Monday, January 31, 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

Rachael is also reading the Modern Library 100

Rage, Rage Against Extension of the Light

An author fulminates contemplating old age

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 of San Marcos" and "D'Arcy Thompson and the Science of Form"  or most egregiously "The Paradox of the Third Tier"  both writing and science suffer.  Which is not to say that he was in any way anything less that a great scientist and a fine writer--but that sometimes the two seemed to get in each others' way with the resultant effect that neither message carried well.

In short, I find myself in a mid-position.  Even if Nabokov was right about the evolution and expansion of blues--it is the kind of small, but significant contribution made by one devoted to a small segment of the field.  I don't think it rises to the level of scientific genius--but it certainly is powerful and interesting work and deserves not to be neglected.  In other words, it is the valid result of good and carefully conducted research and clear thinking about the problem at hand.  A good and helpful discovery within its field, but genius?  That is so difficult to say.

Two Worth Attention

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Far North by Marcel Theroux

Poem of the Week: Lawrence Sail

"Stowaways" by 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

Rated merely by airplay, not by worth, top 100 songs of the 20th Century

via Underbelly.
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

The Plight of Minerva--touching lightly on Ms. O'Connor's masterpiece (one of many) "Good Country People."

Modern Library 99--The Ginger Man

The Ginger Man considered and reviewed

On the Horizon--Ireland

Ten Forthcoming Irish Novels

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

An interesting note on the similarities (and differences) of Chaucer and Andre Breton.

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.

Friday, January 28, 2011

A Useful Facebook Template

A Template for every lame argument you've ever seen on facebook

Not "The Wind Beneath My Wings"

Malawi poised to outlaw "fouling the air."

The Diary of Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria on hearing the news that she was queen--uttterly fascinating.

Jane McGonigal's Mind is Broken

"Jane McGonigal's Mind is Broken" 

via Books Inq.

Marcel Duchamp--Anemic Cinema

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 well and I had that feeling of well being and confidence that is so much more pleasant to have than to hear about.

I have a pretty strong feeling this is one that is going to go unfinished.  I've yet to encounter a single remarkable sentence, image, thought, or expression.  Perhaps because it is non-fiction.  I'm disappointed.  I had hoped for something akin to A Moveable Feast. Oh, well.

Considering "Ash Wednesday"

One way of reading one of T. S. Eliot's great poems.

"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 take one so far.

So, happy feast day to all.  May you contemplate the Angelic Doctor's words and come to understand them in a way that increases love.

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 woman? ' I asked in amazement. 'But they are not for marrying.'

'You're surely not suggesting that they are for the other things?' he said smiling.

That had certainly not occurred to me and I was annoyed to find myself embarrassed.

'They are for being unmarried,' I said, 'and by that I mean a positive rather than a negative state.'

 The whole novel is populated with such excellent women--women, who if Mildred is any indication, always hold out a wan hope of their status changing--women who, while excellent, might prefer to be a little less excellent and a little more admired for other attributes.

By turns hilariously, laugh-out-loud funny, biting, and touching, Excellent Women is truly an excellent read.


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

David Zeltserman, author of one of my favorite books last year, blogs on Vampires

DFW on Blue Velvet

David Foster Wallace on Blue Velvet


There's nothing so wonderful as an original poem that works so well within its conventions--"Kinderlied"

Imperfection and Humanity

Eric Hoffer on perfection

Back to the Greek War

For those following our intrepid Greeks

On Social Networks

Connected reviewed

Poem: "Selva Oscura"

Louis MacNeice "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

The Feast of the Goat reviewed

O"Brien, Wolff on Vietnam

O"Brien, Wolff talk about Vietnam

A Little Treasury of Haiku

A Little Treasury of Haiku part I

The Turing Test

The Turing test and a conversation with nobody

For Those Considering Indulging--The Rite

A compendium surrounding The Rite

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Apps for E-Reading

Apps for E-Reading

Kenzaburo Oe

The Silent Cry reviewed

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"

"Casanova and Don Juan"

The Sicilian Problem

Revisiting the endless war

W. G. Sebald

Stuart Jeffries on The Rings of Saturn

Nominations for Best Translated Works

Nominations for best works in translation

Greek Tragedy revisited

An interchange on The Oresteia

The Horrors of the Slave Markets

Harriet Jacobs on the horrors of the slave markets

Blue Butterflies

Nabakov's Blue Butterflies

Highlights from Hitch

from Hitch-22

Chinese Animation: Good Havoc, Bad Havoc

Historic Chinese Animation

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What Is the Good Life?

Virtue Ethics and the Good Life

via Books Inq.

Konigsberg on Grieving

Interview with Ruth Konigsberg on Grieving

Dissent or Discovery

Doubt or Difficulty? to put it in Newman's terms

Bulletin: Be Sure to Pay Your Sun Fees

Spanish Woman Claims the Sun

William Gibson on Cool

Zero History reviewed

Bond's London

A Tour of James Bonds's London

via Books Inq.

"No Time For Wisdom"

The Bed of Procrustes reviewed

via Books Inq.

Explaining Laughner

Frank has found an explanation that works

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

A poet wins the Costa award for Of Mutability

Contra Catcher, Pro Seymour

Why the popularity of Catcher in the Rye is a BAD thing--Salinger's Other Works

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 serious and lengthy thought to the proper inclusion of female authors.

Should there be a similar structure that alerts people to works of quality from all the world?  Undoubtedly.  And still, there should be no quota.  If nothing of worth comes out of Myannamar (and I'm not saying that the statement is true) then Myannamar authors should not be inducted into the canon simply to balance it out.

The roster of worthy works should continue to be examined, pruned, cultivated, and commented on for the benefit of all.

So, while I disagree, perhaps with the question, I think I agree in large part with the intent.  It is good to broaden one's reading by including works unfamiliar to one.

A Hill of Diamonds

Diamond Hill by Chi-shun Feng reviewed

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 the New Atheists and their contempt for their fellow humans stemming from it, is nothing new.  It just goes to further the point that if "God is NOT Good," (to quote one of the New Atheists) well, then neither is a lack thereof.  I don't see compassion, humanity, comprehesion, or love stemming from this tide of vitriol and diatribe.  I don't see acceptance, I don't see all of those vaunted things that abandoning a belief in God is supposed to grant us.  So, I don't really see the appeal of the system.

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

"Earth Calling Taylor"

Stilted Poetry

"Humbug still walks our land on stilts"

Amusing short poem.

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 books that could be a defining moment.  For many, it may well be just another novel.  But equally, for many, it will be a book that you pick up and never put down.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

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

The Stories of Guy de Maupassant considered

Costa and de Waal?

Hare with the Amber Eyes as frontrunner for the Costa

Milking the Wealthy Pensioner

European countries begin raiding pension funds to cover shortfalls

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

An App for iPad detailing human rights stories

Haslett on Fish on Strunk and White

Haslett on Fish on Strunk and White

Silmultaneous Series

Orson Scott Card Launches two at nearly the same time

The Peloponnesian War with Video

Yep, now enriched with Video,  the Peloponnesian war now in its 300th decade!

Here's One for the Reading List

Ordinary Thunderstorms--William Boyd, reviewed

An Animated History of Wikipedia

Wikipedia told

A War-Time Mrs.

Mrs. Miniver reviewed

In some mysterious way, it appears to have made it into the public domain--to be found here.

Love Stories from the Male POV

Gone with the Wind, Trinity and others

The Age of Innocence as New York Novel?

The Age of Innocence as the ultimate New York Novel

The Apotheosis of "Be Careful What You Wish For"

"The Monkey's Paw" reviewed

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

Possession reviewed

A Moment of Revery with Emily

Emily Dickinson on the prairie


The lure of the unknown, the temptation of the infinitely curious

Derek Walcott takes T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry

White Egrets is awarded the 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.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Complex Contra Dennett

And I'm pro anything contra-Dennett

More on Instructions

The Instructions--Adam Levin  reviewed

Remember Jack LaLanne

Jack LaLanne R.I.P.

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 French Revolution supplies a myriad of examples) and continues to do so today.  Reason, untempered by humility, experience, humanity, and love is among the worst of tyrants.  (And I sure don't see any signs of humility amongst the New Atheism--but then, people who live in glass houses. . . )

Rating Writers by their Earnings

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

Parenting at the Speed of Light

When information changes faster than you can parent

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"

"Pascal Bruckner: 'Happiness is a moment of grace.'"

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

William Byrd did not seem to care for the 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

"Robert E. Howard, in his own words."

"Dover Beach" considered

"Dover Beach," perhaps the only truly great poem by one of the great critics, but not tremendous poets of Victorian time.

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

The Tragedy of Miriam, The Fair Queene of Jewry

Fascinating, I need to find it.

More information

The Work Itself

A Ghastly Tale

In the realm of the short-short, one by Annie Proulx

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"

"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


Friday, January 21, 2011

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

LoA considers the year in blog

One from Apollinaire

"Autumn" considered

When Is a Basket Like a Tower?

"When Is a Basket Like a Tower?" Beautiful convergences.

The War Continues with Maps and Diagrams

Considering Delium

Borges considered

Borges Considered

More on Wilfrid Sheed

Wilfrid Sheed

via Books Inq.

E-Books and Libraries

e-Books and Libraries

The perhaps-not-so Magnificent Ambersons

Reading the Modern Library 100--The Magnificent Ambersons

There's much about this that does not appeal. And yet. . . it made the list.  Hmmm.

Amusing Winter in Venice

Just for fun--Winter in Venice

A Myriad of Homers

Homeric translations online

Richmond Lattimore interlineal translation

Richmond Lattimore was THE definitive translation before the most recent by Robert Fagles, and probably the one many of us received our introduction to Homer through.  Seeing it played out against the Greek text (even though I read only a little Greek) is indeed lovely.

Neuroscience Reductio ad Absurdum

Against "Neurobabble"

A Title That Matches the Morning Mood

Bereft reviewed

Sounds like a great book.  Wonder when I'll be able to get it stateside.

Of Monkfish and Archives

Of Monkfish and Archives

57 Haiku

Fifty-Seven Damn Good Haiku reviewed

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Neversink Library

What a lovely thought and name: the Neversink Library--pretty much what you'd expect.

Poem du Jour: "On Change of Opinions"

"On Change of Opinions"

"I Once Had a Girl, or Should I Say. . . "

Norwegian Wood reviewed

The War in Sicily--Probably Not the One You're Thinking

The War in Sicily, part II

Wilfrid Sheed Passes from Us R.I.P.

Wilfrid Sheed passes

Music to Take Eyre By

Jane Eyre: The Music

Unsolicited Advice

I eschew much in the way of politics and political labeling, but I found this unsolicited advice to a young conservative salutary.   It could be turned inside out and beome unsolicited advice to a young liberal as well.  We need to temper our debates with understanding and with much more listening and getting at the heart of the issue than our present climate of rant allows for.  There is vitriol enough on all sides.  It really is time to tone it down and conduct ourselves like the civilized people we like to think we are.  A good starting place is--when it comes to ideas/policies/plan, go for the jugular--marshal all your arguments and trot them out as required.  When it comes to people, have a cup of tea, a beer, a soda, a milkshake--go to a movie.  In short, respect the person, attack the incorrect notion.  We'd all be better off with a little more of this approach. Of course, I realize, that such an approach does not make for headlines.  Alas! I guess we'll just have to stay out of the limelight and make our world workable from our own small station.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Common Experience

Another sharp observation from the pen of Barbara Pym.

From Excellent Women
Barbara Pym

I let Dora go on but did not really listen, for I knew her views on Miss Protheroe and on organized religion of any kind. We had often argued about it in the past. I wondered that she should waste so much energy fighting over a little matter like wearing hats in chapel, but then, I told myself that, after all, life was like that for most of us--the small unpleasantnesses rather than the great tragedies; the useless longings rather than the great renunciations and dramatic love affairs of history or fiction.

History According to the History Channel

History according to the History Channel

via a friend, thanks for the laughs

Authors Peddling their Wares

Authors on the Sales Side

Visit the New Wing of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts

Boston Museum of Fine Arts--Art of the Americas virtual introduction

Gravitational Anarchy

Gravitational Anarchy

I am struck at once by two things--the amazing fragility of the human body and mind and the amazing resilience of the human body and mind.  Human beings were able to survive Auschwitz, Dachau, Birkenau, but a cold can kill someone.  It is really quite a mystery, quite astounding, and quite moving if one thinks on it enough.

The iPad and Business Travel

The iPad and Business Travel--I'm not quite there yet; and being a very heavy user I would have to have the charger with me.  But I discovered on my last trip to Dublin I could have left the monster machine behind, almost.  I've got to pick up a couple of apps for spreadsheet and wordprocessing work--but the iPad has become (almost) my machine of choice.  The lack of viability for Flash, however, is a serious downside to much of what I want to do--so many of the Android machines seem to have appeal.  Hope Apple backs off of a stand that really isn't viable.  Did they really think the internet was going to bow to their odd decree?  I suppose only dwindling market share will reveal the problem.

Saw an advertisement for the iPad in which it noted you could multitask.  Unless the new OS adds this, I would say that the claim is, at best, an exaggeration.  Still, with the right apps, it is sufficient for most business needs, and I want to move it into my business solution of choice--particularly for the long trek through Dublin International!

Five Stories in About 2 minutes

Including "Samuel Johnson is Indignant," Lydia Davis recites five stories

Chabon in Adventure Mode

Gentlemen of the Road reviewed

Winter in Yosemite

Winter in Yosemite a short film

Mailer and McLuhan Debate the Electronic Age

Mailer and McLuhan together again for the first time

Georges Méliès Online

A Trip to the Moon for your delectation and delight

"J. D. Salinger's Failure"

"J. D. Salinger's Failure."

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Eight Bad Archeologists

From a friend--eight archeologists NOT to emulate

Catching Up in the Peloponnese

Catching up in the Peloponnese

If you're planning to read this, or even if not, you couldn't have a more congenial host and guide than the Common Reader.  By touching on those things that speak to him as he wanders through the text, it provides another light to read by.  Always, always valuable.

Stop Defending the Liberal Arts

On how not to support the Liberal Arts

via Books Inq.

Banville on Kafka

Banville reads Kafka's The Trial


Kelly Cherry--"Gethsemane"

via Books Inq.

Strange, compelling and eerily lovely imagery.

Passion and the Pursuit of Truth

Passion and the Pursuit of Truth

via Books Inq.

Reading Notes

Wow, I could be jealous of a reading group that takes on such works or a reading list so complex and spare.

The War in Sicily

Continuing the read of The Peloponnesian War

Together Again for the First Time

I doubt you'll see another review that pairs Diana Wynne Jones's Howl's Moving Castle with A.S. Byatt's Possession.

And while we're on the topic--I watched (once again) Ponyo, and this mention makes me remember that I really should revisit Howl's Moving Castle as well.  I have a great fondness for the gentleness that is much of what Miyazaki-san produces.

Over-analyzed Texts?

For your consideration--The Lord of the Flies

The Progressive "Climate of Hate"

The Progressive "Climate of Hate"

via Maverick Philosopher

Warning--fairly graphic stuff.

I post this as an example of how not to engage in debates on the matter.  Indeed, silence is the best response--a ringing, resounding silence, to let the leaden words fall to the wooden planks and thud their way into well deserved oblivion.  Anyone, on either side, regardless of political viewpoint, who chooses to indulge in this a form of "fact-finding"  merely fans the flames of a largely idiotic debate.  Are our metaphors over-the-top sometimes?  Undoubtedly.  Do we ever expect someone to actually act upon them?  Most of us do not.  I know that I have had occasion to sympathize with the Bard and say, "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers."  Would I do so?  No.  Would I cheer if someone started to do so?  No.  Do I mean for someone to actually act on the command? No.  Then why do I say it?  To let off steam, as all of us tend to do.

So, let the debate die.  Finish it.  Are we all inclined to speech that is over the top when we are stressed, anxious, or excited--without doubt.  Let it end.

Ali Shaw Sounds Great, but Keep Away from the Schine

Short reviews of three books, Shaw, Schine, and Schenkar

I've been interested in the Highsmith biography for some time now and the Ali Shaw looks like it might be a really fine book.  However, you could give a pass to the Schine and not miss out on much; it didn't do justice to its progenitor. Additionally, we should be discouraging the legions of Austen wannabes from flooding the market with Lord Darcy's Ninth Wife and such.  That said, Schine's book is not in the same vein and as a bit of light reading might be acceptable.

This Elgin Marbles Book Has Intrigued Me

Mistress of the Elgin Marbles reviewed

Arthur Symons on Venice


A Survey of the Best Poems about Babies

Babies, like marriages, are the perfect inspiration for simply awful occasional verse.  Not so with these poems.

The KJV Still Shapes the Way We Speak

How the KJV still shapes the way we speak

It certainly has had some lasting metaphors and similes that people spout off without knowing their source.

Next Stop, The Vook

iPad apps that combine books with video

And who exactly wants these, and why?  I know that I have trouble watching many foreign films because I'm seldom in the mood to read a movie.

"And I Alone Survived to Tell You. . . "

Those of you who have been exposed to my iPad typing will know that in addition to conjoined words, we often end up with the phenomenon described in this article.  Ah, the pleasures and the perils of typing in the autocorrect world.

A Wrinkle in Time in 90 Seconds

Kids reenact A Wrinkle in Time in 90 seconds.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Startlingly Poignant Moment

Now reading Barbara Pym's Excellent Women, and this passage from early on in the book both surprised and moved me.

Excellent Women
Barbara Pym

I could very well see what she meant, for unmarried women with no ties could very well become unwanted. I should feel it even more than Winifred, for who was there really to grieve for me when I was gone. Dora, the Malorys, one or two people in my old village might be sorry, but I was not really first in anybody's life. I could so very easily be replaced.

This Week's Poem of the Week--One of My Favorite

"Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" Thomas Gray

The Blog That Gave Rise to the Question...

. . . that I answer in the post below--Space Station Mir

Science Fiction as Literature

Bibiblio challenges us to come up with 20 genre books that one could argue are not only genre, but literature.

I'm not much into the realm of argument, but perhaps I can start a list of what I like (which does not make it literature) and then try to figure out whether or not it falls into this ultimately elusive category.  For now, a few books I think may fall into the category--

Mary Shelley--Frankenstein, I don't much care for this book, finding it at times overwritten and very difficult to follow, but it did set the groundwork for what a science fiction novel could do and the themes that it could explore.

Philip K. Dick--The Man in the High Castle--perhaps his most perfect work, the best conceived and the most rivetingly written.  Does it qualify for literature?  Exploring themes first articulated in Chuang-tzu, it asks us to consider what is reality and what do we make of it.

Mary Doria Russell--The Sparrow--exploring deep themes of faith, religion, and what it means to be human, this one is certainly a contender.  All of Mary Doria Russell's books to date have been superb, and she deserves a good deal more recognition that she has gotten at this point.  But is it literature?  One would have to tell me what constitutes literature--dealing with great themes? Great writing? Great vision?  I think this has all three.

H. G. Wells--The War of the Worlds/The Time Machine/The Island of Dr. Moreau, particularly in the latter two, which while having the necessary scientific trappings, could do as well without them--the fantastic elements merely sugar coating the somewhat bitter pill Wells wanted the world to swallow.

Cao Xueqin--Dream of the Red Chamber/Story of the Stone--A Chinese novel that is propelled by the story of a sentient stone. Because this fantastic element is so integral to the story line, I think it may qualify, but perhaps it is not sufficiently in the "fantasy world."

William Shakespeare--Hamlet and MacBeth Once again, I readily admit, I may be cheating, but given that both plays (and more particularly MacBeth) are driven by the supernatural agents that start the story--one could make a good case for these.  More than either of these, the play many consider Shakespeare's masterwork--The Tempest--is so completely driven by its fantasy elements, that I think if safe to say it qualified--ditto Midsummer Night's Dream.  Indeed, we've become so used to viewing these through the lens of literature that we've forgotten that they truly are fantasy.

Flann O'Brien--The Third Policman--I don't even know where to begin to summarize this sprawling monstrosity of a story (contained in a very, very short book).  One must read it, with its bicycle obsessed policemen and its vision of heaven, hell, and the afterlife.

Anthony Burgess--A Clockwork Orange--and you could lump in here several other dystopian novels--Orwell's 1984, Huxley's Brave New World, Zamayatin's We.

So, I think we can demonstrate that there is literature grounded in elements of fantasy, the supernatural, and Science Fiction.  Perhaps the question that is being asked is "Are there any modern genre titles that qualify as literature?"  I've noted Mary Doria Russell above, to which I might add Ursula K. Leguin (particularly The Dispossessed, perhaps, Frank Herbert's Dune (although I'm hesitant about this one because my like gets in the way of my objective judgment about it as a work of fiction).

I guess the end result is that I need to think about this more and to settle on a defensible definition of literature before I can rightly answer the question.

"Physics from Hell, " The Video!

Physics from Hell redux

How Dante invented modern physics.

Time Travellers in World War II

Black Out and All Clear reviewed

About a House, or, er, a desk or. . .

Great House reviewed

Certainly an Odd Enough Film

For those who haven't gotten around to it yet--a look at Donnie Darko, an odd, unnerving film.

Too Long a Voyage?

Virginia Woolf's The Voyage Out reviewed.

LoA Story of the Week--Mary Church Terrell

"What It Means to Be Colored in the Capitol of the United States"

Kokoro--Natsume Soseki

First, a warning to those who would pick up the elegant, poetic, and powerful new translation of this most important novel of one of Japan's finest novelists: read the preface last, except for perhaps the last page in which the translator explains the meaning of kokoro and how she chose to translate it.  The rest of the preface is stuffed full of major spoilers.  But this was the only flaw I could find with the novel and wiht the translation. The plot isn't precisely a page-tuner, but the reader is engaged every step of the way, from the narrator's encounter with the otherwise nameless Sensei to the very end.

In a nutshell, a young man leaves his family to go to Tokyo for school. While there he encounters and "falls in love with" an intriguing, mysterious man whom he comes to call Sensei. Falls in love with should not be read to imply a homosexual affair, but as the translator rightly notes, a kind of erotic intellectualism.  There is no sense of passion here, but a sense of complete adoration, complete enchantment. The young man is called back home because his father, who has some mysterious illness, has taken a turn for the worse.  While there, he is disappointed that Sensei does not contact him more.  As his father steadily worsens, he receives a note from Sensei asking him to return to Tokyou.  Obviously, under the circumsances, he cannot.  Somewhat later he receives from Sensei another communication that fills that last half of the book.

The book seems to be about many things.  Some of them will probably be more opaque to Western readers than others.  For example, the action of our present story runs largely parallel to the death of the last Meiji Emperor and the suicide of his most important general.  Japan is changing, and chaning in ways that no one can know are better or worse.  This is further exemplified by the difficulty Sensei has in abandoning the traditional Japanese garb and taking up awkward western clothing.  He does it readinly because everyone is, and yet there is a clinging to the traditional Japan.

Further, the book is about honor and about the mistakes we make when young or when old.  It is about coming to terms with past actions and setting them in context.  It is also a sort of bildungsroman, in two parallel tales--the young man who takes the Sensei on as confidant, and the Sensei himself coming to terms with his manhood without the help or advise of anyone he can trust.

I should say that for a Japanese novel, there are probably fewer stumbling blocks for the western reader than you are likely to encounter in any other novelist.  The story is, to its very heart and core, Japanese.  There is no way that the action, particularly of the third part of the book would take place in exactly that way anywhere outside of Japan. To say more than it concerns a rivalry over a young woman would be to expose too much of the heart of what makes this so wonderful and interesting a book.

(You know, writing reviews without saying things about the plot and elements of the story that entranced is darn difficult.)

Let me end by saying at last, what kokoro means. Kokoro is the Japanese word for heart--not as in the physical organ, but rather as in the core of being.  It means, according to the translator, some combination of what we would call heart and soul and mind.  And indeed, as one reads, one can see the heart of a former Japan laid bare in all of its glory and infamy.

Highly recommended--*****

Friday, January 14, 2011

"To Bowdler Go Where Too Many Have Gone Before. . . "

Practically the only reason I'm linking to yet another article about Finn-N is so I could use the header

Another View of the Lost Books

The Lost Books of the Odyssey reviewed

My review of same

Thanks be to God!

Beatification date for John Paul II announced

Sancto Subito, as the signs read at his funeral.  And how wonderful for this great Pope that he should be honored in the month of Mary, something that is very meaningful to him.

Article covering the announcment

Problems in Reportage?

How the media botched the Arizona Shooting

via Books Inq.

An Interview with Patrick Lee Miller

Patrick Lee Miller on ancient philosophy and relgion

This was really fascinating.  Thanks again to Books Inq.

Zodiacal Mania

"No, Your Sign Hasn't Changed."

Amusing when one considers all those books, personality profiles, predictions, etc. have been made with this bad, old mistaken Zodiac.  Or not, as CNN explains.

The Downfall of Borders

I don't know what lessons can be learned from it, but there's sure a lot of analysis going on, the collapse of Borders.

I think a key take-away (if you will) is the danger of underestimating the progress of digitization and the electronic medium for both sales and delivery.

Between War and Civil War

Continuing our voyage through the Peloponnesus

Suzanne Collins Once Again

The Hunger Games reviewed

I'm half afraid to start Mockingjay, the series wrap-up for fear of a let-down after two great entries in this series.  But. . .

Greatest Hits of 1568--Still Topping the Charts

Thomas Tallis's Spem in Allium--still brilliant after all these years

via Books Inq.

A Lovely Song to Say Farewell

"Moonlight in Vermont" to say farewell to Margaret Whiting

Isn't it wonderful that we have the means now to have more than mere memory traces of those who have enriched our lives?

Music and Passion

"Music and Passion": a lecture

via Books Inq.

Even Bigger than Tad "The Tree-Killer" Williams

If anyone can compete, it must be Robert Jordan.  A review of Eye of the World.

The Non-romance Romance

The Tapestry of Love

Not having read it, I cannot say, but this sounds like it might be in the vein of one of my all time favorites: Angela Thirkell.  Perhaps I'll have to look into it.

One of My Favorite Books of My Early Teen Years

True Grit reviewed

Derek Mahon and Philip Larkin

Poetry needs its pushers--I'm proud to be among them if only by linking to "Days Are Where We Live"

Jay McInerny

The Story of My Life reviewed

Jay McInerny is one of those writers like Brett Easton Ellis, who after a promising start seemed to produce nothing much worth reading.  Nothing much until the short story collection of last year or the year before, which has some really, really fine material in it.