To err is not only human, it is absolutely crucial in the development of new ideas. No, I’m not referring to that obnoxiously necessary but tedious practice known as ‘trial-and-error’ according to which you do something, you fail and next time you do it better (or not and fail again). I am referring to the altogether more elegant notion of serendipitous erring when you make a mistake or do something rather stupid, but the outcome is unexpectedly and unfairly pleasant. Such as when yesterday when I was writing something, I typed ‘idiosyncretic’ instead of ‘idiosyncratic.’ It was late at night, so it took me a while to figure out what I had done wrong. Then I realized I liked the mistake: it speaks of a very personal notion of syncretism.
From From President To Prison from Ferdinand Ossendowski an idiosyncratic retelling of 10th- to 12th-century Northeast Asian history (the guy is just like a proper historian!):
In the course of my business, I made the acquaintance of the richest merchant of the town and heard from him some interesting law regarding these Kara-Khorch’ins. He told me that this tribe had often swept down toward the Great Wall,
As a Dutch national who braved the vagaries of Dutch public transportation daily (not anymore! Now I just cycle to the institute. Life is good, to quote what was once called Lucky Goldstar, yes, Lucky Goldstar – I wonder how many marketing millions went into trying the erase the memory of Lucky Goldstar, btw, but that is an entirely different matter), I probably have a tendency to underestimate (and severely so)
I was lucky this weekend to get a chance to read a book which has been lying on my desk for a few months now (next to
the ever-growing pile of the latest research in my field…): Man And Mystery in Asia by Ferdinand Ossendowski, the Polish noble/ chemist/ biologist/ geologist/ explorer/ fugitive from the Cheka and the Bolsheviks/ bestseller author/ hunter/ storyteller extraordinaire. I’m sure I’m leaving a number of defining qualifications out of this description, but the fact that he saw the inside of a prison both under the Tsar and under the Bolsheviks on account of ideological crimes tells you something about the man. That he was a fundamentally decent and courageous person. Or incredibly stupid and unfortunate to fall foul of two such formidable enemies,
My favourite North Korea-related website (www.newfocus.co.kr) just carried an article on the September conference featuring seven of the most prominent NK exiles in Leiden. This of course means that I have become searchable on the New Focus website. I realize this is my vanity talking, but I really like it. Can’t help it. Vanitas vanitatum, et omnia vanitas, as my grandmother used to say, but there you go. (for the philologically inclined among you, this is from Ecclesiastes1:2.)
A few updates:
I was just sent classified materials. 291 pages of classified, top secret data filled with numbers, analyses, tables, indexes. How do I know they are classified, you ask? Well, this here to the left is a dead give-away, the Chinese character equivalent of this immediately recognizable warning below:
18 September 2014
When the North Korean state speaks, it often is with a voice laden with terror, threats, anger and wrath. As often, the North Korean state speaks in a register that is unpredictably soothing, asking for peace and understanding. It is a voice heard worldwide, on the television, the internet and in newspapers, usually accompanied by the voices of North Korea experts interpreting and making understandable what seems foreign and incomprehensible. These are the only voices we hear speaking on behalf of an otherwise unintelligible North Korea. Missing from this discourse are authentic, unmediated North Korean voices, but how could there be, given the unparalleled repression within North Korea?