Oct 3 2018

To Read or Not to Read, that is the Question

To Read or Not to Read, that is the Question

From the always cheerful Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) on what one should read (and otherwise):

The art of not reading is a very important one. It consists in not taking an interest in whatever may be engaging the attention of the general public at any particular time. When some political or ecclesiastical pamphlet, or novel, or poem is making a great commotion, you should remember that he who writes for food always finds a large public. — A precondition for reading good books is not reading bad ones: for life is short.

“On Books and Writing – no. 16” in Schopenhauer: Essays and Aphorisms, trans. R. J. Hollingdale, (New York: Penguin, 1970), p. 210.



And this is not something that was just practiced in the old days. There are people, good people like Gary here, who continue to practice today what Schopenhauer preached long ago (at least concerning this particular topic):


Sep 24 2018

Early Autumn Mushrooms

typewriter
Early Autumn Mushrooms

From Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882):

…. So also full of flowers, buds, leaves, & even tough grass & moss & mushrooms grown in a night all which I in my sauntering through unimportant country coldly botanizing for my pastime collected….

–Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks Vol. VI (1824-1836), p. 304.

And from Arnold Zweig (1887-1968)’s novel The Case of Sergeant Grischa (1927):

Adepts tell us that poisonous herbs should be gathered when the moon is up and on the increase: both gong and coming the gatherer must refrain from worldly speech, and if he meets with anyone on the road, he must devoutly murmur a Paternoster or an Ave Maria. He must also start upon his journey with the right foot, and return with his left foot foremost, being very careful not to change his step. And if he does all this, no evil spirits can meddle with his step.

–The Case of Sergeant Grischa (1927), trans. Eric Sutton, (New York: Viking, 1928) IV, v, p. 233.


Sep 19 2018

Population Stampede in Austin, Texas

typewriter

Population Stampede in Austin, Texas

Two pieces out this week on the increasing urban redevelopment of Capital City.

Report says gentrification threatens to displace Austin’s low-income residents, communities of color,” by Brandon Formby of the Texas Tribune, September 18, 2018:

“They’re young, they’re professional, they’re clearly here to work in tech,” [Fred McGhee, a historical archaeologist and community activist] said. “They’re here to make a real estate investment. They’re not interested in playing a role in the community.”

And “CodeNEXT or None, Austin has an Identity Crisis,” by Aubrey Byron of Strong Towns.org, September 17, 2018:

CodeNEXT opponent [Fred Lewis of Community Not Commodity], says he isn’t opposed to walkability, but he is skeptical that it’s what people actually want. “The idea that people are going to walk to the store is ludicrous. It’s 100 degrees here in the summer.”


Sep 6 2018

Christian Sexual Ethics Did Not Emerge Ex Nihilo

porticos in Bologna, Italia

Christian Sexual Ethics Did Not Emerge Ex Nihilo

Delving into material (i.e., ancient ethics) that I usually don’t, I have to object to Benjamin Wilker (and subsequently Rod Dreher) when they characterize: that, in the words of the first writer:

“Christianity [and Christianity alone!] made pedophilia a moral issue.”

But I believe European history is a little more complicated than the Church-centric readings of Dreher and Wiker.

Pagan emperor Marcus Aurelius (121–180 AD), a persecutor of Christians, felt it was right to suppress pederasty as much as he possibly could ( Meditations I, xvi).

His contemporary, Apuleius of Madura (124–170), a pagan rhetorician, philosopher, and novelist, mocks the Calamites who prey on young boys as well as Christians for their monotheism in his novel The Golden Ass Chapters VIII-IX).


Sep 4 2018

Four New Pieces that Think Seriously About Reading

Four New Pieces that Think Seriously About Reading


Aug 17 2018

10 Interesting Online Items I’ve Read Since October 2017

bookshelf
10 Interesting Online Items I’ve Read Since October 2017

Here are some links to some interesting things I’ve lately read.  I’ve been saving them for myself to eventually reread and probably get some writing ideas from. All sorts of topics and subjects:


Aug 2 2018

The Missionaries of Texas Politics

Western book stack

The Missionaries of Texas Politics

Might Beto or Cruz employ this old tried-and-true method? Via Robert Caro’s Means of Assent: Vol. II of the Life and Times of Lyndon Baines Johnson, (New York: Knopf, 1990) :

And it wasn’t only the shouts, but the whispers. One of the little-publicized factors of rural Texas politics was the men known variously as “missionaries” or “travelers’ or “walking delegates” or “active campaigners.” These were men influential with a particular ethnic group—for example, “You’d hire some popular Czech to go talk to the Czechs,” one veteran of Texas politics says—or simply an individual well known in some remote rural district. Such men were for hire in every campaign. “You’d send a guy out to see the lay of the land,” D. B. Hardeman explains. “He would walk around the streets, try to find out who was for who, go to the Courthouse. And they would talk around,” spreading the rumors that their employer wanted spread. The missionaries were an effective political weapon, particularly in rural areas where voters were unsophisticated, uneducated and accustomed to relying on word of mouth for information. The missionaries knew what to say. “From previous campaigns they knew what people wanted to hear, and who to talk to.” (pp. 276–77)

(A page from my monthly book log)


Apr 24 2018

How Tolstoy Tells Story

Piazza Navona, Roma, Italia

How Tolstoy Tells Story

According to Count Tolstoy:

He [Borís] could not tell them simply that everyone went at a trot and that he fell off his horse and sprained his arm and then ran as hard as he could from a Frenchman into the wood. Besides, to tell everything as it really happened, it would have been necessary to make an effort of will to tell only what happened. It is very difficult to tell the truth, and young people are rarely capable of it. The hearers expected a story of how beside himself and all aflame with excitement, he had flown like a storm at the square, cut his way in, slashed right and left, how his saber had tasted flesh and he had fallen exhausted, and so on. And so he told them all that.

Война́ и миръ, Voyná i mir (War and Peace), trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude, revised by George Gibian, (New York, W. W. Norton, 1966; second edition 1996) III, vi, 210.

 


Apr 5 2018

Midwest Mod Squad no. 02: Materials for Investigation

Mark Twain in Athens

Midwest Mod Squad no. 02: Materials for Investigation

(Read no. 01 in this series here.)

Let’s now see who the subjects of investigation are:

New Pop Lit is a publishing organization putting out contemporary short fiction. As a publishing group it appears to be placeless and ageless, for there’s nothing on their About Page to indicate otherwise. Incidentally (or as the investigation proceeds we may say, not so incidentally) three of the six stories I read from here all took place within a school setting. New Pop Lit appears to want plot-driven stories over style evangelists and politics disguised as fiction. The first six writers I read were:

  • Jon Berger of Saginaw, Michigan and his story “Eighty Pounds.”
  • Kathleen M. Crane, a contributing editor at New Pop Lit, and her story “Red Panties and a Guitar.”
  • Tianna Grosch from the woodlands of Pennsylvania and her story “Unraveling.”
  • Clint Margrave of Los Angeles and his story “The Fetus.”
  • A. K. Riddle of “in the Middle of Nowhere, Illinois” and her story “The Professor.”
  • Don Waitt of Tampa and his story “Raquetball.”

*****

Five on the Fifth is also an ageless, placeless publication putting out contemporary short fiction. One recent story I read was a horror (?) tale “Jonah and the Frog,” set mostly in a (New Orleans?)  bar by James Wade. I’ve read at least half-a-dozen stories of his over the last few years, and he happens to be someone I know personally. I know he’s from Texas and is currently engaged in a cross-continental drift across America. And this reminds me of Ray Wylie Hubbard’s memoir, A Life … Well, Lived (2015) where he reflects on how, sometime between the 1990’s and the Aughts, it became better to be called an American songwriter, rather than just a Texas songwriter. Therefore, I don’t know if I would call James Wade (or if he would call himself) a Texas writer.[1]

*****

The Masters Review is a publishing house out of Bend, Oregon. Its sixth volume of contemporary short fiction contains ten stories selected by Roxane Gay, two of which stood out well in front of the others. Coincidently (or not), not only do these two stories both fall under the genre of historical fiction, but both writers are from New York:

Chris Arp is a rather unknown quantity (much like Pop Lit and Five on Five), but he does disclose graduating from NYU’s Creative Writing Program. His story “Gormley,” is set somewhere in the mid-nineteenth-century British Empire. Nicole Cuffy is a New York based writer with a BA from Columbia University and an MFA from the New School. Her story “Steal Away” takes place in the early twentieth-century sharecropping South.

*****

Belt Publishing of Cleveland, Ohio is an outfit that caters to readers and writers of all things Midwest. I’ve recently read two chapbooks that they’ve put out, but don’t let their small size fool you. The contents of both Edward McClelland’s How to Speak Midwestern (2016) and Mark Athitakis’s The New Midwest (2016) are quite concentrated and deserve multiple readings.

McClelland is based in Chicago, and his is a book of regional language and dialects. Athitakis lives in Phoenix but is a native Midwesterner. His book surveys the literature from that region from about the last 100 years with a focus on works since 1960.

Like Alfarabi’s four questions, mentioned in no. 01 of this series, I will mostly be using these two books as tools to analyze and understand the stories under consideration.

*****

The next post in this series will begin to analyze all of what’s mentioned above.


NOTES

wood

[1] Ray Wylie Hubbard with Thom Jurek, A Life Well, Lived, (Wimberly, TX: Bordello Records, 2015).


Apr 5 2018

Midwest Mod Squad no. 01: Method of Investigation

porticos in Bologna, Italia

Midwest Mod Squad no. 01:
Method of Investigation

I don’t believe all art is political, just as I don’t believe all political activity is artistic.

Alfarabi (872–950 CE) was a medieval philosopher from Persia. In The Attainment of Happiness, he asks four questions that political science seeks to answer––a particular kind of political science meant to be understood in terms of the ancient city (polis), not the modern nation-state.[1]

The modern global Anglophone culture contains within it a North Atlantic culture,[2] and within that North Atlantic culture is a regional culture called the American Midwest. The Midwest is certainly neither a single city nor an entire nation-state (it even includes parts of Southern Canada), but the recent short fiction coming from this region reflects some of the culture of the American heartland that I think are worth writing about and reflecting on.

Following Biblioklept’s hybrid of meditation and manifesto toward writing a better book blog, I will begin an investigation of writers and books concerning the Midwest using Alfarabi’s four questions as an initial guide. For each work of short fiction under consideration, my investigation will ask:

  1. What is the work? What is the essence of each story, each book?
  2. How does it work? How does each particular publisher and author contribute to what that essence is (however it may be defined)? How is each story told? How was it published?
  3. From what did the work come from? Author’s origins, regional influences (or lack thereof)?
  4. For what purpose was each work written?

I expect this investigation to be a series of an undetermined number of blog posts. Applying what Alfarabi asks to what I’ve read does not mean I will engage in any political criticism of contemporary fiction.

Here and there will be mention of outliers, that is, writers and their work (usually contemporary short fiction) not from the Midwest. It may seem that I mention more outliers than insiders, and that may even be true in the beginning. But once momentum is attained, I expect the investigation to narrow its focus.

Lastly, I am not an expert on anything of or about the Midwest, just a curious observer and occasional visitor, nothing more.

(Looks for the Wendigo in the woods  of Michigan)

Continue to “Midwest Mod Squad no. 02

NOTES

wood

[1] As Alfarabi puts it:

[The political philosopher] should make known what and how every one of them is, and from what and for what it is, until all of them become known, intelligible, and distinguished from each other. This is political science. It consists of knowing the things by which the citizens of cities attain happiness through political association in the measure that innate disposition equips each of them for it….

This happiness is virtuous, and what is virtuous, continues Alfarabi, is useful:

There is a certain deliberative virtue that enables one to excel in the discovery of what is most useful for a virtuous end common to many nations, to a whole nation, or to a whole city, at a time when an event occurs that affects them in common. (There is no difference between saying most useful for a virtuous end and most useful and most noble, because what is both most useful and most noble necessarily serves a virtuous end, and what is most useful for a virtuous end is indeed the most noble with respect to that end.) This is political deliberative virtue. The events that affect them in common may persist over a long period or vary within short periods. (Alfarabi’s Philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, trans. Muhsin Mahdi, (Chicago: Agora Books, 1969), “The Attainment of Happiness,” p. 24, i, ¶ 20; pp. 28–29, ii, ¶ 28.)

[2] See Charles Taylor’s definition of North Atlantic culture in A Secular Age, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2007) 1, 15.