Monthly Archives: September 2015

Clifton, Abortion, & Respecting Women

Shock strategies by anti-abortionists may work on Congress but are less likely to work on women. As the body poems of Lucille Clifton demonstrate, women already know much more about their bodies than Congressmen do.

Posted in Clifton (Lucille) | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Trump & GOP Tax Plans: All Humbug

Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, and Jeb Bush have all presented tax plans that claim to be populist even as they mainly benefit the wealthy. The Wizard of Oz would feel right at home in their company.

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Tolstoy and Climate Change Denial

The denial of the citizens of Moscow as Napoleon approaches the city, described by Tolstoy in “War in Peace,” resembles climate change denialism.

Posted in Tolstoy (Leo) | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Germany vs. Greece, a Greek Tragedy

Novelist Tim McCarthy argues that the economic collision between Germany and Greece reenacts a number of the classic Greek tragedies, most notably “Oedipus” and “The Oresteia.” But Athena may not intervene in this instance.

Posted in Aeschylus, Sophocles | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Jane Eyre: 1st Discipline, Then Love

To find love, Jane must first undergo a stern, self-denying discipline. Then she must let go of the discipline and follow her heart. She turns to a challenging passage from the Book of Mark to set off on that journey.

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Yogi’s Yogi-isms: “Sheer Poetry”

Along with his Hall of Fame baseball career, Yogi Berra can be credited with adding to our list of rhetorical devices.

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Pope Francis as Shaw’s St. Joan

Christianity is all very well in its place, but when Pope Francis comes to America counseling a dismantling of capitalism, he gets the same response that Joan of Arc does in “St. Joan.”

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Lit Classics, Our Most Valuable Friends

Wayne Booth compares our relationship with books to our relationships with friends. Just as we can judge whether a friendship is good for us, so can we do so with a literary work.

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The Abortion Debate & Doll’s House

Our society’s impasse over abortion is like the impasse in Ibsen’s “Doll’s House” between Thorvald and Nora: he insists on moral absolutes, she resents being infantilized.

Posted in Ibsen (Henrik) | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The GOP Descends into the Maelstrom

Poe’s “Descent into the Maelstrom” describes the state of current GOP politics, where even moderate Republicans are being pulled into rightwing extremism.

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Live in the Layers, Not on the Litter

In a perfect poem for Yom Kippur, Stanley Kunitz urges us to look through the litter and wreckage of our lives and see instead “the layers.”

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Can Lit Help Build an Egalitarian World?

Neo-Marxist literary theory calls for us to see literature as relevant to building an egalitarian society.

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The GOP Debate & the Ox-Frog Fable

Last night’s GOP debate often reminded me of the fable of the ox and the frog, with people trying to puff themselves up with hardline positions to impress voters. Here’s a Scott Bates version of the fable.

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Trump as the Duke of Bilgewater

Although a couple of recent articles have compared Donald Trump to Pap in “Huckleberry Finn,” I find him to be much more akin to the Duke and the Dauphin. Which is to say, an ace con artist.

Posted in Twain (Mark) | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Does Studying Lit Truly Change Things?

Some claims for literature’s power have been inflated, such as those of F. R. Leavis, and sometimes lit has failed to change bad people. Still, it can play an important role in our lives.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Why We Love the Cat in the Hat

Dr. Seuss’s “Cat in the Hat” engages children the way Hollywood genre movies engage audiences–but offering titillating transgressive fantasies before hurriedly restoring order.

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Theoretically, a Season for Everything

The soul, says Amichai Yehuda in this Rosh Hashanah poem, knows that, for everything there is a season. The body, on the other hand, gets the seasons all muddled up.

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Our Indispensable Matriarchs

May Sarton celebrates elderly matriarchs in her novel “Kinds of Love.” As I spend my sabbatical in my childhood home, I wonder whether we are seeing the last of such women.

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Arnold’s Benign/Reactionary Legacy

Matthew Arnold’s influence on how we view literature has a benign and a reactionary strain, both of which can be seen in current discussions about the value of literature.

Posted in Arnold (Matthew) | 1 Comment

Donald Trump as Willie Stark

Donald Trump calling out the GOP establishment is like Willie Stark calling out the Democratic establishment in “All the King’s Men.”

Posted in Warren (Robert Penn) | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Liberal Arts–Only for Elites?

Frank Bruni and Fareed Azkaria may be guilty of Matthew Arnold-type class superiority as they argue that a liberal arts education is useful for power elites.

Posted in Arnold (Matthew) | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Fearing that the Men Will Break

Work provides our lives with existential meaning. That is why economic reversals can be so psychologically devastating.

Posted in Steinbeck (John) | 2 Comments

A Guest Worthy To Be Here

Jesus learned to accept a Canaanite woman at his table and George Herbert learns that he belongs at that table. We can use them as models as we face refugees and immigrants.

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How Poets Are the Legislators of the World

Shelley saw great literature as changing the way we see reality. Sometimes, however, it takes hundreds of years for this to be evident.

Posted in Shelley (Percy) | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

An ABC of Our Attack on the Earth

In his “ABC of Radical Ecology,” Scott Bates sets forth an alphabet primer for various environmental ills.

Posted in Bates (Scott) | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

The End of Summer

As we look back at the summer that is coming to an end, did we lose ourselves in a time of innocence or did we worry that time was passing too fast? This Rachel Hadas poem suspects the second.

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Why It’s Good To Offend Students

An entering Duke student has refused to read Alison Bechdel’s “Fun House.” A professor comes partially to his defense.

Posted in Bechdel (Alison), Brecht (Bertolt), Kafka (Franz) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments


  • 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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