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  • Sigmund Freud: Civilization and Its Discontents

    Sigmund Freud: Civilization and Its Discontents
    What you notice first – before the modest gardens outside the bay window, and before the rows of books and drawings spread along the back wall just behind the couch – is the forest of antiquities that cover his desk and spill out onto the surrounding shelves. The idols and figurines of a Godless Jew – as he once described himself, more reminiscent of an excavated past than a troubled present. But archeology was always one of his favorite metaphors, and he used the comparison often. His belief that what was hidden, what was outside of everyday perception, was the key to understanding our lives. Even from the comfort of the couch, draped in the thick, earthy browns of an oriental fabric throw, you could not directly see him. You saw his possessions – objects that had once been buried and long forgotten but were now part of a seemingly foreign present. You could hear him scribble in his notebook while you talked, and sometimes he asked you a question for clarification. But you could not see him. Like his objects he was there, and he was not there. (*****)

  • Rudolf Flesch: The Art of Readable Writing

    Rudolf Flesch: The Art of Readable Writing
    Rudolph Flesch writes for himself. He is clear, concise, and his ideas on writing have influenced all writers, whether they know his name or not. First published in 1945, The Art of Readable Writing is the companion book to his earlier The Art of Plain Talk. Flesch doesn't mess around with words. He gets to the point, illustrates his point, tells you why its important, then moves on. He talks to you. But his works are not dry. He doesn't try to be funny, or cute, but his writing advice reads like a good talk. He is witty. He invites you into his conversation. In one chapter entitled The Importance of Being Trivial, Flesch uses anecdotes to explain what it is that people remember about a story. Hint: it's not the cleverness of the writer. And it's not the fact that this book was published in 1945, and is still available today. Writing books come and go. This one is a going to stay. (*****)

  • Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar

    Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar
    Her face never gave it away. American blond, pretty, 32 white teeth all in a row. Born in Boston she liked the sea, and would often go to it for comfort, for images. The first time they found her she was already gone, pumped full of sleeping pills. She was 28 then, so they brought her back, and stuck her together with glue for another 2 years. But you couldn’t see what made her tick from the pictures of her face. You had to read her poems for that. There she was confessional in a way that her face never was. Not like a diary – more personal, a sharing of images and thoughts that made you a witness, made you intimate without the presence of a pretty American blond. But they always left you sad and stripped bare, left you reading her words again and often, to see if maybe you misunderstood, that what she wrote were just words and somehow not real. You wanted to call her and ask her if she was all right. Ask if maybe you could drop over and just see her for a bit. But you never could, because at the age of 30 she turned up the gas stove on a cold, February morning, and never shut it off. (****)

  • Ludwig Wittgenstein (Edited by Anthony Kenny): The Wittgenstein Reader (Blackwell Readers)

    Ludwig Wittgenstein (Edited by Anthony Kenny): The Wittgenstein Reader (Blackwell Readers)
    After writing a philosophical bestseller in 1922 called Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Ludwig Wittgenstein stopped writing because he believed he had solved all the problems of philosophy. Life was good. He taught children to read and write, and built a house for his sister Gretl. Did some gardening. Seven years later he was back to writing, admittedly, because philosophers were too dumb to take him at his word. He thought. He wrote about language and how we say things. He wrote about whether there is a private language at work in us, or if a picture theory of meaning is the key to all our communications. Story, in a philosophical way. Propositions (logic) are pictures. Language draws them for us. When he drew his last breath in 1951, Wittgenstein said: “Tell them, I’ve had a wonderful life.” Who can say he didn’t? (****)

  • Joan Didion: The Year of Magical Thinking

    Joan Didion: The Year of Magical Thinking
    No one told Joan Didion that death would hurt so much. That her feelings for her husband, John Dunne, after his sudden death, do not pass through simple emotional states. She knows he has died, but she wants him back. She doesn’t believe what she knows to be final, is final. She struggles with the idea of time. She wants to take time back, to bend it over and over again to stop the hurting. Times passes through The Year of Magical Thinking as a physical thing, as something that can be talked about, reasoned about. Always after the fact. Didion dissects the the events of her husband’s death, trying to understand the time when he actually died. The cause of his actual death. Medical terms. The many ways to understand what happened. She knows this is a helpless task. And she knows this knowledge changes nothing. But it’s something she needs to do. A part of her acceptance. A way for her to balance the feelings she has for her critically ill daughter with the sudden death of her husband. Didion takes us through the sickness of her daughter, and the re-examing of her life with her husband, through her memories of things past. The little things. In the end she misses him. The comfort of him. The life they had become together. And how unapologetically it ended. (****)

  • Oscar Wilde: The Ballad of Reading Gaol

    Oscar Wilde: The Ballad of Reading Gaol
    Wilde had some issues and most of them involved younger men. In a time when you did hard time for things like this, Wilde did two years in Reading prison. Three years later, before his death, he wrote this poem, remembering his time in prison and a hanging - which he witnessed. But this is no chronicle of facts. No allusions to Greek gods or goddesses. Oscar is no longer Oscar. Prison changed him. This work is emotional, heartfelt and humble. You can read it in one sitting (the chapbook with Frans Maserell’s woodcuts is best). Wilde is both himself (prisoner C.3.3) and the condemned man. I wouldn’t call this poem an apology, but it is an admission, in one sense of past actions, in another sense of the social beliefs of the time. Religious, Catholic guilt reconciled on his deathbed when he formally converted. Read it. Still carries a lot of feeling today. The condemned man “had killed the thing he loves, And so he had to die”. Oscar to the end. (****)

Me Too

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October 06, 2007


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  • Eric Dolphy Quintet with Booker Little -

    Eric Dolphy Quintet with Booker Little: Eric Dolphy at the Five Spot, Vol. 1
    Dolphy makes you wonder about life. Talented beyond belief. Anecdotes about a musician who would wander off alone during a party and practice. Serious guy, but not unapproachable. Died from insulin shock given while he was in a diabetic coma. He was thirty-six. Eric Dolphy at the Five Spot, Vol.1 is a good work. Not a great work. Not Live at the Village Vanguard with Coltrane. Nevertheless, a good session. Dolphy seems to have been a perennial tinkerer. Always stretching - not in Coltrane’s arching method, but with crafted sound. And craft is what you hear with this quintet. Jazz bands are not rock bands. Their loyalties are not endless. But here there is good, tight playing here. Strong rhythms. Dolphy stretching. Experimenting live. I like the opener Fire Waltz. The horns progress the sound, the bass, drums and piano keep it anchored. And I like the clapping following each piece. Very authentic, as was Dolphy. (****)

  • Kronos Quartet -

    Kronos Quartet: Alban Berg: Lyric Suite
    If Berg's Lyric Suite is about love, then it is expressed in cold, wintry sections. Kronos plays it well - tight and to the point. Unrequited love? Maybe. The voice of Dawn Upshaw in the Largo fits in naturally with the work. Non-sentimental. Adult love that is a book of moods and stringed conversation. Don't look for resolution here. There was none for Berg, and Kronos seems to understand that. Highs and lows are a part of all relationships, even those expreseed in music. But this is not a love song. Like all great loves, Kronos gives us Berg's pain in this one. All we can do is listen. (*****)

  • Philip Glass -

    Philip Glass: Kronos Quartet Performs Philip Glass
    Thre is a lot to hear in the Glass String Quartets. These are weather pieces. Seasonal, natural, sounds full of a pulse of water and of growth. Old steam trains. Brushes with the present and the past. To No. 5, you listen with others. Company, you hear alone. Both quartets always moving, if only to return you to where you have already been - a common Glass motif. Kronos plays the desperation in these works with precision. The notes are cut, and splinter loud and soft in contrasts. Silence where it stresses a point. These pieces are meant to be heard in more than one sitting. Buczak is longing, understated, a short story full of regret. But still with that pulse. Mishima is familiar Glass. Arpeggios rolling through a work of constant motion. Glass wants to tell us something. Even if it is only a reflection of ourselves, and Kronos takes on the challange. Just be prepared. You won't want to talk much after these. (****)