Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year 2o10

In 3 hours Taipei 101
will ignite As yet mankind's
tallest monument to Business Savvy
and our defeat of Gravity

In 3 hours the building
an oversized Flashbulb
will go off And our rough
Anno Domini 2009
will be laid to rest
with 2008 of the others
some dismal some blessed

Already 10 years of this shit century We'll
eat ourselves into the ground
before the next

Homo sapiens sapiens
We are

Hardly sapiential
Knowing only how to grasp at colorful things
And put them in our Mouths

Mouths serve us to speak
Not even 1 percent inspired speech

99-plus percent planning
Arranging for Input

Of more colorful
things Baubles
To put in our Mouths

Down into the Gullet
of Dust we go
a paroxysm of Cannibalism
Soon 20 billion of us
Fossilized white and brown
Fossilized in the soil
whence we came

End Fruit of Enlightenment Man's
Hope, of Communist Man
Free-Market Man
Blubbering Family Values Man

All buried under a Toys 'R Us
Apt garish mausoleum
for Homo puerilis americanus
Homo invictus sinicus
Homo sick sad ape
Too smart for its own good

Mortar fire between Two Rivers
Mortified Francis Fukuyama
And all the Apologists
of Walmart

To bury Gobekli Tepe
That was a piece of Wisdom
9,000 B.C. too late
already for a reprieve too late
for the mash-up material being

From dust having come
To ashes returned
A poison wind rakes over
The dead steppes of Asia

10 years into our last Mad Dash
A final spate of Happy Meals
Screaming baboon Imperial
Soundbite justifications
We grasp at the last colorful things
To stuff in the last Mouths

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Idiotic Story Contest

This is an idiotic story contest. The rules for entering are as follows:

1) Your story must be in English.

2) Your story must contain no more than 350 words.

3) Your story should be idiotic enough to make the average reader wince at how stupid it is.
Of course I'd love to get stories written by actual idiots. This, let it be said, is my ideal. What I'll probably get, however, are stories of feigned idiocy, or discovered idiocy, or exploratory idiocy--all of which have their literary/philosophical merits.

Given the length of the tales at issue, it's in some sense a matter of "Postcard Fiction" or "Postcard Stories." And since many of the best postcard stories already have a certain idiocy to them, I'm hoping to hear from some of the usual practitioners.

The prose poem is also a genre productive of much brilliant foolishness, and prose poems in narrative mode are of course very welcome. The border between "prose poem" and "postcard story" is well beyond porous in any case.

When I've received one hundred texts idiotic enough to enter the contest, the contest will be over and I will take suggestions for methods of choosing winners. If methods are not forthcoming from contestants, I'll just have to pick some of the idiots I know to help judge the tales.

Finally I'd like to publish an anthology. A tentative title might be Cretinous Tales. Any of you morons have a better idea?

So send me a tale or two yourself and forward this URL to any writers (or idiots) you know. Those who enter the contest recognize that if their stories are accepted they will be put directly on this web page. Writers retain copyright to their work, but the tales will be available online at least until the contest is closed and the anthology is pending.


Eric Mader

For now I post three of my own tales, in ascending idiocy from first to third. I will arrange submissions on this page alphabetically by writer's name as I receive them. Send to:



Jason Lefkowitz had a habit of opening his mouth in any old place and launching into a story even when he had no story to tell. This often caused embarrassment or misunderstanding. Cashiers would interrupt him, “Excuse me, sir, but there are other customers in line,” taxi drivers would say “It’s your penny” and keep driving, and once on business in Edinburgh he was beaten pretty badly outside a pub by a gang of football fans who spat and said, “Fucking poof! Fucking chatty poof!”

Jason’s stories would usually begin earnestly enough. A pleading look in the eye, he’d touch his chosen listener on the arm and begin to narrate in a soft voice: “Once there was a locksmith who’d always dreamt of. . .” or “It happened in the days of Hassan i Sabbah, the Old Man of the Mountain. . .” or “It had been three years since she’d last seen Rick.”

But since Jason normally began his stories with no notion of where they were heading, the tale would soon drift into irrelevance or anachronism, each tale becoming a different tale as he told it, and his surprised listener becoming embarrassed or frustrated, the look on his or her face saying clearly: “What’s going on here? What do you want from me?”

It went on like this for a number of years. Jason’s repertoire of stories became no larger because from the beginning he’d never known any single, unified story, nor had he ever sought to construct one. His compulsion was simply the act of narration itself. In this he was like a carpenter who wielded tools on the lumber he was given without any plan to build anything, but simply in order to exercise the use of one tool after another. What would such a carpenter end up with after a day’s work?

Nothing that would stand; nothing that could fall.


* * *


Ah, the Black Peruvian Rose! In all the world only one living example remaining! Ever since Hunter had first seen it in a photograph--he was thirteen, paging through a magazine while his mother tried on boots--he’d dreamt of one day setting off in search of this rarest of botanical wonders, of journeys through distant lands in quest of those soft petals of perfect singularity. And so his destiny was decided in the corner of one posh London boot dealer. Hunter would become a world explorer!

How many years struggling over the wilds of Peruvia! How many nights camped on ice-covered passes, the bitter Andean winds blowing through the tent flaps!

The Indians laughed at him, everywhere he went they overcharged him for alcohol. The experts too did what they could to discourage him. Many said the last Black Peruvian Rose wasn’t to be found in Peruvia at all, but in Chile. Others said it was in Ecuador or Colombia. Still others said Peruvia wasn’t the country’s proper name: the place he was in was called Peru. Hunter paid them no mind; he kept up his quest. All along he knew that the last living Black Peruvian Rose was in a private hot house on Chicago’s north side. But even this didn’t deter him. The adventure stories he gained as an explorer helped him with the chicks.

Hunter kept up his quest, his only companion a llama blind in one eye. The Rose finally died in its pot. Discovery Channel is doing a documentary.

* * *


This story happened 350 years ago in Boston. There was a dog that lived in a rich lawyer’s house. The dog’s father was a dog, but his mother was a wolf. He was a wolf-dog.

The maids in that lawyer’s house were very strict. They would never let the dog go up on the furniture. All the dog smelled every day was sexual repression and intolerance for other viewpoints.

But the lawyer was good to the dog. The dog trusted the lawyer the most because he was good to him.

Then the lawyer went west for the Big Gold Rush. He trained the dog to pull his covered wagon and they headed out over the plains. The Indians attacked them, but the dog killed all the Indians except two.

In California the lawyer found a huge vein of gold and became very rich. Those were days when great fortunes were made. The dog pulled the wagons of gold for the lawyer. But one day at night the dog heard the wolves howl in the forest. So he escaped to join them. Finally he had found his true brothers.

The wolves taught the dog to kill men and to use a rifle. The dog killed many men with them, and they were bloodthirsty together. Many years passed.

Then one day they came upon the lawyer in the forest. He was old now and walking with a long golden cane. The wolves were ready to kill him, and they said to the dog, “Let’s go,” but the dog was confused in his heart, he didn’t know what to do.

When the wolves sensed the dog’s hesitation, their bloodthirsty nature came out. They turned on the dog and tore him apart with their jaws. They killed him that way. It was just like with Actaeon.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Idiotic Like Gabriel Gudding

(CLICK to enlarge. From left: "the three Jennys"--Jenny Huang, Jenny Chen, Jenny Lin; Shirley, Sabrina, Jerry, Yoyo, Michelle, William, May, Yvonne, Lillian; absent: Schani, Daphne, Sherry, Ariel)
In my almost fifteen years teaching English in Taipei, I've had maybe three classes stand out for creative enthusiasm. One I began my first year here, and the students and I ended up writing a short teen vampire novel together. I'm teaching another of these gifted classes now at the Zephyr English Institute, under the course title Creative Mythology.

The class is around a dozen preteens and teens, meeting once a week for two hours after school. We've been working mainly on reading Greek myth and writing in response to it. Sometimes however I break into something else. Two weeks ago I took the perilous decision to teach them Gabriel Gudding's brilliantly crackbrained poem "A Defense of Poetry." The poem begins like this:
1. The lake trout is not a furious animal, for which I apologize that you have the mental capacity of the Anchovy.

2. Yes the greatest of your sister's facial pimples did outweigh a Turkey.

3. I was eating Vulture Beast Cream, I was eating Lippy Dung Corn, and I said "Your ugly dog is very ugly," for he is.

4. And that is when I turned and a snowflake banged into my eye like a rusty barge and I killed your gloomy dog with a mitten.

5. For I have bombed your cat and stabbed it. For I am the ambassador of this wheelbarrow and you are the janitor of a dandelion. Indeed, you are a teacher of great chickens, for you are from the town of Fat Blastoroma, O tawdry realtor. For I have clapped your dillywong in a sizeable door.
Recently we've been working through an English version of the Odyssey. After Odysseus' men barbecued Hyperion's cattle, I decided to take a break from Homer and introduce Gudding's American poem. Since the kids know English as a second language, before reading Gudding I had to teach them the new vocabulary they'd find (in these first stanzas, for instance, they probably wouldn't know capacity, anchovy, outweigh, barge, dandelion). I left dillywong undefined.

The kids' English is good enough that we had a riotous time of it. I admit we didn't read Gudding's footnotes and skipped some of the stanzas. At the end of the second class, I surprised them by collecting all their copies of the text, leaving them only the vocabulary sheets and a printout of the first few stanzas. "Why are you taking the poem away?" they wondered. It was because I didn't want them to copy Gudding too closely. I handed out an opening they were to use in writing their own "Defenses of Poetry":


by ___________

1. Since your name is _________ and since your ________ is/are like the _____ of/on the _____________, I will tell you that with you I am fed up.

2. For you are the _____________

The students were to take it from there, trying to use the new vocabulary they'd learned. Follows some of their work. Many decided to address the class clown, Jerry. Two of them addressed countries (Myanmar, China). The first poem, by Shirley, is addressed to me:


1. Since your name is Eric and since your mental capacity is like the dung of a janitor, I will tell you that with you I am fed up.

2. For you are the most foolish teacher in this school. We are the pompous students, you are the powdered trout. We are the rusty mitten.

3. You look like a buffalo trying to stab a wheelbarrow.

4. You yap like a feces from the stork, and never think about your disjointed nose. You puke like a pimple, and seldom think about your outsized anchovy.

5. You wear frosting on your head, and eat earwax like a barf bag. You wear sequins on your feet, and sleep on the roadblock.

6. You dream of lassoing Sherlock and Watson, but keep toting Prufrock from your buttock.

7. Upon occasion you argue with Jessica like an airliner in flame-out.

8. Finally your realtor tells you: you will be decapitated with a dandelion.


1. Since your name is Buffalo, and since your features are like the roses on the feces, I will tell you that with you I am fed up.

2. For you are the president of the wheelchair and the sweeper of a sunflower.

3. The salmon is not a pompous animal, for which I apologize that you have a tote bag full of dung.

4. Yes the greatest of your brother's earwax pieces did outweigh an elephant.

5. For I have punched your airliner and burned it.

6. For I am the administrator of that flintlock and you are the chairman of the bowels.

7. Indeed you are the office holder of the barg bag.


1. Since your name is Myanmar and since your face is like the reflector of the moon, I will tell you that with you I am fed up.

2. For you are the worker with the bell, and I'm the president with an artificial tooth. You have to lasso the stork since you're a tawdry salesman.

3. If you're a conductor of ducks, I'm the monarch of fishes. People will become crows small as ants.

4. Having no feet, they fly and fly, covering the sky. Having no feet, they cannot rest.

5. The whale planet is drowning in water. The geyser spouts trash, trout, anchovies, dung, wheelbarrows, barges and dandelions higher and higher everywhere.

6. Tens of thousands of crows fall from the sky like rain.

7. The crows really need barf bags in which to die, some earwax to avert going deaf, some frosting to cover their eyes.

8. What a nauseating and beautiful world!


1. Since your name is Jerry and since your garden is like the sequins on a barf bag, I will tell you that with you I am fed up.

2. For you are the pompous pimple, and I will stab you with a rusty knife. Even if you outweigh an airliner, it is still a piece of cake to me.

3. For your earwax piles higher than a giraffe, and an army of janitors would be angry to have to clean it. They know hundreds of wheelbarrows would still not be enough.


1. Since your name is Jerry and since your mental capacity is like the anchovy on an old pizza, I will tell you that with you I am fed up.

2. For you are a stork with rusty bowels. I'd be surprised if the realtors would lend you a wheelbarrow to leave.

3. I write just one syllable for you, beginning with sh and ending in t, and the letter between is not o.

4. But that will have no effect on your pompous peristalsis, to stop which the janitor put a mitten in your fundament.

5. The yapping dog cooks you a pimple.

6. Because the barge has been stabbed by my ambassador, because the buffalo has lassoed your buttock, I give you a barf bag full of powered earwax.

7. At the roadblock you are stopped by a flintlock covered in sequins. They cover you with frosting and decapitate you.


1. Since your name is Sejaisc and since your buttocks are like the side view of a sick bag, I will tell you that with you I am fed up.

2. You are going to get trouble if you keep babbling, and you'll get double trouble if you play with the barbel.

3. When you stop making trouble, you'll be able to get a bubble made with barbule. Hey, stop chewing bubblegum and playing Barbie!

4. For you are a pompous pimple, I will squeeze you every time: juicy bao zi.

5. The pork-flavored Pocky in your pocket makes you look so porky.

6. The door to the restroom holds mold. To beat the boss, flap him to Oz.

7. I overlook your Mediterranean and your toro belly, but look over your purse and pocket. Never-ending love deer, four kids and Dr. Sun Yat Sen.

8. A Whomping Willow lassos pupils to play Wii with it in the Forbidden Forest where crazy things grow.


1. Since your name is Jerry and since your ears are like the caves on the mountain, I will tell you that with you I am fed up.

2. For your are the monkey. I'll kick your ice cream to sweeten my shoes. Then Eric will fall in love with me, for he has a sweet tooth.

3. After that, monkey, go away. Go to the farm and have your pumpkin pie. The pumpkin pie you prefer has bugs in it.

4. Jerry is the stupidest man in this world, singing and playing with his bug pumpkin pie. He takes the bugs into his cave with him, a big happy family.

5. Jerry makes the dandelions achy. Stabbing dung is his favorite pastime. He dreams of toting dung as a career. Anything to make him tawdry.

6. The buffalo is very pompous, proud of its peristalsis. On its skin a lot of sequins, but the sequins will rust. So the buffalo hires a janitor to clean its sequins.

7. Sometimes the buffalo is crazy. Sherlock takes a flintlock to shoot it.


1. Since your name is China and since you behave like a gangster soaked in blood, I will tell you that with you I am fed up.

2. For you think you are the legal master of Taiwan. According to you, Taiwan is not a country but a piece of your territory. You will always be averse to those who say otherwise.

3. Nonetheless, though you can't bear that Taiwan is disjointed. Sorry to say, but for God's reasons Taiwan is not any part of your body--especially not your buttock!

4. Didn't you know that not just Taiwan but all the countries of the world are fed up with you? For your black products and “three deer” milk are nothing but poison. Food made from earwax, clothes from which the sequins fall a week after they're bought . . . Maybe we should just load up a fleet of barges with all the goods Made in China and ship them right back to you.

5. I know you've never needed any ambassador. Because you prefer weapons to long talks. But now you have one, right here in Taiwan! For a long time you were yapping like a dog to no effect, but now thing's are different.

6. Yes, Mr. Ma Ying-“Joke” is your ambassador. Huh? Didn't you know most people in Taiwan and the world think Ma is a joke? Perhaps your mental capacity is not up to understanding this. In this respect, in understanding, we are more fortunate.

7. But one thing you're right about--Ma is really the President of Taiwan. He's like a king actually. So he can do what he wants. But it won't be long before the Taiwanese punch Ma. It'll happen before you have Taiwan in your pocket. You are bigger, it's true, but we will protect our country. Because no one wants to be your bowels, or your little pimple, or any other part of your poisoned body.


1. Since your name is Vivian and since your legs are like the legs on a stork, I will tell you that with you I am fed up.

2. For you are the realtor whose pimples outweigh the houses she sells.

3. The police prepare barf bags when they set up a road block. For the drunks they stop. And so in your neighborhood they should have barf bags too. For when you walk buy.

4. If you keep making noise, I'll kick your buttock.

5. Buffalo dung outweighs itself.

6. It's difficult to lasso a stork.

7. Your hair is like a dried dandelion. When the wind blows, it flies everywhere.


1. Since your name is Eric and since your lips are like the anchovies on the pizza, I will tell you that with you I am fed up.

2. For you are the janitor of this Barf Bag and I am the ambassador of a buffalo. You are from the town of petty Realtors.

3. Your dung collection, your pompous pimples and your dog's rusty feces together outweigh our school.

4. You haven't got a greater mental capacity than that of your earwax.

5. Eric is yapping with a wheelbarrow on a dandelion.

6. Your peristalsis doesn't work because of the barfight in your bowels between storks with rifles made of frosting and lake trout swinging disjointed mittens.

7. That airliner with sequins will be stabbed by a tawdry and pompous pigeon.

8. I am going to powder your buttock with a flintlock.

9. Your poem discomfits even that rusty yapping dog.

10. I am going to punch and decapitate your petty rabbit.

11. Yes, I know that you want to tote a barge made of dung.

12. Yesterday I saw a powdered realtor stabbing a yapping buffalo.


1. Since your name is Jerry and since you aim your flintlock like a buffalo at an instrument panel, I will tell you that with you I am fed up.

2. For you are barge realtor. I would advise you to see Prufrock and ask him how to lasso mitten realtors.

3. Since you have been bitten in a barfight, your mental capacity may be unsteady and sometimes you wonder if your skull is disjointed.

4. Your favorite cartoon Happy Tree Friends nearly made you stab the janitor and in court you pretend to be an innocent, mad person.

5. Once you saw a stork crossing the sky and threw up your clarinet to knock it down. Then your clarinet hit you as it fell and you yourself fell from the second floor. You may not remember that your clarinet somehow became rusty after that.

6. Another day you ended up in jail because of the Barf Bag Road Block Incident. You were dragged away with your limbs tied tightly and your mouth taped up because you kept asking questions.

7. You yell out, “Help me, someone! Help me!” A voice answers: “Shut up, Jerry! Why are you always so noisy?”

8. You realize you're in ZEI, the class looking at you.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Obama is the Antichrist: An Open Letter to the, um, Scholars Behind the Video

If you haven't seen it yet, here's the video:

An open letter in response. . .

Dear Fellow Concerned Christian Scholars:

First off let me say that I was delighted to learn from your short video that our current president, Barack Obama, is actually the Antichrist. I'm guessing when you first discovered Obama's name in Luke 10:18 that you were drop-jawed in amazement, flabbergasted.

I try to imagine how it happened. There you were, in Abilene, or Lubbock, or Arlington, just minding your own business and practicing your ancient Hebrew by translating Gospel passages into that language--when suddenly, Wow, there's this staggering utterance from Jesus himself:
I have seen Satan fall like Barack Obama.
It's amazing really, and it must have left you in awe. I don't know what I'd do if I suddenly ran into a line like that. I'd probably light my hair on fire and run from the house screaming.

I know there are some will probably claim your discovery only came to you because you were looking for passages to demonize our president. Let these liberals say what they want. I would never attribute such low motives to you. And why not? Because I can tell by the honesty and warmth in the faint southern accent of the man narrating your video that you are good Christian people and are thus not likely to spend your time going out of your way to demonize others. Especially not a man who has dedicated his life to serving his country.

In fact I firmly believe you yourselves must have been deeply disheartened to discover that your country's elected leader, the man representing you to the world, is actually an incarnation of the Evil One. Probably at first, after making your discovery, you were tempted to keep quiet about it out of shame before the world. And out of a sense of patriotism. But you believe in truth, and truth will out. So finally you had to come forward. Yes, I really feel I understand you.

Though your scholarly methods in this video are excellent all round, I was a little surprised by your assertion that Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, is "the most ancient form of Hebrew." Of course Aramaic is not the most ancient form of Hebrew, but a different language. Probably as scholars you know this, but your presenter, nervous in front of the microphone, just slipped up temporarily. Whatever.

Also it's a little strange that you take Jesus' words, presumably spoken in Aramaic, and give them in Hebrew. I understand that in Aramaic the phrase "lightning from the heights" wouldn't come out sounding like "barack o bama" and that your whole video would be pointless if you used the Aramaic. But I think I get your deeper meaning here: Jesus, though he spoke Aramaic, normally thought in Hebrew, Hebrew being his Father's language. Jesus held his Father's language in greater esteem than his mother tongue. I'm guessing you guys are Protestants, aren't you?

Of course another little problem is that "barack o bama" in Hebrew wouldn't mean, as you say, "lighting from the heights" but rather "lightning and the heights." It's a minor problem I know, I'm sorry to bring it up, and who needs such nitpicking anyway? Your heart is in the right place, and that's what counts when doing linguistic analysis of ancient languages, no?

I'm in full support of your implied assertion that New Testament references to "lightning" are really references to Barack Obama. Actually when I first saw your video, I was really excited by it, I couldn't sit still, I was hopping around the living room gesticulating. Ask my wife if you don't believe me. It's not every day I see such a major breakthrough in scholarship presented in four minutes on YouTube. I was giddy about it, so I took your ideas and went looking around elsewhere in the New Testament. Though not a scholar of the caliber of you guys exactly, I do know my Bible pretty well. And I wanted to see what else God might have said about President Obama. The first passage I came upon was Revelation 4:5, which says the following:
From [God's] throne came flashes of Barack.
Now that's really interesting, I thought, what to make of it? Of course here I've translated the word lightning into our president's name, just as you do. So the text of Revelation seems to say that Obama was sent by God, or that "flashes" of Obama (maybe televised speeches, or appearances on Letterman?) come from God Himself. Almost like how God sends his Son, or the Spirit.

In truth I was kind of uncomfortable with this idea, because, hey, though I respect our president and all, I'm not about to start calling him the Second Coming of Christ. So I decided to go back to the Gospels to see if there was anything else that God said about Obama.

Let me tell you it's pretty amazing what I found. It's actually World-Altering maybe. It's going to change Everything.

In the same Gospel you used, the Gospel of Luke, in chapter 17--really I'm surprised you didn't notice it too--Jesus is talking to his disciples, warning them not to go after false prophets, not to be taken in by those who are not the Real Thing. Then Jesus, in describing his Second Coming, says he will be like our current president. He says it right there in the Bible!
For the Son of Man will be like Barack, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other.
Of course Jesus doesn't say here that he will be Barack, only that he will be like Barack. But what the heck? If it's permissible, as you do in your video, to say that "lightning and the heights" really means "lightning from the heights," why can't we just get rid of the word like in this later passage of Luke? Or why can't we change it to a similar word, namely as? I mean, if when Jesus is talking about lightning he's really talking about Obama, isn't he here saying that he will come back as Obama?

If that isn't enough to convince non-Bible believers, I mean the skeptics who don't read the Bible seriously like we do, then there's this verse, Matthew 24:27:
For as Barack coming from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
Now Chicago is kind of in the east, don’t you think? And Barack is truly visible all the way to the west--with TV he's visible anywhere really. So again we have the same implication here in the Gospel of Matthew.

I don't know about you, but when I think that our current president, Barack Obama, is really Christ come back to earth I get kind of teary eyed with emotion. I mean I get teary eyed that it's happening now, in my lifetime. That I myself had the choice of voting for Christ or voting Republican (i.e., against Christ) and I voted the right way. Because I voted Obama. Or, as you might say, I voted from the heights.

Come to think of it, this last election was maybe the great winnowing and sifting Jesus speaks of in the Gospels--that those who voted Obama will be gathered into the granary, but those who voted Republican will be burned up like chaff. And there will be a great wailing and gnashing of teeth.

As for me, I'm anxious to go back to the Old Testament and begin looking into all the prophecies and revelations about our current president. I really can't thank you enough for your scholarly acumen in setting me on the right track. I'm now starting to think that maybe, since Obama is actually the Second Coming, maybe McCain was the Antichrist. You think? Or maybe it was Cheney. To be honest I'm guessing Cheney is more likely. I'll have to look up how to say Dick in Hebrew. I also kind of suspect, in this fascinating new End Times scenario, that maybe Sarah Palin is the Whore of Babylon. You think?

I invite you or anyone else to comment below on these remarks about our current End Times predicament.


Eric Mader

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Eleven Good Reads: J.S. Porter's Spirit Book Word

The onslaught of digital culture has led many to fear both the end of book culture and the end of literacy as we know it. In the recent couple decades writers great and small have penned homages to the experience of reading, to the tactility and presence of the book in the reader's hands, and many of these homages have more than a little of the swan song about them. The tone of farewell is perhaps not unreasonable given the new technologies and the shoddy standard of literacy that prevails among millions now graduating from North American universities. But how impress upon those who live by "tweets" and YouTube just what is being lost?

J.S. Porter's small volume Spirit Book Word is just the kind of slap awake that's needed. Better than anyone I know of, Porter gets you inside the rollercoaster ride of danger and elation that is the essence of serious reading. If indeed books can change both individual lives and the very shape of the world--and who, looking at examples as diverse as the Koran, the Gospels, or the works of Karl Marx, would deny it?--Porter evokes the experience of being shaken in the first-person. What does it mean to take up a great work and be temporarily, or perhaps permanently, remade by the vision the writer offers within?

Spirit Book World is arranged as ten meditations on ten writers that have meant the world to Porter. Each meditation is an attempt to explain the import of a single word in the given writer's work and vision. And so, writing on D.H. Lawrence, Porter elucidates the word quick in Lawrence's work; writing on Clarice Lispector, he uses the word strange as a bridge across which one may approach Lispector's dangerously decentering narratives; with Raymond Carver, the word is love. Such a critical method may sound facile, and could easily be so with a less gifted reader, but Porter writes like a man in a terrible hurry--hurried by the need to make you experience what he has in his ten love affairs with his ten chosen writers.

"A man in a terrible hurry"--this doesn't sound quite right, since, as we know, those in a terrible hurry make a mess of things. But reading Porter at one point, in his opening chapter, made me think of the proverb Still waters run deep, and how, indeed, the proverb is usually true. Usually true. We know that still waters run deep, and that those who are staccato or loquacious--in other words fast--run shallow, are shallow. Porter's style is eccentric in this regard: it is both deep and fast, something that, at least as regards water, one doesn't encounter in nature. His sentences tend to be short, pugilistic even, but there is a concrete depth of reference, at times a great lyricism, at others pathos, at others a learned shorthand. Spirit Book Word reads quickly, in a conversational manner, and yet it reaches great depths.

One may put my statement to the test by looking at his chapter on Heidegger. The ten writers Porter takes up in order are Carver, Kristjana Gunnars, Flannery O'Connor, Lawrence, Emily Dickinson, Heidegger, Dennis Lee, George Grant, and Thomas Merton. The German philosopher stands out in this list: as I read through Porter's chapters in order, I could only keep wondering how his approach could possibly do justice. Not that Heidegger is somehow a greater figure than Carver or Dickinson, but there is such a breadth of background to Heidegger's work, the millennia-spanning web of Western metaphysics he struggled to think himself out of--how could Porter, with his conversational rhythm, hope to bring the reader near what Heidegger was up to? But he somehow manages to cut right to the chase: if fifteen pages is all you have to introduce Martin Heidegger, I challenge anyone to get at more of the gist in such a compelling way.

Porter tells of his own introduction to Heidegger's thought, in part through reading the philosopher, in part through George Steiner, in part through being attentive to language in Heidegger's careful way. Here are a few sentences by way of sample of Porter's hands-on approach:

Then, while at work on my poetic documentary of the Trappist monk Thomas Merton, published in 1988 as The Thomas Merton Poems, I found myself lapsing into Heideggerian theory. Perhaps the best way to understand Heidegger was to do Heidegger, linguistically perform him and apply him to my own work.

In an unconscious echo of Heidegger and a poet he admired, Stefan George, I wrote, "There is no thing / without the entwining word . . . There is no returning / to the moment of / precopulation . . ." In defiance of current theories that to overcome human alienation one had to jettison language, I seemed intuitively to stand with Heidegger: that there is no Being in human form without language. While language, particularly when clad in calculative thought, can distance us from Being, language can also bring us closer, when poetically realized, to Being.

In Heidegger, language comes from poetry--in Emerson's phrase, language is "fossil poetry"--and thought comes out of language.
Porter is very serious about the books to which he would introduce us. He introduces us to them as he would introduce us to a good friend, somewhat reluctantly perhaps because he knows we may not like them. And besides, these particular friends are not to be messed around with:
I come to a book shyly, as I would to a temple. I open it as I would a snake-basket. I'm not sure of the exact nature of the reptile, but I know it might be dangerous, even lethal. I wait expectantly, patiently, for the bite. I pray that it may be life-altering.
How many people are there who can share in this approach to books?
It's hard to find someone to talk to. Hard and getting harder. Can I find a way of speaking to you that makes you care about [these writers]?
Porter ends with a chapter assessing how the growth of digital technologies may be destroying the experience he knows, may be alienating us from the Spirit he has sensed through literature encountered in the book. He is at times pessimistic, at others hopeful: "I go on then with the faith that the Spirit moves mysteriously; it can straddle a computer chip as it can ride a robin." Recognizing with George Grant that "the given overwhelms the made," that "we ourselves are more given than made," Porter wagers that no technology or particular regime will be able to completely erase our perception of this fact. Whether one agrees or not, we have here in any case one of the most crucially important questions.

Spirit Book Word will introduce most readers to at least a few writers new to them. Myself I think of people for whom to buy the book: friends who love reading, others who are perhaps on the way to loving reading. Porter has the odd persuasive power of a man speaking directly to you, willing to tell you straight out what matters most to him, in a sometimes strained and euphoric tone, at others more quiet and measured, but on most pages with the rare quality I tried to suggest above: both fast-moving and deep.

Get J.S. Porter's Spirit Book Word through

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Clay: Appendix 1: the SCAR

C'étaient des femmes quelconques . . .
She passes me on the street, unknown. She is standing still, deciding which way to go. She is squinting in the sun. For a moment I can see her. I can see that it was at least some months earlier she had written the word SCAR across her chest with a knife or perhaps the edge of a broken bar glass. The SCAR is permanent.

I could see the letters A and R through the opening of her blouse, but as the blouse was partially transparent I could make out, through the fabric, the other letters as well, reading SCAR in their entirety. I was left standing there as she walked away.

The word arched across her chest from the top of her right breast to the top of her left. It seems it was written with both fury and precision: the SCAR is deep, yet its letters are in proportion; the marks stand out in a rich rose color.

But she is not the type to have such a scar. Her blouse is rather fine to be framing it, and her age is perhaps 29. Her hair is long and auburn, her look calm and educated.

I find the scar irresistible on her--especially now that the perplexity of reading it has worn off and I have let her walk away to who knows where.

Why didn't I begin to talk with her? Had I, I know I would have been wise enough to talk of anything but the word there on her breast.

But even as I spoke it would have been the scar leading me to do so. It would have been evident there below her mouth even as she responded to me. Her mouth would have responded with words inevitably colored by this scar, colored rose red as my words also would have been inevitably colored.

To have an affair with such a woman, never asking about or even mentioning the word before you.

That I've been mesmerized by the sight of her becomes quite amusing when I contrast it with the fact that just before walking out onto the street where I saw her I'd been in the café reading the last pages of "Noms de pays: le nom." These are the pages in which Marcel dwells on the new generation of women, the elegance of whose manners and dress he cannot himself believe in. The contrast of two such texts read both during the same hour of a summer afternoon leads me to wonder: Can I believe both in the beauty of Proust's writing and in the beauty of the writing glimpsed on this woman's breast?

Friday, August 7, 2009

Clay: Appendix 2

[. . .] thing as "formless matter." Evil resides rather in a kind of willful coup of some part of God's creative forming. Evil is a willful coup of forms that, taking unto itself further form-like character, propels what might be called pseudo-creations. Detached from the divine, pseudo-creations bear the stamp of non-being. They ring hollow, and this hollow ringing can be recognized as their mark of provenance.



Just as the ear needs to hear words of love and anger, so the eye, if it is to be the eye of man, needs to see the idols.

The earliest recorded dream is that of a Mesopotamian woman, written down thousands of years B.C. The woman was a temple guardian. One night she dreamt that she went into the temple and saw that all the idols were gone and that the people who should have been there worshiping were gone too.

This ancient dream shows an ancient anxiety, an anxiety still with us today. We fear that the idols will go missing and that if they do there will be only empty space where they once stood. We fear that if this happens we might be voided out as well.

Our eye, having nowhere to rest in the flatness of space, begins to wander aimlessly, and in that wandering our essence is lost.

Whether of wood or stone or otherwise, man needs the idols. This doesn't mean that man worships the idols. Such is the old misguided fear of the iconoclasts. The idols merely allow man's eye to focus, which is what allows man to worship at all. The idols bring the eye to rest in order that the spirit may roam to the right places, seeking the divine.

* * *

In ancient Israel, if the prophets succeeded in extirpating the idols, the Temple became an idol. In the Diaspora, the Jews had to carry their idols with them into exile: the new idol thus became the Torah itself, a scroll containing the sacred texts. The Jews became "the people of the Book."

As for the Muslims, they forbade all representational art (i.e. idols) so that the Koran itself or calligraphed texts from the Koran could take the idols' place. Under pressure of the interdiction against idolatry, the Muslims created the world's most striking examples of manuscript illumination, works that nearly take the breath away for their subtlety and balance.

In Europe the Protestant revolution made a similar displacement: the paintings of saints and the reliquaries had to go, they said, and they lifted up the Bible in their place. Translated into the vernaculars, the Bible could henceforth hold the eye of this new people of the Book.

That the Bible is now bound in one volume, that one can clutch it, that its words have the thin but stark substantiality of black ink on paper--all this allows it to continue in its function.

* * *

Along with the other nightmares our new millennium brings us, there returns the same ancient nightmare of the missing idols. The flat computer screen with its constantly shifting contents and its hypertext links leads the eye to wander in unprecedented ways. Where and how can the eye focus? Doesn't it rather become fatigued and diverted? I myself can never read a text online. If I want to really read something I must download and print it. But like many of the faithful, I wonder about the people around me. I wonder if they may not be drifting into a Diaspora they themselves only vaguely suspect: an ultimate Diaspora away from the possibility of worship, away from man himself. Is this unduly pessimistic? Is it only a bad dream? Uncertainty and persistence. Our concentrated waiting will tell.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Clay: Appendix 4: A Letter to H.

[In August of 1996, I moved from Madison to Taipei. During my first year in Taiwan, I corresponded mainly with H., a friend of mine from graduate school.]


Dear H.:

All that simply means that something is there, something which Barnabas has the chance of using, something or other at the very least; and that it is Barnabas' own fault if he can't get any farther than doubt and anxiety and despair. --Kafka's The Castle, K. to Olga

Our ways of thinking are fundamentally different. In this letter, in a summary fashion, I will take this up. You must know these differences yourself. I think it's curious we haven't fallen out by now, that we've managed to continue communicating. Of course I will take up only my side of the bargain, because your side I can only get at secondhand.

* * *

For one thing, I am a Christian. This is something you must have already recognized, though at what level you recognized it I'm not sure. But in fact I've been a Christian since before we met.

I ought to make clear at least something about how I believe, since the fact of this belief is something you--I know this much--find hard to accept.

First of all, you should know that I am not a Christian merely out of some kind of "conservative" cultural solidarity. These kind of non-believing Christians exist by the churchful, but I'm not one of them. They have been taken in by the Enlightenment; I have not. I actually do believe in God and the soul and revelation.

I'm not of the fundamentalist mindset either. My understanding of things is quite different from the fundamentalists. The revelation, as given in Scripture and elsewhere, is not a kind of literal transcription of the truths of the divine, but is rather oblique: it points to an Otherness that can't be represented in language in any case. This is not to say, however, that I think there is nothing true about the specificity of the Scriptures. The opposite is the case. I am not a believer in cultural relativism when it comes to such things. Rather, there is a specificity in revelation. The texts of Buddhism, for example, are not part of it, or are only so in a very weak manner. The poems of the Mayans, whatever they may have been, were not part of it, or only in some weak and tentative manner. The revelation given in the Bible is not that of a particular culture, but is rather the revelation as given to man as such. This is to say it concerns the destiny of man as such, the meaning of man as such.

These few remarks begin to define what I believe, what I mean by saying I am a Christian.

* * *

You and I know each other because of our mutual concern with literature. But of course here again our thinking is fundamentally different. I have some idea of your thinking of literature from being in classes with you and from reading your dissertation proposal. My own understanding of literature has little in common with yours. I may get at my understanding of literature by beginning with what I could call the literary absolute.

For me, the texts of the Bible are literature's highest meaning. Literature's ultimate meaning is to be the textual medium of revelation. It is a matter of text, and revelation. Literature is that which results from the meeting of these two. Even the manner in which many of the most important Biblical texts came to be written--as a choosing, an editing, a kind of layering one could indicate by the metaphor of a heavily beleaguered palimpsest--even this for me makes the texts of revelation more compelling as the examples of literature. They define from then on what the word literature is to mean.

Literature for me is a question of canons even more than it is a question of rhetorical tropes. The Biblical texts are the Primary Canon and the great texts of Western literature are what I would call the Secondary Canon. They are a secondary canon because they are written after the fact of and under the dispensation of revelation. Following this understanding, the literature of classical antiquity must then constitute a Third Canon, being neither the Primary Canon nor the literature of the culture of the revelation, but being important to the formation (mainly the generic formation) of that latter literature. These remarks indicate how literature is arranged according to my understanding. If I continue reading and studying literature, it is partly in the hopes of an ever-greater understanding of the relationships holding between the major canons. This isn't to say, however, that literature is a scholar's game. If I read Villon or Dostoyevsky with particular delight, it's because these canonical writers articulate parts of a world whose general structure and meaning is founded in the revelation given in the Bible. And this is to say, for one who believes, that they articulate parts of the world as such. Thus it is that those who are not interested in the real world are not much interested in literature.

This is not an apology for the West. Of course I'm writing of the world as such in a manner that would make cultural anthropologists and the politically correct cringe. That doesn't concern me. There is in fact much offered by the West (such as the cultural anthropologists themselves) that doesn't concern the world as such. I mention current academic intellectual culture, but could choose the West's "literary" culture as well. I could take up the American Thomas Pynchon as an example.

As for the world represented in a Western writer like Pynchon, it is amusing, to be sure. It is full of interesting gags and twists, colorful and subtly modulated; the reader enjoys moving about in this world as one enjoys being taken into a film. I've once or twice suggested you read Pynchon because there's something unique in his work, something entrancing. He is, or at least for a time was, a major American writer. Ultimately, however, I don't find Pynchon's writing to be serious literature. It is not Literature. His is a flimsy world that does not recognize the bases of its being. It is one that is becoming quickly a world of mere surfaces, a dumb show of empirical data--nothingness. This is why many who seriously take up Pynchon as a subject of study will read his books five or six times, read much of the criticism, then suddenly feel a total lack of interest fall upon them. Diversion is not the stuff of life: it is rather something to keep one from taking up the stuff of life. The need for reality eventually makes one tire of such writing. But the readers around us, what do they do when they tire of a writer like Pynchon? Since so many of them are only willing to read contemporary writers, they put down Pynchon only to pick up another contemporary with similar strengths. Such writing as Pynchon's--and the West offers much of it now--shows a soul impoverished, a soul that has been seduced into believing that the dumb shows of science and technology are all there is. Intuition shut down, the soul's hearing shut down, language's revelatory power curtailed, the data of the senses organized by a logical machinery much smaller than language itself. Of course the literature arising from this general situation is comic. It is merely comic. This is to say that it is not even humorous in the stronger manner in which much of the great European literature is humorous. Don Quixote, the story of Jacob and Laban, Prince Myshkin. This latter strong humor, the possibility of this humor in man, is one of the mainstays of my understanding of man's place in the world. The critics that most interest me have all understood this humor to some degree: Bakhtin, for instance, or Benjamin.

* * *

I am a Catholic in most things, but am not certain if I am a Catholic, or rather if I can be accepted as a Catholic. At least many Catholics would probably not recognize me as such. There are things about which I believe the Catholic Church is wrong.

The Catholic Church is most crucially right in its understanding of the Mass. The Mass is the ritual that defines the destiny of man: it is the central sacrament. The Mass is the gathering around which men might eventually gather. Perhaps they will eventually gather around it. This is something the Catholic Church knows better than the other branches of the Church.

* * *

I know you must disagree with these things, and of course I can live with such disagreement.

* * *

We are both concerned with the question of how language reveals presence, but the register of the presence that language most essentially reveals--that is one basis of our difference.

* * *

That you are a secularized Jew makes you even further from me than if you were a believer in Judaism. For regardless of the gripes Jews may have with Christians, I don't have as much gripe with Jews as I do with the secular. The fact that you are a secularized Jew means to me that I have no reason to consider you other than, say, the secularized Christians all over America. This is to say, in part, that I don't know in what you consider your Jewishness resides. I know this is an infinitely discussed question, one that receives much of its immediate importance from the nightmares of the twentieth century.

The Jews as a religion are very close to the truth I follow, and their understanding of the truth of revelation is of great concern to me, much more, say, than the Zen Buddhist understanding of truth. I would never step on a Menorah, though I would certainly step on Diderot's Encyclopedia, or even Voltaire's hand. So you should know where I stand.

* * *

That you and I have managed to communicate. Perhaps it will continue. It is like Origen maintaining a correspondence with Lucretius.

* * *


I had read most of Kafka before, but it was only recently that I read The Castle.

Some readers find in Kafka an apparent restatement of the universe projected by the Kabbalists. Benjamin is the great exponent of this reading. Benjamin's Kafka wrote allegories of a kind of Kabbalist faith or hope. Other critics disagree by leaning on the fact that Kafka was not a "religious writer," that he was an atheist, that he was not a scholar of Kabbalism, etc. I am one of those who think that Kafka needn't have been a "religious writer" or a Kabbalist to write the kind of allegories he wrote. These allegories are Kabbalist allegories, if you will. Kafka was a Prague Jew, after all.

The dichotomy set up between a "religious writer" and a "secular writer": what does it amount to unless we are considering precisely weak writers or journalists or, again, cultural anthropologists?

The Castle seems to me, after this first reading, a kind of allegorical romance. K.'s quest is nearly fruitless--that is apparently the case--and yet K.'s life in the shadow of the Castle seems more a life than that, say, of Kafka's father in the shadow of a cash register.

Kafka's K. shows a certain daring in his quest. He is not struck with the same kind of unreasonable awe that strikes the people of the village. Threatening or not, he would be there where the Castle's power is manifested. He would know its workings and sees such knowledge as the only thing worth struggling for. Any other activity--cobbling, tanning, running an inn--is a species of biding time that concerns him not.

Does Kafka, despite his atheism, make it into what I have called the Secondary Canon? Evidently so.

Was Chretien de Troyes a "religious writer"?


Saturday, August 1, 2009

Clay: Appendix 5: Rimbaud and Exorcism


Rimbaud's oeuvre is a pack of lies.

Rimbaud was too busy barking and howling to listen.

What kind of poet is this anyway?

An admirable teen rebellion. Beautiful blue-eyed Demiurgette. Pint-sized Promethiite.

We scribes don't give a damn for his virtuosity, his pyrotechnics.

A poet of the visual spectrum. All in all a rather more charming child of the Enlightenment than most. Toy trains, the Corpus Hermeticum, romantic oriental fetishes, obsessive inventiveness, the "new".

His color is nasty blue--the same blue as on our flags, but more fluorescent. Blue approaching the shiny blue of certain species of hornet.

Baudelaire's colors are faded gold leaf, black, purple, blood red, black, Avignon ochre, ash, ivory or ebony flesh, black, etc.

Baudelaire: the master of Latinity in our two centuries.

III. Mystique...

A clear night sky. After so much hashish--this time!--how the stars flatten out and press down upon me!

Tiring of the sky, he lies on his side near the campfire, gazing into it. --[--We know he doesn't really understand mysticism. --He has perhaps read of the Zoroastrians? --Who doesn't know of these hashishin microcosms?]--

After so much hashish--this time!--the crumbling logs heaped in the fire become for him a landscape in flames.

Off the top of the hill formed by the logs in flames, bits of ash rise with the heat; then, whirling, descend. They are tiny angels spinning in grey-white woolen robes.

On the left, a darkened log crackles and smokes. Ruts have broken into its surface: the charred remains and sounds of a battle.

On the right, embers glow in white and mystic heat: Oriental splendor! The wisdom of ages!

The fire hisses and cracks, and as the stoned youth turns to gaze upward, eyes stinging from the heat and the drug, he sees brown and black curdles of smoke rising away and rolling. --Are they the lost time of men? --Are they that which is burned away? --Are they the remains of all the struggles and nights?

The starry sky behind the campfire, the vague flicker of light against the trees, stretch down like a canvas or a basket, the whole scene collapsing into the broken perspective of hashish and medieval murals, turbulent foreground pushed up against flat background.

Down at the very bottom--wrapped round the hottest embers like a mantle of purest candy--the soft glow of blue flames: the liminal color.

Once--when I may have dared to taste!

[. . .] XI.
I understand Rimbaud. I look into him as into a mirror. I understand his shame. It is all true, all of it. It is a shame so absolute. It is the encounter. All of Europe. It is much deeper and harder than . . . It is a wretchedness in the very Shaman's Dance of Europe, a wretchedness never cleansed or appeased, for which no sacrifice . . .

Case in point.]

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Clay: Appendix 8: The Sacramentality of Writing

God formed man of the clay of the ground and then breathed into him the breath of life. The clay of the ground as material and the breathing in of the breath of life: these have been the focus of most concern in our literature and speculation. And the question of what the breath of life may be has been recurrent. But the question of the forming, the verb forming, hasn't raised our attention in the right way. And yet everyone knows--the Sumerians and Babylonians knew--that the pressing of marks into the clay was the crucial part of this forming. It was the pressing of marks, the right marks, that gave the clay the dignity needed for its reception of the breath of life.

The clay as result of this writing is clay that may receive the breath of life if only this breath be given it.

It is in this sense originally that writing is a sacrament.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Clay: Appendix 9: Inédit

Adam was a short beast, with a thin line of hair down his back, like a mane. Eve had a thin line of hair down her back; it was like a mane.

In those days, when you came into town, a stranger, you could always recognize Adam and Eve, because they were the only ones without navels.

The first writing was by Cain, who started by drawing pictures on his parents' bellies. Their bellies were smooth, and had no navels. Cain would ask them to lie back by the fire, and close their eyes, and he would draw. When he was done, they would open their eyes and look at what he had drawn.

Once Cain drew an unheard of thing. It was such a thing, that when God saw it, he let it stay on Eve's belly as punishment. God punished Eve for the evil sport she had fallen into. It could not be washed away, but stayed on Eve's belly. For they had fallen into an evil sport.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Jesus and the Ebionites: Animal Rights in the Early Church

Keith Akers: The Lost Religion of Jesus, Lantern Books, 256 pp.

In each of the four Gospels we read of Jesus entering the Temple and overturning the tables of the money changers. In John's account, it is added that he drove out the sheep and cattle. Mark and Matthew say he overturned the benches of those selling doves. Christian tradition suggests Jesus was reacting to the fact of the money changers and others having made a business of the Temple, that the spirit of prayer and worship had taken second place to a desire for profit. But is it possible Jesus' action was an attack on sacrifice as such? That the problem was not the profit being gained from selling sacrificial animals, but the whole machinery of sacrifice per se? Is it possible Jesus taught, as the Ebionites later did, that animal sacrifice was a corruption of Mosaic law and therefore must be ended?

In The Lost Religion of Jesus, Keith Akers seeks to demonstrate that ancient Jewish Christians such as the Ebionites were closer in doctrine to Jesus than the largely gentile Christianity that developed under the influence of Paul. Akers musters a barrage of hard-hitting arguments to this end. If he's right, Jesus considered himself a prophet whose calling it was to bring Israel back to God's true law, a law still present in the scriptures but burdened down and obscured by false additions made over the centuries by scribes. In this version of Christianity, Jesus and his followers would have stressed not only voluntary poverty and pacifism, both of which we find in the New Testament accounts, but also opposition to the Temple elite and the practice of animal sacrifice. Attendant on this opposition to sacrifice, Jesus and the apostles would also have been vegetarian.

To most modern Christians the argument that Jesus and the apostles were strict vegetarians sounds somewhat tendentious or even silly. But in fact it is not. Some of the earliest writings refer to central Christian figures as vegetarians, not least of which James the Just, brother of Jesus and leader of the Jerusalem church. As Akers writes:

[A] list of those described as vegetarians reads very much like a Who's Who in the early church: Peter (Recognitions 7.6, Homilies 12.6), James (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.23), Matthew (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor 2.1), and all the apostles (Eusebius, Proof of the Gospel 3.5). (132)
Akers adds to this an impressive list of church fathers who also practiced vegetarianism, including Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Basil, Gregory of Naziance, John Chrysostom, Jerome and Tertullian. There seems little doubt that many in the early church believed a holy life meant abstention from meat. But why? And why didn't later Christianity maintain even a trace of this early practice?

Paul famously argued that no food is unclean of itself. Akers interestingly points out that the apostle was not only arguing against believers who insisted on a kosher diet. Rather, it seems, he was also arguing against a sizable contingent of Christian vegetarians. Paul writes: "Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables." (Rom. 14:1-2) Obviously the "weak men" referred to here are not simply following a kosher diet, they are vegetarians. Given that that the Epistle to the Romans was most likely written in the 50s of the first century, this line proves the existence of vegetarians among the very earliest Christians. If Akers is right, it is just this contingent that most closely followed the teachings of Jesus.

Akers insists that ancient Jewish Christianity is most characteristically represented by the sect that called itself the "Ebionites" (Hebrew "the poor ones") and argues that this sect, based on what we can learn of them from remaining sources, was strictly vegetarian.

Akers' starting position, namely that we are likely to find a more accurate picture of Jesus in the teachings of the Jerusalem church and the Ebionites than in Paul, is eminently reasonable on the surface. Jesus, after all, was a Jew among Jews, and Peter and James knew him during his lifetime, whereas Paul did not. What's more, the churches founded by Paul consisted largely of gentile believers, while the Jewish churches, represented by the Ebionites, would have had a direct cultural and religious link back to the original apostles and Jesus. Akers develops his argument on a number of fronts: he surveys the often critical portrayal of animal sacrifice in the prophets, considers likely differences between Jerusalem and Galilee as regards ritual observance, and offers close readings of New Testament texts. He even, in a later chapter, discusses the portrayal of Jesus in Muslim sources, and speculates, not unreasonably, on what may be Ebionite echoes in Islam. On the whole he shows an impressive ability as historical sleuth, particularly apt at noting connections between hints in the New Testament and what can be gleaned from heresiologists like Epiphanius. But there are problems.

Akers' first problem concerns how much we can know about the Jerusalem church or the Ebionites. Though several verses in the New Testament might be construed as arguments for the existence of vegetarianism, among them Paul's line quoted above, there's certainly no smoking gun as regards Jesus' own dietary practice. The Gospels, after all, show him eating fish and taking part in the Passover meal, while different parables refer unproblematically to eating meat or fishing. Somewhat conveniently, Akers neglects the fact that Peter and others of the first apostles were fishermen, from families of fishermen. Though he offers arguments that put the Gospel references to meat eating in question, and his arguments are not bad, still the weight of references to meat eating mean the case cannot finally be substantiated. Akers' strongest suit is in his general assertion that history is written by the winners and that, obviously, the Pauline camp won.

What can we know of the Ebionites? The most complete portrait we have comes from the 4th century work of the heresiologist Epiphanius. As usual with the heresiologists, there are good reasons to doubt the accuracy of what he tells us, or, in this case, the authenticity of the "Ebionites" Epiphanius got his information from (cf. the article by P. Luomanen, "Ebionites and Nazarenes," in Matt Jackson-McCabe ed. Jewish Christianity Reconsidered).

Nonetheless, if we accept Akers' general portrait of the Ebionites, and if the group, as he suggests, represented the purest doctrinal and practical continuation of Jesus' work, this would mean that:
1) Jesus was in favor of adherence to Mosaic law, but believed that much in the written law, being the work of mere scribes, was invalid;
2) Jesus preached voluntary poverty;
3) Jesus was a strict pacifist; followers were not to take part in military action of any kind;
4) Jesus was critical of the Temple and vehemently against animal sacrifice;
5) Jesus was a vegetarian.
According to Akers, the crucial sticking point, the element that meant the two paths, Ebionite and orthodox, could not converge, was the last one: the insistence on vegetarianism. Jewish and Gentile Christians may have been able to overcome their different assessments of the validity of the law, but the Jewish Christians' insistence on refraining from "blood" of any kind--i.e., in Akers' understanding, the killing or consuming of any creature--meant the two groups could not finally tolerate each other. It seems to me that a strict adherence to Mosaic law would have been a more serious sticking point vis-a-vis Pauline Christianity than vegetarianism.

Did Ebionite teachings really go back to Jesus and the apostles? Further, were the "Ebionites" as we see them in the heresiological record really representative of Jewish Christianity? It's hard to be certain. The earliest mention of the Ebionites comes from the second century (Irenaeus) and the most complete descriptio of them comes from the fourth (Epiphanius). Neither of these is a Jewish source. What's more, against these second and fourth-century texts, the letters of Paul and the Gospels were all written in the first century. Had Jewish Christianity really been as Akers describes it, one suspects it would have left a more distinct mark on the New Testament, regardless of gentile redactions. Though Akers makes much of the above-quoted verse from Paul and James' decision at the Jerusalem Council, do these really support his thesis of an unbroken tradition of vegetarianism going back to Jesus?

In fact there are places where Akers' book is hampered by heavy-handedness, where an obvious tendentiousness undermines the good work he does elsewhere. This almost always occurs in regards to the major axe he grinds--namely the vegetarian argument. The clearest instance of such heavy-handedness is in Akers' attempts to explain James' verdict at the Council of Jerusalem.

The story of the Council is related in Acts, how Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem to discuss the problem of circumcision with the leaders of the Jerusalem church. At issue was the question of whether or not pagan Christians needed to be circumcised and, by implication, to what degree they needed to follow Mosaic law. After some discussion James, the leader of the Jerusalem church, gave his verdict: pagan converts need not be circumcised, but must follow the law on at least four points. They must
. . . abstain from the pollutions of idols and from unchastity and from what is strangled and from blood. (Acts 15:20)
According to Akers, this verse is somewhat mysterious. Unchastity is clear enough, he says, as is "pollutions of idols"--the latter obviously being a prohibition against eating food sacrificed to idols. But the reference to "blood" Akers finds less than clear. In his understanding, it is most likely a prohibition against killing either animals or humans: a prohibition against bloodshed, and, implicitly, in terms of diet, against eating meat. But what of "strangled"? Here Akers is quite ingenious. Since, as he claims, animals weren't strangled in the ancient world, it might very well be a prohibition against eating fish, as fish normally died by "strangulation"--i.e., once out of the water they are unable to breathe! This, I believe, is too ingenious by half. When one looks at the final results of Akers' reading, he has managed to make three of James' four injunctions into arguments for vegetarianism, almost as if James were saying that pagan converts needed to abstain from:
1) unchastity,
2) meat sacrificed to idols,
3) the meat of fish, and
4) meat
It's hard to believe the leader of the Jerusalem church would find it useful to be so redundant.

James' verdict is not nearly as mysterious as Akers implies. The prohibition against "blood" is clear in the context of Judaism. Weneed only turn to various passages in Leviticus, or to the following in Deuteronomy:
When the LORD your God has enlarged your territory as he promised you, and you crave meat and say, "I would like some meat," then you may eat as much of it as you want. If the place where the LORD your God chooses to put his Name is too far away from you, you may slaughter animals from the herds and flocks the LORD has given you, as I have commanded you, and in your own towns you may eat as much of them as you want. Eat them as you would gazelle or deer. Both the ceremonially unclean and the clean may eat. But be sure you do not eat the blood, because the blood is the life, and you must not eat the life with the meat. You must not eat the blood; pour it out on the ground like water. Do not eat it, so that it may go well with you and your children after you, because you will be doing what is right in the eyes of the LORD.(12:20-25)
Blood was considered the life principle of the animal, and as such belonged to God. It was not on any account to be eaten. This did not, however, mean animals could not be slaughtered for their meat. James' prohibition against eating things "strangled" also relates directly to the need to avoid consuming blood: if an animal is strangled the blood remains in the flesh. James' prohibitions are not, then, arguments for vegetarianism or animal rights.

Akers does have some interesting things to say on the prophets' frequent condemnation of animal sacrifice, and indeed one can find texts critical of the practice in Isaiah, Amos, Jeremiah and Hosea. This suggests a longstanding debate between the priesthood, which naturally stressed the importance of its centralized cult, and the prophets, who cried out for the good works of justice and mercy and railed against the high living of the elites (priesthood and aristocracy) centered around the Temple. But Akers' suggestion that these prophetic denunciations stem from of a sense of animal rights is harder to substantiate. Were the prophets advocating strict vegetarianism? It doesn't seem likely.

The second bit of tendentiousness in Akers' book comes in the writer's depiction of Paul. For instance in chapter 10 we read:
Paul makes a number of disturbing statements often quoted to justify the repression of women and slaves that contrast with the social egalitarianism evident in the words ascribed to and behavior of Jesus. Women should keep silent in church, should keep their heads covered, and obey their husbands: "wives, be subject to your husbands," says Paul, and follows this up with "slaves, be obedient to those who are your earthly masters". . . . (141)
Akers knows very well that most such statements (as is the case with the two direct quotes here) come from letters that are contested, which is to say that many scholars believe the words in question don't come from Paul at all. It is mere mudslinging to use things written in Paul's name to make the apostle look bad. Pseudo-Paul is not Paul: the apostle's authentic letters show an extraordinary respect for women, as Jesus also did, if the Gospel accounts are to be believed.

Akers' thesis has two parts: that Jewish Christianity was the true bearer of Jesus' teachings and that Jewish Christianity was uniformly vegetarian. To support the latter assertion he depends mainly on texts from the heresiologists, supplemented by (not always convincing) readings of biblical texts and by passages in the Clementine writings (the Homilies and Recognitions). His argument also gets substantial help from the fact that many of the early church leaders were depicted by ancient writers as vegetarians. If one sets aside the New Testament then--Akers only finds a single verse in Paul to prove vegetarianism existed in apostolic times--the portrait one gets is of an impressive amount of evidence for the importance of vegetarianism in the early church, especially in Jewish Christianity. But there are omissions in Akers' pool of evidence, omissions that don't make sense if he's really trying to piece together a profile of Jewish Christianity. What of the Epistle of James? What of the Didache?

Though probably not written by James himself, many scholars believe the Epistle of James is a product of the community of James and as such consider it an important witness to Jewish Christianity in the New Testament. Why doesn't Akers even mention the book? Is is perhaps because there is nothing it in related to Akers' dietary concerns?

As for the Didache, it is the only surviving complete work of Jewish Christianity outside the New Testament. It is dated quite early, around the end of the first century, and some scholars believe it was composed in the same community that composed Matthew, the most Jewish of the four Gospels. For Akers, the Didache should be essential evidence. Why doesn't it get so much as a footnote in his book? Again, one suspects it might be because the text doesn't offer ammunition for Akers' vegetarian argument. In the Didache's sixth chapter one finds the following:
See that no one causes you to err from this way of the Teaching, since apart from God it teaches you. For if you are able to bear the entire yoke of the Lord, you will be perfect; but if you are not able to do this, do what you are able. And concerning food, bear what you are able; but against that which is sacrificed to idols be exceedingly careful; for it is the service of dead gods.
As this passage may very well refer to vegetarianism, one might expect Akers to mention it somewhere in his book. But note: the passage also seems to be exhorting the believer to "do as well as you can" with dietary holiness--i.e., try to abstain from such and such food, but if you cannot, so be it. Is such flexibility regarding diet anathema to Akers, who has staked his case on the Jewish Christian movement's strict vegetarianism? Why is the Didache left out of Akers' consideration of the Jewish Christian record?

These are some of the problems I find in Akers' arguments. But I don't want to give the impression his book is not worth reading. Though flawed, The Lost Religion of Jesus is an accessible and wide-ranging treatment of the issues, biblical and otherwise, that surround the question of Ebionite Christianity and the role vegetarianism may have had in the early church. Akers is an able historical sleuth; though not a professional scholar, he's probably made some original contributions to the ongoing debates about Jewish Christianity. His arguments in the last chapter for vegetarianism are, in my view, on a solid ethical footing. That Jesus and the first apostles were strict vegetarians--of this I'm not persuaded, though I suppose it is at least a possibility. In any case, one could certainly be a Christian and believe the things Akers stresses as central. There are Christians who reject the the doctrine of the Trinity and others who reject Paul's theology. As I've written elsewhere, I believe the minimum credo defining whether one is a Christian should be something like: "Jesus is God's Messiah." In the present case, it would be possible to reverence Jesus and the Gospel depictions of him while believing, like Akers, that the Gospels as we know them have had a major theme edited out: Jesus' vegetarianism and opposition to animal sacrifice. I myself, however, remain unconvinced.

The letters of Paul and the Gospels are imperfect documents, but I believe they were composed in large measure under the real influence of the Holy Spirit. Paul had visions of and discourse with the risen Christ, and Paul's theology, though again imperfect, is based on the impact of his experiences. For me the New Testament is not, then, the attempt of charlatans to steal Christianity from the Jews, but instead the written record of a real outpouring of the Spirit, an outpouring meant to bring the Good News of the Messiah to the world. This is not a repudiation of Judaism, but a fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham: that all nations of the earth would be blessed through his seed, i.e., through the Jews (cf. Genesis 12 and 22). The degree to which Paul thought in Jewish terms has been documented in recent decades by scholars in the New Perspective on Paul movement. Akers could strengthen his appreciation for the depth (and the deep Jewishness) of Paul's thought by considering some of this work.

Check The Lost Religion of Jesus at

* * *
Added August 7, 2009: Keith Akers offers a detailed online response to some my comments under the title "The Gorilla in Early Christianity." I agree with him that all of us, when approaching ancient texts, are gorilla-blind on a number of levels, meaning that we always underestimate the challenge of interpretation. In his post he expands on the arguments in his book. I definitely think his case is more strongly made. Am I convinced? I would say there's much that's persuasive, but that, again, there is a specificity and tradition related to the prohibition against "blood" that makes it hard to agree that Akers' interpretation is right. There is also the fact that this prohibition against blood is recorded in the Talmud as part of the Noahide laws, i.e., those laws Jews traditionally said Gentiles must follow in order to be considered righteous (at least as far as any Gentile could be considered such). Arguing for Akers' interpretation however are Jesu,s' statements in Matthew that his followers must exceed the righteousness of the tradition: "You have heard that it was said . . ., but I tell you . . . ."

Many thanks to Keith for his comments.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Lion from Piraeus

Visiting Venice recently I found time to take a morning walk to the gates of the Arsenal. I wanted to see the stone lion with the Scandinavian runes carved into its shoulders, the Greek sculpture known as the Piraeus lion. Though I'd long wanted to see inside the Arsenal also--the medieval mother of all shipyards--I knew it had become off limits. I set out to see the lion.

Sculpted of white marble, the Piraeus lion is one of two placed on either side of the Arsenal's entry. Around nine feet tall, the lion is a striking example of the vagaries of history.

The Piraeus Lion.
Originally stationed at the Piraeus harbor near Athens, the two lions were transported to Venice in 1687 by Francesco Morosini after a successful campaign against the Turks. From the beginning it was noticed that one of them had strange markings carved into its shoulders, apparently some kind of writing. Nobody knew the meaning of the writing, however, or even what language it was. Only much later did scholars recognize the markings as runes. It was a puzzling discovery. What were Scandinavian runes doing on a marble lion taken from a Greek port? The inscribed words themselves would answer the question. A guidebook gives one translation of the inscription on the lion's left shoulder:
Hakon, combined with Ulf, with Asmund, and with Orn, conquered this port. These men and Harold the Tall imposed large fines, on account of the revolt of the Greek people. Dalk has been detained in distant lands. Egil was waging war, together with Ragnar, in Romania and Armenia.
According to the runes on the lion's other shoulder, it was Harold the Tall who ordered the inscription, against the wishes of the defeated Greeks. At the time he and his cohorts were working as mercenaries for the Byzantine emperor.

Proof once more of what my grandmother used to say: Those Vikings didn't dress very well, but they sure got around. In an essay about the Scandinavians and their ambiguous conquests, Borges makes a similar point, underlining their odd individualism, how they covered vast territories and raised settlements, only to, culturally speaking, disappear:
Hernan Cortes and Francisco Pizarro conquered lands for their kings: the Vikings' prolonged expeditions were individual. . . . After a century, the Normans (men of the North) who, under Rolf, settled in the province of Normandy and gave it their name, had forgotten their language and were speaking French. . . .
Runic graffiti can still be seen on the marble balustrades of Hagia Sofia in Istanbul, carved ten centuries ago by Vikings who made up part of the Byzantine emperor's imperial guard. One imagines the Northern warriors standing through the Byzantine liturgy, understanding none of it. Restless and bored, one of them begins to scratch in the marble with a knife or the edge of a buckle: Halvdan was here. That, at least, is what the longest bit of graffiti says.

Borges writes of runic inscriptions "scattered across the face of the earth," of Leif Eriksson's expedition to North America and the failed Viking settlement, of the Vikings' books--particularly the Icelanders' great literary tradition of the sagas, how in the twelfth century they developed an advanced art of narrative fiction, a hardboiled realist form whose like wouldn't be seen again in the West until the 19th century. This literature remained a phenomenon entirely of Iceland, utterly without influence on the other people's of Europe:
These facts suffice, in my understanding, to define the strange and futile destiny of the Scandinavian people. In universal history, the wars and books of Scandinavia are as if they had never existed; everything remains isolated and without a trace, as if it had come to pass in a dream or in the crystal balls where clairvoyants gaze. In the twelfth century, the Icelanders discovered the novel--the art of Flaubert, the Norman--and this discovery is as secret and sterile, for the economy of the world, as their discovery of America.
But think of the poor lion. Sculpted to guard a Greek port, it ends up getting inscribed upon by northern henchmen: crooked barbaric characters are chiseled into its once proud shoulders. Later it's dragged to Venice by yet another conqueror, this one Italian. Finally the lion has to suffer being photographed in the morning light by another barbarian of sorts, this one an American in sandals wielding a digital camera made in Japan. The greatest indignity yet?

The Greeks who carved the lion might be glad to know that my camera later malfunctioned and the photos of its shoulders, as well as all my other photos of Venice, were erased. One-hundred-fifty carefully shot images gone in an instant. It's called technological progress.

Inscription on the lion's right shoulder.
Though the runes on the lion's shoulders are much weathered, they are still recognizable, after all these centuries, as runes. The memory chip in my camera however is empty, utterly void and empty. And as for this page you're reading--if you don't print it out it and store it safely, if you don't scratch it into copper or carve it into stone, it will likewise disappear as soon as the Internet crashes along with our own overproud civilization. It's called technological progress.

Eric Mader,
September, 2003

[Photos from various Internet sites; Borges' essay, "The Scandinavian Destiny," is in Selected Non-Fictions, ed. Eliot Weinberger.]

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Bush Sells Plan for Iraq, Cites Bird Omens (from: The Disassociated Press Archive)

A Disassociated Press Report, May 27, 2004

US President George W. Bush tried to convince Americans on Monday the war in Iraq could be turned around as the US and Britain asked the UN for a resolution endorsing the handover of power to an interim Iraqi government.

In a half-hour televised speech at the US Army War College, Bush insisted the deteriorating situation was not a reason for despair.

"It's true we don't have a plan," said Bush. "But you can be sure of one thing: we will stay the course."

Bush's job approval rating has fallen to the lowest level of his presidency, suggesting he faces the possibility of defeat in the Nov. 2 election. This speech was considered an important opportunity to persuade voters that the war in Iraq had not gone irretrievably wrong. Bush, however, did not take that opportunity.

"There are difficult days ahead," he said. "The way forward may sometimes appear chaotic. In fact it will almost certainly be chaotic because we don't have a plan and we have steadfastly refused to take advice. Even so we're hoping to hold this puppy together until the elections at least, and maybe beyond. And we have reason to believe that ultimately triumph will be ours."

Bush explained that his reason for confidence was a bird omen he witnessed while at his ranch in Texas.

"I saw an eagle clutching a serpent in its talons," he said. "It is a sign that God is on our side and the enemy is cursed. A great victory lies ahead for us."

This is the first time in a speech that Bush has evoked bird omens as relevant to the war on terror. Although widely known for his strong religious beliefs, the president's mention of omens has surprised some commentators, who note that bird omens in particular are associated with pagan Greece and Rome rather than Christianity.

"We are not really happy with this recourse to pagan practice," said Farley Shagmitt, current chairman of the Southern Evangelical Reformed SS League. "But the president is a man who loves the great outdoors, and if he finds inspiration in an American eagle, then maybe it isn't so un-Christian after all. God created eagles too."

Other commentators noted Bush's mention of the bird omen was oddly similar to a scene in the recently released blockbuster film Troy, starring Brad Pitt. In that film, based on Homer's war poem the Iliad, a Trojan priest at one point refers to an omen of an eagle clutching a serpent as a sign that Troy will win a "great victory."

"I think the president saw the movie and wanted to link his war on terror with the great ancient war between Greeks and Trojans," said Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA). "Unfortunately, what the president failed to note was that finally the Trojans didn't win the war. Instead their city was destroyed by the invading Greeks. Thus this allusion to the movie is misguided: it's confusing and counterproductive, now at a time when we need clarity and direction from our leader."

Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) agreed. "If the president wanted to allude to the Trojan war," she said, "he at least could have put America on the winning side."

During his speech Bush also referred to the prisoner abuse scandal, three times mentioning the Abu Ghraib prison where the scandal first came to light. Each of the three times Bush used the name, however, he mangled it. The first time he called the prison "Abugah Rape," the second time "Abu Garon," and the third time "Abu Garah."

"These bizarre mispronunciations do not necessarily suggest brain damage," Dr. David Wenford of the Harvard School of Psychiatric Medicine said in a telephone interview. "Such stammering over a particular word might also mean the person speaking is hiding something as regards the subject being discussed."

Wenford explained that such mispronunciations often indicate a "fixation" on the word in question, and that such fixations can develop from a feeling of shame or guilt over some hidden truth.

"Given the president's extremely dysfunctional performance on the prison name, I would suggest there may be more gruesome things coming to light in terms of abuse of prisoners."

Monday, June 22, 2009

How NOT to help the protesters in Iran

Republicans are nothing but loony to snipe at Obama for his low-keyed response to the crisis in Iran. Just when hardliners in Tehran are doing their best to link the opposition protesters with us, our GOP bigmouths are pushing our president to play right into their hands.

Obama's response is correct. "The last thing that I want to do," he said Sunday, "is to have the United States be a foil for those forces inside Iran who would love nothing better than to make this an argument about the United States."

But Republicans, again, don't get it. Either that or they're cynically pretending not to get it, out to score points with a public that itself, perhaps, still doesn't get it.

Here's Lindsay Graham: "The president of the United States is supposed to lead the free world, not follow it. He's been timid and passive more than I would like."

Lead the free world? How does a US leader do that vis-a-vis what's happening in Iran now? Iran is not quite part of what we call "the free world."

Those who think the US should get noisier about the current impasse don't understand to what extent the theocracy in Iran feeds off our image as an Evil Empire only interested in manipulating less powerful countries. When Obama, some months ago, made a friendly gesture to Iran in the form of holiday greetings, it was exactly what the leadership there didn't want. It undermines their whole game.

What many Americans--apparently many Republican senators among them--forget is that millions of Iranians voted for Ahmadinejad and are more than willing to see the protesters as corrupt stooges of the West, making it all the easier for them to beat and arrest them. For a US president to come out solidly in favor of the protesters is to help the Iranian hardliners cement that identity: protest equals American influence equals "the Great Satan."

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley: "If America stands for democracy and all of these demonstrations are going on in Tehran and other cities over there, and people don't think that we really care, then obviously they're going to question, do we really believe in our principles?"

It is quite the reverse. To stand for democracy, in this instance, is to let the people of Iran stand up on their own. We must try to criticize the Iranian regime in balanced tones and do nothing that would give it the excuse it seeks to paint the protesters as un-Iranian, as ideological puppets of our own ideals.

How long will it be before Americans realize that the world is not an appendage of our own political process? You'd think we'd have learned our lessons already. At present America helps the Iranian protesters precisely by not rallying loudly to their side.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Another Teen Vampire Tale: Vlad in Taipei

Long long ago, when you were just a baby, Chen Shui-Bian was not a disgraced former president of Taiwan, but the mayor of Taipei. Back then kids didn’t have cell phones, but played with “virtual pets,” a kind of simple electronic toy you'd probably find boring. Also, adults back then were foolish just as they are now, but back then they didn’t go crazy about Louis Vuitton bags and plastic surgery. Instead they’d line up for hours--sometimes even four or five hours--to buy a box of Macau egg tarts. Truly idiotic! Also, back then Michael Jordan wasn’t an old man: he was the best player in the NBA. And back then the English teacher Eric didn’t have a Mediterranean. In fact he was even more handsome than he is now.

So things were different. It was then, in 1997, that this story was written. It’s a vampire story, written about a vampire named Vlad who came to Taipei. The story was written by the just pre-adolescent students in a very smart English class--a class with students smarter than any students anywhere in Taiwan today. Yes, Taiwan’s students are getting stupider every year, it’s true, and it’s all because of “education reform” and American fast food. Anyhow, those students are probably all in top universities now--Yale and UW Madison and such--but back then they were only eleven years old. Some were even younger than eleven! And they wrote this story in English.

If you want to see how they wrote it, you can read the boring Afterword. But probably you'll just want to read the story. It begins below.