Sale (and Two Reprints!)

Korea's been fun. (Also crazy-busy, but definitely fun.) And I should update this journal more. Meanwhile, though:

I just sold my short story "After October" to GigaNotoSaurus, where it should go live on June 1st......

....and to Podcastle, where it'll be "reprinted" shortly thereafter! That one-two punch makes me just ridiculously happy.

And, speaking of Podcastle, my story Smokestacks Like the Arms of Gods, which was published there in March, has been reprinted in the very first issue of Jenny, the brand spankin' new magazine of the student literary society that Christopher Barzak advises at Youngstown State.

(The name comes from the nickname of the Jeannette Blast Furnace, referred to that way in, for example, the Boss' song "Youngstown," which I listened to many times while writing the story. That connection is one of many that makes me particularly happy to have made it into this particular magazine.)

I won't say anything much about what "After October" is about, except to note that this guy.....

....makes an appearance.

Korea Weeks 2 & 3

At this point, I've taught the first day of all four classes, and in some cases a couple of sessions each. In Analytic Philosophy, in the first week, I talked a bit about Russell's Paradox in a 'preview of coming attractions' sort of way, then in the second week, I referred to Frege's Basic Law V and explained what it was, and then got a round of appreciative laughter from the students...because it obviously led to Russell's Paradox. That might not seem to be a big deal--and in an American class, it certainly wouldn't be--but, in context, the implication is staggeringly good: They understood! They followed the lecture!

Korean students by and large seem to be way too shy to raise their hand in class--which is a big problem for me, since in the States, my classes are 90% discussion based, and now I have to switch to 100% lecture-based--so in classes like Analytic Philosophy (which is for Juniors), they just sit there in postures of attentive concentration, then after class I usually go out for lunch with a few of them and we talk about things that have nothing to do with Philosophy. In my Western Classics class (which is for Freshmen), they jostle around in their seats like bored high school students. (In that class, I'm dangerously close to feeling like I'm just lecturing to the two English-speaking foreign students and the one Korean professor who's been sitting in. I hate that, but unless I can figure out a way to get them to talk, I'm not sure what to do about it.) Analytic Philosophy is a lot more fun to teach than Western Classics (Phil of Art is somewhere in between), but one way or the other, it's never easy to tell how much of the lecture any of them are following. So, actual laughter about Russell & Frege? Laughter that implies that they remembered last week's lecture as well? Awesome.

The rock music class had a bumpy start--I wanted to show them Almost Famous, but the video wouldn't load up in time--but, interestingly enough, it's way better than the three philosophy classes in terms of people being willing to talk in class. Maybe, for whatever reason, Sociology majors learn more English than Philosophy majors here? In any case, on the first day, I actually managed to get them to go around and talk about themselves a bit, which is something I've been totally unsuccessful in coaxing students to do in the other classes.

Last weekend, there was some kind of opening ceremony for the Philosophy Department, with all the professors and tons of students in attendance in a big lecture hall kind of room. It was all in Korean--I was asked to give a little speech about myself (as the New White Professor, this happens a lot)--and one of the Korean profs translated it for me. The biggest "we're not in Kansas any more" moment came when some of the Koreans started elaborately bowing in front of a little plastic pig set up on the table, and putting money in its mouth. The only explanation I got from the Korean professor sitting next to me about what was going on was that "this is Korean custom" and "the money is for soju for later." So...uh....who knows.

Sadly, in these last three weeks in The Mysterious Orient, I've only been able to set aside time to write on two days, but I'm hoping that that'll change as I settle into things here. I still have to whip my MFA thesis into shape--although that's almost entirely a matter of revising old stories rather than fresh writing--and I have all kinds of new stuff simmering. I'd been making some headway on the long-dormant screenplay before I left, and I really want to get back to that soon. So, maybe, I should stop writing this and go back to that.

Random Cultural Observation of the Week:

Koreans have some strange ideas about pizza toppings.

Bertrand Russell: Portrait Of The Philosopher As A Young Man

One of the classes I'm teaching in Korea this semester is called "Analytic Philosophy", and one of the textbooks I'm assigning is Bertrand Russell's book "My Philosophical Development."

In Chapter 3, "First Efforts," Russell records his first youthful doubts about conventional ideas.

"I began thinking about philosophical questions at the age of fifteen. From then until I went to Cambridge, three years later, my thinking was solitary and completely amateurish, since I read no philosophical books, before I read Mill's Logic in the last months before going to Trinity... I minded my theological doubts, not only because I had found comfort in religion, but also because I felt that these doubts, if I revealed them, would cause pain and bring ridicule, and I therefore became isolated and solitary. Just before and just after my sixteenth birthday, I wrote down my beliefs and un-beliefs, using Greek letters and phonetic spelling for purposes of concealment."

To which I have to say, uh, really?

The Greek letters thing is a nice, vivid, picturesque image, but you have to wonder if someone as smart as Russell obviously was, even at the age of 16, would have thought that this method would actually fool anyone in his household.

To review some relevant facts:

Russell's grandfather had been the Prime Minister in the 1840s and again in the 1860s. The family had been raised to peerage with the rise of the Tudor dynasty....i.e. a few centuries before Young Master Russell turned 16. It's safe to say that every male in the Russell clan since time immemorial would have received a good classical education. It doesn't seem like much of a stretch to say that they would have all been sufficiently used to reading Greek that any of them would have been able to tell that they were reading English words transliterated into the Greek alphabet if they'd just glanced at the page for long enough to read a sentence while shuffling around papers looking for a misplaced cup of tea.

(And that's just the boys. I also wonder if, in a family as progressive as the Rusells--keep in mind that Russell's godfather was John Stuart Mill--the education of the girls might have been considerably better than average as well.)

All of which makes me wonder: was young Bertie really particularly concerned about concealment, or did he just enjoy the romantic gesture of making a big elaborate show of concealment?

Moving on to the actual contents of the journal--which Russell faithfully reproduces in full in My Philosophical Development, while making embarrassed noises about the confused, undeveloped nature of a lot of the ideas therein--we find a lot of skepticism about traditional Christian dogmas, but Russell doesn't go quite so far at this point as to doubt the existence of God per se. When it comes to morality, we see a lot of the the sharp polemical humor you get in his later writings. For example, in one passage, he talks about his Presbyterian grandmother's view that, instead of using reason to tell right from wrong, one should follow the 'inner voice' of conscience, then a few paragraphs down he casually refers to "this inner voice, this God-given conscience which made Bloody Mary burn the Protestants..."

Everywhere, he protests in a fairly hyperbolic way about his dedication to rationality, e.g. "April 29. In all things, I have made the vow to follow reason, not the instincts inherited partly from my ancestors and gained gradually by selection and partly due to my education. How absurd it would be to follow these in the questions of right and wrong."

Keep that passage in mind while we go back and take a closer look at the bit about his grandmother:

"My rule of life which I guide my conduct by, and a departure from which I consider as a sin, is to act in the manner which I believe to be most likely to produce the greatest happiness considering both the intensity of the happiness and the number of people made happy. I know that my grandmother considers this an impractical rule of life and says that, since you can never know the thing which will produce the greatest happiness, you do much better in following the inner voice. The conscience, however, can easily be seen to depend mostly upon education (as, for example, common Irishmen do not consider lying wrong) which fact alone seems to be quite sufficient to disprove the divine nature of conscience."

Some thoughts about this:

(1) He considers his ideas about this subject to be shocking enough to go in his secret journal of forbidden thoughts, but he had at least one argument about it with grandma?

(2) The racism here is pretty awesome. It seems like a safe guess that the young English aristocrat writing this journal had never actually met a 'common Irishman', nor quite likely had he ever met anyone who had ever met one, so you have to wonder where exactly he got his information about The Irish And Their Propensity To Lie.

(3) He claims to have read no philosophy books at this time, and maybe he hadn't, but somehow or another he seems to have absorbed the utilitarian ideas of qualifications--"the greatest happiness considering both the intensity of the happiness and the number of people made happy."

(4) However that may have come about, it's awfully interesting that Russell's steadfast dedication to his sacred vow to follow reason alone in determining the difference between right and wrong, sweeping aside all the mental clutter derived from his ancestors and his education, led him to replicate, in a meticulously exact fashion, the precise moral opinions of his godfather, John Stuart Mill, and Mill's godfather, Jeremy Bentham.

Korea Week 1

After a 13-hour flight from Detroit, I got into Seoul late last week. I crashed at eclexys's place my first night, then took the train to Ulsan the next day. I start teaching on September 1st. Meanwhile, I've managed to get registered with the local immigration authorities (I have a shiny new Alien Registration Card), set up a local bank account, get a cell phone, and to do a bit of lesson-planning. The classes I'm teaching this fall are:

*A Freshman-level class on Aristotle,
*A Junior-level class called "Analytic Philosophy",
*A Senior-level class called "Philosophy of Art", &
*A Senior-level class on Led Zeppelin and the sociology of rock music

(Yes, one of these classes is not like the others. The required teaching load for my job here is 9 hrs/week. There was some concern that I'd be under that if one of my classes ended up getting canceled for low enrollment--hence the 4 classes rather than 3--and if that doesn't happen, I'll get overtime pay for the extra class, so the arrangement's fine with me. How it is that the fourth class they found for me was a sociology class rather than a philosophy one is slightly mysterious to me, but I love the fact that they let me steer the course content in this direction.)

Random Cultural Observation Of The Week:

There are a really impressive number of Dunkin Donuts locations in this country.

Korea-Bound, and Other Stuff

Here's the stuff that's happened since the last time I posted here:

(1) I turned 30. So, uh, that happened.

(2) I graduated from my doctoral program. Wore a cap and gown and everything.

(3) My Israeli alternate history story Dark Coffee, Bright Light and the Paradoxes of Omnipotence was listed as a 2009 Notable Story for the storySouth Million Writers' Award. Not a short list, but it made me happy.

(4) The same story was accepted for Prime Books' upcoming anthology People Of The Book: A Decade of Jewish Science Fiction and Fantasy.

(5) I got a full-time job as a philosophy professor for next year. Just a one-year renewable non-tenure-track thing, but it definitely beats unemployment.

(6) It's at the University of Ulsan, so, yeah, this means that I'll be moving to South Korea sometime in the next couple months. That's pretty weird.

Story Up At Podcastle Today

My story Smokestacks Like The Arms Of Gods is up at Podcastle today. I haven't had a chance to listen to it yet, but I'm really excited about sitting down to do that this afternoon.

I was really happy about this sale for a whole variety of reasons, from the fact that it's the first full-length original story Podcastle has ever bought to the fact that I'm in extremely good company among the sorts of writers that Podcastle normally publishes to the rather more mundane fact that, when I ran out of money at the end of January, the paycheck for the story came in just in time, so my groceries and bar tabs were entirely paid by Podcastle for a week.

So yeah, time to go find a place to sit down and listen to the damn thing!

Haven't Updated In A While

So, let's see...

The weekend before this last one I went to ICFA. Roomed with nihilistic-kid, grabbed breakfast at Denny's with Jim Kelly, met various interesting people, and listened to some papers. A good time was had by all.

Since getting back, I've been grading papers, watching "The Wire" on DVD, teaching, writing, hanging out, getting caught up on some MFA stuff, and reading "Less Than Zero" by Bret Easton Ellis. So far, this is my favorite paragraph of the book:

"The psychiatrist I see during the four weeks I’m back is young and has a beard and drives a 450 SL and has a house in Malibu. I’ll sit in his office in Westwood with the shades drawn and my sunglasses on, smoking a cigarette, sometimes cloves, just to irritate him, sometimes crying. Sometimes I’ll yell at him and he’ll yell back. I tell him that I have these bizarre sexual fantasies and his interest will increase noticeably. I’ll start to laugh for no reason and then feel sick. I lie to him sometimes. He’ll tell me about his mistress and the repairs being done on his house in Tahoe and I’ll shut my eyes and light another cigarette, gritting my teeth. Sometimes I just get up and leave."