Friesen, Bernice. The Seasons Are Horses. Saskatoon, SK: Thistledown Press, 1995.
Friesen is one of Rhubarb‘s editors and I thought it would be helpful to check her own work out. I decided to buy her first book, a collection of interrelated short stories.
Keefe-Perry, L. Callid. Way to Water: A Theopoetics Primer. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2014.
Since college I have been interested in the intersection between literature and theology, and in recent years many Mennonite writers have been examining how the field of theopoetics is a helpful tool for analyzing this intersection. I encounter references to this field enough that I thought it would make sense for me to do some of my own reading on the subject.
Both books were purchased from amazon.com’s network of independent sellers.
Gornick, Vivian. The Odd Woman and the City: A Memoir. New York: Farrar, 2015.
I haven’t read Gornick’s work before, but I read a review of this memoir about her walks exploring New York City and ordered it immediately afterward because I have been getting more and more interested in walking as a political and literary act. One notices so much more when walking than when driving a car, or even riding a bike. I must also say that the book itself is very aesthetically pleasing (as books published by FSG tend to be). It and Trible’s book were purchased from amazon.com’s network of independent booksellers.
Trible, Phyllis. Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984.
I read parts of this book in a Feminist Theology course back in college, and it completely changed how I viewed the Bible. I talk some about that experience in an essay that I am currently writing, and decided to buy a copy of the book partly as an exercise in nostalgia and partly to help get the creative juices flowing as I think about telling difficult stories.
Williams, William Carlos. In the American Grain. 1925. New York: New Directions, 1956.
I have read about this collection of essays, but have never actually read it. I came across this lovely “New Directions Paperbook” in excellent condition at Yesteryear Antiques and Collectibles in Syracuse, and it only cost $1.00 so I decided to buy it. I enjoy Williams’s poetry and look forward to encountering him in a new genre.
I decided to see the movie Lucy today because the commercials I’d seen for it made it look like it would raise some interesting philosophical questions about what it means to be human rather than simply being a stereotypical action film, and I was not disappointed. I enjoyed it thoroughly; it was one of those rare art pieces that helps me touch the sublime. My mind is still buzzing from it.
I won’t go into too much detail about the film here because I don’t want to spoil it, but I will say that the major reason I liked it was because it dealt rather explicitly with two of my favorite theories: Walt Whitman’s idea that everything is connected and thus life is in a sense eternal (though not in a religious way) and Donna Haraway’s idea of humans as cyborgs, beings that extend beyond the boundaries of their physical bodies to encompass other elements of the world. At one point Lucy says “we never really die,” and this idea is never explained clearly within the context of the movie itself (I fear that most viewers will miss its significance), but in light of Whitman’s constant assertions throughout “Song of Myself” that we continue to exist after our bodies die in the natural world, the statement makes perfect sense. At the end of the film a character asks of Lucy “where is she?,” and she, for lack of a better term, texts “I am everywhere,” just as the 1855 version of “Song of Myself” ends “I stop some where waiting for you.” Likewise, the film explores Whitman’s idea of universal divinity as Lucy becomes a kind of secular Christ figure, connecting humanity back to the Big Bang and reconnecting with the first human, “Lucy” (for whom the title character is, of course, named), reminding us that we are all interconnected.
Similarly, with regard to Haraway’s idea of what it means to be “post-human,” Lucy literally becomes a cyborg in the RoboCop sense of the word, melding with a super computer before her ultimate meld with the universe. This post-humanness is the saddest part of the film, and is acknowledged by Lucy as such, because even though she breaks the restrictive bonds of what it is to be human, in doing so she loses her humanity, her selfhood, and is not given a choice in the matter. She is impregnated with her powers in a way reminiscent of the virgin Mary (i.e., it is not literal rape, but it is very close, and yes, Lucy is both a Jesus figure and a Marian one, but the film manages this double symbolism quite nicely), forced to do her best with her lot. Scarlett Johansson does an excellent job portraying Lucy’s other-than-humanness in heart-breaking, compelling fashion. By the end of the film, her character makes the viewer uncomfortable because as a post-human she has become objectified, and this objectification verges on exploitation, but at the same time Lucy recognizes her objectification and uses it for the good of humanity, so maybe it is okay. I’m still trying to process it. But that is a good thing because the best art refuses to offer easy answers, and this is why Lucy succeeds.
I received two antique books as belated holiday gifts from a relative who runs an antique shop. I am primarily interested in them as aesthetic objects, though the novel might be fascinating to read sometime.
Dale, Annan. Dwellers in Gotham: A Romance of New York. New York: Eaton, 1898.
This novel is actually still in print, though I was unable to find any information about the author during a brief internet search. The name could very well be a pseudonym. The front cover is quite elaborate for a hardcover.
The book is inscribed, though I wish “The Author” would have actually signed her or his name.
Russell, Daniel. Meditations for Men. New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1945.
Aside from my secular nature, I dislike this type of devotional book because the genre tries to present religion as though it may be consumed via small, facile platitudes. Approaches such as this are how we get idiots who claim to be Christians, but are anti-gun control and anti-poor. But this volume has several quaint features to recommend it. I am fond of the “How to Use This Book” instructions, especially their exhortation to use it “in your lodge or club.”
I detest Thoreau, thus I love how the Foreword urges us to reject his example.
I will let this comparison between Jesus and Abraham Lincoln speak for itself. The book gets bonus points for coming with a sewn-in ribbon book marker!
I haven’t posted in several weeks because I am currently on the job market and have had several interviews that have taken up all of my non-teaching time. However, my life should be a little less crazy in the near future, so I’ll be able to get back to my normal routine of posting a few times per week.
Here are a few brief thoughts on subjects that have been kicking around in my head recently:
1. I just finished teaching Zadie Smith’s White Teeth in my Literary Criticism and Research course, and it struck me during my re-reading of the book just how much it is a response to the Rushdie Affair. Millat and his fundamentalist Muslim friends go to an anti-Rushdie protest midway through the novel, and then the Affair is never explicitly mentioned again (in fact, even during this episode Rushie is not mentioned by name). But the final third of the book is devoted to the conflict between science and religion, with Millat’s group KEVIN and Hortense’s cabal of Jehovah’s Witnesses on one side and Marcus and Magid on the other. Of course these two narratives do not have to be nearly as much in opposition as public discourse in the United States claims they are, but the Rushdie Affair and its portrayal in White Teeth illuminates how when one side (the religious fundamentalists) forces the dialogue to be black or white, one must choose sides, and that the correct choice is to be on the side of freedom of speech and rationality.
2. I bought two new suits in preparation for my interviews and have been thinking about how they relate to the presentation of myself as a person, and as a part of this preoccupation I have been noticing other people’s clothing much more than usual. Last night I was at a party and was so intrigued by someone’s shirt that I asked to feel it even though I had never met the person before! I like the concept of putting a lot of care and consideration into building one’s wardrobe, but usually I am too lazy to actually do this.
3. Danny Welbeck really needs a goal, having only scored once in the league this season. He’s been getting a lot of playing time recently and is often in the starting lineup (today he came on as a late substitute against Fulham, and this kind of usage will probably become the norm now that Wayne Rooney is fully fit again), but has been unable to take advantage of these opportunities. His overall play has been decent, but as a striker his lack of scoring is glaring. The team hasn’t been suffering from Welbeck’s drought because of the presence of Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie (and perhaps van Persie’s presence has thrown Welbeck off his game a bit, though that is no excuse). It is clear, however, that when he gets the ball in scoring positions he is thinking too much–his lack of goals is in his head. He’s one of my favorite players, and should have a long and successful career at United, but really needs a goal so that he can stop thinking about it and continue with his development.
Beachy, Stephen. The Whistling Song. 1991. New York: Norton, 1992.
I recently read and loved Beachy’s novel Boneyard, and thus have ordered several more of his books, as is my usual practice when I discover a new author. There’s another one on the way.
Creekmur, Corey K., and Alexander Doty, eds. Out in Culture: Gay, Lesbian and Queer Essays on Popular Culture. Durham: Duke UP, 1995.
I bought this book for nostalgia’s sake. I read a few essays in it while doing research for a college essay on Jesus’s sexuality that have remained vivid in my mind over the past ten years and were instrumental in planting the seeds of my personal and scholarly interests in (artistic and literary depictions of) queer sexuality. One is on Tom of Finland, and the other is on the differences between LGBT and heterosexual pornography. I didn’t use the essays then in my essay, but they are relevant now in some of the work I am doing.
Plimpton, George. The Best of Plimpton. New York: Atlantic Monthly, 1990.
As I wrote recently, I’ve been fascinated by Plimpton for years, but have hardly read any of his writing. Buying this collection of his work is an attempted remedy.
All bought on amazon.com.
Here’s a link to R.E.M.’s performance of “The Wake-up Bomb” at the 1995 MTV Music Awards (oh those halcyon days when MTV mattered/was relevant to music)*:
I remember watching it on television at the time and being a) disappointed, because I had never heard the song before since it hadn’t been released yet–I was expecting them to play something from their latest album, Monster (remember that in the early days of the internet, and really before youtube, it was A HUGE DEAL to get to see your favorite band perform on television); and b) a little confused by the fact that Michael Stipe was wearing eyeliner, but assuming that he was doing it just because it was his job as a rock star to do weird things. In hindsight, I think it was the first time I had ever seen a man wearing make-up, and I remember my father commenting to me that it bothered him that the lead singer of my favorite band wore make-up and was thus hinting at cross-dressing, just like a few years earlier he had expressed his displeasure when I was listening to U2’s Achtung Baby because there was a picture of Bono wearing a dress in the liner notes. (Actually, now that I just typed that sentence, that picture of Bono is the first time I saw a man wearing make-up because he also has lipstick on. But the dress was more noticeable!). As such, watching this performance was a seminal experience for me because it was an early instance of me slowly learning that not everyone fits into the heterosexual mold (the earliest example of this was when I was nine and read Martina Navratilova’s autobiography, which is where I learned what lesbians are). These instances were very difficult to come by growing up in a conservative Christian household. Soon thereafter I learned that Stipe was bisexual, which at the time only signified to me why he wore make-up, but later on in my life when I realized that I was bisexual it was neat to know that there were public role models for me to look toward.
I like “The Wake-up Bomb” now, though it is a guilty pleasure because it is so pop-y, not as sophisticated as most of the rest of R.E.M.’s early stuff (“early R.E.M.”=when Bill Berry was still with the band, i.e., all of their albums through New Adventures in Hi-Fi. With the exception of their greatest hits album In Time, I pretend that later R.E.M. never existed.), and it is one of the weaker tracks on New Adventures in Hi-Fi, which is an underrated album. But every time I hear it I think about that first performance.
* This post is going to overuse parentheses.