Showing posts from January, 2011

Superstition and the Supernatural

Superstition and the Supernatural

An interesting discussion of the difference between superstition--the manipulation of the material world for spiritual gain--and supernaturalism--belief in and reliance on grace.

Rachael Reads

Rage, Rage Against Extension of the Light

Nabokov and Gould

The Evolution of Butterflies--Nabokov v. Gould

If Nabokov was right was Gould wrong?

I would say that Gould was largely responding to the comments of people outside the historical sciences that the historical sciences are not science in the way Physics or Chemistry are.  (Nonsense and chauvinism, of course)  But he probably saw the chief criticism (Paleontologists as "stamp collectors") as fitting Nabokov par excellence.  He might have collected and studied the butterflies, but he didn't contribute anything radically new to understanding them.  Additionally, I would venture to guess that Gould would still support his main point.  Nabokov's work was not radically innovative or ground-breaking in any substantive sense.

I am only speculating.  But Gould tended to think of himself as something of a prose artist--and when he's at his artiest his writing and his clarity suffer correspondingly.  When he's producing wildly metaphorical works like "The Spandrel …

Two Worth Attention

Poem of the Week: Lawrence Sail

An View of Obama from the Left

A view from the left of Obama's delinquency from the cause--that isn't all--but that's what struck me about the interview with Steve Hendricks.

It's fascinating that Obama seems to satisfy no one.

Considering California

California from the Robinson point of view.

While I don't recall the details, I do remember reading and enjoying enormously The Wild Shore when it first came out.

Top 100 Songs of te 20th Century

Orwellian Language Games--5

Joseph Brodsky said, “Evil takes root when one man starts to think that he is better than another.”  And how many of us do not on a daily basis?

Modern Philosophy--Considering Hulga

Modern Library 99--The Ginger Man

On the Horizon--Ireland

Considerations of Australian Literature

Australian Literature Considered--Urban or Outback?

While the literature is broad enough to encompass both, too often the Urban Literature is not well enough considered because of the exotic nature and the powerful contrasts of the land.  Consider Peter Weir's carefully constructed films Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Last Wave as examples where the Outback ascends and the Urban Dweller has a secondary place.  On the other hand, the literature supports the distinctly urban tale and the tale where the two are brought together--Priscilla, Queen of the Desert stands out as an example.

An Evening with Werner Herzog

Werner Herzog, whose film Dream of the Green Ants was recently discussed at Fred's Place, chats with us about film and other things.

Herzog is an eccentric genius--with Fitzcarraldo and Aguirre, the Wrath of God (among others) as major film credits.  Dream of the Green Ants may be one of the more accessible films in the oeuvre.

The Syracuse Campaign

The Peloponnesian war continues in Syracuse

The notes that the Common Reader posts are really both interesting and quite helpful as a companion read.  If you've never indulged in Thucydides, you would do well to avail yourself of this marvelous series of insights into one of the great histories of ancient times.

Frost contra Derrida on Authorship

Robert Frost and the post-modernists

An article that considers at length Frost's stand on authorship--who is the author?

Two Poets

LoA Story of the Week--Irvin S. Cobb

Cobb with a story on boxing

I know Cobb primarily for a handful of (quite good) stories of unpleasantness and disquiet.  So, this is a side I had not seen.  Not sure I wanted to--but that's quite a different matter.

A Useful Facebook Template

Not "The Wind Beneath My Wings"

The Diary of Queen Victoria

Jane McGonigal's Mind is Broken

Marcel Duchamp--Anemic Cinema

A Hemingway Idyll

Or, why I've spent so much of my life alienated from most of what Hemingway does/writes about:

from The Green Hills of Africa
Ernest Hemingway

This was the kind of hunting I liked. No riding in cars, the country broken up instead of the plains, and I was completely happy. I ha been quite ill and had that pleasant feeling of getting stronger each day. I was underweight, had a great appetite for meat, and could eat all I wanted without feeling stuffy. Each day I sweated out whatever we drank sitting at the fire at night, and in the heat of the day, now, I lay in the shade with a breeze in the trees and read with no obligation and no compulsion to write, happy in knowing that at four o'clock we would be starting out to hunt again. I would not even write a letter. The only person I really cared about except the children, was with me and I had no wish to share this life with any one who was not there, only to live it, being completely happy and quite tired. I knew that I was shooting…

Considering "Ash Wednesday"

"It's All Straw"

The Feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas and it's good to remember one of the most essential but most often neglected facts regarding St. Thomas.  Toward the end of his life, he is noted as saying "All I have written is as straw. . ."  an astounding act of abject humility which can be variously interpreted--from everything is meaningless, to the much more profound, 'I didn't make a dent in the subject area."  I think what he was saying comes closer to the latter along with a sense of "And even if I did, it isn't what really matters anyway."  I think the mystical St. Thomas had come to the understanding that understanding is simply the prelude to love and when love is in the ascendant, understanding sets itself in the proper light of necessary antecedent.  That is, one in love doesn't really seek so much to understand as to love better.  When one had gone so far down the path of understanding, it would be more evident that understanding can only …

Excellent Women--Barbara Pym

This has to be one of the most difficult reviews I've tried to write.  Here I am on my third attempt, and not sure this will see the light of day. 

What is so difficult?  Nothing I seem to say does justice to the book.  I can't describe it with respect to any other writer because the comparison quickly comes to nothing.  If I say Austen, you get the wrong impression one way; if I say Angela Thirkell, you get a wrong impression another way; if I mention Heyer, I run the risk of alienating half of the audience.  There is, in sum, nothing to be said in the way of comparison.  Pym is unique.

Excellent Women tells the story of a number of excellent women, chief among them our narrator--Mildred Lathbury, who finally tells us, near the end of the book, what is meant by excellent women:

from Excellent Women
Barbara Pym

'Esther Clovis is certainly a very capable person,' he said doubtfully. 'An excellent woman altogether.'
'You could consider marrying an excellent woma…

E-reading is Here to Stay

Kindle tops pb sales

I welcome the ability to carry thousands of books wherever I go--to have Ulysses with me at all times of day, to be able to consult Wordsworth, Keats, Donne, Herrick, Vaughn, Crashaw, and countless others in ways that I would never have thought possible a few years ago.

Even so, I love the real book as well--the paper and the ink and the binding and the smell.  But, on a trip to Dublin, given a choice between the two, it's hand's down my thousands in an e-reader.

Twelve Worst Campuses for Free Speech

Twelve Worst Campuses for Free Speech

One of the things we seem to have forgotten is that every freedom has its price.  The price of free speech is, among other things, the serious risk that you will hear someone say something you don't care for--something hateful.  This is precisely when the right is most important.  I want to hear people say exactly what is on their minds because then I have a much better idea as to whether this is the sort of person with whom I wish to spend time.  I love to see demonstrations of groups burning the flag, because it gives me important information about them I would not otherwise have. Suppression of free speech to attain a superficial peace is a guarantee that there will be no peace.

More on de Maupassant

Continuing a survey of de Maupassant's short works

Zeltserman on Vampires

DFW on Blue Velvet


Imperfection and Humanity

Back to the Greek War

On Social Networks

Poem: "Selva Oscura"

Two from the Philosophy Side

Are You a Liberal?  On this I will point out that I do not qualify as a liberal, but I take exception to his statement that the death penalty is EVER justified on the principle that one may not do evil that good may come of it.  Killing another when efforts less than that can preserve life and society is always and everywhere evil.  There are other quibbling points--but this is the main one.  One need not be a liberal to deny the efficacy, utility, or morality of the death penalty. But the test is about a nexus of attitudes.  I do not always disagree with the points from the Philosopher's point of view-but disagree in my own way.  However, I doubt I would qualify as a conservative either.


The ever-pernicious philosophy of  Ayn Rand--on Abortion 

I think if one tried very, very hard, one could come up with a philosophy and way of living that was more pernicious than that of Ms. Rand--but one would be hard-pressed under normal circumstances to do so.

Vargas-Llosa and Trujillo

O"Brien, Wolff on Vietnam

A Little Treasury of Haiku

The Turing Test

For Those Considering Indulging--The Rite

Apps for E-Reading

Kenzaburo Oe

Leigh Brackett--Novelist

The Sword of Rhiannon by Leigh Brackett

She was also a hollywood screen writer and responsible for one of the worst muddles of script ever (though much of it wasn't her fault and she probably had no control over it.  But it is a guilty pleasure, mostly for Mancini's music--Hatari!  To her credit she also did The Long Goodbye and The Empire Strikes Back--both of which show her in better form.

"Casanova and Don Juan"

The Sicilian Problem

W. G. Sebald

Nominations for Best Translated Works

Greek Tragedy revisited

The Horrors of the Slave Markets

Blue Butterflies

Highlights from Hitch

Chinese Animation: Good Havoc, Bad Havoc

What Is the Good Life?

Konigsberg on Grieving

Dissent or Discovery

Bulletin: Be Sure to Pay Your Sun Fees

William Gibson on Cool

Bond's London

"No Time For Wisdom"

Explaining Laughner

A Great and Beautiful Film

Where the Green Ants Dream

Like Fred, I was attracted to the film for its title.  I saw it some time ago.  And I must say that the only thing that stuck with me were several lovely, preternaturally lovely, images of green ants that occur throughout.  I may need to revisit, but I'll probably live with those images--rightly remembered or no, as my legacy from it.

Jo Shapcott Takes the Costa

Contra Catcher, Pro Seymour

Mishima Revisited

Spring Snow reviewed

The author of the post asks at the end how you feel about "balancing the canon,"  and suggest a canon without at least five Japanese authors on it is a pale and weedy thing.

I disagree. A canon should not have quotas--people should not be included by nationality, but by worthiness of book.  Should the canon feature works from Asian authors?  Undoubtedly.  But then it would be world Canon, not a western Canon.  Do I think a world canon has a place in education--yes, in college.  But one of the things I find wrong with education now is that lack of a basis in any foundational literature makes access of other literatures more difficult.  That is a way of saying that the Western Canon has proven a worthwhile pedagogical device for precisely the literary intelligence it inculcates.  My acquaintance with it has made accessible to me literature from a diverse group of peoples and cultures. 

So, should the Western Canon be balanced?  Perhaps we need to give more…

A Hill of Diamonds

The Logical Inconsistency of the New Atheism

Dawkins on Kentucky

One wonders why I am so suspicious of reason as the ultimate arbiter--and my reason is precisely this--reason is almost never pursued objectively--the argument is rarely followed to the end of the line--the agenda of the thinker is always influencing the evidence accepted and rejected.  Those who stand in favor of sole rationes seldom acknowledge the flaw--those who have a broader perspective tend to note these problems.  Mr. Dawkins has an agenda (well, duh!) and an agenda usually center not around a rational point, but around a belief system.  Mr. Dawkins is willing to surrender all to this agenda.  Another religion built up around nothing.

I have no brief, nor any real interest in Mr. Dawkins's belief system.  That is between him and his lack of a God (or rather, the new Me-theism that transform some human attribute into a god-like entity worthy of worship.  Ecclesiastes lamented that "there is nothing new under the sun."  And this philosophy of th…

An Australian Canon

Lists of Worthwhile Down Under Reading

I'm ecstatic to see David Malouf's powerful Ransom on the list.  And it seems apparent that I must indulge in some Henry Handel Richardson some day soon--much is available online through Australia Gutenberg--perhaps elsewhere.

Online David Mitchell Story

Stilted Poetry

The Crisis of American Fiction. . .

The Divisions of Endo

Silence by Shusaku Endo reviewed

If you're anything like I was, I had heard about the necessity of this book for years before I picked it up.  Having picked it up, I feel like I will never put it down.  It has become emblematic for me.  I push it upon anyone who will listen long enough for me to get through my spiel.

But, I do know, if you want to split a roomful of Catholics faster than lightning--toss this book in the room and then ask them whether what the protagonists does at the end was right or wrong.  Guaranteed, you'll split that room--perhaps not right down the middle--but there will be at least two groups each adamantly holding to their point.  I know, been there, done that.  I'm with the group that agrees with the Priest and with the voice from the fumie.  But to quote an American Literary Figure recently in the news, "without you having read it, you ain't gonna know what I'm talking about." 

If you haven't done so, this is one of those boo…

Completely Opaque to Me

While the commentary here is interesting, I'm confused by the conclusion

Why would anyone in the world prefer the broken human institution of religion to God?

The Best? of Guy de Maupassant

Costa and de Waal?

Milking the Wealthy Pensioner

An Odd Proposal for the Permian

The Permian mass extinction explained: Ozone Depletion?

We have volcanic evidence of high Fl and high Cl concentrations--color me dubious.  There are other suggestions I have liked better for this.

Human Rights Watch for iPad

Haslett on Fish on Strunk and White

Silmultaneous Series

The Peloponnesian War with Video

Here's One for the Reading List

An Animated History of Wikipedia

A War-Time Mrs.

Love Stories from the Male POV

The Age of Innocence as New York Novel?

The Apotheosis of "Be Careful What You Wish For"

From One of the Great Writer Saints

St. Francis de Sales

The difference between love and devotion is just that which exists between fire and flame;—love being a spiritual fire which becomes devotion when it is fanned into a flame;—and what devotion adds to the fire of love is that flame which makes it eager, energetic and diligent. . .

Byatt's Best

A Moment of Revery with Emily


Derek Walcott takes T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry

Super True and Sad

Super Sad True Love Story reviewed

And all I can say is that this reflects my experience with the book.  However, being neither so strong-willed nor so stable-minded as our intrepid reviewer, I simply gave up and returned the book ignominiously in a pile of others to my local library.

Complex Contra Dennett

More on Instructions

Remember Jack LaLanne

Books that Change Your World But No One Else's

Books that Change Your World But No One Else's

I would have on my list such delights as

Leo Lionni's Parallel Botany
Taduesz Borowski's This Way for the Gas Ladies and Gentlemen

The Weird World of Yukio Mishima

The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea reviewed

Though in some ways Yukio Mishima is a better writter than some Japanese authors (or perhaps translates more easily into what seems better writing in English), I often find encounters with him strangely disorienting--as though I've brushed by the essence of madness.

"The Atheist's Narrow Worldview"

An agnostic tells us what's good about religion.

While I can't find much to agree with in his evaluation of Dawkins and clan or any of the ultra-rationalists in approaching religion, there are some helpful observations:

There is much good "med­i­cine" in Bud­dhism (just as there is much good in oth­er re­li­gions), but if the Asian Com­mu­nists found you prac­tic­ing it in the 1970s, you were as good as dead. And that form of mil­i­tant athe­ism should ring a cau­tion­ary note: Re­li­gion is not the only ide­ol­o­gy with blood on its hands.

Reason is important, critical, paramount even in making decisions about what it is we do--it is not to be neglected.  But it is not the only way we learn, nor is it the only way we know, nor is it the last and best guide as to what action is compassionate, humane, meaningful, and above all right.  Reason, pure reason, can get it wrong--often and badly, when it comes to how to make a decision.  It has done so in the past (the Fr…

Rating Writers by their Earnings

The Irish Big Five (or, rather, what they will earn for you.)

Parenting at the Speed of Light

Darwin's Dangerous Idea Dismantled

The argument is not scientific, nor deeply science based, but the points made are worthy of consideration.

I don't find Darwin's idea particularly dangerous--I only find those who wield it with a philosophical agenda having nothing to do with science dangerous.  From them we get Spencerian theory and economic and social Darwinism, amongst other atrocities that result from lack of context.

"On the Duty to be Happy"

Colm Toibin's Newest

"The Empty Family"

via Books Inq.

I started to read this and really enjoyed the first story.  My major problem with Mr. Toibin is that I often just don't get the more overt homosexual stories.  I'm obviously not the intended audience.  I can't explain why this reaction to Mr. Toibin, and not to Mr. White or Mr. Holleran, or other famous homosexual writers.  It just is.

William Byrd contra KJV

Peggy Lee and Thomas Mann

"Is That All There Is?"

If that's all there is, my friend, then let's keep dancing. . .

Perhaps the bleakest hit song ever, inspired, it appears by a story from Thomas Mann. 

via Books Inq.

Celebrating Robert E. Howard's Birthday

"Dover Beach" considered

NBCC--How Discourgaging

The announcement of the NBCC nominees for best books of the year is certainly discouraging headed up as it is with Egan's nearly unreadable mess of a novel A Visit from the Goon Squad. And followed by Franzen's equally questionable Freedom.  Where are the great and lasting voices?  Where are those who are writing works that will be read five or ten years from now, skip a hundred?

I've Never Much Cared for Whitman as a Poet

and this analysis of one of his poems doesn't make me change my mind, but fascinates me because I get a sense of what others derive from the work.  It makes it a powerful work--but does it make it good poetry?

And then, of course, it may be that Whitman produces very, very fine poetry that I'm simply incapable of appreciation.  Not in toto, of course, but mostly with Whitman what I find is that he do go on. . . and on. . . and on. . . and on. . . and on.

A Sixteenth Century Jewish Heroine

A Ghastly Tale

One of the Great Bitter Wits of all Time

Loitering with Intent, Muriel Spark

This may be one of the few that I haven't read, I'm not certain.  I shall certainly pick it up given Ms. Spark's long run of powerful, bitter, biting books.

One of the Great Books of 2010 Revisited

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

If you haven't read it, you should add it to your list.  Along with books by Yiyun Li and Hilary Mantel (sorta--I think the pub date was 2009 for her work) this was one of the stand-out books of 2010, charming and pointed and funny and poignant and endearing.  I truly hope that Ms. Simonson can rise to the level of this book in her next, which I anxiously await.

The Great Australian Novel

Several lists of contenders

Of them, it is the Christina Stead I must eventually read.

"A Late Birthday Card for Joseph Brodsky"

Coming of Age

The Fates Will Find Their Way

This sounds fascinating--and I have to wonder how close Ms. Pittard gets to understanding a teenage boy.  My guess is not terribly so, at least not from other female authors I have read on the subject--but that makes the story all the more intriguing.

One Poem and Only One

"Being Here" Joseph Treasure

The blogmaster says that he was not encountered another by Mr. Treasure--if you have, perhaps you would be kind enough to drop him a line.

LoA Story of the Week--Honoring Edith Wharton


According to LoA, poking fun at a certain kind of reader--one who reads to exert his or her cultural supreriority and vast knowledge. But take a look yourself and see what Ms. Wharton was up to.

Poem of the Week: Annemarie Austin

Ventriloquist Sans Dummy

Ventriloquist with a dummy

Weigel on Bernadin

Weigel on Bernandin

(Thanks Dylan!)

More on Liberal Arts Education

More on Liberal Arts Education

Are they declining--undoubtedly.  Will defending them help?  Not a whit. The cause is a massive cultural shift in which personal enrichment refers almost exclusively to monetary compensation, not to the deepening and broadening perspective that the Liberal Arts can give. But will they die?  No, they may become like philosophy departments--the refuge of a few who don't fit in anywhere else.  They may become compact for a while to experience a resurgence in the future (or not).  But there will always be a few who want to pursue this end--they will not die--but they have already and may continue to recede.

LoA Surveys the Year

One from Apollinaire

When Is a Basket Like a Tower?

The War Continues with Maps and Diagrams