Sunday, January 31, 2021

Staying healthy during the pandemic

Keeping up with a discipline depends on good health. I thought of this today because I strained my back and wondered if I'd feel up to writing my daily 111-word text. Since I started writing them, I've had only one break – of over a month due to appendicitis. Such consistency means that I have been generally healthy since the beginning of 2020 – and that's unusual for me, since I otherwise get a couple of colds and a round or two of the flu every year. Oddly enough, then, the coronavirus pandemic has been a period of relatively good health for me – social distancing has kept me healthy in general, it seems. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 31 January 2021)

Saturday, January 30, 2021

"Some frowned, some smiled": Nell Trent observes the world in Dickens's "The Old Curiosity Shop"

During their wanderings in Charles Dickens's "The Old Curiosity Shop" (1841), Nell Trent and her grandfather take shelter in a low archway and observe passers-by in an all-encompassing sentence anticipating the opening of "A Tale of Two Cities" (1859): "Some frowned, some smiled, some muttered to themselves, some made slight gestures, as if anticipating the conversation in which they would shortly be engaged, some wore the cunning look of bargaining and plotting, some were anxious and eager, some slow and dull; in some countenances, were written gain; in others, loss." The hidden observers figure how the novelist interprets the world to write tales of "bargaining and plotting", of "gain" and "loss". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 30 January 2021)

Friday, January 29, 2021

Keynes and the "fearful problem" of occupying oneself

In "Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren" (1930), John Maynard Keynes imagined a future when people would be so well-off they'd have to confront the problems of leisure and abundance: "It is a fearful problem for the ordinary person, with no special talents, to occupy himself [...]." But while he predicted a fifteen-hour work week, he apparently couldn't imagine the development of the fledgling entertainment industry of film and radio, which would soon expand to television and later to computer-based entertainment. If today's "ordinary people" worked that little, they'd know how to spend their time: listening to music, playing computer games, streaming movies and serials, developing conspiracy theories, and sharing cat pictures. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 29 January 2021)


The 15-hour Work Week: Keynes And AOC Disagree

Thursday, January 28, 2021

The "vacant evening of his own blank solitude": The space for desire in Jane Austen's "Emma"

When Mr. Woodhouse in Jane Austen's "Emma" urges her to "not make any more matches", Emma begs for "only one more" for Mr. Elton: "I must look about for a wife for him. There is nobody in Highbury who deserves him [...]." Mr. Elton, one of the neighbors the Woodhouses can count on, is always ready for "the privilege of exchanging any vacant evening of his own blank solitude for the elegancies and society of Mr. Woodhouse's drawing-room, and the smiles of his lovely daughter." This double emptiness creates a space for Mr. Elton to fill with desire, which makes Emma, for him, the only one "in Highbury who deserves him." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 28 January 2021)

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

"Hobbyless victims" in Basel teen slang and "hobby ideology" in Adorno

A few years ago, when my son was in his mid-teens, young people in Basel would insult each other with the expression "hobbyloses Opfer" ("hobbyless victim"). My now teenage daughters say this expression is now old-fashioned (such are the vagaries of slang trends). But today it crossed my mind when I came across Theodor Adorno's phrase "hobby ideology", which I have now found the source of, the 1969 radio lecture "Free Time" ("Freizeit"), in which Adorno refers to the "naturalness of the question of what hobby you have" and adds, "Woe betide you if you have no hobby." Little did Basel's teens know in the mid-2010s that they were all Adornians. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 27 January 2021)


Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Jealousy and Austenian "accomplishments"

In her "New Yorker" article "Starting Fresh", on learning new skills as an adult, Margaret Talbot includes a reference to Jane Austen: "I started to think of these skills as 'accomplishments' in the way that marriageable Jane Austen heroines have them, talents that make a long evening pass more agreeably, that can turn a person into more engaging company, for herself as much as for others." Yet Emma Woodhouse's relative lack of "accomplishments" compared to Jane Fairfax is a matter of jealousy: "[...] she saw in her the really accomplished young woman, which she wanted to be thought herself." Thus, Emma's attitude towards "accomplishments" undercuts Talbot's positive take on acquiring "accomplishments". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 26 January 2021)


Monday, January 25, 2021

"Fingerspitzengefühl" in an article in "The New Yorker"

In "Starting Fresh" in the 18 January 2021 issue of "The New Yorker", Margaret Talbot uses a German word I don't think I've seen in English before: "But crystallized intelligence—the ability to draw on one’s accumulated store of knowledge, expertise, and Fingerspitzengefühl—is often enriched by advancing age." I checked the Corpus of Contemporary American English (one billion words) and the Corpus of Historical American English (400 million words), and "Fingerspitzengefühl" does not appear in either, while the supposedly "untranslatable" "Schadenfreude" (that's another issue) has 349 hits in COCA and 17 in COHA. Without my defining "Fingerspitzengefühl" here, I wonder how many of my non-Germanophone English-speaking friends know the word. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 25 January 2021)


Fingerspitzengefühl beim Kundeninteresse

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Lady Russell, Mr. Woodhouse, and theory of mind in Jane Austen

When Sir Walter Elliot in Jane Austen's "Persuasion" determines to let Kellynch Hall and live elsewhere to save money, his friend Lady Russell would prefer he go to Bath rather than London: "Lady Russell was fond of Bath [...], and disposed to think it must suit them all". That is, she assumes that others share her preferences. An Austenian character with a more extreme form of this "disposition" is Mr. Woodhouse in "Emma", who "could never believe other people to be different from himself." That is, Mr. Woodhouse lacks a "theory of mind" in the psychological sense of an ability to understand how others might have tastes that differ from his. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 24 January 2021)

Saturday, January 23, 2021

"After waiting another moment": The first focalization on Anne Elliot in Jane Austen's "Persuasion"

After Anne Elliot's first words in Jane Austen's "Persuasion" defend the navy, her second words identify a sailor, Admiral Croft, who is being discussed as a possible tenant for her family's seat, Kellynch Hall. But only in the setup of her third statement does the narration focus on her, when she identifies a name her father's agent, Mr. Shepherd, has forgotten: "After waiting another moment – / 'You mean Mr Wentworth, I suppose?' said Anne." So her first and second words are about the navy, but when the novel turns to her thoughts, it is also the first moment when the name of her ex-fiancé and future husband, Captain Wentworth, is mentioned. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 23 January 2021)

Friday, January 22, 2021

Memories of Hank Aaron (and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar)

In the early 1970s, I read and reread two short biographies of athletes, both written for children. One was old enough that its title was basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's birth name, "Lew Alcindor"; the other was a life of Hank Aaron published before he broke Babe Ruth's record for career home runs in baseball in the United States. Now, about fifty years later, I remember none of the details of either book. Instead, when I read of Aaron's death at 86 today, my first thought was of something I do remember: the death threats Aaron received after the 1973 baseball season when he was one home run short of that record. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 22 January 2021)



Thursday, January 21, 2021

"A very handsome letter": Repetition and the establishment of truth in Jane Austen's "Emma"

When Mr. Weston marries Miss Taylor in Jane Austen's "Emma", the women of Highbury expect his son, Frank Churchill, to visit his stepmother: "There was not a dissentient voice on the subject, either when Mrs. Perry drank tea with Mrs. and Miss Bates, or when Mrs. and Miss Bates returned the visit." The expectation increases when Mrs. Weston receives a letter from him, but the gossipers only "hear of" it; they "understand it was a very handsome letter"; Mr. Woodhouse tells them "he never saw such a handsome letter in his life." Repetition turns hearsay into understanding, and the subsequent reference to an authority figure fully establishes a truth beyond dissent. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 21 January 2021)

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

"The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people": The passive voice is not the problem with McConnell's statement

As Greg Sargent observes, Mitch McConnell's statement yesterday about the "violent criminals" who attacked the US Capitol is obfuscatory: "The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people." Unlike many people who decry it, Sargent correctly identifies the passive voice here ("was fed"; "were provoked"), but McConnell's "by" construction actually does name the "feeders" and "provokers": "the president and other powerful people." The problem is the vagueness of "other powerful people". As Sargent correctly puts it, McConnell "elides the role" of "many members of the Senate and House GOP — and McConnell himself"; however, he does so with that vague phrase, not with the passive voice. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 20 January 2021)


Still from the video in the Sargent article.


Tuesday, January 19, 2021

What kind of times make a blog post popular?

The most frequently read post on my blog (which I started in 2006) is an interpretation of Adrienne Rich's poem "What Kind of Times Are These", which has been getting a steady stream of hits ever since I wrote it in 2012. When it struck me over the holidays that it wasn't getting much attention for once, I concluded it was because no university students were working on the poem and plagiarizing my interpretation – but then the post got a big spike of hits on 6 and 7 January. So perhaps people are turning to the poem for political reasons after the attempted insurrection at the US Capitol two weeks ago. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 19 January 2021)


Photograph by Eamonn McCabe / Camera Press / Redux, from Claudia Rankine's New Yorker review of Rich's Collected Poems.
Years after her death Adrienne Richs poetry and prose still retain their power.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Morrison's "The Bluest Eye", Ellison's "Invisible Man", and Baldwin's "Go Tell It on the Mountain"

In two broad ways, Toni Morrison's 1970 debut The Bluest Eye echoes debut novels by Black writers from the previous generation, Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man (1952) and James Baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953). Like Invisible Man, The Bluest Eye contains a story of incest in which a father impregnates his daughter, with the father's version of the story absolving him of responsibility. And like Go Tell It on the Mountain, The Bluest Eye explores the biographies of the parents of the children who are the main characters. Morrison's concern with genealogy is thus both narratological (within the novel) and historical (between her novel and those of her predecessors).  (Andrew Shields, #111words, 18 January 2021)


Toni Morrison on the back cover of the first edition of The Bluest Eye.


Toni Morrison first author photo

Sunday, January 17, 2021

"An equal claim with any other set of men": Anne Elliot's first words in Jane Austen's "Persuasion"

Anne Elliot may be the main character of Jane Austen's "Persuasion", but she is not seen to speak until midway through the third chapter, when her first remarks respond to her father's critique of sailors as possible tenants of Kellynch Hall, his ancestral home: "The navy, I think, who have done so much for us, have at least an equal claim with any other set of men, for all the comforts and all the privileges which any home can give." So Anne's first words challenge her father with an appeal to equality based on merit and deserts that contradicts his insistence on absolute social hierarchies based on heredity, land, and titles. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 17 January 2021)


Sally Hawkins as Anne Elliot in Adrien Shergold's 2007 film of Persuasion


 Anne Elliot - Persuasion Photo (2624396) - Fanpop

Saturday, January 16, 2021

"Time for the story of my life": The absence of backstory in "To Have and Have Not"

In Howard Hawks's "To Have and Have Not" (1944), neither Harry "Steve" Morgan (Humphrey Bogart) nor Marie "Slim" Browning (Lauren Bacall) has a backstory explaining their personalities and motivations. Morgan asks Slim how she ended up in Martinique, but she only comments on narrative expectations: "This is about the time for [...] the story of my life." She doesn't go on to tell it; instead, Morgan draws conclusions from her behavior: "That slap in the face you took. [...] You hardly blinked an eye. It takes a lot of practice to be able to do that. Yeah, I know a lot about you, Slim." A character's actions, then, make backstory superfluous. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 16 January 2021)

To Have and Have Not

Friday, January 15, 2021

"Bullcrap" rhetoric

During her speech on Wednesday, 13 January, at the hearings on the impeachment of President Trump for "incitement of insurrection", Lauren Boebert, the newly elected Republican Representative from Colorado who had already drawn attention to herself with her insistence that she would carry her handgun in Washington, called out what she considered the hypocrisy of her opponents: “I call bullcrap when I hear the Democrats demanding unity.” What a poor rhetorical choice "bullcrap" is here: if she'd said "bullshit", she'd have gotten the rhetorical punch of using a vulgar register in a formal setting, while the self-censoring expression "bullcrap" not only erases that register shift but makes her sound silly instead. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 15 January 2021)

Thursday, January 14, 2021

"Whatever you say always comes to pass": Emma as novelist

In Jane Austen's "Emma", Mr. Woodhouse doesn't like change, so he objects to marriages and especially to Emma's desire to bring couples like Mr. Weston and Miss Taylor together: "I wish you would not make matches and foretell things, for whatever you say always comes to pass." From Mr. Woodhouse's perspective, then, Emma's words create stories – and Emma herself enjoys her story-making "as the greatest amusement in the world!" This amusement comes from making unexpected things happen: "Every body said that Mr. Weston would never marry again." Emma thus sees herself as a novelist coming up with plot twists – until, of course, her attempt to "match" Mr. Elton and Harriet Smith backfires.  (Andrew Shields, #111words, 14 January 2021)

[First edition of Emma.]

The first editions will go up for auction at Sotheby's next month

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

"One of these two is a fanciful, troublesome creature": Ambiguity and interpretive control in Jane Austen's "Emma"

While discussing the loss of the newly married Mrs. Weston's constant company with Mr. Knightley in Jane Austen's "Emma", Emma Woodhouse says of herself and her father that "one of those two is a fanciful, troublesome creature." Her father thinks she means him: "I am afraid I am sometimes very fanciful and troublesome." Here, the ambiguous "one of those two" offers two interpretations: Emma means herself, while Mr. Woodhouse might be recognizing his own "fanciful, troublesome" characteristics. But Emma immediately asserts interpretive control with her insistence that neither she nor Mr. Knightley sees him that way. Ambiguity, then, offers room first for interpretation and then for the assertion of interpretive authority. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 13 January 2021)


Mr. Woodhouse is not at all pleased with Emma's ... 

Michael Gambon as Mr. Woodhouse in Jim O'Hanlon's 2009 BBC serial of Emma.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Taking Trump "seriously and literally"

On NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday, Chuck Todd described the response to President Trump's statements in the runup to the US Capitol attack on 6 January: "Wednesday's madness was what happens when supporters take President Trump both seriously and literally." For Todd, then, Trump's statements should be understood as either not serious or just figurative (or both). The first guest, Trump's former White House Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, picked up on Todd's comments: "[...] as you said [...] people took him literally. I never thought I'd see that." Yet even during the 2016 campaign, Trump's fans took him literally when they appreciated how "he tells it like it is." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 12 January 2021)

Monday, January 11, 2021

Six shows, 97 songs, only five repeats: The Grateful Dead in Berkeley, Halloween 1984

In the eight days from 27 October to 3 November 1984, The Grateful Dead played six shows at the Berkeley Community Theater on the Berkeley High School campus. These were the first shows with an official "taper section" so that the fans bringing recording equipment into the shows would not set up in front of the soundboard and block soundman Dan Healy's view of the band with their microphone stands. I went to all six shows and it was like a single concert: all in all, the band band played 97 songs with only five repeats (not counting the improvised "Drums" and "Space" segments in the middle of each second set). (Andrew Shields, #111words, 11 January 2021)

 Dan Healy with the taper section (photo by or at least from David Gans).

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Pope's "Ode on Solitude", pastoral poetry, and literary ambition

Alexander Pope's "Ode on Solitude", written in 1700 when he was twelve, replaces pastoral poetry's fanciful celebrations of the country with specific details of life on "a few paternal acres": the herds and fields and flocks who "supply" the man in "his native air". This realistic foundation for the poem's vision of "unconcern," "recreation", and "meditation" also grounds the poem's concluding rejection of the world of ambition, with "not a stone" to tell "where I lie." Yet the pun on "lie" makes the poem a "stone" that ironically fulfills both the ambition it seemingly denounces and the broader trope of the immortality of the work in poets from Horace to Shakespeare. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 10 January 2021)
J.M.W. Turner, Pope's villa at Twickenham (1808)

Saturday, January 09, 2021

The "manifest destiny" of "the internet of things"

In discussing the idea that "the internet of things" (IoT) is "inevitable" in "The Age of Surveillance Capitalism", Shoshana Zuboff quotes an anonymous "senior systems architect": "The IoT is inevitable like getting to the Pacific Ocean was inevitable. It's manifest destiny." But the westward expansion of the United States all the way to the Pacific Ocean wasn't "inevitable"; that "manifest destiny" was based on the displacement and attempted genocide of the indigenous peoples of North America as well as on the Mexican-American War from 1846 to 1848. That engineer appeals to an American mythology that erases that violence; what virtual violence does the claim of the "inevitability" of the "IoT" erase? (Andrew Shields, #111words, 9 January 2021)



 Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way, Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, 1861

Friday, January 08, 2021

The second question and the third doorkeeper in Kafka

In a letter to Felice Bauer on 16 June 1913, Franz Kafka described his terrible memory "for anything I learned or read, for anything I experienced or heard, for people or for events", and characterized the superficiality of his knowledge: "Even the second question is already too much for me." One year later, the intimidating "second" or next thing reappears in "Before the Law" when the doorkeeper says that "the third doorkeeper is already so terrible that even I cannot bear to look at him." In both the letter and the fictional text, this is a figure of staying where one is, rather than risking being overwhelmed by what comes next. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 8 January 2021)


Before the law - Franz Kafka | Raven Philosophy 

Alexandre Alexieff's animation of "Before the Law" in Orson Welles's 1962 film of "The Trial".

Thursday, January 07, 2021

A hangover after drinking the news

I stayed up until 1:30 am in Basel last night (which is 7:30 pm in DC). I watched CNN to see how things might develop in and around the US Capitol. Eventually, I noticed I was completely exhausted, so I went to bed and fell asleep almost immediately. I woke up briefly shortly after 6 am to Andrea's alarm; after a trip to the bathroom, I went back to bed until 9 am. Just over seven hours of sleep isn't so bad, of course, but despite my not having drunk any alcohol, I have felt hungover all day – from being drunk on the news of a fascist assault in Washington DC. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 7 January 2021)

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

A note when it's not clear how the Capitol occupation will develop

It's hard to know what to write about what's going on in Washington DC today, especially because now, at 4 pm in DC, it's not at all clear how the occupation of the Capitol by Trump supporters is going to develop. But here's one thing that stands out for me: apparently, the DC Police and all the other law-enforcement and security organizations of the local, state, and federal governments weren't prepared for this, yet those very organizations were quickly prepared to use overwhelming force in the summer of 2020 in response to the Black Lives Matter demonstrations. Then, demonstrators could be cleared out for a Presidential photo op; and now – nothing. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 6 January 2021)

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

"Death got some style": Chadwick Boseman in "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom"

In George C. Wolfe's film of August Wilson's play "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom", Levee Green (Chadwick Boseman), the trumpet player for blues singer Ma Rainey (Viola Davis), tells trombonist Cutler (Colman Domingo) what he thinks of the idea of life being "fair": "Life ain't shit. You can put it in a paper bag and carry it around with you. It ain't got no balls. Now death? Death got some style. Death will kick your ass and make you wish you never been born. That's how bad death is." Boseman's reading of these lines as part of his extraordinary performance is even more moving since death "kicked his ass" this past summer. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 5 January 2021)


Chadwick Boseman broke down filming emotional 'Ma Rainey's ...

Monday, January 04, 2021

Margins of victory in close states in the US Presidential Election in November 2020

In the election in November, President-Elect Joe Biden's margin of victory over President Donald Trump was 2.78% in Michigan and 2.39% in Nevada. Those are the two largest margins in states that Trump and his cronies have been challenging since the count shifted in Biden's favor in the predicted "blue shift" in the days following Election Day, with the other four states having closer margins (Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arizona, and Georgia, from largest to smallest). But if those results deserve to be challenged on the grounds of alleged voter fraud, so does the result in North Carolina, where Trump's margin of victory was 1.35%, but no Republicans are challenging the results there. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 4 January 2021)

Sunday, January 03, 2021

Bursts of Bob Weir feedback, Ventura 1984

At the Grateful Dead's Ventura show on 22 July 1984, I was so thrilled by the mid-second-set sequence of "Terrapin Station", "Drums", "Space", and "Morning Dew" that I eventually put it on one side of what became my most-played Dead tape. Every time I listen to it I rediscover the perfect bursts of feedback from Bob Weir in the Terrapin coda and just as Dew begins. I often copied it for friends, so when I found the show on the Internet Archive, I loved reading someone's comment saying they'd once had that very sequence on a side of a tape and had always appreciated whoever'd had the idea of doing so. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 3 January 2021)



Saturday, January 02, 2021

The money-lender's "mean and paltry lie" in "Nicholas Nickleby"

Ralph Nickleby, the money-hungry uncle of the title character in Charles Dickens's "Nicholas Nickleby", argues against what he calls "the cant of the lying world" that money-lenders like him grow rich "by dissimulation and fawning". On the contrary, he sees "the money-borrowers" themselves as the ones who tell "mean and paltry lies." From one angle, this makes sense: borrowers often tell many stories to lenders about when they can pay their debts. But Ralph isn't just a "money-lender"; he's a speculator who actually does trick people out of their money. His self-defense is thus the "mean and paltry lie" of a confidence man accusing his victims of what he himself does. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 2 January 2021)

Friday, January 01, 2021

A year of 111 words per day

My writing of 111 words every day began one year ago today as preparation for a course I taught in the spring; as I was going to have my students write 111 words a day, I thought I should try it out myself, too. At first, then, it was an exploration and demonstration of the possibilities of a form, but over time, unsurprisingly, it became a kind of intellectual diary. And since I posted all my 111-word texts on Facebook, I can look forward to rereading these diary entries in my Facebook Memories, too. And this coming term, I'm teaching the course again, after it was a great success last spring. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 1 January 2021)