Sofia and the Utopia Machine goes into its second edition

Dear readers,

Thanks so much for your support! Sofia and the Utopia Machine sold out its first print run in record time in six months and is going into its second printing with a handsome second edition, and we’ll be taking orders for it. Here is the google form for orders for signed and personalized books from me, please feel free to fill it in and I will take your order!

Here is the beautiful new cover:

I’m really happy that Milton the Tiger is taking center stage on this one. Hopefully you will too.

What do you think of the new cover?

Too Literal

 

“I have sometimes wondered if perhaps it was the writers of the Gospels themselves who put into Jesus’ mouth by way of explanation the words, ‘Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.’ I have wondered if perhaps Jesus himself, when the incident actually took place, merely pointed to the lilies and said nothing at all.”

Frederick Buechner, The Hungering Dark

Years ago, if I had read this passage, I would have been scandalized. How dare someone question the word for word quotation of Jesus in the Gospels, and how could I even entertain the possibility that the red letter words did not directly issue from his mouth? After all, I was brought up to understand the Bible as a word-for-word transcription of things as they happened.

But this was before I became a journalist. When I started writing for a newspaper, I suddenly became aware of the distance between things as they are said and things as they are written. I learned that not only was a word-for-word quotation unlikely, it was almost impossible.

When I interview people for an article, I scribble notes furiously to take down as much as possible of what they say in their own words and phrases. But even the most faithful and quick transcriber cannot get literally every word right. What is important, and what gets selected and written down, is the gist of what is said.

Often, what I choose to include and exclude depends entirely on my agenda – what I want the overall story to say. The end result, the actual quote that makes it into print, will contain a phrase or two of what the person actually said, with my sentence structure, perhaps a cadence of my own writing style, which creeps in. And the timing of where each quote goes into the article is determined not by what happened sequentially in the interview, but by what I am shaping the article to say. This is especially when I’m reporting and then translating into another language, which I did a lot when I was in China.

Does this make my reporting untrue? No – in fact, “journalistic reporting” is held up as the gold standard of truth telling, of how the ordinary man is informed about his world.

I think we protestants have a tendency to fetishize the Bible in too literal a way. I certainly did, and had no idea there was any other way of thinking about it until I took Professor Gomes’ Christian Bible class, and learned that there were alternative sources of authority throughout Christian history and in other Christian traditions. For example, our Catholic friends think the pronouncements of the church are authoritative in the same way we think the Bible to be.

Just to be clear here, I do not want to undermine the literal witness of the Bible as regards the most central tenets of our faith – I believe that Jesus’ death and resurrection were real, actual events which happened in time and space. I am merely saying that literal-mindedness can be taken too far and lead us to miss the woods for the trees, and also prevent us from appreciating the more poetic layers of meaning in the very texts we revere.

After all, what is the relationship between text and truth? Text can never fully approximate the truth of lived experience, because the simultaneity of events in the world cannot be captured on the linear page.

But need we be so fixated on that aspect of truth? Isn’t truth also a matter of essence? Isn’t the matter of principle more important than matters of fact?

I remember discussing John Donne’s poem, Good Friday, 1613, Riding Westward, with my chaplain, Ben King, while discussing this very question one day.

“You don’t think that Donne was literally scourged by Jesus while riding into the sunset that day, do you?” he asked. “But does that make it any less true?”

I marvelled at this thought. True, the poem was not true in the literal sense – but it was true, perhaps even more true, in a spiritual sense. It revealed a spiritual truth about the poet’s relationship with Christ, on a level of reality that was not lesser but in fact greater than what we can see with physical eyes.

So what is it that is the true point of the Gospel’s writers, the point they were trying to make with their accounts, their quotations, their recollections of Jesus’ actions and words? Nothing less than as true as possible an impression of that marvellous character, that beautiful Person, in his inscrutable wisdom and unbearable love, the one who taught us not to worry about anything but who at the same time demanded everything of us, whose cross is heavy but whose yoke is light, that incomparable Son of God.

And because, after all, we believe that this man, this God, is still alive and able to speak to us in the intimate language of the innermost heart while we read, think, and pray about him, we need not worry ourselves too much over whether the red letters are word-accurate reportage or not. After all, he speaks to us in words beyond words, of a reality that is beyond anyone’s power to describe.

We are the black swan

Happy New Year + Death of a Naturalist

Hi everyone

So Sofia and the Utopia Machine has SOLD OUT COMPLETELY but is on Kindle. And I need some people interested in reviewing it to speak up and spread the news! Second print run is coming out in January sometime.

Which means the first edition is going to be valuable sometime cos this is record time for selling out -1000 copies in less than 6 months! If you see any do buy them, and if you don’t want them sell them back to me. I am serious, this would be a good investment.

Also, I’m now in Australia, as you can tell from Instagram. I’ll be lurking here for a while.

Love you guys, and also, I’m working on By the Nose, partly on Discord. If you want an invite, just drop me a note for my Metaserver. I’m working on building that as well as NIT, the university server. Keep you posted! I am also starting some other new media projects like modeling, country reports and perhaps even a podcast. And I have been deejaying in my room, check out my soundcloud at https://soundcloud.com/user-62215966-320910073

Sold Out!

Hi everyone, Merry Christmas!

Sofia and the Utopia Machine is sold out everywhere – that is, except on Kindle. Do surf over to this link to get it for your ereader device if you want some Christmas reading!

 

The First Principle

The First Principle by Judith Huang. This image is free to distribute as long as it includes this acknowledgement of authorship. I made it by hand-setting all the letters, letter by letter, on a letter press at Harvard University Harvard College called the Bow and Arrow Press in the basement of Adams House back in 2010. There are only 40 copies of this print. I wanted it to be hand-crafted because when I had to lay every letter down myself in a painstaking process, I had to be careful to ensure there was not an inch of fat on this poem. There is more of it, though, which didn’t make it onto this version. #poetry #poetsofinstagram #merrychristmas #againstoppression #economicsystems

Nsibidi Institute of Technology now looking for Logicians!

So I am going to be unemployed soon and will be focusing on my recruitment for NIT.

Here is my profile on there:

As the founder of Nsibidi Institute of Technology on the banks of the Panta Rey river, Judith lurks as a janitor in order to observe and ethically experiment upon her students and faculty. She believes in hands on and collaborative learning and will subtly pair up students to go on quests which will improve their and their families’ lives and hopefully their mental health and self confidence.  You may obtain an invite to this completely non-profit, free university by passing an entrance test. Contact her at contact@judithhuang.com to find out more.

The first question is: How do you motivate freelance chaos monkeys without money or bananas?

Urban Blight and Orwell’s Pyramid

 

by Judith Huang

First published at The Boat 16072010

You can tell a lot about a city from its county newspaper. Of course, I am unnaturally interested in regional newspapers because there weren’t any in Singapore where I grew up. I was stunned by the provincialism of the Western Australian, amused by the graphic focus of USA Today, temporarily seduced by the cosmopolitanism and urbane tone of the New York Times, and now I’m in St Louis I flapped open the NorthSider, a free mag (and apparently in its first issue) that was lying on my friend Darell’s breakfast table.

Here are some of July’s Headlines –

REBUILDING BLOCK BY BLOCK

A NEW TOOL FOR REPORTING ISSUES

“OPERATION UNITY” CALLS FOR END TO THE VIOLENCE

NEWSTEAD DEVELOPMENT NEARING COMPLETION

TRANSFORMING O’FALLON PARK

ST. LOUIS LANDS $21M FOR AFFORDABLE HOUSING

MISSOURI UNEMPLOYMENT NUMBERS SLIGHTLY BETTER

STATE OUTLAWS FAKE POT

Here are a selection of the ads:

MINORITY CONTRACTORS!

HELP KEEP YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD SAFE AND BRIGHT: LEAVE YOUR PORCH LIGHT ON!

LEADERS NEEDED! HELP RAISE THE STANDARDS – IF YOU DON’T LIKE WHAT’S HAPPENING ON YOUR BLOCK, HELP CHANGE IT!

So, I guess Darell did warn me before I came to St Louis that it is a “blighted city” – she’s working in an urban planning office to revitalize the city, after all, and it’s one of the most segregated (racially and economically) cities in America. Fortunately Southeast Asians are a bit of a rarity and so we encounter curiosity rather than hostility on either side. I had felt some of the tension in Chicago, but man, St Louis is something else.

“The Chinatown closed down,” Darell said, while we whooshed through the almost-empty metro onward to her apartment. “Have you ever heard of a Chinatown closing down??” Later in the evening I was cooking some Singaporean fish porridge for her. “Do you have any ginger?” She looked at me sheepishly. “You call yourself Malaysian???” “Judith, there isn’t an Asian grocery store around here!” Fair enough. We did, thankfully, have soy sauce and some pseudo-Asian fried onion flakes though. But no ginger.

“So what’s the socio-economic breakdown of St Louis, from what you’ve seen?”

“Hm, so, there are these really really rich people who live in mansions and have been here since the 1800s or something,” she said. “Then there are the young rich professionals who also live around that area. And then, well, there’s everyone else…”

“The proletariat?”

“Yup, the proles.”

“What would you say, 85%?”

“Yeah…. maybe 75%…. or yeah maybe 80.”

And you wonder why there’s crime and resentment and segregation.

I mean, here’s a little graphic depicting the social structure of Oceania in George Orwell’s 1984:

image from Wikipedia

Sounds about right?

I was talking to someone from China who was with the CCP from the start – he was a soldier in the PLA, a young, idealistic boy who joined up and wanted to help alleviate the suffering of the masses. He was curious about America, never having been there before.

“So, what do you find is different about America?” He asked, after relating his stories about the Chinese Civil War, and the Cultural Revolution. I was kind of embarrassed – not just because my Chinese vocabulary leaves much to be desired, but I wasn’t very sure what to say. Different from what? Different from Singapore? From America? From Australia? From everywhere else?

He gestured towards his balcony, which had a pretty green grill over it – it was a new condominium, and he’d just moved there in the last two years. “Do people have grates over their doors there?”

I wasn’t sure what he meant. “You mean, fences and gates for security?”

“Yes,” he said. “Do you need to keep thieves out?”

This was all a revelation to me. I had never lived in a place where you wouldn‘t want to at least install some grills over your windows. I mean, in Perth there weren’t fences around the houses, but already break-ins were more and more frequent and people were starting to put them up due to a surge of poor refugees into the city.

“Yes, yes, people have security grills.”

He laughed. “During the 1970s, everyone was equally poor,” he said. “There wasn’t anything worth stealing. We didn’t have grills over our windows then. I mean, we were all starving, but I guess we were all equal.”

I guess I just had never thought about it that way.

.

When I was back at college, I had to take a couple of psych tests in order to fulfill my requirement for Steven Pinker’s class, the Human Mind. At the beginning of the psych study we were asked what sorts of shapes we liked better – shapes like this:

image source

or this:

Generally, a preference for pyramidal structures indicates a tendency toward political and economic conservatism, while a preference for circular structures indicates a tendency toward political and economic liberalism.

Of course, it should come as no surprise that the actual pyramids of Egypt were built for a single man’s remains, possibly to preserve him as an immortal, on the backs of hundreds of thousands of slaves; it should also come as no surprise that the complete abject equality of the Cultural Revolution led to a destructive, collective purge of thousands of years of culture and civilization – in which the young and powerful beat the old and helpless, not for goods or because they were poor, but for fun, for acceptance amongst their peers, and out of a fierce, misguided ideological conviction.

In the end, all kinds of tyranny led to the same place: the War of All against All.

Poetry is Logistics: Okigbo

Screen your bedchamber thoughts

with sunglasses;

who could jump your eye,

your mind-window?

 

And I said:

The prophet only,

the poet.

And he said:

Logistics.

 

Which is what poetry is.

Which is what poetry is.

 

  • Christopher Okigbo, quoted in Edwin Thumboo’s PhD dissertation.

 

The symbolic fusion of the traditional and Christian elements noted by critics is successful on account of the balanced yet un-strained meaningfulness contributed by image and symbol.

 

Scar of the crucifix

over the breast

by red blade inflicted
by red-hot blade on right breast

witnesseth

 

The ‘crucifix’

we have been made over-familiar with its sorrowful aspects at the expense of its pictorial and dramatic qualities. Okigbo revives the potency of the symbol, restoring the full impact of Christ on the cross, the opening of his side, the miracle of the stigmata, intensifying the visual qualities, symbolises the life and passion of Christ.

The religious content of both traditions meet and merge in the

protagonist. We notice the dialectical movement, the synthesis

creating its own dissatisfactions, leading to a further poetic ex¬

ploration, a critique through poetry of the unity achieved. Perception is
a new vantage point from which to ponder the limitations of the

temporary because the new awareness provides a fresh insight,

present. The poet moves on, not because the ‘rituals’ are likely to obscure his perceptions or ‘paralyse’ him, but in order to move continuously onto an ever-increasing purity of perception to arrive at a complete understanding.22 In this manner he achieves, through experience, a unity of being which gathers the sum-total of all interests, not merely the African or the Western. Only a compre¬ hensive personality can express in meaningful form the matrix of differing experiences.

Elemental, united in vision of present and future,

the pure line, whose innocence denies inhibitions.

Full paper can be found here.