Friday, June 29, 2007

Stupid Summer Project: The Pothole

Jerry: Jenna's like me, she's very...
George: Finicky? Prissy? Fastidious?
Jerry: I'll take fastidious.

Kramer: Look at that. A talking Nixon.

Comment: this episode works as it gets explicit about Jerry's hangups about cleanliness.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Co-opting Suffering

The emotional energy of Sylvia Plath's "Daddy" comes from her allusions to Nazis and the Holocaust to illustrate her own experience, feelings, and suffering. It is a raw, powerful poem--one of the best I've ever read.

Still, I can see something distasteful in using the industrial slaughter of 6,000,000 Jews to illustrate one's poor attitude toward one's father.

Alfred Hayes' "The Slaughter-House" begins with a description of animals suffering in a slaughterhouse. In the second half of the poem, however, the animal hanging upside down on its way to be butchered becomes a symbol for the poet's "private woe."

Again, I see something distasteful here: is Hayes' suffering, whether in a relationship or general existential suffering, comparable to a living creature hung upside down on its way to be slaughtered?

But then, poets look about their own worlds to illustrate their own feelings and ideas through poetry. Plath wrote "Daddy" shortly after Eichmann's trial. Hayes may have been at a slaughterhouse and felt it described his own sufferings. Poets find the image necessary to convey the idea--and it doesn't matter who finds it objectionable. That's poetry.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Stupid Summer Project: The Van Buren Boys and The Susie

The Van Buren Boys
(We're including four quotes, since Cruelty-Free Mommy and I each had two favorites)

George: So she's the loser of the group. Every group has someone that they all make fun of. Like us with Elaine.

Jerry: I had a dream last night that a hamburger was eating me!

Kramer: I slipped and fell in mud, ruining the very pants I was about to return.
Elaine: I don't understand. You were wearing the pants you were returning?
Kramer: Well I guess I was.
Elaine: What were you gonna wear on the way back?
Kramer: Elaine, are you listening? I didn't even get there!

Jerry: You know, this is like the Twilight Zone where that guy wakes up and he's the same, and everyone else is different.
Kramer: Which one?
Jerry: They were all like that.

Comment: I like the idea of Peterman buying Kramer's stories, and Kramer buying Newman's stories.

The Susie

Elaine: I didn't know Cheryl Miller's little brother played basketball.

J. Peterman: Nevertheless, Elaine, the house of Peterman is in disorder.

Comment: I love this episode--there are many funny moments and looks on characters' faces. The highlights are George's "Believe it or not" answering machine message, and Jerry making bragging comments to the woman at Susie's funeral.

Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest"

Oddly, the only work of literature I can compare this play to is Don Quixote: I read every line expecting to be amused, and was rarely disappointed. It is pretty much every impression I ever had of Wilde, in play form.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Stupid Summer Project: The Comeback and The Money

The Comeback

George: Sometimes in life the gods smile upon you, my friends.
Jerry: Did you get someone to take that Canadian quarter?

George: So...details?
Jerry: Well I didn't sleep with her!
George: Because of society, right?
Jerry: Yes, George, because of society

Comment: This is the episode for all of us who later thought of what we should have said.

The Money

Jerry: Well, I can't stay under my own name. I was registered under "Slappy White."

Peterman: Kudos, Elaine, on a job...done.

Comment: A mediocre episode, but I really hate Jack Klompus. When Elaine pays for George's coffee, he thinks she's sticking it to him. The old George was so cheap he wouldn't have cared at all why Elaine was buying the coffee--he just would have taken it. This is the George of the red dot sweater, of the bereavement fair, of the toxic envelopes. This is the George that wanted to bring Ring Dings and Pepsi to a party instead of wine and cake. Would he care about Elaine sticking it to him? I think he would not.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Stupid Summer Project: The Andrea Doria and The Little Jerry

The Andrea Doria

Kramer: Evidently.

Mr. Eldridge: We had to abandon ship.
George: Well, all vacations have to end eventually.

Comment: A mediocre episode with the ridiculous plot of Kramer acting like a dog.

The Little Jerry

Jerry: Kramer, cockfighting is illegal!
Kramer: Only in the United States.
Jerry: It's inhumane!
Kramer: No, Jerry, it's not what you think it is.
Jerry: It's two rosters pecking at each other.

Elaine: Jerry, it's 3:30 in the morning. I'm at a cockfight. What am I clinging to?

Comment: This is a very funny episode. Jerry bounces a clown check, Jerry and Kramer get involved in the world of cockfighting, and there are a lot of jokes about baldness. There is a lot of really fun stuff in this episode--a lot of good deliveries from all the characters. Still, the show continues with its more zany storylines (like George dating a convict).

Types of Literature: Prose

In the past, I've taught "Human Issues in Literature," and when selecting works for the course, I focused on content, themes, and ideas. Now I'm teaching "Types of Literature," meaning the focus shifts a bit: now my goal is to explore the varieties and possibilities of each genre. I'm still teaching on ideas (and keeping a lot of the same works), but now I'm choosing also in terms of narrative, form, style, and structure.

Here are the prose works I've selected so far; I still need to add a few short stories.

A Gathering of Old Men, Ernest Gaines
For practical reasons, this spring I replaced As I Lay Dying with A Gathering of Old Men (I had to teach Gaines' novel in a class I was subbing for, so for simplicity sake I taught it in my own course, too). It has the same narrative structure as Faulkner's novel (multiple narrators), so it works out to show the possibilities of first-person narration in a novel. As it happened, it worked out so well that I'm keeping Gaines' novel in my syllabus from now on.

The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison
A wonderful novel to teach, exploring the internalization of racist and sexist standards of beauty. There are huge themes throughout, and the narrative form is so diverse, I'm fairly certain students haven't been exposed to anything like it.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Ken Kesey
For form, it works wonderfully: it's a first-person narrator that sees things differently than the average narrator and that develops throughout the novel.

Short Stories
"The Metamorphosis," Franz Kafka
A great introductory work for it's thematic power and for the fantastic potentials of literature; in "Types of Literature," it also serves to discuss whether this is a short story or a novella.

"Barn Burning," William Faulkner
Third-person limited narrative, perspectives from the present and future: a good sample.

"Everyday Use," Alice Walker
I teach this with "Barn Burning" (both are about family and rejection of family), and it is also a masterwork short story. In this story, Walker is almost perfect in her descriptive techniques.

"The Yellow Wallpaper," Charlotte Perkins Gilman
I wouldn't think of not teaching this: the themes are strong, and the narrative style is just what I want students to be exposed to in this course.

"Bartleby the Scrivener," Herman Melville
Another chance to explore a first-person narrator closely--another story I wouldn't think of not teaching.

"The Jilting of Granny Weatherall," Katherine Ann Porter
A third-person narrative taking us inside the head of a single character, where past and present share no meaningful boundaries

"Circle of Prayer," Alice Munro
I feel like teaching this with the Porter story--I think we can gain insight by comparing them.

"Where are you going, where have you been?" Joyce Carol Oates
A terrifying initiation story.

"My Kinsman, Major Molineux," Nathaniel Hawthorne
I'll probably teach this with the Oates story as another initiation tale.

"A Good Man is Hard to Find," Flannery O'Connor
Structurally, I suspect this is the sort of story students expect a short story to be.

"The Cask of Amontillado," Edgar Allen Poe
A wonderful chance to explore a first-person narrator; I'll probably teach this with the O'Connor story as two different tales about murder.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Stupid Summer Project: The Abstinance

Kramer: Why does Radio Shack ask for your phone number when you buy batteries? I don't know.

Jerry: Hey kids! What's the deal with homework? You're not working on your home!

Comment: Another preposterous plot, but another funny episode.

Stupid Summer Project: The Chicken Roaster

Seth (Jerry): That's not going to be good for business.
Jerry (Seth): That's not going to be good for anybody.

Jerry: Hold it: Broccoli? Newman, you wouldn't eat broccoli if it was deep fried in chocolate sauce.

Comment: There's great meta here: when Jerry and Kramer switch apartments, they switch personalities. The episode also ends with one of the show's frequent movie parodies (Peterman riffing "The horror! The horror!" from Apocalypse Now). I also enjoyed George's opening scene discussion on haggling, and his attempt to haggle.

By the way, I'm trying to limit myself to two favorite quotes/passages per episode, so a lot of good ones do get left out.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Pacifism and Vegetarianism

In this post I am not trying to convince warmongers to become pacifists, nor meat-eaters to become vegetarians. I am suggesting that pacifism and vegetarianism require each other. If you're neither a pacifist nor a vegetarian, it's your business to read this or not.

A pacifist opposes violence, killing and war. And yet if a pacifist eats meat, he or she is accepting that some living creatures can be killed for our pleasure.

A moral vegetarian opposes the consumption of animals. And yet if a vegetarian supports war, he or she is suggesting that there are cases where killing, even of innocent people, is acceptable (for to support a war is to de facto support violence against innocent people).

I would suggest that a pacifist should be a vegetarian; while I understand a moral difference between humans and animals (though likely not as great a difference as you do), a pacifist should extend his or her opposition to killing toward non-humans, too. Animal suffering may not share moral equivalence to human suffering for you, but it is suffering, and you can abstain from moral culpability in such suffering.

And a vegetarian should be a pacifist: it is understandable not to want innocent animals to suffer and die for human benefit, but shouldn't you also oppose war, which requires some humans to suffer and die for other humans' benefit?

It is easier, at least in America, to call yourself a pacifist: at a practical level, most pacifists and non-pacifists don't behave terribly differently in their own lives. It takes a deeper commitment to be a vegetarian: you must sacrifice something personal, and you must live with your decision on a day-to-day basis (for what's more individually affecting or socially significant than how we eat our meals?). So the harder sell is to convince pacifists to become vegetarians: vegetarianism requires everyday work and responsibility that pacifism does not necessary require. It should be easy to convince vegetarians, opposed to unnecessary killing of animals, to oppose the unnecessary killing of humans.

Can pacifism and vegetarianism be mutually exclusive? For me, they can't anymore.

Stupid Summer Project: The Checks

George: Who buys umbrellas anyway? You can get 'em for free in the coffee shops in the metal cans.

Elaine: Brett said you ran away from him as if he were the boogity man?

Comment: I guess this was really a meta-sitcom since season 4 (maybe longer, but seasons 2 and 3 were the purest of the show). It continues. I like the running gag of George calling Jerry with his zany problems and Jerry pretending he doesn't know who's calling.

Stupid Summer Project: The Fatigues

Bania: Why do they call it Ovaltine? The mug is round. The jar is round. They should call it Roundtine.

Bania: It's gold, Jerry. Gold!

Comment: Kenny Bania is a great character, and this is a funny episode.

Brief response to Bloom on Lear

If Harold Bloom would like to argue that the ideology of feminist literary theory causes a misreading of King Lear, he might be able to wage a solid argument.

But if Bloom is suggesting that an individual woman reader's experience reading King Lear is invalid if she doesn't like Lear, he's saying something else altogether.

The former suggests an ideology can lead to misunderstanding of a writer who wasn't writing with such ideology--a fair point.

The latter suggests the only valid reading of King Lear is the universal reading, i.e, the male reading. The latter suggests a woman cannot read King Lear as a woman and read it accurately; the latter suggets that to understand King Lear, a woman may be required to read it like a man.

This is the worst excess of criticism: when a critic universalizes his own reading, taking his particular tastes and developing a larger theory for it. Such criticism requires other readers to read literature only as that particular critic reads literature--it forces one's personal mode of reading onto everybody else and says that one's personal mode of reading is "proper" and everybody else's is inaccurate.

We can all of us only read as ourselves. I cannot read as Harold Bloom; he cannot read as me. I also cannot read as a woman, and I would not require a woman to read as a man.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Stupid Summer Project: The Package

Kramer: So what do you think of that alien autopsy?
Newman: Oh, that's real.
Kramer: I think so too.

Elaine: I'm not difficult; I'm easy.
Jerry: Why? Because you dress casual and sleep with a lot of guys?

Comment: I love this episode, in which George participates in "the timeless art of seduction." Once again, comedy comes from placing the familiar situation into the unfamiliar context (which is also the basis of a lot of sketch comedy): the exploitative "photog" (Kramer) convincing the naive model (George) to pose topless, the investigator (Newman) interrogating the suspect (Jerry), but with the hot light on the investigator. On Seinfeld, it works.

There's another joy of watching these episodes on DVD. After Larry David left the show, Jerry stopped opening the show with a standup bit. The shows usually opened with some inane conversation between characters that doesn't have anything to do with the plot. These scenes usually get cut from syndication--meaning I haven't seen these scenes in years. It's a joy to experience them again--it feels like the first time.

George's role in the show continues to evolve. Earlier in the series the comedy surrounding George was character based: his neuroticism, anxiety, cheapness, selfishness, and paranoia drove the comedy. Now he's a situation character: it is the situations he finds himself in that provide the comedy. Interesting, I think, that "Curb Your Enthusiasm" provides the perfect blend of character and situation comedy in Larry David's exploits.

Stupid Summer Project: The Little Kicks

Kramer: 'Death Blow: When someone tries to blow you up not for who you are, but for different reasons altogether.'

Elaine: Oh really? Because it looks a little big for you. It looks like something a short, stocky slow-witted bald man might wear.

Comment: Another funny episode. In the first four episodes of season 8, we see a lot of misplaced stereotypical/archetypal scenes: Jerry and Kramer as a fighting married couple, Elaine as the protective parent, keeping her employee safe from George "the bad boy," Jerry as the temperamental director (when he's a bootlegger). There are a lot of these sort of scenes in Seinfeld: they aren't really parodies, as the comedy simply comes simply from their misplaced context.

Stupid Summer Project: The Bizarro Jerry

Kramer: Don't want to forget my briefcase.
Jerry: What do you got in there?
Kramer: Crackers.

Elaine: Shouldn't he say "badbye"? Isn't that the opposite of "goodbye"? [...] Does he live underwater? [...] Is he black?

Kramer: Just trying to get ahead.

Comment: this episode signals a clear shift from everyday realism to something else. The plot could either be described as preposterous or downright fantastical. Still, it is a very, very funny episode: good dialogue, funny scenes, funny situations. There's self-referential meta-sitcom going on.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

King Lear or Hamlet

In the fall I will be teaching "Types of Literature," which explores the four traditional literary genres (drama, poetry, short story, novel). This requires a great variety of works, and while (in my opinion) requires one Shakespearian play, does not leave room for two of Shakespeare's plays if I wish to really explore the variety and potential of each genre.

The choices I have based on the anthologies available also happen to be my two favorites, and the two I would choose if given infinite choice: Hamlet and King Lear.

And right now I have no idea which to teach. I love teaching them both. Either would fulfill the objectives of the course. Both are culturally significant (though Hamlet moreso). Both are brilliant masterpieces. Both illuminate the nature of drama and tragedy. Both are rich thematically. Neither really facilitates easy discussion, but each is rich with big ideas and brilliant poetry. Hamlet allows me to show film versions, while Lear really does not.

Pedagogically, I'm leaning toward Hamlet, but on a personal level, I think I'd prefer King Lear.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Free Love on the Free Love Freeway

The single funniest individual television episode is episode four, season one of the British The Office. This is the staff training day episode, when David Brent goes home to get his guitar. There's nothing better.

When comparing the British show to the American, here is what I see in the four main characters: Dwight is an American caricature of the more realistic Gareth, Pam is a peppy version of Dawn, and Jim is less a loser (and less charming) than Tim. But Ricky Gervais' David Brent is so wholly original, so wholly real, and so wholly annoying, Steve Carell just had to make his own character in Michael Scott. They share similarities, but their essence and their mannerisms are separate identities.

I continue to praise the death of the laugh track in the sitcom.

Stupid Summer Project: The Foundation, the Soul Mate

Last summer, I read three biographies of Martin Luther to explore Luther himself, his time, Protestantism, and the nature of biography.

Apparently, I've dumbed this blog down a bit. This summer's stupid project: rewatch every episode of Seinfeld through season 8 (when DVDs are available), though not necessarily in order, and blog the experience. I'm providing amusing lines without context or comment (for now), and I'll also provide a brief comment on the episode. It's about time I more thoroughly comment on the show which has has such an obsessive influence on me. I hope to eventually provide a top-10 list of George's best cheapness moments.

The Foundation
George: "It was a hell of a thing when Spock died"

Jerry: "Before we go any further, I'd just like to point out how disturbing it is that you equate eating a block of cheese with some sort of bachelor paradise."

Comment: this is the first episode after Larry David left the show. The tone changed without him, and the last two seasons are not as good as the seasons he was there. There's a certain inanity gone, and a certain conventional nature added. It's still a good show, but you can tell something is lost. As we will see, after Larry David left, George Costanza became less neurotic and more angry.

The Soul Mate
Jerry: "So Elaine was telling me about this piece of whitefish she had the other day..."

George: "Elaine, I once told a woman I coined the phrase, 'Pardon my French.'"

Comment: the show continues to find its way without Larry David. It struggles at first, I feel, but after a few episodes of flailing about, it does find a new and still very good rhythm eventually. This is a treading water episode.

Saturday, June 16, 2007


Here is what I have written in the margin of Harold Bloom's "Shakespeare's Universalism":

Does this locate "universalism" in the male consciousness? Does this make it universal masculinity, 50% of universalism? Should women read Shakespeare from this "universalism," i.e., from the male perspective? Does this universalism require a woman to read Shakespeare not as herself, but as a man? A reading not her own, but a "universal" male's?

I can accept Harold Bloom's universalism for Shakespeare--if we add in the Reader-response approach he occasionally hints at. To ask a reader--any reader--to read Shakespeare from a universal perspective is essentially to ask a reader to read Shakespeare as Harold Bloom. But to allow the reader to read Shakespeare authentically as himself, or as herself, allows Shakespeare's truth to truly be read.

When Bloom casts his animosity at contemporary academic literary theory, a condescending arrogance shows through. He requires Shakespeare to be read as he reads Shakespeare, and sees other readings as the downfall of academia.

But I exist reading Shakespeare as Bloom would want, looking for the humanity, the universal themes, the truths of the cosmos, the depth of character.

And I also exist reading Shakespeare within the context of any theory you'd like: Marxism, Feminism, Queer Theory, or anything else.


I do not need to read Shakespeare solely as Bloom wishes me to. And I do not need to read Shakespeare solely as an ideological theorist would have me read Shakespeare. I read Shakespeare with both consciousnesses informing my reading. I read for the spiritual fulfillment, and yet I exist within the realm of ideological theory.

I can do both. To ignore either would give me, I feel, a weaker reading. A weaker experience. Bloom's aestheticism does not exist for me as a mutual exclusive mode of reading experience from contemporary literary theory.

Harold Bloom on Shakespeare

I'm not sure anybody is as capable of hyperbole and bombast as Bloom writing on his god, Shakespeare. The following passage from Shakespeare: the Invention of the Human," is more the rule than the exception:

"He is a system of northern lights, an aurora borealis visible where most of us will never go. Libraries and playhouses (and cinemas) cannot contain him; he has become a spirit or 'spell of light,' almost too vast to comprehend."

There's something inspiring about such passion.

How I roll

I don't listen to much music at all, and I pay no attention to contemporary popular music. Instead, periodically I "discover" a new musical, and I listen to the soundtrack, and nothing else, over and over again for months. That's how I roll. 2006 was a great year as I went from The Producers to Jesus Christ Superstar to Wicked. But I haven't bought a new musical soundtrack to repeatedly listen to in almost a year.

I've been looking. I keep thinking about different soundtracks and listening to samples. A few years ago, when my dad was picking out a car, I think he must have taken 20 test drives, sometimes in the same car. I thought it was crazy. But that was an expense of thousands of dollars; I'm trying to pick out a CD that at the absolute most is going to cost me $40, and I can't pin down a decision (but then, I'm a notorious cheapskate).

Are there any recommendations? I've been thinking about Phantom of the Opera or Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (but I'd like to get away from Webber a bit), and I'm almost ready to buy Les Miserables. I'm also thinking about Bye Bye Birdie, a play I saw around ten years ago and thought was funny.

Does anybody have any recommendations? I prefer musical theater from the past three decades, but I would be willing to try just about any showtunes.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Another take on Minneapolis Beggars

"Minneapolis in trouble? Then bash the beggars" by Nick Coleman

Coleman writes of the targetting of panhandlers as a distraction from bigger issues, as a shift to an easy target. He also looks at "upscale kinds of begging" that we do allow.

I would like to note that I try very hard to stay out of political discussions in the blogosphere. However, I will often write about social issues, occasionally about religious issues, and I do address ethical and moral issues. I'm commenting on treatment of beggars because I see it as a moral issue, not because in this case it is a political issue, too. When I use a blog to condemn war, it is because I am an ethical pacifist, not because I am trying to be an anti-war partisan. I used to write at a blog where I would talk about the evils of war and torture, not because I wish to be political, but because I see war and torture and moral evils to be condemned (if you want another case of hypocrisy, I don't understand how anybody worshiping a lord that was wrongfully tortured and executed could possibly argue in favor of torture in any circumstances).

Thursday, June 14, 2007

On pacifism

Question: if a man was coming toward my son to try and harm him, would I fight him to protect my son?

Answer: if I was incapable of running away, yes, I would fight to protect my son.

Question: if a man was coming toward my son to try and harm him, and he was running through a crowd of innocent people, would I throw explosives into the crowd to prevent the man from hurting my son?

Answer: No: while I would justly defend and protect my innocent son, I should not commit a violent act that harms other innocent people in the process.

And this is a part of my pacifism. It is not that I believe limited violence for self-defense is wrong. It is that war is a larger-scale level of violence that always leads to innocent people being killed and harmed. If you are willing to support a war, you are de facto supporting innocent people being hurt: that is simply the nature of modern warfare.

Great human suffering is an inherent aspect of war. War must always be an absolutely necessary last resort; it should never be entered in choice.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Christian hypocricy

Let’s talk about the Strib’s Katherine Kersten’s latest column “The future of downtown is threatened by beggars.”

Columnists have relative freedom on the subjects they wish to comment on. Sometimes they express their views not so much in explicitly stated opinions, but in the stories they focus on or the people they interview.

It’s quite obvious from the tone and subject matter in this column that Kersten is sympathetic to the view of people who want to remove beggars from downtown Minneapolis. You can tell because she talks to specific people with this view (Sam Grabarski, Paul Ostrow, and George Kelling) and presents their statements. She doesn’t talk to people with a different view: she merely calls them “opponents.” You can also tell the writer's view with word choice: in Kersten's column, beggars "accost" people, try to "extort money;" other people are "harassed" by beggars, and "feel captive to importuning beggars." Homeless beggars are the threat in such word choice, and non-homeless people--the people Kersten is obviously sympathetic to in this column--are the victims.

We can assume that the ideas she’s presenting, then, are hers, even if somebody else is actually providing the ideas. She’s the one talking to these people and writing a column about what they say: she’s making the choice to present this viewpoint.

Now, one can expect a conservative columnist to condemn beggars and homeless people, and to put the interests of the use of downtown by the affluent and middle class above those of a poor beggar. In Kersten's column, panhandlers are a "nuisance" and threaten "the quality of life" of downtown (quality of life for people who aren't homeless beggars, obviously--I'm not sure Kersten cares about their quality of life at all). But Kersten is also a writer that frequently champions the cause of religion in social issues and human life (at least, she seems to here, here, here, here, and here. Well, at least Christianity--she's not quite so pleased with Muslim practice in public life, as you can see here or here).

As a columnist so interested in the interests of Christianity in society, I wonder if she’s familiar with Jesus’s statements on poor people?

In the gospels, Jesus repeated tells listeners to give to the poor, to help the needy, to not turn away from those that ask of you. Again and again, he tells us that the godly help the poor. Somebody asks you for something? Give it to him or her. Would Jesus tell us that the beggars should be removed from a downtown area for any reason? Would Jesus recommend stricter laws to remove beggars from public areas? How would Jesus respond to this?:

“In Minneapolis, a recent survey confirmed that panhandlers often use donations to buy drugs and alcohol, says Ostrow. Giving to them might seem compassionate, he says, but it frequently just encourages self-destructive behavior.”

I don’t recall Jesus saying “If a beggar asks for money, don’t give it to him because he might use it for drugs or alcohol.” Jesus didn’t put qualifiers on anything: he said that if poor people ask anything of you, you should give. He told many parables about helping the needy among us. He never qualified. He commanded we help the poor. He never talked about being "accosted" or "harassed" by beggars; he never suggested beggars "extort" from you or make you feel unjustly "captive."

Katherine Kersten, do you agree with what Jesus said, that we should give to beggars? Or do you agree with laws to remove this “nuisance”? Do you think Jesus was telling us the truth when he told us the poor are blessed or criticized those who ignore the needs of the poor? Or do you agree with “the proposed rules [that] would ban panhandling at night, along with verbal solicitation of money within 10 feet of a crosswalk, where people feel captive to importuning beggars”?

In "John Donne the Divine and Mundane," Yoshiko Fujito says of John Donne, a brilliant poet and also an Anglican preacher, "Donne's violent dislike of beggars and vagabonds is well known [...] His eyes were always directed toward the upper stratum of society, nobility, and Court. Conversely he violently disliked beggars and vagabonds [...] This attitude may appear to clash with Christian teachings, but shows his absorption in himself..."

Monday, June 11, 2007

Is it over?

"Box Office for Horror Movies Is Weak, Verging on Horrible" by Michael Cieply.

I'm not sure anybody enjoyed the resurgence of the horror genre in the past 5-10 years more than me.

And I'm not sure anybody got sicker of it than me. It was great, that everything else had to be exactly the same. It all got derivative, unoriginal, and dull. And it also shifted from plot/fear/suspense to gore.

If it's over, good. Let it die and come back to life when somebody comes along ready to do something fresh.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Commentary on the final episode of The Sopranos, which I have not seen.


I don't get HBO. I have not seen the finale of The Sopranos. I watched the first six and a half seasons of the show on DVD, and haven't seen any of the episodes in part two of season six.

I can only comment on what I have read happened, and on the commentary I have read about what has happened.

But there's a joke in this blog's title, a joke that nobody has ever cared enough to get: when George Costanza was in a book club, he didn't read the book.

So I'm commenting.

I've read about the final scene at Wikipedia. At various blogs through Google Blog Search, I've read two general commentaries, and I would like to comment on both versions.

1. Positive and negative reaction to an ambiguous, open-ended, non-resolute ending.

I don't see what is wrong with the human desire for resolution and finality; what's wrong with wanting a clear-cut ending? As Jerry Seinfeld says, "If I wanted a long boring story with no point to it, I've got my life." We don't usually get clear answers or resolutions in our lives; it's one reason we turn to art and entertainment. There's nothing wrong with wanting finality, conclusion, answer. There's a justifiable disappointment when our desire for a simple resolution is thwarted--and there's no reason we should be judged negatively for that.

2. Even though they didn't show it, Tony Soprano was killed; the signs are there that he is dead.

At the end of John Fowles' The Magus, you don't really know if Nicholas and Allison get back together. It's ambiguous. However, the novel closes with a Latin phrase speaking positively about love. It may be (as I believe Fowles himself has suggested) that the meaning of that Latin phrase itself gives away the real ending.

And that may be. You may think you see something without a clear final ending, but if you look closely at the signs, you actually get a pretty clear answer about the ending.

And I hope Tony Soprano is dead; that's the ending I want.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Why you should hate me

I don't get HBO.

(no, that's not the reason you should hate me).

But I watched the first six and a half seasons of The Sopranos over a 2-3 month period this winter. Since I don't get HBO, I haven't been able to watch these final episodes of the series.

So I've been following what happens on Wikipedia.

(that's the reason you should hate me).

I could have waited until the DVDs to come out to learn how the series ends, but I didn't. First of all, it would be futile: just from living my life normally, somebody would spoil events for me. I've learned about some of the things that have happened by reading sports blogs, listening to the radio, and flipping channels on TV. So there's really no point in trying not to know anything for months, because it would fail.

But even if it would succeed, I wouldn't do it.

Because I want to know what happens. Knowing the story is more important to me than actually watching the story unfold. Even if I just read episode summaries at Wikipedia, I am hearing the story--which was the real pleasure of watching for me, anyway. I don't need to watch it as it unfolds to appreciate it. I just want to know what happens. I want to know how the story ends. And I don't care how I learn: what matters in this case is not how I experience the story, but that I get to know the story.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Poetry about Art

I've been reading a lot of poetry the last few days, looking for more poems to add to my "Types of Literature" syllabus. In particular, I'm looking for poems that are themselves about art and literature. Here's what I've got so far just from The Riverside Anthology of Literature:

Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn"
Shelley's "Ozymandias"
Rilke's "Archaic Torso of Apollo"
Raine's "Statues"
Stevens' "Anecdote of the Jar"
Moore's "Poetry"
Auden's "Musee des Beaux Arts"
Kumin's "At a Private Showing in 1982"

Any other recommendations?

Monday, June 04, 2007


Poetry is the spirit of literature, a mystical connection.

Drama is the life of literature, always living and breathing and a part of us.

And Prose fiction is the clunky purposeful reflections based on the mud and clay of this earth.