Rainy Day Words


“I
think that the
world should be full of cats and full of rain, that’s all, just
cats and
rain, rain and cats, very nice, good
night.”
― Charles Bukowski

Félix Bracquemond, Decoration for a Plate: Rain

“Rainy days should be spent at home with a cup of tea and a good book.”
― Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes

Porcelain Designs for Tea Cups, Anonymous, French, 19th century

The rainfall in June –
the poems I’ve pasted to walls
peel off, but leave traces.

–Basho

Night Rain at Ōyama, from the series “Eight Famous Views of Kanagawa” by Utagawa Toyokuni II

 

 

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Quotable Words: Scott Korb on John McPhee

This McPhee quote caught my eye in this piece about teaching freshman English.

“Some lines from the great writer John McPhee have helped me consolidate these lessons over the years. Reflecting in The New Yorker in 2011, he wrote: “I once made a list of all the pieces I had written in maybe 20 or 30 years, and then put a check mark beside each one whose subject related to things I had been interested in before I went to college. I checked off more than 90 percent.”

That’s true of me too, but I’m honestly not sure it’s anything to be all that proud of.

In other communications news, Jeff Bezos’ letter to shareholders is out, among its other points, (also picked up by the NYTimes).
“Amazon doesn’t allow PowerPoint slides during meetings. “Instead, we write narratively structured six-page memos,” then silently read them before meetings begin, Mr. Bezos wrote.”

 

Can’t believe that I agree with him, but I do.

Library Words

A few words on librarians from writers and others.

Bates Reading Room at the Boston Public Library. (Spot of many happy hours for me.)

If you want to get laid, go to college. If you want an education, go to the library.–Frank Zappa

Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future.–Ray Bradbury

Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries.–Anne Herbert

Libraries always remind me that there are good things in this world.–Lauren Ward

Rule number one: Don’t fuck with librarians.–Neil Gaiman

Commonplace Book: Anne Enright

The Irish novelist Anne Enright, with a meditation on Genesis and the evolution of blame. Excerpt below.

She goes on to evoke everything from Milton to Twitter, with her usual lightly worn, but amazing wit and erudition. The whole thing is worth a read.

 

From the Metropolitan Museum

The story of the Fall is one of the most enduring stories we have, and it is never fair. You could use it as a template for a certain kind of novel: put a choice in there, tip the balance, make the consequences so disproportionate we doubt our sense of cause and effect, make them suffer, make them into better human beings. Visually, the narrative is brilliantly successful, for being so easy to hold within a single frame. There is nothing static about the way the viewer sees an image of the first couple considering apples. It is a moment of great tension, and they are wearing no clothes. So, to the rules for writing a successful fiction, we might add, pretend that it is not about sex, make the world symbolic, expand the small asymmetries. Here are two human beings who are slightly, but perhaps disastrously, anatomically different. She likes something long, he likes something round – what could possibly go wrong?

The story is a riddle about authority and predestination that has survived the theological palaver of generations because, simple to the point of transparency, it is also impenetrably self-enclosed. It is held in a brilliant web of balance and contradiction by a few hundred words; so it is worth looking at those words and what they actually mean.

Just to be clear: there was no seduction. There was no devil, nor any mention of Satan, who was, at this stage, an unimportant figure. Although he played a sporadic role in the torment of Job, or in the temptation of Christ in the desert, Satan was not a mythical force before the bestiary of Revelations, and the rebellious Lucifer was some other angel until Milton came along. The idea of a great battle between light and the forces of darkness did not get going until early Christian times, possibly because this small, persecuted sect needed to find a great spiritual enemy against which to pit themselves. The creature in Genesis was just a snake, and though he was crafty, he didn’t seduce, nor did he ‘tempt’ Eve – this last term means ‘to test’ and is used only once in Genesis, when God tests Abraham, requiring the sacrifice of his son Isaac. So Eve did not tempt Adam, either, nor was he seduced by her nakedness. There is, in fact, very little sex in the story. Our readings of it are all subtext, all interpretation, all error.

Commonplace Book: Alexander McCall Smith

Alexander McCall Smith (of theThe No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series among many other books) has penned a gentle tribute to W. H. Auden. He’s an enthusiast rather than a scholar in my view, and these “How writer x can change your life” usually leave me cold (is there nothing that can’t be instrumentalized into self-help, even reading for pleasure?)  But this effort charmed me. Here he is recalling a trip to a speaking engagement in Perthshire, Scotland, a beautiful landscape that sets up his claim for the central role books play in the Scottish character.


The library lay at the end of the Roman Road, surrounded by fields in which wheat and barley were yet to ripen—lush green paddocks half-hidden by unruly hedgerows. Rioting nettles, clumps of blackthorn and rowan, wide-leafed docken grew along the side of the road until suddenly we reached an old schoolhouse and an ancient graveyard of weathered gray stones. The organizers appeared and introduced themselves, and I was taken to see the library before the guests arrived.

Belief in the word can assume the qualities of a religious faith. At the time when Lord Drummond built this place to house his precious collection of books, Scotland was prone to outbreaks of lawlessness and fierce local enmities. The lives of many were lived under the heel of powerful local clan chiefs who administered rough justice. Life was hard in every respect: this was not the rich landscape of settled England—Highland Scotland was a place in which people scraped a living and more often than not went to bed hungry.

It was a place of strong religious views. The Scottish Reformation was late but had been passionate and had brought with it a commitment to the setting up of a school in every parish. What later came to be seen as a strong Scottish commitment to education had its roots in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Books were the instruments of truth. Books were the means by which the poor could free themselves of what Auden once described as “the suffering to which they are fairly accustomed.” This attitude toward books has stubbornly survived in Scotland, mirroring, perhaps, the Irish attitude to music: both are consolations that will, in their individual way, always see one through.

Shakespeare Everyday

Nosing around the web for online Shakespeare resources (full report later), found this nice list of everyday terms that are “quoting Shakespeare.”

“All our yesterdays”— (Macbeth)

“As good luck would have it” — (The Merry Wives of Windsor)

“As merry as the day is long” — (Much Ado About Nothing / King John)

“Bated breath” — (The Merchant of Venice)

“Be-all and the end-all” — (Macbeth)

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be” — (Hamlet)

“Brave new world” — (The Tempest)

“Break the ice” — (The Taming of the Shrew)

“Brevity is the soul of wit” — (Hamlet)

“Refuse to budge an inch” — (Measure for Measure / The Taming of the Shrew)

“Cold comfort” — (The Taming of the Shrew / King John)

633px-First-page-first-folio-measure-for-measure“Conscience does make cowards of us all” — (Hamlet)

“Crack of doom” — (Macbeth)

“Dead as a doornail” — (Henry VI Part II)

“A dish fit for the gods” — (Julius Caesar)

“Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war” — (Julius Caesar)

“Devil incarnate” — (Titus Andronicus / Henry V)

“Eaten me out of house and home” — (Henry IV Part II)

“Faint hearted” — (Henry VI Part I)

“Fancy-free” — (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

“Forever and a day” — (As You Like It)

“For goodness’ sake” — (Henry VIII)

“Foregone conclusion” — (Othello)

“Full circle” — (King Lear)

“The game is afoot” — (Henry IV Part I)

“Give the devil his due” — (Henry IV Part I)

“Good riddance” — (Troilus and Cressida)

“Jealousy is the green-eyed monster” — (Othello)

“Heart of gold” — (Henry V)

“Hoist with his own petard” — (Hamlet)

“Ill wind which blows no man to good” — (Henry IV Part II)

“In my heart of hearts” — (Hamlet)

“In my mind’s eye” — (Hamlet)

“Kill with kindness” — (The Taming of the Shrew)

“Knock knock! Who’s there?” — (Macbeth)

“Laughing stock” — (The Merry Wives of Windsor)

“Live long day” — (Julius Caesar)

“Love is blind” — (The Merchant of Venice)

“Milk of human kindness” — (Macbeth)

“More sinned against than sinning” — (King Lear)

“One fell swoop” — (Macbeth)

“Play fast and loose” — (King John)

“Set my teeth on edge” — (Henry IV Part I)

“Wear my heart upon my sleeve” — (Othello)

“Wild-goose chase” — (Romeo and Juliet)

 


And some nice bits on Shakespeare’s Sonnets–ever surprising works–from a recent TLS.

Writers as well as readers have found the sonnets irresistible – not only because of their quasi-autobiographical subject material, but also because of their raw exploration of why anyone would bother to write at all. These poems have indeed enjoyed extraordinarily complex and rich afterlives. Jonathan Post’s chapter on “regifting” the sonnets attends to new work by British and American poets including Jen Bervin, Carol Ann Duffy, Don Paterson, Elizabeth Bishop and Allen Ginsberg. The boorish speaker of Wendy Cope’s “Strugnell’s Sonnets”, in Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis, keeps twisting Shakespeare’s opening lines: “The expense of spirits is a crying shame”. In an altogether different register, the American poet Alice Fulton’s collection Barely Composed contains a poem which scrambles a series of prefixes, suffixes and homonyms from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 87. As Post puts it, “how strange and barely recognisable, yet so it is”. The title of Fulton’s poem, “Peroral”, refers to the practice of taking a dose of medicine by the mouth – and this suggests, to Fulton and perhaps to Post, a new way of doing creative justice to poetry from the distant past. Reading the sonnets is no longer simply therapeutic, as if influence were a form of influenza. It seems more purposeful to work collaboratively (instead of competitively) with these poems in order to create bright new redactions

Quotable Words: On Inequality

dividedSome quotes on inequality; today, as in the past, a pressing issue. From David Cay Johnson’s reader, Divided: The Perils of Our Growing Inequality and other sources.

“Any city, however small, is in fact divided into two, one the city of the poor, the other of the rich; these are at war with one another. “—Plato


“An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal aliment of all republics.” —Plutarch


“Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.

But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.

And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” —Matthew 19: 21-24


“The disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful, and to despise, or at least, to neglect persons of poor and mean condition is the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments.”—Adam Smith


“The causes which destroyed the ancient republics were numerous; but in Rome, one principal cause was the vast inequality of fortunes.” —Noah Webster


“The man of great wealth owes a peculiar obligation to the state because he derives special advantages from the mere existence of government.” —Theodore Roosevelt


“I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence.” —Eugene V. Debs


“We can either have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.” —Louis Brandeis


“American inequality didn’t just happen. It was created.” —Joseph Stiglitz


“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”—Franklin D. Roosevelt


“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.” —Frederick Douglass


“There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” —Warren Buffett


“America is, and always has been, undecided about whether it will be the United States of Tom or the United States of Huck. The United States of Tom looks at misery and says: Hey, I didn’t do it. It looks at inequity and says: All my life I busted my butt to get where I am, so don’t come crying to me. Tom likes kings, codified nobility, unquestioned privilege. Huck likes people, fair play, spreading the truck around. Whereas Tom knows, Huck wonders. Whereas Huck hopes, Tom presumes. Whereas Huck cares, Tom denies. These two parts of the American Psyche have been at war since the beginning of the nation, and come to think of it, these two parts of the World Psyche have been at war since the beginning of the world, and the hope of the nation and of the world is to embrace the Huck part and send the Tom part back up the river, where it belongs.” —George Saunders


“When the rate of return on capital exceeds the rate of growth of output and income, as it did in the nineteenth century and seems quite likely to do again in the twenty-first, capitalism automatically generates arbitrary and unsustainable inequalities that radically undermine the meritocratic values on which democratic societies are based.” —Thomas Piketty


“All social inequalities which have ceased to be considered expedient, assume the character not of simple inexpediency, but of injustice, and appear so tyrannical, that people are apt to wonder how they ever could have been tolerated; forgetful that they themselves perhaps tolerate other inequalities under an equally mistaken notion of expediency, the correction of which would make that which they approve seem quite as monstrous as what they have at last learnt to condemn.” —John Stuart Mill


“Our inequality materializes our upper class, vulgarizes our middle class, brutalizes our lower class.” –Matthew Arnold


“The poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly. The rich have always objected to being governed at all.” –G. K. Chesterton


97px-Père-Lachaise_-_Division_48_-_Balzac_07
Balzac, credit: Coyau / Wikimedia

“Behind every great fortune is a crime.” –Honore De Balzac