Wednesday, August 31, 2005

A brief nod to Virginia Woolf in Cunningham's Walt Whitman novel:

She descended the garbagey stairs, went out into the morning, a spanking-fresh June one, all spangly on the fire escapes. She paused for a moment on the stoop, taking it in. On a morning like this, you could believe the world was safe and promising. You could imagine that nothing harmful, nothing toxic, could flourish. Not when early light slanted down so purely from an ice-blue sky. Not when the window-box geraniums of the first-floor widow were incandescently red and a passing truck said PARTY PLANNERS in glittering gold letters.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Catching up

Real life has been antagonistic to blogging these last few days. Saturday was my father-in-law's 75th birthday and the entire family gathered at Shatley Springs for the celebration. We made it home late, exhausted and overfed, and then had to get up Sunday morning and scurry to pack the cars and get R. moved into her new dorm in Chapel Hill. Her classes start today and she has a sort of not- an- interview lined up at the library from which I hope non-vague good things result.

There was a murderer in the library! On our floor! Spotted by our very own H.! One of the local TV stations interviewed J., our student worker, last night while we were on the desk.

Thanks to the Shelia Variations, I came across Beth's wonderful reflections , which I think everyone ought to go read, on Johnny Cash's Christianity and his Live at San Quentin album. I spent the first money I ever had buying San Quentin and Hello I'm Johnny Cash (please note: the cd currently sold under that title is not the same as the album I purchased in the 70s), so I was thrilled to see someone discover these songs all these many years later and draw basically the same conclusions I had.

Salman Rushdie on the empathy he shows in Shalimar the Clown toward the type of men who once tried to kill him:

"There's an argument," he says, "which is that to humanise them is a kind of exoneration. And obviously I don't think that. It's wrong to say that by understanding people you somehow let them off the hook. There was a recent film about the last days of Hitler, Downfall, and it showed all of them, Hitler and Eva Braun etc, as rounded characters, with moments of affection. It kind of makes it worse, when you can see that these are not cartoon villains, but are real people making these hideous decisions. In a way it does the opposite of exonerating them."

Rick Moody on the joy and enthusiasm of reading:

I believe in the absolute and unlimited liberty of reading. I believe in wandering through the stacks and picking out the first thing that strikes me. I believe in choosing books based on the dust jacket. I believe in reading books because others dislike them or find them dangerous. I believe in choosing the hardest book imaginable. I believe in reading up on what others have to say about this difficult book, and then making up my own mind.

Daniel C. Dennett explains how there's no science in intelligent design and suggests that

Instead of spending more than $1 million a year on publishing books and articles for non-scientists and on other public relations efforts, the Discovery Institute should finance its own peer-reviewed electronic journal. This way, the organization could live up to its self-professed image: the doughty defenders of brave iconoclasts bucking the establishment.

I'm reading Michael Cunningham's Specimen Days.

Monday, August 29, 2005

does the goat die in alice munro's runaway. . .

was the search query of the Swarthmore student frantically perusing page after page of this site yesterday evening.

Why am I appalled by that question while I find amusing the story R. told me of the public university student who was mortified to learn that rams aren't merely mythical creatures?

Now imagining a sacrificial goat with a golden fleece bounding about fleeing hunters in a Pam Houston short story while "Rocky Mountain High" blares from the heavens. . .

Friday, August 26, 2005

Last Friday was the 85th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. A celebration of that event is taking place today and tomorrow in Philadelphia.

A collection of articles from the New York Times on the ratification process--fascinating reading--is available here.

Thursday, August 25, 2005


Nicholson and the Bard

. . . and another poem from Maxine Kumin

WHICH ONE

I eye the driver of the Chevrolet
pulsing beside me at a traffic light

the chrome-haired woman in the checkout line
chatting up the acned clerk

the clot of kids smoking on the sly
in the Mile-Hi Pizza parking lot

the meter reader, the roofer at work
next door, a senior citizen

stabbing the sidewalk with his three-pronged cane.
Which one of you discarded in a bag

--sealed with duct tape—in the middle of the road
three puppies four or five weeks old

who flung two kittens from a moving car
at midnight into a snowbank where

the person trailing you observed the leg
and tail of the calico one that lived,

and if not you, someone flossing her teeth
or watering his lawn across the street.

I look for you wherever I go.

(Remember to check out The Ark on Fridays and the Carnival of the Cats on Sundays for a round up of the best and latest pet blogging photos. Next week's carnival is being hosted by Annoying Litte Twerp.)

Books I'd Love to Buy This Very Moment. . .

Robert Sapolsky's Monkeyluv

E.L. Doctorow's The March

T.C. Boyle's Tooth and Claw

George Saunders' The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

R.'s Mindset

Excerpts from the Beloit College ''Mindset List'' for the Class of 2007, most of whom were born in 1985.

-- “Ctrl + Alt + Del” is as basic as “ABC.”
-- They have always been able to make photocopies at home.
-- They don't remember when ''cut and paste'' involved scissors.
-- Heart-lung transplants have always been possible.
-- Iran and Iraq have never been at war with each other.
-- Voice mail has always been available.
-- Computers have always fit in their backpacks.
-- ''Whatever'' is not part of a question.
-- They have always had the right to burn the flag.
-- Bill Gates has always been worth at least a billion dollars.
-- The Starship Enterprise has always looked dated.
-- Bert and Ernie are old enough to be their parents.
-- Les Miserables has always been on stage.
-- They do not remember ''a kinder and gentler nation.''
-- They never saw the shuttle Challenger fly.
-- Airports have always had upscale shops and restaurants.
-- Black Americans have always been known as African-Americans.
-- The Field of Dreams has always been drawing people to Iowa.
-- They never saw a Howard Johnson's with 28 ice cream flavors.
-- Lyme disease has always been a concern in the woods.
-- They have always been challenged to distinguish between news and entertainment on cable TV.

Full list available here. Past lists available here.

Sonnet in So Many Words

The time comes when it can't be said,
thinks Richard Dalloway, pocketing his
sixpence of change, and off he goes
holding a great bunch of white and red

roses against his chest, thinking himself
a man both blessed and doomed in wedlock
and Clarissa meanwhile thinking as he walks back
even between husband and wife a gulf. . .

If these are Virginia and Leonard, are they not
also you and me taking up the coffee
grinder or scraping bits of omelet free
for the waiting dogs who salivate and sit?

Never to say what one feels. And yet
this is a love poem. Can you taste it?

--Maxine Kumin, Jack and Other New Poems

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Primarily links to the Guardian

Mark Kurlansky:

What does it mean that George W. Bush, a man who has demonstrated little ability for reflection, who is known to read no newspapers and whose headlong charge into disaster after cataclysm has shown a complete ignorance of history, who wants to throw out centuries of scientific learning and replace it with mythical mumbo-jumbo that he mistakenly calls religion, who preaches Christianity but seems to have never read the teachings of the great anti-war activist, Jesus Christ, is now spending his vacation reading my book, Salt: A World History?

Rachel Cusk on book groups:

Ashamed, I sat there wondering how the reality of life could have no power over them. It was my impression that they hadn't particularly liked any of the books they'd read, and I believed that this was because the books they'd read bore no relation to their own existence, to the kinds of houses they lived in, the relationships they had, the things they felt, their ordinary experience of sorrow, of doubt, of morality, of time. Yet it seemed they did not want to read about those things. Perhaps they wanted to escape them. At the end of the evening I asked them which book they'd enjoyed the most. Well now - they'd have to think. That meant going back a few years. The group had started as an antenatal group, you see. Somewhere along the line the books had replaced the babies. Finally they concurred: it was Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible, a novel too good to be "pure entertainment", though it was certainly gripping, and too political to qualify as "freak literature", though the experiences of its heroine are unusual. A novel of female experience and family life, only set in Africa with a rip-roaring storyline.

Zoe Williams on what MPs plan to read on vacation (Dan Brown and J.K. Rowling):

[W]hy aren't they embarrassed? Why aren't they at least pretending a greater intellectual evolution than this? What are they trying to hide? That they really prefer Enid Blyton?

Hendrik Hertzberg:

How did we—not just Americans but human beings in general—come to be? Opinions differ, but for most of recorded history the consensus view was that people were made out of mud. Also, that the mud was originally turned into people by a being or beings who themselves resembled people, only bigger, more powerful, and longer-lived, often immortal. The early Chinese theorized that a lonely goddess, pining for company, used yellow mud to fashion the first humans. According to the ancient Greeks, Prometheus sculpted the first man from mud, after which Athena breathed life into him. Mud is the man-making material in the creation stories of Mesopotamian city-states, African tribes, and American Indian nations.

Gravity refuted:

KANSAS CITY, KS--As the debate over the teaching of evolution in public schools continues, a new controversy over the science curriculum arose Monday in this embattled Midwestern state. Scientists from the Evangelical Center For Faith-Based Reasoning are now asserting that the long-held "theory of gravity" is flawed, and they have responded to it with a new theory of Intelligent Falling.

Alice Munro's "The View From Castle Rock":

On a visit to Edinburgh with his father when he is nine or ten years old, Andrew finds himself climbing the damp, uneven stone steps of the Castle. His father is in front of him, some other men behind—it’s a wonder how many friends his father has found, standing in cubbyholes where there are bottles set on planks, in the High Street—until at last they crawl out on a shelf of rock, from which the land falls steeply away. It has just stopped raining, the sun is shining on a silvery stretch of water far ahead of them, and beyond that is a pale green and grayish-blue land, a land as light as mist, sucked into the sky.
We've been calling it the Bosnian flu, although it has nothing in common with the stomach ailment R. came home with, but is really just a head cold that I picked up in the mountains. My eyes are weak, my teeth ache, and a box of tissues is my constant companion. I figure it's going to be another day at least before I feel like doing anything.

I returned an unfinished but overdue Waiting for the Dark, Waiting for the Light to the library yesterday. I'd been less than 60 pages from the end for a good week, but couldn't bring myself to pick it up and finish. R. bailed early from Love and Garbage last week then turned her attention to Bosnian lit and non-fiction; it's a shame that we both loved No Saints and Angels but can't read Klima's other novels.

The only thing that's held my interest is Sagala and Bagwell's just published Alias Smith and Jones: The Story of Two Pretty Good Bad Men, which was waiting for me in the mailbox when we returned home. More on that later.

Sunday, August 21, 2005


Persnickety Claudius drinks only fresh running water.

Don't forget to check out The Ark on Fridays and the Carnival of the Cats on Sundays for a round up of the best and latest pet blogging photos. This week's carnival is being hosted by Running Scared.

Sometimes we forget and leave the water running.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Friday Dwight Blogging

Dwight Yoakam



Lonesome roads are the only kind I ever travel
Empty rooms are the only place I ever stay
I'm just a face out in the crowd that looks like trouble
Poor ol' worthless me is the only friend I ever made

The best Dwight Yoakam concert I've attended was the one at the Longbranch in Raleigh in September 2000. My Dwight buddies and I tagteamed standing in line outside the venue most of the day and managed to secure spots right in front of the stage when the doors opened (I took Andre Dubus III's House of Sand and Fog with me to read in line--and didn't--and bought Robertson Davies' Cornish Trilogy and Alberto Manguel's Into the Looking-Glass Wood at the B&N across the street during an afternoon coffee break). At the end of "Suspicious Minds" Dwight gave me his guitar pick and clasped my hand; I walked on air for days afterward.

I doubt I get near the stage tonight. The concert in Cullowhee will probably be most memorable because it's the first time the entire family has gone together to see Dwight. We took S. to see him at the excruciating Neon Circus show a few years back (not that Dwight was excruciating, but everything else about the experience was), but the closest R. has ever come to a country concert since hitting double digits was going to a Lyle Lovett show with me so that she could see opening act Lisa Loeb.

But jetlag will affect a person's judgment. R. said Wednesday she wanted to go with S. and me, and L., who swore off all concerts except ones at the Neighborhood Theater after that dreadful Neon Circus show, decided it'd be to his benefit to go back on his word and go with us to Cullowhee.

So. Family road trip to the mountains. I'll be taking a book along.

But I doubt I read it.

Have a great weekend, folks.

Thursday, August 18, 2005


This is Puggy Gin, our very bad dog.

Don't forget to check out The Ark on Fridays for a round up of the best and latest pet blogging photos and Mickey's Musings for the Carnival of the Dogs.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

I Go Back to the House for a Book

I turn around on the gravel
and go back to the house for a book,
something to read at the doctor's office,
and while I am inside, running the finger
of inquistion along a shelf,

another me that did not bother
to go back to the house for a book
heads out on his own,
rolls down the driveway,
and swings left toward town,

a ghost in his ghost car,
another knot in the string of time,
a good three minutes ahead of me—
a spacing that will now continue
for the rest of my life.

Sometimes I think I see him
a few people in front of me on a line
or getting up from a table
to leave the restaurant just before I do,
slipping into his coat on the way out the door.

But there is no catching him,
no way to slow him down
and put us back in sync,
unless one day he decides to go back
to the house for something,

but I cannot imagine
for the life of me what that might be.
He is out there always before me,
blazing my trail, invisible scout,
hound that pulls me along,

shade I am doomed to follow,
my perfect double,
only bumped an inch into the future,
and not nearly as well-versed as I
in the love poems of Ovid—

I who went back to the house
that fateful winter morning and got the book.

--Billy Collins, Picnic, Lightning
Fear death by fan fic. Hilarious. "The Wasteland" filked (via Wrong Questions).

JUNE is the cruellest month, breeding
Voldemort out of the dead land, mixing
Crucio and Imperius, stirring
Harry to behave like a prat.

Hee.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

R. is home! Woo hoo!

Musee des Beaux Arts Revisited


(See also Musee des Beaux Arts)

As far as mental anguish goes,
the old painters were no fools.
They understood how the mind,
the freakiest dungeon in the castle,
can effortlessly imagine a crab with the face of a priest
or an end table complete with genitals.

And they knew that the truly monstrous
lies not so much in the wildly shocking,
a skeleton spinning a wheels of fire, say,
but in the small prosaic touch
added to a tableau of the hellish,
the detail at the heart of the horrid.

In Bosch's The Temptation of St. Anthony,
for instance, how it is not so much
the boar-faced man in the pea-green dress
that frightens, but the white mandolin he carries,
not the hooded corpse in a basket,
but the way the basket is rigged to hang from a bare branch;

how, what must have driven St. Anthony
to the mossy brink of despair
was not the big, angry-looking fish
in the central panel,
the one with the two mouselike creatures
conferring on its tail,
but rather what the fish is wearing;

a kind of pale orange officer's cape
and, over that,
a metal body-helmet secured by silvery wires,
a sensible buckled chin strap,
and, yes, the ultimate test of faith-the tiny sword that hangs from the thing,
that nightmare carp,
secure in its brown leather scabbard.

--Billy Collins. Picnic, Lightning

Monday, August 15, 2005

The Federalist Papers vs. Justice Sunday

NASHVILLE -- A group of conservative Christian speakers took aim Sunday at the power and decisions of the nation's judges, and especially the Supreme Court, using a "Justice Sunday II" telecast to denounce what House Majority Leader Tom DeLay called "judicial autocracy."

Whoever attentively considers the different departments of power must perceive, that, in a government in which they are separated from each other, the judiciary, from the nature of its functions, will always be the least dangerous to the political rights of the Constitution; because it will be least in a capacity to annoy or injure them. The Executive not only dispenses the honors, but holds the sword of the community. The legislature not only commands the purse, but prescribes the rules by which the duties and rights of every citizen are to be regulated. The judiciary, on the contrary, has no influence over either the sword or the purse; no direction either of the strength or of the wealth of the society; and can take no active resolution whatever. It may truly be said to have neither FORCE nor WILL, but merely judgment; and must ultimately depend upon the aid of the executive arm for the efficacious exercise of this faculty. . . . . liberty can have nothing to fear from the judiciary alone, but would have every thing to fear from its union with either of the other departments.

--Alexander Hamilton

America's judicial system is "unelected, unaccountable and arrogant," Focus on the Family founder James Dobson told the thousands of people who packed a Nashville church for the televised rally.

If, then, the courts of justice are to be considered as the bulwarks of a limited Constitution against legislative encroachments, this consideration will afford a strong argument for the permanent tenure of judical offices, since nothing will contribute so much as this to that independent spirit in the judges which must be essential to the faithful performance of so arduous a duty. . . .Periodical appointments, however regulated, or by whomsoever made, would, in some way or other, be fatal to their necessary independence.

--Alexander Hamilton

The president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, William Donohue, suggested a constitutional amendment to say that "unless a judicial vote is unanimous, you cannot overturn a law created by Congress."

It may in the last place be observed that the supposed danger of judiciary encroachments on the legislative authority, which has been upon many occasions reiterated, is in reality a phantom. Particular misconstructions and contraventions of the will of the legislature may now and then happen; but they can never be so extensive as to amount to an inconvenience, or in any sensible degree to affect the order of the political system.

--Alexander Hamilton

Dobson evoked the framers of the Constitution, saying: "These activist, unelected judges believe they know better than the American people about the direction the country should go. The framers of our great nation did not intend for the courts to have absolute and final power over us."

But it is not with a view to infractions of the constitution only, that the independence of the judges may be an essential safeguard against the effects of occasional ill humors in the society. These sometimes extend no farther than to the injury of the private rights of particular classes of citizens, by unjust and partial laws. Here also the firmness of the judical magistracy is of vast importance in mitigating the severity and confining the operation of such laws. It not only seves to moderate the immediate mischiefs of those which may have been passed, but it operates as a check upon the legislative body in passing them; who, perceiving that obstacles to the success of iniquitous intention are to be expected from the scruples of the courts, are in a manner compelled, by the very motives of the injustice they meditate, to qualify their attempts. This is a circumstance calculated to have more influence upon the character of our governments, than but few may imagine. The benefits of the integrity and moderation of the judiciary have already been felt in more States than one; and though they may have displeased those whose sinister expectations they may have disappointed, they must have commanded the esteem and applause of all the virtuous and disinterested. Considerate men, of every description, ought to prize whatever will tend to beget or fortify that temper in the courts; as no man can be sure that he may not be tomorrow the victim of a spirit of injustice, by which he may be a gainer to-day. And every man must now feel, that the inevitable tendency of such a spirit is to sap the foundations of public and private confidence, and to introduce in its stead universal distrust and distress.

--Alexander Hamilton

Cough. Cough.

Do these people even know what the framers of the Constitution actually said, let alone what they intended by these words?

Reading round-up

Suddenly he burst out, "And now Blackmansson is gone."

"Where did he go?"

"He is no longer among us," Verner explained angrily.

"Oh, you mean he's dead," said Grandmother. She started thinking about all the euphemisms for death, all the anxious taboos that had always fascinated her. It was too bad you could never have an intelligent discussion on the subject. People were either too young or too old, or else they didn't have time.

--Tove Jansson, The Summer Book

I read The Summer Book last Tuesday in honor of Jansson's birthday. I was late to discover Jansson and managed only to provide S. with Comet in Moominland, but I'm hoping to do better by the grandkids. Here's a link to Ben Elliss' personal collection of Moomin books. I love looking at the covers.

The Summer Book is the story of a young girl and her grandmother. Set on an small island in the Gulf of Finland, the story details the daily experiences and the relationship between the two during the grandmother's last months of life. Visitors show up periodically, but are not easily welcomed:

If only she were a little bigger, Grandmother thought. Preferably a good deal bigger, so I could tell her that I understand how awful it is. Here you come, headlong, into a tight little group of people who have always lived together, who have the habit of moving around each other on land they know and own and understand, and every threat to what they're used to only makes them still more compact and self-assured. An island can be dreadful for someone from outside. Everything is complete, and everyone has his obstinate, sure, and self-sufficient place. Within their shores, everything functions according to rituals that are as hard as rock from repetition, and at the same time they amble through their days as whimsically and casually as if the world ended at the horizon.

A lovely book, perfect for summer reading.

Finished the first go-through of As You Like It with S. We're going to the Shakespeare Festival in High Point next month, and this is the play we'll be seeing.

Tried to read the first chapter to Keith DeCandido's novelization of the Serenity movie, but didn't get too far--three paragraphs in, in fact. I am a snob when it comes to subject-verb agreement.

I have been happily reading a lengthy Alias Smith and Jones fan fic that's been appearing nearly daily in my email. Excellent.

I hope to finish Ivan Klima's Waiting for the Dark, Waiting for the Light later today. I haven't enjoyed it nearly as much as No Saints or Angels, but that may be based more on the fact that I've been a lousy reader as of late.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality. There are mass emotions which heal the wound; but they destroy the privilege. In them our separate selves are pooled and we sink back into sub-individuality. But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like a night sky in the Greek poem, I see with myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.

-- C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism

Friday, August 12, 2005

This week's on-line reading

I'm eager to read Karen Armstrong's A Short History of Myths, due out in November, so I was happy to see her Guardian piece on the historically-recent trend of people reading religious texts literally instead of allegorically:

Human beings, in nearly all cultures, have long engaged in a rather strange activity. They have taken a literary text, given it special status and attempted to live according to its precepts. These texts are usually of considerable antiquity yet they are expected to throw light on situations that their authors could not have imagined. In times of crisis, people turn to their scriptures with renewed zest and, with much creative ingenuity, compel them to speak to their current predicament. We are seeing a great deal of scriptural activity at the moment.

Has anyone read Susann Cokal's Breath and Bones? A guest reviewer at the Mumpsimus, Catherynne M. Valente, trashed the book last month. Dan Green had an entirely different perspective on the novel this week and takes Valente to task for appearing to be one of those readers who look for a character to identify with. I'll admit to being one who's often befuddled by those who look first and foremost for a character just like themselves in fiction. The library is processing Cokal's novel, so it will be interesting to see what side of the divide I fall on with this one.

Of course everyone has read about the Booker Long List by now. The Guardian provides a brief summary of each novel at the end of its article.

Carl Zimmer adapts the last chapter of Evolution: the Triump of an Idea for a post on Charles Darwin's religious faith, in response to an essay in Slate.

Friday Claudie Blogging



Don't forget to check out The Ark on Fridays and the Carnival of the Cats on Sundays for a round up of the best and latest pet blogging photos. This week's carnival is being hosted by Mind of Mog.

Monday, August 08, 2005


If a man walk in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer; but if he spends his whole day as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making earth bald before her time, he is esteemed an industrious and enterprising citizen. As if a town had no interest in its forests but to cut them down!

--Henry David Thoreau, "Life Without Principle"

Sunday, August 07, 2005

R.I.P.
beloved aunt
Frances F. Hendren
April 18, 1915-August 7, 2005

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Reading and writing communities

As individual readers freely made choices about what information to
acquire, they also freely came together as groups of like-minded readers. In the
more heavily urban Northern states, Americans began to join voluntary
associations at remarkable rates—library clubs, lyceums for hearing speeches and
discussing ideas, political parties, and religious and reform organizations.
Each of these associations was also a reading community, which connected members
by official publications and common reading habits. Within these groups, readers
also found new opportunities to become writers, as many amateur writers now
produced articles for reform papers or poems for religious magazines. Whereas
private reading choices in the colonial period had governed vertical
relationships between elites (who possessed information) and non-elites (who did
not), reading choices in the early nineteenth century became public matters,
defining horizontal relationships among individuals who met on a more equal
footing. Tocqueville also noted this aspect of the print revolution when he
observed in the United States "a necessary relation between [voluntary]
associations and newspapers: newspapers make associations, and associations make
newspapers."

W. Caleb McDaniel puts blogging into historical context and discusses the history of reading in these United States.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Western grammar, Twain-style

In one of my favorite episodes of my favorite show ever, my favorite character spends a good portion of time, in various hotel rooms across the Old West, reading Life on the Mississippi. Much of the humor in this episode comes from the conversations Kid Curry attempts to hold with Hannibal Heyes as he concentrates on reading his book until Kid, furious at being ignored, threatens to get a book of his own. Of course, it is extremely necessary for Heyes to reach chapter 31 and learn about fingerprints so he can successfully set up a suspected murderer late in the episode, but since Heyes has been shown in previous episodes reaching for whatever reading material is available in whatever town or stagecoach station he finds himself in, the reading in this one comes across as totally in character.

The writers of Alias Smith and Jones made blatant use of Mark Twain in other episodes as well—tweaking the title and the premise of "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg" and putting forth some home-grown philosopher credentials for Curry with the notion that all he'd ever read was Tom Sawyer "two or three times" (kinda sorta impossible for him to have done, unless he read it very quickly after Heyes read Life on the Mississippi. Curry had never heard the name Mark Twain before that--he immediately pegs it as an alias and wonders what the man's wanted for. And not that Heyes could have read Life on the Mississippi anyway—publication date was still a few years off at the time the show was set).

One nod to Mark Twain that most fans of the show miss, however, occurs when Curry reads aloud the telegram they've received from the man they're working for (the boys are trailing a rancher's runaway wife and Heyes has been attempting to talk her into returning home to her husband). "A man doesn't crawl," Curry reads, then stops to ask Heyes if it's "doesn't" or "don't." Hardly glancing up from his book, Heyes assures him that it's "don't."

"And with all his money, too," Curry says, shaking his head.

See, that throwaway exchange is based on chapter 26, the section on "western grammar." The variable grammar in the show that's proved worrisome to some fans wasn't based on the writers' sloppiness, but on someone's knowledge of Mark Twain.

So, without further ado, and prompted by an email I received earlier this week from someone asking for help in locating the don't/doesn't discussion in Twain, the pertinent paragraphs on western grammar:

"The country gentleman who had told me these things has been reared in ease and comfort, was a man of good parts, and was college bred. His loose grammar was the fruit of careless habit, not ignorance. This habit among educated men in the West is not universal, but it is prevalent—prevalent in the towns, certainly, if not in the cities; and to a degree which one cannot help noticing, and marvelling at. I heard a Westerner who would be accounted a highly educated man in any country, say 'never mind, it don't make no difference, anyway.' A lifelong resident who was present heard it, but it made no impression upon her. She was able to recall the fact afterward, when reminded of it; but she confessed that the words had not grated upon her ear at the time—a confession which suggests that if educated people can hear such blasphemous grammar, from such a source, and be unconscious of the deed, the crime must be tolerable common—so common that the general ear has become dulled by familiarity with it, and is no longer alert, no longer sensitive to such affronts.

"No one in the world speaks blemishless grammar; no one has ever written it—no one, either in the world or out of it (taking the Scriptures for evidence on the latter point); therefore it would not be fair to exact grammatical perfection from the peoples of the Valley; but they and all other peoples may justly be required to refrain from knowingly and purposely debauching their grammar."

Add or subtract?

Here was the authentic voice of the Slav. These people hold that the way to make life better is to add good things to it, whereas in the West we hold that the way to make life better is to take bad things away from it. With us, a satisfactory hospital patient is one who, for the time being at least, has been castrated of all adult attributes. With us, an acceptable doctor is one with all asperities characteristic of gifted men rubbed down by conformity with social standards to a shining, cornerless blandness. With us, a suitable hospital diet is food from which everything toxic and irritant has been removed, the eunuchized pulp of steamed fish and stewed prunes. Here a patient could be adult, primitive, dusky, defensive; if he chose to foster a poetic fantasy or personal passion to tide him over his crisis, so much the better. It was the tuberculosis germ that the doctor wanted to alter, not the patient; and that doctor himself might be just like another man, provided he possess also a fierce intention to cure. To him the best hospital diet would be that which brought the most juices to the mouth; and there was not the obvious flaw in the argument that one might think, for the chicken and the compote were the standard dishes of any nursing-home, but these were good to eat. One of the doctors raised his glass to me; I raised my glass to him, enjoying the communion with this rich world that added instead of subtracting. I thought of the service at Shestine, and its unfamiliar climate. The worshippers in Western countries come before the altar with the desire to subtract from the godhead and themselves; to subtract benefits from the godhead by prayer, to subtract their dangerous adult qualities by affecting childishness. The worshippers at Shestine had come before the altar with a habit of addition, which made them pour out the gift of their adoration on the godhead, which made them add to themselves by imaginative realization the divine qualities which they were contemplating in order to adore.

--Rebecca West, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon


R.'s in Sisak, Croatia, today and will celebrate her 20th birthday tomorrow in Bosnia.


Abigail has a most interesting essay on The Half-Blood Prince, for anyone who hasn't reached his/her Harry Potter saturation point.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Rebecca West says in her bibliographical note that it's necessary to have "a clear picture of both the Byzantine Empire and its legacy to the modern world" if one wants to gain insight into the South Slav mind. I feel most fortunate then to have stumbled upon the Teaching Company's World of Byzantium series of lectures while assisting a patron a couple nights ago. Four lectures in, I'm weary of imperial Rome and ready for the non-Western Civ survey course material to begin. I should probably skip ahead to the second half of the series but somehow that feels like cheating.

Monday, August 01, 2005


If R.'s in Zagreb, it must be time to post a few of her photos from Salzburg. . .

Salzburg Castle

View from Festurg Hohensalzburg

Salzach River

Alps.

Alps.

More Alps.

Mirabell Gardens with view toward Salzburg Castle

The Dom, where Mozart was baptized.

The Franciscan Church of Salzburg

Next to the Fransciscan Church

Cemetery

Even mouldering is transition to new life

We spent the night in Salzburg, and in the morning we had time to visit the house where Mozart was born, and look at his little spinet, which has keys that are brown and white instead of white and black.

--Rebecca West, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon