Monthly Archives: February 2016

Tolstoy and the Forerunners of Twitter

Before there were people sending tweets about the important developments of the day, there was witty repartee in European salons. We get a taste of such banter from Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.

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Panicked by Trump? Turn to Lit

As Trump panic starts to set in, pundits are turning to literature to get an understanding of how it has all happened. This past week saw references to “Oedipus,” “Frankenstein,” “War and Peace,” and “Slaughterhouse Five.”

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The Joads & Steinbeck’s Lenten Message

“The Grapes of Wrath” has a Lenten message with the Joad family lost in the wilderness, led by the Moses/Jesus figure Jim Casy. After Casy is killed, Tom Joad becomes the apostle who takes his vision of a transcendent humankind to the wider world.

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Lewis Carroll Describes the Caucus Races

The Nevada and Iowa Caucuses were chaotic affairs. Caucus races are no less chaotic in “Alice in Wonderland” and it is just as difficult to declare a winner.

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Raymond Carver & Trump’s Enablers

Raymond Carver’s chilling story “Why, Honey?” captures the dread inspired by the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency. It also captures the enabling behavior that led to Trump’s rise in the first place.

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History’s Zigzagging Narratives

This Stephen Dunn points out how we see history as a series of narratives. Sometimes our heroes are those “too unhappy to be reasonable.”

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Clifton, Ellison Help Explain Whitesplaining

White politicians, if they want the Black vote, must be cautious about “whitesplaining.” Lucille Clifton gives us insight into the insensitivity in “note to self.” Brother Jack in “Invisible Man” is racially insensitive in this way and may have lessons for certain Bernie Sanders supporters.

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Prospero and the Presidential Primaries

Think of Shakespeare’s “Tempest” as an allegory for the current state of American politics, especially the presidential primaries. It contains visionaries and cynics, orchestrators and disrupters. If Prospero is the island “establishment,” then he enjoys some success but it is qualified.

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Pullman vs. C. S. Lewis on the Issue of Sin

Philip Pullman loathes C. S. Lewis, despite the many similarities between “The Golden Compass” and the Narnia Chronicles. The reason may be the way handles sinning children.

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To Enjoy Reading Is To Enjoy Instruction

David Foster Wallace, like Plato, Horace, and Sidney before him, wrestles with the dichotomy between reading for enjoyment and reading for instruction. But what if this is a false dichotomy.

Posted in Wallace (David Foster), Yeats (William Butler) | Tagged , | 8 Comments

Dickens Improved the Lives of the Poor

Charles Dickens had a tangible impact on how the poor were treated. “Oliver Twist,” “Nicholas Nickleby,” and “Christmas Carol” literally changed public policy. Few other authors can boast so much.

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The Wife of Bath & U.S. Race Wars

A racial flair-up at our college has given me an opportunity to stress the relevance of the Wife of Bath’s prologue and tale. Like our African American students, she too feels disrespected. One has to dig beneath her seeming confidence to realize how vulnerable she feels, however.

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To Defeat White Militiamen, Be Beowulf

White militiamen rode into the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge like Grendel, but they left as though they had gone mano a mano with Beowulf. The fed essentially took a page out of the Geat warrior’s book and came away similarly successful.

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On the Death of a Controversial Judge

How long should one pause following the death of a public figure like Justice Antonin Scalia before considering the political implications? It’s an issue that also arises in Anthony Trollope’s “Barchester Towers.”

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During Lent, Don’t Avoid the Knife

To use a horticultural analogy, Lent is a time to nurture the insights, to prune the tree, that come with Epiphany. This wonderful Rumi poem captures what is at stake.

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Brecht’s Working Class Revenge Fantasy

Many working class and lower middle class Americans have felt abandoned by the GOP and Democratic establishments. Bertolt Brecht’s “Pirate Jenny” articulates a revenge fantasy that captures some of their anger.

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Cruz’s Contortion of Cristianity

Bill Moyers has called Ted Cruz a “fundamentalist charlatan,” and he cites an 18th century satiric poem to help him make his case. Cruz, he says, is contorting a beautiful religion to garner votes.

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Ring Wraith Trump Wins in New Hampshire

Donald Trump, winner of the New Hampshire primary, has been promoting torture. I’ve been teaching “Lord of the Rings” recently and he reminds me of the temptation of the ring, which hollows one out.

Posted in Tolkien (J.R.R.) | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Touching the Happy Isles One Last Time

Peyton Manning limped rather than sprinted across the finish line but he still was victorious in probably what was his last game. The words of Walter Savage Landor’s dying philosopher come to mind.

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The Most Commonly Taught Lit

The Open Syllabus project has come up with a list of the most commonly taught books in college–at least according to syllabi that are available on-line. “The Canterbury Tales” leads the list. Shakespeare, of course, is the most represented author.

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Lyra’s Epic Journey To Grow Up

Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy is a frontal assault on sin-obsessed patriarchal churches. While I don’t find this depiction to be compelling, I am drawn into his coming of age story.

Posted in Milton (John), Pullman (Philip) | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Peyton: Old Age Hath Yet His Honor

Two narratives clash on Super Bowl Sunday: the return of the king vs. the aging king that must be overthrown. Is Peyton Manning Odysseus and the Panthers the suitors? Or is he the dragon who must yield to the next generation?

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An ANTidote for Apocalyptic Talk

Depressed by all the doom and gloom being voiced in the presidential primaries? Here’s a Scott Bates poem about an apocalytptic antichrist ant to lighten you mood.

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Could Fascism Happen Here?

Sinclair Lewis’s “It Can’t Happen Here,” about the election of a fascist in a 1930s presidential election, seems suddenly relevant again. The novel turns 80-years-old this year.

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The Very Deep Is Rotting in Flint, Michigan

The water crisis experienced by the residents of Flint, Michigan is described in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Now they just need a governor who, like the mariner, is genuinely penitent.

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