Sunday, October 31, 2021

Stressed out when the grading deadline looms

Between 19 and 22 October, the students in my three sections of Academic Writing in English I handed in their first essay (on Bharati Mukherjee's short story "The Management of Grief"=. I received 49 essays to grade and return by tomorrow, 1 November. I have 14 days to grade them, which means 3-4 essays a day. Every time I collect essays like this, I swear I will keep up with that average so I won't be stressed out when it comes down to the wire to get them all returned. And every time I don't manage the steady rate of grading, and I end up stressed out as the deadline looms. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 31 October 2021)

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Edith Granger in Charles Dickens's "Dombey and Son"

Charles Dickens's "Dombey and Son" features Edith Granger, who becomes Mr. Dombey's second wife. Before they get married, she describes her situation to her mother, Mrs. Skewton, who has long been trying to find a second husband for Edith: "There is no slave in a market: there is no horse in a fair: so shown and offered and examined and paraded, Mother, as I have been, for ten shameful years." Even after she marries Mr. Dombey, Edith steadily resists the role of the beautiful trophy wife that her society has offered her. Now I've left this memorable character behind and started "David Copperfield", with its first-person narration, new ground for Dickens. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 30 October 2021)


P 408a--dombey and son.jpg

Friday, October 29, 2021

Finishing "Finnegans Wake"

Yesterday, I finished James Joyce's "Finnegans Wake". I began it in October 2017 when Ulrich Blumenbach, Michelle Witen, and I started the Finnegans Wake Reading Group in Basel, which met regularly until it was interrupted by the pandemic (it will soon start again). Sometime in 2018 I began reading a digital copy on my phone (about one paragraph a day); soon I was past where we were in the group. By myself, I have read it almost exclusively for its captivating sound (and the occasional good bit to quote on social media). The book famously ends by returning to its beginning – so yesterday, I started "Finnegans Wake" for a second time. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 29 October 2021)

Thursday, October 28, 2021

The war of interpretation in Jennifer Chang's "Dorothy Wordsworth"

Jennifer Chang's poem "Dorothy Wordsworth" begins with an attack on William Wordsworth's "Daffodils" that also characterizes Chang's speaker: "The daffodils can go fuck themselves." This angry speaker continues with a series of self-descriptions, both mental ("I'm tired of" the daffodils) and physical (characteristics she shares with the daffodils). But then the poem turns to how "the critics" read such lines and what they "know" and "label": "Narcissus nobilis or Jennifer Chang". Such authoritative knowing is also claimed by "ex-boyfriends" who define the speaker in ways she rejects. If, as she concludes, "this is a poem about war", its battlefield is the interpretation of the angry (female) self by classifying (male) others. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 28 October 2021)


Wednesday, October 27, 2021

A tough evening for the FCB – or the FCBs

It was a tough evening for the FCB – or the FCBs. FC Basel lost 1-0 in the Swiss Cup to Étoile Carouge, a club that plays two divisions lower than the Swiss Super League leader. (And yesterday and today, the Swiss Cup saw the top three clubs in the league knocked out, as FC Zürich and BSC Young Boys also lost.) Meanwhile, FC Bayern Munich lost 5-0 in the German Cup to Borussia Mönchengladbach, whose runaway upset win featured strong performances by two ex-Basel players, goalkeeper Yann Sommer and striker Breel Embolo, who scored two goals. And in Spain, FC Barcelona lost a 1-0 match in La Liga to Rayo Vallecano. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 27 October 2021)

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

An afternoon listening to Beethoven's symphonies

Recently, I've finally been copying most of my classical music CDs to my hard drive. Today, I ripped a boxed set of the Beethoven symphonies by Claudio Abbado with the Berlin Philharmonic, so while grading essays all afternoon, I also listened to the symphonies in order. I haven't listened to them in years, and I'm far from being a classical music aficionado (I know jazz far better), but again and again I found myself smiling and laughing when familiar passages came up, perhaps from having listened to this Abbado collection quite a few times a while back, or perhaps even from hearing my parents play classical music stations throughout my childhood. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 26 October 2021)

Monday, October 25, 2021

Doris Lessing's "The Golden Notebook" between Vermeer and Matisse, Dickens and Joyce, Socialist Realism and Abstract Expressionism

In our discussion this afternoon of a passage in Doris Lessing's "The Golden Notebook" in which Anna and Molly eat strawberries and cream (with sugar on top) and drink red wine, my students and I described the aesthetics of the passage in terms of mimetic painting (the light made us think of Vermeer) and the aesthetics in the passage in terms of modernist painting (the colors made us think of Matisse). In terms of literature, the passage, as well as the whole novel, thus finds itself aesthetically between Dickens and Joyce – or politically between Socialist Realism and Abstract Expressionism, between the blocs in the Cold War era when it was written. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 25 October 2021)


"With strawberries, wine, obviously," said Anna greedily; and moved the spoon about among the fruit, feeling its soft sliding resistance, and the slipperiness of the cream under a gritty crust of sugar. Molly swiftly filled glasses with wine and set them on the white sill. The sunlight crystallised beside each glass on the white paint in quivering lozenges of crimson and yellow light, and the two women sat in the sunlight, sighing with pleasure and stretching their legs in the thin warmth, looking at the colours of the fruit in the bright bowls and at the red wine. (33-34)

Sunday, October 24, 2021

"Bohemian Rhapsody", Queen, Live Aid, and The Grateful Dead at Ventura County Fairgrounds, 13 July 1985

A student wrote her MA thesis on two recent biopics about musicians, "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "Rocket Man", so of course I have to watch them before I mark her thesis. Andrea and I just finished "Bohemian Rhapsody", which is framed by Queen's performance at Wembley for Live Aid on 13 July 1985. I was not at Wembley or even at JFK in Philadelphia for the concerts, and I didn't watch the broadcast either. Instead, I was at Ventura County Fairgrounds in California to hear The Grateful Dead, and during the dissonant feedback of the "Space" section of the show, I imagined the Dead's eerie sounds being broadcast at Wembley and JFK. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 24 October 2021)

Me at Ventura County Fairgrounds, July 1985, photo by Julian Stone

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Disability as metaphor in Denise Levertov

This morning, in my reading of Denise Levertov's collected poems, I finished "The Freeing of the Dust" (1975) with its final poem, "The Wealth of the Destitute". The poem's observation of "[h]ow confidently the crippled from birth / push themselves through the streets, deep in their lives" would have struck me less if I hadn't already noticed earlier poems in which Levertov makes disabilities into metaphors. Even as she empathizes with "the destitute", she also risks romanticizing their experience of the world as superior to hers. – When I looked for the poem to link to it, I joyfully heard my former teacher's voice in the recording on the Poetry Foundation website. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 23 October 2021)

Friday, October 22, 2021

"Writing down what life dictated": The second-person narrator in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's "The Thing Around Your Neck"

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's short story "The Thing Around Your Neck" has a second-person narrator, Akunna, an immigrant from Nigeria to the United States. During her first longer conversation with her future boyfriend, a white customer at the restaurant where she works as a waitress, she contrasts herself with him after she learns about his time off from university to "discover himself": "You did not know that people could simply choose not to go to school, that people could dictate to life. You were used to accepting what life gave, writing down what life dictated." This explains the story's narrative perspective: with "you", the story "writes down what life dictates" to Akunna. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 22 October 2021)

Thursday, October 21, 2021

An amusing typo – but is it really a typo?

I received an email today with an amusing typo, "sincelery" for "sincerely", and my post about it generated a number of comments. But now I wonder about this typo. After all, this is not a case of switching two letters that are next to each other in a word ("sicnerely" might pop up while typing quickly, say) or switching two letters that are next to each other on a standard keyboard ("soncerely", for example). Two letters are exchanged that are separated by a letter in the word, and the exchanged letters are on different sides of the keyboard. I wonder, then, if it might be a spelling mixup created by dyslexia. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 21 October 2021)

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

My teaching philosophy and the pandemic

Every five years, my "Universitätsdozent" position at the University of Basel is evaluated; as I received the title in 2011 and was first evaluated in 2016, the time has come around again. In my 2016 portfolio, I included a description of my teaching philosophy; it hasn't changed much, but the experience of teaching my "111 Words a Day" course (and writing my own daily prose) has led me to recognize and confirm my Schillerian understanding of education as addressing the whole person. The pandemic contributed to this realization; paradoxically, the virtual setting of Zoom teaching made room for the students and me to reflect on our pandemic experiences with each other. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 20 October 2021)

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

"Are we allowed to use contractions?"

In my first-semester Academic Writing class this term, several students have formulated questions in terms of what they are "allowed" to do. One simple question was whether they are "allowed to use contractions" in their essays. After a short answer ("Yes"), I discussed how contractions associated with an informal register, which might seem to run counter to a neutral or formal academic tone. I also added the more practical point that contractions can reduce word count, if that's necessary (a trick I regularly use in these texts). But ultimately, I concluded, what's "allowed" in academic writing often depends on one's style sheet – in our case, the MLA Handbook, which "allows" contractions. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 19 October 2021)

Monday, October 18, 2021

From curse and praise poems to anaphora, epistrophe, and symploce with Martín Espada, St. Paul, and The Spinners

This morning in my poetry and songwriting class, I talked about poems that curse or praise. One common feature of such poems is the repetition of opening words or phrases, anaphora, as in the repeated "may" in the second half of this curse poem by Martín Espada, or the repeated "praise" in his "Alabanza". Anaphora led me to epistrophe, the repetition of closing phrases, as in 1 Corinthians 13: "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child." And that led to symploce, the combination of anaphora and epistrophe, as in the chorus of "I'll Be Around", by The Spinners. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 18 October 2021)
The Spinners on The Midnight Special, 1973


Sunday, October 17, 2021

The story I heard about the length of compact discs – and one engineer's version of the story

When the compact disc was introduced, I heard it was 74 minutes long because the President of Sony had insisted it be that long so Beethoven's Ninth Symphony would fit on one disc. I told Andrea this story today, and she was skeptical about it. Some searching confirmed that the story is out there – and that a Philips engineer, Kees Immink, has written about how the technical and physical details were arrived at in meetings between Philips and Sony. The size (120mm) was a compromise so that Philips would not have a manufacturing advantage, as they were already making 115mm discs. The playing time was a side effect of the size. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 17 October 2021)


Saturday, October 16, 2021

Taking sides in reading Bharati Mukherjee's "The Management of Grief", a story that "flutters between two worlds"

As they worked on their first essay in my first-semester Academic Writing course, my students gave me their working thesis statements to comment on. They are all writing about Bharati Mukherjee's short story "The Management of Grief", which explores the reactions of Indian immigrants to Canada after the 1985 Sikh bombing of an Air India flight. As one character puts it, the people in the story live "between Bombay and Wonderland." A number of the students, though, read the story not as between India and Canada, but rather as pro-India or pro-Canada. Even with a story that "flutters between two worlds", as the narrator puts it, they want to take sides. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 16 October 2021)

Friday, October 15, 2021

Approximating the undercounting of coronavirus vaccination rates in Germany

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) recently announced that official statistics on coronavirus vaccination rates in Germany have been approximately five percent lower than the actual vaccination rate. Accurate statistics are essential for the making of political decisions, especially during the pandemic; after all, the implementation of vaccination mandates or covid certificates is only necessary if vaccination rates remain low or infection rates remain high. But that's not a reason to despair about "lies, damn lies, and statistics": a few months ago, the RKI had already speculated that the rates might be higher than the official counts; now, they have been able to approximate the discrepancy by comparing two different data-collection methods. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 15 October 2021)


Thursday, October 14, 2021

Kyrie Irving and coronavirus; Magic Johnson and HIV: Another Republican lie

Eugene Scott of the Washington Post quoted two tweets complaining that NBA player Kyrie Irving has been banned from playing for refusing to get a coronavirus vaccination while Earvin "Magic" Johnson played with HIV in the 1990s. (The tweets were by Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia) and Lavern Spicer, a Republican candidate for a Congressional seat in Florida.) Scott predicts this will be a Republican talking point in the future in the United States. HIV, of course, is not transmitted through the air, as Sars-Cov-2 is – and Johnson actually retired after he received his HIV diagnosis in 1991, only playing again in the 1992 Olympics and briefly in the 1995-1996 season. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 14 October 2021)


Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Multilingualism in literature and supermarkets in Switzerland

Today in "Republik", Daniel Graf  addresses multilingualism in Switzerland beyond the four official national languages (German, French, Italian, and Romansh): "Wie viele Sprachen spricht die Schweiz?" He considers writers in Switzerland working in other languages, including Persian, Serbian, and Portuguese. But the article also reminds me of something that fascinated me within my first few months here: at the supermarket I went to regularly, I heard one cashier regularly speaking multiple languages, from ones I recognized (German, French, English, and Italian) to others I had to guess at (Turkish, one or more Slavic languages, and perhaps others). Even at the supermarket, Switzerland speaks many more languages than the four official ones. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 13 October 2021)


Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Remembering Matthyas Jenny (1945-2021)

On several occasions over the years, I worked on organizing events with the Basel writer, publisher, and literary impresario Matthyas Jenny, who passed away on Sunday at 76. As the organizer of the Basel Literature Festival and later of the Kleines Literaturhaus in the basement of his bookstore, the Bachletten Buchhandlung, he always had an open mind for events and for ideas about how they could be presented. In 2003, he asked me to write to Seamus Heaney to invite him to read in Basel in 2004; I received a letter from Heaney a month or so later, who graciously declined – my letter from a Nobel laureate, thanks to Matthyas Jenny. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 12 October 2021)

Monday, October 11, 2021

Automatic Writing, Surrealism, and Spiritualism after World War One

For several years in my poetry and songwriting course, I've been using an automatic-writing exercise the students always mention as one of their favorites. I've always presented automatic writing in terms of surrealism and the 1919 work of André Breton and Philippe Soupault, but in preparing for this morning's session this weekend, I looked for other ways to talk about it and stumbled on its role in spiritualism as a means of channeling the voices of the dead. That thread eventually led me back to literature and the spiritualism of Arthur Conan Doyle and W. B. Yeats, especially immediately after World War I, across the English Channel from the future surrealists. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 11 October 2021)

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Sebastian Kurz resigns as Austrian Chancellor but keeps his other positions

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz resigned yesterday due to a corruption scandal with accusations that Kurz was involved in the use of public money to produce favorable polling during an election campaign. He was only 31 when he first became Chancellor in 2017, so now he's just 35, and my first thought on hearing about the scandal before his resignation was that he would probably ride out the scandal and return to power sometime in the next decade. Yet the terms of his resignation suggest that he will not even stay away that long – or at all: he will retain his parliamentary seat and become head of his party's fraction on Tuesday. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 10 October 2021)

Saturday, October 09, 2021

One woman to nine men: This year's Nobel Prize laureates (so far)

So far, nine of this year's Nobel Prizes have gone to men, with one being awarded to a woman: journalist Maria Ressa from the Philippines (and the first Filipino Nobel laureate). Last year, I challenged a man on Twitter who called the awarding of four out of nine of the Nobels to women "ideological", but as I wrote then, the real ideology here is male supremacism, in which one woman to nine men is seen as a neutral ratio, with higher numbers of women being seen as tarnished by "politics". The men who received the Prizes this year have surely all done exceptional work, but women's excellence continues to be devalued. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 9 October 2021)

Friday, October 08, 2021

Mail about coronavirus vaccinations from the Health Ministry of the Canton of Basel-Stadt

I received a letter today from the Health Ministry of the Canton of Basel-Stadt: an "invitation to receive the Covid-19 vaccination." The Ministry thanks those who have already been vaccinated and drily provides information about who can receive the vaccination (12 years old and up), how much it costs (free), how it will be given ("on a one-to-one basis by official, healthcare professionals"), and how many shots are needed (two). The letter also includes a schedule for the "vaccination bus" and for pharmacies where you can get appointments. Thus, it doesn't try to talk anyone into the vaccination; it just tries to make clear how easy it is to get vaccinated. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 8 October 2021)



Thursday, October 07, 2021

Tone, Chicago, typography: Nella Larsen's "Passing" and Gwendolyn Brooks's "Maud Martha"

A student of mine recently wrote a list of novels from the 1920s for her Master's exam, including Nella Larsen's "Passing" (1929), which I've always wanted to read but never gotten to previously. While reading Larsen, I keep thinking of Gwendolyn Brooks's 1953 novel "Maud Martha": the tone of the two novels is similar enough to make me wonder whether Brooks knew Larsen's work. But maybe it's just that Larsen's novel begins with scenes set in Chicago, where Brooks's novel takes place – or perhaps it's even an unconscious effect that the Larsen edition I'm reading and the Brooks edition I own have strikingly similar typography (especially their fonts and wide margins). (Andrew Shields, #111words, 7 October 2021)

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

Use Facebook's "Most Recent" instead of "News Feed"

In her "60 Minutes" interview on Sunday and her Senate testimony yesterday, Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen described how the company's machine-learning algorithms determine which posts users see on Facebook and Instagram. The algorithms identify which posts and advertisements individual users are likely to interact with and order them accordingly on your "News Feed". I don't use Instagram enough to know how it works, but one way to sidestep the algorithms on Facebook is to go to "Most Recent" posts instead, which supposedly gives you all your Friends' posts in reverse chronological order. But of course the latest versions of the site and the app make it hard to find that option. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 6 October 2021)



Tuesday, October 05, 2021

"Are you telling me that a corporation chose money over the safety of consumers?": Jacobin, Last Week Tonight, and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on the murderousness of corporations

Early today, I came across the headline of an article in Jacobin: "Corporations Would Literally Kill You to Turn a Profit." That was in keeping with Last Week Tonight's broadcast on Sunday about PFAS, a class of chemicals that includes Teflon, which Dupont has kept producing and marketing despite its deadly effects on the public, their customers, and even their employees. Later, I watched the monologue by Stephen Colbert from the Late Show last night, where he commented on the statement by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen that the company "chooses profits over safety." As Colbert sarcastically said, "Are you telling me that a corporation chose money over the safety of consumers?" (Andrew Shields, #111words, 5 October 2021)


"Are you telling me that a corporation chose money over the safety of consumers?"

Monday, October 04, 2021

Finding out the Facebook apps were down – three times

Just past six this evening, my daughter Luisa called wondering if there was something wrong with her phone: she couldn't access Facebook, WhatsApp, or Instagram. Only when she asked did I remember I hadn't been able to access Facebook an hour or so earlier. I checked on Twitter and found all sorts of dry humor about the Facebook apps having crashed (with the best one being one I just discovered now, a few hours later: Twitter itself tweeted, "Hello literally everybody"). But I forgot about it until Andrea said her phone wasn't connected to our WiFi; only when she mentioned it was a WhatsApp problem did I think of the crash. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 4 October 2021)


Sunday, October 03, 2021

What to do with a dusty collection of CDs?

What with my iPhone and Spotify, it's been years since I've listened to music on CDs, so my CD collection has been gathering dust. I copied most of it to my hard drive for listening purposes, and I also put many of the CDs and booklets into file folders with holders designed for CDs. But now we're going to be moving in December, so I'm thinking about just getting rid of the physical collection entirely. The nice thing to do would be to give the CDs to people who still listen to them, but everybody I've asked actually has the same problem: they want to get rid of their CDs, too! (Andrew Shields, #111words, 3 October 2021)



Quarantine cleaning: What to do with all those old CDs collecting dust? |  Star Tribune
Old CDs gathering dust

Saturday, October 02, 2021

Phone numbers, PIN codes, passwords, and memorization

These days, if I want to share a phone number with someone, and it's not my own phone number, I have to look the number up. Before smart phones and cell phones and phones with memories, though, I always had several dozen phone numbers memorized, mostly not from trying to memorize them but just dialing them often. Only one of those old numbers I memorized is still around – my sister's number in Massachusetts that she's had since the mid-1990s. But I still remember lots of arbitrary sequences of numbers – mostly PIN codes. And I even have quite a few passwords memorized, too – again, from having to put them in often enough. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 2 October 2021)


Friday, October 01, 2021

Happy 75th birthday to bassist Dave Holland

It's the 75th birthday of bassist Dave Holland, who first came to prominence with a two-year stint in Miles Davis's band from 1968-1970. His playing drives "In a Silent Way" (1969) and "Bitches Brew" (1970). He began working as a leader in the 1980s with a quintet that recorded three albums on ECM; I saw them twice at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. I've since seen him with Pat Metheny, Herbie Hancock, Jack DeJohnette, Anouar Brahem, and John Surman, among others, as well as leading another quintet that recorded five more albums from 1998 to 2006 and – lucky for me – played in Basel several times in those years. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 1 October 2021)



Miles Davis, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette