I just heard the news this morning, on my way to the Farmer's Market. I just started reading her this year after hearing this interview on the BBC and reading several other articles related to the release of No Time Like the Present:


The topic of the interview is 'what happens after the revolution' and it seemed an appropriate topic for her work and the time of her life.

She says, "We have been free for only 18 years. Not even a generation," and says that even the free world still struggles with the problems that plague South Africa.

NPR broadcast a short tribute this morning, cherry-picking extensively from her 1991 Nobel Prize acceptance speech.

Nadine Gordimer won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991, and in her Nobel address she said human beings devised writing to explore why we are here,

"Since humans became self-regarding they have sought, as well, explanations for the common phenomena of procreation, death, the cycle of seasons, the earth, sea, wind and stars, sun and moon, plenty and disaster," said Gordimer. "The oral story-tellers," she said, "began to feel out and formulate these mysteries, using the elements of daily life ... to make stories."

"Writers themselves don't analyze what they do," she said, "to analyze would be to look down while crossing a canyon on a tightrope."

Gordimer noted that, "Some of us have seen our books lie for years unread in our own countries, banned, and we have gone on writing." But she cited Flaubert, Strindberg, Chinua Achebe and Salman Rushdie more than herself.

"There is a paradox," she added. "In retaining this integrity, the writer sometimes must risk both the state's indictment of treason, and the liberation forces' complaint of lack of blind commitment. The writer is of service to humankind only insofar as the writer uses the word even against his or her own loyalties."


To get the full impact of the speech, her fierce intelligence, complex style, and zealous devotion to the Word you should read it, in its original, here:


The writer is of service to humankind only insofar as the writer uses the word even against his or her own loyalties, trusts the state of being, as it is revealed, to hold somewhere in its complexity filaments of the cord of truth, able to be bound together, here and there, in art: trusts the state of being to yield somewhere fragmentary phrases of truth, which is the final word of words, never changed by our stumbling efforts to spell it out and write it down, never changed by lies, by semantic sophistry, by the dirtying of the word for the purposes of racism, sexism, prejudice, domination, the glorification of destruction, the curses and the praise-songs.

I can barely begin to articulate what her work has meant to me, suffice to say I think of her as a close relative in my family tree of influence. I wrote this in response to The Golden Notebook and I think it is as true today as the day I wrote it:

One of the themes she repeats is that sense, not just of destiny, or service, but sacred trust as an artist... in her case a writer who wants to give up writing, (as I have since last autumn) because she is too sad about the state of the world, is suffering from the breakdown of meaning as language is abused to the ends of violence and oppression, (even within the party she once believed in), and the knowledge that it cannot win her the love she craves.

She has her own tag if you want to see any more:

Today the BP posted Isao Hashimoto's visualization of the nuclear detonations between 1945-1998 with the caption, "The World Has Already Ended." It actually illustrates one of his pet points, that we are already living in what is essentially a post-apocalyptic landscape. Certainly one that has been irrevocably altered by the presence of humans.

It actually dovetails nicely with several things I've already got going on right now:

Read more... )

Anyway, you've probably noticed I haven't been posting much. I'm toying with the idea of giving up LJ altogether. But before I go, in honor of the time I've spent here, and in honor of those who have read, or are still reading, I'd like to clear out my 'notes' file where I've squirreled away unwritten posts, unposted comments, or tidbits that felt they needed an extra bit of imagination. By the time I get to the end of those files, I should have a better idea of where this grand adventure is taking me next.

Join me.
"...give all for love... but this love must not be that of ... schoolboys and German ladies....

[in Paris] I saw you, with all your knowledge and your imagination and all your literary reputation, living in bondage worse than a servant. You have persuaded yourself that all you need is to express your feelings and ideas in books. You existed like a ghost that whispers to the living its plans and desires, no longer able to realize them itself....

I tried to make you understand that you should not confine your life to books and reveries. You have pleaded the liberty of woman in a masculine and frank style. Live and act, as you write."

- Polish dissident & poet Adam Mickiewicz to Margaret Fuller, Spring, 1847.
with thanks to [personal profile] sakuratea

Roll over Hitchens, Russell Brand can write:

When John Lennon was told of Elvis Presley's death, he famously responded: "Elvis died when he joined the army," meaning of course, that his combat clothing and clipped hair signalled the demise of the thrusting, Dionysian revolution of which he was the immaculate emblem....

Perhaps, though, Thatcher "the monster" didn't die yesterday from a stroke, perhaps that Thatcher died as she sobbed self-pitying tears as she was driven, defeated, from Downing Street, ousted by her own party. By then, 1990, I was 15, adolescent and instinctively anti-establishment enough to regard her disdainfully. I'd unthinkingly imbibed enough doctrine to know that, troubled as I was, there was little point looking elsewhere for support. I was on my own. We are all on our own. Norman Tebbit, one of Thatcher's acolytes and fellow "Munsters evacuee", said when the National Union of Mineworkers eventually succumbed to the military onslaught and starvation over which she presided: "We didn't just break the strike, we broke the spell." The spell he was referring to is the unseen bond that connects us all and prevents us from being subjugated by tyranny. The spell of community.


At the end of article who ponders, "I do not yet know what effect Margaret Thatcher has had on me as an individual or on the character of our country," but he answered that question in the paragraph cited above.

It strikes me as indicative of the Gen X ethos... and what it says that our communities are now 'virtual' certainly bears some thought. What else broke with that spell?
A very nice essay about Jane Austen as a didactic moralist FTW -


It's been a very long time since I've written an Austen essay (I am especially fond of my defense of Mansfield Park, a novel that I actually dislike). I still love Persuasion the most, though I think Waldman is correct in her criticisms. And I suspect Emma is her "best" novel, though I can never get over my dislike of the protagonist.

My theory on Austen is that her moralism is actually what makes her great. She is expression, for the first time, in novel format, the way young women were adopting philosophy into their lives.

Waldman comes perilously close to another essay I would like to write, 'In Praise of Didacticism' in which I'd like to take apart the fact that in spite of saying that we hate it, this is expected and novels that lack it (say Dangerous Liaisons) are frequently those that come up for censure.

Also, one of these days I have got to write something about Madame Bovary. In fact, I frequently feel Madame Bovary as well as House of Mirth are due for an update. They strike me as very NOW kind of books in their discussion of moral, social & economic bankruptcy.
Several years ago I read a book called Turning the Wheel: Essays on Buddhism and Writing by Charles Richard Johnson. I have no idea where this book came from, but it hit when the time was right. It was about what I did know (writing) and what I didn't know (Buddhism.) I remember thinking, "In a few years this will probably mean more."

At that time I put one of his books on my bookmooch wishlist. It was only a few weeks ago that it came available and turned up in the mail.

I LOVED the beginning of The Oxherding Tale. It is set in the antebellum south and is about the mixed-race son of a plantation owner's wife and a black butler. The origin tale is bawdy and funny... and the whole book is kind of a tragicomic meditation on on eastern spirituality via western philosophy. Which means my peeps the Transcendentalists are referenced, but so are a million other things.

Read more... )
I don't know how Maeve Binchy became one of my favorite authors. I ignored her books for years, read a few, ignored them more, and then somehow found myself reading them all, recommending them to others and having favorites. Her last book Minding Frankie I wept over, even long after I'd finished reading it. For me, it seemed an appropriate last title, as a beloved character in it dies, and the central problem relates to a new mother with terminal cancer looking for a home for her baby.

When Maeve died, Minding Frankie became even more prescient... it seemed right that it was a last book. And how it deals with a community coming together to fill the various holes left behind... Even as we all grieved that there wouldn't be anymore cozy titles coming from the beloved author.

Anyway, last week a new title turned up A Week in Winter. I just finished it. Classic Binchy, though not as good as Minding Frankie, it's solid and complete (though one suspects there was a sequel in the works.)

Read more... )
This year will see not only a film adaptation of On the Road, but also one about Big Sur my favorite Kerouac title:

Also, Bowie isn't the only one with a new album out, after 14 years, Dead Can Dance's new offering can be streamed from their website. Haven't listened to it, yet:

I'm posting this a little early this year. Let me know if you are looking for specific recommendations....

Read more... )
I'm about half way through the 2nd volume of Doris Lessing's autobiography, which closely matches the material in The Golden Notebook, which I finally read last year. I still haven't written about reading The Golden Notebook... in some ways it hit too close to home. How could I respond or even address what she had already written so perfectly. The book is not for everyone, I find I cannot recommend it, and yet... there is a reason I think it resonates so deeply with the readers it does find. For me, I keep repeating, "This is the 1950s and so little has changed!"

Read more... )
It's snowing!

Last year I missed both autumn and first snow because I was in Costa Rica.

This year, I am grateful for both.

Read more... )
I think I may have mentioned a conversation I had a few weeks (months!) ago with workcrush in which he's asked, "Who are your people?"

I suspect that's a question that will take a lifetime to answer, because lacking blood affiliations outside my natal family, it's always changing. I suspect the same is true for people with blood-ties, but that is another topic for another time.

But last night I went to a reading by Terry Tempest Williams and as she reading (making me feel like she was both looking and speaking directly at me) I realized that I was among my people. Not just the elderly, environmental, lesbians that packed the crowd (okay, so most of them were probably not lesbians, but the typical late-middle aged readers that attend these things as they no longer have the obligations of blood-ties, parents having died, children having grown...) but Williams herself who was telling me about what it was like to be a woman and a writer.

It was the strangest mirror, at once a moment of recognition, and a kind of mystery that someone else had arrived at the same place without ever having encountered one another before. That she is an essayist, comes from a religious family (Mormon, but whatever), and is passionately dedicated to the West are also points of contact... but mostly it was the way she described her compulsion.

At one point she said, "As a writer, I am aware that every time I pick up my pencil I betray someone; my decision is to be true to myself." And that rang true enough to write it down.

The whole evening was eerie that way. I don't know quite what to make of it. Among other things she has had the career I dream about, and some of the awards to which I aspire. But perhaps most interesting is that in a family tree stuffed with British grandmothers, it was like I had found an American aunt or mother. So rare.

Afterwards when we queued for her to sign books it turned out she knew almost everyone in the audience. So when it was my turn she said, "I don't believe we've met before, how did you hear about this?" I told her about an interview I'd heard on a radio show and we chatted briefly before she asked, "What's your passion?"

"I'm a Woman of the Word, like you," I said.

She laughed and then signed my book, "For you, Sarah. Voice. Courage. Faith." It's probably how she signed everyone's books that evening, but it felt like a special benison, just for me.
Venus transited the Sun and took one of our solar system's beloved authors with her:


I don't suppose I mentioned that I recently re-read Martian Chronicles and gave a copy to Carlos, which has since been passed around the Costa Rican office to much acclaim. Books are harder to come by in CR, so I sent a hardcover copy.

The 1997 foreward to Martian Chronicles features the following story about Bradbury meeting Aldous Hudley just after its 1950 publication. "Do you know what you are?" said Huxley.

Don't tell me what I'm doing, I thought. I don't want to know.

"You are a poet," said Huxley.

"I'll be damned," I said.

"No, blessed," said Huxley.
Essayist and activist Terry Tempest Williams will be speaking at Tattered Cover Lodo June 14 @ 7:30. I will be attending. You are welcome to join me.

Here is a 2011 interview:


Her meditations on politics, family, the American West, and what she calls 'sacred rage' have always resonated strongly with me.

Related Jana Richman's The Last Cowgirl:


Both radically changed my thinking about the American West and the place of women (& religion) in it.

"I don't think civil discourse is enough... how do we really find a more meaningful conversation? It's not enough to get a smile from your enemy. What I want to know is what you're really thinking, what you're really feeling, and how did you come to that knowledge?" - Terry Tempest Williams
I think writing about the past week or so is still just a little beyond me. Or maybe we should just say I'm exploring my other modalities...

For this week's Jubilee Read... Alan Bennett's Uncommon Reader about what happens when QEII discovers literature in mobil library.

Quotable moments:

"...briefing is not reading. In fact it is the antithesis of reading. Briefing is terse, factual and to the point. Reading is untidy, discursive an perpetually inviting. Briefing closes down a subject, reading opens it up." (p21-2)

"The appeal of reading, she thought, lay in its indifference: there was something undeferring about literature. Books id not care who was reaing them or whether one read them or not. All readers were equal, herself included. Literature she thought, is a commonwealth; letters a republic... It is only now she understood what it meant." (p30-1)

"You don't put your life into books. You find it there." (p101)

Also some hilarious nasty bits about how boring and self-centered authors are. Mr. Bennett should know!

Not sure I agree with all this, but I enjoyed it, particularly because it was short. (Though the fantasy at the end... phew! A political discussion for another time!)
Brilliant interview with author Marilynn Robinson on John Calvin:


Start at 22:30

"The thing that Calvin valorizes beyond all things is the presence of the mind in the world."

When he asks why they are viewed as so severe she says they were on the losing end of many wars, and as the leading voices of Abolistionism in the US refused to find humor in human bondage... that is an interesting interpretation, and also one that resonates a little more than it ought.

For more about Calvin's links to 19C literature (inc her description of reading Moby Dick & the Institutes side by side) and her take on 'election' (aka pre-destination) listen to the interview!

This is a very different take than you will get elsewhere. And while Calvin certainly deserves the reputation he no doubt enjoys, and while all the nasty things you've heard about him are also true... she is right on the mark.

Loved Gilead, hated Home. Haven't read Housekeeping, but clearly need to keep up on her essays. Not very many people understand this interpretation. It's no wonder people keep sending me her books!
In other news, if the death of Maurice Sendak was not enough, this week Jean Craighead George died:


You've probably read some of her books, among them, My Side of the Mountain a classic wilderness novel and Julie of the Wolves.

Ian Bogost (creator of a Zen game) has not weighed in yet, but he did have several wonderful posts this week, including one on convincing spambots commenting in his blog:

There's no doubt that they are spam, but its now clear that the spambots are carefully reading my blog (and other, related blogs)—perhaps more carefully than many human readers.

Even better, his article in The Atlantic about the New Aesthetics. (I hate it when they call it that.) This is part of the explosion of OOO that I'm into right now:


BTW - The Ecological Thought is a near perfect crystalization of the BPs recent thought, an excellent overview for newcomers to the field, and quite persuasive. I'm going back to read Ecology Without Nature, but first Bogost's own Alien Phenomenology.

In other news: I've been on a news brownout for about 2 weeks, but a short commentary on recent trials re: Guantanamo unearthed this detail 'they refuse to wear their headphones to hear Arabic translations of the trial' that pushed some weird button (probably the HDT one from Civil Disobedience about the only place for a just man) and news about Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng is thrilling me due to the way everyone is finally having to talk about the elephant in the room: our relationship with China and China's human rights policy.

These things all seem related to me. And HDT seems to be knocking daily. It might be time to get started on my next project.

P.S. Speaking of OOO, today a bought two dish towels, a riff on Magritte's 'This is not a pipe' painting. One has a mixer, the other a blender, both bear the inscriptions, 'this is not a ______" (whatever the image of the object is depicting.) For some reason I found these incredibly amusing. They are also swift mnemonic devices to illustrate the difference between the thing and the image of the thing, which is a unique entity unto itself.



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