Saturday, October 31, 2020

"An island wild and free": Pink Pedrazzi's EP "The Island"

The title song of Pink Pedrazzi's EP "The Island" imagines escaping from "the pain and injuries of reality" on "a cold December day" to "an island wild and free", and the remaining four songs further ponder desires to be elsewhere. "Soul King" finds an alternative reality in music's "moments of no gravity", while the gold-rush story of "The Fartherest Tip of the Moon" explores the dark side of escaping the world. That darker side leads to "Save Me", a call for salvation from being "imprisoned in one's aching body." Finally, the EP's conclusion, "If It Suits You", resolves all these tensions: "as long as you are mine, everything will be alright." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 31 October)

Friday, October 30, 2020

40 masks at middle school in Basel

Last Friday, we received a letter from Sara's middle school (Sekundarschule) about the extension of the mask-wearing requirement at the school, as well as the cancellation of sports classes. The letter also pointed out that attending primary school and middle school in Basel is free, so Sara and her fellow pupils would not have to provide their own masks. Instead, they could pick up a mask each day at the entrance to the school, and as soon as the school could order enough masks, they would be given a supply of masks that could last them for several weeks. So today, Sara came home with forty hygiene masks in her backpack. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 30 October)

Thursday, October 29, 2020

"Two versions of the first person": Vernon Klinkenborg on Wendell Berry

In his review of "What I Stand On", the Library of America's two-volume collection of essays by Wendell Berry, Vernon Klinkenborg contrasts "two versions of the first person [...] in Berry's nonfiction". The first speaks of Berry and his physical position in the world: “I am writing this in the north-central part of Kentucky on a morning near the end of June.” For Klinkenborg, such sentences "breathe with the life of the body." The second is "the logical first person" that talks about what's going on in the writing with phrases like "as I have been trying to show". As Klinkenborg argues, there's no body – and nobody – in this "logical" construction. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 29 October)


Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Comparative rates for a few countries for positive coronavirus tests today

Switzerland's population was officially just over 8.5 million people in 2019, and today the official number of positive tests for coronavirus is 8,616. So one out of every thousand people in the country tested positive on this one day alone, Wednesday, 28 October 2020. By comparison, the official 2019 estimate for the population of the United States was just over 328 million people, and according to the Johns Hopkins coronavirus site, there were 73,621 positive tests today, which comes to approximately one out of every 4,500 people. The corresponding number for Germany is approximately one out of every 6,300 people, while for France, it's approximately one out of every 2,000 people. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 28 October)

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Write one song; read one poem

Jeff Tweedy of Wilco was on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert last night to promote a new album ("Love is the King") and a book, "How To Write One Song". He explained that he doesn't write songs in the plural; rather, he writes one song, and then he writes another song. This idea of working not with genre but with each individual work also comes up in Stephanie Burt's "Don't Read Poetry": she argues that one should not talk about reading poetry but about reading poems, with each poem understood on its own terms. I'm only a poet when I'm writing  a poem, only a songwriter when writing a song. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 27 October)

Monday, October 26, 2020

Waiting for 3-4 November

Today, I'm surely not the only one who's reached the point where I don't want to read anything more about the US election next week – no polls, no opinion pieces, no news about who's speaking where and whether or not they're wearing masks and practicing social distancing. I cast my vote by mail several weeks ago, and I just want it to be 3 November already – or in my case, since I live in Switzerland and vote absentee from here – I want it be 4 November, when I will get up between 5 and 6 am to check the news from just before midnight on the East Coast in the US. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 26 October)

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Writing poetry with Denise Levertov in the 1980s

In Winter 1986, I took the first of two poetry workshops with Denise Levertov at Stanford. I had to apply for the course, so all the participants had some experience writing poetry, and Denise generally didn't do exercises or assign tasks. Instead, she just had us bring in poems for discussion with her and the group. Her emphasis was on free verse in the tradition of William Carlos Williams that she herself wrote in, so there was much discussion of line breaks and of focusing on images rather than abstractions. Even today, my writing is still influenced by her, even though most of my poetry is now in meter and rhyme. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 25 October)

Saturday, October 24, 2020

From Engleutsch and Germlish to "one parent, one language"

When Andrea got pregnant in spring 1999, we learned that the best idea for a multilingual family is "one parent, one language": each parent speaks their language with the children. Andrea then lived in France, and we spoke Engleutsch and Germlish with some French words, so we tried to clean up our speech habits. The first rule was "finish sentences in the language you start them in"; the second the same with statements; the third with conversations. It took at least two weeks for each step to become the new habit. By the time our son Miles was born, we could each speak our own language with him without the mixing. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 24 October)

Friday, October 23, 2020

Bipartisanship, political hardball, and outreach if Biden wins and the Democrats win the Senate

Even if Joe Biden wins the Presidency and the Democrats win the Senate, Trump's influence on the development of the Republican Party will still be there, along with his supporters. I'm suspicious of calls for "bipartisanship" – I think the Democrats should play political hardball more than they have in the past, as the Republicans have been doing for decades now. Further, dangerous ideas just have to be defeated politically rather than compromised with. Yet if 40% of the active voting population supports Trump, then some work needs to be done to reach out to whoever in that group might still be willing to shift their positions away from cruelty and hierarchy. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 23 October)

Thursday, October 22, 2020

"He tells it like it is" – or "like we would like it to be"

Back in 2015 and early 2016, Americans supporting Donald Trump as a candidate for the presidency often said, "He tells it like it is." Yet much of what he said wasn't true: for example, there was no immigration crisis as he described it, and immigrants – documented or not – are responsible on a percentage basis for less crime than citizens. So "he tells it like it is" meant "he it tells it like we would like it to be." Yet Trump's description of the world is so bleak – the "American carnage" of his inaugural address is still how he sees the country. Is that how his supporters would like it to be? (Andrew Shields, #111words, 22 October)

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Wearing a mask at the doctor's office – in 2009

On 21 October, 2009, says Facebook, I posted a quote from Greg Brown's "Where Is Maria?": "Sweated-through shirt hanging over a chair." Then I called the doctor, and my symptoms led to this: "Doctor's appt. at 2:15. I have to put on a mask when I get there." And finally, I posted the diagnosis: "No H1N1. Just a normal virus." I have no memory of any of this, but there it is: I wore a mask for a doctor's appointment in 2009 because of an influenza pandemic comparable to the 1918-1919 pandemic, and though the mask was worth noting, it was completely uncontroversial – and Facebook posts offer a record of that. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 21 October)

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Telling stories as suffering twice in Euripides

These days, we think of telling the story of trauma as a way to recover from it. But in "Helen", the tragedy by Euripides which imagines Helen as never having gone to Troy but having spent the war in Egypt, the Greek hero Teucer arrives in Egypt converses with Helen, whom he doesn't recognize. When she inquires about the fates of Greek soldiers in the Trojan War, he tells her about the deaths of his brother Ajax and many others, but eventually he stops: "Enough words now. I should not have to suffer twice." For Teucer, then, the narration of trauma is the repetition of trauma, not a release from it. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 20 October)

Monday, October 19, 2020

Hannah Montana and the bad conscience of pop culture

Back when my daughters and I watched "Hannah Montana: The Movie", I noticed how the film depicts pop and folk culture in the US. LA schoolgirl Miley Stewart alias pop-star Hannah Montana (Miley Cyrus) returns to her grandmother's house in small-town Tennessee, where she sings folk songs on the porch and learns about controversial plans to build a mall. While she loves malls, Miley still saves the land from the developer by giving a Hannah Montana concert. The film, then, itself an example of American pop culture, exposes pop culture's bad conscience about destroying traditional folk culture. But pop still thinks that only its commercial power can save tradition from commerce. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 19 October)

Sunday, October 18, 2020

FC Basel in quarantine

Today, the FC Basel was supposed to play FC Zurich, but a Basel player tested positive for coronavirus this morning, and as he had been practicing with the team in the past few days, the players and coaches all have to go into quarantine for ten days. So not only has today's match been postponed, the Basel match against FC Lausanne-Sport next weekend will probably have to be postponed, too. Many commentators wonder about how such situations distort sporting competitions and create unfair advantages or disadvantages for the teams involved. That's the sport world's version of one of the pandemic's effects: it creates continuity problems in the stories we tell ourselves. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 18 October)

Saturday, October 17, 2020

"Some line still taut between me and them": Denise Levertov's "Illustrious Ancestors"

The two "ancestors" in Denise Levertov's "Illustrious Ancestors" are "the Rav / of Northern White Russia", who learns "the language of birds" even though he never tried to, and a tailor, "Angel Jones of Mold, whose meditations / were sewn into coats and britches." Between herself and these two figures, Levertov draws an ancestral "line" that becomes a line of poetry and finally a line as thread. Through the birds, she sees poetry as natural speech or thing; through the tailor, as a made thing like carpentry or clothing; through the Rav, the poem as a mystery that can also "pause" like the tailor, in his work, for a moment. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 17 October)


Illustrious Ancestors

Denise Levertov


The Rav

of Northern White Russia declined,

in his youth, to learn the

language of birds, because

the extraneous did not interest him; nevertheless

when he grew old it was found

he understood them anyway, having

listened well, and as it is said, 'prayed

                        with the bench and the floor.' He used

what was at hand – as did

Angel Jones of Mold, whose meditations

were sewn into coats and britches.

                        Well, I would like to make,

thinking some line still taut between me and them,

poems direct as what the birds said,

hard as a floor, sound as a bench,

mysterious as the silence when the tailor

would pause with his needle in the air.


Friday, October 16, 2020

On Proust and Joyce not getting Nobel Prizes

The Nobel Prize for Literature is often criticized for overlooked writers, such as Marcel Proust and James Joyce. But Nobel Prizes aren't posthumous, and publication of Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu, was incomplete when he died in 1922. As for Joyce, before Ulysses, his publications were few, and even after its publication, he was more famous for its scandal than its literary excellence and influence. Then his next work, Finnegans Wake, is a minority taste, and Joyce died two years after its publication. Proust and Joyce are hugely influential, but influence is an often posthumous form of recognition, so at least with them, criticisms of the Nobel are unjustified. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 16 October)

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Individual and species in Mark Doty's "A Display of Mackerel"

Mark Doty's "A Display of Mackerel" describes how the fish for sale "lie in parallel rows, / on ice" and interprets them as having "nothing about them / of individuality." The individual fish, then, are not individuals at all but only representatives of their species, "each a perfect fulfilment" of a "mackerel essence." This Platonic understanding of the fish leads to the conclusion not only that "they don't care they're dead" but that "they didn't care that they were living." Such an erasure of the individual in the species facilitates our consumption of each individual fish; we see them not as individuals but only as a species that continues in others. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 15 October)


Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Trump's "herd mentality" and calls for coronavirus "herd immunity"

On 1 April, 2020, President Trump misspoke but was unequivocal about "herd immunity": "Other countries tried to use [...] the herd mentality. It’s just [...] something that doesn’t work." But on 15 September, he said "a herd mentality" might make a vaccine unnecessary, and on Monday, 12 October, "two senior administration officials" endorsed the Great Barrington Declaration, a call for "herd immunity" in response to the pandemic. But this "herd mentality" about herd immunity accepts rather than combats mass death, as WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus pointed out on Monday: "Herd immunity is a concept used for vaccination" that has never "been used as a strategy for responding to an outbreak."  (Andrew Shields, #111words, 14 October)

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

"A machine for making likenesses" in "Oliver Twist"

When Oliver Twist and Mrs. Bedwin discuss a portrait, she contrasts painting with something like photography: "[...] painters always make ladies out prettier than they are, or they wouldn't get any custom, child. The man that invented the machine for taking likenesses might have known that would never succeed; it's a deal too honest." However, this chapter was serialized in August 1837, and Louis Daguerre made the first public presentations of photographs in January 1839. So this "machine" must be a precursor technology, like the camera lucida or the "limomachia" invented by Raphael Pinion in 1750 for tracing images projected onto paper – which he even called "a machine for taking likenesses." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 13 October)

Monday, October 12, 2020

"A tiny little microscopic piece of dust": Trump's germ theory of disease

In his phone-in conversation with Maria Bartiromo of Fox Business on Thursday, 8 October, President Trump offered his version of the germ theory of disease after his coronavirus infection: "[...] look, it’s a tiny, tiny it's like it's a tiny little microscopic piece of dust and it gets into your nose or your mouth or your eye frankly or something else or you touch something." Trump is known for being a germophobe, but his understanding of infection is either that of someone who didn't really understand biology class that week and can't remember it sixty years later, or that of a President who doesn't pay attention in his briefings. Or both. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 12 October)

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Poetry in Jim Jarmusch's "Paterson"

In Jim Jarmusch's Paterson, a teenager (Sterling Jerins) shows Paterson (Adam Driver) her "secret notebook" for her poems, but then asks if he'd like to hear one, so poetry's both secret and public. The poem is "Water Falls", and she shows him the two words, so poetry's playful. Before she reads it, she says it doesn't rhyme, but he says he likes poems that way, and afterwards, he observes that two lines rhyme, and that it has internal rhymes. So poetry's also formal. Finally, she asks if he likes Emily Dickinson and is pleased he does, so poetry has a tradition. It's a secret but public, playful but formal, traditional art. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 11 October)

The scene in question is here.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

On turning jam jars over after filling them

Around a week ago, I posted a photo on Facebook of a batch of blueberry-raspberry jam. The jars were upside down, because the instructions said that one should do that for five minutes after filling them. There followed a thread of questions about why the jars were upside down and comments from those who also do so and those who'd never heard of it. Just now, I looked up the issue and discovered this: it's an old-fashioned method that's meant to make the seal better, but it's been shown that it doesn't do so and even increases the likelihood that the jam will go bad. I won't do it next time! (Andrew Shields, #111words, 10 October)

Friday, October 09, 2020

The invisibility of the dominant ideology of male supremacism in the discussion of Nobel Prizes

If four women winning 2020 Nobel Prizes (with the first four announcements giving four to women and five to men), is "ideological", then so is the first four 2019 announcements giving ten to men and zero to women (or one to a woman since the 2018 Literature prize was awarded to Olga Tokarczuk in 2019). Yet with such a male-centered ratio (ten to zero, or eleven to one), there is no talk of "ideology" determining the prize-winners – or if women raise the issue, their observations are dismissed as "identity politics". The dominant ideology – here, of male supremacism – remains invisible, and is kept invisible by the dismissal of feminist claims as "ideological." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 9 October)


(This picks up on yesterday's post.)

Thursday, October 08, 2020

Women winning Nobel Prizes and men responding to it

In a thread on Louise Gluck's Nobel Prize for Literature, I read a criticism of an alleged pattern in this week's prizes: "Most of the Nobel prizes this year are women. It looks clearly like ideology is ruling the decisions." Given the Nobel Prize's male-dominated history (Andrea Ghez, the new co-laureate in physics, is only the fourth woman ever to win that prize), it’s absurd to suggest the awards are ideological now but weren’t in the past. But the claim is even false: five men won this week, to four women. As usual when women approach parity with men, men think women are dominant even when men are still the majority. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 8 October)

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Stephen Colbert, Heather Cox Richardson, and the documentation of the Trump administration's obfuscatory communication

On Friday, 2 October, after Donald Trump had announced his positive coronavirus test, Stephen Colbert broadcast an episode of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert even though no show had been scheduled. The episode summarizes the information released by Trump and his administration during the first day of his illness and thus, along with Heather Cox Richardson's "Letter from an American" on 2 October, documents how misleading and obfuscatory the first announcements about Trump's condition and the extent of infection in the White House were. Keep Colbert, Richardson, and other early reports in mind as Trump and his cronies multiply their contradictory claims about these events in the month to come. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 7 October)


Tuesday, October 06, 2020

"Qui est là" and "Who's there?" in "Secret Défense" and "Hamlet": The implicit question that begins all narratives

After an initial, brief conversation with a colleague going home from their laboratory, the scientist Sylvie Rousseau (Sandrine Bonnaire) in Jacques Rivette's 1998 film "Secret Défense" hears somebody moving around in the building and calls out, "Qui est là?" These are only almost the film's first words, but "Who's there?" is the first line in Shakespeare's "Hamlet", and when I watched Rivette's film again last month, I thought about how all narratives begin with that implicit question: "Who's there?" And opening scenes offer or refuse answers to that question: in "Secret Défense", it's who is there – her brother – that reveals that here, Sylvie will be more a sister than a scientist. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 6 October)

Monday, October 05, 2020

COVID-45 wants to go home

President Trump says he'll return to the White House this evening after three days in the hospital. His positive coronavirus test was announced on Thursday, so if he was tested negative shortly before that, he hasn't been ill for a week. Given his hospitalization and supplementary oxygen, it's highly unlikely he's fit enough to leave the hospital – and even if he feels good now, recovery from COVID-19  is long and slow. Boris Johnson was hospitalized eight days after his test, in the ICU the next day, and returned to work only 30 days later. Whatever Trump does this evening, he's surely not following the advice of doctors with experience of COVID-19. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 5 October)

Sunday, October 04, 2020

The consequences of over 20,000 fabrications, falsehoods, fibs, inventions, lies, misrepresentations, prevarications, tall stories, and whoppers made by Covid-45

On 13 July, 2020, Glenn Kessler, Salvador Rizzo, and Meg Kelly of The Washington Post reported that, "as of July 9," President Donald Trump had made "20,055 [false or misleading] claims in 1,267 days." Their tally doesn't include claims made by members of Trump's staff or any of his surrogates. Given this record of fabrications, falsehoods, fibs, inventions, lies, misrepresentations, prevarications, tall stories, and whoppers (along with all of Trump's Big Macs), it is no surprise, even before the inconsistencies at Trump's doctor's press conferences, that so many people immediately began wondering whether it was even true that he had tested positive. A steady record of lying, it seems, has consequences. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 4 October)

Saturday, October 03, 2020

The nationalities of Swiss athletes

In July 2018, South Africa's Kevin Anderson lost the Wimbledon final to Novak Djokovic as "the first South African in a Wimbledon final since 1985". But Roger Federer's mother is South African, and he's made a few Wimbledon finals himself over the years. I thought of this today on reading an article by Sarah Akanji, a Swiss politican and football player whose brother Manuel plays for Borussia Dortmund. As she notes, Federer articles in the Swiss press rarely mention Federer's dual citizenship, while articles about the Akanjis frequently mention their Nigerian father. It's rather clear why: Federer's name sounds more "German" than "Akanji", and Federer is melanin-deprived compared to the Akanjis. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 3 October)

Friday, October 02, 2020

Tragedy instead of the Theater of the Absurd: Trump, pneumonia, coronavirus

Four years ago today, Donald Trump mocked Hilary Clinton's pneumonia – an ironic point to be reminded of on the day he says he's tested positived for coronavirus. In my Facebook memories today, I found the photoshopped pictures made by the artist Happy Toast, in which Trump pulls flags out of his nose. At the time, I think I felt that we'd soon be done with Trump and his racism, misogyny, and stupidity, and if he'd lost the election in 2016, then I'd look at those photos now as a kind of theater of the absurd. Instead, I look at them and think of over 200,000 Americans dead because of Trump's incompetence. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 2 October)

Thursday, October 01, 2020

Links between my selves at 9, 19, and now: From Schiller to Ashbery

At the end of "Poetry and Uselessness", Robert Archambeau links John Ashbery's poetry to Friedrich Schiller's "Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man". For me, this connected my daily Ashbery reading between 2017 and 2020 to my fascination with Schiller in my sophomore year in college, and I sensed that my teaching has always been implicitly informed by him. Shortly after this linking of my youthful and present selves, my third-grade teacher told me she'd recently imagined me at nine, with my hands on my hips and "a petulant glint" in my eye. All this made the parts of my life a whole, in an exhilarating fulfillment of my aesthetic education. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 1 October)

Stand Back and Stand By

Stand Back and Stand By


An erasure of remarks made by a white supremacist bullying a country on live television on Tuesday, 29 September 2020.


I will tell you very simply:

the single greatest student would

extinguish 18 million people,

destroying families to buy drugs

they don’t exactly understand.

A racist, dying sarcastically,

shut down elderly people because

psychologically we should

be dead now, drugs and alcohol

and depression happening

in restaurants in a ghost town. And I'm

not sure people want their lives. 

Can I be honest? I don't think

insane suburbs would be, suburbs

would be problems I know suburbs.

Oh really? The killer had to quickly

stand back and stand by. A dangerous, radical

president has done cocaine

and burns a billion trees in California.

The cows could make a big statement.

So when I look at trying to do

a coup, can you imagine that?

I just read today where rivers know

it can't be done, you know, because

I have a fraudulent wastepaper basket.