Thursday, January 14, 2010

Poem: "the cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls", by e. e. cummings

the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls
are unbeautiful and have comfortable minds
(also, with the church's protestant blessings
daughters, unscented shapeless spirited)
they believe in Christ and Longfellow,both dead,
are invariably interested in so many things-
at the present writing one still finds
delighted fingers knitting for the is it Poles?
perhaps. While permanent faces coyly bandy
scandal of Mrs. N and Professor D
....the Cambridge ladies do not care,above
Cambridge if sometimes in its box of
sky lavender and cornerless, the
moon rattles like a fragment of angry candy

More things should rattle like fragments of angry candy. And, like a Cambridge lady living in a furnished soul, I, too believe in Longfellow.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Snow Country, by Yasunari Kawabata

It's been a while since I read this book, but it was one of the first ones that I read while I was sort of discovering what I liked about real, good literature. I was going to write about Myra Breckinridge, which I read yesterday on the plane, but I'm really unsure what to say about it, so I think I'm going to let it stew in my mind for another day before attempting to say intelligent things about it.

I'm going to start by making a sort of facile observation that, of all the litearture I've read, Japanese seems to be overall the most positive about nationalism and their county in general. Perhaps someone would care to disagree?

Snow Country, which is probably the best known work by Kawabata, has actually been published in two forms. The one that I read is a novel which is just shy of 200 pages, but Kawabata also published it in "palm of the hand" form, which reduced it to only a few pages. Although the palm-of-the-hand version necessarily loses all of the detail of the novel, the basic structure, movement, and sorrowful beauty is retained, which shows a remarkable control and simplicity that's quite impressive.

The novel revolves around three visits by a ballet critic, named Shimamura, to a geisha, named Komako, in a resort town in the north of Japan. In the first visit, Komako is still fairly immature, leading them to gain sort of friendship as Shimamura tries to protect her and forgives her mistakes. But by the second visit, Komako is a woman and an experienced geisha, leading Shimamura to desire her in a more sexual way than is technically premissive in the geisha-client relationship. And by the third visit, they're having an affair, although Shimamura also gets it for Yoko, who works as a maid at Shimamura's hotel. But their affair is doomed to failure; it literally almost never worked out for geishas, and by putting one of them at the center of his novel, Kawabata is sending us the signal that the ending is going to be sad. And it is, although I won't ruin it beyond that.

In some respects, this traces the development of the emotional maturity of the characters, which is also paralleled in their career development. Komako moes from being an inexperiened girl to a woman capable of supporting an angry love affair with Shimamura, just as she moves from being an unseasoned geisha into a graceful expert (although she learns the shamisen from the radio, which isn't exactly the tradition.) And when the novel ends, she's prepared to move on with her life without bitterness and without Shimamura.

Shimamura, in contrast, has no emotional development or career development; he's frozen in time, which forms the basis for the failure of the relationships in the novel, and also for its tragedy. Shimamura, as quizbowl will tell you, actually doesn't know anything about ballet, his nominal field of expertise - in fact, he's never actually seen one and experienced its beauty in person, . And he's focused on something western, which is never a good trait in a character in a Japanese novel (see: Some Prefer Nettles.) So Shimamura is really quite a failure in his career, doing nothing useful, sitting idly by and leeching off the pres without really contributing any expertise. And the equivalence between his professional development and his emotional maturity is absolute.

Neither of the two major are really complexly realized. The equivalence between emotional and professional maturity is pretty even. But there's a certain beauty in this simplicity, and one can charitably assume that to be Kawabata's goal in writing the novel. Rather than presenting a complex psychological portrait of two characters in their relationship, we get a series of three episodes which illustrate a larger story of loss and beauty between two lovers. I don't think anyone can claim that the novel is really that interesting psychologically But it is beautiful, if simple, and I think that lends credence to the frequent observation that Kawabata was really trying to write a novel-length haiku.

Those observations made, here's a brilliant haiku by Richard Wright, who's way better known for his novels than his extensive poetic writings:

In the falling snow
A laughing boy holds out his palms
Until they are white.

And as always, if you want to buy a copy of the book mentioned in this post, you can go here

Poem: "since feeling is first", e.e. cummings

Well, counting is apparently beyond me (or I was just really tired), but I actually get to post three more e.e. cummings poems before his time is up and I switch to someone else (Wallace Stevens, ladies and gentlemen!) Here's a less famous, but much more representative poem, by e.e. cummings; it's beloved by myself and several of my friends.

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;
wholly to be a fool
while Spring is in the world

my blood approves,
and kisses are a better fate
than wisdom
lady i swear by all flowers. Don't cry
—the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids' flutter which says

we are for each other: then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life's not a paragraph

And death i think is no parenthesis

Look at the reference to Spring: that's a really characterisitc cummings move. And this is one of his classic, touching love poems. If you haven't liked the cummings thus far, this is what most of his poetry is actually like.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Poem: "pity this busy monster manunkind" by e e cummings

pity this busy monster,manunkind,

not.  Progress is a comfortable disease:
your victum(death and life safely beyond)

plays with the bigness of his littleness
-electrons deify one razorblade
into a mountainrange;lenses extend

unwish through curving wherewhen until unwish
returns on its unself.
         A world of made
is not a world of born-pity poor flesh

and trees,poor stars and stones,but never this
fine specimen of hypermagical

ultraomnipotence.  We doctors know

a hopeless case if-listen:there's a hell
of a good universe next door;let's go.

I love the last idea of this one: "listen: there's a hell/of a good universe next door; let's go." The idea of being able to pack it up and go next door when things aren't going well is entrancing. And "hypermagical ultraomnipotence" is just a fantastic phrase.

This is e.e. cummings in a different, more cosmic mood than we've seen him. There's only one more day of e e cummings left to go, and that will have to be a love poem, simply because that comprises so much of his work.

Disgrace, by J.M. Coetzee

Guys, I'm sorry I didn't post last night; I had an extremely late night/early morning, and not missing flights takes precedence over posting quasi-book reviews.

I very recently read Disgrace, by South African writer J.M. Coetzee., on the recommendation of a friend of mine. J.M. Coetzee is a unique sort of good writer. The landscape of South Africa is definitely very present in his work; certainly, there's probably a point to be made here about the external reflecting the internal. But that's not where I'm going with this post. Instead, for this blog post, I'm going to be thinking about dimensions of power.

David Lurie, Romanticist and romantic, is sort of in the habit of asserting his power. He seduces a young student in one of his classes, luring her (although she's certainly not entirely unwilling, one never gets the impression that she's particularly excited) into a relationship that she ultimately repudiates by striking back; she brings him up on ethics charges, getting him tossed out of the university. This is pretty standard stuff; the politics of their relationship is a give-and-take that ultimately goes poorly for the original taker.

But Lurie doesn't go gently; he refuses to pander to the ethics committee, standing on the principle that no one but he can possibly know whether or not he regrets his assertion of power and masculinity. And that's not an idle characterization: the novel makes it pretty clear that Lurie's real motivation isn't so much a desire for sex with the young lady, but intsead, a desire to prove himself virile and masculine even in the declining years.

Things go south from there. Lurie goes to stay with his daughter,Lucy,  a fiercely independent woman and a lesbian to boot. And out of the confines of his quite modern university, the politics of power are really in plain view. At the climax of the novel, Lurie and his daughter's house is attacked and the poor young woman is raped, which is standardly read as an assertion of power. And it soon becomes clear that the act was at the instigation of her hired help, a black man named Petrus in the post-apartheid era. Petrus' motivations are simple: he wants to take over hte land on which Lucy lives and make it his own, and if that's not possible, he'll settle for having it basically under his control, perhaps by marrying her. These machinations of power are also pretty standard. But they're garish and extreme to us, and to Lurie, who's accustomed to the workings of the more civilized, but no less savage, parts of South Africa.

In some ways, that was really the impact of Disgrace to me. It's far from a one-dimensional novel; I've not even mentioned the Byron storyline, which is quite interesting in and of itself. But when I read Disgrace, I saw parallel worlds coexisting inside one country the savage acts of rape and ritual land-conquer-marriage, and the machinations of the university and the politics of a love affair. That's the South Africa about which J.M. Coetzee writes, and it is a terrifying, beautiful place.

I'd also be amiss if I didn't mention that David Lurie teaches Wordsworth's Prelude, which is a (brilliant) poem I learned about from survey professor extraordinaire Julia Saville, a brilliant lady who did her doctoral work under Coetzee himself. I'm deeply indebted to her for a fantastic introduction to the delights of British literature (which I'm not writing about for a while due to quiz bowl). Thanks, Professor Saville!

And as always, guys, if you want a sweet copy of Disgrace, go here! But I actually have two, so if you're geographically close to me, you can borrow one.

Man, that wasn't about e.e. cummings at all, was it?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Poem: "buffalo bill's defunct" by e.e. cummings

Buffalo Bill's
       who used to
       ride a watersmooth-silver
and break onetwothreefourfive pigeonsjustlikethat
he was a handsome man
                     and what i want to know is
how do you like your blueeyed boy
Mister Death

I haven't really done anything to buck the "not actually representative e.e. cummings poetry" trend, have I?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Poem: "nobody loses all the time" by e e cummings/cooking/a question or two

nobody loses all the time

i had an uncle named
Sol who was a born failure and
nearly everybody said he should have gone
into vaudeville perhaps because my Uncle Sol could
sing McCann He Was A Diver on Xmas Eve like Hell Itself which
may or may not account for the fact that my Uncle

Sol indulged in that possibly most inexcusable
of all to use a highfalootin phrase
luxuries that is or to
wit farming and be
it needlessly

my Uncle Sol's farm
failed because the chickens
ate the vegetables so
my Uncle Sol had a
chicken farm till the
skunks ate the chickens when

my Uncle Sol
had a skunk farm but
the skunks caught cold and
died and so
my Uncle Sol imitated the
skunks in a subtle manner

or by drowning himself in the watertank
but somebody who'd given my Uncle Sol a Victor
Victrola and records while he lived presented to
him upon the auspicious occasion of his decease a
scrumptious not to mention splendiferous funeral with
tall boys in black gloves and flowers and everything and

i remember we all cried like the Missouri
when my Uncle Sol's coffin lurched because
somebody pressed a button
(and down went
my uncle

and started a worm farm)

Here's another e.e. cummings poem! I fear that I'm giving the people in my audience who don't know a whole lot about e.e. cummings a bad idea of what most of his poetry is like; maybe I can rectify that by writing about him tomorrow in lieu of a book review.

In other news, we're making some awesome sauerbraten for my grandfather's 77th birthday tonight. It has to brine for two days and be turned twice each of those days, so that may give an idea of what's involved here.

If I wrote about about some stuff from philosophy, would you enjoy reading that? Or should I stick to book reviews?