Saturday, April 30, 2022

Marc Ribot and Ceramic Dog in Basel, 30 April 2022

Marc Ribot began this evening's Basel Jazz Festival concert at the Kaserne Basel with picking: a folky chord progression with a lovely melody. A few minutes later he’d already established the range of his band Ceramic Dog as he played flurries of melodic phrases drenched in psychedelic feedback. Throughout the concert, he and his bandmates multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily and drummer Ches Smith moved smoothly and abruptly between the quiet and the loud, the melodic and the dissonant, the instrumental and Ribot’s idiosyncratic vocals. This was at least my 11th concert with Ribot since I first saw him with Tom Waits in 1987, and his range and singularity continue to amaze me. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 30 April 2022)

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Rereading Toni Morrison's "Paradise": Oklahoma, "the Convent", and "the white girl"

I was first thrilled by Toni Morrison's 1997 novel "Paradise" when it was first published. What remained years later in my memory was the landscape of Oklahoma as Morrison describes it, as well as the former convent where the five women live whose murder is announced in the novel's opening line: "They shoot the white girl first." When I finally reread it in preparation for my course on Morrison's middle novels, the landscape and the convent immediately came back. When I finished, I began reading the book again with a question: Which of the five women is white? But now I've learned that Morrison never says which of them is white. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 28 April 2022)

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

An evening spent arranging a song

We three (a singer, a guitarist, an octave-mandolinist) have a single sheet with lyrics and chords. The chord progression is unusual, and the singer knows the complicated melody well, but the original song has completely different instrumentation. We play the first verse several times – raggedly, but the changes are in place. The next part has timing issues to resolve, especially going into the chorus, and the chorus itself keeps us stumbling for a while. But with the bridge after the second chorus, we're now in a groove, and it comes together quickly. We play the whole song through twice. The remaining rough spots can be smoothed out at the next rehearsal. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 27 April 2022)

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Denise Levertov and draft registration in 1980

Currently in my reading of one poem every day from "The Collected Poems of Denise Levertov", I am on a collection I hadn't read before: "Candles in Babylon", from 1982. If I had read it as her student a few years later, I would have been delighted by the poem  "A Speech: For Antidraft Rally, D.C., March 22, 1980". That rally would have been not only against the draft, like rallies Levertov certainly attended during the Vietnam War, but also against draft registration, which had ended in 1975 but was about to be reinstated at the time. My small gesture of resistance was that I never did register for the draft. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 26 April 2022)

Monday, April 25, 2022

Remembering a few scenes from Jim Jarmusch movies

As Luisa is studying Jim Jarmusch movies for film class in school, we went over "Mystery Train" (1989), "Night on Earth" (1991), and "Broken Flowers" (2005). I enjoyed remembering the great comic scenes in the first two, such as Screaming Jay Hawkins and Cinqué Lee as hotel clerk and bellhop in "Mystery Train", or Armin Mueller-Stahl, Giancarlo Esposito, and Rosie Perez in a taxi from Manhattan to Brooklyn in "Night on Earth". But what I remember most from "Broken Flowers" is not comic: Tilda Swinton's rage when her long-lost ex Bill Murray shows up unannounced and without explanation. Her performance in just one scene steals the movie in a couple minutes. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 25 April 2022)

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Brunch at the Papiermühle in Basel – a first since the pandemic began

Today, we invited some friends to brunch at the Papiermühle in Basel for one more celebration of Luisa's 18th birthday (her boyfriend's family; her godfather and his wife; our former neighbors who Luisa and Sara babysit for; a family we've hung out with throughout Luisa's life). We've always enjoyed the Papiermühle, and their Sunday brunch is excellent. Only on our way home on the tram did I realize that, except for my father-in-law's 90th birthday in September 2020, this was the first such event we had had since the pandemic started in March 2020. It was nice to get a bunch of people together again for conversation and a good meal. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 24 April 2022)

Saturday, April 23, 2022

The camera and Forest Whitaker's monologue in Wayne Wang's "Smoke"

In one scene in Wayne Wang's 1995 film "Smoke", the camera focuses for almost two minutes on Cyrus Cole (Forest Whitaker), as he smokes a cigar and tells the story of the hook on his left arm to a young man he doesn't know is his son Thomas Cole (Harold Perrineau). The stillness of the camera enables Whitaker's riveting reading of Cyrus's soliloquy. The immobile camera also echoes how Auggie Wren (Harvey Keitel) takes a picture from the same spot on the sidewalk across the street from his tobacco shop every morning at the same time. In both cases, a series of nearly identical pictures combines to generate a moving picture. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 23 April 2022)


Friday, April 22, 2022

Finding an English phrase to correspond to German "reinfeiern"

Last Saturday, my daughter's birthday party began on the eve of her actual birthday and ran past midnight. German has a word for this: "reinfeiern" – "partying into" a birthday. But today, when I read a 111-word text by a student about "partying into" her birthday, that English phrase sounded odd to me. LEO offers only a paraphrase, while offers "party into". A Google search for "partied into her birthday" turns up five hits, one of which even adds, "as they say in German". I had to read the LEO forums to finally find one form that captures the sense idiomatically, to my ear – "a party to see my birthday in". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 22 April 2022)

Thursday, April 21, 2022

The comedy of repetition in tragic contexts in Natalie Diaz's "American Arithmetic" and Ilya Kaminsky's "Gunshot"

Natalie Diaz's poem "American Arithmetic", from her 2020 collection "Postcolonial Love Poem", repeats the word "race" at the end of one sentence and the beginning of the next: "Police kill Native Americans more / than any other race. Race is a funny word." Such repetition of a word has a "funny", comic side, even in this tragic context. This comedy of repetition also appears in the tragic context of Ilya Kaminsky's "Gunshot", from his 2019 collection "Deaf Republic". Shortly before a deaf boy who can't hear his commands is shot, a Sergeant harangues a crowd at a puppet show: "Disperse immediately! / Disperse immediately! the puppet mimics in a wooden falsetto." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 21 April 2022)

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Ilya Kaminsky's revisions of his poem "To Live" for his collection "Deaf Republic"

The version of Ilya Kaminsky's poem "To Live" on the Berlin-based website Lyrikline must be an early version Kaminsky revised to fit the story in his 2019 collection "Deaf Republic". On Lyrikline, Kaminsky's Alonso engages in "a little foolishness" with his wife: "I pretend to Sonya that I am the greatest poet / and she pretends to believe it." But in the book, the poem is part of a story in which Sonya has been executed by an occupying power, so the second line has changed: "and she pretends to be alive". A similar shift takes place later: "Old fool, my wife laughs" becomes "Old fool, my wife might have laughed". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 20 April 2022)

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

My linguistic autobiography: Learning with Bertolt Brecht how to read German without looking up words

The German part of my linguistic autobiography began to develop further in my first semester of graduate school with a course on 20th-century German drama. Plays are good for working on reading skills in a foreign language because they're relatively short, and at first I took notes on any unfamiliar vocabulary in such plays as Frank Wedekind's "Erdgeist" and Georg Kaiser's "Von morgens bis mitternachts". Later in the term, I didn't have time for that anymore, but the first play I read without looking up vocabulary was Bertolt Brecht's "Mutter Courage", which I had read in English at university, and I discovered I could understand German without knowing all the words. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 19 April 2022)

Monday, April 18, 2022

My linguistic autobiography: Learning German in college from Nietzsche to Celan

My linguistic autobiography continues with German, which I began learning in my sophomore year in college because I wanted to read Friedrich Nietzsche and other German philosophers. That year, I had three quarters of one-hour German classes five days a week with Lohnes and Strohmann's textbook "German: A Structural Approach". When I went to Germany the next winter, I could speak and read German pretty well, but then I switched from a German-Math double major to English and only took one more German course in my last quarter before graduating. But I also began reading Paul Celan that same term in Celan translator John Felstiner's course on Literature of the Holocaust. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 18 April 2022)

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Nights with little or no sleep, eighteen years ago and today

Eighteen years ago today, I was out all night and got no sleep. Around eight in the morning, I walked past a café where I often chatted with the owner; he gave me a free coffee for the occasion. That helped me make it home so I could collapse into bed and get some rest. Last night, I stayed up until after midnight; this time I was able to get to bed around one-thirty. But then I had to get up early and make myself a couple cups of coffee – no free ones this time. Eighteen years ago, Luisa was born; today, she turned eighteen; on both days, I was exhausted. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 17 April 2022)

Saturday, April 16, 2022

My linguistic autobiography: Learning French as a teenager in the US

My linguistic autobiography continues with French, which I began learning at twelve in seventh grade. For six years, I had French class for four or five days a week, but I have few memories of the classes themselves or the methods used. In college, I stopped taking or even using French, but while studying Comparative Literature in graduate school, I took it up again, first in a course on 20th-century French novels, later in reading Marguerite Duras for my dissertation. Then, in the late nineties, my wife Andrea lived in France for four years, and my spoken French got good enough that I was once asked if I was from Québec. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 16 April 2022)

Friday, April 15, 2022

Shingles vaccination: My ninth vaccination shot in just over eleven months

Starting on 11 May, 2021, when I got my first coronavirus vaccination shot, I have had three coronavirus shots, a booster shot for diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, and poliomyelitis, three more for tick-borne encephalitis, and two for shingles. They've all had some effects afterward, though I have been lucky and not had very bad effects – until now. I got the second shingles shot yesterday, and I had a restless night with strange dreams (with Taylor Swift's "We Are Never Getting Back Together" as the soundtrack, since I heard my daughter listening to it yesterday) and spent the day with sore muscles all over my body. But that just means the vaccination works! (Andrew Shields, #111words, 15 April 2022)

Thursday, April 14, 2022

My linguistic autobiography: Learning English as a child in the US and the UK

My linguistic autobiography begins with the English I learned as a child. I was born in the United States in Detroit, Michigan, and spoke American English there and in Palo Alto and Menlo Park, California, until my family moved to Leamington Spa in the United Kingdom when I was nine years old. There, the kids asked me to "speak American", but when I went back to the US, I had a strong Midlands accent, which I quickly lost again in our new town of Toledo, Ohio. Yet even though I had relearned my Midwestern American nasal vowels, I could reproduce my British vowels for many years after we left Leamington Spa. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 14 April 2022)

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

An interview about my language history, two decades ago

Today, I remembered a student from about twenty years ago who wanted to interview me for his Master's thesis in linguistics: his project was to ask bilingual and multilingual people about how they learned their languages and then to do brain scans to see if he could find patterns linking language-learning histories and brain use while speaking the languages. He asked me numerous questions, and recorded my answers, about the history of my use of English and of my learning and use of French and German. I was looking forward to seeing scans of my brain while I spoke my languages, but then that part of the project unfortunately fell through. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 13 April 2022)

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

"Loving small" and "what's left to love" in Toni Morrison's "Beloved" and "Jazz"

In Toni Morrison's "Beloved" (1987), Paul D learns to limit his emotions in a work camp for enslaved men in Georgia: "So you protected yourself and loved small. Picked the tiniest stars out of the sky to own; lay down with head twisted in order to see the loved one over the rim of the trench before you slept." Only the smallest objects of desire are safe for an enslaved man: "Anything bigger wouldn't do." But even when free women discuss love in 1926 in Morrison's "Jazz" (1992), Alice Manfred's advice to Violet Trace echoes Paul D's lesson: "You got anything left to you to love, anything at all, do it." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 12 April 2022)

Monday, April 11, 2022

How critics have talked about the anonymous, ungendered narrator of Toni Morrison's "Jazz"

The anonymous first-person narrator of Toni Morrison's "Jazz" (1992) does not participate in the narrated events and does not reveal any personal characteristics, including gender. As a result, critics of the novel have often discussed whether the narrator is male or female or perhaps not a person at all. Some leave it undecided but choose a pronoun, as Dirk Ludigkeit did in a 2001 article: "I will use the male pronoun when referring to the narrator for clarity's sake alone." By now, in 2022, though, the solution to the problem of the ungendered narrator is obvious: to avoid gendering them, the narrator can be referred to with the non-binary singular "they". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 11 April 2022)

Sunday, April 10, 2022

On not watching Manchester City and Liverpool

Yesterday, a student previewed today's match between Manchester City and Liverpool – the top two teams in the Premier League – and predicted an exciting 2-2 draw. After I read that this morning, I thought I'd watch the match, but it was going to start at 5:30 in Switzerland, and I was planning to watch Basel against St. Gallen with my daughter Luisa from 4:30 to 6:15 and then drive her to the camp she's counseling at this week. After we watched Basel and St. Gallen play to an exciting 2-2 draw, I thought, "Well, at least that was right." But he was also right about the Premiere League match: a 2-2 draw. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 10 April 2022)

Saturday, April 09, 2022

The Readjuster Party in Toni Morrison's "Jazz"

The main story of Toni Morrison's "Jazz" (1992) takes place in late 1926 and early 1927, but the narrative reaches back to Reconstruction when Violet Trace's father abandons his family because of threats associated with his political activities: "His trips back were bold and secret for he had been mixed in and up with the Readjuster Party, and when verbal urging from landowners had not worked, a physical one did the trick and he was persuaded to transfer hisself someplace, anyplace, else." The Readjuster Party was a biracial political party formed in Virginia in 1877 to "readjust" the state's debt and to eliminate the poll tax that discriminated against black voters. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 9 April 2022)


Friday, April 08, 2022

Bette Davis in James Baldwin and Gwendolyn Brooks

On his 14th birthday, John Grimes in James Baldwin's "Go Tell It on the Mountain" (1953) spends his birthday money from his mother on a movie with a "gigantic, colored poster" of "a wicked woman, half undressed, leaning in a doorway, apparently quarrelling with a blond man." Although the novel does not name the film, it is "Of Human Bondage" (1934), starring Bette Davis and Leslie Howard. The same actress is mentioned in Gwendolyn Brooks's "Maud Martha" (also 1953) as one topic of discussion among Maud Martha's Chicago schoolmates, who spoke "of Joe Louis, of ice cream, of bicycles, of baseball, of teachers, of examinations, of Duke Ellington, of Bette Davis." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 8 April 2022)

Thursday, April 07, 2022

"All acception of color needs to cease": Article 14 of Haiti's 1805 Constitution

On 20 May 1805, a new Constitution was established for the country of Haiti. Article 14 addressed the issue of race in a striking fashion that I learned about today in a lecture on the economic history of Haiti in the nineteenth century: "As all acception of color among the children of one and the same family, whose head is the father, needs to cease, Haitians will henceforth be known only by the generic name of Blacks." The French "acception" and the obsolete English "acception" mean "favoritism" or "preference", so in the interests of eliminating preferences among children of the same father, the country's residents were thus all defined as "Blacks". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 7 April 2022)

Wednesday, April 06, 2022

"Booker T. was sitting down to eat a chicken sandwich": Booker T. Washington at the White House in Toni Morrison and Scott Joplin

In Toni Morrison's "Jazz" (1992), Joe Trace suddenly decides to move north from rural Virginia to New York City because of a national political event: "If Booker T. was sitting down to eat a chicken sandwich in the President's house in a city called capital, [...] then things must be all right, all right." The dinner in question, when President Theodore Roosevelt invited Booker T. Washington to dinner at the White House, took place on 16 October, 1901; it was significant enough that there is a Wikipedia page about it, which also mentions that the dinner inspired Scott Joplin's his first opera, "A Guest of Honor". Unfortunately, Joplin's score is lost. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 6 April 2022)


Tuesday, April 05, 2022

Trump "caught Osama bin Laden"; "weakness breeds aggression": Representative Lisa McClain's revealing claims

Michigan Republican Representative Lisa McClain drew attention on Saturday when she claimed that President Trump "caught Osama bin Laden." Of course, Osama bin Laden was found and killed during a United States military operation on 2 May 2011 in Abbottabad, Pakistan, when Barack Obama was President, Joe Biden Vice President, and Donald Trump a reality-TV star. But I was also struck by her claim that "weakness breeds aggression." I've found a number of uses of the phrase, and it seems that people think perceived weakness encourages bullies. But from what I have experienced of bullies, all the idea reveals is that the speaker – McClain in this case – is herself a bully. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 5 April 2022)


Monday, April 04, 2022

Finishing "The History of Philosophy in India"

One month ago, I caught up with the podcast on "The History of Philosophy Withoutany Gaps" and began the parallel series on "The History of Philosophy in India", which I finished today. The podcast has 62 episodes, so I listened to an average of two per day (while cooking, hanging laundry, or driving to pick up my kids from all over the place). In the India series, I was excited by episode 42 on the Indian aesthetic theory of Rasa, as well as episodes 39 and 40 on the materialism of the Cārvāka school. The same feed continues as "The Historyof Africana Philosophy", which I've now begun listening to. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 4 April 2022)


Sunday, April 03, 2022

96 hours of reading instead of the Football World Cup in Qatar – time to read 64 poetry books

The German newspaper taz offered ten things to do instead if you want to boycott the Football World Cup in Qatar in November and December (because of the corruption in granting the tournament to Qatar and the scandalous treatment of the workers who built the stadiums, among other things). One suggestion is to spend the time you would have spent watching the matches reading: 64 matches times 90 minutes equals 96 hours of reading, which is more than enough time for David Foster Wallace's "Infinite Jest". But I have an alternative suggestion: it's a perfect opportunity to read 64 collections of poetry, which can usually be read in around 90 minutes. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 3 April 2022)


Saturday, April 02, 2022

"The dark Zikmund", Hradčany Square, and Jackdaws: Prague in Natalie Diaz's "Waist and Sway"

Natalie Diaz's poem "Waist and Sway", from "Postcolonial Love Poem" (2020), recalls a summer affair in a city that, though unnamed, is identifiable as Prague: "Where in her rocked the dark Zikmund – / her, by then, a cathedral tower." Zikmund is the largest bell in the bell tower at St. Vitus Cathedral. Later, the poem mentions the square with Prague's castle: "Even now, there are nights I climb the narrow stairway / to an apartment at Hradčany Square, where a door opens / to a room and the shadowed fig of her mouth." The poem even mentions "the castle gardens, where jackdaws waited" – and the Czech word for "jackdaw" is "kavka". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 2 April 2022)


Friday, April 01, 2022

Joe Biden or Angela Merkel as the cause of the Russian invasion of Ukraine

In the United States, opponents of President Joe Biden, such as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, have taken to blaming him for Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine: “When Trump was President, they didn’t take anything. And now Biden’s President, and they’re rolling into Ukraine.” In a review of a biography of Putin's adversary Angela Merkel in The New York Review of Books, though, Fintan O'Toole more convincingly reads the invasion through her departure as German Chancellor: "The buildup to his invasion of Ukraine began in November 2021, just as her chancellorship was winding down. [...] Putin decided to send a sharp probe into the highly uncertain territory of post-Merkel Europe." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 1 April 2022)