Apr 6 2017

Comparing Wine to Education

Comparing Wine to Education

St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD):

I bring no charge against the words which are like exquisite and precious vessels, but the wine of error is poured into them for us by drunken teachers….[1]

Johann von Goethe  of Weimar (1749-1832):

The man spoke with dignity and with a certain radiance on his face. This is what he said: “the duty of a teacher is not to preserve man from error, but to guide him in error, in fact to let him drink it in, in full draughts. That is the wisdom of teachers. For the man who only sips at error, can make do with it for quite a time, delighting in it as a rare pleasure. But a man who drinks it to the dregs, must recognize the error of his ways, unless he is mad.” [2]

Karl Kraus of Vienna (1874-1936):

A school without grades must have been concocted by someone who was drunk on non-alcoholic wine.[3]

NOTES

[1] Augustine, Aurelius. Saint Augustine – Confessions. Translated by Henry Chadwick. NY: Oxford UP. 1991. I, xvi (26), p. 19.

[2] Goethe, Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre. (Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship.) 1795–96. Edited and Translated by Eric A. Blackall. NY: Suhrkamp Publishers. 1983. VII, ix, 302.

[3] Kraus, Karl. Halftruths & oneandahalf truths: selected aphorisms. Edited and Translated by Harry Zohn. Engendra Press: Montreal. Reprint Chicago UP. 1976. p. 75.


Oct 1 2016

#Grapevines and Graves

Texas wildflowers

Grapevines and Graves

#Grapevines and #graves

A photo posted by Christopher Landrum (@landrumc) on

@ Finca de Luna, Lampasas, Texas


Jun 2 2016

Adventure Italia: Days 8 1/2 and 9 of 9

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Adventure Italia: Days 8 1/2 and 9 of 9

Day 8 ½

On our eighth day we left Roma in the late afternoon and arrived in Firenze (Florence) sometime after dark, maybe nine or ten. Here Chiara and Cosimo surprised Scott and me by driving up a hill on the south side of the Arno River called the Piazzala Michelangelo—a piazza that overlooks all of Florence and has copies of some of Michelangelo’s works, including a bronze David statue that is perhaps a fourth the size of the original marble. We took pictures, drank water and beer, and ate some pizza we had brought with us from Roma. We got back to Bologna around midnight.

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(Piazzala Michelangelo at night)

Day 9

We mostly packed for home and took it easy on our last day in Italia, but in the afternoon we went to the local grocery store to get some things for dinner. I was surprised at how the layout felt so similar to any grocery store in the States. Same lights, floors, baskets, checkout procedures.

We had a little going away party that night. Tosco came, along with Cosimo’s friend and Scott’s acquaintance, Raffaele, and another fellow musician named Domenico, who was from Crotone. We drank beer, played music from phones and 45s (the gang introduced us to the subgenre of Italo Disco), ate a roast wrapped in hog-jowl prosciutto which was then surrounded by dough (cooked together almost like a pot pie) with fried potatoes and bufala balls on the side.

(an example of Italo Disco)

It was all very bon voyage and bon appetite.

What moved me was the thought that this Florence which I could see, so near and yet inaccessible, in my imagination…. [Venice and Florence] became even more real to me when my father, by saying: “Well, you can stay in Venice from the 20th to the 29th, and reach Florence on Easter morning,” made them both emerge, no longer only from the abstraction of Space, but from that imaginary Time in which we place not one, merely, but several of our travels at once, which do not greatly tax us since they are but possibilities,—that Time which reconstructs itself so effectively that one can spend it again in one town after one has already spent it in another—and consecrated to them some of those actual, calendar days which are certificates of the genuineness of what one does on them, for those unique days are consumed by being used, they do not return, one cannot live them again here when one has lived them elsewhere.

––Proust[1]

(Read “Adventure Italia: Days 6, 7, and 8 of 9″ here.)

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[1] Proust, À la recherche du temps perdu. (In Search of Lost Time.) Vol. I. Du côté de chez Swann. (Swann’s Way.) § “Place Names: The Name.”


May 24 2016

Adventure Italia: Days 6, 7, and 8 of 9

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Adventure Italia: Days 6, 7, and 8 of 9

The places that we have known belong now only to the little world of space on which we map them for our own convenience.

––Proust[1]

Day 06

In the late afternoon we head south to Rome. In Florence, we encounter a major traffic jam on the A1 Highway, forcing us to detour over some back roads through Tuscany. We stop somewhere in a village south of Florence and have salami sandwiches, a bottle of Chianti, lemoncello. Some kids hear us speak English, so they rush up to our table to ask how one says “ciao” in the Anglo-Saxon tongue.

Driving past two men scuffling on a sidewalk, Cosimo points at them and says, “If you see people fighting in Rome, they’re most likely British.” (And they did look British.) We had entered Rome sometime around one a.m., and after our four–five hour drive, Scott is a little car sick, so he doesn’t see the couple kissing in Piazza della Rotonda. Chiara’s mother Rita comes out to greet us and says in a matter-of-fact, dry manner: “Welcome to the Pantheon.”

An interesting day: breakfast in Bologna, late lunch in Tuscany, dinner in Rome (cold homemade eggplant pasta, freshly sliced strawberries, breads and cheeses (including gorgonzola) I believe).

Day 07

Rome has been in the tourist business for over two millennia, so it’s no surprise that I wake up in this city and–as our accommodations overlooked the Piazza della Rotondato and Pantheon–hear someone playing Leonard Coen’s “Hallelujah” (1984),  then Ennio Morricone’s theme to “Once Upon a Time in the West” (1969), then Nino Rota’s theme to the “Godfather” (1972).

Our excursion begins after some coffee and pastries. First, the Pantheon: a Roman Temple built by Hadrian in the second century and now a consecrated church that holds, among other things, the tomb of composer Arcangelo Corelli (1653–1713) as well as the crypt of painter Raphael Sanzio da Urbino (1483–1520).

Next, Basilica di Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, consecrated in 1370, a church which immediately faces the southeast side of the Pantheon. Once inside we find that we happen to arrive at the right moment to see light shine through stained glass and illuminate the Madonna and Child Giving Blessings (1449) by Benozzo Gozzoli (1421–1497). Outside Sopra Minerva in the piazza stands a plinth holding an elephant that on its back supports an Egyptian obelisk. This is the Obelisco della Minerva, sculpted by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1680).

We then stroll a few blocks westward into the massive Piazza Navona––full of tourists, music, fountains and food. And, at some point we make our way to La Casa Del Caffe Tazza D’oro on Via dei Pastini and Via degli Orfani: a shop, according to Cosimo, considered by the native Romans to be one of the best places in the city for coffee.

At evening we eat pizza at Al Forno della Soffitta near the corner of Via Augusto Valenziani and Via Piave. We are served appetizers of fried mashed potato balls, onion rings, olives stuff with prosciutto then fried like jalapeño poppers here in the States (except that all were battered in flour). Then, each of us is presented with an eighteen-inch pizza. All the pizzas have mozzarella, some with bufala (mozzarella made from buffalo milk). Scott’s is topped only with bufala and prosciutto. We are slightly mocked by our hosts for our slow intake of such fine cuisine. “You certainly don’t eat like Americans,” says one.

After the pizza, we settle our stomachs via vehicular sightseeing: in the warm, Roman night we see the Coliseum, the Bocca della Verità (which I knew only from watching a scene in Roman Holiday), then the Basilica Papale di San Pietro (St. Peter’s Basilica) and the entrance to Vatican City, Trajan’s Column and later the Column of Marcus Aurelius. We also see the Italian Supreme Court building and the Chiesa del Sacro Cuore del Suffragio (Church of the Scared Heart of Jesus in Prati) whose neogothic architecture stands out in contrast to its more classical surroundings.

(Bocca della Verità from Roman Holiday (1953))

Our night ends with a walk to the Trevi Fountain (which I knew only from watching a scene in La Dolce Vida). Here many late-night tourists take selfies, American frat boys wearing NBA jerseys chug wine from bottles tightly clenched, as Roman police supervise everyone and seagulls flying overhead and bathing in the fountain before us. We throw in coins, make wishes, and are now obliged to one day return to Roma.

(Trevi Fountain La Dolce Vida (1960))

Day 08

After celebrating a birthday brunch for Chiara’s mom Signora Rita with risotto, pasta, roasted chicken, pastries, cake, coffee, Chianti, bitters, we drive back to Bologna—but not before picking up some Roman pizza for the road (possibly from Pizza Zazà off of Piazza di Sant’Eustachio but I can’t remember exactly).

Too much to tell…. words only fail…. One could live in Rome for two lifetimes and still not have time to explore it all…. I need someone from Bologna who has written about Rome…. I need to imbibe Bolognese composer Ottorino Respighi (1879–1936) and absorb his symphonic poem “Pines of Rome” that those notes transposed might transcend and further ferment understanding my initial experience of the Eternal City.

(Respighi’s Pines of Rome (1924))

(Read “Adventure Italia: Days 4 and 5 of 9″ here.)

NOTES

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[1] Proust, Marcel. À la recherche du temps perdu. (In Search of Lost Time.) Vol. I. Du côté de chez Swann. (Swann’s Way.) Translated by Charles Kenneth Scott Moncrieff and Terrence Kilmartin. § “Place Names: The Name.”


Oct 5 2015

Beyond Flimsy; Beyond Fundamentalism

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Today at The American Conservative, Rod Dreher gives readers a pop quiz:

How do we find the middle path between these two extremes? The Benedict Option is, of course, in part a reaction against loosey-goosey Christianity, so I don’t have a big worry that versions of the Ben Op would be at risk of being too lax and liberal. The real concern I have is that we would go too far, and create institutions or communities that would be too controlling or otherwise unhealthy. A secondary, lesser concern is that fear of fundamentalism would be so overwhelming that the nascent Ben Op community would fail to create the practices and structures that would be effective in accomplishing what the Ben Op is supposed to do.

He then issues a call for ideas and suggestions. My response is that perhaps consulting Chaim Potok’s novel “The Chosen” (1967) would provide some understanding of the balance necessary for the BenOp. The book, and later a terrific movie (1981) adaptation, show the balancing act of friendship between two boys, one Orthodox Jewish, the other a Hassidic. Various cultural conflicts and misunderstandings between the more “liberal” Orthodox way of life and the more”fundamentalist” way of the Hassidim are explored and explained.

 

Actual Jewish readers and filmgoers may rightly criticize Poktok’s art as utterly middlebrow and overly sentimental–but for a post-churchgoing millennial from rural Central Texas, I found much to learn and think about in Potok’s book and the movie based upon it.

 


Aug 14 2015

Requiem for Chivalry

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Chivalry didn’t die in France–like Burke bemoaned–because chivalry had been dead for well over a hundred years prior to the Revolution. If chivalry hadn’t died, Cervantes could not have written Don Quixote (1605). But hundreds of years after Cervantes and Burke, people are still chasing windmills. Over at The American Conservative, Gracey Olmsted writes:

This is what the “spirit of the gentleman” used to provide: a reasoned, courteous atmosphere in which public discourse could take place—where opinions could be stated without savagery, and received without rancor. The problem is that gentlemen are out of popularity on left and right—for reasons [Mark] Mitchell makes clear in another FPR post.

The gentleman is unpopular with the left and “PC” crowd because, in Mitchell’s words, he “is one who is willing and able to judge well. He is discriminating in his judgments and does not shy away from making hard distinctions even when they cause him discomfort and even when he is forced to stand alone [emphasis added].” Such discriminatory value judgments will not be honored on the modern university campus, nor even in the larger political world.

I suppose a rather ungentlemanly act would be to point at that last line from Olmsted–“Such discriminatory value judgments will not be honored on the modern university campus, nor even in the larger political world“–and say, yes, that may be true, but that is also a very narrow and reductive Weltanschauung. There is plenty more to life than universities and politics, particularly if you’re too poor and/or live under a gerrymandered regime.

Plenty of Americans live their day-to-day lives in a brave new world beyond the constraints of chivalry and bureaucracy.


Jul 31 2015

The Benedict Option: Cheerleading from the Sideline

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Over at The American Conservative Rod Dreher, who has previously written how the upcoming generations have lost faith and trust in all institutions, has now written a post showing that some inside the clergy and clerisy can properly diagnose their own symptoms, so perhaps the Benedict Option is the proper remedy for cleaning house.

As part of the under-40 crowd, I confess to being completely weary of all bureaucracy, a weariness I suspect comes from being institutionalized in childhood by small town Texas teachers, preachers, and coaches.

The feeling of graduating university made me understand the lines from the old time hymn “like a bird from prison bars has flown, I’ll fly away”—it was (and remains) particularly refreshing to be able to read books of one’s own choosing—at one’s own pace––rather than being assigned a text on the whims of a bureaucrat and having to rush through it.

Now as an adult (or at least one in disguise) I choose to opt out of the idolatry of religion (in its old, etymological sense of “binding” as well as its modern meanings of “just another bureaucracy” and “authority-for-authority’s-sake”) and am attempting to opt in to authentic encounters in the I-You mode of discourse used by individuals while, at the same time, attempting to resist the I-It mode of “discord” practiced by all modern institutions (schools, religions, hospitals, sports, national media).

The BenOp may not be for me, but from the sidelines I’m willing to cheer for anything that actively deconstructs any kind of bureaucracy in its resistance to that bureaucracy.


Jul 16 2015

5 Benedict Options for Single Folk: an Open Reply to Rod Dreher

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5 Benedict Options for Single Folk: an Open Reply to Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher of The American Conservative has tirelessly been exploring for himself and imploring other orthodox (or authentic?) American Christians to consider the Benedict Option–yet for all his efforts he continues to be hounded by friendly and hostile readers to explain, explain, explain what such an Option might mean.

Dreher keeping writing and writing; yet among him and his scattered supporters, scant attention has been directed toward what a Benedict Option might mean for single folks in America. In the optimistic-secularist spirit of David Hume, I offer five suggestions that I have been trying to implement in my own life for the past several years:

  1. Opting out of the idolatry of all pet husbandry, adoption, and ownership and opting in for compassion and caretaking for stray and needy human beings in my community.

 

  1. Opting out of the idolatry of professional, collegiate, and local sports; opting in to binge-reading and other library labors.

 

  1. Opting out of the idolatry of religion (in its old, etymological sense of “binding” as well as its modern meanings of “just another bureaucracy” and “authority-for-authority’s-sake”) and opting in to authentic encounters in the I-You mode of discourse used by individuals while resisting the I-It mode of “discord” practiced by all modern institutions.

 

  1. Opting out of the idolatry of the telescopic view of national politics and celebrity (and media thereof) and opting in toward a radical, microscopic focus on politics, law, and arts-&-entertainment strictly at state and local levels.

 

  1. Opting out of being a proactive consumer of Big Pharma and Big Farming and Big Business Dieting; opting in for cooking my own food when I can; fasting when I should; and giving radically generous gratuities when eating out.

 

While man cannot live in a continual Sabbath, he should not resign himself to a flat two-dimensional life from which he escapes on rare occasions. The place of the sacred is not a house of God, nor church, synagogue, or seminary, nor one day in seven, and the span of the sacred is much shorter than twenty-four hours. The Sabbath is every day, several times a day.

–Walter Kaufmann, “Prologue to I and Thou p. 30.


Apr 1 2014

Nabokov’s “Lolita” (a second reading)

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I read Lolita for the first time about five years ago and was overwhelmed by the style but thought it lacked substance in terms of plot and character. Upon a second reading I would concede the book has substance, and my initial sense of something lacking was really a reflection of my belief that the novel contains no likeable characters. I find nothing to like or sympathize in Humbert, Lolita, or Quilty.

Lolita’s name is Dolores—“pain” in Spanish––Lolita is a “pain” and painful for Humbert.

The book is setup as a confession: Humbert is definitely no St. Augustine, though he may have read some Rousseau. I have not read Rousseau’s Confessions (1782), but as a reader, I find the company of the literary children of James Joyce more tolerable than that of their father. In other words, the linguistic acrobatics of Nabokov’s Lolita, as well as Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange (1962), work in ways Joyce never mastered. The Irish Oscar Wilde taught art-for-art’s-sake, and later Irish James Joyce believed in style-for-style’s-sake—but Nabokov and Burgess both know that the best formula is style-for-story’s-sake.

It’s quite a writer’s trick for Nabokov to make the narrator a professor of French poetry. Throughout my reading this trick made it difficult for me not to confuse Nabokov-the-author-poet for Humbert-the narrator-poet.

Early on Humbert confesses: “I knew I had fallen in love with Lolita forever; but I also knew she would not be forever Lolita,” (Part I, Ch. 15). This line might be compared to a reflection made by the character of Thomas Buddenbrook:

“I know that the external, visible, tangible tokens and symbols of happiness and success first appear only after things have in reality gone into decline already.” (Buddenbrooks, VII, vi, 378–79)

Later Humbert dreams of eventually impregnating Lolita (Part II, Ch. 3), so that he can have a second Lolita, somewhat like the character of Manfred in Walpole’s Castle of Otranto (1764), P. B. Shelley’s remark that incest is the most poetic of all circumstances, and sentiments of the villain Noah Cross at the climax of the film Chinatown (1974). Nabokov’s line “my impossible daughter” (Part I, Ch. 29) is brimming with multiple meanings and interpretations.

I remain ambivalent but more accepting of Lolita after this second reading, but Nabokov has thought about the idea of re-reading, as found in his lectures on literature:

“I use the word reader very loosely. Curiously enough, one cannot read a book:  one can only reread it. A good reader, a major reader, an active and creative reader is a rereader.” (“Good Readers and Good Writers,” 3)

For Nabokov, a writer is a storyteller, a teacher, and an enchanter:

“There are three points of view from which a writer can be considered: he may be considered as a storyteller, as a teacher, and as an enchanter. A major writer combines these three—storyteller, teacher, enchanter—but it is the enchanter in him that predominates and makes him a major writer…. The three facets of the great writer—magic, story, lesson—are prone to blend in one impression of unified and unique radiance, since the magic of art may be present in the very bones of the story, in the very marrow of thought.” (“Good Readers and Good Writers,” 5–6)

Finally, here’s Nabokov on artists and morality:

“I never could admit that a writer’s job was to improve the morals of his country, and point out lofty ideals from the tremendous height of a soapbox, and administer first aid by dashing off second-rate books. The writer’s pulpit is dangerously close to the pulp romance, and what reviewers call a strong novel is generally a precarious heap of platitudes or a sand castle on a populated beach, and there are few things sadder than to see its muddy mat dissolve when the holiday makers are gone and the cold mousy waves are nibbling at the solitary sands.” (“The Art of Literature and Commonsense” 376)

 

NOTES

Mann, Thomas Buddenbrooks, Verfall einer Familie. Berlin: S. Fischer. 1901. Translation by John E. Woods published as Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family, 1993.

Nabokov, Lectures on Literature, New York, NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 1982.


Oct 11 2010

What drew me to Harold Bloom

I never knew until now just what it was that drew me towards Bloom. But after reading his 1991 interview with the Paris Review I think I know why:

INTERVIEWER

Are there [literary, fictional] characters you would like to have known?

BLOOM

No, no. The only person I would like to have known, whom I have never known, but it’s just as well, is Sophia Loren. I have been in love with Sophia Loren for at least a third of a century. But undoubtedly it would be better never to meet her. I’m not sure I ever shall, though my late friend Bart Giamatti had breakfast with her. Judging by photographs and recent film appearances, she has held up quite well, though a little too slender now—no longer the same gorgeous Neapolitan beauty, now a much more sleek beauty.