A workshop with Lewis Hyde

Above: A poem by Wang Wei (c. 700-761). The title has been translated as “Deer Park.”


Yesterday I had the distinct pleasure of taking a writing workshop with one of my heroes, Prof. Lewis Hyde. Hyde has an excellent show up right now at the Japan Society called “Oxherding,” and the workshop was presented in connection with that show. The show notes describe the project:

The product of a collaborative meditation by two internationally known artistic visionaries, Max Gimblett and Lewis Hyde, oxherding is based on the Song-Dynasty Chinese “Oxherding Series,” a Zen Buddhist parable of self-discovery comprised of pictures and verse. A contemporary American set of perspectives on this greatly venerated Buddhist text, the exhibition includes six collaborative artist books, a series of 10 sumi ink paintings by Max Gimblett, and 10 poems in Chinese and three English versions translated by Lewis Hyde.

Hyde has shared his translations on his own website here. He explains the process of translating the poems using methods of varying length and correspondence to the original:

Each Oxherding text will appear in three different English versions: a “one word ox” which sticks slavishly to the Chinese (one word per character), a “spare sense ox,” which puts each Chinese syntactic unit into a simple English sentence, and an “American ox” (or “fat American ox”) which takes considerable liberties while trying to be faithful to my intuitions about the meaning of the series.

Though we had not been told in advance about the nature of the workshop, after seeing the show I guessed it would focus on the nuances and challenges of translation, and indeed it did.

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On diplomatic gift-giving

The School of Life’s Catherine Blyth weighs in on the peculiar mechanics of diplomatic gift-giving:

As each exchange is a diplomatic act, similar rules apply to presents as to flattery. When Gordon Brown welcomed Barack Obama to Britain with a pen holder whittled from timbers of a sister ship of the Resolute, out of which the Presidential desk in the White House is made, plus a seven-volume, first edition Churchill biography, Obama gave him 25 DVDs including Psycho. Commentators scorned Obama’s ‘insult,’ but the error was Brown’s. His presents were too great to be returned.

A More Perfect Union pamphlet by Sam Potts

sam potts more perfect union

Above: “A More Perfect Union” pamphlet by Sam Potts Inc. (Photos by Swissmiss.)

I arrived home tonight and found the small booklet above in the day’s post. It was a simple republication of Barack Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” speech sent by my friend and fellow AIGA/NY Board Member Sam Potts. I’ve written about the power of pamphlets before, but this one moved me a great deal. It came on a day when Obama, a candidate whose campaign was still reeling from the release of the Rev Wright tapes when he gave this speech last March, was about to give his first primetime press conference as President. And it came on a day when Amazon.com announced the Kindle 2, a device that may successfully uncouple print from the page for good. While Obama’s election made me feel young at heart, the Kindle 2’s release left me gripped by the sense that I was glimpsing the future while clinging the past. In short, I felt, for the first time, middle-aged. And while I can see myself buying and even enjoying a Kindle 2, I’m a book person at heart, and always will be. It’s like someone asked me to swap my beloved pet for a Tamagotchi. No dice.

When Obama concluded his press conference this evening, I turned off the TV, sat in my chair, and read Sam’s pamphlet from start to finish. He had carefully chosen this small manila envelope, this beautiful slate-blue paper, and this optimistic, tipped-in note. He had offered me Obama’s speech again at the perfect time in a new and beautiful way. I was deeply touched. Sometimes things come together as they should. Sam’s pamphlet is a case in point.

Below is the passage from Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” speech that I remembered as vividly when I read it tonight as when I first heard it on YouTube last March. As Republicans and Democrats sit in deadlock over the stimulus bill while America’s tide of unemployment swells dangerously higher, Obama’s call to transcend bitter partisanship and stand for hope in the midst of cyncism rings truer than ever.

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A great column from Steven Pinker for NYT on Chief Justice John Roberts’s Oath of Office flub.


I’m so excited to have the opportunity to be in DC for the Obama Inauguration next Tuesday. As the big day draws near, I was re-reading this excellent post from London’s The School of Life on Obama’s roots as a Chicago community organizer. Community organizing as we know it now was also the brainchild of a Chicagoan, a man named Saul Alinsky who developed his approach while trying to defeat the influence of organized crime in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood in the 1940s. In 1971 Alinsky wrote a primer on community organizing called Rules for Radicals. The rules, slightly abridged, follow: “1) Always work inside the experience of your people. 2) Wherever possible go outside the experience of your opponents. 3) Power is not only what you have but what your opponent thinks you have. 4) Ridicule is our most potent weapon. 5) Keep the Pressure On. 6) The Price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative. 7) Pick the target, freeze it, personalise it and polarise it. 8) The Action Is In The Reaction.”


"When we received the assignment, we immediately read both of Senator Obama’s books. We were struck by the ideas of hope, change and a new perspective on red and blue (not red and blue states, but one country). There was also a strong sense, from the start, that his campaign represented something entirely new in American politics — ‘a new day,’ — so to speak." Steven Heller interviews Sol Sender about the development of the O monogram. Interestingly, the interview implies that Sender LLC never met directly with Obama during or after the mark’s development.

My Favorite O

obama logo

Above: Barack Obama’s signature O designed by Sender LLC and Mode of Chicago, IL.

A new day dawns.

The best part? It was there the day Obama announced his candidacy and they never went back, never changed, never wavered. The symbol was fresh and original from the start, but it became an icon because Obama stuck by it and continues to stick by it. An admirable quality in both a leader and a logo. Stay true. The greatest strength comes from confidence, consistency, and vision.