Sunday, February 28, 2021

"The art of pleasing – the art of pleasing, at least, at Kellynch Hall": Repetition as a prose version of enjambment in Jane Austen's "Persuasion"

In Jane Austen's "Persuasion", Elizabeth Elliot's widowed friend Mrs. Clay is "a clever young woman, who understood the art of pleasing – the art of pleasing, at least, at Kellynch Hall," where the Elliot family lives. The very Austenian doubling of the phrase, here realized through the dash and the addition of "at least", syntagmatically realizes in prose the paradigmatic effect of enjambment in poetry as it moves from a general "art of pleasing" without any modification to a particular case specified with a prepositional phrase. In a poem, that is, the same effect could be produced through lineation and without any repetition: "[...] the art of pleasing / at Kellynch Hall." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 28 February 2021)

Saturday, February 27, 2021

"Wearied in spirits": A passage from Jane Austen's "Emma" that stands out in the pandemic

At the end of the community's visit to Mr. Knightley's Donwell Abbey for strawberries and conversation in Jane Austen's "Emma", Jane Fairfax leaves for home without telling anyone except Emma Woodhouse, to whom she confides something personal for the first time in the novel: "I am fatigued; but it is not the sort of fatigue – quick walking will refresh me. – Miss Woodhouse, we all know at times what it is to be wearied in spirits. Mine, I confess, are exhausted." I have read the novel many times, so I am familiar with this passage, but it reads quite differently after a pandemic year which has been so exhausting for our spirits. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 27 February 2021)

Close-up of red strawberries : Free Stock Photo

Friday, February 26, 2021

The official Defense Department statement about yesterday's U. S. airstrikes in Syria

The official Defense Department statement about yesterday's U. S. airstrikes in Syria says "the operation sends an unambiguous message: President Biden will act to protect American and Coalition personnel," but it also sends another unambiguous message. The strikes were against "infrastructure" rather than the "Iranian-backed militant groups" at a "border control point", while those militants had previously attacked not buildings but "American and Coalition personnel." Further, the conclusion that "we have acted in a deliberate manner" may mean "carefully considered" or "intentional". Thus, in contrast to "deliberate" Americans, the statement constructs the militants – and by extension Iran – as implicitly careless and uncontrolled in their direct attacks on people rather than "facilities".  (Andrew Shields, #111words, 26 February 2021)


Thursday, February 25, 2021

Grateful Dead, Frost Amphitheater, Stanford, April 27-28, 1985

On the beautiful spring weekend of 27-28 April, 1985, The Grateful Dead played two concerts at Frost Amphitheater on the Stanford campus. After a first set whose highlight was a lively "Brown-Eyed Women" and Phil Lesh responding to "We want Phil" chants with "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues",  the Saturday show featured an unusual sequence to start the second set: "Scarlet Begonias", "Eyes of the World", "Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad", and "Man Smart, Women Smarter". But the highlight of the weekend was the especially gorgeous version of "China Doll" on Sunday, and the jam out of it into "Drums", which my friends and I immediately knew was something special. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 25 February 2021)
Phil Lesh sings "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues", Saturday, 27 April, 1985

Photo credit:

S., Eric, “Grateful Dead: Phil Lesh and Bob Weir,” Grateful Dead Archive Online, accessed February 25, 2021,

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

"Subject to being picked up": Black men and police suspicion in Toni Morrison's "Song of Solomon"

When the Black men at Tommy's Barbershop in Toni Morrison's "Song of Solomon" laugh, they turn "atrocities" into humor, but when they talk about how the police behave towards them when a murder is being investigated, their laughter is "wan and nervous": "Each man in that room knew he was subject to being picked up as he walked the street and whatever his proof of who he was and where he was at the time of the murder, he’d have a very uncomfortable time being questioned." At any time, the arbitrariness of police power can make these men into uncomfortable subjects stripped of the agency to offer any proof against suspicion. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 24 February 2021)



Tuesday, February 23, 2021

"A litany of humiliation" turned into humor in Toni Morrison's "Song of Solomon"

Just as the conversation of Cholly Breedlove's Aunt Jimmy and her friends during her illness in Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye" becomes "a threnody of nostalgia about pain", the men at Tommy's Barbershop in Morrison's "Song of Solomon" respond to the news of Emmett Till's murder in 1955 with an increasingly personal lamentation: “The men began to trade tales of atrocities, first stories they had heard, then those they’d witnessed, and finally the things that had happened to themselves. A litany of personal humiliation, outrage, and anger turned sicklelike back to themselves as humor.” Both these responses offer catharsis, in one as a kind of music, in the other as comedy. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 23 February 2021)

Monday, February 22, 2021

Civil rights as collective work becomes an individual's heroism in "Marshall"

Despite what the film says, Sam Friedman, the lead lawyer for the rape case that is the focus of Reginald Hudlin's "Marshall", was an experienced litigator "with a flair for courtroom drama" who collaborated with the NAACP's Thurgood Marshall as an equal. While "artistic license" might justify the creators of the film "taking liberties" with what actually happened, the film appears in the light of the history to have turned a story of teamwork that highlights the civil rights movement as a collective action into a story of individual achievement in which the hero undergoes hardly any development despite his being young enough to learn something from those he works with. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 22 February 2021)
Portrait of Thurgood Marshall

Sunday, February 21, 2021

"My heart had stopped to beat": A solecism in Vladimir Nabokov's "Pale Fire"

The first time I checked lyrics in English for a German-speaking friend in Basel, I found a mistake I knew from my students: "my heart stopped to beat" instead of "stopped beating." Since "beat" was a rhyme word in the song, I changed it to "ceased to beat". In the third canto of the poem-in-the-novel "Pale Fire" in Vladimir Nabokov's novel "Pale Fire", Nabokov's poet-character John Francis Shade makes the same mistake, again with "beat" as a rhyme word: "My heart had stopped to beat." Nabokov's solecism could be that of a non-native speaker, but I have now learned that he read and wrote English even before becoming literate in Russian. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 21 February 2021)

Saturday, February 20, 2021

A scene in "Marshall": Thurgood Marshall, Langston Hughes, and Zora Neale Hurston

In Reginald Hudlin's 2017 film "Marshall", Chadwick Boseman plays Thurgood Marshall in a 1941 rape trial in Connecticut. Boseman's performance showcases his endless expressiveness, but for me, the most memorable moment is a brief and even superfluous scene about Marshall's connections to Black American culture of his time: Marshall and his wife Buster (Keesha Sharp) go to Harlem to hear some jazz at Minton's Playhouse, one of the hotbeds of the development of bebop in the 1940s, where they banter with Langston Hughes (Jussie Smollett) and Zora Neale Hurston (Rozonda 'Chilli' Thomas). Although Marshall didn't like poetry, he and Hughes went to Lincoln University together, and both were friends with Hurston. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 20 February 2021)

'Marshall' review: Chadwick Boseman stars - CNN
Chadwick Boseman and Sterling K. Brown in Marshall

Friday, February 19, 2021

Fagin "the Jew" and Quilp "the dwarf" in Charles Dickens

In Charles Dickens's "Oliver Twist" (1838), the phrase "the Jew" outnumbers the word "Fagin", 307 to 306 – an emphasis on Fagin's Judaism that was already an issue during Dickens's lifetime. But there's a similar pattern in "The Old Curiosity Shop" (1840): Daniel Quilp, Nell Trent's nemesis, is referred to as a "dwarf" 214 times, compared to approximately 471 cases of Quilp (which is harder to be precise about because "Mrs Quilp" also appears often). Dickens's connection of Quilp's physical appearance to his evil character and appearance is almost as pervasive as the connection of Fagin's Judaism to his criminality and miserliness, yet the former seems to have attracted much less attention. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 19 February 2021) 

Toby Jones as Quilp in The Old Curiosity Shop (2007).

Thursday, February 18, 2021

The contrast between quoting Denise Levertov and quoting John Ashbery

When I was posting daily quotes from John Ashbery's poems, I rarely had difficulty finding passages to quote. But with my current quotations from Denise Levertov's poems, it can be tricky to extract a passage. In "In Mind", for example, the first sentence introduces a woman who becomes the subject of the second, so quoting the latter alone would distort the passage. And the third sentence is hard to quote alone, too: it begins with "and" and contrasts a second woman with the first as figures in the speaker's "mind". In contrast, the associative leaps of Ashbery's poems are easy to quote from without the absence of context causing a problem. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 18 February 2021)


Wednesday, February 17, 2021

"Provoking events": Mitch McConnell's trivial obfuscations

Last Saturday, Senator Mitch McConnell made a speech minutes after he joined 42 of his Republican colleagues to vote against convicting former President Donald Trump for "inciting an insurrection" in the impeachment trial. One sentence from the speech once again exposes McConnell's obfuscatory language: "There’s no question – none – that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day." "Provoking" is a synonym for "inciting", while "the events of the day" (that is, 6 January) is a euphemism that strips the "insurrection" or even the "riot" of its violence. – Close-reading McConnell is almost trivial, actually, but because of his political power, it's sadly necessary, again and again. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 17 February 2021)


Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Here comes the sun in Basel after a long gray month to start the year

January 2021 was one of the darkest months in the history of Basel: the amount of sunshine has been measured here since 1877, and only five times since then has a January had less. This offers me another explanation for my recent mood swings: not just the ongoing covid-19 epidemic; not just the turmoil in my native country with the end of the Trump presidency and the attack on the US Capitol; but also simply not enough sunlight. So with the blue sky of the last few days (and perhaps, despite the impeachment trial, the relative quiet of the beginning of the Biden presidency), my mood has lightened noticeably as well. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 16 February 2021)


Verschneiter Velounterstand. 

(From this article on the gray month in Switzerland.)

Monday, February 15, 2021

Enjambment and poetic form as "wavering / redefinition": Denise Levertov's "Into the Interior"

Denise Levertov's "Into the Interior" begins with landscape: "Mountain, mountain, mountain, / marking time. Each / nameless, wall beyond wall, wavering / redefinition of / horizon." The three initial "mountains" may map space, but the second line turns that space into time. The "marking" of lineation repeats in the second line break's shift from the specificity of "each" to its erasure in "nameless", while within that third line the double solidity of the mountain "walls" is "wavering" with alliteration. These poetic effects are then summarized in an enjambment that acts out enjambment as a "wavering / definition" in which a surprising abstraction ("definition") makes "wavering" itself "waver" like a shimmering mirage. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 15 February 2021)


Image - Blue-mountain-range-26305-1920x1080-1-.jpg ...

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Remembering hearing about the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, and Parkland, Florida

On 14 December 2012, when I heard about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, I made a list of 27 schoolchildren I knew: my children, their friends, and finally two of their second cousins. It took me a while to list so many names, during which the horror of the shooting really sank in. I didn't make another list three years ago today when I heard about the shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, but I was again reminded of this terrible observation someone made: if the United States could not pass gun-control legislation after Sandy Hook, then such legislation will never pass. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 14 February 2021)

Saturday, February 13, 2021

"Telling their history by themselves": The negation of novels in Charles Dickens's "The Old Curiosity Shop"

While Nell Trent and her grandfather in Charles Dickens's "The Old Curiosity Shop" are working in a wax museum in a small English town, Nell sees Miss Edwards, an impoverished boarder at a local school for girls, welcome her younger sister for a visit: "Their plain and simple dress, the distance which the child had come alone, their agitation and delight, and the tears they shed, would have told their history by themselves." For a moment here, Dickens's fourth novel dismisses the need for novels, since the stories they tell can be replaced by the observation of clothing and emotional expression as well as by a small amount of background infomation. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 13 February 2021)


(In the image, an earlier scene, the headmistress of the school chastises Nell.)

Friday, February 12, 2021

"I feel like we might say our vowels differently": In defense of Seth Meyers on a plural and a pronunciation

Last night, Seth Meyers apologized about grammar and about pronunciation. Grammatically, he'd used the plural "Legos", a noun many treat as uncountable. But in the Corpus of Contemporary American English, "Legos" as the plural is far more common (599 cases) than what LEGO claims is correct, "Lego bricks" (71 cases). Actual usage is a better authority on American English than a Danish company. As for pronunciation, Australians commented that he mispronounced "doof" in Doof Warrior, a character in "Mad Max: Fury Road"; here, Seth himself had the best defense: "I feel like we might say our vowels differently." And that's just generally true about language variation: people use many expressions differently. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 12 February 2021)


Thursday, February 11, 2021

"Strange, bewildered, and confused": The shock of industrialization in Charles Dickens's "The Old Curiosity Shop"

In Charles Dickens's "The Old Curiosity Shop", when Nell Trent and her grandfather leave the barge that has taken them so far on their wanderings and find themselves on "a crowded street" in an unfamiliar, industrial city, they stand "in the pouring rain, as strange, bewildered, and confused, as if they had lived a thousand years before, and were raised from the dead and placed there by a miracle." Even though it was in London, the microcosm of the grandfather's "old curiosity shop" kept them so far from the "din and tumult" of industry that, despite their subsequent impoverishment, they are estranged from this world that leaves them "bewildered and confused". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 11 February 2021)

Thomas Creswick, Distant view of Birmingham (1828).

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Brecht's "To Those Born Later" as a plea against "presentism"

Bertolt Brecht's "To Those Born Later" begins with an exclamation (here in the Willett, Manheim, Fried translation): "Truly, I live in dark times!" – those of his Danish exile between 1934 and 1938. The poem's conclusion addresses "you who will emerge from the flood" and asks them, first, to consider that "we / Who wanted to prepare the ground for friendliness / Could not ourselves be friendly", and then to "think of us / With forbearance." Don't judge people, that is, if their political actions and goals are inconsistent. And more generally, this is a plea against "presentism": judge people only by the standards of their own time, not by later standards. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 10 February 2021)



The translation by John Willett, Ralph Manheim, and Erich Fried is available on various web pages, but most of them omit the last three stanzas. Presumably, someone left them out, and others copied the incomplete version. This is the complete translation. The German original, with a recording of Brecht reading it, is on Lyrikline.

To Those Born Later

Bertolt Brecht

trans. John Willett, Ralph Manheim, Erich Fried




Truly, I live in dark times!

The guileless word is folly. A smooth forehead

Suggests insensitivity. The man who laughs

Has simply not yet had

The terrible news.


What kind of times are they, when

A talk about trees is almost a crime

Because it implies silence about so many horrors?

That man there calmly crossing the street

Is already perhaps beyond the reach of his friends

Who are in need?


It is true I still earn my keep

But, believe me, that is only an accident. Nothing

I do gives me the right to eat my fill.

By chance I've been spared. (If my luck breaks, I am lost.)


They say to me: Eat and drink! Be glad you have it!

But how can I eat and drink if I snatch what I eat

From the starving, and

My glass of water belongs to one dying of thirst?

And yet I eat and drink.


I would also like to be wise.

In the old books it says what wisdom is:

To shun the strife of the world and to live out

Your brief time without fear

Also to get along without violence

To return good for evil

Not to fulfill your desires but to forget them

Is accounted wise.

All this I cannot do:

Truly, I live in dark times.




I came to the cities in a time of disorder

When hunger reigned there.

I came among men in a time of revolt

And I rebelled with them.

So passed my time

Which had been given to me on earth.


My food I ate between battles

To sleep I lay down among murderers

Love I practised carelessly

And nature I looked at without patience.

So passed my time

Which had been given to me on earth.


All roads led into the mire in my time.

My tongue betrayed me to the butchers.

There was little I could do. But those in power

Sat safer without me: that was my hope.

So passed my time

Which had been given to me on earth.


Our forces were slight. Our goal

Lay far in the distance

It was clearly visible, though I myself

Was unlikely to reach it.

So passed my time

Which had been given to me on earth.




You who will emerge from the flood

In which we have gone under


When you speak of our failings

The dark time too

Which you have escaped.


For we went, changing countries oftener than our shoes

Through the wars of the classes, despairing

When there was injustice only and no rebellion.


And yet we know:

Hatred, even of meanness

Contorts the features.

Anger, even against injustice

Makes the voice hoarse. Oh, we

Who wanted to prepare the ground for friendliness

Could not ourselves be friendly.


But you, when the time comes at last

And man is a helper to man

Think of us

With forbearance.

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

The "small back room" and "inspired notes" of poetry: Ciaran Carson, Wayne Miller, Tomas Transtrømer

In "When Talking About Poetry Online Goes Very Wrong", Wayne Miller quotes Ciaran Carson – "Everything happens in a small back room" – and sees poetry as a "'small back room' of literature well out of view of most of those who participate in literary culture." This image recalls Tomas Transtrømer's characterization of poetry in terms of notes he and his "like-minded school friends" passed to each other: "There is the fundamental situation of poetry. The lesson of official life goes rumbling on. We send inspired notes to one another." There's no "small back room" in a classroom, but there's still the back of the room where poets can whisper to each other. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 9 February 2021)


Monday, February 08, 2021

Defamiliarization and sarcastic humor in Dickens's "The Old Curiosity Shop"

At the end of Charles Dickens's "The Old Curiosity Shop", Sampson Brass isn't transported to Australia; instead, he is "permitted to grace the mother country under certain insignificant restrictions." That is the beginning of a great comic passage in which Dickens describes imprisonment in an unusual way. The defamiliarization here does not serve to provide a new, startling perspective on something all too familiar; instead, it picks up on Brass's sarcastic humor and turns it against him, to the great pleasure of author and reader: "[...] he should, for a term of years, reside in a spacious mansion where several other gentlemen were lodged and boarded at the public charge [...]." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 8 February 2021)

Sunday, February 07, 2021

Most famous for roles they didn't like: Christopher Plummer and Alec Guinness

Christopher Plummer's most successful film role was as Captain von Trapp in "The Sound of Music" (1965), which surpassed "Gone with the Wind" (1939) as the most successful film ever at the box office. But Plummer didn't enjoy it: "I was a bit bored with the character". Similarly, Alec Guinness's most successful film role was as Obi-Wan Kenobi in "Star Wars" (1977), which surpassed "Jaws" (1975) as the most successful film ever at the box office – and Guinness didn't enjoy it, either: He found Obi-Wan neither "clear" nor "even bearable." So both found themselves most famous for financially successful roles they didn't enjoy making – as perhaps many other actors have, too.  (Andrew Shields, #111words, 7 February 2021)

Saturday, February 06, 2021

"Bear alone the weary strife": Charlotte Brontë and the loss of her siblings to tuberculosis

After Branwell Brontë died on 28 September 1848, and his sister Emily on 19 December 1848, their sister Anne died the following spring on 28 May 1849 – all probably of tuberculosis. Their surviving sister Charlotte, the oldest of the four, thus lost her three siblings within eight months. In "On the Death of Anne Brontë", she writes of spending "the parting hour" with Anne and of how now, "benighted, tempest-tossed," she "must bear alone the weary strife." A lung disease had left her bereft of her siblings, but unlike many who have lost loved ones to Covid-19 over the past year, she was able to be with them on their deathbeds. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 6 February 2021)


A sketch of Anne by her sister Charlotte, circa 1834

An 1834 drawing of Anne Brontë by her sister Charlotte.

Friday, February 05, 2021

"I don’t even know what it is": Kevin McCarthy's rhetoric of ignorance

Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican Minority Leader of the United States House of Representatives, made a statement after the House Republican Caucus's meeting to discuss the extremism of Colorado Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene yesterday: "I think it would be helpful if you could hear exactly what she told all of us — denouncing Q-on, I don’t know if I say it right, I don’t even know what it is." As he publicly condemned QAnon last August, McCarthy has been justifiably mocked for pleading ignorance. It's such an odd rhetorical strategy, though, to defend himself by claiming he has no idea what he is talking about right after a meeting discussing it. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 5 February 2021)


Thursday, February 04, 2021

Outwards is coming! Old-fashioned German terms for seasons

When my neighbor happily announced today that her garden had made clear that spring is coming, I remembered the old-fashioned German term for "spring", "Lenz" (instead of "Frühling" or "Frühjahr"), and I researched other old-fashioned terms for the seasons. After a bit more searching than I'd expected, I found a web version of a German scholarly study from the 1890s on "Zeitrechnung" in the Middle Ages with several quite lovely older terms: "Auswärts" for "spring" (literally, "outwards") and "Einwärts" for "fall" (literally, "inwards"), which was also called "Laubreise" (which might be "the journey of the leaves"). Sadly, I've found nothing remotely as rewarding on archaic terms for the seasons in English. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 4 February 2021)


Wednesday, February 03, 2021

Mitch McConnell obfuscating President Trump's agency in the Senate on 9 November 2020

On 9 November 2020, Senator Mitch McConnell argued in the Senate that "President Trump is 100 percent within his rights to look into allegations of irregularities and weigh his legal options." The activities McConnell attributed to the President were "looking into" and "weighing" matters, but the noun McConnell used contains another action: the "alleging" of those "allegations". This noun thus obscures the source of those "allegations" – Trump himself, who'd been announcing them for weeks and months before the election. That is, McConnell's focus on what Trump had the right to do after the election as a tactical response to apparently agentless "allegations" effaced his long-term, strategic preparation of those very "allegations." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 3 February 2021)


Tuesday, February 02, 2021

Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Milwaukee: Newt Gingrich's version of the lie about election fraud

On 4 November 2020, Newt Gingrich, whose 1994 Contract with America was an early marker of the Republican Party's delegitimization of the idea of political compromise with their opponents in the Democratic Party, claimed on Fox News that the Democrats were trying to "steal the election in Philadelphia, steal the election in Atlanta, steal the election in Milwaukee." While other supporters of Donald Trump's quest to overturn the election always talked about states, Gingrich's focus on cities where the majority of the population is non-white reveals that the ultimate goal of the Republicans is to strip the right to vote from Blacks, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, and other "minorities" and re-establish white-supremacist rule. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 2 February 2021)

Monday, February 01, 2021

"I Want You", Uncle Sam, Uncle Donald, and the violent challenge to the 2020 election

During World War I, the U. S. Army called for volunteers for the "War to end all wars" with  posters featuring Uncle Sam pointing a finger at the viewer: "I Want You For U. S. Army". In the runup to the election in November 2020, an organization called Lawyers for Trump replaced Uncle Sam with Trump: "I Want You to Join Lawyers for Trump / Help Prevent Voter Fraud on Election Day." While this is just one more way in which Trump and his supporters prepared well in advance to challenge the result if Trump lost, it also makes clear that such plans always involved the explicit threat of militant violence. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 1 February 2021)