Daybook, 19 May 2017

Today is my tenth wedding anniversary. I don’t know anything to say that would sufficiently express how deeply happy and in love I am, and how greatly I appreciate my wife; suffice it only to say that I love her and am eagerly awaiting the next ten years.

Today’s readings are totally unrelated to marriage.

Readings:

Something Beautiful:

This being my wedding anniversary, I thought a few artistic representations of marriage might be appropriate here today:

First, Lajos Deák-Ébner’s 1888 Marriage Procession:

David Teniers de Jonge’s Peasant Wedding from 1650 (I love the detail here of the church so far removed from the center of the action–the ceremony may have taken place there, but the wedding is itself about the life of all of these people in connection with one another):

And then, this–not a painting of a wedding, but of a moment from a marriage itself. Peder Severin Krøyer’s 1899 Summer Evening at the Skagen Beach. The Artist and His Wife:

Daybook, 17 May 2017

Readings:

Something Beautiful:

A detail from the altar of the Lutheran parish church in Krems in Kärnten, Austria.

Daybook, 16 May 2017

Been away for a long time. Let’s just get back to the joys of publishing a Daybook somewhat regularly.

Readings:

I mentioned the library a moment ago. I’m working on finally finishing it. I’ll also be doing some expansions of it, especially the Christianity side of it. My hope is that by midsummer I will have a collection of resources up here that will make this site (finally!) live up to its name–Ex Libris Humanitas.

Something Beautiful:

Being the sucker I am for pretty much everything Ralph Vaughn Williams ever wrote, I’ve been quite excited to find his Piano Concerto in C Major here recently:

Quote and Commentary, Petterson’s I Curse the River of Time

From near the end of this slow-burning, painful-yet-lovely novel:

…but when it came to dying, I was scared. Not of being dead, that I could not comprehend, to be nothing was impossible to grasp and therefore really nothing to be scared of, but the dying itself I could comprehend, that very instant when you know that now comes what you have always feared, and you suddenly realise that every chance of being the person you really wanted to be, is gone for ever, and the one you were, is the one those around you will remember. (pg 231 of the 2010 Graywolf Press Edition)

I Curse the River of Time is a bit of a sequel to Petterson’s earlier novel, To Siberia. That book concerns the maturation of a young provincial Danish girl from her childhood in the early 1930s to her young womanhood in the aftermath of World War II, and the overwhelming, larger-than-life presence of her older brother, Jesper, an adventurous spirit and person with no feeling of satisfaction in life, always looking to be great, to do great things. And that novel ends with the nameless young woman–the narrator–pregnant by a Norwegian man some years her elder, finding herself rejected of her family, and realizing that her life was over, except all the rest of it. This novel is the story of her son–not the one she’s pregnant with earlier, but the next one born to her of the same man–Arvid, 37 and going through a divorce, reliving his life on a day with his mother, dying of cancer, in her little Danish seaside hometown.

Well, Arvid does not relive his own life in toto, though there are a few glimpses of moments from childhood, adolescence, and recent years. The majority of the novel splits itself between his living in this particular day and remembering his life at 20, 21, a college dropout idealist, with a girlfriend of 17 or 18 and a factory job he’s taken as a way of feeling as if he’s doing something important, as a way of living out his ideals–in this, he’s like his Uncle Jesper, who was never satisfied. And while we do not know the causes of his divorce, or much about his life in his 30s generally, we are lead to find Arvid’s time in that factory and with that young girlfriend as a moment of turning, of transition, of his idealism (specifically his Communism) defining his life away from something mundane to something he desires and wants to be great and significant. But such is foolishness. Arvid will never be satisfied; he only plays at his ideals. He is simply a man for whom life, mere life will never be good enough. He is not a man who, as his mother said all those years before, claim that life can be over, except for the rest of it.

And thus is what Arvid faces here, making these ruminations on the day after the Berlin Wall has fallen, his ideals–and his essential, hyper-idealistic pettiness–symbolically crashing around him, knowing his mother will be dead, and being filled with regret.

We must not be afraid to live. We must not let the perfect vision of life intrude upon and destroy a version of a good life. And we must learn this before 37, lest we stand, like Arvid, thinking only of death fearfully, regretfully, with no life left to us, with all the life allotted us wasted on chasing impossibilities.

Daybook, 9 February 2017

April in February continues, though today is cooler (with blustery winds blowing) than it has been in several days. Nevertheless, it is a positively lovely day, and I’m sitting here listening to Haydn’s The Seasons oratorio, preparing to teach Henry Timrod’s long, complex poem “The Cotton Boll” in a couple of hours, and generally thinking about all of the good work there is to do today.

Readings:

Something Beautiful:

I hesitate to call this something truly “beautiful,” as I know I am not a very talented photographer, and this shot is, in obvious ways, quite pedestrian, but I was quite taken by this tableau as I was walking through campus the other day:

Briefest of Commentaries: Letters from an American Farmer

Letters from an American FarmerLetters from an American Farmer by J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur

I began this book on a whim, recalling that I had taught an excerpt from it–the third letter–in an American literature course that focused on rural writings a few years ago. I had enjoyed that letter immensely, but had always heard that the book had some dark overtures, and was curious to see what those were like. And so, as my bedside reading for a week or so, these Letters were my companion, and I’ve been mulling over them constantly over the last several days.

First of all, what is this book? That in itself is a strange, and revealing, question. These are a series of fictional letters, written in the voice of an humble Englishman, living and farming in the Pennsylvania backcountry, to a wealthy friend back in England. But yet, only the self-deprecating, funny and naively silly first letter and the exasperated, yet darkly optimistic, last letter provide anything in the way of the “life-events” content we would expect to find in letters. The rest, though set up as letters, works as a travel journal, study of the natural landscape, ethnography, general political theorizing, social commentary and critique, agricultural treatise, and general rumination on “the good life.” Despite its fictive conceit, it’s far from being an epistolary novel, but is rather something like one would have expected to see produced by one of the Roman writers–Cato the Elder or Cicero, perhaps–for its wide-ranging subject matter, interests, and rhetorical styles within the conceit of the larger, unified work.

In a way, Crevecoeur seems to be providing a work that sits between–both chronologically and conceptually–the two most significant pre-1800 works in American letters: Franklin’s Autobigoraphy and Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia. Crevecoeur shares their strongly-Enlightenment religious and political principles of freedom, liberty, and mild religiosity as moralistic instructor rather than deposit of transcendent Truth claims, and he gives us an extension of Franklin’s inventive, creative industriousness that points towards Jefferson’s fixation on land, agriculture, self-sufficient yeoman virtue, and suspicion of market capitalism and centralized government. Yet unlike those two lions of the Revolution, Crevecoeur presents a political vision that echoes the feelings of the common man everywhere: to be left alone, as he must do the work of caring for his family and doing the labours that have been presented to him, rather than to engage in the confusing, chaotic political controversies of his day.

This is especially apparent in the closing letter, in which we see farmer “John” lamenting the destructive excesses of the nascent Patriot movement while admitting to his love for his fellow Americans and his understanding of their criticisms of the Crown. “John” will not raise a finger against either his neighbour or his King, his present nor his past. Rather, he will remove himself to live with the Natives, where a virtue parallel to the “American” virtues he describes in earlier letters continues to be practiced, until the shooting is over. Then, he will return and rebuild his life–a life that does not depend on government of any sort, but on the blessings of a Deistic Providence, the labour and economy of he and his family, and, most especially, the cultivation of virtue.

And thus this book, which in many ways is meant to be a work of ethnography, social commentary, and natural history, becomes a meditation on the meaning of America and how we define Americans. And in an age of increased tension and conflict, its answers to these questions, its unflinching examinations of national failings (especially slavery), and the vision of the American who just can’t bring himself to engage in the fratricide in which his neighbours are participating, and who simply tends his own garden while the world burns (and struggling over whether this is cowardice or not), is a vision that is especially prescient now.

Daybook, 26 January 2017

It’s been April-in-January for the last ten days or so. There was a bit of rain this morning and it will be another spring day in winter, but all that ends tonight–so says the weatherman, again proving the Farmer’s Almanac‘s long-view weather forecast actually quite reliable for predicting general meteorological tendencies. I’m stuck in my office, rather than working in my garden, which I’ve been itching to do–and have done a bit of already. But as I sat here getting settled in for work, the sun has peeked through the clouds, the rain has dispersed, and I have several great things for you to read today:

Something Else:

A complete concert by the Poway Symphony Orchestra, of Poway, California, consisting of Beethoven’s Leonore Overture, Mozart’s Concerto for flute and harp, and Dvorak’s 8th Symphony. It’s broken in tracks; use the previous/next buttons beside the play button to navigate:

Briefest of Commentaries–Glass’s Allen Tate: The Modern Mind and the Discovery of Enduring Love

Allen Tate: The Modern Mind and the Discovery of Enduring LoveAllen Tate: The Modern Mind and the Discovery of Enduring Love by John V. Glass III

A demanding book on a demanding subject. Glass attempts to give us a general biography of Tate, the problems of various readings of both his biography and his work, a coherent vision of Tate’s thought and intellectual/aesthetic labours, and a set of detailed close readings of a very wide range of Tate’s poems (and, to a lesser extent, his prose works). In so doing, Glass takes the best from previous Tate scholarship and deals with the consequences and shortcomings of other earlier scholarly works, and provides one of the most comprehensive and in-depth (often times intimidatingly so, but such is an unavoidable consequence of reading and studying a profoundly complex man) single-author studies one is apt to find, not just of Tate, but generally.

Glass systematically shows that Tate was no Southern reactionary, no nostalgic romantic, no ironically-detached modernist. Rather, he was an individual who profoundly understood a single, unifying idea throughout his long career–which encompassed practically his entire adult life–that modernity offers us with a means of being human which is, at best, profoundly disintegrating, if not dehumanizing. Glass argues that Tate goes through a period of trusting in art, then in the South, Southern history, and his family history, and then finally in a coming to terms with God, the transcendent Divine, and his reception into the Roman Catholic Church as a way of dealing with, reacting to, and finding purpose within this disintegration. Tate was, in Glass’s portrayal, a man who was constantly seeking what was true, and thus was aware of his own foibles, self-contradictions, and those of art, the South, his family, and all those other ways of finding meaning. Thus, it was only in the Church and its dogmas and transcendent Truths that a coherent vision of resisting modernist disintegration could occur.

To a non-Catholic (or even an irreligious person), Glass’s emphasis on Tate’s eventual conversion to Roman Catholicism seems perhaps a bit too heavy-handed or too neat of a teleology. But this is perhaps the only substantial negative criticism I can make of the book. His exploration of Tate’s relationship with the South is nuanced and full of truths and revelations that make me examine my own relationship with the South. And Glass’s expository readings of Tate’s works are incredibly strong; the book’s centre–and heart–is appropriately made up of two chapters studying Tate’s most well-known works, one chapter devoted to “Ode to the Confederate Dead,” and another to “Remarks on the Southern Religion,” Tate’s contribution to the Agrarian manifesto I’ll Take My Stand. Glass deftly explains the problem with conflating Tate’s speakers and the poet himself, and also helps us to make sense of Tate’s (in)famous call to “violence” at the end of his “Southern Religion,” positing it as a call to existential, spiritual, and psychic warfare within the self contra those things within ourselves that contribute to our disintegration.

Anyone interested in Tate needs to read this book, difficult as it may in places, and anyone interested in understanding how the South functioned (and arguably still functions) as a site anti-modern critique–a critique that is not necessarily painted with the claims of racism and reactionary-ism that are often asserted (with obviously some merit)–will also find much value here.

Daybook, 13 January 2017

Friday the 13th. As I understand it, “13” is considered an unlucky number because Caesar lead the Legio XIII Gemina across the Rubicon, and it was thus with the 13th legion that the Roman Republic was effectively destroyed. I’ve also heard that the fact that the crucifixion was, by some folks figuring, on the 13th of the month, another reason people see the day as unlucky.

Readings:

Something Beautiful:

While doing my (honestly quite regular) search for rural churches this morning, I came across this church, St. Helens in Cliffe, Kent, England. Of especial interest to me is the second photograph, of the charnel house in its graveyard.

Charnel houses are places where human remains that turn up–skeletal remains dug up, unidentified bodies washed ashore, etc.–are kept until identifications can be made and proper burials take place. In many cases, they became simply depositories of unidentified skeletal remains that would be turned up when digging fresh graves, plowing fields, and the like.

Something else:

A search for books about charnel houses turned up a book of long poems by Conrad Aiken, whose work I do not know. To read this weekend, then, one of the poems from that collection, “The Charnel Rose”:

Daybook, 11 January 2017

Readings:

Something Beautiful, and Something Else:

As is well-recorded, I am a great lover of rural churches. This one, St-Just-in-Roseland in the parish of the same name in Cornwall, is especially lovely.

British legend has it that Joseph of Arimathea, whom tradition identifies as a tinsmith and tin merchant, came to Britain in the early years of the first century. Accompanying him was a young man from Nazareth. As this legend goes, Our Lord thus visited Britain in his lost years. This is the basis for William Blake’s romantic, counter-industrialist poem known as either “Jerusalem” or “And did those feet in ancient time,” which was set to music by Sir Hubert Perry during the Great War and became the patriotic anthem “Jerusalem”:

Inasmuch as Cornwall was one of the most significant tin mining sites in the world well into the 20th century, one version of this tradition holds that Joseph of Arimathea and Our Lord came to Cornwall on this voyage–and journeyed to the market town that was once where St-Just-in-Roseland now stands (other versions have them heading to Glastonbury, amongst other sites).

Whatever the historicity of the tale, this parish, a few miles south of the major Cornish city, Truro, it is very much a place I would like to visit:

(All photos from Wikimedia Commons)