Thursday, June 30, 2005

Look! A Logo!

I've only spent two months drawing it and a couple of hours trying to figure out how to get it in the header so you better like it. Just kidding. Honest feedback both positive and negative is appreciated.

Thursday Browsing

For your Thursday browsing pleasure:

  • William Gibson writes about the joys and potentials of cut and paste art. It's an interesting and exciting idea which allows everyone to participate in the creative process. But what happens when everything becomes referential? Certainly recombination creates something new as does a recombination of the recombination, but it seems to me that eventually it would all sound the same.
  • T.C. Boyle writes about being stalked by a mountain lion and his writing process. If I had been stalked by that lion I don't know that I'd be so nonchalant about it.
  • Create a Shakespearean insult. At one point you could email it to the one you wished to receive it but spam has forced the site owner to shut down the email part of it. Gleeking earth-vexing maggot-pie spammers!
  • And from Slashdot, new member of the British House of Commons Jamie Reed, in his first speech before the body said "I crave the indulgence of the House in interrupting such an important and enjoyable debate to deliver my maiden speech. Furthermore, as the first Jedi Member of this place, I look forward to the protection under the law that will be provided to me by the Bill." Jedi? What are you folks doing over there in the UK? After he brings Jedi justice to your government, can you send him and his light saber over to the US? Thanks in advance.
  • Wednesday, June 29, 2005

    Fiction or Nonfiction?

    In a recent post Tom Who Is Contrary explains why he does not like fiction. He doesn't like being told stories or the fact that they are made up. Got me to thinking a bit. I love fiction. I love listening to people tell stories. I love to tell stories. I love reading stories. Fiction might be made up, but good fiction is also true in a way that I think nonfiction cannot be. I have been deeply affected by works of fiction. I have sobbed, I have yelled, I have cheered, I have been inspired while reading fiction. I like nonfiction too. I read quite a bit of nonfiction. I read nonfiction to learn about something. I usually don't get emotionally invested in nonfiction. I can't think of one work of nonfiction that I could say had a deep impact on me. Fiction takes me places. Fiction lets me live lives very different from my own. I can experience life in pre-historical times and in futures that may never exist. Fiction lets me forget who I am for a little while. Nonfiction never lets me forget. Sometimes after I finish a novel I wonder what the characters are doing. I don't usually find myself doing that after a work of nonfiction even if it's a memoir. Life without fiction would be dreary. I can't not read fiction. Not when there are authors and books out there like these. What better way to learn about a culture than to read the stories they tell?

    Tuesday, June 28, 2005

    My Vocabulary Expands Again

    I am continuing to improve my vocabulary with Eco. I haven't had to look up so many words in ages. It makes me feel a little dumb and like a kid, "Look Ma! I can read this big hard book!" The book is good though. Yambo seems to have a lot of feeling in his pylorus which is where he tends to feel a "mysterious flame." Maybe it was something he ate, all that rich Italian food. Queen Loana hasn't shown up yet and I'm on page 180. I wonder when she does appear if she will feel a myterious flame in her pylorus too? Anyway, my new words:

  • extrasystole as in "He asked me if it was like an extrasystole." According to Webster's it is "a premature beat of one of the chambers of the heart that leads to momentary arrhythmia."
  • pulverulent as in "The dead bodies appear in a pulverulent glow." It means dusty. Makes me wonder if it is Eco's word or if the translator is showing off.
  • There are a few more that are not used in sentences but are just listed out and they are not in my dictionary: avolate, baccivorous, cacodoxy,cerastes, cribble, glaver, inadequation, lordkin, pasigraphy, pulicious, sparble, speight and vespillo. Intriguing words to be sure, but what do they mean? They are not necessary to understand the story, I just want to know.

    New Bookcases

    The chaise was not the only thing I got at Ikea. We invested in some new bookcases too and installed them in the living room. IMG_0082 We sat in wonder, asking ourselves why the heck we didn't do this sooner? We are very happy. In case you are wondering, Ikea did not sell us the shelves with books on them already. We moved all of our poetry books up from the basement library. They are on the left bookcase and the top two shelves of the right side bookcase. We are hoping this will inspire us to read more poetry. The rest of the books on the right bookcase shelves are most of our "classics." Both my Bookman and I have been interested in collecting and reading more classics lately so we brought the ones we already have up from the basement library so we can look at them. It will also make it easier to keep track of what we have since we don't always remember and have been known to buy multiple copies of the same book. We left Dickens and Woolf donwstairs because we have too many of those and since they are favorite authors, will have no trouble remembering what we've got. As you can see there is a little room to expand. I expect the empty spots won't be empty long. An empty bookshelf is a crime against nature. Maybe not nature. Maybe more like biblioholism abhors empty shelves.

    Monday, June 27, 2005

    A Few Links

    • Amusing commentary on's Penguin Classics Library Collection:
      You can sort the books by author (Edwin A. Abbott to Emile Zola) or by title ("Adam Bede" to "Zazie in the Metro"), which is fun in its own right, as are the inevitable arguments that attach themselves remora-like to any great-books list: Eighteen Graham Greene books, yet all you get is "The Portable Faulkner"? "The Beautiful and Damned" but not "The Great Gatsby"? Five Jack Londons? Has anyone really ever read nine Sir Walter Scott novels? Only the first part of "Remembrance of Things Past"? (On the other hand, you're spared "Ulysses.") Those 1,082 books also contain a few duplicates: By our count, if you weed out the multiple translations, different editions and compilations ("The Iliad" is there four times), as well as the "portable" volumes for well-represented authors, you wind up with 1,031 books. Still, at a book a week (an easy pace when you're reading "This Side of Paradise," not so easy if tackling "The Brothers Karamazov"), that's nearly 20 years' worth of reading headed for your shelves.
      Puts it all into perspective. (link via Slashdot)
    • In case you haven't been keeping up with the to MFA or not to MFA debate going on at MobyLives, there is now a guest column arguing the other side and more letters from readers than you can shake a stick at (though why anyone would want to shake a stick at them I'm not sure, but if you did...)
    • You too can follow in the footsteps of Don Quixote. For some reason this just makes me sad.

    The Movie that Wasn't

    If you are a Don Quixote fan you may find the docudrama Lost in La Mancha an interesting experience. It chronicles the ill-fated attempt by Terry Gilliam to turn his lovingly written script of Don Quixote into a movie called The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. The movie was to star French actor Jean Rochefort as the noble knight errant and Johnny Depp as Sancho. What? Johnny Depp as Sancho? Yup. Somehow Depp's character, an advertising executive, is transported back in time to the days of Quixote's adventures. The project collapsed just a couple of weeks after filming began. A flash flood washed away some equipment while they were filming in the dessert. They could have recovered from it but then John Rochefort was unable to work due to a slipped disc and there was no estimate on when he could return. Bleeding money they didn't have and getting no help from the insurance company that deemed both the flash flood and Rochefort's illness as "Acts of God" and therefore not covered, they had to give it up. To add insult to injury, the insurance company now owns the script as collateral for the project's losses. Gilliam is, or was at the conclusion of the program, trying to find an investor or investors willing to purchase the script from the insurance company. You could call this a disaster film. Perhaps someday The Man Who Killed Don Quixote will get made. When it does, I'll be in the theatre, watching.

    Sunday, June 26, 2005

    Recent Acquisitions

    I had a productive jaunt to the used book store where I managed to walk out with only four new books. I must have Umberto Eco on my mind since I'm reading Queen Loana, that or someone just relieved themselves of a few Eco books. Either way, two of the books I brought home have his name on them: Five Moral Pieces, five essays on "the ethics involved with inhabiting this diverse and extraordinary world" (from the back cover), and Kant and the Platypus: Essays on Language and Cognition. Anytime an author can get platypus into the title of a book and get a little picture of one on the cover makes the book worth it just for that. I also brought home a novel called I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. Smith is also the author of The Hundred and One Dalmations. Castle was first published in 1948 and went out of print. It was republished in 1999. The book is about a 17 year-old girl who wants to be a writer and who lives with her rather poor family in an old English castle. It is a book for adults but I hope she has a character in there as delightfully wicked as Cruella Deville. The fourth book I brought home has been on my wishlist for some time so when I saw a nice copy for cheap I had to have it. The Life You Save May be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage by Paul Elie is about four American writers who were also Catholic: Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, Flannery O'Connor, and Walker Percy. The book views their writing through the lense of their faith. I have heard fabulous things about it and am looking forward to reading it one of these days. Another recent acquisition came from my Barnes and Noble store's bargain book clearance sale. For a couple of dollars I am now the owner of Dore's illustrations for Don Quixote, A Selection of 190 Illustrations by Gustave Dore. They are wonderful. I just finished the part in Don Quixote where he defeated the Knight of the Woods/Knight of the Mirrors. There is an illustration of the the squire of the Knight of the Woods with his big fake ugly nose and his hat with the big feathered plume that made me laugh. A real treat. Life is good.

    Saturday, June 25, 2005

    Seeking Glory

    Montaigne's essay, "On Glory," is an argument against seeking fame, glory, reputation, renown and honor. "To God alone belong honor and glory," writes Montaigne, "there is nothing so remotely unreasonable as to go seeking them for ourselves; for since we are wanting and necessitous within (our essence being imperfect and having a continual need of improvement) we should be attending to that. We are all hollow and empty: it is not with wind and spoken sounds that we have to fill ourselves: to restore ourselves we need a substance more solid." While glory can bring advantages, it is to be disdained because we come to rely on it which relies on the approval of others. Always concerned for our glory and reputation, we become virtuous for the sake of glory rather than for the sake of virtue itself. Because of this we then cease to be virtuous except when someone is watching. But, Montaigne reminds the reader, God is always watching. Instead of seeking glory, which comes about by the whims of Fortune, we should seek to have a good conscience. Glory is dependent on the opinion of others, the vote of the mob, "that mother of ignorance, of injustice and on inconstancy." Thus prompting Montaigne to ask, "Is it reasonable to make the life of a man depend on the judgement of idiots? Can anything be more stupid than to value collectively those whom we despise as individuals? Whoever aims to please that lot will never finish: such a target is shapeless and cannot be reached." We should fix the course of our lives by reason and constancy instead of the fickleness of rumor and opinion. Praise is nice and all but praise is based on an outside view of events and appearances, "They do not see my mind: they see only the looks on my face." We all know that appearances can deceive; someone who appears good and worthy of glory and praise can be a bad person. We see it every day on tv and hear about it in the news, celebrities and public figures who are in trouble for theft, or drugs or assault, you name it. Sometimes their reputations are sullied and they slink away from the lime light. At other times it brings even more celebrity for a little while until the public gets tired of it and moves on to someone else. But, Montaigne writes, "Any honourable person prefers to sully his honour than to sully his conscience." Because a good life is not about fame and glory, a good life is about virtue and a good conscience. Fame and glory may be great for a little while but in the end it has no real substance and doesn't fill the emptiness. Next week's Montaigne essay: "On Presumption"

    Do You Blog?

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    Friday, June 24, 2005

    What Fun!

    Isn't this great? Makes me want to climb up and do an Edith Ann. (link via MobyLives)

    Thursday, June 23, 2005

    Reading is Good

    I don't know why it has taken me so long to get around to reading Alberto Manguel's A History of Reading. It's been on my shelf for a while. Perhaps I was waiting for the proper mood to strike? The perfect moment to arrive? Whatever I was waiting for I am glad I stopped waiting and finally read the book. It is a book that made me feel good about being a reader. Instead of feeling like I belonged to a small group of people on the fringe, I realized that readers today are part of a web that covers the globe and extends all the way back through time to that first person who made and interpreted the marks on the clay tablet. Manguel understands how alone readers can feel. On page five, after cataloguing famous readers and their reading, he writes:

    All these are readers, and their gestures, their craft, the pleasure, responsibility and power they derive from reading, are common with mine. I am not alone.
    Manguel is a reader through and through and this book was a joy to read. He writes about how, in literate societies, learning to read is a sort of initiation, a "ritualized passage out of a state of dependency and rudimentary communication." He writes about how the reading of books used to be a communal experience due mostly to their scarcity and expense. With the advent of the printing press and the rise of the middle class, books became cheaper and more abundant and reading became silent and private. He also writes about the joys of reading in bed and how to choose the perfect book for it. He understands why reading in bed is so desirable:
    But there is something other than entertainment which one derives from reading in bed: a particular quality of privacy. Reading in bed is a self-centered act, immobile, free from ordinary social conventions, invisible to the world, and one that, because it takes place between the sheets, in the realm of lust and sinful idleness, has something of the thrill of things forbidden.
    Manguel also writes about author readings, censorship, translation and people who love books too much. One of the best things about this book is that Manguel meticulously cites his sources. I probably added fifty books to my reading list because of this. If you haven't read this book be sure you do, and soon. You'll be glad you did.

    Some Things Bookish and Some Things Not

    For your evening's entertainment:

    • Wordsworth, Dove Cottage and the new Jerwood Center.
    • A great bit of detective work. Professor Lawrence Rainey has figured out Eliot's writing process for The Wasteland. It's interesting and all, but in the end, what sort of use is it? Does it help in the understanding of the poem to know that line 23 was written after line 30? Call me silly, but I just can't get that excited about it.
    • I picked this up from Someone tagged it as the Eye of Sauron and the article even remarks on the resemblance. In reality it's a ring of dust particles around the star Fomalhaut in the Pisces constellation. Or is it?
    • And if you are worried about Alien abduction and mind control, there's help. I guess tin foil doesn't do the job anymore

    A New Old Book?

    Has anyone ever heard of or read Giorgio Manganelli before? There is an article in the Village Voice about a new edition of his book Centuria: One Hundred Ouroboric Novels. The book sounds interesting but the reviewer isn't very enthusiastic so it makes me hesitate.

    Wednesday, June 22, 2005

    Vocabulary Lesson

    Now I am of the general belief that I have a pretty good vocabulary especially when it comes to reading. I seldom come across words I have not seen before. This, however, does not mean I can remember the meaning of every word I read. There are some words that no matter how many times I see them I can't remember their meaning. Sanguine, for instance. I always think it describes a sad or sallow person when it is quite the opposite. The sound of the word does not fit its meaning and it throws me every time. Where am I going with this? I learned not one, but two new words the other night while reading Queen Loana. The first word is pylorus. Here's how Eco uses it: "They would feel something they'd never felt before, and they wouldn't be able to say what it was. As if someone were to come here from the fourth dimension and touch us from the inside--say on the pylorus--gently. What does it feel like when someone tickles your pylorus?" Indeed, what would it feel like? First I had to find out what my pylorus was before I could imagine what having it tickled would feel like. To the dictionary I went. and found that the pylorus is the opening from the stomach into the intestine. If you are curious as to what a pylorus looks like, you can see some pictures here. It looks sort of like a glazed donut. The other word that I did not know was quiff. As in

    "My name is Yambo, the boy with the quiff. And you've been Yambo ever since." "The quiff?" "You must have had a cute little quiff."
    The word sounds vaguely dirty and I was afraid to imagine what Yambo's "cute little quiff" was, let alone looked like. To the dictionary again to find that it is a tuft of forelock hair or a promiscuous woman. I believe in Yambo's case the forelock hair is the correct choice of meaning. So now I have added two new words to my vocabulary. The challenge is to work them into an every day casual conversation. I'll have to try something like, "oh what a cute quiff you have today!" or "so how is your pylorus feeling after that huge lunch you ate?" My coworkers already think I'm strange so why not add fuel to the fire?

    The Chaise Verdict

    The reading chaise is all put together and I have had the chance to try it out. The verdict? Perfect! It is so comfortable. In less than an hour it achieved number one Alternate Reading Location status. Here's a photo I took this morning: Reading Chair That's Pooh Bear enjoying the comforts of the reading chaise. He's reading Shel Silverstein's Runny Babbit. His yellowness looks nice against the red. Perhaps a yellow pillow is in order. In case you want to get yourself one of these babies, it's the Ikea Tylosand left-hand chaise. It is also available as a right-hand chaise. You can view it on the Ikea website under the fabric two-seater sofa section. It is not available for purchase online. (I have no affiliation with Ikea, I am only a happy reading chaise owning customer who is also reaping the benefits of a laptop with wireless internet. I may never sit at my desk again!)

    Tuesday, June 21, 2005

    Some Links and Some Musings

    A couple of links:

    • When technology and literature collide. Using Victor Hugo's Les Miserable to explain a proposed EU software patent law. Whatdaya know! Book larnin' is good fer sumpin' after all!
    • Recommended reading for you summer holiday. As if I didn't have enough to read already, now I had to go and add some more to the list.
    There is an interesting discussion going on over at MobyLives. The guest column by Elizabeth Clementson is about why MFA programs as useless. Her column has sparked a number of letters arguing for and against. I have an MA in literature (such a useful thing--ha!) and from time to time flirt with the idea of getting an MFA. I like the idea of teaching and being able to dedicate a period of time to working on improving my writing. However, I vacillate between both sides of the debate, never able to land firmly on one choice or the other. I am a very practical person, sometimes too much so, which means that I do not want take any risks if it is likely to waste my time or my money (but there's no way of knowing if it will be a waste of time or money until the other side is reached). I'm not a 22 year old without obligations. I've got a mortgage payment and other things to worry about. Besides, what are the chances of actually landing a teaching gig after graduation? And now you see why I am stuck.

    The Importsnce of Good Reading Furniture

    As any reader knows, it is extremely important to have at least one comfortable place to read in the house. My favorite place to read is in bed, it feels so private but luxurious at the same time. But I can't always read in bed so it becomes imperative to have an alternate reading location (ARL). Because my husband and I are both readers, our furniture criteria tend to be similar. The defining question when buying something new is "Is it comfortable for reading?" It can be perfect in every way, but if we can't be comfortable reading on it, then it stays at the store. It isn't always easy to find appropriate furniture. Levenger has beautiful pieces but having not yet won the lottery all I can do is drool. And even if you think you have brought home the perfect chair (or sofa) you may discover you were wrong. Our sofa was bought as an ARL and it truly is a fabulous sofa for reading. It was cozy with me, my beloved and the purring cat. When the family grew by a dog, the sofa became too crowded and lost it's charm as an ARL. And that's how the chair, like you find in the big bookstores, large and overstuffed and sporting cushiony arms that begged me to throw my legs over the side, came into our lives. I have sat in these chairs in the bookstores many times and thought, "Oh wouldn't it be heavenly to have one of these at home?" These chairs are comfortable in the bookstores only. What we thought would be the perfect ARL, turned out to be a back killer, even with extra pillows. So when a coworker had a rocking chair she wanted to give away for free I snapped it up. It happens to be one of those low-slung Swedish rocking chairs. It's comfortable enough but did not achieve ARL status. Defeated, I gave up, decided to make due. Sure, once in a while my husband and I would go out and look at furniture but nothing ever suited our budget or our taste. I focused on creating a red room get away--desk, bookshelves--a cozy room of my own. All it needs is a good reading chair. Last summer Ikea came to town. We rushed over with the rest of Minnesota. But no reading chair. That is until this past weekend when I found the red chaise. It was delivered this morning. It is in my living room waiting to be assembled (in case you are not familiar with Ikea, all furniture comes with "some assembly required" with some items needing more assembly than others). I've been fantasizing since I bought it Sunday about the perfect pillows to place on it and about the hours I will spend reclining on the chaise with those pillows while reading book after book from my TBR pile. Will this come true? Have I found the perfect ARL? There is only some assembly required before I find out for sure. Stay tuned...

    Monday, June 20, 2005


    I've been really bad lately at collecting links to interesting articles and sites and then letting them just sit waiting for me to get around to them. Some of these links I've had hanging around, some of them are recent. Enjoy!

    • Want to get excited and depressed at the same time? Then visit a new blog, The Diaries of Franz Kafka. Paul Kerschen is translating Kafka's diaries day-by-day. You get the joy or entries like this:
      “If he ever asked me” the a released from the sentence flew off like a ball on the meadow.
      And the depression of ones like this:
      The auricle of my ear felt fresh, rough, cool, succulent to the touch, like a leaf. I write this most surely from despair over my body and over the future with this body If despair presents itself so surely, so tied to its object, so restrained, as if by a soldier who covers the retreat and lets himself be blown up for it, then it is not true despair. True despair always immediately overtakes its target, (at this comma it becomes clear that only the first sentence was true)
      This will proove to be an interesting site. (link via Maude Newton)
    • You can see some illustartions from various edition of War of the Worlds. I think this one by Edward Gorey creeps me out the most because it looks roach-like with all those legs. Makes my skin crawl.
    • Did you know there was a Margaret Mitchell House and Museum dedicated to the writer and things Gone With the Wind-ish? I'm probably stepping on some toes here, but this book isn't exactly what I would call great literature. I mean, it's a good story, a fun read and a fun movie, but not a very accurate portrayal of the Civil War. To give the place some credit, it does house the Center for Southern Literature.
    • If you like mazes and puzzles, this is for you. I'm good at finding my way out, but terrible at making my way in.

    A Book in Your Email Box

    A couple months ago I mentioned a new book that could only be purchased online called The Daughters of Freya by Michael Betcherman (writer and filmmaker) and David Diamond (journalist and author). Now I've had the opportunity to read it and I can honestly say it was a lot of fun. The book is a mystery novel and while I'm generally not a huge fan of the mystery genre, this book is enjoyable. It is an e-pistolary novel written entirely in the form of emails to and from the main character Samantha Dempsey with an occasional email from an unknown person or persons thrown in to add some extra suspense. Best of all, to read the book you have to do nothing other than open your email box. Each day you receive 3-4 emails which can include anywhere from 1 to 5 or 6 "emails" in the story. You'll receive 110 emails in your inbox over the course of a couple of weeks. Some of the story emails have hyperlinks in them to "news" articles and flight reservations, even a hotel in Paris that really exists. There are also "attachments" of photographs of some suspects. And if you are worried about accidentally losing an email, you get a user name and password when you buy the book and can find anything you missed online. An unusual format to be sure, but what about the story you ask? The main character, Sam, is a journalist living in Toronto. She is contacted (via email) by a friend who tells her that his daughter Lisa is in a cult in California called the Daughters of Freya and could Sam help get her home? Sam agrees. The Daughters of Freya has a "Temple" compound located in northern CA. It is run by a charismatic woman named Simone who has a small group of girls who, as daughters of the Goddess Freya, believe it is their mission and duty to heal the world through sex. Sam approaches the group as a journalist to do a story which she is planning on publishing in West Coast, a magazine edited by an old friend. This being a mystery story I will tell you no more, only that things don't go as one would expect. The novel costs only $4.99 and you can select the date on which you start receiving emails. The website also has a short preview if you want to check out the first few emails before you buy. The novel has also been reviewed by The Guardian in the News Blog and several other outfits for which the book's website will provide you links. Inexpensive, fun and a pick-me-up for your email in box, The Daughters of Freya is a yummy candy treat.

    Sunday, June 19, 2005

    Reading Update

    Just a little reading update for this warm and lazy Sunday afternoon on which lacking children and having a father and father in-law that both live 2,000 miles away (or there abouts), I do not have to do Father's Day activities. I am not far in Queen Loana but am thus far enjoying it very much. I had thought that I would make it a little project to see how many of the literary references I could I locate and source, but I have found that I don't have to do that. Someone has started a Queen Loana Wiki so now others will do the work for me. Of course, since it is a wiki I could, and you could too, contribute. But I have the feeling that these folks are serious. I've recognized several references and gotten a little thrill of delight for my effort but I don't want to interrupt the flow of my reading or of the story to look up everything. I'll be checking up on the wiki as I go along but will not be doing any serious source researching until I actually finish the book. Of course by that time the more industrious out there will probably have figured out most of it. I'm still chugging away with Don Quixote though I am behind the scheduled five chapter each week. Still, I am enjoying it very much. Sancho has pulled a fast one on DQ by convincing him that an ugly peasant girl is Dulcinea. Since DQ can't see her beauty and Sancho says he can, DQ decides, or rather Sancho convinces DQ, that he is enchanted. Those evil, wicked wizards! But I think DQ knows that Sancho is pulling a fast one but is playing along because it keeps things interesting. I am also reading The Big Over Easy, a new book by Jasper Fforde. My Bookman managed to get a review copy. It's not Thursday Next, but it is enjoyable. There are other books through which I am meandering but those are currently my main squeezes. I finished A History of Reading and will be posting my thoughts on that sometime this week. I have also completed reading an online mystery novel called The Daughters of Freya which was quite good. I'll be posting about that one this week too. Have a nice afternoon!

    Saturday, June 18, 2005

    Choice and Desire

    This week I read two Montaigne essays, "How Our Mind Tangles Itself Up" and "That Difficulty Increases Desire." The first is just over one page in length, the second just over seven. But it has ended up that they go together quite nicely. In "How Our Mind Tangles Itself Up" Montaigne takes on the philosophical idea of choosing between two things which are indifferent. By indifferent he means that neither is good nor bad in themselves and of equal value. For instance, you are at the bookstore and you find two new books on sale, each by a favorite author. You have only the money for one book. You like each author exactly the same and the cost of each book is exactly the same and each book just happens to be the same number of pages. How do you choose when in choosing you will give one of the books a higher value than the other? The Stoics get their panties in a bunch over this conundrum because in their philosophical framework you would not be able to choose. Either you'd have to walk out of the store with neither book or you'd be made to buy one or the other through the intervention of an outside force (in this case a sudden attack of book locusts consuming one of the books forcing you to buy the remaining one). Montaigne has a good laugh at their expense by making fun of their pride and reasoning abilities (or lack thereof). He concludes:

    It seems to me that we could say that nothing ever presents itself to us in which there is not some difference, however slight: either to sight or touch there is always an additional something which attracts us even though we may not perceive it.
    So maybe, barring book locust intervention, you choose one of those books over the other because one has a cuter author photo, or you just read a glowing review, or the cover art on one is too ugly for words. Whatever it is, you do make a decision and walk out of the store with one of those books because you are not the kind of person who goes to a bookstore with cash in her pocket and walks out empty handed. Which leads us to the next essay, "That Difficulty Increases Desire." Perhaps the impetus for the book you choose to buy has something to do with it being hard to get. Perhaps one of those sale books has been out of print and your library doesn't have it, you couldn't get it on ebay and a search of online used books shows that it is ridiculously expensive. You've been wanting that book for months, maybe even years. Wherever you've traveled and whatever used book shop you've gone into you've looked for it and it hasn't been there. The more you can't have it, the more you want it. Montaigne understands this. From women who play hard to get to increase the desire of their male pursuers to a little pain to increase the pleasure. From something being forbidden to a fear of losing what you have. Montaigne knows that "by nature there is nothing so contrary to our tastes than that satiety which comes from ease of access; and nothing which sharpens them more than rareness of difficulty." So now here is another conundrum. Of those two books the one you have been wanting badly and could not have but now you can because it has been brought back into print by a small publisher. But the other book, you've been waiting for since you read an interview with the author a year ago and found out that she was in the middle of writing this new book and it is the first new book by this author since nearly ten years ago. You thought this author would never write another book, and now, here is, a new one in your hand. Which book do you choose and why? Next week's Montaigne essay: "On Glory"

    Thursday, June 16, 2005

    Looking Up

    I found my happy place and am doing much better today even though the problem at work is still not resolved. I'm resolved not to worry about it and tomorrow is Friday so things are looking up. Here are some links for your internet browsing pleasure.

    • From Coop's Corner I learned that Amazon in offering the entire Penguin Classics Library for sale at a 40% discount. That's right, the 1, 082 volumes can be yours for a measly $7,989.99! That's a $5,327.75 savings! How can you say no? Unfortunately, this purchase is not eligible for free shipping, so add $54.50 to the discounted price to get the books to your door.
    • At the Guardian, Tanya Gold reads a 1,000 page book in one sitting. It's not pretty.
    • Something amusing for your troubles, The Periodic Table of Haiku. Didn't think you could make haiku out of the elments? Think again.
    • Finally, there is the Connecticut couple who are now the envy of all bibliophiles. They've gone and turned the silo in their 200 year-old barn into a three level spiraling library. Sadly, there are no pictures. Wait until you get to the end of the article where it talks about building your own library shelves and how much it costs for a real carpenter to do it. Can you say sticker shock? I think I'll be staying with the do-it-yourself method. Not as beautiful, but it has served me well and at least I still have money left to buy more books. (link via Bookninja)

    In Case You Haven't Heard

    The House approved the amendment yesterday that would remove all funding for library and bookstore records searches. This does not, however, pertain to library computer usage. Still, it is a beginning. Bush is threatening to veto the amendment if it makes it to his desk. It needs to go through the Senate now. Be sure to contact your senators and let them know you support the amendment.

    Stories of Empire

    Kalpa Imperial by Angélica Gorodischer bills itself as a novel but in reality it is a series of eleven stories linked together by an unnamed storyteller or storytellers, we are never sure, and the overriding theme of the stories is "The Greatest Empire That Never Was." I was well into the book before I even realized this, so sure I was that it was a novel. The stories take place in no specified time though by the end I decided that it would have to be the nebulous future. Nor do the stories take place in any kind of chronological order and since none of them are tethered by dates or the same people, the events could be any time or no time. The stories are about the empire, and, although sometimes indirectly, about the emperor or empress who rules the empire. The empire is not a satire of any real country or government, it has no echoes of anything that currently exists, and to my knowledge, existed. It is a fully created world peopled with the comings and goings of power and human failings and courage. This does not mean, however, that the stories are not realistic. In the stories you'll find interesting observations like this one in "Concerning the Unchecked Growth of Cities":

    It's always good not to be stupid, and when it's the emperor who isn't stupid, people can have hope; not security, of course, but still, hope helps.
    And this one from "Portrait of the Empress":
    There she was born, there she grew up, there she got her education, in what may be the best school of government. Notice I say government, not power. Power, bah! she'd say, looking disillusioned. Only if you forget about power can you govern well, she'd say. And it was true. She forgot about the power she had, which was immense, and so power, ignored and disdained, courted her, trotted after her, like a prostitute fawning on a goodlooking wealthy man. But she despised it utterly and made it wait like a beggar at the palace gates.
    One of my favorite stories, "The Pool," is about a rather Zen-like reclusive doctor who requires all of his patients come to him. Part holistic healer, part spiritual advisor, the people who go to him are always cured if they want to be. Here is a snippet of conversation between the good doctor and the girl who is his neighbor and curious as to what he is up to:
    "So why are there so many sick people?" "Because it's easier to get sick than to look for one's right place in the world." "Explain, explain." "Yes," said the doctor. "We keep adding needless things, false things to ourselves, till we can't see ourselves and forget what our true shape is. And if we've forgotten what shape we are, how can we find the right place to be? And who dares pull away the falsities that are stuck to his eyelids, his fingernails, his heels? So then something goes wrong in the house and in the world, and we get sick."... "And we all have false things stuck to us?" "Almost all." They sat silent a while. "What's serious isn't having them," said the doctor, "what's serious is loving them."
    Kalpa Imperial is an enjoyable book. The more I think about it, the more I like it. Ursula Le Guin translated the book from Spanish and did a stand up job. This is not Gorodischer's only book but it is the first translated into English. I hope it isn't the last.

    Wednesday, June 15, 2005

    Looking for My Happy Place

    It's a good thing my head is attached because if it weren't it'd be rolling around lost in the dust bunnies under the bed or in a forgotten corner somewhere. It was one of those days that started off being just fine and ended with staying late to fix a problem. But the problem didn't get fixed so I have tomorrow morning to look forward to working on it somemore. Bah. Anyway, I have some reading--I started Umberto Eco's newest, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana last night and so far so good--to help me reach my happy place. And I have week three of Dancing with the Stars to watch. My husband and I have been ballroom dancing for seven years so we feel it our obligation to watch the show and shout disparaging critiques at the couples as they dance across the screen. I was going to post a review of a book called Kalpa Imperial by Angélica Gorodischer, an Argentian writer. She has written a number of books but this is her first book translated into English. The translation was done by Ursula Le Guin. But given my grumpy mood, I am having concentration problems so I will save that for tomorrow. Please accpet this link to an already composed email you can send to your Congressional representative urging support for the Freedom to Read Amendment I mentioned yesterday. So if you were thinking about sending a letter but thought composing it was too hard, here's your chance. All you have to do is fill in your name and address, you don't even have to know your representative's name. What could be easier than that? I must go answer the call of a book and chocolate covered strawberries.

    Tuesday, June 14, 2005

    What You Read Should Be No One Else's Business

    From the folks at Reader Privacy: As early as late today or tomorrow, Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is expected to introduce in the U.S. House of Representatives an amendment to the House Commerce, Justice, State (CJS) Appropriations Bill to cut off funds for bookstore and library searches under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act. The amendment to the CJS Appropriations Bill, which funds the Justice Department, is co-sponsored by two Republicans--Rep. Butch Otter (ID) and Rep. Ron Paul (TX)--and two Democrats--Rep. Jerry Nadler (NY) and Rep. Tom Udall (NM). "Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act is part of a dangerous erosion of our constitutional rights that, little by little, is making us a less free nation," said Congressman Sanders. "American citizens across the political spectrum have made it very clear that they do not want the government monitoring their reading habits when they walk into a library or bookstore. We can protect our nation from terrorism without letting Uncle Sam read over our collective shoulders." Section 215 amends the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to vastly expand the power of the FBI to secretly search the bookstore, library, medical, and other personal records of anyone it believes may have information relevant to a foreign intelligence investigation, including people who are not suspected of committing a crime. If you haven't already, be sure to contact your representative and urge her or him to support the bill amendment. If you don't know who your rep is, you can find out here.

    A Bunch of Bull

    With the press that Harry G Frankfurt's tiny book On Bullshit has gotten (here, here and here) I had expectations when I opened the cover and began to read. I expected an analysis of bullshit, examples, critiques, value judgments. What I got was a long, boring essay seeking to define just what bullshit is. Personally, I think a 67 page definition of bullshit, is, well, bullshit. We all do it. We have all encountered it. We all pretty much know what it is. So why is it necessary to use the OED and and extended definition and discussion of humbug versus bullshit? Then on page 50, just when I thought we might finally be getting somewhere, he tosses this out: "The problem of understanding why our attitude toward bullshit is generally more benign than our attitude toward lying is an important one, which I shall leave as an exercise for the reader." What the? I know what I think of the problem, but I'm reading the essay because I wanted to know what Frankfurt, a philosopher, thought about it. He gets paid to think after all. Then in his concluding paragraph he writes,

    As conscious beings, we exist only in response to other things, and we cannot know ourselves at all without knowing them. Moreover, there is nothing in theory, and certainly nothing is experience, to support the extraordinary judgment that it is the truth about himself that is easiest for a person to know. Facts about ourselves are not peculiarly solid and resistant to skeptical dissolution. Our natures are, indeed, elusively insubstantial--notoriously less stable and less inherent than the natures of other things.
    Whoah. Did he get some other essay mixed up with this one because this just zooms in from left field and brings so supporting evidence with it. Has this man not read Montaigne whose mission was to know himself? has he not read Descartes whose motto was cogito ergo sum? Or does Frankfurt subscribe to the post-structuralist idea that there is not self? If he does, then he is taking a big ol' leap of assumption here in thinking his audience is going to follow along. If you are thinking about purchasing this little book, don't bother unless, of course, you like reading bullshit essays on bullshit.

    Monday, June 13, 2005

    A Monday Quickie

    A quick post before I go out to meet some friends and quite possibly get blown away by a tornado or washed away in a severe thunderstorm.

    And here are a few Yeatsian links: Searchable Yeats Yeats Society Quotable Yeats

    Happy Birthday Yeats!

    Today is the birthday of William Butler Yeats who was born in Ireland 140 years ago. In his honor, here is my favorite poem by him:

    The Lake Isle of Innisfree I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree, And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made: Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee; And live alone in the bee-loud glade. And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow, Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings; There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow, And evening full of the linnet's wings. I will arise and go now, for always night and day I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore; While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey, I hear it in the deep heart's core.
    Admittedly, I have not read all of Yeats so there could be another favorite poem lurking out there, waiting. But this poem is so beutiful and haunting, there is so much longing. My favorite phrases? "bee-loud glade" I love that. And "peace comes dropping slow." That reminds me of laying in a hammock, strung between two giant trees while camping when I was a kid. Nothing to do but lay there and listen to the wind in the trees, which always sounded like running water to me, and the birds, the jays so bold they would take food out of your hand on the way to your mouth if you weren't careful, and the smell of the air, sharp and clean and so easy to breath. Did I say I love this poem?

    Sunday, June 12, 2005

    More on Death

    Montaigne's essay that I posted about yesterday, "On Judging Someone Else's Death" put my Bookman in mind of Japanese death poems. It was tradition as death came near, and preferably right before you died, to write a sort of farewell poem, your final words. I doubt that Montaigne had heard of this since if he had he would have mentioned it I'm sure. So here on some deaths and the resulting poems that would have made Montaigne proud (none of them involve removing one's own entrails and all of them are by Zen monks). Dokyo Etan died on the sixth day of the tenth month in 1721. He wrote his last words while seated in the upright Zen position (it was the badge of an enlightened one to die while sitting upright or standing). Here is what he wrote:

    Here in the shadow of death it is hard To utter the final word. I'll only say, then, "Without saying." Nothing more, Nothing more.
    After writing these words, he put down his brush, hummed "an ancient song" to himself, suddenly laughed out loud, and died. Then there is Kozan Ichikyo who died on the 12th day of the second month in 1360 at the age of 77. A few days before his death he called his pupils together and told them how he wanted his body taken care of after he died. On the morning of his death he wrote this poem:
    Empty-handed I entered the world Barefoot I leave it. My coming, my going-- Two simple happenings That got entangled.
    When he finished writing the poem, he laid down his brush and died sitting upright. Yakuo Tokuken died on the 19th day of the fifth month in 1320 at the age of 76. Two days before his death he called his fellow monks together and told them he was going to die soon. The next day he called his pupils together and told them how to prepare his body after he died. Then he reportedly told them, "Tomorrow morning I shall eat rice porridge with you for breakfast, and at noon I shall go." At noon the following day he wrote his final words:
    My six and seventy years are through. I was not born, I am not dead. Clouds floating on the high wide skies The moon curves through its million-mile course.
    He then threw the brush from his hand and died sitting upright. Of course not all deaths go as planned as Kokei Sochin found out. On the second day of the eighth month, 1596, Kokei took ill. He was certain he would die soon and so composed this poem, reciting it to those who were with him (katsu is a cry of enlightenment):
    For over sixty years I often cried Katsu! to no avail. And now, while dying, Once more to cry Katsu! Won't change a thing.
    He then died. But six hours later he revived and began preaching to the monks gathered around his bed. Kokei finally died for good five months later. These poems and attendant stories as well as an entire book of other ones can be read in Japanese Death Poems compiled by Yoel Hoffman

    Saturday, June 11, 2005

    How We Read

    Here's another quote from Alberto Manguel's A History of Reading:

    We know that we are reading even while suspending disbelief; we know why we read even when we don't know how, holding in our mind at the same time, as it were, the illusionary text and the act of reading. We read to find the end, for the story's sake. We read not to reach it, for the sake of the reading itself. We read searchingly, like trackers, oblivious of our surroundings. We read distractedly, skipping pages. We read contemptuously, admiringly, negligently, angrily, passionately, enviously, longingly. We read in gusts of sudden pleasure, without knowing what brought the pleasure along. "What in the world is this emotion?" asks Rebecca West after reading King Lear. "What is the bearing of supremely great works of art on my life which makes me feel so glad?" We don't know: we read ignorantly. We read in slow, long motions, as if drifting in space, weightless. We read full of prejudice, malignantly. We read generously, making excuses for the text, filling in gaps, mending faults. And sometimes, when the stars are kind, we read with an intake of breath, with a shudder, as if someone or something had "walked over our grave", as if a memory had suddenly been rescued from a place deep within us--the recognition of something we never knew was there, or of something we vaguely felt as a flicker or shadow, whose ghostly form rises and passes back into us before we can see what it is, leaving us older and wiser.


    The first strawberries of the season, picked fresh from my garden IMG_0076 And here's how I like best to eat them IMG_0077 Clearly I am not an expert dipper, but as long as the chocolate sticks, that's all that matters. Yum!

    Judging Death

    Montaigne's essay "On Judging Someone Else's Death" was easy to read after the 200 pages of "An Apology For Raymond Sebond." Montaigne begins "On Judging Someone Else's Death" by talking about death in general, how "Few die convinced that their last hour has come." Instead we think that maybe there will be a sudden and miraculous cure, that maybe we aren't as bad off as we think we are, or rather, as others think we are. It is a "deceiving Hope" writes Montaigne as he takes this human foible head on. He declares our dying hope "happens because we set too much store by ourselves. It appears to us that the whole universe in some way suffers when we are obliterated and that it feels compassion for our predicament." We decide our death is a great and tragic event. But while it may be a tragedy to us and to a few people close to us, the world goes on and is no less for lack of our existence. After Montaigne nicely punches a gaping hole in the illusion of the importance of our death, he turns to judging the dying itself, "Now to judge the resolution and constancy of a man who does not believe with certainty that the peril is upon him, even though it is, is not reasonable; it is not enough that he did die with such resolute constancy unless he rightly adopted it to perform the action." Most deaths he has witnessed, Montaigne observes, no matter how determined the man to arrange his features, Fortune has always done it for him. You cannot say then that he had any "resolute constancy" since he did not believe he was going to die, he spent no time "reconnoitering death" and therefore did not meet it with his eyes open. The man that gets to know death and meets it face to face with his eyes open, knowing that it is coming and accepting it, that is the man who has a glorious death. Montaigne gives several examples of this kind of death from Pomponius Atticus who had resolved to starve himself to death because of an incurable illness. It turns out that after several days of starvation his illness was cured. But since he had gotten to know death and knew that it was going to come for him sometime anyway, he continued starving himself until he died (no forced feeding back then). Montaigne also sites the death of Cato of Utica who killed himself (rather than die from an infection in his arm) by tearing out his own entrails. A rather gruesome picture, especially after reading that "Guts" short story. Personally, I don't spend much time thinking about my death. I don't think most people do. So unless I get some fatal disease when I am very, very old, I will be one of those who finds my time of death to be quite a surprise. Unless, of course, I can find the gypsy to curse me so I can't die until I've read every book on my to read list. I'm bound to live forever then. Next week's Montaigne essay will actually be two very short ones: "How Our Mind Tangles Itself Up" and "That Difficulty Increases Desire"

    Friday, June 10, 2005

    Off Topic

    This evening I will be preparing my computer for an OS upgrade to Tiger. I don't expect anything will go wrong, but if I suddenly disappear for a few days you'll know something didn't go right. Or everything went right and I'm too busy having fun with all the new features to post anything. For all of you out there stuck with a Windows computer, here is a poetry screen saver as consolation for being Mac-less.

    Thursday, June 09, 2005


    Okay, so I read the Chuck Palahniuk story I posted about yesterday and all I can say is eeeewwwww. I will never look at a pool filter intake the same way again. Eeeewwww!

    Nothing Better

    There is nothing better than getting books in the mail then getting a free book in the mail. A week or so ago I posted about Bookstore Tourism and saw on the blog that the first 50 people to send Mr. Portzline an email would get a free copy of his new book The Bookstore Tourism Travel Journal for Book Addicts On the Go. Miraculously, I was one of the lucky 50. The book has arrived and was even signed by the author. I was expecting something more along the lines of planning a bookstore vacation, but realized that was covered in his previous book Bookstore Tourism: The Book Addict's Guide to Planning & Promoting Bookstore Road Trips for Bibliophiles & Other Bookshop Junkies. The book I got is just what it says, a travel journal. Not a bad thing. It has pages all ready to receive your bookstore information from the name of the store and its address to phone and email to what you bought. It could actually come in handy for bookstore travelers. The score though is in the back of the book which lists internet "resources" and book fairs and literary festivals. I'll be checking out some of the websites and passing on any that I find of particular interest.

    Wednesday, June 08, 2005

    A Story to Make You Faint?

    Bookninja links to an article in the Telegraph about the 67 people who have fainted while Chuck Palahniuk has read his short story, "Guts." It appears that you can read the story online here. I have to confess I haven't read it. I'm a horror scaredy-cat. I'm afraid I might faint while reading it or have nightmares. I think I'll make my husband read it and tell me if it is safe for my consumption. (The "Bok, Bok" sound you hear right now is me doing a chicken imitation).

    More on Lionel

    Thanks to Iliana for the tip off on Lionel Shriver not being her original name. I Googled and found this BBC article (scroll down) that says that Shriver changed her name at 15 from Margaret-Ann and quotes her as saying "I wanted to be a boy, but I have to add - it didn't work." And The Last Word Book Club has a more detailed write-up and biographical information. And Robert Brienbaum has a long and well done interview with Shriver on Identity Theory. She doesn't mention the name change but it talks in depth about the book and about children and her educational background. It certainly made me more interested in reading the book, especially since she seems such and odd duck. And to the people out in critic-land who have been questioning whether the Orange Prize was a waste of time and ghettoized women, you need to really step back and get over yourselves. I never would have heard of Shriver or been interested in her if it weren't for the Orange Prize. I think I can safely say that it's probably true for a few other people out there too. So how can that make the Prize such a bad thing?

    Tuesday, June 07, 2005

    For Your Browsing Pleasure

    • Claire Tomalin will be live online tomorrow at the Guardian. If you can't make it you can email a question.
    • Lionel Shriver wins the Orange Prize for We Need to Talk About Kevin. I haven't read the book, though I've heard it was good even before she won. I find it kind of weird that she has a boy's name. Yeah, I know, women co-opt boys' names all the time, but Lionel? I'd think that would be one better left alone. (If your name is Lionel and you're a girl I'm sorry for making fun, but you have to admit, it is weird and since you've probably been teased a lot already you're used to it and my little poke is probably inconsequential)
    • A book that I'd like to get my mitts on, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, also won a prize
    • If you like George Orwell this new book sounds really interesting. I read both Animal Farm and 1984 when I was a teenager and liked them both. A few years ago I re-read 1984 and it was even creepier than it was the first time. I'm planning on reading Orwell's essays sometime but, well, let's just say the to-read book shelf currently has a large overflow pile on the corner of my desk. Someone needs to invent a device that will allow me to read while I sleep.
    • Finally, the Village Voice has some recommended beach reads

    I Was Only Joking

    When I created the Don Quixote Mind/Body Workout I was only joking. But as I discovered in Bust Magazine, BookPeople Bookstore in Austin, Texas take their literature and exercise seriously and offer an aerobic LitFit class. The class is free with the purchase of the featured book. Their next class is "Polite Perspiration - Lit Fit Aerobics with Emily Post's Etiquette." What fun! And the bookstore has many author events to be jealous of. Alas, Austin is too far from Minneapolis to visit, but if you're in their neighborhood, check them out!

    Monday, June 06, 2005

    A Lust for Books

    I've been browsing leisurely through More Book Lust and over the weekend finally came to the final page. A good thing too. My book wish lists are already out of control. There are 1,000 reading recommendations in More Book Lust, or so the cover promises. At 240 briefly annotated pages I believe it. Each book and author mentioned is kindly indexed at the back of the book. I put check marks next to only those books I found highly interesting. If I thought the book interesting but only mildly so I didn't check it. Even limiting myself in that way I still counted 118 books to add to my wish list! Ack! Here's some of the books that sounded really interesting and got stars, not just check marks:

    And those are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg! I should stop reading book lists but I can't help myself. And even if I could, I don't think I'd want to.

    Sunday, June 05, 2005

    Why Keep So Many Books?

    I am reading Alberto Manguel's A History of Reading. I came upon this passage that I just had to post because it speaks so well about why book lovers keep so many books:

    I am once again about to move house. Around me, in the secret dust from unsuspected corners now revealed by the shifting of furniture, stand unsteady columns of books, like the wind-carved rocks of a desert landscape. As I build pile after pile of familiar volumes I wonder, as I have wondered every other time, why I keep so many books that I know I will not read again. I tell myself that, every time I get rid of a book, I find a few days later that this is precisely the book I'm looking for. I tell myself that there are no books (or very, very few) in which I have found nothing at all to interest me. I tell myself that I've brought them into my house for a reason in the first place, and that this reason may hold good again in the future. I invoke excuses of thoroughness, of scarcity, of faint scholarship. But I know that the main reason I hold onto this ever-increasing hoard is a sort of voluptuous greed. I enjoy the sight of my crowded bookshelves, full of more or less familiar names. I delight in knowing that I'm surrounded by a sort of inventory of my life, with intimations of my future. I like discovering, in almost forgotten volumes, traces of the reader I once was--scribbles, bus tickets, scraps of paper with mysterious names and numbers, the occasional date and place on the book's flyleaf which take me back to a certain cafe, a distant hotel room, a far-away summer so long ago. I could, if I had to, abandon these books of mine and begin again, somewhere else; I have done so before, several times, out of necessity. But then I have also had to acknowledge a grave, irreparable loss. I know that something dies when I give up my books, and that my memory keeps going back to them with mournful nostalgia. And now, with the years, my memory can recall less and less, and seems to me like a looted library: many of the rooms have been closed, and in the ones still open for consultation there are huge gaps on the shelves. I pull out one of the remaining books and see that several of its pages have been torn out by vandals. The more decrepit my memory becomes, the more I wish to protect this repository of what I've read, this collection of textures and voices and scents. Possessing these books has become all-important to me, because I've become jealous of the past.

    The Sebond Essay, Conclusion

    (Part One, Part Two) Finally, I get to the actual essay by Montaigne "An Apology for Raymond Sebond." In this case "apology" means "defense." With Montaigne's great finessing skills, why after he published his translation of Sebond's book did he feel compelled to defend it especially since it was fairly well received? There were several reasons. Among those reasons was the Reformation. Montaigne had fought against the upstart Protestants in the French "Wars of Religion" and things were still unsettled. Montaigne believed that the Catholic Church was the One True Religion. Sebond's Natural Theology showed that through God's illumination Man could read the universal Book of Nature thereby proving that all of Nature conformed to Catholic truth. In the "Apology" Montaigne works to prove that Sebond is right and the Protestants wrong. A more personal reason had to do with Montaigne's Essays. Montaigne maintains throughout his Essays that the reason for them is so that he may know himself and through knowing himself know Man, a sort of particular as universal philosophy. Sebond teaches that the job of each man is to know himself and God. Knowing oneself is a complement to knowing God. This falls in quite nicely with Plutarch, one of Montaigne's heroes. Plutarch wrote about the impermanence of Man and the eternity of God. Plutarch believed that if each transient "I" can know itself, then it can know Man through itself and as a result recognize God who is permanent and unchanging and outside of Time. If Plutarch and Sebond are wrong, then Montaigne's entire essay endeavor is nothing but an exercise in navel gazing. So Montaigne had a lot at stake. No wonder then that the essay is so long. In the essay Montaigne defends two of the most basic and important assertions of Sebond: when enlightened Man can once again read the Book of Nature correctly but unenlightened Man can never be sure if he has read the Book correctly and so can never truly know God and therefore will never receive eternal life. Montaigne begins by addressing Sebond's charge that "Christians do themselves wrong by wishing to support their belief with human reasons; belief is grasped only by faith and by private inspiration from God's grace." Montainge acknowledges that this sounds like "pious zeal" but that it is not. Montaigne counters "so far surpassing Man's intellect as is that Truth by which it has pleased God in his goodness to enlighten us, we can only grasp that Truth and lodge it within us if God favours us with the privilege of further help beyond the natural order." In other words, reason is necessary for Truth but the whole Truth is not possible without God's help, faith need not be blind. Montainge then goes on to give examples of faith without Reason ("It is evident to me that we only willingly carry out those religious duties which flatter our passions. Christians excel at hating enemies") and Reason without faith ("We have seen plenty of people who are egged on by vanity and pride to conceive lofty opinions for setting the world to rights; to put themselves in countenance they affect to profess atheism....Give them a good thrust through the breast with your sword and they never fail to raise clasped hands to heaven"). Within a few pages Montaigne moves on to the second of Sebond's assertions, that without God's illumination Man cannot correctly read the Book of Nature. Most of the "Apology" is spent defending this assertion. First Montaigne begins by chastising Man for his vanity and presumptuousness:

    "Man claims the privilege of being unique in that, within this created frame, he alone is able to recognize its structure and its beauty; he alone is able to render thanks to its Architect or to tot up the profit or loss of the world...But who impressed his seal on such privilege? If Man has been given so great and fair a commission, let him produce documents saying so.
    He calls Man a "the most blighted and frail of all creatures." Asks if we rely on the movements of the heavens for signs of our fate, how can we call ourselves equal to heaven? And asks if we cannot understand ourselves, how is it we claim to know about the inward motivations of other "animate creatures?" From here Montaigne compares Man with animals and Man doesn't come out looking very good:
    We are perfectly able to realize how superior they [animals] are to us in most of their works and how weak our artistic skills are when it comes to imitating them. Our works are coarser, and yet we are aware of the faculties we use to construct them: our souls use all their powers when doing so. Why do we not consider that the same applies to animals? Why do we attribute to some sort of slavish natural inclination works that surpass all that we can do by nature or by art?
    I've said it before and I'll say it again, if Montaigne were alive today he'd probably be working for Greenpeace of EarthFirst! or the very least, PETA. His argument is radical even by today's standard's, imagine what it must have been like during his time when Man wasn't even considered part of the natural world and the animals were created by God for our benefit and use. After Montaigne finishes flogging Man into submission to the animals, proving that they are superior in nearly every way, he turns to the philosophers, the paragons of Reason. He uses the likes of Cicero, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and others to prove the futileness of philosophy, to prove that on it's own, philosophy gets us nowhere since the only thing it can do is give us permission to kill ourselves when pain and Fortune make our lives unbearable. And in this death we are offered nothing but nonbeing. But even if we move past that and look at the point of philosophy which is to "seek true, certain knowledge" we discover that though all claim to have found Truth, none agree on what Truth is. For you've got the Epicureans, the Stoics, the Pyrrhonians and a whole slew of others each with their own finely reasoned arguments. To add insult to injury, most of the philosophers are hard to understand. Montaigne asserts that "Difficulty is a coin which the learned conjure with, so as not to reveal the vanity of their studies and which human stupidity is keen to accept in payment." Not all philosophers are bad, some have actually managed to see a piece of the Truth, but not having God's illumination, they have made the mistake of assuming they have found Truth in its entirety, "The tiny bit that we know is nothing compared with ALL." But like the blind men, each touching a part of an elephant and none of them understanding the whole elephant but yet declaring that they have the Truth of it, Man has done the same. With our little piece of Truth we have managed to create for ourselves a fine mess, raising our status as we limit the power of God, "In short, both constructively and destructively, we forge for ourselves the attributes of God, taking ourselves as the correlative." But Man is full of imperfection and "our minds are dangerous tools, rash and prone to go astray." The power of our judgment is not certain, one man's judgment differs from another's and our ideas change constantly. It is only "such things as come to us from Heaven have the right and authority to carry conviction; they alone bear the mark of Truth; but even they cannot be seen with our human eyes, nor do we obtain them by our own means." If something is True, than it must be True everywhere and for everyone. The Truth is impossible for Man to obtain on his own. Man can only rely on his imperfect reason, his imperfect senses and his brief moment in Time. Man may not "mount above himself or above humanity....He will rise if God proffers him - extraordinarily - His hand; he will rise by abandoning and disavowing his own means, letting himself be raised and pulled up by purely heavenly ones." Montaigne makes his arguments carefully and precisely, anyone would be hard pressed to knock a hole in them. Whether or not you believe in God and God's grace, it is a thought-provoking essay, reminding the reader that humans are not gods, and even though we have come a long way since Montaigne's time in our science and technology and thought, what we think true today will most certainly be considered quaint and backward in the future. Next week's Montaigne essay (yes, finally back to the shorter regular essays): "On Judging Someone Else's Death"

    Saturday, June 04, 2005

    Library News

    You know things are going the wrong way when a library installs a system that requires a fingerprint in order to access the library computers. Naperville (Chicago area) Public Library patrons will have to do just that by the end of the summer. They signed a $40,646 contract with U.S. Biometrics Corp. to install fingerprint scanners on all 130 of the library system's computers. Library patrons will have to have a scanned fingerprint on file with the library and have their print scanned whenever they want to access a library computer. If a patron objects to fingerprinting a staff member could log them onto a computer. "'I'm sure we won't turn anybody away who refuses to use the technology, but in all honesty, it will be more cumbersome,' [Library Deputy Director Mark] West said." More cumbersome? What could be more cumbersome than this whole fingerprinting thing? The reason they are going to the new system is the recent discovery that library patrons were logging onto the compuers using the library cards and passwords of friends or relatives. So instead of, oh I don't know, requiring a picture ID, they have to go overboard and require a fingerprint? What will be next? Retina scans? DNA testing? In an age where major banks can't seem to keep customer information secure, West tells everyone not to worry, the library will keep the information private. The library people have good intentions, but the road to Hell is paved with good intentions as the saying goes. (Note: registration is required to view the article. Use BugMeNot for a sign in and password) Meanwhile, the idea of anonymous library cards is gaining momentum. An anonymouse card would require a cash deposit, sort of like the ubiquitous store gift cards. Your name and information would not be attached to the card. When you checked out materials from the library your card would be debited a certain value until you returned the items. The idea behind this is that your library records would not be trackable by nosy FBI agents. It of course favors folks with money and those into conspiracy theories and paranoia. Instead of "buying in" to anonymous library cards, why doesn't everyone send a friendly missive to their sentors and congressional representative urging them to repeal the Patriot Act? Instead of getting around the opression, shouldn't we be working to overthrow it? (both article links from Slashdot)

    Thursday, June 02, 2005


    Here is a really nifty picture someone tagged on today

    A Repeat?

    The Grand List of Overused Science Fiction Cliches seems sorta familiar to me but I can't remember ever posting it. Please forgive me if I have. But even so, it is good for a laugh. Take these for example:

    • An alien that is substantially like us doesn't understand love, and visits humans in order to learn. The lesson is completed after the alien gets a Dose of Good Luvin'
    • Alien races who differ from us only in skin color and/or facial features
    • Lots of apostrophes are packed into alien words and phrases for no apparent reason
    • Bad guys who miss everything they shoot at
    • When fleeing danger, females trip over their own shadows while men can sprint without caution
    • A fighter pilot, upon destroying an alien vessel, yells "yeeeeeeee-haaaaaaa!"
    • Super-intelligent computers blow up when the hero confuses them
    • Dimming the lights on the bridge conserves enough power to enable a significant increase in the speed of a multi-ton spacecraft
    And it goes on and on. Have fun chuckling!

    Wednesday, June 01, 2005

    Get Your Hackles Up

    I've stalled on the completion of my posts about Montaigne's essay "An Apology for Raymond Sebond." I haven't had much time to spend thinking and writing about it, but I will get to it, 'cause I know the world is waiting. Ha! Please accept these humble links as an effort to cure the midweek blahs.

    • There have been lots of folks tagging Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries at so I thought I'd bring it to you here. Human Events, a conservative weekly magazine, put together a panel of conservative public policy leaders and scholars and asked them to compile a list of the ten most harmful books. You can probably guess a good many of them if you think about it. But in case your brain is not working at capacity at the moment, The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels came in at number one. Some others that made the list causing me to both laugh and cry: At number four, The Kinsey Report for giving "a scientific gloss to the normalization of promiscuity and deviancy"; at number five is Democracy and Education by John Dewey for "disparaging schooling that focused on traditional character development and endowing children with hard knowledge, and encouraged the teaching of thinking 'skills' instead" (because we all know that character is more important than being able to think); at number seven is Betty Friedan's Feminie Mystique which "disparaged traditional stay-at-home motherhood as life in 'a comfortable concentration camp'” (note that the only woman on the panel choosing these books is Phyllis Schlafly). Some books that garnered honorable mentions: On Liberty by John Stuart Mill, Origin of the [sic] Species by Charles Darwin (I'm surprised this didn't make the top ten), Madness and Civilization by Michel Foucault (I'm not sure how this can even make the list since I'd bet if you asked ten Americans walking down the street not one would know who he is/was), and Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. Also on the honarable mention list is Ralph Nader's Unsafe at Any Speed. I guess the panel thinks seat belts and other safety standards on cars are a bad idea. At any rate I'm saving the list and will do my best to make sure I read every book mentioned.
    • To go along with the above list is Mark Danner's commencement address given to the graduating English majors at Berkeley. The theme is something every English major has heard many times when they tell someone what their degree is in, "what are you going to do with that?" Here's an exceprt:
      It's not easy to be an English major these days, or any student of the humanities. It requires a certain kind of determination, and a refusal -- an annoying refusal, for some of our friends and families, and for a good many employers -- to make decisions, or at least to make the kind of "practical decisions" that much of society demands of us. It represents a determination, that is, not only to do certain things -- to read certain books and learn certain poems, to acquire or refine a certain cast of mind -- but not to do other things: principally, not to decide, right now, quickly, how you will earn your living; which is to say, not to decide how you will justify your existence. For in the view of a large part of American society, the existential question is at the bottom an economic one: Who are you and what is your economic justification for being?
      I graduated from college with a degree in English and then went to grad school for more. My current paying job has nothing to do with my degree but by golly I learned how to think (in spite of occasional evidence to the contrary)
    • English majors rock!