Monthly Archives: May 2009

Swift’s Attack on Cynicism

Venturing into the heated atmosphere of Supreme Court confirmation politics yesterday is a nice lead-in to my topic for today, which is the temptation to become so disgusted with human behavior that we throw up our hands and walk away. Or, since walking away is not really an option, the fantasy of doing so. Jonathan […]

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Sotomayor and Latina “Bias”

I’m going to take a break from one political topic—the disillusion that some who voted for Barack Obama are experiencing or will experience (and the ability of Gulliver’s Travels to help idealists of all stripes to understand and work through disillusion)—to take on another. There is a (predictable) furor over President Obama’s choice of Sonia […]

Posted in Blume (Judy), Dostoevsky (Fyodor), Nabokov (Vladimir) | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments closed

Silencing Inner Doubts through Fanaticism

Continuing the discussion on how Gulliver’s Travels can help us handle the challenges of political disillusion, I turn to Book II, where Gulliver finds himself stranded in the land of the giant Brobdingnags. In Book I, as I noted in the last entry, Gulliver can remain aloof from human perversity—and when, in the end, it […]

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Using Gullibility as a Shield vs. Disillusion

In Book I of Gulliver’s Travels, Gulliver lives in a world where he can be “above it all.” He can afford to be open-minded and generous because most issues don’t really affect him. Although he is, as his name suggests, gullible, it is gullibility that he can get away with. I stress this point because […]

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Swift, Obama, and Idealism

Like many Americans, I was excited, inspired, and rendered hopeful by the election of Barack Obama as president last November. I felt that, at long last, we could accomplish great things in this country. I have also been thinking how I will respond when my high hopes run up against reality. At least I’m old […]

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Death and Language’s Limitations

In spending the last two weeks discussing how poetry can come to our aid in a season of death, I have been exploring how poetry responds to its greatest test. Death and dying can trigger our deepest fears, generate panic, denial and anger, prompt us to question everything we believe in, and send on frantic […]

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A Death Poem Must Acknowledge the Pain

For today’s entry on poems that can come to our aid when we are confronting death, I will be looking at two. In both poems, the speaker has lost a loved one. One of them, which I have known and loved since high school and whose sentiments I agree with, now angers me. The other, […]

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After Apple-Picking, Then What?

So much of the poetry that comforts us in time of death is infused with images of nature, poems like (in my case) Mary Oliver’s “Lost Children,” Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Adonais, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Perhaps the reason is that, with death, our natural side asserts its primacy in a way that cannot […]

Posted in Donne (John), Frost (Robert), Shakespeare (William) | Tagged , , , , , | Comments closed

Can Pastoral Elegies Ease the Pain?

In a grad school class I once heard Peter Lehmann, a friend of Virginia and Leonard Woolf, say that, during the London blitzkrieg of 1940-41, all the London bookshops sold out their poetry. This means, I think, that in times of tragedy we turn to poetry for solace. It’s like the way that people who […]

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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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