Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category

Letters of Travel by Rudyard Kipling (1865 – 1936)

Rudyard Kipling by E.O. Hoppé (1912) from Wikimedia

I have just finished corrections to the last chapters of the three books of Letters of Travel by Rudyard Kipling. Here’s How I’m suggesting the books be described:

“Three books of travel writing (between them covering the USA, Canada, Japan and Egypt) by the Nobel Prize winning author of the Just So Stories and the Jungle Book. Rudyard Kipling (an Englishman born and raised in India) offers an interesting outsider’s view of the places he visits, candid and sharp witted, yet with a deep humanity.

Letters of Travel comprises three books: From Tideway to Tideway 1892-95 contains pieces first published in the Times covering voyages across north America (USA and Canada) and in Japan; his Letters to the Family first appeared in the Morning Post, while Nash’s Magazine was the first publisher of the articles (on Egypt and Sudan) in Egypt of the Magicians.

Kipling’s observations are cast in a wry style that permits, as his work often does, different readings. The unsympathetic reader can hear a banal repetition of the patriarchal, racist and imperialist ideas of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century trotted out. (Or even in his characterisation of the Jewish power behind the pedlar in “The Face of the Desert” a suggestion of something worse.) A more nuanced reading will perceive an amused or wry smile in Kipling’s remembering and the human sympathy that infuses all his writing. (US listeners should be warned that in Kipling’s day “the N word” was in common use, and he therefore uses it naturally to describe people of Sub-Saharan African ancestry.)

A paragraph in the “letter” written on Kipling’s arrival in Japan might serve as example. It closes: “The father-fisher has it by the pink hind leg, and this time it is tucked away, all but the top-knot, out of sight among umber nets and sepia cordage. Being an Oriental it makes no protest, and the boat scuds out to join the little fleet in the offing.” With its flippant tone (“all but the top-knot”), impersonal reference (“it” rather than he or she) and use of racial terms (“Oriental”) and stereotypes (“makes no protest”) this can be presented as an example of the worst of Victorian Imperialist prejudice.

And yet… as the fisher family are introduced, not only was “the perfect order and propriety of the housekeeping” noted but mention was made of “a largish Japanese doll, price two shillings and threepence in Bayswater”, which turns out to be a baby. At first glance this is merely another example of Western bigotry. Note however the words Kipling uses to show us that this is not in fact a doll: “The doll wakes, turns into a Japanese baby something more valuable than money could buy”. The “Japanese doll” is a priceless human child and not a commodity to be bought in Bayswater.

Perhaps the prejudice is not so much on the surface of Kipling’s writing as under the surface of the reader’s presuppositions? Time and again wry observation turns the familiar world into something fresh, and reminds the reader of shared humanity with the strange and foreign people being observed. Kipling as a tourist is no mere gawker whether in strange yet familiar Yokohama or in foreign Vermont.”

For my next project I’ll be reading a work still in copyright in the USA, though out of copyright almost everywhere else (the author died almost a century ago in the First World War) so for the European Legamus.

Online book launch


Do please participate in helping me to make my latest experiment in online publication work better. I want to explore how authors and readers can engage more and at greater depth through using online communications. My book Not Only a Father is not only available as a paperback on Amazon, but also the full text is online at http://bigbible.org/mothergod/ using a WordPress plugin that allows commenting and discussion at paragraph rather than post level.

However, my publisher (the NZ Baptist Research Society) has no funds for promotion, and as yet few people have responded to my efforts on Facebook or here so the discussion is still sparse. I would like to do an Online Book Launch to (roughly) coincide with the physical one. So I am asking a number of bloggers to agree to mention the book (especially the free online version) in a post in the first two weeks of October (the physical launch is 10th October). I am also trying to find people willing to read a few paragraphs and post a comment (naturally if you want to read more I’d be delighted ;)

I wonder if you’d be willing to share in this in some way? I’ll mention everyone who does in posts (and leaves a URL) here, which since I am hosting the September BS Carnival tomorrow so this should give you extra Google mojo as a bonus ;)

Those who have already begun include:1

 

  1. If your name/URL is missing please let me know, I’ll try to keep this up to date, but am fallible :( []

Cool neat and really useful

Bookshare is such a neat, simple and useful service. Perfect for blind or reading impaired (dyslexic) students. For a small annual fee (unless you are an American registered student) you get textbooks as audio files. If you know a “qualified” (which means certified visual impairment or reading impairment) starting undergraduate studies now, look into this :)

Bible and technology guest post: Reading experience

  • Digital Bible media should be similar to the traditional reading experience. I think the success of devices like the Nook, Kindle, iPad, or Android tablets is due in part to the fact that they kind of feel as if one is reading a book. Both the form factor and the page metaphor are roughly similar. The biggest problem has been citation when the concept of page numbering gets lost. The Bible comes with a handy book, chapter, verse system, but it’s a system that has been criticized for imposing a structure on the text that isn’t necessarily there. Considering that the digital device you hold in your hand is not just a Bible but capable of holding a host of Bible versions, and there is a clear advantage for digital.
  • Digital Bible media should emulate the engaged reading experience. I have a few Bibles sitting on my shelves from my younger days that are rather extensively marked up with margin notes and highlights. I was so familiar with those Bibles, that I knew on what part of the page to look for a specific text. If digital Bibles are going to succeed, they will need to have a similar capability.
    Most Bible software and apps have been working toward this end by providing bookmarking, highlighting, and notetaking. The advantage for digital here is that I won’t lose all my annotations once I move to a new Bible or version.
  • Digital Bible media should transform and revolutionize the overall reading experience. You, Tim, had the foresight long ago to start thinking about what this might mean with the hypertext Amos project. The Glo Bible is another recent, more popular-oriented attempt. Beyond just linking to dictionaries and graphics and sound files, I am imagining that someday we will be able to make Bible reading a dynamic and nearly immersive experience. This is happening already with other interactive books (here are some examples), and eventually the Bible will receive simliar innovative treatment. This approach should hopefully go a long way to making Bible reading appealing, even compelling.

Two ways to read: suspension of disbelief

Until more complex theories of aerodynamics were developed accepting the possibility of "the flight of the bumblebee" required a suspension of disbelief - Photo by by stuant63

Yesterday I was asked: If Noah lived before the law was revealed to Moses, how did he know how to distinguish “clean” and “unclean” animals?

It is still holiday time (it’s the summer in NZ, though with all the rain and cold in recent weeks you wouldn’t believe it) so my answer was less full than it ought to have been:

Hmm… on Noah, Moses and the animals, there are two likely lines for an answer (a) the story of Noah is being told after the delivery of the law and so the telling reflects those categories; (b) there was perhaps a cultural practice of distinguishing clean and unclean animals even before the law was revealed to Moses (as there was already such a practice of not eating pork).

Of course the short simple answer is “we really don’t know” but people don’t like that one ;)

But it’s not as simple as that1 behind any attempt to answer such a question lie two fundamentally different ways to read.

One way looks at the text from the outside, and reads as a “critic”. For a couple of centuries, in academic biblical studies, the most frequent way to thus “objectify”2 the text has been to examine it historically to see where it came from and how it got to us. Such an approach noticing that there seems to be a “continuity error” here suggests that the text was written at some time later than the events described, and uses this and other signs to work out when and by whom. We could objectify the text in other ways, by examining it as an example of a particular genre or class of texts, against its sociological background…

The other way enters the “world” of the text, and reads it from the inside. This is to behave like a “reader” for this is how we read novels and other stories, indeed it is how we read physics textbooks too ;) In the case of Noah’s distinction my second answer (though it depends on a historical hypothesis and so perhaps looks like the same kind of answer as the first) tends in this direction. It is asking how we might explain this, not as a continuity error (the critic’s approach), but within Noah’s world (a readerly approach).

The great medieval Jewish commentator Rashi took a different readerly approach he explained it thus:

Of all the clean animals: that are destined to be clean for Israel. We learn [from here] that Noah studied the Torah. (From Chabad.org)

Each basic direction of reading offers several different options or styles. But the basic question facing a reader of any text whether to read as critic or as reader. “Readers” must offer the text a willing suspension of disbelief3 Indeed the idea of a need to suspend disbelief can be helpful in thinking about the reading (as opposed to the criticism) of all narrative. For in a laboratory report also there are elements of the narration of the experiment that are omitted, or poorly described, where the reader must suspend disbelief. Despite the variety of both critical and readerly approaches, and despite the fact that they can even share approaches (as above either can examine the text historically), on the suspension of disbelief they differ fundamentally.

[Incidentally,4 Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair has a really interesting meditation for Purim on “The Willing Suspension of Disbelief“.]

  1. Except the last answer, because we really do not know ;) []
  2. Make into the object of study and examination. []
  3. The phrase is Coleridge’s from the Biographia Literaria of 1817, to explain how readers might approach the fantastic or supernatural elements in his work, but has been widely used in thinking about how readers can read many sorts of fiction. (( JRR Tolkein has also nuanced it speaking about “secondary belief” based on an inner consistency to the reality described in the narrative. But that’s getting too complicated for a short blog post ;) []
  4. Though not at all a HT ;) []

Global Perspectives on reading the Bible – Call for contributors

Photo from Soil-net

I have read the Bible professionally, and encouraged and taught others to read it, in three continents. The situations differed, including an African and a Western University, a Baptist theological college and a Bible School in a refugee camp. I have also supervised some exciting theses that develop interesting perspectives on understanding the Bible. So I am delighted to be participating in a project Global Perspectives on the Old Testament and Global Perspectives on the New Testament, I’ll be writing on Gender-bending as a male reader of Esther and on Jeremiah, possibly taking account of my current context (fencing a piggery and building a pig house ;)

Mark is looking for more contributors, so please read the Call for Contributions below, and think about writing something, or at least repost it on your blog and so share in an interesting project :)

Mark Roncace is seeking contributors for two volumes, Global Perspectives on the Old Testament and Global Perspectives on the New Testament. Pearson Prentice Hall is publishing Global Perspectives on the Bible this year. Next, separate OT and NT volumes, also to be published by Prentice Hall, will be produced. Both books will feature much of the same material as the original Bible volume, but with added essays.

The books—designed as entry level college textbooks—gather four different essays around one biblical text. The essays are brief (about 1,000 words and need not be “scholarly”) and articulate insights from a particular geographical, social, cultural, economic, religious, or ideological context/location. Here is the list of texts/books for which he need essays.

  • Genesis 6-9
  • Numbers 22-24
  • Leviticus
  • Judges
  • 1-2 Kings
  • Jeremiah
  • Ezekiel 1-25
  • Esther
  • Ecclesiastes
  • Daniel
  • Crucifixion narratives
  • Acts (other than chapter 2)
  • Corinthians
  • Galatians
  • 1-2 Thessalonians
  • James
  • Pastorals (1-2 Timothy, Titus)
  • 1-3 John
  • 1-2 Peter

Please let Mark know if you are interested (mroncace@wingate.edu) in writing an essay on one (or two) of these texts and he will forward specific guidelines and a sample. In addition to scholars, Mark is particularly interested in gathering perspectives from non-professional readers. He is trying to run on a tight schedule: final OT essays are due April 1 and final NT essays are due June 1 (but remember they are only about 1,000 words).

Gender analysis and the silly season

It’s the silly season, I’ve nearly finished the marking, but only “nearly”. So I needed some silliness. In an effort to demonstrate “scientifically” that Ruth was written by women I submitted the first chapter in various translations to the Gender Analyser. The results were uninspiring, it reckons with varying degrees of confidence that the chapter was written by a man. But then I guess all that proves is that the translators were (almost) all men. So to cap off the silliness I asked about this blog. Aparently my previous post (like my entire Repentant Carnivores site) was written by a woman.

Results

Silhouette of a womanWe have strong indicators that http://bigbible.org/sansblogue/spirituality/the-everyday-spirituality-of-marking/ is written by a woman (93%).

So, what I want to know is, who has been writing guest posts without telling me!?

How paper is better than e-books

You know it's a good bookstore when... by Ben+Sam

If yesterday’s post seemed a trifle touchy, it’s because the author I was criticising was himself unbalanced. I can rectify that today thanks to Jim W who pointed to this: 5 Ways That Paper Books Are Better Than eBooks this list is balanced and sensible, it takes the technological differences into account and points out not only why e-books don’t/can’t have the significant feature, but what they might have that is similar…
It is a really interesting post – read it! Thank you Jim :) Though your only comment:

And then take that e-reader and put it in the closet.  With thanks to Elaine Reid for the heads up.

…suggests that you have not actually read the post you point to. Perhaps that’s how you get all those posts every ten seconds, you’re a content sniffing machine, not a reader?

Distinguishing humour: signs that a text is intended to be funny

Photo by kevingessner

At 5 Minute Bible I have begun podcasting examples of humour from every book of the (Hebrew at least)1 Bible.

But five books in, I accepted that David Ker’s other challenge. Scripture comes to us from long, long ago and from far, far away, cross cultural humour is always difficult. What is riotously funny to a Japanese may not tickle a Kiwi funny bone. Even among cultures that speak the same language (more or less) senses of humour may be significantly different. Just think of American and British TV comedies…

Spotting humour is easier in speech than writing, in speech there are often signals in the tone, timing and other features of the speech that signal humour. Scripture comes to us as plain vanilla written text.

However, there’s a whole academic discipline studying humour and biblical scholarship has used these studies.

One of the best summaries of this is the chapter F. Scott Spencer “Those Riotous – Yet Righteous – Foremothers of Jesus: Exploring Matthew’s Comic Genealogy.” In Are we amused?: humour about women in the biblical worlds, edited by Athalya Brenner, 7-30. Continuum, 2003. After discussing some earlier attempts to speak about genre signs of humour, starting with Ovid and ending in the 20th century, Spenser lists clues that humour is present. He begins with Greenstein’s list from the ABD2 says incongruity, lighthearted mood and surprise are hallmarks of humour.

Spenser adds to that list, and splits Greenstein’s “surprise” into “spontaneity” and “imperceptibility or hiddenness” (I prefer “surprise”), and I have also modified his list by adding the revelation of human pretension. Giving the following signs a text is intended to be humorous:

  • incongruity
  • lighthearted mood
  • surprise
  • ingenuity (cleverness is often a mark of humour think of puns)
  • inferiority
  • disguise or something or someone pretending to be something else
  • “inelasticity” (following Bergson)
  • human pretension revealed in all its lack of glory!

David Ker, in comments over there, adds hyperbole. This is quite right, exaggeration, things being bigger, brighter and more cartoon-like is often a sign of humour (just think of the story of Jonah). So the list of characteristics likely to be found in humorous texts (remember these rarely all present, but the presence of many of them together provides a strong suggestion):

  • incongruity
  • lighthearted mood
  • surprise
  • ingenuity (cleverness is often a mark of humour think of puns)
  • hyperbole
  • inferiority
  • disguise or something or someone pretending to be something else
  • “inelasticity” (following Bergson)
  • human pretension revealed in all its lack of glory!

What do you think? Are there other common signs of humour, do these signs work? I am especially interested in anyone with cross-cultural experience who can comment on how these work in different contexts. FWIW they do not seem to contradict my experience…

  1. Someone else can do the NT if they like, though I am less sure there is humour in every book there, apart from Jesus they seem a rather serious bunch ;) []
  2. Greenstein. “Humour and Wit: Old Testament.” In The Anchor Bible dictionary, edited by David Freedman, III:330-333. New York: Doubleday, 1992. []

Literature and e-books

Brilliant photo by The Daring Librarian: Gwyneth Anne Bronwynne Jones hinting at the possibilities of e-readers.

The Books and Publishing blog (it comes from the organisers of the annual Book Conference and the International Journal of the Book) has reprinted an extract of an article from the LA Times, using the title “E-books are good news for the literary world”. B & P is a fairly conservative blog, linked closely to traditional publishing, so as you would expect the main “good news” seems (in both their extract and the full article) to be that e-books provide yet another distribution channel for “real books” and that they are more popular than Twitter, and therefore the world is not after all going to hell in a 140 character handbasket.

Their comments are “moderated” so I am not certain if my comment will be published, and anyway most of you probably don’t read either B & P or LAT, so I’ll repeat it here:

Of course e-books and other e-publication possibilities are good news for the literary world. Duh! Wasn’t the codex (which made texts smaller and easier to carry, print (which made them cheaper) so if earlier communications revolutions were good news how could electronic text (which makes “books” both cheaper and more interactive in many ways) be anything else?

Of course the codex was bad news for the spindle turners, and print for the scriptoria, perhaps e may not be good news for traditional publishers (as long as they remain merely traditional publishers).

And that last bracketed comment points to the key failing of e-books so far. Even Amazon singles (which could break open traditional genre restrictions) does little to make text more interactive. So far most of what we have are codexes that imitate scrolls, print that looks like manuscript… but change will come and with change the “literary world” will be renewed and revitalised.

In other words, the real good news for the “literary world” (which is a far larger and more vibrant creature than the traditional publishing industry) is that e-publication is growing, is already breaking down traditional economic restrictions on genres of literature and is showing signs of promise that it will begin to breqak down the walls that separate writers from readers as well as those that separate readers from each other. That is indeed “good news for the literary world”. Though it may not be for traditional publishers, unless they cease from dreaming of the past and begin to dream the future. Those who look only to the past are doomed to repeat it.
And that indeed is the conclusion of David Ulin’s article:

Here, perhaps, we have the true lesson of the Pew findings — that even in the digital world, we want more connection rather than less. This, I think, is what e-books have to offer: the promise of immersion, enhanced or otherwise, just as their analog counterparts have always done.

Though I read almost to the end before getting clues that he would end like this ;)