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review 2017-04-02 23:08
The Blue Sword
The Blue Sword - Robin McKinley

This book is one of my favorite tales. The heroine is a woman named Harry Crewe, an orphan, that comes to live near her brother in the desert country of Damar. Her life is quiet and ordinary until she is kidnapped by Corlath, the Hill King, who takes her deep into the desert to the land of his people. She is alone surrounded by people who do not speak her language and she has no idea why she was kidnapped being herself to be truly ordinary and dull. However, everything happens for a reason and Corlath has Harry trained in the arts of fighting and war until she can pass for any of the Hillfolk. Why have her trained? Why kidnap her at all? What is all this leading to? What is in store for Harry?

I won't give away the reasons or ending but I encourage you to read it for yourself if you have not already. Robin McKinley truly brings this wonderful world alive and you find yourself getting lost and never wanting to come back.  This Newbery Honor book is perfect for older grades. It would be a good book to get the students curious and involved in heavier topics. This unit study would have to come with a twist though and I would make it more about diversity and what would they do about living in a foreign country where no one spoke their language. 

Reading Level: 4th grade and up

LEX 1030L

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review 2013-06-16 00:00
The Seal of the Unity of the Three: A Study and Translation of the Cantong qi, the Source of the Taoist Way of the Golden Elixir
The Seal of the Unity of the Three: A Study and Translation of the Cantong qi, the Source of the Taoist Way of the Golden Elixir - Fabrizio Pregadio [Note: Spoilers are used as footnote substitutes]

Having written an undergraduate thesis on the "The Seal of the Unity of the Three's" chapter on Fire Phases (huohou 火候) in 2011, I was instantly intrigued at the prospect of an exhaustive study of the said treatise. Would've been potentially more so if the book's publication date wouldn't have so narrowly (well, a few months after graduation anyway) disabled me to peruse it for my own purposes, but, frivolous excursions in solipsism aside, there is much to commend in the academic detective work done here to make the alleged first text of alchemy more approachable, or - at the very least - less obscure.

About the Book

"The Seal of the Unity of the Three" could be summed up as a treatise on the philosophy of alchemy, how it relates to its contemporaneous Daoist traditions, and Chinese cosmology at large (with alchemy, Daoism and cosmology being the titular 'three' [*] Heaven, Earth and Man being another option mentioned in the book and other scholarly work on the text, but I digress...). Its significance lies in the attempted synthesis of the three, being influential in both - the actual alchemical traditions of Outer Alchemy (Waidan 外丹) and the meditative practices of Inner Alchemy (Neidan 內丹) - and, maybe less remarkably, for coining the four-character Chinese expression yü mu hun zhu 魚目混珠 - pass off fish eyes for pearls as from the below quote from Chapter 35:7 (p. 85) [*] The transition from a line in the text to a cheng-yü 成語 might not be as straightforward as I make it here; but it might be worth to make a more in-depth inquiry at a more leisurely time.
魚目豈為珠 __ Could a fish eye ever turn into a pearl?
The sixty page introduction covers the issues of dating of the text, historicity of the traditionally attributed author Wei Boyang 魏伯陽, the text's origins, frequently used symbols and terminology, and other issues - often contrasting ongoing scholarly research with the traditional assumptions.

I wouldn't spoil anything by revealing as much that the traditional view doesn't quite offer a full picture; so it's interesting to learn that the text might originally have not been on alchemy at all, that Wei Boyang (who's not even attributed as the author in some cases!) is more of a stand-in for an anonymous group of authors, rather than an actual historical figure, and various other relevant information that make the treatise less of an enigma.

The Translation

The translation is lucid in its language and never feels forced. The author's remarks make patterns and parallel themes in the text apparent, and clearly distinguish verses that are citations from other works. The new translation of the title is also less of a mouthful compared to the author's previous way of rendering it ("The Token of the Agreement of the Tree in Accordance with the Book of Changes").

I imagine there is a certain accepted standard on how a multi-layered translation is to be arranged and presented, so me preferring to read all information relevant to the chapters in one place didn't mesh well with the layout offered here - where the Chinese text, its translation, commentaries on the text, and textual notes are separate parts of the book. This is the closest I'd come to actual criticism for the book, but I suppose the layout doesn't make my approach to reading impossible, only somewhat more cumbersome.


Without diminishing the above praise in the least, one has to admit, that what makes it hard to appreciate the extraordinary work done here is the text itself. Conceived to be nigh impenetrable by the uninitiated mind, it still is a bit of a head-scratcher to wrap your mind around, even if you, like me, don't feel entirely green to the subject.

This in no way is a failure of the book itself, as it never purports to be a dummy's guide to the subject matter, but it pays to warn the casual reader that if you are not already familiar with the "Book of Changes" 易經 [Yi Jing], the "Dao De Jing" 道德經 (and maybe some "Zhuangzi" 莊子 and "Scripture of the Yellow Court" 黃庭經 [Huang ting jing] for good measure), the Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches system 天干地支 [Tian gan Di zhi], and some basic understanding of the principles of Chinese alchemy (i.e. why lead and mercury are significant), to just name some of the basic prerequisites - it might be hard to fully appreciate the book's merits, much less peruse it for any pleasure reading.

The Wei Boyang Code

While pleasure reading might seem counter-intuitive, and require too much effort to find anything pleasurable about the read on account of the whole text essentially being one big insider joke, some passages can be delectable and witty if you happen to be in on the joke. To take a look at some of my favourite passages from the chapter I studied for my thesis - Ch 51:55-58 (p. 99)
剝爛肢體 __ Bo ䷖ (Splitting Apart) tears its limbs and trunk,
消滅其形 __ extinguishing its form.
化氣旣竭 __ The vital Breath is drained,
亡失至神 __ the supreme Spirit is forgotten and is lost.
The above is one stanza of a series depicting the yearly cycle, this one clearly alluding to the end of the year (when the 'life-giving force' gives out). The suggestive language aside, each stanza also hides in itself an earthly branch and pitch pipe signifier that corresponds to the hexagram in question.

There is an interesting visual 'pun' where the hexagram Bo itself looks 'torn apart' but also makes you play hide and seek with the corresponding earthly branch xu 戌 - with it eventually being found by 'destroying' the similar looking mie 滅 in your mind.

This code, if you will, is present for the remaining 11 sovereign hexagrams bigua 辟卦, along with allusions to other significant markers - and whilst similar explanations are available in the book - this should be demonstrative how difficult it is to fully comprehend the text, much less find some witty quote for the 'uninitiated.'

In Conclusion

I guess the closest you can come to find something quotable in the text that doesn't require getting an additional degree, would be either a stanza in Ch 67:1-4 (p. 107) that has a nice, poetic quality to it, while still staying true to Daoist imagery of interdependent opposites:
立竿見影 __ Stand a pole upon the earth and a shadow appears;
呼谷傳響 __ shout into a valley and an echo comes forth.
豈不靈哉 __ Is this not numinous?
天地至象 __ This is the perfect image of Heaven and Earth.
.. or Wei Boyang's retelling of the journey he underwent to become a transcendent being xian 仙 in Ch 88:1-6 (p. 126), which I found inexplicably attractive, and I suppose so did the author by reiterating the quote on the book's back cover:
委時去害 __ Forsaking the times, avoiding harm,
依託丘山 __ I have entrusted myself to mountains and hills.
循遊寥廓 __ I have wandered and roamed through the Unbounded,
與鬼為鄰 __ with demons as my neighbors.
化形而仙 __ Transmuting my form, transcending the world,
淪寂無聲 __ I have entered the depths of the Inaudible.
While I'm still to get my hands on Vol. 2, this particular volume, while much better appreciated if the reader is already steeped into the subject at least a little bit, does an excellent job of covering all the basic questions about the text and provides a very readable English translation.
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review 2013-04-01 00:00
Lukacs: Lenin Study Unity His Thought
Lenin: A Study on the Unity of His Thought - György Lukács,Nicholas Jacobs Written in part as an elegy upon Lenin's decease, and in part as insurance against author's own impending liquidation--for his magnum opus, [b:History and Class Consciousness|189598|History and Class Consciousness Studies in Marxist Dialectics|György Lukács|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1347272329s/189598.jpg|183295], had been "condemned by Soviet authorities in 1924 at the fifth World Congress of the Comintern" (Jay, [b:Marxism & Totality|179794|Marxism and Totality The Adventures of a Concept from Lukacs to Habermas|Martin Jay|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348683728s/179794.jpg|173708], at 103)--this book is a funny little thing.

Jay avers that even Lukacs' enemies recognized the HCC as "the first book in which philosophical Marxism ceases to be a cosmological romance and thus a surrogate 'religion' for the lower classes" (loc. cit. at 102). According to Kolakowski, no friend of marxism, the HCC "criticized Engels' idea of the dialectic of nature" and "disputed the theory of 'reflection' which Lenin had declared to be the essence of Marxist epistemology" (Kolakowski, [b:Main Currents of Marxism: The Breakdown|143294|Main Currents of Marxism The Founders, the Golden Age, the Breakdown|Leszek Kołakowski|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1347363774s/143294.jpg|2432629], at 260). In jolly commie land, that means your ass.

It is unlikely that this slim volume can be properly understood without reference to the HCC; I'm not going to make that reading here--it's too hard. But one should rest assured that all of the generic hegelocommietalk herein actually signifies something.

In this context, Lukacs publishes this study of Lenin. It begins poorly with a bizarre declaration that "historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution" (9). Um, yeah? We can measure "the stature of a proletarian thinker" with reference to "the extent to which he is able accurately to detect beneath the appearances of bourgeois society those tendencies towards proletarian revolution which work themselves in and through it to their effective being and distinct consciousness" (id.). In what can only be considered a very limited or backhanded compliment, Lukacs submits that "by these criteria Lenin is the greatest thinker to have been produced by the revolutionary working-class movement since Marx" (id.). The remainder of the book works through standard marxist categories of analysis in evidencing this thesis.

The key concern is that the "actuality of the revolution" is the "core of Lenin's thought" (11). This means that theory is transformed into praxis by the dialectical revolutionist. So, against the Mensheviks and Bernstein/Kautsky types, Lenin did not accept that the backward Russian empire was unsuitable for socialism for lack of successful bourgeois revolution in economics or politics; rather, "the bourgeoisie had ceased to be a revolutionary class" having allied with the "old ruling powers," a "compromise which springs from mutual fear of a greater evil and not a class alliance based on common interests" (20). This sleight of mind allows the bolsheviks to seize the state, despite the prior dispositions of marxist theory to the contrary.

Lenin is presented as inferior to Hilferding in economics and to Luxemburg on the issue of imperialism--but Lenin trumps because of "his concrete articulation of the economic theory of imperialism with every political problem of the present epoch" (41). In the penultimate chapoter, Lenin is presented as a compromiser, practitioner of realpolitik, contrary to the posturing of Herr Pipes in his sophomoric histories.

1967 coda backs off the primary text in some ways, suggesting that Lenin's theory of imperialism is invalid after all (91). Some odd references to Shakespeare in the postscript, and a surreal fundamentalist bit about "human salvation" early in the primary essay (11).

Jay presents this volume as one in which "virtually all residues of his ultra-leftist sectarianism were purged from the argument" (loc. cit. at 120). Kolakowski, for his part, correctly summarizes this text as using "the notion of Totalitat to describe the core of Lenin's doctrine," but then goes way off the rails into disingenuous fantasy by suggesting Lukacs' position is that Lenin "discerned the revolutionary trend of the age independently of particular facts and events, or rather in the facts themselves, and united all current issues" (loc. cit. at 267).

Anyway, recommended for western marxists and rabid but bored anti-communists.
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