Friday, May 31, 2024

Five teenagers convicted and later exonerated; one businessman calling for the death penalty then and now convicted

Five teenagers were arrested in Central Park in New York City on charges of assault and rape. One businessman called for the death penalty to be reintroduced in the state: "I want to hate these muggers and murderers. They should be forced to suffer [...]." The five teenagers were all convicted and imprisoned. Twelve years later, another man confessed to the rape in the teenagers' case, and their convictions were vacated. Now, another twenty-three years later, that businessman, who in a civil case has recently been ruled to have committed rape himself, has been convicted on thirty-four counts of falsifying business records with the intent to violate federal campaign finance limits. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 31 May 2024)

Thursday, May 30, 2024

André Holland in Rebecca Hall’s “Passing” (2021) and other films I’ve seen him in

When I first watched Rebecca Hall's 2021 adaptation of Nella Larsen's 1929 novel "Passing", I focused on Tessa Thompson's performance as Irene Redfield, as well as on the visual storytelling by cinematographer Eduard Grau. On a second viewing, I've noticed André Holland's performance as Brian Redfield. But then other performances I've seen by Holland have also been excellent, including his roles as Kevin in Barry Jenkins's 2016 "Moonlight" and as Andrew Young in Ava DuVernay's 2014 "Selma". He's also in DuVernay's "August 28th: A Day in the Life of a People", which links poems and historical events that took place in the United States on that day from 1833 to 2008. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 30 May 2024) 

André Holland and Tessa Thompson in “Passing"

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Lightness and intensity with Caroline Davis (alto), Julian Shore (piano), Chris Tordini (bass), and Allen Mednard (drums) at the Bird’s Eye Basel, 29 May 2024

When the rippling ringing of the ride cymbal flies from the long day into an open night and the snare-drum accents and alto-sax accidentals dance to bass snaps and strums and piano swirls and whirls, the first minute of the evening’s music clears ears and finds minds and makes magical beats for feet and hands and tapping fingers, and the first untitled tune with its bells and whistles from Caroline Davis’s alto to Julian Shore’s piano to Chris Tordini’s bass to Allen Mednard’s drums shimmers and glimmers and skips and turns and swerves and curves enough for an entire evening with lightness and intensity, and then there’s still so much more. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 29 May 2024)

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

“A kind of emotional excitement” in Nella Larsen’s novel “Passing” (1929) and “exoticism” in Rebecca Hall’s 2021 film adaptation

In Nella Larsen's "Passing" (1929), the black main character Irene Redfield explains her theory about white women's interest in black men to her white friend Hugh Wentworth: "I think that what they feel is — well, a kind of emotional excitement." In the 2021 film "Passing", director and screenwriter Rebecca Hall kept Larsen's words for this dialogue but also has Irene (Tessa Thompson) introduce the concept of "exoticism". Today, when I heard that word while watching the movie for a second time, I wondered if it might be an academic anachronism. According to Google's Ngram viewer, it was used in the 1920s, but by 2019 it was used ten times as often. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 28 May 2024)

Monday, May 27, 2024

Books I’ve been re-reading for courses and exams, and a note on “Great Expectations” and “The Great Gatsby"

My recent posts on Vladimir Nabokov are all related to my re-reading of him to prepare for a Master's oral exam this week. At the same time, I have been re-reading three novels for a written Bachelor's exam I will grade next week: F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" (1925), John Dos Passos's "Manhattan Transfer" (1925), and Nella Larsen's "Passing" (1929). And with me teaching Charles Dickens's "Great Expectations" (1861) this semester as well, I keep associating all those novels with Dickens – but especially "The Great Gatsby", whose overlapping with "Great Expectations" begins with the titles and continues in their explorations of what happens when poor young men have "great expectations". (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 27 May 2024) 

Sunday, May 26, 2024

“The monstrous semblance of a novel” in Vladimir Nabokov’s “Pale Fire” (1962)

In Vladimir Nabokov's novel "Pale Fire", Charles Kinbote writes his notes to John Shade's poem "Pale Fire" and includes a line "written [...] in the margin of the draft": "The evening is the time to praise the day". In the political and poetic world that Nabokov builds in his novel, that line in a draft is only saved by the work of the annotator. But in Nabokov's novel itself, it is not a deleted line but part of the final version in which Nabokov turns a fictional poem and its annotations into what Kinbote himself explicitly does not want his work of annotation to become: "the monstrous semblance of a novel". (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 26 May 2024) 

Saturday, May 25, 2024

The “Acres of Perhaps” in Emily Dickinson’s “Their Hight in Heaven comforts not”

After I came across the "grand peut-être" in the supposed last words of François Rabelais and recalled "the unshakeable PERHAPS" in "Brief Pause in the Organ Recital", by Tomas Tranströmer, in Robin Fulton's translation, I was struck today by another nominalization of "perhaps" in the poem "Their Hight in Heaven comforts not" (Fr725), by Emily Dickinson: "I cant see - // The House of Supposition - / The Glimmering Frontier that / Skirts the Acres of Perhaps". I searched my digital version of Dickinson's complete poems and scrolled through her many uses of "perhaps", but this genitive metaphor (parallel to the "House of Supposition") is her only nominalization of the word. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 25 May 2024)

Friday, May 24, 2024

The “grand Sylvain”, the “Poplar Admirable” (or Admiral), and the “Grosser Eisvogel” in Léon-Paul Fargue, Vladimir Nabokov, and Anne Duden

As Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977) was not only a novelist but a lepidopterist, his memoir "Speak, Memory" (1951/1966) is full of butterflies and moths, and once, he even lists lepidopterans in literature, including the "grand Sylvain" or "Poplar Admirable" in "Les quatre journées" (1941) by Léon-Paul Fargue (1876-1947). Nabokov uses the older expression, "Admirable". I first learned that butterfly's English name when I once came across a "Grosser Eisvogel" in "Hingegend", a poem I was translating by Anne Duden; I first thought of the "Kingfisher" ("Eisvogel") but then found out that the "Grosser Eisvogel" is the "Poplar Admiral." (But in the end, Duden told me she was referring to a large kingfisher!) (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 24 May 2024)

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Tracing a phrase from Vladimir Nabokov’s “Pale Fire” (1962) to François Rabelais and Tomas Tranströmer

In "Pale Fire" (1962), by Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977), Charles Kinbote annotates poet John Shade's unfinished poem "Pale Fire". For the phrase "the grand potato", Kinbote refers to the supposed "last words" of François Rabelais (1483/1494?-1553): "Je m'en vais chercher le grand peut-être." This line first appeared in the life of Rabelais included in the 1693 translation by Peter Anthony Motteux (1663-1718) of Rabelais's "Gargantua et Pantagruel" (1532-1564). For me, it echoes "the unshakeable PERHAPS" in "Brief Pause in the Organ Recital" ("Kort paus i orgelkonserten"), from "The Wild Market Square" ("Det vilda torget", 1983), by Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer (1931-2015), as translated by Scottish poet and translator Robin Fulton (b. 1931). (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 23 May 2024)

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Jan Lundgren and Hans Beckenroth’s duo arrangement of “She’s Leaving Home”, by The Beatles

At their duo concert at the Stadtcasino in Basel last night (which was before the solo piano set by Fred Hersch that I wrote about yesterday), pianist Jan Lundgren and bassist Hans Backenroth played a gorgeous version of "She's Leaving Home", by The Beatles (from "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", 1967). The original has Paul McCartney singing the first verse and McCartney and John Lennon singing the chorus in a beautiful multi-tracked arrangement. In Lundgren and Backenroth's arrangement, Backenroth played the verse melody on bass, and Lundgren took over on piano for the chorus melody. This arrangement appears on the duo's 2022 album, "The Gallery Concerts II: Jazz Poetry" (ACT). (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 22 May 2024) 

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Fred Hersch plays “After You’ve Gone”, by Turner Layton and Henry Creamer (1918)

During his solo set at the Stadtcasino Basel this evening, pianist Fred Hersch played what he called "the oldest standard I know": "After You've Gone", from 1918. It was written by Turner Layton and Henry Creamer, an African-American songwriting duo, and first recorded by white American singer Marion Harris. I have three versions in my music collection, by Benny Goodman (1935), the Quintette du Hot Club de France (1937, in a compilation of Django Reinhardt music), and Sidney Bechet (1943). Hersch's performance fit beautifully into his wide-ranging set, and with it, he took the opportunity to pull out some stride-piano chops just before returning to the melody to finish the tune. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 21 May 2024)

Monday, May 20, 2024

Moral judgments in Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita” (1955)

For Vladimir Nabokov, as he wrote in his 1956 afterword to "Lolita" (1955), the novel "has no moral in tow." Yet Dolores Haze herself provides moral judgment of the Humbert Humbert who calls her "Lolita": although he may insist that "it was she who seduced" him, she later refers to "the hotel where you raped me" and says he "had attempted to violate her several times when [he] was her mother's roomer." And even Humbert ultimately condemns his treatment of the "slave-child" he trapped in a "background of shared secrecy and shared guilt": "[...] there were times when I knew how you felt, and it was hell to know it [...]." (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 20 May 2024)

Sunday, May 19, 2024

“Mumbo Jumbo” in Thomas Hardy’s “A Pale of Blue Eyes” (1873) and Francis Moore’s "Travels Into the Inland Parts of Africa" (1738)

In "A Pair of Blue Eyes" (1873), Thomas Hardy refers to "a species of Mumbo Jumbo." As so often, I wondered then about the history of an expression I did not know had been around that long. The word is first recorded by the "Oxford English Dictionary" in English geographer Francis Moore's "Travels Into the Inland Parts of Africa" (1738), where it refers not only to a god, spirit, or idol, a "dreadful Bugbear to the Women, call'd Mumbo-Jumbo", but also to "a cant language [...] called Mumbo-Jumbo". Perhaps I would have long since known about the word's African origins if I had ever read Ishmael Reed's 1972 novel "Mumbo Jumbo"! (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 19 May 2024)

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Thomas Hardy avoiding a conventional ending for a romance novel in “A Pair of Blue Eyes” (1873)

Thomas Hardy's "A Pair of Blue Eyes" (1873) begins with Stephen Smith, a lower-class young man trained as an architect, in love with Elfride Swancourt, whose parson father forces her to break off her romance. After Smith goes to colonial India to seek his fortune, Elfride falls in love with Henry Knight (without knowing that Knight was once Smith's mentor). When Smith returns from India as a wealthy man, the novel seems to be heading toward Elfride finally choosing between the two, but Hardy chooses a less conventional ending: without the two men's knowledge, Elfride has married someone else and died just as they were on their way to confront her. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 18 May 2024)

Friday, May 17, 2024

“Fishing for compliments” with Marcel Proust

I came across an English expression in Marcel Proust's "Du côté de chez Swann" (1913): "'Puisque vous le voulez', répondit Odette sur un ton de marivaudage, et elle ajouta: vous savez que je ne suis pas 'fishing for compliments.'" I would have thought that "fishing for compliments" was too recent to be used in a scene taking place in nineteenth-century France, but the entry for this sense of "fish" in the "Oxford English Dictionary" includes the phrase in an 1803 quotation: "I feared he would think I was fishing for a compliment." And the general figurative sense of "fish" of trying to indirectly "elicit a particular response" goes back to 1570. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 17 May 2024) 

Thursday, May 16, 2024

“Another Step”, by the Martin Lechner Band, with two lyrics that I wrote

"Another Step", the new album by singer Martin Lechner's band with Dave Feusi on tenor saxophone, Roland Köppel on piano, Patrick Sommer on bass, and Andreas Schnyder on drums, begins with two songs that Martin and I wrote together: "Black Bird" and "Magpies". In each case, two older eight-line poems of mine caught Martin's attention, and he began to set them to music. But then he wanted more lyrics, so I had to find my way back into two poems that had long since seemed finished to me. But I managed to write more than he needed, and then he picked out parts he liked and put them in the songs. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 16 May 2024)


Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Putting my raincoat into my backpack in case I end up in “the meddle of the mudstorm” (“Finnegans Wake”, 86.20)

This morning, I checked the weather report and saw that rain was forecast starting around 6 pm. Since I wasn't sure I would come home before the "Finnegans Wake" reading-group meeting at 6 pm, I put my raincoat into my backpack. After I did end up coming home at 4:30 pm, I decided I might ride my bike back to the meeting. Although the weather report no longer forecast rain, I took my raincoat along anyway. During the meeting, just as we were discussing "the meddle of the mudstorm" (86.20), there was a cloudburst outside, and I was happy to have my raincoat "tospite the deluge" (86.23-2) on my ride home. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 15 May 2024)

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Phrases Emily Dickinson wrote in 1862

These are phrases from Emily Dickinson poems that R. W. Franklin dates to 1862: "this brief drama in the flesh" (279); "Thunder - in the Room" (292); "Recordless Company" (303); "the Juggler of Day" (321); "Some Transatlantic Morn" (326); "That Phraseless Melody" (334); "In Leagueless Opportunity" (342); "Not all Pianos in the Woods" (347); "She dances like a Bomb" (360); "Some rumor of Delirium" (361); "a fond Ambush" (365); "Sufficient Dynasty" (375); "Syllables of Velvet" (380); "Drums off the Phantom Battlements" (406); "A pleading Pageantry" (414); "The Gnat's supremacy" (419); "a baffling Earth" (447); "A Geometric Joy" (456); "a Wake of Music" (462); "The Cruel - smiling - bowing World" (496). (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 14 May 2024)

Monday, May 13, 2024

The community of dancers by the stage at the Tamikrest concert in Basel on 12 May 2024

Down in front at the Tamikrest concert at the Gannet in Basel last night, a small community of dancers formed during the show. There was me, an old white guy in my Tamikrest T-shirt; there was a pair there together – a stocky bearded light-brown man and a turban, and a white, ponytailed woman in a black outfit; there was a thinner brown man in a long-sleeved black button-down shirt; there was a small young light-brown woman in a white top that shone when the black lights were on; there was a brown woman who was the best dancer of all, with her long curly hair bound on top of her head. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 13 May 2024)

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Oum at Volkshaus Basel (11 May 2024) and Tamikrest at Gannet Basel (12 May 2024): Dancing and running into students

Last night I went to the Volkshaus in Basel to hear Moroccan singer Oum with her sextet (oud, trumpet, saxophone, bass, percussion). I danced right fron the beguining. The rhythms were unfamiliar to me, but I could usually find one instrument to guide me. And sometimes I just swayed to the vocal melody. My Moroccan student Nora from my 111-words class was also there, delighted to finally see one of her favorite singers. Tonight, then, I went to the Gannet in Basel to hear Malian band Tamikrests. It was my second time seeing them, and once again I danced all night – and ran into my student Fionn, from the same class! (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 12 May 2024) 

Saturday, May 11, 2024

Press inquiries about my Taylor Swift seminar

For my Taylor Swift seminar this semester at the University of Basel, I have received about fifteen press inquiries from newspapers, magazines, and radio and television stations. Until the other day, they were mostly from Switzerland, with four from Germany (one of which I turned down because it came with only a few hours' notice for a live radio discussion). But now I have also received an inquiry for an email interview from the newspaper "El Mundo" in Madrid. It's been quite an experience, but as I recently said to University colleagues , I am looking forward to teaching Emily Dickinson this fall and not being asked for interviews about her. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 11 May 2024)

Friday, May 10, 2024

Martin Lechner and Band at the Bird’s Eye in Basel, 10 May 2024

At their concert at the Bird's Eye in Basel last night, singer Martin Lechner and his band (Dave Feusi, tenor saxophone; Roland Köppel, piano; Patrick Sommer, bass; Andreas Schnyder, drums) played jazz standards, pop songs from the eighties and nineties, and original tunes. Two of the latter featured my lyrics ("Black Bird" and "Magpies"), and I enjoyed them a lot, but as with Samara Joy's wonderful performance of "Guess Who I Saw Today" at the Volkshaus in Basel last month, Martin was at his very best in two songs where he could dig into the role of a clearly defined character: the standard "It's Only a Paper Moon" and Radiohead's "Creep". (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 10 May 2024)

Thursday, May 09, 2024

Basel singers performing Taylor Swift songs at Mitten in der Woche on 8 May 2024

Last night at the Mitten in der Woche "swiftomenal" event at the Kaserne in Basel, I sang two Taylor Swift songs accompanied by Fabio Gouvea on electric guitar: "Champagne Problems" and "Never Grow Up" (with "I Don't Wanna Grow Up" by Tom Waits). There were also four more riveting performances of rearrangements of Swift songs: Baschi Hausmann sang "State of Grace" to solo electric guitar; Jasmine Albash sang "Cruel Summer" and "... Ready for It?" to solo keyboards; Laine sang two unreleased Swift songs with solo acoustic gutar, "Need You Now" and "This Is Really Happening"; and Jenny Jans and Axel Rüst sang "Exile" and "Lover" with acoustic guitar and keyboards. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 9 May 2024)

Tuesday, May 07, 2024

A nine-part blackboard on the last paragraph of Kazuo Ishiguro’s “Never Let Me Go” (2005)

For today's discussion of the last paragraph of Kazuo Ishiguro's "Never Let Me Go" (2005), the nine students wrote on one-ninth of the blackboard each: words or phrases from the paragraph; keywords for their ideas; concepts from criticism; links to our other two Ishiguro novels ("An Artist of the Floating World", 1986; "The Remains of the Day", 1989); links to literary history or theory. Each student presented their ninth of the board for discussion with the others, while I mostly remained silent until the end. With one student absent, I wrote a new idea of mine about "Never Let Me Go" in the empty ninth: "Il faut imaginer Kathy H. heureuse." (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 7 May 2024)

Monday, May 06, 2024

Like it or not: A podium discussion on “Postcolonial Theories” at the University of Basel

The podium discussion on "Postcolonial Theories" in the Aula at the University of Basel this evening featured Professor Falestin Naili (Near and Middle Eastern Studies), Professor Erik Petry (Jewish Studies), and Dr. Henri-Michel Yeré (Sociology / African Studies) from the University of Basel, as well as Dr. Kijan Espahangizi (History) from the University of Zurich and Swiss writer Christoph Keller as moderator. In a wide-ranging discussion, one moment has stuck with me as a figure for those historical and contemporary conflicts dubbed "postcolonial": Dr. Yeré, a Swiss scholar who was born in the Ivory Coast, mentioned that his mother tongue is French, the colonial language, "whether I like it or not". (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 6 May 2024) 

Sunday, May 05, 2024

Saxofour at the Tinguely Museum in Basel, 4 May 2024 (and memories of the World Saxophone Quartet in San Franscisco in the 1980s)

In the mid-1980s, I heard two incredibly memorable performances by the World Saxophone Quartet at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco: Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake, Hamiet Bluiett, and David Murray. Last night at the Tinguely Museum in Basel, I was reminded of the WSQ's wonderful combination of energy, arrangements, and humor by a performance by saxofour with Florian Bramböck, Klaus Dickbauer, Christian Maurer und Wolfgang Puschnig. Playing in front of Jean Tinguely's "Grosse Méta-Maxi-Maxi-Utopia", the Austrian saxophone quartet performed a wide-ranging set of original compositions (with jokes in between) and concluded their intense and entertaining set with an encore played while walking up the steps into that gigantic sculpture. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 5 May 2024) 

Saturday, May 04, 2024

“I’m against …” – “So you’re for …?"

"I'm against diversity, equity, and inclusion." – "So you're for uniformity, inequity, and exclusion?" – "That's not what I meant!" – "Sorry." – "I'm against critical race theory." – "So you're for gullible race superstition?" – "That's not what I meant!" – "Sorry." – "I'm against antifa." – "So you're for fascism?" – "That's not what I meant!" – "Sorry." – "I'm against decolonization." – "So you're for colonization?"  – "That's not what I meant!" – "Sorry." – "I'm against being woke." – "So you're for being asleep?"  – "That's not what I meant!" – "Sorry." – "I'm against identity politics." – "So you're only for your own identity?"  – "That's not what I meant!" – "Sorry." – "I'm against the radical left-wing." – "So you're for the reactionary right-wing?" – "That's not what I meant!" – "Sorry." (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 4 May 2024)

Friday, May 03, 2024

Jazz, Poetry, and Community

After listening to The Choir Invisible with Charlotte Greve (alto saxophone, vocals), Chris Tordini (bass), and Vinnie Sperrazza (drums) last night at the Bird's Eye in Basel, and then reading Sperrazza's thoughts on his blog about jazz and community on the way home (a community exemplified by that trio's interplay), I read a Facebook post by British poet John McCullough about my late Anglo-American teacher Denise Levertov, and then another by Canadian poet (and London resident) Nancy Mattson about how American poet (and Athens resident) A. E. Stallings mentioned visiting me in Basel in an article on Canadian poet Anne Carson, and I felt like part of an international poetry community. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 3 May 2024)

Thursday, May 02, 2024

Durs Grünbein, Taylor Swift, and critics who say their works are too long

 In 1999, German poet Durs Grünbein published a 229-page collection of new poetry, "Nach den Satiren" (Suhrkamp). I read three reviews that all said he should have published a much shorter collection (80 to 90 pages). Each reviewer listed poems they thought were either definite keepers or obvious flops. I compared the lists and saw that one reviewer's keeper was always another reviewer's flop. I remembered this after reading many reviews of Taylor Swift's "The Tortured Poets Department" (2024) that list songs she should have cut – with everyone disagreeing about the keepers and flops. All this speaks for long collections of poems or songs that readers or listeners can curate themselves. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 2 May 2024)

Wednesday, May 01, 2024

The 1978 film “La Cage aux Folles” at the Fine Arts Cinema in Palo Alto, California, in the early 1980s

For several years in the early 1980s, the Fine Arts Cinema on California Avenue in Palo Alto, California, ran Édouard Molinaro's 1978 movie "La Cage aux Folles", starring Ugo Tognazzi and Michel Serrault. I moved to Palo Alto in September 1980 for my last two years of high high school, and I'm pretty sure I saw the movie at that cinema before starting at Stanford in September 1982. Today, when I read a student's text about having seen the musical in high school a few years ago, I realized the film was probably my first experience of a work that challenged the homophobia of the 1970s culture I grew up in. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 1 May 2024)