When Jane Austen's Emma first takes on Harriet Smith as a protégée, she contrasts her with her now ex-governess: "Mrs. Weston was the object of a regard which had its basis in gratitude and esteem. Harriet would be loved as one to whom she could be useful. For Mrs. Weston there was nothing to be done; for Harriet every thing." This seems to run counter to moments in the novel where Harriet is "nothing" or even less than nothing, but even here, Emma sees Harriet not as having any self or personality of her own, but as a blank slate for her to work her wonders on as she "improves" her. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 30 April)
Thursday, April 30, 2020
Wednesday, April 29, 2020
Third-Person Effect in "1984"
In the first chapter of George Orwell's "1984", Winston Smith attends the Two Minutes Hate and sees a film clip of Emmanuel Goldstein, "the Enemy of the People", as he engages in "his usual venomous attack upon the doctrines of the Party". Goldstein's speech may be "so exaggerated and perverse that a child should have been able to see through it", but it is also "just plausible enough" to make it seem like "other people, less level-headed than oneself, might be taken in by it." This is the "third-person effect", in which one thinks others are more likely to be fooled by things than one is liable to be fooled oneself. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 29 April)
Tuesday, April 28, 2020
TJ Swan puts down Sugarhill and Kurtis Blow and establishes a tradition
TJ Swan's 1979 "And You Know That" begins with bragaddacio: "Nobody can do it like the Swany can." Such boasting is more, though, than just a way to put everyone else down, even if TJ Swan definitely does so when he names names: "Sugarhill, Hollywood, Kurtis Blow, [and] Cheeba" may all be "kinda good", but Swan's listeners will notice "who's sweeter than sweeter". This list positions those performers with respect to Swan and thus establishes the tradition he wants to belong to. Unfortunately for TJ Swan, that tradition still centers The Sugarhill Gang and Kurtis Blow, but has left TJ Swan behind for those who read lists of early hip-hop recordings. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 28 April)
Monday, April 27, 2020
Orson Welles makes Kafka less funny
The English version of "Before the Law" that Orson Welles uses to narrate the animated version of Kafka's story that opens his film of "The Trial" translates the opening sentence as follows: "Before the law there stands a guard." The "guard" replaces the more literal "doorkeeper" in the original translation of the text by Willa and Edwin Muir. But a guard's relationship to what is being guarded has more to do with "law" and is thus more conventional than is the case with a doorkeeper. Without the associative distance between "law" and "doorkeeper", the literalization of the law as architecture no longer works, and the text loses some of its comedy. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 27 April)
Sunday, April 26, 2020
Kafka the joker
Franz Kafka laughed while reading from "The Trial", which might seem odd, as the "Kafkaesque" isn't usually considered humorous. But his work is peppered with humor, especially word play. The title of "Before the Law" isn't unusual, as in the phrase "equality before the law", but the opening sentence makes that rhetorical abstraction concrete and literal: "Before the law stands a doorkeeper." The law becomes something one can "stand before"; as it even has a doorkeeper, and hence a door, it is now an architectural work one can enter. The brief story then plays out the comedy of the doorkeeper's refusal to let "the man from the country" enter "the law". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 26 April)
Saturday, April 25, 2020
Dickinson and Kafka
This semester, I've been having the pleasure of teaching a BA course on Emily Dickinson and an MA course on Franz Kafka. This has led to the pleasant (though ultimately unsurprising) discovery that Dickinson's poems and Kafka's prose have a lot in common. One way to characterize their commonality would be to say that Dickinson can be quite Kafkaesque, but that's not fair to Dickinson's own singularity, and one could just as well say that Kafka can be quite Dickinsonian. With their engaged but distanced gazes at the world and at language, they both explore the claims societies make on individuals and how one can respond to and even resist them. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 25 April)
Friday, April 24, 2020
Knocking it out in a minute
In her April 23 "Letter from an American", Heather Cox Richardson wonders about "Trump's emphasis on dramatic cures for Covid-19", such as hydroxychloroquine or his remark about injecting bleach: "And then I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute." Trump wants a heroic solution to a situation that has no place for individuals who address problems with decisive, instinctive action. His trivial understanding of drama leaves out the hero's tragic hubris that leads to his downfall; instead, he sees only the myth of the brilliant flash of insight that would confirm, as he claimed in 2016 at the Republican National Convention, that "I alone can fix it." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 24 April)
Thursday, April 23, 2020
On Peter Schjeldahl and "disembodiments of aesthetic experience"
Peter Schjeldahl's reflections on art under social distancing (and closed museums) offer a wonderful interpretation of the difference between seeing Velázquez's "Las Meninas" in December in the Prado and thinking about it now, "from lingering exhilaration to vertiginous melancholy." But he begins by dismissing virtual tours as "amorphous disembodiments of aesthetic experience". This makes art something only for those who are able to travel to see the originals, when not everyone can travel to Madrid. And even Schjeldahl's reconsideration of the work now isn't based on an "embodied" experience of the work anyway. Reception "at a distance" (including my reception of Velázquez through Schjeldahl) is a necessary part of aesthetic experience. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 23 April)
See also my essay on Jan Svenungsson, "Abstract Reception"
Wednesday, April 22, 2020
Child care and the "opening" of the economy
Farhad Manjoo writes that "the economy will not really 'open up,' and life will not really return to normal, as long as parents don’t have any place to send our children during the day." But this also reveals that under the "old normal", the economy was never "open", especially not for those doing unpaid care work (which is primarily done by women). American conservatives complain that liberals and progressives want to push through policies, such as universal child care, that have nothing to do with the pandemic – but the pandemic makes clear that the norms of child care – and other norms – need thorough revision, and not only in the United States. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 22 April)
Tuesday, April 21, 2020
"The dude in red's back at the Pole"
"Christmas Rappin'", by Kurtis Blow (1979), begins with the opening of Clement Moore's 1823 poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas", but then interrupts and negates it: "Don't you give me all that jive about things you wrote before I's alive / 'Cause this ain't 1823 -- ain't even 1970." Anything older is dismissed in favor of this new song in a new style, but a Christmas song cannot escape that tradition and ends as Moore's poem does: "The dude in red's back at the Pole / Up north where everything is cold / But if he were right here tonight / He'd say, Merry Christmas and to all a good night." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 21 April)
Monday, April 20, 2020
Kafka's "Old Manuscript" and political failure
At the end of Franz Kafka's "An Old Manuscript", the Emperor leaves it "to us artisans and tradesmen to save our country" after an invasion by "nomads", even though "we are not equal to such a task" – "a misunderstanding" that "will be the ruin of us." When politics fails, solutions are sought elsewhere: in technology and in the economy. In Kafka's story, the Emperor doesn't address the crisis problems; in contemporary democracies, the political system fails when it seeks technological or economic fixes: carbon sequestering or carbon taxes to address climate catastrophe; a vaccine or an economic stimulus to end the coronavirus pandemic when a President "takes no responsibility at all." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 20 April)
Uns Handwerkern und Geschäftsleuten ist die Rettung des Vaterlandes anvertraut; wir sind aber einer solchen Aufgabe nicht gewachsen; haben uns doch auch nie gerühmt, dessen fähig zu sein. Ein Mißverständnis ist es, und wir gehen daran zugrunde. (Franz Kafka, "Ein altes Blatt")
It is left to us artisans and tradesmen to save our country; but we are not equal to such a task; nor have we ever claimed to be capable of it. This is a misunderstanding of some kind; and it will be the ruin of us. (Franz Kafka, "An Old Manuscript", tr. Willa and Edwin Muir)
Sunday, April 19, 2020
A small edit from plot to analysis
In my academic-writing courses for English majors at the University of Basel, I frequently comment on the use of "is about" and similar phrases in the first sentences of essays. Such constructions put off critical analysis and interpretation in favor of plot summary: "Jane Austen’s novel 'Emma' is about Emma Woodhouse, a young woman who loves matchmaking and being right." My editing suggestion is to make the character, rather than the novel, the subject (here, combining the above with the essay's second sentence): "In Jane Austen’s novel 'Emma', Emma Woodhouse, a young woman who loves matchmaking and being right, plans to transform her protégée Harriet into a perfect woman of society." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 19 April)
Saturday, April 18, 2020
Going Down the Road Feeling Bad, The Grateful Dead, Fillmore East, 19710428
"Going Down the Road Feeling Bad" from 28 April 1971 at the Fillmore East (released as "Ladies and Gentlemen... the Grateful Dead") shows how The Grateful Dead fit all the parts together in live performances, especially in the "chilly winds" verse (about 3:05 in), with sinuous rhythm-guitar from Bob Weir, surprising bass arpeggios from Phil Lesh, driving drum fills from Bill Kreutzmann, and swirling organ from "former member of The Grateful Dead" Tom Constanten, who was sitting in that night. Jerry Garcia shines quietly as he closes it out with a subtle reading of the melody of "And We Bid You Goodnight" before the band powers back into "Not Fade Away". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 18 April)
Friday, April 17, 2020
Who ambushes whom in Dickinson
Who ambushes whom in the "fond Ambush" in Emily Dickinson's "I know that he exists" (365) can be addressed in ever wider contexts: one can look in the poem (for phrases, lines, or images that point in either direction) or in the poet's work as a whole, as in "He lived the Life of Ambush" (1571) or the veil in "My life closed twice before it's close" (1773); one can research such figures in Dickinson's poetic and theological contemporaries or beyond them to the literary and religious history of tropes of ambush and revelation. If this leaves the issue unresolved, the process still enriches understanding of the poem and the poet. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 17 April)
For background, see my previous post on the poem.
Thursday, April 16, 2020
Lee Konitz (1927-2020)
At every moment during the alto-saxophone solos by Lee Konitz (1927-2020) on trumpeter Kenny Wheeler’s 1997 “Angel Song” (with Bill Frisell on electric guitar and Dave Holland on upright bass), his playing is all melody in flight, the tone all breath, the technique sublimated into effortlessly flowing ideas. He so rarely plays fast that when he does it's like he’s discovering velocity. The lines are full of pauses that are what rests should always be: as essential to the music as the notes. On “Onmo”, Wheeler and Konitz improvise counterpoint, with Konitz joyously echoing Wheeler’s staccato with legato lines. Konitz has left us, but every moment in his playing remains alive. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 16 April)
"Onmo", from "Angel Song", Kenny Wheeler, Lee Konitz, Bill Frisell, Dave Holland:
Wednesday, April 15, 2020
The sublime ambush in Dickinson's "I know that He exists."
In his discussion of Emily Dickinson's "I know that He exists" (365), Gary Grieve-Carlson summarizes other interpretations in contrast with his own. Yet all these interpretations share what seems to me to be a misreading of an image in the second stanza: while they see God ambushing the speaker, I see the speaker ambushing God. Before reading Grieve-Carlson's interpretation, I already understood this as an example of the trope of hidden truths that seekers only unveil at great cost, as in Friedrich Schiller's "Das verschleierte Bild zu Sais". Dickinson's speaker knows a hidden God exists; the figure of the terrifying sublime captures the danger of "ambushing" Him with "our gross eyes". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 15 April)
365 I know that He exists.
I know that He exists.
Somewhere — in Silence —
He has hid his rare life
From our gross eyes.
'Tis an instant's play.
'Tis a fond Ambush —
Just to make Bliss
Earn her own surprise!
But — should the play
Prove piercing earnest —
Should the glee — glaze —
In Death's — stiff — stare —
Would not the fun
Look too expensive!
Would not the jest —
Have crawled too far!
Tuesday, April 14, 2020
The layer of pollen on the cars
Except for one short trip, my family's car has been parked right outside our house for a month now, and a layer of pollen from the springtime trees has settled on it. While on my daily walk today to get some exercise, I noticed that many others cars are also covered in pollen. That's no surprise, given the Swiss stay-at-home policy during the pandemic. But it does raise a question for me about any future return to "normalcy": as the Basel region has such excellent public transit, what if we try to resist "the old normal" and just stop using our cars – or at least radically reduce our use of them? (Andrew Shields, #111words, 14 April)
Monday, April 13, 2020
John Prine's soldiers
The soldier in John Prine's "Spanish Pipedream" is escaping the draft, and his Sam Stone returns from the war with a morphine addiction that eventually kills him. But those are not the only soldiers on Prine's 1971 debut album. The old man telling his story in "Hello in There" mentions that he and his wife "lost Davy in the Korean war" and adds that they "still don't know what for." And the chorus of "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore" memorializes all the soldiers dying in "the conflict overseas" (as it is put in "Sam Stone") when heaven is described as "already overcrowded from your dirty little war." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 13 April)
Sunday, April 12, 2020
"the antibiotic can’t keep up with it"
In March 2014, I responded to a Donald Trump tweet connecting vaccines and autism with a link to Jennifer Raff's essay on vaccines, "Dear parents, you are being lied to," and told him that his tweet was "dangerous and wrong." I got no response, but I remembered that tweet when I heard about another dangerous, incorrect statement from his two-hour-plus coronavirus briefing on Friday, 10 April, 2020: "The antibiotic can't keep up with [the coronavirus]." Antibiotics, of course, only work against bacteria. In line with Raff's title, I keep thinking that Trump's supporters are "being lied to", but they – and all Americans – are also being provided with absurd, ignorant, life-threatening misinformation. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 12 April)
This is a very brilliant enemy. You know, it’s a brilliant enemy. They develop drugs like the antibiotics. You see it. Antibiotics used to solve every problem. Now one of the biggest problems the world has is the germ has gotten so brilliant that the antibiotic can’t keep up with it. And they’re constantly trying to come up with a new — people go to a hospital and they catch — they go for a heart operation — that’s no problem, but they end up dying from — from problems. You know the problems I’m talking about. There’s a whole genius to it. (From the transcript of the briefing)
Jennifer Raff's article "Dear parents, you are being lied to".
My tweet in response to Trump's.
Saturday, April 11, 2020
"Paradise" and "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore", by John Prine
Even at 24, on his first album, John Prine twice imagined his own death – or at least wrote songs in which the narrator does. "Paradise" ends with a final return to the Green River in western Kentucky, one focus of the song's memories: "When I die, let my ashes float down the Green River." If this conservationist song criticizes the Peabody Coal Company, "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore" challenges easy patriotism – with the speaker dying in a car accident when his "window shield" gets "so filled with flags I couldn't see." In each case, imagining the narrator's death adds a final twist to the song's sociopolitical critique. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 11 April)
Friday, April 10, 2020
"Illegal Smile", "Spanish Pipedream", and "Sam Stone"
The first two songs on John Prine's eponymous 1971 debut hope for ways out of "dead ends": in "Illegal Smile", drugs help to "escape reality"; in "Spanish Pipedream", a woman convinces "a soldier on my way to Montreal" to "blow up the TV", "go to the country", and establish a counterculture. The image of the Canada-bound soldier complicates these hopes: he was evading the draft to avoid becoming like the album's "Sam Stone", a soldier who returns "from the conflict overseas [...] with a Purple Heart and a monkey on his back" and later dies of a morphine overdose. Ultimately, the shellshocked soldier's "illegal smile" doesn't help him to "escape reality." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 10 April)
Thursday, April 09, 2020
100 days of 111 Words a Day
On 1 January, 2020, I started writing 111 words every day. The first text explains why. Today I reached my 100th text, so that's 11,100 words. You can read them individually on Facebook, where I post one every day as a public post.
111 words Andrew Shields
Next semester, I'm teaching a course called "111 Words a Day: A Writing Project". All the students and I will each write 111 words of critical prose every day – no more, no less. The number of words for each day is both arbitrary and exemplary: arbitrary in that it could just as well be 137 or 94, but exemplary in that 111 is a lovely number. I'd first thought of 100 words a day, but that might seem like an approximation that would lead us to write a few more or less instead. The arbitrary and precise beauty of 111 will provide a discipline for us all to live up to.
The title of Kafka's "The Next Village" establishes a proximity between one's village and "the next village", yet the brief text consists almost entirely of a saying from "my grandfather" that makes that village distant in time. The narrator speaks only a few words to introduce his grandfather's words – as relatives, they're close to each other, but a generation still separates them. Thus, the potentially unbridgeable time of the journey to the next village is actually bridged by how the grandfather's words reach across time to be remembered and reproduced by the narrator. A "ride to the next village" may be uncertain, but language will always get you there, and beyond.
In the last four-and-a-half lines of the fourth stanza of Patricia Smith's "10-Year-Old Shot Three Times, but She’s Fine", the formulas used by white America in response to incidents like the one described here are introduced with "anyway" in such a way as to depict the victim as unworthy of the empathy usually granted to those struck by random violence. Specifically, this ten-year-old girl's allegedly mediocre educational performance supposedly renders her unworthy of physical comfort and ulimately of unconditional love – of "the wild notion of loving you loud and regardless." Even the victim of apparently stray bullets is stripped by the institutions around her of any solace after having been shot.
On Goodreads, a reviewer of Danez Smith's "Homie" complains that an emphasis on "LGBTQ, minorities, women, or some combination of the three" leads to poems that "lack universality and verisimilitude". But the concept of "universality" has a history in which particular identities are erased to establish such a "universal" perspective. Specifically, the "universal" erases all forms of particularity except for the straight, the white, and the male, which are thus established as unmarked and general. The construction and reconstruction of this "universal" position depends on the dismissal of the art of LGBTQ people, minorities, and women because they are seen as failing to erase their particularities in service of the "universal". (#111words, 4 January)
The title of Tishani Doshi's "Girls Are Coming out of the Woods" appears in the poem as its first line; then in four enjambed variations; and finally whole again in the penultimate line. With the first enjambment ("Girls / are "), they are separate from their action; their selves precede their agency. With the second ("Girls are / coming"), their existence precedes their agency. With the third ("Girls are coming / out of the woods"), they are full agents who have freed themselves from danger. The fourth creates a verbal idiom: "Girls are coming out / ..." In any sense of "coming out", the girls are now their own public agents. (#111words, 5 January)
The opening line of Emily Dickinson's "Because I could not stop for Death" treats an abstraction as a person. This is common enough to have a name – personification –, and Death in particular is often pictured as the hooded Grim Reaper with a scythe. Here, though, Death becomes a carriage driver remarkable for his "Civility", which makes the poem doubly strange: personification as a first strangeness; the overturning of the conventional image as a second strangeness. In a sense, the rigorous development of this opening figure in the rest of the poem might even make it seem normal, even as the poem counts on that double strangeness to maintain its energy. (#111words, 6 January)
In Emily Dickinson's "Because I could not stop for Death", the three scenes Death drives the speaker past echo the riddle of the Sphinx: from a childhood morning to an afternoon of labor and a sunset of old age and retirement. Each stage depends on the others as part of a narrative. Yet the enjambment of the stanza's first line disrupts this narrative: before the linebreak, the children "strive" to be educated in the classroom, but then their striving shifts from the classroom to the playground. As ambition for the future is displaced by the desire for a present victory, this first scene asserts its independence from the stanza's overall narrative. (#111 words, 7 January)
It is odd, as Emily Dickinson does, to speak of oneself as "Nobody", as one has to be somebody in order to be able to speak. Yet there are senses in which one might well say, "I'm nobody." In "Moonlight", Juan responds to Chiron's mother asking who he is, "I'm nobody." That is, it is not important who he is. Further, Odysseus says that he is "nobody" in order to disguise who he is from Polyphemus. Finally, to say that one is not well-known, one might say, "I'm a nobody." This last connects with several moments in Dickinson's poem, when the speaker turns to "advertising", or being "public", or desiring admiration. (#111words, 8 January)
Danez Smith's "Dinosaurs in the Hood" is mostly a movie pitch: who should make the film, what scenes should be in it, and how "this can't be a black movie". The pitch climaxes in the repeated phrase "& no one kills the black boy." But then there's a call to make only the first scene: "the little black boy / on the bus with a toy dinosaur, his eyes wide & endless // his dreams possible, pulsing, & right there." Instead of the movie or even the scene, this concluding image reveals the work to be not a film that's still to be made but an already completed work: a poem. (#111words, 9 January)
In his column "My Journey to Radical Environmentalism", Charles M. Blow describes how he has changed his life to combat climate catastrophe, from reusable shopping bags to getting rid of his car. The suggestions are so familiar that there is even a catch phrase to sum them up, though Blow doesn't mention it: "Reduce, reuse, recycle". But then he turns to his impoverished rural childhood: "Poor people were the original recyclers before recycling was the norm. Waste was for the wealthy." If this has inspired Blow to change his urban adulthood, he doesn't take the point a step further: climate catastrophe derives from an economic system based on generating surplus wealth. (#111words, 10 January)
I have long Spotify playlists for the years from 1964 to 1980, with music all over the world. I put them on shuffle and discover things. For example, when I listen to 1964, 1965, and 1966 on consecutive days, Buffalo Springfield's first releases in 1966 stand out as something new. If I then hear Jimi Hendrix in 1967, his guitar sound is so unique – until 1968, when everybody tries to sound like him. The Doors also stand out in 1967 with their lineup of voice, organ, guitar, and drums, but they have little influence; apparently, nobody heard The Doors and tried to sound like them, as so many did with Hendrix. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 11 January)
For the speaker in Morgan Parker's "Matt", "every white man or boy" in her life "has been called Matt". These Matts finally become part of history, enslavers raping the speaker's enslaved ancestors, whose only defense is to smile, "almost as if / it had been rehearsed." The same issue appears in a poem by Terrance Hayes when he remarks that "we relate the way the descendants / Of the raped relate to the descendants of their rapists." In the American "relation" of "relationships" between the races, then, blacks, and especially black women, have performed such smiles (which white "Matts" cannot read) to protect themselves while they experience the violence of racism. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 12 January)
Morgan Parker, "Matt":
Matt has kissed me hundreds of times
and he kissed my ancestors, too. He held them down and
kissed them real good. He was young and he could afford
it. When he touched them, they always smiled, almost as if
it had been rehearsed.
Terrance Hayes, "America, you just wanted change is all" (fifth poem at the link):
Culture before us, we relate the way the descendants
Of the raped relate to the descendants of their rapists.
In the first stanza of Elizabeth Bishop's "Late Air", "love-songs" sung by "radio-singers" are tricks, like those of "magicians" and "fortune-tellers", and they confirm the self ("whatever you believe"). The "dew-wet" language is itself full of trickery, with all its hyphens. In offering "better witnesses / for love" in the "remote" lights of a radio aerial, the second stanza privileges a different poetics: distant, dry, free of trickery, refusing to confirm the self – like Bishop's later poetry. However, as the two stanzas repeat their lineation and rhyme scheme, the second, "better" poetics here can only work in collaboration with the first, and in their shared form – "remoteness" must also "tell fortunes". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 13 January)
From a magician’s midnight sleeve
distribute all their love-songs
over the dew-wet lawns.
And like a fortune-teller’s
their marrow-piercing guesses are whatever you believe.
But on the Navy Yard aerial I find
for love on summer nights.
Five remote red lights
keep their nests there; Phoenixes
burning quietly, where the dew cannot climb.
At Grateful Dead concerts, the band rarely said more than "we'll be back in a little bit" to close the first set and "thank you, good night" to end the show. For me, as a result, even short announcements, especially stories about songs, can disrupt the musical experience at concerts. But when Andreas Schärer tells a story, as he did at this evening's concert with Emile Parisien and Vincent Peirani at Moods in Zurich, something else can happen: the words pick up speed and become more rhythmic, the other musicians begin to play along, and the introduction to the song turns out to have been part of the song all along. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 14 January)
Emile Parisien, soprano saxophone; Vinvent Peirani, accordion; Andreas Schärer, vocals
Moods, Zurich, 14 January 2020
After a racist remark by a "fucking guy on the street", Morgan Parker's "Great America" introduces 35 lines of noun phrases in a vision of "great America" as a "fall": "as if there were any imagination / left from the fall of our stinking / expanse of sweat and dahlias and wartimes". The sheer quantity of details erases their individual implications. But when Parker's "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" follows Spencer Tracy to a drive-in for an ice cream, he faces "the embarrassment of available choices" – and the flavors are not listed. In both cases, an excess of details "embarrasses" the imagination, which must notice details without being overwhelmed by them. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 15 January)
James Joyce's "Finnegans Wake" is a "meandertale" (18.22) in a "claybook" (18.17) as well as an "allaphbed" (18.18). This meandering tale made out of alphabets, printed in a book, and reaching all the way back to stories originally told on clay tablets in the Tigris-Euphrates Valley adds a valley to its name to become a "meanderthalltale" (19.25) and incorporates many of the tales of human origins that have been generated for millennia. All of these tales, including the paleontological story of human origins in which the Neanderthals found in the Neander Valley play their part, are treated as tall tales, and their claims to truth are repeatedly exposed as violence-prone exaggerations. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 16 January)
In Simon Armitage's "A Vision", a "full-blown balsa-wood town" presents a "vision" of the future. Its many details, such as "board-game suburbs," offer a game to play in which "people like us" live among "bottle-banks" and "electric cars." As "a true, legible script", this story of the future offers a form of "true" communication. But the poem's final quatrain finds the model in a landfill, "unlived in and now fully extinct". The disposal of the model may appear to erase its utopian game, but the story of the loss of "a vision" prevents its loss, as the poem establishes its own "legible script" that deletes and rescues the vision it describes. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 17 January)
Today in Basel, I drove through a highway tunnel with the date of its construction above the entrance: 1985. I only moved here in 1995, so I don't remember what the site looked like before then, and that tunnel is just part of the landscape. In fact, since I was born in the United States in 1964, modern highways in general have always determined the landscape of my life, along with their necessary counterparts: parking places, parking lots, parking garages. Yet this landscape is a twentieth-century invention that is still spreading today, as was confirmed after I left that tunnel when I drove past a parking garage that opened last year. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 18 January)
The speaker in Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress" sexually propositions a woman – for a second time. The demonstrative pronoun in the second line refers to a previous "coy" action of hers. As he wouldn't call her that if she had accepted his proposition, she must have rejected him beforehand. Further, he accuses her of duplicity: he assumes that she is pretending to not want him but actually does, with "coyness" as a delaying action to extend the pleasure of being courted. The speaker's consideration of "time" exaggerates that delaying game to expose it as ridiculous, end the game of "coyness", and play a game he hopes he will enjoy more. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 19 January)
Near the end of Virginia Woolf's "To the Lighthouse", Lily Briscoe engages in a long reverie about the late Mrs. Ramsay and ponders how understanding her requires at least "fifty pairs of eyes". This image might seem like it should stand for how this novel works, but in fact, it's more appropriate to Woolf's earlier "Jacob's Room", which is hardly ever told from the title character's perspective. Instead, other people in Jacob's life reflect on him, and they are frequently left even more puzzled by him than Lily is by Mrs. Ramsay. Ultimately, all those "pairs of eyes" cannot figure him out, and Jacob remains a cipher in his own novel. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 20 January)
“One wanted fifty pairs of eyes to see with, she reflected. Fifty pairs of eyes were not enough to get round that one woman with, she thought.” (Virginia Woolf, “To The Lighthouse”)
What happens when you answer a rhetorical question? On morning walks, the narrator of Jackie Kay's "Timing" sees two people she calls the grandmother and the granddaughter. One morning, when the grandmother glares at her, she dismisses it: "How do I know what's inside the old lady's head?" The rhetorical question implies it's impossible to read minds, but before and after this, the narrator twice tries to do so: first, the woman's gaze "looks unsettled"; then, the woman holds the girl's hand "a little too firmly". So the rhetorical question dismisses mind reading, but the scene as a whole offers two ways to do so as non-rhetorical answers to that question. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 21 January)
The grandmother in her blue padded coat stares at me and looks unsettled. She has given me this look ever since she realized our paths cross every day. Perhaps she dislikes fate. I don't know. How do I know what's inside the old lady's head? She takes her granddaughter's hand and holds it a little too firmly until we've passed each other, silently, meaningfully. One hand on her brolly and the other holding her granddaughter's on their way to school. (Jackie Kay, "Timing")
One of Greta Thunberg's most frequent points is her quotation of the IPCC report's numbers about the "carbon budget" that would keep the earth below a given amount of overall warming. She returns to this point to ask her listeners – primarily but not only the world's political leaders – what they plan to do to prevent the rapid depletion of this budget. One of the most common claims made in response to such questions is to say that she is being too "black-and-white" or too "apocalyptic". Like so many criticisms of her statements and positions, this serves to distract from the question – and from how her questions unfortunately continue to remain unanswered. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 22 January)
Some people make art a competition; they can draw me into it, too. Once I met a guy with a magnificent record collection. Whenever he mentioned something I hadn't heard, he was triumphant. His absolute favorite was a tape he'd made from the radio of "the best recording he'd ever heard", with "perfect overdubbing": "Aerial Boundaries", by Michael Hedges. He was incredulous when I told him the album was mostly recorded without overdubs. To convince him, I pretended to hold a guitar and made gestures to show him how I'd seen Michael did it live so many times. I won, but it would've been a nicer conversation without the coolness competition. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 23 January)
Today, Markus Schreiber took a photograph of five young women who were in Davos as climate activists: Vanessa Nakate, Luisa Neubauer, Greta Thunberg, Isabelle Axelsson, and Loukina Tille. But when AP first published the photo, Nakate, who is from Uganda, had been cropped from the left side of the picture, leaving only the other four activists to be seen, who are all European. When this was pointed out to AP, they posted the full version of the photograph and said that "there was no ill intent." Still, even if no particular people intended to censor the presence of the activist from Africa, such moments are tiresomely frequent manifestations of systemic racism. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 24 January)
When Jane Austen's Emma meets Harriet, she resolves to "notice her" – to grace her with attention. Emma then resolves to "improve" Harriet, her inferior. This personal condescension is also social: Emma will "detach her from her bad acquaintance, and introduce her into good society". That is, Harriet's friends are inferior to Emma's. Finally, Emma will "form her opinions and her manners." In each step of this "formation", Emma is active, Harriet passive. But when this "formation" succeeds, Harriet becomes an active agent herself – and Emma denounces the entire educational project. The "superior" Emma is not willing to allow her "inferior" to improve enough to erase the difference necessary for her superiority. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 25 January)
She would notice her; she would improve her; she would detach her from her bad acquaintance, and introduce her into good society; she would form her opinions and her manners. (Jane Austen, "Emma")
Mr. Knightley does not think well of Jane Austen's Emma's attempt to "form" Harriet Smith; he criticizes what "Emma's doctrines" can "give" to Harriet: not "strength of mind", but only "a little polish". Education, that is, should aim to construct depth: Knightley sees Emma as only influencing Harriet's lovely surface instead of getting beyond the superficial to the depth of "mind". Further, the "polishing" of the surface is weak compared to the "strength" that is Knightley's goal in education. If Emma sees her education of Harriet as the "formation" of a passive object, Knightley sees education as the transformation of the superficial into the deep and the weak into the strong. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 26 January)
"I am much mistaken if Emma's doctrines give any strength of mind, or tend at all to make a girl adapt herself rationally to the varieties of her situation in life. – They only give a little polish."
The portmanteaus in "Finnegans Wake", such as "meanderthalltale" (19.25), may be more spectacular, but even quite simple words like "troupe" (49.20) can end up having several contextually motivated meanings. The salient sense of "troupe" here is a theatrical company; this "utility man" is an actor who plays many small roles, but Orani can also cover for leads. If the theatrical terms peppering this page further motivate this reading, the earlier mentions of "the Crimean war" (49.5) and other military terms also resonate with military "troops". Finally, the page is also riddled with bird names, and French "troupe" can be a flock of birds. So, like Orani, "troupe" "sustains long parts" here. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 27 January)
Under the name of Orani he may have been the utility man of the troupe capable of sustaining long parts at short notice. (James Joyce, "Finnegans Wake", 49.19-21)
The doubling caused by enjambment in line two of Shakespeare's sonnet 116 doesn't involve literal and figurative senses, like metaphor. Instead, it's like zeugma: a later element alters an earlier element (as in Dickens). By itself, "love is not love" is nonsense, but it could mean that "a word doesn't mean what it says it means". The following relative clause alters that sense: inconstant love isn't love – or, a word may be used incorrectly. With the enjambment, then, the sense of "love is not love" itself "finds alteration" as the relative clause alters the meaning of the main clause. As enjambment is a figure, then, is poetic form in general rhetoric? (Andrew Shields, #111words, 28 January)
"Love is not love / Which alters when it alteration finds" (William Shakespeare, Sonnet CXVI)
"Mr. Pickwick took a seat and the paper" (Charles Dickens, "The Pickwick Papers")
Bored by Harriet's indecisiveness at a shop, Jane Austen's Emma goes "to the door for amusement." She hopes to see something of interest to her, perhaps one of the various other members of local society, or even "a stray letter-boy", as a letter is always of interest. When she sees lower-class people of the village, she is still "amused enough" by them to remain at the door. So even when they are "nothing", both society and the lack of it are more interesting to her than her protegée, whose indecision keeps her in the position of the passive object where Emma not only once found but also now still keeps her. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 29 January)
Harriet, tempted by every thing and swayed by half a word, was always very long at a purchase; and while she was still hanging over muslins and changing her mind, Emma went to the door for amusement. – Much could not be hoped from the traffic of even the busiest part of Highbury; – Mr. Perry walking hastily by, Mr. William Cox letting himself in at the office-door, Mr. Cole's carriage-horses returning from exercise, or a stray letter-boy on an obstinate mule, were the liveliest objects she could presume to expect; and when her eyes fell only on the butcher with his tray, a tidy old woman travelling homewards from shop with her full basket, two curs quarrelling over a dirty bone, and a string of dawdling children round the baker's little bow-window eyeing the gingerbread, she knew she had no reason to complain, and was amused enough; quite enough still to stand at the door. A mind lively and at ease, can do with seeing nothing, and can see nothing that does not answer.
The first sentence of Jane Austen's "Persuasion" offers six reasons to read: amusement, occupation, consolation, the rousing of the faculties, the transformation of "unwelcome sensations", and narcissistic identification. The joke is that the book in question is "the Baronetage", a lexicon of noble families. Yet the reasons could all be offered as serious justifications for reading classic literature or the Bible, and one of them even parodies Aristotelian catharsis, as those "unwelcome sensations" are "changed naturally into pity and contempt" instead of "pity and fear". If Sir Walter's preferred mode is narcissism, the novel's mockery of him undercuts it as a model for reading "Persuasion" itself – including identification with Anne Elliot. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 30 January)
Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch-hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage; there he found occupation for an idle hour, and consolation in a distressed one; there his faculties were roused into admiration and respect, by contemplating the limited remnant of the earliest patents; there any unwelcome sensations, arising from domestic affairs, changed naturally into pity and contempt as he turned over the almost endless creations of the last century; and there, if every other leaf were powerless, he could read his own history with an interest which never failed. (Jane Austen, "Persuasion")
The most convincing discussions I have seen of "American Dirt", by Jeanine Cummins, have all insisted that the issue is not "cultural appropriation" but the author's stereotyping of Mexicans and Mexico. As an American migrant to Switzerland, if I wrote a novel set in Basel about people from Basel, I would need to be careful that my Swiss characters were not based on stereotypes about Swiss people – and that my "expat" characters were not based on stereotypes about expats, either. If I succumbed to stereotyping while writing this hypothetical book, then my "appropriation" of Swiss (and expat) culture would be "inappropriate" – but for the reliance on clichés, not for "cultural appropriation". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 31 January)
Wolfgang Muthspiel, Jeff Ballard, and Larry Grenadier played the same sets at their shows at the Bird's Eye in Basel last night and tonight. Initially, I thought they were playing more "freely" tonight: the first tune, "Wondering", still ended with an accompanied drum solo, but instead of a steady guitar-bass ostinato, the accompaniment had more rhythmic variation, and Ballard responded accordingly. But I later realized it was not that the tunes were more "arranged" one night and "freer" the second. Rather, what had sounded arranged the first time had been improvised. Seeing two shows in a row reveals how these musicians play so well together that their improvisations sound like arrangements. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 1 February)
When Captain Wentworth returns to Anne Elliot's neighborhood in "Persuasion", they are sure to cross paths. But just when they are about to first meet after seven years, her nephew has "a bad fall". Nothing further is said about the fall itself – neither where, nor when, nor how he fell. So although this accident generates "serious anxiety" for the characters, it generates no anxiety in the narrative. Beyond the narrative delay it causes, it has no figurative implications in the marriage plot as a whole. That is, even though "falls" can be laden with implications, this one is just a narrative device, and not a metaphor, metonymy, or symbol for anything. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 2 February)
She and Mary were actually setting forward for the Great House, where, as she afterwards learnt, they must inevitably have found him, when they were stopped by the eldest boy's being at that moment brought home in consequence of a bad fall. The child's situation put the visit entirely aside; but she could not hear of her escape with indifference, even in the midst of the serious anxiety which they afterwards felt on his account. (Jane Austen, "Persuasion")
In the beginning of "The Good Place", Michael first tells the newly deceased Eleanor that "every religion guessed about 5%" of the afterlife and then develops this statistical perspective on narrative: while on mushrooms, Doug Forcett, "a stoner kid ... during the 1970s", imagined the afterlife in a "long monologue where he got like 92% correct". Psychedelic hallucinations are often connected to religious mysticism, but Michael's version of Doug's story does not appeal to that tradition. Instead, Michael understands that vision in terms of his narrative statistics. This is consistent with the statistical narrative of the show's afterlife, with its tally of points to determine who gets into "the good place". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 3 February)
Good Place 1:1
Hindus are a little bit right, Muslims a little bit. Jews, Christians, Buddhists, every religion guessed about 5%, except for Doug Forcett. [...] Doug was a stoner kid who lived in Calgary during the 1970s. One night, he got really high on mushrooms, and his best friend, Randy, said, "Hey, what do you think happens after we die?" And Doug just launched into this long monologue where he got like 92% correct. I mean, we couldn't believe what we were hearing.
After listening to his aunt, his uncle, and "old Cotter" discuss Father Flynn's death, the narrator of James Joyce's "The Sisters" lies awake, angry and confused. The anger comes from Cotter's condescension towards him as an "impressionable" child whose behavior and knowledge of the world needs supervision. The confusion comes from Cotter's elliptical self-censorship: his "unfinished sentences" communicate with the adults but leave the narrator to "extract meaning" from his omissions. Here, the child is left puzzled by the allusive nature of socially acceptable adult discussion. Even as the ellipses still communicate by implication, so much is left out, not just to protect children's "impressionable" minds but also to avoid scandal. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 4 February)
– It's bad for children, said old Cotter, because their minds are so impressionable. When children see things like that, you know, it has an effect. . . .
I crammed my mouth with stirabout for fear I might give utterance to my anger. Tiresome old red-nosed imbecile!
It was late when I fell asleep. Though I was angry with old Cotter for alluding to me as a child, I puzzled my head to extract meaning from his unfinished sentences. (James Joyce, "The Sisters")
While skipping school with a friend, the narrator of James Joyce's "An Encounter" takes a ferry across the Liffey, observes a "graceful three-master" being unloaded, and hears that it is from Norway: "I went to the stern and tried to decipher the legend [...]." Presumably, he fails to read the writing on the ship because it is in a language he does not understand. He then goes on to try to interpret the sailors on the basis of some symbolism of "green eyes". Ultimately, he cannot read the foreign alphabet, nor is he able to read "the foreign sailors" in terms of a symbolic language that remains but "a confused notion". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 5 February)
When we landed we watched the discharging of the graceful three-master which we had observed from the other quay. Some bystander said that she was a Norwegian vessel. I went to the stern and tried to decipher the legend upon it but, failing to do so, I came back and examined the foreign sailors to see had any of them green eyes for I had some confused notion. . . . (James Joyce, "An Encounter")
In the moments I discussed from James Joyce's "The Sisters" and "An Encounter", the narrators cannot understand something because they lack information – and in "An Encounter", additionally, the narrator doesn't know the language he tries to read. In "Araby", in contrast, after "Mangan's sister" tells the narrator about the "Araby" bazaar, he is unable to read because of a surplus: "At night in my bedroom and by day in the classroom her image came between me and the page I strove to read." In private and in public, the excess of the beloved image renders the text on the page as incomprehensible as the incomplete texts in the other two stories. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 6 February)
In James Joyce's "Eveline", the title character ponders her forthcoming departure from Ireland with her lover Frank. In her reflections, she recalls many details of her life, including the loss of her mother many years earlier: "As she mused the pitiful vision of her mother's life laid its spell on the very quick of her being [...]." In "Araby", the image of the beloved comes between the narrator and the page; here, the "spell" of Eveline's "vision" of her mother comes between herself and her thoughts. Such spells leave Joyce's characters unable to read, think, and realize their desires "quickly" – in both the lively and the timely sense of the word. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 7 February)
In the first episode of "The Good Place", Eleanor assumes her parents are both in "the bad place": "Maybe they're being used to torture each other." She has already heard audio of people screaming but not yet learned about "demons", so she knows people are tortured, but not by whom. Her joke is consistent with what she knows and with her sense of how her parents tortured each other while alive. Even though this is actually a sign of what's to come, the remark's humor and its consistency with her knowledge keeps it from standing out. If it is "foreshadowing", its integration into its moment keeps its from casting any "shadow". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 8 February)
The "imaginary shotguns" in Matthew Olzmann's poem first seem to come from a teenager's imagination: "There’s a teenager in an SUV, shopping mall, or nightclub / with an imaginary shotgun." This teenager could be remembering playing cops and robbers, or, more frighteningly, imagining shooting up a mall or nightclub. But then it's not the teenager who's doing the imagining: "[...] there’s a kid with an imaginary shotgun, / and the men who claim to see it will return with real guns." So the shotgun is imagined by others who perceive the kid as a potential threat, and the violent threat comes from those who actually have guns, not from the teenager. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 9 February)
Neil Young is "a dreamer of pictures" ("Cinnamon Girl"), and one he has dreamt again and again is the ideal of being somewhere else and in love. In the next song on "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere", the title track, the desired "elsewhere" is "back home", where "a woman that I'd like to get to know" is living. Further, this return home offers the chance to be "just passing time". This may be an escape from the "day-to-day running around" of "nowhere". But since "utopia" means "nowhere" and this paradisiacal "home" is a rejection of "nowhere", the picture dreamed of here rejects a utopian vision in favor of something more "homely". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 10 February)
"After the Gold Rush" begins with a dream of an archaic world of "knights in armor" and "fanfares". This offers an escape from the present-day world in the second stanza: "a burned-out basement" where the music of "peasants singing and drummers drumming" has become "a band playing in my head". With the past only a dream, there's no escape except to get high. If the final stanza provides an alternative escape, it's a dystopian dream where only "the chosen ones" will leave earth for "a new home in the sun". In this song, then, Neil Young's otherwise often utopian vision of elsewhere offers only a lost past and an apocalyptic future. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 11 February)
In Neil Young's "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" and "After the Gold Rush", "home" is somewhere else: "back home" and "a new home in the sun", respectively. In "Oh Lonesome Me", a Don Gibson cover on "After the Gold Rush", "home" is a trap: "Everybody's going out and having fun; / I'm a fool for staying home and having none. / I can't get over how she set me free." The only imaginable "elsewhere" is where she is: "She's out and fancy free." Unlike in Young's own songs, then, this "elsewhere" offers no escape, and since one is already at home, there's no alternative "home" in the past or the future. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 12 February)
In the utopia of Neil Young's "Old Man", there's no beloved for the song's young man to be with: "Live alone in a paradise that makes me think of two." If the lonely paradise offers no escape but finding someone else, experiences of "love lost" make that wish seem unfulfillable, and create a desire for "things that don't get lost". As the unlosable would be "like a coin that won't get tossed", loss results from chances and choices one should avoid. But the untossed coin also figures the young man himself "rolling home to you". Avoiding chance and choice, he keeps in motion while still returning "home" to his lonely paradise. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 13 February)
In James Joyce's "After the Race", the confusion so many of Joyce's characters experience comes from "the noise of the car" that the young, wealthy Jimmy is in the back seat of, as well as a "deep bass hum of melody" from his seatmate. Whenever the two Frenchmen in front of the car turn back to speak to the two men in the back, it is such a strain for Jimmy "to catch the quick phrase" that all he can do is "make a deft guess at the meaning" and hope his "suitable answer" is appropriate. The interference of noise and music makes the interpretation of language a matter of guesswork. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 14 February)
The car ran on merrily with its cargo of hilarious youth. The two cousins sat on the front seat; Jimmy and his Hungarian friend sat behind. Decidedly Villona was in excellent spirits; he kept up a deep bass hum of melody for miles of the road. The Frenchmen flung their laughter and light words over their shoulders and often Jimmy had to strain forward to catch the quick phrase. This was not altogether pleasant for him, as he had nearly always to make a deft guess at the meaning and shout back a suitable answer in the face of a high wind. Besides Villona's humming would confuse anybody; the noise of the car, too. (James Joyce, "After the Race")
In James Joyce's "Two Gallants", Corley goes off with a woman and leaves Lenehan to himself for a few hours. While passing the time, Lenehan has supper and imagines what Corley and the woman are doing: "[H]e heard Corley's voice in deep energetic gallantries and saw again the leer of the young woman's mouth." Lenehan hears a voice and sees a mouth: Corley's voice captivated him earlier with its tale of seduction, while her "leer" is almost all he has perceived of her. In this metonymic "vision" that leads him to "feel keenly his own poverty of purse and spirit," Lenehan cannot imagine anything beyond these fragments of what he perceived. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 15 February)
In his imagination he beheld the pair of lovers walking along some dark road; he heard Corley's voice in deep energetic gallantries and saw again the leer of the young woman's mouth. This vision made him feel keenly his own poverty of purse and spirit. (James Joyce, "Two Gallants")
In James Joyce's "The Boarding House", Mr Doran recalls "his confession of the night before" about his affair with Polly, his landlady's daughter. His story is only a confession in the performative frame that determines its interpretation by the priest, whose interrogation "draws out" the "ridiculous details" and fills in the gaps left by Doran's discretion and embarrassment about details. The interaction of confession and interrogation produces a ridiculous story with as few gaps as possible. But in this moment of closure and completeness, one gap remains: whether Doran will use the social and theological "loophole" of marriage. The exhaustively detailed story leaves only the gap authorized by society and religion. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 16 February)
The recollection of his confession of the night before was a cause of acute pain to him; the priest had drawn out every ridiculous detail of the affair and in the end had so magnified his sin that he was almost thankful at being afforded a loophole of reparation. (James Joyce, "The Boarding House")
Today, our class discussions of Emma's plan for Harriet's "formation" reconsidered the sequence of verbs here. When Emma "notices" Harriet, she still sees Harriet as a person in her own right, but her subsequent assumption that Harriet is inferior and needs improving begins to strip Harriet of her personhood. The further step of "detaching" her from her friends and "introducing" her to Emma's "society" negates Harriet's already existing social identity and replaces it with Emma's. And finally, the step of "forming her opinions and her manners" nullfiies Harriet's thoughts and actions and leaves behind a cipher. Thus, Emma's creation of a socially acceptable person first requires the erasure of Harriet's personhood. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 17 February)
She would notice her; she would improve her; she would detach her from her bad acquaintance, and introduce her into good society; she would form her opinions and her manners. (Jane Austen, "Emma")
For Ralf Simon, a guest's arrival is a "primal scene" of literature: as guests have stories to tell, the "story within a story" is essential to storytelling. This analysis connects with Aristotle's "Poetics" and the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, which I've been slowly reading for several years now. The plays are riddled with scenes in which someone tells a story about events elsewhere: for example, a messenger's description of Orestes's murder of Aegisthus in Euripides's "Electra". The pervasiveness of such "messenger stories" is consistent with Aristotle's observation that tragedies have "unity of place": if plays never leave their main locations, anything happening elsewhere has to be an embedded story. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 18 February)
In these lines from "Finnegans Wake", as Giordano Bruno becomes "Father San Browne" and "Padre Don Bruno", his characterisitics are doubled and varied as well. This priest takes "tea and toast" and toasts the "quaintesttest yarnspinner" – that is, he tells a tale to a tale-teller who is doubly superlative (while also perhaps passing a kind of test twice). At the same time, he is a faithful comforter (treuer Tröster in German) – and offering comfort is another form of yarn-spinning. But this comforted person is not a storyteller: the "quain-" becomes "queen of Iar-Spain" ("Iar" is Irish for "west"), which echoes the Spanish elements mixed with English in Bruno's two names here. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 19 February)
If Father San Browne, tea and toaster to that quaintesttest of yarnspinners is Padre Don Bruno, treu and troster to the queen of Iar-Spain [...] (James Joyce, "Finnegans Wake", 50.19-21)
This paper uses "compositional semantics" to analyze the grammar and semantics of Emily Dickinson's "My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun". Such thorough attention to a poem's details is often lacking in literary criticism. The resulting identification of "plausible" interpretations of the poem is meant to offer a foundation for "broader" interpretations. But the doubleness of rhetoric troubles the paper's attempt to strictly distinguish "grammatical" analysis and "broader" interpretations. In particular, the authors ignore the poem's double personification of "my life" and "a loaded gun". This failure to consider rhetoric leads to an unconvincing insistence that the poem's speaker is "either a person or a gun" rather than a personified gun. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 20 February)
Bauer, M., Bade, N., Beck, S., et al. (2015). Emily Dickinson’s “My life had stood a loaded gun” – An interdisciplinary analysis. Journal of Literary Semantics, 44(2), pp. 115-140. Retrieved 20 Feb. 2020, from doi:10.1515/jls-2015-0010
The "Loaded Gun" that stands "in Corners" in Emily Dickinson's poem has an unrealized potential for violence. Personified and picked up by its "Owner", the gun realizes its violence in the hunt "in Sovreign Woods" as speech echoed by the surrounding "Mountains". As the firing of the gun during the hunt, this violent speech is controlled and released in a series of moments. But in the next stanza, the gun's violence becomes non-verbal language: a smile that is more explosive now, like Vesuvius. If the personified gun figures a person, then their repressed violence cannot always be released in a controlled fashion when it emerges from the "corners" of their life. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 21 February)
Along with the emotional range of the actresses who play the March sisters (Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, and Eliza Scanlen) and the brilliantly implemented range of editing styles from rambunctious scenes with rapid, multi-camera cuts to long, single-camera shots, the power, energy, and significance of Grete Gerwig's adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women" is punctuated by three scenes with pairs of actresses: first, Laura Dern and Ronan as mother and daughter; later, Meryl Streep and Ronan as aunt and daughter; finally, Streep and Dern as somewhat antagonistic sisters-in-law. Here, three generations of magnificent actresses manifest an artistic tradition of women's creativity that Jo March laments the absence of. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 22 February)
At a concert last month, Ronny Graupe used no pedals and only altered the sound of his electric guitar with the knobs, which highlighted the instrument's percussive potential. The night before, I'd heard similar things on nylon-strong guitar from Julio Azcano, but a week later, when Wolfgang Muthspiel also explored the classical guitar's percussiveness (in a Ralph Towner style he shares with Azcano), it made me really notice the contrast with his electric-guitar playing: the effects washed out the attack of fingers and picks. Today, though, on electric guitar with pedals and often heavily layered delay, Mary Halvorson used her effects to highlight rather than efface the percussiveness of her style. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 23 February)
In Jane Austen's "Emma", Mr. Elton offers Emma and Harriet a riddle about courtship "which a friend of his had addressed to a young lady." To Emma, Mr. Elton attributes the riddle to a friend as rhetoric, saying "friend" but meaning himself. This double reference is itself further doubled by the openness of the dedication of the charade "To Miss ––": though Emma first sees this as Harriet, it turns out to be Emma herself. But given the later implication that Mr. Elton gave the same charade to his future wife, the riddle serves as material for any man to use to court any woman, with all of them being interchangeable. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 24 February)
When the narrator of James Joyce's "Araby" goes marketing on Saturday evenings with his aunt, the "flaring streets" are filled with sound: "[...] the curses of labourers, the shrill litanies of shop-boys […], the nasal chanting of street-singers". Everyday "curses" are vulgarities, but in religion, curses call for bad things to happen to someone. Further, a "litany" is a long, boring list but also a ritual call-and-response prayer. Finally, if "chanting" can refer to the singing of street-singers, it even more strongly recalls Gregorian chanting in medieval churches. The words that characterize the vulgar, everyday world here all have straightforward worldly senses but combine to turn the market into a church. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 25 February)
Jim Jarmusch's "Down by Law" begins with women telling men off. First, Ellen Barkin smashes Tom Waits's possessions while he sits around listlessly. Then, Billie Neal lies naked in bed and mocks John Lurie while he counts his money. Overall, the movie's focus is on Waits and Lurie, but the actresses steal the opening scenes. And at the end of the film, after Waits and Lurie have wandered through the bayou with Roberto Benigni as escaped convicts, Nicoletta Braschi also steals the show. In fact, despite the focus on men in Jarmusch's films, the women get regular opportunities to put the men in their place, both as characters and as actresses. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 26 February)
In the first line of Emily Dickinson's "'Why do I love' You, Sir?" (459), a woman echoes a man's question about her love of him. The second line's "because" offers an anti-reason. Completing that clause, the third line offers two readings: if the man is "wind" and the woman "grass", she loves him for not needing her; if the woman is "wind" and the man "grass", she doesn't need him but implicitly loves him anyway. Only the former works with the fourth line: if "the Wind does not require the Grass / to answer", he shouldn't ask her that question. The enjambments establish four answers that refuse to answer his question. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 27 February)
"Why do I love" You, Sir?
The Wind does not require the Grass
To answer — Wherefore when He pass
She cannot keep Her place.
Today, our class discussion of Dickinson's "'Why do I love' You, Sir?" (459) began with two students playing a female "I" and a male "You" in a dialogic prelude to the poem:
She: "I love you."
He: "Why do you love me?"
She continued with the poem's first line, which implies such a prelude: she responds to his response to her statement. And the entire scene, including the poem, consists of refusals: he refuses to respond by saying that he loves her, too; she doesn't answer his question but echoes it back to him in the poem's first line and then continues to refuse to answer him as I discussed yesterday. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 28 February)
"Why do I love" You, Sir?
The Wind does not require the Grass
To answer — Wherefore when He pass
She cannot keep Her place.
Before he first reads the Bible on his island, Robinson Crusoe chews tobacco as a cure and is "almost stupefied" by it. Further, he soaks some in rum for later, then smokes more. Thus "too much disturbed" to read, he "casually" turns to Psalm 50:15: “Call on Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me.” After kneeling to pray for the first time in his life – for that deliverance – he drinks the tobacco-laced rum and goes to bed. In his drug-induced stupor and disturbance, he accidentally stumbles on Sortes Sacrae – randomly opening the Bible for guidance – and feels personally addressed by the Psalm. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 29 February)
When Roberto (Roberto Benigni) appears in "Down by Law", Zack (Tom Waits) echoes his first line: "Yeah, 'It's a sad and beautiful world', pal. That's a good one." This repetition dismisses Roberto's words. After drinking from his flask and humming a melody, Zack tells Roberto to "buzz off." Roberto's echo of these words takes a surprising turn: "Thank you. Buzz off to you, too." This repetition becomes a lesson, and Roberto even notes the phrase down and practices it as he walks away. So Roberto accepts Zack's phrase, while Zack appears to reject Roberto's – but once Roberto's gone, Zack gives his melody a text: "It is a sad and beautiful world." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 1 March)
In 1929, in "A Room of One's Own", Virginia Woolf said writers need "five hundred a year and a room of one's own". According to a website, this is about £32,000 in 2020 – or $41,000 or 32,000 CHF. Ideally, then, you need to earn that much per year with your writing to be a writer. But Woolf is not talking about salary; she's talking about interest. So to make $40,000 a year, you would need to have an investment that pays that much in interest every year: $1,000,000 at 4% interest, for example. So unless she's successful enough, a Woolfian writer needs to be a millionaire and have a reliable investment. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 2 March)
"Life is short," said Hippocrates. "Life is short", begins Maggie Smith's poem "Good Bones", "though I keep this from my children." So the speaker lets her children think life is long and thus conceals a truth that might frighten them, along with a series of other things she doesn't tell them, all of which add up to the world being "a real shithole", despite its "good bones". Yet even as the poem examines the world's dark side and feels the need to conceal it, it ends with a call for aesthetic transformation of the "shithole": "You could make this place beautiful." Life may be short, but "art is long", Hippocrates added. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 3 March)
"Good Bones" measures life's length ("short"). This measuring first counts life and then accounts for the speaker's life in accounts both counted ("a thousand ways") and unaccounted for ("kept from children"). In lines 5-13, accounting becomes statistics ("fifty percent"), another counting of accounts: each side of each "for every X a Y" is a story. Then accounting becomes two scenes of selling: "selling the world" to the children and a realtor's selling of a house. Yet both these sales focus on aesthetics, on "making the place beautiful". If this economic aesthetic conceals "shitholes", the poem's own aesthetic revelation of one's implication in the world's accounts enacts an aesthetic and ethical accountability. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 4 March)
Crusoe's second turn to Sortes Sacrae is motivated by his fear of the "savages" who occasionally visit his island. "Discomposed" by the thought of them, he recalls the verse that turned up before, is "comforted", and prays again for the promised "deliverance". After praying, he opens the Bible and reads Psalm 27:14 and its call to "wait on the Lord." Again, he is comforted, this time so much that he expresses it with adynaton, the trope of inexpressibility. Through his bibliomancy and rhetoric, Crusoe constructs his European, Christian perspective, which created the idea of "savages" in the first place, as the only way to be "delivered" and "comforted" from that "savagery". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 5 March)
One morning early, lying in my bed, and filled with thoughts about my danger from the appearances of savages, I found it discomposed me very much; upon which these words of the Scripture came into my thoughts, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me.” Upon this, rising cheerfully out of my bed, my heart was not only comforted, but I was guided and encouraged to pray earnestly to God for deliverance: when I had done praying I took up my Bible, and opening it to read, the first words that presented to me were, “Wait on the Lord, and be of good cheer, and He shall strengthen thy heart; wait, I say, on the Lord.” It is impossible to express the comfort this gave me. In answer, I thankfully laid down the book, and was no more sad, at least on that occasion. (Daniel Defoe, "Robinson Crusoe")
In James Joyce's "The Boarding House", when Mr Mooney the butcher "goes for his wife with the cleaver," he repurposes a tool of their trade as a weapon. After their separation, Mrs Mooney leaves that trade, opens a boarding house, and finds herself needing to make decisions when her daughter gets involved with one of the boarders: "She dealt with moral problems as a cleaver deals with meat: and in this case she had made up her mind." Like her ex-husband, she also repurposes the tool of her former trade, but as a figure for the decisiveness and skill with which she handles the weapons not of violence but of rhetoric. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 6 March)
In "Persuasion", Anne Elliot challenges Captain Harville's ideas about men and women: "Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything." This is Miranda Fricker's "hermeneutical injustice": Anne wants to articulate an idea but doesn't have a concept for it. This isn't due to a fault in herself; rather, the society she lives in doesn't have any concepts for her ideas. So she can identify the problem – men wrote the sources of people's ideas – but cannot name it without the concept of sexism. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 7 March)
What Joyce called the "scrupulous meanness" of "Dubliners" makes the text a relatively "neutral" space for projection, and the ideas that interpreters project into this space are like "Mangan's sister" for the narrator of "Araby" or Polly's "hopes and visions" at the end of "The Boarding House": they make it impossible to interpret what one sees, just as the narrator of "Araby" cannot read through his desire, or Polly's "fixed" gaze does not see "the white pillows" in front of her. One thus interprets one's own desire for a full interpretation rather than the stories' actual "meanness" (with my own impossible desire being to erase the desires that erase genuine interpretation). (Andrew Shields, #111words, 8 March)
At night in my bedroom and by day in the classroom her image came between me and the page I strove to read. (James Joyce, "Araby")
Her hopes and visions were so intricate that she no longer saw the white pillows on which her gaze was fixed or remembered that she was waiting for anything. (James Joyce, "The Boarding House")
Coronavirus measures mention how people always touch their faces, and that's made me aware of how often I do so. But I belong to two types of people that probably touch their faces more often than average: people with glasses, and people with hay fever. I often touch my face because of my glasses: taking them off to wipe them, or pushing them up (as I unconsciously did while typing this very sentence – and later while revising it). And during hay-fever season, despite medication, I often rub itches around my eyes.– I wonder what other categories of people touch their faces unusually often. (And I just pushed my glasses up again.) (Andrew Shields, #111words, 9 March)
Today, I found another example of a pattern I have been writing about in James Joyce's "Dubliners": how characters cannot perceive their surroundings because of their fantasies about the objects of their desires. But this example is near the end of Virginia Woolf's novel "Orlando": "[...] she was now a very indifferent witness to the truth of what was before her [...]." Woolf's narrator goes on to offer a general reflection on reverie: "[...] some say that all our most violent passions, and art and religion, are the reflections which we see in the dark hollow at the back of the head when the visible world is obscured for the time." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 10 March)
The parallelism that begins Emily Dickinson's "Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –" (236) replaces words in the first line with others in the second: "Some" with "I"; "going to Church" with "staying at Home". The third and fourth lines continue this substitution but reverse the terms: first the "Bobolink" and "Orchard" of "Home", then the "Chorister" and "Dome" of "church". Although this chiasmus isn't as sarcastic as the first two lines of the third stanza, with "God" "a noted Clergyman" whose "sermon is never long", the first stanza thus already establishes the poem's reversal of priority, with a societal service at church second to a natural service at home. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 11 March)
236 Some keep the Sabbath going to Church —
Some keep the Sabbath going to Church —
I keep it, staying at Home —
With a Bobolink for a Chorister —
And an Orchard, for a Dome —
Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice —
I, just wear my Wings —
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton — sings.
God preaches, a noted Clergyman —
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last —
I'm going, all along.
In the first three stanzas of Emily Dickinson's "A Bird, came down the Walk –" (359), the speaker only appears through observations of that bird from a distance ("I saw") and reflections on its behavior and appearance ("I thought"). The first line of the fourth stanza may then seem to maintain the speaker's focus on the bird: "Like one in danger, Cautious". But even though the line is end-stopped and not enjambed, the next line shifts the perspective and makes it the speaker who is "like one in danger". As the physical distance between them disappears, then bird and speaker are successively characterized with the same words, even without repeating them. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 12 March)
359 A Bird, came down the Walk —
A Bird, came down the Walk —
He did not know I saw —
He bit an Angle Worm in halves
And ate the fellow, raw,
And then, he drank a Dew –
From a convenient Grass —
And then hopped sidewise to the Wall
To let a Beetle pass —
He glanced with rapid eyes,
That hurried all abroad —
They looked like frightened Beads, I thought,
He stirred his Velvet Head. –
Like one in danger, Cautious,
I offered him a Crumb,
And he unrolled his feathers,
And rowed him softer Home —
Than Oars divide the Ocean,
Too silver for a seam,
Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon,
Leap, plashless as they swim.
"111 Words a Day" encourages students to make strong claims in clear, concise, precise, and direct texts. In class today, several students said that, both in school and at university, they have had their attempts to think for themselves censored by instructors, who even say that young writers don't know enough or have enough experience to make independent claims. This is pedogically, academically, and ethically irresponsible: it is bad teaching to discourage independent thinking; such discouragement of young scholars from asserting their own ideas undercuts the methods of scholarship; and dismissing their status as knowers negates their position as full participants not only in discourse but in society as a whole. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 13 March)
Only when Jane Austen's Emma is angry at Mr. and Mr. Elton does she notice her own politeness. Despite Elton's irritating attention at Mr Weston's party, she has "the comfort of appearing very polite, while feeling very cross." The "comfort" of behaving properly thus covers up her anger. When he then proposes to her, she first restrains her anger, but when expressing it becomes appropriate, she rebukes him "with fewer struggles for politeness." This "struggle for politeness" later returns when the new Mrs Elton assumes she's Emma's social equal: "It was as much as Emma could bear, without being impolite." Austenian politeness is thus a means of concealing anger and offense. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 14 March)
In Jim Jarmusch's "Ghost Dog", Louise Vargo (Tricia Vessey) offers her lover's killer, Ghost Dog (Forest Whitaker), her book "Rashomon": "Ancient Japan was a pretty strange place." Later, Ghost Dog talks to Pearline (Camille Winbush), an avid young reader, and loans her the book: "You just gotta promise that when you read it, you come tell me what you think." When she returns it, she says of her favorite story: "It's one story, but each person sees a totally different story." But first she says, "Ancient Japan was a pretty weird place." These women offer a counter-narrative to Ghost Dog's "strange" life and death in the "weird place" of contemporary America. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 15 March)
In October 1948, President Harry S. Truman gave a campaign speech in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which addressed, among other things, his decision to use the atomic bomb against Japan in August, 1945: "As President of the United States, I had the fateful responsibility of deciding whether or not to use this weapon for the first time. It was the hardest decision I ever had to make. But the President cannot duck hard problems–he cannot pass the buck." Last Friday, President Donald J. Trump was asked at a press conference whether he takes responsibility for the "lag in testing" for coronavirus–and he passed the buck: "I don’t take responsibility at all." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 16 March)
In the first chapter of Kazuo Ishiguro's "Never Let Me Go", the narrator Kathy remembers sitting at a window with other schoolgirls watching boys outside. While the girls all know Tommy, the best athlete, is about to be chosen last to humiliate him, Kathy remembers their perspective as "detached". They are thus like Henry James's "watcher at the window", who observes from a distinterested position. But such observers can also be interested judges, and Kathy feels compelled to add that they did not "relish the prospect" of Tommy's humiliation. Still, they did "relish" the overall scene, and their pleasure depended on the humiliating judgment they claimed to have no interest in. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 17 March)
And I realised that for Ruth and the others, whatever the boys chose to do was pretty remote from us; whether we approved or not didn't come into it. We were gathered around the windows at that moment not because we relished the prospect of seeing Tommy get humiliated yet again, but just because we'd heard about this latest plot and were vaguely curious to watch it unfold. In those days, I don't think what the boys did amongst themselves went much deeper than that. For Ruth, for the others, it was that detached, and the chances are that's how it was for me too. (Kazuo Ishiguro, "Never Let Me Go")
When James Joyce's Eveline breaks out of her indecision about emigrating "Buenos Ayres" with her fiancé Frank, he is the agent of her "escape" in the "would" constructions of free indirect thought: "Frank would save her ... give her life, perhaps love, ... take her in his arms, fold her in his arms ... save her." Here, Frank gives her salvation, life, and perhaps romance, as well as comfort and protection. But when she is at the North Wall in Dublin to meet him and go on board ship, she no longer sees his agency as positive: "he would drown her." The agent of life is now an agent of death. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 18 March)
She stood up in a sudden impulse of terror. Escape! She must escape! Frank would save her. He would give her life, perhaps love, too. But she wanted to live. Why should she be unhappy? She had a right to happiness. Frank would take her in his arms, fold her in his arms. He would save her.
All the seas of the world tumbled about her heart. He was drawing her into them: he would drown her. She gripped with both hands at the iron railing. (James Joyce, "Eveline")
As Tony Murray points out, when James Joyce's Eveline "finds herself immobilised at the harbour", she is "neither at home nor abroad". The harbor is an in-between space where Eveline's decisiveness disappears before the Atlantic crossing to Argentina. So there are not just two spaces determining Eveline's actions and choices (Dublin or Argentina?) but three: home, harbor, and Argentina. And at the harbor, the decision she made at home can still be changed. – In a sense, there are even four spaces, since the ship is between the harbour and Argentina. It is not Argentina, then, but Eveline's vision of the crossing that leads her to imagine her fiancé Frank drowning her. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 19 March)
In James Joyce's "After the Race", Jimmy's father, first "a butcher in Kingstown", becomes rich "opening shops in Dublin and in the suburbs". This commercial success also leads to political connections through which he receives "some of the police contracts" for even more sales, as well as to prominence as someone called "a merchant prince" in newspapers. As a further sign of his ascent in the world, such an exemplary commercial, political, and societal figure must also send his son to university, including a semester at Cambridge "to see a little life" – that is, not for education, but for social experience to prepare him to take his father's success even further. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 20 March)
As the opening of James Joyce's "After the Race" focuses in on Jimmy Doyle, the word "cars" appears six times, first as the cars in the race, "scudding" and "careering" along, then as the "blue cars" of the French the Irish cheer for, and finally as "one of the trimly built cars", the one that Jimmy is riding in, along with two Frenchmen happy about "the success of the French cars." Here, the plural "cars" disappears, though the singular "car" remains until the young men head out to a yacht in the harbor for "supper, music, cards." The excitement of the cars remains in the ensuing card-playing – from "cars" to "cards". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 21 March)
For Margot Norris, Jimmy Doyle in James Joyce's "After the Race" doesn't just unfortunately lose "pots of money" in a night of drunken gambling but actually falls prey to a confidence game. Many scholars of Joyce's "Eveline" also argue that Eveline's fiancé Frank cannot be trusted, and similar arguments have been made about "The Boarding House", with Mr Doran taking advantage of Polly Mooney. Everyone fooled in these stories could be seen as primarily fooling themselves, but such a reading would come down to victim-blaming. They are all enchanted in their own ways, and then fooled, but if they have been tricked, then the tricksters enchanted them in the first place. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 22 March)
In season 1, episode 4, of "The Good Place", Jianyu reveals himself to be not a monk who has taken a vow of silence but Jason Mendoza from Jacksonville. When he'd pretended to meditate, he was wondering what was going on: "I think we might be in an alien zoo or on a prank show." In that zoo, he would be on display for the amusement and edification of extraterrestrials; in that show, he would be tricked in order to embarrass him. To put it in the statistical terms that Michael likes (and in this episode he mentions that it is possible to be 104% perfect), Jason is about 67% right. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 23 March)
When Jane Austen's Emma insults Miss Bates during the Box Hill outing, she removes the mask of politeness. Miss Bates's self-deprecating joke leads Emma to lose the self-control that otherwise characterizes her responses to any negative thoughts and feelings she has: "Emma could not resist". So she does what she is otherwise able to resist: she tells someone what she really thinks about them. And when Mr. Knightley then reproaches her, her "liberties of manner" are not what most irritates him. Rather, he complains that she – and by implication all the members of the class they both belong to – should never reveal their contempt for all those they consider beneath them. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 24 March)
In season 1, episode 4, of "The Good Place", Jason reveals himself to Eleanor and tells her what he did for a living: "I sold fake drugs to college kids." Eleanor doesn't mention the connection to her own job: selling fake drugs to old people. Later, Eleanor tells Chidi that Jason isn't a monk: "Jianyu is a fraud, just like me." This refers to the fact that she and Jason should both not be in "the good place", but she could also say that about their fraudulent lives on earth. The story's overall fraud lies elsewhere, but Jason and Eleanor's mutual fraud in the afterlife mirrors their fraudulent lives on earth. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 25 March)
In her interpretation of Emily Dickinson's "Civilization — spurns — the Leopard!" (276), Leslie McAbee concludes that the leopard in the poem "remains fixed outside the nonhuman realm as a classifiable specimen for human study and as a racialized foreign animal beyond the pale of Western civilization." But as McAbee sees this as the speaker's failure "to advocate overtly for the Leopard’s release from captivity," she is forced by an apparent desire to not implicate Dickinson in this "failure" to argue that Dickinson herself "reveals that well-intended advocacy can recapitulate what it seeks to oppose." Here, the intentional fallacy is a result of the critic's desire to see the poet as ideologically pure. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 26 March)
The questions in "Civilization — spurns — the Leopard!" (276) establish parallels between situations: "Was the Leopard – bold?"; "Need — a keeper — frown?" The dashes setting off those last words challenge them: Is it valid to call the leopard's behavior "bold"? Is it proper to "frown" at such behavior? The parallelism makes the words exchangeable: "Was the keeper bold?"; "Need the Leopard frown?" This extends to the poem's verbs: "Civilization spurns the leopard", but it and its human proxies (keeper, Signor) also "rebuke", "frown" at, "pity", "stifle", and "suppress" the animal. Even the speaker's call for "pity" does not prevent her, through these parallelisms, from participating in the "civilized" taming of the "Asian" beast. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 27 March) [A lot of credit to the students in my Emily Dickinson seminar for co-developing these ideas in our Zoom discussion today.]
276 Civilization — spurns — the Leopard!
Civilization — spurns — the Leopard!
Was the Leopard — bold?
Deserts — never rebuked her Satin —
Ethiop — her Gold —
Tawny — her Customs —
She was Conscious —
Spotted — her Dun Gown —
This was the Leopard's nature — Signor —
Need — a keeper — frown?
Pity — the Pard — that left her Asia —
Memories — of Palm —
Cannot be stifled — with Narcotic —
Nor suppressed — with Balm —
In "Gulliver's Travels", when the king of Brobdingnag first sees Gulliver, he tries to understand this miniature creature who is approximately 12 times smaller than the typical Brobingnagian. "As learned a person as any in his dominions", he applies his knowledge of philosophy and mathematics to interpret Gulliver's shape and posture, and concludes that he "might be a piece of clock-work". When he sees Gulliver as an automaton made to impersonate the behavior of a human, he is astonished to hear "it" speak in a "regular and rational" way. This turns the European trope of astonishment at the idea that unfamiliar people can be "rational creatures" back on the European castaway. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 28 March)
The king, although he be as learned a person as any in his dominions, had been educated in the study of philosophy, and particularly mathematics; yet when he observed my shape exactly, and saw me walk erect, before I began to speak, conceived I might be a piece of clock-work (which is in that country arrived to a very great perfection) contrived by some ingenious artist. But when he heard my voice, and found what I delivered to be regular and rational, he could not conceal his astonishment. (Jonathan Swift, "Gulliver's Travels")
The Swiss German evening news reported this evening on coronavirus in Spain. One hospital worker said in an interview that staff shortages were a significant problem, and that these staff shortages were the result of the slashing of hospital budgets. That sounded familiar: practically every news report I've seen about countries with growing difficulties dealing with coronavirus has eventually touched on ongoing staffing and budget problems that exacerbate the crisis with the pandemic. All such cuts in health-care systems worldwide can be traced back to "the economy" and some variation on "austerity". The pandemic definitively reveals that such austerity has always been at the expense of the lives of the majority. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 29 March)
The news that singer-songwriter John Prine was in serious condition with a coronavirus infection was especially poignant to me because Prine began his career at twenty-four in 1971 with an eponymous album that featured not one but two songs that depicted the potentially lonely side of aging far more vividly than any other young artist ever has: "Angel from Montgomery" and "Hello in There". Both had already crosssed my mind this month with the news of coronavirus patients dying alone in intensive-care stations without any loved ones with them – especially the latter, with its call for listeners to speak to older people "waiting for someone to say hello in there, hello." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 30 March)
There are many messages in Kafka's "An Imperial Message". The first is from the Emperor to "you". The second is whispered by the Emperor into the messenger's ear. In the third, the messenger whispers into the Emperor's ear to confirm its correctness. The fourth is that non-verbal confirmation: the Emperor nods to the messenger. This scene as a whole is the fifth, sent by the Emperor and the messenger to their audience. The sixth is again non-verbal: the messenger points to his insignia to say he's on imperial business. And the seventh is from the narrator to "you": the message that there was a message, even if it has not arrived. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 31 March)
This is attributed to Paul Valéry: "A work of art is never finished, merely abandoned." But in context, Valéry is not talking about how he himself understands the creative process. Rather, he sees dilettantes ("amateurs") as understanding it that way – and not even all dilettantes, but only those full "of anxiety and perfection". Further, he sees such dilettantes as not even understanding what it is to complete a work. So the well-known versions of the quotation, especially when it becomes a first-person statement, simplify Valéry's attempt to distinguish himself and his works from such "amateurism" as a claim about his own creative process – something quite different than what he originally meant. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 1 April)
Aux yeux de ces amateurs d’inquiétude et de perfection, un ouvrage n’est jamais achevé, – mot qui pour eux n’a aucun sens, – mais abandonné ; et cet abandon, qui le livre aux flammes ou au public (et qu’il soit l’effet de la lassitude ou de l’obligation de livrer) est une sorte d’accident, comparable à la rupture d’une réflexion, que la fatigue, le fâcheux ou quelque sensation viennent rendre nulle.
I've been writing these 111-word texts since 1 January, so this is my 93rd such text. The students in my course "111 Words a Day: A Writing Project" started on 20 February, when the class first met, so they are on their 43rd such text today. We had three sessions before we went online, and one online session since then (with the next coming tomorrow). Since the introductory session, then they've had three feedback sessions, plus comments from me on selected texts (through 27-28 March). And the combination of regular practice and a few comments has already helped them write significantly more effective texts with precise, concise, clear, and convincing claims. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 2 April)
In Emily Dickinson's "Me from Myself – to banish" (709), tensions within the self between "Me", "Myself", and "I" are figured as military and political: "Invincible ... Fortress", "assault", "peace", "subjugating", "Monarch", and "Abdication". In particular, the speaker seaks "peace / ... by subjugating / Consciousness". After a discussion of this poem in class today, I came across another "subjugation" in a quotation in Jean M. O'Brien's "Firsting and Lasting" from an 1858 historical speech in Suffield, Massachusetts: "... the subjugation of the forest ..." The colonizers of New England "subjugated" the forest; Dickinson's speaker would "subjugate" her own consciousness: how does the colonization of New England leave traces in Dickinson's poetry? (Andrew Shields, #111words, 3 April)
709 Me from Myself — to banish —
Me from Myself — to banish —
Had I Art —
Invincible my Fortress
Unto All Heart —
But since Myself — assault Me —
How have I peace
Except by subjugating
And since We're mutual Monarch
How this be
Except by Abdication —
Me — of Me?
This was the beautiful portion of ground, to which our steps have this day been directed. Beneath the turf, our feet has pressed; under this sacred house, in which we are now assembled have long since been deposited the mortal remains of those who first encountered, and began the subjugation of the forest that once waved in unbroken grandeur over these hills and dales. (Proceedings at Suffield, September 16, 1858, on the occasion of the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the decease of the Rev. Benjamin Ruggles, first pastor of the First Congregational church; quoted in Jean M. O'Brien, "Firsting and Lasting: Writing Indians out of Existence in New England", University of Minnesota Press 2010)
In interpreting James Joyce's "The Boarding House", Gerald Doherty says Joyce's "reader" is "frustrated", which seems quite odd to me. I respond to "Dubliners" in many ways, but never with frustration. Today, a student drew my attention to a passage in "Eveline" that captures the experience of reading "Dubliners" in a different way; it is part of Eveline's rememberance of her courtship with her fiancé Frank, a sailor: "People knew that they were courting and, when he sang about the lass that loves a sailor, she always felt pleasantly confused." Eveline "reads" the song with "pleasant confusion" – and that's much closer than "frustration" to what reading "Dubliners" is like to me. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 4 April)
Max Brod reported that Franz Kafka said that the "Eleven Sons" in his story "Elf Söhne" were "simply eleven stories I am working on just now." This kind of remark gets literary scholars working to figure out what the author means; in this case, which "son" described in "Elf Söhne" corresponds to which of Kafka's stories? As long as they don't reduce the story's "meaning" to the answer to that question, there's no harm done in such detective work, but I still often wonder why so much attention is given to such statements, as if the author's "intention" is actually central after all, despite the problems raised by the intentional fallacy. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 5 April)
As Facebook Memories reminded me, the Washington Post ran an article four years ago today about an educational controversy in Therwil, Switzerland: "Switzerland shocked by Muslim teens who refused to shake hands with female teachers." The daily practice of shaking a teacher's hand might seem odd to people elsewhere, but in Switzerland, schoolchildren regularly do so, and back when my son was youth football player, it always struck me how he and his teammates would shake their coaches' hands at the end of practice. The school controversy seemed overblown to me at the time – and now, with social distancing having eliminated not only handshakes but in-person teaching, it just seems quaint. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 6 April)
In "Pride and Prejudice", Elizabeth Bennet stays at Netherfield when her sister Jane is ill there, and she spends the evenings with Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bingley, his sisters Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst, and the latter's husband, "who live[s] only to eat, drink, and play at cards." The others seek other entertainment, and when Miss Bingley cannot get Mr. Darcy to stop reading and talk to her, she asks Elizabeth to "take a turn about the room." Whenever I take a walk these days, I think that if the lockdown in Switzerland banned such walks, I could take "turns about the room". But the rooms at Netherfield were larger than mine. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 7 April)
At yesterday's coronavirus briefing, when Kristen Fisher of Fox News asked about the turnaround time for coronavirus test results, President Trump revealed what he thinks journalists should do: "[...] you should say, 'Congratulations. Great job' — instead of being so horrid in the way you ask a question." Anything short of praise, then, even by a reporter from his favorite network, will be dismissed by Trump as "horrid". That's absurd, but Trump persisted, later calling Jon Karl of ABC News "a disgrace" for supposedly misrepresenting a question's background. Karl could have responded that Trump himself is a disgrace in his "horrid" deflection of questions with attacks on the reporters who ask them. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 8 April)
At the coronavirus briefing on 5 April, President Trump mentioned the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for covid-19 and asked a question he has recently "used for certain reasons" : “What do you have to lose?” Whatever those "certain reasons" are, he courted African-American voters during the 2016 Presidential campaign with that question: "You're living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58% of your youth is unemployed – what the hell do you have to lose?" So when he returns to it now, he's saying that the situation of Americans under Trump is so bad that people might as well take a chance on the unproven. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 9 April)
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