Saturday, October 31, 2015

Anniversary …

… Paul Davis On Crime: On This Day In History: The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes Was Published.

Religion of peace …

… Two Iranian poets jailed and sentenced to 99 lashes for shaking hands with the opposite sex | National Post. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

The soul of brevity …

… A Lot from a Little: Demystifying the Aphoristic Poem | The Critical Flame. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

Immersive environment …

… Taking a trip on Michael Rosen's bear hunt. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

“We think that if our two-year-olds aren’t doing phonics, they’re falling behind,” he says. “But it’s more important for them to focus on reading situations. If you separate words and language from 'doing’, the little squiggles on the page just look dull.”

Uh-oh …

 … A white paper drawn up by the Société de Calcul Mathématique SA: The Battle Against Global Warming.

The translation refers to IPPC, when it should be IPCC.

Blogging note …

My stepdaughter Gwen is visiting from Massachusetts, and will be here shortly. Little blogging until much later.

The horror, the horror …

 (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Even a stopped clock …

… Obama is right: novels show us who we are, and how others see us | Linda Grant | Comment is free | The Guardian.

Like I need him to teach me this. Robinson's interview struck me as contrived, much too long, and not all that interesting. Two toadies toadying.

Chiefly about life …

… The Education of Myself, from When Found, Make a Verse Of, by Helen Bevington (1961) - The Neglected Books Page. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Happy Halloween …

 Zealotry of Guerin: The Storm (Munch), Sonnet #268.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Revealed …

… The Myth of Basic Science - WSJ. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

This linear model of how science drives innovation and prosperity goes right back to Francis Bacon, the early 17th-century philosopher and statesman who urged England to catch up with the Portuguese in their use of science to drive discovery and commercial gain. Supposedly Prince Henry the Navigator in the 15th century had invested heavily in mapmaking, nautical skills and navigation, which resulted in the exploration of Africa and great gains from trade. That is what Bacon wanted to copy.
Yet recent scholarship has exposed this tale as a myth, or rather a piece of Prince Henry’s propaganda. Like most innovation, Portugal’s navigational advances came about by trial and error among sailors, not by speculation among astronomers and cartographers. If anything, the scientists were driven by the needs of the explorers rather than the other way around.

Good idea …

… Paul Davis On Crime: Bada Bing: Goodfellas Staging Shakespeare.

I've long thought that Julius Caesar was the Shakespeare best-suited to modern dress, for the simple reason that it happens to recount a mob war.

Well duh

Feeling like you're an expert can make you closed-minded


Latest installment …

… John Timpane: Here Comes Everything!: WONDERS IN THE STACKS: A BOOKS BLOG: #3.

Staying "safe" by not growing up …

… At U.S. colleges, a failing grade in free speech - LA Times.

Too Olympian …

 Mortal Remains | National Review Online.

Isaiah asked why he should even bother, then? “Ah,” the Lord said, “you do not get the point. There is a Remnant there that you know nothing about. They are obscure, unorganized, inarticulate, each one rubbing along as best he can. They need to be encouraged and braced up because when everything has gone completely to the dogs, they are the ones who will come back and build up a new society; and meanwhile, your preaching will reassure them and keep them hanging on. Your job is to take care of the Remnant, so be off now and set about it.” For Nock, the Remnant was his audience. At times, the idea of the Remnant is unapologetically elitist, but in a thoroughly Jeffersonian way. The Remnant were not the “best and brightest,” the most successful, the richest. Rather, they were those occupying the “substratum of right thinking and well doing” (in Matthew Arnold’s words). “Two things you do know, and no more: First, that they exist; second, that they will find you. Except for these two certainties, working for the Remnant means working in impenetrable darkness.”

A lot still to learn …

 Paul Davis On Crime: Reading Hemingway's Personal Letters: The Letters Of Ernest Hemingway, Volume 3, 1926-1929.

Something to think on …

To love someone means to see him as God intended him.
— Fyodor Dostoevsky, born on this date in 1821

Jeremiad …

… Whatever Happened to High Culture? | The Weekly Standard. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

The universities’ emphasis on diversity, carried out under the banner of multiculturalism, has also helped devalue high culture. Diversity and the expansion of higher education was supposed to make the pleasures and benefits of high culture theoretically available to all. As we know, it didn’t work out that way, and, as not infrequently happens, quantity sunk quality. Higher education soon lowered its sights. The immediate effect of diversity has been that, in the current design of university courses, the question is rarely any longer what are the best and most significant works to be studied, but, increasingly, which are the works that fairly represent the interests of the diverse body of students: the concerns that must be catered to of blacks, Hispanics, gays, and that large minority group that isn’t truly a minority, women? If this entails a vast reduction in the time spent studying the works of long dead white males, even if these males over the long centuries have produced the preponderance of the world’s important works of art and intellect, so be it. If a dumbing down is implicit in these transactions, then that, too, will have to stand. Equality and what was perceived as justice were deemed to take precedence over high culture. Any other way leads to elitism, and elitism, in an ethnically democratic age, is one of the ugliest words going.

Hear, hear …

 In Defense of Ross Douthat | RealClearReligion.
The letter to the Times is indicative indeed of a much wider problem in our intellectual culture, namely, the tendency to avoid real argument and to censor what makes us, for whatever reason, uncomfortable. On many of our university campuses this incarnates itself as a demand for "safe spaces," where students won't feel threatened by certain forms of speech or writing. For the first time in my life, I agreed with Richard Dawkins who recently declared on Twitter, "A university is not a 'safe space'. If you need a safe space, leave, go home, [and] hug your teddy...until [you are] ready for university."

A writer's notes …

 Saved From The Bonfire: The Tom Wolfe Papers | Standpoint. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

It is hard to think of a greater stamp of literary respectability the city could bestow on a writer. Ascend the stairs of the library’s imposing Fifth Avenue entrance, passing Patience and Fortitude, the marble lions that guard the doors, and you are entering the cathedral of literary New York. Its reading room, currently closed for restoration, is an inner sanctum long used by writers escaping the noisy distractions of the city outside. My particular pilgrimage takes me to the library’s Manuscripts and Archives division. Among its treasures are some 700 cuneiform tablets, hundreds of medieval illuminated manuscripts and renaissance documents, a copy of the Declaration of Independence annotated by Thomas Jefferson, George Washington’s Farewell Address (as well as his recipe for beer: “a larger sifter full of Bran Hops”, “3 gallons Molasses”). Researchers can read manuscripts and letters by Washington Irving, Herman Melville, James Joyce and Ezra Pound. With the library’s acquisition of his papers, this is the company Tom Wolfe finds himself in. He is now, officially, an Important Writer.  

Mikhail Lermontov

It must have been around 2006 that my brother suggested I read Mikhail Lermontov's A Hero of Our Time. It took me ten years, I admit, but I've finally gotten around to it - and I'm glad I did: because A Hero of Our Time is one unusual, one captivating novella. 

To start, I should say that I greatly admired Lermontov's prose. I mean, talk about crystalline sentences: Lermontov could write - with clarity, with poise, and bravado. Here's a master in command of his craft.

Lucidity abounds, but so too does invention: Lermontov introduces a range of characters and perspectives; his tone shifts; his narrative veers in one direction and then another. I found this experience both unexpected and engaging, as if I were reading a novella reaching for more, reaching beyond its time. 

Still, there's a part of Hero that remains - for me, at least - unfinished, as if Lermontov couldn't fully answer the questions he'd posed. His central character, Pechorin, manifests this feeling most: mean and deceptive, he frustrates his lovers. And yet, at the same time, Pechorin can be respectful and cerebral, extending to his enemies a surprising civility. Pechorin's contradictions are clear - and yet their meaning is not. 

In his discussion of predestination (a discussion in which Pechorin is ultimately enveloped), Lermontov seems to have been focused less on action and more - in my estimation - on emotion. I wondered, particularly toward the end of the novella, as Pechorin fades from sight, whether Lermontov had constructed the entire book as a response to the question about whether personality and temperament might evolve - or whether they're unflinching, fated to their original condition.

Pechorin, so far as I could tell, does not evolve. But Lermontov seems to suggest there's time for the reader: to worry less about action and more about emotion; to "doubt" the reality we've inherited and create a new one in its place, one in which we're less cruel and more forgiving, one in which we defy fate and live with the same sense of purpose and clarity, well, as Lermontov's prose.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Flashes of brilliance …

… An Apostle to the Intellectuals - WSJ. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

There is, indeed, a surprisingly ungenerous quality to much of Ms. Robinson’s analytical writing—an attitude also apparent in her immediately previous collection of essays, “When I Was a Child I Read Books” (2012). I say it’s surprising because in her fiction—I think of “Home” and especially “Gilead”—she is capable of conveying the outlooks and even the delusions of other minds with a graceful and gentle charity. That charity largely vanishes when she treats social trends and contemporary politics. Those who take a different view from Ms. Robinson’s barely merit naming, fair assessments not at all.

Music III - But at least we can watch them work!

The main Twitch homepage will now include a tab labeled Creative. This will link to an entire homepage dedicated to Twitch Creative that will feature the most popular streams and up-and-coming broadcasters. It will feature painters, sculptors, and musicians live streaming their work as it happens, instead of simply sharing the finished piece.

Music II - Apparently stealing stuff

Stories about classical music that appeared on NPR's website have been found to include portions of others' work, according to a joint statement by NPR and member station WQXR, where the writer of those reports was based.

Music I - Where are the young? ...

American figures suggest that the average age of attendance at a symphony concert in 1937 was 30. Australian census data does not exist from that time but the demographic is likely to have been similar. The Australian Bureau of Statistics has reported that the largest proportion of attendees at classical music concerts in 2009–10 was the cohort aged 65–74. Carl Vine, the artistic director of the independent performing arts organisation Musica Viva, remains unperturbed: “What would bother me would be if they were over 80. At 60, we still have 20 years of subscriber left.”
I feel less sanguine. Might there be a concert a few decades hence in which – God willing – my trio is still performing, but only to an audience of one? And if that listener were to perish mid performance, would we keep playing?

Blogging note …

I must be out and about today, and will taking off shortly. Blogging will resume later.

Close reading …

… Truth and Beauty share a tomb: reflecting on 6 classic poems by women | The Critical Flame. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

None dare call it reason …

… Thin-Skinned Theologians | The American Conservative.

You don't protest a view that you disagree with and petition against it. You engage it. And what's this crap about Douthat not being a theologian. Neither am I, though I studied it in college for four years. Since when does a Catholic have to be a theologian to be able to comment on the faith. Academic twits.

One of the very best indeed …

… Meet The Journalists: Bryan Appleyard | News Academy. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Who knew?

 The Scientific Method is a Myth.
… The scientific method is nothing but a piece of rhetoric. Granted, that may not appear to be good news at first, but it actually is. The scientific method as rhetoric is far more complex, interesting, and revealing than it is as a direct reflection of the ways scientists work. Rhetoric is not just words; rather, “just” words are powerful tools to help shape perception, manage the flow of resources and authority, and make certain kinds of actions or beliefs possible or impossible. That’s particularly true of what Raymond Williams called “keywords.” A list of modern-day keywords include “family,” “race,” “freedom,” and “science.” Such words are familiar, repeated again and again until it seems that everyone must know what they mean. At the same time, scratch their surface, and their meanings become full of messiness, variation, and contradiction

Something to think on …

I'm not afraid of death. It's the stake one puts up in order to play the game of life.
— Jean Giraudoux, born on this date in 1882

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

An inquiry as well …

… Beyond Eastrod Redux: The Holy Bible -- a death-defying reading commitment.

9 things...

Maria Popova has learned during the past nine years while working on her excellent blog Brain Pickings.

Majestic Words

Handwritten First Draft of King James Bible discovered.  Previously I've written about a book called God's Secretaries by Adam Nicolson about the making of the KJV, which I thought was excellent.  In this article about this new discovery, the author Ed Simon recalls something I had forgotten:

The King James companies worked at integrating the orientations of these two editions, but they also had the profound literary example of William Tyndale, who finished the first complete English translation of the New Testament (an accomplishment which led to his execution in 1536). A literary genius whose influence on the language is arguably second only to Shakespeare’s, Tyndale lent the King James translators such phrases as “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil,” “eat, drink and be merry,” “my brother’s keeper,” “it came to pass,” “the salt of the earth,” “the signs of the times”—and perhaps most sublimely, “let there be light,” among many others. 

Bestsellers, presumably …

 The most popular fiction books of 2015 - Business Insider.

Missing the point …

… Krzystof Charamsa attacks the Vatican after coming out as gay | Daily Mail Online.

He would have been dismissed not for admitting he's gay, but because he is in a relationship. If he were straight and announced that, the same thing would have happened, because he is breaking his promise to remain celibate. I am sure there are priests who are gay, but I am sure that most keep their promises. This guy is a grandstander.

Hmm …

… My Life Living "Midwestern Nice". (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

I'm very fond of the Midwest and have spent a good bit of time there. I even lived in Chicago for a while. But I'm not native to the region, so I can't gainsay what is said here, though I can't say  I've ever noticed "feigned kindness" in the South or the Northeast's "abrasive honesty."

Bull's-eye …

… Book Review: The Annotated Poe | Open Letters Monthly - an Arts and Literature Review.

Good picks …

… The American Scholar: Thirteen for Halloween - Michael Dirda. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Not so elementary …

… Sherlock Holmes, Pro and Con | commentary. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)
What may in the end be most interesting about The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes, though, is the mere fact of its existence. Other fictional characters, prominent among them Ian Fleming’s James Bond, have been recycled by later writers, but Holmes’s posthumous life (so to speak) outstrips that of any of his competitors. Indeed, there are by now far more ersatz Holmes stories than original ones. And while it is amusing to see how the likes of Ring Lardner and P.G. Wodehouse went about resuscitating him, anyone who picks up Penzler’s book, fascinating as it is, will more than likely be inspired to return to “The Red-Headed League” or The Sign of the Four instead of digging deeper among the lesser apocrypha.

Feeling put upun …

 Linguistic Anarchy! It's all Pun and Games Until Somebody Loses a Sign | JSTOR Daily. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Something to think on …

One forgets words as one forgets names. One's vocabulary needs constant fertilizing or it will die.
— Evelyn Waugh, born on this date in 1903

Tuesday, October 27, 2015 C.S. Lewis

Contemporaries unwittingly share many of the same assumptions. “None of us can fully escape this blindness,” says Lewis, “but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our own guard against it, if we read only modern books.” And we can expand “books” there to include publications of all sorts: blogs, news sites, whatever.
“The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries”—different contexts with different assumptions—“blowing through our minds, says Lewis, “and this can be done only by reading old books.”


Is it really possible to be scared to death?

What would you choose...

Take your pick …

… "Beyond Eastrod": "Beyond Eastrod" continues to embrace Flannery O'Connor and a smorgasbord of other fiction, poetry, drama, and more.

“What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.”
Amen, Sister.

Hmm …

 What I Learned about Climate Change: The Science is not Settled — Medium.

More than thirty years ago, I became vegan because I believed it was healthier (it’s not), and I’ve stayed vegan because I believe it’s better for the environment (it is). I haven’t owned a car in ten years. I love animals; I’ll gladly fly halfway around the world to take photos of them in their natural habitats. I’m a Democrat: I think governments play a key role in helping preserve our environment for the future in the most cost-effective way possible. Over the years, I built a set of assumptions: that Al Gore was right about global warming, that he was the David going up against the industrial Goliath. In 1993, I even wrote a book about it.

Mark thy calendar …

A week after Halloween, departed souls will still be moving among us -- but not in a creepy way. At the Musehouse reading on November 7, two celebrated local novelists, ELISE JUSKA and RACHEL PASTAN, will look at different ways a single person’s passing can leave a lasting imprint on a wide group of people.

In THE BLESSINGS, Elise Juska’s fourth novel, the group in question is a large Irish Catholic clan from Northeast Philadelphia. The one who dies is the beloved John, the oldest of his siblings, father of two, uncle of the college-age Abby who opens the novel. When Abby is away from home, we learn immediately, “she’ll miss her family; when she’s with her family, she’ll miss herself.” This sort of familiar, insoluble conflict plays out throughout the novel, which is told from multiple points of view as various generations of the family work through grief, loneliness and jealousies to come to terms with what John meant to them. In selecting THE BLESSINGS as one of the best books of the year, the Philadelphia Inquirer said that "Juska's moving, multifaceted portrait of the Blessing family gleams like a jewel."

Rachel Pastan’s third novel, ALENA, mirrors the Daphne du Maurier classic Rebecca in plot structure and theme. The setting, though, is not an ancient country manse but an ultra-contemporary art museum, where the lingering ghost is the beloved former curator who drowned mysteriously two years before. The young protagonist is hired to replace this irreplaceable presence, and before long she is enmeshed in emotional, artistic and erotic intrigues she can’t fully understand. Pastan mingles the gothic tale of past secrets with a deft skewering of the pretensions of the contemporary art world. ALENA, said Maureen Corrigan in her book review on "Fresh Air," is "so eerie and elegantly suspenseful that I could see myself rereading it, the way I reread 'Rebecca' every few years or so."
As always at Musehouse readings, there will be a discussion time with the authors, book signings, and complimentary snacks. We begin fairly promptly at 7:00. Our venue is the Chestnut Hill Gallery, 8117 Germantown Avenue in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia. For more info., see our Facebook page at

Adaptation …

… About Last Night | Annals of obsolescence.

Personal computers transformed the working habits of every writer who, like me, chose to use them. But they did much more than that: they upended the daily lives of everyone who, unlike my mother, was young enough to leap across the technological chasm and embrace their revolutionary power. No day passes when I am not grateful for having been born in time to join that revolution.

Get to work, folks …

… Glenn Reynolds: Saving our ignocratic republic.

A recent survey by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni found that college graduates are shockingly ignorant about the Constitution. According to the study, “nearly 10% of college graduates think Judith Sheindlin — commonly known as Judge Judy — is on the Supreme Court; one-third of college graduates can’t identify the Bill of Rights as a name given to a group of constitutional amendments. ... Shockingly, 46% of college grads don’t know the election cycle — six years for senators, two years for representatives. Turning to the general population, the report finds that over half (54%) of those surveyed cannot identify the Bill of Rights accurately, and over 1 in 10 (11%) of those ages 25-34 believe that the Constitution must be reauthorized every four years.”
This is appalling. What it tells you about colleges these days makes you wonder why anybody bothers to attend any. Not be educated, that's for sure.

Old Possum annotated …

… The Poems of T S Eliot: Volume 1; Volume I edited by Christopher Ricks and Jim McCue - review | Books | Lifestyle | London Evening Standard.

The Poems of T.S. Eliot: The Annotated Text. Volumes 1 & 2, edited by Christopher Ricks and Jim McCue, book review.

(Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

God bless her …

… She saw the dad who abandoned her living on the street. Then she fought to save his life. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes …

… Is ‘Artisanal’ Music the Next New Thing? - The Daily Beast. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

The discerning listener can now hear this new paradigm emerging in every corner of the music business. Lady Gaga may have surprised fans with her unexpected collaboration with Tony Bennett and various associated jazz players. But check out Ms. Lauryn Hill channeling Nina Simone on her latest album. Or look at Queen Latifah doing the same with Bessie Smith on HBO. Or consider the implications of the unexpected ascendancy of sweet soul over in the U.K., where Adele showed that you can sell millions of albums without massive Auto-Tuning—and helped kick off a whole British neo-Motown movement.

Worthy of Fielding …

… Bryan Appleyard — Tom F****** Jones. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Something to think on …

The desire to write grows with writing.
— Desiderius Erasmus, born on this date in 1466


Monday, October 26, 2015

Visions of Ellis Island

The images here are fascinating - a glimpse into the way we were.

Tax dollars at work …

 Watchdog: Feds sold horses for slaughter to rancher with reported political ties | Fox News.

In case you wondered...

In case you wondered …

… What Kind of Buddhist was Steve Jobs, Really? - NeuroTribes. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Isaacson does a fine job of showing how Jobs’ engagement with Buddhism was more than just a lotus-scented footnote to a brilliant Silicon Valley career. As a young seeker in the ’70s, Jobs didn’t just dabble in Zen, appropriating its elliptical aesthetic as a kind of exotic cologne. He turns out to have been a serious, diligent practitioner who undertook lengthy meditation retreats at Tassajara — the first Zen monastery in America, located at the end of a twisting dirt road in the mountains above Carmel — spending weeks on end “facing the wall,” as Zen students say, to observe the activity of his own mind.

Q&A …

 Puzzles, Form, Compassion, and Humor: Kate Hopper interviews Dinty Moore - The Los Angeles Review of Books. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

This Wednesday …

728 S. Broad Street



RYAN ECKES was born in Northeast Philadelphia in 1979. He wrote Valu-Plus and Old News in South Philadelphia. More of his poetry can be found in the book when i come here, on his blog,, and in various journals.

STAN MIR is the author of The Lacustrine Suite and Song & Glass. His poetry and reviews have been published in Denver Quarterly, Fact-Simile, The Poetry Project Newsletter, Zoland Poetry, and other publications.

PAUL SIEGELL is a senior editor at Painted Bride Quarterly and the author of wild life rifle fire, jambandbootleg and Poemergency Room. He has contributed to Black Warrior Review, Coconut, Redivider, and many other fine journals. Kindly find more of his work at "ReVeLeR @ eYeLeVeL" ( and @paulsiegell.

Open reading follows. Suzán Jiván host.

Facebook link:

Pen pals …

 "Beyond Eastrod": 26 October 1900 - a letter-writing friendship begins between Henry James and Edith Wharton.

Mark thy calendar …

Moonstone @ Brandywine Workshop
728 South Broad Street
Moonstone Gold 

A special series of ticketed interviews and readings 
single program ticket: $15.00; series subscription (three programs): $35.00  
Books will be available for purchase and to be autographed.

Sunday November 8, 2015 – 3pm
Gregory Pardlo

Welcome Gregory Pardlo back to Philadelphia for an interview and reading from his new poetry collection Digest ($15.95 Four Way Books).  Gregory Pardlo is author of Digest, which won the Pulitzer prize for Poetry in 2015. His first book, Totem, received the American Poetry Review/ Honickman Prize in 2007. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in American Poetry ReviewBoston ReviewCallalooGulf CoastHarvard ReviewThe NationPloughsharesTin House, and Best American Poetry 2010, as well as several anthologies, including Angles of Ascent, the Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry. He is the recipient of fellowships from Cave Canem, the Lotos Club Foundation, the MacDowell Colony, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, and The New York Times. He is an associate editor of Callaloo, and his second collection, Digest, was published by Four Way Books in 2014. In 2015, he was the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry for Digest.

Gregory will be interviewed by Leonard Gontarek.
Leonard Gontarek is the author of five books of poems, including, He Looked Beyond My Faults and Saw My Needs from Hanging Loose Press. His poems have appeared in Poet Lore, Verse, Poetry Northwest and The Best American Poetry, among others. He conducts poetry workshops throughout the Philadelphia area and is host of the Green Line Café Reading And Interview Series. In 2014 he created the first Philly Poetry Day. He is a contributing editor for
The American Poetry Review.

Moonstone Arts Center
110A S. 13th Street, Philadelphia PA 19107, 215-735-9600

A useful reminder …

… When God Goes Away, Superstition Takes His Place - The American Interest.

More tyranny …

… Call for investigative journalist’s immediate release - Reporters Without Borders. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

Hmm …

Twenty greatest academic books as chosen by academic publishers and booksellers. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)
What makes these books academic? 

Panegyric …

Julian Barnes: in praise of James Fenton | Books | The Guardian. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

The 1970s have a rather low reputation at the moment, but one thing to be said for them was that if you were setting up then as a writer, you did feel and believe that you could say anything you liked about anyone and anything, that offence could and indeed often should be given. Nowadays we are more cautious, and more self-censoring. Would any editor today print without a qualm an article such as the one James wrote in the Statesman under the heading “Mrs Thatcher’s Bum”? Probably not. Similarly, a poetry editor might anxiously consult multi-faith correctness before politely declining James and John Fuller’s joint anti-Catholic poem whose exultant refrain runs, “God we hate Catholics and their Catholic God.” 
I guess one needs to know the context.

Well, yes …

… Write Like You Talk. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Something to think on …

Beauty is merciless. You do not look at it, it looks at you and does not forgive.
— Nikos Kazantzakis, who died on this date in 1957

In praise of Thoreau …

… John Updike on Henry Thoreau's classic Walden | Books | The Guardian. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Thoreau was 27 when he took up residence in the cabin by Walden Pond; he had graduated from Harvard 19th in his class, tried teaching, helped his father in the family pencil business, did local odd jobs for a dollar a day, lived with the Emersons for two years as handyman and gardener, left Long Island after a brief spell of tutoring and testing the literary market, and, despite Emerson's sponsorship and a few poems and essays in the Transcendentalist quarterly The Dial, had made no mark. He emerged from the cabin in 1847 as essentially the Thoreau known to literary history.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Via negativa …

 "Beyond Eastrod": Flannery O'Connor answers the question, "What is a short story?"

Impressive article …

 Humanism, Science, and the Radical Expansion of the Possible | The Nation. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

But to take a step back. It is absurd for scientists who insist on the category “physical,” and who argue that outside this category nothing exists, to dismiss the reality of the self on the grounds that its vulnerabilities can be said to place it solidly within this category. How can so basic an error of logic survive and flourish? There is a certain Prometheanism in this branch of science that would rescue us mortals from entrenched error—for so it sees the problem of making its view of things persuasive. For this reason—because questions might seem a betrayal of science as rescuer—its tenets enjoy a singular immunity from the criticism of peers. And its proponents feel confirmed by doubts and objections on the same grounds, that their origins and motives can be taken to lie in a hostility to science. On scrutiny, the physical is as elusive as anything to which a name can be given. The physical as we have come to know it frays away into dark matter, antimatter, and by implication on beyond them and beyond our present powers of inference. But for these scientists, it is a business of nuts and bolts, a mechanics of signals and receptors of which no more need be known. Their assertions are immune to objection and proof against information. One they dismiss and the other they ignore.
This requires close attention, and deserves no less.

Cool …

 Owl Dances The Monster Mash [VIDEO]. (Hat tip, Dave "The OWL" Lull.)


… Gun homicides steady after decline in ’90s; suicide rate edges up | Pew Research Center.

Between 1993 and 2000, the gun homicide rate dropped by nearly half, from 7.0 homicides to 3.8 homicides per 100,000 people. Since then, the gun homicide rate has remained relatively flat.

Of course, as Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit points out, suicides should be classified under the "right to die," right?

Q & A …

… The Blue-Collar King: An Interview with Stephen King - The Los Angeles Review of Books. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Inquirer reviews …

… Burst of new translations of books by Nobelist Patrick Modiano.

 Margaret Atwood's 'Heart Goes Last': In need of defibrillation.

… Ruth Reichl's '136 Recipes': Writing and cooking for her life.

See also:

 Nobel-winner Orhan Pamuk talks about love and the city.

… Red Sofa Salon nurtures poets in a home setting.

I thought that my review of Rebecca Foust's Paradise Drive was to run today, but it seems to have been bumped — I guess by the Lisa Scottoline book excerpt that I can't seem to find online.

Saturday, October 24, 2015


… Philadelphia Zoo's Klondike the polar bear dies.

A fabulous figure, and a great American.

Fighting words …

 Germaine Greer: Transgender women are 'not women' - BBC News.

The life and the work …

… Dirt for art's sake: what's offensive and what's essential in author biographies? | Books | The Guardian. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

I am increasingly inclined to think that the work succeeds, as often as not, in spite of the artist.

In short …

… 'Truth': A Terrible, Terrible Movie About Journalism - The Atlantic.

…  The movie loudly, hectoringly stresses the importance of always “asking questions”—my notes include, among others, the lines “Questions help us get to the truth,” “You stop asking questions, that’s when the American people lose,” and “You’re supposed to question everything, that’s your job”—and yet the very quality it celebrates in its protagonist is that she never questions whether or not her reporting might have been wrong. This is a film in which acknowledging error is treated as some terrible surrender and betrayal of trust; in actual journalism, it’s considered a moral obligation—one that, sadly, most people in the field have had some experience with, in one capacity or another.

The owl's wink …

… Zealotry of Guerin: Autumn Landscape at Dusk (Van Gogh), Sonnet #267.

… and here's a bonus: Animals Extreme (Alice Guerin and Julia Guerin), Sonnet #266.


 Rifftides | Mark Murphy, 1932-1915. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Something to think on …

Acknowledgement, and celebration, of mystery probably constitutes the most consistent theme of my poetry from its very beginnings.
— Denise Levertov, born on this date in 1923

Friday, October 23, 2015

Vintage Q&A …

 Paris Review - The Art of Poetry No. 9, Conrad Aiken.

Music man …

… Randy Newman interview. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

I wonder whether all audiences have 'got' his biting irony. "Sure, I have had bad gigs where they didn't get what I was trying to do," Newman says. "There are millions of people I can't play to. My music is not what music of the 21st century is about, not what people use music for. It's a funny choice to see me because a lot of people want love songs, just moving back and forth. What people feel in general is (a) rhythm and (b) love, and both of them interest me less than character. It sounds boring, and maybe it is, and maybe I am, but that's what I like."

Online now …

… Current Issue | Brevity: A Journal of Concise Literary Nonfiction.

This could explain politicians …

… loud mouths, no balls: Calls versus balls: Monkeys with smaller testicles roar the loudest to make up for their shortcomings when attracting females | Daily Mail Online.

A most unhappy fella …

… On the Tennessee (Williams) Trail | The Hudson Review. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)
Williams’ autobiographical impulses came at a timely moment in American history. World War II was over, and Americans could start looking inward again. The country’s cultural narcissism began in that period of postwar prosperity. For his part, Williams had been mining his family drama since college in poetry and fiction and, finally, drama. As Gore Vidal observed, his family provided “his basic repertory com­pany.” Just as Laura played with her glass animals, Williams played with his characters, crystallizing their faults, but also burnishing their tragedies into epic poetry. 

Open for submissions…

 About/Guidelines | The Upstream Review.

Something to think on …

Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled.
— Michael Crichton, born on this date in 1942

Certainly not when students are dimwits …


Q&A …

… The ‘Degenerate’ Genius of Gore Vidal - The Daily Beast. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Good for them …

… 150 British Artists, Including J.K. Rowling, Sign Letter Opposing BDS | The Tower.

Reductio ad absurdum …

… Campus speech cops ban ‘politically correct’ | New York Post.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Reading a master …

… six words for a hat: 1,001 African nights with Isak Dinesen.

The literary touchstone for Out of Africa is Tales of the Arabian Nights, including the framing story of Scheherazade. Dinesen spins her tales not only because she loves to tell stories, but also to keep death at bay, to preserve the lives of her Kenyan farm, her Kikuyu and Somali and Masai neighbors, her friends from neighboring farms, and her lover Denys Finch-Hatton. Dinesen says these names, describes these places, and they live; even those who die within her narratives return ("That man died at the beginning of the story. But go on.") because Out of Africa is a great pattern, a web or a loom, not a single forward-moving story, not a novel. It's a dream, I think, dreamt by Karen Blixen after she was forced to sell the farm and move back to Denmark, and the book has indeed a dreamlike quality, as if these episodes were not possible in waking life. 


What do the trees think,
Their leaves turning color — what
We love about them?

hmmm...but I really don't think we can see fish think - pace Wittgenstein

A group of scientists from Japan’s National Institute of Genetics announced the mind-boggling achievement in a paper published today in Current Biology. By inserting a gene into a zebrafish larvae—often used in research because its entire body is transparent—and using probe that detects florescence, they were able to capture the fish’s mental reaction to a swimming paramecium in real time.

Offbeat trinity …

… Beyond Eastrod Redux: A most unusual Trinity: Jean-Paul Sartre, Samuel Beckett, and God.

I'm no fan of Sartre. Being and Nothingness is one of the worst books I have ever read. Cheap imitation Heidegger (not that bottled-in-bond Heidegger is much better). And isn't No Exit where we are told that "Hell is other people"? What a charming thought. I studied existential phenomenology under my Jesuit mentor Father Gannon. It has been a formative influence on me throughout my life.
But unlike Sartre's phony notion of creating oneself ex nihilo, my existential project has been to conform as best I can to whatever God's intention was in creating. Regrettably, I don't think I've done anywhere near as much as I could in fulfilling that project. But I do keep trying.

Pathetic …

 The C-word effect.

My old high school better not change their teams name from Crusaders. Increasingly, it looks as if only the dumbest people on earth go to college.


I have to get out of the car
Out of the house
Out of my head
Out of my bed

Into that seething mass, 
Into that warmth
Into that depth
Into that infinity of the other, of you 

On the street
And everywhere
You and you and you 
and your faces and your bodies and your soul

I see you and wave to you and talk to you 
I breathe you and touch you and live you and love you 
And I see God in you
The infinity of you

And me you see it in me 
You see my infinity in me
You and me before God
You and me 


… Paul West, Writer Who Shoveled Absurdity Into His Books, Dies at 85 - The New York Times. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Against cultural isolationism …

… Face the Music | The Smart Set. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

…  In my more recent research on the history of love songs, I’ve identified a number of surprising and inexplicable patterns that haven’t been addressed in the existing scholarly literature. These involve the mirroring of the musical traditions of European love lyrics in locations where geographical diffusion seems impossible — for example, an inexplicable congruence between historical aspects of the love songs of Sappho in ancient Greece and the Confucian tradition of folk songs in China. I’ve found similar enigmas in studying the origins of the lullaby, the lament, the fight song, and other music categories. As noted below, there are methodological tools for probing into these matters, but many of these tools — for example, multivariate statistical analysis — are not always found in the toolkits of musicologists.

Something to think on …

For the last third of life there remains only work. It alone is always stimulating, rejuvenating, exciting and satisfying.
— Doris Lessing, born on this date in 1919

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Haiku …

Sunlight on dry grass.
Blue sky. Oak trees and squirrels.
Indian summer.

Kramer vs NYT...

I have been trashed in both daily and Sunday Times for almost everything I have written. Why does anyone still consider the Sunday Times Book Review seriously? It is not only second rate and homophobic, it is tired, very tired. I've never heard of most of the critics they use to judge us. Its power is nevertheless colossal and it has ruined many a career. (And theNew York Times controls the New York Times Best Seller List, which surely is a conflict of interest or restraint of trade or something smelly.)

Next time you feel well-disposed toward government .

… read this: Death of a Patriot - Capitalism Magazine.

Literary feuding …

… Ted Hughes biography: publisher calls estate's attack 'defamatory' | Books | The Guardian. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

Belated Happy Birthday …

… to Robert Pinsky, who turned 75 yesterday: Three Poems by Robert Pinsky. ( Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)


We are not supposed to be consuming food at night, that's how our bodies have evolved, but now we are sort of forcing our bodies to have food when they aren't supposed to be.
From Americans Are Eating Later, and That May Contribute to Weight Troubles

But doesn't Europe generally eat earlier and later?  And doesn't that custom predate the current obesity epidemic?

Rescued from incomprehensibility …

… Walter Benjamin, the first pop philosopher. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

… In place of unfathomable reflections on language, he started in 1924 to write about contemporary culture, with an emphasis on its more popular forms. Among other things, he wrote about film, photography, children’s literature, gambling and pornography. These pieces were sent not to academic journals, but to newspapers and general publishers. Beginning in 1927, he started to write and deliver the radio broadcasts collected in Radio Benjamin, many of which were aimed at children. The transformation is extraordinary. Suddenly, his writing becomes engaging, vivid and, above all, understandable. One can’t help feeling the best thing that ever happened to the man was his failure to land a lectureship.

The morning sun, when it's in your face really shows your age

The Making of Maggie May:
As Martin played, I started singing “Maggie Mae,” an old Liverpudlian folk song about a prostitute. The Beatles had included it on “Let It Be” a year earlier. As I sang, the idea of a hooker popped into my head, then the jazz festival when I was 16 and then losing my virginity. It all flooded back as Martin and I got into it and I started coming up with words.But I didn’t write anything down. I merely created a vocal sketch in my mind of the song by humming along and improvising lines here and there to match Martin’s melody. Lyrics weren’t important at that point, only the feel. As with any song I eventually record, I first wanted to develop an emotional connection.

Something to think on …

I have seen great intolerance shown in support of tolerance.
— Samuel Taylor Coleridge, born on this date in 1772

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A good question …

… Beyond Eastrod Redux: Flannery O'Connor and a complicated question: Where shall faith be found?

Gay and Catholic …

… Two Poets Named Dunstan Thompson | The Hudson Review.

It is a great mistake to divide Thompson’s career into Catholic and non-Catholic periods. Roman Catholicism haunts all of his writing, even the novel and travelogue. The early poetry is as deeply and explicitly theological as the later work. What differs mostly is the speaker’s perceived relationship toward grace and redemption. Edward Field’s formula is exactly backward: only in Thompson’s early work does the persona of the guilt-ridden sinner appear. This torturously divided soul, vacillating between carnal desire and spiritual despair, serves as the protagonist of the early work. If the young Thompson was indeed a “brilliant bad boy,” he was also the very poster child of Catholic guilt. For him, sexual inebriation inevitably led to a theological hangover. By contrast, the calm and grateful persona of the later work is unconcerned with guilt or repentance.

See also: Here at Last is Love: The Poems of Dunstan Thompson.

(Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Where's the rage?

… Five Years On, Liu Xiaobo's Wife Stays Silent, Under House Arrest. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

The linguistic wild side …

… Poem of the week: Vada That by Adam Lowe | Books | The Guardian. (Hat tip, Rus Bowden.)

Grace in the face of contingency …

… Finding The Words For Faith — The Dish. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Wiman seems to feel what it means to be a modern believer, his faith always mingled with doubt, his hope always counterpoised by the nagging thought that only nothingness awaits us. There is no faked cheerfulness, no sanitizing the struggles that any sensitive religious person feels today when examining his own heart. Wiman’s work resists neat conclusions of any kind; reading both his poems and prose, you can feel the way his experiences seem to elude his grasp, the words never quite pinning down what he has endured. He has absorbed all the reasons any honest person might offer for not believing – and yet, ultimately, he does.

Something to think on …

Man lives in a world of surmise, of mystery, of uncertainties.
— John Dewey, born on this date in 1859