S&R Honors: the Blues Boy, BB King

“Muddy Waters was born near Rolling Fork, Mississippi. And to me he’s a Mississippi person that went to Chicago and play[ed]. John Lee Hooker was born in Mississippi and went to Detroit. B.B. King was born in Mississippi and went to Memphis.” – B. B. King

B.B. King and Lucille (image courtesy Wikimedia)

The news announced on B.B. King’s web site that the great guitarist and singer is in home hospice care means that soon another of the great blues musicians produced by the Mississippi Delta will soon no longer whinny with us, as Dylan Thomas would say. The loss of a figure like King is greater than the loss of a brilliant musician; with his passing another link to the long, storied history of one of America’s great original musical forms will be lost. In our current cultural malaise, with musicians unable to get paid for their creative efforts, King is also one of the last reminders that talent and perseverance could once lead to musical success, cultural respect, and recognized influence. Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

R.K. Narayan’s Under the Banyan Tree: Charming…and Clever…and Slight…?

R.K. Narayan’s Under the Banyan Tree is really a collection of sketches rather than short stories that bring to readers the daily life of the India of his time. They are often clever and always charming; still, from such an obvious talent, one wishes for more than one gets here. 

Under the Banyan Tree by R.K. Narayan (image courtesy Goodreads)

I stumbled upon this collection by Indian author R.K. Narayan in my favorite used bookstore last fall and picked it up for my 2015 reading list segment on  world literature. This is one of those rare instances where I have come across an author and realized I had no recollection of ever reading any of his work. Given his status as one of India’s most respected authors of the 20th century and a multiple time Nobel nominee, he seemed a natural for my reading list. As with another writer new to me, Yasunari Kawabata, I expected great things. Kawabata did not disappoint.

After reading Under the Banyan Tree, I won’t say that Narayan disappointed me, but I do believe I will have to go further into his oeuvre to discover the writer who won so much praise. While the pieces in this volume are full of charm and turn a clear eye on the character of Indian daily life, they are mainly character sketches rather than stories. Continue reading

ArtSunday

Sigrid Undset and the art of storytelling: Kristin Lavransdatter I: The Wreath

“…it’s a good thing when you don’t dare do something if you don’t think it’s right. But it’s not good when you think something’s not right because you don’t dare do it.” – Sigrid Undset

Kristin Lavransdatter: The Wreath by Sigrid Undset (image courtesy Goodreads)

I first came across Sigrid Undset during my first year of teaching. The school where I taught had a set of world literature texts that they were discarding (the books were in great shape and to this day I puzzle over why books full of world literature classics were being discarded) and I snagged one of them and over the course of a few weeks of casual reading made my way through a variety of selections by writers I knew like Hugo and Goethe and de Maupassant and Cervantes – and writers I sort of knew like Strindberg (“Half a Sheet of Paper” shows how flash fiction should be done) and writers I didn’t know – like Sigrid Undset.

The world lit collection contained a selection from Kristin Lavransdatter I. (For those familiar with the work, it’s the chapter where Kristin and Ingeborg become lost in the forest and are rescued from the German boys by Erland.) I found it rich, engrossing writing, though the pace was not such that it appealed to me in my youth. Still, I remembered the careful accrual of detail and the power of the writing and made a mental note to read more Undset.

It’s taken me about 40 years to get back to her. Perhaps I needed those years to develop a palate able to appreciate what rich gift patient, thorough storytelling is. If so, I am grateful; Kristin Lavransdatter I: The Wreath is the embodiment of what we should mean when we talk about great storytelling. Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

The Fog of War: Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front…

“And men will not understand us…and the war will be forgotten  – and the generation that has grown up after us will be strange to us and push us aside. We will be superfluous even to ourselves…the years will pass by and we shall fall into ruin.” – Erich Maria Remarque

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque (image courtesy Goodreads)

It is often called the greatest war novel of all time.

Erich Maria Remarque’s depiction of the horror of an ordinary soldier’s life in World War I,  All Quiet on the Western Front, is a work of great power that haunts one long after one has completed it. Like other great examiners of war from Grimmelshausen to Stephen Crane to Norman Mailer to Kevin Powers, Remarque has the skill to give us the psychological horror of being lost on the battlefield – and lost at home.

What sets Remarque’s novel apart, of course, is that it is told from the point of view of an “enemy” soldier, Paul Baumer, a private in the German Imperial Army. (Simplicius, the hero of Grimmelshausen’s novel, is German, too. But since the Thirty Years’ War is only vague European history to Americans, one can safely assume that his nationality is not a matter of controversy.) One of the revelations, in fact, of All Quiet on the Western Front is the discovery that the ordinary German soldier felt much the same as the ordinary British soldier, the ordinary French soldier, the ordinary Russian soldier, the ordinary American soldier: like a pawn being moved – and sacrificed – without regard for his humanity. Ordinary people’s lives don’t count to the rich and powerful who believe themselves masters of history.

Ça plus change, etc…. Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

Yasunari Kawabata and The Sound of the Mountain…

“But a haiku by Buson came into his mind: ‘I try to forget this senile love; a chilly autumn shower.’ The gloom only grew denser.” – Yasunari Kawabata

The Sound of the Mountain by Yasunari Kawabata (image courtesy Goodreads)

Reading Japanese Nobelist Yasunari Kawabata’s The Sound of the Mountain, one is reminded of the great films of his artistic contemporaries Yasujiro Ozu and Akira KurosawaTokyo Story and Ikuru, respectively. These two cinema classics, like Kawabata’s novel, deal with the themes of aging, family relationships (particularly parents/adult children and grandparents/grandchildren), and the psychological and philosophical aspects of coming to terms with the end of life. Tokyo Story tells about the trip of an elderly couple to see their beloved adult children and grandchildren and the disappointment they feel when they realize their loved ones have no time for or interest in them. Ikuru (which translates as “to live”) tells the story of an aging bureaucrat who gets a terminal illness diagnosis and attempts to “do something” before he dies that will give his life meaning.

Ikuru appeared in 1952, Tokyo Story in 1953. The Sound of the Mountain was originally published the following year, 1954. This period, short of a decade after the end of World War II, seems to have been a time of bittersweet reflection for members of this generation (Kawabata, Ozu, and Kurosawa were all born within about a decade of each other). Continue reading

Woman-Power

For Women’s History Month – meet, and say good night to, Adrienne Rich

Fabulous feminist foremother Adrienne Rich has died at the age of eighty-two. I once went to a reading of hers. It was unforgettably powerful. I have read most of her books including her non-fiction “Of Woman Born.” I loved her and always will. She was brilliant. She was fierce. She was unapologetically feminist and unapologetically lesbian. From her New York Times obit tonight:

Adrienne Rich, a poet of towering reputation and towering rage, whose work — distinguished by an unswerving progressive vision and a dazzling, empathic ferocity — brought the oppression of women and lesbians to the forefront of poetic discourse and kept it there for nearly a half-century, died on Tuesday at her home in Santa Cruz, Calif. She was 82. Continue reading

CATEGORY: ScienceTechnology2

For Women’s History Month, women in mathematics history

Hypatia of Alexandria

(355 or 370 – 415)

Greek – philosopher, astronomer, mathematician

She was the salaried head of the Neoplatonic School in Alexandria, Egypt, from the year 400. Her students were pagan and Christian young men from around the empire. She was killed by a mob of Christians in 415, probably inflamed by the bishop of Alexandria, Cyril. Continue reading

CATEGORY: ArtSunday

Arnold Gingrich: a well tempered angler

“Actually, though being well read must be a part of the process, an angler is tempered chiefly by practice and experience, by learning and attempting to reach the successively higher goals of his sport, and thus acquiring, through any amount of disappointment and frustration, the satisfaction of knowing that he is doing the simplest thing in the hardest way possible.” – Arnold Gingrich

The Well-Tempered Angler by Arnold Gingrich. image courtesy librarything.com

A slight detour from my pursuit of world literature classics via the 2015 reading list. I’ve had a couple of gifts this past week, both from my son Josh. The first gift is a new granddaughter, Susanna Quinn, our first grandchild and a wondrous new addition to the life of this old writer/professor/musician. Of course, in that endeavor he had notable assistance from his lovely wife Sandra, so credit where credit is due.  The second gift Josh bestowed upon me was a book – you may let your shock and awe begin. We were on our way  to pick up some dinner the evening that the amazing and lovely Susanna was allowed to come home from the hospital and when I got into Josh’s car, there was a book in the floorboard. “Take that, Dad,” he said. “I’ve been meaning to give it to you.” It was a copy of The Well-Tempered Angler by Arnold Gingrich. Having just muddled my way through Andre Gide’s Corydon and just become a grandfather, I was feeling the need for something – shall we say, self-indulgent? The Well-Tempered Angler fit the bill perfectly.

The book is on fly fishing, my favorite sport.  I’ve written about fly fishing, on a number of occasions now. You can read this and this and this if you feel so inclined. I shall probably write about fly fishing again.

I think we have established that I have a certain fondness for fly fishing. So did Arnold Gingrich. For anyone who finds the literature of angling of any interest at all, or for those with a curiosity about how those of the New York literary scene lived back in the heady days of White, Thurber, and Parker at The New Yorker, and Hemingway and Fitzgerald at Esquire, the various sections of this book will be delightful.  Continue reading

Woman-Power

Musings on the patriarchy, 3/28/15 – gendered bombs, mutual outerspace penetration, and astronaut fetuses, part II

This is part II in a series of III.  Part I, gendered bombs, here.

Mutual outerspace penetration

In July, 1975, the first international docking in space occurred involving the American Apollo and the Soviet Soyuz (meaning “union”). An official news release out of Houston, referring to the mating as “androgynous,” explained that the American ship played the “male / active role” on Thursday, July 17, by inserting its “nose” into the “nose” of the Russian ship. The press release further helpfully explained that the docking operation “was a purely male/female arrangement – a probe that fit snugly into a receptacle.” At the height of the militarism and mutually assured destruction that was the Cold War, however, neither country could be allowed to appear more “male” than the other. And so, the press release explained, on Friday, the Russian craft got to be the penetrator – ta-da, masculinity, understood as male-as-penetrator, preserved for both posturing nations. Continue reading

end_patriarchy_design

Musings on the patriarchy, 3/27/15 – gendered bombs, mutual outerspace penetration, and astronaut fetuses

part I of III – gendered bombs

I read the other day that, in the code of the scientists who developed the atomic bomb, if the bomb was a dud, they were going to say, “It’s a girl.” If the bomb worked as hoped, however, they would say, “It’s a boy.”

My first thought on reading that was to wonder what it says about masculinity if it is thus closely linked with the horrifically destructive, if this technological wonder of supreme violence is specifically male-gendered. Continue reading

Woman-Power

For Women’s History Month, meet Hatshepsut

Wikipedia introduces Hatshepsut as follows:

Hatshepsut (/hætˈʃɛpsʊt/; also Hatchepsut; meaning Foremost of Noble Ladies; 1508–1458 BC) was the fifth pharaoh of the Eighteenth dynasty of Egypt. Hatshepsut came to the throne of Egypt in 1478 BC. Officially, she ruled jointly with Thutmose III who had ascended to the throne as a child one year earlier. Hatshepsut was the chief wife of Thutmose II, Thutmose III’s father. She is generally regarded by Egyptologists as one of the most successful pharaohs, reigning longer than any other woman of an indigenous Egyptian dynasty. According to Egyptologist James Henry Breasted she is also known as “the first great woman in history of whom we are informed.”

Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

Andre Gide’s Corydon: Defending who you are…

“It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for something you are not.”                                                                                                                                                – André Gide

Corydon by Andre Gide (image courtesy Goodreads)

The complex and provocative André Gide is known for his unconventional examinations of morality in which he usually pits the conventions of accepted public morals against the  individual moral (sometimes amoral) views of his characters. In novels such a The Immoralist, Strait is the Gate, and The Vatican Cellars Gide explores alternate lifestyles, failed relationships, and Nietzschean acts of ubermensch-iness for both tragic and comic effect. These works won Gide the Nobel Prize in 1947.

I’ve read all of the above mentioned works by Gide. My favorite is The Vatican Cellars (Les Caves du Vatican), a comic adventure that crosses elements of The DaVinci Code sort of conspiracy theory nonsense with Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. In the hands of an arch satirist like Gide, a plot about saving the Pope from the machinations of the Masons goes sideways because of the actions of a Raskolnikovean sort of ne’er-do-well named Lafcadio who decides that what he really needs to do with his life is kill someone at random so that there is no motive at all to connect him to the murder. Unfortunately, the man he decides to kill turns out to be a vital cog in the aforementioned Pope v. Masons business. Hilarity of the darkest shades ensues. Really. It’s a very funny book – in dark, dark ways.

Unfortunately, this sort of funny stuff was an anomaly in Gide’s oeuvre. He mainly focuses on the unhappy effects of rebelling against (L’immoraliste) or falling prey to (La porte étroite) accepted social and cultural institutions and behaviors. Corydon, his attempt to justify homosexuality as a natural human behavior, is firmly on the serious side of the Gide ledger. Continue reading

Woman-Power

For Women’s History Month – meet Judy Chicago

Of Judy Chicago, wikipedia gives the following introduction:

Judy Chicago (born Judith Sylvia Cohen; July 20, 1939 in Chicago, Illinois) is an American feminist artist, art educator, and writer known for her large collaborative art installation pieces which examine the role of women in history and culture. Born in Chicago, Illinois, as Judith Cohen, she changed her name after the death of her father and her first husband, choosing to disconnect from the idea of male dominated naming conventions. By the 1970s, Chicago had coined the term “feminist art” and had founded the first feminist art program in the United States. Chicago’s work incorporates stereotypical women’s artistic skills, such as needlework, counterbalanced with stereotypical male skills such as welding and pyrotechnics. Chicago’s masterpiece is The Dinner Party, which is in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum.

Continue reading

CATEGORY: RaceGender

For Women’s History Month – meet Matilda Gage

I only just discovered one of the most fabulous feminist foremothers ever – Matilda Gage. And if I may be blunt about it, I am pretty fucking pissed off that I am only just discovering her. I am pissed off for two reasons.

One, I found her referenced by the contemporary writer Mary Daly. The degree to which Daly reintroduces ideas set forth by Gage more than a hundred years previously illustrates all too clearly how women are written out of his/story. With each generation, therefore, we are forced to reinvent the damn wheel. Continue reading

Woman-Power

For Women’s History Month, meet Sybil Luddington

She is called “the female Paul Revere.” She rode twice as far as Paul Revere, yet until recently had been largely forgotten by history.

Known for: If the stories we have of her ride are accurate, 16-year-old Sybil Luddington’s Connecticut ride to warn of an imminent attack on Danbury was about twice as long as Paul Revere’s ride. Her achievement and later service as a messenger reminds us that women had roles to play in the Revolutionary War.

Continue reading