Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Yes, We Have No Bananas and No Qualms
Yes I am temporarily reneging on my promise that this would not be a kitty blog. See below.



Thursday, February 19, 2004

Reverse Psychology
An Indian taxi driver is planning to drive to Pakistan in reverse to help establish peace between the nuclear rivals. (BBC News)

George W. Bush, meet Andrew Ross
More than 60 influential scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates, issued a statement yesterday asserting that the Bush administration had systematically distorted scientific fact in the service of policy goals. "When scientific knowledge has been found to be in conflict with its political goals, the administration has often manipulated the process through which science enters into its decisions," charges the document.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Chris's Political Science Lesson for the Day
“Politics is war by other means." - David Horowitz

"The first casualty when war comes is truth." Origin dubious, but probably Hiram W. Johnson

Chris's Lit Crit Lesson for the Day
The answer is:
History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce. - Karl Marx

The question is:
How did Hemingway's short stories lead to Hemingway's novels and then to the Hemingway-lite mode of mass market paperback writers.

Perfect Pitch
We will watch for jadoo that is not jadery. We will dance a jaleo with mortality, and avoid jaundering unless it turns out to be profound jaundering. We will try to alembicate the salmagundi of motivation but not to laconize at the expense of insight. We will not be the ichoglans of fashion. We will try to fecundate each other's scintillations without utterly abjuring the apodictic. We will remember that John Donne was smarter than us; but we will believe we contain nooks unlimned by him. We hope to jabble the surface of experience until the hansa of Helicon floats near our dripping fingers. May our feluccas return loaded with sublime types of pemmican.
From Mark Halliday's Creative Writing Seminar: Poetry course description

War and Politics

I intended to avoid all discussion of war and politics here, but I'm making an exception today because of this compilation of writers' war commentary. I consider myself a centrist so I'm often turned off by the consistent leftism of the arts. The leftist perspective seems so uniform that many artists appear to create leftist art solely to engage in a circle jerk with other artists. (Pardon the crass metaphor.) To create truly fresh art, today's artists might benefit from pushing a centrist or rightist stance in their art, although a nonpolitical stance would probably be the most tasteful option.

The above compilation, however, turned me on to at least eight writers who are pro-war or agnostic. Alan Sillitoe's contribution is worth reading, but Francis King's response is the closest to mine. The strangest response came from Beryl Bainbridge, who refers to the Holocaust but ignores that it ended when the Allies defeated Nazi Germany.

I have an agnostic perspective on political art. Some artists (see Wilfred Owen) do it well. Others (see Shostakovich) have mixed results and often receive more acclaim for banal yet political works (see Shostakovich's 7th and 8th symphonies) and fewer plaudits for their lively, witty works (see Shostakovich's 1st and 15th symphonies). We can hope that such reverse aesthetic discrimination will eventually diminish over time. Finally, I am certain that many writers and poets who expressed their anti- or pro-war stance produced utterly banal works, but their crime is not so great because those works will soon be forgotten.

(Link thanks to Chuck Tryon.)

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Bill Wiseman Drafted the Law Allowing Lethal Injections, Then Lived to Regret It [Davidsonians in the News]

Roger H. Brown, Davidson graduate, is First Non-Member of Berk Family to become President of Berklee College of Music [Davidsonians in the News]

Pithy Flaubert Criticism
So she killed herself. She deserved it, the sleazy tramp.
Read on . . .

P.D.Q. Bach & Peter Schickele The Jekyll & Hyde Tour [Atlanta Event]

Saturday, February 14 at 8 p.m.
Ferst Center for the Arts

"Madras on Rainy Days" by Samina Ali [Atlanta Event]

Thursday, February 19th
Margaret Mitchell House. 990 Peachtree Street.
6:00 Reception, 7:00 Author's Talk
Admission: $8 for non-members, FREE for members
Call 770.578.3502 for reservations

From the Press Release--
Madras on Rainy Days is a striking novel from a new voice in fiction, Samina Ali, the first Muslim Indian woman to be published in the U.S. Set against the backdrop of the ancient city of Hyderabad and mounting Hindu-Muslim tensions, the novel lyrically evokes the complexities of life behind the chador, the black cloak and head covering worn by Muslim women.

Ali's own experience as a woman raised in both the U.S. and in India closely mirrors that of her protagonist, Layla. Like her main character, Ali reluctantly agreed to an arranged marriage only to find her mate had compromised something as well, his sexual freedom. In "Madras on Rainy Days", she deftly explores the taboo of homosexuality within the Indian Muslim community, as well as the conflicts over freedom of thought and expression that many modern Muslims face.

Ali was born in Hyderabad and was raised there and in the Minneapolis/St Paul area. She received her M.F.A. from the University of Oregon. She lives in San Francisco with her son.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

More on Academia
From a comment by moof1138 in a Crooked Timber thread entitled Conservatives in Academia:

The labels ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ take on new and peculiar meanings in Academia. For instance, I believe in affirmative action, increasing taxes on the rich, socialized medicine, I am pro-legalized abortion, hold Christianity to be institutionalized ignorance, and donate to the ACLU. In all you could say I am pretty left wing. Except when I was a grad-student in Classics.

Then I was called at various times a Nazi, a Fascist, compared to the French Aristocracy prior to the revolution, and labelled ‘arch-conservative’ more than once. Why? I rejected relativism, ridiculed deconstructionism, was in favor of the traditional Canon as core reading in the Humanities, had the audacity to point out the many egregious historical errors that certain Black Studies and Women’s Studies professors made (the former blatantly making stuff up about Egypt, the latter Crete). I also ‘proved’ I was a right-winger by explaining the etymology of the word ‘history’, after someone used the term ‘herstory.’

Intellectual conservatism and political conservatism are quite different things. Intellectual conservatives can actually manage in Academia if they have the stomach for it. Political conservatives… to redraw blunt lines mentioned above, they are generally either stupid or selfish. If stupid, they won’t make it in Academia. If selfish, they’ll recognize they won’t make money in Academia.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Coast-to-Coast Madness
In the hullabaloo over Georgia's decision to strike the word evolution from textbooks, the general public seems to have overlooked this tidbit from California:

Bill seeks feng shui buildings

A California lawmaker thinks buildings in the state should be more light and airy to allow for positive energy flow, and maybe have more mirrors.

San Francisco Democrat Leland Yee, assistant speaker pro tempore of the State Assembly, said on Friday that he has introduced a resolution urging the state architect and California cities to adopt design standards that allow for the use of feng shui principles.

Get the full CNN story
If Arnold vetoes this, I promise to stop making fun of him.

On Lentricchia
So I mentioned Frank Lentricchia's essay "Last Will and Testament of an Ex-Literary Critic." The online essay is a shortened version. You can find the complete essay in the Lingua Franca anthology.

My favorite part of the essay is:

I’ve never believed that writers had to be superior in anything, except writing. The fundamental, if only implied, message of much literary criticism is self-righteous, and it takes this form: “T.S. Eliot is a homophobe and I am not. Therefore, I am a better person than Eliot. Imitate me, not Eliot.” To which the proper response is: “But T.S. Eliot could really write, and you can’t. Tell us truly, is there no filth in your soul?”

There's a similar paragraph in Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes, in which the narrator says something along the lines of "literature contains politics, but politics does not contain literature." He then states that people who really want to write about politics should becomes journalism majors, and I enthusiastically concur.

A little googling produced one interesting response to Lentricchia's essay by Danuta Fjellestad, who claims to hold that "without an education in literary theory, students have little chance of thinking clearly and with complexity about the assumptions that guide what we take to be interpretations of texts or about the stakes in different dimensions of reading." Now that's an arrogant statement, especially since philosophy, cognitive science, psychology, and history would help literary students a lot more, given the sheer vapidity of much contemporary theory.

But I digress. Fjellestad later writes "Teaching theory well means questioning the near-hegemonic position of any fashionable discourse and paying respectful--which does not mean all-accepting--attention to a whole spectrum of literary theories." Does the reader note the contradiction here? The umbrella of literary theory should always have hegemony, but the little theories should never have hegemony. Meanwhile back at the ranch, the mind boggles. Nevertheless I agree that a historical survey of theory would be a good thing for incoming students. And I commend Fjellestad for paying attention to a spectrum of theories. But the climate of literary studies is such that certain theories do have a hegemony. For example, it would be suicide for an untenured professor to be anti-poststructuralist, anti-third-wave-feminist, or (God forbid!) pro-capitalist in that climate.

Fjellestad does note that Lentricchia's new style of teaching is a personalized one, in which books can become just a springboard for personal anecdotes. Fjellestad suspects that the class then becomes a shallow discussion group in which the teacher does not pour forth his knowledge of the history of theory. Lentricchia never claims that he doesn't put forth his knowledge, though. I suspect that he does so frugally. Fjellestad, in fact, notes that theory can be taught well or poorly but doesn't acknowledge that literature-without-theory can also be taught well or poorly. We ought to trust Lentricchia and his anti-theory cohorts to do it well.

Poetic Operatic Justice
Thanks to ACDouglas for pointing me to a story about a Miami Beach judge who tells violators of the noise ordinance to choose between a $500 fine and an opera. In a recent case, Michael Carreras was forced to listen to La Traviata. According to the St. Petersburg Times report, he "enjoyed the music and tapped his foot during the ultimo finale." Tapping your foot while Violetta is dying? What's next? Doing the tango while Valhalla burns?

Monday, February 02, 2004

My apologies, dear readers, for being absent for so long. Yes, I will review the movies I mentioned earlier. In the mean time, I have updated my blogroll.

Winston's Diary, which I found through B&W, has the mission statement "Taking On Leftist Double-Speak, Academic Insanity, & General Lapses in Logic and Good Taste." Of course, I wish he'd devote some time to cataloguing rightist double-speak too, but I protest too much. In any case, his tone is not vicious and each of his posts is thoughtful and unique. Some very interesting posts on lit crit including "Sensible" Literary Criticism: Bibliography in Progress.

The second blogroll addition is Snarkout, a general-interest weblog written with intellegence but without heavy-handed hip-ironic cleverness. Of particular interest to me was The Paris Review conspiracy a review of Dale Peck's hatchet job on Rick Moody.