Monday, May 27, 2013

Poem of the Day

Dulce et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, –
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori

-- Wilfred Owen

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Quote of the Day: the Murders We Romanticize and the Murders We Don't

The city of Deadwood, they stage the murder of [Wild Bill] Hickok fourteen times a day. People have the security of knowing that that story is going to go on, and they'll be able to see Hickok killed 365 days a year.  Which might be an alternative argument in terms of continuing stories past the point of their utility. ...

All of Chinatown [in the Deadwood series] was intended as a venue for storytelling, to show the people who were invisible to what history takes to be the main story of a place.  And the process of servicing the illusions of those who are telling history what history will take to be the main story of a place -- the process of servicing that is never very pretty.  They used to bring in whores for the people too poor to pay for the white prostitutes.  The only way to make that economically feasible was not to feed the Chinese whores.  So they would just let them get fucked to death, until they starved.

They don't stage that fourteen times a day in Deadwood.

-- David Milch, "The Meaning of Endings: David Milch on the Conclusion of Deadwood" (
The heart of this fabulous little DVD extra -- available, I believe, only in the DVD set containing the complete series (which has a disk above and beyond the extras disks contained in each of the three season sets) -- is excerpted here.  A summary of the whole is here.  (Via Canavan, who comments at the link.)  It's just Milch rambling -- but "just" is very much not le mot juste here.  It's Milch, rambling -- and doing so with grace and insight.  The bit above isn't the best bit, but it's good, and I hadn't seen it quoted or transcribed anywhere, so I thought I'd quote it.

Here's one more sentence, more in tune with the main theme of Milch's rambling:
The biggest lie is the idea that we are entitled to a meaningful and coherent summarizing, a conclusion, of something which never concludes.

-- Ibid.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

American Studies 100: Cover Image Version 2.0

Since today is the last day of my second run-through of my class American Studies 100: A History of American Culture in 21 Examples, I thought I'd post the (slightly) revised cover image.  The syllabus (pdf) is pretty much what it was when I taught it in the fall -- the order switched a little bit (often for practical rather than pedagogical considerations), tweaked a few of the readings, but mostly it was the same.  (I didn't change any of my examples.)  But here's the cover image (without accompanying text):

And, just to correlate with the picture, here are the 21 examples which I used to outline the history of American culture:
  1. Minstrel Shows
  2. Central Park
  3. A Sears & Roebuck Catalog, 1898
  4. Hull House
  5. Coney Island
  6. The Five Foot Shelf (a.k.a. The Harvard Classics)
  7. D. W. Griffith, The Birth of a Nation (1915)
  8. Billy Sunday Sermons
  9. Louis vs. Schmeling (New York City, June 22, 1938)
  10. The Lone Ranger (radio and TV show)
  11. Billie Holiday, "Strange Fruit" (words & music by Abel Meeropol)
  12. Jackson Pollock, Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist) 
  13. Drive-in Movie Theaters
  14. Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival, 1965
  15. Charles Schultz, Peanuts
  16. The Moon Landing, 1969
  17. Roman Polanski, Chinatown (1974)
  18. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial (Maya Lin, 1982)
  19. Fast Food 
  20. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Joss Whedon, 1997 - 2003)
  21. Steroids in Baseball
For more details on the ideas & reasoning behind the class, see this post, or the whole syllabus (pdf).

It was a fun class to teach.  Next year I'm teaching in the history department, rather than American studies, again; but I'd like to teach it again sometime, if I ever get the chance.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Poem of the Day: Merwin's For the Anniversary of My Death

For the Anniversary of My Death

Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveler
Like the beam of a lightless star

Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what

-- W. S. Merwin

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Poem of the Day: Hopkins's Carrion Comfort

Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
Not untwist -- slack they may be -- these last strands of man
In me or, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.
But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me
Thy wring-world right foot rock? lay a lionlimb against me? scan
With darksome devouring eyes my bruised bones? and fan,
O in turns of tempest, me heaped there; me frantic to avoid thee and flee?

Why? That my chaff might fly; my grain lie, sheer and clear.
Nay in all that toil, that coil, since (seems) I kissed the rod,
Hand rather, my heart lo! lapped strength, stole joy, would laugh, cheer.
Cheer whom though? the hero whose heaven-handling flung me, fóot tród
Me? or me that fought him? O which one? is it each one? That night, that year
Of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God.

-- Gerard Manley Hopkins

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Poem of the Day: Yeats's The Second Coming

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

-- W. B. Yeats

Friday, May 03, 2013

Quote of the Day

Of course it should not be too surprising to find out that your life story has included an event, something important, that you have known nothing about -- your life story is in and of itself something that you know very little about.

-- Philip Roth, I Married a Communist, p. 15
I'm rereading this to teach next week.  Quite, quite fabulous.  (Then again, I assigned it: of course I'd think that...)

Poem of the Day: Ryan's A Certain Kind of Eden

A Certain Kind of Eden

It seems like you could, but
you can’t go back and pull
the roots and runners and replant.
It’s all too deep for that.
You’ve overprized intention,
have mistaken any bent you’re given
for control. You thought you chose
the bean and chose the soil.
You even thought you abandoned
one or two gardens. But those things
keep growing where we put them—
if we put them at all.
A certain kind of Eden holds us thrall.
Even the one vine that tendrils out alone
in time turns on its own impulse,
twisting back down its upward course
a strong and then a stronger rope,
the greenest saddest strongest
kind of hope.

-- Kay Ryan
I went on a binge of posting Kay Ryan poems a bit over a year ago; you can read them all here if you'd like to read more of this fabulous poet. And, although it's not accurate -- the week being long over -- I've tagged this post too with the Kay Ryan Week tag, to group it with the others.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

David Graeber Link Round-Up

David Graeber has a new book out, and as a consequence, we get some interesting articles and interviews both by and about him.
I'll probably add more links if and when I see 'em.

Poem of the Day: Frost's Acquainted with the Night

Acquainted With the Night

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain --and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height
One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Quote of the Day: A Real-Life Lord of the Flies

For there actually has been a real-life Lord of the Flies incident, and the result was the opposite of what is portrayed in the novel. One day, in 1977, six boys set out from Tonga on a fishing trip. They left safe harbor, and fate befell them. Badly. Caught in a huge storm, the boys were shipwrecked on a deserted island. What do they do, this little tribe?

They made a pact never to quarrel, because they could see that arguing could lead to mutually assured destruction. They promised each other that wherever they went on the island, they would go in twos, in case they got lost or had an accident. They agreed to have a rotation of being on guard, night and day, to watch out for anything that might harm them or anything that might help. And they kept their promises—for a day that became a week, a month, a year. After fifteen months, two boys, on watch as they had agreed, saw a speck of a boat on the horizon. The boys were found and rescued, all of them, grace intact and promises held.

-- Jay Griffiths
Sadly, he doesn't cite a source.  Wish I knew where he got the information.

Poem of the Day: cummings's i thank You God for this most amazing

i thank You God for this most amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

-- e e cummings