Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Happy Blog-Day to Me

Today is "Ralph"'s blog-day. The first post appeared on November 30, 2004.

It's been an interesting year. As I noted in the CARG session in Philadelphia, I thought blogging might limit the sense of isolation I felt as an independent scholar working at home, and it did, to some extent. The conversations that take place online are "real" conversations, as real as any exchange of letters in the old days, only faster. But, besides that motivation, I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do with a blog when I started, and I still don't, not really. I periodically have the itch to write, but not necessarily the time or the patience to write something long, so writing a readable and interesting (at least to me) blog post a few times a week is both a good exercise for the writing muscles and a convenient way to scratch the writing itch.

I told myself when I began that I would be "true to Ralph," by which I meant that I would write only about what interested me, and on topics that I might have some kind of insight to contribute, not just to fill up space or attract readers. I determined early on not to blog about either politics or sports; the first bores me, and the second bores everyone else. Other than that, I've ranged far and wide and I have not tried to limit myself to a narrow set of topics (although I keep returning to the Bible and its languages). But despite my best intentions, looking back, I wonder why I bothered writing some posts, and can only plead that blogging sometimes became an end in itself. "Blogito ergo sum." My intent, if not always my practice, however, has remained firm, and I still will try to remain "true to Ralph." I hope all of you will keep coming by from time to time to see if I succeed.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Scattered Thoughts on AAR-SBL (Part II)

— I was tired and grumpy throughout most of the meeting this year, although I tried to hide it. It was the byproduct of a 10-hour commute from Cincinnati that turned into a 13-hour commute (we musta took a wrong turn at Albuquerque). The occasional floor sleeping didn't help. If I was unpleasant to anyone, forgive me. But seeing many friends, both old and new, made the trip worthwhile, even if I was not at my best.

— That may have affected my receptivity in the sessions; but I still came away with the feeling that most people don't know how to present papers, and I'm beginning to think that it's always going to be that way. There's got to be a better method of absorbing new scholarship than listening to someone read a paper in a rapid monotone in a crowded, overheated room. I suggest, at the very least, these steps:
(1) Graduate students must submit to the session chairs a version of what they plan to present; if it's too long, it should be either rejected or returned to the applicant for revision. I say "grad students" because they were the principal offenders (although I hasten to add that I heard more than one excellent paper by grad students). The SBL should also provide training, either live or online, for those who wish to present at the annual meeting.
(2) Each section or group should have its own website, where planning and organization can take place, including updates on the actual room location. Preliminary papers can also be posted there; or presenters can upload their handouts before the meeting.
(3) Insufficient use has been made up to now of recording or podcasting. It seems to me that there are plenty of low-tech options for recording and making presentations available after the meeting in MP3 or other formats. These could be made available on the section websites or through other means. This would help alleviate the problem of inattention (can one really listen to five papers in a row?), overcrowding (ever missed a paper because there was no room to sit down?), or scheduling (some of the sessions I was interested in took place at the same time as the CARG panel).

— I enjoyed the Biblioblogging session, mainly because it was fun to see the actual human beings in meatspace who are responsible for the blogs I read daily. But here's a little two-part eyewitness test for you. (1) When the panel session began, what was the order of seating, starting from Mark Goodacre? My memory is that it was this: Mark Goodacre, Rick Brennan, Stephen Carlson, Torrey Seland, Jim Davila, me (Ed Cook), Tim Bulkeley, AKMA, and Jim West. (2) When the question "How many here are bloggers?" was asked, what percentage (roughly) raised their hands? I feel that it was no more than 50%, but I believe Stephen Carlson has blogged that it was "almost everyone." Any other opinions?

— This meeting caught me in the middle of a career reinvention, as I begin to renounce the threefold academic vow (poverty, bibliography, and jargon) and transition from full-time independent scholar to full-time cubicle dweller with philology as a hobby. This will also affect "Ralph"; as the demands on my time increase, blogging will become harder to fit in. But I won't quit. Watch this space.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Scattered Thoughts on AAR-SBL (Part I)

Worst word to hear from a boring speaker who has already exceeded his time limit:: "Furthermore, ..."

Best phrase to hear from a boring speaker who has already exceeded his time limit:: "In conclusion, ..."

I learned a new word: "rhizomatic," used by AKMA in the Biblioblog session.

I learned how to pronounce: Hypotyposeis. It's pronounced like a disease.

Most heart-warming sight: The Pilgrim literally jumping up and down in excitement at her first glimpse of the book exhibits.

Blankest look: Joe Cathey, when I told him my hands were registered as lethal weapons.

Funniest glitch: When the audio feed from the Union Theological Seminary breakfast was piped into the Fuller Theological Seminary breakfast, and vice versa.

Unfunniest glitch: When the hotel refused to provide bedding for the third person in our 3-person room, we took turns sleeping on the floor.

Amount of money I spent on books: $49.00.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

C U in Philly

I'll be leaving for Philadelphia tomorrow for the AAR-SBL Annual Meeting — so blogging on "Ralph", already light, will stop altogether for about a week. I know others plan to blog from Philadelphia, and I might try that if I'm inspired, but I doubt it.

For those interested in the session on "biblioblogging," both of the main papers, by Jim Davila and Rick Brennan, have been posted. As for the panel discussion — well, you'll just have to be there.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The End of The Magus

In an odd coincidence, on Saturday, the day I finished reading The Magus, its author John Fowles died. The New York Times obituary can be found here. The Magus is the only book of Fowles's that I have read, and my hat is off to him for writing a book of great interest, great influence, and sustained moral seriousness — although his ultimate viewpoint on life is not one that I share. (Another odd feature is the rare link from a major news outlet to "Ralph" via Fowles's passing.)

I find it interesting that many people find the ending of the book frustratingly obscure or deliberately ambivalent. (Caution: Spoilers ahead.) The Times review says:
And in "The Magus," the story of a young Englishman who gets caught up in the frightening dramatic fantasies of a strangely powerful man on an Aegean island, he again wrote an ending of self-conscious ambiguity, leaving the hero's future an open puzzle that readers are challenged to solve for themselves.
Well, as much as one hates to disagree with the New York Times, I did not find the ending all that ambiguous. In terms of plot (though not of metaphysics or of morals) the biggest question is: Will Nicholas and Allison get back together? When they meet, at the end of the book, that is the issue before them. Although no explicit resolution is given, Fowles gives a rather broad hint, by ending with a famous quote from an ancient Latin poem, the Perevigilium Veneris:

cras amet qui numquam amavit
quique amavit cras amet

I would translate this, rather literally, as "tomorrow let him love who never yet loved / and may whoever has loved love again tomorrow." The Loeb edition has "To-morrow shall be love for the loveless, and for the lover tomorrow shall be love." Finally, Eugene Ehrlich in Amo Amas Amat and More, translates as follows:

May he love tomorrow who has never loved before;
And may he who has loved, love tomorrow as well.

In terms of the plot, this seems pretty clear to me. "The one who has never loved" is Nicholas, who is basically a selfish jerk, who, by the end of the novel, is learning what it means to love; while "the one who has loved" (quique amavit) is Allison, who (with all her many faults) has loved Nicholas better than he deserved. Surely the implication is that they both will finally find mutual love and together have a future (cras)?

Have people found the resolution ambiguous because they were unable to read Latin? In fact, in the foreword to the revised edition of The Magus, Fowles suggests as much, saying that the "general intent [of the ending] has never seemed to me as obscure as some readers have evidently found it — perhaps because they have not given due weight to the two lines from the Perevigilium Veneris that close the book ..."

In my opinion, then, the "deliberate ambiguity" is just not there (or is less than usually supposed), and this leads me to see Fowles as a somewhat more traditional storyteller (at least in this case) than others saw him, and perhaps than he saw himself. But it is clear, in any case, that the world has lost a thoughtful and thought-provoking artist.

Friday, November 04, 2005

For the Weekend

Dr. Chris Brady, blogger and targum scholar, is the subject of a Microsoft profile here. Way to go, Chris!

Which reminds me. CB is a fan of Sufjan Stevens, who is no doubt the only alternative rocker to mention "going to the Bible study" in his lyrics. A bunch of Sufjan's Christmas music is available here.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Tom Finley on Prof. Segert

My remembrance of Stanislav Segert has now appeared, slightly revised, on the SBL website. Tom Finley, also a former student of Segert, sent me this e-mail in response, which is published here with his permission:

I also was one of Dr. Segert's students. He was the second man on my doctoral committee, and I got the PhD in 1979 (writing on Western Akkadian). I appreciate very much the memorial statements you made about him. I also remember him as a gentleman scholar who had an encyclopedic mind for the northwest Semitic languages. He would give us his Ugaritic materials in pre-publication form and have us critique them for English style. One had to get used to his accent at first but after awhile it became easier to understand him most of the time. He enjoyed his students very much and was always ready to lavish attention on them. At times he had us over to his house. Each quarter I was at UCLA he had a Hebrew Bible course where each of us would contribute to whatever form of the text we could handle: the Syriac, the Targums, the Greek, the Latin. Dr. Segert could handle it all. If my memory serves me correctly, I think he mentioned that he had two doctorates, one in Semitics but the other in classics. He was quite comfortable with Greek and Latin. I remember him saying once that English was his third language, behind Czech and German. He also told us that the communists fired him from the university in Prague because he taught that Jesus was a real person, and that violated the communist dogma. I guess I have to say that studying under Dr. Segert was one of the great experiences of my life. Because of my own life circumstances my interests have steered away from Akkadian, my main area of study at UCLA, to Hebrew and Aramaic, the very interests that Dr. Segert was most versed in. Thank you for your very appropriate comments. He is indeed irreplaceable and will be sorely missed.

Tom Finley
Chair, Dept. of Old Testament & Semitics
Talbot School of Theology/Biola University