Friday, July 30, 2010

James Reeves

A Neglected Poet Considered

One Way to Take Care of Annoying Politicians

Today's Today in History blurb was worth making more of--The First Defenestration of Prague.

The ALS Gold Medal

An relatively unknown, but apparently much worthwhile literary prize--the ALS Gold Medal has gone this year to David Malouf's remarkable, horrifying,  and deeply moving Ransom. (My review here)

Let's Call It An Asian Day

The sets are glassy,
the water a tepid 86 or better,

and we have

1 maxim and 5 haikus, courtesy of Issa

let us not forget the Lilliput Review Archive

and one of Kenzaburo Oe's triumphs

Of this last, one is tempted, knowing of Oe-san's own life to call it autobiographical--but I think better would be speculative autobiography or projected autobiography. 

One is instructed well by listening to the piano compositions of Oe-san's remarkable son Hikari  and here and here


Oe's novels gained new vitality as he attempted to give voice to his son who never learned to speak beyond a few limited words. The father spoke of his personal challenges saying that while that living with a child with a disability brought suffering to him, his son taught him invaluable lessons, and gradually the "burden" became a gift. The son gave meaning to the father's life. Kenzuburo Oe went on to reach the pinnacle of his profession and credits his son for this achievement. But that is not why Oe stopped writing novels. It seems his son has found his own voice. At age six, Kenzuburo Oe's son spoke his first word, identifying the call of a bird. At 32, Hikari still speaks only a few words, and still is severely disabled. Hikari, however, has learned to express himself through music. Hikari won his own prize last year. A CD of music composed by Hikari Oe won Japan's top prize for Classical Japanese music. Not bad for a "vegetable." 

"Hikari Finds His Voice" Produced by Compassionate Healthcare Network (CHN) - July 1995
Copyright © 1995 Permission is granted to quote or copy this article as long as this notice is displayed.

Those Who Care

already know, and I burden the rest of you by making the point--but new material at ". . . recollected in tranquility. . . "

Thursday, July 29, 2010

More Interviews--Tom Rachman

Tom Rachman, author of The Imperfectionists, quite a fine first sort-of novel, is interviewed.

Beyond Black--A Review

At Biblioklept, a review of Beyond Black

I may be one of the very few who did not think that Wolf Hall was all that.  I hold to my original opinion.  The writing and the technique tended toward a murkiness that added nothing to the overall story.  I did not find her prose enthralling as many seem to have done.  All that said, I must also add that I thoroughly enjoyed Wolf Hall and look forward to what is coming next.  And I've also eyed this book frequently.  Biblioklept's review makes me think that it might be well worthwhile to spend some time with it.

Gabriel Josipovici Wins Friends and Influences people

Gabriel Josipovici on modern literary behemoths

via Books Inq

More Authors Comment

Martin Amis on Euthanasia

via Books Inq.

If You Are Not Aware. . . .

Of Wolframalpha, you should be.

A research engine of apparently enormous power.  A list of research topics by example includes:

mathematics, dates & time, statistical analysis, physics, chemistry, astronomy, engineering, life science, earth science, culture & media, people & history, word & linguistics.

Better yet, for those of you who can use it--it's available as a $2.00 iPhone or iPad app.  A lot of the information is along the lines of what is available in a dictionary or numerical table--but still a nice first place to go.

Go, enjoy.  (Try entering your birthdate)

Books, Books, and more Books: Wordsworth Reflects

from The Prelude Book V
William Wordsworth

A precious treasure had I long possessed,
A little yellow, canvas-covered book,
A slender abstract of the Arabian tales;
And, from companions in a new abode,
When first I learnt, that this dear prize of mine
Was but a block hewn from a mighty quarry—
That there were four large volumes, laden all
With kindred matter, 'twas to me, in truth,
A promise scarcely earthly. Instantly,
With one not richer than myself, I made
A covenant that each should lay aside
The moneys he possessed, and hoard up more,
Till our joint savings had amassed enough
To make this book our own. Through several months,
In spite of all temptation, we preserved
Religiously that vow; but firmness failed,
Nor were we ever masters of our wish.

And when thereafter to my father's house
The holidays returned me, there to find
That golden store of books which I had left,
What joy was mine! How often in the course
Of those glad respites, though a soft west wind
Ruffled the waters to the angler's wish
For a whole day together, have I lain
Down by thy side, O Derwent! murmuring stream,
On the hot stones, and in the glaring sun,
And there have read, devouring as I read,
Defrauding the day's glory, desperate!
Till with a sudden bound of smart reproach,
Such as an idler deals with in his shame,
I to the sport betook myself again.

So, for Wordsworth, first nature, and then books that expose him to more nature.  It's wonderful to contemplate two boys saving their money together to buy volumes of the Arabian Nights.  Even more, it's nice to see a sort of self portrait in someone who could take a book to the streamside and sit all day and read.  "Defrauding the day's glory. . ."  yes, put that book down and get back to what you came to a streamside to accomplish!

New Poetry

Two poems: ("The Big Drop")

at ". . . recollected in tranquility. . . "("Oriskany Sandstone")

Interview! Interview!

Interview with Tom McCarthy about the forthcoming C

Hemingway Look-Alike

Hemingway Look-Alike--worth it just for the photo

Science Fiction--Two Lists

One here


One here

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Zora Neal Hurston

I live a few miles away from her Florida home (Eatonville), but the LOA blog below (given ZNH's association with Marie Laveau, how appropriate) has a video of Ms. Hurston's Ethnographic work.


I just like the idea of loas.

But this means Library of America has a blog.

(via Books Inq.)

Why Do We Continue to Reward This Kind of Behavior

Nay, not continue, but positively beg for it.  Less than Zero was a sensation--fresh new, daring, a little frightening.  Imperial Bedrooms--the website, tells us much about how far we have . . . 

You supply the word.

The Song of Hiawatha

An appreciation of a Longfellow poem that has lost its savor to many, but with Evangeline is well worth reading--The Song of Hiawatha.

The New Crop of Literary Awards

Seems we just announced the 2009 Man Booker and now we're into longlist season.

Powers of Ten

The film--powers of Ten

"Is That Your Blood?"

"Oh . . . yes . . .  some of it."

The Jane Austen Fight Club

Alex and His Droogs (redux)

Shelf Life discovers one of the many delights and interesting points of Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange.

I reread this book periodically, always dazzled by its aplomb; but I almost never walk away without thinking how Kubrick vastly improved the work by leaving off the last (in the British publication) chapter.  I read a rather hurt and pointed commentary from Burgess in a later restored American version that argued for the flaccid ending of the work.  But every summer, when the wife is visiting her parents with son, I watch once again that masterpiece of cinema and dwell for a moment in Kubrick's misanthropic vision.  Burgess's own is not so misanthropic--although certainly dealing with the issues of free will and what defines a person--the last chapter is, in some ways redemptive--but unfortunately so cursory.

An Older Poem

Working through the journals and gathered remnants last night, I came upon a poem of which I had no recollection whatsoever.  That is indeed a rare delight--normally I have some sense of it, some idea that it exists.  But not so with "The Four Loves"  present for those who care to make the journey.

And After the Smackdown--Some Tenderness

William Wordsworth has an enhanced sense of childhood and youth, to say the least.  His image of that innocent time propels much of what he writes, including this lengthy autobiographical poem.  But rarely is what he has to say said so beautifully as in today's passage.

from The Prelude Book 5
William Wordsworth

There was a Boy: ye knew him well, ye cliffs
And islands of Winander!—many a time
At evening, when the earliest stars began
To move along the edges of the hills,
Rising or setting, would he stand alone
Beneath the trees or by the glimmering lake,
And there, with fingers interwoven, both hands
Pressed closely palm to palm, and to his mouth
Uplifted, he, as through an instrument,
Blew mimic hootings to the silent owls,
That they might answer him; and they would shout
Across the watery vale, and shout again,
Responsive to his call, with quivering peals,
And long halloos and screams, and echoes loud,
Redoubled and redoubled, concourse wild
Of jocund din; and, when a lengthened pause
Of silence came and baffled his best skill,
Then sometimes, in that silence while he hung
Listening, a gentle shock of mild surprise
Has carried far into his heart the voice
Of mountain torrents; or the visible scene
Would enter unawares into his mind,
With all its solemn imagery, its rocks,
Its woods, and that uncertain heaven, received
Into the bosom of the steady lake.

What I find most appealing about this passage is the sheer wantonness of the joy it expresses.  We hoot to the owls, just to hoot, just to hear back, just to get a reaction.  And when that "jocund din" has fallen quiet and our best efforts do not surprise from nature a new response--lo and behold, our ears catch hold of something else that swells the heart with some new feeling and meaning.  

Monday, July 26, 2010

Poem of the Week--Robert Browning

"Two in the Campagna"

There is always a difficulty in representing the inimitable and magnificent Robert Browning--dramatic monologue, lyrical?  What to choose.  This would not have been my choice (for short lyric/dramatic, I would have selected "Caliban upon Setebos"--however, I recognize that would present some background difficulties for some readers--and the purpose of the series is to present poetry that does not make inordinate demands for background knowledge.

One thing I can say is that this presents a lovely complementary view that parallels, in some ways, The Sonnets from the Portuguese.

I'm seriously considering the next lengthy poem I may undertake to gloss might be The Ring and the Book. For lack of a better description--a novel in verse running to some 500 pages.  And much of it exquisitely beautiful in the way that only Browning can be.

By the way, I love this series of poems (Poem of the Week)--not because they are always the best poems to present, but because the writer/editor makes a serious effort to supply context and to guide the reader through the poem.  I would prefer that the poem come before the guide so that the reader is encouraged to go back through after their initial encounter and deepen their understanding of what they have just read.  But that's why there are so many blogs and commentators--my style is always to aim at the pedagogical--poetry needs to be read by more people and if you make it friendly--as these articles do--perhaps more will indulge in the sheer luxury and perfection of language that defines the art of poetry.

It's a shame Robert Browning is rarely read anymore save for "My Last Duchess."  Truly an exquisite poem, but not even the height of his art--just provocative enough to keep it bubbling away through the years.  "I gave commands. . . ."  go, read, enjoy

For Those Who Are More Wires than Flesh and Bone

Vacation tips for the overconnected

I Really Love the Codex Seraphinianus

Even more pictures from the Codex Seraphinianus

Two Poems Today

One inspired by St. Augustine (the person, not the place)

And one about my personal foibles, which seem to drive everyone mad.

"And, in this corner, William Wordsworth. . . "

Today, a major Wordsworthian Smackdown.  There are several such in the work at large, most are sort of gentle remonstrances, but this one is pretty forceful in its thrust.

from The Prelude Book 5
William Wordsworth

These mighty workmen of our later age,
Who, with a broad highway, have overbridged
The froward chaos of futurity,
Tamed to their bidding; they who have the skill
To manage books, and things, and make them act
On infant minds as surely as the sun
Deals with a flower; the keepers of our time,
The guides and wardens of our faculties,
Sages who in their prescience would control
All accidents, and to the very road
Which they have fashioned would confine us down,
Like engines; when will their presumption learn,
That in the unreasoning progress of the world
A wiser spirit is at work for us,
A better eye than theirs, most prodigal
Of blessings, and most studious of our good,
Even in what seem our most unfruitful hours?

And I guess I would join my voice to Wordsworth's here and say that in 200 or so years, nothing has changed--when will they learn?  We worship progress even as it tears us apart.  And, as he has said so well here, there is another, wiser at spirit at work for us.  

Blogging Unpredictable

While I have much to blog--Wordsworth, Barrett Browning and other things, time has been limited because I've recently received an iPad that I've had to become acquainted with for things happening at work.  A marvelous and frustrating machine--combining both the remarkable world of entertainment and the possible world of larger functionality.  I would say at the moment it is not ready for primetime as one's laptop--(no ability to have multiple screens, etc.  But as a palm-like device, instantly ready, it has some interest.  As an e-reader it has the considerable disadvantage of large weight--it does not rest easy in the palm, as it were.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Sherlock Holmes's Creator Online

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle online

Mitchell Interview

Biblioklept hosts an interview with David Mitchell on the 1000 autumns.

More poetry



Sorry, make that four.

The Great Pain of Self-Centeredness

If you stand at the center of the circle, it's hard not to think that everything in the world goes about you.

from The Prelude Book V
William Wordsworth

                My drift I fear
Is scarcely obvious; but, that common sense
May try this modern system by its fruits,
Leave let me take to place before her sight
A specimen pourtrayed with faithful hand.
Full early trained to worship seemliness,
This model of a child is never known
To mix in quarrels; that were far beneath
Its dignity; with gifts he bubbles o'er
As generous as a fountain; selfishness
May not come near him, nor the little throng
Of flitting pleasures tempt him from his path;
The wandering beggars propagate his name,
Dumb creatures find him tender as a nun,
And natural or supernatural fear,
Unless it leap upon him in a dream,
Touches him not. To enhance the wonder, see
How arch his notices, how nice his sense
Of the ridiculous; not blind is he
To the broad follies of the licensed world,
Yet innocent himself withal, though shrewd,
And can read lectures upon innocence;
A miracle of scientific lore,
Ships he can guide across the pathless sea,
And tell you all their cunning; he can read
The inside of the earth, and spell the stars;
He knows the policies of foreign lands;
Can string you names of districts, cities, towns,
The whole world over, tight as beads of dew
Upon a gossamer thread; he sifts, he weighs;
All things are put to question; he must live
Knowing that he grows wiser every day
Or else not live at all, and seeing too
Each little drop of wisdom as it falls
Into the dimpling cistern of his heart:
For this unnatural growth the trainer blame,
Pity the tree.—Poor human vanity,
Wert thou extinguished, little would be left
Which he could truly love; but how escape?
For, ever as a thought of purer, birth
Rises to lead him toward a better clime,
Some intermeddler still is on the watch
To drive him back, and pound him, like a stray,
Within the pinfold of his own conceit.
Meanwhile old grandame earth is grieved to find
The playthings, which her love designed for him,
Unthought of: in their woodland beds the flowers
Weep, and the river sides are all forlorn.
Oh! give us once again the wishing cap
Of Fortunatus, and the invisible coat
Of Jack the Giant-killer, Robin Hood,
And Sabra in the forest with St. George!
The child, whose love is here, at least, doth reap
One precious gain, that he forgets himself.

This passage about the "perfect" child shows him in the light of his perfect self-aware and self-centered person.  He knows all, has depth of knowledge beyond bounds.  But as St. Paul would have it--he is a clanging cymbal, a resounding gong because he is without any natural love, "Poor human vanity,//wert thought extinguished, little would be left//Which he could truly love; but how escape?"  How indeed?  Everywhere he turns, with eyes turned in upon himself, he finds himself turned back inward.  And those things of the world, those natural beauties whose contemplation would by their very nature send him out of his bounded self--these things are "unthought of."  The beauties which "grandame earth"  has wrought, "which her love designed for him"  are neglected.  And chief among the virtues of these beauties?  "The child whose love is here, at least, doth reap//One precious gain, that he forgets himself."  And in the world of vanity and conceit there is no greater gift than to leave oneself for even a moment and be able to fix attention on something else.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Poem of the Week--"The Candle"

As the editor notes in the article Katherine Mansfield is not known for her poetry; however, this small poem has a charm and a simplicity that resonate.  It is more like a prose poem broken into lines, but well worth your time.  As a bonus there is a link to an online version of Ms. Mansfield's "Prelude."

Father Fiction--Donald Miller

I have to start this review by noting that I am obviously not within the demographic for it.  Mr. Miller is writing for College Freshmen, and perhaps even younger men. As a result the language is loosely constructed, more like improvised speech with odd moments of even stranger humor--stuff that might appeal to college or late high school young men.  And I should note that this book holds very little of interest to women.  It is a book written by a man for men who are struggling with issues of dealing with their own fathers.  As such, it may be of interest to a majority of men of my generation--or perhaps of any generation--men being men, I doubt a generation makes much difference in the matter of fatherly participation in the lives of their offspring.

Mr. Miller grew up without a father in the house at all--a common enough experience, I expect--and perhaps a step better than those who grew up with a succession of step-fathers or "father" figures. However, a father can be absent in more ways than one, and even those who had the physical presence of the father in a household might still have missed the presence of a father who was so emotionally distant as to be not present for all useful meanings of the term.

So, the prose is at times deplorable, the humor at times execrable, the sentiments occasionally lumpen and doughy; however, all of that said, there is good material here to mined underneath the heaping of devices designed to appeal to the authors intended demographic.  Chief among these is that the book promotes thought about what it means when one says that God is a Father--or what it is supposed to mean.  The main problem I experienced is that while these questions are advanced, too often they are not spelled out sufficiently to make the powerful impact they could have with greater exposition.  And too often the author falls back on the conventions of his particular brand of protestant faith, so that the answers once articulated are too pat, too dry, too packaged to be of help to those who are struggling with issues related to fatherhood and the identity of God. 

However, he raises the questions in a thoughtful way and begins to lead the thinking person down the path of consideration, down the path of a new image of father and of God.  In this he does a profound service to us all.  If the image that Miller begins to form of God as father were to take root in all of us, we would have good cause, when challenged, to "give reasons for our faith."  Christian spirituality tends toward an intimacy with God that is expressed through a human contact with the Divine: a proper understanding of the nature of father would tend to further this end.

So, while the writing is really so poor that it is occasionally distracting, the ideas are so strong and powerful that they deserve the exposition a better writer reading this book might give them.  As a result, the overall recommendation is lower than it might otherwise be--but for Christian men out there looking to come to terms with what the fatherhood of God is really about--this can be a short and sweet introductory primer.  It opens the door to thought.

Recommended with reservations


Authors Read Their Works

Open Culture has a list of authors reading from their own works.

Also included are some celebrity performances.  Authors include Faulkner reading As I Lay Dying, Joyce reading from Finnegans Wake, and Wallace Stevens reading his own poetry.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Eudora Welty Speaks

Eudora Welty commenting on "A Worn Path"

The Passage--Not Yet

I'm looking forward to reading The Passage--as is apparently Biblibio

More on David Mitchell

Tony reviews The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and finds it. . .

From the Indigenous People of Australia

The indigenous peoples of Australia have given me some of my favorite works of art--Peter Weil's magnificent The Last Wave, the music of the didgeridoo, Werner Herzog's Where the Green Ants Dream, and several books whose titles I cannot recall--these are all derivative works, which led me so seek out the originals--and now Whispering Gums shares with us another reason for celebrating the diversity and wonder of all peoples.

New Additions to the Meaningful Menagerie

It occurred to me, while thinking about the topic linking some of my most recent writing and some of my inquiries into the world of possible topics that the beginning list could expand considerably.  And because that is so, I thought I'd list a couple of topics of interest

Tullymonstrum gregarium (shown here as a fossil along with many other lovely Mazon Creek fossils--and here as a reconstruction)

Hallucigenia sparsa--shown here with some of the other lovely members of the Burgess Shale fauna (and other Early Cambrian animals)  and here as a fossil

Brockosystis clintonensis--sorry no picture

Jaekelopterus rhenaniae--I think we'll just generalize and call them Eurypterids--or perhaps we'll go with one with which I had a close personal encounter near Rochester, New York--Pterygotus buffaloensis

The wonderful, the marvelous, the elegant, and the enormous state fossil of Ohio Isotelus, probably in its manifestation as I. gigas, but shown here among others of its kind to emphasis its relative enormity.  I should note that in my garage I have a three-to-four foot section of a 26-27 foot long feeding trace probably formed by this creature.  I found this in the world-famous and lovely, barren, Army Corps of Engineers edifice--the Caesar Creek Spillway.

And let us not forget nor neglect that monster from the seas of Kansas Xiphactinus, shown here in its cannibal incarnation--I'd say that his mean did not agree with him. More here about our second favorite fish.

Our most favorite fish and last of the list for a while:  Dunkleosteus, Dunkleosteus terreli, Dunkleosteus (page down)--featured prominently in Hayao Miyazaki's beautiful film Ponyo  (or at least a tribe of some Devonian placoderms.)

Meaningful Menagerie II

After a long evening of casting about and writing and rewriting lines that went nowhere, I have a draft of a small poem--Noctiluca scintillans.  

Noctiluca scintallans is among the loveliest of dinoflagellates, both in personal appearance and in effect. It is indeed part of the mysterious and meaningful menagerie that surrounds us all and of which we are too often unaware.

Poetry Online

Many poets publish online.  One of them kindly left me a comment which allow me to find this interesting and often stunning collection.  Do yourself a favor and check out Rain: A Dust Bowl Story.

What is it?  A novel in verse, a new Spoon River Anthology.  Many associations leap to mind.  I hope the blogmaster won't mind if I excerpt something at random to give you a sense of what you can expect:

from Rain: A Dust Bowl Story
"14. Playtime"

The boys played in their daddies’ shadows,
Freely–for these grown-ups,
Unlike mamas, did not listen
To the random nasty word,
Or the stories they portrayed.
They tumbled
Through long-legged overalls,
Swift to duck the clutches,
Scrambling, of a tall boy
Picked as the Town Drunk:
He stalked stiff, a roaring
Frankenstein. They shrieked,
Scattered, fired with finger-guns.
They would not kill him,
But captured him
And locked him up.

From their circle,
Girls glanced with disdain,
Then down to business.
First, from someone’s pocket,
Stub of chalk–
Tied to string, a compass–
Ring marked,
Marbles pooled,
They all could play.
Their crouched backs,
Sturdy with concentration,
No Town Drunk could
Break through. With their
Nimble fingers, dead-aim eyes,
They shared taws so to
Perfect their game.

And to Shelley--thanks for leaving the comment that led me to your place--there's some really lovely poetry there--haunting, tense, light-hearted, human, and humane.  Thank you.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

William Faulkner Audio Archive

William Faulkner Audio Archive

Just Because It Is Lovely

from The Prelude Book V
William Wordsworth

Great and benign, indeed, must be the power
Of living nature, which could thus so long
Detain me from the best of other guides
And dearest helpers, left unthanked, unpraised,
Even in the time of lisping infancy;
And later down, in prattling childhood even,
While I was travelling back among those days,
How could I ever play an ingrate's part?
Once more should I have made those bowers resound,
By intermingling strains of thankfulness
With their own thoughtless melodies

You really don't need me to talk you through it--it's just a lovely thought nicely expressed.

Call It a Catalogue

I call them Meaningful Menagerie:

Laernodiscus porcellanae--see poem previously referenced--first in series

Elaborated Echinoderms:
(I'm still looking for one here--a new species perhaps a new subphylum of things found in sunken logs off the coast of New Zealand some time ago.)

Later:  ah--there it is

Xyloplax medusiformis

I'm well aware that they aren't at the same taxonomic level nor within the same grade of clade,  but this is a list that starts the idea

A Draft

Laernodiscus porcellanae--a draft at ". . . recollected in tranquility. . ."

Travelogue with Art

In Delft with Vermeer

I Need a Moment of Light

Bad day yesterday--not looking good today--so something to brighten the day:

John Polkinghorne and God in the Gaps

Chaos theory and God.

Thanks to Books Inq.

Hendrix and Pepper

Jimi Hendrix plays "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"  in a way that only he can.

Contrast the amazing energy of the guitar with the curiously lax vocals--very much a sixties phenomenon.

Conrad's Other Work

A consideration of The Secret Agent--a strangely relevant book for our times.  And even if not, a cracking good read on many levels.

Freud or William James?

Freud or James?  Who more closely approximates the truth?

Poetry from New Zealand

At Reading for Believers, one of the bloggers is posting a series of excerpts from the poetry of James K Baxter.  Start with the linked poem and then browse more recent entries for more poetry and commentary--worth your time!

I really loved the poem from which this is excerpted:

Now I see you conquer age
As the prow of a canoe beats down
The plumes of Tangaroa.

Read the whole thing here: He Waiata mo Te Kare

Another Blog New to Me

Yesterday I was made aware of a very nice blog combining a commonplace book on writing along with the blog author's own reflections.  If you are interested in the art of writing, you might do well to spend some time at Thoughts on Fiction Writing.

"And wilt thou have me fashion into speech. . . :

from Sonnets from the Portuguese
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

And wilt thou have me fashion into speech
The love I bear thee, finding words enough,
And hold the torch out, while the winds are rough,
Between our faces, to cast light on each?---
I drop it at thy feet. I cannot teach
My hand to hold my spirit so far off
From myself---me---that I should bring thee proof
In words, of love hid in me out of reach.
Nay, let the silence of my womanhood
Commend my woman-love to thy belief,---
Seeing that I stand unwon, however wooed,
And rend the garment of my life, in brief,
By a most dauntless, voiceless fortitude,
Lest one touch of this heart convey its grief.

Mrs. Browning was more or less forbidden by her father to see Robert.  She saw him nevertheless and they carried on a courtship by correspondence and furtive meeting.  But Elizabeth also carried with her a great many burdens and wounds and while she knew she was wooed and she knew that she was loved, she found it difficult to acknowledge this and find it within herself.  She also knew with a certainty that however wooed she would never be able to give in and marry.  The whole sonnet sequence is a matter of convincing herself that (1) she was loved, (2) she could feel love and return it, (3) she was worthy of love, and (4) she could get married despite the restrictions she was hemmed about with.
In some sense, this sequence speaks to anyone who has ever doubted the love they may have felt--to anyone who feels unworthy of that love.  In short, to anyone who breathes, because it is a rare person who doesn't have moments of thinking that the object of devotion is far above oneself and is even aware of our distant admiration and longing.  The skill with which Mrs. Browning accomplishes this task is stunning and worthy of more than a moment's reflection.  Most of us would dissolve into the mawkish and maudlin.  But even in the most slippery and difficult of these poems--they are far out of reach of the awkwardness of youth--their speech is the speech of mature love that is afraid and hidden.  One is reminded of the power of Gerard Manley Hopkins as he proclaims that his heart "was stirred by a bird."  A similar sort of spirit pervades these sonnets that recount the still, small movements of love that accumulate into irresistible action.

You still haven't read them?  Go, find a Penguin Edition so you don't need to be embarrassed by carrying it around--and read these--you really will be glad that you spent the time.   And then you can come back and tell me what you have found, because I well know that my reflections are not deep and profound--they are mere appreciations that I hope will stir some to go and indulge in a little poetry.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Perfect Irony: Absolute Hilarity

I take the tirade/ranting from the last post and paste it into the magical engine and voila!:

I write like
Vladimir Nabokov
I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Oh, I should have noted---via Scruffulans Hirsutus

Were it not for the sublime synchronicity, I probably would not have posted this.  It is worth noting that the engine used returns reliably the same result on the same swath of prose (that is it is a fake front for a randomly generated engine).  (I ran this and each of five others nine times each in different orders through the engine and reliably got the same result for each post:  variously: James Joyce, H. P. Lovecraft, Raymond Chandler, Dan Brown, Vladimir (as above), and Stephen King.  Very, very amusing lunchtime pass-time. 

The reason for this one is, most likely, the repeated use of Nabokov titles.  The others I haven't been able to figure out a reason for.

A Consideration of American Psycho

American Psycho in Retrospect

and another

Decide for yourselves--what follows is merely my own intuition and opinion about the harm this and other works of "literature" can cause.  I'm willing to say that I am possibly wrong.  I'm willing to say equally that I may disagree with those who take the opposite point of view, but I do not have any animus toward the arguments made in their favor.  But I cannot overcome my moral repugnance at some subject matter.  So, beware, statements that follow may be hyperbole and overstatement--though I've tried to keep them relatively cool and level.  I would be happy for any demurrals or any arguments that would persuade me to see the books discussed otherwise, but the horror in which I regard certain moral transgressions against innocents will be difficult if not impossible to overcome.

This particular book just gives me the opportunity to discuss a general feeling I have about books and subject matter.  Just as with Lolita, I found myself abandoning this book a little more than half-way through and then struggling through to the end.  Perhaps I suffer from the same lack of a sense of humor that the article describes--but somehow Patrick Bateman's shenanigans don't strike me as the stuff of humor no matter what the circumstances.

There are some subjects, no matter how beautifully couched or archly written, no matter how knowing or humorous, no matter how smugly self-assured and self-involved (I think here of Nabakov whose writerly persona is so thoroughly repugnant that if one wishes to enjoy the fiction one needs to forget who has written it, and whose opinions are as pertinent and yet blindly prejudiced as those of certain other professional critics) that simply cannot be ignored for the sake of art.  When we do so we coarsen discourse and society.  I know, that is not a popular opinion; however, I'm very willing to say that the epidemic of sexual child abuse and of attempts to legalize it (NAMBLA, for example) is directly attributable to Nabokov's broaching of the subject matter and the beautiful and even sympathetic treatment of the monster at its center.  The critical acumen necessary to twist Nabokov's distant and yet not disapproving treatment of Humbert Humbert into an indictment of what he does is not present in the ordinary reader.  And the fact that the victim is punished as thoroughly as the transgressor doesn't help the case of the critics who would argue that Nabokov's work is not at least superficially sympathetic to the monster in the middle.

So too with American Psycho.  From Less than Zero on, Ellis has been interested to the point of distraction in the extremes of people and situations.  Whether American Psycho is ironic, humorous, blatantly satirical about 20th Century Economic Homo sapiens shrinks into insignificance in light of the sheer delight the author takes in his loving descriptions of death and dismemberment.  Yes, Patrick finds himself ultimately bored with it all, moving from bad to worse in the course of the novel, and yes there is an indictment of the mindset.  But with that all, there are unquestionably scenes of pornographic violence to which we have become so inured that we're now willing to pronounce the book a masterpiece.

It was a mistake with Lolita, and it is a mistake with American Psycho as well.  It is my ardent hope that they both sink into the psychological mire from which they emerged never to face the world again.  However, as with the work of the Marquis  (odd to think of him on Bastille day, hein?) I fear that they will form the underpinnings of a literature of psycho-sexual disorder--Venus in Furs, Juliet, Lolita, and American Psycho are all stitched from the same cloth.  Lolita is perhaps the least explicit of the group (mercifully), but perhaps more hideous for what it announces than any of the others save American Psycho.  This literature is not new, nor is the ardent support it receives from the literary establishment--de Sade is routinely taught in course on French literature for his sublime prose.  Nabokov is read even in Tehran.  And American Psycho is held up to us as an example of humor, satire, and nihilistic excess.

I only hope a few of us retain the vision to announce the the emperor has no clothes at all.  Nabokov's prose does not redeem a novel that can only in the most convoluted deconstruction and reconstruction be made out to be moral.  Like Kubrick's films, one can make the case, but an easier case is made not for a "moral novel" but for a misanthrophic view of humankind held up for examination.  It does not redeem the approach.  I can appreciate Nabokov's prose in other works--Pale Fire and Pnin without having to accept Lolita as a work of moral fiction.  Even if so intended, I rather trust the judgment, "by their works ye shall know them."  And the works of Lolita and American Psycho have done nothing to elevate the human spirit nor point out the horrors of what they discuss.

And you may take me to task on this--I know I'm in a minority--but I have tried.  I've tried and tried to convince myself that the moral center of a novel does not matter.  That one can write a very moral novel about very amoral and immoral material (which I believe to be true)--but I cannot see it in the books under discussion.  And I'm not entirely sure, because I have not gotten through enough of it--but Jonathan Littell's The Kindly Ones may belong squarely in these ranks.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tarkovsky Online Again

Some of these Tarkovsky films, Solaris notably, are available from the Criterion Collection which makes this a wonderful opportunity to see the work of one of the great Auteurs. (The Criterion Collection provides English Subtitles).  What a wonderful opportunity!

Reflections on Pi

LIfe of Pi revived

Whatever else may be said of it, it was certainly a far better book than Mr. Martel's most recent opus.

The Dream of the Arab and Euclid

The profound difficulty of The Prelude is, sometimes, trying to excerpt it.  There is nothing extraneous, nothing extra--every word plays its role, every sentence has its place.  That is true of any well-constructed work of art.  So I suppose I should caution the reader (although at this late date it may come as too little too late), the selection of passages is not to indicate in any way that these are the only ones worth reading, nor even that these are the great highlights of the work.  Rather, they should be read merely as a record of things that struck me as I was reading--struck me enough to note them and want to come back to them.  My real commonplace book would be completely full of nothing but Wordsworth were I to transcribe to them everything I felt worthy of transcription.  And so this is necessarily a skip over the surface--a skip that I hope encourages more readers to take up this work and to challenge themselves with tackling a book-length work of poetry.

The passage I quote from today is rather lengthy--for which I apologize in advance--but it is necessarily so, in order to give you the whole sense of the parable that Wordsworth has composed.

To refresh your memory of where we are, you may want to look at the previous Wordsworthian Entry.

from The Prelude Book V
William Wordsworth

One day, when from my lips a like complaint
Had fallen in presence of a studious friend,
He with a smile made answer, that in truth
'Twas going far to seek disquietude;
But on the front of his reproof confessed
That he himself had oftentimes given way
To kindred hauntings. Whereupon I told,
That once in the stillness of a summer's noon,
While I was seated in a rocky cave
By the sea-side, perusing, so it chanced,
The famous history of the errant knight
Recorded by Cervantes, these same thoughts
Beset me, and to height unusual rose,
While listlessly I sate, and, having closed
The book, had turned my eyes toward the wide sea.
On poetry and geometric truth,
And their high privilege of lasting life,
From all internal injury exempt,
I mused, upon these chiefly: and at length,
My senses yielding to the sultry air,
Sleep seized me, and I passed into a dream.
I saw before me stretched a boundless plain
Of sandy wilderness, all black and void,
And as I looked around, distress and fear
Came creeping over me, when at my side,
Close at my side, an uncouth shape appeared
Upon a dromedary, mounted high.
He seemed an Arab of the Bedouin tribes:
A lance he bore, and underneath one arm
A stone, and in the opposite hand a shell
Of a surpassing brightness. At the sight
Much I rejoiced, not doubting but a guide
Was present, one who with unerring skill
Would through the desert lead me; and while yet
I looked and looked, self-questioned what this freight
Which the new-comer carried through the waste
Could mean, the Arab told me that the stone
(To give it in the language of the dream)
Was "Euclid's Elements;" and "This," said he,
"Is something of more worth;" and at the word
Stretched forth the shell, so beautiful in shape,
In colour so resplendent, with command
That I should hold it to my ear. I did so,
And heard that instant in an unknown tongue,
Which yet I understood, articulate sounds,
A loud prophetic blast of harmony;
An Ode, in passion uttered, which foretold
Destruction to the children of the earth
By deluge, now at hand. No sooner ceased
The song, than the Arab with calm look declared
That all would come to pass of which the voice
Had given forewarning, and that he himself
Was going then to bury those two books:
The one that held acquaintance with the stars,
And wedded soul to soul in purest bond
Of reason, undisturbed by space or time;
The other that was a god, yea many gods,
Had voices more than all the winds, with power
To exhilarate the spirit, and to soothe,
Through every clime, the heart of human kind.
While this was uttering, strange as it may seem,
I wondered not, although I plainly saw
The one to be a stone, the other a shell;
Nor doubted once but that they both were books,
Having a perfect faith in all that passed.
Far stronger, now, grew the desire I felt
To cleave unto this man; but when I prayed
To share his enterprise, he hurried on
Reckless of me: I followed, not unseen,
For oftentimes he cast a backward look,
Grasping his twofold treasure.—Lance in rest,
He rode, I keeping pace with him; and now
He, to my fancy, had become the knight
Whose tale Cervantes tells; yet not the knight,
But was an Arab of the desert too;
Of these was neither, and was both at once.
His countenance, meanwhile, grew more disturbed;
And, looking backwards when he looked, mine eyes
Saw, over half the wilderness diffused,
A bed of glittering light: I asked the cause:
"It is," said he, "the waters of the deep
Gathering upon us;" quickening then the pace
Of the unwieldy creature he bestrode,
He left me: I called after him aloud;
He heeded not; but, with his twofold charge
Still in his grasp, before me, full in view,
Went hurrying o'er the illimitable waste,
With the fleet waters of a drowning world
In chase of him; whereat I waked in terror,
And saw the sea before me, and the book,
In which I had been reading, at my side.

The passage continues with further thoughts about this Arab Quixote carrying a stone and a shell.  What then the meaning of these?  Well Wordsworth forecasts it for us in his thoughts before sleep:

On poetry and geometric truth,
And their high privilege of lasting life,
From all internal injury exempt,
I mused, upon these chiefly

Wordsworth dreams of his Arabian Quixote who finds himself in the unlikely position of riding a horse with a lance and under one arm a stone and in the other hand a shell--quite a juggling act.  Of course, each of these elements has its own meaning in the context of the dream, which the Arab quite obligingly explains:

the Arab told me that the stone
(To give it in the language of the dream)
Was "Euclid's Elements;" and "This," said he,
"Is something of more worth;" and at the word
Stretched forth the shell, so beautiful in shape,
In colour so resplendent, with command
That I should hold it to my ear.

What then is this object of more worth than Geometry--lovelier than the laws that dictate symmetry and convergence?

I did so,
And heard that instant in an unknown tongue,
Which yet I understood, articulate sounds,
A loud prophetic blast of harmony;
An Ode, in passion uttered, which foretold
Destruction to the children of the earth
By deluge, now at hand.

And we are told the apocalypse announced and understood in tongues is soon to occur and so the Arab is on a mission to preserve these two loveliest things.  First geometry:

he himself
Was going then to bury those two books:
The one that held acquaintance with the stars,
And wedded soul to soul in purest bond
Of reason, undisturbed by space or time;

And then what we must take from the furor of his love for it as poetry:

The other that was a god, yea many gods,
Had voices more than all the winds, with power
To exhilarate the spirit, and to soothe,
Through every clime, the heart of human kind.
 These two, then, were in the eyes of the Arab important to preserve from the coming flood, which for the remainder of this passage, he rides away from--Wordsworth following, desiring to take part in the endeavor to preserve some great part of humankind's noble endeavor.

The story speaks powerfully and the dream is told most lucidly.  But most important of all, it shows that reading poetry is not that much more difficult than reading prose if one wishes to undertake the challenge.  It requires merely persistence and determination and a willingness to be with a voice that will lead you to places wild and strange and pull from any event a meaning. 

"Parts of Ulysses Are Tedious"

Well let's just say that Mr. Anthony is not going to be getting any Club Joyce awards this week.

On the other hand, congratulations are due to him on finishing the book.  And also on recognizing that, like every work of art, Ulysses has its weak moments, its moments of churlish self-indulgence, its moments of its author being in love with the endeavor more than with the finished art.  That said, for all of its imperfections, Ulysses still stands at the head of the modernist novel, and as the font from which much of the twentieth century draws its art.  It would be an exaggeration, though I suspect not much of one to say that the 20th century literary novel is either a response to or an imitation of all or parts of Ulysses.  Its influence cannot be overstated.  (How's that for hyperbole?)

Congratulations on completing the book!  Another common reader (by which I mean merely, not a Joycean Scholar) has shown that Ulysses really is a book for anyone who cares to take it on (it is not exclusively, nor even predominantly, the realm of scholars).

From the Year of Henry James

A consideration of Colm Toibin 's Masterful novel (oops!--I really did write that without considering the next part) The Master.

An Appreciation of One of Our Better Recent Poet Laureates

Nigeness considers Kay Ryan

Poem of the Week--"Jasmine"

"Jasmine" a poem born of conflict--Lovely

On (Re-)Reading Melville

The great grandfather of all scary boring books--or is it--Moby Dick reconsidered

Monday, July 12, 2010

Admonishment to Fathers

We continue on our theme--because the book is entirely about the theme--of what it means to grow up without a father.

from Father Fiction
Donald Miller

Because I didn't have a father, I felt there was a club of men I didn't belong to. I would have never admitted it at the time, but I wanted to belong. I desperately wanted to belong. At the father-and-son campout, I knew Matt wasn't my dad, and I knew he probably didn't want to be there. I knew he was slightly embarrassed that in a group of men who were bonding with their sons, he was walking around with a charity case. I couldn't have put words to it back then, but I felt it. Every time I met an older man, I assumed we would not like me and would not want me around. I felt as though all the men in the world secretly met in some warehouse late at night to talk about man things, to have secret handshakes, to discuss how great it was to have a penis and what an easy thing it was to operate, how to throw a football or a baseball, how to catch a fish and know what kind it was and be able to grab it and stop its flapping around, doing this without jolting their heads back or squinting their eyes. They talked about how to look a woman in the eye and tell her she was your woman and that she looks good in that dress and make it so your eyes say you love her but you could survive without her, and how to drive a stick-shift truck without grinding the gears. And then I secretly believe that at the end of the meeting, they gathered around and reminded each other that under no circumstance was anybody to tell me about these things.
While I cannot admire the specifics he felt he was left out of (and I don't think I'm supposed to admire them--rather they are they for a sort of comic bombast) the reality of what is missing goes straight to the heart. Considering the theme of the missing father, I think it may be important to point out that there are many ways of growing up without a father.  One is like Mr. Miller, without a father in the home at all; another is in a home with a succession of men none of whom are fathers and whose attention to the children amounts to "get out of the way," and a third, the one which I believe many more man experience than care to say, is to grow up in a home in which a father is physically present but unavailable on any but the  most trivial levels--occasional discipline and an infrequent bout of yelling.

It gives one pause, as a father, to consider how available one is to one's children. I don't think any father actually thinks he is emotionally distant or removed from his children--but if he doesn't think it, or have it cross his mind occasionally, that may be a danger sign.  I have a friend who says (in more colorful language than I will use here), "If you can stop and ask yourself if you are being a jerk, it is more likely than not that you either are not being or will choose to back off from being one."  It's the people for whom the question never crosses the threshold on consciousness that there is the most danger.

Without a real father in the home many pieces are missing from a man's life--what to talk about when you talk men's "small talk"  (if there is such a genre), how to conduct yourself properly around other men and around women in whom you see some potential for romantic interest, how to respect another person and how to trust another person.  Obviously, a mother can teach some of these things--but the lessons may not take because the ground is different.  You plant the pink hydrangea in a high-aluminum soil, you'll end up with a blue hydrangea--same genotype but different phenotype.

This book resonates for me as a father.  It makes me look cautiously at what I do and how I interact with my own son.  If it serves only that purpose, then it serves the good.  Our most lasting legacy is the future we shape by bringing children into the world and shaping them to be our future scientists, artists, inventors, politicians, doctors, lawyers, thieves, and scoundrels.  Being a good father to our children may, perhaps, limit the number of the latter that walk the Earth, and so give future generations something to praise their forebears for.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Metamorphosis in African Gray

I don't know how this book will turn out--the premise is unique, the introduction, oblique, and the title while not unique, is reminiscent of a story in Arthur C. Clarke's Tales from the White Hart.

from The Defenestration of Bob T. Hash III
David Deans

The only place where anything fun ever seems to happen in the Acme language course book Forward with English! is in the section known as Everyday Accidents and Domestic Mishaps. To illustrate what an everyday accident or domestic mishap might consist of, various familiar and generally very careful picture book characters volunteer themselves as the unwitting victims of a moment's dapper imprudence. We wince at the sight of a chin getting scratched by a razor in a bathroom mirror, we gasp at fingers straying too near the burner of a kitchen stove, we chuckle at the picture of a fedora hat (Br. Eng.: "trilby") getting whisked off into a neighbor's hedge by a freak gust of wind; while the sight of a parrot suddenly turning into a man and falling off its perch will give many reason for pause. I think what makes those cheeky pastel-and-ink cartoons in the mishap section so interesting is that for a brief, tantalizing moment they offer the only clue that there might exit another dimension outside the world of scheduled routines and codified speech bubbles that reign elsewhere in Forward with English! Of course, by the Repairs and Rectifications section that follows, the regular world of clockwork expectations is securely back in palce, if not quite quickly enough to have stopped us catching a glimpse of that other somewhat whacked-out dimension beyond. 

The book may not live up to the subversive promise of the leading paragraph--but even if not, that paragraph deserves an airing, as does the one that follows as the promise of a premise of some considerable humorous possibility if not merit.

For a few dazed moments, among a freshly laid bedlam of birdseed, I lay there flat on my back, staring at the ceiling in amazement. A halo of cartoon star spinning round my head and a watery bird whistle twittering inside it. I found myself wondering how the picture book artist might try to depict my own misadventure for some future edition of Forward with English! thereby admitting it too to that select pantheon of mishaps. In the "before" picture, for example, you could have an African gray parrot, sensibly perched at the living room window with nothing, barring a wink, to suggest an impending disaster. Bestide it, in the "after" vignette, you could then have a man in a suit--necktie floating into the air like an astronaut's weightlessness experiment, businessman's glasses dancing off the bridge of his nose, staring at us with that look of mild astonsishment, as if someone had just played a practical joke on the departmental manager by announcing an unexpected downturn in the quarterly sales figures while he was practicing on the office trampoline during lunch break.

So mishaps occur. And yet, with a little more care, how easily disaster might often be averted: shaving more slowly, keeping one's eyes peeled for banana skins under a window--in my case, repairing to a more reliably solid piece of furniture the next time I'm about to switch from the psittacine form to the so-called Homo sapiens.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Pointed Words Pointedly Pointed

I try to keep this blog G.  Maybe I venture into PG, but I'm afraid, in order to make my point the selection below must be regarded as PG-13, perhaps R.  But it's worth it.

from "Yours Will Do Nicely"
in Death Is Not an Option
Suzanne Rivecca

I could tell he was searching for an answer that would please me. "I don't know," he breathed, then kissed my face. "It's great. It's like I can feel you all around me."

I lowered my sweaty forehead to his shoulder and a sound came out, strangled and too weak for the feeling behind it, the sound you make in a dream where you try to scream and can't.  I was jealous. I wanted to feel myself all around me.
 What struck me about this the first time I read it was the poignancy of the last sentence.  The second time through, it seemed that the poignancy was finely balanced against an acerbic sense of humor signaled by the second-to-last sentence.  It's an ironic sentence, and I'll be the first to admit that I am basically tone deaf to irony; however, I'm finding this little collection compelling reading. It's fascinating to me because I really don't much care for the characters in some of the stories, but I do find myself practically dragged through the stories by the sheer vibrancy and power of the narrative voice.  I'll let you know what I think once I'm finished, but I did want to record this to come back to again and see if it weighs the same next time I encounter it.

Infinite Zombies v. Ulysses

Infinite Zombies v. Ulysses with a side of Interview

Robert Berry of Ulysses Seen is interviewed.  I link to the top of the page because there appears to be much here worthy of time an attention.

The Annoying, but Occasionally Insightful

from Father Fiction
Donald Miller

Here is how this broke down after having thought about it for a long time: I used to feel a kind of hopelessness about life. I assumed life was against me, that whatever bad could happen to a person was going to happen to me, It was as though there was a current I was swimming against. But it was studying this passage that changed some of that thinking. God is fathering me. God is fathering us. I know that if God loves me and wants me to succeed as much as John loves his kids and wants them to succeed, then life cannot be hopeless.

But another idea that occurred to me was I needed to change the way I understand spirituality. What I mean is, I need to allow God to father me. I needed to acknowledge him as Father and submit. Traditional language might use the term repentance. In part, this meant admitting I wanted autonomy from God, admitting I waned my own way, and asking him to change my heart. One of the issue I deal with having grown up without a father is a kind of resentment at the mention of actually needing a dad. I had to admit I needed one.

The prose is a reason that I find myself reading so few recent books on Christian Spirituality.  Nearly everything about it is off-putting.  That said, I'm obviously not the demographic for this work, and perhaps this bleak wasteland of semantic absurdity hits its target.

Regardless of how it is said, the important point is what is said.  It is a point that needs to be made in simple, clear language--unfettered by the religion-speak that can clutter works like these.  Because it gets wrapped up in such difficult concepts as repentance and being "born again," the essential truth of it can be lost in the confusion of terminology. 

Sonnets: If We Knew Not the Genesis. . .

If we did not know the genesis of the Sonnets from the Portuguese, we would be tempted to read them quite a different way--as in today's example, following closely on the heels of the last two.

from Sonnets from the Portuguese
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Indeed this very love which is my boast,
And which, when rising up from breast to brow,
Doth crown me with a ruby large enow
To draw men's eyes and prove the inner cost,---
This love even, all my worth, to the uttermost,
I should not love withal, unless that thou
Hadst set me an example, shown me how,
When first thine earnest eyes with mine were crossed,
And love called love. And thus, I cannot speak
Of love even, as a good thing of my own:
Thy soul hath snatched up mine all faint and weak,
And placed it by thee on a golden throne,---
And that I love (O soul, we must be meek!)
Is by thee only, whom I love alone.
 Consider the poem without Robert Browning.  Who then might Elizabeth be writing to here.  She says that she would not know love had she not been taught love and had love not been called love. And she notes "And thus, I cannot speak//Of love even, as a good thing of my own:"  In this way she nods toward both biblical teaching and toward the scholastics who taught that no good work is the work of any human being alone and unaided.  That any merit belongs to God, and indeed "Thy soul hath snaatch up mine all faint and weak, //And place it by thee on a golden throne. . ."  certainly seems to bear this out--even as it is unequivocally and completely humanly about Robert Browning.

Divine purpose often has a human agency.  The Hindus recognized this in the concept of an avatar or a physical presence of the divine.  This is what Elizabeth embues Robert with--the divine quality of teaching her to love and to know what love is.  "And that I love (O soul, we must be meek!)//Is by thee only, whom I love alone."  Indeed--there is no love without someone to teach us love and to lead us in love. 

Again, these poems beg rigorous reading--not this light touch that I give the and pass on.  But a light touch is better than that they remain untouched by all.  It's a shame that they've (the poems) been coopted by the Society of Maudlin Works, because these are not.  These are not a simple bridal gift, nor are they the stuff of greeting cards and light verse.  As I've said before and continue to maintain, they form an intricate web of discovery, explanation, and understanding.  And as such they stand up under considerable scrutiny.  They are poems for our time, when we seem to have forgotten (as a society, at least) what love is and what love means.

Spontaneous Expressions of Faith

Prayer for a Fan?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

More Swedish Girls

The Girl Who Fixed the Umlaut

Climate Science Redux

possibly from Books Inq?

Climate Deniers--Public Enemies Nos. 1-496

So science becomes dogma.  Or should I say reveals the truly dogmatic that has always been just below the surface.

Hannibal in History

A review of what sounds to be a superb history of Carthage

EAP--Best Discovered Young--Cherished for Life

Edgar Allan Poe and childhood nightmares

I remember going to the library at a very young age--perhaps fourth or fifth grade and the librarian reading to us. . . "The Tell-Tale Heart."  In fact, while writing this, I put on the first of the Alan Parson's Project's albums "Tales of Mystery and the Imagination."  But I have not forgotten the cold blue eye that so haunted the protagonist.

Harold Bloom despises Poe, balks at his entry into the canon, rails at both his prose and poetry--and I suppose it would be like coming late to the party for H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert Howard, Richard Wagner, or an number of less-than-salutary habits often acquired in one's teen years.  All I can say is that if you have failed to acquire the taste, you have truly missed out on some of the great delights available in literature; however, there is a Golden Age for nearly every writer, and sometimes that age has passed or not yet come for an individual.  I'm still waiting for Don DeLillo's golden age in my life.

The Person of Father

Donald Miller is a writer of "religious" or spiritual material that reflects (at least in this one book) on the meaning of fatherhood and how that permeates one's notion of God.

from Father Fiction
Donald Miller

And conversely, you can't blame a kid for feeling unwanted if his father takes off.   If you think about it, God gives a father a specific instinct that makes him love his kid more than anything in the world. I suppose that same instinct was floating around my father's brain, too, but for whatever reason he took one look at me and split. Even the instinct God gave him wasn't strong enough to make my dad stay. And that has made me feel, at times, there is this detestable person living within my skin who makes people feel as though they must carry me on their backs. Walking through the park one night I realized I was operating out of a feeling of inferiority. Deep inside, I believe life was for other people--that joy was for others and responsibility was for others, and so on and so on. In life there were people who were meant to live and people who were accidentally born, elected to plod the globe as the despised.

These thoughts are illogical, I realize. There isn't any proof that a guy who grows up in a family with a good dad is any better than a guy who grows up in a family with a bad one. Still a logical argument isn't able to change the heart. My mind knew there was nothing wrong with me--that the problem was the message my father handed down--but this knowledge didn't make me feel any more secure. For many years all I could do in the healing process was recognize I felt inferior and tell myself this feeling was a lie. For a long time, I couldn't go any further than this.

While his style can be annoying and his facts suspect (the father "instinct"--I don't think so) his intent is clear and the message he conveys throughout the book is a strong one--especially for the many who have made it through life with either no father at all or a father who, while present physically was never available in any meaningful way to be a guide.

But my prime reason for the quotation occurs at the end of the first paragraph.  I have met many who seem to feel the way he describes here--life was meant for others, existence is all I can ask for.  And that is a shame--no one, absolutely no one should feel that way about themselves and if there is anything at all we can do to change it, one of the greatests kindnesses and gifts we can give, is to do that anything.

A Note on Spirituality

from The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything
James Martin SJ

A spirituality is like a bridge. Every bridge does pretty much the same thing--gets you from one place to another, sometimes over perilous ground, or a river, or great heights. But they do so in different ways. They might be built of rope, wood, bricks, stone, or steel, as arches, cantilevers, or suspension bridges. "Hence," writes Father de Buibert, "there will be a series of different types with each one having its advantages and disadvantages. Each one is adaptable to given terrains and contours and not to others; yet each one in its own way achieves the common purpose--to provide a passage by means of an organic, balanced combination of materials and shapes."

Every spirituality offers you a distinctive "passage" to God.

A Reflection on the Arts

from Death in Venice
Thomas Mann

Verily it is well for the world that it sees only the beauty of the completed work and not its origins nor the conditions whence it sprang; since knowledge of the artist's inspiration might often but confuse and alarm and so prevent the full effect of its excellence. Strange hours, indeed, these were and strangely unnerving the labour that filled them! Strangely fruitful intercourse this, between one body and another mind! When Aschenbach put aside his work and left the beach he felt exhausted, he felt broken--conscience reproached him, as it were after a debauch.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Alex Ross on Music

"Listen to This"--an article in the New Yorker by Alex Ross

Reprint Time-- The Rest Is Noise Alex Ross

The Rest is Noise--Alex Ross

Serialism, atonalism, 12-tonalism, spectralism, minimalism, polytonalism, microtonalism, whole tonalism, tritones, open fifths, symphonies, sonatas, and music concrete. If you've ever wanted to understand classical music in the twentieth century, this book may be for you. Alex Ross introduces us to the wild world of twentieth and twenty-first century music--from Schoenberg's Harmoniolehre to John Adams's Harmoniolehre and Nixon in China. Along the way we have whole chapter divergences into the work of Jean Sibelius and Benjamin Britten.

I have to admit to not fully comprehending all that the book had to offer by way of commentary. Nevertheless, Ross opened my eyes to some of the developments within music and made me more inclined to try to understand and appreciate what had happened in this century. The book starts with Debussy, Ravel, Les Six, and Stravinsky and moves chronologically through the century. Chapters cover "totalitarian music" including the music of Stalin's Russia, Hitler's Germany, and let's face it, Roosevelt's America (a more gentle kind of totalitarianism thanks to the system of checks and balances.)

There are a few seeming problems with the book. Particularly in the latter half, Mr. Ross tends to be a little gossipy, telling me far more than I need to know about the sex-and-drug lives of composers. I don't really need that much detail to understand the development in the music. However, to his credit, I may need to know that much to understand the "meaning" of music. Additionally Mr. Ross leaves out some major composers entirely--there is hardly a mention of Holst, Elgar, and Vaughn Williams, and not mention at all of Rachmaninov, Bax, Arnold, Scriabin, and other such. However, that too is less a fault than a matter of focus. The undertaking represented by this work was difficult enough--if Mr. Ross had tried to take in more and explain where Elgar and Holst fit into the whole, the book may have fallen into an incoherent set of vignettes. As it is, the book trembles on the threshold, but always manages to retain integrity as a history of the development of musical theory during the twentieth century.

As a result of this, I came to understand why Ligeti, Pärt, Gorecki, Reich, Glass, Riley, and Adams are all so immediately appealing to me and why Stockhausen, Boulez, and Schoenberg are not. I came to have small arguments with the sometimes nonsensical aesthetic positions of the composers (most particularly Schoenberg and Boulez--"We've come to set music free from the tyranny of tonalism; however, we'll impose a new tyranny, so it isn't really free after all, but we'll say it is.")

It's a long work and an involved one, but anyone interested in music with a little understanding of theory has much to gain from making the attempt to understand it. It was fascinating to see Duke Ellington, Brian Eno, and the Velvet Underground (as well as Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and the whole be-bop ensemble) in conjunction with Schoenberg and the atonalists. Understanding the drone behind "All Tomorrow's Parties" can only help increase one's appreciation for the complexity of some music.

For those interested in music and its development, this is simply a must-read. Highly recommended.

How Disappointed Stockhausen Would Be

By the attitudes of some who claim to love his music.
As Adorno decreed, the job of a composer was to write music that would repel, shock, and be the vehicle for 'unmitigated cruelty.'"

[quotation in The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross, referring to the Darmstadt and Cologne schools of the late 1950s and early 1960s.
So, my contention, his music was not formed to be liked, admired, or appreciated, but to be merely music--hopefully music that would elicit a gut level reaction. If so, then my view of it would far more please the theory of the school than that of purported admirers. However, we must keep in mind, that despite the theory, everyone wants to be loved, it's just that sometimes we want to exclude the "rabble" from that warm embrace. If so, more's the pity, because it is in that rabble and their acceptance that any chance of a lasting contribution remains.

I become convinced that in atonal and serial music (particularly in serialist music), what is really being conveyed is the composer's inability to compose without a method. Just as, after Picasso and his crew, as we move into the realm of abstract expressionism, what is really being revealed is the artists' inability to deal with any classical form. So, instead, like Pierre Boulez, we construct musical theory in which detraction is far more important than putting forward any coherent sense of what it is you are about. "I can't compose a concerto or a sonata, so I'll crush them instead."

Interesting musical theory.

Future Reading

From The Millions--books to look forward to (or dread) this summer

Both C (Tom McCarthy) and Now Listen to This (by Alex Ross, whose first book The Rest is Noise is a splendid guide to 20th Century Classical music and its influence) caught my attention.

Oh and a Pevear and Volkhonsky Doctor Zhivago!

Having a Mahler Moment

Michael Tilson Thomas on How Mahler Changed My Life

New American Poetry

via Dark Speech Upon the Harp

A review of the Best American Poetry: 2009

José Saramago: The Paris Review

An older interview with José Saramago

A Paradigm of Love

from Sonnets from the Portuguese
Elizabeth Barrett Browning


And therefore if to love can be desert,
I am not all unworthy. Cheeks as pale
As these you see, and trembling knees that fail
To bear the burden of a heavy heart,---
This weary minstrel-life that once was girt
To climb Aornus, and can scarce avail
To pipe now 'gainst the valley nightingale
A melancholy music,---why advert
To these things? O Belovèd, it is plain
I am not of thy worth nor for thy place!
And yet, because I love thee, I obtain
From that same love this vindicating grace,
To live on still in love, and yet in vain,---
To bless thee, yet renounce thee to thy face.
The one who is loved protests that she is unworthy of love--a barren desert--a weary wandering life  ("this minstrel life that once was girt//to climb Aornus. . ."  Aornus is a mountain fortress in India that was captured as Alexander the Great invaded.  So what was once bound for glory is barren, empty, and alone. 

However, the last five lines of the poem state propose an inversion Christian view of love and put Robert at the center of it.  "I am not of thy worth nor for thy place."  I am not worthy of the love invested in me. The classic Christian stand would be that because God love me, I am made worthy of the love He bestows.  But Elizabeth inverts this and gives to the power of love alone the "vindicating grace."  Because she loves she "earns the right" to continue one in love--but it is all in vain because by her love she blesses him, but because she cannot show her love outright, she renounces him.  Her heart pulls, but her circumstances push him away.

Read it again and see how all the parts work together to bring us to this point in the theme.  And then glance back over some of the others and see how they all build toward this point and from this point on build toward the climax that spans sonnets 42-44.

In Memory, Yet Green

You thought you had been spared.  You thought that the weary blogkeeper had forgotten his lengthy sojourn with the poet and you would hear no more from him (blogkeeper or poet).  Indeed, you thought, it is safe once again to venture by, for it has been many a day since last I saw or sensed a vestige of a poem.  Alas, for you, poor self-deceived reader who so willingly succumbs to that sense of security that creeps in when hazards have been in abeyance for some time.  For once again it is time and more than time for me to trot out the words of Mr. Wordsworth for your delight and edification; this time we sample from Book V, called "Books."

from The Prelude Book V
William Wordsworth

When Contemplation, like the night-calm felt
Through earth and sky, spreads widely, and sends deep
Into the soul its tranquillising power,
Even then I sometimes grieve for thee, O Man,
Earth's paramount Creature! not so much for woes
That thou endurest; heavy though that weight be,
Cloud-like it mounts, or touched with light divine
Doth melt away; but for those palms achieved,
Through length of time, by patient exercise
Of study and hard thought; there, there, it is
That sadness finds its fuel. Hitherto,
In progress through this Verse, my mind hath looked
Upon the speaking face of earth and heaven
As her prime teacher, intercourse with man
Established by the sovereign Intellect,
Who through that bodily image hath diffused,
As might appear to the eye of fleeting time,
A deathless spirit. Thou also, man! hast wrought,
For commerce of thy nature with herself,
Things that aspire to unconquerable life;
And yet we feel—we cannot choose but feel—
That they must perish. Tremblings of the heart
It gives, to think that our immortal being
No more shall need such garments; and yet man,
As long as he shall be the child of earth,
Might almost "weep to have" what he may lose,
Nor be himself extinguished, but survive,
Abject, depressed, forlorn, disconsolate.

The poet, when deep in thought mourns for humankind, and yet not for any of the ordinary sufferings of people.  Those, while they may be bad and certainly feel terrible while happening are often lifted and dissipated with a change of wind, or a touch of light.  Not, the poet mourns for those things hard-won in the intellectual life.  Then a short digression summarizing the work thus far and announcing the theme that shall be the focus of this book. Wordsworth sites "the speaking face of earth and heaven//as her [his mind's] prime teacher." Through intercourse with the intellect the images of earth and heaven have a deathless permanence--what they inspired in Wordsworth's time, they can inspire in any time to any nature so incline as to receive the inspiration.

However, there is another contender vying for that same immortality--that same deathlessness, the "things that aspire to unconquerable life"  that have been wrought by people to communicate some of the same set of impressions from mind to mind and spirit to spirit ("Thou also, man! hast wrought,//for commerce of they nature with herself. . .").

But alas, we know these things that the human spirit has pushed forward have but a momentary life: "And yet we feel--we cannot choose but feel,//that they must perish."  These fumblings of the mind, these products that we make to convey the interior impressions we have captured--the intimations of immortality that are so much a part of the spirit--they do not last like earth and sky and sea (or in Wordsworth's case, lake).  We tremble at the thought that the part of us which is immortal has no need of the mortal trappings and the sense that have been able to perceive the truths that we articulate.

The quotation in the line third to last is the first formal announcement of the theme and reworks the last line of Shakespeare's Sonnet 64:

William Shakespeare

When I have seen by time’s fell hand defaced
The rich proud cost of outworn buried age;
When sometime lofty towers I see down-razed,
And brass eternal slave to mortal rage;
When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
And the firm soil win of the watery main,
Increasing store with loss, and loss with store;
When I have seen such interchange of state,
Or state itself confounded to decay,
Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate,
That time will come and take my love away.
  This thought is as a death, which cannot choose
  But weep to have that which it fears to lose.

By embedding this snippet, this briefest of quotations from the Bard, within the poem, Wordsworth at once makes his point about the fabrications of human beings and undermines it.  While they are not immortal, they certainly do last longer than does a person.  And so we launch into our discussion of a second mine of wisdom and revelation--announced in the header to the Book of The Prelude we are reading--books.

Monday, July 5, 2010

For Those Who Know only Dukas's Apprentice

First movement of the Piano Sonata in E flat minor--it's a shame Dukas has so few pieces:

Prélude Élégiaque

And the delightful, beautiful, moving, and rare: Villanelle in this arrangement for French Horn and Piano:

The Rabbi v. Christopher Hitchens

Please keep Mr. Hitchens in your thoughts and prayers as he undergoes treatment for his cancer. As a way of keeping him in mind, I offer this, found at Books Inq.  The Atheist and the Rabbi: Arguing about God with Christopher Hitchens

Cavalier Literary Couture

Books Inq. reminds us of Cavalier Literary Couture--about which I posted last week or so.  However, I just saw this journal on the newstands for the first time, and while I can't vouch for the content, the journal itself is beautifully designed, and presented.  I hope it has a long and lasting life.

One-Hit Wonders

from Books Inq. To Kill a Mockingbird and other one-hit wonders of the literary world.

A Short Primer on Sin

It has occurred to me in the recent past that someone should probably put together a short and lively guide called something like The Idiot's Guide to Sin; or perhaps a longer treatise, still in the vernacular, with a title like The Idiot's Guide to God's Love. Too often we are completely lost when it comes to these matters.  And perhaps that explains the remarkable breath of fresh air that blew in as I read the passage recorded below.

from Father Fiction
Donald Miller

"Yeah, I think it's wrong," I started in. "But let's not turn the idea of right and wrong into coloring book material. This is a very complex subject. Sin, if we want to call it sin, is stuff that we do that God doesn't like and the reason he doesn't like it is because he loves us, he is fathering us, and when we sin, we weaken ourselves, we confuse ourselves, we practice immaturity. He doesn't like that, not because he wants to feel powerful or right but because he wants what is best for us. That's the first thing we have to remember about all of this."


"Well, let's consider the value of the dollar. Ultimately, logically, the dollar has no value at all. It's a piece of paper. It only has value because we say it has value and because we agree on a system of bartering that maintains that value. Great care is taken to keep the value of the dollar strong. . . . Sex is like that. God is concerned with the value of sex staying high. It's important to a person's health, a family's health, and a society's health. But like anything, sex can be cheapened in our minds, so we don't hold it in high esteem. God doesn't think this is a good thing. Stuff God doesn't think is good is called sin."  (p. 132-133)

The passages recorded above were spoken to a bunch of guys in a fraternity asking particularly about the nature of sexual sin.  But the scope of what is said is strong enough to apply in almost any situation--particularly the first passage.  God is concerned about sin and sinfulness not because he is a terrorizing autocrat (pace Mr. Hitchens--may you continue in your recovery) but, because, like any sane, reasonable, and loving father he wants for us what is best--not what is good enough--but the very best.  When I look upon my own son, I want for him the very best things--chief among them a life full of happiness and joy.  So too with God.  We hear about sin as though it is a long checklist of things to avoid for fear of God's wrath--but perhaps it is better to think of it as a list of things that will grieve Our Father, NOT because they offend Him personally but because they cause us to have less than the very best.  Therefore we hear that God hates sin--this is absolutely true--He hates it with the passion any parent hates anything that causes harm to their child.  But He never, never, never hates the sinner.  Rather, he mourns for the goodness in life that has been relinquished as a result of choosing the lesser good.