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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Away,away, for I will fly to thee...

Where has time gone? This is the longest I have gone without a post. I finished reading "Glory" by Vladimir Nabokov on Monday, which is very late, really, for a 200 page book. Work has kept me occupied most of that time, and starting classes this week didn't help at all. The story involves a young emigre from Russia, right at the start of the new Bolshevik rule. He and his mother move to England where they adapt very quickly. There are some other characters of major interest. Darwin, a classmate of Martin's, had distinguished himself in the Crimean conflict and leads intellectual debates at Cambridge. Of course, Martin and him fight over a woman, Sonia, who turns a terrible flirt--some say psychopathic--and ruins the friendship between the men. They (Martin and Darwin) duke it out in the most gentlemanish fashion, a fist-fight. After they make amends, Martin's soccer team reaches the championship game. Expecting Darwin and Sonia to be in the audience, he distinguishes himself as the goal-keeper, only to find out later that Darwin and Sonia had left much, much earlier than the end of the game. Martin feels betrayed. For some reason he abandons Cambridge and works as a laborer for months before deciding to return to Russia; a risky venture by all measures and an extreme act that concludes the novel.

I believe this is one of Nabokov's least known novels, and I mainly support my argument with the fact that it is one of his translated novels, not originally written in English or without the knowledge of the language. I believe it was his son who translated it (with father keeping a close eye on the proceedings). It was an interesting read and I recommend it as I would recommend everything by Nabokov--simply a genius.

I have struggled to make time to read. School being back in session, the three courses I am teaching this semester have kept me away from any good reading and also away from this blog. It is a shame, really, that things do not seem to be getting better in that sense, but rather getting much worst. I begin my second Master degree tomorrow, which will probably mean less time to read and blog. But I suspect that those things are simply temporary--like everything else--and nature being what it is, I'll be back on my reading list for this year in no time.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Vladimir Nabokov's "Glory"

I must clarify something about the essay I posted yesterday. I believe that the hasty generalizations I made were "tounge-in-cheek" and purposeful. However much I may hate assumptions and generalizations, they are a part of/and a device of rhetoric. Teaching writing for years now, I have taught myself to make the "faults" but not believe in them.

My reading has been on and off the last two weeks. I am reading Vladimir Nabokov's "Glory," and because of the lack of time it has taken me a while to work myself through. I took a trip to Washington DC for a conference on international exchange teachers. It was nice to be back in Washington. I took enough time to go to Olsson's and spend some hard-earned money that I shouldn't have. I got a couple of titles on poetry (mainly interpretative essays), and a collection of essays by Jonathan Lethem. It was all pretty hazy to me because I had just gone to dinner with my Dean of Students and our new Chinese teacher and I had just ingested enough Sangria to kill a small horse. I also picked up a copy of "The Philosopher and the Druids," by Philip Freeman. What's sad about this book is that I was so excited when I actually first read about it (when it was published in January of this year), and now I found my copy in the "remainders" stack at Olsson's. Not that I mind paying $5.95 for a $25 book, but it is still representative of what people are/are not reading.

I will report on "Glory" tomorrow... today I am in an all-day training session for our new grading system.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007


I have a friend in Barcelona who one day told me with pressing confidentiality, "We have to have daughters." His father was prostrated in a hospital with an seemingly endless terminal illness. He was of course referring to his sisters. It was them who tended to the father. It was them shaving him, washing him, feeding him, asking him if he was hot or cold. It was always them who did the caring. The sons, my friend and his brothers, did nothing and were completely useless. They did not take the initiative. Rather, they behaved like zombies, nervous, impatient, and spent their time wishing for the relative peace of the hospital cafeteria. "I need to have some daughters," he repeated.

Wives are not enough, he seemed to imply. When men become old and health and vigor deteriorate, wives, if they are still around, are up to their noses with us; tired of years already taking care of us, of giving everything in exchange for very little in return, sick with rancor and anxious for liberation. "Daughters," he repeated morbidly, "at lease a couple of them."

Daughters, I have had the opportunity to observe, seem to forgive the father for literally everything, including abandonment and bad manners. Daughters, as a rite of passage, fight with their mothers--insufferable rivals--and almost always adore their father. In the interminable family war, come what may, daughters are always allied with the father. And, in the face of the egotistic, cold passivity of brothers, they are always warm. Daughters are full of unselfish giving and never taken aback by the uncomfortable intimacy that terminal illness can bring.

Rights and opportunities between the genders have gradually become equal, but some things remain the same. I was thinking about this some years ago while watching Chelsea Clinton accompanying her embattled father on a trip to India, smack-dead-center of the Lewinski scandal. Clinton, as it had been assumed by Hillary's absence from the public, had already "lost" his wife. But Clinton still had his daughter. Doubtless, I thought, Chelsea will not only be with him until the end of his presidency, but very likely will be at his side at the very end of his days. Likely, a son under the same circumstances would have entirely skipped the trip to India and remained at his mother's side.

"Daughters," he mumbled again, "I have to have a daughter."

Chelsea, it seemed, suffered quietly her father's indiscretions and she is still there giving all her heart in forgiveness. All signs show that Chelsea will continue to be at his side when the day comes (both Hillary and Monica inconspicuously missing) she'll have to empty the bedpan and change his underwear.

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Sunday, August 05, 2007

Paris to the Moon... rocket just crashed.

I finished "Slouching Towards Bethlehem" and started Adam Gopnik's "Paris to the Moon." To be sure, I might have not given this book a fair chance, but 37 pages through it I had to stop before I choked on the extreme usage of French and the seemingly endless comparisons between American ways and the all-powerful, all-superior French. The reason I stopped reading this is because Gopnik states early in the book that his family is no Francophile... really, it is a statement that dooms the entire narrative. I might be ready to read this book some other time; right now, however, is not the time.

Didion's fantastic collection of essays ended with passages that were so well-written perhaps that's the reason why I couldn't get into Gopnik's glorification of the French. Here's a passage from Didion that is rapidly climbing to the top of my favorite passages: "That was the year, my twenty-eight, when I was discovering that not all promises would be kept, that some things are in fact irrevocable and that it had counted after all, every evasion and every procrastination, every mistake, every word, all of it." And then... "From my office I could look across town to the weather signal on the Mutual of New York Building and the lights that alternately spelled out TIME and LIFE above Rockefeller Plaza; that pleased me obscurely, and so did walking uptown in the mauve eight o'clock of early summer evenings and looking at things, Lowestoft tureens in Fifty-seventh Street windows, people in evening clothes trying to get taxis, the trees just coming into full leaf, the lambent air, all the sweet promises of money and summer." Maybe this is the reason why I can't read about Paris... after reading such wonderful descriptions of New York. This last passage reminds me of one by F. Scott Fitzgerald that reads like a description of manic-depression: "And lastly from that period I remember riding in a taxi one afternoon between the very tall buildings under a mauve and rosy sky; I began to bawl because I had everything I wanted and I knew I would never be so happy again."

So, I am putting Gopnik's book aside, until I feel better prepared to face the "Paris-is-the-new-Jerusalem" prose he presents.

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Friday, August 03, 2007

The Cross of Memories...

Because true memories never vanish... and we never really forget. August 3rd is such a date. For those of you who know this movie, you may get the meaning of what I am writing. 15 years is a long time to remember every detail, every moment, every word... but here I am, and there you were... forever 21.

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Phrase and Style in Joan Didion's Writing

One of the most interesting things in reading "Slouching Towards Bethlehem" is really not the majority of the dated subjects and content she is dealing with here. I guess it is true what they day about the sixties... "if you can remember the 60s, you weren't there." I wasn't there... at least not consciously. I was born in 1967; a latest arrival to a couple whose best days were almost behind them (my sisters are all baby-boomers). I suppose I am not quite Generation X but not old enough to be a baby-boomer. At any rate, Didion has made me remember the sixties in a way that offers a magnificent style and phraseology (pick up "The Year of Magical Thinking" and see what I mean). She discovers a country not "in open revolution" or "under enemy siege," but rather a U.S. doting one of the strongest economic rides in recent history. The latter part of the collection are essays dealing with personal views about writing and living in California. I love the essay "Why I Keep a Notebook." She details her account of how she came to realize she was a writer and could do nothing else with her life. She states: "Although I have felt compelled to write things down since I was five years old, I doubt that my daughter ever will, for she is a singularly blessed and accepting child, delighted with life exactly as life presents itself to her, unafraid to go to sleep and unafraid to wake up. Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrengers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss." I believe that is the same reason I write in my notebooks, on and off, for whatever reason that doesn't fit my interpretation of how I want things to evolve. Failed relationships? Sure, quite a few... and being able to re-write them in some way helps not only the healing process, but also the dark and endless days of grief. Perhaps it all turns into a short story and one gives it the ending one really had in mind from the very beginning. In that way I do claim myself as a malcontent, anxious, as Didion says, and worst off than most. The Moleskines are public and they speak for themselves.

Eugene and Ilse left Monday at noon. Since then I have kept a strict schedule of running, working for the new semester and sleeping. I have been reading for an hour or so, hence the lack of posting. I was up until very late last night converting documents into pdf files for my students. I just finished posting it on my courses website. It's sort of funny that for more work I do, it seems that there is three or four times more work to be done before the semester begins. What to read next? I am looking at my list for this year and thinking I might just change a few titles around. Malcontent as I am :-) I am already planning my reading list for 2008 to include only "classics" I have not read and a few I would like to re-read. For example, I went to Barnes & Noble the other day and bought 4 classics for $10, among them "Great Expectations" and "Madame Bovary." I'll be reading only classics of the Western canon next year.

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