Category Archives: Literature

Leave Harper Lee Alone

     I love the novel To Kill a Mockingbird.  It is a great work of art and among the five best novels written by an American.*  I’m not sure why the author, Harper Lee, never wrote another novel. and I don’t care.  What difference does it make? 

     A woman named Marja Mills has secured a contract with Penguin to publish her biography of Harper Lee and has claimed to have Lee’s authorization.  However, Lee now says that she did not authorize such a book or cooperate with the author in researching it. 

     It is clear that Lee likes her privacy–a lot.  It is clear that she is not keen on fame.  I think that the only decent thing to do is to leave her alone. 

     Of course Ms Mills has the right to publish a book about the reclusive author.  However, she and her publish should no misrepresent the facts about whether the book was authorized by its subject, if that is indeed what they did.

——————–

*The other four are The Scarlet Letter, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,  The Red Badge of Courage, and Atlas Shrugged.

A Bit of Poetry

     I have written a villanelle. In case you are not familiar with that form, it is a nineteen-line poem with only two rhymes.  One of the most famous ones is “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night” by Dylan Thomas.

     Tell me what you think.

No cloud was in the sky.
The sun beat down too strong.
The riverbed was dry.

Each one let out a sigh
Or sang a desperate song.
No cloud was in the sky.

We thought that we might die,
But quitting would be wrong.
The riverbed was dry.

With hope we looked on high.
A cloud might drift along.
No cloud was in the sky.

We prayed and asked God why.
We waited for so long.
The riverbed was dry.

One day a cloud came nigh
Thus ended our sad song:
“No cloud was in the sky.
The riverbed was dry.”

Gwendolyn Brooks

     Because it is Black History Month, I want to post tributes to black poets.  I’ll start with Gwendolyn Brooks.  I discovered her in grade school, but I cannot remember which poems I read then. 

     Her poem “We Real Cool”  is often found in high school literature anthologies, and I thought it was amazing.  It reminded me of jazz music, and it was much more interesting than most of the traditional poetry that I had heard or read before that time.  I took the last line as a caution for myself.

We Real Cool
by Gwendolyn Brooks
The Pool Players.
Seven at the Golden Shovel.
We real cool.  We
Left school.  We
Lurk late.  We
Strike straight.  We
Sing sin.  We
Thin gin.  We
Jazz June.  We
die soon.

Brooks wrote this interesting tribute to Robert Frost, one of my very favorite poets.  I enjoy reading poems about poets.  Since poets are in the minority and on the fringe, it is good for them to stick together and to comment on each other, I think.

Of Robert Frost
by Gwendolyn Brooks
There is a little lightning in his eyes.
Iron at the mouth.
His brows ride neither too far up nor down.
He is splendid.  With a place to stand.
Some glowing in the common blood.
Some specialness within.

I love sonnets, especially modern adaptations of the sonnet form, such as the poem following. It haunts me. I read it and re-read it, because there is so much here than the mere words.

my dreams, my works, must wait till after hell

by Gwendolyn Brooks
I hold my honey and I store my bread
In little jars and cabinets of my will.
I label clearly, and each latch and lid
I bid, Be firm till I return from hell.
I am very hungry. I am incomplete.
And none can tell when I may dine again.
No man can give me any word but Wait,
The puny light. I keep eyes pointed in;
Hoping that, when the devil days of my hurt
Drag out to their last dregs and I resume
On such legs as are left me, in such heart
As I can manage, remember to go home,
My taste will not have turned insensitive
To honey and bread old purity could love.

Twenty Things You Should Know (#11-20)

     Please see the post below this one to understand the point of this list.

11.  The Sabbath

The concept of a day to rest is one of the greatest legacies of the Abrahamic religions.  Other religions have something similar.  Human beings need relaxation and refreshment.  In fact, we now know that people work more efficiently and effectively when they are well rested.  In addition, the Sabbath is a time to ackowledge that everything we produce comes from something or someone greater than us.  In the Jewish-Christian-Muslim tradition, that means God.  For others it might be the spirits or nature or Mother Earth or the cosmos.  Even non-religious people should ackowledge their debt to forces and powers preceding them and more powerful than they are.

12.  Racism

Most people know of the existence of racism, but it is important to understand it for what it is and to eschew it.  Racism is borne of fear and ignorance.  It is completely contrary to the rational scientific method; in fact, the very concept of race is scientifically suspect.  It is contrary to individualism, and, therefore, natural law.  The most admired and respected people repudiate it as conflicting with the “Tao”or whatever they happen to call the Ideal.  It certainly opposes the virtue of Love.  Nobody would want to be a victim of racism, which proves that somewhere in each person’s mind, he or she knows that it is wrong.

Continue reading

A Libertarian Christmas Poem

I don’t plan to do lots of linking to my other blog, but I am quite proud of this post at My Own Pie.

Please tell me if you love it or hate it or feel something in between.

Not So Absurd

     I was thinking today about Theater of the Absurd and mused about how the joke is really on its practitioners and aficionados.  I am most familiar with the work of Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco, so most of my comments will be based on my knowledge of them and of their plays.  I say that the joke is on them for three reasons:  the words in their plays have meaning, the playwrights themselves do not live as though their worldview is true, and the plays would not appear absurd if their worldview were true.

     When I consider the plays themselves, I reflect on how they contain words that have reognized meanings, and they often contain bits of straightforward diaglogue that makes some degree of sense.  The absurdity comes with things like the insertion of nonsense words, illogical dialogues, and dialogue that has nothing to do with the action.  Nevertheless, most absurdist plays contain words and phrases that make sense in and of themselves, and the reason that the words and phrases make sense, is that the human mind has created them and imbued them with meaning.

     If the world were as the existentialist absurdist playwrights claim that it is, I do not believe that language would have meaning.  In fact, all that human beings could do would  be to babble sounds and die from acting completely chaotically.  The world according to these playwrights is, after all, meaningless, purposeless, random, and chaotic.

     Of course, hardly anyone of the absurdist playwrights or their audience members live as though the world is that way.  They sleep, eat, converse, work, and play as though the world and their lives have discernible meaning and a high level of predictability.  I’m reminded of a story involving Francis Schaeffer.  One day a young man was arguing with him that reality is an illusion, that what we preceive is a projection of our own mind and not something real.  One of the other guests got exasperated with that nonsense and grabbed a tea kettle full of boiling water.  He held the tea kettle over the young man’s head and said, “If what you say is true, then it would not matter if I pour this boiling water on you.”

     The fellow exclaimed, “You’re crazy!” and left abruptly.  It is unknown if the point ever sank in.

     Even if the things around us are not real, we must live, if we are to live, as though they are.  We must actually eat food, for example.  We must care for our teeth, or they will rot causing us great pain and the need for extraction.

     You know, the playwrights themselves show that something in the universe is ordered and meaningful–the human mind.  Using their own powerful minds they have created outstanding works of art.  They have every reason to be humanists rather than existentialists, since they themselves show what amazing entities human beings are.  If not humanists, they should at least realize that they have every reason to be egoists, since they are geniuses with amazingly creative and powerful brains.  (I think that essentially they are egoists, but I do not think that most of them admit it.)

     I find them lazy, to be frank.  The world is not exactly as they wish it were, so rather than look at it long and hard, they dismiss it as meaningless, purposeless, and chaotic.  They do not take the time to notice the beauty, order, meaning, and purpose that countless others recognize.  They even have to deny the reality that is right before their eyes.  They are atheists,  for the most part.  They might as well be nihilists, in which case there is no point in writing plays or in doing anything.  There’s not even any point in living. 

     But they do (or did) live, and they write plays.  Interesting!

     Not only must we live as though things are real, we must also live as though things make sense.  It might be fun  in an absurdist play to have a character pull the trigger on a gun and have balloons fall from the ceiling, but in the real world the gun would fire and the bullet would hit something, and we all know it and act accordingly.

     In fact, the reality that guns fire bullets is what makes an absurdist play absurd.  If the gun in the play shot a bullet, it would not be absurd.  And if guns in the real world caused a downpour of balloons, then the play would not be absurd.  The order of the real world is juxtaposed against the disorder of the absurdist play, and that is how audiences recognize the absurdity of the play.

     In fact, if the world were as the absurdist playwrights believe it to be, there would be nothing to say or write about their plays.  A person would not even know that he had been to a play or whether he had enjoyed it or found it boring or stupid or annoying. 

     Nobody watches Waiting for Godot or The Bald Soprano and says, “Yup, that’s exactly what the world is like.”  But that is just what the existentialist playwrights want you to think, or at least what they claim that they think.  Don’t buy it.  Please notice, along with me, that the joke is on them, not on you or me.

Desiderius Erasmus: Christian Humanist

  Erasmus by Hans Holbein the Younger  

     Erasmus was born in the 1460′s in Rotterdam.  He is famous for his beautiful style in writing Latin, his criticism of the Roman Catholic Church of his day, and his promotion of humanism within a Christian context. 

     Among his many accomplishments was editing a version of the Bible with the Greek text and Latin text in parallel columns.  This Bible was a magnificent attempt to present the best possible Greek text from the manuscripts available and to update and correct the Latin text.  Martin Luther used it when he translated the Bible into German.

     Unlike Martin Luther, Erasmus remained firmly committed to the Catholic Church, although he opposed some of its practices at the time of the Reformation. 

     In one of his books, Handbook of the Christian Soldier, Erasmus attacks mere formalism in the practice of Christianity–that is the performing of outward rituals while ignoring the actual teachings of Christ.  In Education of a Christian Prince, he suggests that to rule wisely a monarch should get a well-rounded education and should strive to be loved by his people as a benevolent leader.

     Among his more pithy sayings is “In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

FOR FURTHER READING:

Erasmus Center for Early Modern Studies

Wikipedia article on Erasmus

Catholic Encyclopedia article on Erasmus

Ebenezer Scrooge and Charity

     Everyone knows that Ebenezer Scrooge was the meanest and most miserly man in the world. For those who don’t really know, I’m speaking of the main character in the novel A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

     He says in the early part of the book that he pays enough in taxes to support the debtors’ prisons and the workhouses.  He has no obligation to take care of the poor or pay his clerk a good wage or even give a coin or two to a Christmas caroler, so he says.

     The men who are collecting a fund for the poor point out that those institutions are not very pleasant.  In fact, many poor people, they claim, would rather die than go there.  So much for government provision for the poor! 

     What’s interesting to me is that at the end of the story, after his reformation, Scrooge gives the charity collectors a large sum, raises his clerk’s salary, and promises to pay wahtever it takes to get Tiny Tim, the clerk’s crippled son, cured of his illness.

     Notice that he doesn’t insist that everybody pay more taxes or that money be distributed thoughtlessly to whoever is thought to need it.  He supports <i>private</i> charity and takes care of his own circle of people.  I think that Dickens was absolutely correct in portraying that in the novel as the right way to live.

     It’s not Scrooge’s business to make other people kind and generous.  It is only his business to be so himself.  He does not expect the government to take care of the needy, as he did before.  He takes it upon himself to use his wealth to help others.

     I think that he is right.

I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas

Drawn by Renaissance Guy using MS Paint

Drawn by Renaissance Guy using MS Paint

    Magical Snow

It’s not that I like
Having snow in my shoe
Or having my lips
Turn two shades of blue!

It’s the snow’s magic
That I really enjoy–
The great fun I had
As a bedazzled boy.

 

It’s the snowball thrown
At the annoying kid
And staying upright
During a daring skid.

 

It’s the dapper man
With the long carrot nose
And the fort where we
Played as snug Eskimos.

 

It’s sledding downhill,
Going too fast by twice.
It’s examing
Tiny crystals of ice.

 

Snow is a nuisance,
Yet its magic remains.
Its mystic power
To enchant never wanes.

 

by Renaissance Guy

Socialiizing the Kids

     Do you think that an eighth-grade literature textbook should promote a living, aspiring politician?  A mother in Wisconsin doesn’t think so, and I tend to agree with her.  The book in question is a literature book published by McDougal Littell, and it includes a twenty-page section with material from one of Barack Obama’s autobiographies and his speech at the 2004 Democratic convention.  I have a few questions:

     Why would twenty pages of a literature textbook contain something that is not a tried-and-true work of literature?  There is so much great classic literature out there, that I don’t see how a literature textbook can justify putting in something that has not yet stood the test of time.

     If they wanted to be multicultural, why did that require them to use material by Barack Obama?  There is plenty of great literature by black authors, such as Gwendolyn Brooks, Langston Hughes, Walter Dean Myers, and Alice Walker, just to name a few.  They did not have to promote a rising political star in order to include material by a person of color. 

     If they wanted to include material by a politician, then why was it a far-left one?  Why not balance the textbook by including material from a rightist or centrist, too?  Bobby Jindal’s story would have been both multicultural and a good contrast with Obama’s, for example.  So would the story of Condoleeza Rice, and they would have had a token woman in the book as well as a token black.  (I am not insulting women or blacks–just conveying the apparent mindset of the textbook editor.)

     In fact, why does multicultural mean black?  It should mean Jewish and Native American and Asian and Irish and Amish and Armenian and Arab, etc., etc. etc.  Publishers now describe books as multicultural  simply because they throw in a few selections by contemporary black authors.  I’m not sure they understand what the prefix multi- means.