Tuesday, March 31, 2009
I saw Wally McRae when I was at the Cowboy Poetry Gathering back in 2005 and chatted with Tom Russell. Could have seen Ian, I suspect, but by then I had plenty of material and was getting ready to mosey on. Here, once more, is the piece I wrote: There's poetry in them thar cowboys.
And here is Ian Tyson (and a painting by Charlie Russell):
To be modern is to be torn in two. We celebrate freedom as if we can do anything we want, if we put our minds to it. At the same time, we bemoan the way our genes, our childhood, and social forces determine everything we do. When we grow bald, lose our temper, or get laid off, experts tell us that we really have no choice in the matter. Life is preordained by factors that outflank our feeble will. Yet at the same time we celebrate will power as if everything is contingent and subject to our control. The decline of providence has left us intellectually schizophrenic. We define freedom as the opposite of submission and obedience but end up feeling hardly free at all.
On the other hand, there is Lev Shestov's view: THE FUNDAMENTAL IDEA OF THE PHILOSOPHY OF LEV SHESTOV.
He was struck by the force of necessity over human life, which begets the terrors of life. The vulgar forms of necessity did not interest him, but rather the more subtle forms. The force of irreversible necessity has been idealised by philosophers, as reason and morals, as self-evident and generally-observed truths. Necessity is begotten by knowing. L. Shestov is completely caught up by this thought, that the Fall into sin is connected with knowledge, with the knowledge of good and evil. Man ceases to be nourished off the tree of life and begins to be nourished off the tree of knowledge. And L. Shestov struggles against the force of knowledge, which makes man subject under the law, in the name of the liberation of life. ... Shestov is not at all against scientific knowledge, he is not against reason in everyday life. ... He was against the pretensions of science and reason to decide questions about God, about the liberation of man from the tragic anguish of human judgement, wherein reason and rational knowledge want to circumscribe potentiality. God first of all is limitless potentialities, and this is a basic definition of God. God is not bound by any sort of truths of necessity.
As I recall - and I haven't looked at it in more than 40 years - Madame de Lafayette's novel is pretty good.
This should be of special interest to bloggers, I would think. Check this out, too: An interview with Bob Walkenhorst. I liked this:
My first career in music, 1982 to 1997, was mostly driven by ambition. My second wave, 2003 to present, I consciously try to avoid anything ambition-driven. Free downloads? Sure, why not? Make good music; the rest will take care of itself. Maybe.
I hope it's clear that I don't view this as a good thing or something I welcome. When I had the realization I described above it felt like a sock in the gut, if perhaps a fillip on the interior decorating front. All the business model and joblessnes stuff aside, that's how I feel about physical newspapers too. There's a lot I miss about print newspapers, particularly the serendipitous magic of finding stories adjacent to the one you're reading, articles you're deeply interested in but never would have known you were if it weren't plopped down in front of you to pull you in through your peripheral vision. Yet at this point I probably read a print newspaper only a handful of times a year.
Where Internet kills the traditional media is in the lack of limits. Radio or TV will have a 2-minute summary, a newspaper will have a predetermined amount of space for it. This will tell you briefly What, Who, Where, When, How and perhaps even a little bit of Why, but cannot, by definition tell the whole story. If you are not interested, this is enough for you. If you are interested, or if you are suspicious of the source, you are left hanging and unsatisfied. But online, that short summary will provide a link to something that no other medium can afford to have: the entire transcript of the session, the entire video of the whole football game, full uncut interviews instead of brief quotes, further links to additional relevant information.It is precisely because one can compare the information as reported with the primary sources of that information that the traditional media have come to seem far less reliable. They would do better to be brutally agnostic regarding the issues of the day and make sure every side of every argument is thoroughly aired.
This piece makes much of the Huffington Post. I think the author should look into Pajamas Media as well. Also, why eliminate what the blogger calls "pseudoscience, HIV denialist, New Age woo-mongers"? Why not just hire those "real science/nature/medicine reporters" and let readers make up their own minds based on the soundness of argument, data, etc.? I still think that free and open and full discussion of all points of view - without rancor or insult - is the best way to arrive at some measure of truth. I am suspicious whenever anybody wants to restrict access to any point of view. (Which was why, when I was editor of my college newspaper, I wanted to invite Gus Hall amd George Lincoln Rockwell to both write about an incident involving the American Communist Party and the American Nazi Party that took place in Philadelphia. My Jesuit preceptors overruled me, which was their prerogative. But I think people would have seen through both.)
Monday, March 30, 2009
I like this:
(Cunningham asks the students for their definitions of style.) One says, “It’s the way a writer uses words.” “You might think of style as the way words use a writer,” Cunningham replies.
Happy Birthday to Our Invisible Lady of the Web;
She goes with the flow when Frank's on the Ebb.
And, although we've never seen her come around here,
It's a universal truth we hold 'er unquestionably dear.
For, without her, Frank would surely be less;
And, without her, we could never quite bless
The way this cyberworld turns head and heart;
And, each of us rises to share the better part.
It's just a birthday, eh? That's what they say;
But, Deb's Our Darling This Very Special Day.
Have a très wonderful morning, afternoon, and night:
I jes' know I speak for all of us from The Land of BITE :).
I happen to know, thanks to an inside tip, that Elly's real last name is Irving and that she is the divine Maxine's stepdaughter. She also runs a hell of a lot better than I do.
First, John Timpane's piece about Aleaxander McCall Smith: Author rooted in 2 continents, inspired by an African woman.
Second, Jonathan Storm's piece about HBO's adaption of The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency: Jonathan Storm: A gem from Africa.
... what does seem extraordinary is that works regarded barely a century ago as so challenging that they could hardly be looked at are now 'easy' default art for money-burners, and hang on a million suburban living room walls.... In the Busy Traffic's Boom...
To the eye, all was glorious, convincingly 'unspoilt' countryside - but the ear told another story, the sad truth that we live in a car-dominated, car-connected, car-ravaged land.
NPR on Baker
Sunday, March 29, 2009
I think we would all agree that, if there really is to be a distinction made between moral and legal wrongdoing and between the sphere of private freedom and that of public control, there must be some principle or procedure for determining what the law can and cannot forbid. If we don't have that procedure, or if we can chop and change, invoking liberty when liberty goes in our favour and "public morality" when it goes the other way, we are only pretending to distinguish law from morality. And recent experience of the UK Parliament, which is peopled by a new breed of puritans who are every bit as keen to impose their views on the rest of us as their 17th-century forebears, and every bit as keen as those forebears to claim the exemptions required by their own way of life, suggests that there is a real temptation among those who find themselves able to make laws for the rest of us, to be guided not by the love of freedom but by the morally-inspired desire to extinguish it.
The puritan is a human type - unfortunately - and to think that puritans include only churchgoers is naive in the extreme. These days, you're likely to find more true puritans at a political rally than at Mass. Political true believers can get hung up on dogmas as much as anybody, with similar results.
I can't help thinking - but then I am approaching old age and old men are predisposed to think such thoughts - that this utilitarian attitude, this inability to understand the joys of serendipity, will lead in the long run to an inability to make and understand allusions and to a loss of mental flexibility. Browsing is a manifestation of multiculturalism in the best possible sense. By browsing, you realise that what you previously did not know existed interests you deeply. The internet, by contrast, is the instrument of monomaniacs.
What is in dispute is whether matter itself is the fundamental nature of reality or an increasingly mysterious abstraction from the real, intelligible and value-filled world of our experience. It is worth remembering that most major philosophers have thought, and most living philosophers now think, that consciousness and thought are irreducibly real, and cannot be explained or described in purely material terms.
... Jessica Schneider on Short river's long shadow on England.
... Yours truly on Romance and bloody battle. ( I notice a change was made that has resulted in something misleading: the treacherous knight mentioned at the end of the fourth paragraph betrayed both the town and the archers, from who Nick did not have to rescue Melisande.)
... Peter Rozovsky on Matt Rees: Crime novel offers insight into history of Palestinians.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
p.s. Sorry, forgot to mention you must hit "F-5" or click "Refresh / Reload" in order to watch the action . . .
All vigorous pursuits bring real change. As I keep track of my dogs in broken country I notice that my memory improves, particularly short-term memory -- no small thing at my age. The hills that at the beginning of the season seemed so laborious roll beneath me. One does not set about doing these things as a salute to the Protestant Ethic but rather by noticing the land, the weather and the dogs and by allowing a sympathetic chord to rise to the hunt.
Sir Michael Holroyd, Miss Drabble's husband, tells me, however, not to read too much into it. "People think the feud is a lot worse than it really is," he says.I think Sir Michael is right. When I interviewed A.S. Byatt some years ago I was warned not to bring her sister up. I didn't, but later on, when we had dinner together, she did. My impression was that, while the two weren't great friends, neither was there any great animosity toward Margaret on Antonia's part.
“The rather extraordinary inference to be drawn from this doctrine is that personality is somehow transcendent of nature. A person is not merely a fragment of some larger cosmic or spiritual category, a more perfect or more defective expression of some abstract set of principles, in light of which his or her value, significance, legitimacy, or proper place is to be judged.” ... no human person should be sacrificed to supra-personal (or more accurately sub-personal) notions such as Fatherland or Racial Purity or Utility or History or the Triumph of the Proletariat.
Friday, March 27, 2009
This notion of “escapism” seems to be accepted by everyone almost as the reason for the movies’ existence in the first place. Read any history of the medium and it will tell you that Depression-era Americans went to see the lavish movie musicals of Busby Berkeley and similar glamorous stuff to escape from the bitter hardships of their daily lives. Reality was getting them down, so they sought out a fantasy. I don’t believe it. Speaking as a naïve viewer of the sort that is supposed to have a taste for escapism, I feel quite sure that what those audiences wanted from the pictures was not escape from what they thought of as the real world but a cinematic reality that they could regard as superior to it and that was therefore more real than the world outside it. To us it may look as if poverty and failure were the reality and love and happiness mere fantasies, but I don’t think it looked that way at the time.
... the sacred is not merely a force external to humanity (as it seems in Aeschylus); it is also inexplicably present in language. In the right hands, human language can become sacred. The gods speak to us in speech itself.
This argument discussed in this post appeared in a comment on this post of mine: More on d'Espagnat ...
Update: Someone posting as Rosenkrantz Guildenstern offers this comment: " As practiced in modern times, poetry is a discredited means of (supposedly) communicating aesthetic thoughts or feelings in verbal form." Does anyone have any thoughts about this that they'd like to share?
Update II: See Motion passed. And check the comments here.
Post bumped again.
... Sunstein worries that the conception of free speech emerging in today’s communications market emphasizes “an architecture of control…by which each of us can select a [customized] free-speech package.” ... The resulting self-segregation creates numerous small republics of like-minded individuals of the sort Montesquieu preferred, but the founders considered “destructive of self-government….”So how does this differ from the time when there were Republican papers and Democratic papers and some people read only one and others only the other one.? Or the people I met recently whose only sources of news were the NYT, PBS News, and MSNBC? Self-segregation hardly began with the internet.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
I'd love to hear him play Brahms's Handel Variations and Fugue.
I felt, after I read this, that it was a long way round to some fairly conventional reviews. I mentioned this an email to Dave, who then sent me this piece by my former colleague Carlin Romano, which makes explicit - along with evidence and argument - the dubious feeling have had about Gray: The Triumph of 'Smugism'.
But what he liked about growing up in England was the landscape. The country’s successful alteration of wilderness and swamp had created a completely new green ecology, allowing plants, animals and humans to thrive in “a community of species.” Dyson has always been strongly opposed to the idea that there is any such thing as an optimal ecosystem — “life is always changing” — and he abhors the notion that men and women are something apart from nature, that “we must apologize for being human.” Humans, he says, have a duty to restructure nature for their survival.
Mark's own piece is of course worth reading, but do follow his link to the Alva Noë interview, in which the following occurs:
Instead of asking how the brain makes us conscious, we should ask, How does the brain support the kind of involvement with the world in which our consciousness consists? This is what the best neuroscientists do. The brain is not the author of our experience. If we want to understand the role of the brain, we should ask, How does the brain enable us to interact with and keep track of the world as we do? What makes a certain pattern of brain activity a conscious perceptual experience has nothing to do with the cells themselves, or with the way they are firing, but rather with the way the cells' activity is responsive to and helps us regulate our engagement with the world around us.
But he would also have been 120 years old yesterday. The 120th anniversary of his birth was last July 23rd. Today is the 50th anniversary of his death.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Alberto Giacometti said that he could not get over "the violence of Bonnard," a quality he found lacking in Jackson Pollock when he compared the two. And, certainly, "violence" gets at the heart of Bonnard's paintings and drawings. Seductive, mystical and lovingly brutal could also describe the intensity of Bonnard's gorgeously clashing hues -- iridescent lemons, limes, crimsons and violets that shimmer like precious metals and gems; blacks and whites taken to the extremes of the spectrum; and deep purples and blues, no less than reds, oranges and yellows, that burn every color of fire.
The installation, which is not strictly chronological, emphasizes Bonnard's tendency to move back and forth between relatively greater and lesser degrees of naturalism and abstraction. This gives the show something of the quality of a meditation, which is appropriate for Bonnard. His late self-portraits, two of which are included at the Metropolitan, suggest the asceticism of a Chinese sage, with close-cropped hair and long, narrow, all-seeing eyes. In the canvases of his last twenty years, which Bonnard did in his studio rather than from direct observation, the Impressionist insistence on working in front of the motif gives way to memories of the motif, so that perception turns out to be not so much a reality as a dream.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Arguably a turncoat, possibly a degenerate (his last mistress was his niece by marriage and the daughter of a former lover), certainly a shameless flatterer and world-class bribe-taker, Talleyrand was also the most skillful and farsighted diplomat of his age and a man of arresting grace, wit, and style. No wonder that during his American sojourn he developed an intense friendship with that most glamorous, coolly intelligent, and winning of the Founders, Alexander Hamilton (years after his return to France, Talleyrand kept Hamilton’s portrait over his mantelpiece). Like Hamilton, he had a rare rapport with and understanding of women—he counted many of the most intelligent, attractive, and influential of them as his friends or lovers, though one suspects they often adored him despite themselves.
I don't know about the spiders.
... it is Chekhov who seems to me close to god, precisely because he does not set himself up as a vatic authority, a Nobodaddy figure dispensing violent judgements and condemnations and blessings. It is his discretion that is god-like, his ability to withold himself from the tale, to allow things and people to be as they are in what we call real life: manifold and, finally, just themselves. One could argue that God is otherwise - that He sees all and judges accordingly; but since Chekhov is only a man, to mimic God would be to show himself up as only a man; it is by leaving such judgements (whether implicit or explicit) out of the tale, that Chekhov comes to seem god-like, seeing all.But what's this? "Chekhov was wasted on me in my youth ..." Trust me, elberry: You're still young.
I can't help thinking that Ball's description of the Centre for Policy Studies as "a right-wing think tank" may betray some "left-wing" bias of his own. But maybe not.
At any rate, he could well be right that a lawyer's brief on matters of climate may be of dubious utility. And Ball's final graph is certainly honest and worthwhile.
On a lighter note: The 'Global Warming Three' are on thin ice.
Surveys revealed that what readers really wanted were anecdotal trend stories, whimsical lifestyle pieces and 20-minute recipes.
Monday, March 23, 2009
It seems worth noting that there is nothing "real" that does not in some way appear to be, and no "appearance" - not even a mirage, which is a real optical illusion - that is not in some way "real."About the most crucial distinction we can make as cognitive creatures is between appearance and reality, between how things seem and how they really are, between subjectivity and objectivity.
See also: Tom Clark's Getting Along: Civil Disagreements with a Thinking Christian. (Also from Dave.)
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Make sure to click on Maxine's review. Here's a snippet:
One often reads the word "unputdownable" to describe a book – it is certainly a true description of this one. As the novel reaches its climax, I was on the edge of my seat, my heart was pounding, and by the end I felt wrecked. It has strong parallels with Wuthering Heights, in which two "normal" people (Gerda as Nelly Dean and Marianne as Lockwood) are the filter through which the reader experiences elemental, horrifically tragic and passionate events that are beyond the witness-narrators' comprehension.
I once saw someone die by jumping into a canal. The police reaction to this event was the opposite of fiction. In novels, the police rush to the scene, a battery of high-tech forensics is used, a pathologist is called and examines the body in situ, and all hands are on deck in professional, efficient manner. In my real-life example, they did not care. Less dramatic cases are treated with similar lack of interest - for example I was once knocked off my bike by a motorist turning right across me. He initially stopped to see how I was, then drove off. A witness wrote down his numberplate. I reported the incident to the police, but by the time I got home from the station about an hour later, there was a message on my answering machine saying that they could not trace the number so were closing the case. Some years later, I had a much more serious accident caused by a hit and run driver. The police were notorious by their absence. [I have had many positive experiences with the police over the years, but not so far as observing them trying to solve actual crimes.]
This is not good.
I had not realized how much I had in common with Ackroyd. He despises secularism, finds TV pundits revolting, and doesn't put any stock in self-expression. Bryan is right when he says that Ackroyd "buries himself alive in his subjects, fictional or nonfictional." That is why The Plato Papers and The Hosue of Dr. Dee are such good novels. His biography of Blake, by the way, is superb.
These American artists arrested an ideal and tranquil, yet momentary, glance at an aspect of this nation’s nature, perhaps as a measure of meditative pleasure, in much the same way Ralph Waldo Emerson recommended in his well-known essay, “Nature,” written in the late 1830s: “In the pleasure of nature a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows. Nature says—he is my creature, and maugre all impertinent grief’s, he shall be glad with me. Not the sun or the summer alone, but every hour and season yields in tribute to delight, for every hour and change corresponds to and authorizes a different state of the mind, from breathless noon to grimmest midnight.”
David Hinton has been translating Chinese poetry for more than a decade. His new anthology gives us, for the first, best time, the sweep of this tradition in excellent English poetry. As Hinton writes, this may be the longest unbroken literary tradition that exists, starting around at least 1400 B.C. and still going. We know Chinese poetry through the efforts of Pound, who helped supercharge modern poetry. It should be said, though - someone has to say it - that Pound's renderings of Chinese verse were idiosyncratic and, in some respects, misleading.Hinton's are neither
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Well, it would be a good idea if those in the humanities had a better grasp of science and if those in the sciences were better acquainted with the humanities, especially philosophy. My principal objection to The God Delusion wasn't that it argued against the existence of God, but that it argued against it so incompetently.
He developed a carapace of layers of wit, laid down like sheets of armour to protect his inner weaknesses. According to Mitchell, the three principal concerns of his life were Greece, poetry, and sex. A chapter is devoted to each of these themes, and we learn how in each area Bowra met with profound disappointment.