Thursday, March 31, 2022

Poems as birthday presents

Every day, I read poems in online magazines and pick one to send as a birthday present to my Facebook friends celebrating that day. Sometimes I don't find one, so I send out the one from the day before again. Sometimes I'll even send a poem out for several days or even several weeks, especially when my correspondents really love a poem. Today, I saw a title that sounded like a perfect birthday poem: "For Your Birthday", by Deborah Woodside Coy, newly published in Bombfire Magazine. But it's not right for my purposes, as lines like this might give people the wrong idea: "I’ve memorized the geography / of your body." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 31 March 2022)


Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Mary Jean Chan's "A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far"

Mary Jean Chan's poem "A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far", from "Flèche" (2019), takes it title from Adrienne Rich's 1981 collection "A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far"; it is also the first line of Rich's 1978 poem "Integrity". Chan's poem echoes Rich's "Integrity" in other ways, too: Rich writes of her "selves" and of "anger and tenderness", and Chan speaks of "my most helpful self" and "my impeccable persona" and of being "afraid of [her lesbian lover's] tenderness." Chan also praises "poets audacious enough to mention the body" – and in "The Dream of a Common Language" (1978), Rich was "audacious enough" to write poetry about lesbian sexuality. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 30 March 2022)

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

The erasure of the novel at the end of Toni Morrison's "Beloved": "This is not a story to pass on"

Elizabeth Bennet's erasure of the plot at the end of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" (1813), which I wrote about yesterday, crossed my mind recently in the context of the end of Toni Morrison's "Beloved" (1987). The novel's final, two-page section begins with two paragraphs separated by white space and then a single sentence by itself: "It was not a story to pass on." Then a single paragraph is followed by a variation: "It is not a story to pass on." After another single paragraph that line is repeated again; two paragraphs without white space are then followed by the the single word "Beloved" which ends the novel of that name. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 29 March 2022)

Monday, March 28, 2022

Elizabeth Bennet's "philosophy" of forgetting the past

When Elizabeth Bennet in Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" (1813) speaks with Mr. Wickham after his marriage to her sister Lydia, she brushes off his allusion to an earlier conversation: "Do not let us quarrel about the past." Later, after she is engaged to Mr. Darcy, she calls a similar statement her "philosophy": "Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure." But when the novel's main character tells two of the men she has interacted with to forget all the twists and turns of their past experiences together, then the novel itself ends with the erasure of its own story, which consists entirely of those twists and turns. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 28 March 2022)

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Summer time, Sommerzeit, l'heure d'été, l'ora legale, el horario de verano, daylight saving time

Early this morning, Switzerland and other European countries "sprang forward" to "summer time", "Sommerzeit", "l'heure d'été", "l'ora legale", or "el horario de verano" – "daylight saving time," as it is called in the United States. I only began to notice the irritation caused by changing the clocks twice a year when I had small children, who sometimes took up to a week to get used to the change, whether it was forward or backward. Miles is now 22, and he says he doesn't really notice it anymore, except as something to take into account, but Luisa, who is 17, says it will make it harder for her to get up tomorrow morning. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 27 March 2022)

Saturday, March 26, 2022

A dystopian distych from four years ago speaks to what's happening now

In late 2017, inspired by Friedrich Schiller's distichs with a hexameter line followed by a pentameter line, and frustrated by a period when everything I wrote turned unexpectedly dark, no matter the subject, I began writing "Dystopian Distichs" to get dark ideas on paper by themselves. Today, my Facebook Memories reminded me of my distich from 26 March 2018: "There are so many people whose friends and relations have died in the shelling. / Our mental and physical health is deteriorating." The lines were inspired by quotation in a newspaper article about shelling in Syria; this month, they could just as well be spoken by someone experiencing the war in Ukraine. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 26 March 2022)

Friday, March 25, 2022

Scrapbook as memory in Denise Levertov's "An Arrival (North Wales, 1897)"

In Denise Levertov's poem "An Arrival (North Wales, 1897)", from "Candles in Babylon" (1982), her mother moves to North Wales to live with her uncle: "Nostrils flaring, / she sniffed odors of hay and stone, / absence of Glamorgan coaldust, / and pasted her observations quickly / into the huge album of her mind." I see the poem's figure of memory as a scrapbook from three perspectives: In the time of the poem's events (1897), when scrapbooks were popular, it was probably a not uncommon figure, while in the time when the poem was published (1982), it was already somewhat old-fashioned – though not as much as it is now, in 2022. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 25 March 2022)

Thursday, March 24, 2022

"Let America be America again" vs. "Make America Great Again": Senator Cory Booker, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, and Langston Hughes

At the 2016 Republican National Convention, reporters from The Daily Show took the implication of "Make America Great Again" that America was once great seriously and went on the street to ask people, "When was America great?" One woman answered, "When it was founded", so Roy Wood, Jr., added, "Except for the slavery stuff". Yesterday at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson's nomination for the Supreme Court, Senator Cory Booker quoted Langston Hughes's poem, "Let America Be America Again", whose title is somewhat similar to Trump's slogan, but whose point is quite different: "O, let America be America again – / The land that never has been yet". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 24 March 2022)


Note: Booker quotes Hughes at about 7:30 in the linked video.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

"We were just": The fragmentation of a phrase in Mary Jean Chan's "the five stages"

In "bargaining", the third section of Mary Jean Chan's poem "the five stages", the speaker and her roommate "curl into one another", apparently for the first time, but are interrupted by their flatmates, so her roommate calls through the door: "hey, // what’s up? we were just // watching a film". The breaking up of phrases with slashes is in the original layout; "we were just" is separated from the roommate's invention, which replaces the potential truth of "we were just snuggling" or perhaps something more. But the phrase "we were just", by itself, transforms "just" from an adverb into an adjective that legitimizes the relationship between the two young women. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 23 March 2022)

The complete poem "the five stages" is available here in English as well as in an Italian translation.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Mourning the failure of rights "to usher in more comprehensive change": Elisabeth S. Anker, Beloved, and Critical Race Theory

In "The ‘scent of ink’: Toni Morrison’s 'Beloved' and the semiotics of rights" (2014), Elisabeth S. Anker also argues  that Toni Morrison's 1987 novel "Beloved" "mourn[s] the failure of the Reconstruction Amendments to usher in more comprehensive change." While the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution were ratified in 1865, 1868, and 1870, respectively, the novel's main action takes place in 1873, as Southern resistance began to undermine those amendments. Similarly, Critical Race Theory emerged in the mid-1970s as an attempt to explain the limitations of the results of the Civil Rights Movement; like Morrison's novel, then, such writings also "mourn the failure of more comprehensive change."  (Andrew Shields, #111words, 22 March 2022)

Monday, March 21, 2022

Rights as "stepping stones" or "hurdles" for refugees coming to Switzerland

In "The ‘scent of ink’: Toni Morrison’s 'Beloved' and the semiotics of rights" (2014), Elisabeth Anker argues that "rights [...] have too often operated not as stepping stones but rather as hurdles or barriers." That contrast between stepping stones and barriers is exemplified in Alexander Vögeli's "Djamal und Ludmila – gleiche Bomben, anderes Fluchtschicksal", which imagines two refugees arriving in Switzerland from Syria and Ukraine, from their route to Switzerland and their bureaucratic experiences here to their accommodations, work opportunies, and chances of having their families join them. The obstacles faced by the Syrian become stepping stones for the Ukrainian because she is assumed to have rights that he has to deserve. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 21 March 2022)


Sunday, March 20, 2022

"Big went the bang" in James Joyce's "Finnegans Wake" and the coining of the expression "The Big Bang"

While reading my daily passage of James Joyce's "Finnegans Wake" this morning, I came across a phrase with associations that I immediately called into question: "Big went the bang: then wildewide was quiet: a report: silence: last Fama put it under ether" (FW 98.1-3). While the Big Bang is a clear "report" in this "silence" to a contemporary ear (especially the ear of someone who went to college to study physics), it is anachronistic here: the expanding-universe theory may have been developed in the nineteen twenties, while Joyce was writing "Finnegans Wake", but the expression "the Big Bang" was coined by Fred Hoyle in 1949, ten years after the book's publication. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 20 March 2022)

Saturday, March 19, 2022

A new study on blood type and susceptibility to SARS-Cov-2 infection

The association between blood type and susceptibility to infection with SARS-Cov-2 (as well as the severity of the infection) was already being discussed in 2020, but I first heard about it today when a friend asked me if I had blood type O. A study published last week has been read as confirming the association, but one co-author seems rather hesitant about it to me: "Our study does not link precise blood group with risk of severe COVID-19 but since previous research has found that proportion of people who are group A is higher in COVID-19 positive individuals, this suggests that blood group A is more likely candidate for follow-up studies." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 19 March 2022)


Friday, March 18, 2022

"Me and my boyfriend / My boyfriend and I": The grammar of an unidentified song in John Dos Passos's "Manhattan Transfer"

I have not been able to identify a song quoted in a scene in a dance club in John Dos Passos's "Manhattan Transfer" (1925): "Me and my boyfriend / My boyfriend and I". Yet I recently discussed the grammatical issue here; my reference was a 2012 quotation from President Barack Obama in a statement honoring Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt of Denmark: "[...] Michelle and I appreciated the extraordinary hospitality that was shown to Michelle and I when I visited Copenhagen in the past." While "me and my boyfriend" is colloquial but "incorrect", "my boyfriend and I" is "correct" – unless it is used after a preposition, like Obama's "to Michelle and I". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 18 March 2022)

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Waiting for a coronavirus test result

After my fifteen-year-old daughter Sara had covid in January, my seventeen-year-old daughter Luisa tested positive yesterday and is often short of breath. I was also unwell yesterday and had done a rapid test that was negative. But given my flu-like symptoms, I went to get a PCR test after Luisa received notice of her positive test. She had been tested on Tuesday morning and did not get the result until Wednesday afternoon; I was tested around 3 pm yesterday and told it could take up to 48 hours to get a result. The testing system in Basel is overwhelmed with people with symptoms and people exposed to those who have covid. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 17 March 2022)

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

"We flesh": The zero copula in Baby Suggs's sermon in Toni Morrison's "Beloved"

In her sermon in "the Clearing" near her house, Baby Suggs in Toni Morrison's "Beloved" celebrates the bodies of the members of her community: "[...] in this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass." "We flesh" is a zero copula, a feature of African American Vernacular English that connects a subject and a predicate without a verb. This morning, when my students and I "fleshed out" the construction, we not only considered verbs that could be put between the two ("are" or "become") but also interpreted "flesh" as a verb, with the ghost Beloved "fleshing herself out" when she assumes bodily form. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 15 March 2022)

Monday, March 14, 2022

"They're all the same, but each one is different from every other one": Photographs, Harvey Keitel, and William Hurt in Wayne Wang's "Smoke" (1995)

In Wayne Wang's "Smoke" (1995), tobacconist Auggie Wren (Harvey Keitel) takes a photograph kitty corner from his store every morning at 8 am and collects the photos in albums. When he shows them to writer Paul Benjamin (William Hurt, 1950-2022), Auggie tells Paul how to look at them: "They're all the same, but each one is different from every other one." Paul slows down, and a montage of pictures takes over the screen until he suddenly stops: in one of the photos is his late wife, who was shot a few years earlier as a bystander during a holdup. The mechanical repetition of variations on the "same" image eventually generates emotion. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 14 March 2022)

Sunday, March 13, 2022

My impression that students are catching covid more than ever

Several students have recently reported positive coronavirus-tests to me. My impression is that more students are catching covid now than ever. This impression might not be well grounded: while we were online, students might have attended Zoom sessions despite testing positive, and I never have over one hundred students per semester in my classes. But evidence with a solid statistical basis suggests my impression might be justified: the fourteen-day rate of infections in Switzerland may not be higher than ever (the all-time peak was at the beginning of February 2022), but it is higher now than it ever has been during a semester, and practically no epidemiological measures are in place. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 13 March 2022)

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Louis Armstrong and Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man"

In the Prologue to Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man" (1952), the unnamed narrator, the titular "invisible man", ponders his appreciation of Louis Armstrong: "Perhaps I like Louis Armstrong because he's made poetry out of being invisible. I think it must be because he's unaware that he is invisible. And my own grasp of invisibility aids me to understand his music." While the black "invisible man" might be assumed to like the black musician because they are both black and "invisible", the narrator instead asserts his difference from Armstrong as the grounds for his appreciation: Armstrong is "unaware", but he "grasps" not only their mutual "invisibility" but also the "poetry" of Armstrong's music. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 12 March 2022)

Friday, March 11, 2022

Etymological and contemporary definitions of "oligarch"

The first of the Oxford English Dictionary's two definitions of "oligarch" reflects the etymology of "oligarchy", meaning "rule of the few": "A person who is part of a small group holding power in a state." The second is less and more specific: "Originally and chiefly in post-communist Russia: a very wealthy business leader with a great deal of political influence." This generalizes the term away from its etymology but specifies the location associated with contemporary usage. "Wealthy business leaders" outside of Russia who have "a great deal of political influence" (or actively engage in politics, like Donald Trump in the United States and Christoph Blocher in Switzerland) are rarely called "oligarchs". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 11 March 2022)

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Making procedues for displaced people from Ukraine "quick and unbureaucratic": A revealing remark

On 3 March, German Minister of the Interior and Community Nancy Faeser commented on the agreement among European Union member states on the admission of displaced people from Ukraine: "For the first time, all member states of the EU are jointly taking steps to quickly and unbureaucratically admit people fleeing the war." Many have pointed out that these steps were not taken for people displaced by wars in Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen; some have added that people with African or Asian backgrounds fleeing Ukraine have been taken into custody by EU states. Beyond that, Faeser's phrasing amounts to a confession that EU countries have intentionally made asylum procedures slow and bureaucratic. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 10 March 2022)

Wednesday, March 09, 2022

The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant and the cities of Pripyat and Slavutych

Reports about the loss of power today at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant site in the Ukraine mentioned that the lack of electricity is not yet a problem but could lead to problems cooling the spent fuel that is stored at the site. While reading around on Wikipedia to try to understand more about that spent fuel, I discovered that the city closest to the site, Pripyat, was abandoned after the 1986 accident, with all its residents being moved to a completely new city 45 kilometers away, Slavutych. But Pripyat itself didn't have a long history either: it had only been founded in 1970 to serve the newly opened power plant. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 9 March 2022)

Tuesday, March 08, 2022

Chernivtsi, Czernowitz, Cernăuți: A city in Ukraine

The evening news in Germany had a reporter just now broadcasting from Chernivtsi, a city I know of by its German name Czernowitz as the birthplace and hometown of the Germanophone poet Paul Celan (1920-1970), as well as of another Germanophone poet, Rose Ausländer (1901-1988). When Ausländer was born (as Rosalie Scherzer), the city was part of Austria-Hungary; when Celan was born (as Paul Antschel, or in Romanian Ancel), Cernăuți was in Romania. Later, the future Hebrew-language novelist Aharon (born as Ervin) Appelfeld (1932-2018) was also born there. During and after the Second World War, it became part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, which became the independent Ukraine in 1991. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 8 March 2022)

Monday, March 07, 2022

Proselytizing about American folk singer-songwriter Greg Brown

A week ago, a Facebook friend asked people to name albums with only excellent songs; I proselytized with four by American folk singer-songwriter Greg Brown from 1990 to 1996: "Down in There", "Dream Café", "The Poet Game", and "Further In". Then the other day, I shuffled the music on my iPhone for a suggestion and got another Brown album, "One Big Town" from 1989. As I wrote to a friend, it's not even close to being one of his best albums, but it's still full of moving songs. If you like Dylan, Waits, Young, Cohen, and Mitchell and don't know Greg Brown, be sure to check him out soon. Proselytizing over! (Andrew Shields, #111words, 7 March 2022)

Sunday, March 06, 2022

Remembering watching "Die Sendung mit der Maus" with my children – almost on the show's 51st birthday

Almost every Sunday between about 2004 and 2016, I watched the German television show "Die Sendung mit der Maus" with one or more of my children. The half-hour show's subtitle is "Stories to Laugh and Learn", and the spots alternate between cartoons (stories to laugh) and explanations of everything from how bicycle chains are made to what dark matter is. I haven't watched it during the pandemic, but given what they've always done since it began broadcasting on 6 March 1971 (a coincidence I was unaware of when I started writing this), I'm certain that the best explanations of the virus, vaccinations, and epidemiology were on "Die Sendung mit der Maus". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 6 March 2022)

Saturday, March 05, 2022

Joyce's "hurooshoos" and Burgess's "horrorshow"

A word in James Joyce's "Finnegans Wake"(1939)  is reminiscent of a coinage in Anthony Burgess's "A Clockwork Orange" (1962): "turning his fez menialstrait in the direction of Moscas, he first got rid of a few mitsmillers and hurooshoos" (FW 83.36-84.2). In "Annotations to Finnegans Wake", Ronald McHugh parses "hurooshoos" as "horseshoes" and Russian "khorosho" ("very well"). That Russian word also inspired Burgess's "horrorshow", part of the novel's Nadsat slang. While Burgess wrote frequently about the Wake and his "horrorshow" might come from Joyce's "hurooshoos", the two authors' borrowings from the Russian word might well just be a coincidence. But I prefer to think anachronistically that Joyce took his word from Burgess. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 5 March 2022)

Friday, March 04, 2022

All caught up with "The History of Philosophy Without any Gaps"

Today, I've caught up with Professor Peter Adamson's podcast "The History of Philosophy without Any Gaps". It began with an episode on Thales in December 2010, but I only discovered it in March 2021. Now I'm listening to the latest episode – number 391 – on Flemish thinker Justus Lipsius (part of a cycle on philosophy and the Reformation), which was released last Sunday. I recommend in particular the episodes on Epicurus (57-59), Avicenna (138-142), the Oxford Calculators and 14th-century physics (279-280), Giordano Bruno (368), and Galileo (369). But now I'll turn to Adamson's parallel series on "The History of Indian Philosophy Without any Gaps", 62 episodes he released from 2015 to 2018. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 4 March 2022)


Thursday, March 03, 2022

Private things in Elizabeth Bishop's "One Art" and Sumita Chakraborty's "Quiver"

Elizabeth Bishop's "One Art" offers a list of ever more serious lost things: door keys, an hour, places, names, destinations, "my mother's watch", "three loved houses", "two cities", "two rivers", "a continent", and finally "you". But no explanation is offered of how these things were lost or what they meant to the speaker. Sumita Chakraborty's "Quiver" also presents a unexplained list of lost things: "Each lover. Three dogs. Rose bushes. / My mother, my sister, my home state. / An underground bees’ nest. One upright black Kawai piano." The private meaning of the poems' lost items remains private even as they become public images that can be taken figuratively or symbolically. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 3 March 2022)

Wednesday, March 02, 2022

A day of riddling discussions: Jane Austen, Sumita Chakraborty, James Joyce

My day began with a discussion of a riddle that we all knew the answer to, continued with a discussion of a poem that might be seen as offering riddles whose answers must remain unknown, and concluded with the discussion of a page of a book littered with riddles to solve. The opening riddle was the "charade" in Jane Austen's "Emma", which immediately solves, but the riddle can still be interpreted as any poem can. The later poem was Sumita Chakraborty's "Quiver", which ends with a list of "words you may not speak to me". And the page was page 50 of "Finnegans Wake", by James Joyce, "that quaintesttest of yarnspinners". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 2 March 2022)

Tuesday, March 01, 2022

Education in Sethe's "Twenty-eight days of unslaved life" in Toni Morrison's "Beloved"

In Toni Morrison's "Beloved", after escaping enslavement, Sethe has "twenty-eight days – the travel of one whole moon – of unslaved life" that is interrupted when she is threatened with capture by her enslaver, kills her older daughter to protect her from slavery (who returns as the ghost Beloved), and is prevented from killing her other children. But that month of "unslaved life" with "forty, fifty other Negroes" is idyllic and educational, with Sethe extending her existing knowledge with the help of her new community: "One taught her the alphabet; another a stitch." She knew language already; now she learns to write. She knew how to sew already; now she develops her skills. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 1 March 2022)