ArtSunday: LIterature

Horace II: more rambling, this time about the Satires…

Horace uses satire in a gently amused (and bemused) way to point out the foibles of human nature. He’s not so much wanting to tear people a new one for being the way they are as he is interested in a thoughtful, even academic way in why we do the foolish things we do to ourselves.

Horace, by an unknown Roman sculptor (image courtesy crystallinks.com)

This second essay on the Works of Horace in the Christopher Smart prose translation looks at the great poet’s satires. Horace wrote two books of satires, a total of 18 poems. These satires were his first great successes as a poet and signaled that Horace was one of the great poets of the Augustan Age. on His influence on this genre of literature was so great that his style of handling the genre is known in literary/scholarly circles as Horatian satire.

Before we dig into the works themselves, however, it might be good to make clear what’s meant by “Horatian.” Horace’s greatest rival as a satirist is a Roman poet named Juvenal who lived roughly 100 years after Horace. Where Horace is gentle and good natured in his criticisms of the foibles of his fellow Romans, Juvenal is biting, even bitter in his attacks on human frailties. Where Horace hopes to see better from people, Juvenal demands that people should behave more acceptably. Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

Horace: a few rambling thoughts on the Odes…

One of the reasons Horace’s odes have been so admired and imitated is best described by one of his foremost admirers, Alexander Pope. Horace is a master of “what oft was thought but ne’er so well expressed…” 

Horace as imagined by painter Anton von Werner (image courtesy Wikimedia)

As I mentioned in my essay on La Chanson de Roland, I’ve been working my way through Horace at a pretty deliberate pace, mainly because I’m using an old “pocket” edition of The Works published in 1896 with a prose translation by one “C. Smart, A.M., Pembroke College, Cambridge University.” This is the remarkable – and slightly mad – poet and scholar Christopher Smart. Smart’s madness manifested itself as religious mania (slightly odd in a high church Anglican of his time, a group who were more often political than devout, but there we are) and he became a cause célèbre among poet friends in his day because they often had to fetch him out of St. Bethlehem (know as Bedlam in the local parlance), the institute for those with mental illness. Smart was most noted for falling to his knees in public places and beginning to pray loudly. When asked if he thought such behavior made Smart a public danger, Dr. Samuel Johnson replied calmly, “I’d as lief pray with Kit Smart as anyone else.” Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

The Song of Roland – timeless is as timeless does…

Disagreements about whether The Song of Roland is about Roland’s heroic (and foolhardy) geste or about the ultimate triumph of Charlemagne over enemies within and without his empire seem less important with this re-reading than noting how many people die for that amorphous and deadly social construct we call honor….

The Song of Roland, trans. Robert Harrison (image courtesy Goodreads)

As I make my way methodically through the works of Horace (3 books of odes down, one more to go, then epodes, satires, and his “Art of Poetry”), I’ve been reading at the same time in the epics on my 2015 reading list. I’ve finished The Saga of the Volsungs and am now digging into the Song of the Niebelungs. This made more sense to me than my original plan which was to read about the Volsungs, then go off and do some medieval Chinese poetry before Das Nibelungenlied. Since the German epic tells a version of the Volsung story, I’ll write about those two together – and be able to discuss how a Viking saga got changed for the purposes of courtly literature. Given this dive into epic lit, I’ll probably take on The Mabinogion, the Welsh epic, before heading east for Chinese courtly poetry.

That said, astute readers (and I know you all are) will notice that this essay is clearly going to be about a work not even on the original 2015 reading list. I was (where else?) in my favorite used book store last week when I came across this version of  The Song of Roland. It was nearly a giveaway it was so cheap, so naturally I scooped it up. As I mentioned above, it seemed apropos given that Horace is, while most rewarding, in an 1890’s prose translation sans notes (always read the notes, students) that is costing me extra time as I do some background work so that I understand both poet and translator fully, that I read something along with that noble Roman. I raced through the Volsung saga (in a good critical edition) and now the Chanson de Roland (in a good critical edition).  Continue reading

ArtSunday

Apologia and Apology: Edmund Morgan’s Puritan Dilemma

Edmund Morgan’s The Puritan Dilemma is an interestingly apologetic biography of Massachusetts Bay Colony’s leading figure, Governor John Winthrop.

The Puritan Dilemma: the Story of John Winthrop by Edmund S. Morgan (image courtesy Goodreads)

The other “outlier” from the 2015 reading list is a brief (less that 300 pages, a mere glance by scholarly biography standards) biography of a founder of Massachusetts Bay Colony (and its multiple term governor), John Winthrop. As I mentioned in my discussion of this year’s list, I picked up this interesting volume before hitting upon the “global/local” reading plan. And so it becomes the second book essay of 2015.

Over the last three years I have read Williams Bradford’s history of the Plymouth colony, Ed Southern’s compilation of accounts of the Jamestown colony, and now this biography of Winthrop which serves as an account of the first two decades of Massachusetts Bay Colony. The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop, however, is a somewhat different sort of book from those other two in a couple in interesting (and significant) ways: first, it is an apologia of John Winthrop’s life and career, and by extension for the Puritan experiment. Yet it’s also an apology of sorts, or maybe a wistful expression of regret, by Professor Morgan to Winthrop that somehow historians have not treated him as kindly – indeed, reverently – as they should. Continue reading

Book-Review

The great war and the need for memory…Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August

Historian Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August clearly illuminates the truth of war: in any era it is what is done wrong as much as what is done right that decides conflicts….

The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman (image courtesy Goodreads)

The first book from the 2015 reading list was a Christmas present. I have long been an admirer of historian Barbara Tuchman and have long considered her superb A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century among my favorite books of any genre. Given that 2014 was the centennial year for the beginning of World War I, I began looking for a copy of her Pulitzer winning exploration of the first months of that “war to end all wars,” The Guns of August sometime last year. Alas, because of my dedication to what we might call “book rescue” (I try to buy used books whenever I can), I found myself (I suspect) competing with others who thought “Hey, its the centennial of the Great War – good time to read (or re-read) Barbara Tuchman.”

So I floundered about trying to catch a used copy at my favorite book stores both physical and online. No luck. Eventually, my interest waned and when I put the book on my Christmas list, it was with little hope that even my clever and perspicacious Lea could find a copy for a Christmas present.

Oh, me of little faith. Find one she did, and I spent the holidays working my way through this fascinating account of the beginning of World War I. Continue reading

War

Book Review: Sean McFate’s The Modern Mercenary

The Modern Mercenary—Private Armies and What They Mean for World Order, Sean McFate, Oxford University Press, 2014.

George Orwell is often credited with the quote, “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” He didn’t say it of course. Famous people almost never said the things that are attributed to them, but the quote resonates because of its fundamental truth: Most of us cannot protect ourselves and depend on a network of rough men—police, military, etc.—to allow us to sleep soundly.

One particular group of rough men, mercenaries, occupy an outsized place in our mythology. Whether it’s Kurosawa’s ronin or Sturges’s Magnificent Seven or Forsyth’s Dogs of War, the less violent among us cling to the idea that when all else fails we can call on the services of a group of hard but principled men who will step in and save us from those who would do us harm. Interestingly, based on the number of Web sites and periodicals devoted to becoming a mercenary, it appears that almost as many dream of being those rough men. Continue reading

CATEGORY: CrimeCorruption

NYPD: Heroism is a choice

New_York_Police_Department_officers

NYPD officers. Photo: wikipedia.org

Detectives Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were victims of a terror attack. I remember the World Trade Center attack like my grandfather remembers the buzzbomb that knocked him off his bicycle. I have the piece of shrapnel that he saved, right next to my Chinatown painting of two airships closing in on the towers. I remember the smell of burning asbestos, human bodies, and desktop knick knacks, that drifted uptown for days. Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

The Christmas Blues – courtesy of Dickens and the Foxfire Project…

The holiday season is most often described as “joyful,” “merry,” “bright” – candles instead of cursing the the darkness – but both the Appalachian storytellers of “A Firefox Christmas” and Charles Dickens in “The Chimes” remind us that the holidays can be a time of loneliness and disillusionment…

A Foxfire Christmas, ed. Eliot Wigginton (image courtesy Goodreads)

I complete the 2014 reading list as I did the 2013 reading list – with some holiday appropriate stories. For this year’s list I returned to the acknowledged godfather of Christmas tales, a Mr. C. Dickens, for his haunting look at what we really should mean by “starting the New Year right,” The Chimes.  I followed that with the Christmas entry in the Foxfire series of folk lore compendiums, A Foxfire Christmas.

What is striking about both these works is the powerful current of pathos that runs through them. One expects this of Dickens, of course. No one does pathos like the creator of Little Nell, Oliver Twist, and Jo the crossing sweeper. The Firefox books, on the other hand, are compilations of stories and folk wisdom from long time residents of Appalachia. Their experiences, related as nearly as possible in their own words, range widely and move from the humorous to the heartbreaking – sometimes abruptly. The overall aim isn’t (as it often is with Dickens, that master manipulator of our emotions) to foster sympathy and motivate social action; Foxfire books primarily seek to preserve cultural history – the pathos one sometimes encounters there is firmly embedded in the history being shared. Continue reading

CATEGORY: ArtsLiterature

Art and Tech, part 2: the uneasy relationship between artist and technology

As technologies have been developed and then evolved, artists have exploited them in the creation of art. But is it possible to reach a point where technology exploits artists – and through them art?

(For previous essays in this series, look here.)

Neil Postman (image courtesy Wikimedia)

The work of the late Neil Postman, especially in the camps of those who sing the praises of our current era of rapid technological innovation and implementation, is treated with, if noted at all, skepticism bordering on disdain. Reactions to his 1993 classic Technopoly: the Surrender of Culture to Technology even went so far to to accuse him being a Neo-Luddite.

But Postman raises important questions about society’s relationship to technology and asks that hard question for which none of his critics (this may explain the dismissiveness of some) seem willing to offer an answer: Do we control technology – or does technology control us?

Such a difficult – and profound – question seems important for art and artists for a number of reasons. Continue reading

Who is ISIS? Time for an airlift.

So picture this scenario. A leader in a fledgling democracy creates a space for himself, a perch above it all from which to tame the beast. Sounds reasonable? Except, wait. No it doesn’t. Remember when George Washington turned down the crown? Remember when he set the two term precedent? That’s a leader. What we’re dealing with is a king. Let’s hope he’s not a tyrant. Continue reading

Energy

Open letter to America: the endless war for oil

What if I told you that all wars were waged over resources, that at the moment the most important resource in the world is oil, and that the war in the middle east and the trade war over the Alberta tar sands, seemingly different conflicts involving different parties, are actually the same war, waged by the same economic force and subject to the same economic necessities, one of which is within your control? Continue reading

Police Violence

[(Ferguson * Occupy) + police brutality]/Obama

One of these things is not like the other

In a Sunday interview, President Obama defended his recent controversial executive order that shields some, but not all, illegal immigrants from deportation. The president also fielded questions about other issues during the interview. Regarding the tensions in Ferguson in anticipation of the grand jury’s indictment decision, he had this to say: Continue reading

Politics: Democrats vs Republicans

House Intel Committee: new report exposes lies while pushing more

Next up: Issa to investigate House Intel Committee?

Associated Press reports, as seen here at Time, that the House Intelligence Committee has released a new report on the Benghazi tragedy. Or, as AP put it, “The House Intelligence Committee report was released with little fanfare on the Friday before Thanksgiving week.” Why might that be? What could possibly be in a Republican-led Intelligence Committee report about Benghazi that the GOP wouldn’t want plastered all over the place for everyone to see? Read on. Then get the report straight from the horse’s mouth.

Debunking a series of persistent allegations hinting at dark conspiracies, the investigation of the politically charged incident determined that there was no intelligence failure, no delay in sending a CIA rescue team, no missed opportunity for a military rescue, and no evidence the CIA was covertly shipping arms from Libya to Syria.

Continue reading

Wheel of Fortune

What President Obama didn’t mention in his immigration address

There’s a sequence of 6 letters that appears nowhere in the transcript

President Obama finally addressed the nation today regarding the executive actions he’s taking in regard to our broken immigration system. If you’re looking for a strident pro or con piece, this isn’t it. If you’re looking for a call to see him impeached, yeah, good luck with that. If you’re acting like this is the first time a sitting president has ever had the temerity to go it alone on the issue, maybe you might want to bone up on the administrations of Ronnie “Golf? I NAP!” Reagan and creepy ex-chief of the secret police George “I Threw Up on Helmut Kohl and All I Got Was this Lousy T-Shirt” Bush, the Elder. Even so, I’m here to throw our friends on the right a bone. Continue reading

Earp grave

Tuesday morning with the Earps

Fanciful middle-aged musings in a garden of the dead

It was just another Tuesday…

Wyatt Earp is dead and gone but I have sometimes talked to him in the years since I became a Heart Disease Missionary. When I come to the cold shores of Colma, I come to stave off cancer by snacking on his western bones.

  …and I was out running an errand. And running that errand put me in a location in South San Francisco from where it would be easy to run other errands. You know how that goes. One twenty-minute task turned into five, and without prior planning I ended up in a Carl’s Jr. eating a chorizo breakfast burrito, wondering what it would do to my cholesterol levels and feeling bad about fast-food slumming.

I figured after I’d eaten I wasn’t yet ready to deal with the shuffling toddler-mom shopping carts or oblivious merchandise stock-monkeys at Target or Best Buy. Then I realized Josephine and Wyatt Earp were within my automobile errand sphere, so I decided to go see them.

Continue reading

Ethics

Rev. Al Sharpton, his fans, and Boolean operators

Apparently it’s not okay to take on one of our own

This was originally going to be a comment at Democratic Underground. The more I typed, the more I thought I should just go ahead and stir the pot far more broadly, but I’ll still do my left-leaning compatriots there the courtesy of linking back to this for their consideration.

See, I don’t understand why some folks there are taking issue with a NYT article as though it were a hit piece. The article? As Sharpton Rose, So Did His Unpaid Tax Bills. Continue reading

CATEGORY: RacePolitics

State of Emergency! Ferguson battens hatches

And who can blame Governor Nixon for that?

Like most folks who keep up at least a little with the news, I’ve heard a thing or three about Ferguson. Of late, I’ve actually stopped keeping up with news in general to the extent I used to. Partly that’s burnout. Partly it’s that I’ve found a few other things to keep me fiddling while Rome burns. But I still scan the headlines at least a few times a week. Maybe it’s like a junkie getting a half-assed fix. Maybe it’s just a good idea to keep some fresh idea of what’s going on in the world. Anyone blow up Russia yet? Has the ebola outbreak spread to my neck of the woods? What about Kim Kardashian’s ass? You know, the usual important stuff. Continue reading

ArtSunday

Pride and Prejudice: The Romance Novel as Literature…

Amid current discussions of how genre fiction and literature are merging in the 21st century, Pride and Prejudice is a reminder that the genre of romance merged with literature a long, long time ago…

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (image courtesy Goodreads)

As I have noted before, my custom of re-reading Austen’s works systematically has shifted from reading all six of the completed novels each year (as I did for more than two decades) to a rotation through the oeuvre of that allows me to read two novels each year. My own background as an Austen scholar has given me cause to give each of the novels “close reading” (the scholarly term for close analytic reading of a text to ferret out meaning) numbers of times. Still, each time I return to any of Jane Austen’s novels, I find myself surprised by what I learn.

Such was the case during this reading of what the general public consider Austen’s masterpiece, Pride and Prejudice. It is certainly her most widely read work, partly because there seems to have long been a belief among educators that it is her most accessible novel (I’d argue for Emma) and partly, I suppose, because it has enjoyed the most attention over the last century or so as the basis for classic Hollywood bowdlerizations, faithful and thoughtful BBC renderings, and hipster revisionist treatments. It says something for the greatness of the book that it has borne all these cinematic renditions without losing any of its charm as entertainment or any of its impressiveness as a literary performance. Continue reading

Popular Culture

Murdering culture, one hipster delusion at a time…

Hipsters being savaged by a former hipster seems – oh, I don’t know, about right…?

Author Will Self (image courtesy Wikimedia)

No one who is a thinking person doubts that our culture is in trouble. Whatever forces have taken us down a road where knowledge of reality television shows is considered social capital are, I think we can all agree, malevolent.

In a recent essay in The New Statesman (and republished in The New Republic), British novelist and intellectual Will Self savages his generation’s acquiescence in failing to overcome being what he calls “the pierced and tattooed, shorts-wearing, skunk-smoking, OxyContin-popping, neurotic dickheads who’ve presided over the commoditization of the counterculture; we’re the ones who took the avant-garde and turned it into a successful rearguard action…of capitalism’s blitzkrieg.” His critique (written in a classic snarky style) continues with an indictment of what he sees as a completely delusional group of “artists” – : Continue reading