Category Archives: Uncategorized

September meeting – report

[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZR_FYKPAAQ’]

Well, we finally finished “The Natural”. I’m sure we all heaved a sigh of relief, as well as felt a sense of satisfaction and achievement.

Below are the written reactions I received from some of our readers. Some others have posted their reactions as comments to this blog.

And here is my reaction.

It was most interesting to read this book with you. I enjoyed Malamud’s writing –

  • his way of bringing scenes vividly to life using the five senses (sights especially colours, sounds, touch, taste and smell);
  • his sense of humour, including his puns;
  • his realistic dialogue – Roy and the baseball players and the fans (and Max Mercy) all speak a rough language of the streets, frequently ungrammatical, using a lot of slang (especially baseball slang), sometimes vulgar; the language of the 1920s and 1930s;
  • his blending of dream and reality so that the reader isn’t sure sometimes whether Roy is really experiencing something or whether he is just dreaming it (e.g. the underwater scene with Iris, or when he is hypnotized);
  • his blending of true stories with fiction (Babe Ruth was known as a big eater; the bizarre shooting incident and subsequent comeback of Philadelphia Phillies player Eddie Waitkus; “Shoeless” Joe Jackson who, with seven other White Sox players were accused of accepting $5,000 each to throw the Series in 1919 (leaving the criminal court, Jackson is said to have been appealed to by a young boy who said, “Say it ain’t so, Joe”; this story may not be true, but it has passed into legend or urban myth);
  • and I liked the way he mixed in references to the Arthurian legend (“Knight” field, the team called “the Knights”, Pop’s sickness like that of the Fisher King, the rain and thunder signifying fertility, the dust and brown dry grass of the baseball field as the sick and diseased land (the Wasteland) of the Fisher King).
  • At first, I preferred the movie’s ending to the novel’s ending. It’s more satisfying, isn’t it? But I also came to appreciate Malamud’s ending to “The Natural”: the rather bitter ending carries more weight as a moral lesson. However, I am still ambivalent about it – the ending seems to me rather a surrender to “realism”, that attitude that says the people in a story should behave and talk like “real” people (i.e., not like heroes because there are no real heroes any more). And yet, the book’s ending is more in keeping with Roy’s character: he never really learns his lessons except the hard way. And the ending suggests he has learned something: he regrets his decision (he throws the money back at Judge), and perhaps (the story implies) he goes back to Iris and becomes a responsible father and husband. Would he have done that if he hadn’t been so foolish as to accidentally hit Iris with the baseball? Robert Redford’s character has much less self-doubt or headstrong foolishness.
  • My favourite line in the story (and movie) is when Roy practises batting for the first time with the Knights. Pop says, “All those years and you never played organized baseball?” Roy gives the right answer: “Well I sort of got sidetracked.” (See the clip at the top of this blog post.)

Trying to answer your questions about the book was entertaining – I was constantly surprised by the misunderstandings that occurred, and by the difficulties that arose due to the differences between Japanese and English-speaking culture, by the many cultural references in Malamud’s story which have no counterpart in Japanese culture, or which signify different things. For example, today we read of Roy’s “springlike thoughts”. My image or association for “springlike” is “hopeful, optimistic, forward-looking”, but yours were “warm, happy,” etc.

The mythological traditions behind “The Natural” I found fascinating, but they did not seem to excite much interest or curiosity amongst you, perhaps because of your unfamiliarity with the Arthurian legends.

I was (and am) more interested in your reactions and responses and difficulties with this text than the text itself!

Finally, when I started this reading group, I imagined that I would be a cultural resource, able to explain British or Western cultural references (e.g., the references to the Fisher King in “The Natural”); but then I ran the risk of playing the role of “teacher”, and suggesting that my interpretation is the “correct” one.

Now I am not so sure.

Everyone brings their own experience to a book or story and therefore their own unique interpretations. These reactions and interpretations are extremely rich and personal. If we accept that there is a “correct” interpretation, we tend to suppress our own reactions and accept that of “the expert”. This often results in a less personal, and less involving, experience, don’t you think?

Thanks again to all of you who showed up month after month, to read and discuss this novel.

Now, here are the other reader reactions:

Experiences of reading “The Natural”

  1. The more I went on reading this story, the more disappointed I became with Roy. The author raises readers’ hopes, implying Roy will succeed this time, and then drops us from the elevation. The usual sports story is as follows: after a hero strives a lot, he climbs a ladder of glory little by little and has a happy ending. And there are morals in the story. After reading we feel satisfaction.Whenever Roy is about to get success, an unexpected occurrence happens and he misses it. Why do they happen? Because this story is based on Holy Grail legend. Ordinary person can’t get it easily. It may be that when people approach the Holy Grail, it goes away from them, and keeps the same distance. Even if someone can get the Holy Grail, the moment he gets it, it may break or the person who gets it dies. The movie “ Indiana Jones” showed the Grail as something like that.An old knight of the Crusades has kept guarding the Holy Grail for more than seven hundred years at the place like the cave in another dimension. Indiana came there. The old knight asked “As I’m old, please take my place.” He might have thought Indiana is an ideal for a guardian. But the cave began to break. The old knight waved to Indiana running away from the cave. The Grail was something that even Indiana couldn’t reach. I remember this scene of the movie vividly.So the Holy Grail isn’t something we can see. But Roy runs after something we can see – ladies or fame, etc. The holy grail is something that can’t be seen and has eternal value for people, I think. For example it may be wisdom, love, happiness, health, religion, etc.
  2. I ‘d like to write some experiences that I remembered and they may have something to do with the places in this novel.
    1. New York, Chicago, Michigan
      Our traveling by Amtrak (The American National Railroad ). It was in 1993 when my husband retired from the company and my daughter was studying at MIT in Boston for a year. Our train started from Oakland in San Francisco (terminal station) to New York, and from New York to Boston traversing the American continent. At Chicago we stayed in the hotel near Lake Michigan. There are many beautiful buildings, skyscrapers and fine museums, etc in the city. I wonder where Roy, Pop, and Red stayed and walked around. Lake Michigan was very large and dark blue color.The view from the top of the Tiers Building was very wonderful and splendid. It is the highest building in Chicago and we can see all around the city and the lake. Speaking of the highest building, we climbed the WTC (World Trade center, Twin buildings, very sorry they were destroyed ) by elevator only 1 or 2 minutes to the top,120 floors (415 meters). We could see all around New York, the Brooklyn Bridge, the East river, the Hudson river, the Statue of Liberty far beyond and etc.Chicago station was very beautiful and famous for the marble stairs used the set of the movie, “The Untouchables”.

      When we approached Chicago station we were surprised to see many rail tracks like a web. Chicago station is the hub of the railways, too. Lots of trains to all over the America leave and arrive to and from various directions destinations. I imagined Roy’s train came up this line or that line.

    2. Yankee stadium, Old Sox stadium, Cape CodIn New York We just only Passed by the Yankee stadium driven by our American friend when he took us to Manhattan from his house in Bayside.In Boston I just only heard about the Red Sox stadium and didn’t visit.

      During our stay in Boston my daughter took us to Cape Cod by car. We went to the Race Point and saw the Sunset at the beach where many people came to see the Sunset. It was setting very large, very red and dramatically. Maybe Memo saw the sunset?

    3. The views through the window of the trainThe landscapes from AMtrak —— Canyons, the Rocky mountains, the Colorado river, vast plains, countryside, big city, Atlantic ocean, long freight trains, sunsets, sunrises—–were all wonderful and magnificent.
      Roy and the guys might see the same sceneries when they travel for baseball matches.
    4. The depiction about the train and tipsAmtrak was very huge and our compartment had a shower, toilet and mirror, and was very convenient. The lounge car had huge windows on both sides and a glass ceiling and it was taller than the other cars so we could see the scenery well and many passengers came to the lounge car to talk and relax.In the dining car the staff gave us breakfast, lunch and dinner in full course on tables covered with a beautiful white tablecloth. We talked to everyone at the same table; it was very friendly. There were no mysterious ladies like Harriet.
    5. Koshien StadiumIn 2006 we went to see the baseball game between Hanshin and Yakult. The stadium was full of people enjoying themselves and cheering their team, or some particular players. We cheered Hanshin with the Hanshin goods like megaphone and colorful balloon, and at the beginning of the seventh we Hanshin fans blew and launched the many colorful balloons together. They rose and rose swaying in the air. That sight was very beautiful and wonderful. I was sure it inspired the players. I don’t know whether a lady fan like Iris was standing or not. But I’m sure some lady who might cheer a particular player was standing and cheering like Iris. There might be a drama going on somewhere.
  3. As for myself, when I read the novels written in the original English, I can understand the total story approximately after checking some words, some phrases and grammar in the dictionary. But it takes a pretty long time. However, sometimes I cannot see well the meaning of some sentences (文章が与える感覚、感情、雰囲気、ニュアンス), though I try to make sense of them. Maybe it is difficult for me to understand their little nuances or shades of meaning unless I can often use English in my daily life. Eventually I get into a way of reading that I only chase the story’s scenario. It is OK. as well.I’ve read an article somewhere which said that one Japanese asked an American how he could learn to understand the little nuances. The American answered: Read often an easy English novel, for instance, “The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway. Reading the relatively short sentences helps you understand the various feelings. So, aren’t there any novels written in British or American English like this?
  4. Everyone has their own destiny and fate , I think, and everyone has ‘ups and downs’ in their lives. The words that Iris said in part VI impressed me. For example, she told Roy that, ‘Experience makes good people better’ and ‘We have two lives, the life we learn with and the life we live with after that.’ As well as ‘Suffering is what brings us toward happiness, it teaches us to want the right things.’ Iris was a good match for Roy.Everyone experiences failure at some point in their lives. She cheered him up and made him feel strong again. She made him feel that he shouldn’t give up on the dream of being the best that he can be. I was taught by this novel, what is important about being human.This novel was very challenging, but I enjoyed it. It impressed me very deeply. But for a change, I’d like to try reading some short stories.
  5. I think Roy is tied to his glory as a star. When he was in a slump, he couldn’t accept the fact that he wasn’t a star any more. That’s his frustration.I had the same frustration. Since I quit being an ECC home tutor, I’d been wanting to be a teacher for a long time. I chose the career of teacher as a way to help other people.But now I have got over my frustration. I am content with volunteering as a staff member at a music therapy centre and an elementary school’s after-school classes.

What is the secret of the Holy Grail?

Some questions to think about before our next meeting this month.

[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tKzIivdXnIw’]

Who was the Fisher King? The Fisher King was a figure in the legend of King Arthur.

Now is the season of festivals in Japan, “matsuri”. Why? What do they celebrate? Is there a god or goddess of spring? A god or goddess of summer? What happens to this god or goddess when winter comes? Why is Easter in Christian countries celebrated with eggs?

See you in a couple of weeks, Oct. 26th.

Not all foreigners are leaving Tokyo

Over the last week there have been many newspaper articles saying “Thousands flee Tokyo”.  (See one example in the Financial Times and another one in the British Daily Mail.)

Well, not all foreigners are fleeing Tokyo or Japan. Here is one report by Alex Bieber who is not afraid to stay and who is rather ashamed of people who have left. (If you have a Facebook account, you can read the Japanese version here. If you do not have a Facebook account, you can download the PDF here.)

Another foreigner, an American, who lives in Tokyo and who is not leaving is Mike Rogers. He is also angry at many non-Japanese who have left Tokyo or Japan.  He has written many blog posts on this subject, but here is one example. He has also provided lots of facts and links to such useful sources of information as Radiation levels in Shinjuku, radiation levels in Tsukuba, comments by phone from the UK’s Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir John Beddington.

What is needed is factual knowledge which allows you to interpret the information from the TV and newspapers. This has finally been provided by some TV programs, and I wrote about them here and here.

Here is a very interesting chart which shows how much radiation you get from different activities, starting with the very lowest dose – sleeping next to someone!

The situation at Fukushima remains critical, but it looks as if it is stabilizing. And as Sir John Beddington said,

this is very problematic for the area and the immediate vicinity and one has to have concerns for the people working there. Beyond that 20-30km, it’s really not an issue for health.

Aristotle’s Poetics

Miniature from a manuscript of the Roman de la...
Image via Wikipedia

In the movie Shadowlands, there are a couple of scenes showing C.S. Lewis, professor of Medieval and Renaissance English Literature, teaching some tutorials. (The movie shows Lewis teaching in Oxford; he was first a professor at Oxford, then moved to Cambridge University, which is where he was teaching when he met Joy Gresham, although he continued to live in Oxford until the end of his life.)

In the first tutorial scene, Lewis is talking about the Romance of the Rose. He then notices one of his students is asleep, and, perhaps like the viewer and the other students, he wonders why. This reminds him of Aristotle’s theories on literature, especially theatre or drama, because Aristotle would have said that the question to ask, as a writer of literature, is not “why is the student sleeping?” but “what will he do next?” In other words, he is using the occasion to teach.

One of our participants (thank you, Katsuyo!) kindly found a summary in Japanese of Aristotle’s Poetics, which help explain what Lewis was talking about:

インターネットで、「詩学」(”Poetics”)の日本語訳を探してみました。下記のサイトでは、「詩学」の各章の要約が書かれています

http://www.kanshin.com/keyword/1244860

下記のサイトでは、喜劇と悲劇の違いについて「詩学」でどのように述べられているかが簡単にまとめられています。

http://www.geocities.jp/m_t_g/report.5.html

蛇足ながら、検索をしているうちに、「詩学」の本もある事がわかりました。

http://www.amazon.co.jp/詩学-岩波文庫-アリストテレース/dp/4003360494

これをライフワークで研究されている方もあるのですね。

http://www.osaka-up.or.jp/books/ISBN4-87259-055-4.html

「ルネッサンス以来行われてきた2000を越える研究成果・・・云々」びっくりです。

I think the Japanese summary which refers to Aristotle’s ideas mentioned in the Shadowlands movie is this part (scroll down to Section 6):

悲劇とは行為の描写であり、その行為する人間は性格と知性の面でかならず一定の資質をもっていなければいけない。性格と知性の面で一定の資質を持っている者の行為もやはり一定の資質を持つことになり、その一定の資質が成功したり失敗するのが行為を描写する意義だ。

行為そのものを抽出するものは物語であると言えて、これは出来事の組み立てのことである。これに対する性格というものは、行為する人間の資質がそれによってきまると我々が言うところのものである。また知性というのは、それら行為する登場人物が、論証をしたり、自分の見解を表明したりするすべての技術のことを言う。

I don’t think these ideas are all that important to the movie, however. The scene is just an example of an Oxford professor teaching a tutorial. Also, it shows Mr. Whistler sleeping. Mr. Whistler is a small sub-plot in the story. What is the purpose of this little sub-story, do you think?

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

On jumping to conclusions

Lewis at the locus
Image by kyz via Flickr

Another commenter wrote that she felt that Lewis was saying that everyone should be Christian.

Is this a feeling, or a thought? Where does this feeling (or thought) come from?

Perhaps Lewis did feel this. How can we prove whether this speculation is correct or not? We cannot go back in the past and look into Lewis’ heart or head to check whether our guess is right or not. What can we do? We have only Lewis’ writing to help us. Does he say this in Chapter 2 of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe? We must look here to find evidence to prove or disprove our theory. Or perhaps Lewis wrote this in some other book or lecture? If we can find such evidence, we can prove our theory. Without such evidence, our theory is not even a theory, it is a guess, based not on evidence but on our imagination, or our preconception.

Studying literature, as opposed to reading for private pleasure, involves the discipline of training our minds. It assumes an objective reality against which we can check our ideas or guesses or intuitions. In the case of literature, the “objective reality” is the author’s writing. Everything without evidence must be classified as “speculation”.

What does “gentleman” mean? Perhaps we assume that a gentleman is a gentle man. Without evidence, however, this is just speculation, although a reasonable one. Let us check our guess or “feeling” against objective reality. In fact, “gentle” originally meant “highborn, noble”. (Apparently, this is not only a Western idea.)

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

CS Lewis and the reductionists

Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis, smok...
Image via Wikipedia

A reader sent me this comment:

someone said that rose represents a woman and worm that eats rose is a man, and I had similar idea at that time I remember. Now I notice that ideas of Freud has influenced on people’s consciousness much more than we expect and it became like common sense.

I mentioned a lecture that C.S. Lewis gave in 1942 concerning psycho-analysis and the ideas of Freud. Lewis had read Freud. He disagreed with Freudian psycho-analysis of literature. Specifically, he disagreed with the idea that everything in literature, as in dreams, has a sexual meaning. He agreed that the sexual meaning is part of the literary meaning; but only part of it, not the whole thing. In addition, the psycho-analytic view can hide the

Reductionism is the term often used to describe the psychoanalysis that Lewis was arguing against: the idea that, for example, a garden in a story only means the female body, that it has no further meaning or value.

Other writers and thinkers have also argued strongly against reductionism: Ayn Rand was one. In Atlas Shrugged, a character called the Wet Nurse is someone who has been educated in the ideas of reductionism: that the human being is only a bundle of cells and chemicals, and that human life, therefore, has little or no meaning (to quote Shakespeare, “It is a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing”). Through working and talking with Hank Rearden, the Wet Nurse comes to understand that a human being is so much more than that. Rand expressed herself angrily in other writing, too, about the terrible effect such ideas can have on young people, when their minds, ideas and values are still forming.

If the commenter is correct and Freudian ideas have become accepted as “common sense”, then perhaps the reductionist ideas have also become accepted, without examination. As Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” 吟味されざる生に、生きる価値なし。

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Ron Paul interview and other matters

In recent Reading sessions, we discussed a Senator from Texas named Ron Paul. Paul is a free-market supporter, he has read Ayn Rand’s novels, and he has proposed 2 new laws regarding the Federal Reserve:

  1. is to audit the Federal Reserve, because the Federal Reserve refuses to say what it has done with all the money it has received from Congress;
  2. is to close the Federal Reserve, to end it. Ron Paul wrote a book recently called End the Fed (if you find a Japanese translation, please let me know)

Here’s a short news interview with Ron Paul: http://www.lewrockwell.com/blog/lewrw/archives/35978.html

In Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged (in Japanese 肩をすくめるアトラス) , she describes a fictional United States sometime in the future. In the world of Atlas Shrugged, the government intrudes increasingly into private business and private affairs. Well, here is some news from New York. This is not fiction. Bloomberg is the mayor of New York City:

New York City is considering banning smoking in public parks and beaches as part of a multi-pronged plan to make New Yorkers healthier, the health commissioner announced today.

“We don’t think children, parents when they’re standing at soccer games should have to be breathing in smoke from the person next to them,” Commissioner Thomas Farley said after unveiling the city’s plan. “We don’t think our children should have to be watching someone smoke.” [Emphasis mine.]

Farley said since the indoor smoking ban instituted in 2003 has been successful, so the city wants to expand the effort through either legislation or a simple change in policy with the Parks Department.

The free-market blogger who wrote about this points out that New York City has already banned smoking inside many private business and restaurants.

My third bit of news refers to MIT. MIT has put all of its courses online. Now, they  have gone one step further, and put all their courses onto iTunes University.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has begun the most revolutionary experiment in the history of education, stretching all the way back to the pharaohs. It now gives away its curriculum to anyone smart enough to learn it. It has posted its curriculum on-line for free. These days, this means a staggering 1900 courses. This number will grow.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

The importance of knowing the meanings of words

In the previous blog entry, I wrote,

it is important to be clear about the meanings and definitions (of words).

Do you know the meaning of “capitalism“? I thought I did… until I read Ayn Rand. Then I realized I did not really know what capitalism was. I had not thought deeply about it in detail.

In the previous blog entry, I quoted a free-market journalist (Bill Bonner) and a British libertarian (Sean Gabb).

The reason I quoted them was because reading what they wrote can help us think about and understand more deeply, and more accurately, the meanings of some important concepts, such as “the free market”, “capitalism”, “big business”. Sean Gabb points out that “big business” does not mean capitalism.

We think we live in a “free” society, a “capitalist” economy; but do you remember being taught these things in school? In college? Anywhere?

So, here are some more quotations I found today. My purpose is not to persuade you to believe in capitalism or libertarianism. I merely hope that you will find these quotations interesting and “food for thought”.

Here is part of an interview between Milton Friedman and Phil Donahue, conducted onFebruary 11th, 1979. (Who was Milton Friedman? Click here to find out in English and here to read in Japanese. Who is Phil Donahue? Click here to find out. From Donahue’s questions, we can guess that his philosophy is “left-wing” or socialist rather than capitalist. Donahue also interviewed Ayn Rand shortly before she died. You can see part 1 of the interview on by clicking the YouTube image above). (I found the quote below in an article by Marc Faber, who is a well-known investor who is in favour of free-market capitalism – read about him in Japanese here). Marc Faber’s article is on the Lew Rockwell website, a libertarian website.)

Phil Donohue: When you see around the globe the maldistribution of wealth, the desperate plight of millions of people in underdeveloped countries. When you see so few haves and so many have-nots. When you see the greed and the concentration of power. Did you ever have a moment of doubt about capitalism? And whether greed is a good idea to run on?

Milton Friedman: Well first of all tell me, is there some society you know that doesn’t run on greed? You think Russia doesn’t run on greed? You think China doesn’t run on greed? What is greed? Of course none of us are greedy. It’s only the other fella that’s greedy. The world runs on individuals pursuing their separate interests. The greatest achievements of civilization have not come from government bureaus. Einstein didn’t construct his theory under order from a bureaucrat. Henry Ford didn’t revolutionize the automobile industry that way. In the only cases in which the masses have escaped from the kind of grinding poverty that you are talking about, the only cases in recorded history are where they have had capitalism and largely free trade. If you want to know where the masses are worst off, it’s exactly in the kind of societies that depart from that.

So that the record of history is absolutely crystal clear, there is no alternative way, so far discovered, of improving the lot of the ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activities that are unleashed by a free enterprise system.

Phil Donohue: Seems to reward not virtue as much as the ability to manipulate the system.

Milton Friedman: And what does reward virtue? You think the Communist commissar rewards virtue? You think a Hitler rewards virtue? Do you think… American presidents reward virtue? Do they choose their appointees on the basis of the virtue of the people appointed or on the basis of political clout? Is it really true that political self-interest is nobler somehow than economic self-interest? You know I think you are taking a lot of things for granted. And just tell me where in the world you find these angels that are going to organize society for us? Well, I don’t even trust you to do that.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]