Wednesday, November 30, 2016

And then there was Winston . . .

. . . trying to sound tough, as if it were defying grammatical norms with: "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should."

Some people argued against "like" and for "as" - the former supposedly being ungrammatical, the latter correct: "Winston tastes good as a cigarette should.".

The answering retort became: "What do you want, good grammar or good taste?"

As if one had to choose . . .

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Aggressive Blast From The Past

Google Images

In the past, Americans did some rather weird things for their favorite cigarettes.

This man has sworn his fealty to Tareyton, as had also many other Americans at the time - if we can believe the Tareyton ads.

One sees why cigarettes were so dangerous, given that people would fight for them, but who were the opponents trying to force Tareyton smokers to switch?

And whatever happened to all those Tareyton smokers?


Monday, November 28, 2016

God's Own Waterboard

My old cyber friend Bill Vallicella has an interesting post on death in which he divides the process into three parts:
There is dying, there is being dead, and there is the momentary transition from the one to the other.
I think of a similar three-stage process:
There is living, there is being dead, and there is the transition from the one to the other.
Bill's threefold division is doubtless superior to mine, but I want to be honest about how I've long thought because I do have a fear of dying, and that fear is a fear that the process from living to being dead might be painful.

Specifically, I worry that I might choke to death from fluid in my lungs.

That might sound like a weird thing to worry about, but there it is, like God's own waterboard, awaiting me at my time of demise . . .


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Bleak Friday

Bleak Friday
Hat Tip to Malcolm

Like, I was telling this friend on Friday, and got corrected:
"All my life, I've heard the expression 'Bleak Friday,' but only this Friday today did I learn something of its meaning. As you know, it's the Friday immediately after Thanksgiving, and . . . What? Not 'Bleak?' You're  sure? Uh-huh. I see. So . . . is it a shopping day for everybody, anyway? You don't know. Okay, thanks for the head's up!"
I considered going shopping regardless, figuring my checkered privilege could get me into a shopping mall, but I finally decided against taking a chance on being turned away, and I just stayed home instead.


Saturday, November 26, 2016

November 9, 2016: Hillary Clinton Loses Election More than Trump Does

Over a year ago, I told a friend that Hillary Clinton couldn't win the election:
"Too many young people don't like her," I explained.

"What about Trump?" asked my friend.

"Not a chance!" I replied. "He offends too many people."
This year in September, my friend asked what I thought now:
"Neither Hillary nor Donald will win," I maintained, "but one of them will lose more resoundingly than the other."
And I was right. I was just a bit late reporting the result on who lost most . . .


Friday, November 25, 2016

Everybody talks about Modernization Theory . . .

Of This Time, of That Place
What does it matter?
Google Images

. . . but no one ever discusses Ancientization Theory! Not that I have much to say about it either. But Medievalization Theory? That, I could talk about. Salafis, for example. They want to go Medieval on us. Or take Pastification Theory. That would account for the Paleoconservative position. Then, there is - and not without irony - Otherization Theory employed to account for the rise of the Alt-Right.

See? I keep telling people I'm a concept cruncher. Having trouble with a concept? Come to the concept cruncher. Come see me.


Thursday, November 24, 2016

Capitalism vs. Communism

In capitalism, the individual is "I";
in communism, the individual is "i".


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

As Friedrich Nietzsche didn't say . . .

Friedrich Nietzsche
"If you gaze long enough into the shallows,
the shallows will gaze back into you."


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

On Socialism

Socialism won't work because we need it.
Interpret at your own risk.


Monday, November 21, 2016

Revising 'Voldemort'

"I can't hear you . . ."
Google Images

We've recently learned that we've all been mispronouncing What's-His-Name's name, so to do my part in correcting our error, here's how Harry Potter first learns from Hagrid of What's-His-Name:
[Hagrid] sat down, stared into the fire for a few seconds, and then said, "It begins, I suppose, with - with a person called - but it’s incredible yeh don't know his name, everyone in our world knows -"


"Well - I don' like sayin' the name if I can help it. No one does."

"Why not?"

"Gulpin' gargoyles, Harry, people are still scared. Blimey, this is difficult. See, there was this wizard who went . . . bad. As bad as you could go. Worse. Worse than worse. His name was . . ."

Hagrid gulped, but no words came out.

"Could you write it down?" Harry suggested.

"Nah - can't spell it. All right - Moldy Wart." Hagrid shuddered. "Don' make me say it again . . ."
Yes, that's the official pronunciation. You see how wrongly wrong we've been . . .


Sunday, November 20, 2016

Lionel Trilling's opening lines to "Of this Time, of that Place"

Lionel Trilling

One of the first difficult stories I read as a new college student was Lionel Trilling's masterful short story from 1943, "Of this Time, of that Place" (The Three Readers) which opens with these words:
It was a fine September day. By noon it would be summer again but now it was true autumn with a touch of chill in the air. As Joseph Howe stood on the porch of the house in which he lodged, ready to leave for his first class of the year, he thought with pleasure of the long indoor days that were coming. It was a moment when he could feel glad of his profession.
Trilling was not a man to fear an occasional "it" - on this occasion, he uses "it" four times! I might rewrite it as follows:
A fine September day still lingered. Summer would return by noon, but the moment was true autumn with a touch of chill in the air. As Joseph Howe stood on the porch of the house in which he lodged, ready to leave for his first class of the year, he thought with pleasure of the long indoor days that were coming. The moment was one when he could feel glad of his profession.
Does that work better? Or worse? Or just different? Probably worse, an unnecessary editing brought on by my slight dislike of the pronoun "it."


Saturday, November 19, 2016

Herman Melville again - First line(s) Bartleby the Scrivener (1853)

Herman Melville

Bartleby the Scrivener saw the first day of its publication in 1853:
I am a rather elderly man.
Melville penned that line at the age of 34, thereby distancing himself from identification with the narrator. The line is not especially resonant, though it is a sufficiently well-wrought short, concise sentence. The next line has rather more on its mind:
The nature of my avocations for the last thirty years has brought me into more than ordinary contact with what would seem an interesting and somewhat singular set of men, of whom as yet nothing that I know of has ever been written: -- I mean the law-copyists or scriveners.
The word "scrivener" comes ultimately from the Latin word for "scribe." I wonder if there are still any scriveners nowadays, in our postmodern times.


Friday, November 18, 2016

Last Line of Herman Melville's Bartleby the Scrivener (1853)

Herman Melville

Last line here:
Ah Bartleby! Ah humanity!
Strange words from a strange man . . .


Thursday, November 17, 2016

My own novella's resonant first line

My own BBB (sometimes written bbb, which resembles 666) has some resonance in its first line:
The world sometimes just declines to cooperate with my good intentions.
When a story begins like this - think, for example, of the ambiguity in the word "declines" - you just know something terrible is going to happen . . .


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Arthur Machen's opening line in The Hill of Dreams

Carter Kaplan suggested checking out the resonant opening to Arthur Machen's The Hill of Dreams:
There was a glow in the sky as if great furnace doors were opened.
That resonates with me, partly because I connect it to Hell's gates opening in Paradise Lost 2.871 . . .


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Moby Dick's resonant first and last lines


Everyone knows this novel's famous opening line:
Call me Ishmael.
And, of course, its equally famous closing line:
And I only am escaped alone to tell thee.
Well, I am here to tell you that you are wrong. The true opening is as follows:
The pale Usher -- threadbare in coat, heart, body, and brain; I see him now. He was ever dusting his old lexicons and grammars, with a queer handkerchief, mockingly embellished with all the gay flags of all the known nations of the world.
But even that is prefaced by these words of etymology supplied by . . . oh, you'll get it on your own:

(Supplied by a Late Consumptive Usher to a Grammar School.)
And the true closing words are these:
It was the devious-cruising Rachel, that in her retracing search after her missing children, only found another orphan.
And that's the truth!


Monday, November 14, 2016

Resonant First Lines

Gravity's Rainbow

Thomas Pynchon - the presumed author of Gravity's Rainbow - penned a stellar first line:
"A screaming comes across the sky."
Yeah, that ol' V-2 Rocket was a real scream . . .


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Leonard Cohen, Passed at 82

Leonard Cohen
To the end of love . . .

Leonard Cohen passed away in his home on Monday at the age of 82. A far better lyricist than Bob Dylan, if any musician deserved a Nobel Prize for Literature, Leonard Cohen was your man.

"He now belongs to the ages . . ."


Saturday, November 12, 2016

Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) - Huckleberry Finn

This book was banned from school libraries in the 19th century as 'vulgar' and was also banned from school libraries in the 20th century, not for vulgarity but for political correctness, and is still today, in our 21st century, being assigned reasons as to why it shouldn't be assigned reading.

It should not be read and therefore must be read.


Friday, November 11, 2016

Resonant Last Lines . . .

As readers know, I've recently been posting on books I'd recommend, and I'll continue that series soon, but I'd first like to point to a category of books that I don't necessarily recommend (nor necessarily veto), but which end on a profound note, for instance, the last line of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby:
"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."
Those words touch me deeply now in a way they couldn't back when I was merely twenty years old and read Fitzgerald's novel for the first time. As we grow older, we come to terms with something that I think Malcolm Pollack said:
"There is a sadness under the surface of life."
We live only on that surface, and mostly overlook the depths, but the underlying current, no matter how hard we may beat our oars, bears us back into the past, to memory, to history, to the ages . . . and we are gone.

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Thursday, November 10, 2016

Let's Hope He's a Prince Hal . . .

Donald J. Trump
Google Images

. . . and leaves any false staff behind!


Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Tolstoy: War and Peace

Again, no matter who manages not to lose the presidential race today, we'll still have Tolstoy to turn to for consolation.

Again, this writer needs neither introduction nor defense from me . . .


Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Thomas Pynchon's Great Novel: Gravity's Rainbow

This one surely needs no introduction or justification. Everyone's heard of it. You yourself know whether or not you're one of those meant to read it. Go forth and do it if it has to be done . . .


Monday, November 07, 2016

Benjamin Hale's Great American Novel

Okay, full disclosure. I grew up in the Arkansas Ozarks with Ben's father, Pete, and I remember Ben from the time he was only a few weeks old, so I can't be entirely unbiased in my praise for this great American, novel, but it is a great American novel and will one day be recognized as such.

Not that everyone should read it. Bruno chooses to bite the big apple through daring to eat a peach: Milton's apple, Eliot's peach. Through that fall from the forest, Bruno entered the fallen realm of the human, where he walked among us and lived like us . . . in every way.

That will prove terribly disturbing to some readers, so if you need a trigger warning, consider this it: Not Recommended For Women and Children.

There . . . if that line don't fetch them, I don't know Arkansaw!


Sunday, November 06, 2016

Arna Bontemps Hemenway's Great Elegy on Kinderklavier

I realize that I should stick to recommending novels, and only the great ones, but since I recommended my 'great' novella yesterday, then I can perhaps again recommend a great collection of short stories by Arna Bontemps Hemenway titled Elegy on Kinderklavier (Sarabande Books, July 15, 2014). As the "again" signifies, I've already recommended this book, so here's part of what I wrote:
As for literary quality, I was unsure at first. I felt that some expressions didn't sound quite right, for example: "word . . . petered out"; "the crowd got up and petered away"; and the dinner petered out." Almost as if written by a non-native speaker. Or have I - living abroad so long - become that stranger? But aside from this occasional weird linguistic experience, the stories drew me into them and grew so much in depth and power that I sometimes felt I were reading David Mitchell's writing, though I wouldn't wish to conflate their respective artistry.
On the strength of that portion of my review last year, perhaps some readers of this blog will have their interest sparked and actually read these stories. They are worth the time invested . . .


Saturday, November 05, 2016

My Own Little Magnum Opus: The Bottomless Bottle of Beer

Ms. Yukyung Lee, a graduate student in English literature here at Ewha Womans University, read my novella and wrote to express her evaluation, "a great story":
I read your story - The Bottomless Bottle of Beer. It was so much fun! I think there are lots of stories (like Paradise Lost) that you have put underneath the storyline, so I'm pretty sure I couldn't understand all of those complex beauties of your story, but I loved it anyways.

In fact, I couldn't get to sleep until late at night because I couldn't stop reading it . . .

And I noticed the wife of the main character has black hair in the illustration. Did the illustrator draw the characters based on your real life? I thought that was cool.

Anyways, thank you for . . . a great story.
Ms. Lee is right to suspect "lots of stories" underlie the BBB, and also right about the BBB wife being based partly on my own wife. Anyway, thank you, Ms. Lee, for your positive words about my story!

Since she judges my story "great," I'm including it on my list of books that simply must be read!


Friday, November 04, 2016

Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell's Great Work

Much more interesting than the film version, this is a great work of separate, fascinating tales spanning a chronological sequence from the early 19th century to an indefinite future some hundreds of years from now, tales linked by reincarnate souls and interwoven themes of justice, redemption, and decay.

Not to ruin anyone's expectations, but the central story seems to have a chronological problem, along with a misunderstanding about types of telescopes, though I'll leave these two aside for readers themselves to stumble upon if they walk along the edges of the path.

Despite these possible flaws, Mitchell's book is impressive and must be on anyone's great works' reading list.


Thursday, November 03, 2016

The Master and Margarita: Mikhail Bulgakov's Magnum Opus

Yes, another Russian novel - and something of an answer to Dostoyevsky's question about Christ and Christianity . . . and also a question of what to do with the Devil!

Loosely based on the Faust legend, but as if the Devil had thrown an anarchist bomb into Goethe's Faust drama and this is the aftermath. As with Goethe's Faust, there are two stories, but whereas Goethe's tale was told as Part I and Part II, Bulgakov's skips back and forth in the telling, for we start off in mid-twentieth-century Moscow, but abruptly find ourselves in early first-century Jerusalem.

I leave the remainder for you readers to find out for yourselves . . .


Wednesday, November 02, 2016

The Brothers Karamazov

A top-tener on any list of great novels, this work by Dostoyevsky is one of the few foreign novels I'd insist everyone read even in English, rather than force potential readers to first learn the original language (Russian, in case you didn't know) - though I can think of two more Russian novels I'd also recommend. But more on that later.

Religious, philosophical, metaphysical, The Brothers Karamazov is a great mystery novel, the mystery being not "Who killed the Father Karamazov," but the Nietzschean question of "Who Killed God?" - and what are we to do with Christ and Christianity, now that God is dead . . . or is He?


Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Moby Dick

An online friend asked me for a list of top-ten books to read, even though he's probably more erudite than I am!

Anyway, leaving aside my own masterpiece, I suppose I'd first recommend Melville's Moby Dick. A many-faceted work, it requires reading and re-reading for ever greater understanding, but each re-reading is a pleasure, as one dives ever deeper into the meaning and the madness of finite man on an infinite quest.