Monthly Archives: March 2019

Same-Sex Desire in the Sonnets

Wednesday If you want a one-stop article about the same-sex desire expressed in Shakespeare’s first 126 sonnets, Sandra Newman’s recent Aeon article is the place to go. Newman neatly summarizes the historical debates over the sonnets and pretty much puts the matter to rest: they really are expressions of homosexual love from Shakespeare to a […]

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Conrad and White Male Panic

Tuesday This is a follow-up to yesterday’s post about how Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness provides special insight into white terrorism. At one point I mentioned Conrad’s own racism and sexism, which leads to an interesting literary question: can we consider a work a literary masterpiece if it has one-dimensional depictions of women and Africans? […]

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The World’s White Heart of Darkness

Monday The rise of white terrorism around the world is leading liberals like me to question some of our basic assumptions. Are our democratic institutions, which we took for granted, strong enough to withstand the murderous resentment of entitled people who feel threatened? Amongst the entitled I include both those wealthy individuals who countenance violence […]

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A Dark Grave Can’t Hold a Deathless Soul

Spiritual Sunday In response to a white terrorist’s slaughter of 49 Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand, I turn to two poems by the 13th century Sufi mystic Rumi. Sufism is the mystical branch of Islam, and Rumi helps us move beyond our conventional understanding of death to a deeper understanding of how spirit works in […]

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Fantasy Frees Us from Narrow Thinking

Friday I share today a new insight that I gained from my recent Lifelong Learning class about “Wizards and Enchantresses.” To set it up, I first share my theory of fantasy. As I see it, fantasy is always oppositional in its invocation of magic and the supernatural. If it flourished in the wake of the […]

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When College Admissions Goes Awry

Thursday I agree with Vox’s Libby Nelson on the subject of the recently exposed scandal about rich people hiring consultants to scam admissions departments so that their kids will get into top colleges. The real scandal, Nelson says, is what is legal. For instance, it was legal for Charles Kushner to pay Havard $1 million […]

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From Frontier Racism to Wall Racism

Wednesday New Yorker writer Francisco Cantu has alerted me to an important book on the role that the frontier plays in the American imagination. Greg Gandin’s The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America, traces Donald Trump’s wall back to America’s frontier days. I describe the […]

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Vets in WWI Documentary Do Not Age

Tuesday Last night Julia and I watched Peter Jackson’s extraordinary documentary about World War I in which he applied filmmaker’s magic to archival footage to create a sense of immediacy. By brightening dark shots and darkening overexposed ones, erasing scratches, evening out movement (World War I film was shot with hand-cranked cameras), turning long-shots into […]

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Morgan Le Faye through the Ages

Monday Last week I finished teaching a short “Wizards and Enchantresses” course for Sewanee’s Lifelong Learning program and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Having already talked about my class on Merlin (see here, here, and here), today I share what I had to say about Morgan Le Faye and her successors. With Morgan, we looked at how […]

Posted in Bradley (Marion Zimmer), Geoffrey of Monmouth, Lackey (Mercedes), Lewis (C. S.), Malory (Sir Thomas), Sir Gawain Poet, Spenser (Edmund), Tennyson (Alfred Lord), Uncategorized, White (T.H.) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


  • 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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