Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Monday, April 26, 2010

Happy Wittgenstein Day!

In honor of his one hundred and eleventieth birthday!

Suppose I say of a friend: "He isn't an automaton." - What information is
conveyed by this, and to whom would it be information? To a human
who meets him in ordinary circumstances? What information could it give him? (At the very most that this man always behaves like
a human being, and not occasionally like a machine.)

[Said after an argument that lasted for six hours and consisted entirely of Wittgenstein accusing Russell of being a robot.]

But, after all, the game is supposed to be defined by the rules! So, if a
game prescribes that the kings are to be used for drawing lots before a game of
chess, then that is an essential part of the game. What objection might
one make to this? That one does not see the point of this
prescription. Perhaps as one wouldn't see the point either of a rule by
which each piece had to be turned round three times before one moved
it. If we found this rule in a board-game we should be surprised and
should speculate about the purpose of the rule. ("Was this prescription
meant to prevent one from moving without de consideration?")

[Me: No, see the bishop can only move this way, diagonally. He can't go side-to-side, or front-to-back.
7th Grader: Oh. (Pauses, then moves bishop straight forward three spaces.)]

How am I filled with pity for this man? How does it come out what
the object of my pity is? (Pity, one might say, is a form of conviction that
someone else is in pain.)

[Me: Why did you just kick that girl?!?
6th Grader: I dunno.]

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Reading Way Too Much Into Things

So I have been watching the NBA Playoffs on tv this week - well, all of the playoffs except for the Blazers-Suns, because I'm in the stupid Central Time Zone and have to get up at 5 in the morning and can't stay up till 1 am each night - and have become very rapidly inundated by all of the sports-and-man-themed commercials. Soon, I am sure, all of their subliminal messages will be safely and securely embedded within my psyche, and I will sped the entirety of my weekly pay on Reeboks and hybrid cars and DVD after DVD of Avatar. But, until then, I may still have the free will and capacity to question a few of the messages that are coming through. For example:

In 1965, we started a revolution. Civil Rights legislation? No, Gatorade. But it's weird how Gatorade puts themselves directly into the entire story of African-Americans fight for Civil Rights. Before Gatorade, basketball, tennis, and football we're played solely by white people, balling on peach baskets in - what? - a court house? Playing tennis in front of their friend Gatsby while wearing bloomers and fancy hats, or getting ready for the big game against the Gipper, everyone with the same crew-cut haircuts, all the while drinking plain, homogenous, monochromatic water. But then, bam! 1965! Gatorade! Muhammad Ali! Michael Jordan!* Black people can even play tennis now! (Um... but not golf....) I really like this ad. (I can't recall a Gatorade commercial that I didn't like.) And I think that it's a good idea for them to have people associate their product with the "revolution" that started in 1965. I even find the phrase, "In 2010, we're changing the game again," intriguing; could they possible be referring to healthcare reform?

Then, there's this ad, which never fails to disappoint:

This commercial initially aired during the Super Bowl, but it's getting constant air time during the playoffs. In my mind, it delivers the opposite message of its intention: Essentially it's an argument for why not to wear pants, why not to buy Dockers. I, for one, would much rather be marching proudly across the savannah in my whitey-tighties singing with my bearded and bespectacled friends then alone in some of kind of brick warehouse with my head cut out of the frame. It just goes to prove what I've been saying all along:

Pants are fascist.**

*Who, by the way, is wearing the greatest jacket ever to the Charlotte-Orlando game.
** In fact, I'm taking mine off right now. Go Blazers!

Friday, April 23, 2010

LMM: Round 3, Part 2: Tolstoy! Flaubert! Nabokov! Dostoyevsky!

Tolstoy v. Flaubert

Nabokov v. Dostoyevsky

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

LMM: Round 3 Update

I'm going to rapid-fire this one, the Heat and the Celtics are playing...

Still looking for a reason to vote? Well, how about drug of choice? Kesey had his LSD, Faulkner his whiskey, Balzac drank too much coffee, and I'd bet francs to farthings that Miss Jane Austen was a fan of laudanum....
Under the Influence - Drugs Used During Composition

Speaking of which... Austen continues her domination as she goes up against Willa Cather in round three, while Nathaniel Hawthorne takes on Charlotte Bronte in the undercard. I want to title this quartet as something like, "What is a woman's role in society?" but that sounds kinda lame and meaningless to me, because any novel that has women and society in it could conceivably fall into that category. But this bracket is filled by marked women, whether by sin (Hester Prynne), age and class (Elinor Dashwood), or family (Jane Eyre). *

We've got some exciting results to report as we move on into the Sweet Sixteen! A couple of upsets: James Joyce is the first 1 seed to fall to #8 Art Spiegelman 7-3. (Y'know, I can't recall anyone actually proclaiming that they enjoy reading Joyce...) Spiegelman will advance to meet another Cinderella, #12 Neil Gaiman, who upset #4 Lewis Carroll 7-3. Good news: The graphic novel is now an acceptable literary form as of right... now.

The other match-up in that region will be #2 Virginia Woolf versus #3 Charles Dickens. Both of these authors won their second round matches quite handily, and the winner will probably be favored to get all the way to the Final Four.

Finally, the second region has become over-run by the Russians. To my surprise, #1 Leo Tolstoy defeated #9 Harper Lee 7-4, and will advance to meet #4 Gustave Flaubert in the next round, who defeated #5 Thomas Mann 5-3. Below them, #7 Vladimir Nabokov ended #15 Flannery O'Connor's run 6-3, and will have an excellent and intriguing match next round against #3 Fyodor Dostoyevsky, who beat #6 Jorge Luis Borges by a convincing 7-2.

Keep voting!

* I'm hoping that this statement will motivate Robyn to correct me. She says that Jane Eyre is marked more by obscurity and will, or maybe poverty and will. She also says that, "But she is still marked differently than the Dashwood sisters in the way that Charlotte Bronte is different from Jane Austen. In the end, Jane Eyre is able to get angry and get a job, which may be why Jane Eyre as so popular amongst 19th-century working class women. Though that can play into the Twilight trope of having the little, plain, virtuous women taming the tall, brooding Byronic type. And then, of course, there is the whole race/colonial issues of having the Creole wife locked in the attic. Everyone should read Jane Eyre."

LMM: Round 3, Part 1: Austen! Cather! Hawthorne! Bronte!

Austen v. Cather

Hawthorne v. Bronte

Saturday, April 17, 2010

LMM: Famous First Lines

They may say that you can't judge a book by its cover - which is totally BS, as everybody who has ever worked in the publishing industry knows that that's really the only way people do judge books - but what about judging a book by its first line? As we move on in to the Sweet Sixteen of our Literary March Madness - which, if I'm lucky, will be finished by May - here's a sampling of some of our competitors best opening lines to help you in your voting wisdom and judgment:

"Call me Ishmael." - Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." - Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." - Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

"It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen." George Orwell, 1984

"Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself." - Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

"Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board." - Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

Can't have a famous and successful novel without that first line! More available for your perusing here. What other ones am I leaving out?

LMM: Round 2, Part 4: Melville! Kafka! Orwell! Faulkner!

This is the last part of Round 2 before we move on to the Sweet Sixteen. We have two matches featuring All-American competitors: Herma Melville coming in from Nantucket, MA, Zora Neale Hurston representing Jacksonville, FL, Sherman Alexie of Spokane, WA, and William Faulkner "from" Yoknapatawpha County, MS. Perhaps more apt than describing America as a melting pot would be a mosaic - which part of the puzzle is your favorite? (As a sidenote, I think it could be an awesome syllabus for some kind of Lit Class to have, say, Moby Dick, The Sound and the Fury, Their Eyes Were Watching God and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and to call the class, like, "Conflicting Images of America," or something.)

Across the pond, we have Stendahl (The Charterhouse of Parma) versus George Orwell (Animal Farm) and the Faustian Goethe versus the, um, Kafkaesque Kafka. (Which is a paper I wrote for German Lit once.)

Finally, the first results from Round 2 are in, with Jane Austen walloping Emily Bronte 8-2, Willa Cather defeating Mikhail Bulgakov 6-3, Nathaniel Hawthorne beating Katherine Mansfield 7-2, and Charlotte Bronte outlasting Terry Pratchett 5-3. This means that our Round 3 matches will be #1 Austen vs. #5 Cather and #2 Hawthorne vs. #3 Bronte. Now's your chance to read up!

Keep voting!

Melville v. Hurston

Goethe v. Kafka

Alexie v. Faulkner

Stendahl v. Orwell

Thursday, April 15, 2010

5 Thoughts on a Thursday Returns!

1) You know what's crazy? 47 percent of American households paid no federal income taxes in 2010 AND 47 people were arrested in Arizona in a massive raid against human smugglers near the Mexican border. Coincidence? I think not. More on this as it develops.

2) I had a friend in college who once told me that he believed that you couldn't be both a Leonard Cohen AND a Bob Dylan fan, and that he kind of resented everyone who liked Dylan's music because he was a hard-core Leonard Cohen fan. Later, he said, he realized the absurdity of this position and started buying Bob Dylan albums like a sane person. I just thought of that because I'm listening to Fresh Air right now and kinda wishing that Terri Gross were interviewing Bob Dylan...

3) While on the backporch enjoying the dying sunlight of a warm April afternoon, sipping beers from the excellent Two Brothers Brewery, watching the flowers bloom and the cats chase imaginary objects:

Me: You know that saying, "April showers bring May flowers?"
Robyn: Yeah.
Me: I always liked that saying - for the moral message, that you have to endure bad things in life in order to reap the benefits and all - but I never thought that it made sense, weather wise.
Robyn: It makes sense in New England. New England has very cold and rainy Aprils, and then some time in May, maybe the last week of May, it gets nice and Springlike. Then it goes straight into a hot and sweltering Summer.
Me: But not in the West. Not in Portland or Eugene. There it'd be more like, "April showers bring May showers."
Robyn: No, I guess not. Or it would be just "Rain begets rain." Or, in Bend, it would be like, "Sunny and mild weather brings sunny and slightly warmer weather."
Me: Or "Hot and dry July brings crazy thunderstorms and disastrous forest fires in August."
Robyn: I guess you can't take moral extracts from Western weather.
Me: No, I guess not.


4) Man, the Twins are sure looking good right now.

5) I think I had a seminal moment at my work this week: I had a student write, "Fuck Mr. Wright" on a page of notes. There was a problem, though, because he had to turn these notes in to me. And I think he realized this, and so he had erased his offence, but not nearly well enough to actually hide what he had written. (An interesting case of defacement, I think - especially in regards to a student owing something to a teacher qua authority figure...) The funny thing is that I didn't read what he had written until the end of the day, and I had been wondering why he suddenly became so helpful and polite for the last two periods of the day. So if he erased it out of fear of being caught or out guilt for having done something vulgar and wrong, either way, I'm glad that he did it.

5^) Our biology PhD room-mate has been studying like crazy for his qualifying exams, and has been leaving notes on stem cells and toxicology all over the house. Right now I'm looking at his white board, where he has written, "No Transcription. REPRESSIBLE." and I'm kind of wishing that he were a critical theory or lit major, instead.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

LMM: Round 2, Part 3! Joyce! Gaiman! Woolf! Dickens!

OK - So I've made some important decisions. The three final first round ties are gonna be broke thusly: Waugh beats Baum because I really want to see how a second round match between him and Virginia Woolf will shake out. Rowling beats Pullman because, as much as I loved His Dark Materials, I just don't think you can ignore the massive cultural and literary influence that Harry Potter has had on this generation of readers and writers. And, finally, I'm giving Sherman Alexie the upset win over Henry James. Even though, in my heart of hearts, I believe that James is the superior novelist, Alexie is beloved. More people ought to read him, and if I can do my own, small part to make that happen, well, than that will be a good thing.

Upwards and onwards! Today we have James Joyce and Art Spiegelman engaged in a match that's not quite as apples and oranges as it first appears. I think that Spiegelman and Joyce in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man are both concerned with how a man becomes bitter and angry with the world, and under what circumstances that might be an acceptable response. After that we have Tim Burton's favorite match in Lewis Carroll versus Neil Gaiman. Acid trips in the English countryside for all! Then Evelyn Waugh takes on Virginia Woolf, and I realize: I think that Emma Thompson wins for most appearances in film adaptations of novelists in our tournament (Sense and Sensibility, Brideshead Revisited, Harry Potter, Angels in America, Howard's End... anything else?). And the night-cap: Dickens versus Rowling in a battle of cute little orphans Oliver Twist and Harry Potter. Why is Roald Dahl, the master of placing adorable English children in horrific situations not in this tournament? Because I suck.

Joyce v. Spiegelman

Carroll v. Gaiman

Woolf v. Waugh

Dickens v. Rowling

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Literary March Madness - Round 2, Part 2

Sorry about the delay between posts - my evenings have been occupied lately by watching the White Sox continue to lose game after game. So on to a more happy sport! The next set of matches contains a couple of fierce underdogs: #9 Harper Lee and #15 Flannery O'Connor (A Good Man Is Hard To Find). Southern authors have been doing very well so far in this tournament. O'Connor, in my opinion, scored a huge upset against Balzac in the first round. But maybe I should stop being surprised. On the other side of the bracket, fellow Southerner William Faulkner seems to be coasting to a win over Hermann Hesse. O'Connor once said that "anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic." Maybe my northern sensibilities just aren't tuned in to the proper Southern palate - but who knows, the Kentucky Derby is coming up.

A slew of new Round One winners to announce: Virginia Woolf barely squeaks by #15 E.M. Forster 4-3, while Charles Dickens more easily handled Stella Gibbons. And please stop letting matches end in ties! Evelyn Waugh (Brideshead Revisited) tied L. Frank Baum, and J.K. Rowling tied Philip Pullman. D'oh! I'll be making an executive decision later today (call it a "Biden") - but if you feel strongly one way or another, now is your chance to let me know! Also, #15 Sherman Alexie is on the verge of upsetting #2 Henry James with one more day left of voting. As Jesse pointed out, this may be because Alexie was and always has been a loyal Seattle SuperSonics fan. Who did James root for? The Boston Americans?

Update: I have been in heaven this afternoon. After a trip downtown for breakfast and returning library books, I have been able to watch both the White Sox (finally! a win!) and the Trail Blazers (down 69-71) at the same time! In other news, four more polls have closed, with all four matches being won by the higher seeded writer. #1 Melville defeated Raymond Carver, #8 Zora Neale Hurston edged #9 Kurt Vonnegut 3-2, Goethe defeated Lampedusa 3-1, and will advance to face Kafka in the next round, who beat Tony Kushner 4-2.

Keep voting!

Tolstoy v. Lee

Flaubert v. Mann

O'Connor v. Nabokov

Dostoyevsky v. Borges

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Literary March Madness - Round 2, Part 1

The bottom half of the ticket tonight is Mikhail Bulgakov, the Russian author of The Master and Margarita versus Willa Cather, the Nebraskan author of A Lost Lady and My Antonia. Russians went 4-0 in our first round (counting Nabokov), and I am curious about how they will fare as they advance and face stiffer competition. Bulgakov v. Cather is a particularly interesting match because unlike, say, Rowling v. Pullman, it is quite the case of apples versus oranges. Do you favor surrealist Soviet political satire or a piece of psychological realism about life on the American prairie? (And remember this should we end up with a Dostoyevsky v. James final!)

In other news, #1 James Joyce has managed to escape #16 Louise Erdrich in Round 1, along with #8 Art Spiegelman defeating #9 C.S. Lewis (the Maus defeating the Lion?) #4 Lewis Carroll crushing #13 Nick Hornby, and #12 Neil Gaiman (The Sandman) upsetting #5 Somerset Maugham (Of Human Bondage). (If there's one sure thing in March Madness, it's that a 5 will lose to a 12, n'est-ce pas?)

Austen v. Bronte

Bulgakov v. Cather

Hawthorne v. Mansfield

Bronte v. Pratchett

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Literary March Madness Updated Bracket

Here is an updated bracket for our Literary March Madness as we prepare to move into Round Two, which I'm planning on posting tomorrow. Now that we've shuffled off a few of our less worthy authors (sorry, Derek Walcott...) we're starting to be presented with some truly intriguing match-ups. First off, of course, will be #1 Jane Austen versus #8 Emily Bronte. My first thought is that this pits the creators of two of the most iconic - and parodied - male protagonists in the history of English literature against one another. I'm speaking, of course, of Heathcliff and Colin Firth Mr. Darcy. In many ways, Bronte's Heathcliff is a romantic reaction against the straight-laced Darcy. Emily's sister, Charlotte, famously wrote of Austen: "Miss Austen being, as you say, without "sentiment", without poetry, maybe is sensible (more real than true), but she cannot be great." Burn! We don't want no sensible heroes in our moors - give me something true! Indeed, there are many glaring contrasts between Darcy and Heathcliff, but here's the one I want you to keep in mind: Heathcliff is an orphan. Darcy has an annual income of £10,000. OMG! WWMD? (...think about it...)

Of course, these are just two of many of the great characters that we'll be asking you to judge over the next week or so. We've got Hester Prynne from The Scarlet Letter and Jane Eyre of Jane Eyre, Pierre Bezukhov (War and Peace) taking on Atticus Finch (To Kill A Mockingbird) in an "honor-off", Behemoth the demonic cat, and, of course, everyone's favorite pedophile, Humbert Humbert!

Talk about The Madness!
Literary March Madness(2)

Monday, April 5, 2010

Literary March Madness, Round 1 - Part 8

This is it! The final foursome of the first round, the last step before we really get into the meat of things in Round 2! And, in my opinion, we've saved some of a best matches for last. First up is #2 Henry James (The Golden Bowl) versus #15 Sherman Alexie (The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven). Personally, these are two of my favorite authors, and it's tough for me to see one of them be eliminated in the first round. However, I think that the question that you ought to ask yourself when voting is this: Is America being pulled eastwards towards England and the continent, or to the west, into the amnesiac Pacific Ocean?

You don't get quite the same challenges of national identity in Stendahl (The Red and the Black) versus Heller (Catch-22) or Faulkner (The Sound and the Fury) versus Hesse (Steppenwolf). But what about Orwell versus Salinger?

James v. Alexie

Faulkner v. Hesse

Stendahl v. Heller

Orwell v. Salinger

Peace, Love, Baseball, Otters. The good things in life.

Well, Spring has sprung here in central Illinois, Christ has risen, and baseball season is upon us once again. On Sunday, our French roommate's Polish girlfriend hosted a lovely Easter brunch at our house, and we were all able to partake in a delicious smorgasborg of various sausage and egg based dishes, along with excellent whole wheat pierogis to boot. (I don't know if I've ever told you this before, but I friggin' love pierogis; any kind of dumplings actually; potstickers, gyoza, samosas. I have this belief that stuffing ground meat and vegetables - or potatoes, whatever - into a breadlike pocket is the fundamental sign of human culture. Indeed, I would go as far as to say that dumplings may be the missing ingredient to world peace.)

Right now I am sitting in our living room watching the San Francisco Giants play the Houston Astros. Not that I have any interest or investment in this game. But I do feel like there's something soothing and reassuring about having a baseball game on in the background while you're doing other things around the house. All-in-all, the game is not ideal for the medium of television, but at least it doesn't demand your attention the same way that basketball or football does. I think some people believe that that's why baseball is a maddeningly boring game, kinda like how I feel about golf and any press coverage of Tiger Woods, but I guess it's all just in how you approach das Spiel-an-sich.

Also, the nice thing about baseball right now is that the White Sox are undefeated, and that the Cubs are winless.

Also also:

Also also also:

Is this the greatest love story ever told?

Two otters die within an hour of each other 15 years together

It is thought the stress of watching his mate die would have killed the second otter

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Literary March Madness Round 1 - Part 7

Here we go on to the last of our four regions... This quartet is highlighted by perhaps the most anticipated of all of our first round matches - and by anticipated I mean that three different people have mentioned it to me - that between #5 Franz Kafka (The Metamorphosis) and #12 Tony Kushner (Angels in America). There is a certain, ahem, poetic justice in this match-up; both authors are excellent satirists, concerned with the role of the individual in a certain society, and how the individual can retain his humanity in an inhuman world. I might give the edge to Kushner, though, because he's the only one of the two with an honorary degree from Bard College.

I am also very curious about the outcome of #8 Zora Neale Hurston (Their Eyes Were Watching God) and #9 Kurt Vonnegut (Slaughterhouse-Five). Two novels about how humans deal with total disaster, whether it be a hurricane wiping out the Black communities of Florida or the USAF blowing the shit out of Dresden. And for all of you who're hesitating about casting your vote for Goethe, but don't know who Giuseppi di Lampedusa is, here's a quote from Wikipedia about his novel The Leopard:

The novel was criticised around the time of its first publication by some literary critics for its straightforward "old fashioned" realism, a type of Stendhalian or Tolstoyan realism that particularly irritated neo-realists such as Elio Vittorini and Alberto Moravia. However, the novel was very popular among so-called common readers, as well as with prestigious foreign intellectuals such as Louis Aragon and E. M. Forster. In 1963 Il Gattopardo was made into a film, directed by Luchino Visconti and starring Burt Lancaster, Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale, which won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

Finally, three more polls have closed, and, in three blow-outs, we have three more writers advance to Round Two: #11 Terry Pratchett, #1 Leonid Tolstoy, and #9 Harper Lee. Can't wait for that Lee versus Tolstoy match!

Thank you again for voting. Please tell your friends, and, if you're new to this blog, be sure to scroll down, as there are more matches to vote on below.

Melville v. Carver

Hurston v. Vonnegut

Goethe v. Lampedusa

Kafka v. Kushner


Friday, April 2, 2010

Literary March Madness: Round 1 - Part 6

This next quartet of match-ups is heavy with English modernists: Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster, Evelyn Waugh. It also has most of our Young Adult authors. Maybe it's a bit unfair, but we've got J.K. Rowling up against Philip Pullman in the first round. Who will be the champion of contemporary English fantasy lit? (If it's based on box-office receipts, then I guess there's no competition...) Of course, the winner of that match will get to face either Charles Dickens or Stella Gibbons, the author of Cold Comfort Farm in Round Two. So put on your best cockney accents and get voting!

In other news, we've got a few more Round One winners to announce: #2 Nathaniel Hawthorne and #3 Charlotte Bronte advance. Mansfield and Burgess ended in a tie. In an executive decision, Robyn and I decided that the win goes to Mansfield. A bit of the ultra-violence is all well and good and all, but it doesn't quite compare to subtle commentaries on early 20th Century class structure!

Woolf v. Forster

Waugh v. Baum

Dickens v. Gibbons

Rowling v. Pullman

Thursday, April 1, 2010

April Is Fertility Poetry Month!

Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open eye-
(So priketh hem Nature in hir corages);
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
And specially from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke
That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seeke.