The Bibliothecary
June 1 - 30, 2005
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Thursday, June 30, 2005
Nestled between book-filled Tuscan farmhouses for rent and antiquarian booksellers are the London Review of Books
Personals, featuring literary-alluding-intellectuals glibly seeking sex.  Here's a funny one:

Nihilist seeks nothing.

Even funnier because there is no post box to respond.  The print edition includes this announcement/apology:

Each issue, the sender of the most notable ad will receive a bottle of Champagne Taittinger.
This issue's winner is box no.12/09, but we accidentally posted the prize to box no.12/11.

Here's 12/09:

If I was a gambling man, I’d bet you’d be blonde, 30, passionate, impetuous and writing poetry. If I trusted my instinct, you’d be
brunette, 35, a little cynical, preparing for that year-out sabbatical and writing that first novel. If I left it to fate, you’d be 67, bald
and a man with sclerotic arteries. The intuition my mother handed down and my collection of county court judgments suggest that
placing an ad in this column puts you firmly in the last category. Resigned M. (52, Colchester), finally embracing defeat and
anything else that comes along at box no. 12/09

and here's 12/11:

My mind is a globe of excitement. My heart is an atlas of generosity. My body is a map of struggle. You can camp out on the flat
heaths, but careful where you tread and remember to close all gates behind you. Arkela of desire (F, 38) seeks orienteering M to 45
for nights of bluster and queuing for the showers at box no. 12/11

"Arkela of desire" is pretty hard to beat, but I have to agree that 12/09 is pretty funny.

As a young man, Maurice Lindsay wrote to T.S. Eliot, suggesting an anthology of Scottish poetry: "Over tea and cucumber
sandwiches in wartime London, Eliot asked the 25-year-old Scot to edit the collection."  Now Lindsay has
published a new
edition.  Here he is on
Hugh MacDiarmid:

Lindsay doesn't hesitate about which poet has had the most influence.
"Oh MacDiarmid, without a doubt. He was a genius, but he could also be a hell of a
bad poet. He thought that everything he wrote was genius, and the older he got, they
all started to get political. He got terribly angry if anyone dared criticise what was
obviously awful work.
"But for about ten years he was a genius, which is not bad."


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005
Ben Macintyre's column on the cult of Horatio Nelson in Britain:

But it was his death, at the very moment of victory, that turned Nelson from hero into cult. Some of the demonstrations of grief
were frankly weird. The slain hero’s corpse was pickled in a cask of brandy for the long voyage back to London; after the body had
been removed, the brandy was distributed to Nelson sailors, who drank to his memory in what must have been a disgusting funeral
libation: brandy with tincture of dead admiral.

Beware, friends and family (and you all know you're going to outlive me), I'm putting that ritual in my own will.  

Here's James Fenton on how T.S. Eliot's view of Dante is still beneficial to poets:

Eliot had found that, with Dante and "with several other poets in languages in which [he] was unskilled," this sense of having got
something from a poem before really understanding it was not fanciful. When he verified such experiences on fuller knowledge, he
found that "They were not due . . . to misunderstanding the passage, or to reading into it something not there, or to accidental
sentimental evocations out of my own past. The impression was new, and of, I believe, the objective 'poetic emotion'."

O! for a Muse of fire, that would ascend   
The brightest heaven of invention;   
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act    
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene.

On this date in 1613, Shakespeare's Globe Theatre burned to the ground.  I said a Muse of fire, dammit!

The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.   

Tuesday, June 28 , 2005
Michael Dirda's review of the new William Empson biography, Among the Mandarins, includes this summary of Empson's

In 1929, the young Empson had received a starred first-class degree in English, was awaiting the publication of Seven Types of
and had just been appointed -- partly under the auspices of his distinguished mentor, I.A. Richards -- to a fellowship at
Magdalene College, Cambridge. But while his belongings were being moved into new quarters, college servants turned up "birth
control mechanisms," i.e., condoms. In short order, Magdalene's senior officials met in conclave, a landlady admitted that Empson
had been seen in a highly compromising situation with a young woman, and a vote was taken before Richards could return from
abroad to defend his greatest student. Seven weeks after the unfortunate discovery, the name William Empson was wiped clean
from the account books of Magdalene. It was as though he had never been -- until, 50 years later, the college awarded the
distinguished Professor Sir William Empson an honorary doctorate.

The young Empson was devastated, as well as suddenly without prospects. He freelanced in London, where he met or renewed his
acquaintance with many of the luminaries of the day, including Virginia Woolf and T.S. Eliot. Eventually, though, Richards helped
him find a job teaching in Japan for three years, later followed by another period of freelancing in London (which included some
serious pub-crawling with Dylan Thomas). Shortly thereafter began Empson's long involvement with the universities of China,
partly as a professor of literature and partly as an advocate of Basic English, a system of language study based on an essential
vocabulary of 850 words. Arriving at National Peking University just as the Japanese invaded in 1937, Empson lived for the next
two and more years the same itinerant, hand-to-mouth existence as his Chinese colleagues did. Without books, he taught courses by
typing up from memory page after page of English poetry. In due time, his students (then and later, for in 1947 he returned for five
more years) rose to become the academic leaders of modern China, and Empson's name is revered there to this day.

Drummed out of school for possessing condoms!?  A university today would be overjoyed at finding such a cache.  But what
I find most glorious is his transcribing from memory English poems to teach to his Chinese students.  I love that.

Scott McLemee wrote this well-argued column showing the inaccuracy of comparing Oscar Wilde's trial with Michael
Jackson's.  In it he linked a
site containing transcripts of famous trials.  The Wilde excerpts make for great reading.  Very
funny, but, in light of all the stupid nonsense still uttered over homosexuality, I cannot help feeling depressed at how little
we've advanced in the last hundred years.  There are lots more fascinating trial transcripts on this site: Burr conspiracy, Lenny
Bruce, Lizzie Borden, Black Sox scandal.  


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Monday, June 27, 2005
I link this review of Charles Simic's new book of poetry only because it was written by Bro Dan, one of my professors from
college days, and one of the most fascinating and knowledgable men I've ever met.  It's not much of a review (lots of quotes,
little commentary, until the last line: "This is a rich chowder of a book."  That's brilliant.  More reviews ought to have lines like

I love the "voice" in this review.  The tone is one of snobbish contention, from the first sentence:

My Name Is Legion seems to me an unpleasant book. Not mildly, or superficially, but profoundly unpleasant.
For someone who, according to his publisher, "holds a prominent position in the world of literature and journalism" ("worlds" would
surely have said it better), Wilson writes badly. This is the first book by him that I have read, and it serves notice as early as the
third word - a which that should have been that - that he does not know the difference between a defining and a non-defining clause.

This indignation (although I think the rarer indignance would better fit) at the improprieties of Wilson's style continues for the
entire review.  I love this because the reviewer transcends the review, becomes a crotchety character in his own piece.  It's
fun to read lines that begin, "Less repugnant if still hardly admirable are . . ." and others that end ". . . is a capitulation to
sentimentality of the most cloying nature."  I feel like I'm being lectured by an Oxford don of the 19th century.  I'm sure the
reviewer had no intention of any of this.  But for me, it's an enjoyable accident.

This is just a very funny piece on heavyweight boxing "characters" from the 1970s and 80s, my childhood years watching
boxing.  A favorite of mine was Randall Tex Cobb who at the time was fighting out of Philly (I met him once, got an

Randall “Tex” Cobb, a former kickboxer and football player at Abilene
Christian, once was suspended from the team when the coach saw him,
clad only in jockstrap, standing on a dormitory roof.  He had an English
crossbow and was shooting flaming arrows at another dorm, screaming:
“Get ready to die.”


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Thursday, June 23, 2005
Today is the anniversary of the ichthiobibliophage.  From the 1869 edition of Chambers' Book of Days:

On the 23rd of June 1626, a cod-fish was brought to Cambridge market, which, upon being opened, was found
to contain a book in its maw or stomach. The book was much soiled, and covered with slime, though it had been
wrapped in a piece of sail-cloth. It was a duodecimo work written by one John Frith, comprising several treatises
on religious subjects. In a letter now in the British Museum, written by Mr. Mead, of Christchurch College, to Sir
M.Stuteville, the writer says:
'I saw all with mine own eyes, the fish, the maw, the piece of sail-cloth, the book, and observed all I have written;
only I saw not the opening of the fish, which not many did, being upon the fish-woman's stall in the market, who
first cut off his head, to which the maw hanging, and seeming much stuffed with somewhat, it was searched, and
all found as aforesaid. He that had had his nose as near as I yester morning, would have been persuaded there was
no imposture here without witness. The fish came from Lynn.'
The treatises contained in this book were written by Frith when in prison. Strange to say, he had been long confined
in a fish cellar at Oxford, where many of his fellow-prisoners died from the impure exhalations of unsound salt fish.
He was removed from thence to the Tower, and in 1533 was burned at the stake for his adherence to the reformed
religion. The authorities at Cambridge reprinted the work, which had been completely forgotten, till it turned up in this
strange manner. The reprint is entitled
VoxPiscis, or the Book-Fish, and is adorned with a woodcut representing the
stall in Cambridge market, with the fish, book, and knife.

You need to know this stuff.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005
Tonight I did something I rarely get to do in my days of unemployment (of course, taking care of children is employment
indeed, but when they are your own there is no monetary compensation).  I bought books.  Two of them.  In crisp, brand
spanking new condition.  The first is
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, which is the summer reading assignment for my
freshman comp students this Fall.  The
second is by Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan, a collection of tales of his lesser
known hero,
The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane.  Kane is a haunted Puritan who travels the world avenging the innocent.  
The book is prefaced by a memoriam from one of my least favorite writers, H.P. Lovecraft, whose writing I have scoffed at
in previous blogs (see April 20 and May 16 in the archives).  I, of course, skipped Lovedaft's memoriam, but, I must admit,
felt a little guilty at liking Howard's bloody prose so much, while still disparaging the Crap of Cthulu.  Perhaps it is Howard's
relentless purpose.  His prose may be rife with clichés (lots of pallid faces and cackling laughter), but his characters have a
ring of solidity in their pursuit of violence (or perhaps it's just the blood-lust of my inner alpha-male).  His character Kane is
very memorable, a fanatic who just happens to be on the side of the innocent and is aware of his own helplessness to stop his
violent marauding (is there any other kind of marauding?).  Kane pursues one evildoer to the very jungles of Africa and
despite Howard's baldly racist descriptions of lurid, bestial savages, Kane finds himself identifying with their savagery.  To
top it all off, in the end after his sword has finally been whetted with justice, Kane does not self-righteously gloat over the
fallen sinners:

Far away came the mutter of drums.  Kane mechanically cleansed his sword on his tattered garments.  The trail
ended here, and Kane was conscious of a strange feeling of futility.  He always felt that, after he had killed a foe.  
Somehow it always seemed that no real good had been wrought; as if the foe had, after all, escaped his just

That's good stuff.  Makes me want to read more.  I am impelled along Solomon Kane's futile path. With Lovecraft, I am
always repelled.  


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005
I read only paper documents last week.  My eyes did the scrolling, not the screen.   It was very refreshing to voluntarily turn
off the computer for an entire week.  Sometimes it feels like my life revolves around it.  My desire to plumb the depths of
cyberspace, searching for those few gems of prose, deludes me into thinking I need to do this.  Well, perhaps I do.  But the
scramble to take care of my kids (for those who don't know me personally, I am a stay at home Dad with five daughters),
then find time to read books, write, and maintain the blog can sometimes be daunting (not to mention the woefully short time
spent with my wife).  But now I'm back.  The kids are tucked in.  My pipe is lit.  The books await.  

Here's a Reader's Confessal I
wrote earlier this year which sums up why I do this blog:

I read this beautiful
quote by Joseph Keating, a Welsh collier and autodidact:
"Reading of all sorts—philosophy, history, politics, poetry, and novels—was mixed up with my music and other amusements.
I was tremendously alive at this period. Everything interested me. Every hour, every minute was crammed with my activities in
one direction or another. New, mysterious emotions and passions seemed to be breaking out like little flames from all parts of
my body. As soon as the morning sunlight touched my bedroom window, I woke. I did not rise. I leaped up. I flung the
bedclothes away from me. They seemed to be burning my flesh. A glorious feeling within me, as I got out of bed, made me
sing. My singing was never in tune, but my impulse of joy had to express itself."
While I’ve certainly received too much formal education to call myself an autodidact (use of this term itself could be proof of
too much education), I am glad the study of literature has not sullied the thrill I still get from reading.  And I feel so much
solidarity with Keating.  Reading is, after all, a solitary activity, but the sharing of our passion for books is the communal mass
that binds the congregation of readers.  What though I was raised in a middle-class home in Olney and Keating trod the coal
pits of Wales.  We both crave the Whitmanesque impulse of joy that emanates from good books.  What though I was first
given the fruits of great authors by suited professors and Keating plucked his from second hand stalls.  We both invigorate
our selves with the seeds of well-turned verse.  While I wile away my hours with pipe and book, sequestered in my dusty
third floor nook of a library, I know that other readers pour over their chosen books in their own lonely ways. There is solace
in this ethereal community.  But there is also an ecstatic rush that whisks me from my chair and sends me shouting to the
world, “Read this!  Read this!”  And I know out there, somewhere, is a Welsh collier or a suited professor or some other
comrade of the book who hears me.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Monday, June 13, 2005
Things have been very busy here at the Bibliothecary's home, so he has decided to turn off his computer for about a week to
get himself situated.  (He's feeling a little pulled in too many directions.)  In the meantime, check out some of the other blogs
linked on the
Bibliothecary mainpage.  And tune in again next week.


Friday, June 10, 2005
I'm fascinated by this piece on Otto Ege, a rare book collector who separated the leaves of fifty different medieval
manuscripts, then mixed the leaves into fifty different boxes which he proceeded to disperse around the world, seeding his

Being the genuinely compassionate collector that he was, Ege thought it would be a good idea to spread the wealth
around. He tore the leaves made of prepared sheep and calfskin from these hand-written books (the printing press
wasn't invented until 1450), divided them among 40 boxes and sold the boxes around the world. The pages were
etched mostly in Latin by monks from Germany, Italy, France and the Netherlands, almost all of them religious
Ege was "interested in the different kinds of writing that monks used -- the different shapes of letters, the different
inks they used," Stoicheff said.
His purpose was to provide as many people as possible with access to many different kinds of medieval manuscripts.
As he wrote in defence of his practice: "Few, indeed, can hope to own a complete manuscript book; hundreds,
however, may own a leaf."

Now the books are going to be reassembled.  But I'm a little sad about that.  I like the idea of the fifty boxes floating around
out there.  I'm not even annoyed at the person hawking leaves from one box on Ebay.  Spread them around.  It gives future
generations another biblio-puzzle to assemble.    

And here's some rare book news on the theft of Torahs:

But experts say Torahs are stolen more often than you'd think. Geoffrey Haber, rabbi at Temple Emanu-El, learned
the hard way in 1998, when a burglar swiped two scrolls from his synagogue in Englewood, New Jersey. They
were recovered by an NYPD Torah-theft task force in a sting operation after the thief, a maintenance man working
in the neighborhood, tried to sell the scrolls to a New York rabbi, claiming they were part of an inheritance.

The NYPD Torah-theft task force.  I love love that.  That's something out of a Thursday Next storyline.  Torah thieves
beware: Yahweh's got a SWAT team.

Dan responds to yesterday's Brad Pitt post:
Ed, It certainly is sad, but I do think lots of teenage girls probably have Brad Pitt icons on their desktop.
These kinds of conference papers are silly. I always think of the Popular Culture Conference I presented at a few years back
in Albuquerque. Our panel was on the seriousness of humor in post-modern literature. We were automatically lumped into
the humor section of the conference. Needless to say, our session was not knee-slapping fun. Most of the people walked out
before a half-hour had gone by, one of them left talking to his friend saying, "They're not funny at all".
I feel bad saying this, but when I am the most academic person at a seriously are you going to take it?
There were no Brad Pitt sessions that I recall, but there were many laughable ones: Philosophy of the Grateful Dead, The
Prime Directive in Homeric Epic, Buffy and other strong women in Literature, the Matrix and Philosophy, to name a few. I
tried going to some talks, but I just couldn't bear it.

Dan, I don't think pop culture is all meaningless.  Some of it can be quite
fulfilling.  But  I found the Brad Pitt one ridiculous
because the jargon of the CFP was just masking bullshit.  The bit that I copied would apply to just about any actor of "edgy"
films.  Or worse yet, plug in Vin Diesel's name to the CFP text.  Go ahead.  The jargon works for him as well.

And thanks to
Scott McLemee who gave the Bibliothecary a plug yesterday on his blog.  I regularly enjoy his columns for
Inside Higher Ed and am glad he likes this blog.  


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Thursday, June 9, 2005
Call for papers: The Cultural Logic of Brad Pitt, "a panel on the film icon, Brad Pitt."  I kid you not:

Depicting masculine American whiteness in various states of crisis, his characters generally enact complex
postmodern agencies; they are never wholly coherent, they are often self-destructive, and they generally rely
on a certain amount of play -- between stability and instability, between life and death, between autonomy and
alter-dependency, between control and abandon. Simultaneously reifying and challenging hegemonic codes of
race, class, gender, and regional or national identity, his characters explore the complex and changing postmodern
cultural landscape.

There are so many ridiculous things here, I won't take the bait.  But icon?  Bogart, Wayne, James Dean.  Those are icons.  
One of the problems of studying popular culture is its insistence of its own merit.  Popular does not mean iconic.

Dead Writer for today is a big  one (though maybe not as iconic as Brad Pitt):
Charles Dickens
died on this day in 1870.  He wrote a few novels and although,
aesthetically, they may be no "Ocean's Twelve" or "Meet Joe Black," they're pretty


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.                

Wednesday, June 8, 2005
What happens when a Victorian xenophobe (who doesn't travel) writes travel guides?  The answer is Mrs. Mortimer:

The English, like nearly all peoples on earth except for the Dutch, are not very clean. They make disagreeable
company, they are "too fond of money" and they complain too much. "Is London a pleasant city?" Mr. Mortimer
asks. "No; because there is so much fog and so much smoke. This makes it dark and black." On the plus side,
England is Protestant, unlike, say, Turkey, where the people believe in a false prophet named Muhammad ("a
wicked man"), who "wrote a book called the Koran, and filled it with foolish stories, and absurd laws, and horrible
China has three religions, none good, though the religion of Confucius is possibly less bad than the others. Lao-tzu,
the father of Taoism, cannot fool Mrs. Mortimer ("What an awful liar this man must have been") and Buddhism
gets short shrift. "Buddha pretended he could make people happy; and his way of doing so was very strange," she
writes. "He told them to think of nothing, and then they would be happy."

But it gets better.  Mrs. Mortimer was also a children's author.  Todd Pruzan, editor of the collection of her travel writings,
The Clumsiest People in Europe, wrote a New Yorker piece on her in April in which he quotes from one of her books for
The Peep of Day; or, a Series of the Earliest Religious Instruction the Infant Mind is Capable of Receiving.
Parents beware.  Under no circumstances allow actual children to read this:

God has covered your bones with flesh. Your flesh is soft and warm.
In your flesh there is blood. God has put skin outside, and it covers your flesh and blood like a coat...How kind
of God it was to give you a body! I hope that your body will not get hurt.
Will your bones break? -- Yes, they would, if you were to fall down from a high place, or if a cart were to go over
How easy it would be to hurt your poor little body!
If it were to fall into the fire, it would be burned up.. If a great knife were run through your body, the blood would
come out. If a great box were to fall on your head, your head would be crushed. If you were to fall out of the
window, your neck would be broken. If you were not to eat some food for a few days, your little body would be
very sick, your breath would stop, and you would grow cold, and you would soon be dead.
(Cue maniacal laughter)


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Monday, June 6, 2005
A grab bag today:

Jorge Luis Borges investigates the locked-room murder of a scholar at an Edgar Allan Poe conference:
Borges and the
Eternal Orangutans
.  This sounds great (although I would have liked a lot less plot summary in this review):

Few novels delight more than the madcap menagerie of genres, a test that requires a literary zookeeper of
extraordinary talent to pull off.
Try combining three especially artful forms - the detective tale, Borgesian philosophical story, and "Small World"
takeoff of academic life - and only masters need apply.
Treat yourself, then, to Luis Fernando Verissimo - truly - the wildly talented Brazilian novelist, journalist, cartoonist
and saxophonist, best known for his work in the magazine Veja, who obviously likes mixing things.
Borges and the Eternal Orangutans, his droll and clever second fiction to be published in English, makes lovely
music from all the literary strings it strums, keeping a smile on your face throughout.

A hilarious series of parodies by Kenneth Koch of William Carlos Williams' "This Is Just to Say" in Pinsky's poetry column.  
My favorite is number 3.

I never knew the word shrapnel was derived from someone's name: Henry Shrapnel, inventor of the Shrapnel shell in the
early 19th century.  His bio
entry is at the Oxford DNB.

I watched a great John Ford war movie the other night, "They Were Expendable," about the US defeat in the Philippines.  As
the title suggests, the movie is grim and melancholic.  When one of his fellow sailors dies, John Wayne delivers a makeshift
eulogy by reciting Robert Louis Stevenson's "Requiem," a
poem that always devastates me.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Friday, June 3, 2005
An essay on chess and its place in Western Culture (though it's Eastern origins are mentioned).  There are a few hyperbolic
clunkers ("it was the Fischer-Spassky match of 1972 . . . that marked the beginning of the end of the cold war," "In a state
where religion was brutally suppressed, chess became one of the opiates of the people"), but overall I found this piece
interesting, especially the Soviet history of chess:

As chairman of the chess section of the supreme council for physical culture of the Russian socialist republics,
Krylenko persuaded the Kremlin to organise the first international tournament at Moscow in 1925, to be followed
by two more in 1935 and 1936. In his introduction to the tournament book, he wrote: "In our country, where the
cultural level is comparatively low, where up to now a typical pastime of the masses has been brewing liquor,
drunkenness and brawling, chess is a powerful means of raising the general cultural level." Krylenko edited the
main Soviet chess journal, 64, keeping ideological control of a chess community that soon grew to tens of millions.
The party slogan: "Take chess to the workers!"

But I wonder, how did mass murderers like Kylenko ("We must execute not only the guilty. Execution of the innocent will
impress the masses even more.") ever find the time to play?

The new book by Michael Cunningham, Specimen Days, is a series of three novellas connected by Walt Whitman, whose
birthday was just the other day—May 31— and whose
Leaves of Grass is 150 years old this year.  Here's a well written
review of Cunningham's book.

Dead Writer Today:  Franz Kafka died on this day in 1924.  He had willed many of his manuscripts to be destroyed.  
Instead, his literary executor published everything he could get his hands on.  Here's to breaking wills.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Thursday, June 2, 2005
A very interesting opinion piece by Stanley Fish in the NY Times about the teaching of composition in college:

Most composition courses that American students take today emphasize content rather than form, on the theory
that if you chew over big ideas long enough, the ability to write about them will (mysteriously) follow. The theory
is wrong. Content is a lure and a delusion, and it should be banished from the classroom. Form is the way.

On the first day of my freshman writing class I give the students this assignment: You will be divided into groups
and by the end of the semester each group will be expected to have created its own language, complete with a syntax,
a lexicon, a text, rules for translating the text and strategies for teaching your language to fellow students. The
language you create cannot be English or a slightly coded version of English, but it must be capable of indicating the
distinctions - between tense, number, manner, mood, agency and the like - that English enables us to make.

While this sounds like a fun class to take (perhaps my idea of fun is not everyone's, but Fish's account of his student's
progress makes it seem as if they do enjoy it), I don't know why Fish has to take it to such an extreme conclusion.  Why
can't comp teachers include both form and content?  And don't they already?  In the end, his argument is just the same old
"students-aren't-learning-the-basics-these-days" argument.  And while I may agree with that, I find it hard to believe that
students who learn content as well as form

will be learning nothing they couldn't have learned better by sitting around in a dorm room or a coffee shop. They
will certainly not be learning anything about how language works; and without a knowledge of how language works
they will be unable either to spot the formal breakdown of someone else's language or to prevent the formal breakdown
of their own.

There must be some bad comp teachers out there (perhaps I will be one of them this coming Fall), but there are also some
very good ones who can teach students to analyze the content of Fish's assertions, to see how his will propels his argument
forward with his use of
will: will be learning, will certainly not be learning, will be unable.  Are students so dumb that they
can't learn rhetoric by reading it?  Fish's students will know more about linguistics, but
will they write better?

Here's a piece about Shakespeare's Macbeth adapted by a company, Contemporary Legend Theater. Funny that Chinese
culture's idea of contemporary is a 17th century play.  What I'd like to know is how the play changes as it is filtered through
another culture.  Will the audience react in horror as Macbeth's crimes mount?  This piece ends on the moronic observation:

"Macbeth" has given Beijing opera new expressive possibilities and a new opportunity to flourish. Maybe Beijing
opera will do the same for "Macbeth."

Whew!  And not a moment too soon.  Now that there's a Beijing operatic version of Macbeth, we'll see a flood of new

Today is the death day (1829) of Lady Eleanor Butler, elder of the two Ladies of Llangollen, of whom I had never heard until
I received this DNB
entry in the wee hours of the morning.  But if you like your daring women a little more modern, today is
also the death day (1962) of Vita Sackville-West.

Sean Scotwell responds to yesterday's post on Chaucer in the Senate:
I love literary references on the Senate floor.  Especially amusing is when one senator ends a speech with a poem another
senator had just used.  There then ensues an unscripted moment explaining away the redundancy, as if everything else in the
speech hadn't been said before.  Since such speeches are usually penned by staffers--Byrd's, however, are idiosyncratic
enough that he is likely the primary author--politicians are probably especially sensitive to drawing attention to the words of
someone else.  
BTW, "The Second Coming" was invoked a couple times in the filibuster debate.  The lines I heard were "the best lack all
conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity."  Unfortunately, the speakers stopped short of the good stuff: "what
rough beast...slouches toward Bethlehem to be born."  Perhaps those lines are more fitting for  a member of the House.

Sean, does Senator
Byrd's use of Chaucer make the Senate a Parliament of Fowls?


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Wednesday, June 1, 2005
Sometimes I think Christopher Hitchens is a drunken boor.  And sometimes I love him.  Here he is in an interview with his
brother (to whom he had not spoken in years) at a book festival event.  Several minutes into the interview an audience
member (rudely) interrupts:

Female audience member: Excuse me. I'm not usually awkward at all but I'm sitting here and we're asked not
to smoke. And I don't like being in a room where smoking is going on.

[Hitchens] (smoking heavily): Well, you don't have to stay, do you darling. I'm working here and I'm your
guest. OK . This is what I like.

[Ian Katz, interviewer]: Would you just stub that one out?

CH: No. I cleared it with the festival a long time ago. They let me do it. If anyone doesn't like it they can kiss my ass.
(Woman walks out)

The interview then continues (it's also an interesting interview).  I love his three answers: you can go, I'm working, and I'm
your guest.  Three things (and there are oh so many more) that non-smokers have sadly forgotten in their zeal to make the
world a safer, healthier place.  Smoke em if you got em.

I was shocked to find an American senator refer to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in a speech about the judicial nominee
brouhaha.  Even more shocked when he began by saying,  "Chaucer's 'Canterbury Tales,' contains the 'Pardoner's Tale,'
which most, if not all, of you will remember having read in your school days."  Most, if not all?  Wishful thinking.  Granted,
the speaker was Robert Byrd, the oldest sitting member of the Senate.  Perhaps in his school days, everyone had read and
would remember the "
Pardoner's Tale."  Byrd then goes on to tell the tale (alas, not in Middle English).  But the most curious
thing about this whole politico-Chaucerian moment:  I don't what the hell he's talking about.  I guess he's making the point that
ending the filibuster is selfish and would hurt everyone, but that is the best I can figure.  Perhaps there was more to his speech
than was posted.  Oh well, at least one of Chaucer's tales was told in the Senate chambers.  That must count for something.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.
Philadelphia statue of  
Charles Dickens and
Little Nell