Author Archives: Robin Bates

What Kind of Con Man Do You Want?

Gogol’s “Dead Souls” shows us two conmen, one who is a lot like our president, the other like various politicians (including Ryan, McConnell and Hillary Clinton). The boisterous and ineffective conman comes off better that the carefully calculating one.

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The Eclipse Brought 2 Poems to Mind

While watch the solar eclipse, I conflated two poetic passages, one from “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” the other from “The Ballad of Sir Patrick Spence.”

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Eclipses in Fiction

Two memorable times that fiction appears in fiction are in Mark Twain’s “Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” and Hergé’s Tintin adventure “Prisoners of the Sun.”

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Trump’s Pastor Endorses Worldly Power

By suggesting to Trump that he bomb North Korea, Trump’s pastor sounds disturbingly like Satan tempting Jesus in the desert, as described by Milton.

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Gogol’s Guide to Traveling

Friday I’m driving back to Maryland from Tennessee today and so have chosen a passage on traveling from Nikolai Gogol’s Dead Souls, which I’m listening to at the moment. I myself won’t have the same experience as Gogol’s traveler since I can’t lean back and fall asleep. Nevertheless, the passages reminds me of traveling by […]

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Tolstoy on Resisting a Narcissist

If Trump is like Napoleon in Tolstoy’s “War and Peace,” can he be defeated by popular resistance, as he is in Tolstoy’s novel?

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Obama Was Invisible to White America

A Salon article explores how some of white supremacism’s rise can be traced to rage over having had a black president. Quoting Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” it makes the case that the right couldn’t really see Obama.

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Poetry Helped Feed Robert E. Lee Myth

Herman Melville and Julie Ward Howe, although anti-slavery, unfortunately wrote poems which helped mythologize Robert E. Lee, whose statues have become symbols of white supremacy. And indeed, Lee was a white supremacist.

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Baldwin Explains White Supremacists

To understand white supremacy, check out James Baldwin’s short story “Going To Meet the Man.” It helps explain the hatred and violence we saw in Charlottesville this past weekend.

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O World Inapprehensible, We Clutch Thee

Poet Francis Thompson, desperately seeking for God, imagines that Jesus can be found as readily on the Thames as on the Sea of Galilee.

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Gogol Would Understand Trump

I may just have discovered the ultimate literary parallel for Donald Trump: Gogol’s Nozdrev from “Dead Souls.” Reading about Nozdrev helps us understanding our fascination with Trump.

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Could a Bestseller Help Defense Sec?

Secretary of Defense James Mattis is a voracious reader, and a novel he mentions liking is M. M. Kaye’s “Far Pavilions.” The work explores how to deal with inept leadership, which may be important to him in his current situation.

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School under the Sea: Reeling, Writhing…

To welcome teachers and students back to school, here’s a description of education under the sea, as experienced by Lewis Carroll’s Gryphon and Mock Turtle.

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Crashing against the Debt Ceiling

If the GOP Congress members don’t soon come to their senses, we will have a debt ceiling crisis. For a visual image, picture a giant Alice in the White Rabbit’s small house.

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Trump as Raskolnikov

Is Trump as Raskolnikov, unable to hide the fact that he’s committed a crime so that a relentless detective is able to track him down. But while Mueller may be a Porfiry, Trump isn’t deep enough to be a Dostoevskian hero.

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Transfiguration: I Saw a Tree inside a Tree

Here’s a Christian Wiman poem for Transfiguration Poem that gets at those moments when the veil is momentarily lifted and we see into the life of things.

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The Synergy between Statue and Poem

Senior White House aide tried Wednesday to separate the Statue of Liberty from Emma Lazarus’s poem. He wasn’t entirely wrong but he was more wrong than right.

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Nazis and the Classics

Do the classics make us better people. F. R. Leavis thinks so while Terry Eagleton disagrees and cites as an example concentration camp commandants who read Goethe.

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Trump as Miss Havisham

Frank Bruni compares Donald Trump to Miss Havisham, forever fixated on November 8 before the rose lost its bloom. The GOP would do well to break free as Pip does.

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Trump as Alpha Dog Wannabe

A recent “National Review” article says that Donald Trump is like those young men who watch “Glengarry Glen Ross” and fantasize about being the alpha dogs portrayed there.

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Our Most Prescient Sci-Fi Writer?

A “New Yorker” article argues that Octavia Butler’s “Parable of the Seed” wins out over “1984” and “Handmaid’s Tale” in “the ongoing contest over which dystopian classic is most applicable to our time.”

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The Pearl of Great Price Within

Jesus used the image of a “pearl of great price” to convey his sense of heaven. Hilda Doolittle uses it to convey her own sense of transcendence in a fine poem about shells.

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GOP “Moderates,” the Hollow Men

Despite brave talk from a number of so-called Republican moderates, only Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins stood up to their party in an attempt to save healthcare. Time to read “The Hollow Men” again.

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Even Iago Should Not Be Tortured

Examining an upcoming trial by people who were tortured during the George W. Bush administration, Ariel Dorfman examines the face of Iago and the satisfaction we take at the tortures that await him.

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A Little Bit Chipped Off in Brilliance

D. H. Lawrence’s poem “Hummingbird” works as a kind of trance, out of which we must be jolted lest we be swallowed up.

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Does School Teach Kids to Hate Reading?

An elementary school teacher is accusing traditional teaching assignments of killing kids’ natural love of reading. Is he right?

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Flattering Trump Is Like Wallowing in S***

Donald Trump is surrounding himself with flatterers. Dante has a graphic account of where such people end up in Inferno.

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Let Me Not Love Thee If I Love Thee Not

George Herbert, never afraid to go toe-to-toe with God, grapples with his tormenting faith in “Affliction (1).”

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Jane Eyre on Caring for the Sick

As I support people who are sick and aging, I turn to Jane Eyre as a model of one who considers such activity to be, not a self-sacrifice, but a gift to herself.

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Ferreting Out Trump’s Purloined Letter

Why does Trump seem to get away with his brazen flirtation with Vladimir Putin. Maybe he’s like the nefarious D– in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Purloined Letter.”

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A World of Books amid a World of Green

Treat yourself to two delightful poems about books and gardens by the Victorian/Edwardian poet Richard Le Gallienne.

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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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