Friday, April 30, 2021

Remembering Ballaké Sissoko and Vincent Segal in Sète in 2016

The chronology of my memories of concerts by musicians from Mali has turned out to have been all wrong: in 2016, I saw Songhoy Blues before I saw Tinariwen, and even before I saw Songhoy Blues in Basel that August, I had seen Ballaké Sissoko on kora with Vincent Segal on cello at the beautiful amphitheater of the Théâtre de la Mer in Sète on the Mediterranean coast of France. On a clear summer evening, the sky grew steadily darker and the stars came out while the sounds of the kora and the cello shimmered up the amphitheater to where I was sitting with my son Miles and my daughter Luisa. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 30 April 2021)

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Remembering Songhoy Blues in Basel in 2016

Yesterday, when I wrote about seeing Tinariwen in Basel in November 2016, I misremembered something – it hadn't been that long since I'd danced that hard: that August, another band from Mali, Songhoy Blues, had played at the Im Fluss festival on the Rhine. They were fascinating to dance to, with the focus of the rhythm shifting in every song: just when I'd figured out I should follow the bass in one song, the next song's rhythm would center on the drums, and the one after that would be all about the guitar. And I was part of a small group of dancers who kept sharing smiles as the show went on. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 29 April 2021)

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Remembering Tinariwen in Basel in November 2016

After falling in love with the music of Tinariwen and Tamikrest in summer 2014, I had a ticket to go see Tamikrest in Zurich that October, but I was sick that week, so I couldn't go, and I still haven't been to any of their concerts. But I did get to see Tinariwen in Basel in November 2016, in the week after the trauma of the US election. It was an unusual concert for the band: their bassist was taken ill that day and was in the hospital. Somehow, the absence of the bass didn't keep me from dancing harder than I had in years, all the way to complete catharsis. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 28 April 2021)

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Listening to Tamikrest again

Yesterday, I shuffled my music collection (272+ GB) and up popped Tamikrest, a band from Mali that I first heard in 2014, along with Tinariwen. As always when I listen to them, their "desert blues" has an immediate effect on me, as if they were playing a music I had always wanted to hear: electric and acoustic guitars alternating with call-and-response vocals; percussion combining traditional Malian rhythms with driving rock; lead guitar that channels the colors of rock and reggae. It's music that went from Africa to the United States and the world and then back to Mali for Tuareg musicians to combine into a moving, beautiful, and utterly danceable sound.  (Andrew Shields, #111words, 27 April 2021)

Monday, April 26, 2021

Spinoza as "magnification" in "Borges y yo"

I have been working on memorizing Jorge Luis Borges's "Borges y yo", sentence by sentence. Yesterday, I got through the sentence in which the narrating "yo" accuses "Borges", "el otro", of distortion in his writing: "[...] me consta su perversa costumbre de falsear y magnificar." So today, after I went through the text up to that point again several times before continuing with the memorization, I could see the next sentence as an example of such "magnifying", with its grand philosophical turn that leaves behind both "Borges" and "yo": "Spinoza entendió que todas las cosas quieren perseverar en su ser; la piedra eternamente quiere ser piedra y el tigre un tigre." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 26 April 2021)

Sunday, April 25, 2021

How "breathing out / poems" turns them into "a mask I had not meant / to wear": Denise Levertov's "A Cloak"

The speaker in Denise Levertov's "A Cloak" once felt like she was "breathing out / poems, // arrogant in innocence." But the straightforward simplicity of poems emerging like breath is complicated by what happens when she makes them public, for they become "a cloak" that is "frozen" around the poet and conceals her: "A mask I had not meant / to wear, as if of frost, / covers my face." Even if she experiences them as "breath" that directly reveals her arrogant, innocent self, the poems "breathed" into the world take on meaning beyond her control and even make it seem as if she were trying to conceal herself behind them. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 25 April 2021)


A Cloak

Denise Levertov, Relearning the Alphabet


'For there's more enterprise

in walking naked.'

W. B. Yeats


And I walked naked

from the beginning


breathing in

my life,

breathing out



arrogant in innocence.


But of the song-clouds my breath made

in cold air


a cloak has grown,

white and,

where here a word

there another

froze, glittering,



A mask I had not meant

to wear, as if of frost,

covers my face.

Eyes looking out,

a longing silent at song's core.


Saturday, April 24, 2021

A visual form of "locker-room talk" that Matt Gaetz's friends in Congress apparently accept

In the lurid saga of Florida Republican Representative Matt Gaetz, one item keeps being mentioned without much commentary; as Amy Davidson Sorkin put it in the 19 April issue of The New Yorker, "according to press reports, he has a habit of showing members of Congress nude photos and videos of women with whom, he says, he’s had sex." That doesn't change but only confirms my take on him. But I wonder about those Representatives he's allegedly shown such pictures to: as they didn't take such sexual harassment public or even raise ethics questions in Congress, they must see such an act as a visual and acceptable form of "locker-room talk". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 24 April 2021)


Matt Gaetz
Illustration by João Fazenda (from The New Yorker)

Friday, April 23, 2021

"But this was not what you wanted": The vision of community in Adrienne Rich's "A Woman Dead In Her Forties"

In Adrienne Rich's "A Woman Dead in Her Forties", a dream community of women strip away patriarchal conventions about their bodies: "All the women I grew up with are sitting / half-naked on rocks in sun / we look at each other and / are not ashamed." But the woman of the poem's title has had a mastectomy and is uncomfortable with the terms of this community: "and you too have taken off your blouse / but this was not what you wanted: // to show your scarred, deleted torso." The community based on resisting the male construction of the female body risks replacing that construction with another exclusive bodily ideal. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 23 April 2021)


Audio of Rich reading the poem is available here on YouTube.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

"Do not travel to Switzerland due to COVID-19": A US Embassy Advisory and the scope of negation

Today, I received an email from the US Embassy in Bern: "Do not travel to Switzerland due to COVID-19." I first read "do not travel-to-Switzerland-due-to-COVID-19" (don't make the disease a reason to travel here) rather than "do-not-travel-to-Switzerland due to COVID-19" (that is, the disease is why you shouldn't travel to Switzerland). The linguistic concept here is the "scope" of negation, that is, what it does and does not apply to. I first applied the negation to the whole travel-to-Switzerland-due-to-COVID-19 phrase, rather than only to travel-to-Switzerland. To avoid the ambiguity, my inner copy editor would either put a comma after Switzerland or rephrase it: "Due to COVID-19, do not travel to Switzerland." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 22 April 2021)

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

"It's not a sport if it doesn't matter if you lose": The proposed Super League and professional team sports in North America

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola dismissed the proposed 12-team Super League of top European football clubs because "it's not a sport if it doesn't matter if you lose." The league is now already off the table, but it would have been a closed league that always had the same members. For Guardiola, without the risk of relegation to a lower division, there's no reason not to lose. Now the leagues of professional teams in North America have always have been closed, with franchises rather than clubs. With no risk of relegation, franchises can intentionally play bad seasons in order to get higher draft picks – and, in Guardiola's terms, that isn't sport. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 21 April 2021)



Man City boss Pep Guardiola hits out at European Super ...
"It's not a sport if you can't lose" – Pep Guardiola


Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Choosing to teach online rather than in person at the University of Basel

With the Swiss government ending some coronavirus restrictions, the University of Basel announced that some courses could return to in-person teaching on Monday, 26 April. While two of my current courses were scheduled to be online for the whole semester, the other three could have returned to the classroom for the last six sessions. When I told the students I didn't want to do so, none of the 35 participants objected, and quite a few said that, in the current situation, they preferred to stay online anyway. And in an English Department staff meeting today, I learned that almost all of my colleagues had also heard the same from their students. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 20 April 2021)

Monday, April 19, 2021

"One of those mornings, common in early spring": Finishing "Barnaby Rudge"

I've just finished Charles Dickens's "Barnaby Rudge" as part of reading his work in chronological order. It was striking to read about the storming of the House of Commons during the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots of 1780 only a few weeks after the storming of the US Capitol in January. And a passage I highlighted in February as one of Dickens's amazing long sentences captures the season now so well; here's how it begins: “It was on one of those mornings, common in early spring, when the year, fickle and changeable in its youth like all other created things, is undecided whether to step backward into winter or forward into summer [...].”  (Andrew Shields, #111words, 19 April 2021)

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Five points about the effectiveness of Taiwan's response to the coronavirus pandemic

In the Swiss magazine Republik, Katharin Tai addresses why Taiwan's response to the coronavirus pandemic has been so effective, with only 1073 cases and 11 deaths in a country of just under 24 million people. She identifies five points: 1. The country's experience with SARS in 2003, when only China and Hong Kong were hit harder; 2. The legal reforms which were then made; 3. The associated strengthening of institutions; 4. Effective public communication; and 5. The continuous identification of weaknesses in need of improvement. While Tai's comparison is primarily to Switzerland, Taiwan's experience can provide lessons for other countries as they respond to coronavirus and prepare for potential future epidemics. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 18 April 2021)


Saturday, April 17, 2021

Lexical doublings in the beginning and ending of the first paragraph of "Cien años de soledad"

The first sentence of Gabriel García Márquez's "Cien años de soledad" ends with Colonel Aureliano Buendía remembering how his father Jose Arcadio Buendía "lo llevó a conocer el hielo". "Llevar" reappears in the final sentence of the novel's two-page-long first paragraph when Jose Arcadio Buendía digs up a suit of armor with a skeleton in it that "llevaba colgado en el cuello un relicario de cobre con un rizo de mujer." Such lexical doubling also appears in the paragraph's second and penultimate sentences with the figures of "piedras pulidas, blancas y enormes como huevos prehistóricos" and that armor whose "interior tenía la resonancia hueca de un enorme calabazo lleno de piedras." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 17 April 2021)

Friday, April 16, 2021

How many names are on page 134 in your copy of Claudia Rankine's "Citizen: An American Lyric"?

According to the printer's key, my copy of Claudia Rankine's 2014 "Citizen: An American Lyric" (in the original Graywolf publication) is the third printing. On page 134 is a list of names: "In Memory of Jordan Russell David / In Memory of Eric Garner / In Memory of John Crawford / In Memory of Michael Brown." This is followed by gradually fading lines saying "In Memory" again and again. When I taught the book in 2017, there were longer lists of names in the students' copies of the book (including Sandra Bland). More names keep being added, "because white men can't / police their imagination / black men are dying" (135). (Andrew Shields, #111words, 16 April 2021)


Claudia Rankine, "Citizen: An American Lyric", Graywolf 2014, 3rd printing


Addendum: This is from the 2015 Penguin UK edition, fourth printing:

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Clarifying a distinction between gerund constructions and relative clauses

For several years now, I have been trying to figure out why some gerund constructions that my students use sound off to me. Last week in the 111 Words class, we considered several examples and identified one source of the problem. In one of the examples, a student wrote about a song: "The guitar slowly fades out, hinting at all the stories never told." Here, the guitar hints at the stories, but in an alternative (which the student said she'd meant), "which" refers to the whole main clause: "The guitar slowly fades out, which hints [...]." Both formulations are correct, but it's good to have finally clarified the difference in implication. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 15 April 2021)



Wednesday, April 14, 2021

"I know what every colored woman in this country is doing." – "What's that?": An exchange in Sula and Nel's final conversation in Toni Morrison's "Sula"

In their final conversation in Toni Morrison's "Sula", Sula claims to understand Nel because "I know what every colored woman in this country is doing." Nel's response may confirm Sula's claim to know and just ask for clarification: "What's that?" But the need for clarification derives from placeholders in Sula's statement: both the interrogative pronoun "what" and the general "doing" are waiting to be replaced by specifics, with "what" even picked up by Nel's "that" (with another "what" asking for Sula's response). So Nel's question can also be seen as a provocation that challenges Sula's self-positioning as the one who knows, as with each woman asserts her agency in the exchange. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 14 April 2021)

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Reciting the spell I learned from García Márquez

As part of my learning of Spanish, I have now finished memorizing the first paragraph of "Cien años de soledad", by Gabriel García Márquez. My favorite moment comes when Jose Arcadio Buendía trades his mule and his goats for magnets and spends months trying to use them to extract gold from underground: "Exploró palmo a palmo la región, inclusive el fondo del río, arrastrando los dos lingotes de hierro y recitando en voz alta el conjuro de Melquíades." Jose Arcadio Buendía goes inch by inch through the region reciting the spell he learned from Melquíades; I go word by word through the book reciting the spell I learned from García Márquez. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 13 April 2021)


Cien años de soledad

Monday, April 12, 2021

"Our garden he cannot imagine": Denise Levertov and a boy with flowers in her poem "The Gulf"

Denise Levertov's "The Gulf" responds to the 1967 Detroit riots: "Among the looters a boy of eleven // grabs from a florist's showcase (the Times says) / armfuls of gladioli, all he can carry, // and runs with them." From her own "garden at the edge of a gulf," Levertov imagines the boy's disappointment with those flowers "without / perfume!" When she adds that she's standing "in our garden he cannot imagine," she confirms herself as imaginative and negates the boy's own potential for imagination. Yet in the end, she criticizes her poem as "useless knowledge in my mind's eye" and thus recognizes "the gulf" between herself and the Detroit boy. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 12 April 2021)

Sunday, April 11, 2021

From my first published translation to the first book I translated and beyond

"Be", the art magazine that gave me my first translation commission (Durs Grünbein's 1995 essay on deep-sea fish), was and still is published by the Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin, which published my first translated book in 1996: "Something about L.", a short and unusual text by Kay Heymer about the artist Jan Svenungsson (which is still available!). That led to further translations of articles about Svenungsson, and in 1998, before I had ever seen any of it in person, I even wrote an essay about his work based on what had been written about it. Eventually, I did see his works, and one hangs on the wall in my dining room. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 11 April 2021)


Saturday, April 10, 2021

Where did Artaud say, "Burn the texts!"?

Adrienne Rich's 1968 poem "The Burning of Paper instead of Children" quotes Antonin Artaud: "burn the texts". While Rich credits him in the poem ("says Artaud"), she does not provide a note with a source for the phrase, and the scholarly articles I have found on the poem do not identify where Artaud said it either. The internet usually makes such problems easy to solve, but references to Artaud's "burn the texts" are mostly to Rich's poem. A search of "La Théâtre et son double" on Wikisource for "brûl-" came up empty. Poets needn't provide notes, but scholars who discuss Rich's line about Artaud should find the source for the remarks. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 10 April 2021)


Antonin Artaud 1926.jpg
Antonin Artaud, 1926 (from Wikipedia)


Friday, April 09, 2021

Translating the names of deep-sea fish in 1995

In summer 1995, I received my first translation commission: a Durs Grünbein essay on deep-sea fish – whose names proved tricky. Today, the names of species with Wikipedia pages in German and English are easy to translate; otherwise, internet searches can lead from German names to Latin names to English names. But in 1995, in Germany without English reference books, I asked Durs for the Latin names from his source, and then I asked my marine-biologist brother in Virginia if he could find the English names. It turned out the Latin names from the German source were out of date, but in the end we had the fish named correctly in English. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 9 April 2021)

Linophryne lucifer.png
Leftvent, Linophryne lucifer

Thursday, April 08, 2021

My first steps as a translator

In late 1994, I took a break from my dissertation to translate some German poetry into English: two poems each by Wolfgang Hilbig and Durs Grünbein. I then sent the translations to the two poets care of their publishers and waited to see if they would respond. While I never heard back from Hilbig, Grünbein sent me a postcard and encouraged me to translate more of his poems. A few months later (after I had handed in my dissertation in March 1995), I was asked by an art magazine in Berlin to translate a Grünbein essay, which was my first step in more than a decade of translating for art magazines. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 8 April 2021)


Falten und Fallen. Gedichte: Grünbein, Durs: Bücher


Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Amusing himself with himself: Sir Walter Elliot in the first clause of Jane Austen's "Persuasion"

Before the rest of the sentence lists reasons to read, the opening clause of Jane Austen's "Persuasion" begins with public information about a character's title, name, estate, and country of residence, shifts to private information, and ends with a twist: "Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch-hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage [...]." In turn, the "Baronetage" includes an entry that also begins with Sir Walter's name and estate (though not his county). This clause thus immediately establishes the emptiness of his character: a frame of public information around a private self whose only "amusement" is his public persona. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 7 April 2021)


Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Hay-fever season in Switzerland is getting earlier and earlier

When I moved to Basel in 1995, my hay-fever season started around mid-March, but since then I've had the impression that it's been starting earlier and earlier, with even one winter where the first itch in my nose was "between the years" (as the week between Christmas and New Year's is so wonderfully called in German). While that itch quickly went away with colder weather, recently I have begun taking my medication in mid-to-late January. And now a study by the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute in Basel has confirmed my impression: from 1990 to 2020, the beginning of pollen seasons for several species have been getting earlier and earlier. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 6 April 2021)
Graphical Abstract of the study


Monday, April 05, 2021

On "verbing", conversion, and anthimeria

In a 1993 "Calvin and Hobbes" comic, Calvin says he loves "verbing": "Remember when 'access' was a thing? Now it's something you do. It got verbed." As he then adds, "verbing weirds language." The earliest "verbing" of "access" in the OED, though, is from 1953 – and the earliest of "verb" from 1928. Hobbes responds comically: "Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding." But although "verbing" is often challenged as potentially confusing, linguists just call it "conversion", and in rhetoric it's "anthimeria". As everyday forms of the "weirding" of language, conversion or anthimeria in particular and rhetoric in general are not impediments but catalysts for understanding and communication. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 5 April 2021, for Jon Stone and James Sutherland Smith)

OED entry for "verb" as a verb meaning "convert into a verb"

Sunday, April 04, 2021

"Eyes whose lids you burned off": The late turn to the Vietnam War in Denise Levertov's "The Sorrow Dance"

During my daily project of reading and quoting from one poem from Denise Levertov's collected poems, I reached her 1967 collection "The Sorrow Dance" in late February, and since then I've wondered when she began writing poems about the Vietnam War. But only several poems into "Life at War", the next-to-last section of the book, does Levertov explicitly bring up the war in the opening of "Two Variations": "You who go out on schedule / to kill, do you know / there are eyes that watch you, / eyes whose lids you burned off." Even though I expected it, Levertov's turn to the violence of war is still jarring and disturbing. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 4 April 2021)

Saturday, April 03, 2021

"When you're lost in the rain in Juarez, and it's Eastertime, too": Dylan, Judy Collins, Borges

I like to put my list of songs into a random-list generator and play them in the order that comes out. So today, I found myself singing an appropriate line for this weekend: "When you're lost in the rain in Juarez, and it's Eastertime, too." And while I "laboriously strummed" Bob Dylan's "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues", I thought of the Judy Collins version I heard so often as a child, and that lovely line from Borges I recognize myself in more than in many of my own poems and songs: "[...] me reconozco menos en sus libros que en muchos otros o que en el laborioso rasgueo de una guitarra."  (Andrew Shields, #111words, 3 April 2021)

Friday, April 02, 2021

Agents of their own choices in Barry Jenkins' "Moonlight" and Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye"

In 2017, my seminar on films by African-American directors began with four weeks discussing Barry Jenkins's "Moonlight", with the fourth session being only about Paula (Naomie Harris), the main character's mother. Our discussion of her as an agent of her own choices and not just a crack addict was incredibly productive for interpreting the film in the sociopolitical context of the United States from the 1990s to the present. The same approach to the agency and choices of characters has so far been just as productive this semester in my seminar on Toni Morrison's early novels, especially in interpreting passages about the Breedlove family in her 1970 debut, "The Bluest Eye". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 2 April 2021)

Watch Oscar Nominee Naomie Harris Uncover Her ...
Naomie Harris as Paula in "Moonlight"

Thursday, April 01, 2021

"I shall be ... you will be": Future modality in the Box Hill scene in Jane Austen's "Emma"

At Box Hill, Frank Churchill in Jane Austen's "Emma" invents a talking game with one rule: say "what you're thinking [...]." But then he changes the rules: first, say "something very entertaining", or better, "one thing very clever [...] – or two things moderately clever – or three things very dull [...]." When Miss Bates then uses "shall", she's commenting on the rules: "I shall be sure to say three dull things as soon as ever I open my mouth [...]." And Emma also speaks of the future: "[...] you will be limited as to number – only three at once." Commenting on the rules allows them both to say "what they're thinking of." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 1 April 2021)