Monday, February 28, 2022

The chance of "just missing" at least one of two trams that come every seven minutes

Today, I just missed the tram – and then just missed one on the way back, too. That's frustrating, but the chance of missing a tram quickly increases. If "just missing the tram" means it left in the minute before you got to the stop (so you can still see it in the distance), you have a six-in-seven chance of not just missing a tram that comes every seven minutes, and the chance of not "just missing" either or both of two trams is the square of that chance – thirty-six-in-forty-nine. So your chance of "just missing" one of two trams is thirteen-in-forty-nine – over 26%. (I hope this channels my mathematician father correctly.) (Andrew Shields, #111words, 28 February 2022)

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Martin Kimani, the recognitation of internal boundaries, and open borders

In his speech to the United Nations Security Council on Monday, 21 February, Martin Kimani, Kenya's Permanent Representative to the UN, defended the recognition of existing international borders even in the light of the arbitrary drawing of borders in the past:  "Our borders were not of our own drawing. They were drawn in the distant colonial metropoles of London, Paris, and Lisbon with no regard for the ancient nations that they cleaved apart." Following what I learned from Joseph Carens's "The Ethics of Immigration" (2013), all international borders – especially those in Europe and North America – should be open to migration by anyone, regardless of their reasons for leaving their home countries. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 27 February 2022)


Saturday, February 26, 2022

Scenes from today's demonstration for Ukraine in Basel

Today's demonstration in Basel against the Russian war on Ukraine began on Barfüsserplatz at 2 pm with speeches that also condemned the Swiss government's hesitancy about freezing Russian bank accounts. Not many people in the crowd (estimated at about two thousand strong) were wearing masks, but when the organizers called for people to put them on because the pandemic is not over, many did. As the crowd followed the tram line down Gerbergasse past a fitness studio, three young men on a break from their workout sat inside the window and gawked at the demonstrators – or perhaps the one who was gesticulating was explaining the nuances of Ukraine to his friends. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 26 February 2022)

Friday, February 25, 2022

Higher grades in a course since Fall 2019

After wrapping up my grades for my first-semester Academic Writing in English course from the Fall Semester 2021, the average grades seemed higher to me than in previous years. So I checked the last five years and discovered I was half right: while both the mean and median grades for the final essays in the courses were higher in Fall 2021 than in Fall 2017, the shift did not occur this year but in 2019, when both measures went up significantly. So either the students suddenly got better three years ago, my teaching has become more effective, or I'm not being as tough in my grading as I used to be. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 25 February 2022)

Thursday, February 24, 2022

From the pages of Ilya Kaminsky's "Deaf Republic"

I page through "Deaf Republic" (2019) by Ilya Kaminsky, who was born in Odessa in 1977 and moved to the United States in 1993, and I find "the nakedness / of a whole nation" ("As Soldiers March, Alfonso Covers the Boy's Face with a Newspaper"). I find "4 a.m. Bombardment": "It has begun: I see the blue canary of my country / pick breadcrumbs from each citizen's eyes / pick breadcrumbs from my neighbor's hair". And "Question": "What is a child? / A quiet between two bombardments." And "Question": "What is a man? / A quiet between two bombardments." And "Question": "What is a woman? / A quiet between two bombardments." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 24 February 2022)

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Naming something twice: Alternatives and improvements in Elizabeth Bishop and Sumita Chakraborty

"The Map", the first poem in Elizabeth Bishop's first book "North & South" (1946), includes a gesture typical of Bishop: "Shadows, or are they shallows, at its edges" (the edges of the land on the map the poem describes). The poem names something – the "shadows" on the map – and then offers an alternative word for it – "shallows" – a word motivated by both sound (alliteration and rhyme) and sense. The second of the poems called "Arrow" in Sumita Chakraborty's collection "Arrow" (2020) includes a version of Bishop's gesture: "Fields of pines—no, full coasts—caught flame." As with Bishop's alternative, this improvement is motivated by sound (the alliterations) as well as sense. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 23 February 2022)


Blackboard from today's discussion of the section from that Chakraborty poem with that passage.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Photographs of whiteboards and blackboards, and shared online notes, as records of class discussions

When I taught in the English Department at the Université de Haute-Alsace in the Fall Semester of 2017, the students took pictures of the whiteboards at the end of the class. After I noticed that, I started doing so, too, and I have kept up the habit since, as a record – though often cryptic – of the discussions. When my teaching moved online in March 2020, I soon began to type notes into shared copies of the course handouts – so there's a much less cryptic, more detailed and specific record of those discussions. Since Fall 2021, I've been photographing blackboards again – but I do miss the lost detail of those online handouts. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 22 February 2022)

Monday, February 21, 2022

"Thomas Mann, Ezra Pound, Riffaterre, and 501": Jean Alter, the courses I took in the Spring Semester 1989, and why I took them

Walking across the University of Pennsylvania campus at the beginning of the spring semester of 1989 (my second semester of graduate school in Comparative Literature), I ran into Jean Alter, Professor of French and Comparative Literature, who asked me what courses I was taking. I told him: "Thomas Mann, Ezra Pound, Riffaterre, and 501." He exclaimed that my choice of how to refer to the classes exemplified how the way we name things depends on our interest in them: I was taking the Thomas Mann and Ezra Pound seminars for the subject; the seminar with Michel Riffaterre for the professor; and "Comparative Literature 501: Introduction to Literary Theory" as a requirement. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 21 February 2022)

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Idlewild in Nella Larsen's "Passing"

In Nella Larsen's 1929 novel "Passing", Irene Redfield, on a visit to her hometown of Chicago, runs into her childhood friend Clare after a dozen years. Clare insists they should meet again before Irene leaves, but Irene at first demurs: she has little free time in the rest of her stay in Chicago, in part because she is "going away for the weekend, Idlewild, you know." Here, Idlewild is not the earlier name of JFK Airport (as in James Baldwin's 1962 novel "Another Country", but a town in Michigan, about 260 miles from Chicago; for about fifty years from the 1910s to the 1960s, it was a resort for Black Americans. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 20 February 2022)

Saturday, February 19, 2022

The date and the spans of time mentioned and implied in the first paragraph of Toni Morrison's "Beloved"

The year mentioned in the first paragraph of Toni Morrison's "Beloved" is 1873; the place is Cincinnati, Ohio. At this time, the paragraph says, Sethe and her daughter Denver are the only residents of 124 Bluestone Road; her sons left a few years earlier at thirteen. The numbers lead to arithmetic: it may be 1873 right now, but Sethe's children must have been born before 1860, and hence before the American Civil War, which (despite claims to the contrary) was fought by the Southern states to defend slavery. So that span of time introduces slavery even before the novel mentions that Sethe herself had been enslaved and had escaped from enslavement. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 19 February 2022)

Friday, February 18, 2022

124 and the numbers in the first paragraph of Toni Morrison's "Beloved"

Toni Morrison's "Beloved" begins with a house number – 124 – but the street name, Bluestone Road, is only mentioned later, after a flurry of numbers measuring time: 1873, which finds "Sethe and her daughter Denver" alone in the house; thirteen, the age when "the sons, Howard and Buglar, had run away" several years before; the two months separating when they each fled. Yet after the street's name comes up the number is erased: The house "didn't have a number then" (when the sons fled), "because Cincinnati didn’t stretch that far." In this first paragraph, the house number is introduced and then erased in a shift back to a time before it existed. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 18 February 2022)

Thursday, February 17, 2022

"Estamos? – Estamos": Figuring out a Spanish expression with Daniel Sánchez Arévalo's "Diecisiete" ("Seventeen")

Daniel Sánchez Arévalo's 2019 movie "Seventeen" posed me with a problem: when the film's two brothers, Héctor (Biel Montoro) and Ismael (Nacho Sánchez) argued about their plans together, one would ask "Estamos?" and the other would answer "Estamos", while the subtitles would say "You get it?" and "I get it." I know the word "estamos", but only as "we are", so I kept wondering if it was something else, until I found a website that explained that it can mean "Ready?" or "Okay?" Overall, the film is a lovely buddy movie that also includes a wonderful scene in which Ismael explains irony to Héctor, which the latter defines as "saying nonsense." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 17 February 2022)

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Touching ice and snow and finding it hot

After the first sentence of Gabriel García Márquez's "Cien años de soledad" (1967) ends with Aureliano Buendía's memory of discovering ice with his father, it takes twenty pages to the end of the first chapter for the scene of that discovery to be narrated. When the boy touches the ice, he shouts out his surprise: “Está hirviendo” – "it's boiling". When my son Miles was just over one year old and had just begun to use a few words, we were in Kassel for Christmas at his grandparents' house, and it snowed. When we took him outside, he touched the snow and was also taken aback: "Heiss", he laughed – that is, "hot". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 16 February 2022)

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Three courses on Toni Morrison's novels in three spring semesters: 2021, 2022, and 2023

As I noted the other day, I'm teaching a seminar this term on Toni Morrison's Middle Novels, that is, "Beloved" (1987), "Jazz" (1992), and "Paradise" (1998). This is the continuation of a course I taught last spring on Morrison's Early Novels: "The Bluest Eye" (1970), "Sula" (1973), "Tar Baby" (1977), and "Song of Solomon" (1981). Next spring, I'm planning on teaching Morrison's Late Novels: "Love" (2003), "A Mercy" (2008), "Home" (2012), and "God Help the Child" (2015). I have one student taking the second course who also took the first; as she might be done with her MA before next spring, I'll be the one who's participated in all three seminars. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 15 February 2022)

Monday, February 14, 2022

My Contemporary Poetry seminar in Spring Semester 2022

I've taught my seminar on Contemporary Poetry five times since fall 2016. I pick six recent books for discussion and spend two weeks on each one (with an introductory session and a final session, too). I try to pick three poets each from North America and the United Kingdom and Ireland, though I've also had several from other countries. I also have not repeated any poet yet. Next week, I'll start the sixth round of the course with the following books: Sumita Chakraborty, "Arrow"; Mary Jean Chan, "Flèche"; Natalie Diaz, "Postcolonial Love Poem"; Ilya Kaminsky, "Deaf Republic"; Rowan Ricardo Phillips, "Living Weapon"; and Vidyan Ravinthiran, "The Million-petalled Flower of Being Here". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 14 February 2022)

Sunday, February 13, 2022

"The beauty of the world so heavy": Reginald Dwayne Betts, Seyla Benhabib, and Hannah Arendt in "The New York Review of Books"

The 24 February 2022 issue of The New York Review of Books juxtaposes Reginald Dwayne Betts's poem "White Peonies" and Seyla Benhabib's review of books by and about Hannah Arendt. Betts writes that "peonies are so / Beautiful they frighten me" and then asks a question: "The beauty of the world so heavy we fear the world / Cannot stand it?" Benhabib discusses Arendt's reading of Kant's "Critique of Judgment" on the same page: "Aesthetic judgments are [...] political because they aim at persuading others by taking their standpoint into account." Betts's aesthetic fear leads him to seek a political "we" grounded in his aesthetic judgment of beauty and the sublime. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 13 February 2022)


Saturday, February 12, 2022

A comparion between silent-film comedians and sixties bands – and the memory of a similar comparison between those bands and Impressionists

In an article on Buster Keaton in the 31 January 2022 issue of The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik considers who was better: Keaton or Charlie Chaplin. He also mentions a third silent-film comedian and makes a comparison: "Harold Lloyd [gets] dragged into these arguments in much the same way that the Kinks get dragged into arguments about the Beatles and the Stones." This echoes a long-ago New Yorker article on Impressionism (perhaps by Gopnik but perhaps by Peter Schjeldahl – I haven't found it): Impressionist painters working outdoors together pushed each other the way the bands did from single to single. That striking juxtaposition of painting and pop music stuck with me. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 12 February 2022)


Friday, February 11, 2022

"Booth, Jefferson, Mansfield" and the decline of the American theater in John Dos Passos's "Manhattan Transfer"

In John Dos Passos's "Manhattan Transfer" (1925), a character complains about the decline of the American theater: "There's no great acting any more: Booth, Jefferson, Mansfield ... all gone." Edwin Booth (1833-1893) was the leading American actor of the nineteenth century (and the older brother of Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth). Joseph Jefferson (1829-1905), his contemporary, was famous for his performance as  Rip Van Winkle, whom he even played in silent films. Richard Mansfield (1857-1907), an English actor who worked in the United States, was also known for his performance in "Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde", which was so convincing that he became a suspect in the Jack the Ripper investigations. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 11 February 2022)

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Violet Trace takes off one shoe in Toni Morrison's "Jazz"

Yesterday, after I finished rereading Toni Morrison's 1992 novel "Jazz", which, along with "Beloved" (1987) and "Paradise" (1988), is one of the books for my forthcoming seminar on Morrison's "Middle Novels", I posted a simple quotation from the end of the book, when Violet Trace cleans herself up after work and realizes she's forgotten to take off her shoes: "Putting the toe of her left foot to the heel of her right, she pushed the shoe off." It's a lovely, apparently unmotivated description of an everyday activity that is often overlooked in literature – but the story does offer motivation when Violet's husband Joe finds her asleep with her left shoe on. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 10 February 2022)

Wednesday, February 09, 2022

The sixtieth anniversary of my parents' wedding

Sixty years ago today, on 9 February 1962, my parents got married. So it's the sixtieth anniversary of their wedding – but it seems to me that it would be odd to call it their sixtieth wedding anniversary (the diamond anniversary, as Wikipedia just informed me). After all, their marriage ended in divorce in 1983, so they stopped counting anniversaries after that, and even if they had stayed together, my father died in 2016, so they would not have been married for sixty years. But it's still an occasion worth noting – and in fact it was my mother herself, the other day, who drew my attention to such a nice round number. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 9 February 2022)

Tuesday, February 08, 2022

Pregancy advice from five countries in 1999

When Andrea was pregnant with our first child Miles in 1999, she lived in Poitiers, France, I lived in Basel, Switzerland, and she spent the last few months before his birth in Kassel, Germany. So we got pregnancy advice from those three countries – and from the United Kingdom and the United States (from books friends gave us). There were contradictions. For example, the advice from America and Germany said one should avoid alcohol entirely while pregnant, and the advice from Switzerland, the UK, and France allowed moderate consumption. But in Switzerland and the UK, "moderate" meant a glass of wine a week – and in France, a glass of wine with lunch.  (Andrew Shields, #111words, 8 February 2022)


Glass of Red Wine - Free High Resolution Photo

Monday, February 07, 2022

Burn bags

Recent revelations about what the Washington Post calls the "cavalier handling of presidentialrecords" in the Trump administration, including Trump's habit of tearing up papers himself, have generated articles about how executive-branch documents are handled. I'm particularly struck by the concept of "burn bags" for the document disposal, which the Post says "resemble paper grocery bags", with "diagonal red stripes" on the bags for classified material. There's even a Wikipedia page about "burn bags", with a picture of Joe Biden and Barack Obama in the Situation Room in May 2011 during the raid leading to the killing of Osama bin Laden; between them is a bag that has those telltale stripes. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 7 February 2022)
Photo by Pete Souza, public domain

Sunday, February 06, 2022

Heiner Müller's production of "Hamlet" at the Deutsches Theater in Berlin in 1991

In September 1991, I saw Heiner Müller's production of "Hamlet"  the Deutsches Theater in Berlin, with Ulrich Mühe as Hamlet and Jörg Gudzuhn as Claudius. The performance had four parts, with twenty-minute intermissions after the first and third parts and after the second a one-hour intermission with a barbecue on the square outside the theater. The first part was performed quite conventionally, with the second part gradually getting more experimental. For the third part, the play-within-the-play, Müller replaced "The Murder of Gonzago" with his own "Hamletmaschine", with the actors chanting their lines in eighteenth-century costumes. And in the final part, the fight between Hamlet and Laertes was a mimed tennis match. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 6 February 2022)

Saturday, February 05, 2022

Beached ships in García Márquez's "Cien años de soledad" and Ishiguro's "Never Let Me Go"

In Gabriel García Márquez's "Cien años de soledad" (1967), after many days wandering through a "región encantada", José Arcadio Buendía wakes up to a sunny morning and sees, far from the ocean, a ship: "Frente a ellos, rodeado de helechos y palmeras, blanco y polvoriento en la silenciosa luz de la mañana, estaba un enorme galeón español." Anachronistically, for me this galleon echoes the beached boat in Kazuo Ishiguro's "Never Let Me Go" (2005): "I could now see how its paint was cracking, and how the timber frames of the little cabin were crumbling away. It had once been painted a sky blue, but now looked almost white under the sky." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 5 February 2022)

Friday, February 04, 2022

Prayer, Hymn, and Barbecue in Zora Neale Hurston's "Their Eyes Were Watching God"

When Mayor Joe Starks has the first streetlamp installed in Eatonville in Zora Neale Hurston's "Their Eyes Were Watching God", he has Brother Davis chant "a traditional prayer-poem with his own variations", and then Mrs. Bogle sings "Jesus is the Light of This World" in her alto: "All of the people took it up and sung it over and over until it was wrung dry, and no further innovations of tone and tempo were conceivable. Then they hushed and ate barbecue." The preacher's variations in the prayer-poem become the community's "innovations" in the hymn – and then, as Lyle Lovett puts it in "Church", "it's time for dinner now, let's go eat." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 4 February 2022)

Thursday, February 03, 2022

Plagiarism despite footnotes

I began to wonder if the student's paper, despite the footnotes, contained quotations without quotation marks. Plagiarism software revealed that he was quoting and paraphrasing multiple sentences from footnoted works without distinguishing quotations and paraphrases from each other or from his own ideas. When I pointed this pattern out to the student, he responded that the footnotes made my "accusation" of plagiarism "untenable". For him, as for many, plagiarism is apparently only a matter of active cheating, something that one is "accused" of. But even though what he had done is not as extreme as willfully copying text without credit, such misleading presentation of material from sources is still plagiarism. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 3 February 2022)

Wednesday, February 02, 2022

"Don't want to measure, want to be": A linebreak in Denise Levertov's poem "Artist to Intellectual (Poet to Explainer)"

The third section of Denise Levertov's poem "Artist to Intellectual (Poet to Explainer)" picks up on the second section's conclusion that the artist-poet speaker creates "wildfires that none / shall measure": "Don't want to measure, want to be [...]." The speaker resists the intellectual's desire for "measure" with a desire to just "be". Yet one way poems "measure" what they say is lineation. Levertov's poem is not metrical, but it continues: "Don't want to measure, want to be / the worm slithering wholebodied / over the mud [...]." Even as the speaker resists "measure", the poem "measures" its words to shift from the general "be" to the particular "be the worm." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 2 February 2022)

Tuesday, February 01, 2022

"So Lonely", The Police at the Cow Palace, and the Fête de la Musique in 1989

"So Lonely", by The Police, came on the radio today. You'd think the first thing the song would remind me of is the brilliant concert by The Police I went to at the Cow Palace in Daly City, California, on 12 February 1982, but I actually don't remember individual songs from that show, just the band's incredible musicianship and energy, and especially drummer Stewart Copeland. Instead, the song takes me back to the Fête de la Musique in Paris on 21 June 1989, when a band whose name I don't remember played a blazing medley of "So Lonely" and "Be My Girl" at the bar where my friend Erik was working. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 1 February 2022)