Monthly Archives: February 2017

The Soldier Knew Someone Had Blundered

Donald Trump is refusing to take responsibility for the failed Yemen raid where a Navy Seal was killed, along with 30 civilians. The raid brings to mind the “Charge of the Light Brigade,” although more appropriate might be the Rudyard Kipling sequel, where the poet blasted England for failing to take care of the survivors.

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“Enemy of the People,” Badge of Honor

Donald Trump has been attack the media as “the enemy of the people,” bringing to mind Heinrik Ibsen’s 1882 play. The play is about a truth-telling scientist but the parallels are still very apt: stand up for truth, regardless of the consequences.

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Bannon: Deconstructionist or Con Man?

When Steve Bannon said that he plans to “deconstruct” the administrative state, it sounds vaguely impressive but maybe just be a pretentious way of saying that he’s planning on gumming up the works. A discussion of deconstruction is in order.

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All Our Seeing Rinsed and Cleansed

Edwin Muir’s “The Transfiguration” is filled with images of cleansing and renewal as the disciples imagine returning to the Garden of Eden as it was before the fall.

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Not a Reader (and Proud of It)

What do a president’s reading habits say about his/her vision of America? Obama’s celebration of a diverse America is the vision of a voracious reader. Trump’s shallow narrative is the vision of one who doesn’t read.

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Shakespeare Would Support Transgenders

As Donald Trump rolls back transgender protections, it’s worth going back to Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” which honors the sense that many have (not just transgender individuals) that they have the other gender hidden away beneath their exteriors.

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The Ugliness of Racial Resentment

“The Merchant of Venice” is a story of resentment and thus is only too relevant in today’s political landscape of inflamed passion. Those who have been victimized–or who feel that they have been victimized–are only too ready to stick it to others when they are in power.

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After Surgery, World Is No Longer a Monet

My brain is still trying to adjust to my new eye following cataract surgery, which has me thinking of various passages about seeing in “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” My having an operation, I also opted for a different path than Claude Monet, at least according to this wonderful Lisa Mueller poem.

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Fundamentalists Send Readers to Atwood

Margaret Atwood’s “Handmaid’s Tale” is topping bestseller lists at the moment. The reason is probably because of the GOP’s prospect of success in curbing reproductive freedom.

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With Many Tears I Went in Search of HIm

Spiritual Sunday I know George MacDonald as the author of various fantasy novels but didn’t realize that he also wrote poetry. Here’s a lovely sonnet about looking for God after suffering a crisis of faith. The poet doesn’t find his “friend” when he searches in the wilderness or in cities, in cathedrals or in charnel houses, […]

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Chaucer’s Wife, an Early Gaslighter

Donald Trump’s non-ending falsehoods have sometimes been described as “gaslighting,” after the old Charles Boyer-Ingrid Bergman film. An early literary example of a gaslighter is Chaucer’s Wife of Bath, although her use of the tactic is far more justifiable.

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Trump’s Faustian Emptiness

Donald Trump has a lot in common with Doctor Faustus: both are narcissists who create hells for themselves by being unable to reach out beyond themselves.

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Teaching Euripides in the Age of Title IX

Recently a student reported me for using sexist language in the classroom. (This while teaching a Kingsolver novel and Euripides’s “The Bacchae.”) The language did not reflect my own views, but the complaint made me realize that I need to be more careful with this generation of students.

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How to Make All Your Fantasies Come True

In high school I learned, from Jacques Offenbach’s opera “Tales of Hoffman,” how to make all my sexual fantasies come true. It took several decades of married life to fully embrace his insight.

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Hughes Dreams the Real American Dream

Langston Hughes’s “Let America Be America Again” is a powerful riposte to President Steven Bannon and Co.’s “Make America Great Again.” Poems like this one can play an important role in resistance against the Trump administration.

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Suffering and God’s Apparent Silence

Susaku Endo’s great novel “Silence” wrestles with the seeming silence of God in the face of humanity’s suffering. A missionary priest in 17th century Japan struggles with his doubts as he witnesses the torture of Christians. In the end, it takes his own betrayal of his mission for him to grasp the meaning of Christ’s sacrifice.

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Humiliation, a Lit Department Game

David Lodge describes a game in “Changing Places” that English departments might enjoy: Humiliation. Check out the rules here.

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Poetry & the Sea Liberate the Imprisoned

For Pablo Neruda’s, the “poet’s obligation” is to speak for freedom–which makes poetry vital important in our time.

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Our Version of Plague Maddened Villagers

Donald Trump’s attacks on the Affordable Care Act and on immigrants could well end up hurting many of his supporters. A similar irony is described in Geraldine Brooks’s “Year of Wonders,” where 17th century villagers, maddened by the plague, kill two midwives.

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Poetry as a Check against Tyranny

African American poet Rita Dove talks about the importance of poetry in resisting tyranny, especially its attack on language. In “American Smooth,” she expresses a foundational optimism about America.

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My Cataract Surgery Recalls Oedipus, Lear

Recent cataract surgery had me recalling all those literary passages where sharp objects get poked into people’s eyes. The real drama, however, was renegotiating my professional identity.

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Curling Up with a Good Book

This Scott Bates is a testimony to the solitary joy of reading.

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Ollie the Bobcat, Whirlwind of Light

Yann Martel’s “Life of Pi” helps explain why Ollie, the bobcat who escaped from the National Zoo, returned on her own. Her time in the spotlight gives me an excuse to share a pulsating bobcat poem by Mary Oliver.

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Read Poetry To Keep Hope Alive

Literature that just shows us the grim truth of reality without the possibility of hope calls into question the whole enterprise. Much great literature frames reality in such a way that we can see new possibilities for ourselves.

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