Monthly Archives: March 2016

Oh the Ice Will Split and the Cities Be Hit

As we receive news that the Antarctic ice sheet is less stable than we thought and that we could be facing catastrophic sea level rise in the next century, China Miéville’s nightmare vision of a polluted city in “Perdido Street Station” is a wake-up call.

Posted in Miéville (China) | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Limbaugh’s Clinton-Ratched Comparison

Rightwing radio host Rush Limbaugh regularly compares Hillary Clinton to Nurse Ratched in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and, in so doing, can be said to have paved the way for misogynist Donald Trump. If it’s Trump vs. Clinton in the general election, things will get ugly.

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The Terrible Beauty of Political Fanatics

While many are celebrating the centenary of Ireland’s Easter uprising, Yeats’s famous poem on the rebellion offers us cautions about how to respond to such acts of rebellion today.

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Praise that Would Undermine Trump

Ben Jonson describes malicious praise as praise that undermines while appearing to lift up. Maybe the GOP establishment should start praising Donald Trump.

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Why Literary Psychopaths Fascinate Us

My student, an English-psychology double major, is exploring if the depiction of psychopathic killers in dramas like “Psycho,” “Silence of the Lambs,” “Dexter” and “Gone Girl” is accurate–and, more interestingly, what are fascination with such stories tells us about ourselves.

Posted in Bloch (Robert), Flynn (Gillian), Harris (Thomas) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A White Cross Streaming across the Sky

Today’s Easter poem is Mary Oliver’s “The Swan,” in which everything suddenly becomes clear.

Posted in Oliver (Mary) | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

How Kipling’s Kaa Would Fight ISIS

ISIS resembles the Monkey People in Kipling’s “Jungle Book” in the way it craves attention. It is defeated by Kaa, but the authoritarian python brings his own set of problems, a fascist reaction to anarchy.

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Obama Is to Trump as Albany Is to Goneril

While Trump calls for torture of terrorists and Ted Cruz calls for carpet bombing them, President Obama calls for America to take the high moral road. He sounds like Albany arguing with Goneril in “King Lear.”

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Invoking Tintin to Mourn the Killings

As horror is unleashed in Belgium, people are turning to the country’s most beloved story creation, Hergés Tintin, to cope.

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Clifton & America’s Eviction Epidemic

The United States at the moment is going through an eviction epidemic–which brings to mind a powerfully simple Lucille Clifton poem about an evicted family.

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Fantasy Lit Changes How We Behave

A fascinating conference essay on “The Fantasy Reader: An Empirical Sociological Approach” looked at the different ways that fantasy literature can tangibly impact our lives.

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Dear Feast of Palms, of Flowers and Dew

Henry Vaughan’s “Palm Sunday” looks to palms, flowers, and palm-strewing children for Easter hope.

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If Trump Tweeted Classic Lit Reviews…

Donald Trump has a very distinctive twitter style., one that would be great for classic book reviews. A BuzzFeed writer imagines how he might have reviewed “Hamlet,” “Tristram Shandy,” “Ulysses,” and other classics.

Posted in Hemingway (Ernest), Joyce (James), Shakespeare (William), Sterne (Lawrence), Tolkien (J.R.R.) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Will Plots vs. Trump Succeed?

“Beware the Ides of March,” the soothsayer tells Julius Caesar. On the Ides of March 2016, Marco Rubio received the unkindest cut from his home state of Florida. But if for perhaps a more apt application of the play, one should look at how members of the GOP establishment are hoping to stab Donald Trump at the July convention.

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Savaging the Poor Left and Right

Supply-side economics has been ravaging the economies of such states as Kansas, Louisiana, and, to a lesser extent, Wisconsin. The GOP governors sound like the poor house’s Board of Directors in “Oliver Twist.”

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Drama Shows Us a Way Out of Violence

New School philosophy professor Simon Critchley argues that theatre and the arts in general are vital in helping societies understand and moderate endemic violence. Aeschylus’s “Oresteia” and Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” are particularly important.

Posted in Aeschylus, Shakespeare (William) | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Fantasy as a Shield against Growing up

Teaching “Peter and Wendy” has given me insights into my father and the uses of fantasy. It can be used to shield one against an intolerable reality.

Posted in Barrie (James) | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Stop and Smell Mary’s Perfume

The scene in John where Mary anoints Jesus’s feet with a costly perfume, Judas, who chastises her for wastefulness, reminds me of those earnest activists who can’t stop and smell the perfume. D. H. Lawrence explores a similar theme in “The Man Who Died.”

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Bernie Is Peter Pan, Hillary Is Wendy

Bernie Sanders is the adventurous Peter Pan, Hillary Clinton is the cautious and pragmatic Wendy. Which candidate you prefer may be related to which character you like better.

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“We the People,” Nourishing Words

In “Loves and Fishes” David Whyte pushes against the information age by pleading for poetry’s respect for language. “One good word is bread for a thousand,” he writes. A “Washington Monthly” columnist quotes President Obama with a good candidate for that word.

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I Will Survive…by Reading Novels

Fiction is a survival tool according to an article in “The Chronicle of Higher Education.”

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Lucille Clifton’s Song of Myself

Lucille Clifton’s Whitmanesque “won’t you come celebrate with me” will inspire anyone who has gone through hard times.

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On the Pope, Walls, and Robinson Crusoe

Pope Francis recently labeled as “not Christian” those who build walls but not bridges. By this standard, the walls, both literal and metaphorical, being advocated by Donald Trump and Ted Cruz bring their own Christianity in doubt. An examination of the walls build by Robinson Crusoe, however, shows how Christians have rationalized walls.

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We Feel Closest to God in the Desert

André Gide takes the story of the Prodigal Son and sees it a parable of unconventional exploring and spiritual hunger. Returning home, as Gide sees it, is a defeat, yet the message is Christian nonetheless.

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Sans Scalia, a Happy Midsummer Ending?

The late Antonin Scalia claimed to be a strict textualist and would have found some excuse to support Texas’s law designed to close down abortion centers. There’s a Scalia-type character in “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Fortunately, by the end of the play he has been overruled.

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Christie as Prufrock & Other Lit Allusions

Political pundits have been turning to literature to talk about the GOP primaries. This past week saw citations of Shakespeare, T. S. Eliot, Lewis Carroll, and Richard Adams (“Watership Down”).

Posted in Adams (Richard), Carroll (Lewis), Eliot (T.S.), Shakespeare (William) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Black Students Find Strength thru Clifton

Our college last night held a celebration of the poetry of Lucille Clifton, who taught for 16 years here. A particularly powerful moment occurred when two African American students read Clifton poems and explained how they drew strength from them.

Posted in Clifton (Lucille) | 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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