Tuesday, February 28, 2023

“That kind of stuff”: Keith Jarrett playing one-handed piano and listening to old recordings (“I think I had more hands”) in his interview with Rick Beato

Starting at 10:27 in Rick Beato's recent YouTube interview with Keith Jarrett, Jarrett, who has been lame on his left side since he suffered two strokes in 2018, plays two minutes of riveting one-handed piano with his still healthy right hand. When he abruptly breaks off, he chuckles about what he can play: "That kind of stuff." After several other one-handed passages, Beato, starting at 31:25, plays a recording of a 1980s Jarrett solo-piano performance of Miles Davis's "Solar". The contrast between the young Jarrett's physicality and his slow movements today is extraordinarily moving, and at the end he jokes again about his younger self: "I think I had more hands." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 28 February 2023)


Monday, February 27, 2023

The unpredictability of comments on the translations I do

Handing in a translation has been a mixed experience for me over the years. At times, I get positive feedback with several (and sometimes many) excellent questions that help me make the translation even better. At others, I get negative feedback that might even question my ability to speak German properly. One writer first admitted that his English was not very good but then went on to challenge some of the phrasing in my translation as incorrect. But at least he mentioned details rather than just telling me to revise my "terrible" translation without any comments or suggestions. Unsurprisingly, I can never predict what kind of response each translation will get. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 27 February 2023)

Sunday, February 26, 2023

The only reference to photography in a novel by Charles Dickens: In “Great Expectations” (1861)

The opening lines of Charles Dickens's "Great Expectations" (1861) find Pip forced to imagine what his parents might have looked like, since no pictures of them exist: "[...] I never saw my father or my mother, and never saw any likeness of either of them (for their days were long before the days of photographs) [...]." In part because I noticed a reference to a "machine for taking likenesses" in Dickens's "Oliver Twist" (1838), which I noted could not have been a photographic camera, it struck me that this is the first reference to photographs in Dickens's novels – and apparently the only one, according to my search of a Dickens concordance. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 26 February 2023)

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Translating (or not) Boris Lurie’s use of “KaZet” for “Konzentrationslager” (concentration camp)

One of the first texts I translated in Boris Lurie's "Geschriebigtes Gedichtiges" was the first poem in the book from 1955, "Hier, in New York, Friedl" (which is also the only poem included in the book from before the 1980s). Here, Lurie uses the expression "KaZet", which is his phonetic spelling of "KZ", an abbreviation for the German word for "concentration camp": "KonZentrationslager". Not being sure what I should do with it, I put in "concentration camp" as a placeholder. But as Lurie uses the expression often (by my count, in fourteen texts in the book in all), I ultimately decided to always leave the phrase in the original German: "KaZet". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 25 February 2023) 

Friday, February 24, 2023

The Claus Raible Trio and the Stefan Aeby Trio in contrast at the Bird’s Eye in Basel in January and February

At the concert by the Claus Raible Trio at the Bird's Eye in Basel on 31 January, pianist Raible, bassist Giorgos Antoniou, and drummer Xaver Hellmeier played standards and originals in a straight, tight style with room to explore subtleties that grew ever richer as the set continued, with Hellmeier in particular finding ever new variations on swinging grooves. The concert by the Stefan Aeby Trio at the Bird's Eye on 22 February offered a contrast: pianist Aeby, bassist André Pousaz, and drummer Michael Stulz played originals in a loose style that was all exploration in the first set before settling into ever tighter grooves in the course of the second. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 24 February 2023)

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Schrödinger’s cruelty to animals

My sixteen-year-old daughter Sara is fascinated by physics, and this evening, she asked me questions about quantum mechanics. I did my best to explain my understanding of the history of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, first in terms of observers measuring the position and momentum of particles, and then in terms of a fully probabilistic interpretation of quantum mechanics. (My neighbor doing her doctorate in physics would surely correct the details.) When I began to explain Schrödinger's cat, I immediately thought that she would not like the idea of the cat dying – and she didn't. Her reaction made me wonder about why Schrödinger formulated his thought experiment in terms of cruelty to animals. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 23 February 2023)

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

From verse novels in the morning to a jazz piano trio in the evening

Today was the first session of my verse-novels course: we discussed why novels are usually written in prose. After meeting a student to discuss her essays, I went home and had chili for lunch. After a nap, I did the final preparations for classes tomorrow, then went to the supermarket, the gym, and home again for more chili. The day ended with the Stefan Aeby Trio at the Bird’s Eye, with André Pousaz on bass and Michael Stulz on drums. The rich, vibrant tradition of the piano-bass-and-drums jazz trio offers one answer to the day’s question: novels are usually written in prose because there’s a lively, centuries-long tradition to engage with.  (Andrew Shields, #111words, 22 February 2023) 

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Finishing a cycle of Toni Morrison courses with her “late novels"

This semester, I'll be completing my cycle of spring-semester courses on Toni Morrison's novels with "Toni Morrison's Late Novels". We'll be reading "Love" (2003), "A Mercy" (2008), "Home" (2012), and "God Help the Child" (2015). This is the first of the three courses where I had not read any of the novels before I began preparing the course, but by now I've read all four twice. Of the four, my favorite is "A Mercy", which is set in the seventeenth century and shifts perspective from character to character with Morrison's characteristic complexity and virtuosity. Yet it remains clear and vivid even on the first read, while unfolding richly on the second. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 21 February 2023)

Monday, February 20, 2023

Meeting jazz bassist Dave Holland on the street in Manhattan in the 1980s

I remembered this today, and thought I'd write about it, but I'd already written on Facebook about it in 2017. It was 104 words then. — In the 80s, I once ran into jazz bassist Dave Holland in Manhattan. Standing in front of a corrugated iron sheet pulled down in an entryway, he told me he'd just finished recording an album with Steve Coleman and Jack DeJohnette and was waiting to be picked up. When the album came out, the pictures of the players in the booklet were all in front of the same corrugated iron! I concluded we'd been standing downstairs from the Power Station, where it was recorded and mixed. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 20 February 2023) 

Sunday, February 19, 2023

The naturalization and medicalization of the French Revolution in Charles Dickens’s “A Tale of Two Cities” (1859)

While Charles Dickens offers a quite negative portrayal of the Jacobins and the Terror in "A Tale of Two Cities" (1859), especially in the figure of Madame Defarge, he does not defend the Ancien Régime either: “Physical diseases, engendered in the vices and neglects of men, will seize on victims of all degrees; and the frightful moral disorder, born of unspeakable suffering, intolerable oppression, and heartless indifference, smote equally without distinction.” While Dickens here empathizes with the revolutionaries, his naturalization and medicalization of both the pre-revolutionary excess of "suffering, oppression, and indifference" and the excesses of revolutionary "disorder" makes social change a matter not of politics but of morality and hygiene.  (Andrew Shields, #111words, 19 February 2023) 

Saturday, February 18, 2023

“The deadly nature of her wrath”: Madame Defarge in Charles Dickens’s “A Tale of Two Cities” (1859)

In Charles Dickens's "A Tale of Two Cities" (1859), Madame Defarge drives the excesses of the Terror with "the deadly nature of her wrath". She wants vengeance against the Evremonde family and its last survivor, Charles Darnay, for her family's deaths: “[...] that peasant family so injured by the two Evremonde brothers [...] is my family. [...] that sister of the mortally wounded boy upon the ground was my sister, that husband was my sister's husband, that unborn child was their child, that brother was my brother, that father was my father, those dead are my dead [...].” I would love a feminist revenge version of the novel from her perspective. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 18 February 2023) 

Friday, February 17, 2023

The joy of listening to David Murray

One of my favorite musicians when I first discovered jazz in the 1980s was tenor saxophonist, bass clarinetist, and composer David Murray. I saw him live with Jack DeJohnette's Special Edition and the World Saxophone Quartet. When I moved to Europe in 1991, he went off my radar a bit (though I have seen him twice since then), but in the last few days, after once again enjoying his duo album with pianist Aki Takase, "Cherry Sakura", I've been listening to all my Murray albums, and just now my morning has been made by the beautiful version of his "Flowers for Albert" on his 1982 David Murray Octet album "Murray's Steps". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 17 February 2023)



Thursday, February 16, 2023

"Wouldn't it be wrong for Adidas to take Nazi money?": Sarah Silverman, Dulcé Sloan, and the Nazi history of Adidas

Last night on the Daily Show, in an exchange with Dulcé Sloan about the problems Adidas has been having since cancelling Kanye West's contract, Sarah Silverman posed a question after Sloan suggested that only West's supporters would still wear the shoes that Adidas no longer wants to sell: "Wouldn't it be wrong for Adidas to take Nazi money?" I'd like to think that Silverman, Sloan, and their writers are consciously playing here with Adidas's origins as the "Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik" in the 1920s; both Dassler brothers (Adi of Adidas and Rudolf of Puma) joined the Nazi Party in May 1933 and delivered shoes to the German Army throughout World War Two. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 16 February 2023)


Wednesday, February 15, 2023

George Eliot, "Felix Holt" (1866), and ChatGPT

A few days ago, a Facebook memory came up from my sixteen months of reading George Eliot novels back in 2017-2018; it was a quotation from "Felix Holt, The Radical" (1866): "There are two ways of speaking an audience will always like: one is to tell them what they don’t understand; and the other is, to tell them what they’re used to." Back then, I couldn't have had the thought which crossed my mind now: ChatGPT impresses people because it tells them "what they're used to" in a style they're used to – or if it's something "they don't understand", they assume it must be correct and feel like they've been informed. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 15 February 2023)

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

"Originalism fails its own test": David Cole on the fallacies of "originalism" in legal interpretation in the United States

In "Originalism’s Charade", his review in the New York Review of Books of 24 November 2022 of two books on legal interpretation in the United States, David Cole of the ACLU presents a devastating critique of the doctrine of "originalism" as a method of such interpretation, which "contends that the Constitution should be interpreted and enforced on the basis of its 'original meaning,' namely what it meant when it was adopted." His final criticism exposing originalism's emptiness made me laugh out loud: "Perhaps most fatally, originalism fails its own test. There simply is no evidence that the Constitution’s original meaning was that it should be interpreted according to its original meaning." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 14 February 2023)


Monday, February 13, 2023

A gym subscription renewed, three years later

In late January 2020, my subscription to the gym at the University of Basel expired, but I put off renewing it until after I visited my mother in Massachusetts that February. By the time I returned, the coronavirus had spread much further, so I thought I'd wait before renewing my subscription. That wait ended up being over three years long (though the three years in question seem much longer in retrospect), and today I bought another subscription and had a first, easy workout of thirty minutes on the cross trainer. Even that much reminded me that my long walks during the pandemic were good, but a good workout is much better. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 13 February 2023)

Sunday, February 12, 2023

"I shall have no scruple in asking you to take my place": Charles Musgrove, guns, and Anne Elliot's opportunity to respond to Captain Wentworth's proposal in Jane Austen's "Persuasion" (1818)

In Jane Austen's "Persuasion" (1818), after Anne Elliot reads the letter in which Captain Wentworth declares himself, she accepts her brother-in-law Charles Musgrove's offer to walk her home. When they run into Captain Wentworth, Charles passes on his responsibility for Anne: “[...] I shall have no scruple in asking you to take my place, and give Anne your arm to her father's door. [...] I ought to be at that fellow's in the Market Place. He promised me the sight of a capital gun [...]” — This single-minded focus on guns and shooting may make him look shallow, but here it gives Anne the opportunity she needs to respond to Wentworth's advances. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 12 February 2023)

Saturday, February 11, 2023

"Rat-hunting all the morning in my father's great barns": Charles Musgrove and Captain Benwick in Jane Austen's "Persuasion" (1818)

In Jane Austen's "Persuasion" (1818), Charles Musgrove tells his sister-in-law Anne Elliot why he's begun to appreciate his sister Henrietta's bookish fiancé Captain Benwick: "I got more acquainted with him last Monday than ever I did before. We had a famous set-to at rat-hunting all the morning in my father's great barns; and he played his part so well that I have liked him the better ever since." Amusingly, Charles only likes Benwick when they shoot together, even though the Captain has just returned from the Napoleonic wars, where he surely shot Frenchmen, not rats. — That's an interpretation, but really I'm just struck by the image of hunting rats in barns. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 11 February 2023)

Friday, February 10, 2023

Translating the title of Boris Lurie's collected writing, "Geschriebigtes Gedichtiges"

The two words in the title of Boris Lurie's collected writing, "Geschriebigtes Gedichtiges", are nouns derived from past participles (as the -tes endings and the ge- prefixes show); those participles are themselves derived from two unusual verbs: not the common "schreiben" (to write) and "dichten" (to write poetry) but neologisms formed from them with the not uncommon "-igen" ending for verbs: "schreibigen" and "dichtigen". So translate these two words, I need nouns that can stand alone and are based on forms of verbs that might themselves be unusual. I brainstormed many clumsy possibilities before finally coming up with something that I'm happy to say that I'm rather pleased with: "Pennings Poemings". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 10 February 2023)

Thursday, February 09, 2023

From Boris Lurie to the Grateful Dead to Wulf Wolodia Grajonca (Bill Graham) to Boris Lurie

While translating one prose text by Boris Lurie about his time in the Stutthof concentration camp and another about his complicated relationship to his languages (Yiddish, Russian, German, and English), I was listening to the Grateful Dead. When I noticed that juxtaposition, I remembered that Bill Graham, the promoter of concerts by the Dead and countless other bands until his death in 1991, was born Wulf Wolodia Grajonca in Berlin in 1931. In 1939, he was sent to France and then to the United States to live in a foster home in New York City. And like Boris Lurie's mother, grandmother, and sister, Wulf Grajonca's mother was murdered in the Holocaust. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 9 February 2023)

Wednesday, February 08, 2023

Translating and walking in Zollbrück in the Emmental

I'm spending six days in Zollbrück in the Emmental in central Switzerland to work on my project translating texts by artist Boris Lurie. I arrived yesterday at the apartment I'm renting from a couple I met at the Swiss Indoors in Basel last fall. After working for a while, I went across the Emme river and walked through town to go shopping. Today, I went shopping again when the sun came out at 3 pm. When I returned, I put the groceries in the apartment and went for a walk on a path along the Emme for forty-five minutes, just enjoying a sunny afternoon break in a day of translation work. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 8 February 2023)


View of the Emme from the path along the river


Tuesday, February 07, 2023

C. J. Dennis's "The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke", Raymond Longford's "The Sentimental Bloke", and Les Murray's "Fredy Neptune"

Before Fred Boettcher in Les Murray's 1999 verse novel "Fredy Neptune" ends up in Hollywood a few years later, he goes to the movies in Australia with his future wife Laura to see "The Sentimental Bloke." This critically and commercially successful 1918 silent movie by prolific Australian director Raymond Longford was based on Australian poet C. J. Dennis's equally successful 1915 verse novel "The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke", which was also made into a sound film in 1932 and has twice been turned into a musical. Murray's own verse novel has not made it to the screen or the stage yet, but its picaresque narrative would perhaps best be served by a television series. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 7 February 2023)

Monday, February 06, 2023

Thanking musicians

When I go to concerts, I like to thank the musicians, if the opportunity presents itself. This is especially possible at jazz concerts in small clubs like the Bird's Eye in Basel. When I thank jazz musicians, I always try to mention a specific moment I liked, such as a drummer's fills or a soloist's work on a particular song. When I mention such details, the musicians first thank me and then often ask if I'm a musician. While I am a "serious amateur" on guitar and mandolin, I play "psychedelic folk" (as I call it), not jazz. But after attending hundreds of jazz concerts, I've learned to hear the details. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 6 February 2023)

Sunday, February 05, 2023

Images and abstractions in Denise Levertov's poems

In my daily reading of poems by Denise Levertov (which has been occasionally interrupted lately), I find myself quoting lines that seem most like what Levertov taught in her creative-writing classes: "No ideas / but in things", as William Carlos Williams put it. But Levertov was clear about how she understood Williams's point: not "no ideas at all", but only "ideas through things". Indeed, while her poems are full of vividly described images, they often build on that imagery to arrive at more abstract passages. When I quote the imagery, I leave out her ideas, but if I quoted her ideas, they would seem flat without the images that ground them. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 5 February 2023)

Saturday, February 04, 2023

The overcast February sky over the highway from Zurich to Basel

Although it's overcast in most of northern Switzerland today, the sky over the highway as I drove from Zurich airport back to Basel late this afternoon had enough breaks between the clouds that I had to keep my sunglasses handy for the moments when I might suddenly be blinded by the sun bursting through. But then there'd be a tunnel, and I'd push the glasses up on the top of my head, and when the tunnel ended, the sky would be gray again. For the last half hour, the sky overhead was overcast again, but far in the distance on the horizon was a stripe of sunny blue to drive to. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 4 February 2023)

Friday, February 03, 2023

Listening to R.E.M. and remembering their debut "Murmur" when it came out in 1983

Today, my binge listening has been to R.E.M. First, my shuffle suggested their second album "Reckoning" (1984), then I turned to "Document" (1987) and "Fables of the Reconstruction" (1985). I also remembered how I first heard their debut album "Murmur" at KZSU, the Stanford student radio station. It came out in April 1983, according to Wikipedia, and I probably played and loved "Radio Free Europe" shortly after that, especially as it was very popular among my fellow student DJs. I finally heard them live at the Oakland Coliseum Arena on 13 November 1987 (a date I dug up on the internet recently), before they graduated to stadiums a few years later. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 3 February 2023)

Thursday, February 02, 2023

Finding an English translation of the German word "Schnittchen" by going through French

In the early 1990s in Germany, I learned about "Schnittchen", which my future mother-in-law would serve, often quite spontaneously: a platter of single slices of bread with various toppings on them. I only thought about what else to call them today, when the word appeared in a poem I was translating from German into English. I first thought of "open-faced sandwich", which is more a description than a name and didn't fit the poem at all, so then I tried something I'd never done before: I used a German-French dictionary to see if there was a good French word. And when I saw it, I thought it was just right: canapé. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 2 February 2023)

Wednesday, February 01, 2023

"Messrs Achburn, Soulpetre and Ashreborn" and the ingredients of gunpowder in James Joyce's "Finnegans Wake"

In James Joyce's "Finnegans Wake" (1939), a minor figure is introduced with his occupation, nickname, and employer: "A dustman nocknamed Seven-churches in the employ of Messrs Achburn, Soulpetre and Ashreborn, prairmakers, Glintalook [...]" (59.16-18). In "Annotations to Finnegans Wake" (2016), Roland McHugh points out that "charcoal + saltpetre + sulfur = gunpowder", but our reading group was confused at first this evening: "Soulpetre" is saltpetre, but how do "Achburn" and "Ashreborn" correspond to charcoal and sulfur, respectively? Only later did I notice that McHugh's list of ingredients was in a different order than Joyce's names: I'm not sure why "Achburn" corresponds to sulfur, but "Ashreborn" is a good characterization of charcoal. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 1 February 2023)