JimHeadshot2You’re visiting James Rovira’s personal blog, a central location for his publications, projects, interests, and observations. You can find his monograph Blake and Kierkegaard: Creation and Anxiety on amazon.com and on the publisher’s website (Continuum 2010 hardcover, 2011 paperback). Text-Identity-Subjectivity is his open-access, digital humanities project exploring the intersections between between art, literature, and the formation of the self. At present it is the repository of several revised conference papers related to this subject, most of which draw in part from Blake and Kierkegaard. If you enjoy the works here and on Text-Identity-Subjectivity, you might want to consider ordering a copy of Blake and Kierkegaard: Creation and Anxiety for yourself or for your library.

James Rovira is Chair and Associate Professor of English at Mississippi College and lives in the greater Jackson, MS area with his wife Sheridan and children Penn (b. 2004), Grace (b. 2008), and Zoe (b. 2010). He has four adult children named Joshua, Steven, Bethany, and Beka who live in the Central Florida area.

All opinions posted here are representative only of the views of James Rovira and not of any institution with which he is currently or has been affiliated. Comments are solely the opinions of those commenting and their presence on any page or blog entry does not represent endorsement of or agreement with those ideas by James Rovira. Conflicting opinions are welcome for the sake of open dialog and for the advancement of thinking about the issues considered on these pages.

The background image and site design rotates. One common one is a detail of Cynthia Morefield‘s Through Tears with some psycho-crazy alterations by my daughter Beka Rovira.

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All works under the domain names “jamesrovira.com” or “jamesrovira.wordpress.com” are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License unless indicated otherwise.

40 thoughts on “About

  1. Hi James, I thought what you wrote about Lewis Carroll’s nyctograph was very perceptive: you are saying that designing the nyctograph and its font was a displacement activity when he should have been getting on with writing. But I think you’re unfair to say he was bored; can’t we just say he was more interested in inventing a new font etc than other things? A line in a Frost poem is relevant: “he knew how to make a short job long for love of it”.
    BTW do you understand that line of Dylan Thomas, “heads of the characters hammer through daisies”?
    Best wishes, Terry Collins

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    1. Thanks for responding, Terry — good to see you here. The thing about the nyctograph, as I recall, was that it was intended to help Carroll write in the dark: he invented a new alphabet that made it possible to write letters by drawing lines within small boxes cut out in a template.

      That’s frankly crazy :). You don’t need a new alphabetic script and a new device to write it in if you want to write in the dark. We can feel the edges of the paper and then just write normally on it. Our writing will be a bit messy, but if we’re just jotting notes, it’ll be readable enough. So far as I can tell after a quick check, pencils were widely available in Carroll’s day, so he wouldn’t have to use pen and ink.

      Anyway, that’s why I think he was bored: he created an elaborate solution to a simple problem. If he wanted to write in code, or if he just wanted to invent a new font, that’s another thing entirely, but this whole scheme was designed to help him write in the dark.

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  2. Thanks for your comments James. Yes you’re absolutely right that it’s not difficult to write in the dark with ordinary paper and pencil. That’s what I do now, having tried various methods in the past. You just have to use lots of space to avoid over-writing, and dotting I’s and crossing T’s can be a bit erratic. But I think Lewis Carroll, being a playful kind of chap and mathematically inclined, would have enjoyed the intellectual game and challenge of designing a font and writing implement for night time writing. If you look at his nyctograph and font they are very geometrical.I suppose all I’m quibbling with is your use of the word “bored”: I’d rather say he used his need to write in the dark as an excuse for doing something he found really interesting, even if it wasn’t strictly needed. I think we all do that, do we not? – make a short job long for love of it – no?
    Best wishes,
    Terry Collins

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    1. Ha… to me, the line between doing something for the sake of amusement or interest or for the sake of playing a challenging game (or solving a challenging puzzle) and doing something to stave off boredom is a thin one indeed :). I don’t know if you’ve watched any episodes of the new Sherlock series, but add my comments on boredom to your comments on interest and you’ve pretty well summed up the character. He gets depressed when he doesn’t have a hard enough case to solve.

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  3. Presumably then, you would be insulted by any suggestion that your own research was motivated by interest or amusement or as a challenge to stave off boredom. So how would you describe your own life’s work? (I hope this doesn’t sound offensive James – I’m genuinely interested in your reply.)
    I’ve watched bits of the latest Sherlock series but do not find him an interesting character any more – too over the top. I read all the Sherlock stories when I was a teenager. There seems to be quite a vogue for emotionless, autistic, Asperger’s characters at the moment. Do you think we humans are rather fascinated by emotionless people? Would this connect in any way with your ideas about creation anxiety, Frankenstein’s monster etc?

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    1. That’s a fair question, Terry, and I’ll answer it, but do you think it’s a fair comparison? Scholarship vs. trying to figure out a way to write neatly in the dark? :). Do you think Carroll viewed the nyctograph as a significant part of his life’s work, or as a diversion? Now if he were employed by the British government to develop alternative writing methods or some kind of code, my opinion of it would be very different. But this was for his own use. It’s very silly — to do something so elaborate to solve so simple a problem.

      On my end, yes, what I said about Sherlock and and Carroll completely applies to my own work. I was once interviewed by a university president who looked at my scholarship and said, “You’ve made things as hard for your self as you can.” Yes. Yes I did. I did it to keep my interest engaged for years and to stave off boredom. That doesn’t mean it’s not meaningful to me, though — I selected these two authors specifically because they allowed me to write about questions that I found important. Blake and Kierkegaard are massively difficult puzzles, and putting them together is even more massively difficult. On some level, I get the same enjoyment working with them that I do playing Sudoku. But I also find my discoveries to be personally and, perhaps, societally important too. It’s a diversion, but more than -just- a diversion.

      Make sense?

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    2. PS Your question about Sherlock is a good one too, but requires a separate discussion. I think we need to ask how faithful is this character to the original first — remember, it’s an adaptation (on the specific points that you mention, I think very faithful). Then I think we need to ask what kind of character this is. I’m thinking he’s in the vein of Mr. Spock, Data, Dexter, etc.: highly intellectual characters with emotional deficiencies (good choice of syndrome on your end). It’s almost a stock character and has been around a long time. Enlightenment vs. Romanticism. Apollonian vs. Dionysian. Etc.

      This type of character allows us to query the difference between cognition and emotion as different forms of reasoning. What makes the new Sherlock interesting is that the writers are trying to invest this machine-like intellect with emotional commitments, and then show how he’s expressing his emotional commitment through his cognition. I wouldn’t say that comes through in every episode, but it does a bit, I think, if you watch them all.

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  4. You come across as a very focused and serious person James. So I would like to try to defend play and playfulness. Would you agree that playfulness is only a step away from inquisitiveness? And inquisitiveness has been the source of many major discoveries. When we play we (temporarily) suspend our critical faculty and give our mind free rein; and this can sometimes lead us into new and unexpected ideas and lines of investigation. I suspect Lewis Carroll did a lot of that, so his life’s work would consist to a very great degree of what you dismiss as diversions. But the kind of inventiveness that is exercised by inventing the nyctograph etc is just the same kind of inventiveness that went into much of our modern technology, which has made this correspondence between you and me possible. I am delighted that there are people such as yourself who give deep sustained thought and focused scholarship to particular aspects of the human condition. But I am also delighted that there are people like Carroll doing the kinds of things he did. If you consider the thousands of people whose efforts and ingenuity went into the making of the internet, I bet you the vast majority were untroubled by the nature of freedom and the burden it places upon us, and would never have heard of Kierkegaard. Would it not be hypocritical of us to scorn such people whilst benefiting from their efforts?
    Thank you for your comments about Sherlock – I shall pay more attention and try to see the emotion behind the intellect. I remember in one of the original stories there is mention of a woman having once been part of Holmes’ life; but Watson says that an emotion such as love would be like a piece of grit in the finely tuned mechanism of Holmes’ mind (or some such metaphor).
    On British TV at the moment we have a joint Swedish/Danish production called “The Bridge” whose lead character is the emotionally blind Saga Noren. She is continually putting her foot in it but the scriptwriter has given the nod to her emotional side by having her comment that people think she cannot be hurt, and in the first series she even shed a tear (and seemed a little surprised at herself). But these seem very token and fatuous to me. Everything else about the character is emotionally void.
    RE: Creation Anxiety: Cambridge University here in the UK has recently set up the Centre for the study of Existential Risk. One of the major threats they have identified is AI: I think their reasoning is that once we create systems more intelligent than ourselves, they will be able to go on to create even more intelligent systems and so on – so you get into a runaway situation out of our control.

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    1. Just out of curiosity, which Terry Collins is this? I have a colleague who works with me here in Ohio who is named Terry Collins, and I’ve been assuming that is her, but this last post is from a person living in the UK.

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  5. Terry —

    You’re overreacting a bit to my comments on Carroll and perhaps developing a kind of one-dimensional caricature of my own personality and position. I said Carroll’s work on the nyctograph was “silly” — so yes, I do recognize the elements of playfulness in it, and no, I don’t scorn it. I appreciate Carroll’s playfulness. I said he did it because he was “bored,” so that it was a kind of self-entertainment, so again, a kind of playfulness. He created the nyctograph for the same reasons that he wrote “Jabberwocky.” What I was trying to communicate in my previous response was that I engage in the same kind of play in my own work. Remember, I compared it to a game, Sudoku. I’m really unsure why you’re responding as you are.

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  6. Very sorry James if I have misinterpreted your posts – these kinds of textual conversations seem rather prone to misunderstandings. It’s perhaps because there are no facial or vocal cues. I hope you will allow me to retract what I have written if you feel it is a travesty of what you intended.

    It’s quite a coincidence that you have a colleague with the same name as me – I am a Scottish male living in England.

    I read your online paper on Mary Shelley with great interest and I’d be very interested in any comments you would care to make about the Faust myth/story. Did Kierkegaard make any reference to it do you know?

    Best wishes and apologies, Terry

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  7. Ha… what a coincidence. Very nice to meet you, Terry, and I’m grateful to have you as a reader. You’re right: tone is difficult to manage in a purely written medium, and I undoubtedly came across as being much more harsh on Carroll than I intended. Trust me — whatever I say about him is with the warmest affection. I don’t mean to attack him. I like him for the same reasons that you describe.

    Kierkegaard was a reader of Goethe. You may find this article useful:

    http://www.degruyter.com/view/j/kier.2009.2009.issue-1/9783110207897.3.585/9783110207897.3.585.xml?format=INT

    And these pages from Hannay’s biography may be useful:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=-pI8ueyxOSkC&pg=PA311&lpg=PA311&dq=kierkegaard+and+faust&source=bl&ots=7BVpzJUa6l&sig=dywtb6nojDqNY0_JOc3MWMuEVNo&hl=en&sa=X&ei=VqrqUqTrCcSuyQHU_4C4AQ&ved=0CEcQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=kierkegaard%20and%20faust&f=false

    The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says that the material in Either/Or was originally intended for a study on Don Juan, Faust, and Ahasuerus, but when Martenson published a book on Faust first, Kierkegaard abandoned that project:

    Martensen also anticipated Kierkegaard’s first major literary project, by publishing a book on Faust. Kierkegaard, who had been working up a project on the three great medieval figures of Don Juan, Faust and Ahasuerus (the wandering Jew), abandoned his own project when Martensen’s book appeared, although he later incorporated much of the work he had done into Either/Or.

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kierkegaard/

    I’m wondering now much of his discussion of the demonic in The Concept of Anxiety might be a sideways look at Faust…

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    1. Many thanks for your generous reply James. It was wrong of me to allow my remarks to sound like a personal criticism.
      Many thanks also for taking the time to dig out the links you have posted for me. When I have followed them up and thought about it I shall get back to you. This may take a little time as I have received some bad news this morning which will require me to spend time on other things.
      Best wishes, Terry

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  8. There I was over at Matt Walsh’s blog reading the responses to his latest piece about separation of church and state. I was getting a little panicky at all the Amens! until I read your wonderful life preserver of a response. Well done. I look forward to reading more from you here on your blog.

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  9. Hi James, I wanted to thank you for the follow!
    My blog is a bilingual one. So you may get links to poems in English as well as to some in Italian… Pictures, on the other hand, have no language barriers 😉
    Keep up the good work.
    Anna

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    1. Hello back, and thanks for visiting. It’s hilarious reading your bio, because we have lived our geographic lives in opposite directions. You were born and raised in Ohio, moved to California, and then wound up in Florida. I was born and raised in California (southern, most of my time in Cerritos), moved to Florida (21 years in the Orlando area), and have now wound up in Ohio :). What a riot.

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      1. I appreciate your support! At this time, you can only preorder through Kickstarter. I may have extra copies after the campaign that you could buy through Storenvy, but I can’t guarantee there will be enough left over. Thanks again, G. E.

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  10. I got a lot of respect for what I’ve read so far here. I like what you said about blind spots for artists and writers. The same is true for scientists. Everything is powered by emotion for the vast majority of us, maybe all of us. It’s a situation that creates blind spots in our work, as well as magic. Recognizing that we have glaring blind spots is a wonderful start, though it’s light years from any hope of overcoming anything unseen without the input of others around us who see… People willing to talk, not the “silent men” you mention tangentially.

    Thank you for your work.

    Talmage

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    1. Thanks for the kind words, Talmage, and especially thanks for reading. I think I would add to what I think about blind spots a little bit now — I think in some ways they have a positive side too in that they represent focus. We ignore X to look at Y very closely. That can be a good thing so long as we always remember we’re ignoring X, and that there may be a Z, A, B, C, etc. that we’re not even considering.

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