Tuesday, April 30, 2024

The Hailsham canon of literature and art in Kazuo Ishiguro’s “Never Let Me Go” (2005)

Unlike their fellow clones raised elsewhere, the "students" at the Hailsham school in Kazuo Ishiguro's "Never Let Me Go" (2005) are educated in the history of English and European literature and art. Along with the painter Pablo Picasso, the writers the narrator Kathy H mentions include William Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy, James Joyce, Marcel Proust, and Franz Kafka (and two still alive today, Edna O'Brien and Margaret Drabble). Yet Hailsham's jam-packed literary and artistic canon for its cloned organ donors does not include any writers with non-European backgrounds. Perhaps novels by Nella Larsen or Zora Neale Hurston would give the clone underclass ideas about overturning the social order they are raised in. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 30 April 2024)

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Two groups at the Volkshaus in Basel: Andreas Schärer, Kalle Kalima, & Björn Meyer; and Gretchen Parlato and Lionel Loueke

This evening's concert at the Volkshaus in Basel began with the trio of Andreas Schärer on vocals, Kalle Kalima on electric guitar, and Björn Meyer on electric bass guitar. They performed songs from Schärer and Kalima’s “Evolution” (2023, with Tim Lefebvre on bass). It was my fourth time hearing them, and the music opens up more with each show. Then came the duo of Gretchen Parlato on vocals and percussion and Lionel Loueke on electric guitar and vocals with songs from their “Lean In” (2023). Loueke's looping creates relaxed grooves of layered electric guitar combined with his rhythmic chanting and lead-guitar lines, all providing a beautiful foundation for Parlato’s singular singing. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 28 April 2024) 

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Joseph Sobran and a quotation from him in a meme

"In 100 years, we have gone from teaching Latin and Greek in high school to teaching remedial English in college": This quotation from Joseph Sobran has been appearing on my Facebook feed. Joseph Sobran (1946-2010) was an ultra-conservative journalist who was fired from William F. Buckley's "The National Review" in 1993 for being "contextually [?] anti-Semitic." He later spoke at conferences organized by Holocaust denialists David Irving and the Institute for Historical Review. My friends sharing this meme might also note that, based on his public Facebook feed, Thayrone Xington, who posted the meme and wrote, "Let that sink in", is a MAGA supporter and a transphobe, among other far-right things. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 27 April 2024)


Friday, April 26, 2024

A search for a recording of a Bach Sonata for Flute

In the 1970s, I loved my father's LP of Johann Sebastian Bach's Sonata For Flute No.1 In B Minor, BWV 1030. In 2017, I couldn't remember the flautist's name, so I carefully listened to many recordings for their tempo, their overall sound, and harpsichord accompaniment (not piano). The first of Peter-Lukas Graf's two recordings sounded too cold, but his second, despite piano accompaniment (his daughter Aglaia), was still gorgeous, so I bought it and Aurelie Nicolet's version, which fit all my criteria. Today, I finally found my father's flautist's name: Poul Birkelund. The LP with Finn Viderø on harpsichord is available used, but I don't have (or want) a record player. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 26 April 2024)

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Taylor Swift’s “The Black Dog”, The Starting Line, Steely Dan’s “Hey Nineteen”, and Aretha Franklin

Taylor Swift's "The Black Dog" from "The Tortured Poets Department" (2024) imagines an ex with a new partner: "When someone plays The Starting Line / And you jump up, but she's too young to know this song." Only two singles by The Starting Line were successful between 2002 and 2007, so a young person today might well not know them. In Steely Dan's "Hey Nineteen" from "Gaucho" (1980), a thirty-something man dates a nineteen-year-old: "Hey Nineteen / That's 'Retha Franklin / She don't remember the Queen of Soul." Aretha Franklin's greatest successes were from 1967 to the early seventies, so she might have been unknown to many younger people in 1980. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 25 April 2024)

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Taylor Swift and Wilco and songs with identical titles (plus Glenn Kotche on drums and Ethan Hawke in “Boyhood” and “Fortnight”)

In 2014, when Taylor Swift released "Shake It Off" on "1989", I connected it with Wilco's "Shake It Off" from "Sky Blue Sky" (2007). Swift's song shakes off what others say; Tweedy's anticipates being "awake enough" to shake off dreams. Now, Swift has released "I Hate It Here" on "The Tortured Poets Department", echoing Wilco's 2007 "Hate It Here". These two songs share a musician: Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche plays on Swift's tune. Further, on a camping trip in Richard Linklater's "Boyhood" (2014), Mason Evans, Sr. (Ethan Hawke), plays "Hate It Here" for his son (Ellar Coltrane) – and Hawke has a small role in Swift's video for her new single "Fortnight". (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 24 April 2024)


Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Two concepts of “the reader” that aren’t necessarily compatible

A problem with the concept of “the reader” is that it can mean two things that aren’t necessarily compatible with each other. On the one hand, there’s a linear reader who reads once from beginning to end. This is the reader Walter Benjamin describes in "The Storyteller" (1936) as having a "consuming interest in the events of the novel", the one who wants to know what is going to happen and why. On the other hand, there is a reader who knows the whole work and has read it repeatedly. This is the reader James Joyce describes in "Finnegans Wake" (1939) as "that ideal reader suffering from an ideal insomnia" (120.13-14). (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 23 April 2024)

Monday, April 22, 2024

Vieux Farka Touré at the Volkshaus Basel, 22 April 2024

I had a fourth-row seat right in the center for Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Toure's concert with his band this evening at the Volkshaus in Basel (as part of the Offbeat Jazz Festival). But I didn't sit in it. Instead, I stood over to the right side of the seats and danced right from the beginning. As always with Malian music, I had to figure out anew how to dance to each tune: sometimes by listening to the bass, sometimes to the drums, and sometimes to the intertwining lines of guitar and ngoni. But the extended jams offered plenty of opportunities to find my way into the nuances of the rhythms. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 22 April 2024) 

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Taylor Swift songs and Miss Havisham & Estella from Charles Dickens’s “Great Expectations” (1861)

I hear Charles Dickens's "Great Expectations" (1861) in Taylor Swift's "right where you left me" ("evermore", 2020): "Help, I'm still at the restaurant / Still sitting in a corner I haunt [...] / Dust collected on my pinned-up hair." Dickens's Miss Havisham has also stayed "right where you left me" in her house, with everything around her "covered with dust". Now Swift's "Who's Afraid of Little Old Me?" ("The Tortured Poets Department", 2024) recalls Dickens's Estella, raised by Miss Havisham to get revenge on men: "You wouldn't last an hour in the asylum where they raised me / So all you kids can sneak into my house with all the cobwebs."  (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 21 April 2024)

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Cassandra in Greek mythology, Christa Wolf, and Taylor Swift (plus a pinch of Friedrich Nietzsche)

During our listening party yesterday afternoon for Taylor Swift's "The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology", I was first struck by her song "Cassandra" for its mythological title that reminded me of "Kassandra", by German novelist Christa Wolf (1929-2011), whose work was the subject of one-third of my doctoral dissertation back in the 1990s. But then I also thought my co-teacher Rachael Moorthy would like the song, as she has already noticed Swift's multiple references to women from Greek mythology. And finally I laughed at how Swift gave another spin to the Nietzschean aphorism we had discussed on Wednesday in connection with her "Cruel Summer": "What doesn't call you makes you aware." (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 20 April 2024)

Friday, April 19, 2024

First listening to Taylor Swift’s “The Tortured Poets Department” (2024)

At six am, I listened to Taylor Swift's new album "The Tortured Poets Department." It struck me that the album may have a first single, "Fortnight", but it doesn't sound like it was written and produced to be a blockbuster single. Not only that, none of the other fifteen songs have that feel to them either. At eight am, the album almost doubled in length (to 31 songs) with the release of "The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology". That's what some of my Taylor Swift students and I listened to at our listening party this afternoon. So far, the two songs I like most are "Cassandra" and "Peter" (as in Pan). (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 19 April 2024) 

Thursday, April 18, 2024

“In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” in memory of Dickey Betts (1943-2024)

On hearing the news that guitarist Dickey Betts of The Allman Brothers Band died today, I went to put on his tune "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed", the live version from the band's March 1971 concerts "At Fillmore East", with its glorious guitar solos by Betts and Duane Allman sandwiching Gregg Allman's organ solo while Berry Oakley on bass and Butch Trucks  and Jai Johnny Johansson on drums push all the soloists and each other to beautiful climaxes and interludes between them. My dear old friend Paul Baer, who sadly committed suicide in September 2016, loved this tune, so for me today it's "In Memory of Dickey Betts and Paul Baer". (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 18 April 2024) 

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Taylor Swift, Friedrich Nietzsche, and aphorisms

Taylor Swift's "Cruel Summer" (from "Lover", 2019), includes a variation on an aphorism by Friedrich Nietzsche: ""What doesn't kill me makes me want you more." In the "Lover" session of our Taylor Swift seminar today, I asked the students how they use (and have heard others use) the Nietzsche aphorism from "Twilight of the Idols" (1888): "What doesn't kill me makes me stronger." While some of their responses make the aphorism a principle of resilience, one student referred to how it can also have an effect of "toxic positivity". The students also pointed out that many Swift lines have also come to be used as aphorisms, and not only by Swifties. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 17 April 2024)

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Paul Krugman on “GOP radicalism” and the failure of “centrists” to see it

Columnist, economist, and Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman observes in the "New York Times" that if self-declared "centrists" "were willing to admit the fundamental asymmetry in our political debate, willing to admit that if DC is broken, it’s because of GOP radicalism, they would have done it long ago. It’s not as if this reality was hard to see." But as such people who want to seem "Serious" and "sensible" will not blame "polarization" on one side alone, they will continue to not see the reality of politics in the United States today. And here's the thing: Krugman came up with this take not in April 2024 but in April 2013. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 16 April 2024)

Monday, April 15, 2024

The compression of the time frame in James Ivory's 1993 film of Kazuo Ishiguro's novel "The Remains of the Day"

James Ivory's 1993 film of Kazuo Ishiguro's novel "The Remains of the Day" compresses the time frame of Ishiguro's story. In the novel, the events recalled in 1956 by Mr. Stevens, the butler-narrator, run from a 1923 international conference put on by Stevens's employer, Lord Darlington, to another meeting at Darlington Hall in about 1937. In Ivory's film, the initial conference takes place in 1936, with a secret meeting "three years later" about the Sudetenland crisis in September 1938. While the compression of the timeline might make sense in the film version, Ivory and his screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala could have been more careful about the actual dates of historical events. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 15 April 2024) 

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Faith Ringgold at the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts in February 2024

During my February visit to Massachusetts, my sister, my mother, and I visited the Worcester Art Museum (WAM), where there was an exhibition of work by Faith Ringgold (1930-2024), who died yesterday. I walked into the small room containing in her work and was immediately spellbound by "Picasso's Studio". This quilt from WAM's collection, which is part seven of Ringgold's sequence "The French Collection", depicts a young African-American woman modeling for Picasso with "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" in the background, with the model's story framing the image. Ringgold's use of texts in her images has made me interested in teaching a course on her wide-ranging work, from such quilts to children's books. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 14 April 2024)

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Taylor Swift’s “The Tortured Poets Department” and the 200th Anniversary of the death of Lord Byron

Taylor Swift's "The Tortured Poets Department" will drop on Friday, 19 April 2024. This morning, while paging through the 4 March 2024 issue of "The New Yorker", I have just read the beginning of an article by Anthony Lane about English Romantic poet Lord Byron, who "succumbed to a fever on April 19, 1824, in the town of Missolonghi, on the west coast of Greece, at the age of thirty-six." For a possible link between Swift and Byron, I've found only a BBC article that mentions Byron as one example of "a tortured poet" but does not note that Swift's album is coming out on the two-hundredth anniversary of Byron's death. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 13 April 2024) 

Friday, April 12, 2024

My result with an exercise for students in writing long sentences

After the hitherto mostly pleasant Sunday afternoon reunion of old college roommates for a round of their favorite card games abruptly ended with a surprisingly fierce dispute about the relative merits of French, Italian, and Australian wine, someone on the ground floor of the old brownstone turned on the flickering light in the musty stairwell, and the party's last guest, still so shocked by all that anger about such a trivial subject as to be sure something else must have been going on, cried about a long-lost love on the way home under the star-filled winter sky that the last traces of the cloudless day's light had long since faded from. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 12 April 2024) 

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Never Any Tag

Clutter and cushions and glasses and cups and saucers and sauces and bottles and cans and canisters and candle drips and winey drops and beery drabs and one-faced photos and two-faced snaps and middle-finger poses and outstretched tongues and crucified eyes are the aftermath strewn across the stained rugs and spotted carpets and scratched parquets that barefoot or stockinged or hosed or sandaled gals and maids and lasses and dames are tiptoeing between with their highest wildest heels in their tireless tired hands and their slippery sticky fingers after a latte evening and an airy morning as we arise to gather up ourselves and everything on another dawning Never Any Tag. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 11 April 2024)

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

“Stop Making Sense”, the Talking Heads concert movie, in 1984 and 2024

I saw Talking Heads on 6 December 1983 at the San Francisco Civic Auditorium (now the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium), the week before the four shows filmed at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood to make Jonathan Demme's 1984 movie "Stop Making Sense". The movie reinforced my memory of the concert's images, such as David Byrne running around the stage during "Life During Wartime", dancing with a lamp during "This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)", and wearing a giant suit during "Girlfriend Is Better". Tonight I saw the 40th anniversary restoration at the kult.kino in Basel, and it remains one of the most extraordinary works of art I have ever experienced. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 10 April 2024) 

Tuesday, April 09, 2024

“The piano is a sculpture”: Jason Moran plays Duke Ellington in Basel, 8 April 2024

“The piano is a sculpture. The piano is a machine”: Thus spoke Jason Moran to begin his solo concert of Duke Ellington music last night at Basel's Martinskirche. During “Black and Tan Fantasy”, he put the pedal down to carve a two-handed sculpture of mobile bass notes. As he lingered on his patterns, the piano-machine’s high strings sang overtones that grew ever louder every second. “Care is built into the walls” of the church, he said later, and after describing his afternoon visit to Claude Monet’s “Waterlilies” at the Fondation Beyeler, Moran made “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That a Swing” a statement of Ellington’s painterly achievements. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 9 April 2024) 

Monday, April 08, 2024

“J’ai oublié les mots”: Gregory Privat in Basel, 8 April 2024

The day’s last light fades through the stained-glass windows of the Martiniqueskirche in Basel on this summery Monday evening in early spring. Gregory Privat touches the keys, the hammers strike the strings, and arpeggios, octaves, and melodies resound from the open lid of the grand piano (whose polish reflects it shimmering interior) and echo through the church to our insatiable ears. Then he sings, he loops his words into choirs, he touches the keys more and more, and his voices fly up to the frescoes so many have seen in the silence of the church for centuries and centuries: “J’ai oublié les mots; J’ai oublié les mots; J’ai oublié les mots.” (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 8 April 2024) 

Sunday, April 07, 2024

“For you and I” and “of you and I” in Kazuo Ishiguro’s “The Remains of the Day” (1989)

In Kazuo Ishiguro's "The Remains of the Day" (1989), the butler-narrator Mr. Stevens tells the housekeeper Miss Kenton they just accept a decision made by their employer Lord Darlington: "His lordship has made his decision and there is nothing for you and I to debate over." This construction with "you and I" after a preposition appears several times in Stevens's usage, including in the novel's final pages: "Surely it is enough that the likes of you and I at least try to make a small contribution count for something true and worthy." Its appearances always mark class boundaries – between Lord Darlington and his employees; between Stevens and people from lower classes. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 7 April 2024)

Saturday, April 06, 2024

Isak Dinesen’s “The Blank Page” (1957) and Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” (2017)

After discussing "The Blank Page" (1957) by Isak Dinesen (1885-1962) with students on Friday, 22 March, I discussed Taylor Swift's "Blank Space" (from "reputation", 2017) with students on Wednesday, 3 April. I didn't notice the coincidence of the titles until I was preparing the song and noticed the connection between blankness and writing: "I've got a blank space baby / And I'll write your name." In a 1981 article, Susan Gubar interpreted Dinesen's "blank page" as "an act of defiance" against the erasure of women from literary history. In that light, Swift defiantly asserts herself as the writer who controls the story in "Blank Space" and writes stories in her songs. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 6 April 2024)

Friday, April 05, 2024

A New Yorker cartoon and the fantasy of emigration from a reactionary United States

The Daily Cartoon on the "New Yorker" website for 4 April 2024 depicts a father reading a bedtime story to his daughter: "And so, freaked out about the coming election, they moved to France and lived happily after." The idea comes up whenever the forces of reaction in the United States take power, or just come close to doing so: we can move to Canada or to Europe. But right now, France (like other countries to emigrate to) is facing its own takeover by a radical right-wing party: Marine Le Pen's Rassemblement National (which was founded by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen in 1972 and called the Front National until 2018). (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 5 April 2024)


Thursday, April 04, 2024

“Allkey dallkey”: Four years of rereading “Finnegans Wake”

In my Facebook Memories this morning, I read a quotation I posted four years ago today: "Allkey dallkey, sayd the shop’s housebound, for he was as deep as the north star [...]ey" (James Joyce, “Finnegans Wake”, 317.5-6). I was struck then and now by "allkey dallkey" as a variation on "okey dokey" – a trace of how long the latter phrase has been around. That was during my first reading of the novel, which I completed on 28 October 2021. Of course I immediately started my second reading of this novel of "recirculation" (3.2). And today, on 4 April 2024 I read the same passage that I quoted on 4 April 2020. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 4 April 2024) 

Wednesday, April 03, 2024

A phrase about Paul Celan and the title of a book by Alfred Bodenheimer

I've been occasionally reading a couple pages in Bertrand Badiou's "Paul Celan. Eine Bildbiographie" (Suhrkamp, 2023). Today, on page 58, in the chapter about Celan's life in Bucharest from Spring 1945 to November 1947, I read a section about how Celan (1920-1970) changed his name in 1947 from Antschel to Celan: "Mit dem Namen des Vaters bruchlos brechen." He broke with his father's name by changing it, but he did so without a break by reversing the Romanian spelling "Ancel" to get "Celan". I was struck by Badiou's expression because a decade ago I translated a book by Alfred Bodenheimer, "Ungebrochen gebrochen. Über jüdische Narrative und Traditionsbildung" (2012), as "Unbrokenly Broken." (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 3 April 2024)

Tuesday, April 02, 2024

Doctor Eckleburg in F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" (1925) and King Gillette in John Dos Passos's "Manhattan Transfer" (1925)

"The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic—their retinas are one yard high": F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" (1925) mentions this faded billboard "half way between West Egg and New York" seven times in all. Early in John Dos Passos's "Manhattan Transfer" (1925), a bearded man sees "an advertising card" with "a highbrowed clean-shaven distinguished face [...]. Under it in copybook writing was the signature King C. Gillette." While Gillette never reappears, the advertisement is effective: the man buys a razor, goes home, and shaves. Fitzgerald's old billboard is nothing but an insistent symbol, while Dos Passos's new advertisement is simultaneously really effective and potentially symbolic. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 2 April 2024)

Monday, April 01, 2024

Racist attacks on Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott and the systematic racist effects of redlining in the city

Emmanuel Felton's article in yesterday's "Washington Post", "Baltimore mayor weathers racist attacks after bridge collapse," refers to Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, a thirty-eight-year-old Democrat who has been described on white supremacist Elon Musk's microblogging site X as looking "like your average street criminal." But Mayor Scott wants to address Baltimore's problems, "including undoing the damage done by racial redlining," that caught my attention. The practice of drawing red lines around minority neighborhoods in the United States may seem like history, but even in the last decade multiple banks have paid steep fines for discriminatory lending practices. That context links racist attacks on Mayor Scott and racist practices he aims to undo. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 1 April 2024)