Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Wendell Berry: a path and a road

Wendell Berry (born August 5, 1934 in Henry County, Kentucky)  is an American man of letters, academic, a cultural and an economic critic, and farmer.  He is a prolific author of novels, short stories, poems, and essays.  He is also an elected member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, a recipient of  The National Humanities Medal, and the Jefferson Lecturer for 2012.  (This information comes from the Wikipedia entry on Wendell Berry)

"The difference between a path and a road is not only the obvious one.  A path is little more than a habit that comes with knowledge of a place.  It is a sort of ritual of familiarity.  As a form, it is a form of contact with a known landscape.  It is not destructive.  It is the perfect adaptation,  through experience and familiarity, of movement to place; it obeys the natural contours; such obstacles as it meets it goes around.  A road, on the other hand, even the most primitive road, embodies a resistance against the landscape.  Its reason is not simply the necessity for movement, but haste.  Its wish is to avoid contact with the landscape; it seeks so far as possible go go over the country, rather than through it; its aspiration, as we see clearly in the example of our modern freeways, is to be a bridge;  its tendency is to translate place into space in order to traverse it with the least effort.  It is destructive, seeking to removal or destroy all obstacles in its way.  The primitive road advanced by the destruction of the forest; modern roads advance by the destruction of topography."
--  Wendell Berry --
from "A Native Hill"
The quotation is included in Autumn: A Spiritual Biography of the Season
Edited by Gary Schmidt and Susan Felch

I wonder if my life has been a path or a road.  If it's been a path in places, it's probably more the result of laziness than of reasoned choice.

I would like to meet someone sometime who has knowingly chosen a path and not a road.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Fall Equinox: Autumnal Haiku

A bright autumn moon .  .  .
In the shadow of each grass
      An insect chirping
    -- Buson --

                                The calling bell
                    Travels the curling mist-ways .  .  .
                                Autumn morning
                                    -- Basho --

                                               Supper in autumn .  .  .
                                     The light through an open door
                                                 From a setting sun
                                                            -- Chora --

                                Jagged candle-flame .  .  .
                            The very shape of autumn sifts             
                                  Through the shutters 
                                         --  Raizan --

Nights are getting cold .  .  .
   Not a single insect now
        Attacks the candle
                  -- Shiki --

                                Swallows flying south .  .  .
                           My house too of sticks and paper
                                   Only a stopping place
                                             -- Kyorai --

                                                           All the world is cold   .  .  .
                                                        My fishing-line is trembling
                                                              in the autumn wind
                                                                       --  Buson --

                             White autumn moon .  .  .
                           Black-branch shadow-patterns
                                      Printed on the mats
                                                 -- Kikaku --

     First white snow of fall
Just enough to bend the leaves
      Of faded daffodils
                    -- Basho --

All haiku come from
A Little Treasury of Haiku
Edited and translated by Peter Beilenson

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Rubaiyat: Quatrain LXIII

This is the fifth in a series of linked quatrains which focus on the rationalizations of the pots about the character and possible behavior of the unknown Potter.  However this quatrain is a bit different as it actually seems to question the skill of the Potter.

First Edition: Quatrain LXIII

None answer'd this; but after Silence spake
A Vessel of a more ungainly Make:
       "They sneer at me for leaning all awry;
What! did the Hand then of the Potter shake?"

Second Edition: Quatrain XCIII

None answer'd this; but after silence spake
Some Vessel of a more ungainly Make:
       "They sneer at me for leaning all awry;
What! did the Hand then of the Potter shake?"

Fifth Edition:  Quatrain LXXXVI

After a momentary silence spake
Some Vessel of a more ungainly Make;
   "They sneer at me for leaning all awry:
What! did the Hand then of the Potter shake?"

The first line of the first and second editions are the same, except for the substitution of the lower case "s" in the second edition.  The fifth edition does show a change in wording though.  The first line is now "After a momentary silence spake"  instead of "None answer'd this; but after silence spake."  In the first two stanzas, it is clear that none of the pots had an answer to the pot in Quatrain LXII who insisted that even "a peevish Boy" wouldn't destroy a cup in a rage. That none answered him is ambiguous for it could be that they all agreed or that none wished to disillusion him. The issue is avoided in the fifth edition, for there is just acknowledgement that there was "a momentary silence" before the next one spoke up and no suggestion that there might be an answer..  

The second line shows only one significant change:  "A Vessel" in the first edition becomes "Some Vessel" in the second and fifth editions.  The "A Vessel" strikes me a being more specific:  it was "a vessel" of ungainly make, which seems fairly definite to me,  whereas "Some Vessel" seems somewhat vague, almost arbitrary..

The third and fourth lines are the same for all three editions, with changes only in punctuation as the third line shifts from a semi-colon to a colon in the fifth edition.  The semi-colon suggests separate but related ideas, whereas the colon indicates that what follows the colon in some way is an explanation or elucidation of the statement that preceded the colon.  The shaky hand of the Potter is responsible for his less than upright stance.  This might be seen as symbolic of a less than upright moral stance also.

The point here is that the Potter shares responsibility if its creations are less than perfect, and if the Potter does share some responsibility, then the pots should not bear the brunt of punishment for flaws which aren't' their fault, or at least not wholly their fault..
.    . 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The 500th

According to the blog counter, this is my five hundredth post.  When I first began some four years ago, I had no goal or target to shoot at.  I just started posting and assumed that I would eventually lose interest or burn out or get interrupted by fate or some chance event.  I even wondered whether I would be able to come up with enough material to make more than a few posts.   I still may burn out or lose interest some day, and fate may still interrupt me, but I definitely won't run out of material.   One day years from now I may even reach 1000, maybe.

This does give me an opportunity to do something I've been thinking about for some time--compare the list of my favorite posts and the posts, according to the Blogger Stats, that have received the most visits.  I've often wondered how much overlap there really is.

The Ten Most Visited Posts (according to Blogger Stats)

N. Scott Momaday      The Way to Rainy Mountain
May 23, 2010             2422 visits

Shirley Jackson           "The Lottery"
June 27, 2010             1286 visits

Brian Aldiss               "Super-Toys Last All Summer"
March 25, 2011         679 visits

Robert Frost              "Storm Fear"
Feb. 3, 2011              521 visits

Alfred Bester             "Fondly Fahrenheit"
August 14, 2008        442 visits

Thomas Mann           The Transposed Heads
Nov. 3, 2011             428 visits

Robert Frost             a terrifying poet?
Sept 16, 2008          182 visits

Friedrich Durrenmatt    The Pledge, novel and film
Jan. 16, 2009              165 visits

Theodore Sturgeon      Three By Theodore Sturgeon
Jan 16, 2010                151 visits

Tales of Times Past     Japanese medieval stories
March 6, 2011           148 visits

It's a rather mixed collection.   I don't see much of a pattern here, except for some slight predominance of SF and fantasy, but that may be due to a predominance of posts about SF and fantasy.  I haven't really ever taken a genre census. 

The following is a list of some of my favorite posts.  I'm not certain exactly why they are.  Maybe some day I will be enlightened.  They are in no particular order.

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam  --a series of posts, one for each quatrain in the first edition which has 75 quatrains.  I'm now up to Quatrain LXII, so I have thirteen to go to finish the work.

Kim Stanley Robinson:  four or five posts about his "Three Californias" series:   The Wild Shore, The Gold Coast, and Pacific Edge. Each of the three novels depicts a different future for Orange County, California--a post holocaust future, a continuation of the cold war and the dominance of the military-industrial complex in the US, and an ecological/environmental oriented future, respectively.

Blade Runner--five versions of the film.

Shirley Jackson--"The Lottery"

Gregory Benford--The "Galactic Center" series:  six posts, each of which is about the six novels in the series, which is one of the greatest SF series (if not the greatest) ever written,  in my view anyway.  It begins in the late 1990s on Earth and ends somewhen about 35,000 (yes, thirty-five thousand) years in the future around the black hole at the center of our galaxy..

N. Scott Momaday:  The Way to Rainy Mountain,  part history of the Kiowa people, part legends of the Kiowa people, and part personal history of Momaday. 

The Rashomon posts, several posts about the film by Akira Kurosawa and the stories of Ryunosuke Akutagawa that formed the basis of the film.

The Maltese Falcon:  a post discussing the three versions of Dashiell Hammett's novel, The Maltese Falcon.

William Hope Hodgson:  The Night Land, a post about one of my favorite fantasy novels.

King Kong:  a post comparing the three versions of the film.

Ikiru: a post discussing one of my favorite films, directed by Akira Kurosawa.

Robert Frost  a terrifying poet?--a slightly different view of the poet

Robert Frost: "For Once, Then Something"

Thomas Hardy and Robert Frost:  "Hap" and "Design"

and others.

Not much overlap is there?

I've enjoyed the ride so far, so I guess I'll stay with it for a while longer.

And thanks, to you and the others who have visited me here and had something to say about what you read here.  Hearing from you is important and I think most every blogger would agree with me.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Nietzsche: Some relevant thoughts (or perhaps not)

Nietzsche says:

"And to say it once more. Public opinions--private lazinesses."

"Enemies of truth.  Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies."

"The value of insipid opponents.  At times one remains faithful to a cause only because its opponents do not cease to be insipid."

"Not suitable as a party member.   Whoever thinks much is not suitable as a party member:  he soon thinks himself right through the party."

"The party man.  The true party man learns no longer--he only experiences and judges; while Solon who was never a party man but pursued his goals alongside and above the parties, or against them, is characteristically the father of the plain maxim in which the health and inexhaustibility of Athens is contained: 'I grow old and always continue to learn.'"

 -- Nietzsche --
from The Portable Nietzsche
Walter Kaufmann,  Editor and translator

.What sayest thou?   Relevant or not?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Emily Dickinson: The End of Summer


There comes a warning like a spy
A shorter breath of Day
A stealing that is not a stealth
And Summers are away --

But a spy is not supposed to be noticed!  The change from Summer to Autumn, at first I guess, isn't that noticeable--just a shortening of the Day and a slight loss of  ?   Perhaps the warning is the shorter breath and the stealing?  The Summer is dying. 


As imperceptibly as Grief
The Summer lapsed away --
Too imperceptible at last
To seem like Perfidy --
A Quietness distilled
As Twilight long begun,
Or Nature spending with herself
Sequestered Afternon --
Th Dusk drew earlier in --
The Morning foreign shone --
A courteous, yet harrowing Grace,
As Guest, that wold be gone --
And thus, witout a Wing
Or service of a Keel
Our Summer made her light escape
Into the Beautiful 

Again, the sense that Summer doesn't just abruptly leave, but quietly steals away.
"Our Summer made her light escape"   Just small changes maybe, but into the Beautiful?
This is ambiguous.


We wear our sober Dresses when we die,
But Summer, frilled as for a Holiday
Adjourns her sigh --

The contrast between us and Summer during our last days.  Perhaps this explains the last line of the previous poem "Into the Beautiful."

--  Emily Dickinson --
from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
Thomas H. Johnson, Editor

And as always, I can't help but think of similar haiku, suggesting that poets (and therefore humans) from around the globe aren't that different.

                  A single cricket
Chirps, chirps, chirps, and is still .  .  . my
           Candle sinks and dies
                                 -- Anon --

Nothing remarkable here--just a cricket going silent and a candle fading away

          So enviable .  .  .
Maple-leaves most glorious
    Contemplating death
                        -- Shiki --

     Should it have such worth,
What would I not give
    For the scenery of autumn?
                   -- Soin --

The last two haiku, seem related to the second and third poems by Dickinson..

Friday, September 7, 2012

Stanley G. Weinbaum: The New Adam

Stanley G. Weinbaum was born on April 4, 1902 and died on December 14, 1935, when he was only 33.  He's one of those writers, composers, or artists about whom any conversation always turns to wondering what he would have accomplished if he had lived another decade or two or three.  He published his first SF short story in July 1934 and died about 18 months later.  That short story was "A Martian Odyssey," which, in 1970, was voted by the Science Fiction Writers of America as one of the top three short stories of all time.  Only Isaac Asimov's "Nightfall" got more votes, and Weinbaum's story beat out Daniel Keyes' "Flowers for Algernon" for the second spot.  I have read a collection of his short works, The Best of Stanley G. Weinbaum, but this is the first novel I have read by him.  I think I will search out his other two novels.

Edmond Hall is The New Adam.    Aside from his extraordinarily high intelligence, he has two unique features.  The first is an extra joint in his fingers and toes.  This, of course, posed some problems for him while growing up.  The second wasn't noticeable, and he only told a very few people about it.  He had a double mind, each of which could be working on a separate track.  And, when he wished, he could bring them together to have a conversation, each developing a different solution to a problem.  He thought everybody was like this, until in school one day, a teacher told him to pay attention to class because nobody could do two things at once.  By this time, he had learned that it was best not to argue with adults.

Weinbaum's novel is a unique treatment of the subject.  It reads more like a 19th century biography than the typical SF novel of the theme. This is not the usual tale of a superman forced to go into hiding while defeating or at least eluding his enemies with his superpowers or his ability to create high-tech weapons and various other almost magical devices. Instead, we are given the story of an individual who is the classic outsider, one who doesn't fit in society. Therefore there is no crowd of enraged or frightened standard humans out for his blood.  The government is unaware of his true nature, and as long as he doesn't break any laws, it will ignore him as it will any law-abiding citizen.

Edmond Hall is the first person to appear in the further evolutionary development of homo sapiens.   He is seen as a bright boy and a genius when he matures into an adult.  But., nobody suspects that Hall is the next evolutionary step in the development of homo sapiens. 

For a story to work, there must be conflict, and conflict there is.  Only it's the typical conflicts faced by every child during the process of growing up: making friends, getting along with fellow students at school, or placating one's parents or relatives while striving for independence.  Nothing stands out that would identify Edmond Hall as being other than a very bright boy.  But, inside his head, there are two minds working.

Once Hall is an adult, he has to decide on a career.  First he tries science and invents some gadgetry that brings in enough money so that he does not have to work.  He is now free to experiment:  science, political power, the arts.  But, he can find nothing that satisfies him.

His intellectual superiority wasn't a problem while he was maturing, for he could communicate with  highly intelligent adults.  But, as he matured the number of adults who who were at his intellectual  level dwindled until he found himself alone. He searches for others like him but finds no evidence to suggest there are others who could be equals.  He is like a standard human marooned on an island with only dogs for companionship..

Finally he discovers love.  There is just one problem: Vanny is a normal human being.  He is attracted to her physically, but she cannot come close to him on an intellectual level.  It is then that he discovers there are a few others like him, a woman and two men.  With Sarah, he finds the opposite problem: he feels nothing for her,  but at last he has found his intellectual equals.

The conclusion, in keeping with the rest of the novel, is not the standard ending found in most works that focus on homo superior, but it is appropriate and satisfying, if unexpected.

If you are looking for a unique treatment of this theme, I recommend  The New Adam.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Tron and Tron: Legacy, a return visit

It's been over a year (see post on April 26, 2011)  since I last watched Tron and Tron: Legacy, and I was curious about whether my initial reactions to the two films had changed since then.  So, last night I engaged in a Tron film festival.  It's only two films, so it's not much of a festival, but so far, Disney hasn't come up with a Tron 3, yet.

To be brief, my initial reactions still held true, even stronger now after a second viewing.  The plots are still weak, although Tron: Legacy had an opportunity to explore an Eastern tradition in cyberspace, but never went anywhere with it, aside from putting Jeff Bridges in a meditation gown and showing him in a meditative pose now and then.  That is frustrating  for that could have been a fascinating idea to explore.

Put simply:  Tron had the look and feel of a truly alien world.  It was a convincing depiction of cyberspace, a digital universe with bright, sharp colors and strong demarcations of creatures and structures and motion impossible in our world. Cyberspace could be like this.

Tron: Legacy was not an alien universe, but our own universe distorted to some extent by computer graphics.  It no longer was an unknown world, but just one variation of ours--no longer digital but now a  modification of our analogue universe.  And, according to an interview with the director, Joseph Kosinsky,  this was done deliberately.  In his view, the digital world had evolved to become more "realistic," more like our own world. The special effects were fantastic, but all they did was to turn the digital world into ours.

What a waste of time, money, and effort!  I watched the film to see something new, not a variation of a world that I already knew, and a variation that concluded with scenes from the 1934 Nazi propaganda film, Triumph of the Will, directed by Leni Riefenstahl. I guess this is supposed to be another example of how realistic the Tron world has become.

If this trend continues, the third Tron, if there is one, will be set in an universe so realistic that it will be indistinguishable from ours.  I'll skip that one.