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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Death of a Reading List

It isn't because I don't want to complete it; nor is it because I find it to be a chore (as many people who dislike reading lists claim).  There are reasons I cannot explain here, but I have been to the doctor and the words "acute" and "chronic" were used several times.  Due to this, I had to make a decision: whether to continue both my reading list and my research work, or, as the doctor recommended, choose to do only one.  I have decided to work on my research project because I strongly believe it will prove more edifying in the long run.

I will continue posting here, both about the research and also about the one book I have selected to read for pleasure: "The Stories of John Cheever."  I will be doing this with a sharp eye to the craft and technique of one of the greatest (but under-rated) writers of the 20th Century.  There will be some sporadic work on the typing of my numerous Moleskine notebooks (far too personal to publish here).

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Joe DiMaggio and the Art of Useless Information

Joseph Paul DiMaggio died in 1999.  He's still the quintessential American icon to the Greatest Generation.  To later Baby-Boomers he was known as the guy in the Mr. Coffee commercials.  To Generation Xers, Joe DiMaggio is that guy who is mentioned in the famous song by Simon and Garfunkel "Mrs. Robinson."  Theories abound regarding this ageless song and its relationship to the Yankee Clipper.  The last time I checked what these theories were, I found that Paul Simon stated in some television show that it was a matter of a rhyme and beats and that Joe DiMaggio fit better than say, Mickie Mantle.  Of course DiMaggio's marriage to Marylin Monroe and his devotion to her after her death is also widely known as one of the greatest love stories of all time.  But getting back to the theories of "Mrs. Robinson" and what it all means.

"Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio? / A nation turns its lonely eyes to you /
What's that you say, Mrs. Robinson? / 'Joltin' Joe has left and gone away."

Roger Kahn explains that "These lines [the song verse] touched throngs who had never seen him play.  DiMaggio himself, who is made uncomfortable by certain public displays of sentiments, insists, 'I've never been about to figure out what that song means.'"  I don't proclaim to have solved the puzzle or have the final answer, but there seem to be two elements to the puzzle that make sense to me--Simon and Garfunkel did include Joe DiMaggio in the song perhaps to evoke a sense of what sociologist and cultural anthropologists call a "central point of optimism" (presently known as gravitational optimism).  1968 America looked very much like 1939-1941 America.  Back in 1941, when DiMaggio ran his hitting streak of 56 games, "[a] sense, a deep quivering anxiety, grew in America that the world was headed for terrible storms.  In March 1938, spring-training time, Hitler's soldiers occupied Austria, and in Nazi 'rite of purification,' twenty thousand books were burned in Mozart's birthplace, Salzburg.... The Spanish Republic was falling before the onslaught of Francisco Franco's forces, supported by German bombers and Italian fascist troops.  The Japanese swept south in China, raging through Nanking, and Japanese aircraft bombed and sunk the U.S. Navy gunboat Panay.... DiMaggio, the handsome, hawk-faced newcomer, won enthusiasts for the game.  Millions of Americans were relieved to turn away from headlines recounting war and violence and plunge into the sports section.  There they could read of DiMaggio's summertime heroics.... People complained that the hard news was depressing.  The hell with Hitler.  Maybe he'll go away.  Let's see what's doing with DiMaggio."  

As I said, the late 1960s resembled the early 1940s.  The generation that fought and won World War II was (during the late 60s) in their mid-40s, early 50s, still working hard, still believing that despite the events taking place (Vietnam, the counter-culture movement, drug experimentation, etc.) they still held some optimism.  But the thing that was really missing was a Joe DiMaggio to turn their attention away from a war gone wrong and a generation of young people ran amok.  There was no DiMaggio then... hence the line from the song.  The song was released in 1968 in the soundtrack of that most iconic film "The Graduate."

This is only a theory, one theory among the many.  It's hard not to think of these things when your brain seems to be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  Useless information?  You be the judge.  In the meantime, I'll be looking for our generation's DiMaggio.

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Monday, March 07, 2011

The Mother of All Scores - Sharp Eye and Quick Hand Save the Day

Here's an amazing treasure I acquired over the weekend.  I could hardly believe my eyes when I picked up the book and looked behind the title page.  First printing!  Dustcover and edges nearly mint condition.  I saw the film for the first time back in 1977 and was, as a young pup, confused to no end (and my sister didn't bother to explain!)  At any rate, I picked it from the shelve on account of that memory and I'll never regret it as long as I live. Paid: $4.94  Listed in excess of $250.

I add this to other treasures such as A Rumor of War, by Philip Caputo.  Hemingway's seventh printing of A Farewell to Arms, along with first printings and autograph copies of major works by Paul Auster and Haruki Murakami.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Fun With the "Basics" -- A Project I Did Not Plan For and Have No Time For

I have walked into a project I had not planned for, but I am completely excited about.  Here's a photograph of the little treasure I have been accumulating.  For the past month or so I have been collecting these little "Brief Insight" series.  Originally they were priced at $14.95 each and though the attraction and the temptation (a deadly combination) were strong, I decided to pass.  I spent a few months gnawing on regretfulness.  However, the wait paid off.  Apparently there wasn't much interest in the series and Barnes & Noble reduced them to $6.95 a piece.  I originally purchased "Literary Theory," "Consciousness" and "Existentialism," and having gone in way over my budget, I had decided these were enough.

Fast-forward to a couple of weeks ago, when, without warning, a colleague of mine came to visit me.  He noticed the three little volumes parked on the center of my desk and was intrigued.  Five hours later, I found myself agreeing to collaborate with him on a project that had been "swimming" (his word, not mine) around his head for a while.  The project is an ambitious examination of individual consciousness, psychology, cultural trends and the belief that physics might hold the key as to where the human consciousness resides.  In short, he wants to theorize (using Stephen Hawkins definition of scientific theory) that a combination of human thought and physics (on a sub-atomic level) might direct scientists to the place where "individual consciousness" resides.  His main idea is that we cannot account for a number of spaces at the sub-atomic level and that as string theory is trying to "tie" everything together, this might add to the idea that the metaphysical exists deep down in us.  I was baffled.  Why in God's name and the Continental Congress would he take the time to explain this to me--what would my part be in this "wild menagerie" of ideas?  I wasn't convinced and told him I was far too busy to make a commitment.

Another week goes by and the thorn on my side does not go away.  I called him.  He explained that he wanted me to bring in the philosophical, semantic, and language branch into it, as well as a literary-historical perspective into the project.  Of course, no one is getting paid for this.  There's not even a private/public grant in the horizon for the project; needless to say, there's not to be sabbatical work either.  This is for the joy of learning... nothing more, nothing less.  I told him to count me in.

I immediately went back to Barnes & Noble and got the rest of the series--these include "Social & Cultural Anthropology," "Mathematics," and "The Void."  In addition, everyone in the project (four of us, so far) must read the following:  1) C.G. Jung's "The Undiscovered Self," 2) James P. Carse's "Finite and Infinite Games," 3) Stephen Hawkins' "A Brief History of Time," 4) Brian Greene's "The Elegant Universe," 5) Richard P. Feynman's "Six Easy Pieces," 6) "Soul: An Archeology," ed. Phil Cousineau, and 6) Ken Wilber's "The Marriage of Sense and Soul."  I have some of these, and the ones I don't have, my fair and considerate colleague is going to provide for me (the one and only incentive).  At any rate, I am pumped.  If the only thing that comes out of this is that we learned a great deal, it would be enough.  Deep down, I believe he is trying to do this mesh of ideas in order to get more funding for the humanities at our "financially troubled" institution.  I can't be certain of this but it smells to me like it, and I won't be surprise if it turned out that way.  Again, we will learn, and that makes the pleasure of learning and the effort completely worth it.  The problem, of course, is time... time, time... as T.S. Eliot stated, "is an enzyme."  There's a "connection" for you! :-D

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