Thursday, June 29, 2006

Fred Willard

"A few years ago," he said, after a moment, "I was in Cleveland, where I grew up, and I looked up my dad's death certificate at City Hall. I was twelve when he died, in 1951. He died after dropping off Christmas gifts to a customer — he worked at a financing company, it was all a little vague. They said he usually turned to wave after he got in his car, and this time he didn't. Heart failure. I went down to the intersection listed on the certificate, a Buick dealership, and it was very touching. He was Fred Willard, and I was Fred Willard. He was a pretty stern guy, though. I don't remember much joking, never much encouragement. My wife hates all these visits, going to see the graves. 'The people aren't there!' she says. And I say, 'But this is the closest we can get to them.'" He gazed out at Times Square, perhaps seeing past the JumboTron dazzle to the Tenderloin of decades past. "If it was up to me, nothing would ever change, no one would ever die. On the other hand," he added, "then no one could have babies, either, because it would get too crowded."
From a conversation with Fred Willard, in this week's New Yorker.

You may know Willard as Mike LaFontaine (A Mighty Wind), Buck Laughlin (Best in Show), or Ron Albertson (Waiting for Guffman). Readers of a certain age (and comic sensibility) will also remember him as Jerry Hubbard on Fernwood 2Nite.

Fred Willard, Tourist (from The New Yorker)

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Volume control

Many years ago, there was an amazing invention. It was called a volume knob.
From a thoughtful piece on the superiority of analog design.

Link » Redesigning Volume Buttons, Old Style (from Humanized, "a small company based in Chicago concerned with making the computer experience better")

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Proust: Places in space and time

The last words of Swann's Way:

The places we have known do not belong solely to the world of space in which we situate them for our greater convenience. They were only a thin slice among contiguous impressions which formed our life at that time; the memory of a certain image is but regret for a certain moment; and houses, roads, avenues are as fleeting, alas, as the years.
From Swann's Way, translated by Lydia Davis (New York: Viking, 2002), 444

I wish I'd known Swann's Way when I was visiting old neighborhoods last summer.

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Monday, June 26, 2006

Movie recommendations: Vittorio De Sica

As I often remind my students, people come to works of art when they do. If you've never read Homer or Dante (or Proust) before, so what? You can start now.

In that spirit, my wife Elaine and I have been putting together our own private Vittorio De Sica festival via our university library (which is in fact a cosmopolitan video-store in disguise). The De Sica films that we've seen have been heartbreaking. They're not melodramatic, not sentimental. They're filled with the sorrow that follows from individual and institutional wrongdoing. Here are three recommendations:

Ladri di biciclette [The bicycle thief], 1948. The Bicycle Thief is a movie "everyone" is supposed to have seen — the trailer for a mid-1970s reissue (available on the DVD) gives a good idea of the high regard in which it's held. The scene is post-war Rome. A man gets work as a poster-hanger, work that requires a bicycle. On his first day of work, his bicycle is stolen. He and his son search for it. Now get the film and see what happens.

My favorite moment: father Antonio (Lamberto Maggiorani) and son Bruno (Enzo Staiola) happily packing away their lunches of frittati ("omelets," according to the subtitle) before going to work. It's astonishing to learn that neither Maggiorani nor Staiola had acted professionally before.

Sciuscià [Shoeshine], 1946. Two shoeshine boys, Pasquale (Franco Interlenghi) and Giuseppe (Rinaldo Smordoni), are arrested for selling two stolen Allied blankets and end up in a grim prison for minors, where their friendship is undone. One striking moment: Pasquale's lawyer dons his courtroom robe with great difficulty and, like every other adult in the film, fails the child who trusts him.

The videotape that we watched (from Balzac Video) uses a wretched, unrestored print with sparse subtitles. I can't tell whether that's what is currently offered for $59.99 on the sketchy Balzac Video webpage.

I Bambini ci guardano [The children are watching us], 1944. A mother's infidelity and a father's despair, seen through the eyes of their young son Pricò (Luciano De Ambrosis). The final scene is unforgettable. This film is available in a beautiful restoration from from the Criterion Collection.

The title of this last film applies to all three — the children are watching us, looking to us always, so we grown-ups had better make sure to do the right thing.


Outside a library, one person speaking to another, with great emphasis:

You can MAKE, a MONTH, as an ASSISTANT, fifty-thousand DOLLARS.
Sounds as though someone is being invited to ascend the pyramid.

Link » Previous "Overheard" posts (via Pinboard)

Proust on a rainy day

When I was a child, we called it "a good staying-inside day." Draw, color, have a snack, watch Lassie. Now there's reading Proust:

"Poor Swann," said Mme. des Laumes that night to her husband, "he's always kind, but he appears quite unhappy. You'll see, because he has promised to come to dinner one of these days. I do find it absurd that a man of his intelligence should suffer over a person of that sort, who isn't even interesting — because they say she's an idiot," she added with the wisdom of people not in love who believe a man of sense should be unhappy only over a person who is worth it; which is rather like being surprised that anyone should condescend to suffer from cholera because of so small a creature as the comma bacillus.
From Swann's Way, translated by Lydia Davis (New York: Viking, 2002), 356

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Sunday, June 25, 2006

Then, now

Odette's attitude toward Swann, then and now ("now" being page 332):

In those days, to everything he said, she would answer admiringly: "You — you will never be like anyone else"; she would look at his long face, his slightly bald head, about which the people who knew of Swann's successes with women would think: "He's not conventionally handsome, granted, but he is smart: that quiff of hair, that monocle, that smile!" and, perhaps with more curiosity to know what he was than desire to become his mistress, she would say: "If only I could know what is in that head!"

Now, to all of Swann's remarks she would reply in a tone that was at times irritated, at times indulgent: "Oh, you really never will be like anyone else!" She would look at that head, which was only a little more aged by worry (but about which now everyone thought, with that same aptitude which enables you to discover the intentions of a symphonic piece when you have read the program, and the resemblances of a child when you know its parents: "He's not positively ugly, granted, but he is absurd; that monocle, that quiff of hair, that smile!" creating in their suggestible imaginations the immaterial demarcation that separates by several months' distance the head of an adored lover from that of a cuckold), she would say: "Oh, if only I could change what's in that head, if only I could make it reasonable."
From Swann's Way, translated by Lydia Davis (New York: Viking, 2002), 332

I didn't expect Swann's Way to be so funny. (Does anyone else see a resemblance to Jane Austen?)

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Saturday, June 24, 2006

Swann in love

A devastating simile:

For the moment, by overwhelming her with presents, by doing her favors, he could rely upon advantages extrinsic to his person, his intelligence, to take over from him the exhausting possibility of pleasing her by himself. And as for the pleasure of being in love, of living by love alone, the reality of which he doubted at times, it was increased in value for him, as dilettante of immaterial sensations, by the price he was paying her for it — as we observe that people who are uncertain whether the sight of the sea and the sound of its waves are delightful convince themselves of it and also of the exceptional quality and disinterest of their own taste, by paying a hundred francs a day for a hotel room that allows them to experience that sight and that sound.
From Swann's Way, translated by Lydia Davis (New York: Viking, 2002), 277

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Friday, June 23, 2006

Proust: "one phrase rising"

Swann's Way is shaping each day this week: fifty pages of reading (two to two-and-a-half hours, slow going) and a passage to post. My wife Elaine has been waiting for me to get to Swann's response to Vinteuil's violin and piano sonata, so that she can share with me the real-world sonatas that have been associated with the piece that Swann hears. Here's the paragraph that introduces Vinteuil's composition into the novel:

The year before, at a soiree, he had heard a piece of music performed on the piano and violin. At first, he had experienced only the physical quality of the sounds secreted by the instruments. And it had been a keen pleasure when, below the little line of the violin, slender, unyielding, compact, and commanding, he had seen the mass of the piano part all at once struggling to rise in a liquid swell, multiform, undivided, smooth, and colliding like the purple tumult of the waves when the moonlight charms them and lowers their pitch by half a tone. But at a certain moment, without being able to distinguish an outline clearly, or give a name to what was pleasing him, suddenly charmed, he had tried to gather up and hold on to the phrase or harmony — he himself did not know which — that was passing by him and that had opened his soul so much wider, the way the smells of certain roses circulating in the damp evening air have the property of dilating our nostrils. Maybe it was because of his ignorance of music that he had been capable of receiving so confused an impression, the kind of impression that is, however, perhaps the only one which is purely musical, immaterial, entirely original, irreducible to any other order of impression. An impression of this kind is, for an instant, so to speak, sine materia. No doubt the notes we hear then tend already, depending on their loudness and their quantity, to spread out before our eyes over surfaces of varying dimensions, to trace arabesques, to give us sensations of breadth, tenuousness, stability, whimsy. But the notes vanish before these sensations are sufficiently formed in us not to be submerged by those already excited by the succeeding or even simultaneous notes. And this impression would continue to envelop with its liquidity and its "mellowness" the motifs that at times emerge from it, barely discernible, immediately to dive under and disappear, known only by the particular pleasure they give, impossible to describe, to recall, to name, ineffable — if memory, like a laborer working to put down lasting foundations in the midst of the waves, by fabricating for us facsimiles of these fleeting phrases, did not allow us to compare them to those that follow them and to differentiate them. And so, scarcely had the delicious sensation which Swann had felt died away than his memory at once furnished him with a transcription that was summary and temporary but at which he could glance while the piece continued, so that already, when the same impression suddenly returned, it was no longer impossible to grasp. He could picture to himself its extent, its symmetrical groupings, its notation, its expressive value; he had before him this thing which is no longer pure music, which is drawing, architecture, thought, and which allows us to recall the music. This time he had clearly distinguished one phrase rising for a few moments above the waves of sound. It had immediately proposed to him particular sensual pleasures which he had never imagined before hearing it, which he felt could be introduced to him by nothing else, and he had experienced for it something like an unfamiliar love.
From Swann's Way, translated by Lydia Davis (New York: Viking, 2002), 216-17

All Proust posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Cool laptop

A cheap and simple way to help cool a laptop: use bakeware. My cooling rack, made by Ekco, cost $3.99 at an outlet store. With this rack and a tiny desk fan, my laptop runs 8 to 10 degrees cooler than it used to. (I use HDD Thermometer, freeware, to monitor the hard-drive temperature.)

Formulaic disclaimer: Placing a computer on a piece of bakeware might lead to scratches or other damage, so be careful.

I must point out for former students that Ekco gets its name from the Greek oikos, meaning household, home.

[Oops: As I just learned while browsing, Ekco was founded by Edward Katzinger, whose initials gave the company its name. Still, I'd like to think that EK or someone close by was aware of oikos, the source for the English prefix eco-.]

[Update, June 26, 2006: This post has received roughly 4500 visits in the past four days (I'm amazed). Thanks to and Lifehacker for linking to it. And thanks to the commenters who've added other useful tips for cooling laptops.]

A related post
Repurposed dish drainer

Proust: One water lily

One water lily, five sentences:

Soon the course of the Vivonne is obstructed by water plants. First they appear singly, like this water lily, for instance, which was allowed so little rest by the current in the midst of which it was unfortunately placed that, like a mechanically activated ferry boat, it would approach one bank only to return to the one from which it had come, eternally crossing back and forth again. Pushed toward the bank, its peduncle would unfold, lengthen, flow out, reach the extreme limit of its tension at the edge where the current would pick it up again, then the green cord would fold up on itself and bring the poor plant back to what may all the more properly be called its point of departure because it did not stay there a second without starting off from it again in a repetition of the same maneuver. I would find it again, walk after walk, always in the same situation, reminding me of certain neurasthenics among whose number my grandfather would count my aunt Léonie, who present year after year the unchanging spectacle of the bizarre habits they believe, each time, they are about to shake off and which they retain forever; caught in the machinery of the maladies and their manias, the efforts with which they struggle uselessly to abandon them only guarantee the functioning and activate the triggers of their strange, unavoidable, and morose regimes. This water lily was the same, and it was also like one of those miserable creatures whose singular torment, repeated indefinitely throughout eternity, aroused the curiosity of Dante, who would have asked the tormented creature himself to recount its cause and its particularities at greater length had Virgil, striding on ahead, not forced him to hurry after immediately, as my parents did me.
From Swann's Way, translated by Lydia Davis (New York: Viking, 2002), 172-173

Five comparisons: the water plants appear one by one, "like this water lily." This lily then is likened to a ferry and to "certain neurasthenics," among whom the narrator's grandfather would include Léonie. Now we're somehow inside both the narrator's consciousness and that of his grandfather, and we're out on a walk and back home in Léonie's room. But there's more: this lily also resembles a figure in Dante's hell, adding a new overtone to the ferry comparison. And finally — finally! — the narrator compares Dante and Virgil to himself and his parents, bringing us back to the walk itself and childhood.

All Proust posts (via Pinboard)

Proust and TSE

Sara McWhorter passes on this exchange from D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928):

"Have you ever read Proust?" he asked her.

"I've tried, but he bores me."

"He's really very extraordinary."

"Possibly! But he bores me: all that sophistication! He doesn't have feelings, he only has streams of words about feelings. I'm tired of self-important mentalities."

"Would you prefer self-important animalities?"

"Perhaps! But one might possibly get something that wasn't self-important."

"Well, I like Proust's subtlety and his well-bred anarchy."

"It makes you very dead, really."

"There speaks my evangelical little wife."
Which reminded me of this exchange concerning T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land (1922):
His grin broadened. "All I can say is, my dear, give me the old songs, though I can't sing them, if they're the new. What does poetry want with footnotes about psycho-analysis and negro mythology?"

"Suppose," someone asked him, "that you don't know anything about them?"

"Well, I couldn't get them out of footnotes and the poetry all at one stride, could I? But Doris, they were very clever and insulting poems, I think. Sing a song of mockery. Is that the latest? But it was a surprising little book, though it smelt like the dissection of bad innards."
From H.M. Tomlinson, Gallions Reach (1927), quoted by F.R. Leavis in New Bearings in English Poetry. (Leavis was on Eliot's side.)

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Introducing Mlle. Swann

Proust again:

I looked at her, at first with the sort of gaze that is not merely the messenger of the eyes, but a window at which all the senses lean out, anxious and petrified, a gaze that would like to touch the body it is looking at, capture it, take it away and the soul along with it; then, so afraid was I that at any second my grandfather and my father, noticing the girl, would send me off, telling me to run on a little ahead of them, with a second sort of gaze, one that was unconsciously supplicating, that tried to force her to pay attention to me, to know me! She cast her eyes forward and sideways in order to take stock of my grandfather and father, and no doubt the impression she formed of them was that we were absurd, for she turned away, and, with an indifferent and disdainful look, placed herself at an angle to spare her face from being in their field of vision; and while they, continuing to walk on without noticing her, passed beyond me, she allowed her glances to stream out at full length in my direction, without any particular expression, without appearing to see me, but with a concentration and a secret smile that I could only interpret, according to the notions of good breeding instilled in me, as a sign of insulting contempt; and at the same time her hand sketched an indecent gesture for which, when it was directed in public at a person one did not know, the little dictionary of manners I carried inside me supplied only one meaning, that of intentional insolence.

"Gilberte, come here! What are you doing?" came the piercing, authoritarian cry of a lady in white whom I had not seen, while, at some distance from her, a gentleman dressed in twill whom I did not know stared at me with eyes that started from his head; the girl abruptly stopped smiling, took her spade, and went away without turning back toward me, with an air that was submissive, inscrutable, and sly.

So it was that this name, Gilberte, passed by close to me, given like a talisman that might one day enable me to find this girl again whom it had just turned into a person and who, a moment before, had been merely an uncertain image. Thus it passed, spoken over the jasmines and the stocks, as sour and as cool as the drops from the green watering hose; impregnating, coloring the portion of pure air that it had crossed — and that it isolated — with the mystery of the life of the girl it designated for the happy creatures who lived, who traveled in her company; deploying under the pink thicket, at the height of my shoulder, the quintessence of their familiarity, for me so painful, with her and with the unknown territory of her life which I would never be able to enter.
From Swann's Way, translated by Lydia Davis (New York: Viking, 2002), 144-45

I especially like "no doubt the impression she formed of them was that we were absurd": the pronoun slippage shows so well the narrator's feeling that he's being judged by the company he keeps. The "pink thicket" is of hawthorns.

All Proust posts (via Pinboard)

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Proust again

On reading:

In the sort of screen dappled with different states of mind which my consciousness would simultaneously unfold while I read, and which ranged from the aspirations hidden deepest within me to the completely exterior view of the horizon which I had, at the bottom of the garden, before my eyes, what was first in me, innermost, the constantly moving handle that controlled the rest, was my belief in the philosophical richness and the beauty of the book I was reading, and my desire to appropriate them for myself, whatever that book might be. For, even if I had bought it in Combray, having seen it in front of Borange's grocery, which was too far away from the house for Françoise to be able to do her shopping there as she did at Camus's, but which was better stocked as stationer and bookshop, held in place by some strings in the mosaic of pamphlets and monthly serials that covered the two panels of its door, which was itself more mysterious, more sown with ideas than the door of a cathedral, the fact was that I had recognized it as having been mentioned to me as a remarkable work by the teacher or friend who appeared to me at that period to hold the secret of the truth and beauty half sensed, half incomprehensible, the knowledge of which was the goal, vague but permanent, of my thoughts.
From Swann's Way, translated by Lydia Davis (New York: Viking, 2002), 85-86

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Dance Festival

From this morning's New York Times:

No one is quite sure when New York City children began celebrating spring by dancing in schoolyards, their teachers leading them, often awkwardly, through the steps, their proud parents gathered round, snapping pictures and clapping along. It is a peculiar urban rite — called Dance Festival in most of the city, and May Fete on Staten Island — that has been around, it seems, for as long as the public school system itself.
My most vivid Dance Festival memories (P.S. 131, Boro Park, Brooklyn): crepe-paper sashes and armbands and a song called "Wind the Bobbin":
Wind, wind, wind the bobbin,
Wind, wind, wind the bobbin,
Pull, and pull,
And clap, clap, clap.
Or was it "Tap, tap, tap"?

Oh to be a city-kid again.

Link » When School Turns Into the Land of 1,000 Dances
(New York Times, registration required)

Monday, June 19, 2006

From Proust

Marcel Proust on "'seeing a person we know'":

But even with respect to the most insignificant things in life, none of us constitutes a material whole, identical for everyone, which a person has only to go look up as though we were a book of specifications or a last testament; our social personality is a creation of the minds of others. Even the very simple act that we call "seeing a person we know" is in part an intellectual one. We fill the physical appearance of the individual we see with all the notions we have about him, and of the total picture that we form for ourselves, these notions certainly occupy the greater part. In the end they swell his cheeks so perfectly, follow the line of his nose in an adherence so exact, they do so well at nuancing the sonority of his voice as though the latter were only a transparent envelope that each time we see this face and hear this voice, it is these notions that we encounter again, that we hear.

From Swann's Way, translated by Lydia Davis (New York: Viking, 2002)
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Friday, June 16, 2006

The dowdy world goes to a party

That's an early Father's Day present, Parties for All Occasions, by Jane Werner (Racine, WI: Whitman Publishing Company, 1941). Here are Miss Werner's suggestions for one such party. Mind you, this party's for grown-ups:


Invitations: By telephone if you like, but this is a perfect opportunity for original invitations. These should be very simple. For a hay ride they could be of brown wrapping paper, for a sleigh ride a circle of white to represent a snow ball. Color is almost an essential; even if you are not artistic you can manage funny stick figures in colored pencil to decorate the invitations. And a rhyme is worth the effort; perhaps it may be something like:

      With a hi! and a ho! it's a hay (sleigh) ride!
      Climb aboard at half past eight!
      We'll be starting from our door
      Promptly then — but not before —
      So we urge you not to come too late!

Hour: Any time during the evening.

Decorations: A basement game room is ideal for after-the-ride refreshment and games. If you do not have one, try to carry out the informal spirit of the party in the rooms you do use. A scarecrow might greet the guests after a hay ride. If cornstalks are not in season, jars full of grasses would be decorative. Shiny Christmas tree icicles and evergreen boughs covered with artificial snow would help suggest winter for a sleigh ride.

The table for a hay ride should be covered with a bright cloth, and your brightest pottery should be used. A centerpiece of fresh vegetables might be used.

A typical winter table might have a mirror centerpiece surrounded by cotton batting snow, with paper or pipe-cleaner figures skating, skiing, and enjoying other winter sports. They can be dressed up easily in bits of colored paper or cloth, with green paper trees in the background.

Refreshments: One hot dish, such as chili or oyster stew. Something hearty and fairly substantial is essential for crisp winter weather, followed by hot chocolate and cookies.

Of course warm weather would demand lighter refreshments. Perhaps cold meats, vegetable salad, rolls, a cold drink (or coffee) and cookies would be the solution. Or you might serve individual picnic lunches packed in boxes covered with colored paper.
These tips are followed by descriptions of several games that might follow the refreshments: On the Ski Trail, Walk to the Duck Pond, Livestock, Snowflake Tennis, Wit-Tickler.

While waiting for cornstalks and snowflakes to be in season, you can read more about "the dowdy world" via the links.

Link » The dowdy world on film
Link » The dowdy world on radio

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Hail, kale

Eating vegan has the paradoxical effect of opening up one's food choices in all sorts of unexpected ways. Tonight, there was kale, which I'd never eaten before. Sauteed with olive oil and garlic, it's a hearty, satisfying vegetable.

O kin to broccoli and Brussels sprout,
Thy bounty gaineth favor at our board!

Hail to thee, blithe kale.

Link » Kale (from Wikipedia)
Link » Kale (from The World's Healthiest Foods)
Link » Kale and collard greens (from

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Movie recommendation: The Honeymoon Killers

François Truffaut called The Honeymoon Killers (1970) his favorite American film. It was written and directed by Leonard Kastle and is based on the true-crime story of Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck, the "Lonely Hearts Killers," who teamed up to con gullible spinsters and widows of their savings and lives. Kastle, an opera composer, had never made a film before; his friend Warren Steibel (producer of William F. Buckley's television show Firing Line) suggested that the Fernandez-Beck story would make a good film.

Ray (played by Tony Lo Bianco) is a cheap approximation of elegance; Martha (played by Shirley Stoler) is a sour, haughty, contentious woman whose every attempt at conversation seems to turn into an argument. (Stoler's work is almost certainly a major influence on Divine in John Waters' films.) Ray and Martha's mutual passion takes us into operatic territory as they move from murder to murder to their own destruction, accompanied by excerpts from Mahler's Sixth Symphony.

The Honeymoon Killers is no gore-fest, but it is strong stuff: the brief on-screen violence is terrifying in its matter-of-factness. "Hit her again," says Ray. "Finish her," says Martha. What happens off-screen, toward the film's end, is even more terrifying. The film's greatest distinction lies in its hilariously deadpan dialogue, spoken by characters who are wholly without irony. Here are Ray and Martha bickering in the house they've just bought, in Valley Stream, Long Island:

Ray: Don't eat candy at ten o'clock in the morning.

Martha: It's because you're making me nervous!

Ray: You're nervous! How do you think I feel, sitting around here day after day? Now I've even taken to reading these stupid magazines of yours! . . . They call this place Valley Stream. Hmm, hmm. What a joke. One little jail after another with ten feet of grass between them. Valley Stream. I hate it here.
Shooting with a very modest budget ($150,000), Leonard Kastle made a masterpiece. I'd liken The Honeymoon Killers to Herk Harvey's Carnival of Souls (1962), another great American film made with maximal imagination and minimal resources. Both films are available from The Criterion Collection, in beautiful digital transfers, with all sorts of wonderful extras.

Link » The Honeymoon Killers (The Criterion Collection)
Link » Carnival of Souls (The Criterion Collection)

Monday, June 12, 2006


From Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day:

revenant   \REV-uh-nahng (the final "ng" is not pronounced, but the vowel is nasalized)\ noun: one that returns after death or a long absence

Example sentence: The play is about a family of revenants who come back to their ancestral home after years of political exile.

Did you know? Frightening or friendly, the classic revenant was a ghost — a specter returned from the dead. Even in figurative uses, death played its hand. When Sir Walter Scott, in his 1828 novel The Fair Maid of Perth, used "revenant" in one of the earliest uses of the word in English, he was referring to a criminal who had survived the gallows, who "was cut down and given to his friends before life was extinct, and . . . recovered." Eventually, though, we appended a more earthly meaning: a revenant can be a flesh-and-blood returnee when we use it simply to mean a person who shows up after a long absence. We borrowed "revenant" from the French, who created it from their verb "revenir," which means simply "to return," as does its Latin ancestor, "revenire."
"Revenant" has two associations for me. The word turns up in the lyrics of the first song of Sufjan Stevens' Illinois, "Concerning the UFO Sighting near Highland, Illinois":
When the revenant came down
We couldn't imagine what it was
And it furnishes the name of a great record label, Revenant Records, devoted mainly to reissues of neglected American music. Revenant is the label responsible for Screamin' and Hollerin' the Blues: The Worlds of Charley Patton, the best boxed set I've ever seen.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

What did she mean by that?

The title of a book my wife Elaine bought for me yesterday:

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Vegan Living

Friday, June 9, 2006

Words, mere words

From Mark Edmundson, Why Read? (Bloomsbury, 2004):

Many humanities teachers feel that they are fighting for a lost cause. They believe that the proliferation of electronic media will eventually make them obsolete. They see the time their students spend with TV and movies and on the Internet, and feel that what they have to offer — words, mere words — must look shabby by comparison.

Not so. When human beings try to come to terms with who they are and describe who they hope to be, the most effective medium is words. Through words we represent ourselves to ourselves; we fix our awareness of who and what we are. Then we can step back and gain distance on what we've said. With perspective comes the possibility for change. People write about their lives in their journals; talk things over with friends; talk, at day's end, to themselves about what has come to pass. And then they can brood on what they've said, privately or with another. From that brooding comes the chance for new beginnings. In this process, words allow for precision and nuance that images and music generally don't permit.

Our culture changes at an astounding velocity, so we must change or pay a price for remaining the same. Accordingly, the powers of self-rendering and self-revision are centrally important. These processes occur best in language. Surely there is something to be learned from the analysis of popular culture. But we as teachers can do better. We can strike to the central issues that confront students and the public at large, rather than relegating ourselves to the edges. People who have taught themselves how to live — what to be, what to do — from reading great works will not be overly susceptible to the culture industry's latest wares. They'll be able to sample them, or turn completely away — they'll have better things on their minds.
[Edmundson is quoting Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida, 5.3:
Pandarus: What says she there?

Troilus: Words, words, mere words.
I'm reminded too of Hamlet, 2.2:
Polonius: What do you read, my lord?

Hamlet: Words, words, words.]
A related post » Mark Edmundson tells it like it is

Thursday, June 8, 2006

Child's play

The Child is father of the Man

William Wordsworth (1770-1850), "My Heart Leaps Up"


Child — the child, Father of the man

Van Dyke Parks (b. 1943), "Child Is Father of the Man," from SMiLE (words by Van Dyke Parks, music by Brian Wilson)


Most of my ideas come from my childhood. I just needed the knowledge and skills to develop them.

Gerhard Trimpin (b. 1951), sound sculptor and installation artist, quoted in an article by Jean Strouse, "Perpetual Motion," in The New Yorker, May 8, 2006

Wednesday, June 7, 2006


My daughter's watching Meet Me in St. Louis this afternoon. It's one of her favorite movies. But it's not, she tells me, her favorite movie of all time. Marty is.

Meet Me in St. Louis, set in 1903, was released in 1944. I've always thought that an audience watching the movie in 1944 was looking back on an antique, bygone world. But now it occurs to me that their experience would be comparable to that of a 2006 audience watching a film set in 1965. And 1965 wasn't all that long ago. Heck, that's when Help! and Rubber Soul came out, along with The Sound of Music, which used to be my daughter's favorite movie of all time.

Sunday, June 4, 2006


An African word, meaning "humanity to others" or "I am what I am because of who we all are." The Ubuntu distribution brings the spirit of Ubuntu to the software world.

(from the Ubuntu website)
A suggestion: If you have an older computer around that's not doing much of anything, install Ubuntu. Ubuntu is an operating system, a friendly version of Linux, "Linux for human beings," as the website says, available for free on CDs and as a download. I installed Ubuntu on an old family computer earlier this week, a Gateway laptop with Windows ME (Millennium Edition). Reformatting the hard drive, installing Ubuntu, and installing applications (Firefox,, and so on, all packaged with the operating system) took less than an hour and involved nothing more than starting up a CD (yes, just one CD) and responding to a few prompts. Using an online guide, I found an Ubuntu-compatible wireless card and had a wireless connection in roughly another hour (a 45-minute trip to Staples and 10 minutes of trial-and-error entering the network information).

Five years or so ago, I spent several days trying to establish an Ethernet connection with this Windows ME laptop. I had no luck, not even after trying the one network card that Gateway and Microsoft guaranteed to work. I never found anyone else who was able to get a network card to work with Windows ME either. Now, for $34.95 (plus tax) and couple of hours, we have a "new" computer with which we can browse, do e-mail, and create documents that we can open with any of our Windows XP computers. Ubuntu is stylish, fast, and, so far, fool-proof.

[Silent laughter at Microsoft's expense.]


» ubuntu, the word
» Ubuntu, the operating system
» Ubuntu and wireless cards

Expectations, extensions, achievements

Dr. Harold Koplewicz, director of the New York University Child Study Center, in today's New York Times:

"Among the baby boomers, and I am one, expectations for our children are very high," he said. "Baby boomers prepare their children for all kinds of bizarre things, as if their children are extensions of themselves. These are kids who have résumés by the time they apply to college. As a society, unfortunately, we have changed focus so we value our children for their achievements, not because they're our children."
From an article on the prime-time telecast of the Scripps National Spelling Bee finals.

Link » The Bee, the New Celebrity Showcase (registration required)

Friday, June 2, 2006


Make a typo in a URL and you never know what you'll find. Here's what I found when I mistyped gmail:

Beijing Gnail Heattreatment Technology Institute is famous for his liquid heattreatment technology in China.

We have introduced from German, Japan etc. and R&D a lot of new technologies in liquid heattreatment. The technologies are proved stable, efficient, pollutant-free , and have been widely used in China. All experts in our institute are skill in application for the technologies. We are professional.

Our products have been exported to many countries and regions over the world with good quality. Gnail liquid salts offer so many solutions for manufacture with low cost and easy operation.

Gnail, good companies of heattreatment !
Yes, there is a Gnail !

Two links

» Beijing Gnail Heattreatment Institute
» Gmail