31 October 2005

The Wonder of It

How wild, how witch-like weird that life should be!
That the insensate rock dared dream of me,
And take to bursting out and burgeoning--
Oh, long ago--yo ho!--
And wearing green! How stark and strange a thing
That life should be!

Oh, mystic mad, a rigadoon of glee,
That dust should rise, and leap alive, and flee
A-foot, a-wing, and shake the deeps with cries--
Oh, far away--yo-hay!
What moony masque, what arrogant disguise
That life should be!

~ Harriet Monroe

Ahoy, it be a trrruth uni’ersally acknowledged...

Over at The Valve, Laura Carroll (of Sorrow at Sills Bend) has effectively shaken me out of the doldrums with her witty and incisive critique of the latest adaptation of Pride and Prejudice:
With swiftly rising spirits I anticipated how this bold new adaptation, for such it suddenly seemed to be, would develop. Perhaps the respectable London merchants the Gardiners would turn out to be Cornish wreckers swinging lanterns over the rocks by night to lead unsuspecting merchant ships to their doom. Mr Bennet might choke to death on a doubloon and his five daughters forcibly abduct Mr Collins and make him walk the plank. Charlotte Lucas could housekeep and cross-dress her way to the top of the British navy, drinking a bottle of wine every day as she went. Instead of running off with Wickham, Lydia Bennet could head up a failed mutiny & be abandoned in a whaleboat drifting on the Pacific with no parasol and nothing to eat but Kitty. For this, I thought, I am willing to bear Keira Knightley’s smirking, blank-eyed version of Elizabeth, Donald Sutherland’s glassy, senile Mr Bennet with incongruously glittering Beverley Hills bridgework, and all the boringly heavy hints about how hard an intelligent but impoverished woman’s lot was in c18, how critically important to make a good marriage, blah blah, zzzzzz.

I was mentally putting the finishing touches on how the dialogue ought to go - “Yarr, Darcy, I must have ye dance, ye whoreson bilge-drinker. I hate t’ see ye standin’ about by yourself in this mangy mannerrr. Ye had much better dance - or be keelhauled. Arr!” - when these enjoyable musings were spoilt by the arrival of a pair of ominously unsmutched Bingleys toting [Comeback Special Elvis] a Darcy about whom it must universally be acknowledged that he is not, and is unlikely to ever turn into, Colin Firth. How can such a thing be? Women all over the world are desperately trying to understand.

As my salty dreams faded and the movie inexorably ground on, I began to think that demonstrating the utter irrelevance of Colin Firth to its universe is indeed the chief motive of Pride and Prejudice ‘05 (that and making a squillion million, of course.) The movie is too conscious of the 1996 TV serial: it wants to duplicate that version’s success, but without acknowledging it as an honourable and still impressive precursor. The film makes a long string of adaptational choices and decisions which have no purpose I could guess at other than to drive the BBC / A&E series out of everyone’s minds. (A bit like telling a person not to think of an elephant.) And so some seriously self-defeating innovations are introduced.
Read on!

30 October 2005

Rescuing Macondo

I found last month's story on town officials' plans to capitalize on Aracataca's literary fame strangely wistful:
In the sculpture park, under the shade of almond and mango trees, the public will gather for lectures, readings and other cultural events while gazing at the towering Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta peaks rising to the east. [...]

Yet for many Aracatacans, the dream of turning their city into a tourist destination seems as quixotic and fanciful as Garcia Marquez's fiction, where a man can be transformed into a snake and the living speak to the dead.
Just this week, Santa Marta's local newspaper reported that the two-year-old highway connecting El Retén to Aracataca has already suffered extensive damage and attempts are being made to halt deterioration. It's difficult to pinpoint why development here in general is such an uphill struggle--almost as if a virulent strain of entropy infected the land long ago and we're blissfully unaware that it works differently anywhere else.
Arias said he last met with his famous cousin in November 2004 in Cartagena, where they spent three hours talking about family, old friends and Aracataca, which this year is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its founding.

"I told him Aracataca is completing its one hundred years of solitude," Arias recalled. "I told him that nothing has changed and there has been no progress."

Arias said Garcia Marquez replied optimistically: "Someday, there will be better years."
It is a testimony to the resilience of the Colombian people that such dogged optimism is so common here. Dreams will always intermingle with reality.

(Via Syntax of Things)

Hardworking book pirates

At Splinters, Chris discusses international book piracy and points to an excellent article of his at Travelhappy, "Bootleg Books in Cambodia and Vietnam":
The kids around the temples at Angkor are breathtaking in their English ability - their average age can't be more than eight or nine but they speak English fluently, almost without a trace of an accent. They are adept at cajoling and bargaining with you - everytime you step out of your car to go look at a temple, a gaggle of them will descend upon you, grinning, shouting and waving books, silks, ornaments and t-shirts at you. The smaller ones prod you in the belly to get you to look downwards at their merchandise. Others mark you from the start: "When you come back from the temple, you come and buy from me. What's your name? My name is Vanna. I remember you, you remember me?" So it goes as you move inch by inch surrounded by this mini-riot until you get to the temple entrance. It's pretty intimidating at first, but smiling your way through it all works a lot better than shouting.

They've got a hard gig - sometimes you see them in tears at the end of the day because they've sold nothing and have to go home to the parents empty handed. On the other hand, selling bootleg books to the likes of me means they can earn considerably more than the average Cambodian wage of a couple of dollars a day. I wonder what's going to become of these kids, how they will grow up, whether their English skills will help them get ahead and whether their bargaining skills will make them all become entrepeneurs. Following the life of one of them would make a good book in itself.

Don't they have to take some sort of literacy test?

Maud has been posting some very interesting thoughts on the perverse nature of modern bookstores:
If booksellers and publishers can’t even coordinate to get books into the stores by the time they’re being reviewed, it’s no wonder sales of everything but the likes of Harry Potter, The Da Vinci Code, and The Purpose-Driven Life are down.
Even more disturbing, it seems that there are bignamebookstore employees who don't know their ass from their A.S. Byatt:
Today was the day. The day that a new novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez was due for sale in bookstores. I show up at Barnes and Noble at 10:30am on my break and begin scouring the New Fiction tables for the book. I don't see it anywhere. So I ask one of the workers for help.

"Excuse me- I heard the new book by Marquez would be for sale today. Is that true? I don't see it."
"By who?"

Okay. We're already off to a bad start. It is my not-so-humble opinion that you shouldn't be working in a bookstore if you have to ask, "Marquez who?". Put your hands in the air. Drop the books and no one gets hurt. There's a job waiting for you at Sam Goody over at the mall. Now get outta here.

He goes to the computer. "What was the author's name again?"
Sigh. With infinite patience I say again, "Gabriel. Garcia. Marquez." I resist the urge to run to the cash register and buy this guy One Hundred Years of Solitude. If I thought he would put down his John Grisham paperback long enough to read it, I would consider it a worthwhile investment.

Crap. I knew he was going to ask that, the clueless git. Under my breath, "memoriesofmymelancholywhores."
"Memories of My Melancholy Whores." He looks over at my belly judgmentally. I'm not being sensitive, shut up, he did! "Yes, I'm seven months pregnant and I'm reading a book about sad whores, okay? It's not a romance novel, it's by a Noble Prize winning author who...nevermind."

"Oh, is he the guy who wrote that Oprah book?" Yeah, now I have to murder him. In the parking lot. Just as soon as his shift ends. "Ahhh, here it is. We just don't have it out on the tables yet. Let me go get you a copy."

And that, friends, is how I walked away with the very first copy sold of Marquez's new novel at my local Barnes and Noble. Next time I'm going to Full Circle. I guarantee you every single employee at Full Circle knows my good friend, Gabo.
"The guy who wrote that Oprah book."

God help me.

28 October 2005

A fine line

Going through some old notes, I found what amounts to John Harwood's parting shot in Eliot to Derrida: The Poverty of Interpretation:
Interpretive ingenuity is in one sense limitless, and yet obsessive readers are doomed to met their own reflections wherever they look. 'Once the context goes, anything goes' is a standard complaint about deconstruction, but the record of deconstructive practice is quite the reverse: as in a glass darkly, the method discovers itself in every text it scrutinises. New Critics hungered for paradox and irony, and found that even the despised Tennyson would, in the end, yield up those qualities. Deconstructionists seek indeterminacy, self-subversion, transgression, vertigo and aporia, and find them everywhere. Postmodern theorists fascinated by 'textual reflexivity' display, unwittingly, a fascination with their own mental processes. The real 'problem of interpretation' is not to prevent it from being arbitrary, but to restrain the power of obsessive or reflexive reading. Theorists of several current persuasions would argue, inconsistency notwithstanding, that any such restraint is (a) impossible, (b) repressive, and (c) politically motivated. Obsessive reading, however, is closely related to fundamentalist reading, which is by no means the exclusive property of the far religious right. Teachers who believe that they are radicalising ther students by demanding that they uncover a politically correct message in every text are, like their apparent opposites in clean-cut Bible colleges, giving instruction in fundamentalist reading, which is not something that should be taught, however ineptly, in universities.

As for the argument that all we can ever see are our own reflections, it is routinely disingenuous: the real thrust is that all you can see in a text is your own mystified reflection (or that of the ideology which has 'constructed' you), whereas we, possessed of theoretical insight, can see through it.

27 October 2005

Out of the Sighs

Out of the sighs a little comes,
But not of grief, for I have knocked down that
Before the agony; the spirit grows,
Forgets, and cries;
A little comes, is tasted and found good;
All could not disappoint;
There must, be praised, some certainty,
If not of loving well, then not,
And that is true after perpetual defeat.

After such fighting as the weakest know,
There's more than dying;
Lose the great pains or stuff the wound,
He'll ache too long
Through no regret of leaving woman waiting
For her soldier stained with spilt words
That spill such acrid blood.

Were that enough, enough to ease the pain,
Feeling regret when this is wasted
That made me happy in the sun,
How much was happy while it lasted,
Were vagueness enough and the sweet lies plenty,
The hollow words could bear all suffering
And cure me of ills.

Were that enough, bone, blood, and sinew,
The twisted brain, the fair-formed loin,
Groping for matter under the dog's plate,
Man should be cured of distemper.
For all there is to give I offer:
Crumbs, barn, and halter.

~ Dylan Thomas, born on this day in 1914

Collecting clues

The server was down for nearly a week due to lightning-struck towers (of some sort) and now I'm back, breathless. The school year is winding down, final exams are being devised, plans for the new year are becoming finalized. I've also been taking a TEFL course--much busyness, a few more hurdles to clear. Amid all this, my reading has been catch-as-catch-can: too much randomness, too much neglect of my Spanish. But there have been many golden times in spite of it all. Elie Wiesel says it best:
I read a lot. I teach my students, not creative writing, but creative reading and it is still from my childhood. You take a text, you explore it, you enter it with all your heart and all your mind. And then you find clues that were left for you, really foredestined to be received by you from centuries ago. Generation after generation there were people who left clues, and you are there to collect them and, at one point, you understand something that you hadn't understood before. That is a reward, and as a teacher I do the same thing. When I realize there is a student there, in the corner, who understands, there is a flicker in the eye. That is the greatest reward that a teacher can receive.
I think I'll pin this one to my wall.

20 October 2005


(from "The Drunken Boat")

I long for Europe with its aged old parapets!

I have seen archipelagos of stars! and islands
Whose delirious skies are open to sailor:
- Do you sleep, are you exiled in those bottomless nights,
Million golden birds, O Life Force of the future? -

But, truly, I have wept too much! The Dawns are heartbreaking.
Every moon is atrocious and every sun bitter:
Sharp love has swollen me up with heady langours.
O let my keel split! O let me sink to the bottom!

If there is one water in Europe I want, it is the
Black cold pool where into the scented twilight
A child squatting full of sadness, launches
A boat as fragile as a butterfly in May.

~ Arthur Rimbaud, born on this day in 1854

(I was also born today, in 1977. It isn't age or even time that makes me despise birthdays so much. It's the intensification of a lifetime's worth of disappointment concentrated on one particular day of the year. I'm hoping that one of these days it won't matter so much. Thick clouds hover over the slate-grey sea and I am fiercely glad.)

Annie Dillard remembers,
I loved Rimbaud, who ran away, loved his skinny, furious face with the wild hair and snaky, unseeing eyes pointing in two directions, and his poems' confusion and vagueness, their overwritten longing, their hatred, their sky-shot lyricism, and their oracular fragmentation, which I enhanced for myself by reading and retaining his stuff in crazed bits, mostly from Le Bateau Ivre, The Drunken Boat. (The drunken boat tells its own story, a downhill, downstream epic unusually full of words.)

Now in study hall I saw that I had drawn all over this page; I got out another piece of paper. Rimbaud was damned. He said so himself. Where could I meet someone like that?
~ An American Childhood (a.k.a. my very favorite work of nonfiction)

19 October 2005

Wow, where to begin?

Birnbaum's interview with Jonathan Lethem has reignited many thoughts. To begin with, I'm inspired enough to dust off a post I never quite finished. So here goes...

I think there is a parallel between the false dichotomy of "realist" vs. "anti-realist" fiction and the status-quo mindset that sets the sciences above the humanities.

Lethem says,
Fiction is a gigantic construction, a bauble. A novel is not life. That’s why it’s so pointless that this relentless baiting goes on, where ‘realist’ fiction is pitted against ‘anti-realist’ fiction as though one of the two has made some kind of commitment of integrity to be real, a responsibility the other has abdicated. [...] Fiction, like language, is innately artificial and innately fabulous. It’s made of metaphor. Language itself is a fantastic element. It’s not possible to plant words in the ground and have seeds grow up and feed on the results. It’s not part of the biological or mechanical world.
The same Lombardi article that provoked my earlier response also contained the following:
We lose influence on campus to the sciences on one side because they appear and act as if they know exactly what they are doing, how they do it, and for what purpose they do it. We lose influence on campus to the professionally oriented disciplines on the other side because they have a purpose and a method anchored directly in the center of the real world their disciplines address.

We in the humanities, and very frequently as well in the social sciences, often do not know and do not agree on what we think we are doing. We have few common standards and we ask little of our students who have time for non-academically related campus activities. We wonder why our voices carry such little weight when our culture seems to need us so desperately to sort out fundamental issues of values and judgment.
He's on to something, but doesn't take it far enough. My question is, "What exactly is the 'real world'?"

In Living by Fiction, Annie Dillard relates:
Science, that product of skepticism born of cultural diversity, is meant to deal in certainties, in data which anyone anywhere could verify. And for the most part it has. Our self-referential mathematics and wiggly yardsticks got us to the moon. I think science works the way a tightrope walker works: by not looking at its feet. As soon as it looks at its feet, it realizes it is operating in midair. At any rate, the sciences are wondering, again, as the earliest skeptics did, what could be a firm basis for knowledge. People in many of the sciences are looking at their feet. First Einstein, then Heisenberg, then Gödel, made a shambles of our hope (a hope which Kant shared) for a purely natural science which actually and certainly connects at base with things as they are. [...]

Physicists have been saying for sixty years that (according to the Principle of Indeterminacy) they cannot study nature, but only their own perception of nature: “method and object can no longer be separated” (Heisenberg). Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, British Astronomer Royal, said in 1927: “The physical world is entirely abstract and without ‘actuality’ apart from its linkage to consciousness.” It is one thing when Berkeley says this; when a twentieth-century astronomer says this, it is a bit of another thing. Similarly (and this is more familiar), Eddington’s successor Sir James Jeans wrote, summarizing a series of findings in physics: “The world begins to look more like a great thought than a great machine.” The world could be, then, in Eddington’s phrase, “mind-stuff.” And even the mind, anthropologists keep telling us, is not so much a cognitive instrument as a cultural artifact. The mind is itself an art object. It is a Mondrian canvas onto whose homemade grids it fits its own preselected products. Our knowledge is contextual and only contextual. Ordering and inventing coincide: we call their collaboration “knowledge.” The mind is a blue guitar on which we improvise the song of the world.
In other words,
The world is caught in a crossfire between necessity and possibility; the world is the fabrication of a billion imaginations all inventing it at once.
Lombardi concludes his piece by asking,
What to do? I am not sure, but the first thing would be to pay close attention to what people are reading, what they are seeing, and how they do engage the common culture. The message of “Reading At Risk” is that something other than literature in print form engages more and more of our fellow citizens, and we might want to try to learn how to speak to them in the voices they want to hear.
This latter idea sets off all sorts of alarm bells in my brain. Why must people be spoken to “in the voices they want to hear”? How can people change and grow if they are given what they want? What ever happened to the notion of expanding the capacity of the individual to embrace what was formerly thought as “difficult”? Isn’t enlarging understanding one of the goals of education? How can the "status quo" ever be effectively challenged this way?

Towards the end of the book, Dillard analyzes "Kubla Kahn," demonstrating how "the poem is a form of knowledge":
But what is knowledge if we cannot state it? If art objects quit the bounds of the known and make blurry feints at the unknown, can they truly add to knowledge or understanding? I think they can; for although we may never exhaust or locate precisely the phenomena they signify, we may nevertheless approximate them--and this, of course, is our position in relation to all knowledge and understanding. All our knowledge is partial and approximate; if we are to know electrons and chimpanzees less than perfectly, and call it good enough, we may as well understand phenomena like love and death, or art and freedom, imperfectly also.
All that to say that when the Rake declares "woe to those who confuse truth and fact," I can only add my own hearty "AMEN!"

18 October 2005


After much research and investigation, the intrepid volunteers (myself included) were able to discover the truth about Lemony Snicket's Book the Twelfth, The Penultimate Peril. (Dare I admit it? It was actually quite fun.) The entire first chapter is now online:
“Trust?” Sunny said quietly, and this was the most important question of all. By “trust,” the youngest Baudelaire meant something along the lines of, “Does Kit Snicket seem like a reliable person, and should we follow her?” and this is often a tricky question to ask about someone. Deciding whether or not to trust a person is like deciding whether or not to climb a tree, because you might get a wonderful view from the highest branch, or you might simply get covered in sap, and for this reason many people choose to spend their time alone and indoors, where it is harder to get a splinter. The Baudelaires did not know very much about Kit Snicket, and so it was difficult to know what their future would be if they followed her down the sloping lawn toward the mysterious errands she had mentioned.
You can also make your own Misfortune Teller following these insidious instructions.

Librarians speak up

Scott McLemee has some great news and gives a bit of background on the behind-the-scenes drama:
The Association of College and Research Libraries — which has 12,000 members working in the various sectors of secondary education — has now launched a group site called ACRLog. Actually it has been running since mid-September, but only in warm-up mode. Its existence was officially announced yesterday [...]

The anger touched off by “Silence in the Stacks” in June was actually a continuation of the furor over a notorious (well, in some circles, anyway) statement by Michael Gordon, the president of the American Library Association, earlier this year. In the pages of Library Journal, he lashed out at “the Blog People” in his own profession — attributing to them sundry lapses of taste, judgment, and intelligence.

It was as if he were conducting an experiment to see if they could carry a grudge. Guess what? They can.

It would be good to think that the new group blog started by the Association of College and Research Libraries will rise above the old hostilities. So far, four academic librarians are involved in running it.
It will be interesting to follow their progress. Best wishes to this timely new endeavor!

14 October 2005

Eternal us

you and I are not snobs. We can never be born enough. We are human beings;for whom birth is a supremely welcome mystery,the mystery of growing:which happens only and whenever we are faithful to ourselves. You and I wear the dangerous looseness of doom and find it becoming. Life,for eternal us,is now'and now is much to busy being a little more than everything to seem anything,catastrophic included.

Miracles are to come. With you I leave a remembrance of miracles: they are somebody who can love and who shall be continually reborn,a human being;somebody who said to those near him,when his fingers would not hold a brush "tie it to my hand"-- [...]

Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question
~ E.E. Cummings, born on this day in 1894

It's no secret that Cummings is one of my favorite poets (right up there with Eliot and Yeats). Thanks to wood s lot, I've discovered a treasure trove of his paintings, from which the above work ("the book") is taken. (If you've got a few thousand lying around, you could even buy one!)

Random notes:

In the past, I've attempted to wax eloquent on the kinds of things that go on beneath the surface of his poems.

The Fairy Tales he wrote for his daughter, Nancy, are quite wonderful. "The Old Man Who Said Why," "The Elephant and the Butterfly," "The House That Ate Mosquito Pie," and "The Little Girl Named I" are all beautiful little stories that I fell in love with as a child.

When I lived in Boston, I tripped up to Cambridge to see the family home--right across the street from William James' place. A friend and I also ambled through the cemetary in Jamaica Plain where he and Marion are buried. A lovely place, actually.

12 October 2005

It's the little things

Mr. Beck has outdone himself. Again.
BUMFUCK, NC (AP) -- In a stunning upset over Brittany, Ashley, Madison, Ethan and Zachary, Jen Beckville has been named the winner of this year's Man Booger Award for her lyrical anthology of gagging and wheezing collectively known as Phlegm.
And it doesn't stop there...
The award was not without controversy, however, as just hours before the announcement, Phlegmish Academy member Knut Rocknee quit in a huff over the crowning of last year's winner, Caitlin. Rocknee dismissed her work as "violent hacking, choking, barf-up-a-lung scatology."

Essklown promptly dismissed the suggestion Caitlin was not Booger-worthy and claimed to be mystified by the timing of Rocknee's complaint. "I don't know why it's taken him a year to get his Pampers in a wad over this," said Essklown. "And anyway, it's not like she was picking her nose and eating it. Because, you know, that's just gross."

Broken Dreams

There is grey in your hair.
Young men no longer suddenly catch their breath
When you are passing;
But maybe some old gaffer mutters a blessing
Because it was your prayer
Recovered him upon the bed of death.
For your sole sake--that all heart's ache have known,
And given to others all heart's ache,
From meagre girlhood's putting on
Burdensome beauty--for your sole sake
Heaven has put away the stroke of her doom,
So great her portion in that peace you make
By merely walking in a room.

~ W.B. Yeats

After long-since giving up hope, I'm finally thumbing through my beloved edition of Yeats' collected poetry. And it only took ten years.

I recently recovered some boxes my family had to leave behind when we left Colombia in the mid '90s--seven to be precise. Seven. Boxes. It was like a school time-capsule experiment with the emotional equivalent of watching a corpse stir (well, almost). Unsettling in the extreme.

It took me two days to open them, which I did very carefully (accompanied by a bottle of Negra Modelo), while cataloging the contents in emails to my family. I've experienced the essence of "bittersweet"...several times over. The existential ruminations they inspired are dark, brooding things. But I've spent the past week hiding away from the rest of the world and rereading old favorites. L.M. Montgomery has kept me company as of late; Louisa May Alcott is next on the docket (to be read by candlelight since the lamp has gone out). It's really uncanny how you can go years (a decade!) without reading a beloved book, and then once it's taken up again, the lines unreel themselves in your head right before your eyes find them.

And then there are the memories of who you were when you first loved them...

But I'd be lying if I neglected to mention the buried-treasure element involved. My complete sets of Jane Austen, Lewis Carroll, and Alcott are stacked near collections of Yeats, Tennyson, Blake, Chaucer, Dickinson, and Frost. There's a complete illustrated Longfellow from 1888, alongside an ancient second edition of Olive Schreiner's Story of an African Farm and another of Scott's Waverley novels--also from the 19th century (all I have left of my grandparents' old home).

Then there's Twain, Tolkien, Dostoevsky, Lewis, Sayers, and Burnett's A Little Princess...right next to Helter Skelter and novelizations of Braveheart and the original three Star Wars films (!).

The fragrance of old paper greets me when I enter my apartment--I've left everything out in plain sight. These last several days have been overcast, and the sea has been more turbulent and noisier than usual. Clouds have been constant--something to be grateful for as autumn is my favorite time of year. I'm glad to have at least a little bit of it in this year-round summer.

So here's to old friends that inhabit long-lost pages...and solitary evenings by candlelight...in spite of ruined dreams.

10 October 2005

"New" Pessoa

Exact Change announces the release of a newly-translated work by Fernando Pessoa, The Education of the Stoic:
“I transferred to Teive my speculations on certainty, which lunatics have in greater abundance than anyone.”

Portuguese author Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935) was a multitude of writers: his works were composed by “heteronyms,” alter egos with distinct biographies, ideologies, influences, even horoscopes. The Education of the Stoic is the only work left by the Baron of Teive, who, having destroyed all his previous attempts at literary creation, and about to destroy himself, explains “the impossibility of producing superior art.”

The baron’s manuscript is found in a hotel-room drawer — not unlike editor and translator Richard Zenith’s own discovery, while conducting research in the Pessoa archives, of a small black notebook whose contents had never been transcribed. In it he found the missing pieces of this short but trenchant complement to Pessoa’s major prose work, The Book of Disquiet. Pessoa himself noted that despite their dialectical differences, the middle-class author of The Book of Disquiet (assistant bookkeeper Bernardo Soares) and the aristocrat Teive, “are two instances of the very same phenomenon -— an inability to adapt to real life.”
An excerpt can be found here:
There’s no greater tragedy than an equal intensity, in the same soul or the same man, of the intellectual sentiment and the moral sentiment. For a man to be utterly and absolutely moral, he has to be a bit stupid. For a man to be absolutely intellectual, he has to be a bit immoral. I don’t know what game or irony of creation makes it impossible for man to be both things at once. And yet, to my misfortune, this duality occurs in me. Endowed with both virtues, I’ve never been able to make myself into anything. It wasn’t a surfeit of one quality, but of two, that made me unfit to live life.

Doing something

I'll echo MoorishGirl:
Do you really need to be snacking on a $5 latte and a $4 blueberry scone as you're reading this? Perhaps you might consider giving it up for the rest of the week. People in India, Kashmir and Pakistan could use your help after Saturday's devastating earthquake. Here's a link.

04 October 2005

An auspicious beginning

I've started up a LibraryThing account for the school, and hope to create an efficient check-out system and card catalog for our little library soon. I showed Biblioteca: Libros Gratis to a co-worker, and now we have many more Spanish volumes downloaded into our server. There's a great selection of public domain English works that have been included as well (and I hope to explore Bibliomania more).

It's "Reading Week" here and for 20 minutes each morning teachers from the upper grades read to the younger students and those who teach the young ones read to the older kids. It's been a lot of fun swapping classes and just letting loose. I may have gotten a bit carried away while reading from Jon Scieszka's Knights of the Kitchen Table to the 5th graders--but they loved it. (Hope to try A Wrinkle in Time with the 7th graders on Friday.)

Also, the book quest continues. A friend sent me several volumes in July and I was able to bring two large shopping bags' worth back from the States with me over break. But we've still got a long ways to go. If anyone is interested in helping out and would like to save on shipping, I'll be heading up north in December and will pick up any books sent to a certain stateside address. (Email me at currerbell at hotmail dot com for more info.)

Read "This Illiterate Brazilian's Home Speaks Volumes"--an amazing article that comes via LibraryThing's blog (and makes me realize how much more I can do!):
They inaugurated the library on March 20, 2004, with 100 volumes, most of them literary and historical treatises donated by someone Pena knew. Since then, the group has been amassing books at a feverish pace. Many come from rich Brazilians in whose homes they work as cleaners, handymen and the like.

Because everything is by donation, the collection is eclectic and quixotic, but impressive in scope: from Shakespeare to Agatha Christie, Umberto Eco to political theorist Antonio Gramsci, William Faulkner to James Joyce, not to mention textbooks and reference works. There's no Dewey decimal system, or even strict alphabetical order; books are simply grouped by subject. [...]

Not a single penny has come from official sources — "not from the politicians, not from the government," said Da Penha, who is on medical leave from her job as a cleaning lady at a local school.

"What's here is what we've done ourselves," she said. "We've sacrificed a lot to help the people here. But it's a sacrifice of love."

The surrender of choice

Bad Librarian reads Whitman, Lao Tzu, and Rilke...
It cultivated a stillness that, to me, is a large part of the transformative nature of poetry and one of the great pleasures of reading, or hearing it.
...and rages against the "May Pole of Linguistic Doom":
I don't mean to incessantly harp on the common idiom, because I am amused by a stupid cliché as much as the next guy (for comedic purposes, gratuitous group-think is oh-so-amusing and well satiates my heightened sense of elitist scorn). It's the surrender of choice that really scares me about other people's speech. By relying on lingo and tired jargon, meaning is abdicated and docile formulaic speech becomes the norm. By compartmentalizing and packaging words into easy-to-use metaphors, language is stripped of emotional value and becomes rote noise without human connection, all done for the sake of some idiotic sense of "normalcy". By creating a language-based lowest common denominator (all of us saying the same stupid shit) we cheapen our most profound means of communication. By doing so, we in turn, cheapen ourselves.

Poetry on the other hand, connects us to the world, enlivening our relationships and personal encounters with its music and magic. Poets are the protectors of the artful word and by staying with them, and by reading their work, we show our love and appreciation for what they do and what they stand for: language as art, art as divinity. I make my own language with these men and women, and with language, I am freed. With language I can think and say what I please, exactly as it is and without dilution. I am unbound from the constraints common culture places unconsciously within me. With language, I can make the world as it truly is, and so can all of you. Just ask Whitman:

Have you reckon'd a thousand acres much? have you reckon'd / the earth much? / Have you practis'd so long to learn to read? / Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?

Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the / origin of all poems / You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are / millions of suns left,) / You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor / look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the / specters in books / You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things / from me / You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.
Don't worry. I'm sure that before long you'll be able to say you've "joined the elemental verbs and set the noun and dash of consciousness together jumping with sensation of Pater Omnipotens Aeterna Deus / to recreate the syntax and measure of poor human prose".


In Progress

Ten years ago it seemed impossible
That she should ever grow so calm as this,
With self-remembrance in her warmest kiss
And dim dried eyes like an exhausted well.
Slow-speaking when she has some fact to tell,
Silent with long-unbroken silences,
Centred in self yet not unpleased to please,
Gravely monotonous like a passing bell.
Mindful of drudging daily common things,
Patient at pastime, patient at her work,
Wearied perhaps but strenuous certainly.
Sometimes I fancy we may one day see
Her head shoot forth seven stars from where they lurk
And her eyes lightnings and her shoulders wings.

~ Christina Rossetti

(For my sisters.)

02 October 2005

Gray Room

Although you sit in a room that is gray,
Except for the silver
Of the straw-paper,
And pick
At your pale white gown;
Or lift one of the green beads
Of your necklace,
To let it fall;
Or gaze at your green fan
Printed with the red branches of a red willow;
Or, with one finger,
Move the leaf in the bowl--
The leaf that has fallen from the branches of the forsythia
Beside you...
What is all this?
I know how furiously your heart is beating.

~ Wallace Stevens, born on this day in 1879


The BBC announces, "Classic English literature should remain central to the teaching of English, a study suggests." As Mr. Champion so aptly quips, "In other groundbreaking news, it is believed that the theory of relativity might just help you sort out electromagnetic waves. And maybe, just maybe, 3.141592675 might have something to do with circles."


Michael Dirda reviews the new Melville biography:
Long ago, Borges recognized in Melville a precursor of Kafka, especially in the great short story "Bartleby, the Scrivener" (1853), that tale of the mousy clerk who one day, when asked to perform a simple clerical task, quietly says, "I would prefer not to." The result is an unforgettable account of existential loneliness and of our failure to connect with the less fortunate among us, but also a study in the (all too contemporary) frustration resulting when people in power, people of goodwill who view themselves as "civilized" or as upholders of propriety and tradition, must suddenly confront those who adamantly refuse to recognize their values, their authority.
(Via Arts & Letters Daily)


Carlos Fuentes sings the praises of the novel:
By multiplying both authorship and readership, the novel, from the times of Cervantes to our own, became a democratic vehicle, a space of choice, of alternate interpretations of the self, of the world, and of the relationship between myself and others, between you and me, between we and they.

Religion is dogmatic. Politics is ideological. Reason must be logical. But literature has the privilege of being equivocal. The quality of doubt in a novel is perhaps a manner of telling us that since authorship (and thus authority) are uncertain and susceptible of many explanations, so it goes with the world itself.
(Via A&L Daily)


The new Self-Made issue of Boldtype, guest edited by Maud Newton and Mark Sarvas is out. Looking forward to following the discussion...


Ron Silliman shares some wonderful observations about Martin Scorsese's Dylan documentary, No Direction Home:
One of the more interesting moments in the film is Allen Ginsberg choking up as he recounts his experience of first hearing “Hard Rain,” played for him at a party in Bolinas by Charlie Plymell. “I wept,” Ginsberg says, clearly recognizing the reflection of his own influence in Dylan’s lyrics, “The torch had been passed.” I remember my own experience, first hearing that song. Lacking Ginsberg panoptic reading (he was 37 in 1963, I was 17), I can clearly recall the hair on the back of my neck standing up: I had never heard anything like that before anywhere. It was an announcement that the world was going to be different very very soon – in spite of its apocalyptic message, the song gave me an unshakeable optimism that I would return to often over the next couple of years.

Ginsberg’s presence on the film makes great sense, not simply because he knew Dylan. Nor is he the only writer in the film – James Baldwin shows up twice, we hear a snatch of Kerouac & in a shot of heads at the Cedar Bar you can make out Frank O’Hara as he blurs past, unannounced & unquoted.
(Via wood s lot)

Two Women

The woman without
graces has a husband.
She has Volvo, sons
of three heights,
a club foot, glasses.
In fact she has several
pairs of glasses she's
purchased at Sears
of the half-moon variety.
Time, the woman knows,
is her worst enemy.
Dinners bisect Mendelsohn
and Metternich.
The sweater unravels
further each washing.
The hair refuses
to be smoothed.
The daughter holds
damp arms around her neck,
damp cheek to damp cheek,
at the shallow end of the pool.

The woman with graces
is thin stuff, thin stuff.
Thin are the arms emerging
from the cashmere shell.
Thin are the legs beneath
the linen sheath,
hard and knotty as pine.
Thin is the kid wrapping
each teetering anklet.
Thin are the letters from lovers.
Time, the woman knows,
is her worst enemy:
the buzzing cocktail phone
and the showered skull
emerging from its tiled chamber.
A whiff of ambrosial
compact and cleanser
between her and herself:
reams and reams of thin stuff,
an invisible knitting.

~ Elizabeth Skurnick