Sunday, November 28, 2021

Taking a break from 111 words a day

With a busy semester and a move from Kleinbasel to Grossbasel two weeks from tomorrow, I've slowly been dropping my daily habits over the past two months: my daily reading and posting of poems has been on hold, including my daily reading of a poem by Denise Levertov, as has my daily work Spanish practice (vocabulary, verb conjugations, reading Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel García Márquez). I've also stopped submitting poems regularly, whenever I have some that are not under consideration somewhere (not to mention not having time to write poems and play guitar). And now I'm putting my daily prose on hold until at least the day after our move. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 28 November 2021)


The dysfunctional Tyrone, Keller, and Loman families in Eugene O'Neill and Arthur Miller

Along with her list of novels from the 1920s for her Master's exam, a student of mine also put together a list of plays from the 1950s, including Eugene O'Neill's "A Long Day's Journey Into Night", and Arthur Miller's "All My Sons" and "Death of Salesman." They share the theme of dysfunctional families: O'Neill's Tyrone family struggles with Mary Tyrone's morphine addiction; the Keller family in "All My Sons" lives in denial about the crime Joe Keller committed but was found not guilty of; the men in the Loman family in "Death of a Salesman" have been lying to each other and to themselves for so long that they cannot stop. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 27 November 2021)

Friday, November 26, 2021

"Try to make it sound like you wrote it that way on purpose": Wes Anderson's "The French Dispatch"

In Wes Anderson's new movie "The French Dispatch", Bill Murray plays Arthur Howitzer Jr., the editor of a magazine, "The French Dispatch", that is published in the town of Ennui-sur-Blasé, France; his writers are played by Owen Wilson, Tilda Swinton, Francis McDormand, and Jeffrey Wright; and his motto comes up several times in the course of the film: "Try to make it sound like you wrote it that way on purpose." That also applies to Anderson's filmmaking, with the geometric sets, the singular camera movement, and a use of voiceover narration that makes it sound like he wrote it that way on purpose, not out of a failure of cinematic vision. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 26 November 2021)

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Andreas Schärer's solo performance in Dornach

At his solo concert this evening at the Kloster in Dornach (in their Jazz & Soul series), Andreas Schärer did lots of free improvisation as usual, but he also sang compositions by others for the first time in any of his concerts that I have attended. The first was a 400-year-old work by Claudio Monteverdi; the second was Charlie Parker's "Scrapple from the Apple", with scatting mixed with bass lines and mouth trumpet. For Skip James's "Hard Time Killing Floor Blues", Schärer got the crowd humming along in call-and-response three-part harmony. He also told a long story in nonsense language with the intonation and gestures of someone relating an exciting anecdote. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 25 November 2021)

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

A keyboard with a broken power adapter

For Miles's fourth birthday in 2003, we gave him a Yamaha keyboard that he enjoyed fiddling around with, but after a while, it gathered dust until Sara began piano lessons about ten years later. Although we have a piano in the living room, she had the keyboard in her room and used it regularly. But then the power adapter broke, and she didn't mention it, so the keyboard gathered dust again. Although I wasn't optimistic about getting a replacement, today I took the broken adapter to the store where I bought the keyboard – and not only could they replace it, they even still had my eighteen-year-old purchase in their computer records. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 24 November 2021)

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Recent Research on Sir Walter Raleigh's Roanoke Island Colony

A rambling pre-Thanksgiving conversation with my mother this evening led us to the story of the settlement on Roanoke Island sponsored by Sir Walter Raleigh in the 1580s. As I had last read about the "Lost Colony" sometime in the 1990s, I was curious about current interpretations of the mystery of the disappearance of the English settlers. A 2020 New York Times article about the publication of Scott Dawson's "The Lost Colony and Hatteras Island" reveals that, while there is no "smoking gun" (as one scholar puts it), there is increasing evidence that the English were taken in by the Croatoan people on Hatteras Island, 65 miles south of Roanoke Island. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 23 November 2021)


Monday, November 22, 2021

"A difference in the eyes which watched them": Historical and experiential interpretations of the racist gaze in James Baldwin's "Another Country"

In James Baldwin's "Another Country", when Rufus Scott walks through Greenwich Village with Leona, his new white girlfriend from the South, he notices "a difference in the eyes which watched them" after his white friend Vivaldo leaves them: people now look at them "as though where they stood were an auction block or a stud farm." With the auction block as an echo of America enslavement, Rufus reads racism historically. After "an Italian adolescent" looks at him "with hatred," though, Leona tells Rufus the boy probably "don't know no better": "You could probably make friends him real easy if you tried." Leona's experiential interpretation of racism risks erasing Rufus's historical interpretation. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 22 November 2021)

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Hearing Alan Rickman but seeing Kate Winslet

Luisa is reading Jane Austen's "Sense and Sensibility" for school, so she and Andrea are watching Ang Lee's adaptation. One evening while folding laundry many years ago, I stumbled into the middle of the film on television, which I hadn't seen since its 1995 release. I remembered only that it featured Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, and Hugh Grant. A few minutes after I started watching it, as I looked down to fold something, I heard the voice of Alan Rickman and thought, "That's Snape!" But as I glanced up, the film cut to a shot of Winslet, so I was momentarily confused about the disconnect between the voice and the face. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 21 November 2021)

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Asking a poem, "what makes you weird and difficult?": John Donne's "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning"

For our discussion of John Donne's "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning", I followed Stephanie Burt and asked my students to consider how the poem is "weird and difficult" in ways that could feel negative or positive (Samuel Johnson's and T. S. Eliot's respective reactions). When I read them the poem out loud, I considered my own response, too. While reading, I found the extended metaphor of the compass in the last three stanzas thrilling; in contrast, while I enjoyed the phrasing of the astronomical stanza with "the trepidation of the spheres", my response felt less emotional than intellectual (after I had looked up the sense of that phrase while preparing the poem). (Andrew Shields, #111words, 20 November 2021)

Friday, November 19, 2021

Asking a poem, "What do you mean to me today?": Adrienne Rich's "Power"

In a session today discussing John Donne's "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning" and Adrienne Rich's "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning" and "Power", I followed Stephanie Burt's observation that "Power" contains "the power to mean many things, to do many things, for many readers, or for one reader at successive encounters." From this, I derived a question to ask Donne's poem and Rich's poems: "What are you saying to me today?" The first comments were on "Power": with its themes of radiation, power, and disease, the students said, this poem written in 1974 about Marie Curie and an excavated nineteenth-century medicine bottle spoke to them of nuclear power, climate catastrophe, and the coronavirus pandemic. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 19 November 2021)


Thursday, November 18, 2021

Reading "this Eyrawyg-gla saga": The return of the Finnegans Wake reading group in Basel

Because of the pandemic, the Finnegans Wake reading group in Basel stopped meeting at the beginning of March 2020. Yesterday, we held a meeting for the first time in almost 21 months. We stopped on page 50, two pages into chapter three of book one, so we decided to go back to page 48 to start again. In our summary of the first two chapters to start our discussion, we recalled Hosty as the author of "The Ballad of Persse O'Reilly", which concludes chapter two, so we happily found "poor Osti-Fosti" as the author of "this Eyrawyg-gla saga" ("Finnegans Wake" itself), who is clearly James Joyce himself with his "tenorist voice". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 18 November 2021)

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

From "under the weather" to Emily Dickinson

I have a slight cold; I'm "under the weather." But this cold, cloudy day made me think I'm "under the weather" mentally – tired, a bit down. My pun made me wonder about the history of the expression. While other sources speculate about the presumed effect of the weather on health, the OED offers no etymology at all, but does say it's an American idiom from the early 1800s. The Corpus of Historical American English led me to an 1860 story by Josiah Gilbert Holland, "Miss Gilbert's Career", in which a character who's "under the weather" has "got the pip" – he's depressed. But it cheers me that Holland corresponded with Emily Dickinson. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 17 November 2021)

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Ahmad Jamal's "New Rhumba" and Miles Davis's "So What"

Today, I listened to Miles Davis's 1957 album "Miles Ahead", which I know well but haven't listened to it in a while. Listening to it in the background while grading, I noticed the Ahmad Jamal composition "New Rhumba", with its striking bass line and call-and-response structure that anticipate "So What" from Davis's 1959 album "Kind of Blue." While Paul Chambers is the bassist on both Davis tracks, Israel Crosby played the same bass line in "New Rhumba" on Jamal's original 1955 recording of  the tune. Neither Jamal's nor Davis's "New Rhumba" is identical to "So What", but Davis and Chambers surely had the Jamal tune in mind for the later composition. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 16 November 2021)

Monday, November 15, 2021

Jeff Ballard and Jorge Rossy with Brad Mehldau and Larry Grenadier in Basel

At his concert with his trio last night in Basel, Brad Mehldau invited the trio's original drummer Jorge Rossy to perform the second tune of the encore in place of his current drummer, Jeff Ballard. The contrast between the two drummers playing separately with pianist Mehldau and bassist Larry Grenadier was striking: Ballard's style is full of explicit drive that highlights the pulse of the music at every tempo, while Rossy focuses on textures that imply the basic beat instead. I was reminded of first hearing the group with Ballard when he replaced Rossy in 2005: the Ballard sound was a surprise after I'd heard the trio with Rossy several times. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 15 November 2021)

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Brad Mehldau and a memory of "M*A*S*H"

At tonight's Basel concert by the Brad Mehldau Trio, with Larry Grenadier on bass and Jeff Ballard on drums (and Jorge Rossy on drums for the final encore), Mehldau played several passages in his solo on "Here's That Rainy Day" with just his left hand – chordal, then arpeggiated, then melodic. And I was surprised by a memory: in an episode of "M*A*S*H", Maj. Charles Winchester (David Ogden Stiers) had a patient, Private David Sheridan (James Stephens), who was a pianist traumatized by the permanent nerve damage in his wounded right hand. When I looked up those details just now, I was struck by how vivid my memory of Stephens's face was. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 14 November 2021)

James Stephens on "M*A*S*H" in 1980

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Acting and cinematography instead of voiceover in Rebecca Hall's "Passing"

Nella Larsen's 1929 novel "Passing" is a third-person narrative focused on Irene Redfield, a black woman in 1920s Harlem who reconnects with a childhood acquaintance, Clare Bellew, who passes as a white woman. Irene's thoughts and emotions about her experiences thread through the novel, which would make it tempting for a film-maker to use voiceover to include them. In her adaptation, though, which has just been released on Netflix, writer and director Rebecca Hall does completely without voiceover. Instead, she relies on Eduard Grau's cinematography and on Tessa Thompson's performance as Irene to get inside Irene's head: his images and her gestures and expressions tell the emotional story in this masterpiece. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 13 November 2021)


Tessa Thompson as Irene Redfield in Rebecca Hall's "Passing"


Friday, November 12, 2021

How the heck do you read this cryptic waste of time by a guy who might have been on drugs?: "r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r", by e. e. cummings

For a discussion of "r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r", by e. e. cummings, I collected questions and statements from internet posts by people trying to understand the poem. One asked, "How the heck do I read this poem?" Another said it looks like "a cryptic foreign language meant to be deciphered." A third called it "a waste of time", but then added that is nonetheless a great poem. A fourth asked two questions: "How is this a poem? Is this guy on drugs?" So I combined all these comments in a question for my students: "How the heck do you read this cryptic waste of time by a guy who might have been on drugs?" (Andrew Shields, #111words, 12 November 2021)


Thursday, November 11, 2021

Imagining a tradition for women in James Baldwin's "The Amen Corner"

At the end of James Baldwin's play "The Amen Corner", the preacher Sister Margaret Alexander tells her sister Odessa what she has learned after the return of her estranged husband Luke and her removal as the pastor of her church: "The only thing my mother should have told me is that being a woman ain't nothing but one long fight with men. And even the Lord, look like, ain't nothing but the most impossible kind of man there is." As she never experienced it herself, Margaret has to imagine a tradition of women's knowledge as a counter to women's "long fight" with a male power that is both mundane and divine. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 11 November 2021)

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Nine travelers, one tests positive, four get quarantined, four don't – what happened?

Nine people fly in a private jet on a 600-kilometer trip; on arrival, they're tested for coronavirus, and one tests positive. Following the rules of the local government, four of the eight who tested negative have to go into quarantine, while the other four can go on with their regular lives. As one of the four quarantined travelers is openly unvaccinated, the other three must also be unvaccinated, while the four unquarantined people must have been vaccinated. This is the situation with Germany's national football team this week after Niklaus Süle – who was fully vaccinated – tested positive for coronavirus and several of his teammates – including the outspoken Joshua Kimmich – were quarantined. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 10 November 2021)

Tuesday, November 09, 2021

The "daymare" in Charles Dickens's "David Copperfield" and Matthew Green's "The Spleen"

On returning home from his first "half" at boarding school for one month, Charles Dickens's David Copperfield describes the "monstrous load" on his mind of his stepfather and step-aunt Mr. and Miss Murdstone as a "daymare that there was no possibility of breaking in." While Wiktionary includes this quotation in its definition of "daymare", the Oxford English Dictionary does not; its earliest reference is over a century earlier than Dickens's 1850 novel, in lines from Matthew Green's 1737 poem "The Spleen": "If I am right, your question lay, / What course I take to drive away / The day-mare Spleen, by whose false pleas / Men prove mere suicides in ease." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 9 November 2021)
From the Eighteenth-Century Poetry Archive.


Monday, November 08, 2021

Novels as philosophy, journalism, and fragmentation in Doris Lessing's "The Golden Notebook"

In the first excerpt from her "black notebook" in Doris Lessing's "The Golden Notebook", Anna Wulf privileges novels like Thomas Mann's with "the quality a novel should have to make it a novel – the quality of philosophy" over novels as "an outpost of journalism" providing "information about areas of life we don't know" and as "a function of the fragmented society, the fragmented consciousness". Lessing's novel, though, is all three: it offers information about women's experiences otherwise absent from novels, breaks its story into the "fragmented consciousness" of the notebooks and Anna's "conventional" novel "Free Women", and makes broad "philosophical statements about life" between aesthetics, politics, and history in 1950s London. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 8 November 2021)

Sunday, November 07, 2021

The vivid experience of "Rocketman"

The second biopic my student has written her MA thesis on – after "Bohemian Rhapsody" – is "Rocketman". If the former derives its energy from Queen's music, director Dexter Fletcher and writer Lee Hall tap the energy and imagination of Elton John's music and transform a biography into an experience. The songs become musical interludes that fuse Elton's biography and the imagery of Bernie Taupin's lyrics into one vivid set piece after another. The setting of "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" is exemplary: it combines Elton's first public performance with a fairgrounds setting reminiscent of "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" to move forward in time Kit Connor's adolescent Elton to Tagar Egerton's adult Elton. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 7 November 2021)

Saturday, November 06, 2021

No "infrastructure week" but an infrastructure bill

During the Trump administration, the repeated declarations of "infrastructure week" became a running gag for the late-night comedians. As I just discovered by reading a Wikipedia page on the "infrastructure policy of Donald Trump", there was more discussion of infrastructure policy and bills during Trump's presidency than the emptiness of his public-relations announcements made me think. Nevertheless, no general infrastructure funding was passed in the course of the Trump years. Now, without an "infrastructure week", but with the President's engagement with legislators in Congress (and even though it's not as ambitious as originally proposed), President Biden has done what President Trump never managed to do: pass a large, general infrastructure bill. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 6 November 2021)

Friday, November 05, 2021

More references to Robinson Crusoe in Charles Dickens

Along with the references to Robinson Crusoe in Charles Dickens's "Dombey and Son" and "Martin Chuzzlewit", I've now come across another in a list of characters from David Copperfield's childhood reading: "Roderick Random, Peregrine Pickle, Humphrey Clinker, Tom Jones, the Vicar of Wakefield, Don Quixote, Gil Blas, and Robinson Crusoe". There are four more references to Crusoe in that novel. I've checked in the earlier Dickens novels: "The Pickwick Papers" mentions Crusoe three times, and "The Old Curiosity Shop" once. Now I'd like to have a database of nineteenth-century English novels to search for Crusoe in other authors to get a sense of whether Dickens's frequent mentions of Crusoe are unusual. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 5 November 2021)

Thursday, November 04, 2021

Don Pullen's "Trees and Grass and Thangs" and the George Adams-Don Pullen Quartet with Dannie Richmond on drums in early 1988

Today, I listened to a 1984 album by the George Adams-Don Pullen Quartet, "Decisions", which begins with the joyous Pullen composition "Trees and Grass and Thangs". Pullen plays one of his singular piano solos that start with R&B melody and end up with free jazz cascades of swirling notes – just like when I heard him play with Adams, bassist Cameron Brown, and drummer Dannie Richmond at Yoshi's in Oakland in early 1988. Richmond's performance that evening was also memorable; he played with as much joy and life as I have ever seen any musician produce on stage. And a few weeks later, he suddenly died of a heart attack at 56. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 4 November 2021)


File:Dannie Richmond.jpg
Dannie Richmond in Half Moon Bay, 1981 (from Wikipedia)

Wednesday, November 03, 2021

Robinson Crusoe as figure and (almost) reality in Charles Dickens's "Dombey and Son"

In Charles Dickens's "Martin Chuzzlewit", Robinson Crusoe is a cultural reference for Tom Pinch, a memory of childhood reading and a figure for his bachelor friend John Westlock's life. Crusoe reappears as a figure in "Dombey and Son" for both Walter Gay's uncle Solomon Gills and their friend Captain Cuttle. Solomon tells Walter they are not "like the Savages who came on Robinson Crusoe's Island"; later, after Walter has gone to sea and Solomon has gone to look for him, Captain Cuttle feels "as lonely as Robinson Crusoe." But Walter Gay himself comes close to being a real Crusoe: he survives a shipwreck and unexpectedly returns to London many years later. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 3 November 2021)
The return of Walter Gay

Tuesday, November 02, 2021

"If you will take me for your wife": Florence Dombey's marriage proposal in Charles Dickens's "Dombey and Son"

The plot of Jane Austen's "Persuasion" depends on Anne Elliot's silence: she can long for Captain Wentworth, but she cannot tell him of her longing until he speaks first in the letter that he writes her with his marriage proposal. The same is true of all of Austen's novels: the women do not propose to the men or even speak openly of their desires. But in Charles Dickens's "Dombey and Son", although Walter Gay alludes to his love for her shortly beforehand, Florence Dombey – here as powerful a woman as her stepmother Edith – proposes to Walter Gay: "If you will take me for your wife, Walter, I will love you dearly." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 2 November 2021)


Walter Gay and Florence Dombey, illustration by Fred Barnard, 1877

Monday, November 01, 2021

Seelenwecken in Sebald's "Vertigo" for All Saints' Day

In W. G. Sebald's "Vertigo", the narrator recalls an All Saints' Day tradition in his childhood village: the baking and eating of rolls known as "Seelenwecken" ("soul rolls"). To the child, they seemed to bear a profound meaning, which once even left traces on his body: "The flour-dust that remained on my fingers after I had eaten one of these Seelenwecken seemed like a revelation." But revelation cannot be on the surface; it must be sought in the depths: "That evening, I spent a long time digging in the flour barrel in my grandparents’ bedroom with a wooden spoon, hoping to fathom the mystery which I supposed to be hidden there." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 1 November 2021)