Author Archives: Robin Bates

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.

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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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I Am Trump, the Great and Powerful!

Donald Trump is the Wizard of Oz, and this past week America got to see him exposed, complete with collapsing curtain.

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A Poem in Praise of Libraries

In his new collection of poems, Norman Finkelstein has one of the best poems I have encountered about libraries. The poem captures the paradoxical nature of libraries, how they both preserve the past but look forward to the future.

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Trump’s Pleasure Dome (with Caves of Ice)

Coleridge’s Kubla Khan and Donald Trump have a lot in common: both build sunny edifices that prove to be sterile at the core.

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My Blind Eyes Were Touched with Light

Helen Keller’s poem about revelation–“In the Garden of the Lord”–has a vision of revelation that is all the more powerful because we know the speaker is literally blind. That gives special poignancy to the line, “My blind eyes were touched with light.”

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Trump, “FDA Food Police,” & The Jungle

Donald Trump yesterday floated a proposal to roll back food regulations. It’s worth remembering that such regulations were first put into place in large part because of a novel, Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” (1906).

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For Hillary, Witch Hunts Never End

Alexandra Petri of the Washington Post alludes to Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” as she wonders whether Hillary Clinton should be subjected to witch trials to figure out what’s wrong with her.

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Solace for Vets from Sophocles

A group has been giving dramatic readings of Sophocles plays in order to reach veterans suffering from PTSD. The results have been astonishing.

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Prisons, America’s Growth Industry

At long last, some politicians from both parties are beginning to express concern over America’s world-leading incarceration rate. Rachel Kranz raised the alarm 16 years ago in her novel “Leaps of Faith.”

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Poems To Mourn a Russian History Prof

When a Russian history professor died at our college, his colleagues turned to poetry as they wrestled with his premature death. Ovid, Alexander Pushkin, Ivan Turgenev, and Walt Whitman provided powerful words.

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On 9/11, Firemen Ascended Jacob’s Ladder

Lucille Clifton’s seven 9/11 poems, written in the days following the attacks, use religious imagery to find hope.

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Twain Anticipated Trump’s Crazy Talk

Donald Trump is popular with certain fans not despite but because of his outrageousness. Mark Twain has a humorous piece, “The Presidential Candidate,” that captures how much fun such outrageousness can be.

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i sing of Kaepernick glad and big

The case of NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick not standing for the national anthem brings to mind E. E. Cummings’s “i sing of Olaf,” where an American conscientious objector refuses to honor the flag and is tortured.

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Schlafly, Model for Atwood’s Serena Joy

Recently deceased Phyllis Schlafly served as the model for Serena Joy in Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel “Handmaid’s Tale.” Because Serena Joy gets the society she says she wants, however, her life turns bitter. Schlafly was lucky to live in a society that allowed women to have their own careers.

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Reflections on Art for Art’s Sake

The art for art’s sake movement buoyed Oscar Wilde in the 1890s, but it’s not a philosophy that works well in every age.

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Work Makes Us Soar, Money Not So Much

In her novel “Leaps fo Faith,” Rachel Kranz helps us understand what work means to us. Citing Marx, she notes that work helps us express our essence but that, when it becomes part of the cash nexus, we find ourselves alienated from it.

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The Singing of a Flute Came from the Sea

Summer, with its memories of water and sun, may be ending, but this Frithjof Schuon reminds us that the real summer is within.

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Satanic Trump Unleashing Dark Forces

When Donald Trump excited the alt-right with his Wednesday night speech promising to deport all undocumented immigrants, he reminded me of Milton’s Satan inspiring Sin and Death after engineering the Fall.

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Politically Incorrect Okay for Hemingway?

If Bill Gorton, a positive figure in “The Sun Also Rises,” is politically incorrect, does that mean that Donald Trump is correct in his attacks on PC? Award-winning high school teacher Carl Rosin tackles the issues by contrasting Gorton and Trump.

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Doctors Need Lit To Stay Human

A doctor argues that continuous reading of literature is essential to keep doctors balanced and to help them deal with the problems that come with the profession.

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How Trump Echoes Marc Antony

A New York Times article argues that Trump is using rhetorical flourishes like those that Marc Antony uses to defeat Brutus in Shakespeare’s play. His key strategy is casting himself as authentic against the inauthenticity of politicians.

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On Forgetting Old Students

Sometimes as teachers we forget students that we impacted greatly. Thomas Hardy’s Jude learns this when he looks up his old teacher Phillotson.

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When Christianity Becomes a Money Cult

A new book, “The Money Cult: Capitalism, Christianity, and the Unmaking of the American Dream,” brings to mind Howard Nemerov’s poem “Boom!” The book’s author argues that prosperity theology is not an aberration but was present from the beginning of American Puritanism.

Posted in Defoe (Daniel), Eliot (George), Nemerov (Howard) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Walmart Practices a Tom Sawyer Economy

Walmart relies on American taxpayers to subsidize its work force. This is being called “a Tom Sawyer economy,” an allusion to the fence whitewashing episode.

Posted in Twain (Mark) | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Welcome Class of 2020 (and Others)

A letter to incoming college students, with a tip of the hat to Montaigne, Williams Wordsworth, and Lucille Clifton.

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Teachers, Don’t Nip Their Buds

In “Songs of Experience,” William Blake worries that authority figures will nip the promise of budding schoolboys. “The Schoolboy” serves as a timely reminder for all teachers.

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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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