Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Taiwanese TV

Just to see if this will work, I'm posting a link to an intriguing Taiwanese romantic comedy series, Fated to Love You.
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Saturday, September 27, 2008


I've just been reading a blog post likening the examination of conscience to a dental check-up. Richard Verstegan has it that an unconfessed sin is like a pike in a pond, eating up the minor virtues like so many little fish. My own analogies tend to gardening (pulling up weeds, and such-like).

This afternoon I went at the brambles that had grown in under our geraniums, putting down roots every so often, and not sticking their heads out above the leafy cover. Weeds that put down roots without showing themselves, and thrive ignored, and are a bugger to get out (see picture), while more flamboyant weeds are pulled up quickly. Hm. Probably some sort of analogy somebody could make out of that. I'm too tired.
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Post-liberal theology

It's only in the last few days that I've heard of such a thing (even though it goes back 20 years). Last week I corrected the English of an article about the Tower of Babel for somebody in the Theology Faculty. I don't think I'm breaching translator confidentiality by saying that it presents a reading of Genesis 11 that makes Babel not the curse of confusion but the blessing of diversity.

Reading this article introduced me to George Lindbeck, a name I am now surprised not to have known earlier. Lindbeck, it seems, is a Lutheran who is very heavily invested in ecumenism (and was one of the observers at the most recent Ecumenical Council), but thinks that what works for ecumenists can’t work in interreligious dialogue. His reason is that all Christians can speak to one another in a biblical and Christ-oriented idiom, but adherents of different religions "speak different languages" (as it were), so when they say "God", or "good", or "sacred", they have different things in mind, and people end up assuming more common understanding than there really is. Well, I'm a translator -- and even if I weren't, I've had enough experience of being among people whose language was foreign to me that I'm simply not convinced that communication between people who "speak different languages" is so near-to-impossible (it has pitfalls, of course, but if it was impossible I'd be out of a job). Perhaps this is pressing the language analogy too hard, but are religious ideas really so incommensurable? Surely conversion itself would be impossible, if adherents of one religion were unable to communicate with or understand adherents of another?

I've not read much of Lindbeck's work, just a couple of his articles to see that there weren't specific terminological preferences I should leave untouched. It was enough to give me a very strong impression (open to being corrected) that this is just a postmodern, "linguistic turn" attempt to recuperate sola scriptura, and perhaps also sola fide: those who haven’t already accepted the Bible as authoritative and Christ as Saviour, simply won’t be able to understand what Christians are on about. This is so utterly foreign to any Catholic understanding of human reason and human virtue that it makes me wonder why Lindbeck doesn't extend his scepticism to ecumenism as well. How much attention was he paying at Vatican II?

One of his articles contains the phrase "The Reformers were, on the whole, right in their polemic against the establishment theology of their day -- Roman Catholics also now recognize that -- but they were clearly wrong in rejecting the radical left" . Roman Catholics recognize no such thing, and since the "radical left" presumably means Thomas Müntzer and John of Leyden I can't quite see why it's "clear" that Lutherans should have embraced them. Still, I want to read more of Lindbeck; but I also want to reread Christopher Derrick's introduction to Light of Revelation and Non-Christians, published in 1965 (presumably, and bizarrely, Derrick must be one of the "liberals" that Lindbeck is "post").

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Faith seminar

And this evening was the first in a series of "faith evenings" in the parish hall. Not a Redemptorist in sight: this is DIY revivalism, with a handbook. Tonight was only the introductory evening, but it followed the plan that the rest of the course will take: a half-hour talk, a hymn, a break, an exchange of personal insights, and a final prayer. Once a week for six weeks.
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I spent the afternoon revising a translation of an article about the concept of "pleasure", according to Plato, Aristotle, Freud and Lacan. This puts me somewhat out of my depth, but of course all I have to do is make sure that the sentences aren't in translationese (which in Lacan's case is a bit of a tall order, but who said being a translator was going to be easy?). I understood enough to be surprised to learn that Freud wasn't quite as sex mad as he's made out in popular culture: he regarded the sex drive as a way of getting rid of urges that prevented people from having a quiet lie down. The quiet lie down is what really matters.
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Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Our primary and nursery schools were both closed today so the staff could go on training days. So I took "the boys" (our oldest and our youngest) to the barber's. The oldest went into the chair first, with the youngest, just over two years old, dancing and singing and clapping his hands along to the radio. Then the youngest was sat down for his second haircut ever. He sat very still and assumed a studiously neutral expression. Snip-snip-snip went the scissors, and his face grew longer and more solemn. When the electric razor came out for the back of the neck, his lower lip began to pout and tremble. But he didn't complain once. What a philosopher! By the time my hair was close to finished, he was giggling with his big brother, and I was nervously trying to keep the pair of them in the corner of my eye.
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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

First day of Autumn

and the leaves are already falling.

Yesterday morning and evening were spent neglecting work, in the interests of getting the garden ready for winter. Which mostly involved pruning, and the pulling up of weeds before they get too established, and in the evening bundling and carting away whatever won't compost easily. Always a good occasion for reflection, by analogy, on the Garden of the Soul, and all the horticultural parables.

My spouse did most of the work: I had to get back to the computer in the afternoon, or the urgent translation will never be finished on time.

There was, as a necessary result of our (unplanned) gardening moratorium since our youngest was born, a certain amount of "Did you plant that?"
"No, I didn't. What is it, anyway?"
"I don't know."
"Must be a blow-in. Is it cat mint?"
"No, smell that, it's lemon balm."
"Well we'd better pull it up whatever it is."
(An exchange that tells you everything you need to know about our expertise.)

A whole thicket of viciously spiky brambles has slyly grown in from next door's neglected garden, and is settling rootedly under camouflage of our geraniums. That was left for me to dig out another time (it'll be half a day's work in itself).
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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Confirmation classes

Confirmation classes kicked off this afternoon, so I spent two hours getting to know half a dozen eleven year olds, and then talking about Jesus with them. The first step was to gauge the state of their knowledge, and it turns out once they get going they can recount a fair number of events and stories from the Gospels: the Nativity, the Magi, the massacre of the innocents, the miraculous catch of fish, walking on water, the woman taken in adultery, the Last Supper, Judas's betrayal, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection. Two of them did bring up Moses and Samuel as people Jesus had spoken to, which might not be entirely wrong (I'm not sure how the trinitarian theology plays out there), but wasn't what we were looking for.

The course we're using is based on Luke's Gospel. Asking whether they knew the names of the other evangelists brought some close misses -- guesses but not wild guesses: John! Philip! Simon! Matthew! Nobody managed to get Mark.

We read Luke's account of Jesus' baptism, and discussed it briefly: we were running behind by then, and wanted them to be able to burn off a bit of energy before Mass. They'd been told to bring photographs of their own baptism, and their baptism candles, if they could. Most did. There wasn't even any sword-fighting with the candles.
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Guild of St Sebastian

Last night I took our eldest to a meeting of the Guild of St Sebastian. It was the first time either of us had been, and we both enjoyed it. I think he'll make a better archer than I will. The Belgian tradition of vertical target practice is something I'd only seen in Baroque paintings before - now I've done it myself! Neither of us hit anything. No doubt we will with practice, but next week is the last meeting till April. I can well understand why shooting requires light evenings: you need to be able to see where the arrows are falling. Not just to find them, also to get out of the way.
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Friday, September 19, 2008

Meetings, meetings ...

Parents' association meeting tonight, catechists meeting the night before last - I'm starting to feel like a pillar of the community or something.

Apparently there have been complaints that the lion flag displayed at the school fête back in June (before the school, and the parents' association, broke up for the summer holidays), which should have been Or a lion sable armed and langued gules, was armed and langued sable (in other words, was all black and yellow, no red!). It's encouraging that people notice and complain about such things, as well as noticing and complaining that after-school care is getting more expensive and that swimming is now only once a fortnight rather than once a week. And that nits are upon us (not necessarily literally).
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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Too busy living to blog

Or at least that's the positive spin. Perhaps "too busy being disorganized to get anything done at all" is nearer the mark.

At any rate, there's little more to tell about the Italy trip I intended to continue on. Unexpectedly being in Milan Sunday morning (rather than passing through rapidly on Saturday afternoon) I took the opportunity to visit the cathedral. I'd been in Milan cathedral once before, but not for a sung Mass on a Sunday: an entirely unexpected bonus. Just lately, leafing through Joyce Sugg's anthology of Newman's letters, I happened on a letter written to Henry Wilberforce from Milan on 24 September 1846, describing services in "that overpowering place, the Duomo":
the incense rolling up from the high altar, and all this in one of the most wonderful buildings in the world, and [...] all of this without any show or effort, but what everyone is used to -- everyone at his own work, and leaving everyone else to his.
Alas, such joyful and unselfconscious solemnity is something I'm not at all used to, and it's rather like finding an oasis in the desert. My Chinese travelling companion tagged along, and although an unbeliever she happily sat through Mass just for the beauty of it.

The reason for going to Bologna was in large part to consult the oldest copy I'd been able to locate of a fascinating Dutch children's picture book I want to write about. Bologna has a copy printed in the 1710s, while the earliest I'd found in the Netherlands was from around 1760. Shortly after my return I found that an even older copy, from the 1690s, had turned up in Groningen or somewhere. Ugh.

Still, at least I got to do some other things in Bologna, not least simply be in the Archiginnasio. But I had serious academic stuff to do there, not just sightseeing: I had to consult Robert Dudley's Dell'Arcano del Mare, the first maritime encyclopedia (a strange absence from local libraries, but it was published in Florence so I suppose Italy is an obvious place to find it), and also managed to read some of the works of Thomas Dempster, a Scottish professor in 17th-century Bologna and a neglected figure in Neo-Latin letters.

Anyway, it's all months ago now. What I really want to be doing is getting down my impressions of South Africa from last week. This wasn't intended as an academic "travelblog", but somehow it's turning into that.
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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Flying Easyjet

Since blogging last, I’ve managed to get to Italy twice -- once for a couple of days in Bologna, for research, and once for a couple of weeks in Cortona, on holiday. The first time, back in June, was something of an adventure. Just as the aeroplane was about to take off, roaring down the runway, it juddered to a halt on the tarmac. We sat there for a little while, and then the co-pilot announced that two birds had collided with one of the engines. We trundle off the runway. We sit about. Mechanics come and look at the engine. The pilot announces that two of the blades are “outside the limit” (whatever it means it can't be good) and that buses will return us to the terminal. This is announced by the pilot in English and French, to sighs and muttering, and then by one of the stewards in Italian, to hubbub. A young man leaps to his feet, seizes his belongings from the overhead compartment, and triggers a rush of thirty or so people into the aisle -- where they stand waiting for the bus for a good ten minutes, all squashed together. People are strange creatures sometimes.

We were shuttled to the terminal, processed through security checks for a second time, shunted to a boarding gate, and left to wait. Eventually, at 6 o’clock, somebody came and told us that a replacement flight had been arranged for 8 o’clock (the original flight had been taking off on time, at 4.15, when the birds so abruptly intervened). Now the problem was, my plan had been to fly to Milan, and then get the Eurostar to Bologna, where I was booked into university accommodation (the simple but pleasant Collegio Erasmus), where I was supposed to arrive before 10 to be let in. Still, nothing to be done about it, so I emailed my friends in Bologna to inform them of developments, and had some dinner with the dinner voucher Easyjet had provided. Returning to the departure gate, I was greeted by the news that estimated departure had moved to 9 p.m., estimated time of arrival 11 p.m. With the flight so much delayed, I wouldn’t be able to get to Bologna that night at all. And what was I to do, unbudgeted, in Milan until morning? Ten years ago I’d have chanced the railway station until the first train, but now I have children to think of. A very good friend of mine lived in Milan for years; might he know someone who would put up a friend-of-a-friend at a moment’s notice? I phone his number - he isn’t in. I speak to his girlfriend, whose English can be patchy, on a poor line, and try to explain my problem. “Thank you for phoning, I hope you enjoy your trip,” she says cheerily, and hangs up. Hm.

Back to sitting at the departure gate, where a young woman of Chinese appearance is trying to get the staff to find her the phone number of the Milan Youth Hostel, so she can confirm her booking and let them know she’ll be arriving at 1 in the morning. I ask her to pass the number on, and we get talking. She suggests sharing a taxi to the youth hostel. Turns out she’s got an engineering degree, and is now a risk assessor by trade: I must look low-risk. Twenty minutes before the new plane finally arrives the staff hand out sheets of paper detailing our rights -- things like free phone calls, and the right to move the booking to a flight the next day at no extra charge, which if they’d informed us from the first we would no doubt all have done. Easyjet has quickly chartered a plane from Titan Airways. I have to keep mentally correcting myself: Titan, not Titanic.

We board the plane. We wait. We wait. Crew walk up and down counting us all. It is announced that we cannot depart until all the passengers who are checked in have been accounted for. One of our number is missing. Heads are counted again. Names are taken. Cabin crew consult with ground crew, muttering about locating her luggage so it can be removed from the plane. Staff put heads around the doorframe. Finally, to thunderous applause, the woman makes her entrance, bowing and apologising. As she takes her seat two rows behind me, I hear her outraged hiss to a companion: “I was stuck in the bathroom.” In the meantime the flight has missed its air traffic slot. We wait. I doze. We arrive in Milan at midnight.

To be continued ...

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