"Immersion in the life of the world, a willingness to be inhabited by and to speak for others, including those beyond the realm of the human, these are the practices not just of the bodhisattva but of the writer." --Jane Hirshfield

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

How Rimbaud, Verlaine, Lennon, Eminem

and...Hefner? grew from rebels into lovable old chaps.
In 1873, in a hotel room in Brussels, the dastardly boy-poet Arthur Rimbaud was shot in the wrist, half-accidentally, by the outrageously hideous alcoholic man-poet Paul Verlaine. (Verlaine went to prison, whereupon Rimbaud shut himself in his mom’s attic, moaned his scandalized lover’s name, and single-handedly invented Surrealism.) The year before, halfway across the world in patrician Baltimore, an unusually large baby was born and christened Emily Price. She went on, as Emily Post, to publish Etiquette, the twentieth century’s most comprehensive encyclopedia of high-society tyranny (or, if you prefer, social betterment). As she was revising its second edition, a newborn version of Hugh Hefner managed to emerge from the presumably unphotographed loins of a conservative Methodist housewife in Chicago. In 1940, Hefner was just beginning high school, one of the golden periods of his life, when, during a brief lull between German air raids, John Lennon’s birth incrementally increased the wartime population of Liverpool. In 1972, as President Nixon worked up a case to deport the ex-Beatle from New York, Marshall “Eminem” Mathers was born into deeply unpromising circumstances in Missouri.

A slew of new biographies shows that all they needed was love (and attention), aww. I bet the money didn't hurt, either.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Life and Debt

Margaret Atwood argues that we have taken the human factor out of debt:

We are social creatures who must interact for mutual benefit, and — the negative version — who harbor grudges when we feel we’ve been treated unfairly. Without a sense of fairness and also a level of trust, without a system of reciprocal altruism and tit-for-tat — one good turn deserves another, and so does one bad turn — no one would ever lend anything, as there would be no expectation of being paid back. And people would lie, cheat and steal with abandon, as there would be no punishments for such behavior.

At the NY Times.

I like her optimistic view of what comes next, even though I don't share it. Her new book is Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Middle-Aged Lolita

Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, published in America 50 years ago, has engendered the most embarrassed, looking-sideways-for-the-exit, highfalutin, and obscurantist talk of any book ever written — any. Only a handful of critics have been forthright, most famously, Lionel Trilling: "Lolita is about love. Perhaps I shall be better understood if I put the statement in this form: Lolita is not about sex, but about love."
Somehow, not all commentators and readers have lined up behind Trilling on this point, many finding themselves agreeing ...that the novel is clearly about pedophilia, rape, and the destruction of innocence by a vile, if fancy-talking, Humbert of a monster. The most prominent recent example is Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran: "Ironically, [Humbert's] ability as a poet, his own fancy prose style, exposes him for what he is." And what he is is not a device or a literary character but a real and true criminal: "What bothers us most, of course, ... is not just the utter helplessness of Lolita but the fact that Humbert robs her of her childhood."
Even Adolf Eichmann, in Jerusalem for his trial, returned Lolita to a guard who had presented it to him, denouncing it as "very unwholesome."

Lolita, at The Chronicle.

Love or sex? I always thought Lolita was about obsession, which is not properly either. I can't see making the argument that Humbert loves her, after the way he treats her -- it would be a narcissistic approximation at best. Yet all desire doesn't lead to obsession (does it?), so it's not just sex.

Anyway, Happy Birthday.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Why I Love Email III

Retirement Plan Investment Tip:

If you had purchased $1000.00 of AIG stock one year ago, it would now be worth $56.91.

With Washington Mutual, you would have $120.36 left of the original $1000.

With 'Fannie Mae'(FNM), you would have $11.34 left.

If you had purchased $1000.00 of Lehman Bros one year ago it would now be almost worthless; less than $0.86.

If you had purchased RH Donelley, you would have $45.69 left.

But, if you purchased $1000.00 worth of beer one year ago, drank all the beer, then turned in the cans for the aluminum recycling refund you would have $214.00.

Based on the above, the best current investment advice is to drink heavily and recycle. This is called the 401-Keg Plan.


*GROAN* I like this, though. At least someone isn't lamenting and popping Paxils. It's hard to get into a conversation that isn't about either the stock market, the election, the cost of the upcoming winter or what prescription drugs are making it all go away. The election is starting to look a little brighter, at least.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Ig-Nobel Sentiment

Of all the responses I've read to Engdahl's sour grapes dis, or publicity stunt -- see below, here are my favorites:

From the Telegraph:

To start with: what does it mean to be "the centre of the literary world"? It means - quite simply - to write in English. The oldest, the most diverse, and the most voraciously acquisitive living literary tradition in the western world is English; and it is one that is more available to more people than any other single literature.

If you're talking about "the centre of the world" you're talking - surely - about lines of influence. More of them run through the Anglosphere (for in contrasting America to Europe, surely, he's contrasting America 'n' Britain to continental Europe) than anywhere else.

The author goes on to point out that English is the language of the internet. Not exactly isolated.

From Michael Dirda, at the Washington Post:

It is a bit rich for a citizen of Sweden, whose population of 9 million is about the same as New York City's, to call the United States "isolated."

Roger Kimball, Editor of The New Criterion:

"It strikes me as a kind of publicity stunt for a prize that in recent years has demonstrated its fatuousness...."

Wednesday, October 1, 2008