Monthly Archives: January 2011

Egypt’s Mubarak, Colossal Wreck

As Egypt, following the lead of Tunisia (see my post here), teeters on the verge of revolution, everyone seems to be looking to different historical pasts to predict the future. My former Carleton classmate Kai Bird fears that Barack Obama will repeat the mistakes that Jimmy Carter made with the Shaw of Iran but adds […]

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No Coward Soul Is Mine

  Here is a resolute poem of faith in the face of death by Emily Bronte, who I wrote on this past week.  When she died three years after composing it, she did so with a fortitude that showed that she wasn’t just spinning words.  Perhaps it can fortify others going through tragedy and loss. […]

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The Lord of Death Shows Us How to Live

Sports Saturday Today’s post is on the sport of hunting (I’ll get to the Super Bowl next week). I should warn you that some of the passages you will encounter will be graphic. They are taken from the 14th century romance Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which I am teaching at the moment. As […]

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Kane: Sunny Pleasure Dome, Caves of Ice

Film Friday I’m teaching Citizen Kane currently in my American Film class and am struck, once again, by the influence that Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” had on the movie. My father and I tried to make this case in an article that we wrote on Citizen Kane a number of years back (described here), and while the editors […]

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It’s the End of the Book as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)

I crossed the great divide this Christmas and bought my wife a Kindle e-book.  I have to admit that convenience played a role in my decision.  Does it make it any more excusable that the first book she downloaded was a classic (The Brothers Karamazov)?  I didn’t think so. And here’s a problem I can report. […]

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Alyosha Karamazov’s Plea for Straight Talk

Is it just because I’m an Obama supporter or has political rhetoric reached new levels of inanity? And the rhetoric I have in mind is not that of Tea Party supporters, which is not new. I saw such self-indulgent calls for revolution coming from the left in the early 1970’s. No, I’m thinking of the […]

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Living a Balanced Life, Gawain Style

In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which I am about to start teaching, we learn that Gawain has a shield bearing a pentangle or five-pointed star. The star is the symbol of a balanced life, and we can continue to use it today. The Middle Ages loved numerology, and the poem details the significance […]

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A True Poem about the End of Grieving

In addition to my regular classes, I am also teaching a course on novels by Charlotte, Anne, and Emily Bronte at a local retirement center. The class has 15 students, all of them women, and I began it with several poems by Emily Bronte, the best poet of the sisters. A lyric about grieving hit […]

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Lost Paradise Syndrome in Tucson

Spiritual Sunday As I teach Beowulf for the umpteenth time, I am struck once again by its beautiful rendition of the Genesis creation story. I’m also struck by how the invocation of that beauty calls forth human horror. Exploring the linkage provides some insight into the mass killings we have almost come to expect. The […]

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Rex Ryan, a Modern Day Falstaff

Sports Saturday As we move towards the NFL’s conference championships, one of the most interesting stories continues to be loud-mouthed Rex Ryan, the 350-pound coach of the New York Jets. If his team were to win its third straight road game tomorrow, it would be, in the words of Sport Illustrated’s Rick Reilly, the “greatest […]

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The Civil War in 2011–Still Underway

Film Friday I found myself fuming at a film that I showed to my American Film class this past week.  My reaction caught me by surprise because the movie is almost a hundred years old and I have screened it many times before.  Why did D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation (1915) get under my […]

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Poems That Help Us See the Economy

  Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish has alerted me to a fascinating article in the January issue of Poetry entitled “Haiku Economics: Money, Metaphor, and the Invisible Hand.” In it, Professor of Economics Stephen Ziliak talks about how poetry can help illuminate the dismal science (as economics has been described). The problem with economic models, Ziliak says, is […]

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Revolution in Tunisia–A Good Thing?

While I want to be optimistic about the recent Tunisian overthrow of its dictatorial ruling family, I also appreciate Anne Appelbaum’s pessimistic assessment in a Washington Post column. Her caution brings to mind one of my father’s witty animal fables entitled “The Revolutionary Mice.”  You can read it below. Appelbaum succinctly expresses her concern thus: […]

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Damn the N-Word, Full Speed Ahead

  Writing about interracial friendships in yesterday’s post brings to mind the most famous interracial friendship in literature, that between Huck and Jim. The novel is once again in the news (is it ever out of it?) with a new edition of the novel where the n-word is changed to “slave.” The edition is the brainchild […]

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Behn & Friendships across Race Lines

Recalling an interracial friendship from my days in my newly integrated high school, I turn to Aprha Behn’s “Oroonoko” to understand why such friendships are so difficult, even for the best intentioned people.

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Searching for a Light in Death’s Cave

Spiritual Sunday Today’s post I dedicate to those who lost loved ones in the Arizona shootings—and to everyone else who has lost someone close in the past year or so. I offer up a poem by the 17th century poetry Henry Vaughan that gets at some of the mood swings that the mourners can expect […]

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A Poem for Every Playoff Team

Sports Saturday For the football games this weekend, I found a passage from a poem or passage from a poem that pertains to the name of each team. Enjoy. Atlanta Falcons vs. Green Bay Packers The high-flying Atlanta Falcons boast, among other things, the incomparable receiver Roddy White, who soars skyward to pull down passes. […]

Posted in Browning (Robert), Hopkins (Gerard Manley), Jarrell (Randall), Poe (Edgar Allan), Ryan (Kay), Schwartz (Delmore), Sinclair (Upton), Wright (James) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

A Gritty Child in a Tough World

Film Friday (Warning: The following essay contains spoilers) I watched Ethan and Joel Coen’s remake of True Grit last Friday and now can’t help but think about it in terms of the Arizona shootings. Will our young people, faced with all this violence, grow up as tough as 14-year-old Mattie Ross? Yesterday’s Washington Post had […]

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Hope: Invisible before Us and Still Possible

At the end of yesterday’s memorial service remembering those who died in the tragic Tucson shooting, the president of the University of Arizona read a poem by W. S. Merwin, recently named our poet laureate. I found a copy of it on the University’s Poetry Center website, along with the following wonderful quotation by Merwin […]

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What Would Alyosha Karamazov Do?

I continue to turn to The Brothers Karamazov almost as a meditational practice to guide me through the turmoil I am experiencing over the Arizona shootings. Yesterday I quoted Zosima, the elder in the book, about how we must look to ourselves if we want others to change. I spoke approvingly of those who, rather than […]

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Dostoevsky and the Arizona Shootings

When I posted, on Saturday morning, my blog entry for Sunday, I little realized that I would be turning for help later in the day to the work I was discussing. Doestoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov is guiding my response to the horrific shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Judge John Ball, and 16 others, including a child. […]

Posted in Dostoevsky (Fyodor), Silko (Leslie Marmon) | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments closed

Analyzing Loughner’s Booklist

Like much of America, I am still in a state of shock over Saturday’s shooting of a Congresswoman, a judge, and 16 others. Like many I wonder if this was an example of a disturbed mind encountering the inflamed political rhetoric that has come to characterize American political discourse. (Add Arizona’s permissive gun laws into […]

Posted in Aesop, Baum (L. Frank), Bradbury (Ray), Bukowski (Charles), Carroll (Lewis), Hemingway (Ernest), Hesse (Hermann), Hitler (Adolph), Homer, Huxley (Aldous), Juster (Norton(, Kesey (Ken), Lee (Harper), Orwell (George), Plato, Rand (Ayn) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

A Message of Love for Fractious Times

Spiritual Sunday In last Monday’s post a fascinating discussion was started when I applied a passage from Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov to the debate over whether society should step in and help out homeowners who can’t pay their mortgages. Zosima, a very spiritual character and an elder in the Russian Orthodox Church, warns his listeners that […]

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Peyton Manning as Moby Dick?!

Sports Saturday In anticipation of football’s “Wild Card Weekend,” which begins today, I see that a sports writer has invoked Herman Melville’s masterpiece. Dan Graziano believes that Indianapolis Colt quarterback Peyton Manning has become Rex Ryan’s Moby Dick. He has beaten the New York Jets coach so many times that Ryan has become obsessed with […]

Posted in Kipling (Rudyard), Melville (Herman), Steinbeck (John), Tennyson (Alfred Lord) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

Film’s Phantom Empire Controls Our Lives

Film Friday Film has restructured the way we see the world. Such is the thesis of a fascinating book that my father gave me for Christmas. Geoffrey O’Brien’s aptly named The Phantom Empire: Movies in the Mind of the 20th Century is a very smart book that takes one inside the movie viewing experience—good movies, […]

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What Fictional Fantasy Means

Having taught British Fantasy Literature for the first time last semester, I need to think back on it before it becomes a distant memory.    By reflecting publicly, I can share some of the insights I gained from the course. Two major things I learned are that (1) fantasy is an oppositional genre—by which I […]

Posted in Andersen (Hans Christian), Carroll (Lewis), Chaucer (Geoffrey), Coleridge (Samuel Taylor), Dickens (Charles), Grahame (Kenneth), Grimm Brothers, Haggard (Rider), Keats (John), Kipling (Rudyard), Rossetti (Christina), Shakespeare (William), Sir Gawain Poet, Tennyson (Alfred Lord), Tolkien (J.R.R.) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

Our Inner Library: A Quiz

Last semester my Ljubljana friend Jason Blake sent me a passage from Alberto Manguel’s novel The Library at Night. A colleague of Jason’s was trying to identify all the literary allusions and was stuck on “first centenary encounter with ice.” It took me a while but I think I was able to identify it correctly, […]

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Dostoevsky’s Support for Troubled Homes

In debates about whether or not to help out troubled homeowners, Fyodor Dostoevsky would probably be in favor.  I am currently reading The Brothers Karamazov and am struck by how applicable it seems to the debate over foreclosures. The mortgage crisis, of course, pushed the world economy into recession, and foreclosures on homes are still […]

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Dr. Seuss: “We Can Do Better Than This”

Ten years ago the fabled children’s author Dr. Seuss, on his death bed, said, “We can do better than this.”  As we launch into 2011, let this be our challenge.  And may we do so with Dr. Seuss’s special mixture of comedy and earnestness, which is captured in this poem by my father. If you […]

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Epiphany from a Camel’s Point of View

Scott Bates’s version of the epiphany focuses on a camel’s point of view. This camel doesn’t end up in Bethlehem but his work is no less holy.

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2010 Sports, Seen through Literature

Sports Saturday – 2010 in Review Since New Year’s Day falls on a “Sports Saturday” this year, I’ll take the occasion to review the year in sports through the vantage point of renewal. The first year of the new decade had a number of joyous firsts. It was a year when the city of New […]

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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