Friday, December 31, 2010

Reading Log (or I wish I were sleeping like a...)

Just for the sake of my own records, here’s what I’ve read recently:

  • Sir Thomas Browne, Hydriotaphia, Chapter I, (unfinished)
  • Samuel Johnson, “The Life of Sir Thomas Browne”
  • C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image, Chapter I, “The Medieval Situation,” (unfinished)
  • C.S. Lewis, A Preface To Paradise Lost, Chapters I–VI
    • I. Epic Poetry
    • II. Is Criticism Possible?
    • III. Primary Epic
    • IV. The Technique of Primary Epic
    • V. The Subject of Primary Epic
    • VI. The Style of Secondary Epic
  • C.S. Lewis, Reflections On The Psalms, Chapter III, “The Cursings”
  • John Milton, Paradise Lost, Books IV-V, (unfinished)
  • Miguel de Unamuno, Our Lord Don Quixote: The Life of Don Quixote and Sancho with Related Essays, “Glosses on Don Quixote

Unfortunately I’m exhausted and can’t be troubled to wake my brain up enough to retrace my reading in this blog. I know this will come as a shocking blow to my legions of impatient adherents. So sorry. You may flog me lightly.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Lewis on Narrative Verse and Ritual

I found this paragraph and a half of C.S. Lewis’s A Preface To Paradise Lost to be too good of an introduction to the particularities of narrative verse, and too good an apology for the proper place of ritual for me to cut it up into digestible blog-bites. Read on. It’s only 500 words.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Lewis Quotes Browne

I just started C.S. Lewis’s A Preface To Paradise Lost and what should I find but a quote from Sir Thomas Browne’s Religio Medici in the epigraph:

How so many learned heads should so far forget their metaphysicks, and destroy the ladder and scale creatures.

Browne, Rel. Med. I, XXX.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Pasternak: The Star of the Nativity

As a somewhat response to Laurie and to Hydriotaphia as well as to the Brodsky poem I posted on the 23rd, I offer this from Boris Pasternak, as translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky in their new edition of Doctor Zhivago.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Joseph Brodsky: Star Of The Nativity

This was found on Bishop Seraphim Sigrist's LiveJournal:

Star Of The Nativity

[December 24, 1987]

In the cold season, in a locality accustomed to heat more than

to cold, to horizontality more than to a mountain,

a child was born in a cave in order to save the world;

it blew as only in deserts in winter it blows, athwart.

To Him, all things seemed enormous: His mother's breast, the steam

out of the ox's nostrils, Caspar, Balthazar, Melchior—the team

of Magi, their presents heaped by the door, ajar.

He was but a dot, and a dot was the star.

Keenly, without blinking, through pallid, stray

clouds, upon the child in the manger, from far away—

from the depth of the universe, from its opposite end—the star

was looking into the cave. And that was the father's stare.

Joseph Brodsky, Nativity Poems

Excuse My Latin...

With the kids out of school for Christmas Break (I’m supposed to call it something ridiculously colorless and meaningless, though, aren’t I?) my reading time has taken a header. I have, however, received my Wheelock’s Latin and Scribbler’s, Sculpters, and Scribes: A Companion To Wheelock’s Latin And Other Introductory Textbooks in preparation for the Latin Study Group I’m joining in January. Learning Greek and Latin have been lifelong goals that I’ve never made good on. May I have better luck this time around.

Pax foras canis.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Browne On The Cure Of All Diseases

...we all labour against our owne cure, for death is the cure of all diseases. There is no Catholicon or universall remedy I know but this, which thogh nauseous to queasie stomachs, yet to prepared appetites is Nectar and a pleasant potion of immortality.

Sir Thomas Browne, Religio Medici, Part II:10

Immediately this brings to mind scenes from George MacDonald's Lilith—the sexton’s house, where sleep is more than sleep, a blessèd balm, the rest of the soul for healing. In that work I experienced a deep longing, a salve, and I felt somehow like I had the innocence and lightness of childhood upon me.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Montaigne—related to Browne and his trees

I found this following passage in Montaigne through Keck’s annotations on Browne:

Reflecting as I often do on the ridiculous excoriations of that pleasure, the absurd, mindless, stupefying emotions with which it disturbs a Zeno or a Cratippus, that indiscriminate raging, that face inflamed with frenzy and cruelty at the sweetest point of love, that grave, severe, ecstatic face in so mad an activity, the fact that our delights and our waste-matters are lodged higgledy-piggledy together; and that its highest pleasure has something of the groanings and distraction of pain, I believe that what Plato says is true: Man is the plaything of the gods—

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Paradise Lost, Book II

Whew… when is the last time I was shocked by an image? Satan and the legions have decided that rather than immediately wage another battle against Heaven, they will see if they can find the rumored world of a new race called Man in order to institute a new depravity called Marketing. Satan is the only one with large enough cajónes to set about finding a way out of hell and to the new world. He arrives at the Gates of Hell.

Before the Gates there sat

On either side a formidable shape;

The one seem’d Woman to the waste, and fair,650

But ended foul in many a scaly fould

Voluminous and vast, a Serpent arm’d

With mortal sting: about her middle round

A cry of Hell Hounds never ceasing bark’d

With wide Cerberian mouths full loud, and rung655

A hideous Peal: yet, when they list, would creep,

If aught disturb’d thir noyse, into her woomb,

And kennel there, yet there still bark’d and howl’d

Within unseen.

That’s way more disturbing than vagina dentata. I mean, it’s one thing to have teeth, but it’s a whole different order of magnitude to have Cerberian hounds charging out of the nether orifice. Later she reveals that the hounds chew on her bowels when they’ve withdrawn into her womb.

Onward with the freak show. Satan asks her who the hell she is and she gives her reply:

Reading Mutations

Ever since I got back to reading—thanks to Paul’s beginning with Milton, whom I did not want to miss—I have been considering my own reading project. I think in typical fashion I have over-specified (the scheduling moreso than the list). I knew I would, I always do, hence the Mutating Goals section in my reading strategy.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Paradise Lost, Book I; etc.

I won’t promise this to be short. I don’t expect it to be long. As I type this, my head feels plagued by a sticky, snotty Beelzebub, and my lungs are wracked by infernal flames.

The imperial “We” have read Book I of Paradise Lost—hence the chthonic body imagery—as well as several more sections of Religio Medici and part of the first chapter of A Map of Misreading.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Milton and Browne: Just a wee clip

Just a brief update today as I’m not feeling well, but want to keep up with the record of my reading, consisting of:

  • “Lycidas”
  • “The Fifth Ode of Horace, Book I”
  • Religio Medici

Friday, December 10, 2010

Brains... with a Little Twist

Coleridge on Sir Thomas Browne:

…he is a quiet and sublime Enthusiast with a strong tinge of the Fantast, the Humorist constantly mingling with & flashing across the Philosopher, as the darting colours in shot silk play upon the main dye. In short, he has brains in his Head, which is all the more interesting for a little Twist in the Brains.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Letter on Browne,” March 10, 1804

I found this in Sir Thomas Browne: The Major Works, C.A. Patrides (Editor). You can find the full letter on Wikisource.

Lycidas: Drowning Allusiveness

“Lycidas” is a poem I’ve been anticipating on my journey through Milton’s poems on the way to my real destination, Paradise Lost. It’s included in Bloom’s anthology of English poetry and he speaks very highly of it, calling it “the best poem of moderate length in English.” “Comus” was the first poem to really draw my attention, despite the reputation of “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity.” “Lycidas” is generating a progressively intensifying awe.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Milton Resources

I believe my friend, Paul, has been holding out on me. For shame! Okay, he left a trail of clues, but still… Paul made a few comments in his post on Milton’s Areopagitica for which I hadn’t found the sources, although to his credit he did mention “Professor John Rogers” and, in a separate, unrelated post, iTunes U. Wait… damn my eyes, what’s this? “I also often download lectures from iTunes U (currently working through a Yale course on John Milton) and audiobooks from Librivox which run the gamut from excellent to unlistenable.” Friend Paul, I have wrongly accused you. I am the schmuck who isn’t observant.

Enough with the self-castigation. Here, in no particular order, are the resources I’m currently using:

Monday, December 6, 2010

I Kill Your Idyll: Preceding Milton with Cervantes

I haven’t made much progress in Milton since my last post. I’ve found myself re-reading several of his poems, in particular “L’Allegro,” “Il Penseroso,” and “Arcades.” These are mid-length short poems running less than 200 lines each. They’re also thoroughly pastoral, and it has occurred to me that I may be experiencing some dissonance in appreciating these poems because of my recent reading of Don Quixote.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Minor Milton

Continuing with Milton as my 8 year old daughter, cuddled up with me, reads most of Where The Sidewalk Ends.

  • On The Morning of Christ’s Nativity
  • The Passion
  • Song: On May Morning
  • English Sonnets (1,7—23)
  • On Shakespeare
  • On The University Carrier
  • Another of the Same
  • An Epitaph on the Marchioness of Winchester
  • L’Allegro

I’m decidedly apathetic about most of early Milton. So much of his earlier work is decidedly local, both in time and place. He lauds personages which have little relevance to me tonight, and the verse itself doesn’t particularly grab me. There are exceptions, however.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

And malt does more than Milton can / To justify God's ways to man.

Right around the time I was finishing Don Quixote, Paul posted his notes on reading Milton’s Areopagitica and Of Education, and it seems he’s currently working through Milton’s English poetry, including Paradise Lost. My own reading project has been idling due to “life circumstances” and personal wishy-washy-ness, so… why not?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Lifetime Reading Habit: A Strategy For Reading

Reading plans are very popular among devoted readers. For that special breed of nutcase wanting to delve deeply into the classics they are practically a necessity.

There are many ready-made reading plans available on the internet with most of them requiring several years to complete and taking the reader, working chronologically, from antiquity to present day. Unfortunately, I think these plans share several limitations.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Western Canon: Why have it? Why read it?

We possess the Canon because we are mortal and also rather belated. There is only so much time, and time must have a stop, while there is more to read than there ever was before. From the Yahwist and Homer to Freud, Kafka, and Beckett is a journey of nearly three millennia. Since that voyage goes past harbors as infinite as Dante, Chaucer, Montaigne, Shakespeare, and Tolstoy, all of whom amply compensate a lifetime’s rereadings, we are in the pragmatic dilemma of excluding something else each time we read or reread extensively. One ancient test for the canonical remains fiercely valid: unless it demands rereading, the work does not qualify. The inevitable analogue is the erotic one. If you are Don Giovanni and Leporello keeps the list, one brief encounter will suffice.1

  1. Bloom, Harold. The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages. New York: Riverhead Books, 1995. 29. Print. ↩

Friday, September 3, 2010

Circling the Western Canon


Build a foundation in Western classics through reading focused in order of importance on literature, philosophy, and history.


Read the Western Canon in a series of widening passes over the material, beginning with Shakespeare. Each pass will delve deeper into the canon, building on the readings from previous passes, and including re-readings where desireable.

The reading plan will remain secondary to inspiration and enthusiasm. When interests wane, the structure is there to maintain focused movement.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Gravestone of Rafael Ávila

Found in Werner Herzog’s book, Conquest of the Useless:

Las vanidades del mundo

Las grandezas del imperio

Se encierran en el profundo

Silencio del cementerio

The vanities of the world

The greatness of the empire

Withdraw into the deep

Silence of the cemetery

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Thomas Jefferson on Education

In a letter dated July 5, 1814, Thomas Jefferson wrote to John Adams Monticello:

Our post-revolutionary youth are born under happier stars than you and I were. They acquire all learning in their mother’s womb, and bring it into the world ready made. The information of books is no longer necessary; and all knowledge which is not innate, is in contempt, or neglect at least.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Fox Woman

I came to Kij Johnson’s The Fox Woman after reading her award winning short story, 26 Monkeys, Also The Abyss. From these two works it would seem that Johnson is an author of sensitivity. She deftly weaves wonder, beauty and sorrow together while preserving mystery, and a respect for both her characters and her readers. She leaves room within the stories for her characters to breathe, and for her readers to reflect without heavy-handed explanations of theme or meaning.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Short Stories by Anton Chekhov: Bk. 1: A Tragic Actor and Other Stories (Audio)

Anton Chekhov was a master of the short story. However, he gets poor treatment by the Interwar Period translations of Constance Garnett. I first came to dislike Garnett’s Russian translations while discovering the writings of Fyodor Dostoevsky. The great Russian writers all have very distinctive writing styles and Constance Garnett succeeded in making them sound like Victorian era British novelists. She is known for her very fast, “smoothed over” style of translation in which difficulties in the original are simply dropped from the work. This is simply not the way to get the flavor of the great Russian writers. I can only surmise that the decision to go with the Garnett translation of these stories rested upon the economics of public domain versus newer, licensed translations.