"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Word of the Day: Chinks

What do you think of when you hear the word “chinks?"  Now since I grew up on the Brooklyn streets, where we had a huge diversity of ethnicities and a complete lack of any compulsion to be politically correct, I do have to admit that not given a context my mind jumps to the derogatory slang term for a far eastern person.  But most of the time in context I think of it as referring to some sort of damage to some sort of wall or hard surface.  From Dictionary dot com

a crack, cleft, or fissure:
a chink in a wall.
a narrow opening:
a chink between two buildings.

verb (used with object)
to fill up chinks in.

Set aside the alternative definition of a sharp ringing sound (as in the chink of glasses tapping) I hardly ever refer to chink for anything other than an unwanted crack or indentation.  The common phrase, which has become an idiom from an apparent use as a metaphor is “chinks in armor.”  As a metaphor it compares a fracture of a personal defense, abstract or concrete, to the crack in armor.

Never owning a knight’s helmet (I come from peasant stock, not aristocracy :-P) I never think of chink as in a narrow opening, but I guess that’s the root of the ethnic slur.  The slits for sight on a knight’s helmet are sometimes referred to as chinks, which can resemble East Asian eyes. 

Wikipedia traces the slang slur to the end of the latter part of the 19th century: 

"Chink"'s first usage is recorded from about 1890 but "chinky" had first appeared in print, as far as can be ascertained, in 1878. Chinky is still used in Britain as a nickname for Chinese food.

Well it’s good to know that it’s not just we Brooklynites that can be insensitive.  ;)  But what’s important there is that the word “chink” and its metaphoric use well predates the slur.

Why do I bring this up?  I came across this little controversy between the United States Army, who as far as I can tell innocently used the “chinks in armor” metaphor, and those politically correct enforcers who screamed racism.  From the article, “Army Deletes Tweet About ‘Chinks In Armor’ After People Cry Racism:”  

The U.S. Army has deleted a tweet that used the term “chinks” in armor after people freaked out that the same word can be used in a completely different context as a racial slur against people of Chinese descent.

“Chinks in special ops’ digital and physical armor poses challenges, experts say,” the tweet read, followed by a link to a news release about how terrorists’ using social media has left a hole — dare I say, a chink in  — our country’s defenses.

You can go over and read the outraged counter tweets which forced the Army, though “shocked” at the reaction, to retract the tweet. 

So let this post serve as a public service announcement as to what “chink” really means. 

Friday, January 30, 2015

Faith Filled Friday: “After the Night Office” by Thomas Merton

January 31st 2015, tomorrow, marks the one hundredth anniversary of Thomas Merton’s birth.  I have not read much of Merton, and his much acclaimed autobiography The Seven Story Mountain has been on my to read list for a while.  I was surprised to read in his Wikipedia entry that he had published “more than 70 books.”  Given he lived to only 53, that’s impressive.  A Catholic convert, a mystic, a proponent for interfaith discourse, an advocate for social justice, poet, writer, and of course Trappist Monk, he led an interesting life to say the least.  In surveying some of his poetry, I particularly thought highly of this one.  Let this be in commemoration of tomorrow.

After the Night Office – Gethsemani Abbey
By Thomas Merton

It is not yet the grey and frosty time
When barns ride out of the night like ships:
We do not see the Brothers, bearing lanterns,
Sink in the quiet mist,
As various as the spirits who, with lamps, are sent
To search our souls’ Jerusalems
Until our houses are at rest
And minds enfold the Word, our Guest.

Praises and canticles anticipate
Each day the singing bells that wake the sun,
But now our psalmody is done,
Our hasting souls outstrip the day:
Now, before dawn, they have their noon.
The Truth that transubstantiates the body’s night
Has made our minds His temple-tent:
Open the secret eye of faith
And drink these deeps of invisible light.

The weak walls
Of the world fall
And heaven, in floods, comes pouring in:
Sink from your shallows, soul, into eternity,
And slake your wonder at their deep lake spring.
We touch the rays we cannot see,
We feel the light that seems to sing.

Go back to bed, red sun, you are too late,
And hide behind Mount Olivet—
For like the flying moon, held prisoner,
Within the branches of the juniper,
So in the cages of consciousness
The Dove of God is prisoner yet:
Unruly sun, go back to bed.

But now the lances of the morning
Fire all their gold against the steeple and the water-tower.
Returning to the windows of our deep abode of peace,
Emerging at our conscious doors
We find our souls all soaked in grace, like Gideon’s fleece.

Without too much analysis let me highlight that he captures that moment after evening prayer, but it’s what the prayer has done that is the focus of the poem.  It has opened his mind (“The Truth that transubstantiates the body’s night/Has made our minds His temple-tent”) so that “The weak walls/Of the world fall/And heaven, in floods, comes pouring in.”  Every stanza has a reference to mind or consciousness either to set up that flood from heaven or to describe the effect, especially the “Dove of God” that becomes trapped in the conscious.  That is a really engaging poem. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

My 2014 Reads

“The Doom of the Griffiths,” a short story by Elizabeth Gaskell.
The Book of Tobit, a book of the Old Testament.
“Rappaccini’s Daughter,” a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Life on the Mississippi, a memoir by Mark Twain.
The Book of Judith, a book of the Old Testament.
“The Ransom of Red Chief,” a short story by O. Henry.
Washington Square, a novel by Henry James.
84, Charing Cross Road, a collection of correspondence by Helene Hanff.
“Fifty Grand,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway.
“A Simple Enquiry,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway.
“The Pitcher,” a short story by Andre Debus.
“After Twenty Years,” a short story by O. Henry.
Happy Catholic, a non-fiction devotional by Julie Davis.
The Imitation of Christ, a non-fiction devotional by Thomas à Kempis.
“Paul’s Case,” a short story by Willa Cather.
Reading Dante: From Here to Eternity, a non-fiction work of literary criticism by Prue Shaw.
The Book of Esther, a book of the Old Testament.
“Wee Willie Winkie,” a short story by Rudyard Kipling.
Fantine, the 1st Volume of Les Misérables, a novel by Victor Hugo.
“The Peach Stone,” a short story by Paul Horgan.
Some Do Not…, the 1st novel of the Parade’s End Tetralogy by Ford Madox Ford.
First Book of Maccabees, a book of the Old Testament.
“Ten Indians, a short story by Ernest Hemingway.
“The Wood-Sprite,” a short story by Vladimir Nabokov.
The Shining, a novel by Stephan King.
How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization, a non-fiction work of sociology by Mary Eberstadt.
Second Book of Maccabees, a book of the Old Testament.
The Thorny Grace of It: And Other Essays for Imperfect Catholics, a collection of personal essays by Brian Doyle.
“Russian Spoken Here,” a short story by Vladimir Nabokov.
“Greenleaf,” a short story by Flannery O’Connor.
"Sredni Vashtar,” a short story by Saki (H.H. Munro).
“The Gift of Cochise,” a short story by Louis L’Amour.
“A Canary for One,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway.
“The Drums of the Fore and Aft,” a short story by Rudyard Kipling.
The Priest and the Prostitute, a novel by Victor S E Moubarak.
“The Gentleman from Cracow,” a short story by Isaac Bashevis Singer.
Style: an Anti-Textbook, a non-fiction book on writing by Richard A. Lanham.
Gerard Manly Hopkins: Poems and Prose, Selected and Edited by W. H. Gardner.
“Colorado,” a short story by Ann Beattie.
“A Scandal in Bohemia,” a Sherlock Holmes short story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
“The Queer Feet,” a Father Brown mystery short story by G. K. Chesterton.
“Jacob’s Ladder,” a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
“The Letter to the Romans,” an epistle by St. Paul. NAB and KJV Translations.
“The Walk with Elizanne,” a short story by John Updike.
The Tempest, a play by William Shakespeare.
Mansfield Park, a novel by Jane Austen.

I’ve been behind on my posts.  I should have posted this on the turn of the year.  Here is my year end summary of my reads of 2014.

I had thought I had fallen short from my typical year’s reading—mostly as I’ve mentioned before because of the time devoted to the new pup—but as I look over the quantity it seems to fall right into the average of my past few years.  Six novels, eight books of nonfiction, six books from the Bible, one book of poetry, one play, 24 short stories, and nearly half (fifteen Cantos) of Dante’s Paradisio.  That’s almost the same as last year, and in total number of pages I probably exceeded last year.  That’s fourteen books for the year, more than my usual one per month, though some of them were on the shorter side this year.  I estimate the number of pages read to be over 4300.  Not a bad year.

I have to say I really enjoyed all six of the novels read.  It takes a certain acquired taste to enjoy a Henry James novel, and while Washington Square does not rank with the best of Henry James, one sees the craftsman on every page.  In Catherine Sloper, James creates a character of sensitivity and fallibility, and in her father, Dr. Sloper, a character of insensitivity but seemingly infallible.  We want Catherine to be right and her father to be wrong, but alas it doesn’t work out that way.  “Fantine” is the first volume of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables but each of the five volumes that make up the tome is about the size of a regular novel.  I’ve committed myself to at least one volume per year until I complete it entirely.  In this way I won’t have to spend a good part of a single year getting weary with a single novel that’s over 1400 pages.  I wonder if I would have gotten weary because so far Hugo keeps a reader’s interest up on many levels: intellectually, emotionally, and narratively.  I don’t think I’ve read anything by Victor Hugo before.  I’m doing a very similar thing with Ford Madox Ford’s tetralogy, Parade’s End as with Les Misérables, that is, breaking up the large work into sub part annual reads.  With Ford’s work it’s actually more sensible since each of the four parts are identified as novels.  The four novels center on the character of Christopher Tietjens, an upper class official who’s noble ideals conflict with his service in the Great War (WWI) and his failed marriage.  I really love the title of the first of the four novels, Some Do Not….  It characterizes Tietjens wonderfully.  I had not planned it this way, but I recently realized I started the novel on the hundredth year of the start of the war, a rather nice coincidence.  I’ve considered Ford to be one of the best, if not the best, prose writers in English of the 20th century and a great developer of characters.  He does not fail; I love all the characters in this book and can’t wait to get back to their lives.  Mansfield Park is an outstanding novel by Jane Austen.  Don’t believe the commentary that this is a lesser of her novels.  It’s as good as any of them.  I think that the critics diminish this work because it might be the most conservative of her works.  Who says that women writers must all be against the “patriarchal society,” or whatever nonsense they call it.  Jane Austen is clearly a conservative in the Edmund Burke tradition.  I read this at the very end of the year—I might have finished it on New Year’s Eve—when my old computer was going fluky and I couldn’t post on it.  I intend to follow up with a post on this work, which I read on its 200th year from publication.  I mentioned I had never read a Stephan King novel before, and so I picked up The Shining.  Was it great literature?  Nah, but it was well done for what it is, and also very enjoyable.  He’s really good at creating characters and complicated plots.  I think I had promised I was going to post on it, but unless someone really wants me to, I’m going to have to back out of that promise.  So I read Henry James, Victor Hugo, Ford Madox Ford, Jane Austen, Stephan King, and Victor SE Maubarak.  Victor who?  LOL, Victor Maubarak is a blogger friend who stops and comments here, and so I read his mystery novel, The Priest and the Prostitute.  It was well done and a joy to read.  It brought a smile to my face in almost every chapter.  I do hope he follows up with another adventure of his central character, Father Ignatius. 

I notice that my nonfiction reads divide into three groups: the personal, the devotional, and the discursive.  The personal comprises of a memoir by Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi, an exchange of letters (84, Charing Cross Road) between a New York City writer, Helene Hanff and the staff at her favorite bookstore in London in the post WWII decades, and a collection of personal essays, The Thorny Grace of It by Brian Doyle.  Mark Twain’s prose is always a pleasure to read, and this memoir focuses on his apprenticeship as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River and his return to a riverboat excursion many years later.  Brian Doyle’s essays center on the quirks of Catholic life, and as I reflect on it now, his witty prose is very Twain-esk.  That’s  a huge compliment.  Helene Hanff’s letters with the staff of Marks & Co. and they capture nuances of the time and places.  I can’t speak for British side, but Helene’s persona is so New York City—blunt and jazzy, but in an endearing sort of way.  I had not realized it until I just looked at the Wikipedia entry, but the letters were dramatized for stage, television, and film.  I’ll have to seek out the film.

My devotional reads span the centuries.  The Imitation of Christ, the most read religious work after the Bible, by Thomas à Kempis, dates to a 15th century Dutch monk while Julie Davis’ Happy Catholic was published a year or two ago.  The works are about as different as you can find, à Kempis’s work an interior methodology for spiritual discipline, while Davis’ work a joyful display of epiphanies culled from everyday life and culture.  Both have their place. 

Prue Shaw’s Reading Dante: From Here to Eternity is a discourse on Dante’s Divine Comedy and received immensely positive reviews when it came out last year.  The reviews were so praiseworthy that against my better judgment—positive reviews of literary criticism almost always fall short for me—I went and bought and read it given I had been reading Dante for the past couple of years.  And as my gut told me, the reviews inflated its value.  If you’re completely new to Dante, you’ll get something out of it, but if you have some background, the lengthy introductions from some of the scholarly translations are superior.  If I remember correctly, Shaw did a good job explaining Inferno, a so-so job on Purgatorio, and a very poor job on ParadisioHow the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization by Mary Eberstadt presents a counterintuitive argument on the relationship between the family and belief in God in western society.  The intuitive argument is that the loss of faith led to a breakdown of the traditional family structure; Eberstadt’s argument is that the fragmentation of family is what has led to today’s pervasive loss of faith.  It’s an interesting argument, and through statistics she is fairly persuasive.  Whether you agree or not, it makes for a good read if you’re into that sort of sociology.  The third discursive work of nonfiction was my annual read on writing, this year, Lanham’s Style: an Anti-Textbook.  This is an excellent book on the nature of prose style, also presenting a counterintuitive argument, this to a clichéd understanding of writing style.  I had started a fairly lengthy essay on the subject, both at times agreeing and disagreeing with Lanham, but it’s on my old computer, and when I finally transfer it over, it’s one I intend to post. 

My survey read through the Bible took me this year through some of the Apocrypha books, which I must admit was a pleasure.  The Old Testament Books of Tobit, Judith, Esther, First and Second Maccabees are great stories.  You can almost consider them short stories.  But what made them doubly pleasurable is that other than Esther, none of the rest were in the King James translation, and so I was free to read them in a contemporary translation, the New American Bible (NAB).   As I’ve mentioned, I’m trying to read book by book the entire Bible in the King James translation, and contrary to conventional notions I dislike the KJV.  It’s awkward and unnatural English, even unnatural for its day.  When reading something that I want to understand, I prefer clarity over aesthetics.  So why do I insist on reading the entire Bible in KJV?  Because the KJV has had a significant influence to the development of English, and being one who wants to absorb every development of the language I feel I compelled to read the entire thing.  I’m also reading the New Testament, and this year I read Paul’s epistle to the Romans.  With the New Testament I read both translations, KJV and NAB.

My annual poetry read this year was with Gerard Manly Hopkins.  He’s a great poet, and I posted on several of his poems.  I didn’t get a chance to do a concluding post where I wanted to provide my thoughts on how Hopkins fits into modernism.  Let me just succinctly say, I don’t think he does.  The general notion is that Hopkins was a sort of proto-modernists.  There are echoes of modernism in his work, but frankly everything he does is in sympathy with Tennyson, Swinburne, or Browning.  I think Hopkins falls squarely into the Victorian tradition.  For a drama I reread Shakespeare’s The Tempest as a sort of personal reevaluation.  I’ve felt it a somewhat overrated work.  But I take that back.  Now that I fully understand its totality, it is a great work.  It’s one of Shakespeare’s shortest plays, which makes it feel like it lacks a bit of gravitas.  But that’s just a superficial perception.  I do want to post on it because I have a thought about it that might not be as widely considered. 

And so finally the short stories.  I was able to squeeze in my two per month average.  Most of the ones I read were good, a few were exceptional, and a small handful were duds.  The duds were O. Henry’s “After Twenty Years,” Ann Beattie’s “Colorado,” (which was supposed to be one of her best), Hemingway’s “A Simple Enquiry,” and surprisingly the Father Brown mystery story, “The Queer Feet.”  I tend to enjoy Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries, but I didn’t get this one.  Of the exceptional stories I would include Hawthorne’s “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” O. Henry’s “The Ransom of Red Chief,” Hemingway’s “Fifty Grand,” Debus’ “The Pitcher,” Cather’s “Paul’s Case,” Paul Horgan’s “The Peach Stone,” O’Connor’s “Greanleaf,” Saki’s “Sredni Vashtar,” Kipling’s “The Drums of Fore and Aft,” and Singer’s “The Gentleman from Cracow.”  Every year I announce my prize for the best short story read during the year and before I do, let me give a side bar note to two stories.  My analysis of “The Ransom of Red Chief” has skyrocket to third place of my blog’s most hit on post.  Every week it keeps climbing and it will surely overpass the leaders.  For the life of me, I can’t understand why that post.  Another honorable mention should go to Kipling’s “Wee Willie Winkie,” a good story in it’s own right, but what makes it memorable is that I took the framework of that story and told it, abbreviated and improvised, to my son as a bedtime story.  He loved it!  He identifies with Willie.  Now for the annual prize.  Drumroll, please…  Third place: Isaac Bashevis Singer’s “The Gentleman from Cracow.”  Second Place: Flannery O’Connor’s “Greanleaf.”  And the winner: Paul Horgan’s “The Peach Stone.”  Who you may ask is Paul Horgan?  A two time Pulitzer Prize winner in history, but who also wrote fiction.  I didn’t get a chance to post on “The Peach Stone,” but what a magnificent story of a tragic death of a child and the mother’s acceptance of the loss.  Reading the story felt like I was listening to a quartet ensemble playing a chamber music piece.  It was so good a story I may still post on it this year.

As to the works I intended to read but fell short, I will start the New Year with them.  I did readjust under a quarter of Adrian Goldsworthy’s biography, Julius Caesar: Life of a Colossus.  And I never did get to von Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther.  Actually I’ve already completed Goethe’s novel here in January of 2015, and I’ll make a focused effort to complete the excellent Caesar biography.  The other work I didn’t complete was Dante’s Paradisio.  As I said I made it through the 15th Canto.  It will definitely be a 2015 priority.  More on that in my upcoming post outlining my reading plans for the new year. 

One last word.  I didn’t post on all of my reads, if not most of them.  There just isn’t time in a life to do that.  If I did post on it, you can locate it from the tag list on the right side bar, either by author or by title.  If I didn’t post on it and you’re interested in my thoughts on a particular work I’ve mentioned, let me know.  If I can accommodate, I will.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Faith Filled Friday: “The Children” by John Piper

Yesterday was the annual March for Life Day in Washington DC, the 42nd anniversary of that horrendous Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision.  It is the single greatest civil rights march of our day.  This is the third year in a row I have planned to go but had to alter plans.  Last year we had a crazy snow storm the night before that just made driving the four plus hours an impossibility.  The other two years I just could not take off from work that day.  I don’t know why but middle of January always seems to get complicated at work for me.  Perhaps because the holidays end and things that were on pause culminate into need.  This year I had even said no matter what I was going to go, but then I had to travel last week and I’ll have to travel next week, and so too many things at work required attention.  But my heart and prayers go to all the wonderful pro-lifers that inspire me so.

To commemorate the occasion I want to post this poem by Reformed Baptist Theologian, John Piper. I didn’t know anything about John Piper, but in researching I found he’s not only a theologian, but a somewhat accomplished poet as well.  He wrote “The Children” last year for the Roe v. Wade 40th anniversary.  It has a Tennysonian play with rhyme and meter and a hymnal stanza form.  It seems to echo Robert Blake’s Songs of Innocence, though not one of those poems actually has the same form that I could find.  It’s certainly not “modern” but how else could a poet with an optimistic view project his vision aesthetically?  I think his poetic choices were well taken and it’s quite lovely.  Also, listen to John Piper beautifully read his poem on the clip at the bottom. 

The Children
Revised Edition for the 40th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade
January 18, 2013 by John Piper 

Do you hear the children crying?
I can hear them every day,
Crying, sighing, dying, flying
Somewhere safe where they can play.

Somewhere safe from all the dangers,
Somewhere safe from Crack and AIDS,
Safe from lust and lurking strangers,
Safe from war and bombing raids.

Somewhere safe from malnutrition,
Safe from daddy's damning voice,
Safe from mommy's cool ambition,
Safe from deadly goddess, Choice.

Do you hear the children crying?
I can hear them every day,
Crying, sighing, dying, flying
Somewhere safe where they can play.

* * * *

Do you see the children meeting?
I can see them in the sky,
Meeting, seating, eating, greeting
Jesus with the answer why.

Why the milk no longer nourished,
Why the water made them sick,
Why the crops no longer flourished,
Why the belly got so thick.

Why they never knew the reason
Friends had vanished out of sight,
Why some suffered for a season,
Others never saw the light.

Do you see the children meeting?
I can see them in the sky,
Meeting, seating, eating, greeting
Jesus with the answer why.

* * * *

Do you hear the children singing?
I can hear them high above,
Singing, springing, ringing, bringing
Glory to the God of love.

Glory for the gift of living,
Glory for the end of pain,
Glory for the gift of giving,
Glory for eternal gain.

Glory from the ones forsaken,
Glory from the lost and lone,
Glory when the infants waken,
Orphans on the Father's throne

Do you hear the children singing?
I can hear them high above,
Singing, springing, ringing, bringing
Glory to the God of love.

* * * *

Do you see the children coming?
I can see them on the clouds,
Coming, strumming, drumming, humming
Songs with heaven's happy crowds.

Songs with lots of happy clapping,
Songs that set the heart on fire,
Songs that make your foot start tapping,
Songs that make a merry choir.

Songs so loud the mountains tremble,
Songs so pure the canyons ring,
When the children all assemble
Millions, millions, round the King.

Do you see the children coming?
I can see them on the clouds,
Coming, strumming, drumming, humming
Songs with heaven's happy crowds.

* * * *

Do you see the children waiting?
I can see them all aglow
Waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting,
Who of us will rise and go?

Will we turn and fly to meet them
Will we venture something new?
I intend to rise and greet them.
Come and go with me, would you?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Literature in the News: Huckleberry Finn, Moral Delinquent

I came across this article, ‘“Huck Finn” is not about race: The real subtext of Twain’s masterpiece’ by Laura Miller published in Salon, that reaches the theme of Twain’s Huckleberry Finn.  What’s surprising to me is that the author of the piece felt the need to explain it, as if this wasn’t widely known.  First Miller sets the context:

“A committee of the public library of your town have condemned and excommunicated my last book,” Mark Twain wrote to the secretary of Concord Free Trade Club in 1885, “and doubled its sales.” The book that was the object of what Twain called “this generous action,” was “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” a novel that would go on to be banned here and there in schools and libraries for the next 130 years.

Today, “Huckleberry Finn” is most often banned for its use of the N-word. (If there’s an argument for the legitimacy of Twain printing it, I can’t imagine one to justify its appearance in a humble book review, so I’ll be euphemizing it here.) But that came later; the book would not be censured for containing “passages derogatory to negroes” until 1957, when it was removed from the curricula of elementary schools in New York. Rather, disapproving librarians and critics in the late 19th century deplored “Huckleberry Finn” as “the veriest trash” for its favorable depiction of “a wretchedly low, vulgar, sneaking and lying Southern country boy.” And for its violence, which is considerable.

Yes, every era since the book was published had some criticism of which the impulse to ban it emerged.  But since the 1950s the perception has been that Twain was writing about race and that though his intentions were noble the black character of Jim ridicules African-Americans.  Indeed I had a black professor in college who said he was insulted by the portrayal.  Miller introduces into her piece a new book on the subject by Andrew Levy, Huck Finn’s America: Mark Twain and the Era that Shaped His Masterpiece.

“Huck Finn’s America” is about the context in which “Huckleberry Finn” first appeared and, eventually, how that context has shifted — or not. Levy’s overarching argument is that we misunderstand American culture in fundamental ways because we habitually forget our own past in favor of happy, gauzy nostalgia and/or fantasies of progress.

Miller summarizes Levy’s research:

In researching “Huck Finn’s America,” Levy immersed himself in newspapers and magazines from around the time Twain’s novel was written and published. What he found was that nobody, including Twain himself, considered race to be the primary theme of “Huckleberry Finn.” Rather, the novel emerged from and spoke to a society that was obsessed with wayward children, particularly boys, and most typically lower-class boys spurred to delinquency by the violent stories they read in dime novels. The papers were full of “stories of children committing crimes or dying young or killing each other,” to a degree that, Levy remarks, a modern reader would find “simply numbing.” In response to this perceived crisis, Americans were, for the first time, seriously discussing the establishment of a system of public education.

What I find surprising is that this is surprising to Miller and I suppose her readers.  First Twain is upfront right in the very novel himself when he tells us that Huck is an uncivilized delinquent in need of being taught.  Second, what constitutes civilizing is clearly at the core of the work.  Should I be surprised at Miller’s reaction?  Perhaps not.  Those of a particular ideology have an obsession with race, and academia has been swallowed up by that ideology, which has a distorting effect on understanding a work, for the past sixty years .  Levy appears (I haven’t read it) to have done great research to show the social context that the novel was written in.

What Huck Finn is about is the relationship between two people, a boy and an escaped slave, both uneducated, both uncivilized to the standards of Twain’s time, who through their relationship find that morality rests in the very natural world that harbors them, outside of church, state, and even family structure.  Perhaps we might consider that somewhat naïve, but the Romanticism of the 19th century was a bit naïve, and the themes of Huckleberry Finn are square in the Romantic tradition.  No one should be surprised by the results of Levy’s research.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Notable Quotes: Art Every Day by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I just finished reading Johann von Goethe’s novel TheSorrows of Young Werther, and despite it being a maudlin it was an enjoyable read.  If I ever get accustomed to my new computer I will write up a post with my thoughts.  For now I’ll just post a quote I really like, not from the novel, but something attributed to the great German writer.

Every day we should hear at least one little song, read one good poem, see one exquisite picture, and, if possible, speak a few sensible words.

-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Music Tuesday: "Will the Circle Be Unbroken (By and By)" by June Carter Cash

I've been listening to a number of songs by June Carter Cash, the wife and often musical accompaniment to the famous Johnny Cash, and I have to say she too was quite a talent, not only as a singer but as a songwriter.  She did not write this song, but I just love how she sings it, "Will the Circle Be Unbroken."  It just sounds so raw and down to earth.

Now this is not the original "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" but a reworking of the original hymn.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Matthew Monday: Ten Things to Love About Italy

I was sent this video, and I showed Matthew and he found it fascinating.  I told him Nonna, his Italian grandmother, my mother, still makes pasta and pizza just like that from scratch. 

I hope you enjoy the video.  Of the ten, the two things my family has never been big on is truffles and balsamic vinegar. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Word of the Day: Cacasotto

Actually this is the word of the week, post the events in Paris and across the western world.  After my last post and seeing the reaction of the western media to this attack on free speech and artistic expression, I am very disappointed.  The one word that comes to mind is an Italian vulgarism, cacasott’.  My Italian grammar is weak, so I’m not sure when you drop the last vowel and use an apostrophe, but we have always pronounced it without that last vowel.  Literally it means shit-in-your-pants, and it’s usually directed at a person or entity, so it’s a noun meaning, one who is shit-in-his-pants cowardly.

That is what the western media deserves to be called in respect to the Islamic terrorists killings in Paris.  Many were calling for all media to dramatically publish the Charlie Hepdo anti-Islamic cartoons, not as an insult to Islam, but as a defiant measure against anti-free expression.  I echoed this exhortation in my last blog postOther than a few media, the western media, who supposedly prizes free speech above all freedoms, at least that’s what they tell us when they insult Christianity, were shitting in their pants afraid.  Cacasotts!

In an opinion piece on National Review Online, Rich Lowery had said it well in his “The Crises of Free Speech":

In the fight over free expression, the editors and cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo occupied the most forward and exposed position. They lit a flare over their own parapet every night and said to the enemy that you may bring your worst, but you can’t make us afraid.

That their craft required such bravery in perhaps the most cosmopolitan city in the world is a testament to the embattled state of free speech in the West.

The sad fact is that physical intimidation works. Some press outlets pixilated or cropped out the covers of Charlie Hebdo in their coverage of the Paris attacks, as if they were the works of obscenity that the attackers consider them.

One expects the Liberal outlets, which are not really Liberal in the truest sense of the word, to be cacasotts, but the more common sense media outlets also pulled back from fully publishing a cartoon.  Cacasotts!  They have no qualms about nudity, vulgarisms, or even offending Christians, but because Muslims threaten violence and actually carry it out, they sit in their news rooms shitting in their pants. 

Jonah Goldberg, also at National Review Online, also had a great piece, “A Win for the Jihadists.”  Yes, despite being killed in their supposed martyrdom, the terrorists won because they cowed the western media.

The vigils in Paris are moving. The hashtag plumes of #JeSuisCharlie (“I am Charlie”) are endearing. The expressions of condemnation from Muslim leaders are commendable, as are the assurances of solidarity and support from Western governments.

But, as a practical matter, they don’t change a thing: The jihadists won this week.

Even if the atrocity in Paris served to imbue the civilized world — Muslim and non-Muslim alike — with a newfound resolve to battle radical Islam (it almost certainly won’t), this still stands as a victory for the bad guys.

And further down Goldberg continues:

As a conservative, I don’t like gratuitous mockery of religion, any religion. That’s not to say I think all blasphemies are equally offensive. For instance, I think most satire of Christianity is particularly cowardly and lame precisely because Christians are such a safe target. Also, after centuries of tolerance for satire of Christianity, opportunities for cleverness or originality are few and far between.

Mockery of Islam, meanwhile, whether in good taste or not, is dangerous and therefore also courageous even when stupid.

In a world where Muslim extremists weren’t killing people for such things, I’d be against publishing such material (not as matter of law, but of editorial judgment). But we don’t live in that world. And the slaughter in Paris only makes that more of a reality.

And finally I want to return to Lowery’s piece for a conclusion:

We all love the cliché that the pen is mightier than the sword. But it hasn’t been true through most of human history and isn’t true in many places — especially in the Muslim world — even today. The pen is an instrument that needs constant protection and the enlivening spirit of satirists of all sorts.

The cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo understood that. Does the West?

That’s a rhetorical question.  We know the media has proven to be cacasotts.

I started my young adulthood as an anti-communist, cold war warrior, as we used to be called.  When the Soviet Union collapsed, I thought that warrior part of my life had ended.  Then there were the September 11th attacks, and a new phase of my life started, an anti-Islamic-Fascist warrior, if you will.  It doesn’t appear the Jihadist are going away any time soon.  I’ll probably end my life still a rhetorical warrior against them.  But one thing I am not is a cacasott.

Sorry for being so political.