Sunday, November 30, 2014

The spirit of realism …

… 100 Years of ‘Dubliners’ – Flavorwire. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Karl Ove Knausgaard

It's not often that I'm tempted by modern fiction, but something about Karl Ove Knausgaard's auto-biographical tome, My Struggle, attracted my attention. And now, after several weeks, I've finished the first volume. 

This is a book teeming with intensity and yet dominated by the banal. In that sense, I can't remember reading a book quite like it. Knausgaard records his daily experience - his struggle - with unusual detail. But it's not the sort of detail to which we've grown accustom: Knausgaard's preoccupation is with the order of things, and with the emotion, the history which these things manifest. All of this stands in contrast, I think, with simply describing things, with using adjective upon adjective to approximate their essence.  

My Struggle is hulking novel that reaches for everything - for death, for alcohol, for parenting, love, and despair. But then, it's a book that captures, really, only a handful of events. It takes Knausgaard more than two hundred pages, for instance, to chart the days culminating in his father's funeral. And even then, he doesn't quite make it. Instead, he weaves a narrative empty of flourish and fanfare: what he's created is a tapestry of things, and in these things, banal though they may be, he identifies meaning. 

I found myself moved by Knausgaard's book, particularly the second half, where the rhythm of things expands our sense for what a novel can be: behind all the things, Knausgaard seems to argue, beyond all the objects and their associations, lurks a vision of what life is, of what it is to live, daily, under skies indifferent to mood and attitude. This is a novel of us, of people. 

Happy warrior of the mind …

… The University Bookman: How Dwight Became Dwight. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Even at the height of whatever sympathy for the Soviet régime Macdonald had, he recoiled from joining the Communist Party, let alone committing himself to the administration of same. The first Party meeting he attended was also his last; and characteristically, his loathing of it (which he never lost) was deep down emotional rather than logical. In 1979, three years before his death, he told Diana Trilling: “I said to myself, my God, these people, they’re just simply wobbits, they don’t have any brains and they’re scared to death of each other and they have no sense of humor, no life! How could anyone live in this airless atmosphere?” We are here very far from the mindset which (to quote one instance among hundreds) caused an aristocratic ultra-aesthete like Luchino Visconti to agitate on behalf of Italian communism because only communism could ensure his own ability to hobnob with A Better Class of Person.

Books' gravitational pull …

… Laudator Temporis Acti: A Kind of Happiness. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

For the season …

Today is the first day of Advent. So here, as usual, is my Advent villanelle:


The leaves are fallen, but the sky is clear
(Though winter’s scheduling an arctic flight).
The rumor is a rendezvous draws near.

Some say a telling sign will soon appear,
Though evidence this may be so is slight:
The leaves are fallen, but the sky is clear.

Pale skeptics may be perfectly sincere
To postulate no ground for hope, despite
The rumor that a rendezvous draws near.

More enterprising souls may shed a tear
And, looking up, behold a striking light:
The leaves are fallen, but the sky is clear.

The king, his courtiers, and priests, all fear
Arrival of a challenge to their might:
The rumor is a rendezvous draws near.

The wise in search of something all can cheer
May not rely on ordinary sight:
The leaves are fallen, but the sky is clear.

Within a common place may rest one dear
To all who yearn to see the world made right.
The leaves are fallen, but the sky is clear.
The rumor is a rendezvous draws near.
© 2006

Sad, but true …

Liberal arts take wrong direction.
The moderator's next move was to direct each student to say his or her name and say, "I am gay." So it went, around the table. "I'm Sarah Smith, and I am gay." "I'm Seth Farber, and I am gay." When it was my friend's turn, he politely refused. The moderator, of course, demanded an explanation. With some trepidation, my friend simply stated the truth: "This exercise is absurd and offensive and has nothing to do with the purposes for which we came to Williams College: to learn to think carefully, critically, and for ourselves." Confirming the old dictum that bullies are cowards who will never stand up to people who have the temerity to stand up to them, the moderator backed off.
Like Nat Hentoff, I think people should be allowed to think and say what they want, even it offends me or you, if only because it is useful to know what people really think.

Inquirer reviews …

 'A Brief History of Seven Killings': Epic novel on Bob Marley and Jamaican history.

… I review a really good collection:  Djanikian's Gravity has true pulling power.

… Writing about vice presidents, second bananas, is a slippery business.

… A wild past shaped modern New Orleans.

Something to think on …

We have enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.
— Jonathan Swift, born on this date in 1667

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Just a thought …

There is never a shortage of people willing to serve on the shadow side of their utopia.

Extraordinary man, extraordinary life …

… Free Speech and Free Jazz - (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)


A fair biography …

… Book Review: ‘Philip Larkin’ by James Booth - WSJ. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Mr. Booth is wise enough to distinguish between indiscretions in letters to friends and actions in the world. He also has the sense of humor required of anyone who writes about Larkin and which is so evidently missing in Andrew Motion. James Booth’s biography reveals a Philip Larkin more complex, three-dimensional and subtler in every way than Andrew Motion ever dreamed possible.

Something to think on …

We are what we believe we are.
— C. S. Lewis, born on this date in 1898

Friday, November 28, 2014

Not choosing the apocalypse...

Another winner …

… Run Towards Each Other by Katherine Riegel | BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog.

Back later …

I will be out and about today.  Blogging will resume later.

Mark thy calendar …

… Poetry Workshop in Doylestown – February 21, 2015 | Fox Chase Review.

Haiku …

Blue November sky,
Reminding him of summer,
Though the wind blows cold.

Cancellation …

Due to a water main break at Ryerss Museum and Library the Nov. 30th reading has been cancelled. 

Backstory …

… The Real Lolita | Hazlitt Magazine | Hazlitt. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Something to think on …

The wise man doesn't give the right answers, he poses the right questions.
— Claude-Levi Strauss, born on this date in 1908

Testimony …

… Extraordinary Time: From American Convert. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

The New Yorker on...

...Keeping secrets
The breaking of those codes, widely considered impossible, was achieved in part—or, if you believe this movie, pretty much solely—by Turing, who designed his own machine, a thing of great beauty and ingenuity known as a Bombe, to quicken his task. Turing was also gay, at a time when homosexual acts were a criminal offense. After the war, in 1952, he was arrested for indecency, convicted, and offered “chemical castration” instead of prison. He took the former.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

On the History of Censorship

...from Robert Darnton, whose Great Cat Massacre is a book I used to greatly enjoy teaching.

And the winner is …

… Thanksgiving by Alice Rose Crow~Maar’aq | BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog.

Happy Anniversary!

… Zealotry of Guerin: Ruth and Christopher Guerin (November 27, 1977), Sonnet #214.


… BBC News - PD James, crime novelist, dies aged 94. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Something to think on …

In every child who is born, under no matter what circumstances, and no matter what parents, the potentiality of the human race is born again.
— James Agee, born on this date in 1909

Free at last …

… Leonard Cohen and smoking in old age | OUPblog. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Ninny alert …

… Beware of Non-Existent Threat, Warns Consumer Protection Czar - Hit & Run :

Depth over breadth …

… The Millions : Gestation of Ideas: On Vertical Writing and Living. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Dubus became Anna through her senses. Rather than forcing Anna to do something, Dubus followed her, and the story built so that after one, slow draft, it was finished. If Dubus had written “Anna” according to his old, horizontal method, the story would have taken many drafts. It would have taken time. But we don’t have much time. I don’t have much time. I have been a schoolteacher for the past decade. I drive an hour to work. Between 7:20 and 2:21, I teach literature and creative writing. I drive another hour home, where I am blessed to be a father and husband. We play in the basement, where my wife pantomimes elaborate scenes for our 19-month-old twin daughters. The girls climb on me and pat my beard and laugh. We read books, we eat dinner. Diapers are changed. Diaper ointment is applied. Cries evolve into laughs, which, lately, have trailed off into the refrain of “Old MacDonald.” My wife and I then put the girls to bed. Some bedtimes are miraculously smooth and silent, while other bedtimes are like plays by Eugène Ionesco.

In case you wonder …

… Is Boris a Churchill or a Lloyd George? | Standpoint. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Reading his book, noting his admiration for Churchill but also his selection of the Churchillian qualities he chooses to praise, I am led to the conclusion that he has most in common not with Churchill but with Lloyd George. It is significant that there is comparatively little mention of Lloyd George in The Churchill Factor. It is as though Boris is subconsciously avoiding the subject. But anyone who studies the history of Britain in the first half of the 20th century cannot avoid answering the question: who was the greater man, Churchill or Lloyd George? I used to discuss this point, and their relationship in general, with Lord Boothby. He had known them both, in some ways very well, even intimately. He was never in any doubt that Lloyd George was the greater man. I don't think I agree at all. But the point is worth considering.


...Guardian first book award 2014 goes to Irish writer ‘who can go the distance’
“I grew up in a town like this, knew people infused with the same peculiar sensibility as this cast of characters,” Barrett wrote, “but do not let me mislead you by implying I have any authoritative judgment to deliver on this world. What fascinated me as I worked on these stories and incrementally built the world of Glanbeigh was how little I truly understood the people and places of this town.” Art thrives on such combinations of intimacy and mystery, he continued, “and so I resolved to draw the characters as meticulously and vividly as I could, but to simultaneously preserve the integrity of their essential unknowability.”

Austin scores...

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Gloss on text …

… Main Course.

My friend John Timpane has a wonderful poem  in this issue called "There Must Be Some Mistake." You have to scroll down to find it, but it will be well worth your while.

Selected pepigrams …

“Life is a zoo in a jungle” > All Aphorisms, All the Time. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Delightfully creepy …

Review of B.J. Hollars’ Dispatches From the Drowning: Reporting the Fiction of Nonfiction | BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog.

Sadly true …

… Poet Warrior Brian Turner: "As a Nation, We Go Too Quickly To War" | Miami New Times. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)


… AdviceToWriters - Advice to Writers - Sentences Must Be Dramatic. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Something to think on …

What most experimenters take for granted before they begin their experiments is infinitely more interesting than any results to which their experiments lead.
— Norbert Wiener, born on this date in 1894

Searching for metaphors...

...Meghan Daum: 'I don't confess in my work – that implies guilt'
“Confessions are not processed or analysed; they’re told in a moment of desperation, to a priest or to somebody interrogating you about a crime.” If there’s any religious metaphor that explains Daum’s goals as a writer, it’s conversion: turning a particular experience into “something bigger, something that is universal” and, in the process, helping readers to see the world in a new, unsentimental light, emboldened to speak up about how they really feel.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

It's OK to call yourself a writer …

… Give Yourself Permission | BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog.

In defense of Lovecraft, the writer …

… The Real Mr. Difficult, or Why Cthulhu Threatens to Destroy the Canon, Self-Interested Literary Essayists, and the Universe Itself. Finally. | The Los Angeles Review of Books. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

More than a figure of speech …

… Embodied cognition: Metaphors about the physical world help us reason. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

According to linguists George Lakoff and Mark Johnson in Metaphors We Live By, “[T]he very structure of reason itself comes from the details of our embodiment. … To understand reason we must understand the details of our visual system, our motor system, and the general mechanism of neural binding.” They mean not just that physical reality helps us think, but that mental functioning depends on corporeal experience. With their book, Lakoff and Johnson staked out a leading role for metaphor as a cognitive aid: Metaphor is that which ferries our attention between the knowable enclave of things and the veiled world of the intellect (or between the hot stove in your kitchen and your dangerously sexy new co-worker).

Ideas melding and morphing …

… The Letters of Gary Snyder and Wendell Berry | The Los Angeles Review of Books. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)


a day ablaze and bird song
gold and light and leaves
you and me wrapped in you

Something to think on …

Harmony is pure love, for love is a concerto.
— Lope de Vega, born on this date in 1562

Monday, November 24, 2014


… British fear of Islamists and Saudi fears about atheists are two sides of the same coin | Brian Whitaker | Comment is free | The Guardian.

The treatment chosen by the Saudi government was to amend its anti-terrorism law to classify “calling for atheist thought in any form or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion” as a terrorist act.
I find the new atheists annoying, but I don't recall that Professor Dawkins or any of the others have committed any terrorist acts. The good professor may think we theists are fools, but I don't think he intends us any bodily harm. Anyway, I always thought there was a difference between thought and act.

The Tao of Stoicism …

… In praise of the logos — Philosophy and Life. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)
Seneca also seems to have felt he had a relationship with God. "God is near you, he is with you, he is within you... a holy spirit indwells within us, one who marks our good and bad deeds, and is our guardian." Philosophy is nothing if not a promise that we can know the deity, and not primarily by our efforts but because God wills to be known to us. In another letter, he writes: "God comes to men; nay, he comes nearer, – he comes into men. No mind that has not God, is good. Divine seeds are scattered throughout our mortal bodies; if a good husbandman receives them, they spring up in the likeness of their source and of a parity with those from which they came. If, however, the husbandman be bad, like a barren or marshy soil, he kills the seeds, and causes tares to grow up instead of wheat." 

Encounters with serial killers …

… Essay Daily: Take One Daily and Call Me Every Morning: Andrew Maynard: Writing the Monster. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

My take on...

Grand old bookstore …

… How the Strand Keeps Going in the Age of Amazon -- Vulture.

In large part because of Fred Bass. He’s pretty much the human analogue for the store’s gray column. His father, Ben, founded the Strand around the corner in 1927, and he was born in 1928. Ask him about his childhood, and he recalls going on buying trips on the subway with his father, hauling back bundles of books tied with rope that cut into his hands. (“Along the line, we got some handles.”) Ask him about the 1970s, and he’ll tell you about hiding cash in the store because it was too dangerous to go to the bank after dark. He’s 86, and he still makes buying trips, though mostly not by subway. “Part of my job is going out to look at estates — it’s a treasure hunt.” New York, to him, “is an incredible source — a highly educated group of people in a concentrated area, with universities and Wall Street wealth. The libraries are here.” Printed and bound ore, ready to be mined. 

Visual essay …

… Brenda Miller’s “Ordinary Shoes” Video | BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog.

Life as lived …

… Book Review: ‘True Paradox’ by David Skeel - WSJ. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

It’s good and right to debate questions like the world’s origin, of course, but those questions are pretty far removed from the experience of most people. With “True Paradox: How Christianity Makes Sense of Our Complex World,” David Skeel, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, suggests changing the subject: “If we shift from origins to the world as we actually experience it, we will need to explain sensations like our sense of beauty and evil, as well as the puzzles of morals and law.” Each of these areas of experience contains paradoxes—real or apparent contradictions that, if we’re honest, are hard to make sense of. Mr. Skeel’s gentle contention is that the ancient creed of Christianity reckons with each in surprisingly satisfying ways.

The beauty of spiders …


Remembering …

… Paul Desmond At 90. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Something to think on …

I take a simple view of life. It is keep your eyes open and get on with it.
— Laurence Sterne, born on this date in 1713

Indeed …

… Beyond Eastrod: A villanelle worth reading and pondering.

I have been pondering that good night all my life. Part of my Catholic upbringing: regard each day as if it were your last. Of course, at my age, death is more of an eventuality than ever. Can't say I've ever feared it exactly. Dying? That's something else. That could be worrisome.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Wilde discovery …

.… Bits of Oscar Wilde, hiding in plain sight at the Free Library.

Great minds …

… The Inner Light | The Weekly Standard. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

To his credit, Greenblatt doesn’t overstate his case. Many of the details of Shakespeare’s life are unknown, and how closely he might have read Florio’s Montaigne is unclear. But in a couple of plays, Shakespeare’s debt to Montaigne seems obvious. In “Of the Cannibals,” an essay about people recently discovered in the New World, Montaigne writes admiringly of natives who “hath no kind of traffic, no knowledge of letters, no intelligence of numbers, no name of magistrate, nor of politic superiority.” Very similar language appears in The Tempest, when Gonzalo considers the kind of society he wants to establish on the island where he and others have been shipwrecked. There’s another apparent instance of borrowing in King Lear, which includes a passage that seems cribbed from Montaigne’s observations about the ideal relationship between parents and children.

Out and about …

I leave for Mass shortly, and from there Debbie and I will head to the Curtis Opera Company, and after that to dinner. Blogging will resume tonight.

Reaffirming dignity …

… Eye of the Beholder | The Weekly Standard.

Hands off …

… Nasty bookplates | The Book Haven.

Good for those haven't, too …

Top Ten Books for Fallen-Away Catholics. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Preview …

… Book Excerpt: Lisa Scottoline's "Betrayed".

There is one review in today's paper, but hasn't linked to it.

Heroes …

… 'If We Left, They Wouldn't Have Nobody' : NPR.

A thought for today …

Art is always the replacement of indifference by attention.
— Guy Davenport, born on this date in 1927

Saturday, November 22, 2014

I rather liked them …

… Were the 1950s really that bad? | The Book Haven. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

I grew up in the '50s and remember them fondly. And I still like Ike.

The latest fashion …

… Neuroscience Is Ruining the Humanities - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Further proof, if any was needed, that the university has become the place where ideas go to die.

Anecdotal evidence …

… A Fake Oral History of Allen Tate. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

incomleteness …

… Zealotry of Guerin: Memory (The Heart) - Frida Kahlo, Sonnet #213.

Hmm …

… Tayloring Christianity by Matthew Rose | Articles | First Things. (Hat tip, Davve Lull.)

“I am a Catholic,” our author is saying in so many (many) words, “because my experience of God is best explained by the spirituality found in radically holy Catholic lives. Such lives help me better understand the imperfect glimpses of a transcendent perfection that I perceive as God’s love. Christianity is true in that it is true to—faithful to—what is most evident in my life: its need for fulfillment and transformation by God’s love.”
This sounds about right to me.

Alasdair MacIntyre also diagnosed our culture as fatigued by the mutual antagonisms of rival traditions. MacIntyre, however, maintained a chastened confidence in the power of human reason to guide us toward the perfected understanding that is the end of all inquiry. Our confusions and disagreements, he wrote in his Gifford Lectures, “can be a prologue not only to rational debate, but to that kind of debate from which one party can emerge as ­undoubtedly rationally superior.”
My problem with this, as with this review, is that it comes close to turning reason into God.

Light-hearted scribes …

… Meet the Man Who Catalogs Medieval Cartoons - Modern Notion. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

A thought for today …

The want of logic annoys. Too much logic bores. Life eludes logic, and everything that logic alone constructs remains artificial and forced.
— André Gide, born on this date in 1869

At the movies...

Friday, November 21, 2014


… The Harvard Classics: Download All 51 Volumes as Free eBooks | Open Culture.

A great pretender …

‘Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love,’ by James Booth - tip, Dave Lull.)

Booth’s limiting estimation of “Show Saturday” counts as good critical sense, and thus serves to offset the strange moment when he includes the famous second-to-last line of “An Arundel Tomb” — “Our almost-instinct almost true” — among Larkin’s “awkward felicities.” In fact the line is about as un-awkward as a felicity can get. But Booth has not written an academic book. He has written a book of the higher journalism, which is still the kind of attention Larkin needs; although from now on, and partly because of Booth’s book, he might need it less. The way will now be open for commentators on this most lyrically rich of modern poets to be as tin-eared as they like.

Must we run away from...

Mastering survival tricks …

… Review of H.D.S. Greenway’s Foreign Correspondent | BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog.

The Spiritual Canticle and Awe

St. John of the Cross is one of 34 universal Doctors of the Church; which means he is noteworthy, even among the saints, for his devotion to God and his works and his life.  

He is generally acclaimed to be one of Spain's greatest poets too.  

I have been reading books on both St. John and his friend and contemporary St. Therese of Avila, of which more later, but I was caught by these phrases in St. John's work The Spiritual Canticle, where he describes the soul's longing for, finding and embracing God.  

St. John's soul is wholly female, and he writes of his soul's -- of her -- union with God:
Our bed is in flower,
bound round with linking dens of lions,
hung with purple,
built up in peace,
and crowned with a thousand shields of gold.

Following your footprints
maidens run along the way;
the touch of a spark,
the spiced wine,
cause flowings in them from the balsam of God.

In the inner wine cellar
I drank of my Beloved, and, when I went abroad
through all this valley
I no longer knew anything,
and lost the herd that I was following.

There he gave me his breast;
there he taught me a sweet and living knowledge;
and I gave myself to him,
keeping nothing back;
there I promised to be his bride.

Now I occupy my soul
and all my energy in his service;
I no longer tend the herd,
nor have I any other work
now that my every act is love. 
 The Spiritual Canticle, verses 24-28
When I read this as a small shivering person, I could not dare to think that I too could sing this song, because my soul couldn't be a girl's. 

I am in awe that God shows me this now.

A nose for bullshit …

… New Statesman | Tom Wolfe always cuts through modish nonsense. I wonder what he’d make of Russell Brand? (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

In case you wondered...

The world of the unnoticed …

… Pomegranate, Sister of the Heart by Carlos Reyes | Fox Chase Review.

A thought for today …

The essence of religion consists in the feeling of an absolute dependence.
— Friedrich Schleiermacher, born on this date in 1768

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Getting his due …

… Ike the Ringer - Taki's Magazine. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Derbyshire arrives at much the same conclusion as I did: Short bio of president long on leadership skills.

Shoptalk …

… The TLS blog: Van Morrison's mystic. (Hat tip, Dave Lull. )

Weighing in...

Hmmm...part two

After years of experiments and tens of millions of dollars, scientists have finally created a sheep that thinks and acts like a goat.
From the (video clip) story:  "....look at her there.  She's chewing like a goat not a sheep."

(Okay this one is from the Onion)


The Public Find Brain Science Irrelevant and Anxiety-provoking

One theory the researchers have for this disengagement is that people prefer not to think about the workings of their brains. Consistent with this, some of the participants explicitly stated that they found it uncomfortable to dwell on what goes on inside their skulls. “People may actively resist contemplating their own bodily interior,” write O’Connor and Joffe. “As a result neuroscientific knowledge may remain remote from everyday life. A ‘neuro society’ may be more theoretical fantasy than lived reality.”


As things might have been …

… Paul Davis On Crime: BBC To Produce Mini-Series Based On Len Deighton's Alternative Historical Thriller 'SS-GB'.

Mark thy calendar …

Stephen Berg Memorial Reading.

The date is Tuesday, December 16, 7 PM.
The location is the Green Line Café, 4426 Locust Street
(SE corner 45th & Locust Streets, West Philadelphia –
please note there are other Green Line Café locations).

If you would like to be a part of this,
please contact Leonard Gontarek,
You can read a poem or two and say a few (or many) words
about Stephen.

Stephen Berg

Poet and editor Stephen Berg attended the University of Pennsylvania, Boston University, the University of Indiana, and the University of Iowa, where he earned his BA. His collections of poetry include The Daughters (1971), Grief (1975), In It (1986), New & Selected Poems (1992), Shaving (1998), and 58 Poems (2013). His translations include Oedipus the King (1988), which he co-translated with Diskin Clay, and Ikkyu: Crow with no Mouth: 15th Century Zen Master (1989). With Robert Mezey, Berg helped edit the popular Naked Poetry: Recent American Poetry in Open Forms (1969) and The New Naked Poetry: Recent American Poetry in Open Forms (1976) anthologies. He founded and edited the American Poetry Review.

Stephen Berg’s honors and awards include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Pew Foundation. He received a PEN grant in translation and the Frank O’Hara Prize. He taught at Princeton and Haverford College and served as a professor of humanities at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.

from Being Here, Like This - The Poetry of Stephen Berg by Edward Hirsch

We still haven't taken the measure of Stephen Berg's poetry. His achievement is hard to pin down, and criticism, which runs on fashion, hasn't caught up with him. He had an idiosyncratic voice—forthright, nervous, intimate, self-questioning. I would call him a confessional poet except he kept emptying out and interrogating the self that is the basis of that mode, which he felt was misunderstood. He wrote in the wake of "Song of Myself," Four Quartets, Life Studies. He demanded utter authenticity in art—individuality of feeling, depth of sincerity. He was a fragmented post-confessional, a spiritual seeker, a poetic magpie, an antic skeptic, an agnostic Jew who kept looking for justice, for wisdom, for God, who disappointed him.

Stephen Berg was one of our most eccentric, psychologically astute, and humane poets. The stakes were high in his work—he tended to write as if death itself was always just about three weeks away. It was never far from his mind. I love him for bringing everything to the blank page, his battlefield. He read and wrote as if his life depended on it. He was frightened, but he didn't hold back, he threw himself into the fray. He was flawed and courted extremity, he thought constantly about suffering, and he marshaled all the poets at his command for his one-man literary combat against oblivion. A complicated human being steps forth in his work, which is streaked with shadows and light, and we are deepened by the experience.

Eating Outside

Fat pine boughs

droop over the vegetable garden’s

sticks and leaves,

the moon’s hazy face comes and goes

in the heat.

Beautiful women,

your skin can barely be seen.

The moon’s gone. Clouds everywhere.

A pale hand curls

on the tabletop next to mine,

there’s talk about work and love.

We’re like the moon at this hour

as clouds swallow it or dissolve so

it glides through the shaggy limbs,

full, like the grief inside us,

then floats off by itself

beyond the last tips of the needles.

The trees are quiet. In the house

my daughters play the piano and laugh.

The family dog races in and out howling.

The candles on the table have blown out.

I keep trying to explain

but when I go back, like now, there’s

the red hammock, the barbecue guarding

the lit back wall like a dwarf,

the self, awed by changes,

motioning to us as it leaves.

Deep among those arms, it pauses

clear, white and unseen.

Stephen Berg

The rhythm of the spade …

… ‘The Fallow Field’ | TLS. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

On behalf of liberty …

… Day of the Imprisoned Writer: Dieudonné Enoh Meyomesse | Books | The Guardian. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

Master work …

more than 95 theses - austinkleon: Rembrandt’s drawing of a child. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Not necessarily …

… Read this and feel better – how inspirational guff invaded our lives | Life and style | The Guardian. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

A thought for today …

Of this our true individual life, our present life is a glimpse, a fragment, a hint, and in its best moments a visible beginning.
— Josiah Royce, born on this date in 1855


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

No kidding …

… It's Official—iOS 8 Is Apple's Buggiest Release to Date | WIRED.

In praise of libraries …

… A Field Trip to America's Public Libraries - The Atlantic. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

The genuine article …

David Godine publishes not one, but two Nobel winners - Arts - The Boston Globe. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Backstory …

… Paul Davis On Crime: Getting Made: The Making Of Martin Scorsese's 'GoodFellas'.

Don Colacho gets his due …

…  Deathless Truths by Matthew Walther | Articles | First Things. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)
Though traditional Catholics will doubtless enjoy his digs at progressive clergymen and agree with his aesthetic objections to the Mass of Pope Paul VI, Gómez-Dávila’s orthodoxy, especially by the standards of the preconciliar Church, is very much an open question. He was almost certainly a fideist of the Kierkegaardian variety, starkly declaring that “if God were a conclusion of reasoning, I would not feel it necessary to worship Him.” He insisted that “Scholasticism sinned by trying to turn Christians into know-alls” and that it encouraged the higher criticism (“Christ did not leave documents but disciples”). There are also hints in his work, if not of outright universalism, then certainly of hope for the salvation of all, also expressed by Karl Rahner, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and the founder of this magazine: “I rather believe in God’s smile than in his wrath.”
Sounds as orthodox as I am. What he says about God not being a conclusion of reasoning does not sound fideist to me at all, just a matter of fact. God is God, not an idea.

The podcast that's captivating America...

...The one book every Serial fan should read
There is a moment in episode six of Serial when Adnan asks Koenig why she is so interested in the case. Koenig says that she’s grown to really like and be interested in Adnan. “You’re a really nice guy,” she says. (One can’t help but think Koenig is holding back from saying that he makes a good character for an engrossing serial narrative.) Adnan becomes annoyed and says that just once he’d like someone to be invested in the case not because he is “a really nice guy,” but because they think the evidence was insufficient and the case was faulty.
See also: Years after murder, hope dims and stigma remains

Productive and aimless...

...Why I Am Teaching a Course Called “Wasting Time on the Internet”
Similarly, I have no doubt that the students in “Wasting Time on the Internet” will use Web surfing as a form of self-expression. Every click is indicative of who we are: indicative of our likes, our dislikes, our emotions, our politics, our world view. Of course, marketers have long recognized this, but literature hasn’t yet learned to treasure—and exploit—this situation. The idea for this class arose from my frustration with reading endless indictments of the Web for making us dumber. I’ve been feeling just the opposite. We’re reading and writing more than we have in a generation, but we are reading and writing differently—skimming, parsing, grazing, bookmarking, forwarding, retweeting, reblogging, and spamming language—in ways that aren’t yet recognized as literary.

A thought for today…

The business of philosophy is to teach man to live in uncertainty …  it is not to reassure people, but to upset them.
— Lev Shestov, who died on this date in 1938

Good Lord, it's me …

… Assay by Frank Wilson. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Clown prince …

… Terry Eagleton reviews Trouble in Paradise and Absolute Recoil by Slavoj Žižek | Books | The Guardian. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

Can he really be serious when he claims in Trouble in Paradise that “the worst of Stalinism (is better) than the best of the liberal-capitalist welfare state”, or is he just out to scandalise the suburbs? Does he really think that the sexual misconduct Assange is accused of is “minor”? Or take the fact that he has repeatedly argued for the radical potential of Christianity, and does so again in Absolute Recoil, despite the fact that he is a self-proclaimed atheist. It isn’t quite a question, however, of being a Christian in appearance but an unbeliever in reality. Instead, one might claim that he believes and disbelieves in Christianity at the same time. Or what if he thinks he is an atheist but actually isn’t? What if the God he doesn’t believe in knows he is a believer?
 Žižek continues to leave me underwhelmed.

Submissions wanted …

… Smile, Please | BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog.

Part master, part mascot …

… The Gospel of Paul | The Los Angeles Review of Books. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

“I try to get people to read books that I know to be incredible, but that they’ve never heard of,” Ingram told me. “I like being a tastemaker for the community.” Given that he’s been at it for nearly half a century, that the community in question is one of the nation’s most literary, and that a sizable portion of the customers who’ve received his recommendations have gone on to have illustrious writing careers of their own, it does not seem an exaggeration to say that Paul Ingram’s influence extends to shape contemporary American literature itself.

And the winners are …

… Winning Poems for 2014 October : IBPC.

The Judge's Page.

(Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

Listen in…

… Slow Learner: The Jules Feiffer Interview.

Haiku …

Oak tree green, oak tree
Red. Wintry wind shakes both.
The birds are restless.

A thought for today …

The poet knows himself only on the condition that things resound in him, and that in him, at a single awakening, they and he come forth together out of sleep.
— Jacques Maritain, born on this date in 1882

High modernist …

… A CH Sisson Reader review – the last English modernist | Books | The Guardian. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Sisson was a Tory; “a four-letter word”, as he puts it in the essay so titled, but his Toryism was one of “profound scepticism”. He came from a lower-middle-class background and knew when he was being condescended to by the Left, and, in his youth, by the likes of WH AudenStephen Spender and Cecil Day-Lewis in particular. “I could not help noticing that when they spoke of the workers it was as if they were speaking of people in some far-off fairyland or alternatively of a remote race of South Sea Islanders or of a favourite breed of beetles.”

Monday, November 17, 2014

My take on...


Happily or angrily
Something or someone
I see you see in my face

Chesterton Again! This Time In Economics

In the early-to-mid-20th Century the Distributists—led by English authors G.K. Chesterton and Hillaire Belloc—took a dim view of both socialism and corporate capitalism. As conservatives they did, however, believe in private property--so much they thought it should be “distributed” as widely as possible among the whole population.
At its root, the Distributist movement sought a practical, community-oriented alternative to the inequality of capitalism and the bureaucracy of socialism. To fulfill this vision, Distributists advocated for family farms, family-run businesses, a return to craftsmanship and community self-reliance. When large enterprises were inevitable, such as industrial factories, they advocated worker-run cooperatives to give people a greater share of ownership.
Chesterton noted, “There is less difference than many suppose between the ideal socialist system, in which the big businesses are run by the state, and the present capitalist system, in which the state is run by the big businesses. They are much nearer to each other than either is to my own ideal; of breaking up the big businesses into a multitude of small businesses.”  From here The Conservative Case for a Commons Way of Life

And from here...Distributism Isn’t Outdated
Chesterton picked up and ran with what we might call the Lockean strain in Pope Leo XIII’s famous encyclical Rerum Novarum, the emphasis on the natural integrity of private property. For Chesterton, ownership is a self-evident good, which therefore shouldn’t be abolished but widely distributed. Similarly, profit is a good thing, in fact too good a thing not to be shared. Accordingly, what Chesterton took issue with in the then-current defense of capitalism was that it was a “defense of keeping most men in wage dependence; that is, keeping most men without capital.” This conviction compelled Chesterton to lambast big business (which backfired when big chain of news stands refused to sell G.K.’s weekly); to monitor and oppose mergers; to advocate independent proprietorship; and to pronounce on every possible occasion that “small is beautiful”.

Forbearance …

Anecdotal Evidence: `A Secret Radical Worth'.

A hungry poet …

… Poet Melissa Green: Virgil would still be proud | The Book Haven.

Listen in …

… Podcast – The Way of Pen and Sword | Virtual Memories.

Worth heeding …

— Abide be these if u hope to become a master. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Q&A …

… It’s intelligence all the way down - @theosthinktank - Theos Think Tank. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Tragicomic failure …

… The Trials of Penelope Fitzgerald. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

A thought for today …

The main objection to killing people as a punishment ... is that killing people is wrong.
— Auberon Waugh, born on this date in 1939

Pak Army's excesses...

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Feuds over friendships...

Jamaican holiday …

… Paul Davis On Crime: Jamaica: The Island That Defined Ian Fleming's Iconic Character James Bond.

How it was …

… Blood in the Sand: When James Jones Wrote a Grunt’s View of D-Day — The Daily Beast. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Q&A …

… On John Williams’s Novel “Augustus”: A Conversation | The Los Angeles Review of Books. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Oops …

I am back from Mass, but must do some cooking. My stepdaughter Gwen is here for a visit. I haven't seen her since this time last year when her friend Wendy — who is my honorary stepdaughter — and I went to visit her in Massachusetts. My stepdaughter Jen will be here also. So I will resume blogging when I can.

Or maybe not...

Blogging note …

Blogging will resume this afternoon when I return from Mass.

Inquirer reviews …

Gloom looms in Ford's latest.

'Rose Gold' picks up the story of Easy Rawlins.

… A look at Philadelphia financier Albert M. Greenfield.

A sharply told tale of growing up girl.

Maybe not Tinkerbelle...


A thought for today …

You don't look out there for God, something in the sky, you look in you.
— Alan Watts, who died on this date in 1973

Saturday, November 15, 2014


Bring me where I know not what
violence pain and hurt
our father who art help help

Missing in action …

… The Neglected Books Page — A Sample of Lost Sixties Fiction. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

I confess to having reviewed R. V. Cassill's Collected Stories in the New York Times Book Review many years ago and not being much impressed. I recall that I thought he had written three stories over and over and that there was something sour about them that grated on me.

Telling details …

… Lucky Bones by Peter Meinke | Fox Chase Review.

Meinke may be tired of the Vatican's "moribund language," but Latin happens to be the Vatican's official language, and those of us classically educated remain fond of it. How familiar with it do you have to be before growing tired of it?

Setting Dylan …

… To Catch Up With Bob Dylan, T Bone Burnett Assembles A Dream Team : NPR. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Walking and writing …

… Robert Macfarlane on The Old Ways | Patrick Leigh Fermor. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Walking is a repetitive activity. You put one damn foot after the other – and that’s what makes the walk. It’s often tiring and it’s sometimes boring. This poses a primary problem for any walker-writer: how to spring surprise along the way, how not to give your reader blisters. I wanted style to solve that problem. So I set out to devise a form that enacted its subject: to make a patterned book of path-crossings, full of echoes and back-glances, doubles and shadows. A book of many ways, then, through which readers might pick different routes. I also tried to leave those cairns as I went: guiding alignments of image, word and incident that only became visible at certain places along the journey.

Questions of scale …

… Zealotry of Guerin: Equals Infinity (Klee), Sonnet #212.

A thought for today …

Have you ever seen a pedant with a warm heart?
— Johann Kasper Lavater, born on this date in 1741

Friday, November 14, 2014

Beyond philosophy …

… Wittgenstein Jr — The Barnes & Noble Review. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Wittgenstein Jr is, among many things, a pointed satire of the academy (dons come off poorly, Cambridge and Oxford alike); an elegy for the death of serious thought; and a lovely treatment of the intensity of youth, the paradox of intimate friendships that dissolve with the end of a semester. Iyer is unsurprisingly at his best evoking these fierce college days, when everything feels so critical, and everything — studying, drinking, loving — is done to extremes.

Teaching and acting …

… Beyond Eastrod: Just a thought: some words about my fifteen years in college classrooms.

I think that any kind of public performance must involve some degree of acting if it is to come off well.

Going AWOL …

I am heading out soon to attend a reading of an extraordinary collection of poems called Birds on the Kiswar Tree by Odi Gonzales and translated by Lynn Levin. I have a lunch date after that. So I won't be blogging again until sometime later today, possibly much later.

A thought for today …

The ultimate reason of things must lie in a necessary substance, in which the differentiation of the changes only exists eminently as in their source; and this is what we call God.
— Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, who died in this date in 1716

Ancestral ties...

News or prurience?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

In Praise of...

...reading new books

Just a thought …

Odd that people should be skeptical of miracles. Scientific scripture currently proposes that so many billions of years ago nothing exploded into everything, spewing sun and stars, planets and humans. Sounds pretty miraculous to me. Who would have guessed that thermonuclear blasts would over time shower us with roses?
The word miracle comes from the Latin miraculum, meaning "object of wonder," and can be traced to a PIE (Proto-Indo-European) word meaning "to smile or laugh." That initial explosion would certainly be a cause for wonder, as would its countless effects, among which are you and me. That we take the miracle of being for granted does not, however, make it any less miraculous.