Monday, December 27, 2010

Paper, Scissors, Rock — Continues With Some Nice Writing & Tiny Fushigi*— 2010.12.27

I'm still not sure if I really like this book or not, but there are bits that are very good indeed.

I came across the following lines that resonated with me:

Eldest son of the eldest son in the autumn of a patriarch. Rational learning. Roles born into. And she, the connection to the ground. Roots, emotion, feeling.

In a strict patriarchy, men and women are opposites. Strength is a characteristic assigned to men. Weakness is a characteristic assigned to women.

Weakness is vulnerability.

Strength is invulnerability.

In a strict patriarchy, men maintain power through not exhibiting weakness. Women maintain vulnerability through possessing and acknowledging emotion.

In a strict patriarchy, some opposites attract.

Others remain in opposition.

Cowboy Stories. In the bones.

In a changing society society, those losing power cling to its harshest forms. Those who move beyond those forms live with a strength drawn from abandoning the logic of opposites(68).
And it wasn't until I began posting the above, and saw how it looked that I realized that it has managed to entangle itself in a poetry fushigi.

goodreads there has been an intense discussion on a thread about what is and is not, properly, a poem. That discussion began with Shannon Marie's request for a critique on her poem 'Yes I want []', and the question she subsequently posed asking if it was a poem. Here's her very powerful (maybe) poem:
Yes, I want to be [ ] for the rest of my life. I want to feel empty in the acid of my center, never leaving the [ ] satisfied, with my gut broken into no boundaries and slushy beheadings. I want to see my collarbones there through the lens, gazing fondly at me, my parents and friends as they rack the rest of my protection around what matters most: my squishy paste heart, the tendons of my lungs extending their branches in the tundra undone. I want the world to accept me in this form I desire, collected inside, pressurizing my chamber till I’m blue in the face. I want to live like this because I know what it means. I know what it breathes, if breathing exists here at all. It chokes me without pain, lifeless death of a migrant maid in a rich man’s vacation rental no one ever sits in. Lying on the floor, carefully positioned with head resting on outstretched arm above her head, so as to not raise suspicion, Breaching every boundary a maid could ever see, by dying in the living room, a virgin un-believed. Yes, I want it, I want [ ] so no thing can ever touch me, never again being [ ] in my life.
The discussion meandered around it being/not being a prose-poem, prose, poem ad infinitum. I suggested that it was a koan, and thus moved it into a category outside of being either prose or poetry.

So, what makes this a fushigi?

Well, it is most certainly a tiny one, but what makes it a fushigi is that while participating in an intense discussion about what is and/or is not a poem, this book I am reading,
Paper, Scissors, Rock is written in a style that by one of the definitions would categorize it as a poem: specifically the method of breaking the lines on the right, which stood out to me when I blogged the citation above, even though it is more pronounced on the printed page. And even when I read that definition I did not make the association to this book. So, I have participated in a great discussion about what is a poem while unwittingly reading a prose-novel that is by someone's 'proper' definition of a poem, probably a poem. The universe is trying to make a point, I think, that writing is what it is.

And what is even funnier, is that I began this post because of Ann Decter's ideas, the style of presentation, and prose. "In
 a changing society society, those losing power cling to its harshest forms. Those who move beyond those forms live with a strength drawn from abandoning the logic of opposites," is a lovely bit of prose. (Or is it poetry?)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Paper, Scissors, Rock — Continues with a Fushigi* Cave — 2010.12.19

I began Paper, Scissors, Rock on 2010.10.06. I just finished Part II "Evidence," and though I had strong ambivalence about this book when I began it, it is beginning to grow on me. In the closing balance of Part II the description of the general strike was very compelling. The moving between perspectives and time worked very well.

But I have come to blog the 2nd fushigi this book has provided within  30 pages. It begins with my reading, this afternoon, an e.mail that I received from MH, a Goodreads friend, two days ago:

Within the e.mail MH links me to a story she wrote, called 'Bear.' It is an excellent short story about a woman living with a golden furred bear in a cave. I highly recommend it. It has some very nice imagery, and a great feel to it. For example:
Day Twenty-one

I’ve set up housekeeping and Bear loves to watch. I made a pine broom. I sweep the hard dirt floor. There are bones from the bodies of small animals that came here to be eaten. Bear is happy about this. He tells me this by carving an X on one of the tiny skulls. He says that a mountain cat must have lived here and that her maternal power and the power of her eating small animals fill the place. All of this is still in the cave and don’t I feel it?

“No,” I say.
Later, after eating supper, I picked up Paper, Scissors, Rock and finished the balance of Part II "Evidence." This is a well written chapter that culminates with a general strike being broken in small town Canada by government sanctioned and paid violence. The actions within this chapter switch between the denouement of the strike being broken and the experiences of the narrator in a later time reflecting on it — the writing is complicated. However, it closes with:
Jane runs a hand across the soft moss and remembers. Removes her shoes and lays her feet on the moss. Remembers. A cave. The cave. She scrambles down the path to the water, turns left and leaps from rock to rock. Up behind the old pump, climbing, childlike. Hand food hand foot. Sliding sideways on her ass. A cleft in the rock. The cave. Gene. Gene is here, somehow, in the cave. She climbs in. A cleft in the rock. Slate. Lava rock. Cold. Cool moss beneath her. Soft.
"Gene," she says, faltering. "I found the cave."
... Listen. "You are lost and gone forever, dreadful sorry, Clementine." Up up up sky and trees.
Safe cave.
Cheek against. Stone. Cold.
Tonight maybe Jane will walk to the phone booth across from the beach, put in the quarters she has been saving and call the wild woman, back here in the big city where everything is always happening. Maybe Jane will tell her about trees and children, moss and caves, about Clementine and her father. "Who knows," says Jane quietly, 'maybe she'll be listening"(57).

So, as you can see, there is the nice 'cave'-link in the two stories. But also a bit more. In Paper, Scissors, Rock Jane is to 'call the wild woman, ...'[my emphasis].

From 'Bear' there is a similar description given to a women. From "Bear", picking up from where 'Bear' left us.

No,” I say.

Bear will not let me take the bones out of the cave. He lets me arrange them in a pattern around the cave’s perimeter. He says he never thought of that and that I am a clever witch.
And finally, while the writing between the two snippets is very different, you will find that the feel is similar in a way. Not the same, but that they evoked, for me anyone, a similar feeling.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Paper, Scissors, Rock — Begun with, No Gout About It, a Fushigi* — 2010.12.06

Last weekend I bought from my local used bookstore, Renaissance Books, Paper, Scissors, Rock.

Ann Decter.
Paper, Scissors, Rock.
Vancouver: Press Gang Publishers, 1992.
(Now McGilligan Books.)
ISBN: 0889740402.

It was one of those strange finds, in that I was in a part of the store I don't usually visit, but when I did this book jumped out at me — and not because it was at the right eye-level or because of the cover - which I couldn't see when it caught my eye. I walked to the area, glanced at the top shelves, lowered my eyes and 'found' this book. I bought the book without even looking at one word of it, or even the cover, because it being there 'for me' was a fushigi*-like incident that had its nascence the previous Friday at work.

On that particular Friday it came to pass that a rather unpleasant job assignment-choice needed to be made between my self and a co-worker who doesn't like to make choices. Without thinking about it, the 'game' Rock-Paper-Scissors popped into my head. I have no idea why. I mean, I've always found the concept fun and open to the possibility of abetting synchronistic happenings, but I don't remember having used it to make a decision at work ever. Now that seems unreasonable to me, but I certainly haven't used it since beginning my current job 10 years ago. Anyway, perhaps my unconscious saw R-P-S (Jan-ken-pon) as a quick way to avoid the whole time consuming see-sawing about who would get the worst job tug-o-war. I am too busy at work right now to waffle around false-sincerity delaying the making of a choice that may have more unpleasant consequences for the one person than the other.

Now things get funny, because my co-worker claimed to have never understood R-P-S!??! Note, he didn't say "I've never heard of it," but "I don't understand it." 
"Okay," I say without, I hope, any real condescension, "I'll show you." ¶ "But I don't understand it." ¶ "No problem. Rock is represented by a closed fist." I show him, "and paper by a flat hand and scissors this way." ¶  He shakes his head. "I just don't get it." ¶ "Scissor cuts paper, so scissors 'beat' paper. Paper covers rock, so paper 'beats' rock, and rock breaks scissors, so rock 'beats' scissors." ¶ "I don't get it." ¶ "Okay. Trust me. When you do it, you'll get it. On the count of three, with your hand, pick 'rock,' 'paper,' or 'scissors'. I'll do the same, and whoever wins gets to pick first." ¶ "I don't get it." ¶ "Just do it!"
And he did — and his rock beat my scissors. Sigh! (Doubt if he 'got it,' though.)

Anyway, that night while driving home on my usual route I noticed a sign that had two of the three R-P-S words. The only reason I noticed them was because of my co-worker's over wrought reaction to understanding, let alone playing, R-P-S. Nothing special in that, but simply that my mind-eye noticed something I've driven by many times, and never noticed before.

But then the following day I found the book Paper, Scissors, Rock. So, I bought it.

Yet another prompt to blog yet another fushigi came Wednesday. I drove to a work related lunch meeting within the city of Vancouver at a place I'd never been to before. While driving home, I was amused to see a window sign that also had two of the three R-P-S words in fancy yellow print: Paper Rock Bar & Grill. Today I went to find it on Google Maps. Très amusant because the Google Street View almost showed it — from the one angle it was blocked by a lamp standard, and by the one shown the angled window partially cuts off the word 'Paper'.

But I've attached its curriculum vitae:

Thus, on Wednesday, following all the prompts I was perceiving, I began to read the book.
So far it is not in a writing style I like — lots of short, even one word sentences, heavy with meaning.
For example:
The former Mountie praised the investigation. It took the RCMP sixteen years to bring two of the four white men to trial. One was convicted. The woman on the radio offers a list of people the Inquiry should be speaking to. Listening to indigenous people. The Inquiry has only spoken to four. And twenty-nine whites.
Screamed so loud through fifteen years of silence.
They can't even find injustice, Jane thinks; how will they ever find justice?
Home sweet home.
Hate. Sophia used to talk about hate.
Hatred, she said. A Sophiaword.
"Hatred," Jane says aloud, and thinks about a glass of scotch, two ice cubes floating. About the soft skin of a faraway woman, the firm thighs of a once-upon-a-time man (25).
But even all of that wasn't enough to get me to blog this as a fushigi, however — albeit, it had become a book to blog because I had in fact begun to read it.
No, the final straw in getting this blog done today as a fushigi was what I read in it this morning. On page 34, on a list of shops visited during a typical morning shop was a bread place called 'Oscar's' — just before reading about Oscar's breads I'd turned off the TV after having watched Cesar Milan take into his pack a dog named Oscar. But even that wasn't enough. No, the final kicker was 14 lines later, on the same page:
"Hi, Doc."
"Hello ... Pin in his left elbow."
"Mornin', Doctor."
Nod. "Gout."
"Gout? Like Henry the Eighth gout?"
"Ssshhh ... gout. Swelling of the joints...(34)."
And the reason that that was the straw that broke my fushigi back is because after eating some purine rich foods — smoked salmon, pickled herring and shrimp — at my business lunch Wednesday, I began to notice the preliminary signs of a gout attack Thursday, and by Friday morning I was hobbling around with a bad gout attack in the metatarsal joints, which is, for me, typically where I will feel it. Now, if you have read this far, please tell me how many times in a contemporary novel have you read the word 'gout.' How many times have you read the word 'gout' in a contemporary novel while experiencing a gout attack? Think about.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Collected Essays, Journalism & Letters of George Orwell V2 — Re-Visited 2010.12.07

Begun 2009.03.28

I took with me Orwell's Collected Essays when I ventured out this morning because I was my wife's chauffeur and I knew I'd have some down time. While I waited for her, I let my fingers take me to '36. Review of Burnt Norton, East Coker, The Dry Salvages by T.S.Eliot(272-79).
Orwell gave these poems a mixed to negative review, comparing them unfavourably to Eliot's earlier works. He suggests that Eliot sold out to religion, as he grew older, as an aid to coping with the meaningless of life with which he had struggled. Nothing too 'shocking' in that, but what really caught my thoughts was the subtle acuity of Orwell's well written reading-between-the-lines. It was so good, I here share an extract from it.
So long a man regards himself as an individual, his attitude towards death must be one of simple resentment. And however unsatisfactory this may be, if it is intensely felt it is more likely to produce good literature than a religious faith which is not really felt at all, but merely accepted against the emotional grain.
... Mixed up with [these poems being about certain localities] is a rather gloomy musing upon the nature and purpose of life, with the rather indefinite conclusion I have mentioned above. Life has a 'meaning', but it is not a meaning one feels inclined to grow lyrical about; there is a faith, but not much hope, and certainly no enthusiasm. Now the subject-matter of Mr Eliot's early poems was very different from this. They were not hopeful, but neither were they depressed or depressing. If one wants to deal in antitheses, one might say that the later poems express a melancholy faith and the earlier ones a glowing despair. They were based on the dilemma of modern man, who despairs of life and does not want to be dead, and on top of this they expressed the horror of an over-civilized intellectual confronted with the ugliness and spiritual emptiness of the machine age. ... Clearly [his older] poems were an end-product, the last gasp of a cultural tradition, poems which spoke only for the cultivated third-generation rentier for people able to feel and criticize but no longer able to act. E.M. Forster praised 'Prufrock' on its first appearance because 'it sang of people who were ineffectual and weak' and because it was 'innocent of public spirit' (this was during the other war, when public spirit was a good deal more rampant than it is now). The qualities by which any society is to last longer than a generation actually has to  be sustained — industry, courage, patriotism, frugality, philoprogenitiveness — obviously could not find any place in Eliot's early poems. There was only room for rentier values, the values of people too civilized to work, fight or even reproduce themselves. But that was the price that had to be paid, at any rate at that time, for writing a poem worth reading. The mood of lassitude, irony, disbelief, disgust, and not the sort of beefy enthusiasm demanded by the Squires and Herberts, was what sensitive people actually felt.
It is fashionable to say that in verse only words count and the 'meaning' is irrelevant, but in fact every poem contains a prose meaning, and when the poem is any good it is a meaning which the poet urgently wishes to express. All art is to some extent propaganda [my emphasis]. ...
But the trouble is that conscious futility is something only for the young. One cannot go on 'despairing of life' into a ripe old age. One cannot go on and on being 'decadent,' since decadence means falling and one can only be said to be falling if one is going to reach the bottom reasonably soon. Sooner or later one is obliged to adopt a positive attitude towards life and society. It would be putting it too crudely to say that every poet in our time must either die young, enter the Catholic church, or join the Communist Party, but in fact the escape from conscious futility is along those general lines. There are other deaths besides physical death, and  there are other sects and creeds besides the Catholic Church and the Communist Party, but it remains true that after a certain age one must either stop writing or dedicate oneself to some purpose not wholly aesthetic. Such a dedication necessarily means a break with the past...
Eliot's escape from individualism was into the Church, the Anglican Church as it happened. One ought not to assume that the gloomy Pétainism to which he now appears to have given himself over was the unavoidable result of his conversion. The Anglo-Catholic movement does not impose any political 'line' on its followers... In theory it is still possible to be an orthodox religious believer without being intellectually crippled in the process; but it is far from easy, and in practice books by orthodox believers usually show the same cramped, blinkered outlook as books by orthodox Stalinists or others who are mentally unfree. The reason is that the Christian churches still demand assent to doctrines which no one seriously believe in...
I do not know, but I should imagine that the struggle with meanings would have loomed smaller, and the poetry would have seemed to matter more, if he could have found his way to some creed which did not start off by forcing one to believe the incredible (275-8).
A very interesting comment. And, in a curious fushigi*-ness, the section I emphasized corresponds to a comment a made in the web based social group, Goodreads to a poet-wannabe. It involved the purpose of poetry being (or not being) to impart a message:

I elaborated later on:
¡ POETRY ! group. Nov 29, 2010 09:54pm
And I feel the impulse to comment on your question, with acknowledgement to and affirmation of Julie George's comment — we — meaning the readers — are the message. The need for language to speak a common language is essential to understanding, of course, otherwise words would be gibberish (or babel, if you prefer). But beyond what I am tempted to call 'basic' understanding skills, language of the heart and soul speaks to the individual's heart and soul uniquely. One person's sea of love is another's wave of virility.

I have put this as a fushigi because Orwell takes a stand 180 degrees from my argument in the comment he made about writing, as I've emphasized above. So, who's right? Both? Neither? I am tempted to suggest that capital 'L' Life has no problem at all holding contradictory truths simultaneously, and that it is only the limits of rational mind that finds this problematic. And by a great leap of irrational argumentation, I suggest that Orwell's argument, in contradicting my — and, let's face it, not my argument but that of the Taoist philosophers — is in fact the Taoist contention that Tao is beyond words truthful or false:

If words were satisfactory, we could speak the whole day and it would all be about the Way [Tao]; but if words are unsatisfactory, we can speak the whole day and it will all be about things. The Way is the delimitation of things. Neither words nor silence are satisfactory for conveying it. Without words and without silence, our deliberations reach their utmost limits.
     — Chuang-Tse

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance — Begun 2010.12.05

I stumbled across this in one of my local used book stores late this summer, and have now followed through on my resolution at the time to not just put this one in the book shelf.
 It has been a while — early this year — since I read Chomsky. (Except for the excellent The Noam Chomsky Lectures, which isn't by Chomsky.)

New York: Metropolitan Books — Henry Holt and Company, 2003. ISBN:0805074007.

Evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr ... 
... made the rather somber observation that 'the average life expectancy of a species is about 100,000 years. ¶We are entering a period of human history that may provide an answer to the question of whether it is better to be smart than the stupid. The most hopeful prospect is that the question will not be answered: if it receives a definite answer, that answer can only be that humans were a king of 'biological error,' using their allotted 100,000 years to destroy themselves and, in the process, much else. ¶The species has surely developed the capacity to do just that, and a hypothetical extraterrestrial observer might well conclude that humans have demonstrated that capacity throughout their history, dramatically in the past few hundred years, with an assault on the environment that supports life, on the diversity of more complex organisms, and with cold and calculated savagery, on each other as well (1-2).
Those who want to face their responsibilities with a genuine commitment to democracy and freedom — even to decent survival — should recognize the barriers that stand in the way. In violent states these are not concealed. In more democratic societies barriers are more subtle. While methods differ sharply from more brutal to more free societies, the goals are in many ways the similar: to ensure that the 'great beast,' as Alexander Hamilton called the people, does not stray from its proper confines. ¶Controlling the general population has always been a dominant concern of power and privilege, particularly since the first modern democratic revolution in seventeenth-century England. ... Almost three centuries later, Wilsonian idealism, as it is standardly termed, adopted a rather similar stance. Abroad, it is Washington's responsibility to ensure that government is in the hands of 'the good, though but the few.' At home, it is necessary to safeguard a system of elite decision-making and public ratification — 'polyarchy,' in the terminology of political science — not democracy (5). 

To see the debate Chomsky had, November 26, 2003, with Washington Post readers about Hegemony or Survival, click this debate transcript link.

The Collected Essays, Journalism & Letters of George Orwell V2: Visited 2010.12.04

The other day I dipped into Orwell's Collected essays. I first opened it 2009.03.28, with full awareness that this was a book to be dipped into when whim fancied it. 
Penguin Books 1970. (No ISBN in my copy.)

My whim took me to an interesting page because it, fushigi*-like, ties in with the economics course I am writing. The course, which I've called it 'Economics Demystified,' [link not live to the web yet], has been contracted by my local Continuing Education program. So I'm now moiling over the course details, and a part of that moiling has resulted in my including on the course's web page that I'm creating, a page called 'Found Economics.' As a result of my little dip into Orwell, I have now, with chance and fingers, found my second inclusion:
The history of British relations with Mussolini illustrates the structural weakness of a capitalistic state. Granting that power politics are not moral, to attempt to buy Italy out of the Axis — and clearly this idea underlay the British policy from 1934 onwards — was a natural strategic move. But it was not a move which Baldwin, Chamberlain and the rest of them were capable of carrying out. It could only have been done by being so strong that Mussolini would not dare to side with Hitler. This was impossible, because an economy ruled by the profit motive is simply not equal to re-arming on a modern scale. Britain only began to arm when the Germans were in Calais. Before that, fairly large sums had, indeed, been voted for armaments, but they slid peaceably into the pockets of the shareholders, and the weapons did not appear. Since they had no intention of curtailing their own privileges, it was inevitable that the British ruling class should carry out every policy half-heartedly and blind themselves to the coming danger. But the moral collapse which this entailed was something new in British politics. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, British politicians might be hypocritical, but hypocrisy implies a moral code. It was something new when Tory M.P.s cheered the news that British ships had been bombed by Italian aeroplanes, or when members of the House of Lords lent themselves to organized campaigns against the Basque children who had been brought here as refugees (365-6).

I consider this a fushigi* because not only does his critique of capitalism correspond with one of the arguments I will be presenting in the course, but more amusingly it absolutely corresponds to my first 'Found Economics', which came from Bill Bryson's Made in America
The dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki marked the end of one war and the beginning of another: the cold war. The cold may not have generated a lot of casualties, but it was nonetheless the longest and costliest war America has ever fought. War was unquestionably good for business – so good that in 1946 the president of General Electric went so far as to call for a 'permanent war economy.' he more or less got his wish. Throughout the 1950s,America spent more on defense than it did on anything else – indeed, almost as much as it did on all things together. By 1960, military spending accounted for 49.7 percent of the federal budget – more than the combined national budgets of Britain, France, West Germany, and Italy. Even America's foreign aid was overwhelmingly military. Of the $50 billion that America distributed in aid in the 1950s, 90 percent was for military purposes (p300-1).
With these two ideas juxtaposed, I will be generating an optional short essay question comparing the ideas these quotations are presenting.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Shakespeare's Flowers — Finished Re-read 2010.12.03

This is a nice little read. It is always pleasant to read Shakespeare, of course, and this is a very small collection — which leads to my one quibble, which is that I keep thinking when I finish it that this could be a bit longer. (That is a bit mean-spirited on my part, because I haven't actually done the real research required to confirm this, but I can't help thinking it.) But the collection is excellent, even so, so it gets ☆.    

William Shakespeare.
San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1995.
ISBN 081180836X

Included is one of my favourite little poems from A Midsummer Night's Dream:
Be kind and courteous to this gentleman.
Hop in his walks, and gambol in his eyes.
Feed him with apricots and dewberries,
With purple grapes, green figs, and mulberries;
The honeybags steal from the humble-bees,
And for night tapers crop their waxen thighs
And light them at the fiery glow-worms' eyes
To have my love to bed, and to arise;
And pluck the wings from painted butterflies
To fan the moonbeams from his sleeping eyes.
Nod to him, elves, and do him courtesies (3.1.156-166).

Friday, November 26, 2010

Made in America — Finished 2010.11.24

Began 2010.10.17
Secondary comment 2010.11.15.

Much, MUCH, MUCH more than a history of the English language in America! Bryson with magical and funny writing links the evolution of language with the evolution of culture, science, recreation, food, politics. His controversial or almost heretical debunkings of accepted history are supported with an extensive bibliography of the sources.

The debunking is endless! Barely a page was turned that didn't leave me amazed at how much I don't know, and just how far away from documented history is the accepted and taught history of just about every aspect of the Europeans' settlement of the 'new' world. About the only thing somewhat factually correct about the white man's settlement of North America is that Europeans came and decimated and displaced the natives. As an example, one of the unknown reasons that the Natives were able to help the first American settlers was that one of them spoke very good English. That synopsis does Bryson's writing a severe injustice, so here is his (slightly abbreviated) telling:

... Before long, as every [American] schoolchild knows, the Pilgrims were thriving, and Indians and settlers were sitting down to a cordial Thanksgiving feast. Life was grand.

A question that naturally arises is
how they managed this. Algonquian, the language of the eastern tribes, is an extraordinarily complex and agglomerative tongue... full of formidable consonant clusters that are all but unpronounceable by the untutored...

...The answer, surprisingly glossed over by most history books, is that the Pilgrims didn't have to learn Algonquian for the happy and convenient reason that Samoset and Squanto spoke English — Samoset only a litte, but Squanto with total assurance (and some Spanish into the bargain.)
I also learned that the so-called Christian purity that, amongst other things, has been accused of distorting American English into using euphemism in place of body part words, originally spoke sexually explicit language enough to make fans of Playboy blush. And, even more astonishing, that the Puritans actively encouraged premarital sex in the 18th century as an accepted method of testing physical compatibility.
Sex among the Puritans was considered as natural as eating, and was discussed about as casually, to the extent that, the historian David Fischer writes, 'the writings of the Puritans required heavy editing before they were thought fit to print even in the mid-twentieth century.' Premarital intercourse was not just tolerated but was effectively encouraged. Couples who intended to marry could take out something called a pre-contract — in effect, a license to have sex. It was the Puritans, too, who refined the intriguing custom of bundling, or tarrying as it was also often called, in which a courting pair were invited to climb into bed together...

As one seventeenth-century observer explained it: 'When a man is enamoured of a young women, and wishes to marry her, he proposes the affair to her parents; if they have no objections they allow him to tarry the night with her, in order to make his court with her. After the young ones have sat up as long as they think proper, they get into bed together, also without pulling of their undergarments in order to prevent scandal. If the parties agree it is all very well; the banns are published and they are married without delay. If not they part, and possibly never see each other again; unless, which is an accident that seldom happens, the forsaken fair proves pregnant, and then the man is obliged to marry her.'

...Although never expressly countenanced, fornication was so common in Puritan New England that at least one parish had forms printed up in which the guilty parties could confess by filling in their names and paying a small fine... "
Bryson defrocks most of Kroc's reputed claims to fame, critically examines myths around the evils of immigrants, suggests that one of the best living examples of how 'real' English may have been spoken is to listen to Yosemite Sam, points out that the famous 'That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind' was in fact the miss-heard version of 'That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.' Bryson also wades into the issue of politically correct language with intelligence, diplomacy, and razor sharp observations — and, of course, humour.

This books re-affirms the vivifying joy and beauty and aliveness of the English language. A gem of a book, and one I will now go out and buy.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Made in America — Continues with Economic Lessons — 2010.11.15

I am continuing to thoroughly enjoy Bryson's Made in America. He demonstrates in a way that words cannot convey, that language, in this case the English language, is alive like a giant garden — the masters of English are constantly weeding, trimming, hedging, and 'improving' the garden, but Nature is constantly adding to it in the wild untamed corners, poking weeds and shrubs into the garden, especially its edges, with wanton abandon and joy.

And in his typical fashion, Bryson makes comments about society as he is examining of the evolution of the society's language and words. I am putting together an 3-day economics course for my local Continuing Education programme. Shortly after receiving confirmation of the course approval, I read the following, which I'll be incorporating into my course and/or reading materials:

The dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki marked the end of one war and the beginning of another: the cold war. The cold may not have generated a lot of casualties, but it was nonetheless the longest and costliest war America has ever fought. War was unquestionably good for business — so good that in 1946 the president of General Electric went so far as to call for a 'permanent war economy.' he more or less got his wish. Throughout the 1950s, America spent more on defense than it did on anything else — indeed, almost as much as it did on all things together. By 1960, military spending accounted for 49.7 percent of the federal budget — more than the combined national budgets of Britain, France, West Germany, and Italy. Even America's foreign aid was overwhelmingly military. Of the $50 billion that America distributed in aid in the 1950s, 90 percent was for military purposes ( p300-1).

I am building a web page this course, which I've called Economics Demystified. [At the time of this blog, the web page is still under construction, and will be for a month or two more.] Anyway, within Economics Demystified I have created a page called 'Found Economics.' And I am including the above as my first example of a non-economist commenting on economics outside of a formal economic context.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States — Begun 2010.10.17

After finishing Bryson's Shakespeare: The World as a Stage a couple of weeks ago, and loving it; and after having been blown away by his The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid; my friend BV clomped into work with two more Bryson books — In a Sunburned Country and
Bill Bryson.
Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States.
New York: Perennial (HarperCollins), 2001.

Of the two I chose this one first for two reasons. What better book to follow up on his Shakespeare book and Mair's Tao Te Ching with its fascinating etymological journey. The second reason is my enjoyment of the English language, its uses, abuses, creativity, and pure 'dance-ability.'

I'm on page 190 300 or so, as I write this, and it is brilliant! And not just because it is an engaging, interesting, entertaining and humorous history, but because of the ostensibly heretical history Bryson seamlessly incorporates into the narrative. I love learning that everything, and mean EVERYTHING I was taught or have learned about the history of the European's entry into the Americas is wrong. Okay, okay, so Europeans settled here and effectively wiped out the aboriginals in one way or the other — but that is pretty much the sum total what has at least a grain of historical truth from my schooling both formal and informal.

And, very amusingly, it has provided, to date, two amusing fushigis, or synchronicity-petites; the first about the train porters of American all being called George; and now about 'jerk' chicken.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

And what makes this, my reading Bryson from book's borrowed from BV, is that back in 2003-4 BV pestered me about reading Bryson!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Tao Te Ching: The Classic Book of Integrity and the Way &mdash Finished 2010.10.12

Lao Tzu (老子).
Tao Te Ching: The Classic Book of Integrity and the Way.
Translated with an introduction by Victor H. Mair.
Toronto: Bantam Books, 1990. ISBN 055334935X.
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

This book is in every way a delightful read! The translation is excellent to read in English — but given my lack of ancient Chinese language skills, I'll trust the experts who claim the actual translation to be excellent.

I had very high expectations for this book because Mair's translation and commentary to Chuang Tzu's Wandering on the Way: Early Taoist Tales and Parables of Chuang Tzu is one of the books in my top ten all time favourites. Well, the Tao Te Ching translated by Mair has snuggle up to it, and surpassed the half dozen other respected translations of it I've read.

But it isn't just the translation that makes this book so good. It is the level of scholarship in the common language threads linked etymologically between ancient Chinese, Sanskrit, the Indo-European languages, and old English. Mair does an extensive look at the cognates of Tao, Te and Ching. The information is fascinating, and completely extirpates the idea that China was isolated from the world in the development of its philosophy.

Mair also draws attention to many parallels extant between the Tao Te Ching and the Bhagavad Ghita. This discussion is equally fascinating and, for me, timely, given that I have been recently reading and re-reading the Bhagavad Ghita. His observations are well founded.

Anyway, Mair's examination of Tao, pronounced 'dow', is worth sharing, at least in part. So, from Mair's appendix, 'The Way/Tao:'

... The archaic pronunciation of Tao sounded approximately like drog or dorg. This links it to the Proto-Indo-European root drogh (to run along) and Indo-European dhorgh (way, movement). Related words in a few modern Indo-European languages are Russian doroga (way, road), Polish droga (way, road), Czech draha (way, track), Serbo-Croation draga ([path through a] valley), and Norwegian dialect drog (trail of animals; valley). The latter two examples help to account for the frequent and memorable valley imagery of the Tao Te Ching; ways and valleys, it would appear, are bound together in our consciousness.
The nearest Sanskrit (Old Indian) cognates to Tao (drog are dhrajas (course, motion) and dhraj (course). The most closely related English words are 'track' and 'trek,' while 'trail' and 'tract' are derived from other cognate Indo-European roots. Following the Way, then, is like going on a cosmic trek. Even more unexpected than the panoply of Into-European cognates for Tao (drog) is the Hebrew root d-r-g for the same word and Arabic t-r-q, which yields words meaning 'track, path, way, way of doing things' and is important in Islamic philosophical discourse (132).
The world, it would seem, has been a small place for a long time.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Shakespeare: The World as a Stage — Finished 2010.10.07

A delightful, funny, shocking, interesting, learned and wonderful read. I found particularly amusing the final chapter, in which Bryson de-bunks the Shakespeare debunkers — which have included Orson Wells, Derek Jacobi, Sigmund Freud, Mark Twain, and more than a few others despite an overwhelming lack of evidence or even clear arguments.

Anyway, here is a nice sample of Bryson's writing from that final chapter:
... in 1918 a schoolmaster from Gateshead, in north-east England, with the inescapably noteworthy name of J. Thomas Looney, put the finishing touches to his life's work, a book called Shakespeare Identified, in which he proved to his own satisfaction that the actual author of Shakespeare was the seventeenth Earl of Oxford, one Edward de Vere. It took him two years to find a publisher willing to publish the book under his own name. Looney steadfastly refused to adopt a pseudonym, arguing, perhaps just a touch desperately, that his name had nothing to do with insanity and was in fact pronounced loney. (Interestingly, Looney was not alone in having a mirthful surname. As Samuel Schoenbaum once noted with clear pleasure, other prominent anti-Stratfordians of the time included Sherwood E. Silliman and George M. Battey (p186).)

Bryson describes how this whole anti-Stratford movement appears to have gotten started by an unstable  American woman with the surname Bacon and charm enough to get money to travel to England and for an extended multi-year period, do research without talking to people. The trip proved to her mind that Francis Bacon was the author, although she did not actual state that in her book but rather inferred it.

Reading this is very amusing! The more so because a few years ago one of my co-workers dropped off some documents that contained links to proofs that Shakespeare's words were the work of someone else. But of course they didn't actually prove anything. JB found it amusing to try to stir me up, given my organizing annually for my work mates a group trip to our local Shakespeare festival. Anyway, he made the argument that '... historically it doesn't make sense that Shakespeare wrote what he did' he argued in similar vein to all anti-Stratfordians. (I think it a weak argument, but it would seem that others like it.)

'So, JB,' I asked him, 'have you read any Bacon or Marlowe?' These were the two with intellect and education enough to be the 'real' Shakespeare in his research.

'No,' he said, 'I'm looking at this strictly from an historical perspective.'

'Well, JB,' I responded, 'I have read both those writers — and they did not write the words that the world ascribes to Shakespeare. Bacon's writing is pontifical dreck and Marlowe's is black and lacking the depth of human understanding you get from Shakespeare.'

Paul Budra, Professor of English @ SFU,  was asked to express his opinion on the matter  at a well attended lecture at Vancouver's Bard-on-the-Beach Shakespeare festival a few years ago. (The tone of the querent suggested that he was one of the anti-Stratfordians.) Prof. Budra's answer was short and to the point: 'I am open to that possibility. However, there is not one single piece of evidence in existence, not even a tiny one despite years of painstaking research, that would indicate that anyone else wrote these plays. On the other hand, there is a great deal of direct evidence that he did.'

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Bill Bryson.Shakespeare: The World as a Stage. London, GB: Harper Perennial 2008. ISBN: 000719790X.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Noam Chomsky Lectures: A Play — Finished 2010.09.30

A delightful introduction to the degree to which the corporate news media disseminates dis-information. And it is a fun reminder of the importance of Chomsky in providing a voice against the agents who are manufacturing consent.

I also was inspired by how the writers morphed theatre into an entertaining lecture hall! Or did they morph a lecture into theatre?! This is what great instructors do naturally, of course, but who are very rare. Well, in this little play that could, Brooks and Verdecchia proved themselves great instructors — and better than passable dramatists.

Daniel Brooks, Guillermo Verdecchia.
The Noam Chomsky Lectures.  Toronto: Coach House Press, 1991. ISBN 0889104131.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Lazy Man's Guide to Enlightenment — Finished 2010.09.22

My friend RT gave me a copy of this book. I admit that I do not remember either hearing or seeing anything about this book before the day RT presented me with it last week. This is, to my mind rather odd given the range of so-called 'spiritual' books I have read and researched in the last 35 years or so. And I frequent the bibliography section of those books that have them, and don't remember having my eye or my mind's eye catch it.

Thaddeus Golas.
The Lazy Man's Guide to Enlightenment.
Palo Alto, CA.: The Seed Center, 1974.

And in the laziness theme of the book, here is the short review I gave it in my on-line library, GoodReads.
I have an ambivalent reaction to this book. It gave me no new understanding, but I like that Golas has aligned himself with Chuang Tzu and like Taoists who argue against straining and struggling to take actions or achieve understanding. It is likely at a more challenging level to spiritual than an introduction, but unnecessary for people who I have been struggling with the spiritual meanings of life. I quite like his blunt way of stating the obvious truths we delude ourselves into not seeing. As such I keep thinking that it deserves more than 3 stars, but I cannot bring myself to move my rating to 4. Perhaps my concern about it is that like many spiritual guides, it emphasizes the role of mind and attitude in achieving so-called enlightenment at the expense of respecting one's somatic reality, and perhaps well-being. As a society we are completely beholden to products of the mind, be it agri-business's justified land, water and animal abuse, the poisoning of our food products with -icides or business practices with Harvard Business Schooled flow-charted MBA-itis. 
To extend that a bit, I also found that, while what Golas has written is truthful and will likely lead to enlightenment, it seemed to lack some kind of hard to isolate substantiveness. I found myself left feeling a little ... disappointed, somehow, even though it participated in a curious fushigi (or synchronicity-petite) while I was reading it.

I admit that my reaction is very likely a sign that I am indeed un-enlightened. And that is undoubtedly true. But I guess I have grown to enjoy the weight of Jung's and Berman's writing, and the light complexity of Chuang Tzu and the like. Have I become addicted to good writing, at the expense of moving towards enlightenment? Hmmmmm.

☆ ☆ ☆

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Helpless — Finished 2010.09.04

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
This is a disturbing book, one that once begun kept me turning the pages. It is very typically Gowdy, meaning that the protagonist is someone amoral who has been humanized. And that is what marks Gowdy apart from the good writer — the ability to bring to her readers a feeling of understanding, and even some empathy, for a completely unsympathetic character. It seems anti-social to think and feel that a child abductor could be human, and not just a caricature of evil. But this is the power of Gowdy's writing.

Gowdy commented that the story she wanted to explore with Helpless was the anguish of a parent whose child disappears. And on the surface the disturbing part of this book is of a mother's horror of a child being abducted by a person or persons unknown. But somehow that story did not dominate the novel. Perhaps, during the writing, the writer's challenge of the abductor's motivation and humanity took over because that part becomes the central driving element of the novel. And what makes the book as disturbing, psychologically, as it is — and it is very disturbing — is the manner of Gowdy's portrayal of the kidnapper.

In her hands the human proceeded along an insane course of action within the bounds of fully justified logic and sound reasoning. There is a disturbing, unsettling empathy that is generated by this character as he proceeds along his path not as an insane evil creature, but as a frail human who has successfully denied to himself the nature of his nature. His self-delusion allows him to perfectly rationalize his actions; within his scope of self denied understanding his motivations are truly honourable and in this psychology he echos our own failings of self understanding, honesty and/or awareness. Not that many of us have stalked and kidnapped children! But where have we, for example, not fallen victim to own self denials, to our own delusions about our motivations or sense of social propriety? Who here on the planet has not rationalized and justified small selfish behaviours as being for some kind of altruistic 'best'? Where have we chosen to live a lie because it served an end which was made to look generous but served our ego's need? When have we mislead someone around us to support us, or manipulated someone to collaborate with us to assuage our feeling of doing something amoral? And how often are we unaware of why it is we do the things we do, ignorant of what motivates us?

And so what makes this book so disturbing is that it powerfully attacks our rationalized albeit unconscious complacency with not knowing ourselves. Ron didn't know what evil lurked in his heart until he took action. Nancy, his girlfriend acquiesced to his evil because acquiescing served her unconscious needs. Thus she was able to deny the un- or quasi-conscious contrary truths. And who can know what evil lurks in the dark corners of our own hearts and souls that we have kept hidden from ourselves because we do not have the courage to explore those recesses? That is disturbing!

Many have commented that the ending felt rushed and left them unsatisfied. This I find puzzling. Well, let me rephrase. From a purely rationalistic perspective, the ending arrives before all the 't's are crossed and 'i's dotted, and with, ostensibly, too 'soft' an ending. And I can see how this gives a feeling that there hasn't been the proper closure normally associated with such a story. But psychologically, I find the ending to be nearly perfect, and even spiritual. The paedophile discovers in the sheen of the child's damp skin the mirror into his soul, into his blackest truth. And even more remarkably, he in a great act of spirituality, accepts the truth of himself, and is then able to turns himself away from his path towards seeming inevitability because he could not longer deny the truth of himself. That many dislike the ending may be because, in a typically Gowdy way, the person who had this epiphany — and he shakes in fear of seeing that face of god in his soul — is such an abhorrent character that this person's journey of self discovery through the abduction of a child, would seem to be an utter waste, from a spiritually meaningful way. Furthermore, Gowdy adds a delightful complexity to the ending with the girlfriend's own smaller epiphany. She doesn't experience an epiphany of self awareness, but, instead, chooses to see the person in front of her, without any sort of self deception or illusion, and accepts her fate as his co-kidnapper.

And this may seem strange — it was to me when it popped into my head, but as I wrote this review how the booked ended reminded of one of the toughest instructions from The I Ching:
[When] one is faced with a danger that has to be overcome...[w]eakness and impatience can do nothing. Only strong [individuals] can stand up to their fate, for [their] inner security enables [them] to endure to the end. This strength shows itself in uncompromising truthfulness [with themselves]. It is only when we have the courage to face things exactly as they are, without any sort of self deception or illusion, that a light will develop out of events by which the path to success may be recognized. This recognition must be followed by resolute and persevering action. For only [people] who go to meet [their] fate resolutely [are] equipped to deal with it adequately (Wilhelm/Baynes 25).
And this is also why this book is so disturbing: a pervert, despite some reluctance, in the end displayed the strength and courage to face himself exactly as he was, and became resolved to meet his fate. Who amongst diurnal man have had the courage to do that? To be shown up by a paedophile, now that is disturbing!

The I Ching. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967. Translated into German by Richard Wilhelm, and into English by C.F. Baynes. It has an introduction by C.G. Jung. ISBN: 069109750X. 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Helpless — Begun 2010.09.01

While waiting for my take out pizza — sicilian sausage — to be made and baked, I wandered into the library, ostensibly to look at the CD stacks. But for some reason that bored me today, and so I stumbled into the 'Staff Picks.' There I found from Barbara Gowdy, one of my favourite authors, the three year old, but new to me:

Barbara Gowdy.
Helpless. Toronto: Harper Collins Canada, 2007.
ISBN13: 9780002008464.

A quick look at the very mixed reviews in GoodReads would indicate that Gowdy has again written something ... edging into uncomfortable waters. We'll see how I like it.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Beauty And Sadness — Read 2010.08.28

When I bought this book, second hand but 'new,' I ignored the little alarms that warned me to keep my money in my pocket. I had spent too much time looking for my usual dreck in my local used bookstore, and had made myself late — books before life! As I'm in the process of leaving the store I see atop an 'in-box' near the cash register Beauty and Sadness. I decided that the author being Japanese out-weighed my caution against him being a Nobel prize winner. I allowed my visual aesthetic to tumble me into an infatuation with the Japanese print without reading the publication details. And so it came to pass that I impulsively bought a Japanese version of Henry James because I was in a hurry.

Henry James! I had rather throw sand in my eyes than read HJ! But, there I was. I spent my time reading this book wondering at whether or not it was the translator or the author who had effected the dull thud of short sentences filled with ominous meaning spoken by automatons repetitively about slowly rotating chairs, or obis, or paintings over and over again, repetitively.

The different characters all spoke in the same manner, with the same cadence, and the same heavy handed overtures to misplaced meaningfulness in a meaningless life. There were several times when I had to re-read the dialogue in order to keep straight who was speaking because the sentences all sounded as if they were spoken by the same person.

And the passions expressed were done in such dead voices that the finale was almost funny in its obviousness. Now that I'm older, it strikes me that James' characters tend to sound emotionally like overly melodramatic teenagers, housed, supposedly, in the bodies of adults with the adults' life experiences but twisted by their youthful fixation on nirvanic virginal sex, unrequited puppy love, and a cloyingly repugnant narcissistic infantilism. And this is exactly what Yasunari Kawabata and/or his translator gave us with Beauty and Sadness.

Why did I finish reading it, then? Well, in short, because I foolishly fell back into my own version of infantilism, to a time when I took pride in my having finished reading every book I started, regardless whether or not I enjoyed it. Michener's The Source humbled me in that regard, and with his writing sparked my nascent understanding that reading bad writing is a narcissistic waste of life. Life is short; read the good books first! (Okay, okay, what is a good book is hard objectively to define!)

And so why did I finish reading Beauty and Sadness? Because I belong to some weird web-based book club, and I wanted to put another book into my 'read' file; and because I wanted to write a review of it that I could put up into the ether-sphere. Oh! And because the book is very short, with relatively large font, and is festooned with lots of white space. And when I write this review I get to stuff it on other web sites, at least one which offers a chance at winning some money for books.

If you like Henry James, you'll probably like this. If you find youthful melodrama played out by so-called adults with emotionless sensitivity trite and trying, give this book a pass.

Moral of the story? When buying books, do not ignore the small inner intuitive warnings lest your book buy's haste has bought you waste.

Yasunari Kawabata.
Beauty and Sadness.
Toronto: Vintage Books International (A Div. of Random House), 1996. Tr. by Howard S. Hibbett. ISBN: 0-679-76105-5.