18 November 2006

Bears repeating

I've been taking time out from writing an exam (on Holes no less) to explore a few new (to me) litblogs, and loved reading these thoughts by Darby Dixon on "difficult" books and those who read them:
Now--slight but personally important aside begins here--this isn't about being part of "the literary smart set." Rather, I think it's good practice for anyone who wants to talk shop about literature and the reading of it to engage with books from across, and sometimes off, their personal taste radars. Which, okay, maybe is about being part of the literary smart set. What I think I'm getting at is that I'm not comfortable with the sort of value judgment implied by a discussion of "the smart sets," in a sort of snoot-vs-snooty-antisnoot sense, or a hipper-than-thou-hipster sense. As if the "smart set" were a self-important, exclusionary organization, populated by nothing but smug bastards who scoff at those on the outside. I'm not so naive as to suggest it doesn't happen, consciously or not, but I'm also bold enough to suggest that people who are like that ought to be bopped on the nose, because thinking that way is a bunch of horsepucky. Reading literature and talking about it is as inclusive an activity as I can think of, asking of those who wish to take part in it only that they do it as much as they like, to whatever extent or end they like. I like to think (hope) that the "literary smart set"--and yes, you can read "litbloggers" there if you want--is by and large an encouraging group; that the discussion, debate, and disagreements are friendly in nature; and that I'm contributing to that in my own way. At least, I hope my professed love of and enthusiasm for big hard books--as well as for all books I like--is as evidently well-intentioned (an entertaining) as I desire it to be.

In any case--literary or not--I do think it's healthy to stretch beyond yourself from time to time. In a literary sense, a book like Gravity's Rainbow becomes a portable education in close reading, forcing you--if you accept the challenge--into a deeper headspace that both shifts and intensifies your relationship with the words on the page.
(Emphasis mine.) I've said it before and I'll say it again: a lack of willingness to submit oneself to "difficulty" can be just as snobbish as the attitude of ivory-tower types who look down on "the masses." We are the ones who deny ourselves opportunities to grow beyond our personal boundaries.

As Flannery O'Connor said,
Art never responds to the wish to make it democratic; it is not for everybody; it is only for those who are willing to undergo the effort needed to understand it. We hear a great deal about humility being required to lower oneself, but it requires an equal humility and a real love of the truth to raise oneself and by hard labor to acquire higher standards.

17 November 2006

Winding down

Next week is our last full week of school, and although I won't be heading up north until the middle of December, I'm already making my reading list for the month I'll be away. The problem is that there are 20 titles on it already...

However, the LBC have posted this winter's nominations, and I'm fully determined to use this time to read them. They all look fascinating:
Scott McKenzie of Slushpile nominated Demon Theory by Stephen Graham Jones - MacAdam/Cage

Anne Fernald of Fernham nominated Seven Loves by Valerie Trueblood - Little Brown

CAAF of Tingle Alley nominated Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi Wa'Thiong'O - Pantheon
I fly back on 15 January, just when they announce the selection. I'm happy about finally being able to participate--it feels like Christmas already.

"For surely there will be an end...

...and thine expectation shall not be cut off."
MOSCOW: The wife of Nobel laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn on Thursday presented the initial three volumes of the first full collection of his works to be published in Russia — a country still struggling with the legacy of the oppressive era he documented.

It was a cherished moment for the aging writer, who has been through prison camps and exile and, Natalya Solzhenitsyn said, feels the "draining of the life force" as his 88th birthday approaches. He was not at the presentation.

"Alexander Isayevich told me that the French have a saying: 'Nothing comes too late for he who is able to wait,'" Natalya Solzhenitsyn, who has nurtured her husband's work and protected his privacy, told a news conference, using his first name and patronymic.

With financial support from a state-owned bank, the 30-volume project marks the latest twist in what Solzhenitsyn's wife called the "very dramatic fate of Solzhenitsyn's books," which helped reveal the brutality of the Soviet system and dictator Josef Stalin's labor camps.
(via TEV)

16 November 2006

A new vice

I stumbled across this word-game site while creating a web quest for my class, and have become addicted to popword, which is basically Tetris with letters (made it to Level 10 in under a week!--yes, lots of "research" going on in my spare time). The storyman with classic novel titles was fun for a while, too.

Also, there is a contest afoot for the 16 and under set, but the mad-lib style of this Beatrice letter is fun to play with in any case.

15 November 2006

You say crazy, I say sublime

Matthew Cheney on teaching Nabokov:
Inevitably, there were students who were convinced Nabokov was insane or a drug addict or both. This accusation comes up all the time when we read anyone who is not among the hardest of hardcore realists, because imagination is something that has come to be associated only with the stimulus of drugs or madness. That someone could think up a story like Invitation to a Beheading -- where a man is imprisoned for "gnostic turpitude" in a fortress of porous walls and fake windows and rules against improper dreams -- without being addicted to hallucinogens or lacking a couple of screws is at best inconceivable to many people, if not threatening. The people who issue these accusations would never think of such a story or such imagery themselves, and therefore they can't imagine how anyone else could, unless there was something wrong with their brains. I am sad to see this way of thinking in my students, because it means they are suspicious of one of the fundamental techniques of art, but at least in the classroom I am able to challenge and undermine those beliefs; the effect of such suspicion on the world at large is depressing to contemplate.
Thank God there are teachers like this still out there. I've personally observed too much accomodation of the outside realm to suit students, rather than adequate preparation of students for the world beyond the classroom. This is where it all begins...but willingness to look beyond immediate perceptions is all too rare.

Magic carpet

Halfway through Speak, Memory and I am confronted with constant reminders as to why I love Nabokov.
I confess I do not believe in time. I like to fold my magic carpet, after use, in such a way as to superimpose one part of the pattern upon another. Let visitors trip. And the highest enjoyment of timelessness--in a landscape selected at random--is when I stand among rare butterflies and their food plants. This is ecstasy, and behind the ecstasy is something else, which is hard to explain. It is like a momentary vacuum into which rushes all that I love. A sense of oneness with sun and stone. A thrill of gratitude to whom it may concern--to the contrapuntal genius of human fate or to tender ghosts humoring a lucky mortal.

Of interest

07 November 2006

Excellent question

Steve Mitchelmore catches a misuse of T.S. Eliot's words about how modern poetry "must be difficult":
That line of Eliot's comes from his long essay on Dante in which he admits to have been "passionately fond of certain French poetry long before I could have translated two verses of it correctly" and that obtaining "an immense amount of knowledge" about Dante before reading him "is positively undesirable". So Ford's contention that "Eliot and Stevens shivered with distaste at the idea of writing poetry that was intelligible to the masses" is a snotty misrepresentation of the meaning of difficulty. Their poetry might puzzle its explicators but it still gives me, a mere reader, immense reading pleasure. Maybe, I think now after reading the review, it's because their poetry contains (and uncontains) that "bursting unity of opposites". One has to read the words - leap aboard the roller coaster of language - to experience those complexities in all their reality. There are few poets who do this. So why are we being constantly warned off?
The idea that something must be fully comprehended before it can be appreciated flies in the face of one of art's primary functions--to inspire wonder. I believe that anyone could pick up work by "Ezra Pound, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, Hart Crane, William Carlos Williams, Gertrude Stein, and of Eliot himself" and get something out of it. The problem is that most are either too lazy or scared to try...or share this misapprehension of what "difficulty" means.

Tolling bells

From Jenny Davidson I learn that Ernestine Gilbreth Carey died on Saturday:
[Her father] Frank Bunker Gilbreth believed that the factory management principles he espoused to his clients could also be applied to his family of six girls and six boys, produced in 17 years; Lillian Moller Gilbreth, who had a Ph.D. from Brown University (earned around 1915, while she had several children at home), was an industrial psychologist and an engineering expert. Mr. Gilbreth died of a heart attack in 1924 at 55, the day after Mrs. Carey graduated from high school; his wife died in 1972 at 93.

Mrs. Carey’s brother Frank Bunker Gilbreth Jr. received first billing as a co-author, and the book’s narrative voice is decidedly unified, never betraying who wrote what. Nevertheless, Mrs. Carey wrote other books (as did her brother, who died in 2001), including “Jumping Jupiter,” “Rings Around Us” and “Giddy Moment.”
If you have no idea who I'm talking about, go pick up copies of Cheaper by the Dozen, Belles on Their Toes, and Time Out for Happiness *immediately*. A while ago I mentioned how much funnier a book can be when read aloud as opposed to read to oneself. The first two in this list definitely fit that category. Growing up in a family of seven, it was a joy and relief to read about the exploits of the pioneers of motion study. We owe the Gilbreths quite a lot--everything from the modern kitchen to flip-top garbage cans!

01 November 2006

"Anything but bored"

Blackbird, the literary journal of Virginia Commonwealth University, has published the newly-discovered Sylvia Plath poem online:
Anna Journey, Contributing Editor of Blackbird, discovered that this poem was unpublished, and brought it to the attention of our editorial staff, along with a number of additional reasons why it is a poem of interest. Her essay, “Dragon Goes to Bed with Princess: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Influence on Sylvia Plath” (forthcoming in Notes on Contemporary Literature), explores in detail how “Ennui” germinated from Plath’s creative response to The Great Gatsby, as evidenced by her handwritten notes in her personal copy of that novel, as well as an essay she wrote on Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night. Fitzgerald’s lingering influence continued to produce echoes in Plath’s work, even in such a later poem as “Daddy,” whose last line may recall Dick Diver’s farewell to his dead father in Tender Is the Night. Plath’s broad range of allusions in “Ennui” also includes Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, “The Lady or the Tiger?” by Frank R. Stockton, and “The Beast in the Jungle” by Henry James, as well as providing an indirect response to that “delicate monster,” Ennui, as it was famously described in “Au Lecteur” (“To the Reader”) by Charles Baudelaire, a poem whose sardonic tone matches Plath’s own.
I find the combination of allusions to Stockton, James, and Cervantes especially intriguing. The juxtapositions open up many other possibilities...

(via Maud)