26 September 2005

Worth repeating

A friend of mine who works at a university in the States recently responded to my little rant, which involved the question, "If the U.K. system is so well-respected and the U.S. system is looking for ways to improve itself, then why doesn't the latter get ideas from the model of the former?" Here's what she had to say:
I think a lot of U.S. educational institutions ignore the advances made by institutions in other countries out of a self-absorbed, "manifest destiny" sort of Americanism (forgive my use of the term)--the idea, in short, that we are better than everyone else. That we are more wealthy and advanced than everyone else; therefore, we must already be (by default) the leader in everything. Even when we're not.

And we are blind to the fact that we are, ourselves, the ignorant promoting the ignorance of others. I don't mean this to be a blanket statement, of course, or I would implicate myself in the process. But where does real learning take place? When a person is forced to grapple with real ideas and come to a real conclusion--on his or her own. Not to spit out facts on a test. Not to present an overview of what everyone else has thought on a subject--although I do find value in examining other perspectives to help solidify my own.

I can't speak to the value of the tutorial system since I haven't experienced it. But I can speak to the value of a person coming up with new, independent ideas...perhaps even before he or she has published the Ph.D. dissertation. THAT is learning. And the promotion of THAT is education.

The hint half guessed

Men's curiosity searches past and future
And clings to that dimension. But to apprehend
The point of intersection of the timeless
With time, is an occupation for the saint—
No occupation either, but something given
And taken, in a lifetime's death in love,
Ardour and selflessness and self-surrender.
For most of us, there is only the unattended
Moment, the moment in and out of time,
The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight,
The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning
Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply
That it is not heard at all, but you are the music
While the music lasts. These are only hints and guesses,
Hints followed by guesses; and the rest
Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action.
The hint half guessed, the gift half understood, is Incarnation.
Here the impossible union
Of spheres of existence is actual,
Here the past and future
Are conquered, and reconciled,
Where action were otherwise movement
Of that which is only moved
And has in it no source of movement—
Driven by daemonic, chthonic
Powers. And right action is freedom
From past and future also.
For most of us, this is the aim
Never here to be realised;
Who are only undefeated
Because we have gone on trying;
We, content at the last
If our temporal reversion nourish
(Not too far from the yew-tree)
The life of significant soil.

~ T.S. Eliot, born on this day in 1888
"The Dry Salvages," Four Quartets

25 September 2005

Towards the Splendid City

From Pablo Neruda's 1971 Nobel Lecture:
I did not learn from books any recipe for writing a poem, and I, in my turn, will avoid giving any advice on mode or style which might give the new poets even a drop of supposed insight. When I am recounting in this speech something about past events, when reliving on this occasion a never-forgotten occurrence, in this place which is so different from what that was, it is because in the course of my life I have always found somewhere the necessary support, the formula which had been waiting for me not in order to be petrified in my words but in order to explain me to myself.

During this long journey I found the necessary components for the making of the poem. There I received contributions from the earth and from the soul. And I believe that poetry is an action, ephemeral or solemn, in which there enter as equal partners solitude and solidarity, emotion and action, the nearness to oneself, the nearness to mankind and to the secret manifestations of nature. And no less strongly I think that all this is sustained - man and his shadow, man and his conduct, man and his poetry - by an ever-wider sense of community, by an effort which will for ever bring together the reality and the dreams in us because it is precisely in this way that poetry unites and mingles them. [...]

The poet is not a "little god". No, he is not a "little god". He is not picked out by a mystical destiny in preference to those who follow other crafts and professions. I have often maintained that the best poet is he who prepares our daily bread: the nearest baker who does not imagine himself to be a god. He does his majestic and unpretentious work of kneading the dough, consigning it to the oven, baking it in golden colours and handing us our daily bread as a duty of fellowship. And, if the poet succeeds in achieving this simple consciousness, this too will be transformed into an element in an immense activity, in a simple or complicated structure which constitutes the building of a community, the changing of the conditions which surround mankind, the handing over of mankind's products: bread, truth, wine, dreams. If the poet joins this never-completed struggle to extend to the hands of each and all his part of his undertaking, his effort and his tenderness to the daily work of all people, then the poet must take part, the poet will take part, in the sweat, in the bread, in the wine, in the whole dream of humanity. Only in this indispensable way of being ordinary people shall we give back to poetry the mighty breadth which has been pared away from it little by little in every epoch, just as we ourselves have been whittled down in every epoch.

Listen to the original speech in Spanish.

24 September 2005

Aunt Jennifer's Tigers

Aunt Jennifer's tigers prance across a screen,
Bright topaz denizens of a world of green.
They do not fear the men beneath the tree;
They pace in sleek chivalric certainty.

Aunt Jennifer's fingers fluttering through her wool
Find even the ivory needle hard to pull.
The massive weight of Uncle's wedding band
Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer's hand.

When Aunt is dead, her terrified hands will lie
Still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by.
The tigers in the panel that she made
Will go on prancing, proud and unafraid.

~ Adrienne Rich

18 September 2005

Great poems make sense because they threaten to make no sense

(I seriously considered titling this one "My Hero"!)

Of James Longenbach and the Whole Human Contraption:
One of the great things that poems do is to give us permission to take pleasure in language we don't yet understand; another word for that kind of pleasure would be wonder. But it wouldn't be quite right, I think, to say that wonder is aroused by the sonic rather than the semantic properties of language--it's an interplay between the two. A poem without any semantic interest could ultimately be as flat as a poem without any sonic play. What matters is the temporal process by which that interest happens to us--the movement of the language of the poem.
I don't think there's a line between clarity and mystery; I think clarity is mystery, as opposed to confusion. Think of the most well known phrase from Marvell: "a green thought in a green shade." There is nothing difficult here, nothing knotty; my nine-year old daughter could read the line easily (and probably she'd have a better answer for this question, too). But the resonance of that clarity is immense, and all the critical ink that's been spilled over it has yet to exhaust the line's capacity for provoking wonder. The immensity of the unsaid is invoked because the line is so very clear about what it does say. I don't think this is a special quality, really; to my way of thinking, all great poetry--or all the poetry that grips me, anyway--partakes of this quality.
On Petrarch:
The sense of a complete human being that I get from this body of work--someone ravaged, kind, haunted, flawed, generous, selfish, seeking--is immense. I don't know of many other writers who managed to get the whole human contraption down on the page so unpretentiously. Also, like Yeats, Petrarch is a poet who works and thinks through contraries, and, in ways large and small, my book is designed around a series of oppositions between self and soul, joy and reason, and so on. I didn't plan this; it just happened. Reading Petrarch, I feel like a small part of something larger even than Petrarch--a way of being in the world that makes a love of language feel like a love of rivers and hills.
On Pound:
[P]art of the great drama of the Cantos is the work we must do in order to discover it over and over again. The poem is a wreck, a calamity, a provocation, but I don't see how any poet can avoid coming to terms with it. That would be like standing at the foot of the Rocky Mountains and trying to will their disappearance.

Which is to say that Pound is hard to like; he is an affront to anyone's taste; he exists to confound. But his place in literature seems to me crucial.
(Via The Reading Experience)

Needless to say, The Resistance to Poetry shot straight to the top of my birthday/Christmas/tooth-fairy list.

17 September 2005

To Elsie

The pure products of America
go crazy--
mountain folk from Kentucky

or the ribbed north end of
with its isolate lakes and

valleys, its deaf-mutes, thieves
old names
and promiscuity between

devil-may-care men who have taken
to railroading
out of sheer lust of adventure--

and young slatterns, bathed
in filth
from Monday to Saturday

to be tricked out that night
with gauds
from imaginations which have no

peasant traditions to give them
but flutter and flaunt

sheer rags-succumbing without
save numbed terror

under some hedge of choke-cherry
or viburnum-
which they cannot express--

Unless it be that marriage
with a dash of Indian blood

will throw up a girl so desolate
so hemmed round
with disease or murder

that she'll be rescued by an
reared by the state and

sent out at fifteen to work in
some hard-pressed
house in the suburbs--

some doctor's family, some Elsie--
voluptuous water
expressing with broken

brain the truth about us--
her great
ungainly hips and flopping breasts

addressed to cheap
and rich young men with fine eyes

as if the earth under our feet
an excrement of some sky

and we degraded prisoners
to hunger until we eat filth

while the imagination strains
after deer
going by fields of goldenrod in

the stifling heat of September
it seems to destroy us

It is only in isolate flecks that
is given off

No one
to witness
and adjust, no one to drive the car

~ William Carlos Williams, born on this day in 1883

Listen to him read it and head over to wood s lot for some worthwhile links.

What Robert Pinksy has to say:
William Carlos Williams still sets a standard of art for making poetry in an American way. He brings unsurpassed intensity to free verse, to spoken language, to seemingly dirt-plain words and ideas like "car" or "field" or "crazy".... Yes, he exemplifies the art of the eye, as the stereotype of his work has it, but what makes his poems persist is the art of ear and mind, the extraordinary sentences and rhythms he made. Like music, his poems execute shape in time.
Bud has some marvelous thoughts on a related matter:
True and honest poetry does require knowing how to read poems, if you don't know what a caesura sounds like, you probably aren't going to be able to write one to any affect. But ears become trained through using them and that means reading out loud (if and when, as in my case, your wife puts up with it) and listening. Listening not just to your poems and other poets, but, in my opinion, to music, serious music.

15 September 2005

Blaming Ezra

A recent article in the Contemporary Poetry Review finds Ezra Pound responsible for students' inability to read poetry aloud (and that's just the beginning).

Garrick Davis sat in on a poetry class at Boston University and
was subsequently astonished by two facts. The first was that the nine students who read had, not a variety of speaking voices, but a remarkably uniform delivery: they mumbled out the lines as rapidly as they could read them, oblivious to line breaks, or rhyme, or rhythm. Garcia Lorca was read, essentially, in the same monotone accorded an office memo.

The second fact was that the teacher, by invariably interrupting each student after a few lines to correct the speed and intonation of their faulty recital, was aware that these near-graduates of a prestigious writing program, these most promising of our young poets, had still to learn how to read poetry.
Davis goes from this to that in ten paragraphs flat:
Put another way, to understand the crisis of American poetry one must understand the career of Ezra Pound. How long has chaos reigned? 1913 is as good a date as any, and that year might usefully serve as a rallying cry in our scholarly magazines and schools--for a past mistake that still haunts our present culture.
Quite the maddening little article.

Ok. First of all, I'm willing to bet that those students' lack of expression in reading aloud is not limited to poetry. Give them Salinger and it'd be the same story. Expression comes with fluency and practice--and, let's face it, not many people read aloud for fun anymore.

Second of all, oral interpretation of poetry isn't much different from that of prose. You're not supposed to pause at the end of every line or anything ridiculous like that, but follow the punctuation and phrasing of the poet. One should never read rhyme in anything resembling a sing-song voice.

That the faults of current U.S. students are placed on the shoulders of Ezra Pound is nothing short of silly. There's a lot wrong with education in the United States and it isn't limited to academia or the teaching of poetry. Reading aloud is something that should be practiced in every grade from kindergarten on up.

Davis' charge against Pound is really linked to the whole verse vs. free verse debate, which is itself a tired issue. Both are poetry, both have fine qualities, both should be taught (and taught well). That many people nowadays try to call vapid self-expression "poetry" is not a problem confined to free verse. As the editor of a student lit journal, I read so much bad poetry it was coming out my ears--and 90% of it was rhymed.

Davis also attempts to use Eliot as a witness for the prosecution by saying he "thought it best to warn the poets that vers libre did not actually exist, as it:
is not defined by absence of pattern or absence of rhyme, for other verse is without these; that [it] is not defined by non-existence of metre, since even the worst verse can be scanned; and we conclude that the division between Conservative Verse and vers libre does not exist, for there is only good verse, bad verse and chaos."
I heartily agree. But this does not mean that one cannot love John Donne and e.e. cummings at the same time.

Vonnegut and Stewart

Up late on a school night (a continent away) avidly watching Kurt Vonnegut on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart...
KV: I have wanted to give Iraq a lesson in democracy, cause we've experience with it, you know...

JS: Oh, we're good at it. We perfected it!

KV: Yeah. And in democracy, after a hundred years, you have to let your slaves go. And after 150 years, you have to let your women vote. And at the beginning of democracy is quite a bit of genocide--and ethnic cleansing is quite ok. And that's what's going on now.

JS: You know, Mr. Vonnegut, if I may, it's sad for me to see you lose your edge.
(Via Ed)

It's nice to see that some things live up to expectations!

And here's Vonnegut's List: Liberal Crap I Never Want to Hear Again. (Via Syntax of Things)

Tomorrow I'll give a listen to last Sunday's interview with him at NPR. They've got a great excerpt of his new collection of essays, A Man Without a Country (which begins, "We are not born with imagination. It has to be developed by teachers, by parents. There was a time when imagination was very important because it was the major source of entertainment"...).

13 September 2005

Aesthetic space

Dan Green of The Reading Experience on a favorite subject:
Nothing we do, of course, is entirely beyond the reach of "social and moral categories" if we choose to employ them. But why must we always do so? Why is it necessary to subject that human activity we call "art" to relentless political and cultural analysis even when the artists themselves reject such an analysis as a willful distortion of the purpose of their work? Because we can? Can we not also choose to preserve an aesthetic space for works of literature? Besides, if you really are most interested in sociopolitical or moral interrogation in the first place, why spend your time trying to whip poems and novels into some suitably discursive shape? [...]

Wellington admonishes Ellison for "brandish[ing] a vision of Art with a capital A," for encouraging a fruitless debate that just goes "round and round." But the argument is not circular. The dispute between the view that art is "truth telling" and the view that art is art could be settled if the parties agreed that "Art with a capital A" can exist if we allow it to (that it has its own kind of value if we allow ourselves to find it), but that this doesn't foreclose the possibility that "truth" will emerge for some readers as well (perhaps not so forcefully for others). Those of us who agree with Ellison simply don't want to rush quite so quickly from the immediacy of art to its supplementary implications.
It looks as though I may be teaching 8th grade English next year (news which fills me with equal parts joy and terror). The above issue is beginning to take on a whole new meaning.

I was given this year's Scholastic catalog in order to help select novels and picture books for 2006. Although it's been a lot of fun, I couldn't help but notice how most of the titles are either historical or social novels. That's all well and good (I remember enjoying quite a few of them when I was a kid). But I know it will take special effort to extricate the "immedicacy of art" from its "supplementary implications."

When I was in 8th grade, I fell in love with Jack London. Although it's true that I first heard the term "survival of the fittest" and learned about the Yukon while studying The Call of the Wild, this wasn't what drove me to read White Fang, The Sea Wolf, and To Build a Fire and Other Stories on my own. I had encountered a startling form of beauty that sparked a love of ineffable "wildness" and set me adrift among the ever-growing concentric circles of the immense ocean that is literature.

Four years later, I stumbled upon this:

I am moved by fancies that are curled
Around these images, and cling:
The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing.

...and haven't been the same since.

Note to self

I've found myself using "American" when I specifically mean someone from the United States. In Spanish the word is estadounidense--literally, "United Statesian." Is there no word like that in English? The word "American" is taken for granted as meaning "a citizen of the U.S.," although it's only third in Merriam-Webster's list of definitions. (Yes, Virginia, people from Central and South America are "Americans" too.)

"North American" doesn't work because I don't want to implicate any Canadians. "Anglo-American"? No, that won't work either. I'm sure someone somewhere must've come up with something better... Any ideas?

This is about more than linguistic hair-splitting. As Mark Twain said, "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug."

12 September 2005

Dickens or Bulwer-Lytton?

Can you tell which is which?
I have had a classical education, seen the world, and mixed in decent society; you, too, had not been long a member of our club before you distinguished yourself above us all. Fortune smiled on your youthful audacity. You grew particular in horses and dress, frequented public haunts, and being a deuced good-looking fellow, with an inborn air of gentility and some sort of education, you became sufficiently well received to acquire in a short time the manner and tone of a - what shall I say? - a gentleman, and the taste to like suitable associates. This is my case too! Despite our labours for the public weal, the ungrateful dogs see that we are above them; a single envious breast is sufficient to give us to the hangman.
It was a murky confusion - here and there blotted with a colour like the colour of the smoke from damp fuel - of flying clouds, tossed up into most remarkable heaps, suggesting greater heights in the clouds than there were depths below them to the bottom of the deepest hollows in the earth, through which the wild moon seemed to plunge headlong, as if, in a dread disturbance of the laws of nature, she had lost her way and were frightened. There had been a wind all day; and it was rising then, with an extraordinary great sound. In another hour it had much increased, and the sky was more overcast, and blew hard.
I only scored a 67%! I shouldn't have second-guessed myself so much.

More great quizzes here (I did particularly well on the art ones). I plan to do "Machine translation or Faulkner?" and "Sokal & Bricmont or Lenin?" (!) next.

11 September 2005

This part of the world

From "New Orleans and the Third World" by Mukoma Wa Ngugi:
What role is the “Third World” playing in how Americans are dealing with the disaster? Where does the “Third World” fit in the imagination of the American? What does it mean to say that this is not supposed to happen in the United States? To me, it is almost as if by displacing disasters and human suffering to the “Third World,” the New Orleans disaster is not really happening in the United States. New Orleans is “out there” and everyone else is ! safe and American – the crisis in New Orleans is happening in a “Third World” outpost and the United States remains rich, strong and invulnerable.

The American citizen has been stewing in nationalism, manifest destiny and the myth of the democratic society that errors but never oppresses or marginalizes for so long that even a natural disaster cannot be seen and understood outside this lens. And the fact that most of the victims are predominantly poor and African American is not being understood as a creation of very specific domestic policies and conservative ideologies; it has to be filtered through the “Third World”. As if a disaster from that “part of the world” somehow managed to sneak through the porous Mexican borders.

Bush’s Remarks

It is interesting therefore to look at President Bush’s remarks after touring New Orleans on September 2nd after four days of inaction. His first sentence was “ I've just completed a tour of some devastated country”. A detached statement but it gets worse – a little later he says “I know the people of this part of the world are suffering…” and he goes on to talk about how progress is being made. Then he says “ The people in this part of the world have got to understand…” Shortly after this, he says “You know, I'm going to fly out of here in a minute, but I want you to know that I'm not going to forget what I've seen” and again refers to his constituents as “good folks of this part of the world”. It is almost as if he is in a different country consoling its citizenry. He himself is so detached about what is happening in the very country he leads that he refers to it as “this part of the world”.
Of course, the disconnect is more pervasive than the thoughtless lines of a president. My immediate reaction to hearing of recent objections to the word "refugee" was disbelief. Apparently, I'm not alone:
the underlying theme of many in the "they're not refugees" crowd is: These are Americans. They're not the trash we usually call "refugees." I mean, does Jesse Jackson think that refugees in Rwanda, Angola, or the Sudan are "subhuman" and "criminals"? I hope not. I've always thought of them as incredibly unlucky people who, because of forces beyond their control, have had to leave their homes. Just like Katrina victims.
You would think the tragedy of four years ago would've gone some way to sensitize Americans to the unrelenting suffering in the rest of the world--that there would be some lasting form of identification with other nations. Sadly, some Americans persist in widening the gap between the States and Everyone Else.

(Via wood s lot and Maud Newton)

P.S. I'm still pissed off by that Rosario Tijeras review in PW. The atrocities committed in this country surpass human imagination. People have been systematically slaughtered by chainsaws...and for an American reviewer to dismiss such violence in a historical novel as of the "B-movie" variety...well. I have trouble articulating a response to such wanton callous ignorance.

10 September 2005

Mysteries Remain

The mysteries remain,
I keep the same
cycle of seed-time
and of sun and rain;
Demeter in the grass,
I multiply,
renew and bless
Bacchus in the vine;
I hold the law,
I keep the mysteries true,
the first of these
to name the living, dead;
I am the wine and bread.

I keep the law,
I hold the mysteries true,
I am the vine,
the branches, you,
and you.

~ H.D., born on this day in 1886

Vanquishing the Selfish Giant

I'd been looking for online versions of some Oscar Wilde stories, and came across The Oscar Wilde Collection. Being deprived of bookstores has been particularly onerous of late, but I've enjoyed hunting up places like this where I can read old favorites...
So he crept downstairs and opened the front door quite softly, and went out into the garden. But when the children saw him they were so frightened that they all ran away, and the garden became winter again. Only the little boy did not run, for his eyes were so full of tears that he did not see the Giant coming. And the Giant stole up behind him and took him gently in his hand, and put him up into the tree. And the tree broke at once into blossom, and the birds came and sang on it, and the little boy stretched out his two arms and flung them round the Giant's neck, and kissed him. And the other children, when they saw that the Giant was not wicked any longer, came running back, and with them came the Spring. "It is your garden now, little children," said the Giant, and he took a great axe and knocked down the wall. And when the people were going to market at twelve o'clock they found the Giant playing with the children in the most beautiful garden they had ever seen.
As much as I bemoan my lack of access to books, I cannot imagine the horror of having nothing...

Maud Newton has posted a fantastic list of various aid outlets to victims of Katrina:
In the hope that some preteen kid crammed into a cot next to his parents in the Astrodome will find similar refuge in books, I’m assembling a pile of old favorites to send the Katrina Literary Collective. If you’d like to offer bookish assistance to the hurricane victims, here’s how you can help:

* Publishers: donate free printing services or other assistance to a successful — but now stalled — inner-city literary project designed to refute the notion that New Orleans neighborhoods are all about violence and drugs.

* The Katrina Literary Collective is collecting and distributing books to victims of the hurricane. For more information, contact the Amber Communications Group at amberbk@aol.com. (Via email from Poets & Writers.)

* The Louisiana Disaster Relief Fund is taking monetary donations to assist libraries in Southeastern Louisiana. For more information, visit the American Library Association at ala.org. (Via Poets & Writers.)

* The American Booksellers Association has created a Bookseller Relief Fund to assist independent booksellers affected by Hurricane Katrina. Visit Bookweb.org. (Via Poets & Writers.)

* Booksxyz, an Internet bookstore based in Lafayette, Louisiana, donates proceeds from its sales to public education in the U.S., and is soliciting donations, via check or credit card, for public schools affected by the catastrophe.

* The Children’s Book Council is keeping track of other efforts to aid hurricane victims.

08 September 2005

Rosario Tijeras

Just got back from seeing Rosario Tijeras*, the first narrative film by Mexican documentarian Emilio Maillé, an adaptation of the novel by Jorge Franco (Gregory Rabassa translated it into English):
Colombia’s celebrated "new generation" writer, Jorge Franco, presents an urban drama set in the violent underbelly of Medellín, Colombia during Pablo Escobar’s drug addled 1980s. In the realist tradition, Franco captures the protagonists’ struggles against hostile social structures as well as the tragic reality of living in Colombia today. The story of Rosario, the lower-class female gun for hire from the comunas, is recounted by lovesick Antonio as he waits outside the emergency room where Rosario lays dying from an assassin’s bullet. Winner of the 2000 Dashiell Hammett award.
The silly Publishers Weekly review at Amazon starts off with, "The American debut by award-winning Colombian novelist Franco is an energetic but awkward combination of As I Lay Dying and a Quentin Tarantino splatter-fest--a slim novel that leans more toward the latter's B-movie violence than Faulkner's penetrating examination of a character's death." Obviously, the reviewer didn't realize that violence was a fact of life in those days. A writer would be hard-pressed to overdo any of it. (There's a lot I'd like to say here about U.S. ethnocentrism, but I'll save it for another time. For starters, there's a great tip-of-the-iceberg post over at Maud's.)

The film works more as a character study than a piece of sensationalist cinema (I thought most of it was underplayed--it'll be interesting to see what U.S. reviewers have to say). Told in flashbacks, the film reveals the enigma that is Rosario, transcending clichés and delving into core motivations (I thought the allusions to time were particularly moving). As she herself says, "Amar es más difícil que matar" ("It is more difficult to love than to kill").

It's tentatively slated to open in the U.S. this February.

* UPDATE: The filmsite is finally up and running.


Come out of the dark earth
Here where the minerals
Glow in their stone cells
Deeper than seed or birth.

Come under the strong wave
Here where the tug goes
As the tide turns and flows
Below that architrave.

Come into the pure air
Above all heaviness
Of storm and cloud to this
Light-possessed atmosphere.

Come into, out of, under
The earth, the wave, the air.
Love, touch us everywhere
With primeval candor.

~ May Sarton

Artist Sabrina Ward Harrison sent out a newsletter today with the above poem and much good news:
Over a year in the works....

IT is here my friends!

come and see...
more and more...art and colors
a new book...

can you find it?

Looking forward to the exploration...

01 September 2005


I've only just now slowed down enough to absorb online information about the incomprehensible devastation left in the wake of hurricane Katrina. What is even more incomprehensible are the tens of thousands of people stranded...suffering...dying. I live in a (supposedly) "third world" country and am shocked by the rescue delays and shortages of the "first world" (among other things--enough said).

A friend of mine muses,
Americans are not used to this at all. So many people are going to become long-term refugees. We have such a rich nation with so many resources, I think many people do not understand why the situation is so impossible for the thousands of people trying to evacuate New Orleans (and in the mean time, get food, water, shelter, and working toilet). All of a sudden we are in India, not home, and we are looking at deplorable conditions for many people and relief that has more than a few obstacles on the way.
But here are some things that can be done:

Mike at The Spiral Arm asks,
How much a month do you spend on books? On your broadband/net access? On your various web accounts?

What if we, the lit-blogging community, committed to donating the money we would spend on books, etc. in the month of September to Katrina relief? I know that my wife and I probably spend at least $100 on books every month. So in September, we plan on giving up new book purchases and donating that hundred bucks to the Red Cross.

How can you help? Donate to the Red Cross or your favorite relief organization today. No amount is too small. Then, tell your blog readers what you are doing and encourage them to do the same.
(Via Conversational Reading)

Maud also has excellent ideas, as does Booksquare.

Primacy, pt. 2

Discursive thoughts that began as a comment to Monday's post, but quickly morphed into something else...

This is what I find difficult to understand: If the U.K. system is so well-respected and the U.S. system is looking for ways to improve itself, then why doesn't the latter get ideas from the model of the former?

I don't think I've ever read a U.S. consideration of the U.K. system of higher education (although I'm sure there's probably a lot out there).

I also find it ironic that my experience with the tutorial system is in direct opposition to the dictum of most U.S. universities (or at least grad schools). That is, you have to prove you're "conversant" in everyone else's theories/ideas before you can propound your own. I can see how this makes sense--but to make every single student do this in every thesis? It becomes gratuitous hoop-jumping after a while...doesn't it?

Any thoughts would be appreciated--I'm obviously a little biased.

September 1, 1939

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
"I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,"
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

~ W.H. Auden

From Today in Literature:
On this day in 1939 Germany invaded Poland, starting WWII. This gave moment to W. H. Auden's "September 1, 1939," one of his most famous poems, and one of many attempts to figure how "the windiest militant trash" could so easily have us all "Lost in a haunted wood." On this day two years later, the yellow star was made obligatory for Jews in Germany; and this day three years after that would be Anne Frank's last before learning her fate: the last train out of Holland for Auschwitz.