Archive | August, 2014

Calvino on Ovid’s Metamorphoses

21 Aug

This technique of metamorphosis has been studied by Sceglov in an extremely lucid and persuasive essay. ‘All these transformations’, saysSceglov, ‘concern the distinctive physical and spatial characteristics which Ovid usually highlights even in elements not subject to metamorphosis(“hard rock”, “long body”, “curved back”) . . . Thanks to his knowledge of the properties of things, the poet provides the shortest route for themetamorphosis, because he knows in advance what man has in common with dolphins, as well as what he lacks compared to them, and what theylack compared to him. The essential point is that since he portrays the whole world as a system made up of elementary components, the process of transformation — this most unlikely and fantastic phenomenon — is reduced to a sequence of quite simple processes. The event is no longer represented as a fairytale but rather as a collection of everyday, realistic facts (growing, diminishing, hardening, softening, curving, straightening, joining, separating etc.).’

Ovid’s writing, as described by Sceglov, appears to contain within itself the model, or at least the programme, for Robbe-Grillet at his most coldand rigorous. Of course such a description does not exhaust everything we can find in Ovid. But the important point is that this way of portraying(animate and inanimate) objects objectively, ‘as different combinations of a relatively small number of basic, very simple elements’ sums up exacdythe only incontrovertible philosophy in the poem, namely ‘that of the unity and inter-connectedness of everything that exists in the world, both thingsand living creatures’.

Setting out his cosmogony in the first book and his profession of faith in Pythagoras in the last, Ovid clearly wanted to provide this naturalphilosophy with a theoretical basis, perhaps to rival the by now remote Lucretius. There has been considerable discussion as to the weight oneshould attach to these professions of faith, but probably the only thing thatmatters is the poetic consistency of the manner in which Ovid portrays and narrates his world: namely this swarming and intertwining of events thatare often similar but are always different, in which the continuity and mobility of everything is celebrated.

Before he has even finished the chapter on the origins of the world and its early catastrophes, Ovid is already embarking on the series of loveaffairs that the gods have with nymphs or mortal girls. There are several constants in the love stories (which mostly occupy the liveliest part of thepoem, the first eleven books): as Bernardini has shown they involve love at first sight, overwhelming desire, no psychological complications, and demand an immediate resolution. And since the desired creature usually refuses and flees, the motif of the chase through the woods constandyrecurs; metamorphosis can occur at different times, either before (the seducer’s disguise), during (the pursued maiden’s escape), or afterwards(punishment inflicted by another jealous deity on the seduced girl).

Compared with the constant pressure of male desire, the instances of female initiative in love are rather rare; but to compensate, these are usuallymore complex desires, not sudden whims but real passions, which involve greater psychological richness (Venus in love with Adonis), often containa more morbid erotic element (the nymph Salmacis who when she sexually embraces Hermaphroditus blends into a bisexual creature), and insome cases are totally illicit, incestuous passions (such as the tragic characters Myrrha and Byblis: the way in which the latter realises her desirefor her brother, through a revelatory but upsetting dream, is one of the finest psychological passages in Ovid), or tales of homosexual love (Iphys), or of wicked jealousy (Medea). The stories of Jason and Medea open up right at the centre of the poem (Book 7) a space for a genuine romance tale,involving a mixture of adventure, brooding passion, and the ‘black’ grotesque scene of the magic philtres, which will resurface almost identically in Macbeth.

The move from one story to the next without any interval is underlined by the fact that – as Wilkinson points out – ‘the end of a story rarely coincideswith the end of a book. He will even begin a new one within the last few lines. This is partly the time-honoured device of the serial writer to whet thereader’s appetite for the next instalment; but it is also an indication of the continuity of the work, which should not have been divided into books atall, were it not that its length necessitated a number of rolls. Thisthen gives us the impression of a real and consistent world in which events which are usually considered in isolation interact with each other.
The stories are often similar, never the same. It is not by chance that the most heart-rending tale is that of the unlucky love of Echo (Book 3),doomed to repeat sounds, for the young Narcissus, who in turn is condemned to contemplate his own repeated image in the reflecting waters. Ovidruns across this forest of love stories which are all the same and all different, pursued by the voice of Echo resounding from the rocks ‘Coeamus!’‘Coèamus!’ ‘Coëamus!’ [1979]
Italo Calvino

Why Read theCLASSICS?
Translated from the Italian byMARTIN MCLAUGHLINTranslation copyright © 1999 by Jonathan Cape

pp. 34-35.

Slay on Ethnography in Cross-Cultural Science Research

5 Aug

“The process of carrying out this research was far more difficult than I imagined when I began to plan it. Issues in cross-cultural research appear to me to be largely unknown until experienced. Practical issues, such as language learning and the development of important vocabulary, were difficult in themselves, but philosophical issues were more challenging.

“As a cross-cultural researcher I was an outsider, living with the tensions of rejecting misinformation, trying to exclude bias in data and refusing to patronise or colonise the subjects under examination. I experienced problems faced by early anthropologists and realised that ethnography is more art than science. The issue of what is essentially ethnography within a scientific discipline still challenges me. Have I created art of science and how will or should this be received by science educators? According to Fenstermacher (1994) and others, this is an issue for the reader.”

– Slay, Jill. (2007). “Naturalistic inquiry in cross-cultural research: a narrative turn.” In Contemporary Qualitative Research: Exemplars for Science and Mathematics Educators. Taylor, Peter Charles and Wallace, John (eds.) Netherlands: Springer, pp. 93-104.

William H. Overholt on 21st Century Trade

3 Aug

It’s time to update our thinking on trade

3 August 2014

Author: William H. Overholt

Our institutions for governing world trade and our thinking about world trade date back to a simpler era. Without a radical rethink, we risk the gradual decay of our most valuable international institutions, loss of extraordinary opportunities to improve global living standards and possibly the sidelining of the West in developing modern institutions.

The GATT and the WTO were devised for a simpler era, when it was possible to think about world trade in the way Ricardo taught — namely that a good is produced in one country and consumed also in a single country. If Portugal was adeptat making wine and England at cloth, it would benefit both to reduce barriers and enhance trade. That two-country model worked relatively well until about 1978, when China started opening its economy by establishing special economic zones across the border from Hong Kong.

By the last decade of the twentieth century, production had become a complex global process. The logic of increasing efficiency by reducing trade barriers remained completely valid, but policy adaptation of that logic to a new era has faltered.

A laptop or a smart phone now is typically made in 15 to 20 countries. When old-style trade thinking is applied to this situation, confusion causes bad policy and gratuitous conflicts. A laptop made in 17 countries might be assembled in China for $2 worth of local wages then exported to the United States, but old two-country thinking leads members of Congress to react as if China had exported $1500 of value to the US. This bolsters protectionism, reduces support for multilateral trade liberalisation and contributes to the fragmentation of the global trade regime.

Because it is difficult to continue the process of trade liberalisation, countries feeling a need for deeper integration form their own regional blocs, inducing further fragmentation.

Regional and bilateral trade negotiations today are focused on ‘country of origin’, by definition a single country or preferential grouping, with the result that it is considered normal to have 500 pages of country of origin rules in a single trade agreement. Since each country has many trade agreements, companies may find the rules so complex that they simply pay high tariffs rather than trying to manage the complex paperwork to prove countries of origin. The complexity of the system discriminates against small, open economies like Singapore, and it discriminates against smaller companies without huge accounting departments. Because it cannot adapt to the globalisation of production, the system is beginning to defeat itself.

Moreover, the addition of over one billion new workers to the globalised workforce entailed very low wages in Eastern countries such as China, flat wages in the West and huge trade imbalances between East and West. This discouraged Western countries from vigorously pursuing the kinds of global agreements that would have eliminated those dozens of separate, conflicting 500-page rule books about countries of origin.

Feeling overwhelmed by Chinese manufactured exports, Western countries have alsomoved to exclude China from the most important efforts to modernise the global trading system. The proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreements (TTIP) both seek to exclude the world’s second-largest economy from potential membership, an arrangement that is both economically untenable and a potential geopolitical disaster.

The geopolitical consequences were magnified by the inclusion of Japan in the TPP agreements, even though Japan’s economy is much less open than China’s and historically has been much less willing to reform in the face of domestic interest group pressure than China has. Given Sino-Japanese tensions, this has come across in Asia as part of a strategy to isolate China.

Magnifying Sino-American differences could make a more inclusive, truly multilateral future trade system much harder to negotiate.

While we still flounder over attempts to come to terms with globalised production, we are heading into globalised consumption. Instead of an era with one billion new globalised workers, we are heading into a world that will contain two billion or more new middle class consumers, mainly in Asia and heavily in China. Chinese wages are rising 13 to 20 per cent a year and total compensation is rising even more. This phenomenon should gradually resolve the most serious trade imbalances and begin to allow Western wages to rise.

But Western media, interest groups and politicians remain obsessed with the problems of yesterday. This could lead the West to squander one of the greatest economic opportunities in world history, namely the extraordinary consumer boom in China, India and other emerging markets. It could also disastrously delay responses to the jobs challenge of the new era: a technology-driven transformation of the workplace driven by robots, other automation, the internet of things and 3D printing that will eventually force billions of workers out of old jobs.

We must begin addressing the world as it is and will be, not the world of generations past. Ironically, in the process the WTO remains crucial to a vibrant world economy. Without the WTO’s dispute settlement mechanism, trade wars will ignite everywhere. By allowing the WTO system to decay, and by blaming globalised trade for problems that are unique to the past generation, we risk going back to pre-World War II trade wars. We need a modern, multilateral structure that updates the WTO, not a degeneration of the global trade and investment system based on a failure to recognise the shape of the new world we are entering.

We are now at one of those great historical turning points. Disillusionment, often misplaced, with existing institutions and obsession with obsolescent problems have allowed the process of trade negotiations to decay so far that TPP and TTIP negotiations could fail or, if they succeed, the exclusion of China could make them Pyrrhic victories. Continued Western failure to address the real issues of our emerging world of globalised production and consumption, and the reality of China’s central role, could lead to trade regimes with the most dynamic markets governed by structures like the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership promoted by Asian emerging economies.

William H. Overholt is President of Fung Global Institute and Senior Fellow at Harvard’s Asia Center. The views expressed here are personal and not endorsed by his employers.