Monday, April 30, 2007

A series of slight physical adjustments

James Krasner, from PMLA 119:2 (March 2004):

A child no longer accompanied by a mother still reaches a hand toward where hers should be. A father leans over to steady a missing car seat. A woman thinks she feels the heavy collapse of her dog beside her chair and shifts slightly, to accomodate its now missing head on her feet. Our grief becomes a series of slight physical adjustments based on the fact that a body that was always here, in a certain relation to our own, is now gone.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Pay attention to the chain saw

Last night Trev and I went to the second of five classes on insight meditation taught by Gil Fronsdal. This one was on mindfulness of the body. The idea in this form of Vipassana meditation is that nothing is a distraction--neither noise nor pain. So if you feel pain while you're sitting you pay attention to the pain and try to distinguish the feeling itself from your reaction to or commentary on the feeling. Similarly, Gil said that if you're meditating and suddenly your neighbor fires up the chainsaw (he must live in our building), you pay attention to the sound, rather than fighting to ignore it. I guess this explains why there are more than a few noisy meditators at the Insight Meditation Center--they have permission. Whereas at the Green Gulch Zendo, they might not be hit with a paddle, but they would feel shame. Still I think the mindfulness way is better unless you live on a mountaintop (and even then you'd have the howling wind). This way teaches you how to handle pain and discomfort in all parts of your life, and it frees you from getting so irritated with the neighbors, though that part remains to be tested.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife

I had lots of fun with my students today reading passages from a 2004 sequel to Pride and Prejudice (one of about 40 published sequels), Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife by Linda Berdoll. The opening paragraphs:

As plush a coach as it was, recent rains tried even its heavy springs. Hence, the road to Derbyshire was betimes a bit jarring. Mr. Darcy, with all gentlemanly solicitousness, offered the new Mrs. Darcy a pillow upon which to sit to cushion the ride.

It was a plump tasseled affair, not at all discreet. His making an issue of her sore nether-end was a mortification in and of itself. But, as Elizabeth harbored the conviction that she had adopted a peculiar gait as a result of her most recent (by reason of matrimony) pursuits, her much abuised dignity forbade her to accept such a blatant admission of conjugal congress. Thus, the cushion was refused.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Six Sentences

Here's a cool blog for writers who want to try their hands at short-short-shorts.

Please help, government

So, according to Anthony Kennedy, we women need the government to protect us from our poor decision making. (When has the government ever intervened to protect men from theirs?) Heavens, if we have to be protected from the risk of "regret," how can we possibly be allowed to raise children--much less forced to do it? How will the government protect children from us, and who will raise them? Male Supreme Court justices?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Here is Paro, the robotic harp seal, about which (whom?) Sherry Turkle writes in "A Nascent Robotics Culture: New Complicities for Companionship." And here he (why always he?) is, at work as a therapy robot. And finally here he is as a patient.

Turkle, and several of my students, found Paro creepy; more precisely, they found creepy the ease with which people decided to nurture Paro and treat him as a real, living being. In some studies people seemed to prefer Paro to human interaction, and that might be a slippery slope to people becoming totally isolated.

However, I can't resist this thing, even in the pictures. I wouldn't have a chance.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Richard Avedon

I went with my class to see the Richard Avedon exhibit of photos from the American West at the Cantor Center. They really are beautiful, hard to speak in front of. Mostly they are naturalistic, in the sense that they appear unmanipulated (Avedon let the subjects pose how they wanted, in front of a white background). But a few of them are series of 2 or 3 panels, and figures are cut in half and, in at least one series, realigned across the frame. This "split" figure is made up of halves of two different photos of the person, giving the image a Francis Bacon sort of quality.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Wild Blue Yonder

By which I mean, the 2005 Werner Herzog film. It's gotten mixed reviews; someone called it a "near miss," as I remember. But a "near miss" of what? It doesn't aim to be anything other than itself, found NASA and other footage (including film from below the Antarctic ice shelf) stitched together with a narrative: aliens who came to earth and screwed up their mission. It's inspired and inspiring, and makes all other films look suspect. Why hasn't anyone else managed to make film literally into a symphony?

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Crossing a line

In the class I'm teaching this quarter we'll be talking about how human beings have relationships with fictional characters. Speaking for myself, I can't remember feeling personally engaged with a character as an adult (as a kid I had a crush on the Tin Woodsman, among others). But last week I had a dream in which a character from James Hynes's The Lecturer's Tale appeared in a minor role. She was the jargon-spouting feminist scholar, and best friend of the protagonist, who turns out literally to be a monster in the end. I've dreamed about celebrities before, but never fictional characters. Why this one? Why now? It's amazing that I had such a clear mental picture of her that I could embody her in my subconscious with no perceptual glitches.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Shoes Outside the Door

I am reading Shoes Outside the Door by Michael Downing. It's a history of Zen Buddhism in America, as viewed through the establishment, near implosion, and apparent steady recovery of the San Francisco Zen Center. Nineteen eighty three is known as the year of The Apocalypse in American Zen; it was the year when Zen Center's Abbott, Richard Baker, was discovered to have been running the show like a garden-variety charismatic cult leader. Of course the whole enterprise, with Greens Restaurant, Tassajara, and all, probably wouldn't exist without him, so it's one of those cases of the brilliant / destructive leader. But Zen Center and Zen in the U.S. do survive without him, which, I hope, means the practice is greater than the people who bring it to us. Still it's all a bit creepy, the taint of grandiosity and even cruelty on a practice that's supposed to redress these very problems.