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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Why Does Quality Matter?

But why does it matter that some outdated idea of “quality” has all but disappeared from our literature?  (If it is not your reply, it is certainly the one I have most often heard.)  The idea of quality is a creation of elites, isn’t it?  The wealthy can afford higher quality automobiles.  They can afford houses made of higher quality materials.  They can afford “quality” texts and the education and the leisure to appreciate them.

But since the world has become more democratic the common man can also buy fully functional versions of a car, a house.  Or, better said, since the advent of the assembly line and its wondrous technological enhancements, the common man can have nearly all in these products that properly falls under the category of “quality”.  Yes, the wealthy have the money to buy better products still but they are not so much quality goods as “luxury” goods — status symbols.

Isn’t this the same thing that is happening to texts?  Information is a product like any other, after all.  (Again, please forgive me if this isn’t your reply, but, from my experience, it is representative of the most common replies in these conversations.)  There are more variations of the product than ever from which the consumer can choose, now.  The written word has never been doing better.

No one has the time anymore to read long wordy descriptions.  Grammar Nazis belong to an elitist time that we have left behind.  The common man is fully able to write and to read all that he or she needs or wishes to write or read without much concern for grammar. 

Ditto for vocabulary Nazis.  Throughout history language has changed.  The way words are used has changed.  Their definitions have changed.  At last we are breaking away from the chains of elitist language thought enforcement.  We are the new agents of history.  There is no way to stop us.


By far, most people are not belligerents in the battle for freedom from grammar.  This patter belongs to the poetry open-mic and online Interlit chat room.  Most of the people in my life have just said to me that they love to read.  They find it relaxing.  “But not the kind of stuff that you do.”  The “stuff” they read, as the rule, is online social media posts by friends, perhaps a news article that catches their eye, the occasional popular novel and self-help book.

They are correct.  Other than the news articles, I don’t read the kind of stuff they do.  (I do not consider social media posts to fall under the category of “reading” any more than I do greeting cards.)  But I read far more news from generally far different news sources.  At least until the new move to erect paywalls and subscription fees for the better venues prevents me from doing so any longer.  I seek out as much high-quality non-partisan news as I can get.  If I am not often disappointed on one level or another with the results of my search it is a sign that I am being too easy on myself and my sources.

The articles they tend to read are posted on news sites that match their political and religious beliefs and most comfortable reading level.  They want the news selected and packaged by purveyors who feel like them and who don’t use words that send them to the dictionary.  It’s not anti-intellectualism, per se, but who wants to spend time on a product that regularly includes difficult and/or unpleasant features?

The people to whom I refer are loving and lovable.  They are also educated to second year college on average.  I could not imagine being dismissive of their choices.  At least not now with a goodly number of years of experience under my belt.  I’m too old for the battle.  They are too decent to want to do battle with.

The world in which they live deeply disappoints most of  them regardless of political persuasion.  In all, that is to say, except their favorite television shows and movies.  There can be little doubt that the best offered by those media are more entertaining than ever before.  I know of no one who does not watch for many hours every week, often scanning their social media feeds on their iPhones during commercials.  It is astonishing how many hundreds of dollars they spend monthly on these products.  Even those who are struggling to make ends meet.

While these media are also production line affairs they clearly have learned to thrive nonetheless.  There is no particular difficulty creating dramatic plotlines.  The world in these media is filled with drama and it keeps the audience at a heightened emotional pitch that once would have been considered unhealthy.  One or more characters are designed to create a strong bond with each audience character type (each "target audience") that the product is designed to gratify.  The technologies are ever more immersive for those viewers willing and able to upgrade the quality of their screens on a regular basis.

For all the worlds depicted are considerably more sophisticated than in past products they still are more simplistic than the real world.  This tends strongly to inculcate the idea that interpersonal complexity is the result of manipulation by others — generally, the types represented by less attractive characters.  The popularity of these products has created a vast public that believes that the resolutions of the most complex problems are far simpler than they seem, and that, in a better world, they would be solved within the amount of real-time it takes to watch several television series episodes.

It is this with which general audience books must compete.  News articles and commentary compete with the flood of low overhead Internet venues that the television viewer must be able to read during the commercials in a manner of speaking.  What little competitive success they manage can only depend heavily on the same production line mentality.

But what’s wrong with making books easier to read?  What’s wrong with disposable reading?  More to come >>>






Sunday, April 08, 2018

Welcome to the Library of Babel.

You’ve been here in the library all along.  But more about that as we proceed.

I have cleared the first hurdle.  There are three.  For the time being anyway (for aren’t there always more hurdles).

My plan was to wait in order to receive the results of all three.  Actually, to wait to receive the results of what I thought were two hurdles I faced and then the news arrived that there would be a  third.  Should I clear the  hurdles successfully I would start a project called “The Library of Babel”.  But then, if I do not clear them what will I have lost for already having started?

So then I have cleared the first hurdle and have decided not to wait.  What will it matter if I begin for naught?  The rest of my life may be shorter or longer but today is the beginning of it, regardless, and I am anxious to get underway.  I am now embarked on the rest of my life.

I have borrowed an image from a short story by Jorge Luis Borges.  I have opened, here, a portal to a portion of The Library of Babel.  In Borges’s story of that name the books in the library contain every possible combination of letters randomly impressed on an infinite number of pages.  In this way, every possible book is on the shelves.  Most are merely page after page of characters few or none of which form words. 

If we expand Borges’s image to include every letter of every alphabet (not only the Spanish alphabet) and every auxiliary mark (not only the comma and period) we are a considerable distance toward the selection from the library that interests me here.  Some tiny percentage (still composing an infinite or nearly infinite number) of all the books have randomly arrived at completely formed books in one or another language.  For my purposes (and quite against the rules), I have gathered some tens of thousands of these volumes to serve this Library of Babel project.  Any further book I might be able to bring to hand via the Internet or one or another library will be part of our library as well.  As will paper and electronic publications of every sort.

In short, every publication of every sort that has gathered together the random letters of The Library of Babel into a legible text via the operation of the random generator called "the Universe," and, in particular, via the further operation of the components called "the human race" (for, on a certain level, we are text generators which have proven strangely capable of reducing the inherent randomness of the operation to patterns suggesting meaning), belong to this project inasmuch as we will be able to access them and to read their characters.  There are, of course, hundreds of millions of such texts (of books alone some 130 million are estimated). 

Regardless that, by means of our selection process, they are no longer random, I assume that the reader understands that they remain, taken together in themselves, resoundingly a “Library of Babel”.  It is a common complaint.  The flood of media within which we exist constantly threatens to overwhelm us (often does so).  The effects of the flood are myriad.



Not least among the effects is that as processors of information we are being replaced by our computers.  Information comes so fast that it is now digitized in a grand quantization and arranged into matrices of resulting data.  The vast majority is never seen by human eyes.  It is evaluated by computer.  It is relatively rare for the related computer code to decide, from out of that evaluation, that it is most productive to bring a given block of information before human eyes.  The vast majority of the time the data is plugged into other computer programs in ways that still other computer programs control.

Information comes so fast that the units in which it is expressed, in Information Theory, don’t measure anything that we would previously have described as “information”  at all.  Information is measured in “bits”.  Information flow is measured in bits per unit time.  Usually the number of bits per unit time flowing through any channel is enormous.  It doesn’t matter in the least what the enormous number of bits (much less any individual bit) translate(s) to.  They can be perfectly random as Borges’s library and still they have exactly as much information as an equal amount of bits coded with the contents, for example, of the Library of Congress.

We begin to resemble our computers in this as in so many ways.  More and more the flood of information that comes across our Internet connections amounts to nothing more to us than a quantity of bits and pieces that flow past our eyes.  The tiny part of the information that we do manage to process in the old manner — that we do manage to read — expresses the world through quantities.  There is far too little time any longer for the content creator to put into the education and production that are required in order to produce quality or for the reader to put into education or attention required in order to effectively process it.

We might say that we’ve read (or half-listened to) a great many sentences during the past hour but would be entirely at a loss to describe which of the sentences were of higher quality than the others.  It is unlikely that we would be able to give a paraphrase of what any of the sentences said.    We would be unable to evaluate the text as a whole by any other measure than the amount of pleasure, distress or boredom it aroused in us.  More and more, it is all just so much babel to us.

For these reasons, we are progressively less capable of producing or processing quality text.


But why does it matter?  [Pending>>>]

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

John Donne's "Nocturnal upon St. Lucy's Day"

Today, December 13, is Saint Lucy’s Day.  In John Donne’s time, when the old calendar was still in use, it fell upon (and was, therefore, the feast of) the winter solstice.  Donne wrote the poem as he was coming to the end of his days as a ladies’ man.  In the poem he lets the reader know that the experience is growing ever more degrading.  Soon he would marry, take religious orders and begin his later phase writing mystical religious poems.

The earlier poems, with their adoption of scientific metaphors, are the single greatest inspiration to my book of poems MindDance.  Some of all of that is evident in this transitional poem.



A Nocturnal upon St. Lucy's Day
by John Donne

'Tis the year's midnight, and it is the day's, 
Lucy's, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks; 
         The sun is spent, and now his flasks 
         Send forth light squibs, no constant rays; 
                The world's whole sap is sunk; 
The general balm th' hydroptic earth hath drunk, 
Whither, as to the bed's feet, life is shrunk, 
Dead and interr'd; yet all these seem to laugh, 
Compar'd with me, who am their epitaph. 

Study me then, you who shall lovers be 
At the next world, that is, at the next spring; 
         For I am every dead thing, 
         In whom Love wrought new alchemy. 
                For his art did express 
A quintessence even from nothingness, 
From dull privations, and lean emptiness; 
He ruin'd me, and I am re-begot 
Of absence, darkness, death: things which are not. 

All others, from all things, draw all that's good, 
Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have; 
         I, by Love's limbec, am the grave 
         Of all that's nothing. Oft a flood 
                Have we two wept, and so 
Drown'd the whole world, us two; oft did we grow 
To be two chaoses, when we did show 
Care to aught else; and often absences 
Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses. 

But I am by her death (which word wrongs her) 
Of the first nothing the elixir grown; 
         Were I a man, that I were one 
         I needs must know; I should prefer, 
                If I were any beast, 
Some ends, some means; yea plants, yea stones detest, 
And love; all, all some properties invest; 
If I an ordinary nothing were, 
As shadow, a light and body must be here. 

But I am none; nor will my sun renew. 
You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun 
         At this time to the Goat is run 
         To fetch new lust, and give it you, 
                Enjoy your summer all; 
Since she enjoys her long night's festival, 
Let me prepare towards her, and let me call 
This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this 
Both the year's, and the day's deep midnight is. 







I plan to continue the celebration of the incredible diversity of our universe and my return to poetry on the Mind Dance Facebook page during the days ahead.  It is intended to be something of a bridge between Mind Dance and the next book of poetry.  Everything that fascinates me and that might come together as a new poem is fair game.  The intention is to look on in wonder and to have a lot of fun.   I hope you will click the “Like” button and join that fun.






Monday, October 10, 2016

Welcome to the Mind Dance!

Autumn and poetry.  The two have always been closely related in my mind.  Still, I have passed more than five years — each with its autumn — without writing a poem.  Several years before that I was writing only one or two poems a year.

I’ve spent the three most recent years writing and publishing only prose.  It seemed the rational choice.  I must show discipline.  Poetry must be set aside for as long as necessary.  As it was, the odds for success might be somewhat less than 50-50 even with all but perfect discipline.  Even then the indie publishing platforms available to me on the Internet must not contrive to reduce royalties or page views in any substantial way.  While such reductions were clearly likely to happen — given the accelerating trend toward shaking-down those who are nominally contractors for endless hours of sub-subminimum-wage work — I had to hope that the transition would wait long enough for me to establish a firm foothold.





Well, all the eventualities that had to wait didn’t.  All the transitions that needed to be gentle weren’t.  There being nothing to be done about the matter, and autumn being in the air, I return, after far too long an absence, to poetry, and wide-open windows, and blankets on the bed, and bicycle rides.  Fifty-eight poems that I have already had the pleasure of obsessing over, during autumns past, are now gathered together in my first book of poetry, Mind Dance.

The cover of Mind Dance features Spiral Galaxy M74, and is, I think it fair to say, all to the point.  I’ve chosen to strictly limit the time period covered in the book to between the Big Bang and the early 21st century.  The subjects range from subatomic particles to monks to punk rock singers to pirouetting galaxies speeding away from each other into infinite space.  The dimensions run from the pedestrian 2- and 3-D to who-knows-how-many-D.  In other words, these are poems that deal with more or less normal people leading more or less normal lives.

The personal journey that these poems represent has been fascinating and joyous, dysfunctional and deeply disheartening.  The wonder, the beauty were gifts the universe freely gave.  I could not otherwise have possibly afforded them.  The pain, the ugliness came at a steep price but were otherwise almost impossible to distinguish from them.  The strength the reader will find was hard-earned.  It is my hope that she or he will find some part of all of that in the experience of the reading.

So the reader will find neither Hallmark verse nor chicken scratchings, neither a giant Kumbaya nor an exhausted nihilist rant.  These poems are intended to be both joyous and realistic, as messy and as glorious as the human race.  They have birth in them and death and pretty much everything in between.

I have also published a healthy selection of these poems in Kindle format.  I will be offering that edition for free during the Virtual Publishing Party event.  All of this by way of celebrating the arrival of autumn.  I’ve stinted the season and myself too long.  It is time to put both prose and percentages back into proper perspective.  I need both autumn and poetry back in my life again.

I plan to continue the celebration of the incredible diversity of our universe and my return to poetry on the Mind Dance Facebook page during the days ahead.  It is intended to be something of a bridge between Mind Dance and the next book of poetry.  Everything that fascinates me and that might come together as a new poem is fair game.  The intention is to look on in wonder and to have a lot of fun.   I hope you will click the “Like” button and join that fun.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Now Available in Paperback!

Henry David Thoreau and Two Other Autistic Lives: before the diagnosis existed is now available in paperback format!  It also has a new Facebook Book Page packed with information on Henry David Thoreau, Algernon Charles Swinburne, the great British chemist Henry Cavendish, and Autism!



Thursday, March 19, 2015

Apology to Jeffers

by Jared Carter



Better invent than suffer: imagine victims
Lest your own flesh be chosen the agonist . . .



                     Robinson Jeffers,
                       “Apology for Bad Dreams”



Ah, but I have had enough of your beauty,
            your granite headlands’ iterative shuddering,
            your solitary watch above the sea’s dark curve.
Still, in the east, Venus emerges in nacreous weeds,
            trailing soft garments, still you look out on
            indecipherable gyre of hawk and buzzard.
But we are focused elsewhere now, we gather
            by no rock-walled river, no desolate shingle.
            We hover instead before lighted screens.
We no longer experience beauty within, but rather
            confirmation of narcissism.  It is our own gaze,
            looking back, that works its transient charms.
Nor is there beauty in the pole-barns strung together
            out of wire mesh.  They have been engineered,
            made efficient.  There is only cage after cage.
Once you spoke of the grandeur of savage places,
            of Aldebaran, and the surpassing splendor
            of Andromeda, and their unending majesty.
Man is nothing alongside them, you proclaimed.
            He is insect, he is worm, he is bacteria.
            And now I am tempted to believe you.
About depravity you were right, about the horror
            of two wars, and a thousand little wars,
            wars swarming out of earth’s proud flesh.
But you were wrong about beauty.  For it, too,
            can be cuffed and led away, and stubbed out.
            It too can be submitted to profit-and-loss.
And when that happens there is only desiccation,
            only a great darkness amid artificial light,
            and murder, though small, committed by millions.
You were prophetic about the horrors still to come,
            that humans would turn and rend themselves.
            But you did not understand the craving to rend.
Yet all of this is hidden away, far from your shores,
            your headlands, your single promontory
            lost in the swell of stars and the night wind.
We live now so that the privileged might be insulated,
            and never encounter the blasted appendage
            or the surge of innards suddenly skewered.
We conduct our affairs far from the lone dog barking
            amid the ruins, we have outsourced the sound
            of the rifle butt banging against the door.
In this way the privileged may linger by their pools,
            or stay cocooned in air-conditioned rooms,
            unvisited by conscience or by troubling dreams.
Ah, but I have had enough of your beauty,
            your granite headlands’ iterative shuddering,
            your solitary watch above the sea’s dark curve.
Still, in the east, Venus emerges in nacreous weeds,
            trailing soft garments, still you look out on
            indecipherable gyre of hawk and buzzard.
But we are focused elsewhere now, we gather
            by no rock-walled river, no desolate shingle.
            We hover instead before lighted screens.
We no longer experience beauty within, but rather
            confirmation of narcissism.  It is our own gaze,
            looking back, that works its transient charms.
Nor is there beauty in the pole-barns strung together
            out of wire mesh.  They have been engineered,
            made efficient.  There is only cage after cage.
Once you spoke of the grandeur of savage places,
            of Aldebaran, and the surpassing splendor
            of Andromeda, and their unending majesty.
Man is nothing alongside them, you proclaimed.
            He is insect, he is worm, he is bacteria.
            And now I am tempted to believe you.
About depravity you were right, about the horror
            of two wars, and a thousand little wars,
            wars swarming out of earth’s proud flesh.
But you were wrong about beauty.  For it, too,
            can be cuffed and led away, and stubbed out.
            It too can be submitted to profit-and-loss.
And when that happens there is only desiccation,
            only a great darkness amid artificial light
            and murder, though small, committed by millions.
You were prophetic about the horrors still to come,
            that humans would turn and rend themselves.
            But you did not understand the craving to rend.
Yet all of this is hidden away, far from your shores,
            your headlands, your single promontory
            lost in the swell of stars and the night wind.
We live now so that the privileged might be insulated,
            and never encounter the blasted appendage
            or the surge of innards suddenly skewered.
We conduct our affairs far from the lone dog barking
            amid the ruins, we have outsourced the sound
            of the rifle butt banging against the door.
In this way the privileged may linger by their pools,
            or stay cocooned in air-conditioned rooms,
            unvisited by conscience or by troubling dreams.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Review of Edward de Vere was Shake-speare


A customer review for Edward de Vere was Shake-speare that I like to think nails it.


http://www.amazon.com/review/R3K0CIRO31E5C5/ref=cm_cr_pr_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B00H0L2758&linkCode=&nodeID=&tag=


This review is from: Edward De Vere was Shake-speare: at long last, the proof. (The Collected Poems of Edward De Vere) (Kindle Edition)

I've read numerous "Oxfordian" books but nowhere have I read such a clear identification of "Labeo" or explanation of what the "purge" Jonson was given probably was.

This is far from a rehash of old Oxfordian arguments. Purdy gives us a concise biography of the Earl, which may be of interest to readers new to the Shakespeare authorship question, but he goes beyond that into the realm of what contemporaries were writing. There's a dash of history as well. We learn about Pembroke's role and, for those who think Ben Jonson was merely extolling the virtues of a common player out of the goodness of his heart, we're reminded of Honest Ben's association with the Herberts. The incomparable pair of brethren went to quite a bit of trouble to secure control over literary works. Why?

I found the format with its numbered paragraphs a little disconcerting at first but once I got used to it I found it an easy way to get around. I do have a quibble with a repeated myth but it's a Stratfordian myth; pay no attention.

This book may not answer ALL the questions (which one does?) but it certainly raises a few. Since there's disagreement on which poems are Oxford's I don't see their omission as much of a flaw. Most of what survives was written when de Vere was a young teenager and were lyrics, meant to be sung. What was new to me was the discovery of three poems in Latin overlooked by history. How many more by the top courtier poet have been lost?

I'll be reading this one more than once and following up via the bibliography. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

American Life in Poetry #216: Judy Loest.

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006

Judy Loest lives in Knoxville and, like many fine Appalachian writers, her poems have a welcoming conversational style, rooted in that region's storytelling tradition. How gracefully she sweeps us into the landscape and the scene!


Faith

Leaves drift from the cemetery oaks onto late grass,
Sun-singed, smelling like straw, the insides of old barns.
The stone angel's prayer is uninterrupted by the sleeping
Vagrant at her feet, the lone squirrel, furtive amid the litter.

Someone once said my great-grandmother, on the day she died,
rose from her bed where she had lain, paralyzed and mute
For two years following a stroke, and dressed herself--the good
Sunday dress of black crepe, cotton stockings, sensible, lace-up shoes.

I imagine her coiling her long white braid in the silent house,
Lying back down on top of the quilt and folding her hands,
Satisfied. I imagine her born-again daughters, brought up
In that tent-revival religion, called in from kitchens and fields
To stand dismayed by her bed like the sisters of Lazarus,
Waiting for her to breathe, to rise again and tell them what to do.

Here, no cross escapes the erosion of age, no voice breaks
The silence; the only certainty in the crow's flight
Or the sun's measured descent is the coming of winter.
Even the angel's outstretched arms offer only a formulated
Grace, her blind blessings as indiscriminate as acorns,
Falling on each of us, the departed and the leaving.


American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright (c)2007 by Judy Loest. Poem reprinted from "After Appalachia," Finishing Line Press, 2007, by permission of Judy Loest and the publisher. Introduction copyright (c)2009 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.



Also at Virtual Grub Street by/about Ted Kooser: