AN AFTERNOON WITH COWAN.

John Cowan was in the area with his wife, so we arranged to meet (at Amherst Books, of course; he, like me, can happily spend hours in a bookstore, so it didn’t matter who got there first). We spent several hours wandering around the town and talking; I showed him Emily Dickinson’s house, the Black Sheep deli, and the Amherst College campus, where we discovered that the Frost Library would let us in without making us show ID, and for a while we were each holding biographical dictionaries of China, reading each other particularly piquant entries (one of them described Cao Cao as a “young thug”) and laughing perhaps too loudly for the library setting. He liked the Common, where he showed me how to identify various kinds of trees; he also convinced me to try using an RSS reader, and suggested I upgrade to a less antediluvian version of Movable Type and use reCAPTCHA to keep the spammers away. He told me about Project Wombat, and we traded stories from The Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes, for which it turns out we have a mutual enthusiasm. In short, a good time was had by all.
And yes, of course I got more books at Amherst Books, including Russia’s Alternative Prose, by Robert Porter, and A Russian Cultural Revival: A Critical Anthology of Emigre Literature Before 1939, by Temira Pachmuss. I’m incorrigible.

Comments

  1. Bill Walderman says:

    Amherst! I just learned some shocking information about what goes on in Amherst from a review of two new books about Emily Dickinson in the London Review of Books.

  2. I, however, am somewhat corrigible, and bought no books today. It’s odd that we were quieter in the bookstore than in the library! My biographical dictionary was by Herbert Giles, he of the Wade-Giles romanization of Chinese. I remember reading him the entry for Mao Ch’iang in full: “A favorite concubine of the Price of Yüeh, remarkable for her great beauty. Chuang Tzu says that when fishes saw her, they dived down deep into the water, birds soared high into the air, and deer scurried away into the forest.” Hat’s reply was something like: “I’m not sure if that’s meant to be good or bad.”
    Giles on Cao Cao (or Ts’ao Ts’ao): “[I]t is said that he once condemned himself to death for having allowed his horse to shy into a field of grain, in accordance with his own severe regulations against any injury to standing crops. However, in lieu of losing his head, he was persuaded to satisfy his sense of justice by cutting off his hair. […] In the fatal illness which preceded his death, Ts’ao Ts’ao is said to have called in the famous physician Hua T’o, who declared that his august patient was suffering from wind on the brain [Hat laughed loudly], which he proposed to get rid of by opening the skull under an anaesthetic. But Ts’ao Tsa’o saw in this suggestion the treacherous design of some enemy. He imprisoned the unfortunate doctor, who died in gaol within ten days, and shortly afterwards succumbed to the disease.” I added, “Oops.”
    But in truth our conversation touched on many topics; it was a rollicking but unsummarizable seminar, which I described to my wife afterwards as “a gossip session, but about ideas instead of people.” I was particularly fascinated with his explanation of how he gets his free-lance work (editors recommend him to their friends, in short), which led me to an account of how all my jobs but the first have come from personal recommendations.
    For clarity, when Hat says “we” he means “he and I”, not “he, my wife, and I”; she went to see The Tree of Life (2011) at Amherst Cinema with a friend. She liked it very much; her friend thought it stunk. Ah well, three of us were happy.

  3. hey friends i too like this type of post.

  4. Trond Engen says:

    And I bet you have better teeth.

  5. dearieme says:

    And if he doesn’t, I’ll bet his goats do.

  6. Hm, maybe I’ll visit that theater myself; I loved Malick’s last movie, and The Tree of Life sounds intriguing.

  7. Bathrobe says:

    hey friends i too like this type of post.
    I thought this was span, but I’m simple-minded; maybe it was deliberate.
    I’ve come back from a drinking session with an Inner Mongolian in which we discussed how to survive among the Han-zu. I’m afraid it wasn’t morally pretty or uplifting, and I guess I find myself sniggering with LH.

  8. I assume AJP was paying homage to a piece of genuine spam that has been deleted.

  9. It would be nice to get the threaded comments a la Livejournal that come with the newer version of Movable Type.

  10. The New Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes seems easier to find than The Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes. I’ll probably try to grab both.
    Somehow I’m reminded of A Random Walk in Science and More Random Walks in Science. Good times.

  11. mollymooly says:

    @Steven Lubman: Could threading accommodate the non-tree structure of so may LH comment flows?

  12. Trond Engen says:

    I assume AJP was paying homage to a piece of genuine spam that has been deleted.
    And now the teeth jokes seems out of plaque.

  13. I personally hate threaded comments with a passion.

  14. Trond Engen says:

    I prefer threading of mail exchanges and Usenet discussions, but that’s another world. Here under Hat’s brim the loose flow of comments, with everyone adding freely to some or all of the above, is one of the great pleasures of reading. In unusually long threads I’ve missed a numbering system or something like that to make it easier to navigate the thread, but that’s about it.

  15. Cao Cao, besides being a gangster-warlord, near-Emperor, and novel-and-opera villain (here), was responsible (along with his two sons) for establishing five-syllable shi poetry as the official poetry of the Chinese literati. (Before then the official poetry had been four-syllable shi, sao poetry, and fu poetry).
    That sounds pedantic, but when you think of a group of Chinese gentlemen sitting together, drinking wine, and reciting poems to one another, it’s shi poetry you’re thinking of, and that sort of social event became customary at the court of the Cao dynasty (Sanguo Wei).
    HIs own poems are remarkable but not like anyone else’s, and since he was a political villain (because of a mixture of failure and evil), he both is and isn’t part of the canon. He’s a poet everyone should know, but everyone should also know that he’s not part of the canon.

  16. If everyone should know him, he is part of the canon, no? Maybe in a walled-off section.

  17. One of them paradoxes, son.

  18. WikiPedia sez:
    Through to modern times, the Chinese equivalent of the English idiom “speak of the Devil” is “Speak of Cao Cao and Cao Cao arrives.”

  19. Trond Engen says:

    Speak of Cao Cao and Cao Cao arrives.
    If only I’d known that when we had a chow chow.

  20. I doesn’t work with our Terje.

  21. Hat spoke of Cowan after he arrived.

  22. DIENY, Jean-Pierre, Les poemes de Cao Cao (155-220). Paris: College de France, Institut des Hautes Etudes Chinoises, 2000.
    Highly recommended. Very detailed background information, OK French translations.

  23. “The author is obviously an American. What would an American know of Cao Cao?”
    —Chinese translators resisting an idiomatic translation of “speak of the devil” in Hofstadter’s 集异璧 Jí Yì Bì

  24. Ann.C.C. says:

    For at least two years (maybe four? or five? I’ve totally lost count) I’ve been following this and a hundred other blogs and webcomics in my Google Reader rss aggregator. It’s not the only agg out there, but I like how it works, and regardless of which agg I might use, I can guarantee that I am now incapable of following any sort of periodically updated content that doesn’t have a feed. I can read at my leisure, and Reader remembers what I have and haven’t read, so if I have to afk for a week or three, all my ‘bookmarks’ (not actual bookmarks but you know, the list of what I haven’t read) are saved and I can pick up right where I left off, no time wasted combing through already-read or not-yet-read content, looking for the exact spot where I stopped. If the agg you initially try doesn’t suit your tastes, try others until you find a display you like; but IMnvHO RSS feeds are the only good way to consume blog-style web content anymore.

  25. Yeah, I don’t know how I got along without it. I’m using Google Reader, and it saves me god knows how much time and aggravation. No more clicking daily on [blog whose owner only updates once in a blue moon], muttering in frustration, then giving up only to try months later and discovering there are fifty new posts! I may be an old fogy stuck in my ways, but I know a good thing when I see it. Thanks, John Cowan!

  26. David Marjanović says:

    Speak of Cao Cao and Cao Cao arrives.

    Shuō “Cáo Cāo”, Cáo Cāo dào!

  27. My best friend in high school spent about two years obsessed with playing as Cao Cao in Romance of the Three Kingdoms II, a turn-based strategy game for the Super Nintendo. Cao Cao was by far the best ruler character, with both intelligence and war scores of 95 (out of 100). When my friend wasn’t playing, he got into researching Cao Cao’s life and achievements (I suggested he actually read a translation of Romance of the Three Kingdoms, but he was not interested in doing that—probably because he knew that Cao Cao was portrayed as one of the villains), so I ended up hearing all about the maneuvers at the Battle of Red Cliffs and the Kingdom of Wei’s successful economic policies. It was dreadful stuff, so hearing news that Cao Cao is arriving (in whatever metaphorical sense that is meant) tends to produce in me a visceral apprehension of impending boredom and disgust.

    Romance of the Three Kingdoms II was, in principle, a multiplayer game. I think up to eight different players could control different warlords. However, the logistics of multiplayer play were pretty much unworkable. A group of my friends (five or six of us) once got together to try actually playing the game with a large number of players. (I, somewhat perversely, wanted to play as the generally reviled Dong Zhuo.) However, every warlord’s turn had to be kept secret from the others, which meant a ton of down time for everyone. Making this worse was the fact that some actions could cause one player’s turn to interrupt another’s—which would mean calling another player back to the SNES to take one action, then sending them away again. So just the mechanics of the game would probably have guaranteed that the game would be too slow and awkward to be much fun.

    However, matters were actually much worse than that. Several of the players had not considered that in a multiplayer game, they could not just play the same way they did in single player—save scumming to get the outcomes they wanted from virtually every action. There was even a brief argument, in which some people wanted to keep save scumming even with other players in the game—although I think I convinced them all that this was nonsensical when I pointed out that it could mean one player attacking another over and over, resetting each time unless he won the battle. However, when it came time to actually play, it became clear that several of the players had no idea how to play effectively without the save scumming, and so they were not enjoying the game at all. We only went through two full turns before abandoning the whole enterprise.

    (I just looked online, and apparently, Romance of the three Kingdoms XIV will be coming out in 2020. The similar Nobunaga’s Ambition set in Japan also has fifteen games in the series to date. Ironically, the best of the turn-based strategy games of that genre for the original Nintendo Entertainment System, Shingen the Ruler, never got a sequel. Shingen, while an excellent game, was produced so cheaply that it shipped without a manual. The instructions were printed on the NES cartridge itself, which meant that on the American console configuration, you had to turn the game off and remove the cartridge to review the instructions.)

  28. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Doubtless nothing to do with your Cao Cao, but the bridge across the Río Cau Cau (which I thought was spelt Cao Cao until I checked) in Valdivia is the one built by a Spanish company that remains impossible to use because the two halves don’t meet.

  29. Cao Cao is also (what isn’t?) a restaurant dish. I recently had a student who chose Romance of the three Kingdoms as his senior seminar book, so of course I sent him a link about Cao Cao Chicken.

  30. Ciociosan is a brand of Bulgarian vermouth wine.

    From Japanese name of Madama Butterfly. No relation to Chinese warlords or chickens.

  31. John Cowan says:
  32. Ms. Lep-lep!

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