Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Corpse lives.

It should be pretty evident, dear readers, that your humble Corpse has been bereft of things to say for the past couple-three months. The 千字文 / Thousand Character Classic project is as dead in the water as 李白 Li Po. When I can browbeat myself into writing heavy metal reviews, they're earmarked for Enslain magazine, though I haven't exactly been cranking those out, either.

Since I last posted, much of my time has been spent translating an 18th-century letter of complaint written by nuns of the Convent of Santa Monica in Goa. "Letter" is not really the word for a rambling and often repetitive document of 40-odd handwritten pages, mind you, but it's been a fascinating process, mainly due to the fact that working with the excellent dude who roped me into it has been fun, educational, and promising in terms of future collaboration. I've learned to read old Portuguese handwriting, delved into the lives of Catholic nuns (who were not there because their cruel parents decided to dump them at the convent door, as is so often believed), and I'm helping to make available to the world a document written by, and about, women at a time when women's voices were only fleetingly heard.

More recently, I've started translating Leonor Figueiredo's biography of Sita Valles, the Angolan communist executed after the grim events of May 27, 1977. Valles' parents were from Goa, which is why I first heard of her. Figueiredo's written a good book, and I think making it available in English will prove useful. I'll discuss this project, as well as the Santa Monica convent one, in further detail at a later date.

That's it for now, alas. I've gotta eat dinner and get to Portuguese class. Later this week, perhaps, I'll find some time to write some more. Later, folks.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Terrible Something

If in search of what's wrong with the world today- a phrase I despise, because the slightest brush with history shows us that the past is hardly laudable, but I'll stick with it for now-  one need not turn to the grotesque buffoon in the White House and his coterie of reactionaries, bootlickers, and bipedal leeches. An examination of one's immediate surroundings and internal state will suffice to demonstrate that the world around us is currently in the grip of something terrible, and that we ourselves are microcosmic hosts of whatever that terrible something is. Best not to look too closely, lest the contours and details resolve themselves and the terrible becomes overwhelming. Yet a failure to investigate is exactly what has led us here.

The terrible something devours minds, hearts, time, and space. It lends the grinning ghouls of the ruling class masks of respectability, and tells us they are true faces, trustworthy and wholesome. It bears down upon our souls, or whatever passes for them, and allows them to collapse under the weight of their very existence. It robs us of our days, which it feeds to the ravening demiurges of the economy and "progress," and fills our nights with a dreadful silence that is unconducive to slumber. It stalks the globe, snatching corners of heaven and earth from their rightful inhabitants and uprooting the human being from its surroundings. The terrible something does not live in the world, but dwells upon it, like an extradimensional horror might a threshold.

So: what is this terrible something? Is it capitalism, currently grinding its teeth, and us between them, as it attempts to force its way through yet another crisis? Is it the rot eating away the veil of democracy with which the West covers itself? Is it a spiritual malaise, some species-wide ennui and self-loathing immune to the pathetic variety of cures we have dreamed up? Or is it an absence of some kind, a void in our social relations, our collective lack of imagination coming back to haunt us from whatever astral graveyard we banished it to? Perhaps it's something else entirely, detectable only by what it doesn't do or where it isn't.

Me, I'd venture to say that the terrible something is all of the above and then some. It has probably always been with us. Maybe it simply is us, and we've contorted ourselves into such a mockery of being human that the terrible something has manifested itself fully.  I don't know what all this means, or how it can be combated, assuming it can be combated at all. I doubt it can be, at least not in the sense of pushing back against a defined foe, but we can study ourselves, stand in solidarity with our fellow humans, and dream, as the terrible something wends its way through our lives and settles into the cracks of the cosmos. It ain't much, but it's all we've got.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Sleep - Jerusalem/Dopesmoker

After years of worshipping at the altar of the riff, I'm finally gonna see Sleep on Saturday. Sleep, dude. The dudes who wrote Jerusalem, AKA Dopesmoker, which received three different releases (so far) and all of which have commendable properties. Personally, the latest release, under the name Dopesmoker (the album's original title during recording), does a great job of highlighting the dynamic range of what skeptics, amateurs, and squares might call a boring exercise in repetition, but I still prefer Jerusalem, truncated as it is. The unity of sound lends to the religious/meditative quality that, I think, forms the backbone of the whole album.

I'd be willing to admit that my preference could be a matter of familiarity, but shit, I've spent a whole lot of time listening to this record in its various incarnations, and this ain't mere nostalgia. But it doesn't matter. All that matters is the riff, or rather the Riff, and Sleep has perfected it in our lifetime. A thousand other stoner rock or doom bands could write hour-long songs and none of them would approach the unwittingly orthodox masterpiece that is Sleep's Dopesmoker. This probably ain't the first time I've talked about this record, and I hope it won't be the last; maybe next time I'll have something more interesting to say.

Anyway, adios for now, folks. Get high, listen to Jerusalem/Dopesmoker, and act accordingly. Or don't, and just experience the music. It's your life, after all. Don't let some random dude tell you how to live it.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

千字文 / O Texto de Mil Caracteres, parte 16

No espírito de Luís Gonzaga Gomes e outros sinólogos de língua portuguesa, e para praticar a minha escrita, apresento-lhes hoje o estudo do 千字文 em português.

cài zhòng jiè jiāng

"Dos vegetais, a mostarda e o gengibre são estimados."

菜 é um caracter muito conhecido pelos aficionados de comida chinesa, porque significa, além de "vegetal/vegetais," prato no sentido de "prato principal", e também cozinha, como 四川菜, cozinha de Sichuan.

重 tem duas leituras, zhòng e chóng. A primeira significa uma coisa pesada ou grave, ou que tem importância; a segunda, duplo ou repetido, e pode ser um verbo tambem- repetir ou dobrar.

Acho que o texto não trata dos grãos de mostarda, mas sim as folhas dela. Mostarda refogado com gengibre, alho, e molho de soja (ou um pouco de vinagre preto) é um prato simplicíssimo e quase perfeito; concordo com o(s) autor(es) do Texto de Mil Caracteres na sua avaliação destes legumes.

Nossa, agora estou com fome. Até breve, leitores!


Tuesday, April 04, 2017

千字文 / The Thousand Character Classic, part 15

When I started this project, I thought that I'd post maybe three times a week and finish in a couple or so years, but now I'm not so sure. Life has a way of interrupting one's plans, but it's not as if failing to crank out brief remarks on the Thousand Character Classic on a regular basis is a cause for despair. The other things I'm doing these days - more translations from Portuguese, learning some Latin, revising my historical novel, and, most dauntingly, fixin' to start tutoring ESL to adults - are all pretty fulfilling. That said, I do enjoy parsing the ol' 千字文, and even the handful of characters I've covered have proven useful to reading other Chinese texts, so let's check out the next four characters.

guŏ zhēn lĭ nài

"As for fruits, the plum and crabapple are highly prized."

I don't think I've ever eaten a crabapple, though I do have a specific childhood memory of a crabapple tree outside a public indoor pool I visited with a class or daycare program or something. (Guess it ain't that specific after all.) It's not so much the tree or its fruit that stands out in my memory as the heat and harsh light of the moment. Anyway, there's not a lot to say about these characters. Paar's edition of the 千字文 is equally silent as to the particular value of these fruits, and I'm too lazy to consult any other sources at the moment, so we'll assume that 李奈 were merely tasty, which is a fine reason to prize any comestible.

I'd like to take the opportunity to mention a couple other things that my translation brings to mind.

1/甲: I frequently use the term "classical Chinese" to translate 文言文, which is also, and more rightly, called "literary Chinese." Classical Chinese, AKA 古文, is temporally bound to the written language used up until the 漢朝 Han dynasty, whereas 文言文 is the written language used up until the early 20th century. (There's a late 20th-century writer whose name escapes me who still used it, too.) My point is that much of the Chinese I've translated on this blog isn't strictly classical Chinese, but literary Chinese- for example, the 千字文, which was compiled after the classical period, technically counts as 文言文 and not 古文. Naturally, even the term 古文 has historically narrower literary applications than that which I'm assigning it for comparative purposes, but that's beyond the scope of this note.

2/乙: Literary Chinese loves to imply things. If you were to literally translate 果珍李奈, you'd more or less get "fruit valuable plum crabapple," which at first glance is ridiculous but, with a little effort, somewhat comprehensible. Ignoring the potential for 珍 to be used as an adjective or a verb (or, to put it into more linguistic terms, that we're looking at the perennially popular Chinese topic-comment structure), it still appears to be a phrase devoid of context. Why did the author(s) of the Thousand Character Classic suddenly bring up tasty fruit? Because, in the previous two lines, they'd started delineating the names and natures of specific things. Recall the 剑 sword and 珠 pearl: now we're onto a broader class of things, 果 fruit. When 文言文 brings up a topic, especially in sequence, there's an implied "as for X" or "regarding X." I'm unable to explain the nuance of this fully, in part because I tend to forget it myself when I'm reading literary Chinese, and because there are more dimensions to it based on context, but it's an ingrained part of reading 文言文.

More later, folks! Hope this helped, or was interesting, or entertaining. Preferably all three.


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

千字文 / The Thousand Character Classic, part 14

zhū chēng yè guāng

"A pearl called Ye Guang."

Unlike the name of the sword in the last entry, 夜光 makes sense on its own: it means something that shines at night.

Paar says that the story of this pearl comes from a book called 搜神記, or the Record of Searching for Spirits (my translation; my phone's dictionary calls it, in a much more modern fashion, In Search of the Supernatural), published during the 兩晋 Jin dynasty (the first one(s), from the third to fifth centuries CE): "[t]he Marquis of Sui rescued a wounded snake, who in gratitude brought him a pearl that shone brightly at night."

I don't have a problem with snakes. Like a lot of things in life, as long as they're left alone and not hassled, they're usually content to reciprocate. I especially like this snippet of a tale for demonstrating that not all snakes of yore get a bum rap, like the one in the Bible, and that everyone, even presumably busy Chinese noblemen, can do right by their fellow sentient beings. Of course, the full story may end badly, but I'm gonna leave it as it is for the time being.

Until next time, folks!


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

千字文 / The Thousand Character Classic, part 13

Today the Thousand Character Classic gives us an oblique history lesson, and reminds us that all kinds of things can be used as names in Chinese.

jiàn hào jù què

"A sword named Juque."

Paar's edition of the 千字文 says that Juque was one of several famous- or, perhaps more accurately, legendary- swords made by 歐冶子 Ou Yezi during the Spring and Autumn period, of which more can be learned here. The characters that make up the sword's name are interesting in that one way of reading them together produces "massive flaw," which is not something I'd look for in a weapon. Another reading could be "gigantic watchtower," which to my ears may sound odd, but, unlike the other reading, at least tries to sell the would-be wielder of the sword on some sort of martial virtues.

It appears that the Juque sword makes an appearance in a famous Qing dynasty 武俠 wuxia novel titled either 忠烈俠義傳 (The Tale of Loyal and Upright Heroes) or 三俠五義 (Three Gallants and Five Righteous Ones). Based on the Wikipedia description of it, it sounds like a neat read, but one that's far beyond my skill and patience. Better to stick to the Thousand Character Classic and the occasional poem for now, I think.

Until next time, take it easy, dear readers.


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

千字文 / The Thousand Character Classic, part 12

Today's is a brief lesson in geology and geography, fields in which your humble Corpse is no expert (though I'm pretty good at finding places on a world map).

yù chū kūn gāng

"Jade comes from the Kunlun Mountains."

The two varieties of gemstone collectively known as jade, nephrite and jadeite, come from a number of sources, not just the Kunlun Mountains. Jadeite, for example, can be collected on the beaches of Big Sur in California, which I may or may not have done. (It's unclear because I never had the greenish rocks I collected there properly identified.) China's historical and ongoing love of jade is well-known and, in my opinion, righteous, because jade is amazing. There are a number of characters for jade of different kinds: 玉, 翠, 翡, 玖, and plenty more, but that's beyond the scope of this post.

崑 is a reference to the Kunlun Mountains that run through central Asia; their western end is in Tajikistan (Chinese: 塔吉克) and their eastern/Chinese terminus is in 青海 Qinghai province. There's also a lot of mythology surrounding 崑崙山 Kunlun Mountain, which is not necessarily related spatially to the Kunlun Mountains themselves. I leave it up to you, dear reader, to delve into this mythology on your own.

岡 means "hill" or "ridge", and thus is a metonym of sorts for 山, the usual Chinese character for "mountain."

So now you've all been given the general locations of precious stones and metals in China. If a couple thousand years' exploitation hasn't utterly exhausted these sources, which it almost certainly has, you might be in luck if you go to China seeking a fortune in gold and jade. If, you know, the locals, 仙人 immortals, or the Chinese government don't mind.

Later, dudes!


Friday, March 10, 2017

千字文 / The Thousand Character classic, part 11

Today's characters bring good news for fortune-seekers.

jīn shēng lì shuĭ

"The river Li bears gold."

麗 means "beautiful" or, as Kroll puts it, "beauty that is outwardly or sensually striking." In this case, paired with 水, the character for water, it refers to the Li River in 雲南 Yunnan province.

I'm much obliged to Francis Paar for pointing this out, because like seemingly every other thing I come across reading classical Chinese, it's not something I'd have guessed on my own (though this use of 水 is fairly common). Another good example is 玉箸, which appeared in my last post. It translates literally to "jade chopsticks" - it's not the usual character for chopsticks, either! - but it's used as a stand-in for tears, as well as being the name of a form of small seal script. As a literary language, Classical Chinese has no monopoly on layered meanings, but damn if it doesn't get a prize for being especially obtuse. It's enough to make a dude want to weep jade chopsticks sometimes.

And there you have it. Paar says you can pan for gold in the Li River, so go west*, young wo/man!


*Or east. Your choice. From the USA, it usually makes more sense to go west these days.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

國際婦女節: 薛濤的"春望詞四首" / International Women's Day: Xue Tao's "Four Ways of Looking at Spring"

If I'd thought it through, I would've been better prepared to commemorate International Women's Day, which is to say I would have started work on these poems by Xue Tao a lot earlier. I hope my hasty translation does her a modicum of justice.

薛濤 Xue Tao was a Tang dynasty poet, courtesan, and, later in life, Daoist nun. Wikipedia uses the term "adept," which is probably more accurate since "nun" implies her taking on a monastic life, which doesn't seem to have been the case. A collection of her poetry, the 錦江集 or Brocade River Collection, was published in her lifetime, but apparently only part of it has survived. Her work has been translated by an inevitably more skilled hand than mine: Jeanne Larsen's Brocade River Poems: Selected Works of the Tang Dynasty Courtesan Xue Tao can be purchased here.

Xue Tao's Daoist phase strikes me as particularly interesting, and informs my translation, insofar as I opted to refrain from personalizing the poems. I think this makes for an aesthetically useful juxtaposition of the wistful romance of the poems' subject matter and the featureless nature of the Dao.

Of course, that's just me. I've included her original for anyone who reads Chinese, and I consulted Tony Barnstone and Chou Ping's version of these poems, if readers want another take on these 1200-year-old examples of poetry written by Chinese women. Enjoy!








Xue Tao
"Four Ways of Looking at Spring"

Flowers blossom, but can't be enjoyed together
Flowers fall, but grief can't be shared
If you want to ask where love dwells
It's when flowers blossom and flowers fall

Gather grass and tie heart-shaped knots
Pass them on to the dearly departed
Spring sadness has just broken
Spring birds sing mournfully again

Blossoms on the wind, the day wanes
It's as if good times are ever more distant
If people can't bind their hearts together
It's pointless to knot grass hearts

How does one endure branches full of flowers?
Write a couple of love songs.
Tears fall onto the mirror
But does the spring wind know?