Friday, October 31, 2014

“Not yet, son of Poeas!”

[“Trick or Treat?” Illustration by Hannah Isabel Gay. October 31, 2014. Used with permission. Click for a larger view.]

What a wonderful thing to step into a classroom and find this illustration on the blackboard. It’s the work of my student Hannah Isabel Gay. Major props, Hannah.

The scene is from the final moments of Sophocles’s Philoctetes. The Greek warrior Philoctetes, son of Poeas, suffers from a foul-smelling, never-healing wound. His fellow Greeks abandoned him on the island of Lemnos as they sailed to Troy. But now, nine years later, the Greeks need Philoctetes and his magic bow (a gift from Heracles) if they are to take Troy. Odysseus and Neoptolemus (Achilles’s son) travel to Lemnos to bring Philoctetes back. But how? By force? persuasion? deceit? And will Neoptolemus go along with Odysseus’s plans? At the play’s end, as Neoptolemus prepares to take Philoctetes home, Heracles appears above the entrance to Philoctetes’s cave and declares that Philoctetes must go to Troy, where his wound will be healed and he will win great honor in battle.

The classicist and director Peter Meineck offers an inspired suggestion: because the actor who played Odysseus would now be playing Heracles, perhaps “Heracles” is Odysseus in disguise, and the divine command just one more Odyssean deception. Treat? Or trick?

And thus this picture.

A related post
Chicago possessives

A WPA Halloween poster

[“Halloween Roller Skating Carnival.” Federal Art Project, New York, 1936. From the Work Projects Administration Poster Collection, Library of Congress. Click for a larger view.]

That’s the friendliest pumpkin-headed roller-skater I’ve ever seen. Happy Halloween.

[The WPA Poster Collection resides here.]

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Recently updated

Poor flowers Allen Ginsberg, not stealing, not ripping off.

Know Your Library of Congress Classification Title

It’s the exciting new party-game sensation that’s sweeping my mind: Know Your Library of Congress Classification Title. How to play:

1. Go to the Library of Congress Classification Outline.

2. Find your first initial. Click.

3. Look for your last initial to determine whether you have a one- or two- letter code.

My wife Elaine has a one-letter code: E. There is no EF. Elaine’s LCC title is History of the Americas (America, United States). I have a two-letter code: ML, Literature on music. I remember noticing that code when I was an undergrad borrowing Bill Cole’s biography of Miles Davis from my college’s library. ML, huh.

What’s your LCC title?

[My usual library haunts: P, PA, PE, PR, PS.]

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Poor flowers

Poore floure (quoth she) this was thy fathers guise,
Sweet issue of a more sweet smelling sire,
For euerie little griefe to wet his eies,
To grow vnto himselfe was his desire;
    And so tis thine, but know it is as good,
    To wither in my brest, as in his blood.

William Shakepeare, Venus and Adonis, 1593
Poor dead flower? when did you forget you were a
    flower? when did you look at your skin and decide
    you were an impotent dirty old locomotive? the
    ghost of a locomotive? the specter and shade of a
    once powerful mad American locomotive?

Allen Ginsberg, “Sunflower Sutra,” 1955
Difficult (at least for me) to think that the phrasing is just coincidence.

Both poems may be found available online.


October 30: I’m surprised that some readers (elsewhere) have taken the echo to be a question of whether one poet is “ripping off” or ”stealing” from another. Good grief. It’s an echo, a small element in a poem whose precursor is another poem about a flower, William Blake’s “Ah! Sun-flower.”

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Here’s Hi, and Lois

[Hi and Lois, October 28, 2014.]

Things are back to normal on the Hi and Lois production line. Follow that painting: if today’s strip is to be believed, the Flagstons’ facade includes a door to an interior room. Shades of the Overlook Hotel.

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All OCA Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)


A professor at the University of Warwick was banned from campus “following accusations he ‘sighed’ and was sarcastic during job interviews.”

[Rolls eyes.]

Monday, October 27, 2014

Paper, +1

“To prefer something that is better-looking, faster, more reliable, and which puts you firmly in control: where’s the shame in that?” Lucy Kellaway prefers paper calendars to digital ones. Her favorite: a Moleskine datebook. Her commentary begins at 13:13 (from the BBC broadcast Business Daily).

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All OCA Moleskine posts (Pinboard)
All OCA paper posts (Pinboard)

On “the true nature of the University”

Beaver Cleaver speaking:

“Wouldn’t it be nice if a guy could stay in school and hide from the world, like teachers do?”
Beaver asks that question in the Leave It to Beaver episode “The All-Night Party” (May 30, 1963). Wally tells his brother that he is “way off-base.” But then there’s a scene in John Williams’s novel Stoner (1965) in which graduate student and instructor David Masters describes what he calls “the true nature of the University”:
“It is an asylum or — what do they call them now? — a rest home, for the infirm, the aged, the discontent, and the otherwise incompetent. Look at the three of us — we are the University. The stranger would not know that we have so much in common, but we know, don’t we? We know well. . . .

“It’s for us that the University exists, for the dispossessed of the world; not for the students, not for the selfless pursuit of knowledge, not for any of the reasons that you hear.”
I think that the sense of academic life as a refuge, a monastery of sorts, was once real, though it may not have been voiced with David Masters’s frankness. I can think of several professors from my undergraduate experience who would have been lost in the so-called real world. But the sense of refuge, if ever it was real, is long gone. Careerism rules.

Stoner is available as a New York Review Books reprint (2003). It’s an extraordinary novel.

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A teaching thought (From a Williams interview)

Sunday, October 26, 2014

McGrath on Pinker on Strunk and White

Charles McGrath recently reviewed Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. Early on, McGrath writes about the book that Pinker’s book means to replace:

Though still revered, The Elements of Style, to be honest, is a little dated now, and just plain wrong about some things. Strunk and White are famously clueless, for example, about what constitutes the passive voice.
Dated? Yes. “Temporally incorrect” is how I like to put it. And some of Strunk and White’s cautions and preferred usages baffle. But this business about “famously clueless”: like Pinker, McGrath repeats Geoffrey Pullum’s claim that Strunk and White do not understand the passive voice. As I’ve argued in a response to Pullum’s take on The Elements of Style, that claim is a misreading of the plain sense of Strunk and White’s text. Follow the link and see if you agree.

For a more thoughtful (and critical) appraisal of The Sense of Style, I’d recommend this review. Alex Sheremet patiently takes apart passages that Pinker presents as showpieces of good prose. In so doing, Sheremet makes me suspect that The Sense of Style ’s sense of style will make me slightly crazy. I am waiting for the library to make it happen.

An interested reader can find my pre-Sense of Style take on Pinker and Strunk and White in a post about a 2012 Pinker lecture. That post has had a number of visits from Harvard and environs, and I’ve wondered, of course, if one (or more) of the visitors might have been Steven Pinker. But I doubt it. Like the 2012 lecture, The Sense of Style gets the story of The Elements wrong, stating that E. B. White turned William Strunk’s “course notes“ into a book.

In 2013, this tweet made me happy. And it still does:

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