My former colleague Sherry Truffin, now of Campbell University, has launched a new publication. Her latest essay appears in the anthology Zombies in the Academy: Living Death in Higher Education. This essay is an extension of the work that she began in Schoolhouse Gothic: Haunted Hallways and Predatory Pedagogues in Late Twentieth-Century American Literature and Scholarship, which explores the implications of locating gothic literature in educational settings.
Father Andrew Greeley – whose novels and essays I’ve read for years — and who helped me come to terms with my ideas about Christianity – died today. I never made it to Chicago to meet him, one of the few authors I’ve ever really wanted to meet. More than any minister or preacher I’ve ever listened to or read, Father Greeley made me believe in the humanity of Christ and the paternal love of a creator, and he made faith real, human, accepting of all, and yes — erotic. The world is a sadder place without this author and priest.
A Prezi: Contexts for William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience.
If you’ve never viewed a Prezi before:
1. “Prezi” is short for “presentation” — think of it like a live, online PowerPoint.
2. Once you click the “start” button in the middle of the page it’ll just sit there. There’s a button at the bottom right hand corner of the page that allows you to let it autoplay and to set the time delay from one element to the next. The Prezi will move from one circle to the next, left to right.
3. You can zoom in or out — and very closely — onto any individual element.
One of my first attempts at a Prezi. Song: “William Blake” by Daniel Amos.
I’m posting a link here to my 2010 review of The University Against Itself for Workplace: A Journal of Academic Labor. The reviewed anthology is a collection of essays about the failed 2005-06 NYU graduate student workers’ strike and what participants learned from it. The events surrounding this strike form something like a case study for many of the dysfunctions in higher ed. today.
When I first started drafting this blog, I’d just finished the third of three days teaching Jonathan Carroll’s Bones of the Moon. “Teaching” is perhaps a misleading word after the first day, as for the most part we talk about the book — so my students may as well be teaching me. The first day, though, I need to teach. Carroll’s novels are often complex and somewhat strange psychological explorations, and students need some introduction to Carroll’s language of the psyche. I ask my students to imagine their inner lives as a landscape, like a city or country populated by characters, and then project that land outwards. If they could do that, they’d have a Carrollesque novel. And they’d have developed a myth.
The schedule has now been set and registration is open for William Blake’s Manuscripts: A One-Day Symposium. This symposium will be held at the Huntington Library on June 7th, 2013, and the list of Blake luminaries speaking include (in alphabetical order) Luisa Calé, Mark Crosby, Morris Eaves, Alexander Gourlay, Steve Hindle, Rachel Lee, Joseph Viscomi, Angus Whitehead, and John Windle. Attendance costs $31.50 and includes lunch, introductory remarks, two plenary sessions, two panels, and closing remarks by Mark Crosby (lunch is optional: conference registration alone is $15.00 and free for students). I would encourage anyone interested in Blake and able to travel to San Marino, California in June to take advantage of this opportunity.
I’m linking here to an essay that I wrote for Salinger.org my first year of graduate school, maybe 13 years ago: “A Section Man’s Experience of The Catcher in the Rye.” Ah, the writing I wish I could go back and edit.
I’m reposting here an article of mine from 2005: “Subverting the Mechanisms of Control: Baudrillard, The Matrix Trilogy, and the Future of Religion” from the International Journal of Baudrillard Studies.
Somewhat more ancient versions of this article can be found at Riverwest Currents (about The Matrix Reloaded) and my original short essay at towerofbabel.com (about the original Matrix film), where it was translated into Turkish.
I’ve posted a review of Michael Phillips’s edition of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell to Zoamorphosis.com.
I’ve published a review of Sarah Haggarty’s Blake’s Gifts: Poetry and the Politics of Exchange on Zoamorphosis.com.
I’ve published a review of Robert Essick’s and Mark Crosby’s Genesis: William Blake’s Last Illuminated Book at the Zoamorphosis 2.0 blog. The Zoamorphosis blog is a wonderful resource for all things Blake, and my review is very appreciative of the work that the editors carried out in publishing this edition.
Rhian Williams, The Poetry Toolkit: The Essential Guide to Studying Poetry (Continuum 2009)
Rhian Williams’s The Poetry Toolkit: The Essential Guide to Studying Poetry is a readable, well-organised, and highly accessible introduction to the study of poetry for beginners. The six main chapters of Williams’s book covers types of poems (such as epic, lyric, and ballad), poetic forms (variable, fixed, etc.), prosody, rhyme, stanzas, and wordplay (tropes, and schemes such as anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus). Williams departs from the norm for these kinds of books with this organization, delaying her explanation of meter until well past the half-way mark. As a result, she has to use and occasionally explain concepts that are not fully covered until much later in the book. Fortunately, these explanations are well integrated into the surrounding material, and even if they were not, the book is so transparently organized and presented that its chapters can be read in any order. Each chapter begins with an outline of its content and each point in the outline is marked within the chapter by a large header that includes a brief definition of the term covered. These headers are followed by section outlines in each section’s introductory paragraph. As a result, there is no reason that an instructor could not begin with chapter three, Prosody, and teach forward, ending the book with chapters one and two.
Williams’s coverage of poetic form includes discussions of the history of the form as well as its characteristics, just as her coverage of meter and other technical elements includes a discussion of the effects that these elements have been employed to achieve throughout the history of western poetry. Every discussion includes examples attended by clear explanations, so that Williams models effective reading and interpretation of poetry in every section of every chapter. She covers more different kinds of poems and elements of poetry than either Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled or Paul Fussell’s Poetic Meter & Poetic Form, but the only non-western verse form that Williams covers is haiku. Overall, Williams’s poetry handbook is more sophisticated than Fry’s (and, of course, less oriented toward poetry writing and more toward poetry reading), slightly less nuanced than Fussell’s, but also more consciously designed as a textbook for novice readers than Fussell’s. I highly recommend Williams’s book for the study of poetry, especially if paired with a reader organized by poetic form.
I’ve recently uploaded the conference paper “The Fortunes of Romantic Anti-Capitalism in William Blake’s Thel and Oothoon” to Text-Identity-Subjectivity. It considers the relationships between capitalism, Romanticism, and gender in Blake’s mythological characters Thel and Oothoon.
“Picturing Language and the Language of Pictures in Blake’s Illustrations for Dante’s Divine Comedy” is my first link in my Scalar e-Book Text, Identity, Subjectivity. The site is growing daily.
I’ve started a Scalar eBook — which is, essentially, a website that can be designed so that your pages follow multiple paths. I’m going to use it to post preliminary ideas developed out of the upcoming NEH Summer Seminar that I will be attending in June and early July of this year, Reassessing British Romanticism, as well as conference papers that I’ve presented over the years. My eBook is titled Text, Identity, Subjectivity. I’m adding to it daily.
I’ve had a long association with a website called The Tower of Babel. It’s published essays and such by me since the 1990s. But, regrettably, the site completely crashed recently and all content on it was lost, including my posts about my book Blake and Kierkegaard: Creation and Anxiety hosted on the subdomain jamesrovira.towerofbabel.com. I’m unsure if I’d backed up any of these anywhere, so it’s very likely everything on that site was lost. Some content, such as film essays, was posted both here and at that site, but some of it is just gone forever.
So I’m going to use this blog for all book updates for my previous book, Blake and Kierkegaard: Creation and Anxiety (Continuum 2010, hardcover; 2011, paperback). Updates about my current anthology, Interpretation: Theory: History will continue to be posted at interpretationtheoryhistory.wordpress.com.
The latest about Blake and Kierkegaard: it’s been reviewed yet again, this time by Robert Rix for Comparative Literature Studies vol. 49, issue 2, 2012. It has also been reviewed by Blake: An Illustrated Quarterly, Choice,and Zoamorphosis. I’m very grateful for the work of these reviewers and would like to thank them for the time they’ve taken to review my work.
From the Oxford English Dictionary:
Your word for today is: nyctograph, n.
A device invented by Charles Dodgson (‘Lewis Carroll’) with which a person can record ideas (esp. those remaining after sleep) at night in bed without fully waking up.
The rather general description of Lewis Carroll’s nyctograph provided by the OED cannot, of course, even begin to do it justice. Here’s a reconstruction of the device itself:
The device itself is not the real magic here, of course. Carroll invented a new alphabet consisting of lines and dots placed within the boxes. The device above would be placed on a sheet of paper, and Carroll would draw his letters along the inside edges of each box. When two lines of text were completed, he’d move the device down the paper and start over again.
Carroll was concerned about being able to record easily his memories of his dreams, or any other ideas that happened to pop into his head at night. Living in the nineteenth century before the widespread use of electricity, wanting to write at night meant having to get out of bed, light a candle, and then sit down to write. He invented the nyctograph and its alphabet to save himself the trouble of doing so. The text itself looks like this:
Now I’d like you to wrap your head around what’s going on here. Fully. Carroll invented a new alphabet and a device to write it with so that he didn’t need to get out of bed to write something down. Okay, I understand that. But… why not just write freehand on a sheet of paper lying next to the bed?
Anyone who could invent a new alphabet and learn it quickly and well enough to be able to use it in the dark — and let me add, to be able to use it in the dark while half asleep — should be able to write fairly legibly in the dark — at least legibly enough for personal notes. Carroll didn’t need this device to record his thoughts.
He needed this device to write neatly in the dark.
He cared about writing neatly in the dark.
He prefers complex solutions to simple problems. It’s like the (very likely) urban legend about the Space Pen. The story goes that Nasa wanted a pen that could write reliably in zero-gravity environments, underwater, and in any position — upside-down, sideways, etc. — so spent $1,000,000 on research to produce this pen. I own one. Works pretty well. Bought them for my kids for Christmas one year (gratuitous fatherhood reference).
The Russians had the same problem so decided to use pencils.
Lewis Carroll was a space-pen kind of guy. I also think he was too often bored, so invented problems to amuse himself.
Food and Drink and Fatherhood is James Rovira’s personal blog, a central location for his publications, projects, interests, and observations. He has two other blogs devoted to his book projects, Blake and Kierkegaard: Creation and Anxiety (Continuum 2010 hardcover, 2011 paperback) and Interpretation: Theory: History (in progress: working title).
I talked myself into going with my wife to a local Salvation Army thrift store yesterday. The usual routine is that she goes out and then I go out — with three small children, that’s the only way to get anything done. I don’t like the division of our time, though, and wanted to spend time with her, so I suggested that we all just go together. The inevitable — at least, the inevitable as defined by my wife — happened. She shopped very little. I shopped a little more. I bought Stuff for the Kids that they Didn’t Need. We chased children around the store.
But best of all, like most thrift stores this one had a healthy used book section. When I saw a hardcover copy of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s The General in His Labyrinth I couldn’t resist picking it up. There was no need for me to do so, really. I own almost all of Marquez’s novels, probably in first edition hardcover, and have read almsot all of them, including this one. I don’t really know why I had to pick up and flip through a book I already own.
I’m glad I did, though. I opened the book to a small collection of about ten or fifteen stamps. Two or three dropped to the floor before I realized they were in there. I asked my son to hand them to me. Then I realized I had to buy the book. Cost wasn’t an issue — the book was $.99. But that wouldn’t matter anyhow. The book had a history. It had been owned. It had traveled. I don’t know why or how it wound up in a thrift store, or why it was filled with stamps, but that’s all part of its history. As an object with a history, it is not in fact identical to the other copy of the same book that I own. It has acquired an originality and uniqueness. The stamps are as much a part of this book, now, as its cover and its words. So it sits on my shelf next to me, apart from the rest of my Marquez titles, having acquired me as part of its history as much as I have acquired it.
And I don’t mind.
Jonathan Carroll’s White Apples and its follow up, Glass Soup, narrates a love affair between Vincent Ettrich and Isabelle Neukor. White Apples begins with Vincent Ettrich still moving through the routines of his daily life with the growing awareness that he’s recently died. Isabelle, his soul mate and lover, brought him back to life, hence his somewhat disoriented wandering of the streets of Vienna. White Apples narrates their reunion and the significance of their unborn child, Anjo, not only to their personal lives, but to the very fabric of existence. In these novels Carroll presents a universe continually expanding in big bangs then contracting back into singularities in repeated cycles, a differently configured universe brought into being with each big bang. Everything that exists has its place in the universe, which for these novels Carroll has conceived of as a grand mosaic; once everything has taken its place in the Mosaic, the universe begins its contraction again.
In the current configuration of the universe the principle of Chaos has taken on a conscious mind and personality and likes it that way, so is attempting to stop the completion of the Mosaic in order to freeze the expansion of the universe in its current configuration. Vincent and Isabelle’s child will be the one who finally defeats Chaos, so Chaos is seeking to destroy both parents and the child. In White Apples, Vincent and Isabelle are reunited and thwart Chaos’s attempt to destroy or damage their unborn son, while Glass Soup continues the story with Chaos’s attempt to permanently separate Vincent and Isabel, ending with Anjo’s birth.
Carroll’s bizarre plot places the White Apples trilogy (Carroll plans a sequence of three books to develop this story) well outside any established genre, but his writing is perhaps best understood as a type of magical, or even supernatural, realism. However, in consideration of western mythology and the gnostic/hermetic tradition that developed from it, this story isn’t so bizarre after all. Athena sprang from Zeus’ head, emanating from Zeus, much like Chaos has sprung from the universe fully conscious. In many gnostic religions the universe has actually been created by divine emanations rather than God, these emanations being embodiments of divine moods or personality traits. In the hermetic tradition the universe is something like God’s body and also follows vast cycles of expansion and contraction. This universal/divine cycle of expansion and contraction finds its highest philosophical expression in Hegel’s philosophy of history, and its best known materialist/scientific expression in the Big Bang theory.
Carroll, deliberately or not, appropriates these ancient traditions to reveal the contours of the human heart — not unlike English Romantics such as William Blake and Percy Shelley. These novels tell, first and foremost, a love story between Vincent and Isabelle. The tensions between chaos and control, the willingness to love the current form of the universe while maintaining openness toward its eventual demise, are all analogs of romantic love: what preserves it, what kills it, what makes it grow. Carroll maps our real lives, our emotional lives, onto a fantastic landscape. His books are our hearts writ large. Only the imaginative can comprehend the insights provided by such imaginative work. If you’re not used to this type of writing, try it…but with an open mind.
An old listserve friend of mine (what’s a “listserve friend”? Someone you’ve conversed with on listserves for seven years but never met) passed away Nov. 24th: Robert “Scottie” Bowman (1928-2005). I just found out as notice of his death was posted to a Salinger listserve just a day or so ago. Scottie is the author of at least two novels: Run to the Sea and The Toy, either of which you might, if you’re lucky, find on Amazon.com at any given time. They’re fairly rare these days, having been published in the 1960s. I was fortunate enough to have found and read Run to the Sea, and if you can imagine a novel written by a British Hemingway, this was it. Scottie was a psychologist by trade but an author at heart (perhaps the two vocations aren’t all that different after all): even his listserve posts were typically characterized by a grace and elegance of prose that’s rare to find anywhere on the internet. In tribute, I’ve reproduced one of his posts to a Salinger listserve from the mid to late 1990s, as there is no better representation of Scottie Bowman than his own words. It’s a description of his first impression of Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye when he read it in 1955 or 56:
One winter evening in 1955 (56 ?), after finishing a clinic session in the Croydon General Hospital, I was scrabbling under a pile of desk debris in search of a pen. I found, instead, a copy of The Catcher which had been abandoned, I presumed, by one of the social workers who occasionally used the same office. (I was sure it couldn’t have been one of my medical colleagues since they were not as a rule sufficiently literate to read anything more demanding than an X-Ray plate.)
I was mildly curious & began reading — though with no particular expectation, since the name Salinger, at that time, meant very virtually nothing to anyone in England.
Long, long before I reached the bottom of the first page I knew I had no choice but to take the book home with me & not leave it out of my hand until I’d finished it. Which I duly did, sometime in the early hours of the next morning. It really didn’t matter to me one damn who might have owned it & I doubt, in fact, I ever returned it. I shouldn’t like to think for how many days thereafter my brain continued in obsessive turmoil over the idea of this young lunatic in the red hunting cap.
This seems a rather different experience from the one Jim & others describe when they tell us of their original contact with Salinger: (`…I didn’t read Catcher until AFTER I graduated college, and I was an English Major…..I only read the opening page of Catcher in a writing class once, that was it…)
This suggests a considerably cooller response to my own & I wonder has it something to do with the way Salinger seems to have been an established figure of literature — set on college courses & so on — by the time most list members first encountered him. For people of my generation who were interested in writing, he represented a bomb going off (“all that David Copperfield crap”) — very much as I imagine Hemingway did to the generation before mine. (I don’t believe he had, in fact, the same potential for liberation that Hemingway presented & I don’t think he has lasted so well, but the parallel may still have some validity.)
Considering my own lifelong & instinctive resistance to books recommended by teachers I wonder would I have ever got round to him — even at this late stage in the proceedings.
Regrettably, I’m the Jim he’s making reference to in the post. The only thing I can say in my defense is that mine was a cooler response only in that I had to read ten or twenty pages before I was hooked, not just one. But I think he has a point about generational differences, though. In 1996 and 2005 Salinger is an institution, not the bomb dropped on the literary scene that he was in the mid 50s.
Scottie’s was an eloquent voice of a past generation that will sorely be missed. I’ll miss you, Scottie.
PS Thanks much to Daniel Yocum for reposting the above to the Salinger listserve and bringing it back to our attention.