The Dumbest Thing To Ever Be Important

Earlier this semester, Dr. Schacht, Ken, and I had a side discussion about whether we would consider J.R.R. Tolkien a contributor to the humanities for his epic tales. We spoke about how his significant impact on literary fiction made him a relevant topic in humanities.

Wikipedia defines literary fiction as “a term principally used for certain fictional works that hold literary merit. In other words, they are works that offer deliberate social commentary, political criticism, or focus on the individual to explore some part of the human condition.”

Tolkien’s epic tales absolutely fall under this definition, but now in a new way.

The New York Times published an article yesterday (December 4th, 2015), titled Is Gollum Good or Evil? Jail Term in Turkey Hinges on Answer

Apparently, a Turkish physician, Dr. Bilgin Ciftci, lost his job with the Public Health Institution of Turkey for jokingly comparing the appearance of the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to that of Gollum, the slimy, bug-eyed character in Tolkien’s Middle Earth – a crime punishable with jail time in Turkey. gollum

Because the Judge has admittedly and unfortunately not read Tolkien’s works, or seen The Lord of The Rings in its entirety, a panel of “experts” was assigned to assess the question “Is Gollum good or evil?” before the next phase of Ciftci’s trial begins in February. Turkey’s team of experts will include “two academics, two behavioral scientists [psychologists], and a film-and-telivision aficionado,” according to NYMag’s discussion of Turkey’s predicament.

In a statement to The Wrap, Peter Jackson, director of Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit, along with two screen writers (Fran Walsh & Phillippa Boyens) who worked with Jackson on the films, pointed out:

“If the images below are in fact the ones forming the basis of this Turkish lawsuit, we can state categorically: None of them feature the character known as Gollum. All of them are images of the character called Smeagol.”

Hilariously, they’re right.

Simply put for those who don’t know, Smeagol is Gollum’s less devious, arguably innocent alternate personality (it’s actually a little more complicated than that) – though this does not mean Gollum is definitively evil.

So with regards to what defines the literary fiction and the humanities, this ridiculous situation Dr. Bilgin Ciftci found himself in is another indication of Tolkien’s works being contributions to the humanities. It is an assessment of the human (or former hobbit) condition within Tolkien’s epic tales, and provides deliberate social commentary.

Marx-related news

Here are some news items that seem relevant to our recent conversations about Marx. Use the comments to add items of your own.

Strong words for Henry David Thoreau

We’re still a couple of weeks out from Henry David Thoreau on the HUMN 221-09 Fall 2015 syllabus, but when we get there, it won’t be hard to find an example of HDT in the news. In a combative article titled “Pond Scum,” New Yorker writer Kathryn Schulz wants to know, “Why, given his hypocrisy, sanctimony, and misanthropy, has Thoreau been so cherished?”

It will be interesting to compare our reading of Walden and “Resistance to Civil Government” to hers.

East to Enlightenment

In HUMN 221-09 this week, we’re turning to Rameau’s Nephew, a philosophical dialogue written by a major Enlightenment figure, Denis Diderot.

Just in time for our discussion comes a riveting combination of historical research, philosophy, and personal confession that simultaneously provides some useful background on the Enlightenment, exemplifies a style of writing that the Enlightenment helped create, and asks us to consider what this pivotal Western intellectual movement may have owed to non-Western influences.

Alison Gopnick’s “How an 18th-Century Philosopher Helped Solve My Midlife Crisis: David Hume, the Buddha, and a search for the Eastern roots of the Western Enlightenment” appears in the October issue of The Atlantic.