Saturday, August 17, 2019

Start sharpening

The Crow has informed me that today, August 17, is National #2 Pencil Day. It’s not to be confused with National Pencil Day, which falls on March 30.

Have you noticed that people are once again saying “Happy National Pencil Day” and “Happy National #2 Pencil Day” instead of “Happy Holidays”? No, me neither. But a slightly belated Happy National #2 Pencil Day to all.

Thanks, Martha.

Related reading
All OCA pencil posts (Pinboard)

The one that got away

J.D. Lowe has discovered an overlooked murder in an episode of Perry Mason.

Related reading
All OCA Perry Mason posts (Pinboard)

Today’s Saturday Stumper

I started today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Greg Johnson, with the question I always start with: Can I do this? For I am never exactly “Brimming with confidence.” That’s 2-D, nine letters.

I saw an easy clue right away: 24-A, “Antitheses of dystopias.” And intersecting that one, another easy one: 11-D, nine letters, “Royal Hawaiian Orchards morsel.” Those two answers gave me seven more answers or partial answers, all of which turned out to be correct. I ended up getting the right half of the puzzle, all of it, before moving to the left. Odd.

Three clues I especially liked: 1-D, nine letters, “Not edgy at all.” 12-D, five letters, “Advice to a waiter.” 31-A, ten letters, “Craftsperson a.k.a. fletcher.” I thank James Tate for the answer to that one.

I think that crosswords teach their solver, mostly, how to solve crosswords. But a clue that taught me something about the outside world: 13-D, five letters, “GPS forerunner.” Like last week’s green wave, new to me.

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Friday, August 16, 2019

To “have seen”

“We rush to exhibitions and rush through them, in part to have seen them”: the perfect infinitive in that line from Eva Hoffman’s How to Be Bored (2016) made me recall what I wrote in a 2015 memo about proposed sophomore-level survey courses in the English major:

Wide-ranging surveys always make me think of the experience of going to a museum to “have seen” the paintings, moving from one to another at a brisk pace as if the point is to cross things off a list. The better way to go is to spend some time, real time, looking at a handful of things. I think that’s the kind of attention to texts we should encourage at the 2000-level.
And I still do. I went on to invoke Richard Wollheim on patiently looking at a painting.

Homer and Cain

I was teaching the Odyssey. Odysseus was with the Phaeacians, and the students were skeptical about him, and lively in expressing their skepticism. It was Odysseus as Trump: an ancient who’ll tell any lie to get what he wants and who always displaces blame.

I had forgotten to introduce the epithet πολύτροπος [polytropos], “of many twists and turns,” from the poem’s first line, so I asked the students to turn back to the beginning of the poem. I quoted Robert Fitzgerald’s version of the epithet, “skilled in all ways of contending,” but I couldn’t find the words on the page. This translation began with a long prose passage, with the first lines of poetry appearing at the bottom of the second page. Was I using something other than Fitzgerald?

The class was supposed to end at 11:50, and it was now 12:10. No matter. No one was knocking at the door to get in, and no one in class showed any urgency to leave. But I had to get to another class.

But first Fred MacMurray came up to talk to me. He wouldn’t be in my next class today because he had to study for a grammar test, after which he wanted to talk to me about his dissertation. “Sure. Come by my office after my class,” I told him.

I walked to my next class, a small seminar, carrying a tall stack of books that included Roland Barthes’s Mythologies (the older orange-covered paperback). I was teaching a James M. Cain novel in this class, but which one? My copy had a binder clip marking where we had left off the week before. I hadn’t looked at the book since then, and now I was surprised to see that we had only four or five pages left. How was I going to get a class’s worth of discussion from that? I looked at the text but still couldn’t figure out which Cain novel I was teaching. I didn’t think to look at the cover.

A group of older women walked in, single file, to observe the class. One woman was blind and held the shoulder of the woman in front of her. The women all took seats in a long row at a table against the far wall. They wore dark suits and white blouses with high collars. They looked like members of a women’s organization from the 1930s. I still hadn’t figured out what novel I was supposed to be teaching.

[Some sources for this dream: seeing Fred MacMurray in The Caine Mutiny, thinking about books as armor, seeing Dorothy Neumann in an episode of Lassie. This is the fifteenth teaching-related dream I’ve had since retiring. The others: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12, 13, 14.]

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Books as armor

As a striving student in the late 1970s, I would take the 166 bus from New Jersey to Manhattan, walk downtown to the Strand Book Store, and make my way back to the Port Authority with two big shopping bags of books. The Strand then was mostly remainders and “review copies.” I found all kinds of academic remainders on the sale tables: a collection of essays on the metaphysical poets, studies of John Dryden, an anthology of selections from The Spectator (the 1711–1712 version). Shorter Novels: Elizabethan for $1.49? Sold!

In a post about an old Strand bookmark, I characterized this buying as a matter of Accumulation Mode. I realize now that it would be more accurate to say that I was in Armoring Mode: I was accumulating books as armor, as protection, as certification that I belonged in the academic world I aspired to enter. I didn’t wear my armor: it just sat on shelves at home, where it could come in handy as needed.

Of course I made no use of many of the odds and ends I bought at the Strand. But then again, I did.

Are books-as-armor a common experience for aspiring academics? For aspiring academics from working-class backgrounds? Asking for a friend.

[“Review copies”: widely understood to be a euphemism, as many were sold by enterprising editorial assistants on their lunch hour.]

Waving realism

[Nancy, November 9, 1949. Click for a larger view.]

I like the realism in today’s yesteryear’s Nancy. Earlier in the strip, a bottle of Hair Waving Lotion (For an Instant Wave) stood close to the edge of a living-room table. The bottle crashed and splashed when the cat’s tail hit it. In this final panel, we see the result. We all know that Hair Waving Lotion could never alter the appearance of tables, lamps, frames, vases, sills. But fringe, electrical cords, picture wire, tails, stems, shade pulls: why not?

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

“A night in October”

Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities. 1930–1943. Trans. Sophie Wilkins (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995).

Musil’s style is built on metaphor. Here the tenor and vehicle, or ground and figure, switch places.

Related reading
All OCA Musil posts (Pinboard)

Branding amok

The Ohio State University has filed a trademark application for the word the.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019


Donald Trump has claimed, many times, that China is paying the United States “billions of dollars” in tariffs. But now, as reported by The New York Times:

The Trump administration on Tuesday narrowed the list of Chinese products it plans to impose new tariffs on as of Sept. 1, delaying levies on cellphones, laptop computers, toys and other goods to spare shoppers from higher prices during the back-to-school and holiday seasons. . . .

“We’re doing this for the Christmas season,” [Trump] told reporters around noon. “Just in case some of the tariffs would have an impact on U.S. customers.”
Just in case. So China pays tariffs, but tariffs need to be delayed because to impose them would raise prices for American consumers. So who’s paying tariffs?

A related post
Don’t know much about an economics book