Sunday, December 31, 2006
Thank you, Dave.
We already know Blue, but here you can see him.
Jen Miller reports that It's relatively easy to learn from Einstein in this fiction.
Glenn Altschuler, however, isn't entirely persuaded by Susan Cheever's American Bloomsbury: Concord's literary lions, fueled by sexual tension?
John Freeman is utterly charmed by E.B. White: E.B. White, looking askance, wryly.
Desmond Ryan thinks Neal Gabler's is probably the best book about Walt Disney so far: New bio answers many questions about Disney.
Sandy Bauers enjoyed listening to the Sweet Potato Queens: The Sweet Potato Queens ride again, this time in a novel.
Here are reviews that ran during the past week:
Joseph Blake looked at Not in My Family: Black community's response to the scourge of HIV/AIDS.
John Freeman liked Lydie Salvayre's Everyday Life: Woman might be on the verge of a breakdown.
Maribel Molyneaux found Isabel Allende's latest fascinating: Book Review A saga of Chile's founding mother.
A good mix, if I do say so myself.
Saturday, December 30, 2006
That I could feel pity for him struck the Iraqis with whom I talked as evidence of a profound moral corruption. I came to understand how a Westerner used to the civilities of democracy and due process — even a reporter who thought he grasped the depths of Saddam’s depravity — fell short of the Iraqis’ sense, forged by years of brutality, of the power of his unmitigated evil.
By Harry G. Frankfurt
Princeton University Press. 67 pp. $9.95
"Obscenity," Bertrand Russell remarked, "is whatever happens to shock some elderly and ignorant magistrate. "
Update: Dave Lull graciously sends along a link to the Times piece: Fighting Bull. Now if I could only link to Carlin's piece. (I could, of course, just post it here, I suppose.)
A psychiatrist friend once accused me of magical thinking. But the psychiatric understanding of the term is quite different from the anthopological understanding of it. Here's a psychiatric definition: "A conviction that thinking equates with doing. Occurs in dreams in children, in primitive peoples, and in patients under a variety of conditions. Characterized by lack of realistic relationship between cause and effect."
Here's an anthropological definition: "According to anthropologist Dr. Phillips Stevens Jr., magical thinking involves several elements, including a belief in the interconnectedness of all things through forces and powers that transcend both physical and spiritual connections. Magical thinking invests special powers and forces in many things that are seen as symbols. According to Stevens, 'the vast majority of the world's peoples ... believe that there are real connections between the symbol and its referent, and that some real and potentially measurable power flows between them.' "
Note that both psychiatry and anthropology are thought to be sciences. I told my psychiatrist friend that he was right. I was engaging in magical thinking. I do it all the time. I like it. But of course I am (and was) thinking of the term in its anthropological sense.
Friday, December 29, 2006
Blogs are here to stay, but they will come and go. Some are good, some very good, a few are excellent. Many more are just so so. Blogging is such a large and various category, however, it is hard to generalize about beyond that.
Fortunately, Maxine has been doing yeoman's service, including catching up with the indefatigable OWL: Dave Lull's holiday selection.
But that's not all. There's this, too, which, as Maxine points out, has bearing on the FIS:
The F-word test: first class or feeble? (I confess this strikes me as a rather weak indicator of intelligence, since, if one pays attention to the letters one is ulikely to be paying attention the words, which are they conveyors of the statement's meaning, right? But then, what can you expect from a failed intellectual?)
But why should I link to one post at a time? Go to Petrona and just take a leisurely scroll.
Richard Stern, author of the first piece, calls the second piece, by Joseph Epstein, "exceptionally shallow and foolish," but I think the phrase applies more to Stern's own. While neither writer specifically defines belief, it is clear from Epstein's piece that he does not mean the sort of casual beliefs Stern is referring to. In other words, Stern is equivocating. "Was Mozart a believer?" Stern asks himself - and answers, "It's beside the point." Well, no it isn't. Mozart, like every great artist, had deep beliefs about art - and his music demonstrates that. Beliefs he may have held - casually or otherwise - about things other than music may be beside the point. Though even that isn't necessarily the case.
Of course neither piece bothers to differentiate between belief and faith.
Thursday, December 28, 2006
The point about the brevity of posts is very important. I think a new form will be found emerging along those lines.
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
(Hat tip, Laurie Mason.)
Here's my review: Strange poetry from the dark regions.
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Monday, December 25, 2006
Sunday, December 24, 2006
"One reason for the lack of extended argument in The God Delusion is clear: Dawkins doesn't seem very good at it. Indeed he suffers from several problems when attempting to reason philosophically. The most obvious is that he has a preordained set of conclusions at which he's determined to arrive. Consequently, Dawkins uses any argument, however feeble, that seems to get him there and the merit of various arguments appears judged largely by where they lead." Indeed.
Roger Miller has good things to say about Michael Hofmann's anthology of 20th-century German poetry: A tour of German poetry finds 20th century's best.
I found Simenon's The Strangers in the House quote fascinating: Fine French novel of familial estrangement. (Don't know where the copy editor got the idea that Loursat was drinking himself to death. Simenon doesn't say that. And I never suggest it. He drinks too much. It may kill him. Maybe not.)
Michael McHale is charmed by Calvin Trillin's About Alice: Trillin's story of his lovely wife, her life cut short.
Katie Haegele finds a French novel for young adults: Young Adult Reader Runaway brothers and those who glimpse their flight.
During the week ...
Carlin Romano wrote something seasonal: A Hanukkah story shines brightly once again.
Paul Davis paid a visit to Joseph Wambaugh's Hollywood Station: Hollywood, in the black-and-white.
Sheri Melnick gauged Greg Iles's latest: Illness, intrigue, homicidal spouses.
John Rooney liked a "This I Believe" anthology: Wisdom of worthies, meant to inspire.
And Fred Bortz pondered a couple of books about string theory: String theory seems to unravel.
Saturday, December 23, 2006
Friday, December 22, 2006
O for a draught of vintage! that hath been
Cool'd a long age in the deep-delvèd earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country-green,
Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South!
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stainèd mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim:
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last grey hairs,
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs;
Where beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.
Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call'd him soft names in many a musèd rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain ...
Call the world, if you please, "the Vale of Soul Making". Then you will find out the use of the world....
There may be intelligences or sparks of the divinity in millions -- but they are not Souls till they acquire identities, till each one is personally itself.
Intelligences are atoms of perception -- they know and they see and they are pure, in short they are God. How then are Souls to be made? How then are these sparks which are God to have identity given them -- so as ever to possess a bliss peculiar to each one's individual existence. How, but in the medium of a world like this?
This point I sincerely wish to consider, because I think it a grander system of salvation than the Christian religion -- or rather it is a system of Spirit Creation...
I can scarcely express what I but dimly perceive -- and yet I think I perceive it -- that you may judge the more clearly I will put it in the most homely form possible. I will call the world a school instituted for the purpose of teaching little children to read. I will call the human heart the hornbook used in that school. And I will call the child able to read, the soul made from that school and its hornbook.
Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul? A place where the heart must feel and suffer in a thousand diverse ways....
As various as the lives of men are -- so various become their souls, and thus does God make individual beings, souls, identical souls of the sparks of his own essence.
This appears to me a faint sketch of a system of salvation which does not affront our reason and humanity...
The foregoing letter is quoted on this post of Dr. Ed Friedlander: Enjoying "La Belle Dame Sans Merci", which has some further information regarding the arterial blood quote. Dr. Friedlander also has an interesting comment on letter quoted:
Keats believed that we begin as identical bits of God, and acquire individuality only by life-defining emotional experiences. By doing this, we prepare ourselves for happiness in the afterlife.
You may decide for yourself (or exercise negative capability) about whether you will believe Keats. But it's significant that this most intimate explanation of the personal philosophy behind his work follows a powerful lyric about emotional devastation.
If Keats's philosophy is correct, then any intense experience -- even letting your life rot away after a failed relationship, or enduring the agony of heroin withdrawal, or dying young of tuberculosis -- is precious. (Perhaps Keats, medically trained and knowing he had been massively exposed, was foreseeing his own from TB -- he would have been pale and sweaty and unable to move easily.) Each goes into making you into a unique being.
The idea is as radical as it sounds. And if you stay alert, you'll encounter similar ideas again and again, in some of the most surprising places.
In case you forget what "negative capability" is, here is how Keats explains it:
"I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason." I should have quoted this long ago, since it is my characteristic mental outlook. Are you there, Noel?
Earlier, I had thought of linking to Rago's WSJ piece, but it seemed a waste of time. Rago writes about "blogs" but seems to mean "political blogs." He makes general statements about blogs on both the left and right and cites none by name. In short, I don't think he knows what he's taking about.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
It is, I think, still fashinable to denigrate Longfellow. But I would suggest looking carefully at these poems. I would especially recommend reading them aloud (but get them right, practice them, don't just sight read). Take a look, for instance, at
Not the sweet, new grass with flowers
Is this harvesting of ours;
Not the upland clover bloom;
But the rowen mired with weeds,
Tangled tufts from marsh and meads,
Where the poppy drops its seeds
In the silence and the gloom.
That is subtle metrical composition.
Like Michael, I didn't get a chuckle out of A Confederacy of Dunces. I can't even remember the protagonist's name now, but I remember thinking he was really just a royal pain in the old gluteus maximus. But then I could never figure out what people saw in Holden Caulfield, either.
I do wish those given to sweeping statements about religion would do a little homework. They could start by reading The Idea of the Holy. It is also worth mentioning, I think, that to equate truth with what is merely provable and quantifiable is to opt for a rather pale and narrow idea of truth.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
This reminds me of something I have heard attributed to William Buckley, though I don't believe it originated with him: The trouble with communism was communism - it was an unsound theory disastrous in practice. The trouble with capitalism is capitalists.
This fits in nicely with the discussion about sloganeering attached to this post: A fresh perspective ...
"... Gershwin's chutzpah, the sheer brazenness of his aspirations, produced musical gold. It remains a mystery why so few other composers have even attempted such alchemy." Indeed.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
" ...call me a sentimental old fool, but I'd still quite like to believe that the insulting of truth is not a necessary adjunct to democratic politics." This sentimental old fool agrees, Bryan.
Also: Ipswich and Diana: In Pursuit of the Surreal .
Not so fast, Captain Queeg. Geometric logic may not be as foolproof as you think. Moreover, "Kurt Gödel proved ... that if you insist on consistency, there are true statements you can't prove at all." Mathematical proof is foolproof, it seems, only in the absence of fools .
Monday, December 18, 2006
Sunday, December 17, 2006
Shisa Poet's "Must Be The Way She Pours A Beer".
Charles Bernstein posts about Ehon: The Artist and the Book in Japan.
Art Durkee's Winter Diptych .
Deb Powers wonders Where Will People Get Their Poetry?
Finally, Kwansabas for Maya Angelou CFS extended to January .
Glenn Altschuler pays a visit to Richard Burgin's Conference on Beautiful Moments: From interior monologues to exquisite, aching stories.
Bernhardt Blumenthal discovers heroism in Villa Air-Bel: In Europe's darkest time, they were unlikely heroes.
I was very much taken with Michael Creagan's True Love and Other Poems: Mining medicine, striking upon beauty.
Carlin Romano waxes eloquent over a newly published work co-authored by Primo Levi: Primo Levi's 'Auschwitz Report' to his liberators
Elizabeth Fox is mostly underwhelmed by Eric Van Lustbader's The Testament: A 'Da Vinci' copycat falls flat on plot.
Sandy Bauers listens to Carl Hiaasen and Diane Setterfield: A female narrator cranks up Hiaasen's collection of crazies.
Saturday, December 16, 2006
Friday, December 15, 2006
You Should Learn French
C'est super! You appreciate the finer things in life... wine, art, cheese, love affairs.
You are definitely a Parisian at heart. You just need your tongue to catch up...
I happen to have written something about this nearly 10 years ago: Out of print, but Online. Interloc is now Alibris, and Advanced Book Exchange is now AbeBooks.
Steve Trussell's Books & Book Collecting is as good as ever.
Philip Hefner comments on the symposium entitled "Beyond Belief: Science, Religion, Reason, and Survival": Going Beyond Belief. I pretty much agree.
A very good poem by Kingsley Amis: Matin.
Also, Patrick Kurp looks at a couple of poems by Stevie Smith: `All This Looks Easy But Really It Is Extraordinary'.
Something about religion even Richard Dawkins approves of: The English Bible has made us.
La lingua pura (as Leigh Teabing would have it): Fowler’s 'Modern English Usage'.
A poem by Clive James: Status Quo Vadis.
Guy Davenport on Ezra Pound: Making Pound New.
That should certainly occupy everyone for a while.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Ms. Campbell's gnomic utterance reminds me of how George Romney tried to explain his remark about being "brainwashed" over Vietnam: "I didn't say that I didn't say it. I said that I didn't say I said it. I want to make that clear."
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
And with that, I am signing off for the night. I just got some Simenon in the mail. Do I have a great job or what?
... and David Montgomery has some thoughts, too: Musings on Thomas Harris' "Hannibal Rising".
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Update: I should have added that I think Amy will enjoy The Virgin in the Garden. Then she can move on to Still Life, Babel Tower, and A Whistling Woman.
"... the yearning for the myth to be true. ... the magnificent late poetry of Wallace Stevens. There is, in the American soul, this urgent longing for the best and the highest to be true and, of course, the longing becomes the truth." (Emphasis mine, and I conflate, of course - but you can read the whole thing.)
Monday, December 11, 2006
I beg to differ with Hitchens on conflating Creationism with Intelligent Design theory (Geneticist Francis Collins points out the salient differences in The Language of God.) Which is not to say that I approve of teaching Intelligent Design theory in biology class. I do not.
and The Atheist's Pulpit.
(Hat tip, Dave Lull.)
Sunday, December 10, 2006
In his Waits piece, Schama refers to ' the juvenile rhetoric of the "American dream".'
As I never tire of pointing out, the phrase "American Dream" was coined by a particular person at a particular and has a specific meaning. Here is how the coiner, James Truslow Adams, put it:
The American Dream is "that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position."
You will notice that it is this that Martin Luther King had in mind when he gave his "I Have a Dream" speech. I myself do not find the rhetoric particularly juvenile, Mr. Schama.
From Bryan Appleyard's A bunch of old softies.
None of this applies to me, of course. I arrived five years earlier than the first of the Boomers - though I remember their arrival. They were different from the start. (Don't know why Bywater would bring Rumsfeld into it. He's even older than I am.)