Sunday, July 18, 2010

Breaking and entering

I suppose it is appropriate that I just finished Stieg Larrsen's "The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo", seeing as how I'm going to go break into the library to get my hands on "The Girl Who Played With Fire." I don't think they're the best written books of all time, but golly. I'm hooked. Maybe. The way you're hooked to watching a train wreck. Sort of.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


I write like
James Joyce

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

You'll like it. Bunnies get killed.

In Watership Down, Richard Adams created an ecology of rabbits, warrens, and downs set against man's world of hrudru (manmade things), white sticks (cigarettes), and iron monsters (trains or automobiles). What a lovely book! And a terribly unlovely book. Confessions: I was inspired to buy after I saw a picture of my favorite college professor holding a copy of it. I was inspired to read it after Sawyer on LOST told Benjamin Linus, "You'll like it. Bunnies get killed." Sold.

Well there are bunnies, and who doesn't love bunnies? Adams gives them a language, an operational philosophy, a heritage, a religion, and individual strengths and weaknesses. The fascination of supposing animals live not only as sentient but as preferential beings has inspired writers and readers for centuries and why wouldn't it? The bunnies of Watership Down have distinct opinions of man and man's undertakings. Would we want to hear them if we could understand their words? Which leads me to the...

Adams' desire to create a formal language system--right down to the phonemes and morphemes--just about does the book in. In desiring to remove the rabbits' speech from the readers' speech, the language becomes impossible mumbo-jumbo. Rooted in nothing the reader has experienced or understands, it sounds like so much mush-mouthedness. I tried saying some of it out loud, with laughable results. Yeah, just try saying "hrair" and "hrudru" and laugh at the results. Instead of sounding reasoned Tolkein's languages, it just sounds made up. Now, I should tell you this book came out of the Fiction section. Fortunately for you, Dear Reader, the dialogue is in English most of the time.

The book is interesting for its anti-pastoral qualities: Set in woodlands, populated by animals...animals that behave just like humans in their self-interested destruction of one another. I stopped counting dead pelts by four or five. Communism, imperialism are the operating themes of most of the warrens, with only our hero, Fiver's, warren operating on principles of true democracy. I would call it constituional monarchy, but that may be ascribing too much intent to the writer. You may be thinking of Animal Farm as a good comparison, but it really isn't so much. Our warren operates well internally, and only faces external foes. It is rather telling that the only outside rabbits that successfully acclimate to our warren are the frightened dams forcibly rounded up by Hazel and the Gang. Even relationships between the male and female rabbits parallel the lives of actual rabbits: little emotion is wasted on murdered rabbits and sexual relationships are dictated by the need to procreate with no regard for monogamy or emotional investment.

Did I like it? Hm. I wouldn't read it again, but I now I can at least confidently name it in my next Facebook survey of "Books I've Read".

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

National Poetry MOnth

National Poetry Month is being celebrated over at Letters from the American Interior. That's most of my reading for this month.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Watership Down: Bound

Finally finished reading Richard Adams' Watership Down, an anti-pastoral novel about warfare between two rabbit warrens on Watership Down, the idyllic country to which our rabbits have fled to escape the ravages of men, their hrudrudu and white sticks. Adams begins each section with a quote or passage from another work by way of preface. Seems a bit overdone in most instances, especially considering many of the chapters are but 3-4 pages long. This one struck me. Adams used only the first stanza of this poem, "Two Fusiliers" by Robert Graves.

Graves, a veteran of the first World War, clearly writes about wartime experience. I was struck with the lines highlighted:

AND have we done with War at last?
Well, we’ve been lucky devils both,
And there’s no need of pledge or oath

To bind our lovely friendship fast,
By firmer stuff
Close bound enough.

Friendship, love, community often feel like a war. Or maybe, it's that the battles we are called on to fight for love must be fought just like battles for nationhood, imperialism, resources, or pride. Maybe these are all just different forms of the same thing.

More about the novel later. Just wanted to get the poem down first.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

New reads

Few things make me happier than antique furniture, especially wooden furniture. The aging of its finish, the silkiness of its texture, the unique details that mark its craftsmanship--all of these are very satisfying to me. Furniture as a process, a product, and a beloved possession fascinates me. In museum collections, furniture ranks a close second to textiles as objects that are valued for their intensely personal associations. Reflecting their owner's tastes, income, accessibility, and needs chairs and tables and beds and boxes and wardrobes hold some wonderful secrets.

But what about the raw materials? The wood that makes up these objects can be as precious is just as important as the finished project. Roger Deakin, a prominent environmentalist now deceased, wrote a book Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees, in celebration of what he called the "fifth element." I picked it up today, and am eager to read it. I hope it will give me not only appreciation for the raw material, but suggest some new ways to interpret wood in the museum setting.

I'll let you know how it goes!

And...just for fun: Who Owns Antiquity by James Cuno. With all the news of the Codex Sinaiticus this week, seems like a good time to brush up on some antiquities trade laws.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Brave New World

If the purpose of great literature is to teach, enlighten, and give birth to new ideas, Huxley certainly achieves it in his prophetic masterpiece Brave New World. The creation of such a morally and culturally abject society sends a very powerful message that must be adhered to now. That society seems to be a veritable utopia of peace and stability, but what is Huxley trying to make the readers see about their own life and times? Huxley presents several facets of existence that are valued and lauded and shows how they may defeat their own purposes. Science, art, and morality must be carefully controlled.

Science and technology--the apparent foundation for modern life--comes under intense scrutiny in Brave New World. Mustapha Mond, World Controller of Western Europe, sums up the role of science in a very succinct statement: "our science is just a cooking book, with an orthodox theory of cooking that nobody's allowed to question." Huxley's very apt statement forces readers to see that science is the ultimate contradition. At the Inventions Office, officials are swamped with ideas, yet experiment has shown that science does not always work. The Alpha Double-Pluses in Cyprus engage in civil war, and the four-hour work day is Ireland produced dissatisfactio and a larger addiction to soma. Science is also repressed: an island colony is populated with those "free thinkers" who, because of scientific thinking, are exiled for the sake of the science of stability. At this point, Huxley urges the readers to see that while technology is important, it may become destructive and "undo its own good works."

Art, likewise, has been banned. High art,--meaning beauty, imagination, and creativity--has been repressed for the sake of stability. What produces stability? Lack of confusion, passion, and emotion are the cornerstones of stability. John's idea of beauty and utopianism are found in the words of Shakespeare. To him, plays like Othello, Romeo and Juliet, and The Tempest reveal the heights and depths of conflicting passion and sorrow--the essence of humanity. In BNW, they have been banned because they are not understood. They do not make one "feel good"; they confuse the people. true to existentialist philosophies, these "goats and monkeys" can only understand something like Othello if they have a basis for comparison. Obviously in their sexophonic, feely-centered society, they do not. Keep art alive, cries Huxley because that keeps man in touch with his humanity and the beauty of possibility.

Morality, likewise must be kept alive because, along with art, it is the greatest link to man's humanity and his spiritual immortality. A society intended to carry out "Community, Identity, Stability" must have an engendered sense of truth, respect, and duty, as well as a sense of right and wrong and self-control. There is no gain, no "hope of eternal reward of punishment," and no point, really, to acting morally. When the Savage says, "But you don't do either. Neither suffer nor oppose," he has grasped the entire existentialist philosophy of Mustapha MOnd's world: if death is the ultimate end, and no afterlife being definite, why not "get while the getting's good"? Huxley champions morality when he, through the Savage, "claims the right to be unhappy...the right to grow old and ugly and impotent."

A true utopia would neither flaunt nor repress humanity. Therefore, Huxley left his readers on the eve of the Atomic Age with this thought: Are we willing to give up our passions, our joys, our sorrows, misfortunes, and defeats for simple stability? We cannot allow science to erase art and morality merely to make ourselves happy! Huxley drives home his point with "O, brave new world that has such people in it." To his readers, he warns, "Take a look around and open your eyes, before humanity ends up like 'the hardest granite.' Do not allow the scarlet blobs of sealing wax to surround and stifle our humanity, instead of allowing the waterdrops of humanity to erode us until death."