Hold It All

Philosophy/Poetics/Politics

Month: August, 2017

Commonplace Books

From the Be in Love with Yr Life class, Annie Kratzmeyer was telling me about the commonplace ntoebooks she fills. Here’s a page of one of mine.

What Emerson kept, and what he recommended enthusiastically to others, were what used to be called commonplace books, blank bound volumes in which one writes down vivid images, great descriptions, striking turns of phrase, ideas, high points from one’s life and reading—things one wants to remember and hold on to. A commonplace book is not a diary, an appointment calendar, or a record of one’s feelings. If your journal consists of the best moments of your life and reading, then rereading it will be like walking a high mountain trail that goes from peak to peak without the intervening descent into the trough of routine. Just reading in such a journal of high points will tighten your strings and raise your pitch.

–Robert Richardson. Jr., author of First We Read, Then We Write: Emerson on the Creative Process

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Dear Noam

I’m currently facilitating an on-line class, Be in Love with Yr Life, based on The Book of Mev, with 11 very special people.  The other day, I posted a short response  to a Barsamian/Chomsky book, and afterwards, going through my files, I found the following letter.

 

Wednesday 9 October 1996
Professor Noam Chomsky
M.I.T./ 20D-219
Cambridge, MA
02139

Dear Noam,

I hope you are doing well  these days.  To refresh your memory, since I know you receive hundreds of letters, I invited you to speak at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley a couple of years ago (while a student at the Maryknoll School of Theology in 1990, I did a thesis on your Mideast work).  Your visit then was just before the time that my wife Mev Puleo was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.   Mev died this past January  at the age of 32 after a long and excruciating deterioration here in St. Louis.  Actually, she took pictures at your talk to us on “Intellectuals and Political Responsibility” —  that was the last  shooting she did before her surgery. (One of her photos appears in the enclosed review).

Anyway, I have been slow to resume my work since it has been quite difficult to face the loss of wife, partner, and best friend, in addition to someone whose commitment to solidarity was simply exemplary.  I am hoping to finish soon  my doctoral dissertation for the GTU on Elie Wiesel; your work has been immensely helpful to me as I  examine the connections between Wiesel’s work of memory and his august status in the U.S. intellectual and political community.  (I’ve recently written Professor Shahak to see if he had translations on Wiesel’s reception in Israel, to which you’ve referred). I am hoping to trace the evolution of Wiesel from “unworthy victim” to most “worthy victim,” in your and Ed Herman’s classification.  You were the first person I’d ever read who dissented from  the strong Christian consensus that Wiesel is a prophet of our times. Read the rest of this entry »

A Witness to Power’s Mendacity

A while back I reread David Barsamian’s first collection of interviews with Noam Chomsky, entitled Chronicles of Dissent.  Actually, I first heard the material starting in the mid-1980s, listening to Barsamian’s cassette tapes of interviews as I drove around Louisville and back and forth to Cincinnati and Chicago in  the often grim days of the second Reagan Administration. Since then, Chomsky’s readership has expanded considerably; even in his late eighties, the linguist still produces two or three books a year. I’ve lost count of the number of collaborative works he’s done with Barsamian.

Something I’ve found refreshing about Chomsky’s lectures and interviews is he speaks pretty much in plain English. There’s no academic jargon. And there’s no cheerleading for American Exceptionalism.  Here’s one terse example: “When the guys we don’t like do it, it’s terrorism. When the guys we do like do it, it’s retaliation.”  When ISIS beheads people, it’s barbarism. When Israel uses white phosphorus on people in Gaza, it’s self-defense.

The media play a key role in focusing attention in how we as US citizens and those of our allies suffer or are harmed. Here’s Chomsky commenting on an issue form the mid-80s : “There’s a big fuss and there should be, about American veterans who have suffered under Agent Orange. However, there’s a slight observation that might be made, and that is that the people of Vietnam suffered a thousand times as much, and we’re certainly not trying to help them, in fact we want to increase their suffering.” U.S. veterans finally came to be seen as “worthy” of care and consideration; what the U.S. did to Vietnam and its people is “unworthy” of U.S.  compassion, much less reparations. Read the rest of this entry »

The Good News of Inspiration from Rereading Lindsey Trout Hughes’s Letters and Poems

 

In the last year and a half, I have benefited enormously from exchanges with Lindsey, who lives in Brooklyn.

Those Blasts of a Trumpet

I’ve recently finished reading Robert Richardson’s engrossing biography, Emerson: The Mind on Fire. The author regularly highlights the exuberant reading Emerson did throughout his life. Robertson not only identifies authors and titles of what Emerson read; he also notes how Emerson read. Twice, Robertson quotes Goethe, a dramatic influence on Emerson: “What is genius but the faculty of seizing and turning to account any thing that strikes us… every one of my writings has been furnished to me by a thousand different persons, a thousand different things.” Emerson was a proponent of skimming books:  “The glance reveals what the gaze obscures. Somewhere the author has hidden his message. Find it, and skip the paragraphs that do not talk to you.”  Read the rest of this entry »

A Briiliant Bit of Victor Hugo

My friend Andrew Wimmer has taken on a translation of Hugo’s Les Misérables. He shared the following in this morning’s email…

“If it had not rained on the night of June 17, 1815, the future of Europe would have been different. A few drops more or less tipped the balance against Napoleon. For Waterloo to be the end of Austerlitz, Providence needed only a little rain, and an unseasonable cloud crossing the sky was enough for the collapse of a world.”

Hugo goes on to say that since Napolean’s strategy relied on artillery, and since it had rained the night before and they had to wait until late in the morning for the ground to dry enough to support the cannon, the course of the battle, and so, history, was changed.

I can only imagine what he would have to say about global climate change.

 

Coming Soon: Share the Wealth with Laura Lapinski: The Films of Wes Anderson

Laura Lapinski, a graduate student in psychology at SIUE, is doing her Share the Wealth on film director Wes Anderson on Sunday 8 October. For those interested in joining us, here’s some background from Laura…

Wes Anderson is an American film writer and director. I find him truly unique and remarkable. His individual style is exclusive for a few reasons. One main difference is the cinematography style Anderson uses. To move from scene to scene, he transitions by actually moving the camera directly into the next scene. Its a simple thing yet so original. Wes Anderson movies are aggressively quirky. This is my one of my favorite things about them. The aesthetic involved in each film is similar and unmistakable. The films somehow give off a vintage and modern vibe at the same time.

To me the absolute best thing about Wes Andersons films are the characters. All of the protagonists and most of the supporting characters in any given Wes film are a work of genius. Every one being a specifically strange yet endearing person. These characters are so special and you can’t help but wish they were real and you could track them down. I have been asked many times how to categorize a Wes Anderson film and the truth is I can’t. They are simply in a caliber all their own. In my book, each film could fall into at least two or more genres. Below I have included some suggestions with examples of themes for perusing. You could choose to check one or multiple out before October although I highly recommend watching them all at some point in your life. Read the rest of this entry »

Gratitudes/639

Pairon Mein Bandhan Hai, with gratitude to Dr. Anjali (Marwaha) Oza, who introduced me to Bollywood film through Mohabbatein fourteen years ago…

 

https://i.ytimg.com/vi/CILdUAOo9jM/maxresdefault.jpg

Yiddish Writers/3

Isaac Bashevis Singer was the only Yiddish writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature (Elie Wiesel, whose first book, And the World Remained Silent, was in Yiddish, was awarded the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize.) Admitting his penchant for reading masters like Gogol, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy, Singer didn’t particularly identify with the Yiddish literary tradition: “I consider myself a writer in the Jewish tradition but not exactly the Yiddish tradition…. The Yiddish tradition, in my mind, is a tradition of sentimentality and social justice.” Swearing off any such social ideology, Singer believed that “the basic function of literature, as far as I can say, is to entertain the spirit in a very big way. I mean small literature entertains small spirits and great literature entertains greater spirits.”

________________________

If we reach the time when Yiddish and Yiddish customs and folklore are forgotten, Hitler will have succeeded not only physically but also spiritually.

I’m sure that millions of Yiddish-speaking ghosts will rise from their graves one day and their first question will be, “Is there any new book in Yiddish to read?” Read the rest of this entry »

She’s Had a Pretty Good Nocturnal Run

At Dunkin’ Donuts
She said matter-of-factly
“I haven’t had a nightmare
In 17 years”
She’s 22