WordsDay: Literature

The World’s 100 Best Short Stories, Sort of…Volume 7: Women

“It was almost a miracle, her kind of death, because out of all that jam of tonnage, she carried only one bruise, a faint one, near the brow.” – Fannie Hurst

“I love her like a madman, and I would kill myself this instant to rejoin her, if she were not to remain unknown to me for eternity, as she was unknown to me in this world.” – Alexandre Dumas

Fannie Hurst (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Fannie Hurst (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Volume 7 of The World’s 100 Best Short Stories is devoted to women. The ten stories in this collection seem to be efforts to find a theme that explains who women are. The various tales depict women as self-destructive, as self-sacrificing, as helpless victims, as brilliant tacticians. And yes, the collection also gives women the all too familiar Madonna/whore treatment.

At least one reason for this particular set of views of women may come from the authorship of the stories. Of these ten stories about women, only two are written by women.  One is by the redoubtable Fannie Hurst, one of the great “women’s authors”of the 20th century (she is the author of great pot boiler melodramas such as Imitation of Life and Back Street, both have which have been filmed multiple times with stars ranging from Claudette Colbert and Irene Dunne to Lana Turner and Susan Hayward. The other is an author named Bernice Brown about whom there is scant information, though she seems to have written for magazines such as The Century and, if the example from this collection is an indication, is an interesting proto-feminist.

So, we have a volume of stories that mainly tell us how men saw women in the early 20th century with a couple of women authors trying to tell us how women saw themselves.  Continue reading

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The war over words

Politicians have always sought the power to control the meaning of language. But now this open warfare has raced past reprehensible to dangerous for democracy.

language-has-powerIn the vicious descent to American unexceptionalism that politicians and their rich supporters are hellbent on winning (common folk and consequences be damned), the election has become a continuing chase for the authority to control language.

That’s what modern power has become: the ability to define a word, and to prevent others from doing so. Politicians rarely make coherent arguments any more; they instead try to co-opt the meanings of words. That’s why debates have been nonsensical: Candidates may utter the same words, but the meanings they assign to those words are vastly different.

Consider just one particular word. Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

The World’s 100 Best Short Stories, Sort of…Volume 6: Courage

“It can never be said…. Because there’s no guide for the search and no definition for the thing found. There’s only the necessity…for man to go beyond himself, to go beyond reason, even beyond truth….” – Dana Burnet

Nicolai Gogol (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Nicolai Gogol (image courtesy Wikimedia)

This, volume 6 of The World’s 100 Best Short Stories, has as its theme courage. I think that it’s the most frustrating volume of this collection that I have yet read. (With the exception of a classic tale by Gogol, none of the stories are memorable.) When I was searching for a quote, for example, to use as sub-heading, I probably spent the better part of two hours fumbling through the volume trying to find any quote that would work as a stand-alone. I had hoped to use a quote from the Gogol classic, “The Cloak” (you likely know it by its more common English translation, “The Overcoat”) mentioned above. No luck – whether it was the translation or the late hour when I was searching, no usable quote appeared from the only canonical author in this volume.

So I find myself using a quote from a popular author of the time, one Dana Burnet.

And here we go. You may, at this point, like those guys in Holden Caulfield’s Oral Expression class, begin yelling “Digression!”- but, as Holden says, “I like it when somebody digresses. It’s more interesting and all.”

I couldn’t find a picture of Dana Burnet. Burnet was a highly successful writer who wrote for Broadway and for Hollywood (including at least two screenplays for Jimmy Stewart movies). And so you see a picture of Nicolai Gogol.

Because you can’t find Dana Burnet’s picture. On the freaking Internet. Continue reading

Book-Review

The World’s 100 Best Short Stories, Sort of…Volume V: Drama

“The world was full of men and women like Luke and Kit. Some had given up great hopes because they were too good to tread down others in their quest. Some had quenched great talents because they were too fearsome or too weak or too lazy to feed their lamps with oil and keep them trimmed and alight. Some had stumbled through life with no gifts of talent, without even appreciation of the talents of others or of the flowerlike beauties that star the meadows.” – Rupert Hughes

Rupert Hughes (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Rupert Hughes (image courtesy Wikimedia)

This fifth volume of the collection (volume 1 here, volume 2 here. volume 3 here, volume 4, here) I’m working through, The World’s 100 Best Short Stories, focuses on the theme (I really should be using the word topic rather than theme, I suppose, but there we are) Drama. That term drama certainly gets a workout in this volume. The reader gets a taste of melodrama, naturalism,and psychological drama; even the classic twist of fate gets a workout in a couple of stories.

As has been usual in this collection, this volume is a mixture of writers now forgotten (or barely remembered now though popular in their time) and writers whose place in the traditional canon of literary stars is secure and likely to remain so. Thus one reads a story by the (in her time) highly popular Kathleen Norris, then a story by canonical stalwart Stephen Crane or a story by once popular but now forgotten Rupert Hughes (pictured), then one by one of the literary giants, Leo Tolstoy.

Hawthorne, Dickens, and Balzac are represented as are lesser but still noted literary figures like Alphonse Daudet and Guy de Maupassant (about whom I’ve written recently).  Continue reading

Journalism

The Tiffany Martínez case and journalistic malpractice in the first degree

Journalism RIP: gone and apparently forgotten

Tiffany Martinez journalism malpracticeHere’s a sampling of the Google News headlines this morning for a search on [tiffany martinez]:

  • Professor Leaves Racist Note on Student’s Paper – Yahoo News-22 hours ago
  • The broader implications of unfairly accusing a Latina student of plagiarism – Inside Higher Ed-Nov 1, 2016
  • Professor accuses Latina student of plagiarism for using the word hence – The Grio-Oct 29, 2016
  • Latina accused of plagiarizing after using ‘hence’ in essay – New York Post-Oct 30, 2016
  • Latina college student is accused of plagiarism because she used the word ‘hence’ in an essay – Daily Mail-Oct 29, 2016
  • Latina College Student Used ‘Hence’ In Paper, Is Accused Of Plagiarism – Highly Cited-Huffington Post-Oct 28, 2016
  • A Professor Circled “Hence” On A Latina Student’s Paper And Wrote “This Is Not Your Word” – BuzzFeed News-Oct 28, 2016
  • Student accused of plagiarism by professor for using the word ‘Hence’ – Gistmaster (blog)-8 hours ago

Notice anything? Continue reading

Be school

“Let us go forward together with our united strength.” #HopeTuesday

So my teaching assignment on Halloween was to manage five periods of world and American history. Toward the end of second period, around 10 a.m., one of my students whipped out this mask, put it on, and just sat quietly at his desk. And since he had finished the classwork anyway, I let him roll with it. And Churchill didn’t seem to mind.

Yes, yes, I know, Guy Fawkes was a treasonous bomber whose religious motivations seem uncomfortably plausible in our current age of terrorism. But he’s come to represent a righteous, anti-oppression kind of protest, and to see some affinity for that in a modern-day American high school is kind of what #HopeTuesday is all about.

(I’m a substitute high school teacher. The photograph is from my pictorial teaching diary. See it here.)

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The Tiffany Martínez case: her post is long on emotional appeal and short on details

The trending case of a Suffolk University student accused of cheating in front of her class raises more questions than her manipulative story answers…

Tiffany Martínez, Suffolk University

Tiffany Martínez, Suffolk University

On Thursday, a Suffolk University student named Tiffany Martínez posted a blog in which she described how her professor had attacked her in front of a class for using language that was “not her own.”

This morning, my professor handed me back a paper (a literature review) in front of my entire class and exclaimed “this is not your language.” On the top of the page they wrote in blue ink: “Please go back and indicate where you cut and paste.” The period was included. They assumed that the work I turned in was not my own. My professor did not ask me if it was my language, instead they immediately blamed me in front of peers. On the second page the professor circled the word “hence” and wrote in between the typed lines “This is not your word.” The word “not” was underlined. Twice. My professor assumed someone like me would never use language like that. As I stood in the front of the class while a professor challenged my intelligence I could just imagine them reading my paper in their home thinking could someone like her write something like this? 

Martínez is right to be sensitive to the issues of bias she points out.  Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

The World’s 100 Best Short Stories, Sort of…Volume 4: Love

“Youth prefers to be tortured by youth…Youth to youth is the end of all wisdom.” – Konrad Bercovici

Konrad Bercovici (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Konrad Bercovici (image courtesy Wikimedia)

The theme of this fourth in the ten volume collection The World’s 100 Greatest Short Stories (volume 1 here, volume 2, here, volume 3, here) is – Love. Though there is less – shall we say variation? – on the theme in this collection than in the previous collections on Romance and Mystery, the stories are, nevertheless as interesting and thought provoking as those in the earlier volumes.

In one way or another, all the stories in this collection are about romantic love. Some involve memories of romantic love viewed from the perspective of age and wisdom (or lack thereof) whether treated sentimentally as in Hermann Sudermann’s “A New Year’s Eve Confession” or Gouverneur Morris’s “A Postscript to Divorce” or comically as in Ring Lardner’s “The Golden Honeymoon.” Some involve the foolishness and passion of youth as in Barry Benefield’s “Down Bayou Dubac” and Sherwood Anderson’s “I’m a Fool.” A couple, surely daring for their time, involve explorations of love for those less traditionally inclined – “Mademoiselle Olympe Zabriski” by Thomas Bailey Aldrich and “Boless” by Maxim Gorky.

Perhaps the most interesting of these stories about love and its power to make fools of us all are those in which youth and age collide.  Continue reading

ArtSunday

The World’s 100 Best Short Stories, Sort of…Vol. 2, Romance

“Only a moment; a moment of strength, of romance, of glamour — of youth!… A flick of sunshine upon a strange shore, the time to remember, the time for a sigh, and — goodbye!” – Joseph Conrad

Thomas Burke (image courtesy deeprootsmag.org)

Thomas Burke (image courtesy deeprootsmag.org)

This second volume  (volume 1 here) in the collection The World’s 100 Best Short Stories takes as its theme “Romance” and, thankfully, treats with that term in its classical sense “the fascination with far off places and times” rather than focusing on its more recent interpretation as “boy meets girl and complications ensue.” That is something of a relief, the latter variation on the term having been pretty completely spoiled by young adult fiction of one kind or another.

As a result, the stories in this second book take the reader from the American Wild West to the France of Louis the 15th to (kinda sorta) ancient Egypt to the slums of London.

There are a couple of interesting issues to discuss concerning this collection of stories, some related to the stories as stories, some related to the stories’ adaptations by other media. That brings up the old issue of the experience of fiction vs. the experience of the re-interpretation of fiction as visual art.

So. To a few of the stories…. Continue reading

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A lunch lady blues

Show her some respect…

I am the goddess

you never pray to.

I am the mother

who forced your father to suckle you.

I give you food,

every day,

I feed your arrogance.

Continue reading

Politics: Democrats vs Republicans

Resolved: that future presidential debates ought to use the Lincoln-Douglas format

Partisan discourse can’t sink much lower. Now is the time to resurrect a format that was made for political debates.

The third and final “debate” between presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is now mercifully in the rearview mirror, but like a direct hit from an aggrieved skunk, it might take weeks for the stink to fully die down. This trifecta of vitriolic spew has held a mirror up before the face of the American system of political discourse, and what we’re seeing is utterly wretched.

And for what? What have we learned? Did the debates make us smarter? Did it leave us more capable of rendering an informed decision? Did it shed light on the election and the best interests of the Republic?

The sad truth is that the truth is pretty sad. These charades, these lowest common denominator spectacles, these premeditated travesties of dishonesty and rhetorical misdirection, we call them debates but they are no such thing. A real debate between candidates would be a wonderful thing, though. Continue reading

Book-Review

H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines…Adventures in Boyhood Dreaming….

“Haggard’s heroes attain a legendary stature as their adventures strip away what Tarzan, Lord Greystoke, calls ‘the veneer of civilization,’ and perpetually confront them with danger and death.’ – Robert Morsberger, Afterword to King Solomon’s Mines

1965 Hammer Films poster for

1965 Hammer Films poster for “She” starring Ursula Andress (image courtesy Wikimedia)

This begins with Ursula Andress.

Back in junior high, when my buddies and I were the sort of slobbering idiots about girls and women that one our current POTUS candidates seems to be in advanced middle age, Hammer Films, the British film company that specialized in remakes of Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Mummy announced that it was releasing a new film version of the H. Rider Haggard adventure novel, She. More important to my crowd’s budding libidos, the film would star original Bond girl (there’s a respectful term) Ursula Andress (Andress was the first Bond girl, appearing in the first James Bond film, Dr. No, as the tastefully named Honey Ryder).

We dutifully, lustfully went to see She – which was a typical Hammer film: a lot of fun once one put one’s critical thinking skills on hold. In the aftermath of that experience, and without telling my friends, who would have laughed at my bookishness, I decided to read Haggard’s novel.

It was a lot of fun, too, and a damned sight better than the movie, Ursula Andress notwithstanding. I planned to go on and read King Solomon’s Mines, too, but something distracted me (probably baseball or a guitar) and I never got back to the Haggard universe.

Until last week. Continue reading

It’s World Teachers Day: who changed your life?

It’s World Teachers Day. And I’m a little distressed by how little mention I have seen of it flying around on my Facebook feed. But then, what do I expect?

CATEGORY: EducationOnce upon a time we celebrated teachers for their wisdom and commitment to making their communities better places. Now, in addition, we celebrate them for their superhuman perseverance in the face of utterly overwhelming odds. Some of the stories I’ve heard from teachers border on the harrowing. And I’m just talking about what they’re expected to do in the classroom. Never mind what those who work in de facto war zones face.

It is hard to be truly dedicated to something that your society is at best indifferent, and at worst is actively hostile toward. Continue reading

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Learning from the silence of elephants

by Tamara Enz

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Our lives are full of noise. Endless beeps, twitters, and rings. Traffic, jets, refrigerators, air conditioners. Ubiquitous cell phones, microwaves, TVs, and tablets. Each pinging, humming, and demanding attention. Gratuitous noise, the TV or radio turned on and then ignored, or worse, talked over loudly, has long been a pet peeve. Car keys left in the ignition, leaf blowers (^%*^%$#$ leaf blowers), car alarms (see leaf blowers), and every cell phone/ATM/POS card reader with keyboards that indicate, by sound, every letter entered.

Every. Letter. Entered.

For some, like me, it’s exhausting. Continue reading

Playing Marco Polo…WITH Marco Polo: S&R Honors

Marco Polo is one of our most renowned travelers and explorers. Yet there is controversy about whether he actually went where he says he did. If only he’d taken a selfie stick and set up an Instagram account….

Marco Polo dressed as a Tatar (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Marco Polo dressed as a Tatar (image courtesy Wikimedia)

On my book shelves are several of the nicely bound sets of what used to be termed “classics” (i.e., books considered sacrosanct members of the Western Canon) that were all the rage many years ago when the American middle class aspired to be like their betters and give the appearance of being cultured – back when part of being cultured meant being well read, of course. Please do not misconstrue my intent here; owning a handsome set of “classics” is not the same as having read them. Lea and I have bought most of these sets in used book stores and antique shops and found almost all of the volumes in a given set in mint or near mint condition (after all, sitting on bookshelves year after year does cause some slight aging, as does being moved from the prominent bookshelves in the den to the ratty ones in the basement).

Thus it is that I have, as mentioned above, several sets of these “collections of ready made culture” (I have mentioned one popular collection in another essay). The set from which the book that is the subject of this essay, Travels of Marco Polo, The Venetian, is taken is called, interestingly, “The Programmed Classics,” and is published by Doubleday. It’s a handsome book, though the translation by 19th century “Orientalist” William Marsden is, at best, creaky.

So, to Marco Polo’s travels…real or made up…. Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

James Hilton, WP Kinsella and The Bettys: writing to remember, writing being forgotten…

There are two motivations for writing – one pure and one not so much.

“There’s only one thing more important… and that is, after you’ve done what you set out to do, to feel that it’s been worth doing.” – James Hilton

Goodbye Mr. Chips and Other Stories by James Hilton (image courtesy Goodreads)

Goodbye Mr. Chips and Other Stories by James Hilton (image courtesy Goodreads)

This is about being a writer.

The motives for someone wanting to do more than write, to become that person that others refer to as a writer, may be so individual as to be specific to very single person who aspires to that moniker. But I doubt it.

My suspicion is that there are two motives that drive writers, one fairly – shall we say pure? One, not so much. The first, purer, motive is that writers are blessed (or cursed, I can never decide) with the desire to preserve that which they have known or known about or would have liked to know. That act of preservation is part of the title of this essay: one might call it writing to remember. When done really, really, really well, it gives us lines like this:

O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.

Then there’s that other motive, the – less than pure one, shall we say. That’s the desire for recognition: fame, money, respect in one form or another, either because of critical success or financial reward (I have met famous writers who were humble and I have met famous writers who were smug enough to deserve a boot up their asses). It may be of interest only to me that the humble famous ones were far less rich than the smug famous ones. Maybe Ms. Lauper pegged it when she intoned, “…money changes everything….” Continue reading

democracy-in-america

Democracy in America: a bad idea

It’s now clear that democracy, as practiced in an anti-intellectual society like ours, doesn’t work. Let’s give elitism (properly understood) a try.

Democracy+ElitismMany of you probably read Andrew Sullivan’s New York Magazine piece back in April. If not, you should do so as soon as possible – it’s among the most important and insightful political essays we have seen in a generation and will reward your time. I won’t even try to summarize his message, because no paraphrase I could provide would do it justice. Short version: the US is in trouble, and democracy is perhaps the reason.

Sullivan got me to thinking, in some depth, about where I am politically and how I got here. More importantly, where do I go now? Continue reading

Book-Review

Jose Saramago: Our Doppelgangers, Our Selves…

The Double is, ultimately, a meditation – on who we are and, more importantly, on why we are.

“Chaos is merely order waiting to be deciphered.” ― José Saramago, The Double

The Double by Jose Saramago Image courtesy Goodreads)

The Double by Jose Saramago Image courtesy Goodreads)

The use of doppelgangers in literature is a common enough  device. Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “William Wilson” and Joseph Conrad’s “The Secret Sharer” explore the idea of a double who shares an intimate relationship with the protagonist.  In novel form Dickens treats the idea in A Tale of Two Cities and Dostoevsky explores it in The Double. Of course the device has been given permutations, the most famous of which is likely Robert Louis Stevenson‘s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde wherein the doppelganger idea is blended with an exploration of chemically induced multiple personality disorder.

The Portuguese Nobelist Jose Saramago (whose Baltasar and Blimunda I wrote about last year) offers a postmodern spin on the doppelganger. Saramago’s The Double is both a story of a man who accidentally encounters his human duplicate while watching a video and a meditation on identity, self-hood, and the power of language. Continue reading

Never forget…what, exactly?

Yesterday, Big Think posted an interesting collection of Gallup Poll results, along with some commentary: Obama Actually Made America Great Again. Here’s the Data. To hear the rabidly irrational Obama opposition on today, of all days, I can only say that these are funny numbers to describe how Obama has ruined America in eight years.

What’s truly deplorable is that, of all the ways Bush (with a boost from Dems) ruined America Continue reading

Journalism

In just a decade, ‘content’ trumped ‘news’ (and those who reported it)

 Ten years has seen the evisceration of newsrooms; the alteration of form, function, and distribution of information; and the emergence of a distorted public discourse. Oh, joy.

Since 2007, I’ve written about the stark reductions in numbers of reporters and editors in America’s daily print newsrooms. During that time, I’ve witnessed more than 20,000 newsroom jobs vanish. Now, it seems, only about 30,000 men and women toil in those newsrooms.

MediaI chose toil deliberately. First, those who remain have had to meet the continued and unchanged corporate demand for product or content once produced by twice their number. Second, the job has changed: In addition to the still-present demand for print content, those 20,000 face the imposition of onerous digital deadlines and unbelievable expectations of quantity. Post so many stories a day, or an hour, they’re told. That, of course, has impacts on the quality of those stories.

For many, those who remain even have different titles — they are no longer reporters or editors. They have become “community content editors,” “content coaches,” “presentation team members,” “engagement editors,” “headline optimizers,” “story scientists,” or “curators in chief.”

Yes, the operations of those places once known as “newsrooms” are rapidly and radically changing. But that obvious observation obscures a few emerging realities about how information (once known as “news”) is crafted and distributed.

Continue reading