Archive for January, 2009

Last night John and I watched a bunch of Troy. We will finish it, butJohn’s assessment that the film is “a hate crime against intelligence” is woefully accurate. I don’t understand what on earth anyone was thinking when that movie was made. With one slight exception Troy is uniformly horrible: the scene where the Trojans attack the Greek fleet with what appear to be flaming tumbleweeds is pretty alright.

I recently got into a discussion with Jesse on his blog about whether adaptations should be critiqued on their obedience to their source text, and while I do tend to defend loose adaptations, they at least have to be good in their own right. I like the Iliad quite a bit, and I have read it enough to know that it would make an awful movie if someone were to simply film it unaltered. It’s too disjointed as a whole, given its nature, and so I would absolutley support a liberal adaptation of the events. But not Troy. No. Menelaus is not killed by Hector, nor is Big Ajax killed by Hector for that matter, and Achilles is not smarter than all the Greeks because he is an atheist. Also: Boromir as Odysseus? What? Why can’t they make a good Greek epic anymore? I have little hope for the new Clash of the Titans now that Sam Raimi isn’t directing and Bruce Campbell isn’t playing Zeus.

In other news, I finished Sense and Sensibility and I think I’ll most likely writing my paper on it. I’ve begun Northanger Abbey and it’s really weird, I don’t feel like I’m reading Jane Austen. I think I’m going to try to find the time to type up an idea for a short story I’m fuddling with in my brain.

In an  hour or so I’m meeting a colleague for lunch and then getting a haircut and then hopefully getting in a nap before I get up with some friends this evening. I really need an extra snooze, I’m tired this week.

I know that’s maybe the wimpiest title ever for a journal entry, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t the truth. But, to my credit, I think old Hansen and Quinn’s Greek: An Intensive Course makes things a little bit harder than they need to be.

For example, their explanation of contract verbs is beyond ridiculous. For the non-Attically inclined, here’s the deal. Once upon a time, Greek verbs that had stems that ended in a short vowel existed in a long forms that had ridiculous amounts of vowel sounds in them. For example, the verb τιμἀω ends in a short alpha, which makes its uncontracted forms in the present tense look something like τιμἀω, τιμἀεις, τιμἀει, τιμἀομεν, and so on. Over time, the vowel sounds contracted and did something to the original vowels, so τιμἀω becomes τιμῶ: the alpha and the omega combine to form an omega with a different kind of accent. So what. So anyhow, there are predictable patterns to how vowel sounds contract. Hansen and Quinn give us eight distinct patterns, such as “alpha followed by an epsilon becomes long alpha, alpha followed by epsilon iota becomes long alpha with an iota subscript,” and so on, for eight impossible to memorize (at least for me) rules. In reality, there are only three real paradigms you need to know to predict the vowel contracts for short alpha contract verbs. Three! And they’re simple as sin if someone like your professor just makes a damn handout. Which, thankfully, mine did.

Anyway this long boring intro is leading up to my story for today, which revolves around another feature of Hansen and Quinn: they include passages from actual Greek texts at the back of each chapter so that you can practice with real Greek writing. All the little translations I’ve been posting come from there. I’ve been doing alright with them in general. Yesterday, however, I decided to try my hand at  a passage from the chorus from Aischylos’ Persians, included at the end of a chapter I did last semester. No problem, I’m thinking. I’ve done tons more complicated stuff since then.

Holy crap. I stared at it for hours, trying and trying to understand what the heck was happening. I ended up turning in a translation I suspected was utter hilarity. This was confirmed when my professor handed it back to me today, covered in ink. I had most of the words right but had the agency of the verbs all wrong. Fortunately for my sanity, however, I happened to look at the bottom of the paper where I had written “I’m not really sure if any of this is even close, for some reason it left me quite befuddled.” My professor’s response:

“In part this is because they didn’t tell you that this passage is not Attic Greek. It is the highly-stylized Doric dialect used in tragic lyric. Many of these words are neologisms.”

Well. OK then. It was kind of not really the language I’ve been trying to learn for the last six months. Good. Hansen and Quinn did provide me with some information, like that the play was produced in 472 B.C. (very helpful for translation, guys), but not that it was not really Attic Greek. 

So, apparently I don’t suck as badly as I thought. Which is nice to know. Hansen and Quinn did, however, give me an awesome cautionary tale to translate as part of my exercises this week:

“Whenever you did shameful things for the sake of your beloveds, o daughters, you were not honored by the prudent and the just because of your reputation. Be thought well of, therefore, by doing just things.”

OK then! Thanks, guys.

More interesting: Jeff Vandermeer asked his readers to post synopses of their current projects, so Jesse (my collaborator) and I put up a few things about Pharmakoi. Check it out, and the projects of other hard-working writers out there!

Or something. I don’t really get how software numbers work, its possible this would be 1.1? Eh? Whatever. I downloaded the Mac version of MS Paint and am now able to layer text with images! So now I have a redux:

 

see? layered text and images!

see? layered text and images!

And something new in the “that’s really not funny” department:

 

anything you have to be web-savvy to find amusing is obviously awesome

anything you have to be web-savvy to find amusing is obviously awesome

Hahahaha! OK. I’m considering getting a maenad tattoo actually, but can’t decide placement or which image. This maenad that I have defaced here is one of my favorites but obviously she has no body and I kind of want a big piece, full body, dancing, etc. I might have an artist do some sort of composite image.  I’m also considering getting an apotropaic gorgon head behind my ear, although I’m starting to have less faith in the gods as I totally poured libations while drinking wine and studying Greek last night and I definitely don’t think I did so well on my quiz today.

In other nerdy classics-related news, these shoes! I must have them.

My exceedingly good friend and kick-ass Japanese student Raechel is listing portions of her translations over at her blog, and I thought that as imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I’d follow suit. Raechel, with many years of her language under her belt, is doing far more than I can, but I’ve been enjoying the snippets I can manage at this point in my studies.

The first real Greek I did were some fragments from Menander:

A life without marriage is a life without pain.

Bad friends bear bad fruit.

An ill-timed pleasure gives birth to harm.

The next was from Sophokles’ Philoktetes, lines 792-796. Philoktetes has just discovered he has been left behind on an island and his companions have left without him to go to Troy.

“Oh how awful!

Again, how truly terrible! O my two commanders,

Agamemnon, Menelaos, how after all this time

could you nourish this sickness instead of me?”

Woe, woe is me!”

The final lines of Euripides’ Alcestis (and Bakkhai, as a matter of fact):

Many are the forms belonging to the gods.

and the gods accomplish many unexpected things,

and the things expected are not accomplished,

but of the unexpeted things, the god discovers a way.

This story was of this sort.

Finally, here’s a few of the final lines of Aischylos’ Eumenides (754-756):

“O Pallas! You who have been the savior of my family,

you have allowed me to return to the paternal homeland of which I was deprived.”

Badassery, to be sure. Next I’m working on a selection from Persians. Woo!

Holy crap was that bad. John thought it should have been called Underworld: Prevolution. Either way, wow was it horrible. The Onion AV Club gave it a D+ (or, as it is commonly known, a “gentleman’s F”) and I agree except for the + part which can only be justifiable because of Bill Nighy’s presence in the film. 

At any rate, I’m starting a new tag on the blog. I think something the internet is sorely missing is the phenomenon of lolcats as applied to the classics. So I am going to remedy this. I’m calling them lolgreeks because lollenes or lolchaeans didn’t seem quite as good. 

achilleus and patroklosPerhaps everyone else is over lol-ifying everything but to me it’s very amusing. I’m hunting down a bunch  of ridiculous images for my classics class, so I’m sure I’ll have a  lot of pretty righteous material for this project. I have no idea how  to layer text onto images so they’ll most likely be pretty basic.

Tomorrow I’m going to have to do some pretty epic studying for Greek, I guess we’re doing deponent verbs and -mi verbs, but first I think the syllabus calls our next project “Principle Parts Extravaganza” so that should be fun. So I’ll be reviewing my principle parts of lots of exciting verbs.

Oh snap, maybe I’ll do some lolgreeks in Attic Greek. Can the world withstand the awesome?

I’m sitting here in my house this lovely Thursday and it feels like my scalp is on fire. Why? Because I am currently stripping out the black and blue dye from my hair in order to see if I can get it a boring shade of dark brown. Boo hoo! This “Color Zap” nonsense is making my whole head tingle and burn, and I can look forward to this for the next hour or so. I’m really glad that the lady at Sally Beauty Supply told me this was going to happen because I would be seriously upset right now if she hadn’t. 

I’m wondering, after the wedding, if I’ll go back to bleaching my hair and making it fun colors, though, because while I really like negotiating my appearance I wonder about the ecological implications of bleach and if I’m being selfish for using it. Manic Panic is all vegetable dye and so huzzah for that, but my hair is very dark naturally and so in order to get interesting colors I have to get out the peroxide. Hm. 

In other news: I’m 2/3 of the way through good old Sense and Sensibility and I’m getting into fights in my class with other students regarding it. I really cannot stand Elinor and I’m pretty much alone in that opinion among those who speak in class. I can’t take the passive-aggressive nonsense with her, nor her (as I read it) jealousy of Marianne’s open temper and unwillingness to conform to the more ridiculous strictures of British society even to get a husband or preserve her honor. Yes, one could argue that Marianne is incredibly selfish, as her behavior has the potential to ruin Elinor’s matrimonial viability, but at the same time she is speaking truth to power in a compelling way, and I feel like through Marianne, Austen herself is questioning social mores.

Additionally, as this is my first complete read-through of Sense and Sensibility, my only impressions of Colonel Brandon have been from the Emma Thompson movie, where Alan Rickman gives him panache and a serious degree of not-sketchiness and dignity that the original character perhaps does not deserve. In the movie, Colonel Brandon to me always came across as sweet, serious, and kind, and infatuated with Marianne but willing to accept that she does not care for him. Colonel Brandon in the novel is a creepster without warning. He comes where he knows he is not wanted, and is in several places described as staring at Marianne. Though her rudeness to him is viewed by Elinor as inexcusable, I have to say, if when I was seventeen some weird old man about the same age as my mother showed up at my house and just looked at me all the time, I’d probably be less than thrilled by his attentions. Elinor, however, is obsessed with matrimony and therefore cannot see Marianne’s valid lack of regard for the Colonel, but I think the reader should not feel induced to agree with the eldest Miss Dashwood on this. 

who could argue with the hat?

who could argue with this hat? who would want to?

At any rate, my head is itching something fierce and I fear the black dye is proving stubborn. We’ll see if I’m just ruining my hair and will have to show up at the wedding all bald-headed Tank Girl style.

I’m going to take some time to work on Pharmakoi tonight and I’m pretty happy about that, though I wonder if my itchy-headedness will distract me too much from my edits. I am at a section that needs pretty heavy re-writing so we’ll see.

I will finish this night with a link to my friend Selena’s new website, which is very cool and well designed. This is a fairly amusing notice as I think Selena might be one of the only people who actually reads this blog, but in case someone stumbles across my blog who would be interested in the fiction and non-fiction writing of a very cool Poe-scholar, they would do well to check her out.

Though I don’t have any intention of watching the inauguration during the actual event (a classmate of mine sees this as a character flaw, but I really can’t see how youtubing it after class is really any different), I have to say I’m more hopeful than I have been in a few weeks regarding Obama’s centrist shift. It seems that Obama has appointed a vegan named Cass Sunstein to head the Office of Information and Regulatory affairs. Sunstein seems like an interesting fellow. Here is a PDF of a primer he wrote on animal rights, and though his views differ from mine in some ways, this guy is no slouch and I’m happy to have him in the White House.

A few choice quotes that make a vegan’s heart hopeful:

“I believe that that meat-eating would be acceptable if decent treatment is given to the animals used for food. Killing animals, whether or not troublesome, is far less troublesome than suffering. But if, as a practical matter, animals used for food are almost inevitably going to endure terrible suffering, then there is a good argument that people should not eat meat to the extent that a refusal to eat meat will reduce that suffering. Of course a legal ban on meat-eating would be extremely radical, and like prohibition, it would undoubtedly create black markets and have a set of bad, and huge, side-effects. But the principle seems clear: People should be much less inclined to eat meat if their refusal to do so would prevent significant suffering.”

TRUE STORY! I feel like this guy pretty alright– reading between the lines, at least. I like his style: basically, I think this passage can be read from a centrist or radical viewpoint. Though he seems to be saying “sure, if you eat meat, just do it in a nice way” it seems more likely that he is actually couching his argument for abolition in centrist terms. A close reading I think would basically be more a long the lines of “IF meat could be eaten without suffering to animals (think that vat-grown meat they’re talking about), THEN it would be OK morally to eat it, BUT since it cannot be eaten without causing suffering, it is immoral to do so.” Ah, philosophy. This is why I just don’t eat animal products and call it a day, unless someone tries to get all up in my Kool-Aid about it.

Additionally:

“Those who insist that animals should not be seen as property might be making a simple and modest claim: Human beings should not be able to treat animals however they wish.”

We just might! Anyways, I can hear the right-wing heads exploding as I type, and probably some left-wing heads too although they blog about it less. More later (maybe), gotta go to school!

I just finished re-reading Pride and Prejudice for my Jane Austen class, and yet again I found myself awed and humbled by Austen’s style. Her smoothness of narrative is terrifying in its near-perfection, and her characterization and plotting are impeccable. My friend Shawn is fond of trying to provoke me by saying things like “there’s a reason some works are canon” and though I will argue with him (all in good fun, of course), in Austen’s case, I happen to agree.

It’s not surprising that of all the women writers* out there Austen is the canonical one. Many would assert her allegedly conservative values as what gives her that status, but I would disagree about both the conservative nature of her values and that being the reason she appears on syllabi everywhere. Austen is too slippery for such small analysis– the raging debates in academic circles are testament to her subtlety. I tend to side with the camp that declare her to be subversive, but I think Austen’s true glory is that anyone can find what they want. If you like romance, Austen has something for you. If you like bright women being impertinent, you are also served. If you are the type of person who likes to see bright, independent women humbled by strong males Austen will please you. And, I would argue, if you’re the kind of individual who likes the act of liking being humbled by strong males while winking at the world and getting pleasure from the power-play, Austen will give you just what you need. In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet cries “How despicably have I acted!” after Mr. Darcy gives her the letter which explains to her just how much she has misjudged him. She goes on to say: “I, who have prided myself on my discernment! I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity in useless or blameable distrust. How humiliating is this discovery! yet, how just a humiliation!” There are many out there who would take many different kinds of pleasure in a “just humiliation,” but I wander from my point. Freak to fundamentalist, Austen contains pleasing sentiments all wrapped in smooth, beautiful prose.

Given how versatile, subtle, and engaging Austen’s writing is, it is sad that Austen has such a reputation of being chaste, trivial, or outdated, and that most who claim this have never even read an Austen novel. Reading Austen makes me think about my father, who used to roll his eyes at Austen movies whenever I’d bring them into the house and bellow “chick flick” or say things along the lines of “she’s a writer only a woman could appreciate.” The implication here was, of course, inferiority, and inferiority based on writing that focused on the specific world of women and women’s concerns. Whether or not my dad was trying to make a joke or not, regardless of his intentions, as a young woman I took my father’s statements to heart and dismissed Austen as part of a stigmatized crowd of “women writers” I wanted nothing to do with (most women writers figured into that category, with the exception of maybe Anne McCaffery– the dragon books, not the more girly Rowan or Ship Who Sang series–and Ayn Rand).

After getting to college I had my eyes opened by awesome professors who helped me realize that women’s writing is only trivial if you think women’s lives are trivial. I re-discovered the books I’d previously turned up my nose at: Austen, Ingalls-Wilder, Montgomery, Woolfe, Le Guin, and God forbid, even Helen Fielding. I liked these authors. I liked their style. And it changed me enough that I went on eventually to get a graduate degree in women’s writing (and hopefully become a woman writer myself).

Austen makes me happy, even when I’m not entirely in love with her novels. I’m in the middle of Sense and Sensibility right now, and though I have little regard for either of the Miss Dashwoods and their circumstances, I know there’s so much going on in the book I can’t dismiss it or even really dislike it. Currently I’m wrangling with the idea that the standard interpretation of Austen’s books as possessing an omniscient 3rd person narrator is faulty in the case of S&S, and that the book is actually narrated by Elinor Dashwood. It’s making a rather halting plot that much more engaging, as I think about things like how perhaps Lucy Steele isn’t quite so “sly, selfish, and insecure,” (the description of the SparkNotes I just consulted for the spelling of her last name) but rather is rather just competition for Elinor. If Elinor is narrating, it makes more sense of the fact that everyone else in the novel thinks the Miss Steeles, Lucy especially, are wonderful young women. Again, Austen is slippery, and tangling with her takes more than cursory attention. 

The more I read of Austen the more I despair of ever writing as brilliantly as she does, with such nuance and such ability to move her reader even hundreds of years after she wrote. But Austen, in her wonderful way, makes me love that despair– or perhaps, rather, that just humiliation

 

*I am conflicted about the term “women writers” or any other term like that every time I use it. I think there are notable and important differences in men’s and women’s writing, especially historically, but I fear falling into some kind of essentialism when I use it. I also dislike any term that the male equivalent goes un-gendered: the opposite of a female author isn’t a male author, but rather, just an “author” untainted by gender. Not to jump into Feminism 101 or anything, but for thinking about Austen and my own reading history, I’ve chosen to use it as self-consciously as possible, with the hope of utilizing it to some good here.

Tomorrow I’m back to it, Greek II and a class on Jane Austen as well as teaching. I’m a little nervous– I’m at the really exciting part of Pharmakoi and I know I won’t have lots of time to edit (if any) until the semester ends. Well, I should have at least a few weeks before it goes crazy but I know how much time I have to put into the Greeks to be OK in that class, so. . .

I love the book, though. I really do. Every time I get through a chapter I feel very happy about it. I edited down a slipshod crappy section today that I had just really stuck in as a placemarker in its original state and I think it’s pretty alright now. Every once in a while, though, I get kind of unhappy because I think I’m being really awful to my characters and putting them through too much. It really is in some ways a grueling book, so much bad happens. But I think it is beautiful too so perhaps that’s worth something in the end.

. . . to aid in ear-stretching. While watching Babylon A.D. last night I managed to get my left ear up to 1g! Man, was the movie bad, though. Vin, what happened to you? Why? Did you really need the money that badly? 

I really really don’t know what Babylon A.D. was about other than Vin Diesel helping a kung-fu nun played by Michelle Yeoh get a pregnant robot virgin to America at the behest of an evil religious corporation and a Russian man with uneven eyebrows? But maybe she was not a robot? The beginning was dumb, the middle was boring, and the ending made no sense. So all in all, wow.