Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Let's Make A Book Of This

This past fall, Yolanda Cuomo, a New York-based artist & graphic designer, learned that she had to vacate her Chelsea studio of twenty-five years. The video above offers a glimpse of her unique book-making process during the last days in her studio.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Why Fatherhood Matters

by Stephen Marche
Death generates an amazing amount of paperwork.
When my father died—unexpectedly, aged sixty- four, nowhere near ready—I was dropping off my son at school. After the initial downpour of oblivious grief, bureaucracy had immediate demands. The family needed to approve an autopsy, since he had died on the street, without witnesses, right there in the open. His body had to be moved. Where? Under whose authority? Somebody needed to sign for his recovered belongings. And, of course, there was the obituary, which cost about $800 per paper—that’s how they get ya — enough to give me pause even when directly confronted by the clearest evidence I would ever receive that you can’t take the money with you. It’s almost as if the world decides to support mourners by the arrival of a tidal wave of busywork. Then in the afternoon I had to pick up my son from kindergarten and tell him that his grandfather no longer was.

I dreaded it. How was I supposed to explain what made no sense to me? My father and my son had been close. The night be-fore, they had been out for ice cream. As I arrived at the school, I ran into my wife’s cousin, a good guy whose own father had recently died. He had the misfortune to ask a guy whose father had just died “How you doing?” I told him. Instantly he stuck out his hand and shook mine.
It was weird. We laughed at its weirdness at the time. He later told me he was embarrassed by the gesture. But I came to realize it made perfect sense. He was congratulating me. That day, on that walk, I had become a man.

As the patriarchy is slowly dying, as masculinity continues to undergo a constant process of redefinition, fatherhood has never mattered more. Having children has always been a major life marker, of course, but the demise of other markers of masculine identity has given fatherhood outsize importance. The old religious rituals gave way long ago. The post-dynamic-capi talism of the moment has taken away the replacement methods of proving yourself. Making a living is principally a sign of good luck. Owning property is a sign of your parents’ status more than it is your own. Combat itself is now gender-neutral. Only fatherhood is indisputably masculine, which is why when you ask men when they became men, they usually answer when they became a father or lost a father.
Men want kids more than ever before. Since 1965, according to new research from the Pew Research Center, the amount of time fathers spend with their children has nearly tripled. In 2011, the largest study of singles ever undertaken showed that currently, young unmarried men want children slightly more than young unmarried women do. Another study showed that men not only want children more than women do but that they also become more depressed and jealous when they don’t have them.

At the same moment fatherhood is gaining this overwhelming significance in the lives of men, it remains widely mocked in pop culture. Fathers on TV come in two principal varieties: Mr. Mom and fat pig. The most popular shows of the past thirty years have all been about family and have all had a failed dad at the center. The ur-fat-pig is Homer Simpson, a man who worships a waffle stuck to the ceiling, but the purer expression is probably Family Guy’s Peter Griffin, the farting, mentally handicapped narcissist whose subsidiaries amount to $1 billion in revenue. The Mr. Mom type was defined by the defeated, awkward, confounded Raymond on the ironically titled Everybody Loves-Raymond. The loser dad was central to $h*! My Dad Says and remains a staple figure today on shows like Guys with Kids. And a new brand of bumbling dad on television is embodied by Phil Dunphy from Modern Family. I think of him as the Labrador-retriever type — big, dumb, and cheerful. At least Modern Family has registered the change.
The clearest evidence that the old bumbling father is doomed comes from advertising. Last year, a Huggies spot that put its diapers “to the ultimate test—dads” was pulled when it provoked outrage. Advertisers care because cash is at stake. They have realized that the market for men who consciously think of themselves as fathers and are passionate about that role is considerable. Nonetheless, the engaged father remains an alternative form, a remarkable phenomenon worthy of op-eds. The cool dad retains all the cultural apparatus that status implies, with self-consuming, inherently narcissistic, demanding poses that co-opt and then mock. That double process certainly greeted Neal Pollack’s Alternadad when it came out in 2007. And now Kindling Quarterly, a journal for design-conscious fathers, has launched, and I know I am supposed to make fun. I mean, the first issue has a recipe for pumpkin gnocchi and a (rather brilliant) reconsideration of Mr. Mom. It would be so easy. But I won’t. Fatherhood is the one truly binding connection among men, and it’s too important now. I feel bound to other fathers in a way that I really don’t experience in any other capacity. If you’ve ever wondered why new parents are so unbearable to be around, especially for people who don’t have kids, it’s because they are overwhelmed by the strength of their personal transformation. Like teenagers who’ve lost their virginity, new parents have been inducted into a secret, and that secret is all that matters to them! The secret seems, at least for a while, to be the whole of the world.

Fatherhood is also classically aspirational. It’s a marker of class, pure and simple. Fatherlessness is a real crisis even as fatherhood gains this wild significance. In 2008,41 percent of births involved unmarried women compared with 28 percent in 1990. Fatherlessness as a condition has been linked with virtually every social ill you can name (the big exception being lesbian families): Young men who grow up without fathers are twice as likely to end up in jail, 63 percent of youths who commit suicide are from fatherless homes, and 71 percent of high school dropouts come from fatherless homes. What these connections mean— particularly whether fatherlessness is a symptom of poverty or a cause—is the subject of complex debate. Neither political party is willing to deal with the consequences of the connections, though. The Left looks the other way, fearing the stigmatization of single mothers and wallowing in the vestigial critique of family structure as a whole. The Right loves to talk about “family values” but lives in a fantasy about what those values are. It is astonishing how much the conservatives of the moment talk about the family and how little they understand about how contemporary families actually work. I suppose they must retain their indulgent vision of 1950s men and women. Otherwise, they might have to ask themselves what the cost of arresting every black man who ever took a puff of marijuana and separating them from their children might mean for those communities. They might have to think about maternity and paternity leave.
If conservatives ever did stop to look at contemporary families and contemporary fatherhood in particular, they might discover a source of great strength. The appeal of fatherhood, its newfound position as a requirement of the good life, is that it is a real duty.

It binds you to other people. It binds you, for real, to a woman. It is the only thing that still can. Sex is basically an exchange of pleasantries now. Marriage is instantly reversible, a negotiable contract. But fatherhood is real.
Obama understands the craving for the bond intimately. The most startling detail from Jodi Kantor’s marriage biography, The Obamas, is that the president eats dinner with his family almost every night. No doubt he enjoys the time with his girls. But he must understand how much that gesture represents the ideal of a new masculinity — he’s a father as much as he is a president. He embodies the transferred status of fatherhood nearly perfectly: Once the president was the Father of the Nation. Now the president must just be a father.

On the day of my father’s death, as I walked to pick up my son, I had no idea what I was supposed to do, and I also knew that whatever I would do would matter enormously to my son. Naturally, I tried to imagine what my own father would do. His importance in my life had never been more vivid. We rarely agreed about politics or anything like that, but we were both smart enough to recognize that we weren’t supposed to. He grew up in poverty, managed to educate himself through the military, was very interested in poetry, became a venture capitalist and then a professor, and walked the eighty-eight-shrine Buddhist pilgrimage of Shikoku in Japan. His own father died when he was eight, yet he managed to turn himself into a man of the world. I have always been interested in political systems that enable personal growth like his and in definitions of masculinity that empower people to break out into the world, as he did, rather than curl away from it. But on the way to the school, such subtleties didn’t matter. The switch that had flipped was binary. My father had always been there when I needed him, right up until that moment.
I brought my son back to the house and sat him down in the living room with his mother. I told him his grandfather was dead. He wanted to know if that meant he would never see him again. I said yes. Then he started to weep. The lesson was harsh for a six-year-old: People are there and then they’re not. He threw himself into my arms. I was his father. And all that meant, right then, was that I was there. I was there for my son. I would be there until I wasn’t. And that was enough.

by Stephen Marche
Esquire, June/July 2013

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Universal Gravitation Theory

This description of one of the fundamental forces of nature is among the greatest achievements in science. Isaac Newton came up with it in 1687 as part of his masterful Principia Mathematica, a three volume description of mathematics.
Universal gravitation theory says that there is a mutual attraction between anything that has mass anything made of normal matter, that is. That attraction depends on the two masses involved, the distance between them, and a constant known as the gravitational constant. One of the central insights of the theory was that the gravitational force follows an "inverse square law." This means the attraction between the two objects diminishes as the square of the distance between them. Newton's formulation of the law was so accurate that it immediately explained the motion of the planets, creating an easy way to predict their movements relative to each other and the Sun. It has also enabled us to send rockets into space.

After Einstein came up with the theory of relativity and used it to explain some small anomalies in the planetary orbits, it was realized that Newton's law was not quite the final word on gravity. However, it is almost universally accurate when applied to the gravitational attractions we encounter in everyday life.

by Michael Brooks  30Second Theory


In the early days of the cosmos, the Olympian gods met with human males to decide how meat was to be apportioned between them. Prometheus, a son of the Titan god Lapetus, acted as facilitator. An ox was slaughtered, and Prometheus divided it into two piles. One consisted of meat covered with tripe, the other of bones covered with luscious fat.
Prometheus invited the Olympian god Zeus to choose, and he selected the pile that looked good but that contained mostly bones. When Zeus perceived that he had been tricked, in his fury he withheld fire from mankind. So although men had meat, they could not cook it. (According to an alternative version, Zeus knew of the deceit but chose the inferior selection in order to punish humans later.)

Prometheus then stole fire from the gods and gave it to mankind. Zeus was now doubly angry, and so devised punishments for mankind as well as for mankind's divine champion. For mankind he invented womankind, ordering the craftsman god Hephaestus to fashion from clay the first woman, Pandora. She was foisted upon Prometheus' slow-witted brother, Epimetheus.

As for Prometheus, Zeus had him bound to the side of a mountain, where an eagle daily tortured him by eating his liver.
by William Hansen  30Second Myths

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Laws of Motion

When Isaac Newton sat down and thought about how things move, he worked out three laws that are now so familiar they seem like common sense. First, he said that objects have "inertia," which is a measure of resistance to changes in their motion. Inertia means that things remain still until you give them a push. Similarly, objects that are moving keep moving unless something stops or pushes on them. Second, the mass of the object determines what effect a particular push will have on the motion (or lack of it). The third law, which is the most famous, feels slightly different. It says that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. If I push you, I feel an equal push in return. This is the principle by which space rockets and jet engines work: When they push out an exhaust gas from the nozzle at the rear, the engines get a push forward. This is why you should be careful when you step off a boat. To move yourself forward, you inevitably move the boat backward. If you don't take that into account, you can end up taking a swim!
by Michael Brooks, 30 Second Theory

the Titans

Gaia and Uranus gave birth to the race of Titans, who warred unsuccessfully against the Olympians in the great Titanomachy, which lasted ten years. The meaning of "Titan," in spite of many suggestions, remains unclear.  In general, the Titans symbolized the powerful forces of nature, untamed by the rational and patriarchal rule of the Olympians. They were seldom represented in art and garnered little worship. Two notable Titans were the watery male Oceanus and the female Tethys, probably derived from the Babylonian watery Tiamat.
Oceanus was a river that surrounded the world.  According to Homer, Oceanus and Tethys gave birth to all the other gods. Oceanus also fed all the waters in wells, fountains, and rivers. From Oceanus and Tethys came the three thousand Oceanids, spirits of the sea, rivers, and springs.

Other Titans include Phoebe, who may be connected with the sky, and Themis, who represented that which is fixed and settled.  She controlled the Delphic Oracle before it passed to Apollo and bore children to Zeus, as did the Titan Mnemosyne, "memory." Cronus and Rhea were parents or grandparents of the Twelve Olympians, including Zeus.

by Barry Powell, 30-Second Myths

Monday, July 22, 2013

Principle of Least Action

This says, essentially, that things happen in the way that requires least effort.

So, a beam of light will travel in a straight line because that is the shortest path between two points. If you drop a ball, it will travel toward the center of the Earth. No one is quite sure who came up with the principle of least action, but your everyday experience would probably lead you to come up with it if you thought about it for a bit. In the 18th century, though, this was a big deal. Some of the greatest names in mathematics, such as Leonhard Euler, Pierre de Fermat, Gottfried Leibnitz, and Voltaire were involved in the argument over who came up with the idea first. It was important to make these kinds of statements at the time, because they led to the formation of the equations that describe how things move when acted on by forces. They also led to the concepts of potential and kinetic energy.

by Michael Brooks, 30 Second Theory

Uranus - primordial Greek god

According to Hesiod, Uranus was the son and then the husband of Gaia. He hated his offspring, pushing them down into a cranny of Gaia and thereby not allowing them to come forth. Gaia conspired with her son Cronus, a Titan, to overcome Uranus, giving Cronus an adamantine sickle (probably iron). Cronus waited in ambush from within Gaia.
When Uranus came lusting for Gaia, Cronus cut off his father's genitals, which fell into the sea. The blood from the wound fell to the earth, whence sprang up the Giants ("earth-born ones"), the Erinyes (the "Furies"), and the Meliae (the ash-tree nymphs). From the foam gathered around the genitals that landed in the sea came forth Aphrodite (by false etymology, the "foam-born one"). The story attributes creation to the separation or differentiation of either gods or elements-a common mythological process. Uranus and Gaia were, in effect, locked in a perpetual embrace, allowing no place for the world to appear. Once Uranus was castrated, the Titans and the other children of Uranus and Gaia could emerge, and the creation of the world could proceed.

by Barry Powell, 30-Second Greek Myths

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Top TEN Questions to Ask When You Are in the Hospital

1. Why is this test being done?
Before having any test, understand its purpose and find out how the results will affect your care.  Especially if it is an invasive procedure, ask if there are any risks from the test itself and if there is another way to get the information needed.
2. What are the results of my tests?
If you had tests done, ask for the results and for someone to go over them with you so you understand them. Request a written copy of results to keep with your medical records.
3. Have you washed your hands?
Before anyone touches you ask, "Have you washed your hands?" It may be hard to do, but it could prevent a life-threatening infection.
4. Who will be taking care of me?
Your team can include the head doctor (also called an "attending"), fellows, residents, medical students, nurse practitioners, nurses, and nursing assistants. It can be very confusing. Ask for, or keep, a list of who is providing your care. Just like in baseball, it's hard to keep track without a program!
5. When will my tubes be removed?
lf you have any tubes coming into your body (IV, urinary catheter), ask when they can be taken out This will reduce the chances that you will get an infection.
6. What are the medications I'm taking?
Ask for a list of all of the medications that they are going to be giving you and have the nurse tell you what each is for. Pain medicines, sleeping pills, and stool softeners are often prescribed on an "as needed" basis. You are in the driver's seat as to whether you want these. The fewer medicines you take, the fewer side effects you will experience.
7. Who is performing my operations?
Before having surgery, ask who will be doing it and exactly what will be done. You have the right to know whether your surgery will be performed by the hand of your medical team or a resident. If you aren’t comfortable with the answer, ask to speak to the head of the team.
8. Are there any support services for patients?
Many hospitals have integrative or complementary health departments that offer all kinds of programs, from bedside yoga to nutritional counseling, which can be a tremendous support to your emotional health.
9. Could you explain that again?
Some healthcare providers can forget that you may not have a medical degree! Medical terminology that seems obvious to someone working in a hospital is like a foreign language to most patients. Keep asking for things to be clarified if you don't understand exactly what they mean.
10. When can I go home?
While a hospital is a great place to be when you need to be there, getting out as soon as you can is also important. Fewer days in the hospital means fewer days for you to pick up something you didn't come in with.

Friday, July 19, 2013


Together with Homer, Hesiod is one of the two fathers of Greek poetry. Although he is the putative author of numerous works, there are two that are considered to be authentically his: Works and Days and the Theogony. Whether a single person composed these two works remains a debated issue, just as the single authorship of the Iliad and the Odyssey is still an unsettled issue. Only a little is known about Hesiod beyond what can be gleaned from internal evidence. We do know that he bemoaned the hardness and unfairness of life. Humans were at the mercy of the gods, of the physical world, and of one another.

Hesiod had inherited from his father a small patch of land at the foot of Mount Helicon, the home of the Muses. His sheep pastured on the lower slopes, and drank from one of the sacred springs—the Hippocrene.
The Theogony is the main source of Greek cosmogony, covering the creation, evolution, and descent of the gods and the eventual hegemony of Zeus. Works and Days is addressed to Hesiod's brother, Perses, with whom he had a falling out over the division of their father's estate. Where Hesiod was prudent, Perses was profligate, and asked his brother for a loan. In reply, Hesiod composed Works and Days, which laments the injustice of society and the hardness of life—too many mouths to feed—but which also defends the dignity of labor. Works and Days also describes farming techniques as well as the key myths of Prometheus and of Pandora and the Ages— the alternative myths of the loss of the equivalent of Paradise.

In contrast to Homer, who addresses kings rather than ordinary persons, Hesiod addresses fellow farmers and other commoners. Homer and Hesiod, writing independently of each other, nevertheless agree largely on the constituents of the Pantheon, though they differ on emphases and details. Together, Homer and Hesiod constitute the equivalent of the Greek Bible. Hesiod provides the myths of creation and of the fall; Homer provides subsequent human history.
by Barry Powell, 30-Second Myths


"Broad-bosomed earth, sure standing-place" (in the early Greek poet Hesiod's words), Gaia emerged at the very beginning of creation, after Chaos. Developing from a living entity into an outright personality, Gaia gave virgin birth to Uranus, the "sky father," then produced with him a mighty brood of children, headed by the Titans. In the strikingly Oedipal generational struggles of early Greek myth, Gaia's role is equivocal.
When Uranus, fearful of his children, buried them back in her womb, Gaia gave her youngest son Cronus the adamantine sickle to castrate him; when Cronus in turn started swallowing his children, Gaia freed the youngest, Zeus, to use as a weapon against him. But when Zeus imprisoned his father, Gaia gave birth to the fearsome snaky monster Typhon to attack Zeus, only to make peace with Zeus and advise him how to counter the threat of his child Athena. Gaia's combination of the nurturing and the destructive reflected Greek male anxieties about female and maternal power. More fundamentally, Gaia was the earth itself, at once a beneficent and a ruthless mother, both womb and tomb for all the generations of earthly life.

Almost all mythologies personify the earth as a mother goddess. The Egyptians are an exception, with a male earth (Geb) and female sky (Nut).
by Geoffrey Miles, 30-Second Myths

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

2 Rules to Networking

I don’t have to convince you of the power of a professional network, do I? One that is not only inside your current company but that reaches outside of its walls? Or that networking is often listed as one of the most important unwritten rules of success in business? And that research shows that your next business opportunity (and often, job) is more likely to come from a loose connection in your network than from a friend or close colleague?

But networks are like any good investment. The great ones can have an extremely high ROI (return on investment)…. but not right away, and often not from the sources that one might expect.

I only have two simple rules of networking:

1) I try to meet at least one new person in my area of interest every month, or significantly deepen an existing relationship.

2) I do something nice for someone in my network every week.

This second doesn’t have to be a big find-someone-a-job favor, but instead can be connecting two people who should know each other, sharing research or information that someone you know may find useful, or posting a LinkedIn recommendation on a colleague.

These likely won’t find you a new job or get you a big deal next week. (I almost don’t know how to reply to the email sitting in my in-tray from someone who says that she keeps trying to sell things to new people in her network, but some of them won’t buy….or reply.) But over time, these two very simple rules are small seeds that you plant, any one of which can one day provide a strong return. And in the meantime, they'll give you a lot of joy.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Why I blame the Prosecutors

I have a number of thoughts, observations and emotions relating to the Zimmerman verdict.

Notwithstanding the anger I have over the Zimmerman’s acquittal in shooting Trayvon Martin is the blame that I place at the feet of the Jacksonville, FL Prosecutors Office for  repeated failures during the trial to aggressively pursue Zimmerman’s conviction.  At the heart of this trial, I believe, was the knowledge that race determines whether fear, history, and public sentiment offers a killer a usable alibi.  Was Zimmerman profiling Martin which began the unfortunate chain of events?  Was Zimmerman motivated by race to pursue Trayvon even after he was instructed not to do so?  Was Zimmerman obligated to retreat before using deadly force?
There was little if no discussion or analysis of racial profiling by Zimmerman.  These questions were not asked: "Why did you assume because [Trayvon] Martin was wearing a hoodie, he was committing a crime? Why did you assume that because he was walking he was doing something improper? What made him decide to follow Martin? Why did he not heed the police directive not to pursue Martin? What made him feel so threatened? Why didn't you identify yourself? Why did you assume he didn't belong in the neighborhood?" What made you leave your car? You were armed with a gun, did you think you might need to use it? We may never know, but Zimmerman did believe that Martin was a "fucking punk" — words he used on a call to a police despatcher, referring to troublemakers in the neighborhood.

The jurors never had an opportunity to consider these facts because Zimmerman did not take the stand and the Judge would not allow race to enter into the trial sans opening or closing statement.  But racial profiling is at the heart of this trial, as the Zimmerman’s defense lawyer pointed out
Zimmerman was not trained as a law-enforcement officer, and Zimmerman was told not to follow Martin.  The prosecutors did not effectively show that Zimmerman was the aggressor and should not have been allowed to use the “Stand Your Ground” defense. “Zimmerman's statements to the police lay the groundwork for self-defense. They contain numerous self-serving references to previous break-ins and the need to start a watch program in the neighborhood, how Martin fled to a darkened area and disappeared between houses, how Zimmerman dropped his phone, got punched in the face by Martin, had his head slammed into the concrete sidewalk, felt like his head was "going to explode," shouted for help several times, was told by Martin, "You're gonna die tonight, mother[expletive]," was terrified, and prayed to God that someone videotaped his encounter with Martin. Zimmerman's demeanor on the video is calm, polite, willing, and non-confrontational. “

“The prosecution's case without Zimmerman's statements is legally sufficient for a jury to convict, if not murder, then arguably manslaughter. Its case consists of Zimmerman's apparent targeting and profiling of Martin, pursuing Martin while uttering expletives, continuing to pursue Martin after Zimmerman was directed by a police operator not to do so, and Martin, sounding fearful, telling his girlfriend over the phone that he was being pursued by a "creepy" man, then Martin crying for help and shouting "Get off, get off," and during an ensuing struggle being shot and killed by Zimmerman.” After shooting Martin dead, Zimmerman spread out the boy's arms to "make him look menacing, violent, threatening." He did not call an ambulance, or try to render First Aid.
Another important mistake made by the prosecution: why only six jurors, the legal minimum in the state of Florida.  By having such a small jury, lacking in diversity or an understanding of the dynamics of race; a conviction was doomed from the start.  The prosecution also failed to charge Zimmerman with manslaughter – which many legal scholars considered a basic error in strategy.

Assistant Florida State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda presented the state’s closing arguments against Zimmerman using words like ‘maybe’, ‘what if’’, ‘I hope so’, ‘you figure it out’, and ‘could have been’.  Those were not the words and phrases of a good prosecutor.  Words like ‘certainty’ and ‘definite’ and ‘without question’, ‘beyond a doubt’ and ‘no other explanation.’ are what drive home your point.
Lastly I feel for Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father.  There were trial exhibits features an image of him holding Trayvon as a toddler, a birthday hat perched on the boy’s head. “At the trial, he sat through a grim procession of autopsy photos and audio of the gunshot that ended his son’s life. No matter the verdict, this simple pursuit of justice meant amplifying the trauma of his loss by some unknowable exponent.”  In the end his son was killed for being black and for wearing a hoody.

Thursday, July 11, 2013


Eros was the Greek god of sexual attraction. His Roman counterpart was Cupid. In one account Eros was one of the Primordial Four entities. He embodied the creative urge of nature. In another version he was the child of the illicit liaison between Aphrodite and Ares.  In an allegorical folktale Aphrodite, jealous of the sensationally beautiful Sicilian princess Psyche, told her son Eros to prick Psyche with his arrows and cause her to love a monster.

In a mix-up Eros scratched himself, causing in him a hopeless passion for the girl. Eros spirited Psyche away to his home but remained invisible. They made love. Tricked by her envious sisters, Psyche lit a lamp and saw Eros; but burned by oil in the lamp, he flew away.
Attempting to imitate Psyche's success, the sisters leapt from a mountain, expecting the West Wind (Zephyr) to carry them to Eros' abode. Instead, they were dashed on the rocks. Psyche searched everywhere for Eros and was tested by impossible tasks imposed on her by Aphrodite. However, Psyche was finally reunited with her beloved Eros, who married her and made her a goddess. Together, they  had a daughter, Hedone ("pleasure"). Apuleius' Golden Ass contains the classic Roman version of the story.

In painting and sculpture Eros is portrayed as a nude winged boy or baby armed with a bow and a quiver of arrows.  In ancient painting he is present with adults when there is a sexual attraction among the humans.  Psych was the deification of the human soul, portrayed in ancient mosaics as a goddess with butterfly wings (psyche is also Greek for “butterfly”).
by Barry Powell
30-Second Greek Myths

Monday, July 08, 2013

The Son - A Novel by Philipp Meyer

Review by Aaron Gwyn

It's 1849. A frontier cabin outside the recently founded Fredericksburg, Texas. Teenaged Eli McCullough is kidnapped by the Comanche, his mother and siblings slaughtered. Eli's gradually incorporated into the tribe, taught to shoot a bow and hunt. Taught to go on raiding parties and kill. And then he's forced back into white civilization, a 16-year-old going on 40: first a curiosity, then an outcast, then a Texas Ranger. This is the book you want to read this summer.
Philipp Meyer's The Son (Ecco, $28) is the follow-up to his debut, American Rust, which made his name one to remember.

Like his first book, it pulses and bleeds and twitches. Every facet of Meyer's world - scent and sight and sensation - has weight and heft. The details about small arms and artillery. Details about flora and fauna. Details about the Comanche. The Comancheros. Texans. You feel the arrow wounds and smell the gun smoke. You taste the oil that the characters pull from the ground, hear the horses nickering, see Old West vistas as magnificent as those you'll find in a John Ford film. (There's a set piece in the book in which a young Eli must prove himself to the Comanche by participating in a raid against the Delaware that I'd put up against anything you'll find by McMurtry or A. B. Guthrie Jr.) Here, history is not a thing to look back on and judge through the lens of our moral superiority. History is a tragedy-unavoidable, inevitable-that grows out of basic human frailty and the desire to survive.
Meyer's dream is a nightmare in which blood seeks power. It's also unput- down-able.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

What the Hell - Dante in translation and in Dan Brown’s new novel

by Joan Acocella
People can't seem to let go of the Divine Comedy. You'd think that a fourteenth-century allegorical poem on sin and redemption, written in a medieval Italian vernacular and in accord with the Scholastic theology of that period, would have been turned over, long ago, to the scholars in the back carrels. But no. By my count there have been something like a hundred English-language translations, and not just by scholars but by blue-chip poets: in the past half century, John Ciardi, Allen Mandelbaum, Robert Pinsky, W. S. Merwin. Liszt and Tchaikovsky have composed music about the poem; Chaucer, Balzac, and Borges have written about it. In other words, the Divine Comedy is more than a text that professors feel has to be brushed up periodically for students. It's one of the reasons there are professors and students.
In some periods devoted to order and decorum in literature-notably the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries- many sophisticated readers scorned the Divine Comedy as a grotesque, impenetrable thing. But not in our time. T. S. Eliot, the lawgiver of early-twentieth-century poetics, placed Dante on the highest possible rung of European poetry. "Dante and Shakespeare divide the modern world between them," he wrote. ''There is no third." A lot of literary people then ran out to learn some Italian, a language for which, previously, many had had scant respect, and a great surge of Dante translations began. In some-Laurence Binyon's (1933-43), Dorothy Sayers's (1949- 62)-the translator even tried to use Dante's rhyme scheme, terza rima (aha bcb cdc, etc.), a device almost impossible to manage in English, because our language, compared with Italian, has so few rhymes. Since then, we have had many kinds of Divine Comedy-lowbrow, highbrow, muscly, refined. The more fastidious ones, the ones that actually try to give equivalents for Dante's words, are in prose, because in prose the translator doesn't have to sacrifice accuracy to such considerations as rhyme and rhythm. As fot verse translations, they may be less accurate, but it can be argued that they are more faithful than prose versions. The Divine Comedy, after all, is a poem, and its meanings are contained as much in sound as in "sense." Verse translations require more courage, and more thinking, because they are generally more interpretive. Within the past year, two more have been published, one by the American poet Mary Jo Bang, the other by the Australian essayist and poet Clive James.

In his translation of the complete Divine Comedy (Liveright), James made the crucial decision to rhyme, in quatrains (in his case, abab). But, as he tells us in the introduction, end rhymes were no more important to him than rhymes or chimes within the lines: alliteration, assonance, repetition. He says that his wife, Prue Shaw, now a celebrated Dante scholar (her book "Reading Dante'' will be out next year), pushed him in this direction, by teaching him, years ago, that the Divine Comedy had to be read phonetically. The great thing about it was its richness of sound, as word after word, line after line, beckoned the next and thus kept the reader moving forward. James says this is what he was intent on, above all.
All is a lot. James gave himself permission to add lines to Dante's text and to incorporate background material.  He didn't want footnotes-nothing should stop the reader. Many things do, though. Here are Dante's famous opening lines:

 Ne! mezzo de! cammin di nostra vita mi
 ritrovai per una selva oscura,
 che la diritta via era smarrita.
 Ahi quanto a dir qual era e cosa dura
 esta selva selvaggia e aspra e forte
 che nel pensier rinova la paura!

And here is James' s rendering:
 At the mid-point of the path through life, I found
 Myself lost in a wood so dark, the way
 Ahead was blotted out. The keening sound
still make shows how hard it is to say
 How harsh and bitter that place felt to me-
 Merely to think of it renews the fear.

"Keening sound"? If ever there was a forced rhyme, this is it. Also, Dante didn't say anything about wailing, only about fear, and the two are different matters.
Soon the pilgrim (as the protagonist of the poem is usually called) and his guide, Virgil, arrive at the gates of Hell, with its dread inscription:

 Per me si va ne la citra dolente,
 per me si vane l'etterno dolore,
 per me si va tra la perduta gente.
 Giustizia mosse ii mio alto fattore;
 fecemi la divina podestate,
 la somma sap'ienza e 'I primo amore.

 Dinanzi a me non fuor cose create
 se non etterne, e io etterno duro.
  Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate.

James translates this as:

 To enter the lost city, go through me.
 Through me you go to meet a suffering
 unceasing and eternal. You will be
 with people who, through me, lost everything.
 My maker, moved by justice, lives above.
 Through him, the holy power, I was made -
 made by the height of wisdom and first love,
 whose laws all those in here once disobeyed.

 From now on, every day feels like your last
 Forever. Let that be your greatest fear.
 Your future now is to regret the past.
 Forget your hopes. They were what brought you here.
This shows a considerable drop in energy, partly because of a loss of compression. James has lengthened the passage by a third. But, also, he has added some confusion about what the gate is telling us. At least in the first line, it seems to think that we have a choice about whether or not to enter. We don't, and that is what makes going to Hell a serious business.

From what I can tell, these two problems, awkwardness and inaccuracy, are due to exactly the thing that sounded so nice when James told us about it in the introduction, his intention to capture the phonetic richness of Dante's lines.
Worse are the demands made by the internal echoes. In the Hell-gate inscription, there's almost no word that isn't singing a duet, or more. We have "through me" I "through me"; "suffering" I "unceasing'' I "everything''; "me" I "me'' I "meet" I "be" I "people''; "maker'' I "moved" I "made"; "him" I "holy." And that's just in the first six lines. The technique asks a great deal: that the translator obey, simultaneously, the summons both of English-language sounds and of Dante's meaning.

Still, the freedoms James takes allow him to get off some beautiful phrases. When the pilgrim realizes that his guide is Virgil, his idol, he says to him, "Or se' tu quel Virgilio e quella fonte I che spandi di parlar si largo fiume?" James turns this into "Are you Virgil? Are you the spring, the well, I The fountain and the river in full Bow I Of eloquence that sings like a seashell I Remembering the sea and the rainbow?" I love that seashell, and the rainbow. Neither is in Dante. James is a poet, doing a poet's work. Also, however interested he is in being fancy, he can be plain as well, sometimes poignantly so.
See the last line of the Hell-gate inscription: "Forget your hopes. They are what brought you here." The second sentence is not in the original poem, but it is wonderful, both sarcastic and sad. James is also a premier practitioner of the high-low style that became so popular in the nineteen-twenties, notably via Eliot and Pound, which is to say, in part, via Dante. He can be colloquial. Of the she wolf that blocks the pilgrim's path, Virgil says, "In a bad mood it can kill, I And it's never in a good mood." (This could be from "The Sopranos.") James likes, iconoclastically, to do this sort of thing with the grandees, like Francesca da Rimini, who says to the pilgrim, ''What you would have us say I Let's hear about." It's all rich and strange.

Mary Jo Bang, a poet and a professor of English at Washington University, in St. Louis, has much the same purpose: to convey Dante's internal music. Unlike James, she has made some major sacrifices to this end. In her Inferno (Graywolf), the only canticle she has taken on so far, she does not use end rhyme, and she does not hold herself to any regular metre. (James used iambic pentameter.) But, having cast off those restraints, she adopts another one.
James was trying, he said, to be true to Dante. Bang is trying to be true to contemporary life, to the "post-9/11, Internet- ubiquitous present." As this implies, she aims to be faithful to something else as well: undergraduates. She writes, "I will be most happy if this postmodern, irttertextual, slightly slant translation lures readers to a poetic text that might seem otherwise archaic and off-putting'' -especially, I presume, to nineteen- year-olds. On the surface, this appears to be a laudable purpose, but whenever you hear those words "true to contemporary life," run for cover.

The trouble starts on the first page. The pilgrim speaks of his relief upon issuing from the dark wood. He says that he felt like a person who, almost drowned at sea, arrives, panting, on the shore. Bang places him, instead, at the edge of a swimming pool. But these two things-the ocean and the neighborhood pool-are nowhere near the same, and every nineteen-year-old knows what the ocean is. Other anachronisms create worse problems. Bang, in her lines, includes references to Freud, Mayakovsky, Colbert, you name it. She picks up swatches of verse from T. S. Eliot and Sylvia Plath. But, if readers get into the swing of these, what are they going to do when they encounter the Roman Catholic theology that is the spine of the Divine Comedy, and which Bang says, in her introduction, that she will honor? ("God has to look down from Heaven; Satan has to sit at the center of Hell.") Wouldn't it be better if she let the reader know that there are old things as well as new things-that there is such a thing as history? She is not unaware of this, as her learned footnotes demonstrate. Why is she keeping it from her readers? If they knew it, they might find out who Mayakovsky is, which I doubt that they have done.
Oddly, given Bang's stated aims, she's happy to court obscurity. She says that the she-wolf that detains the pilgrim outside the wood has a "bitch-kitty" face; Virgil tells the pilgrim to climb the "meringue-pie mountain" that lies ahead. "Bitch-kitty" gets an explanatory footnote: Bang says it's something that she found in the Dictionary of American Slang. My edition of that book says "bitch kitty'' was a phrase of the nineteen-thirties and forties. (Roughly, it meant a "humdinger.") Did Bang expect today's readers to know it? Not really, it seems. She says that she wants these oddities to be fleeting pleasures for us. To me, they're not pleasures, but just oddities, something like finding a Tootsie Roll in the meat loaf.

Translators are not the only ones drawn to Dante. Since 2006, Roberto Benigni has been touring a solo show about the Divine Comedy. In 2010, Seymour Chwast rendered the poem as a graphic novel. There are Inferno movies and iPad apps and video games. As of last week, their company has been joined by a Dan Brown thriller, "Inferno" (Doubleday).
In many ways, the new book is like Brown's 2003 blockbuster, "The Da Vinci Code." Here, as there, we have Brown's beloved "symbologist," Robert Langdon, a professor at Harvard, a drinker of Martinis, a wearer of Harris tweeds, running around Europe with a good-looking woman-this one is Sienna Brooks, a physician with an I.Q of 208-while people shoot at them. All this transpires in exotic climes-Florence, Venice, and Istanbul-upon which, even as the two are fleeing a mob of storm troopers, Brown bestows travel-brochure prose: "The Boboli Gardens had enjoyed the exceptional design talents of Niccolo Tribolo, Giorgio Vasari, and Bernardo Buontalenti." Or: "No trip to the piazza was complete without sipping an espresso at Caffe Rivoire."

As we saw in "The Da Vinci Code," there is no thriller-plot convention, however well worn, that Brown doesn't like. The hero has amnesia. He is up against a mad scientist with Nietzschean goals. He's also up against a deadline: in less than twenty-four hours, he has been told, the madman's black arts will be forcibly practiced upon the world. Though this book, unlike ''The Da Vinci Code" and Brown's "Angels and Demons" (2000), is not exactly an ecclesiastical thriller, it takes place largely in churches and, as the title indicates, it constantly imports imagery from the Western world's most famous eschatological thriller, Dante's Inferno. Wisely, Brown does not let himself get hog-tied by the sequence of events in Dante's poem. Instead, he just inserts allusions whenever he feels that he needs them. There are screams; there is excrement. The walls of underground caverns ooze disgusting liquid. Through them run rivers of blood clogged with corpses. Bizarre figures come forward saying things like "I am life" and "I am death." Sometimes the great poet is invoked directly. The book's villain is a Dante fanatic and the owner of Dante's death mask, on which he writes cryptic messages. Scolded by another character for his plans to disturb the universe, he replies, "The path to paradise passes directly through hell. Dante taught us that."
The hellfire material makes the book colorful and creepy. It also sounds notes of conspiracy. (The villain, with his "Transhumanist philosophy," has many followers.) Religion and paranoia have a lot in common: above all, the belief that something big is going on out there and also that everything means something else. Further, both religion and paranoia are short on empirical evidence, so that greater faith is required. Finally, the conviction that everything refers to something else generates codes and symbols, which is what generates Robert Langdon. As a symbologist, he can read these runes. Often, the clue they give him does not point him to what he's looking for but rather to something that will offer a further clue, which will get him a little closer to what he's looking for, and so on, as in a treasure hunt.

That process is the plot, or at least the skeleton of it. It is then fleshed out with a million details: dreams, murders, priceless paintings. There is a yacht lurking off the Adriatic coast, where, for vast fees, sinister, tight-lipped men arrange for governments to change, wars to be hushed up, and the like. Meanwhile, we are given lessons in how to do ancient mosaics and how to make a death mask. We are introduced to products galore: Plume Paris glasses, Volvo motors, Juicy Couture sweatsuits, even a "Swedish Sectra Tiger XS personal voice-encrypting phone, which had been redirected through four untraceable routers." Page after page, things keep coming at you. People who sit down to read "Inferno" should bring a notepad.
The book has almost no psychology, because one of Brown's favorite plot devices is to reveal, mid-novel, that a character presented all along as a friend is in fact an enemy (see Leigh Teabing in "The Da Vinci Code"), or vice versa. To do that-and it's always pretty exciting- Brown can't give his characters much texture; if he did, they would be too hard to flip. Of course, without texture they don't have anything interesting to say, except maybe "Stop the plane there." The dialogue is dead. As for the rest of the writing, it is not dead or alive. It has no distinction whatsoever. Because "Inferno" transpires in so many glamorous places, Brown may rise to the grandiose. In Hagia Sophia, he speaks of the "staggering force of its enormity," and barely a page passes without italics. But this is to relieve the general coldness.

No, Brown is a plot-maker, and only that. This story is a little more complicated than usual, because although Langdon, with his trusted Brooks, is looking for something, he's not quite sure what it is. Meanwhile, from one side he's being chased by the storm troopers-black-clad thugs, with umlauts over their names-and from the other by Vayentha, the lady with the Swedish Sectra Tiger XS. There's also a reconnaissance drone buzzing through the sky, telling them where to find Langdon.
Too bad for them, because our hero knows more secret tunnels than you can shake a stick at. At one point, it takes Brown twenty pages to get Langdon and Brooks, in Florence, up and down the Palazzo Vecchio's hidden passages: through the corridor behind the Armenia panel in the Hall of Geographical Maps, into the cupboard in the Architectural Models room, down the Duke of Athens stairway, and so on.

Never does the story slow down, though. Brown gives us extremely short chapters (often just two or three pages) and constant cross-cutting. He also adores cliffhangers. One of the storm troopers calls his superior: "'It's Bruder,' he said. 'I think fve got an ID on the person helping Langdon.' Who is it?' his boss replied. Bruder exhaled slowly. 'You're not going to believe this.' " Cut to Vayentha, who thinks she's been fired for failing to kill Langdon and is revving her motorcycle disconsolately. She's not the person helping Langdon, though. She's something else, which you have to figure out.
The book ends weakly, because Langdon-and Brown, too, clearly actually sympathizes with the villain, or at least with his motives. And those who are familiar with Brown's previous books will not be surprised that the boy doesn't get the girl. Brooks clearly wishes it were otherwise. ''You'll know where to find me," she says, as she and Langdon part, and then she kisses him on the lips. He gives her a big hug and puts her on the plane. In "The Da Vinci Code," Langdon's companion, Sophie Neveu, turned out to be a descendant of Jesus, and this made the question of a romance between them a tricky business. Brooks is free, though. Maybe Langdon is gay.

For all its absurdities, Brown's book is a comfort, because it proves that the Divine Comedy is still alive in our culture. The same is true, on a higher level, of the James and the Bang translations. Take James. He probably gave us more oddities-outrages, even than he would have with a less famous text. Surely he knew the number and the excellence of his predecessors. But he is seventy-three and ailing, so, if he said to himself, 'What the hell, let's just do it," you can see why. As for Bang, she's not seventy-three (she's sixtyseven), but if she has taught the Divine Comedy she has unquestionably faced a lot of young people saying, "What?" "What?" You can't blame her for trying to do something about that. At least she cares. All of us should worry about her students, though. They’re going to go off thinking that Dante wrote about meringue-pie mountains, and this is wrong. Furthermore, there is no reason that they couldn't have faced the mountain without the pie, and the fourteenth century without the twenty-first.
Thankfully, because the original text survives· more faithful translations will keep coming. Indeed, they have. The edition by Jean and Robert Hollander (2000-07) is both accurate and beautiful. I don't think any general reader, or any student of Mary Jo Bang's, needs more than this. But if Bang-and James, and even Brown-disagrees, so be it. As long as Dante is here, and the text is available, why shouldn't they have some fun?

Prison Of The Mind – A Chinese poet’s memoir of incarceration

by Ian Buruma

Spending time in jail is no fun anywhere, but each society has its own cultural refinements of misery. The sadistic imagination of Chinese prison authorities, though hardly unique, is often remarkable. But so is that of the inmates themselves, who form their own hierarchies, their own prisons within prisons.
At the Chongqing Municipal Public Security Bureau Investigation Center, for example, also known as the Song Mountain Investigation Center, the cell bosses devised an exotic menu of torments.

A few samples:
 SICHUAN-STYLE SMOKED DUCK: The enforcer burns the inmate's pubic hair, pulls back his foreskin and blackens the head of the penis with fire.

 NOODLES IN A CLEAR BROTH: Strings of toilet papers are soaked in a bowl of urine, and the inmate is forced to eat the toilet paper and drink the urine.

 TURTLE SHELL AND PORK SKIN SOUP: The enforcer smacks the inmate's knee caps until they are bruised and swollen like turtle shells. Walking is impossible.

There are other tortures, too, meted out in a more improvised manner. Liao Yiwu, in his extraordinary prison memoir, "For a Song and a Hundred Songs" (translated from the Chinese by Wenguang Huang; New Harvest), describes the case of a schizophrenic woodcutter who had axed his own wife, because she was so emaciated that he took her for a bundle of wood. The cell boss spikes the woodcutter's broth with a laxative, and then refuses to let him use the communal toilet bucket, with the result that the desperate man shits all over a fellow-inmate. As a punishment for this disgusting transgression, his face is smashed into a basin. The guards, assuming that he has tried to commit suicide, a prison offense, then work him over with a stun baton.
Alexis de Tocqueville came to the United States in 1831 to study the country’s prison system, and ended up writing "Democracy in America." Observing the Chinese prison system from the inside, from 1990 to 1994, as. a "counterrevolutionary" inmate, Liao Yiwu tells us a great deal about Chinese society, both traditional and Communist, including the impact of revolutionary rhetoric, forced denunciations and public confessions, and, as times have changed since Mao's misrule, criminal forms of capitalism. He ends his account by saying that "China remains a prison of the mind: prosperity without liberty."

Liao was incarcerated for writing a poem, "Massacre"-a long stream of- consciousness memorial to the thousands of people who were killed on June 4, 1989, when the pro-democracy movement was crushed throughout China. The poem, in its English translation by Michael Day, begins as follows:
 And another sort of massacre takes place at utopia's core The Prime Minister catches cold, the people must cough; martial law declared again and again.  The toothless machinery of the state rolls towards those who have the courage to resist the sickness.

Liao was not a political activist, or, strictly speaking, a dissident, and his resistance had a spontaneous quality. Politics didn't interest him much, even during the nineteen-eighties, when many young Chinese thought of little else. He led a rather dissolute life, wandering from place to place as a "well-dressed hypocrite, a poet who portrayed himself as a positive role model but all the while breathed in women like I was breathing air, seeking shelter and warmth in random sex." Like many Chinese who grew up during the Cultural Revolution, Liao was more or less self-educated in literature, although he received a grounding in the Chinese classics from his father, a schoolteacher. His memoir is sprinkled with the names of Western writers- Orwell, Kundera, Proust-some of whose works penetrated even the prison walls in Chongqing. Among them, amazingly, was Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four." In Liao's words, "On the page was an imaginary prison, while all around me was the real thing."

Unlike his friend Liu Xiaobo, a Nobel Prize-winning critic and a writer with strong political convictions, Liao never wished to stick his neck out. He describes himself as an artist who simply wanted to be free to write in anyway he liked. As recently as 2011, he told the journalist Ian Johnson, "I don't want to break their laws. I am not interested in them and wish they weren't interested in me." But, in 1989, he put himself "on a self-destructive path" by performing his poem in bars and dance clubs, howling and chanting in the traditional manner of Chinese mourning. A recording of the poem was distributed informally, and a film, entitled "Requiem," was made of his recitation by a group of sympathetic artists and friends. None, according to Liao, could be classified as "dissidents" or "democracy fighters." But they were all arrested, their work confiscated, and thus "the Public Security Bureau destroyed a vibrant underground literary community in Sichuan."
Liao's time in prison didn't turn him into an activist, either. He was approached at one point by a fellow- "89er," who planned to start an organization of political prisoners. Liao refused to take part, and explained the reason for his having written "Massacre" in the first place. He "was compelled to protest," he said, because "the state ideology conflicted violently with the poet's right of free expression." To this, he added in his memoir, "I never intended to be a hero, but in a country where insanity ruled, I had to take a stand. 'Massacre' was my art and my art was my protest." Several famous dissidents have written vividly about their prison experiences. Wei Jingsheng' s "The Courage to Stand Alone'' is an account of eighteen years spent in prisons after he helped lead the Democracy Wall movement, in the nineteen-seventies. Harry Wu's "Bitter Winds" describes his ordeal in forced-labor camps in the nineteen-sixties and seventies. Their heroic stories bear a strong political message of standing up to dictatorship. Liao is a literary man, and this actually makes his prison memoir even more compelling. For one thing, he is ruthlessly candid about his weaknesses, and his fears. There is nothing especially heroic about him. Watching the guards in combat training on his first day in prison, he "shuddered like a nervous rat." Forced to sing songs over and over again with a parched throat in the freezing cold to entertain the guards, he is beaten with an electric baton. When he cannot go on any longer, he is stripped and wrestled to the ground: "I could feel the baton on my butthole, but I refused to surrender. The tip of the baton entered me. I screamed and then whimpered in pain like a dog." Liao tried to commit suicide twice, once by bashing his head against the wall. This elicited ridicule from his cellmates, who accused him of playacting, something they thought typical of a bookish poet. If he had really wanted to smash his skull, he should have made sure to use the wall edge.

Liao describes very precisely what it is like to be in constant fear, to live in a cramped cell with so many other men that there is barely room to lie down, and to be starved of proper food, and sex. One ravenous inmate caught a rat, skinned it alive, and ate it raw. Another stuffed his mouth from a bucket of slop. Sex goes on, but in a debased form. A prisoner almost burned his bed down by masturbating to a cigarette lighter that, when lit, showed a picture of a naked woman. And one man got carried away with lust at the sight of a soap-opera star on TV. Liao saw men crowd around a window, the cell boss hoisted onto the shoulders of his slaves, as they jacked off while trying to catch a glimpse of a female outside. A young man was raped by the cell boss, fell in love with him, and was dismissed with a smack in the face when the boss became impotent.
One of the less creditable reasons we read prison memoirs such as this one with horrified fascination is that the torments of others can have a lurid pornographic appeal. But what makes Liao’ s work so riveting is his gift for observation. Despite his own suffering, he is endlessly curious about others, their characters, their stories, and how they cope with the' terrors of prison life. His encounters with other prisoners are skillfully transformed into short stories. Since some of these men are facing execution, the stories are often about dealing with imminent death. A heroin smuggler nicknamed Dead Chang wants to borrow Liao's atlas in preparation for his next life as a wandering ghost. Dead Chang got lost too many times in his present life, and wishes to visit his favorite haunts after he is dispatched with a bullet to the neck. Being told by this condemned man that they might meet again in the next world, Liao finds that his "limbs were quivering." Dead Chang asks him whether he is O.K., and "let out a sinister laugh. The deep crease between his eyebrows seemed to have opened up like a mouth, ready to swallow me."

Some of the prisoners were featured in another remarkable book by Liao, first published in Taiwan as ''Interviews with People from the Bottom Rungs of Society'' (2001), and in the U.S. as "The Corpse Walker'' (2008). Among them is an illiterate peasant who declared his native village to be an independent monarchy, with himself as the emperor. For this act of counterrevolutionary subversion, he was locked up for life. What fascinates Liao about this "peasant emperor'' is that his fantasies are derived from Chinese classics. One of his claims is that a yellow ribbon bearing his imperial name was discovered inside a fish. When Liao points out that this ruse was used by a peasant rebel two thousand years ago to trick people into following him, the emperor tells him to shut up: "It's awfully rude of you to talk to Your Majesty this way. Your Majesty knows that you are a journalist in disguise and have been sent from the hostile kingdom of China. You have attempted to conspire with the prison authorities to lure me into giving you incriminating evidence."
Literature can serve as an escape, as when Liao drifts into memories of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "One Hundred Years ofSolitude." He identifies in particular with one of the characters, Colonel Buendia, who loses his mind after being tied to a chestnut tree for many years. Like the Colonel, Liao retreats into his own mind. At other times, literary works illustrate the most primitive aspects of prison existence. Liao recalls Milan Kundera's definition, in "The Unbearable Lightness of Being," of totalitarian kitsch as "the absolute denial of shit." Liao writes that he cannot raise human feces to a higher level of metaphor: "In this ordinary memoir of mine, shit is shit. I keep mentioning it because I almost drowned in it." This is quite literally true; as a newcomer in a cell, or if he had lost favor with one of the cell bosses, he would have to sleep with his face next to the toilet bucket.

And yet he can't resist using shit metaphorically, as in his statement that he is living "in the shitty pigsty called China." Sickness, too, is elevated to metaphor: “If China were a patient suffering from colon cancer, the city of Chongqing would be the filthy terminus of the colon, a diseased anus." Prison is frequently described in his book as a prison within the giant prison of a diseased Chinese society, a grotesque mirror of the political institutions and rhetoric of the People's Republic of China.
The language of Maoism, now almost as ingrained in Chinese life as Confucian maxims once were, and often used in a similar way, crops up again and again in prison conversations. Inmates sometimes use Mao’s dictums sarcastically, as when the unfortunate woodcutter, after having imbibed the laxative, is prevented from getting to the toilet bucket: 'Without discipline and rules," they taunt him, "revolution will not succeed." Sometimes Mao is quoted in earnest. A cell boss who is sympathetic to Liao warns him against cultivating the friendship of a fellow-intellectual: "Don't be too bookish .... Remember what Chairman Mao said about class struggles-never let your guard down against your class enemy."

Quite apart from Maoist sentiments, it is the Chinese system of government that is replicated inside the prison. This owes something to Leninist Party organization, but a great deal to more traditional practices as well. When Liao first enters the Song Mountain Investigation Center, his cell boss explains how things work. He likens the cell hierarchy to the Politburo and the Central Military Commission, whose members are above the common people. They can do anything they please. But, to maintain order, they must impose absolute unity in the cell. The first sign of rebellion will be crushed without mercy. However, the boss says, echoing centuries of Confucian doctrine, the rulers cannot be too harsh: 'We need to let the people beneath us feel that we are like their parents." When Liao objects, quoting Chairman Mao's saying that the people are the parents of the Party, the boss shows a better understanding of Chinese reality: 'That's goddamned nonsense! If a thief here wishes to have a nice filling meal, it's up to me to decide."
Not surprisingly, the prison authorities also model their methods on common practices in the People's Republic. The use of political campaigns, for example. Inmates at the Investigation Center were forced to take part in an annual campaign called "Confess Your Own Crimes and Report on Others." Formal rallies were held in the courtyard, just as in Maoist times, with much chanting of political slogans and long speeches made by police and prison officials. Many hours were devoted to writing confessions and denunciations. Cell bosses were encouraged to pick the juiciest items from their menu of torments for those whose keenness to confess or tell on others was judged to be inadequate.

This tactic, too, is a toxic combination of tradition and modern innovation. Ritual confession was always part of Confucian justice. Being forced to report on others, though hardly unknown in the past, is a totalitarian refinement designed to break all trust among people, so that their only loyalty will be to the Party. Liao writes that confess-and-report campaigns were so rough that several people died under torture. When things threatened to get seriously out of hand, however, the authorities would call a halt to the proceedings, and, in the usual Maoist fashion, turn the tables on the perpetrators by starting another campaign, this time one called "Crack Down on Prison Bullies." The very people who had been encouraged to "break'' recalcitrant prisoners were now broken in turn.
But, of course, China has moved on since Mao's decades of terror. When Liao was in prison, China's door had already been open to business with the capitalist world for more than ten years. Economic reforms began in the early nineteen-eighties, under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping. In 1992, Deng called for even faster economic growth. As a result, in Liao’s words, "prison personnel never missed a beat and were quick to take advantage of the free labor to fatten their wallets."

Free labor is a polite phrase for slavery.
Each prisoner was required to spend at least ten hours a day putting together medicine packets, while being subjected to political exhortations from loudspeakers - the usual Chinese Communist mixture of ideological bullying and economic exploitation. Liao remarks that this type of repetitive manual work had already been abandoned by local factories. But prison authorities could make tidy profits by whipping the incarcerated slaves into reaching quotas of up to three thousand packets a day. Inmates who tried to escape or who resisted the prison regimen would be beaten up or thrown into "dark cells" that were just big enough to crawl into and lie down. "After a year or so," Liao writes, "the dark-cell-dweller's skin turned pale, his bones fragile, and his hair white as frost. The skin became so transparent that one could see the blue veins."

Liao mentions a few moments of respite. There were instances of kindness from cell bosses who favored him, sometimes for being a poet; respect for the written word is not dead in China. A Buddhist monk taught him to play the flute. And, once in a while, conditions improved a little because of foreign pressure on China to do .better on human rights. This should make those of us who had given up all hope of influencing official Chinese behavior from the outside a little less cynical.
Meanwhile, Liao tried to keep his memories of what he had heard and seen in prison by scribbling tiny notes in a copy of the classic Chinese novel "Romance of the Three Kingdoms." On January 31, 1994, he was freed. But, in his account, his release was only the beginning of a different type of ordeal, perhaps more bitter in its way. Troublemakers and dissidents are rarely popular in oppressive societies. They cause problems for others by provoking reprisals, and they make the majority of people who refuse to rebel feel uneasy about their conformity. Liao dreaded going home for the New Year and other family celebrations, because he knew that he would be criticized. His wife decided to divorce him-perhaps not surprising, as Liao never claims to have been a devoted husband. Worse was his abandonment by old friends. After four years of jail, he writes, "I was no more than a pile of dog shit to my fellow writers." This rejection might suggest a peculiarly Chinese form of callousness, but it actually has more to do with how China is now run. After the failed rebellion of 1989, the Communist government made a clever deal with the educated classes: if members of the urban elite would stay out of politics, they would have the freedom to enrich themselves. "Our whole country was suddenly busy making money, which was a corrosive acid that dissolved political dissent," Liao writes. "The same people who used to march fearlessly in the street for democracy now have become 'apolitical' in the current era of rampant materialism- Communist style." Several of his former artistic comrades had become businessmen.

In such circumstances, the normal human tendency to shun troublemakers is strengthened by the irrepressible consciousness of having made a shabby deal. Liao's keenest readers, as is so often the case with people living under dictatorship, were the officials who were paid to censor his words. Reduced to life as an educated vagabond, sometimes playing his flute in the streets to survive, and terrified of being sent to jail again, Liao managed to cross the border into Vietnam; from there, he made his way to Germany, where he now lives. And so it is that this immensely gifted Chinese writer performs his poetic acts of mourning for the entertainment of audiences in Berlin and New York-an exotic "dissident'' abroad, his voice to be heard everywhere except where it is most needed.