Feb 13 2018

Seating at Dinner

Piazza Navona, Roma, Italia

Seating at Dinner
(According to Martha Nussbaum and Larry McMurtry)

First, from Martha:

The domain of life that can be called the “Middle Realm,” a realm in which much of our daily life is spent: in dealings with strangers, business associates, employers and employees, casual acquaintances, in short people with whom we are not involved in relations of intimacy and deep trust, but who are also people and not legal and governmental institutions. A great deal of anger is generated in this realm, over slights to reputation and honor, insults or fantasized insults, and some genuinely harmful and awful behavior. Seneca’s On Anger depicts a typical Roman’s day as a minefield. Go to a neighbor’s house and you are greeted by a surly doorman who speaks rudely to you. Go to a dinner party and you discover that the host has seated you at a place at the table that others will view as insulting. And on it goes. [1]

And from Larry:

I wasn’t good at galas, either, being inexpert in the delicate metropolitan matter of placement. At my second [PEN] gala, held downtown in the old Customs House, both Susan Sontag and Peter Jennings (the late ABC anchor) left because they were seated with people who had no idea who they were. Such, I suppose, is the Big Time. Towering figures such as Susan Sontag and Peter Jennings must be seated next to people who want to sit beneath a tower. What could be more simple?[2]

Interior of a restaurant (1887)
by Vincent van Gogh (Wikicommons)



[1] Nussbaum, Anger and Forgiveness: Resentment, Generosity, Justice, (New York, NY: Oxford UP, 2016) 138.

[2] McMurtry, Literary Life: a Second Memoir, (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2009) 132.

Oct 9 2017

Spending Sundays with Susan Sontag

porticos in Bologna, ItaliaSpending Sundays with Susan Sontag

Rebecca Chace’s “Regarding the Pain of Trump” in the Los Angeles Review of Books, September 30, 2017, has several nods and references to Susan Sontag.  And I was reading some Sontag these last two weeks: Where the Stress Falls (2001) and At the Same Time (2007), and came across this observation in the latter book:

The writer in me distrusts the god citizen, the “intellectual ambassador,” the human rights activist—those roles which are mentioned in the citation for this prize, much as I am committed to them. The writer is more skeptical, more self-doubting, than the person who tries to do (and to support the right thing).  –“Literature is Freedom”

Milkweed seeds #nature #Texas #wildflowers

A post shared by Christopher Landrum (@bookbread2) on

Sep 7 2016

All Religions, No Religion, And Beyond All That

Texas wildflowers

All Religions, No Religion, And Beyond All That


As Freddie Nacho once put it:

“All religions are at the lowest bottom systems of cruelties,” [i]


Irish Clive once quipped that:

“Atheism is too easy.”[ii]


Suzy Sunday holds:

My own view is that one cannot be religious in general any more than one can speak language in general; at any given moment one speaks French or English of Swahili or Japanese, but not “language.” [iii]



[i] Nietzsche, Friedrich. Toward a Genealogy of Morality, II, iii.

[ii] Lewis, C. S. [Clive Staples]. Mere Christianity. 1944. Macmillan, NY. 1952. pp. 46–48.

[iii] Sontag, Susan. “Piety without content.” 1961. In Against Interpretation: and Other Essays. NY: Delta Books. 1966. p. 253.

Aug 17 2015

Muddling through Books with Dreher, Bateson, and Sontag

bookbread Canterbury

Muddling through Books with Dreher, Bateson, and Sontag

Over at The American Conservative Rod Dreher writes:

The older I get, the more appreciation I have for Just Muddling Through as the only realistic solution to anything. It’s not a “solution” at all, but in the absence of a solution, it’s usually the best we can do. Every solution comes with a new set of problems.

I think this is what anthropologist Gregory Bateson was getting at when he said that explorations are self-validating, and therefore, nearly always successful. Or in Bateson’s words, explanation is “the mapping of description onto tautology”–and this is probably also what Thoreau was getting at when he remarked, “whether we travel fast or slow, the track is laid for us.”[1]

But while explorations may be self-validating, our biases, whether in life or art, protect us. As Susan Sontag reminds us:

It will be seen that stylistic decisions, by focusing our attention on some things, are also a narrowing of our attention, a refusal to allow us to see others. But the greater interestingness of one work of art over another does not rest on the greater number of things the stylistic decisions in that work allow us to attend to, but rather on the intensity and authority and wisdom of that attention, however narrow its focus.[2]



[1] Bateson, Mind and NatureA Necessary Unity. NY: Bantam. 1980. p. 139; Bateson, Don D. Jackson, Jay Haley, and John Weakland. “Toward a Theory of Schizophrenia.” Theories of Schizophrenia. Edited by Arnold H. Buss and Edith H. Buss. NY: Atherton Press. 1969. p. 82; Thoreau, Henry David.  Walden: Or Life in the Woods. Boston: Ticknor & Fields. 1854. “Chapter I: On Economy.”

[2] Sontag, “On Style” (1965) in Against Interpretation. NY: Dell. 1969. p. 36; see also Tuan, Yi-Fu. “Place/Space, Ethnicity/Cosmos: How to Be More Fully Human.” Why Place Matters: Geography, Identity, and Civic Life in Modern America. Edited by Wilfred M. McClay and Ted V. McAllister. NY: New Atlantis Books. 2014. pp. 102–19 at 111.