Recently in Literary Category

Good Advice from William James


"Keep the faculty of effort alive in you by a little gratuitous exercise every day. That is, be systematically heroic in little unnecessary points, do every day or two something for no other reason than its difficulty, so that, when the hour of dire need draws nigh, it may find you not unnerved and untrained to stand the test. "

Read the full post at The Maverick Philosopher.

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A quotation from Eugene Ionesco, Rhinoceros:

"Botard: I'm sorry, I ddin't mean to offend you. The fact that I despise relgion doesn't mean I don't esteem it highly."


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A Quotation from Erma Bombeck


Reading Scopes and in correcting a commonly misrepresented piece circulating through the internet and attributed to a dying Erma Bombeck, I found this wonderful small vision:

from A Column Published in 1979
Erma Bombeck

Instead of wishing away nine months of pregnancy and complaining about the shadow over my feet, I'd have cherished every minute of it and realized the wonderment growing inside me was to be my only chance in life to assist God in a miracle.

Beautiful and true.

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An Insight from Godot


I have the feeling that Godot is much more referred to than read, so I'll share with you a thought:

"There's man all over for you, blaming on his boots the faults of his feet."

And then later in the same monologue by Vladimir,

"One of the thieves was saved. It's a reasonable percentage."

Both quotations from Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett

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Who is the Gored Steer


You probably don't care much about my reading, but it seemed good to share some of these thoughts about the book along the way. This passage may be one of the most evocative and sad of the entire book, and may give us a key to understanding much of what goes on. Then again, my reflections on it may simply be overwrought.

from The Sun Also Rises
Ernest Hemingway

The steer was down now, his neck stretched out, his head twisted, he lay the way he had fallen. Suddenly the bull left off and made for the other steer which had been standing at the far end, his head swinging, watching it all. The steer ran awkwardly and the bull caught him, hooked him lightly in the flank, and then turned away and looked up at the crowd on the walls, his crest of muscle rising. The steer came up to him and made as though to nose at him and the bull hooked perfunctorily. The next time he nosed at the steer and then the two of them trotted over to the other bull.

When the next bull came out, all three, the two bulls and the steer, stood together, their heads side by side, their horns against the newcomer. In a few minutes the steer picked the new bull up, quieted him down, and made him one of the herd. When the last two bulls had been unloaded the herd were all together.

The steer who had been gored had gotten to his feet and stood against the stone wall. None of the bulls came near him, and he did not attempt to join the herd.

This passage is followed near on by a fairly aggressive verbal attack by Mike (Brett Ashley's present husband) against Robert Cohn (her one-time pickup) in which Mike uses the following line:

"Tell me, Robert. Why do you follow Brett around like a poor bloody steer?"

So, an obvious and overt reference. However, the passage above has stronger and more lingering resonances within the work as a whole. Jake Barnes has suffered a wound during the war which makes it impossible for him to consummate his relationship with Brett. Thus he is the physical steer of the group. It is also possible that his animus toward Robert Cohn is a result not of his jealousy of Brett, but of his jealousy of and confused thoughts about Robert. This is more tentative, and only gotten at by straining against some of the borders of the text. However, it is provocative that the chief sign here is that of the gored or penetrated steer. This same steer is excluded from the crowd in a way that both Robert and Jake are excluded. But Robert continually makes feeble attempts to join the herd, and Jake while more accepted does see himself standing outside.

Another point that this attraction (if it exists) might help to explain is the reference, quoted in the passage yesterday to being a bad Catholic and possibly never being a good one. If the matter were merely Brett Ashley, it is possible that Jake could think of himself that way--especially as the passion is adulterous. But the hope of being a good Catholic is not forlorn, knowing that Brett is fickle and likely to run through another husband or two in time. But if there a mixed and uncertain feelings about Robert as well, that would clinch the deal.

I won't push this as an understanding of the book, merely as a possibility suggested by this key passage. Obviously other parts of the work would need to be brought forward to support the thesis. It may not sustain close scrutiny, but the thought that Jake may entertain thoughts, perhaps not overtly homosexual, but perhaps a certain attraction to Cohn for looks, character, and ability, does help to explain why he ultimately betrays Cohn by presenting Brett to Romero (also attacking at the same time the obnoxious Mike, who, as noted in the passage above, attacks Robert). It's complex, but it isn't out of the question. The question is, will a close reading of the rest of the book support it. If not, it is at least an interesting speculation arising from the close juxtaposition of passages and symbols.

Oh, and it is an interesting coincidence of no meaning whatsoever, that the gored steer stands against the stone wall (Stonewall). (What other sort of wall would there be in Pamplona in the late 20s early 30s--but still, amusing if one wishes to force a reading on the text--Hemingway as prophet.)

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in Hemingway. . .

from The Sun Also Rises
Ernest Hemingway

At the end of the street I saw the cathedral and walked up toward it. The first time I ever saw it I thought the facade was ugly but I liked it now. I went inside. It was dim and dark and the pillars went high up, and there were people praying, and it smelt of incense, and there were some wonderful big windows. I knelt and started to pray and prayed for everybody I thought of, Brett and Mike and Bill and Robert Cohn and myself, and all the bull-fighters, separately for the ones I liked and lumping all the rest. then I prayed for myself again, and while I was praying for myself I found I was getting sleepy, so I prayed that the bullfights would be good, and that it would be a fine fiesta, and that we would get some fishing. I wondered if there was anything else I might pray for, and I thought I would like to have some money, so I prayed that I would make a lot of money, and then I started to think how I would make it, and thinking of making money reminded me of the count, and I started wondering about where he was and regretting I hadn't seen him since that night in Monmartre, and about something funny Brett told me about him, and as all the time I was kneeling with my forehaed on the wood in front of me, and was thinking of myself as praying, I was a little ashamed, and regretted that I was such a rotten Catholic, but realized there was nothing I could do about it, at least for a while, and maybe never, but that anyway it was a grand religion, and I only wished I felt religious and maybe I would next time; and then I was out in the hot sun on the steps of the cathedral, and the forefingers and thumb of my right hand were still damp, and I felt them dry in the sun. The sunlight was hot and hard, and I crossed over beside some buildings and walked back along side-streets to the hotel.

(Chapter 10--Jake Barnes speaking)

What a lovely passage. Not poetic--angular and repetitive and driving, but lovely.

I have never much cared for Hemingway--and perhaps that has been a bit of immaturity on my part. I have difficulty with artists with whom I have substantive disagreements regrading morality or general life-issues. I've never much cared for the "man's man" attitude in much of Hemingway. But perhaps that is because of my misreading, because I am quite enjoying The Sun Also Rises. Perhaps I've decided not to continually deprive myself of potentially great work because of arbitrary fiats on my own part. We all do this, most unconsciously, but I'm trying to uncover the roots of my dislike and impatience and do away with them systematically. Why? I honestly don't have any idea whatsoever--it just seems like I have too long been arrogant about my likes and dislikes with no legitimate reason.

My prejudices against certain authors have really blocked access to substantive work that is potentially a source of great insight into the human condition. And the better we know that, the better we are equipped to help ourselves and others to overcome it and to assume the more Divine Nature that the Father wants to grant us even as we live today.

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From Saul Bellow


And how very sad it is:

from Seize the Day
Saul Bellow

It made Wilhelm profoundly bitter that his father should speak to him with such detachment about his welfare. Dr. Adler like to appear affable. Affable! His own son, his one and only son, could not speak his mind or ease his heart to him. At least Tamkin sympathizes with me and tries to give me a hand, whereas Dad doesn't want to be disturbed.

I often wonder of how many American children the same can be said--how truly, bitterly sad.

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Scenes from a Professoriate

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I wrote the other day of my disillusionment with John Updike--that despite his truly amazing technical aplomb with words, I found much of his fiction sterile and pointless. That is NOT to say that it is sterile and pointless, but rather that I am not the right person to find the point of an Updike tale.

I used to think the same of Philip Roth. Perhaps even more of Philip Roth because it seemed to me that he was so singly focused on one aspect of the human condition. And perhaps that is because the aspect of his focus is of particular interest, and Roth engages in it with a lustiness that certainly takes the timid New England adulterer and turns him on his head.

But, perhaps what I need to learn to do is to read properly, and to ignore the overtly offensive, understanding that my offense is really a measure of my resistance.

Take this passage from Roth:

from The Professor of Desire
Philip Roth

What little spirit smolders on in me during the last months of the marriage is visible only in class; otherwise I am so affectless and withdrawn that a rumor among the junior faculty members has me "under sedation." Ever since the approval of my dissertation I have been teaching along with the freshman course "Introduction to Fiction," two sections of the sophomore survey in "general" literature. During the weeks near the end of the term when we study Chekhov's stories, I find, while reading aloud to my students passages which I particular want them to take note of, that each and every sentence seems to me to allude to my own plights above all, as though by now every single syllable I think or utter must first trickle down through my troubles. And then there are my classroom daydreams, as plentiful suddenly as they are irrepressible, and so obviously inspired by longings for miraculous salvation--reentry into lives I lost long ago, reincarnation as a being wholly unlike myself--that I am even somewhat grateful to be depressed and without anything like the will power to set even the mildest fantasy in motion.

"I realized that when you love you must either, in your reasoning about that love, start from what is higher, more important than happiness or unhappiness, sin or virtue in their usual meaning, or you must not reason at all." I ask my students what's meant by these lines, and while they tell me, notice that in a far corner of the room, the poised, soft-spoken girl who is my most inteeligent, my prettiest--and my most bored and arrogant--student is finishing off a candy bar and a Coke for lunch.

You must read the rest for yourself. But what is here is beautifully, roundly written, with sentences that roll and flow out, filling up and expanding, meaning at first little, but when reread, becoming more revealing, more inviting, more explanatory of the difficulty of David Kepesh. And while these difficulties are more often than not spelled out in the sexual relations of Mr. Kepesh, they stem from a deeper source, an unexamined stream--a place that Mr. Kepesh, to this point at least, refuses to go and refuses to see.

What evolves is an amazingly convoluted, but full portrait of a man in his dissatisfaction. And while one might expect such a portrait to be depressing, perhaps to weigh one day more than it ought--this never seems to happen. Mr. Roth by the power of language alone, carries us along and amuses us. Indeed, this story at least is by turns amusing and dark--and the wonderful point is that the amusement itself is rarely dark. It stems in part for the realization that they people Roth writes about are much like ourselves--that we all (men that is--I can't imagine that Roth's writing has much appeal for women) live in much the same unexamined way. Oh, those of us who are introspective selectively examine the faults and virtues we wish to acknowledge. But we are actually like that overstuffed closet that, when the door opens, we struggle and struggle to push everything back in and seal the door behind it. We can never completely seal the door and the next time it bursts open, we're back in the mess. And there is something delightfully lifelike and refreshing to find others in similar predicaments, although not necessarily for exactly the same reasons.

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