Monthly Archives: December 2011

Ann Beattie

Beattie’s stories are a master class in narrative technique. First person or third; present tense or past; one story line or several; intercutting time frames or A-to-Z chronology; single scenes, impressionistic fragments, long unfoldings. The effects are precise, understated.

Have you read Ann Beattie? I have not and I am interested in her early – through – eighties stories now.

Axé.

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Intrepid

I had expected to eat clam chowder and drink bad beer in some dive in old Eureka, California, but found that the entire place is now an elegant shopping zone with a gourmet culture. You can have a glass of fine wine while listening to a live singer and surfing the web on wi-fi.

On the other hand, I had expected to stay in an odd place in a homey little town on the way to the mountains, but the town has as remote and almost ghostly a feeling as anywhere I have been in the United States and reminds me, in fact, of Santiago de Chuco, in the northern and not at all touristy Andes. You can really feel you are perched on Indian land here.

All of my voyages are esoteric. I found this place by searching the deep Internet, just as I found Cachicadán, Peru, which it resembles. Set me to exploring in the United States and I will find places and things as unexpected and undiscovered as I do in foreign lands.

I have missed my calling, perhaps. I should be a travel writer of an alternative kind, perhaps.

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Z Recommends

I tried these on in person – and wished I needed them!

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Academic advice

“It is impossible to do, but it is what you must do to prove you are a minimally worthy person. It also the best/the worst thing in the world to do, but either way, it is the only way to prove you are worthy to live.

“After making tenure at a place like Yale or Cornell – we don’t expect you to make tenure at Harvard, that truly is impossible – you can start to think about what you might want to do with your life.

“As I say, it is almost impossible to do and you are probably not good enough to do it, but if you follow my recommended tactics perfectly, you just may have a small chance. Deviate in any way from any part of my instructions and you will fall off a cliff.”

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Why students do not study

30 hours of work and 21 hours of class,  is already 51 hours. Add two commutes. Compare to what we used to do: 15 hours of class, no work and no commute. Still we did not have time for many evenings or weekend days off from studying.

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Northern Gaijin

The closest declaration to this section of the NDAA 2012 bill is the German Enabling Act of 1933, the Ermächtigungsgesetz or Gesetz zur Behebung der Not von Volk und Reich and you know where that led.

Axé.

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That America

These days, it’s hard to recognize that America. The wage stagnation that began in the late ’70s has since bestowed on us the kind of income inequality more typical of a third-world oligarchy. The real minimum wage is less than it was in 1968, and the richest 1 percent of Americans take home nearly 25 percent of the country’s income, as compared with the 9 percent they earned in 1974.

The above is what many seem not to realize. Also, I have spoken to several people in real life who seemed not to be terribly concerned about S 1867. I would like comments on it or news of it, as Obama has apparently signed the HR vcomersion of it with this comment.

Axé.

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A most interesting post from Moria. On strategy

“It led to a forgetting. Of self, of work, of relationship to self and work and others.” Read the whole post.

Actually it is quite common to be told to do as one is told, because if one does not follow instructions precisely, one will fall off a cliff. Of course it is only sometimes that one falls off the cliff. Usually not following instructions only means one’s key does not turn in the lock, and sometimes it means one makes a discovery. Yet usually one is told that one will fall off a cliff.

The reason I do not like most academic advice is that it assumes one is holding tightly to a cliff while dangling mule-clad feet. It is about tactics, said a friend, and not about strategies. This distinction between strategies and tactics seems to be something people in business think about consciously but in academia it often seems to be considered unseemly to think in terms of strategies.

If you are not completely flexible and at the same time completely singleminded, you are “not serious,” I was told. To want to have a strategy was “arrogant,” I was taught. Yet one could not simply pursue a goal, either, or answer any question in a forthright manner; one must always be thinking about the quedirán and about tactics. Hearing so much about the importance of short term tactics and the arrogance of longer term strategies is wearing.

Axé.

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Redwood Highway

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With Walker in Nicaragua – trozo final

I stayed in the country for a while, living in León.
And Bill Deshon, Shipley, Dixie, Bob Gray, Bill Stoker,
and others came to see me
and they told me about the second expedition
and Walker’s death.

How on the Mississippi one night he silently weighed anchor:
They landed on the coast of Honduras late in the afternoon,
August 5,
(and most likely the 5th of August doesn’t go by when they don’t think back
on that march to Trujillo with a waning moon).
Dawn was coming up through the palms
when they arrived
to the sharp cry of the sentries
at the fort with stained ramparts and silvery cannons.
And they took the fort.
The houses were made of stone, with one floor, and red-tiled roofs
held up by cane poles on top of big beams,
and many big iguanas on the roofs.

It was there that Henry,
drunk, smoking a cigar near the gunpowder,
was shot by Dolan, the bullet hitting him
right in the mouth,
and Walker came quick to gather him up,
as Dolan was explaining how it happened.
And so Walker sat down at Henry’s bedside,
and the sun went down, the moon rose
and he was still there
and the whole night went by
and he was still there,
applying wet cloths to Henry’s wounded face,
and in the morning he left, and relieved the guards.
Dolan spoke of reinforcements
but they never did come.
And then came the ultimatum from the British.
Walker entered once more and sat down at Henry’s bedside.
Henry couldn’t speak, so he had a slate on which he wrote.
Walker took the slate and wrote a few words
and handed him the slate.
Henry was thinking hard.
Then he took the slate and wrote a single word.
Walker glanced at the slate.
He sat still a long time thinking,
then left.
Worms had eaten away half of his face.
On a table beside his bed was a bottle marked
“morphine”
and part of a glass of green lemonade.
And when Walker left, he sat up,
put a few spoonfuls from the bottle into the glass,
stirred it up a little and drank it,
lay down again,
pulled the thin blanket carefully over himself,
folded his hands on his chest
and went to sleep.
And he never woke up.
It was midnight when Dolan came in.
He glanced at Henry and went over,
looked at the slate, read the word,
and said:
“that explains it.”
Then they marched out in ranks,
each with a blanket and rifle,
in search of Cabañas’ camp,
because that had been Henry’s word: “Cabañas.”
They went through a grove of orange trees.
They marched swiftly and in silence all night,
without stopping to bury their dead.
They halted in the evening for the moon to rise
and a guard was posted.
They marched more by night.
They halted at sunrise
at a banana plantation.
Bullets were bursting from the leaves.
They fired back at them when they stopped to drink,
behind banana trees.
Walker was wounded slightly on one cheek
(the first bullet to wound him in a battle).
And they finally reached Cabañas’ camp
and found the rifle pits but no Cabañas.
What long, hot days those were
in sticky swamps with heavy rifles
from dawn until the blood-red sundowns hot as hell!

Walker with fever, paler than ever.

And they lost all track of the days.
Until one day they saw the British coming up the river.
General Walker was the last to climb aboard.
— All that are alive, sir!
It was daylight when they woke up, at anchor at Trujillo,
and it looked like a grimace hung above the black fort.
And they put the wounded under sailcloth awnings.

In the fort they were court-martialing Walker.
They saw him pass by the next morning surrounded by guards,
his face pale as always,
and they could see the scar, paler, on his cheek.
He carried a crucifix in his hand.

When they halted
the officer commanding the guard
read a paper in Spanish,
surely his orders.
And then Walker, in a calm and dignified voice,
without trembling,
spoke in Spanish.
And the filibusters didn’t hear what he said.
They could see from where they stood
a newly made grave in the sand,
and Walker, who kept speaking, calm and dignified,
beside the grave.
And the man said:
“The President
the President of Nicaragua, is a Nicaraguan …”
There was a drum roll
and gunfire.
All the bullets hit the mark.
Out of ninety-one men only twelve made it back.
And there, by the sea, with no wreaths or epitaph remained
William Walker of Tennessee.

–Ernesto Cardenal 1952, trans. Jonathan Cohen

So that was the poem, which I have never read in Spanish but which almost seems to have been written in English, in the modernist style of conversational poetry. I would like to read it in Spanish now, and to read Walker himself and the diaries of his men, and to read about Walker.

Axé.

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