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Friday, December 31, 2010

Jane Eyre XII -- chapter 12: Team Edward? Team Jacob? No. TEAM ROCHESTER!

Reading Questions
FH Townsend,
(thanks Wikipedia)
  1. After the first page or so, I have to ask, will Jane ever be satisfied?  She's got an attitude of "Yeah, things are fine, but I'm still not really happy."  Is "restlessness was in my nature" an adequate excuse?  Or is her restlessness okay--right, even--and how does this play into the book's feminism as one of the themes of the book?
  2. Is there any significance to the seeming invisibility--at least as far as Jane is concerned--of the other inhabitants of the hall?  These characters all have evident traits, certainly, but Grace has no physical feature "to which interest could attach;" Mrs. Fairfax, though kind, is entirely ordinary and unremarkable (redundancy intended); and Adele has "no great talents, no marked traits of character, no peculiar development of feeling or taste which raised her one inch above the ordinary level of childhood; but neither had she any deficiency or vice which sunk her below it," among further description.
  3. Another mention of ghost/spirit: "Gytrash."  For my part, I love these little glimpses into local folklore.  ...and the goblins....
  4. Of course, all the blandness of Thornfield could just be device to set up the manful beauty of Mr. Rochester.  (Sheesh!  That paragraph was like reading Stephenie Meyer!)  Interesting to note as well: Bronte has already proven herself skilled at manipulating the voice of the narrator to reflect age and proclivity; how might this description be the voice of the mature Jane reflecting back on the past?
  5. "Like heath that in the wilderness, / The wild wind whirls away."  This quotation comes from a Thomas Moore poem, "Fallen Is Thy Throne," included below.
  6. "Little things recall us to earth: the clock struck in the hall; that sufficed...."
  7. Go back to the "gytrash;" despite the dog, horse, and man not being some strange North-Briton ghoul, how indeed is Mr. Rochester a gytrash after all, as I can't imagine this isn't important.

Fallen Is Thy Throne
Thomas Moore
Fall'n is thy Throne, oh Israel!

Silence is o'er thy plains;
Thy dwellings all lie desolate,
Thy children weep in chains.
Where are the dews that fed thee
On Etham's barren shore?
That fire from Heaven which led thee,
Now lights thy path no more.

Lord! thou didst love Jerusalem -
Once she was all thy own;
Her love thy fairest heritage,
Her power thy glory's throne.
Till evil came, and blighted
Thy long-lov'd olive tree; -
And Salem's shrines were lighted
For other gods than Thee.

Then sunk the star of Solyma -
Then pass'd her glory's day,
Like heath that, in the wilderness,
The wild wind whirls away.
Silent and waste her bowers,
Where once the mighty trod,
And sunk those guilty towers,
While Baal reign'd as God.

"Go," - said the Lord - "Ye Conquerors!
Steep in her blood your swords,
And raze to earth her battlements,
For they are not the Lord's.
Till Zion's mournful daughter
O'er kindred bones shall tread,
And Hinnom's vale of slaughter
Shall hide but half her dead!"


Thursday, December 30, 2010

Jane Eyre XI -- chapter 11: GHOSTS and CROWS

For the size of this chapter, there's remarkably little in it, more than just the transition from old life to new, and I just have a few points to draw your attention to, any one or more of which are well worth discussion:

  1. There's a marked romanticism to the opening of the chapter, through the stay at the hotel and the drive and early introduction to Thornfield;
  2. the development of her impression and understanding of Mrs. Fairfax;
  3. the continued absence of dominant male figures ("dominant" as in consistently present and/or influential), who have very little apparent motive for continued absence--they're just not here;
  4. the slip from romantic back to gothic with the mounting exploration of the mansion;
  5. the nature of the discussion--internal and external--of ghosts, as they are clearly an accepted facet and group of participants in every day life, unsurprising and unremarkable, except that they bear with them some measure of terror.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Wednesday's for Kids VI -- NEWSPAPERS NOT WORTH CRAP

Either a dreary duty of veterinarians or a desperate fatherly attempt to demonstrate the incalculable value of work to his kids, whenever I needed some extra cash and lawn-mowing wasn't sufficient or out of season (like in preparation for a family vacation or under the self-administered covetous pressure of the latest Lego Technic kit), I was summoned to the veterinary clinic to unfold newspapers destined to line the cages of sick and infirm house pets.  Surprisingly, I don't remember the nature of my salary for the job--surprising, because I remember acutely the value my dad placed upon my lawn-mowing prowess: a paltry four freaking bucks for buzzing down a half-acre lawn run amok with thousands of trees, shrubs, vines, flowers, fence posts, blueberry bushes, brick walkways, not to mention all the poop left by the dogs and the headless rodents or little prissy piles of entrails left by the cats.  Four dollars!  I think he paid us ("us" being my older sister and me--I don't remember any of the others ever doing this) by how thick the resulting pile of unfolded newsprint was, because paying us by the hour would've been just plain stupid--or generous, neither of which, at least back then, seemed appropriate descriptors for the old man (the latter I've since learned is very, very far from the truth).

The inherent problem with the job was the inevitable comics page for every other section or so of newspaper.  Dad would set us up in the hallway behind the examination and surgery rooms and the dispensary with a few big cardboard boxes full of newspapers donated by neighbors and clients.  The light was bad, the floor was hard, and if I'd been any older, either of these things would have bothered me.  But I was just a kid.  I liked being at the clinic.  I liked being close to my dad, and in such professional manner.  And I loved the comics!  Many of them I'd already read, since we received the local newspaper, The Times Reporter (out of Dover and New Philadelphia, Ohio, where the printed newspaper is most likely still safe), at home.  But some patrons donated old newspapers.  And these were the true treasures!  They were old, but they were new, if you know what I mean, because they contained the cartoon I hadn't read yet.

While I read all of the cartoons on each comics page, save Cathy, of course, there weren't many that I understood, and those that I could appreciate, I learned much later that I didn't really "get" back then.  I did have, of course, two favorites (Peanuts I found too dull, Family Circus too gooey, Marmaduke was okay, and I loved the pictures for Doonesbury, but didn't understand a word of it): unsurprisingly, I'm sure, Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side.  These brilliant cartoons were, and yet are, approachable by both kids and grownups, unlike most which pandered exclusively to one or the other.  Both of these, and long since the retirement of their artists, I still read; I have both of them on a bookshelf not fifteen feet from where I sit now, both in their complete, boxed, and gloriously bound anthologies.

For better or worse, my son doesn't car a lick about The Far Side, but he is captivated by Calvin and Hobbes.  He is still younger now than I was back when I unfolded newspapers for cash and pleasure, and I think he's still missing an important element of the discovery of these gems.  Thankfully he has a lot of time ahead of him, and what that time might hold makes me wonder what discoveries he'll make and how he'll come by them--and if he were to write a blog like this thirty years down the road, what stories would he tell?  

Maybe the Wii for Christmas was a mistake....


No matter the generation gap, Jacob's and my favorite C&H episodes align beautifully.  As I hunched over the old newspapers bound for the inevitable receipt of dog poop and cat vomit, squinting in the dim, I tensed with delight each time I scanned down to Calvin and Hobbes and saw, much more than just Calvin or his best friend, Spaceman Spiff.  So, too, does my son wiggle with delight at the sight of--

by Bill Waterson


(So I hope my title isn't too misleading.  When I say that newspapers aren't worth crap, I mean, well, that the crap isn't worthy of the newspapers and their noble contents.)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Jane Eyre X -- chapter 10: DEPARTURE with a TAILWIND BLAST FROM THE PAST

Reading Questions
  1. Mr. Brocklehurst: neglectful or dishonest?
  2. The use of the word "inmate" in the third paragraph interests me.  By our modern connotation of the word, its usage here appears to further fulfill the dichotomy of tone thus far: good while being bad; bad while being good.  Since Bronte put pen to paper, has the connotation of the word changed? because etymologically speaking, it's simply this: inmate -- 1580s, "one allowed to live in a house rented by another" (usually for a consideration), from in "inside" + mate "companion." Sense of "one confined to an institution" is first attested 1834 (thanks, etymonline.com).
  3. Could any man, no matter how noble, have been more than "almost worthy of such a wife" as Miss Temple?
  4. How this chapter reminds me of my former employment!  Secret applications (though I expect my motivations for secrecy differed from Jane's) and only getting one response--if any! --to a submitted request.  Why isn't Jane telling anyone her ambition to get away?
  5. Interesting that Jane is so optimistic upon the arrival and reading of the letter from Mrs. Fairfax, so much so that she brushes off the doubt of "getting into a scrape."  But as she proceeds to envision the woman and her possible situation in Thornfield, what risk does she run, anway?
  6. For better or worse, the narration of this story has a heavily feminist tone (a common avenue, feminism, for literary analysis, by the way, and one which I haven't spent much time with).  It would be interesting to read as contrast one of the many novels from the same general period, also with female protagonists but written by men (The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins; Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreiser; Pamela, by Samuel Richardson; or Evelina, by Frances Burney, to name a few).
  7. Was there evidence in the Gateshead chapters sufficient to justify Bessie's effusion here?  Also, is there any significance to the catchings-up of the Reeds' goings-on?  I expect that Jane, if anticipation of such knowledge had been possible, would have looked forward to news of the Reeds' general lack of grandness, yet what might she be learning of herself now instead?
  8. The final mentioned detail of the conversation is another cliffhanger, the MIA uncle, and this potentially much more significant than the issue of the Helen's family and grave marker.  Any ideas or thoughts?
  9. What is it about Miss Temple's departure that is the required catalyst to Jane's self-awareness?
  10. Chapter 10 marks the end of the second chapter of her life, at least as we know it.  What do you think so far, especially compared to the end of chapter 5, when she left Gateshead?

DUBLINERS, by James Joyce: "An Encounter"

The problem with high expectations and deeply layered writing is that the simple enjoyment of reading the surface story is often lost.  Not so with "An Encounter."  Reading it was easy, quick, and enjoyable; and not until I reached the last two paragraphs or so did I remember that I was dealing with an author who doesn't write with entertainment at top priority.  In fact it's evidently quite possible that Joyce didn't write for readers' enjoyment at all.  His eventual  publisher even whined that Joyce never wrote anything simple, direct, and fun.  Maybe "An Encounter" fooled the publisher, too, at least until those last paragraphs.  It's the second read-through that permits--encourages, even frustratingly--a second and third guess of every single detail: "Does that mean something?  What about that?  Could even that mean something?"

Basically, "An Encounter" is about a boy, the narrator, who is motivated by stories of the Wild West, brought to his attention by one of his friend's older brother, to skip school in the name of adventure, since adventure cannot be found anywhere but abroad.  Apparently, the docks and the "pigeon house" are adequately abroad.  The friend and another make the plan to leave, each planting a lie, or excuse, through someone else--Mahoney (friend no.2) with his obliging older sister, and Dillon with his likely less indulgent older brother; (we don't have information on how the narrator secures his alibi) --the following morning.

The narrator sleeps badly and so arrives early; Mahoney turns up shortly thereafter; Dillon never shows.  His brother--bent on the clergy--clearly didn't post the lie to the Fathers of the boys' Catholic school.  Mahoney's big sister, on the other hand, didn't seem to mind engaging in the assistance of sibling vagrancy, which likely levels the young lady right up there with the fantastic "unkempt fierce and beautiful girls" of the narrator's preferred American detective stories, while the older Dillon, I'm guessing, is posting up a personal preference of Joyce's against the Catholic church.  By contrast to the restrictions of the two Dillons, Mahoney, who by appearance is Protestant, is entirely free, even wreckless, which independence is caste as beautiful, and the narrator clearly envies him and his ability to find that mysterious American adventure.  In short: Dillons = Catholic and imprisoned; Mahoney = Protestant and free.  It is the narrator who seems to be sitting the fence.

When toward the end of their day away they meet the green-eyed man--a wandering pervert--in the field by the harbor, the narrator pursues an intent of courtesy.  Supporting his insecurities while sitting and talking, he boasts of reading three authors the man mentions, though he knows essentially nothing about them.  The man is enjoying himself and asks about Lord Lytton; the narrator appears not to understand why it is that young boys should not read Lord Lytton.  Mahoney, on the other hand, doesn't care what the queer old man thinks, and jumps up to chase a cat.

The boys succeed, it seems, in finding their adventure, despite the quick passage of time and its preclusion of reaching the pigeon house.  I believe there's more to the chasing of the girls, the chivalrous local boys who defend them; the dock workers, the adjectives around the food, and so forth; but I don't know what it is yet.  The telling moment of the story, however--at least for me, comes in the moment at the very end when the narrator jumps up and hollers, "Murphy!" hoping to escape the old man, and using the code name he assigned Mahoney in interested of escaping potential pursuance by the pervert.

We know that Joyce isn't thrilled with his city or country.  Perhaps the story would show a more favorable light on the latter, at least, had the boys indeed found their green-eyed sailor, rather than a green-eyed creeper.  Alas, the typical color for the country is not affiliated with the wandering freedom and exotic adventures of the seaman, but in the hobbled squint-eye of the degraded.  In the end, whether by courtesy or indecision, the narrator (code name: Smith) is yet sitting with the old man who continues to talk and ramble, lost in the circling, deeply internalized gravity of his fantasies, while Mahoney runs and chases the cat--a very boyish thing to do.  Finally there's a pause in the speech, and the narrator seems finally to arrive at his decision--or the decision, epiphany-like, comes to him.  And a mighty collision!  He jumps to his feet and shouts at his friend, who comes to help him out.

But what of that last line: "And I was penitent; for in my heart I had always despised him a little"?

I can't help thinking that a lot of this story has to do with nationality.  Does the narrator have a twinge of guilt that maybe he's expatriating himself by leaving the national scumbag (and "scumbag" matches the color profile from the previous story, which was there used to represent city and country), and the spoken dislike is just empty validation for his further moment of doubt?  I don't know, but it fascinates me.

I will come back to it after further context is read.

Two down; thirteen to go.

Monday, December 27, 2010


Last week, while away for our anniversary, my wife and I found treasures.  I won't tell the story of her finds, as I'm sure she'll be posting it up on her own blog, but here's mine:

I grew up with a book called The Magical Monarch of Mo, by L. Frank Baum--you know, the same guy who did The Wizard of Oz.  It's a collection of short stories that all occur in, and around, and to the inhabitants of the land of Mo.  Of the many stories and books my dad read my five siblings and me at bed times, this was the most common and our collective favorite by far, if I can speak for my brothers and sisters.  Such is the power of this book--over me, at least--that it even became the central metaphor, as well as lending one of its characters as title, to my most recently completed book (still waiting to hear back from an interested publisher).

Some years ago, my dad got a call from his oldest sister, who said, basically, "Johnny, you have my copy of The Magical Monarch of Mo, and I need it back."  Ridiculous.  Dad had had the book for well over a, uninterrupted quarter century.  Isn't there, like, a statute of limitations on book ownership?

I've been looking for this book--the same edition (any edition is rare enough as it is) --for fifteen years.  Every book store, library, estate and garage sale, and what-/whoever sells a book, I've checked for this edition.  Even Ebay, where I've actually found, but for hundreds of dollars.

Last week, Angie and I went up to Logan, Utah for a day away.  Among other places, we stopped by a used book store.  Out of habit, certainly not hope, I hiked across the quarter acre (seriously--and that just upstairs) of claustrophobic bookshelves to the children's section.  I won't get into the awe-inspiring blend of treasure and crap that crammed, floor to ceiling, this old store, or the fact that I went to the wrong children's section on first attempt, then wandered around poetry and philosophy for fifteen minutes or so.  Eventually I found the next children's section and there, right there with all the other Bs, all but invisible, was the book.  The same edition.  In slightly better condition than I remember my dad's (my aunt's...)!

I started to tremble.  I felt tears well up.  (Pathetic, I know, but I've been looking for this book for half of my life!)  I took it carefully from the shelf and carried it to my wife.  On the jittery walk back across the store, I fumbled open the cover and saw penciled there,"$50."

I'm unemployed!

It could have said $200 and I'd have bought it.  I showed Angie.  "You have to buy it," she said.

"I have to buy it," I replied.

We took it to the counter.  The lady opened the cover.  She said, "It's thirty dollars.  You're aware of that?"

I opened my mouth, and Angie stepped on my foot.  I guess I could have misread the label--faded, bad handwriting.  (And I haven't gone back to look.)  "Would you take ten for it?" she asked.

"Fifteen?" she replied.


I've had the book for a week now.  Tomorrow it goes in a specially packaged, well-insured, pre-paid USPS box for Scio, Ohio, where my parents live.

Very exciting.

Jane Eyre IX -- chapter 9: SPRING AND DEATH AT LOWOOD

Reading Questions
  1. It's not particularly interesting that as Jane arrived at Lowood and its initial torments, having left the long dark of Gateshead, in November when it was cold and nasty, so her life was terrible, and now that the weather is improving, so is her situation.  I say "not particularly interesting," because this sort of parallel is almost cliche nowadays, at least in the obvious nature that it's used here.  It's about as bad as the rain that falls so obsequious to mood in HP7's tent scene (book, not movie) when Ron takes off in a huff.  So the questions: 1, is it indeed cliche; 2, is there a better way to emphasize the emotions; 3, is winter really so bad; and 4, does this mean we have to wait until Fall for her life to drop back to torment again, or should we expect Spring thunderstorms and hurricanes?
  2. There's a shock to the system of cheerfulness, just a few paragraphs down from the chapter's top, with the rising of the fog: dank and deadly! as if the thaw of Spring has done little more than permit the zombies and their pestilence (flea- and louse-carriers of typhus, which very word means "foggy") to escape their icy, winter prisons.  Is the beauty of spring really no more than a bate?  Yet, ironic it is, leastway for those who've escaped the disease: life becomes even more pleasant for their increased freedom, as the teachers are all locked up with the infirm!  Blessed be those of strong constitution, and O, pity the poorly frail!  At least the dying have the comfort of a beautiful view.
  3. Is there no remorse or second thought for those not free to roam the woods?  At least Mr. Brocklehurst stays away, right?  Is Jane really so cruel?  Shouldn't she abscond to see her most valued friend earlier than she finally does?  Why does she take so much time with the callow Mary Ann?
  4. Interesting, contrary to the weather-plus-mood, that as Jane finally begins to think about the death and disease around her and its contingency of heaven and hell, she gets news of Helen's imminent death.  So what of Helen?  What might this say about Jane?
  5. Are those who die young to be envied?
  6. The melodrama of Jane Eyre reminds me of Anne of Green Gables, only, of course, darker.  (I've been trying to figure out this connection out since chapter 3--Jane is a goth Anne Shirley!)
  7. Helen has a father.  Was her little speech about him not missing her, distracted by his recent marriage, just euphemism?  After all, she's not even taken home for burial, and it's 15 years before a grave marker is placed.  And who will have placed the marker, and what's up with the idiot father?
Springtime at Lowood

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sunday Poetry VII: A Carroll on Poe's "BELLS" -- sort of

Professor Eric Rabkin, of University of Michigan, has a significant contribution included in The Teaching Company's The Great Courses series, entitled Masterpieces of the Imaginative Mind: Literature's Most Fantastic Works.

I bring up the good doctor's course here because it's the bridge between two things, both of which seem appropriate right now, considering both the season and our current book: the season, of course, is Christmas (yes, it's still Christmas, as far as I'm concerned, at least until I manage to get back to work), and the book is Bronte's Jane Eyre.  What do you get when you mix the two?  Easy: Eric Rabkin's discussion of E.A. Poe's poem "The Bells" (not that the poem is particularly Christmas-y, but, you know...  "Bells," as in "Carrol of the Bells," or "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day") and, though less so, his short story, "The Black Cat."

So here's what we're going to do.  I will posit two definitions, I will quote the poem, and then I will copy out the appropriate course notes from Rabkin's Poe lecture.

parataxis -- (from Greek for 'act of placing side by side'; fr. para, beside + tassein, to arrange; contrasted to syntaxis) is a literary technique, in writing or speaking, that favors short, simple sentences, without the use of coordinating or subordinating conjunctions.  (Etymonline.com; Wikipedia.org)
hypotaxis -- is the grammatical arrangement of functionally similar but "unequal" constructs (hypo="beneath", taxis="arrangement"), i.e., constructs playing an unequal role in a sentence.  (Etymonline.com; Wikipedia.org)

Not terribly helpful.  Here's Rabkin's explanation:

Hypotaxis: In rhetoric, making explicit and underlying connections among distinct elements of the text or utterance.  For example, "I am hungry.  I need to obtain food.  I can buy food at the store.  I will go to the store to buy food to eat."  Compare that with "I am hungry.  I'll go to the store."  In the latter example, one presumes that the store sells food, but one could be wrong.  The speaker could have changed topics.  Leaving out the underlying connections is parataxis.  Excessive hypotaxis can be boring, but excessive parataxis can leave a reader confused: "I am hungry.  Now I'll call Fred."  Does the call have to do with the hunger?

The Bells  (It actually helps if you read this out loud.)
by Edgar Allan Poe


     Hear the sledges with the bells -
          Silver bells!
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
     How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
          In the icy air of night!
     While the stars that oversprinkle
     All the heavens, seem to twinkle
          With a crystalline delight;
     Keeping time, time, time,
     In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
     From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
          Bells, bells, bells -
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.


     Hear the mellow wedding bells -
          Golden bells!
What a world of happiness their harmony foretells!
     Through the balmy air of night
     How they ring out their delight! -
          From the molten - golden notes
          And all in tune,
     What a liquid ditty floats
To the turtle - dove that listens, while she gloats
          On the moon!
     Oh, from out the sounding cells,
What a gush of euphony voluminously wells!
          How it swells!
          How it dwells
     On the Future! - how it tells
     Of the rapture that impels
To the swinging and the ringing
     Of the bells, bells, bells -
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,
          Bells, bells, bells -
To the rhyming and the chiming of the bells!


Hear the loud alarum bells -
     Brazen bells!
What a tale of terror, now, their turbulency tells!
     In the startled ear of night
     How they scream out their affright!
     Too much horrified to speak,
     They can only shriek, shriek,
          Out of tune,
In a clamorous appealing to the mercy of the fire,
     In a mad expostulation with the deaf and frantic fire,
     Leaping higher, higher, higher,
     With a desperate desire,
     And a resolute endeavor
     Now - now to sit, or never,
     By the side of the pale - faced moon.
     Oh, the bells, bells, bells!
     What a tale their terror tells
          Of Despair!
     How they clang, and clash and roar!
     What a horror they outpour
On the bosom of the palpitating air!
     Yet the ear, it fully knows,
          By the twanging,
          And the clanging,
     How the danger ebbs and flows;
     Yet the ear distinctly tells,
          In the jangling,
          And the wrangling,
     How the danger sinks and swells,
By the sinking or the swelling in the anger of the bells -
          Of the bells -
     Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,
          Bells, bells, bells -
In the clamor and the clanging of the bells!


     Hear the tolling of the bells -
          Iron bells!
What a world of solemn thought their monody compels!
     In the silence of the night,
     How we shiver with affright
At the melancholy menace of their tone!
     For every sound that floats
     From the rust within their throats
          Is a groan.
And the people - ah, the people -
They that dwell up in the steeple,
     All alone,
And who, tolling, tolling, tolling,
     In that muffled monotone,
Feel a glory in so rolling
     On the human heart a stone -
They are neither man nor woman -
They are neither brute nor human -
          They are Ghouls: -
And their king it is who tolls: -
And he rolls, rolls, rolls,
     A paean from the bells!
And his merry bosom swells
     With the paean of the bells!
And he dances, and he yells;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
     To the paean of the bells: -
          Of the bells:
Keeping time, time, time
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
     To the throbbing of the bells -
Of the bells, bells, bells: -
     To the sobbing of the bells: -
Keeping time, time, time,
     As he knells, knells, knells,
In a happy Runic rhyme,
     To the rolling of the bells -
Of the bells, bells, bells -
     To the tolling of the bells -
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells, 
          Bells, bells, bells, -
To the moaning and the groaning of the bells.


From Rabkin's course notes:

"The Bells" (1849) is famously derided for offering more sound than sense.  However, a careful reading of its four stanzas, and a comparison of them to "The Black Cat," shows that these works move the reader through a common psychological trajectory.
  1. "The Black Cat" is hypotactic, meaning that the connections among its parts are made explicit.
  2. "The Bells" is a paratactic version of the same story, parataxis being the presentation of a tale with key connections omitted.  This economical presentation, if it works for a reader, induces the reader to construct imaginatively the missing connections and, thus, to feel them personally.
  3. Poe's achievement in many genres is to induce fear, yet to know that we are in a fantastic world created by a precise and skillful artist, a world we need not flee but can admire.
The comparison between the poem and the story are striking.  Got some Sunday down time augmented by the typical post-Christmas lull?  Read the story (here), reread the poem.  Bingo.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Jane Eyre VIII -- chapter 8: EXONERATION

Reading Questions
  1. "If all the world hated you, and believed you wicked, while your own conscience approved you, and absolved you from guilt, you would not be without friends."
  2. Helen intrigues me: additional to and shortly after the above quotation, she says, "you think too much of the love of human beings;" what does this say about Helen's past?  Is this pertinent only to orphans?  What if we expand the definition of "orphan" to include something like that of an "emotional orphan?"
  3. This might be a premature question, but I'm going to ask it anyway, because it has already crossed my mind, prompted by the graceful care and reassurance from Miss Temple: What if Jane Eyre had been written by a man?  (Knowing me as I do, I expect I will ask this question again, ere we reach the end.)
  4. Just as premature--or early, at least--as the previous question was, so risky is the next: Is Jane whiny, is she just a girl, or are they (it's not my intent to invite reprobation (in any of its various usages)) the same?
  5. Is the tangible reality of the haunting in the red room escalating in the natural exaggeration of Jane's memory?
  6. A little more than halfway through my first year in Michigan, a student of mine came to me with a funny report.  He'd been in the office waiting to speak to someone there about something--for why else is a student ever sitting in the school office? --and he happened to overhear the principal talking with the guidance counselor.  They were talking about me, of all people, and in the course of the conversation, the principal used a label for me which I'd never heard or thought before in my reference, thinking myself relatively subdued, obedient, and conscientious, none of which, I felt, aligned themselves with her label.  She called me a "loose canon."  Regardless of how she meant it, I've come to think of it as a complement.  I am proud to be a loose canon--or of having been one (I'm not sure I might still qualify, if ever I really did).  Miss Temple, I believe (and this is in no way intended to pat me on the back, as may appear so by any comparison between self and this wonderful woman, or denigrate my former principal, whom I happen to greatly respect and admire), might be labeled similarly by Mr. Brocklehurst.  I expect he recognizes her for what she is.  The question, then, is why does he keep her around?

Thursday, December 23, 2010


"Life of Pi," by Zuri I.

"Music from the Head," by Marianne E.

"Story Like Wine," by Sam M.

"Studies of Iron Man," by Jacob C.

"Together Forever," by unknown

Jane Eyre VII -- chapter 7: GOT BIG HAIR? HIGHLIGHTS? BRAIDS? Guess Where You're Going.

People do weird things in the names of Faith and Belief, but there is a narrow margin between acting for God and forgetting you're not God.  While we haven't seen direct evidence yet, I expect Brocklehurst is clergy from the school of hellfire.  Personally (and this isn't to press my opinion, but offer an example), I don't believe in scaring or intimidating a flock into submission (and forgive the unintended, pacifist rhetoric), but that doesn't mean it's wrong.  In fact, I'm sure there are some in the/a flock for whom this works better than anything else.  And that's the point I'm going for, as it's a recurrent theme in this chapter: as you read, or as you  review while answering questions, be diligent in your effort to be objective and to separate yourself from your personal beliefs, at least inasmuch as they may skew your judgment.  Remember, sometimes things that are different are just that--different, not wrong; of course, sometimes things are indeed just wrong.

Another point at issue in this chapter is the comparison between Jane's situations are Gateshead and Lowood.  Are the motives behind the privations of each adequate to justify one over the other?

Finally, this whole chapter exaggeratedly reminds me of administrator evaluations in my classroom.  You may remember your principal with clipboard in hand coming into one or more of your classrooms to judge your teachers.  These episodes are generally frustrating, often intimidating, and never accurate.  Really.  Never.  Even when they're good!  (*tongue in cheek*)  More frustrating, many principals actually believe they can get an accurate measure of the classroom, the teacher, and their product in naught but two or three quarter-hour visits.  No!  One wrong thing in the classroom is as likely to draw conclusion on an entire year's work--successes and failures--as one good thing, and I've experienced both.  It just doesn't work that way.

(Note to principals: I've been one, and I've been guilty of the same.  Feel free to defend yourselves and/or complain HERE.)

Reading Questions

  1. The act of issuing a mandate of conformity against the natural curls of Julia Severn's red hair (ought it not to be dyed also?) is an example of Brocklehurt's   stupidity / wisdom   (circle one).  Explain your selection.
  2. * hair as an excrescence
  3. "Madam," he pursued, "I have a Master to serve whose kingdom is not of this world: my mission is to mortify in these girls the lusts of the flesh; to teach them to clothe themselves with shamefacedness and sobriety, not with braided hair and costly apparel; and each of the young persons before us has a string of hair twisted in plaits which vanity itself might have woven: these, I repeat, must be cut off; think of the time wasted, of—" and I interrupt him as did the three conspicuous visitors: This remonstrance smacks of chauvinism and even cruelty to our contemporary sensibilities, but even now, contemporarily, isn't this part of what any good Christian claims to believe?  Is it so wrong to chop off one's hair and live in sackcloth and ashes?  Additionally, however, and considering the identity of the guests, whom is Mr. Brocklehurst favoring; whom is he slighting?  Does this not show what he truly believes?
  4. Is it just for physical effect that Brocklehurst is regularly described as a feature of architecture?  Something about this imagery, coupled with the essence of the man, reminds me of Claude Frollo, from The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  (I can't speak of the Archdeacon as represented in the Disney movie, as I haven't seen it; I mean the book, which, by the way, I highly recommend.  It often drags, but the characters and setting are vivid, and the ending is perhaps the greatest I've ever read.)
  5. Brocklehurst's description of Jane as an "interloper" beggars a comparison: Take ten minutes and read "The Interlopers," by Saki.
  6. "You must be on your guard against her; you must shun her example: if necessary, avoid her company, exclude her from your sports, and shut her out from your converse. Teachers, you must watch her: keep your eyes on her movements, weigh well her words, scrutinize her actions, punish her body to save her soul, if, indeed, such salvation be possible, for (my tongue falters while I tell it) this girl: this child, the native of a Christian land, worse than many a little heathen who says its prayers to Brahma and kneels before Juggernaut—this girl is—a liar."  Are the Brocklehursts hypocrites?  If so, take a second and fundamentally compare "hypocrite" to "liar."
  7. And what of the girls in the school?  How do they impart strength to Jane, and why does this affect Jane likely more than they know?  What of the teachers?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Once upon a time, I actually believed I knew enough Italian to read and understand Latin.


I've learned a lot since then.  For example, I actually know Italian better now than I did then (funny how this works) and for it quite pointedly realize that I actually know precisely jack squat about Latin.  And how stupid was I?  That opening sentence is like me saying I know how to fly an airplane because I've got my Boy Scouts merit badge for small boat sailing.

Despite the disillusionment, I bought what follows below.  It is the only book I own that I cannot read.  I bought it a long time ago and for no reason other than I thought it was cool.  And really, can you deny the utter coolness of How the Grinch Stole Christmas in freaking Latin?  (I mean, *!*)  There's something intrinsically fascinating--which, of course, and if we're speaking at least circumferentially of translation, is Geek for "cool" --about your favorite, or at least most nostalgic, books and/or other media in another language--and allthemoreso (yes, one word) a dead language?  Maybe it's just me....  But I can't help myself.  Languages are, well, cool.  And I have a number of my favorite books in Italian, a couple in Hebrew (despite the fact that I read Hebrew only slight less badly than Latin), and a few in French as well (which, despite my once-prejudice for the language and its mother country, is a lot closer to Italian than Latin).  I take them down periodically and flip through them.  Most of them I've even read once or twice--and even cover-to-cover--but it's not the reading, but the having, that is just awesome.  I mean, imagine this: owning and displaying copies of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever in Darug or The Lord of the Rings in Wamo!  Cool!

And even cooler: to be able to read those languages and analyze the intrinsic problems and inevitable interpretive shifts due to the semiotic transition....

(Okay, I'll stop.)

So, my recommendation (recommendation, after all, being the very object this feature is intended to feature)?  Indulge yourself in a specious interlinguistic adventure, and find a book you love in a language you don't know or have even before heard of, wait eagerly for it to arrive in the mail, then minutes after delivery quietly post the new treasure (and just touch it, hold it: feel its electricity pulse through its skin!) somewhere inconspicuous, yet available to examining eyes, and (do you feel it?) quite simply make yourself look just that much smarter than you really are (it's like a magic diet pill!) simply by having it, which, heck, when it comes right down to it isn't that great a stretch; owning a book written in a dead language does in very fact make you smarter.  Like Mozart.

Anyway, merry Christmas, everyone!

Monday, December 20, 2010

DUBLINERS, by James Joyce: "The Sisters"

"Synesthesia," by Kandinsky
One of my favorite experiences via reading comes only every once in a while, generally after multiple readings of a single work, and maybe that only after a significant piece of time has permitted the buildup of nostalgia, in which case it has to be a book or story I've really enjoyed.  It's synesthesia, which, in this case, is the sensation of a sense (sight, smell, touch, etc.) triggered via the triggering of another sense.  Example: while reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and sitting there with the Buckets in their ratty little room, I smell (really smell--not just the imagining of smell) the yellow age and the brown decrepitude and general despair.  Know what I mean?  Surprisingly, to me at least, I got this same sensation, with those very same colors and smells no less, from my first reading of "The Sisters," the first story of Joyce's collection, as well as the first piece he ever published.

Aside from synesthetic pleasure, I was--and to coin the noisome gobbledygook--underwhelmed, and that despite getting it all the more (though certainly not completely) upon the second go 'round, at which point I was still underwhelmed, though less so (good sign).  Thus the problem of unrealistically elevated expectations.  See, when I read All the Pretty Horses (which is still too close to my heart to objectify for a decent review), I started thinking, "Come on, it can't really be as good as all that!"  I was wrong.  Woefully, pathetically, dismally wrong.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I read the introduction to the collection before I read the first story.  Usually this is a good thing, and at the very least I did gain some perspective on Joyce and Dublin, but man!  Either this lady totally hero-worships Joyce, or Joyce truly is the greatest writer ever to put pen to paper.  Blindly, and with mounting excitement hell-bent for certain disappointment, I turned to the first story, "The Sisters."

At its most basic: a boy's Catholic priest mentor dies, the boy's unsure whether to be sad or not, he has a dream where her flits off to Persia, and the next day goes, under escort of his aunt, to the dead priest's place to pay his respects, where the priest's two sisters talk about the deceased, who apparently went a little off plumb toward the end of his life.

Despite the story's size--or lack thereof--there's a heck of a lot here, the problem is I don't know how to put it all together, nor do I have a context, generally lent by a title, with which to frame it. The context of the whole thing is Dublin, the place, about which I should be able to draw a mental landscape (indication of needed research!) for the stories; one story isn't enough, but I should be able to gain something of the city--or potentially so--from these eight pages.  Not much.  But if so, then, well, it's unlikely Joyce thought much of his hometown, especially if Charlie Bucket's pathetic Dahl-ian home is my first point of comparison.

For example, the whole story smells like crap.  Really.  It's dirty--brown and yellow--and redolent as the old priest's snuff-laden teeth and for-surely charnel-house breath.

While the overall significance of this story is, to me, ambiguous--especially the title, which, for crying out loud, references two entirely ancillary, or so-seemingly, characters--there are two particularly telling elements:

The Dream: After a long walk, during which the boy reminisces at length ("length," anyway, compared to the overall brevity of the story) on the dead man, and wondering why he "felt even annoyed at discovering in myself a sensation of freedom as if I had been freed from something by his death," he goes to bed and dreams of the old man's gray face, swinging lamps, and Persia.  And perhaps here we get an early glimpse at the great skill involved in the story's composition: this dream is told in two segments.  In fact (and it's only in looking back for the sentence referring to the gray face that I make this separation), it's the previous night and before he goes for the walk that he dreams; it is toward the end of his walk that he remembers the dream, including portions he'd earlier forgotten.  All of this, flashbacks, etcetera, flow together seamlessly, as if the entire story were also, surprisingly, a dream--a really morbid dream.

The Priest's Decline:  I get the sense that Father Flynn (made me think of Doubt, by the way, and I wonder if there's a tribute there from Shanley to the one-eyed author) wasn't much of a priest; and the sisters say this outright in the end, and that he was nervous....  The family friend, Old Cotter, speaks poorly of Flynn and no one--not a soul--attends the funeral, not even Father O'Rourke, who came to help the sisters clip off the loose ends, which he likely did not for the good of the deceased by for the sisters.  It turns out that Flynn's gone a bit off the twist, which started, apparently, with the dropping and breaking of a chalice, which he happens to hold on his chest now in death.  I'm guessing he dropped it during the throws of an early stroke, the same ailment that ended up doing him in.  The last sentence we get in the story includes the puzzling information that one of his last appearances in the church was sitting in his confessional laughing.  Death and paralysis indeed!  And he was a simoniac to boot, apparently.  Hmm....  Perplexities....  (Pointedly placed ellipses....)

A couple other tidbits:  1, Both the sisters and Old Cotter have a tendency, deplorable to the boy in Old Cotter, though left unmentioned regarding the old girls, to drop their sentences off in ellipses; and 2, three words the boys mulls over as he watches Father Flynn's window in the opening: gnomon, simony, and paralysis, all of which sound "strangely in his ears."

I don't have any great "therefore-what."  I've got a lot of thoughts--and more than what I've got put down here--but I can't draw a conclusion, not without putting it in context of the rest of the book, or at least another story or two.

Interesting, though: just the effort and second/third looks it's taken to write out this little entry has piqued my curiosity and interest--both appetizingly held at bay against a future read (during which time some nostalgia might even set in?) --for what more there might be between the lines here that I haven't seen, let alone comprehended, yet.  Like I said before, there's a lot here, most of which I can't even see; but I just don't know how in the world to put it all together.  What's my context?  My framework?

And I'm not going to cheat!  I will discover it for myself!

One story down, fourteen to go.

DUBLINERS, by James Joyce: my tentative and personal adventure

James Joyce (and yes, I posted him
looking away on purpose)
I've never read any Joyce before.  Pathetic?  Yep.  I've even actually assigned the reading of Joyce to students before, though I hadn't read him myself!  But I've got a good excuse.  Mostly.  


Let me explain:  I didn't really "get into" reading, not like I am now anyway, until after I'd finished my bachelor's degree.  I read, sure, but I didn't (this is going to smack of hyperbole) require it as sustenance to my mind and soul like I do now.  I enjoyed it, but passively.  Considering I only graduated nine years ago, I don't really have all that much experience.  Take that relative inexperience and mix it up with my gained and tremendous respect for the truly great writers, especially as I've attempted to become somewhat of a writer myself (see my issues with some of my favorites authors here), and I just haven't exactly garnered the guts necessary, for me at least, to pick up the reputedly greatest writer of the English language.

Is it all in my head?  Most likely.  I'm not stupid.  But it's emotional, and, as we all know, powerful emotions manage to supersede all sense.

Back to Joyce.

I've got a copy of Ulysses downstairs on my shelves.  It looks nice there--thick and intellectual, like its very presence elevates its owner.  I recently disinterred my copy of Dubliners: less intimidating, of course.  Short stories.  The first stuff he published.  Easy.

I'd steeled myself to make the jump.  I had the book in hand with the name of the eponymous author a-cover.    I sat in my beautiful, comfortable reading chair, opened the book, and--

Well, and I read the introduction by Brenda Maddox and all was... well, not "lost," but intimidation grew, much to my chagrin, and that mixed with the great difficulty of focusing for more than a minute or two with little kids around led to the book shutting, nearly on its own, and me standing to make dinner.  I've tried three more times to get through the first story, "The Sisters," and it's only eight and a half pages long!  Tonight, three weeks after the book's initial resurgence, I've finally succeeded.

So this is what I'm going to do, and may the public--though little-read--nature of this display encourage me against past repeated itself: I will read each story one at a time, approximately one per week, and attempt to understand it without relying on some other critic's or scholar's thoughts and discussion.  I want this for me.  I want this to maybe prove to myself that I am actually a better reader than I think I am--or that I will become a better reader for the experience (and any of you who may think "Hey, you're a great reader!" well, I think I know how to ask the right questions to help others get more out of their reading, but their answers to my questions almost unequivocally better than any answer I myself could give).

This also brings me to my optimistic theory of The Classics (the pessimistic side being that there's a conspiracy bridged between scholars and publishers to keep resurrecting the same old piffle and fooling the public into buying and pretending they've read it because someone else says it's great lit):

Any book of the "canon" wouldn't still be here and interesting and in the canon at all, and therefore bought and read, if that book weren't of interest to contemporary culture.  That means I should be able to garner an enjoyment, appreciation, and/or new/refined perspective from the given book without having to dig into the historical, political, cultural contexts of the work, because that's what scholars do, and I'm no scholar; I am, this time, a passive reader.

Of course, the context from within which the work in question was written is always sure to increase the potential for enjoyment, appreciation, and perspective, and I will likely do a little research for each story, but only as much as I can infer is necessary from the text itself--not from what someone else wants to tell me.

So there it is.  My challenge to myself, the results of which I will post here faithfully and serially.  Join me if you'd like; there is nothing like good discussion to crack open a text.

Here goes....
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