University-Level Math, Greece.

[T]he Athens Special Affairs Unit carried out an inspection in the Development Grants Account of the National Technical University of Athens and found that during the years 2002-2013, the university submitted false income declarations and as a result it failed to pay 20,796,216 euros in tax returns.

“An irreplaceable repository of Greece’s literary history and heritage”…

… has gone under.

Hestia Publishers and Booksellers,

known as the Gallimard of Greece,
published the Greek translation
of Don DeLillo’s White Noise

greekwhitenoise

along with many other
great modern novels in
translation. It has
not been able to survive
the Greek economic fiasco.

An article attempting to account for the remarkable success of a new fascist party in Greece…

… reminds us about the continued reality of life at Greek universities.

Blogger Konstantinos Palaskas, a contributor to the liberal Ble Milo (Blue Apple) blog, says that the antics of [Greek] left-wing and anarchist troublemakers during protest marches and university and school occupations over the last 30 years, and the public’s acceptance of them, have significantly influenced the players of the new far-right.

“The left’s violent interventions, its disregard for the law, and the acceptance of its lawbreaking activity by a section of society – combined with the state’s tolerance of all this – were a lesson for people at the other end [of the political spectrum],” said Palaskas.

The habit forms at an early stage. The governing of universities has for years been hijacked by political parties and youth party officials. The country only recently scrapped an asylum law that prevented police from entering university campuses, hence allowing left-leaning activists to rampage through laboratories and lecture theaters.

Despite incidents of rectors being taken hostage, university offices being trashed and labs used for non-academic purposes, many Greeks remain uncomfortable with the idea of police entering university grounds …

Greece: Hopelessly out of it on higher education…

… and stubborn as a damn mule about it. The country runs a disgraceful state university system, but won’t give equal rights to private universities because it knows a monopoly when it sees one.

Many of the private schools are better than the state schools.

This is not hard to accomplish.

“The way [the private schools] operate reveals to Greek parents the ills of universities,” [the head of a group of private colleges] said, referring to the crowded classes and lax monitoring of student attendance often complained about in the state sector.

… “No other public sector university environment in the E.U. is as self-centered as Greece’s,” said Jens Bastian, a senior fellow at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy.

He said lack of competition had hindered innovation and led to many outstanding students and academics continuing their careers abroad.

“When did you last hear of a stand-out Greek research paper?” he said.

The EU has had it. They just sent the Greeks a letter saying they’re going to sic the European Court of Justice on them if they don’t join the rest of the world.

As Greece…

implodes, University Diaries readers may find her extensive coverage of the Greek university system of interest.

To find my posts about Greece, you can click on Foreign Universities (under Categories) and scroll through for Greek posts; you can also type Greece Universities or some similar phrase into her search engine.

Greek universities are only one of many arenas of outrageous public spending and outrageous corruption in that country. But they’re a very good entry point to the larger Greek economic failure.

Blended Classroom

Not sure how I missed this one.

“The Names is a prophetic, pre-9/11 masterpiece: a 21st-century novel published in 1982.”

Wonderful brief appreciation of UD‘s beloved Don DeLillo in the Guardian, where Geoff Dyer reckons that if the Booker Prize had been open in the past to Americans, three of DeLillo’s novels would have won.

Yet Dyer doesn’t really get at why The Names is such a great novel. For that he’d need more space, because there are lots of reasons.

Above all, The Names is extremely beautifully written.

One recurrent tension in the book is between the white noisy, airy, superficial, radically present, restless life of postmodern Americans, and the deeper, grounded, realer life of pretty much everyone else. The Americans literally spend much of their time up in the air – they are multinational businesspeople, constantly flying from place to place. Here DeLillo evokes the feel of air travel:

At the boarding gate, the last of the static chambers, the stillness is more compact, the waiting narrowed. He will notice hands and eyes, the covers of books, a man with a turban and netted beard. The crew is Japanese, the security Japanese… He hears Tamil, Hindi, and begins curiously to feel a sense of apartness, something in the smell of the place, the amplified voice in the distance. It doesn’t feel like earth. And then aboard, even softer seats. He will feel the systems running power through the aircraft, running light, running air. To the edge of the stratosphere, world hum, the sudden night. Even the night seems engineered, Japanese, his brief sleep calmed by the plane’s massive heartbeat.

Where to start? With even the night seems engineered, no? Not only for its strange but true content, the way so many hugely powerful and transformative techno-moments are managed for us, their massive underlying powerful systems quieted and calmed for us (WhisperJet), their deformations of nature so radical that from their theater of simulacra they can seem to pull open the curtains of our very morning noon and night … But also for its poetry, the long ee sound eerily recurrent not only in this phrase but throughout the passage (the repetition of Japanese, of feel, and then, after seems engineered, brief sleep…). And note along with this incantatory word music the language of the spirit, prayer, loftiness (chambers, stillness, stratosphere) — “it doesn’t feel like earth.”

The character senses, is alive to, a certain affiliation between traditional spiritual experience and what he is being lifted into here; but the language of radical artifice, and of a kind of drugged drowsiness, makes clear that this experience is far from truly spiritual. It is empty, engineered.

The other side of the tension is DeLillo’s evocation throughout the book (most of which is set in Greece) of grounded existence, or, more precisely, the postmodern American’s yearning toward it. The main character feels it, sort of, when talking one beautiful quiet evening with his wife:

This talk we were having about familiar things was itself ordinary and familiar. It seemed to yield up the mystery that is part of such things, the nameless way in which we sometimes feel our connections to the physical world. Being here. Everything is where it should be. Our senses are collecting at the primal edge. The woman’s arm trailing down a shroud, my wife, whatever her name. I felt I was in an early stage of teenage drunkenness, lightheaded, brilliantly happy and stupid, knowing the real meaning of every word.

We sometimes feel our connections to the physical world. And again in a passage about Greece:

The sun, the colors, the sea light, the great black bees, what physical delight, what fertile slow-working delight. Then the goatherd on the barren hill, the terrible wind…. Look to the small things for your truth, your joy. This is the Greek specific.

The Greek Ideal

In Athens, the Olympic Ideal is not just for the Olympics. Scenes from the Greek Cup final:

[The game was] halted when a firecracker was thrown onto the pitch.

Before the match Panathinaikos supporters threw broken plastic seats at riot police on the pitch and flares, firecrackers and other objects were thrown between supporters.

Police used tear gas to bring order and the presidents of both clubs, Giannis Alafouzos of Panathinaikos and Ivan Savvidis of PAOK, pleaded to fans from the stadium’s loudspeakers for calm.

Outside the stadium a police car was destroyed by a firebomb thrown by a motorbike rider.

One coach carrying PAOK supporters was attacked with rocks by Panathinaikos fans causing minor damage to the vehicle.

A large section of Athens Olympic Stadium was left empty to separate the two groups of supporters while a police helicopter kept a watch from above.

… Police … arrested the two owners of a PAOK supporters’ clubhouse in the centre of Athens after confiscating fireworks, iron bars, bottles filled with petrol, knives and baseball bats.

Some 4,000 police officers were deployed to keep the peace in the Greek capital for the match.

***********************

And as for the Platonic Academy:

Photini Tomai, a Wilson Center favorite, and Director of the Service of Diplomatic and Historical Archives of the Hellenic Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is running for the European Parliament. Her background:

Foreign Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos appointed her as the country’s special envoy for Holocaust issues, a decision that withdrawn that June after 40 historians and other figures petitioned the minister over their concerns at the “unethical way” Tomai has run the ministry’s archives.

They said access to the archives involved “a very complicated and lengthy process in which the head of the archive takes part herself, and sometimes intrusively”. They also claimed that the “30-year rule” is not applied in many cases, meaning files from the 1950s remain inaccessible. Nevertheless, Tomai publishes extracts from files otherwise out of bounds to researchers in her Sunday newspaper articles.

“In a time when dozens of civil servants are suspended without judicial or disciplinary convictions, we, the undersigned, believe that if Ms Tomai remains the head of the Diplomatic and Historical Archive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, especially after her conviction, it will raise major issues in academic ethics and in equal treatment. For the same reason we believe that Ms Tomai could not represent Greece in international organisations, conferences and meetings, jeopardising the prestige of our country.”

But that’s not all, folks!

In an October 2013 appeal court decision that has only recently been published, Photini Tomai, director of the foreign ministry’s archive, was told again that she must pay €20,000 in compensation to two authors after she published a children’s book that they wrote under her own name.

The decision confirmed an earlier ruling by Athens first instance court that Tomai was guilty of copyright infringement. That court ruled that a book entitled 1,2,3 … 11 True Olympian Stories, … was the work of screenwriter Eleni Kefalopoulou and her husband, film director Aris Fotiadis.

The couple told the court that, ahead of the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, they came up with an idea to make an animated series on ancient Greek Olympians and sent a script to the national broadcaster ERT and a number of private companies. On the recommendation of friends, they also sent a copy to Tomai, in her position as head of the foreign ministry’s archives.

The authors received no offers and animation was never made. But in 2008, they noticed 1,2,3 … 11 True Olympian Stories in a bookstore and immediately recognised the characters in it as ones they had created. In many instances, they saw that text had been copied verbatim and the court agreed.

As we all begin swigging olive oil…

… because we’ve lately been told that the Mediterranean diet is the only way to go, let us note that poets have long been swigging olives and their oil and the trees that hold the olives, and there must be a reason for this olive-love on the part of so many poets. The most recent of poetic olivephiles, A.E. Stallings (read UD‘s appreciation of a poem of hers here), has just been nominated for a National Book Critics Circle prize, and the name of the nominated book is … Olives.

olive

A quick read of a bunch of poems featuring things olive confirms that poets like the olivesque because… Well, let’s go to the tape! Let’s do five olive poems! I bet we’ll discover that all poets – at least all the poets on our list — i.e., Richard Wilbur, James Merrill, Karl Shapiro, Rachel Hadas, A.E. Stallings — like the same stuff about olives.

Pour la première, M. Wilbur, “Grasse: The Olive Trees.” (Go here for the complete poem.) So the poet’s in the south of France, marveling at the incredible lushness – almost to excess – of natural bounty there:

… the grass
Mashes under the foot, and all is full
Of heat and juice and a heavy jammed excess.

… The whole South swells
To a soft rigor, a rich and crowded calm.

But no – not everything around the poet is like that:

… olives lie
Like clouds of doubt against the earth’s array.

And why? Well, they look different, for one thing, all gray and gnarly and oldish and “anxious,” says the poet, in their thin arthritic presence.

What’s their problem? Their problem is that they’re at odds with their lush relaxed just let the rain drip all over me and the sun warm me up setting; they don’t trust the natural generosity of the cosmos; or, rather, they – like Kafka’s Hunger Artist – know that no matter how generous the universe, the lives it gives us are finite and difficult, and we will always be hungry and thirsty, wanting more joy, and more life. The olive is

a tree which grows
Unearthly pale, which ever dims and dries,
And whose great thirst, exceeding all excess,
Teaches the South it is not paradise.

So the olive is there to remind us that even in our most famous paradises – here, the south of France – the reality of life and death pertains: Our lives are treacherous, we’re barely getting by, and we grow unearthly pale, asking of existence compensations and fulfillments that will never occur. This is earth, not paradise, says the olive tree, and this is an important message, worth the poet’s notice…

Just so in James Merrill, the olive features in a poem about the frustration of being mortal, of having too little time to overcome one’s convoluted beginnings and break through to the elemental paradisal person one wishes to be (see Philip Larkin’s Aubade: “An only life can take so long to climb / Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never…”). In “After Greece,” Merrill describes coming back to the States, back to his personal history, back to the story that made him and that he’ll never – however many times he leaves for Greece – escape. It’s an earnest New Englandy sort of inheritance – Christian, or maybe if not Christian at least animated by “Art, Public Spirit…” But Merrill wants neither of these – neither the moral piety of the religious life, nor the moral piety of the post-religious public spirited life. He wants essentials:

how I want
Essentials: salt, wine, olive, the light…

The poet is – in Wilbur’s words about the olive tree – “rooted hunger wrung.” His hunger for essentials has him calling out to the olives, begging their sun-laden natural fulfillment for himself; but “I have scarcely named you” when instead of that idealized earthy plentitude, what materializes is the gradually killing radiance of the Greek sun, turning things “unearthly pale.”

Shapiro? Same old same old.

The fruit is hard,
Multitudinous, acid, tight on the stem;
The leaves ride boat-like in the brimming sun,
Going nowhere and scooping up the light.
It is the silver tree, the holy tree,
Tree of all attributes.

Now on the lawn
The olives fall by thousands, and I delight
To shed my tennis shoes and walk on them,
Pressing them coldly into the deep grass,
In love and reverence for the total loss.

All attributes, multitudinous, holding on to life tightly; and yet the olive is going to fall to the ground, pregnant with nothing, and the poet celebrates this reverent opportunity the fall gives him to press his feet into the “cold pastoral” grave of his own abundant nothingness.

Next up, Rachel Hadas, who just says it:

Ideas of the eternal,

once molten, harden; cool.
Oil, oil in the lock.

The door to her country house gets old and stiff and hard to open, so she softens it with olive oil to make it young again. But as she gets older ideas of infinitely available regeneration “harden; cool.”

oil in the lock; the key
dipped in lubricity
the boychild’s shining skin
me tired to the bone

And finally Stallings herself – perhaps the most evolved of the poets – finds in the olive a rich equivalent to her acceptance of limitation, her understanding that to be always hungry is not the ideal human outcome. Of the poets, she’s the only one who claims the olive:

These fruits are mine –
Small bitter drupes
Full of the golden past and cured in brine.

That is, Stallings seems to have arrived at the proper attitude to take toward the olive. Not morbid, like Shapiro, or somewhat puling like Merrill. Not somewhat hectoring or lecturing, like Wilbur, who concludes a bit too authoritatively with his reminder to us; and not meanderingly wistful like Hadas (I mean, they’re all fine poems; I just think Stallings is the best). But rather with a toughed-up wisdom, and even a joy based on that difficult knowledge.

Sometimes a craving comes for salt, not sweet…

for the truth, the bitter truth, that is, and the olive contains it. Its gradually darkening skin “charts the slow chromatics of a bruise,” the gradual process, also chronicled in the Hadas poem, of one’s recognition of mortality. The olive is

Daylight packed in treasuries of oil

Paradigmatic summers that decline
Like singular archaic nouns, the troops
Of hours in retreat.

So learn to love that fact of decline and retreat, that singular fast-becoming-archaic thing which is you, packed tightly with your daylight memories into the skin of an indehiscent mind, a mind strong enough not to split when it arrives at maturity.

“The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul …”

This Chesterton quotation is one of those very fine, very annoying things we say to each other at times like these, late Decembers, year ends, year beginnings. Yes yes soul must

clap its hands and sing, and louder sing

and louder sing and

You must change your life.

Take a look at the most significant publishing launch for the American new year if you want to know how tunefully renewed our souls are.

Our souls are clapping pills down their gullets.

***************************

Still, we want what we want. We want vivacity, and we want wisdom. We want to feel we are truly alive, and we want to feel we are living in the truth.

This long clunky poem
written in 1897 by Edwin Arlington Robinson – “Octaves” – gets at the problem kind of nicely… Or, since it’s not a very good poem, it gets at the problem in a way ol’ UD finds moving. The bad writing, the unachieved philosophical ambition, the naivete — UD likes these. She likes the peculiar way they’re deployed here, in this particular poem, which records the sound of one man trying to clap.

Some of it’s claptrap, actually, which UD also likes.

You’re welcome to whomp yourself up with Onward Christian Soldiers as you anticipate the new year; UD‘s looking for lyrics that capture the way we shout RETREAT just as loudly as we shout ADVANCE.

************************

So let’s see. We’re not gonna do the whole poem because as I said it’s quite long, one eight-line verse after another after another.

Start here, in the middle of the eighth stanza.

[T]hough forlornly joyless be the ways
We travel, the compensate spirit-gleams
Of Wisdom shaft the darkness here and there,
Like scattered lamps in unfrequented streets.

Clunky, yes? Forlornly joyless feels not only redundant but unpretty as language; and the little points of light that lucid vivid soulfulness sheds are dully compared to streetlights… Reminds UD of Tennyson’s arch, also a dull image:

[A]ll experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life. Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this grey spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

And this is also an image of the glinting into this dull world of the highly lit existence – the new life, the new soul, the new year – that beckons us.

Where does a dead man go?—The dead man dies;
But the free life that would no longer feed
On fagots of outburned and shattered flesh
Wakes to a thrilled invisible advance,
Unchained (or fettered else) of memory;
And when the dead man goes it seems to me
‘T were better for us all to do away
With weeping, and be glad that he is gone.

Let the dead bury the dead, says Robinson; or, rather, Robinson natters away about it while Blake, say, or Allen Ginsberg, or – a prose favorite of UD‘s – Henry Miller – gets it said faster and louder and more jazzily… But, again, UD finds the nattery quality here, the sense of Robinson talking to himself, inquiring rather than announcing, attractive, faithful to most people’s mental reality. A “thrilled invisible advance” is very nice — if one can free oneself from one’s past (UD‘s friend David Kosofsky, who died last year, once lamented in an email to her that he was

feeling self-loathing at never having wrestled my adolescent issues to even a stalemate.)

one can perhaps experience an exciting inward forward motion, a surge of open possibility — that new life everyone’s on about…

But this operation – this wrestling – will probably have to be pretty brutal — “be glad that he is gone.” Blake writes: “Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.” We may not have the stomach for this psychic savagery. We may prefer, like David, a weak form of wrestling which makes us hate our inability to have done with things and move on.

So through the dusk of dead, blank-legended,
And unremunerative years we search
To get where life begins, and still we groan
Because we do not find the living spark
Where no spark ever was; and thus we die,
Still searching, like poor old astronomers
Who totter off to bed and go to sleep,
To dream of untriangulated stars.

Very nice, no? Every now and then Robinson knocks one out of the park. Untriangulated stars is spectacular, as is blank-legended… And what’s the point here? Only that we set out on our new yearly reanimations all wrong; we assume some originary point of purity, of full light, from which we have strayed into the dark, and we piss our lives away trying to get back (like Citizen Kane with Rosebud) to that first principle, Gatsby’s just-flicked-on green light. We think of ourselves as that singular Thing, a Thing not yet triangulated (of course even if we get as far as accepting triangulation, that’s probably still tragic – think of the images of blighted stars amid the sound ones in Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and in Absalom! Absalom!), not yet implicated in the convoluted compromised crowded human story, not yet part of a pattern… We piss our lives away dreaming of getting back to some …

Hold on. Gotta get on the train back to DC. Later.

************************

We lack the courage to be where we are:—
We love too much to travel on old roads,
To triumph on old fields; we love too much
To consecrate the magic of dead things,
And yieldingly to linger by long walls
Of ruin, where the ruinous moonlight
That sheds a lying glory on old stones
Befriends us with a wizard’s enmity.

Not only dead people and their ghostly power over us; not only a disabling sense of our own now-dimmed-but-somehow-maybe-reignitable selves; we also have to reckon with the romance of escapism, the magic of dead things, the malignant wizardry of a world softened into friendly, familiar and lulling shapes. James Merrill, contemplating his love for Greece, writes


[H]ow I want
Essentials: salt, wine, olive, the light, the scream
No! I have scarcely named you,
And look, in a flash you stand full-grown before me,
Row upon row, Essentials …

You want the hard sharp present-time clarity of things themselves; but even when you go to the trouble of moving to iconic things-in-themselves locations, things-in-themselves tend as soon as you’ve noted and named them to shrink into abstractions — the abstraction in this case being, well, Essentials

Merrill writes as a poet desperate to write the world, to perceive and express reality. (Greece meant as much to him as it did to Jack Gilbert and as it does to Don DeLillo.) As does Robinson:


The prophet of dead words defeats himself:
Whoever would acknowledge and include
The foregleam and the glory of the real,
Must work with something else than pen and ink
And painful preparation: he must work
With unseen implements that have no names,
And he must win withal, to do that work,
Good fortitude, clean wisdom, and strong skill.

That last line is a real let-down; the stanza takes us from Keats (“pipe to the spirit/ditties of no tone”) to the Boy Scouts (fortitude, wisdom, skill). But it makes its point well enough: If you want to grasp and express concrete essentials, you are going to have to do a good deal of private soulwork, as Stephen Dedalus says at the end of Portrait:

I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.

And – not to lay the discouragement on too thick, but … you recall how well Dedalus did at that ambition, right?

Still, writers can sometimes grasp essentials, internalize them… Or rather say they can metabolize them… Give them new life, a new soul.

Time to revisit the Greek universities.

Early [last Monday] morning, some 15 people occupied the [University of Athens] computer center, holding hostage the email accounts of faculty members, students and administrative personnel, including those of the University of Athens hospitals. With a few exceptions, nobody has condemned what has happened, and no university officials have dared appeal to the authorities, for fear of retaliation. Physical violence and bullying is so common in Greek universities and across Greece that almost nobody dares react anymore.

This blog has covered – as much as it can bear to – the fate of universities in Greece [scroll down]. Aristides Hatzis, a professor at the University of Athens, explains the typically vicious response to the prospect of an electronic vote on university reform.

A New Yorker Appreciation of Jack Gilbert…

… who died last week, includes this poem.

Transgressions

He thinks about how important the sinning was,
how much his equity was in simply being alive.
Like the sloth. The days and nights wasted,
doing nothing important adding up to
the favorite years. Long hot afternoons
watching ants while the cicadas railed
in the Chinese elm about the brevity of life.
Indolence so often when no one was watching.
Wasting June mornings with the earth singing
all around. Autumn afternoons doing nothing
but listening to the siren voices of streams
and clouds coaxing him into the sweet happiness
of leaving all of it alone. Using up what
little time we have, relishing our mortality,
waltzing slowly without purpose. Neglecting
the future. Content to let the garden fail
and the house continue on in its usual disorder.
Yes, and coveting his neighbors’ wives.
Their clean hair and soft voices. The seraphim
he was sure were in one of the upstairs rooms.
Hesitant occasions of pride, feeling himself feeling.
Waking in the night and lying there. Discovering
the past in wonderful stillness. The other,
older pride. Watching the ambulance take away
the man whose throat he had crushed. Above all,
his greed. Greed of time, of being. This world,
the pine woods stretching all brown or bare
on either side of the railroad tracks in the winter
twilight. Him feeling the cold, sinfully unshriven.

Well, I wrote about a cicada poem here, and the cicadas do the same thing in John Blair’s poem that they do here in Gilbert’s. They give out, says Blair, with a “warning wail” about, Gilbert says, “the brevity of life.”

Jack Gilbert is famous (among poetry types) for having had so much “greed of time, of being” that early in his career he turned his back on America, and the poetry world (in which he had already had high-profile successes), and lived pretty much alone on Greek islands. As “Trangressions” makes clear, Gilbert’s recognition of life’s brevity catalyzed a determination to be, not so much to do. He wrote some – not many – books of poems, but mainly he placed himself, open and ecstatic, in life. He lived, as it were, a microscopically intense existential ongoingness in one of the earth’s most intense settings.

Many of his poems arise from this peculiar ontological arrangement, this hyper-focused sensitivity to passing objects, moods, weather patterns. Undistracted by work, family, and social life, untethered by ideology or faith, Gilbert produced strange poems that starkly combine the two essentials of each human being’s being in the world: the physical universe, and the mind. His poems are both sharply clarified evocations of people and things in his sun-blasted environment, and insistent conversations with himself about his own motives in moving himself away from ordinary life, and the price he’s paid for that move.

Of course Gilbert would choose Greece for his slow sweet clear declension through time. Don DeLillo chose it too, for a few years, and saw the same things Gilbert did. In his novel, The Names, DeLillo described a Greek village in language that, put into short lines rather than paragraphs, could be Gilbert’s:

Laundry hung in the walled gardens, always this sense of realized space, common objects, domestic life going on in that sculpted hush. Stairways bent around houses, disappearing. It was a sea chamber raised to the day, to the detailing light, a textured pigment on the hills. There was something artless and trusting in the place despite the street meanders, the narrow turns and ravels. Striped flagpoles and aired-out rugs, houses joined by closed wooden balconies, plants in battered cans, a willingness to share the oddments of some gathering-up. Passageways captured the eye with one touch, a sea green door, a handrail varnished to a nautical gloss. A heart barely beating in the summer heat, and always the climb, the small birds in cages, the framed approaches to nowhere. Doorways were paved with pebble mosaics, the terrace stones were outlined in white.

Realized space – that’s what the artist is after. The world’s objects and people distributed deeply and fully and feelingly so that when you look at them you see reality, you see the actual world.
In particular, you see the earth’s empty spaces inhabited, elaborated, brought to life, realized by people through use. In Greece, even nowhere is framed.

This needs to be a domestic lived reality, not the techno-phantasmagoria of the great skyscraper city. You seek elemental truths, basic daily gatherings-up, using DeLillo’s word. You want to observe this. So you could live, for instance, on the edge of a Balinese rice paddy just as easily as in a Greek village, for both give you daily and nightly visual access to the interaction of small human communities and natural beauty and bounty. Actually, Greece is better because it’s dry, without natural bounty in the way of watery Bali — you want visual access to small human communities enacting the existential drama of drawing from the earth beauty, sustenance, and meaning.

So, you’re ecstatically, aesthetically, engaged in all of this, but your consciousness – your being a person with a past, with regrets and confusions and worldly avidities – is going to bedevil you, and from the conflict between your settled engagement in a settled world and your neurotic, restless, maybe guilty self (you’re an American behaving like this, for goodness sake) will arise a poem like “Transgressions,” in which the poet talks to himself about his passion for pure being and his sense of the sinfulness of this passion.

The sin of “sloth,” “waste” — yet those were his favorite years, when he was doing “nothing important.”

Using up what
little time we have, relishing our mortality,
waltzing slowly without purpose.

Whitman loafs and invites his own and the universal soul; but Gilbert isn’t inviting. His “transgression” resides in his greedy taking of life for himself. Lust, pride, violence, the narcissism of “feeling himself feeling.” He concludes:

This world,
the pine woods stretching all brown or bare
on either side of the railroad tracks in the winter
twilight. Him feeling the cold, sinfully unshriven.

Nice the way the word shiver shivers through unshriven in that unredeemed cold… But he’s feeling it… Feeling himself feeling the cold, and that’s much more important to him than any reckoning in conventional terms of his transgressions. He wants the true world, all of it, including the true world of his mind and his body and his own ways of being. These may be ugly or beautiful but it is their being existent that elates him, lends him the only redemption he really cares about. Leave all of it alone, he writes – let the world be and let myself be. Let me watch as I become part of the realized space of the globe, and let me transgress and transgress against the higher waste of a labored existence until I come to an end.

University employees embezzle.

They don’t seem to embezzle any more than employees in other settings, but it’s our job here at University Diaries to cover acts of embezzlement at universities egregious enough to make the evening news.

There are some countries – Greece comes shriekingly to mind – where being a university president seems to mean little more than taking the money the government gave you to run the place.

UD‘s not sure how corrupt Hong Kong is along these lines, but the University of Hong Kong certainly let its chief of surgery steal a lot of money before someone decided to try to make him stop. Before being found guilty of misconduct and false accounting, John Wong Kin-ling had quite a run.

Uh, let’s see… He was close to the university’s dean of medicine, from whom he apparently learned his trade:

… Lam Shiu-kum … fell heavily from grace in September 2009 when he was jailed for 25 months for pocketing HK$3.8 million in donations meant for medical research ….

Probably got a few pointers from that guy… Then…

Problems about accounting have dogged Wong for a while, and certainly since 2007. That was when he was accused of using donations – believed to be from James Tien Pei-Chun’s family and meant for research – to purchase a Lexus car, though he returned the vehicle to the school.

One insider told The Standard’s sister publication East Week: “Doctors would open different accounts to manage income, but there was no monitoring.”

Another source claims Wong once admitted that he had traveled first class to meetings overseas.

… [T]he four charges he faces – and has denied – in District Court are a tangle that involve a former assistant jailed for embezzlement, a private surgical training center, his driver-cum- helper, taxation authorities and others.

The former executive officer is June Chan Sau-hung, jailed for 22 months in 2010 for embezzling HK$3 million from the training center. She has been testifying for the prosecution against Wong.

… [Charges] include not notifying the police of Chan’s embezzlement. Wong said he had felt sorry for Chan as she was struggling with family responsibilities and wanted to help her repay the money she had taken.

It’s also alleged Wong directed HK$730,000 from the account of the training center – Unisurgical, in which he’s a director and shareholder – to pay his own helper-cum-driver for five years.

Wong said that although his driver was hired as a domestic helper he also picked up guests the university had invited to forums from the airport and their hotels. So he had the [training center] pay half of the salary.

And travel expenses incurred by Wong, it’s alleged, were handled in a way to deprive the Inland Revenue Department of some HK$120,000. But Wong said secretaries and other staff had handled such matters.

Funny money stuff at universities is usually some sad assistant to some sad assistant grabbing ten thou from the kitty and blowing it at Walmart’s. You’ve got to get to the higher managerial levels (see American University president Benjamin Ladner) for the good stories.

Greek universities were bad enough BEFORE austerity.

The most destructive brain drain is of the young. Since 2008, ever more young people (mostly in their 20s) have gone, often to foreign universities. “When I left to study abroad in 2006 I was the odd man out,” says a young Greek lawyer. “Now I thank my lucky stars.” Greece’s archaic education system and strikes have held back those who pursued their education at home. Exams have been delayed or cancelled. Some students are a year or more behind in their studies.

Now they’re even worse.

An aromatic ponkan mandarin grows in Brooklyn.

Professor Jerry Dimitman, who has died at 91, lived a long, beautiful, American story. From the balcony of his parents’ small New York apartment he grew plants, and then, with money his mother’s sister won in a lottery, he moved to California. He worked in orchards and got degrees in botany.

Stationed in the Pacific during the war, “he became fascinated with the culture, and particularly the fruits, of Eastern Asia.”

After his retirement from Cal Poly Pomona, he “spent many years abroad as a consultant in plant pathology and education in Greece, Guatemala, Yemen and other countries, where he became known for his habit of suddenly driving his car off the road to investigate plants that caught his eye.”

But the main thing about this guy is that in 1953 he bought property

after carefully investigating the suitability of its microclimate for growing Asian fruits. In addition to tending the grove with great skill, he often waited decades for slow-growing exotic trees to mature into majestic specimens loaded with fruit. Just as important, he established close connections with members of his area’s Asian American community, who gave him some of his prized varieties, and by whom he was regarded with something close to reverence.

Riots practically broke out when he sold this stuff at the local farmers’ market; he always told reporters to keep the address of his property out of stories to “deter intrusions by overzealous fruit lovers.”

His mother’s name was Rose Moss.

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