Further nadería

El siglo pasado, en sus manifestaciones estéticas, fue raigalmente subjetivo. Sus escritores antes propendieron a patentizar su personalidad que a levantar una obra; sentencia que también es aplicable a quienes hoy, en turba caudalosa y aplaudida, aprovechan los fáciles rescoldos de sus hogueras. Pero mi empeño no está en fustigar a unos ni a otros, sino en considerar la Viacrucis por donde se encaminan fatalmente los idólatras de su yo. Ya hemos visto que cualquier estado de ánimo, por advenedizo que sea, puede colmar nuestra atención; vale decir, puede formar, en su breve plazo absoluto, nuestra esencialidad. Lo cual, vertido al lenguaje de la literatura, significa que procurar expresarse, y querer expresar la vida entera, son una sola cosa y la misma. Afanosa y jadeante correría entre el envión del tiempo y el hombre, quien a semejanza de Aquiles en la preclara adivinanza que formuló Zenón de Elea, siempre se verá rezagado.


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¡Ay, quán fermosa viene Doña Endrina por la plaça!

It is Ash Wednesday, time to consider the battle between Lord Carnaval and Lady Lent, and I have found this really nice rendering one of the songs from the Libro de buen amor (1343). (An ad comes first, unfortunately — turn the sound down.)


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Sampson Starkweather


The hammer, the afterbirth, the anvil, the ink,
the already-not-yet, the aperture, the armchair, the pleasure
of cellar door, the chimera, the never, the more,
the bullet, the born, the there, the uncle,
the surrogate, the peninsula, the risen,
the drown, the jig-saw, the Jew, the glass,
the ceasefire, the phonograph, the smoke.

Immutable, external, hungry,
lithographed, indexed, widowed, thirtytwoed,
tumescent, deracinated, alive.
Snowing, burning, ballooning,
pelting, sapling, fasting, inoculating,
lying, weeping, a tiger, snowing, snowing.

Almost, right here, beyond,
perhaps, during, to the left of, so much, after,
distant, always, this one, almost, never, too much.

The succulent, the air, the quickening,
the kiss, the august,
the rebuff, the rope, the cruelty, the spittle,
the punchline, the rags, the reckoning,
the 1-wing, the awl, the would-be breasts,
the water, the lessness, . . . . . . . . . . the wait.

Check him out.



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Someone agrees with me on composition and the introduction to literature, Dieu merci

Q. Do you have comments on the idea that “literature is not for everybody, and should only be taught in literature classes” — ?

A. That idea makes me mad. I could point to cognitive theory, which makes the argument that literature is an important way we develop our ability to empathize with people who are not like us. I could point to the fact that “literature” in the sense of “storytelling” has been a part of every major culture, even non-literate ones, and every single student in our classes needs to learn how to understand what other people are doing when they are telling stories (and to identify it when it happens) because it is embedded in our advertising, our politics, our leisure activities, and yes–our art.

Literature should no more be limited to “literature classes” than math should be limited to “math classes.” We use math to understand physics, chemistry, sociology, psychology, and yes, even occasionally literature. The case of literature is the same (Flatland is a good example).

A. The Research Compliance Committee has determined that literature is too dangerous for general access, and must be handled according to strict guidelines, using proper and approved reading methods. Literature courses focusing on such methods are the most responsible way to expose students to working with literature, but other courses may be approved on a case-by-case basis by the Committee.


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Peruvian Psychedelic Rock

“Telegraph Avenue was named after the street one of the band members stayed at in San Francisco during the summer of ’69.” He must mean Berkeley.

Read the article and listen to the songs.



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Alexander von Humboldt

It is true: my great-great grandfather studied with Alexander von Humboldt. He was born in 1816 or 1817, making him a close contemporary of Karl Marx. We know that he and Marx corresponded later, as the letters have been conserved, but it occurs to me that they may have met first as students.

Humboldt was born in 1769 and was thus an 18th century person; people he met include but are of course hardly limited to Thomas Jefferson. Berlin in Humboldt’s time was a provincial town a quarter the size of Paris, and he never liked it. It is said that he was gay; look as well at this charming biography.

My ancestor remained in touch with Humboldt as well as Marx after finishing his studies and returning to Russia. He published on several topics, including the emancipation of people and second language pedagogy, in German.


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Postscript on “positive psychology”

The discussion started on Facebook and continued here. My postscript is that this is the currently official psychology for the masses. (I am told it is elitist to say one does not have a lumpen-mind, and I know there are many professors and intellectuals who do have lumpen-minds, but I do not.)

In the 1990s one was exhorted to be depressed, recognize one’s depression, and so on, and I think this was because people could more easily afford that then and because drugs were being marketed. Now people cannot afford that and the drugs have been exposed as less than perfect.

We adults are to be “positive” and the students are to be “resilient.” I am not surprised, for instance, that the resiliency campaign was announced by Counseling and Testing at the same time as a sexual assault policy had to be created.

Connecting these two things, I infer that if it will now be possible for students to file and win on sexual assault, we need to be ready to insist they be “resilient.” And if they claim greater harm than we can repair, we can say they were not “resilient” enough or have not worked hard enough on their “resilience.”

That is just a hypothetical example. More broadly: now that decisions have been made which do make the future look grim — rising seas, drought — there is nothing left but to “be positive.”


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