Book Review: Flashman and the Cobra

By Omar Ali 1 Comment

Flashman and the Cobra (Adventures of Thomas Flashman Book 2) by [Robert Brightwell]

I am a fan of the original Flashman books by George Macdonald Fraser and just happened to see that a new author is writing a series about Harry Flashman’s uncle Thomas Flashman, so I picked one up to check it out. The conceit is the same in this case: that these are the memoirs of a rogue who happens to have been around in the Napoleonic era. This allows George Brightwell (who is writing this series, the late George Macdonald Fraser having passed away) to write entertaining little books about various campaigns from that era. This particular book starts with Thomas Flashman getting caught in up in a sexual escapade in Napoleonic Paris (complete with a dinner with the first consul himself) that leads him to take up a secret mission to India, where the Wellesley brothers are getting ready for war with the Marathas (the second anglo-Maratha war).

The book is great fun to read and readers will get a flavor of the life and times and a detailed description of 2 major battles (Assaye and Argaon) and one siege (the siege of Gawilgarh). I certainly understand the battles and the siege better than I ever did before, but unfortunately Mr Brightwell is no George Macdonald Fraser, so the book tells us little about the overall war (why it was being fought, what else was going on; for example, Lord Lake was taking Delhi at the same time as these events, but you would not know it from this book). In the case of the Flashman books, you could pretty much get the story of an entire campaign (eg the Indian mutiny is covered really well in “Flashman and the Great Game”), at least from the British point of view. This is not the case with this book. Readers will learn relatively little about the overall picture here (unless they have read other books about the topic). Still, the book taught me more about the battles he does happen to get caught up in than any summary history is likely to teach.  I see that there are a couple of “Sharpe’s” books about the same war (Sharpe’s triumph and Sharpe’s fortress) and they likely cover the same battles in even greater detail, but I have not read them yet. If, like me, you have not read about these battles in any detail, then this is a good book to start. The book also introduced me to the begum of Samru, one of those extraordinary characters that inhabit India between the decline of the Mughals and the stabilization of British rule. Other notable characters who make an appearance in the book include James Skinner (the anglo-Indian adventurer who raised “Skinner’s horse”), but unfortunately none of the other Indian characters of the age get much coverage (or sympathy).

The books have the usual imperialist British rogue POV one expects from Flashman books and the author is clearly in awe of Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington) and the fighting qualities of the Scottish Highlanders, but in both cases he has good reason to be a fan. The historical details are accurate as far as they go, but unfortunately lack the “big picture” view one gets in George Macdonald Fraser’s books even as he follows Harry Flashman from bedchamber to narrow (and implausible) escapes in various battles. Still, these books are very inexpensive on Kindle and audible.com and this one was certainly a fun read and very informative about the topics he does happen to cover. Worth a quick read.

By the way, the title has almost nothing to do with the book. The cobra shows up once and disappears without much ado.

 

1+

Chuang-tzu or Zhuangzi, it’s a laughing matter [review]

By Charles Cameron 2 Comments

[ cross-posted at Zenpundit — Zhuangzi, a light-hearted philosopher dancing to his own laughter, illuminated by CC Tsai ]
.

Zhuangzi: The Way of Nature
translated by Brian Bruya, illustrated by CC Tsai
Princeton University Press, 2019
US $ 22.95

__________________________________________________________________________________________________

You may be acquainted with the yin-yang symbol — or as it’s more properly called, the Tai-chih or Taiji — but here’s CC Tsai‘s version, with dragon:

That’s the style of CC Tsai‘s illustrations, which — rather than Brian Bruya‘s translations — are the featured aspect of this version of the Zhuangzi: it also encapsulates the essence of Zhuangzi‘s thought.

Here’s the comic book version of a very comic work of profound, non-invasive philosophy.

**

Zhuangzi is a Taoist, one who would allow the arising and fading away of things in their natural order, with as little thought-commentyary, let alone intervention, as piossible — given the human tendency to go round and round in circles even while sitting still — Laozi‘s Tao Te Ching is the simple and direct exposition of this way of approaching and appreciating life, while Zhuangzi presents the same appreciation in the formm of quizzical tales and (naturally, absent) morals..

Ah. Thus the seagull, Laozi tells Confucius, who came to discuss benevolence and righteousness, doesn’t get white by soaping yup and washing itself, nor does the crow get black by dipping itself in ink: benevolence, similarly, is not a matter of soap and water — it simply arises where it arises.

You get the feeling Laozi wouldn’t mind having left it at the seagulls doing what they do, and likewise with the crows — but Confucius dropped by and asked about benevolence and righteousness, and Laozi responded as was only benevolent and polite..

**

My favorite story in all of Chuang Tzu / Zhuangzi is the story of Lord Wen-hui’s cook Ting, who taught him the natural way of things while cutting up an ox. In Burton Watson‘s translation:

Cook Ting was cutting up an ox for Lord Wen-hui. At every touch of his hand, every heave of his shoulder, every move of his feet, every thrust of his knee – zip! zoop! He slithered the knife along with a zing, and all was in perfect rhythm, as though he were performing the dance of the Mulberry Grove or keeping time to the Ching-shou music.

“Ah, this is marvelous!” said Lord Wen-hui. “Imagine skill reaching such heights!”

Cook Ting laid down his knife and replied, “What I care about is the Way, which goes beyond skill. When I first began cutting up oxen, all I could see was the ox itself. After three years I no longer saw the whole ox. And now – now I go at it by spirit and don’t look with my eyes. Perception and understanding have come to a stop and spirit moves where it wants. I go along with the natural makeup, strike in the big hollows, guide the knife through the big openings, and follow things as they are. So I never touch the smallest ligament or tendon, much less a main joint.

“A good cook changes his knife once a year-because he cuts. A mediocre cook changes his knife once a month-because he hacks. I’ve had this knife of mine for nineteen years and I’ve cut up thousands of oxen with it, and yet the blade is as good as though it had just come from the grindstone. There are spaces between the joints, and the blade of the knife has really no thickness. If you insert what has no thickness into such spaces, then there’s plenty of room – more than enough for the blade to play about it. That’s why after nineteen years the blade of my knife is still as good as when it first came from the grindstone.

“However, whenever I come to a complicated place, I size up the difficulties, tell myself to watch out and be careful, keep my eyes on what I’m doing, work very slowly, and move the knife with the greatest subtlety, until – flop! the whole thing comes apart like a clod of earth crumbling to the ground. I stand there holding the knife and look all around me, completely satisfied and reluctant to move on, and then I wipe off the knife and put it away.”

“Excellent!” said Lord Wen-hui. “I have heard the words of Cook Ting and learned how to care for life!”

**

That’s a long-ish quote, but its rollicking good humor will have carried you through it, and I wanted to give you a sense of the Zhuangzi as I have known and loved it — to taste it in comparison with CC Tsai‘s vision / version of the same tale, as represented in a couple of frames from his telling:

**

So now we have Burton Watson‘s “the blade of the knife has really no thickness. If you insert what has no thickness into such spaces, then there’s plenty of room” and Brian Bruya‘s “my knife glides in and out between the bone joints, moving as it pleases: the cow suffers no pain and, in the end, doesn’t even know it’s dead.”

Pretty remarkable, either way — but that’s in English, and who knows what contortions a translator must make to move from Chinese into English? Watson‘s Chuang-tsu is closer to Lao-tsu, if you compare the statement of principle to its embodiment in an anecdote:

Ursula Le Guin‘s translation of the Tao Te Ching is even more succinct:

The immaterial enters the impenetrable..

No wonder cook Ting’s vorpal blade went snicker-snack, to borrow a phrase from Lewis Carroll‘s poem, Jabberwocky. And come to think of it, Lewis Carroll, aka Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, the Christ Church, Oxford logician, may indeed be the English language’s native equivalent of the Chinese Zhuangzi.

**

As I hope I have indicated, Chuang Tzu / Zhuangzi, even in translation, is a writer of enormous charm and insight, and CC Tsai‘s presentation marries the conventions of the comic book with classical Chinese artistry to provide an exemplary introduction to one of the world’s great philosopher-humorists.

Delightful. Warmly recommended.

0

The Ideal and the Practical — the Practice

By Charles Cameron 3 Comments

I’d written a response to @AnAn and included a quote from the Chuang Tzu’s chapter on Lord Wen-hui and what he learned from his Cook Ting, and wanted to throw in the following DoubleQuote — but graphics seem to be discouraged in the Comment sections here, so I’ve opened this post for the purpose:

The thing is, Lao Tzu offers us the ideal statement, formulated in terms of an impenetrable absence of space, and an absence of substance to the point of non-existence — while Chuang Tzu, peering over Lord Wen-hui’s shoulder right there in Cook Ting’s kitchen, offers us the same insight, couched in terms of there being “spaces between the joints” and his knife having “really no thickness” — Chuang Tzu’s measureless insight penetrates Lao Tzu’s impenetrable absolutes to show us there’s room for play there — “room — more than enough for the blade to play about in”.

If we bear these two versions of the same idea — formulated ideally and in practical terms by the two principle philosopher-poets of the Taoist school — in mind when our thoughts run up against the impracticality of an ideal, we may find, like Cook Ting, that we too have room enough room to play in.

0

Coloniser mansplaining beautiful Indian girl

By Xerxes the Magian 18 Comments

The guy is simply obnoxious; he epitomises the Coloniser complex that I write against.

She is obviously far above his league and he tries to defuse his insecurity by talking over her at every instance.

It’s strange that Netflix finds nothing wrong with this video when the level of aggression towards this lady is off the charts. You never walk out on a lady EVER but it’s only because she outright rejected him (she can do much better) that his ego couldn’t handle it.

As an aside I had no idea that she was Indian until he mentioned it and then only got more riled up.

0

Energy Vampire or Street Fighter

By Xerxes the Magian 5 Comments

I came across the above video on facebook and I couldn’t stop listening to it. While what Guru Dandapani was saying made eminent sense I just had this tingling feeling that he resembled someone from my childhood. I finally clocked who it was, Dhalsim from Street Fighter 2 Nintendo. I remember we used to call him Dharasalama or something like that.

Apparently Dhalsim is one of the most stereotyped character in video gaming history (he had muscular build with an emaciated body🙂 but it’s interest how art & life begin to mirror one another once again.

In the series, he is a yogi, a husband, a father, and a pacifist who goes against his beliefs by entering the World Warrior tournament to raise money for his village.

Image result for street fighter ii indian Continue reading “Energy Vampire or Street Fighter”

0