor Mair, editor, The Columbia Traditional Chinese Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 474-476. In the interests of consistency and with an eye to the kind of audience that first read the Ballad of Mulan, I have used the Arthur Waley translation for this treatment. Further posts (down the road, as it were) will explore other ways to look at individual lines and terms. My concern for now is the flow of events from household to war camps and back again. Arthur Waley (1889-1966), being a relative contemporary of Marcel Granet (1884-1940), seems perfect for this particular exercise. 

Mair, Victor. The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.

Mulan Hits the Road
The savior of the domestic order notes the cardinal directions and yin-yang flows as she heads off to represent (and transform) her family.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Hurtin', Leavin', and Longin' (49)—It Would Be You

Click here to read the introduction to the Round and Square series "Hurtin', Leavin', and Longin'..."
One year ago on Round and Square (29 April 2011)—Francis Parkman and the Oregon Trail
[a] Like You RF
It's hard describing stuff—any stuff. This is something that has bothered storytellers throughout the world, and from time immemorial. Yes, even Grog struggled around the campfire to tell just how big the mastodon was, how sharp his tusks were, and how woolly the sky appeared as it loomed over him on the savannah. Years later, Melville struggled with a whale of a narrative challenge. Call him Ishmael (and alliterative).

The world is too big and language is too small. That is the nature of language...and the world. How do we handle it? Maybe we just need to simile and put the best face on a difficult situation. 

Our songwriters (Robbins and Oglesby) put us right into the middle of that problem today. Take a listen to Gary Allen, who is trying to describe a heartache. He doesn't know it, but he has a peculiar condition—indeed, a postmodern condition. Paging Dr. Foucault—the prognosis isn't looking good.
      It Would Be You
        Songwriter: Kent M. Robbins and Dana Hunt Oglesby
        Artist: Gary Allen

[b] Like cold RF
It's hard describing a heartache
Because it's a one of a kind thing
A serious injury
And a whole lot of endless pain
If it was a storm
I'd compare to a hurricane
Oh it's even got a name


If it was a drink
It would be a strong one
If it was a sad song
It would be a long one
If it was a color
It would be a deep deep blue
But if we're talking about a heartache
It would be you

If it was a full moon
It would be a total eclipse
If it was a tidal wave
It would sink a thousand ships
If it was a blizzard
It would be a record breaking cold
If it was a lie
It would be the biggest story you've ever told

Repeat Chorus

If it was a color
It would be a deep deep blue
But if we're talking about a heartache
It would be you
***  ***
[c] Like winter (almost) RF
There is a big world out there, and language can't render it precisely. We keep trying, though, and usually end up lost somewhere in the semiotic river beds of metaphor. 

A is like B. 

It Would Be You is a little exploration of the country world of metaphor. No, I am not claiming that it is particularly deep. In fact, it doesn't scrape too far down into the lyrical topsoil with its renderings of full moons, tidal waves, and blizzards. Yes, the song pretty much is the title (the "chorus line") and that is the point. If we're talking 'bout a heartache...that would be you.

Much though I would like the lyrics to have braved the icy waters of metonymy and even synecdoche, (with a heartier dash of polysemy for good measure) it steers instead a middle course through the metaphorical Doldrums. Again, if you think my critical response means I don't like the song, think again. Shallow has its merits when it comes to hurtin', you see. Worldly description is one thing; personal pain is another, and highfalutin synecdochal renderings just aren't necessary. It's almost as though Gary Allen wades through knee-deep language all of the way until he has immediacy. And that, quite simply, would be you.

So to speak.
***  ***
Heartache and the imprecision of language (not to mention rhyme, rhythm, and metaphor/metonymy/synecdoche) were well-traveled concepts in East Asia, too. For this week's juxtaposition, I have chosen a snatch of prose from Matsuo Bashō's Narrow Road of the Interior. It describes a scene the poet cannot but render in superlatives. It also shows some of the limits of such description, even when rendered by one of the greatest poets the world has seen and heard.

The Narrow Road of the Interior
Matsuo Bashō (1689)
[d] Shore RF
Noon was already approaching when we engaged a boat for the crossing to Matsushima, a distance of a little more than two leagues. We landed at Ojima Beach.

Trite though it may seem to say so, Matsushima is the most beautiful spot in Japan, by no means inferior to Dongting Lake or West Lake. The sea enters from the southeast into a bay extending for three leagues, its waters as ample as the flow of the Zhejiang Bore. There are more islands than anyone could count. The tall ones rear up as though straining the sky; the flat ones crawl on their bellies over the waves. Some seem made of two layers, others of three folds. To the left, they appear separate; to the right, linked. Here and there, one carries another on its back or cradles it in its arms, as though caring for a beloved child or grandchild. The pines are deep green in color, and their branches, twisted by the salt gales, have assumed natural shapes so dramatic that they seem the work of human hands. The tranquil charm of the scene suggests a beautiful woman who has just completed here toilette. Truly Matsushima might have been made by Ōyamazumi in the ancient age of the might gods! What painter can reproduce, what author can describe the wonder of the creator's divine handiwork?

Ojima Island projects into the sea just offshore from the mainland. It is the site of the Venerable Ungo's dwelling, and of the rock on which that holy many used to practice meditation. There also seemed to be a few recluses living among the pine trees. Upon seeing smoke rising from a fire of twigs and pine cones at one peaceful thatched hut, we could not help approaching the spot, even though we had no way of knowing what kind of man the occupant might be. Meanwhile, the moon began to shine on the water, transforming the scene from its daytime appearance.

We returned to the Matsushima shore to engage lodgings—a second-story room with a window on the sea. What marvelous exhilaration to spend the night so close to the wind and clouds! Sora recited this:
               matsushima ya                                   Ah, Matsushima!
          tsuru ni mi o kare                              Cuckoo, you ought to borrow
               hototogisu                                          the guise of the crane.

I remained silent, trying without success to compose myself for sleep. At the time of my departure from the old hermitage, Sodō and Hara Anteki had given me poems about Matsushima and Matsu-ga-urashima (the one in Chinese and the other in Japanese), and I got them out of my back now to serve as companions for the evening. I also had some hokku, compositions by Sanpū and Jokushi.
[f] Like stuff RF
[1] Helen Craig McCullough [translator and editor], Classical Japanese Prose: An Anthology (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990), 535-536. 
McCullough, Helen Craig [translator and editor]. Classical Japanese Prose: An Anthology (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990.

Sunday, May 13th
Mama Tried
Two weeks from now, we will celebrate Mother's Day (and Beloit College's commencement) with a little downer of a Merle Haggard tune.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

La Pensée Cyclique (11)—Mulan Granet-b

[a] Renewal RF
The next few posts in La Pensée Cyclique take a detour into territory that Marcel Granet would not have envisioned. It was, quite simply, inspired by him. One of the things that has startled me in my ongoing intellectual biography of Marcel Granet is the (intellectual) fuel that reading his work—and even his personal history—often leads me to think of new avenues in my own writing. For years—and especially since Disney's release of the Mulan movie in 1998—I have thought about ways to explain not only how badly Disney got it wrong, but things in the Mulan tale that I feel have been missed precisely because the Joan of Arc mythos absolutely dominates Western cultural interpretations of strong women. What follows is a retelling and re-analyzing of the Ballad of Mulan...inspired by my reading of Marcel Granet. I call it Mulan Granet (but Marcel Mulan sounds pretty good, too). 

If you can make it to the end of this post, you'll be rewarded with a retelling of the Ballad of Mulan (next week) that brings our understanding to new levels.
[b] Gathering RF
The Need for Renewal 
After describing in detail the architectural and seasonal solidity of the family grouping—and then proceeding to describe the deep integration of the village unit (stretching credulity with fathers and uncles, mothers and aunts, speaking as one)—Granet reaches the key point in his early analysis: a social unit of such simplicity cannot survive because it is incapable of renewing itself. Let's say that again. No basic kinship group can survive without renewal. Fundamental renewal. Unless the little backwater family wants to become a kind of royal family (with historically and genetically disastrous results), they had better bring in some new blood.

Of course, we think first of inbreeding. Farmers have understood this concept since the first coyote started eating "dog food"...and the pooches started to show a little more diversity. You see, the renewal called for here goes far beyond the common forms that we think about when our only focus is merely practical. Granet argues here for more than a little fresh conversation around the kitchen table and the avoidance of awkward tics. Society must renew and regenerate, just as the soil and the seasons must do the same. Granet stresses this point from start to finish.

          The large undivided family, which, as the days went by, was self-sufficient 
          and lived in isolation, was, however, neither completely independent nor 
          always closed. The alternating distribution of work went with a strong 
          opposition between the sexes expressed also by the prohibition on marriage 
          within the group of kinsmen.

[c] Communal RF
The only way to create real integration and a continuing social regeneration is through exchange, and this is precisely why marriage lies at the very heart of the social order. It was a focus in all of Granet’s sociological analyses. It is not merely a useful social practice. It is absolutely necessary at all levels of the social order. The practices that led to integration are not without conflict by any means, but there is in the case of marriage a biological price to pay for keeping systems closed. As Granet shows in his studies of early China, the social cost is almost as great. Families need social renewal. Period...or semi-colon.

How did Chinese peasant villages, in Granet’s idealized recreation of the world of his sources, create social exchange and renewal? The brief answer lies in trading half of the village’s children in each generation to other villages and integrating their children into the domestic unit. The social structural necessity of this arrangement should not mask its pain for individuals and families. Many sources speak to the misery of young women leaving their families and villages to become daughters-in-law. Even twentieth-century accounts show similar themes. Necessity does not equal ease, and exchange was accompanied in many cases by great pain.

          In each generation one half of the children, all those of one sex, had to 
          leave the familial village to go to marry into a neighboring village, being 
          exchanged against a group of young people of the same sex and of another 
          name. It is possible that the exchange was in the first place of boys…But 
          from the time that the texts inform us directly, the exchange was of girls: 
          the most pathetic plaint in the old songs is that of the bride forced to go to 
          live in a strange village. 
Regeneration comes from a mixing of names even more than it comes from a mixing of blood. The most idealistic picture has the young women of one village bringing new life—on numerous levels—to what was a closed system of gender-divided labor and a single surname. Regeneration, even at its most orderly, is as painful as it is necessary; it requires crossing, whether that be on the plane of fields of crops or marriage exchange.

          The essential point was that marriage was made by a crossing of families, 
          just as the field were made by a crossing of furrows. By this practice each 
          hamlet received a group of hostages from a neighbor and in turn furnished it 
          with one. These periodic exchanges, by which a family group obtained 
          pledges giving it a hold upon another group, also caused a foreign influence 
          permanently to penetrate its inner life. They made evident the dependence 
          of the domestic communities and the supremacy of the local community, a 
          wider grouping of another kind.

“Caus[ing] a foreign influence permanently to penetrate its inner life,” the closed domestic order grudgingly (and of necessity) welcomes “foreign influence.” It is not done happily on either end. One village gives up its young women and receives another group whose members were influenced by “foreign” ways. Neither village is as inviting as it might imagine itself, and precisely because each is dominated by an “in-group” mentality. Ultimately, the domestic group is dependent upon these exchanges because they create something larger—for Granet, “society” itself—through the alliances that are formed. 

This exchange and renewal is the Mulan legend, to which we now turn. Disney doesn't have a clue.

Friday, April 27, 2012

La Pensée Cyclique (10)—Mulan Granet-a

[c] Cyclical (round-square) RF
The next few posts in La Pensée Cyclique take a detour into territory that Marcel Granet would not have envisioned. It was, quite simply, inspired by him. One of the things that has startled me in my ongoing intellectual biography of Marcel Granet is that the fuel created by reading his work—and even his personal history—often leads me toward new avenues in my own writing. For years—and especially since Disney's release of the Mulan movie in 1998—I have thought about ways to explain not only how badly Disney got it wrong, but things in the Mulan tale that I feel have been missed precisely because the Joan of Arc mythos absolutely dominates Western cultural interpretations of strong women. What follows is a retelling and re-analyzing of the Ballad of Mulan...inspired by my reading of Marcel Granet. I call it Mulan Granet (but Marcel Mulan sounds pretty good, too). Let me be clear. The first two posts are not easy, but they are key to understanding the world of Mulan.
[b] Arc of Mythos RF
Joan's Interpretive Arc
Joan of Arc lives in Southeast Asia, as well as in the far-flung corridors of the East Asian world, and one need only look at the statue of her that can be seen in Cholon, near Ho Chi Minh City, to know her connection to South and East Asian images of strong, independent women in war. While the recent fascination in the West with the figure of Mulan has given some attention to women in warfare in China, it has far more often confused the image more than it has clarified it. Indeed, it appears to me from a recent re-viewing of the Disney movie Mulan that Joan of Arc has been “read into” the medieval Ballad of Mulan, only adding to the popular bewilderment surrounding Joan (and Mulan) these days.

What I want to do here is create a duet, of sorts, between Marcel Granet and the Ballad of Mulan. Although the Ballad (Mulan ci) played virtually no role in Marcel Granet’s teaching or scholarship, I believe that a close reading of the ballad from the perspective of Granet's sociology opens new interpretive possibilities for the Mulan legend. These go a long way toward breaking the hold of shallow Jeanne d'Arc readings in an East Asian context. In popular renderings (of which many children’s books are far more one-sided than even Disney) the martial side of Mulan is often greatly exaggerated in favor of what I wish to call the “marital”—the yin figure who leaves her family precisely in order to perpetuate the domestic order as a closed social unit with a sexual division of labor.

[a] Steppe-ing out RF
Finally, it is worth mentioning that, even though she is tucked far into the background of this series of posts, Jeanne d’Arc is ever-present in analyses of the Mulan legend, for the shadow that she has left in the scholarly imagination of sinologists and historians is every bit as great as that in the popular imagination. The Chinese themselves are fond of linking Mulan and Joan of Arc, even though the two have little in common beyond the fact that they were warriors. Let's thicken the stew a little.

Imaginative Ethnography
Let's get started by examining the hidden heart (as I see it) of the Ballad of Mulan—domestic solidarity in the closed kinship networks of early Chinese society. Disney doesn't have a clue, but Marcel Granet did long before they ever mixed celluloid and myth. His work represents a lifelong effort to resolve major issues at the heart of social theory with the Chinese world. He did not engage in this enterprise as a fieldworker, although he lived in China for a time. He engaged social theory through his Chinese texts. To use the language of ethnography, the classical texts were his “field.”  It is as simple, and complex, as that. 

As I like to say, Marcel Granet practiced a form of “imaginative ethnography” through which he sought to resolve the tensions between mythique and juridique—the realm of ideas, on the one hand, and the functioning of kinship and legal systems, on the other. His theoretical perspective on the sexual division of labor and the “closed” nature of the early Chinese family provide fruitful perspectives on the Mulan legend—a complex tale of gender, warfare, and marriage politics. Precisely because of his dual focus on mythique and juridique, we see opened before us a world of interpretive possibilities with a legend that easily might be read as merely that of a capable and ambitious young woman selflessly serving her father. It's a 天 and 地 of a lot more complicated than that. Hell (so to speak)'s round and square.

[d] Cycles RF
The Cycles of Rural Life 
Marcel Granet’s sociological and sinological imagination is powerfully at work in his description of peasant life in The Religion of the Chinese People, and in his analyses we begin to see the outlines of family and village organization within a complex and nuanced world of nature. The domestic order is marked by a division of the year into two (the yang seasons that mark the high point of the agricultural season and the yin seasons that occur after the harvests and before the spring planting). This is echoed by the concomitant division of labor along gender lines. Over the short run, close-knit kinship groups are a very real strength. Yet in time, Granet argues, the centripetal pull of domestic cares can be stultifying and ultimately debilitating for both the family and the broader society.

          Throughout the year, in fields cultivated in common as in their shut-off 
          villages, the peasants had dealings only with their kinsmen. A village 
          enclosed a close-knit unit and homogeneous great family. Ties of blood, 
          natural filiations, did not introduce true divisions into this large community: 
          a nephew was not less than a son nor a father more than an uncle.

[e] Prospered RF
For Granet, the village was a “homogeneous great family.”  Ties of blood in such a community do not introduce divisions of a serious nature, and he goes on to show a startling example of common kinship distinctions such as father-son and uncle-nephew being of no significant difference at least within the closed domestic community. One suspects at least a bit of hyperbole here, but Granet’s point remains important. The kinds of jealousy and possessiveness that we can see in fragmented social settings is lacking (he argues) because the domestic order is driven by the rhythmic order of the seasons—one that places the larger unit (the work unit divided by gender) above smaller divisions within the household and community. Granet’s rhetoric is pointed.

          Domestic life had no exclusive sentiments: all the young people of one 
          generation, brothers or cousins (it was all one) married women who were 
          equally sisters and cousins. In this huge family maternal affection itself did 
          not take on an appearance of jealous affection: if anybody was preferred 
          it was the children of the eldest sister.

          Male or female, it is really only the generation of the village head, or father, 
          that has any kind of ascendancy at all, and that is of an order that fits the 
          natural rhythms. In like fashion, all the aunts were called mothers: the mother 
          most respected was not the woman who gave one birth but the woman who 
          by her age (or her husband’s) occupied the rank of mother of the family. 
          Indeed, age and generation were the sole principles of classification within 
          the domestic community, which was led, or better still, represented by the 
          oldest member of the most senior generation. This latter was called  
          head or father.

Granet has given us a picture of a closed system, in which exchange took place between linked partners who worked in concert (at least within their gendered units) and prospered as a group. The integration is deceptive, though, as Granet will show...tomorrow. And if you have made it this far, you are ready to understand things in and beyond Mulan that you never dreamed. Stick with it. Michael Eisner's head would be spinning.
[f] Oases RF
The Need for Renewal
Now that we have a sense of Granet's theoretical perspective, we'll ratchet it up for one more post before getting into the heart of Mulan legend. The "background" is crucial, and the way that we see martial/marital Mulan hangs in the balance.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Primary Sources 1A.03—Who Gets Up Early? 誰起得早

Click here for the introduction to the Round and Square series "Primary Sources."
One year ago on Round and Square (26 April 2011). Evan Connell's novel, Mr. Bridge (the ending).
Click here to access Round and Square's "Primary Sources" Resource Center 
[a] Early RF
Over the course of the next year or so, Round and Square will take readers step-by-step through a very particular kind of primary source—the elementary school readers used in the mid-1980s in the Republic of China educational system. Every schoolchild on the island of Taiwan read these texts back then, and they are the foundation for understanding matters of education, acculturation, language acquisition, and translation. They were also the source of a very large chunk of my early anthropological and historical education. 

I encourage readers of Round and Square to follow these posts whether or not they read Chinese. It is clear enough where I begin speaking to language learners (the section called "Language Notes" at the end). Everything else, with the exception of the actual Chinese text, can be understood by anyone who takes the time to think about what an entire education from the ground up might be like. The introduction to this series explains these matters thoroughly, and will be posted soon. In the meantime, take a look at how first-graders (for that is where we begin) started to read their world in Taiwan a generation ago. This is "textbooks from history," and there is much to learn.

Getting up early won't go away. We are into our third primary school text (out of 276 over six grades), and the focus on nuclear family relations and individual gumption just won't quit. Everyone is Ben Franklin...except this is (the Republic of) 1985. 

And everyone gets up early. Period.

As we head into our first "review" period (there is a review and a significant test after every three language texts), it is worth considering the social, familial, and gendered implications of the lines we have read thus far. They are weighted toward the women of the family, and only three far. The only challenge is that daddy is reading the paper and mommy is sweeping the courtyard. Put on your seat belts. This is going to be a bumpy gender ride through sixth grade.

3—Who Gets Up Early?
Who gets up early? Mother gets up early.
Mama gets up early and sweeps the courtyard.
Who gets up early? Father gets up early.
Daddy gets up early and reads the newspaper.
Who gets up early? I get up early.
I get up early and go to school.

三     誰起得早
誰起得早? 爸爸起得早。
誰起得早? 我起得早。

三     起     得     媽     忙     打     爸     上
                         掃     看     書     報     學     校 

Text in Simplified Chinese (简体字)*
三 谁起得早 
谁起得早? 妈妈起得早。妈妈早起忙打扫。
谁起得早? 爸爸起得早。爸爸早起看书报。
谁起得早? 我起得早。我早起上学校。  
 *A simplified text is unthinkable in an ROC worldview. I don't "work" for them, though, and am including it for two reasons. First, an almost disturbingly large number of my students these days can't read traditional characters. This is a travesty, but I acknowledge (grudgingly) the reality. Second, it should be an eye-opener for students on either side of the "simplified/traditional" divide. Just look. Finally, if you want to read anything written before 1950, you need to learn traditional forms. Get over it. It's not political. It's literature...and politics and history. If you can only read simplified forms, you can read what (Mao) wrote, but not what he read. Think about it.

History and Culture Notes
I find it impossible to miss the dominance of the young woman (it is not exactly clear if she is elder sister or little sister from the context, but there will be four of them soon enough). Indeed, if you follow the rhetorical flow of the readers, it is as though "elder sister" begins the process and everyone else follows from there. Just watch, but never forget the gender implications of everything you read from here on in. Just watch.
[b] Waking RF
It is not worth belaboring at this point, but it is easy to see how powerful the "early-to-rise" rhetoric is in these formative texts. They would all be the first things formally memorized by students, and never underestimate how important such matters can be in developing the psyche of a young citizen.

Translation Notes
You will see that I found the opportunity to mix formality (in English) with familial informality. There is no way (in English) to render precisely the cultural pattern of formal (hierarchical) deference and family closeness. I have done my best by contrasting "father" and "daddy," as well as "mother" and "mommy." It is not perfect, but it gives a sense of the complexity of these matters (which cannot really be rendered adequately in English).

The "grammatical" translation issues are not formidable here. In fact, they all surround the nouns at the end of the "couplets." Mother (mama) beats the broom (打掃). I say that she sweeps the courtyard, and I make that decision based on the picture and the context of other elementary school texts which will follow. Father reads the newspaper (書報). I really want to say "morning paper," (as I do in the notes, below), but I held back and did not interpret whether daddy is reading last night's late-edition or the very-early edition of today (in 1985, both were readily available). 

The last "couplet" is easy. I go to school. The only thing challenging the reader is the cadence. The flow is just a bit "off" from mom's and dad's lines, and that is because it has only one character, while 媽媽 and 爸爸 have two. I still wonder why they didn't "even it out" a little bit. This would not be difficult. Maybe it is because we are reading and not chanting here. I don't know. I find it mildly jarring.

[c] Up RF
Language Notes
It is striking that the first-grade (first-semester) readers stress the adverbial use of 得 from the very start of primary education. This is not something to dismiss. There are three major uses of "de," and two of them (得, 的) have been introduced in the very beginning days of reading education. In these first three texts, it has focused on ...起得 (早/晚). The latter character (rising late) is only potential in a grammatical sense. It would never appear in the affirmative early-to-rise cadences of primary school texts, of course (but that is a cultural matter). Confucius, on the other hand, addresses this very issue. We're only in first-grade, though. That is a long way away.

The three couplets (so to speak) have exactly the same grammatical constructions. They begin with "who rises early?" and then answer those questions. First it is "mother," who rises early and sweeps the (grounds). Then it is "father," who rises early and reads the morning paper. Finally, I get up...and go to school. 

The primary contrast is between 起得早 and 早起. This is not particularly hard to see, but I find it striking that the text seems determined to ram it into the consciousness of the little first grader who would be reading this. Mother, father, et moi all (都) 早起...and 起得早.

One last word on new vocabulary. Now that we're a few days into our primary educations (in 1985), we can see the pattern that is developing for the little tykes. They learn to recognize about a dozen characters and are responsible for replicating about two-thirds of them. Recognition comes first...and then memorization (and testing). Never forget the testing.

Testing. 1-2-3 (grade)...testing.
[d] No time RF

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Seinfeld Ethnography (48)—These Pretzels Are Making Me Thirsty

Click here for an introduction to the Round and Square series Argonauts of the Seinfeldian Specific.
One year ago on Round and Square (25 April 2011)—Managing History 
[a] Salty RF
Click below for all "Seinfeld Ethnography" posts: 
Marine Biologist         The Doorman          Opposite George   Newman's Mail   The Bootleg         Marriage
Just Dessert               Sleep Desk             Late Coffee            High Stakes        Motor Oil              Downtown 
Code Cracking           Nonfat Yogurt          Bad Boy                 It's Not You         I Can't Be...          Exploding Wallet
Elaine Flies Coach    The Close Talker     The Alliance           Broccoli               Coated Culture    Dinner Party
George's Friend        Jerry's Haircut          Face Paint             Mustachioed       Smoking              East River
Pool Man                   Dunkin' Joe              Life Lessons          Reckoning          Dog Medicine      Shower Heads
Looking Busy            George Tips             Kramer's Job          Empty Tank        Bathroom Book
Click here for the reference to the "Argonauts" title, below.
Argonauts of the Seinfeldian Specific
George is under stress. He's parking cars, engines are overheating, and he needs relief. Then Kramer walks into a Woody Allen movie. George is apoplectic. Take a look.

"What's wrong with that? I had a different interpretation."

[b] Lea/r/age RF
Yes, and it is a stressed interpretation. Although we don't get the full context of George's travails here, we certainly get a sizable dose of his angst. George is parking cars and Kramer walks into a movie line. George is the latest in a long line of frustrated workers ready to crack—one way or another. Visions of Charlie Chaplin dominate for me, and George does seem to have an oddly Costanza-ish version of the assembly line going here.

Above all, though, it is the line itself. Think about "interpretation." Elaine's is somewhat emotional in a mildly thespian sort of way. Kramer and Jerry? Milquetoast. But Georgie, we hardly knew ye. That is the voice of Lear III.ii, raging against the winds of nature and society. George—fumbling keys and gulping Shasta soda—speaks across the ages. I can imagine the pudgy little figure as Julius Caesar (from veni, vidi, vici to et tu...?) or Mao's sublimated rage (let a hundred flowers bloom) or even Richard Nixon (I'm not a crook, and you won't have Nixon to kick around anymore). In my interpretation, stress is the wind that rustles the branches of the lyric.

So what is it to "interpret" a line? George's case seems to tell us that emotion is not learned or practiced as in (as I interpret them) the failed lines of Kramer, Elaine, and Jerry. It is authentic, and flows from the heart of lived experience. His life is a car-parking hell, and:
                             ...these pretzels are making him thirsty

What does it mean to "live" lines rather than (merely to) "recite" them? There is something big going on here that we will only begin to examine today. It has everything to do with the way we talk about "book learning" and "life experience." This little clip from a twenty year-old television series speaks, if we really think about it, to some of the most important sets of assumptions we have about our world and how we come to know it.
[c] Torrents RF

Note well that I am not saying that experience makes for the best acting, writing, or other sorts of performing. Far from it; I'm on the fence on this issue. On the other hand, I am pointing it out as a place where our assumptions tend to gather, like puddles after a rainstorm. Some writers (I am thinking of the novelist John Gardner) scoff at the idea that one needs life experience to write well. Just read and write he said (and wrote) many times. Every emotion you experienced by the time you started kindergarten. What you need is technique (and practice). I have a hunch that he would say the same thing if he were an actor.

          It's the sheer act of writing, more than anything else, that makes a writer...
          One can be fooled by the legend of, say, Jack London, and imagine that the 
          best way to become a writer is to be a seaman or lumberjack. Jack London
          lived in an age when writers were folk heroes, as they are not now, and an
          age when technique was not quite as important as it is now. Though a tragic
          and noble man, he was a relatively bad writer. He could have used a few 
          good teachers.[1]

Them are fightin' words, as we say back home (sometimes—when English teachers are sleeping). This is one of the great dividing lines in all of human life. How much of it all is about living, and how much is about learning? Some especially diligent readers of Round and Square will know that this is a topic very close to my intellectual heart-mind (心), and we are better for reflecting upon it almost every day of our lives. Like life itself, it's complicated.

George had no idea what he was starting here.

[d] Mangamotion RF
And if you think this is just a namby-pamby humanities discussion about interpretation, think again, buster. The issues here lie at the heart of our lives. It is everywhere in our politics, business, and family life. Can a quarter-billionaire understand the lives of students with loans by reading policy papers? At least one critique thinks not. Can someone who has never been a parent understand the importance of vacation time (or public education levies...or family tax incentives)? Can someone who has not lived or traveled abroad understand the complexities of a global world? If those questions seem like little hypotheticals, you need to slide the "on" button on your Kindle (or buy a newspaper...or swipe that iPad screen). They are all related to the big question behind pretzeled emotion. George is on the side of lived experience. We knew he wasn't about book-learning, in any case.

So what's wrong with that? It's my interpretation!

***  ***
There are a number of directions we could go from here. We could look at the cultural implications of pretzels (and, at least with regard to twisting complexity, we will). More fruitful avenues might address issues of stress, performance, practice, and, well, stress. We have three readings, and all focus on various levels of stress in the world around us. The first is an entry in Bronislaw Malinowski's personal diary from 1915 in the Trobriand Islands. When it was published in 1967, the anthropological world was shocked that the great ethnographer had feelings...and frustrations (and even went to the bathroom...and wrote about it). Stress is a constant through the four years of his diary, and a compassionate reading can tell any anthropologist a great deal about the fieldwork process. 
[e] Cri de 心 RF
We skip from early ethnography to plate tectonics with John McPhee's resonant portrayals of how stress works in plate shifts. You might ask "what is geology doing on this blog?" There are so many ways I could answer that, but let me just remind you that geology is just a wonderfully long-vision form of history. Stress has everything to do with history. Just ask Catherine or Mao (or Alcibiades)...or San Andreas

Finally, we end today with one of the most resonant poems in the Chinese lyrical tradition. Li Qingzhao lived through one of the happiest marriages ever recorded in Chinese history, as well as the loss of her husband. She also lived through the tectonic shift of the Song dynasty, as it was forced southward by northern forces. Li Qingzhao knew stress, yet the lyrical output was a thing as beautiful as the Sierra Nevada.

A Diary in the Strict Sense of the Term
[d] Stress ADV
Bronislaw Malinowski (1915)
Saturday, 1.24.15 [sic]
Yesterday, Friday, I felt quite rotten. In the afternoon and evening I suffered from characteristic lack of energy, which makes even trifles—like repacking plates, putting things tidy, etc.—appear a monstrous cross on the Golgotha of life. Yesterday at noon I took arsenic + iron, and today since midday I have been feeling better. Yesterday morning I got up as usual. Photos: making of boats; the street; 4 women. Most of the photos poor. Omaga [brought] letter from Cowley. Around 10 Omaga and Keneni came. Talk about taboo and its connection with magic practices. After lunch I waited for Pikana; happy he didn't come, and read Mexico. Very tired. With a very great effort (today, now, in the afternoon, I do not feel sleepy in the least, and I am impatient to go out, to get dressed, etc.—whatever the price, this is the result of arsenic: it is worthy of gratitude and an altar)[.] I went out after having collected the medicines I wanted to give Keneni's son (he has an abcess on the lg) in exchange for bird-of-paradise feathers. He did not come out of his hiding place. 

Went to Dini's where I discussed baskets. Came back fairly early, monstrously tired; sat behind a little rock at the ogobada and watched the sunset. Very weak. Stuffed myself too much at supper. Then I had and inspiration—I wrote a poem [...]. Igua massaged me and told stories in delightful Motu, about murders of white men, as well as his fears about what he would do if I died in that way! I fell asleep feeling very poorly. My heart a bit restless. This morning I did not feel well at all. I could barely drag myself to the village—characteristic dullness and sleepiness. I tried to obtain stones from Aba'u....Before noon Omaga came and told me about his black-magic secrets. After lunch, read Mexico—right now (4 P.M.) I feel fairly well and am about to go to the village. Today at noon I have myself a shampoo, bathed, and performed a basic evacuation—all this did me good.[2]

Plate Tectonics and Stress
[e] Plates ADV
John McPhee (1998)
The westernmost range of the Basin and Range Province is the Sierra Nevada, which has risen on a normal fault that runs along the eastern base of the mountains. The fault has experienced enough earthquakes to give the mountains their exceptional altitude. The most recent great earthquake there was in 1872. In a few seconds, the mountain range went up three feet. In the same few seconds, the Sierra Nevada also moved north-northwest twenty feet. That would help to fill in anybody's discrepancy.

Perhaps a sixth of the total motion between the plates is contributed by the other faults in the San Andreas family. Each is strike-slip, active, right-lateral—that is, viewed from one side of the fault, the other side appears to have gone to the right.
In a general way, you can demonstrate their relationship to one another with a deck of cards. Hold the deck, side up, between the palms of your hands, and slide the hands, pulling the right side toward you, pushing the left side away, and keeping pressure on the deck. The cards will respond by slipping, sticking, locking, sliding. Some may slide more than others. There may even develop a primary break. In any case, the fifty-one slips between the cards are, as in California, a family of right-lateral strike-slip faults. If one has moved more than the others, in effect you may have cut the cards, and you could call that cut the San Andreas Fault. But all the cards, to varying extents, have contributed slip to the total motion.[3]

A Melancholy Tune (Autumn Sorrow): Despair
Li Qingzhao (c. 1130)
[f] Searching ADV
     Searching, seeking,
               Seeking, searching:
     What comes of it but
               Coldness and desolation,
     A world of dreariness and misery
     And stabbing pain!
     As soon as one feels a bit of warmth
     A sense of chill returns:
     A time so hard to have a quiet rest.
     What avail two or three cups of tasteless wine
     Against a violent evening wind?
     Wild geese wing past at this of all hours,
     And it suddenly dawns on me
     That I've met them before.

     Golden chrysanthemums in drifts—
     How I'd have loved to pick them,
     But now, for whom? On the ground they lie strewn,
     Faded, neglected.
     There's nothing for it but to stay at the window,
     Motionless, alone.
     How the day drags before dusk descends!
     Fine rain falling on the leaves of parasol trees—
     Drip, drip, drop, drop, in the deepening twilight.
     To convey all the melancholy feelings
     Born of these scenes
     Can the one word "sorrow" suffice?[4]

[1] John Gardner, On Becoming a Novelist (New York: Harper & Row, 1983), 77.
[2] Bronislaw Malinowski, A Diary in the Strict Sense of the Term [Translated by Norbert Guterman] (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1967), 73-74.
[3] John McPhee, Annals of the Former World (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1998, 598-599.
[4] Victor Mair, The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 339-340.

Mair, Victor. The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature. New York: 
     Columbia University Press, 1994. 
Malinowski, Bronislaw. A Diary in the Strict Sense of the Term [Translated by Norbert Guterman]. 
     Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1967.
McPhee, John. Annals of the Former World. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1998. 
Gardner, John. On Becoming a Novelist. New York: Harper & Row, 1983.

Wednesday, May 2nd
George's Swooshing Pants
Conformity and its discontents. We'll discuss them (and food poisoning) next week on Argonauts of the Seinfeldian Specific.