Author Archives: Robin Bates

Milton’s Defense of All Books, Good & Bad

In “Areopagitica,” Milton puts forth powerful arguments against censorship. Milton says that we need to be exposed to scenes of temptation–say, Mammon’s Cave in “The Faerie Queene,” so that we will resist it.

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Conspiracy Theories Explained

Why do conspiracy theories thrive? Because people can’t face up to the emptiness that would come with a real explanation. Thomas Hardy understands the phenomenon in his poem “Hap.”

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Unwanted Pregnancies, Desperate Women

As reproductive service centers are closed down by conservative state legislatures, attempted self abortions are on the rise. For a literary depiction of a desperate woman there is Hetty Sorrel from George Eliot’s “Adam Bede.”

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Daniel’s Vision of Indestructible Kingship

The versions of the Prophet Daniel depicted by Richard Wilton and Lucille Clifton have a commonality despite their differences.

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Lit, an Antidote to Dehumanizing Media

The mass media, Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard complains, creates a remoteness from reality. Literature overcomes this remoteness by dissolving the distance between author and reader.

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When It Comes to Culture, Bet on France

In the wake of the ISIS attacks, France has something to fall back on: its proud literary tradition.

Posted in Apollinaire (Guillaume), Camus (Albert), Hugo (Victor), Jarry (Alfred), Proust (Marcel), Sartre (Jean Paul) | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

ISIS Mastermind Like Mystery Cat Macavity

Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the mastermind behind the Paris attacks, is like Eliot’s “Macavity: the Mystery Cat.” He has been connected with a string of terrorist incident but is never captured.

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We Risk Becoming Grendel’s Mother

In reaction to the horrors of the Paris massacres, we are in danger of becoming consumed by the vengeful grief of Grendel’s Mother. The times call upon us to be Beowulf strong.

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Can Poetry Respond Adequately to Evil?

Americans turned to Auden’s “September 1, 1939” following 9-11, and it can inspire and guide us following the Paris terror attacks.

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Love & the Red Fool-Fury of the Seine

Tennyson, responding to Paris massacres in the 1840s, asserts his faith in love and in social truth. Our challenge is to continue to believe this in the wake of the recent terror attacks.

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Dorothy and the Oklahoma Earthquakes

Oklahoma is now #1 in the world for number of earthquakes. “Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz” is also about a midwesterner encountering earthquakes for the first time.

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A Cosmic Theory of Literature

My attempt at an overarching theory of literature and its place in human history and human progress.

Posted in Austen (Jane), Rand (Ayn), Shakespeare (William), Sidney (Sir Philip), Terence | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Soldier, I Wish You Well

Here’s an A.E. Housman poem to honor our men and women in uniform on Veterans Day.

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Deaths in the White Middle Class

New studies report that middle class whites are dying younger, even though longevity for all other American demographic groups is rising. Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” may help us understand why.

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Studying the Psychology of the Thriller

Currently I am mentoring a English-psychology double major as she studies psychological thrillers that feature Antisocial Personality Disorders, such as “Psycho” and “Silence of the Lambs.”

Posted in Bloch (Robert), Doyle (Arthur Conan), Harris (Thomas), Simenon (Georges) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

She Stood in Tears amid the Alien Corn

The figure of the Biblical Ruth takes on new resonance when she makes an appearance in Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale.”

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Happy Families Are All Alike?

Tolstoy may seem to say that unhappy families are more interesting that happy ones in “Anna Karenina,” but the happy families that conclude “War and Peace” appear to contradict this.

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Speaker Paul Ryan in Literature

I’ve written a lot about Paul Ryan and his aspiration to be a John Galt figure. Now that he is Speaker of the House, I review other literary parallels I’ve drawn over the years.

Posted in Achebe (Chinua), Carroll (Lewis), Conrad (Joseph), Dickens (Charles), Hardy (Thomas), Milton (John), Rand (Ayn) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Johnson: The Bard Instructs by Delighting

Although today we are sometimes suspicious when literature seeks to instruct us, Samuel Johnson considered this to be literature’s primary aim. He held up Shakespeare as proof.

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Child Heroines Who Die for Our Sins

The child heroine who dies, a common trope in the 19th century, continues to fascinate us, appearing in “Bridge to Tarabithia” and “The Fault Is in Our Stars.” One of my students has this as a senior project topic.

Posted in Alcott (Louisa May), Bronte (Charlotte), Dickens (Charles), Paterson (Katherine), Poe (Edgar Allan), Stowe (Harriet Beecher) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Jeb! Agonistes: An Unsettling Parallel

Does Jeb Bush resemble at the moment Samson Agonistes? His rivalry with Marco Rubio also resembles any number of Shakespeare tragedies. There’s an Oedipus parallel as well.

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Sir Gawain and Celtic Spirituality

“Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” may represent the clash between two strains of Christianity which today we describe as Dominionism and Green Christianity. The 14th century poem definitely comes down on the green side.

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The Bard Does Halloween

In honor of Halloween, check out what Shakespeare had to say about ghosts. When his graves yawn and yield up their dead, they produce apparitions that are genuinely frightening.

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Style, Not Truth, the Important Thing

Truth was missing in action in the GOP’s Wednesday night debate. Oscar Wilde and John Gay would have understood.

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Cruz as Beowulf? Try Grendel

Thursday Normally I would be delighted with a New York Times article that matched up presidential candidates with works of literature, such as Ted Cruz with Beowulf, Hillary Clinton with Persuasion, and Bernie Sanders with Around the World in 80 Days. This piece, however, strikes me as so uninformative that it’s all but useless. I’ve tried […]

Posted in Austen (Jane), Beowulf Poet, Dickens (Charles), Hardy (Thomas), Twain (Mark), Verne (Jules) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

For a Rich Life, Read Widely and Freely

Literature impacts our lives but the influence is best if we read a wide variety of works. Limiting ourselves to just a few authors can warp us.

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Lit vs. the Evils of History–More Debate

While literature can seem helpless in the face of history’s cataclysms, it proves far more durable than the events that seem to overwhelm it.

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The Maple’s Annual Striptease

Scott Bates describes the trees undergoing a months-long striptease in “Maple Dance.”

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Hearing the Sound of Roses Singing

For Mary Oliver, going into the woods and paying attention to nature is a form of prayer.

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Can Lit Also Be a Force for Evil? A Debate

The classics are capable to doing great good but can they also do harm? Even as they powerfully open up the mind to new possibilities, can they also close it down? A debate.

Posted in Aristotle, Austen (Jane), Plato, Shelley (Percy), Sidney (Sir Philip) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Ryan as John Galt–Elect Him or He Shrugs

Paul Ryan sees himself as Ayn Rand’s John Galt as he puts forth the conditions on which he will accept the Speakership of the House. The problem is that he is dealing with people who also see themselves as John Galt.

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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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