Sunday, April 11, 2010

Reality is the Beginning, Not the End

"Professor Eucalyptus said, "The search
for reality is as momentous as
The search for god." It is the philosopher's search

For an interior made exterior
And the poet's search for the same exterior made
Interior: breathless things broodingly abreath

With the inhalations of original cold
And of original earliness. Yet the sense
Of cold and earliness is a daily sense,

Not the predicate of bright origin.
Creation is not renewed by images
Of lone wanderers. To re-create, to use

The cold and earliness and bright origin
Is to search. Likewise to say of the evening star,
The most ancient light in the most ancient sky,

That it is wholly an inner light, that it shines
From the sleepy bosom of the real, re-creates,
Searches for a possible for its possibleness.

-Wallace Stevens
from "An Ordinary Evening in New Haven"

How To Live. What To Do.

Last evening the moon rose above this rock
Impure upon a world unpurged.
The man and his companion stopped
To rest before the heroic height.

Coldly the wind fell upon them
In many majesties of sound:
They that had left the flame-freaked sun
To seek a sun of fuller fire.

Instead there was this tufted rock
Massively rising high and bare
Beyond all trees, the ridges thrown
Like giant arms among the clouds.

There was neither voice nor crested image,
No chorister, nor priest. There was
Only the great height of the rock
And the two of them standing still to rest.

There was the cold wind and the sound
It made, away from the muck of the land
That they had left, heroic sound
Joyous and jubilant and sure.

-Wallace Stevens

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Too Cruel for School

Diane Ravitch has an excellent piece in today's Washington Post on school reform. She calls for an end to the pernicious impotence of No Child Left Behind. She also mercifully sheds light on the complete lack of evidence to suggest the supremacy of charter schools or school choice in better quantitative academic outcomes. A sound piece all in all.

Is Translation Possible?

Edith Grossman thinks so. The dance is a difficult one no less and must be undertaken not just with scrupulous care, but also with authorial kinship with the translated work.

Montaigne, Woolf, and the Will to Live

I was reminded while walking one week ago of two reasons why I live. One reason came to me when I was reminded of a sense I had that containing myself within myself, if possible, was among the highest joys imaginable. Negotiating myself with myself has always been a difficult proposition - and an abstract one - but I have for years now turned to Montaigne to help me on my way. Montaigne, the most honest of all men, is captured in essence by Virgina Woolf in her peerless essay on the man and the writer:

For beyond the difficulty of communicating oneself, there is the supreme difficulty of being oneself. This soul, or life within us, by no means agrees with the life outside of us. If one has the courage to ask her why she thinks, she is always saying the very opposite of what other people say.

-Montaigne, 1925

Another reason why I live is to attempt to merge an unadulterated life of both sense and mind while confronting the omnipresent sad fact of mortality. Of course I reject the antiquated idea of any such dualism of mind and body. When Oscar Wilde reminds us in The Picture of Dorian Gray that one of the great secrets of life is "to cure the soul by means of the senses, the senses by means of the soul", he is reminding us that abstract notions and sensual immediacy coexist and inform each other not as opposed halves but as a seamless whole. Again, Virginia Woolf heroically captures the essence of this in describing the Greeks:

With the sound of the sea in their ears, vines, meadows, rivulets about them, they are even more aware then we are of a ruthless fate. There is a sadness at the back of life which they do not attempt to mitigate. Entirely aware of their own standing in the shadow, and yet alive to every tremor and gleam of existence, there they endure, and it is to the Greeks that we turn when we are sick of the vagueness, of the confusion, of the Christianity and its consolations, of our own age.

-On Not Knowing Greek, 1925

The Rising Threat of Christianist Terrorism in the U.S.

The New York Times reported Friday on the growing threat of potentially violent Christianist terrorist groups within the U.S. With the recent arrest of members of the Hutaree in Michigan, tensions are admittedly high. Fortunately, from what I can tell from my reading on the topic, the Michigan militia was more laughable than capable, but heavily armed and amply deluded nonetheless:

In a federal indictment unsealed on Monday, nine members of a Christian militia group were accused of plotting an uprising against the federal government. The indictment said the group, based in Michigan, was planning to kill a local law enforcement officer and use explosive devices to attack police officers from around the country who would attend the funeral.

I have no doubt the federal and/or state governments will meet these brutal and ignorant thugs with the requisite response if it must come to that. In the meantime, we as U.S. citizens now have to put up with threats to our governors and law enforcement personnel. Undoubtedly, potentially violent Christianists have no respect for civility or the rule of law, as divine law and its tenuous legitimacy in a modern secular world seem to be their only true allegiances. Yet, the group in question in the article, the so-called Guardians of the Free Republics, curiously blends libertarian, anti-corporate proclamations with totalitarian Christianist sentiments. It's a synthesis of two vantage points I heretofore thought unbridgeable (and still do), but when one mixes resentment with divine sanction, anything can happen. What makes this group even more bizarrely curious is the fact that the "revolution" they call for will be done quietly and without visible public disturbance, and they even hint at something akin to a post-Apartheid South African-style truth and reconciliation commission. If you need further evidence of this group's unique blend of weirdness and danger, please note their opaque attempt to cast themselves in lofty terms.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Lewis Carroll, the Mad Tea Party, and Language

"You should say what you mean," the March Hare went on.
"I do," Alice hastily replied; "at least - at least I mean what I say - that's the same thing, you know."
"Not the same thing a bit!" said the Hatter. "Why, you might just as well say that 'I see what I eat' is the same thing as 'I eat what I see!'