Monday, October 31, 2005

From "In Memoriam"

We talked about the debate over Darwinism in my 19th C. British Prose class tonight, and this poem by Tennyson speaks to that, but it also spoke to me personally, thus I share it with the vastly uninterested blogosphere.

O, yet we trust that somehow good
will be the final goal of ill,
To pangs of nature, sins of will,
Defects of doubt, and taints of blood;

That nothing walks with aimless feet;
That not one life shall be destroyed,
Or cast as rubbish to the void,
When God hath made the pile complete;

That not a worm is cloven in vain;
That not a moth with vain desire
Is shrivelled by a fruitless fire
Or but subserves another's gain.

Behold, we know not anything,
I can but trust that good shall fall,
At last -- far off -- at last, to all,
And every winter turn to spring.

So runs my dream, but what am I?
An infant crying in the night,
An infant crying for the light,
And with no language but a cry.

The true story

The true story lies
among other stories,

a mess of colours, like jumbled clothing
thrown off or away...

The true story is vicious
and multiple and untrue

after all. Why do you
need it? Don't ever

ask for the true story."

Margaret Atwood, from "True Stories"

All Hollow's Eve

Late night... Can't sleep... Watched the movie version of "Wuthering Heights." I read the book on the Appalachian Trail in 2000. Remember finishing it after a day of hiking in the rain. The next day I heard about "Crash" dying. So much death, pain, suffering, darkness. Life teems beneath it all, happy and exultant, bursting through snow crust to break free from a long winter of discontent.

We invent this costumed holiday, an excuse for masquerade, revelry, a celebration of the macabre, an acknowledgment of our brief time on this mortal coil. Everything dies. The harvest store is soon consumed. The next year's harvest lays dormant in the ground, patient. Everything that lives feeds on the living and the dead. We are all grinning skulls, bones to be bleached.

Epidermal Macabre
by Theodore Roethke

Indelicate is he who loathes
The aspect of his fleshy clothes, --
The flying fabric stitched on bone,
The vesture of the skeleton,
The garment neither fur nor hair,
The cloak of evil and despair,
The veil long violated by
Caresses of the hand and eye.
Yet such is my unseemliness:
I hate my epidermal dress,
The savage blood's obscenity,
The rags of my anatomy,
And willingly would I dispense
With false accoutrements of sense,
To sleep immodestly, a most
Incarnadine and carnal ghost.


"With a great effort the Don opened his eyes to see his son once more. The massive heart attack had turned his face almost blue. He was in extremis. He smelled the garden, the yellow shield of light smote his eyes, and he whispered, "Life is so beautiful."He was spared the sight of his women's tears, dying before they came back from church, dying before the ambulance arrived, or the doctor. He died surrounded by men, holding the hand of the son he had most loved....Michael observed [the funeral] with a tight, polite smile. He was not impressed. Yet, he thought, if I can die saying, "Life is so beautiful," then nothing else is important. If I can believe in myself that much, nothing else matters."

Mario Puzo, "The Godfather"

"Proud people breed sad sorrows for themselves."

"Is Mr. Heathcliff a man? If so, is he mad? And if not, is he a devil?"

"You said I killed you - haunt me, then! The murdered do haunt their murderers, I believe. I know that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always - take any form - drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you!" Emily Bronte, "Wuthering Heights"

"I stand in awe of my body, this matter to which I am bound has become so strange to me. I fear not spirits, ghosts, of which I am one, that my body might, but I fear bodies, I tremble to meet them. What is this Titan that has possession of me? Talk of mysteries! Think of our life in nature, daily to be shown matter, to come in contact with it, rocks, trees, wind on our cheeks! The solid earth! the actual world! the common sense! Contact! Contact! Who are we? where are we?" -- Henry David Thoreau "Ktaadn"

Deep into the darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortals ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word,Lenore?,
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word,"Lenore!" Merely this, and nothing more. --Edgar Allan Poe "The Raven"

Friday, October 28, 2005

Return to Forever


Chick Corea -- Return to Forever

(ECM 1022 78118-21022-2)USA 1972
Chick Corea, electric piano; Joe Farrell, flutes, soprano sax; Flora Purim, vocal, percussion; Stanley Clarke, electric bass, double bass; Airto Moreira, drums, percussion

Tracklist:
1. Return to Forever — 12:06
2. Crystal Silence — 6:55
3. What Game Shall We Play Today — 4:26
4. Sometime Ago - La Fiesta — 23:18
total time 46:51

Return to Forever holds a very special place in my musical pantheon because it was released the year I was born has been a part of my life since childhood.

I first listened to this album when I checked it out from North Suburban Library in Loves Park, IL, when I was a kid. I liked the cover, which features a seagull flying across the ocean, and then fell in love with the electric piano stylings of Corea. The sound on these tracks tread that thin nether region between festive and contemplative. I put this album on when I'm in a good mood, and after a difficult day when I want to escape to another world.

In 1989 I played "La Fiesta," or at least the bass part, as a member of the Phantom Regiment Cadets. It is one of the toughest bass parts I've ever played, and to this day, especially when exercising, I'll play my part over and over again in my head. York F. and I were the only two contra basses in the corps, and we worked our asses off in sectionals to get it right. It's an awesome Latin groove.

This album kicked off my interest in jazz fusion, that marriage of jazz and rock in the early 1970s oft-vilified by jazz purists. Return to Forever led me to Weather Report, Bitches Brew era Miles Davis, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Billy Cobham, Carlos Santana and Herbie Hancock.

The title track, Crystal Silence, begins with two notes spaced a fifth apart, on that delicious, almost vibraphonic electric piano. The song has two movements that begin slow and contemplative, then kick out the jams. My only complaint is Flora Purim's vocals, which can be distracting and lyrically hoaky (Sometime ago/I had a dream/ It was laughing/ It was happy/ It was free).

This album should be played after dinner on Friday nights, after a night out on the town, Sunday mornings and anytime when studying. Below are some other reviews more erudite than my own.

From Ground and Sky reviews

Regardless, this ECM release is amazing, and with its extended, structured compositions presents another blurring of the line between fusion and progressive rock. It is more "organic" sounding than later RTF efforts, with a sparse but intimate electric piano/winds/vocals/drums set-up. This album could be a rare instance where we might actually catch Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira behind a traditional drum kit, and whether that is indeed the case or not, boy does he deliver, informing with powerful, celebratory samba rhythms. The title track that opens the album is a sort of mini-Pictures at an Exhibition, with two highly melodic, intense jams bordered by an uneasy, ghostly "Promenade"-type theme. As you would guess, "Crystal Silence" is delicately executed, and even "What Game Shall We Play Today," with its cliched lyrics and obvious attempt at accessibility, still manages some neat interplay and chord progressions that one wouldn't expect in the typical pop songs of the day. The final track, "Sometime Ago - La Fiesta" drives the entire thing home, with a captivating vocal performance from Flora Purim and a frenzied Latino closing. Superb musicianship on all parts (especially Corea) makes this one deserve to be in every fusion fans collection without a doubt.

Unlike the rock-oriented subsequent lineups of Return to Forever, the original group played a fusion of jazz and Latin music that doesn't sound as dated. Corea's electric piano is the dominant sound on the album, but apart from some occasional plugged-in bass the record is otherwise acoustic. Pairing the acoustic instrumentation with Corea's electric piano and Stanley Clarke's lightning-fast bass gives the music a character that is both organic and futuristic; with material that sometimes exhibits a strong Latin influence, the effect can be a thoroughly engrossing contrast. The exuberant, "La Fiesta," for example, could be arranged for a more traditional ensemble of horns and a nylon guitar and those south of the border would be none the wiser. The chilly sustain of the electric piano, however, adds an opaque modern monochromaticity and the keyboard's inherent potential as the ultimate improvisational tool enables Corea to give the music a superior level of melodic and harmonic sophistication. The influences are thus transcended and the result is something new entirely.
The other tunes — and these are tunes, not just jams — are more atmospheric, though no lesser of achievements. "La Fiesta" may be one of the most irresistibly melodic fusion songs ever recorded, but the title track is my favorite piece by this configuration of Return to Forever. Corea lays comparatively low on much of the track, playing repetitive clusters that, complemented by the steady force of Stanley Clark's wicked, trebly bass pattern, Joe Farrell's flute and Flora Purim's ghostly vocals, creates a simultaneously creepy and pretty sound that is almost Krautrock-like. "Crystal Silence" is a drifting meditation between Corea and Farrell (now on soprano sax) that equals the best of similar efforts from Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter in Weather Report. "What Game Shall We Play Today" is a melodic, breezy vocal tune made all the more appealing by the context of the rest of the album, as it demonstrates how easily the band's approach translated to the format of a more conventional pop-song. The medley "Sometime Ago/La Fiesta" is a great 23-minute excursion that brings the album to its conclusion. "Sometime Ago" begins slowly, with Corea's sparse keyboard phrases providing the backdrop for some excellent acoustic basswork by Stanley Clarke. Clarke's plucking becomes faster and more intricate, building tension before switching to a frenzied bowing. Then there's a lull and Corea introduces the song's melody — a total change of pace, but a turn that follows logically from the construction of the previous portion. This part of the song is a samba-inflected vocal tune, though more in character overall with "Return to Forever" than "What Game Shall We Play Today." Corea improvises lightly over the melody and eventually segues into the thrilling "La Fiesta," which piles melody and improvisation on top of each other to build an impressive crescendo.

From an NPR transcript from Aug. 1, 2000, from the Basic Jazz Record Library

A.B. SPELLMAN, National Endowment for the Arts: Murray Horwitz, this is Chick Corea in 1972 -- a transitional period for jazz, is it not?
MURRAY HORWITZ, American Film Institute: "Transitional" may be a kind way to say it, A.B. It's not what you'd call the golden age of jazz in America. But it might have been the beginning of a golden era for the influences of world music on jazz, and jazz becoming much more of an international art form.
SPELLMAN: Yes, and we also had electronic instruments coming into it. Every age makes its own instrument and the previous age puts them down, I've found, but here we have Chick Corea on a very great electric piano record.
HORWITZ: It's true and it's electric piano is not used in any way as a gimmick but really fits the musical mood of this CD.
[MUSIC]
HORWITZ: In the early '70s, there was a lot going on in music. There was rock and roll, there was the sort of long solos you got in avant garde jazz, and there were weird things happening in classical music. There was a lot of electronic music and new production techniques in pop music. And there were all these attempts to synthesize all this, and this CD is one of the most successful -- I'd argue fully successful. The CD is Return to Forever.
MUSIC
SPELLMAN: Chick Corea seems to have chosen some musicians of disparate backgrounds, but who were all masters in their medium or in their styles, is that not so?
HORWITZ: And some of them were very young masters. There was Stanley Clarke, the bassist, who had played at the age of -- I'm not certain of this -- eighteen or something with Stan Getz. There's the incredible virtuosic Latin-American percussionist Aerto Morera, and the Brazilian singer, Flora Purim. And from the United States, the saxophonist and flutist Joe Farell.
[MUSIC]
SPELLMAN: Now, this record has what as its quality? What do people listen for here?
HORWITZ: A.B., I think that it has to do with what we talked about briefly: the synthesis. The fact that in Chick Corea, there was a compositional sensibility that could pull all these things together, but always with a terrific rhythmic pulse. I mean, people can argue. Does this swing? Does it rock? Does it do neither? Something is going on rhythmically that keeps the whole thing together at all times. And it works all the way through in a variety of grooves, including the terrific--I guess I'll call it a "Latin number" -- "Fiesta."
[MUSIC]
SPELLMAN: The selection that we are recommending for your Basic Jazz Record Library today is Chick Corea's Return to Forever. It's available on ECM Records.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

An "Ode to Healing"

A scab
is a beautiful thing - a coin
the body has minted, with an invisible motto:
In God We Trust.
Our body loves us,
and, even while the spirit drifts dreaming,
works at mending the damage that we do.

Close your eyes, knowing
that healing is a work of darkness,
that darkness is a gown of healing,
that the vessel of our tremulous venture is lifted
by tides we do not control.
Faith is health's requisite:
we have this fact in lieu of better proof of le bon Dieu.

-from "Ode to Healing" by John Updike

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Trail song


The first track on Genesis' "A Trick of the Tail," "Dance On A Volcano," is one of my favorite "trail" songs, one that went through my head often, especially in dicey situations like brutal, roaring creek crossings or above treeline in gale force winds after dark.

I like the back story to this song. "Trick..." was the first album Genesis released in 1976 after the departure of lead singer Peter Gabriel. Everyone thought the band was through when Gabriel left, because his theatrical flamboyance and unique lyrical and vocal stylings really gave the band a signature sound. So, "Dance on a Volcano" was the listening public's introduction to Phil Collins as lead singer. The song is a bold statement, a reminder to Phil and the rest of the group that, hey, they "better start doing it right." And they did. The band's popularity soared, reaching its apex with "Invisible Touch" in 1986.

Collins has since sold out and now does soundtracks for Disney cartoons. He was once a great drummer and, as the public discovered with "Trick of the Tail," a pretty good lead singer too.

Holy mother of god
You’ve got to go faster than that to get to the top.
Dirty old mountain
All covered in smoke, she can turn you to stone
So you better start doing it right
Better start doing it right.

You’re halfway up and you’re halfway down
And the pack on your back is turning you around.
Throw it away, you won’t need it up there, and remember
You don’t look back whatever you do.
Better start doing it right.

On your left and on your right
Crosses are green and crosses are blue
Your friends didn’t make it through.
Out of the night and out of the dark
Into the fire and into the fight
Well that’s the way the heroes go, ho! ho! ho!

Through a crack in mother earth,
Blazing hot, the molten rock
Spills out over the land.
And the lava’s the lover who licks your boots away. hey! hey! hey!
If you don’t want to boil as well.
B-b-better start the dance
D-d-do you want to dance with me.
You better start doing it right.

The music’s playing, the notes are right
Put your left foot first and move into the light.
The edge of the stage is the edge of the world
And if you’re going to cross you better start doing it right
Better start doing it right.
You better start doing it right.

Let the dance begin.

Friday, October 21, 2005

The story of Atalanta

This is the favorite Greek myth of a friend of mine:

Atalanta is the female athlete in Greek myth. It is unclear exactly where Atalanta comes from, some sources say that she came from Arcadia and was the daughter of Iasus and Clymene, but Hesiod and other sources attributes Atalanta's origin to Boeotia where her father is Schoeneus. The contradiction over Atalanta's birth contributes to the assumption that there were two mythic women that were merged into one person.

Whoever Atalanta's father was, he wanted a boy so bad that when Atalanta was born, he exposed her on a hill were she was suckled by a she bear, sent by Artemis, until a group of hunters found her and raised her to womanhood. Atalanta, like Artemis, loved to hunt.
Atalanta is best known for participation in male activities while at the same time having an aura of sexuality surrounding her. For example, some sources say that Atalanta was one of the crewmembers of the Argonaut. Atalanta was even wounded in a battle with the Colchians and was healed by Medea, who was also on the voyage. But at the same time, other sources say that Jason refused to let Atalanta go on the voyage because she was a woman.
One male activity Atalanta definitely participated in was the Calydonian Boar Hunt. Other male members of the hunt objected to her presence, but consumed with lust, Meleager insisted that Atalanta be allowed to join. During the hunt, centaurs Hylaeus and Rhaecus tried to rape Atalanta. Atalanta killed both of them, thus the first bloodshed of the Calydonian Boar Hunt was human.
Atalanta shot the first arrow to pierce the boar. Because of this, Meleager gave Atalanta the boar's pelt. This resulted in even more human bloodshed, Meleager's two uncles protested to Atalanta receiving the pelt, so Meleager killed them. When Meleager's mother heard that Meleager had killed her brothers, she threw an enchanted log on the fire, once the log finished burning Meleager would die.
After Atalanta's success at the boar hunt, Atalanta's father, Iasus or Schoeneus, was proud and claimed her as his daughter. Atalanta was reconciled with her father. Since Atalanta was now a princess, Iasus wanted Atalanta to marry. Atalanta had been warned not to marry by the Oracle. Atalanta came up with a witty plan that would stop her from having to marry. She would race the suitors, the one who beat her in the foot race would be the lucky man to marry her, but if she won, she could kill the man. Atalanta made the bargain knowing that no one could beat her. One day a racer, Melanion or to some sources Hippomenes, fell in love with Atalanta and wanted to marry her, but he knew he could not beat her so he called on Aphrodite, the love goddess, for assistance. Aphrodite provided Melanion with three golden apples to entice Atalanta. During the race, whenever Atalanta would get ahead of Melanion, he would roll one of the golden apples forward, forcing a curious Atalanta to stop and pick the apple up. Atalanta's frequent stops gave Melanion the advantage he needed and he won the race and Atalanta's hand in marriage.
Once married, it seems that Atalanta could not contain her inhibitions any longer, for one day she allowed Melanion to seduce her in the temple of Zeus. Zeus was so angered that he turned them into lions. This was a fitting punishment because lions can not mate with each other.
Atalanta has a son named Parthenopaeus (son of a pierced maidenhead). Once again, there is a dispute as to who the father is. Some sources say that Atalanta had an affair with Meleagar, other sources attribute Parthenopaues to Ares or Melanion. Parthenpaoues was active in the war known as the Seven Against Thebes.

Bad Day

"Bad Day" by Daniel Powter

Where is the moment we need at the most
You kick up the leaves and the magic is lost
They tell me your blue skies fade to grey
They tell me your passion's gone away
And I don't need no carryin' on
You stand in the line just to hit a new low
You're faking a smile with the coffee to go
You tell me your life's been way off line
You're falling to pieces everytime
And I don't need no carryin' on
Cause you had a bad day
You're taking one down
You sing a sad song just to turn it around
You say you don't know
You tell me don't lie
You work at a smile and you go for a ride
You had a bad day
The camera don't lie
You're coming back down and you really don't mind
You had a bad day
You had a bad day
Well you need a blue sky holiday
The point is they laugh at what you say
And I don't need no carryin' on
You had a bad day
You're taking one down
You sing a sad song just to turn it around
You say you don't know
You tell me don't lie
You work at a smile and you go for a ride
You had a bad day
The camera don't lie
You're coming back down and you really don't mind
You had a bad day
(Oh.. Holiday..)
Sometimes the system goes on the blink
And the whole thing turns out wrong
You might not make it back and you know
That you could be well oh that strong
And I'm not wrong
So where is the passion when you need it the most
Oh you and I
You kick up the leaves and the magic is lost
Cause you had a bad day
You're taking one down
You sing a sad song just to turn it around
You say you don't know
You tell me don't lie
You work at a smile and you go for a ride
You had a bad day
You've seen what you like
And how does it feel for one more time
You had a bad day
You had a bad day

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Arbole! Trees! Colors! Showy death!


Fall colors have arrived in DeKalb. The sugar maples display a bright red. I love that scientists can explain how leaves change color, but not why? The ostentatious dying show serves no detectable natural purpose. Until some scientist ruins all the fun, fall colors still reside in realm of the aesthetic, the poetic. I wouldn't want it any other way.

Fall is my favorite season, despite or maybe because of the decay. My allergies are gone, the bugs are all but dead. Fall is a time for rolling in raked leaves, apple cider, pumpkin carving, cool nights, cool days. Rubbing hands by the fire. Steaming coffee. Back to the hearth with winter's store put up. Yeah, no pastoral scenes for apartment-dwelling me, but I know not far away, out in the country, in some country, maybe not DeKalb county, but, shoot, somewhere, third world, first world, second, there's someone actually subsisting on an honest season's bounty.

I found a cool tree the other day and identified it as an American Elm. It's a rare find because the once-abundant giants are decimated by Dutch Elm Disease.

I once wrote a story about a Boy Scout project in Antigo, WI, to re-establish a new disease-resistant elm, The American Liberty Elm. The article consisted of driving out to the wastewater treatment plant on a cloudy day to talk to a troop of kids wearing garden gloves, dirty kneed as they planted neat rows of saplings on adjacent land. The kids were tough interviews. Sons of potato farmers. A stoic, self-effacing lot. Teenagers. Tough quotes.

But the American Elm holds a special place in my heart. The remnant survivors are reminders of a shadier, verdant past of shaded tree columns along brick-paved streets. Sorry, I'm a bit of an anachronism, pining (ha!) for a past I never knew.

A world with more trees is a better place. Call me a tree hugger. It's an apt description. I've got the sap to prove it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Andrew Wyeth, Christina's World, and my grandparent's house



My grandpa Bob Smith built a house on a hill in Loves Park, IL. In the living room of that house was a print of this painting by Andrew Wyeth. When we finished the Appalachian Trail in 2000, our friend Trainwreck took us to Rockland, ME, to the Andrew Wyeth Gallery, where I saw the actual print. It was then I learned Christina is disabled. I didn't pay enough attention as a child to notice how thin her ankles were, and probably would not have noticed as an adult without the help of an explanatory placard. Later that day, after seeing this print, we drove by the actual hill, not far from Trainwreck's family's seaside cabin. It looks a lot like the hill my grandpa built a house on.

Here's an article about the painting, its location and Wyeth.

From good ol' Wikipedia:

Christina's World

"Christina's World"
Christina's World is the most famous work by American painter Andrew Wyeth, and one of the best-known American paintings of the 20th century. Painted in 1948, this tempera work is displayed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
It shows a woman named Christina, who had an undiagnosed muscular deterioration that paralyzed her lower body, dragging herself across the ground to pick flowers from her garden.
The house, in Cushing, Maine still stands, although Wyeth took artistic license in its depiction, separating the barn from the house and changing the lay of the land. Wyeth used his wife, Betsy, as a model. The house is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Weather lesson and more?

Good friend Chris Arbizzani is on an epic journey out west, car camping and exploring. He sends really great e-mails that go into detail describing the people and places he's seen. And, because he's something of a geology buff and weather nut, he tends to go into greater detail about those subjects. Here is an interesting tidbit I gleaned from his latest post, culled, of course, because it has something remotely to do with mountains:

Meteorology Lesson: How can a snowstorm happen in Colorado in October? I am going to try to explain the phenomenon the best I can, it can get kind of technical, but is interesting.
A large snowstorm is happening all across the high country of Colorado. It may seem odd, because there are no other major winter storms in the country, and in fact, temperatures all around here are much warmer. There are a number of specific weather phenomenon that have to occur together to form a storm like this one. The escence of all weather phenomenon is Air Pressure. High Pressure generaly means fair weather, and Low Pressure often means storms. The contrast between pressure systems produces wind, and often precipitation. In North America, most Low Pressure System come down from the north, with the notable exception of hurricanes. In this case, a Low pressure system has stalled over Colorado, called by Meteorologists a "Cut off Low", as there is higher pressure all around it, and no significant colder or warmer air mass behind it. The Low is stalled over the mountains, creating the specific conditions needed for large amounts of precipitation. Storms in the Northern Hemisphere rotate counter-clockwise (you may remember this from the satelite photos of hurricanes), and suck air into them because of the pressure difference. Moist air is being drawn into the storm from the southeast, and east. Cold air is being drawn in primarily from higher in the atmosphere, a normal, and common occurence with storms. In the flatlands, the colder air is kept 5 or 10 thouseand feet or greater, up in the air, making the storm a rain event. Due to elevation, the mountains interact with parts of the storm that would otherwise never touch the ground, thus producing snow. Another factor related to elevation is the difference between warm and cool air. The air out on the great plains of Kansas and South Dakota is comparatively warmer than the air on the mountains. The rotation of the storm forces the warmer air from the plains, via a strong northeast wind, to be forced up the front range mountains. As the air rises, it cools, and condences water out of it, forming clouds. The already cold upper air causes the clouds to almost immediately create precipitation. So we esentialy have large range of conditions present in this storm, it is really something for the textbooks.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Raru runs the Chicago Marathon

Yes. I ran the Chicago Marathon, my first, on Sunday. I didn't plan to run it because I hadn't followed the training regimen I laid out for myself, and in fact finished almost an hour slower than my desired time of four hours. But I finished it, and that's enough of an accomplishment for now. Next year I know I will do better. I still may not be able to beat my brother Ken, who has more of a runner's physique than me, but I'd like to come a little closer.

TIME
04:58:10
Pace: 11:22

Placement
Overall: 25279
Gender: 15473
Division: 2640

I really enjoyed seeing downtown Chicago and the surrounding neighborhoods from the middle of the street. My favorite ethnic neighborhood was Chinatown because the streets were closely-packed with people and all the restaurants have cool banners and colorful signs in Chinese symbols. The gays of Boystown put on a great drag revue, and numerous blues bands entertained the runners. Towards the end of the race my fatigue and pain kept me from appreciating the scenery, but the crowd cheered me onward and kept me from giving up.

I went into the race with the plan to pull out around mile 10, close to Ken's apartment. But I felt so good at that point that I decided to keep going. And when I reached mile 15 I figured, why not tough it out and finish this thing. Though I was sore and aching at that point, I had no reason to stop going. My trail-hardened legs carried me all the way to the finish line.

I found a spot under a tree off Buckingham Fountain and rested while I watched a small bird go about its business of feeding and chirping with its neighbors. Ken said running a marathon is like hitting yourself in the face repeatedly with a red rubber ball, like in that great movie, "I (heart) Huckabees." In the movie, the characters report not being able to think for about 30 seconds. After the marathon, I entered this non-state of restive bliss for a good half an hour before hobbling to my feet and making my way to the State Street L for the Red Line back out to Ken's.

It's not every day I get to check off an accomplishment from my Life List of things-to-do.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Sartor Resartus’s influence on Transcendentalism



Below is the first paper for my English 562 class. I like it enough to include here, but unless you're a religious history, Victorian prose or back-to-nature freak like me, you may not find much interest in it, so be warned.



American Transcendentalism became a mainstream cultural phenomenon with the publication of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Nature in 1836. But the unique, almost reactionary tone of American Transcendentalism is strongly influenced by German Transcendentalism, particularly the works of Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814), a German philosopher who developed a transcendental philosophy called Wissenschaftslehre, which, loosely translated, means “doctrine of science,” a strange word to inspire an American philosophical belief system that rejected pure reason, a requisite of scientific thought. The conduit of this German philosophy was through none other than a Scotsman, Thomas Carlyle, and his first major work, Sartor Resartus (1831).
This paper will examine quotes from Sartor Resartus and juxtapose them with the tenets of Transcendentalism as outlined by Emerson in his paper, “The Transcendentalist.” Of course, the relationship between Carlyle and Emerson must be taken into consideration, and quotes from their 38-year correspondence (1834-72) will interpose into this context. This paper does not argue that Carlyle was a Transcendentalist, or that he even allied himself with the movement. In many instances, the views of the Transcendentalist movement, especially regarding work, contradict Carlyle’s views. Sartor Resartus had a long-lasting influence on the American Transcendentalist movement and many key phrases proved particularly influential.
Carlyle writes that Herr Teufelsdrockh was above society and looked at men with a “strange impartiality” and “at all Matter and Material things as Spirit; whereby truly his were the more hopeless, the more lamentable” (Carlyle 23). This quote corresponds with Emerson’s tenet that a Transcendentalist must “shun general society” and “accept spiritual doctrine” (Emerson). Teufelsdrockh’s philosophy of clothes is based on the idea that society is a false construct based solely on outside dress. “The world, with its loud trafficking, retires into the distance… and you are alone with the Universe, and silently commune with it, as one mysterious Presence with another” (Carlyle 40). Carlyle believes that once clothes are removed, society, and particularly its class system, falls away.
Emerson’s Transcendentalism shunned general society and placed greater emphasis on the idea that reality “originates from an ‘unknown center’ inside” oneself (Emerson). Contrast this with Teufelsdrockh, who says that “Matter exists only spiritually, and to represent some Idea, and body it forth… what is Man himself, and his whole terrestrial Life, but an Emblem; a clothing or visible Garment for that divine Me of his, cast hither, like a light-particle, down from Heaven?” What does Emerson mean by “unknown center?” Is it the same as Teufelsdrockh’s “divine Me?” Both phrases contend that the external reality is merely a manifestation of divine will, though the nature of that divinity is unclear.
Carlyle’s Teufelsdrockh shares an affinity with Transcendentalism regarding the concept of wonder. Emerson says that Transcendentalism is “childlike, joyous, affectionate, susceptible” (Emerson). Carlyle writes: “The man who cannot wonder… is but a Pair of Spectacles behind which there is no Eye” (52). Carlyle criticizes pure reason as a dead analytical tool, and that under Logic “man’s mind becomes an Arithmetical Mill, whereof Memory is the Hopper… Thought without Reverence is barren, perhaps poisonous…” One must be mindful, though, that while Emerson seemed to reject pure reason for an almost pure intuition, Carlyle doesn’t seem to step so far to one polar extreme or another. Reason has its place, but it must be reason with heart. Both seem alarmed at the mechanistic bent of a growing industrial revolution and cling to their own semblances of divinity in favor of humanity over machinery. But while Emerson, and, more famously, Thoreau, rejected society for a retreat in nature’s solitude, Carlyle’s Teufelsdrockh returns to civilization after his mountaintop retreat, where he gazed “over those stupendous masses with wonder, almost with longing desire…” (117).
In a letter to Emerson, dated May 13, 1835, Carlyle wrote that “Transcendentalism evolve itself (if I construe aright) as the Euthanasia of Metaphysic altogether. May it be sure, may it be Speedy.” Carlyle calls Emerson’s Boston Transcendentalism “an interesting symptom” and “I shall cordially wish well to this thing.” But despite numerous entreaties by Emerson, Carlyle never ventured overseas and never gave open consent to a movement he never saw firsthand. He begged off overseas travel, citing the health of his wife, Jane Welsh Carlyle, and that she did not even fare well crossing the English Channel.
Later, in a letter dated August 30, 1840, Emerson comments on the first issue of the “Dial,” which is being attacked by numerous newspapers and magazines. Emerson asks for Carlyle’s endorsement: “But they would hardly be able to fasten on so huge a man as you are any party badge. We must hear you for ourselves.” Carlyle responds, in a letter dated September 26, 1840, that the “Dial” is too “ethereal, speculative, theoretic: all theory becomes more and more confessedly inadequate, untrue, unsatisfactory, almost a kind of mockery to me!” But he later writes that the voices in the “Dial” are “worth listening to among the rest.” Surely, not a ringing endorsement of the primary publication of Transcendentalism, but neither a stinging rejection. The fit between Carlyle and Emerson’s Transcendentalism is never as tight as Emerson would like.
Though Carlyle was only seven years older than Emerson, he was a spiritual mentor to the American philosopher. Did Emerson fawn over Carlyle to get his endorsement and add continental legitimacy to his movement? The quote from Sartor Resartus that most allies itself with Transcendentalism and also delineates Carlyle’s cling to some semblance of scientific reason is: “It is a mathematical fact that the casting of this pebble from my hand alters the centre of the Universe” (Carlyle 186). Everything about this quote falls into Emerson’s philosophy, but that one stinging word, “mathematical.” This is emblematic. Sartor Resartus is so close to being a Transcendental text. Its idea that man has the will the reject evil has also labeled it an existential text. But Sartor Resartus, like its enigmatic, shape-shifting protagonist, Teufelsdrockh, refuses such easy classification.

Works cited

Carlyle, Thomas. Sartor Resartus. Boston: Dana Estes & Company. 1901. (1831).
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “The Transcendentalist.” From http://www.wikipedia.org/.
Correspondence between Ralph Waldo Emerson and Thomas Carlyle at http://www.rwe.org/ under “Old Friends: The Correspondence of Thomas Carlyle and Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1834-1872: Volune I and Volume II.”

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Some original poems

I finished one of my journals about a month ago and, since I have it my bag and want to get some of its contents out of my system, here is some poetry it contains.

"Verbatum transcriptum"

vocal scat nonsense
phonics rattle
echo off the drywall
skyward
words fly
uttered into shape
violent form
whose hidden meanings
soar on thermal jets
and glisten in the sun

"mosquito buzz"

There's no surface place
they've not touched
But there may be hidden depths
beneath the surface
under the mantle crust
inaccessible thicknesses
and pressures
pure and shielded
from intrusion, presence

But... then...
an electromagnetic probe
the first debasement
the first measure, scrutiny. quantity
plumbed, a mark on a chart
in wait to be conquered
as frontier

"Basement dreams on a hundred degree day"

Curly hair, the rattle of the dehumidifier
a stack of comics, wood panelling, a recliner
Weird War Stories
the skull of death smiles
has no choice
as tiny soldiers cling to its teeth
sling ropes and pitons
scale into the abyss
of its laughing maw

"Dusk"

Rows of arid, withered corn
flash by
as off across the fields
a modern tower
blazes orange
aflame
but no smoke
just sunset on steel
over faded green

"Power of One"

Harness the sun with one bite.
Shake loose the fetters of energy.
Improbably normal
what years ago we never knew existed.
Powerful chains of reason
know what is the true
know the desire of our hearts before we do.
We may deny its existence
This passive, tendriled creature
shows us the way in spite of ourselves.

"Lanesboro, MN"

Saturday night
acoustics in the park
bikers, campers, picnic tables
gazebo, bottles of wine
young spirit on guitar
sings energetic, bittersweet
songs to elderly too poor
for anything but free
entertainment
Babies in strollers
soccer balls, frisbee motion, polite claps
Dreams of stardom

*****

Choctaw revo- revolution
sing song
There is no world peace solution
ding dong
Synthetic at the core
Frenetic to the bone
permabound confusion
sing song