Saturday, October 25, 2014

Cold dark deep and absolutely clear

Preparing Elizabeth Bishop's "At the Fishhouses" for class next week with a digital version of the poem, I was underlining words and making marginal comments about all kinds of things in the poem. So in a sense, I wasn't really reading the poem.

And yet when I got to the beginning of the third stanza, I gasped anyway:

Cold  dark deep and absolutely clear,
element bearable to no mortal,

Perhaps that's a test of just how great a poem is: if it blows you away even when you're not reading it in search of being blown away.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Gilgamesh Must Die! (Part One): a video by The bianca Story

Here's a video by The bianca Story: "Gilgamesh Must Die! (Part One)". I cowrote the lyrics. Enjoy!

You can get the album "Digger" for free by clicking on the band's name above. If you get it and like it, pass it on to your friends! (If you get and don't like it, pass it on to your enemies!)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

160th birthday

A Happy Birthday to Oscar Wilde, who was born 160 years ago today.  Here's Lord Henry in The Picture of Dorian Gray:

Play me a nocturne, Dorian, and, as you play, tell me, in a low voice, how you have kept your youth. You must have some secret. I am only ten years older than you are, and I am wrinkled, and worn, and yellow. You are really wonderful, Dorian. You have never looked more charming than you do to-night. You remind me of the day I saw you first. You were rather cheeky, very shy, and absolutely extraordinary. You have changed, of course, but not in appearance. I wish you would tell me your secret. To get back my youth I would do anything in the world, except take exercise, get up early, or be respectable. Youth! There is nothing like it. It's absurd to talk of the ignorance of youth. The only people to whose opinions I listen now with any respect are people much younger than myself. They seem in front of me. Life has revealed to them her latest wonder. As for the aged, I always contradict the aged. I do it on principle. If you ask them their opinion on something that happened yesterday, they solemnly give you the opinions current in 1820, when people wore high stocks, believed in everything, and knew absolutely nothing.

A Cold Spring

On this autumn morning, I'll be discussing Elizabeth Bishop's "A Cold Spring" with the students in my course on Bishop's poetry. The epigraph to the poem is from Gerard Manley Hopkins's "Spring," but the poem also recalls T. S. Eliot's "The Waste Land," and that recollection allows the "General Prologue" to Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales to shimmer through. I hope all this doesn't distract us too much from looking carefully at Bishop's poem.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Majority Approval

To me, the most striking feature of this xkcd comic is this: majority approval of interracial marriage in the United States was only reached in 1995!

But as the mouseover points out, it's also striking that the relationship between legality and approval is not the same in the two cases. (I read something somewhere that said that SCOTUS may be trying to avoid what happened with Roe v. Wade, where such "full legal access" preceded "popular approval." If so, why not use Loving v. Virginia as your model instead, where legality preceded popularity by almost 30 years?)

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

A Better Rule for "Less" and "Fewer"

Over at the Visual Thesaurus, Jonathan Owen turns his attention to the supposed rule that "fewer is for things you can count while less is for things you can't." After analyzing various exceptions and paying attention to the history of the question and of actual usage, he comes up with a more accurate description of how the two terms are used: "Less is the default, but we also have the option of using fewer when it comes immediately before a plural count noun." His discussion is exemplary: this is how one should think about the rules of language use.

The history of the count/non-count version of the rule is itself exemplary: as Owen points out, "it wasn't until 1770 that Robert Baker suggested that maybe people should use fewer instead of less with count nouns, and the rule has expanded and become more rigid since then." In other words, the "rule" comes not from considering how people actually speak but from someone suggesting that it would be better if people spoke differently.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Leonard Cohen, "Popular Problems"

    In "Slow," the opener of "Popular Problems," 80-year-old Leonard Cohen warns us how not to interpret the album: "It's not because I'm old / It's not what dying does / I always liked it slow." And these mostly slow tunes do belie reading the album as "a work of old age." Here, Cohen looks at love from many angles, climaxing in the speechlessness of a wondering lover: "My Oh My." But the songs also depict a perplexed individual trying to make sense of the contemporary world; with his lover gone to fight a war, he finds himself among the ruins, "standing on this corner / Where there used to be a street".


[I'm teaching a course on Writing Reviews. The first assignment was to write a 100-word review. I thought I'd take a stab at it. This is 111 words long. Two-word version of the review: "Get it!"]

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Boyhood withdrawal

I've been telling people that I'm looking forward to mid-December, when the DVD of Richard Linklater's film "Boyhood" is due to be released. And I'd pre-ordered it, but today I got an email saying that it's been delayed until mid-January. 

It's hard to have to wait a month longer to see it again, but I guess I'll just have to bear it. Until then, I can get a bit of a fix by listening to songs featured in the movie, especially "Hero," by Family of the Year, and "Hate It Here," by Wilco. And by watching other Linklater movies!

Was bleibt

Was bleibt aber
die Übersetzer.