Author Archives: Robin Bates

Oppression’s Walls Will Have To Go

Langston Hughes’s poem “I Look at the World” describes a coming to consciousness of the walls that fence us in. Once we acknowledge the walls, we can begin seeing our way through them.

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Trump, Macduff, and “Untimely Ripped”

Donald Trump’s characterization of late-term abortions as “ripping” harken back to a verb used in “Macbeth.” Most people, however, would argue that both Trump and Macduff are describing caesarians.

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Climate Scientists, Our Cassandras

Our climate scientists must feel like modern day Cassandras, as she appears in Aeschylus’s “Agamemnon” or Robinson Jeffers’s “Cassandra.” The prophetess knew what would happen but no one believed her. As a result, Troy fell.

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Lit Opens Minds to Suffering of the Other

Philosopher Martha Nussbaum argues that literature is essential for creating good citizens in a diverse society, turning to Sophocles’s “Philoctetes” and Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” to make her point.

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Light a Land Whose Children Shall Be Free

Phoebe Cary’s 1849 poem about a bountiful harvest turns sour as she considers slaves who are not harvesting a bounty for themselves. Her Christian imagery anticipates the way Christian beliefs would bolster those fighting against slavery twelve years later.

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#TrumpBookReports (in 140 characters)

For laughs, check out #TrumpBookReport on twitter. I’ve gathered some of the best renditions of Trump reviewing the classics.

Posted in Bemelmans (Ludwig), Bronte (Charlotte), Bronte (Emily), Carroll (Lewis), Cervantes (Miguel de), Dickens (Charles), Dostoevsky (Fyodor), Dr. Seuss, Hawthorne (Nathaniel), Hemingway (Ernest), Homer, Hugo (Victor), Lee (Harper), Lewis (C. S.), Melville (Herman), Milne (A. A.), Rowling (J. K.), Salinger (J. D.), Shakespeare (William), Silverstein (Shel), Steinbeck (John), Stowe (Harriet Beecher), Styron (William), Tolstoy (Leo) | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Reconnecting with My Dead Son

Thursday I had a shock of recognition while teaching Stephen King’s IT in my American Fantasy class yesterday. The approach to life that saves the day for the protagonist is the approach that got my eldest son killed 16 years ago. Yet I don’t think King is wrong. In fact, I was comforted once I saw the […]

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In Defense of The Merchant of Venice

Percy Shelley believes that great art transcends the prejudices of its time, even when it is cloaked in them. If he is right, then “Merchant of Venice” is less of a problem play than many people consider it.

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Nobel Laureate Wrote Archetypal Ballads

Among Nobel laureate Bob Dylan’s notable accomplishments is the ability to write archetypal ballads like “Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts.”

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Why We Fear Clowns

The recent outbreak of criminal clowns can be explained by combining Freud’s essay on the uncanny and Stephen King’s IT.

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The Eternal Doesn’t Want To Be Bent by Us

Rilke draws on the story of Jacob and the Angel in his poem “The Man Watching.” We grow, he writes, by “being defeated, decisively, by constantly greater beings.”

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Trump & Mac the Knife, 2 Escape Artists

Donald Trump’s apparent ability to escape unscathed from gaffes and revelations that would sink any other campaign invites comparison with Mac the Knife, John Gay’s glamorous escape artist from “Beggar’s Opera.”

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Kill All the Lawyers? Nope, We Need Them

A district judge reflects upon what lawyers and judges can learn from Shakespeare, including “Othello,” “Merchant of Venice, “Hamlet,” “King Lear,” most of the history plays, and others.

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Ahab Obsession and the Clintons

The right wing’s obsession with the Clinton has prompted one pundit to invoke Ahab’s obsession with Moby Dick.

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We Mooste Calle Him “Hende Donald”

Donald Trump’s self-admitted sexual assaults resembles those of the university student in Chaucer’s “Miller’s Tales.” Hende Nicholas, however, is far more respectful of his lady love.

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How Trumpism Gives a Dark Permission

In a reprinted post, I describe how Trumpism gives permission to Americans to exhibit their dark side and compare it to how Sin and Death in “Paradise Lost” are energized after Adam and Eve bite into the apple.

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A Pure Heart To Speak without Fear

Spiritual Sunday, Anticipating Yom Kippur I have been reading up on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement when Jews gather to confess their sins and ask for forgiveness. Yesterday I came across Avodah: Ancient Poems for Yom Kippur. “Avodah” is the name of the Yom Kippur service. According to editors and translators Michael D. Swartz […]

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Bring the Liberal Arts to West Point

A military man argues that the military academies have been emphasizing the STEM disciplines while overlooking the traditional liberal arts. This is a mistake, he argues, and mentions the Agincourt speech in “Henry V.” Sir Philip Sidney, another warrior, would agree and would add Pindar’s Olympian odes.

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The Liberal Arts Will Not Die

Thursday My colleague Jeff Hammond, a national authority on Puritan poetry and a much lauded writer of reflective essays, recently gave a stirring defense of the liberal arts for our parents-alumni weekend. Jeff’s observations dovetail very nicely with Percy Shelley’s Defence of Poetry, which I happen to be teaching at the moment. Watching poetry getting […]

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Defending Homer against Plato

Plato’s attacks on Homer have to do with the bard’s focus earthly concerns rather than higher ones. Following Plato’s prescriptions, however, will not produce very interesting poetry.

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Childhood, Space of Terror & Enchantment

Norman Finkelstein’s wondrous poem “Children’s Realm” (in “The Ratio of Reason to Magic”) examines child’s play spaces and says that the poet also needs play spaces within.

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Butler & Grappling with White Privilege

The figure of the white husband in Octavia Butler’s “Kindred” captures many of the blind spots of white privilege. Examining him led me to examine how I myself have benefitted from America’s slave past.

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Rosh Hashanah – A Stirring of Wonder

Two poems, by Muriel Rukeyser and Denise Levertov, to celebrate Rosh Hashanah by

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We Must Revisit Slavery To Find Healing

After attending some remarkable reconciliation events dealing with America’s history of slavery, I now have a better understanding of Octavia Butler’s time travel novel about slavery–and about why the protagonist doesn’t escape back to the present unharmed.

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Trump & Bounderby: Cut Taxes or Die

In Monday night’s debate, Donald Trump warned that companies would take their business elsewhere if taxes and regulations on them weren’t lowered. As Dickens noted in “Hard Times,” businesses have been threatening this, like, forever.

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Hillary Clinton Is Hermione Granger

Hillary Clinton is like Hermione Granger in many ways, but there is one very important difference.

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A Novel about Unexpected White Violence

Octavia Butler’s “Kindred,” a time travel novel about an African American woman dragged into slave America, speaks to a number of our racial problems today.

Posted in Butler (Octavia), white privilege | 1 Comment

On Broken Ceasefires, in Homer & in Syria

The horrific bombing of a 31-truck aid convoy brought an end to the painstakingly negotiated ceasefire between Russian and the United States in Syria. The incident resembled how Hera and Athena break up the truce that the Greeks and Trojans are trying to negotiate in “The Iliad.”

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I Am Lazarus Come Back from the Dead

I’ve just realized that the Lazarus mentioned in Eliot’s “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is a different once than I’ve been assuming. This makes me appreciate the poem even more.

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Black Lives Mattered to Langston Hughes

Following two more shootings of unarmed black men, the New York Times devoted a full page to Langston Hughes’s powerful poem “I, Too.” Meanwhile, his poem “Harlem” provides an explanation for the riots in Charlotte.

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You Never Did the Kenosha Kid

An aide to Ohio governor John Kasich recently labeled Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus a “Kenosha political operative.” This gives me an excuse to revisit Thomas Pynchon’s extended riff upon “the Kenosha Kid” in “Gravity’s Rainbow.”

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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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