"Love follows knowledge." – St. Catherine of Siena

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Lines I Wished I’d Written: Dante Sees the Clockwork of the Heavens, Paradiso, Canto X

I’ve been reading third cantica of Dante’s Divine Comedy, Paradiso Each cantica is quite different in texture.  Paradiso doesn’t have the drama of the other two canticas but I think it has the most soaring poetry.  I’m not going to get into the structure and analysis of Paradiso here.  I just want to highlight a short section from Canto X.

Dante the character is traveling through the heavens with his new guide, his beloved Beatrice and they reach the sphere of the sun, which is considered the sphere of the wise.  You can read about the divisions of the heavens at the Paradiso Wikipedia entry and what each sphere stands for.  The sphere of the sun is probably one of the more important spheres, and here Dante is allowed to see the God’s workings of the universe.  Here is the remarkable passage.  I am using the husband and wife teamed Robert and Jean Hollander translation.

Then, like a clock that calls us at the hour
when the bride of God gets up to sing
matins to her bridegroom, that he should love her still,

when a cog pulls one wheel and drives another,
chiming its ting-ting with notes so sweet
that the willing spirit swells with love,

thus I saw the glorious wheel in motion,
matching voice to voice in harmony
and with sweetness that cannot be known
except where joy becomes eternal.
            -Paradiso, Canto X.139-148

I should post the Italian, where you can hear Dante’s beautiful language selection. 

 Indi, come orologio che ne chiami
 ne l’ora che la sposa di Dio surge
 a mattinar lo sposo perché l’ami,

 che l’una parte e l’altra tira e urge,
 tin tin sonando con sì dolce nota,
 che ’l ben disposto spirto d’amor turge;

 così vid’ ïo la gloriosa rota
 muoversi e render voce a voce in tempra
 e in dolcezza ch’esser non pò nota
 se non colà dove gioir s’insempra.

According to Hollander’s notes, this is probably the first time in literature any writer has referred to the heavens as the workings of a mechanical clock.  So what today has become a cliché was with Dante a sparkling original image.  But it’s not just a clock mechanically turning.  There are several metaphors inside a simile, which makes it a bit complicated to understand, but once you do you can see the beauty of the poetry.


The clock, which is the universe, is like the “bride of God” singing matins (Morning Prayer) to her beloved husband, appealing for his love, the clock chiming “ting-ting.”  God who works through love drives the clock, responding to the clock’s love.  The Creator loves the creation which loves the Creator.  And thus one sees the workings of the universe as a reciprocal response of love.  


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Music Tuesday: Like A Virgin by Sister Cristina

Sister Cristina Scuccia  is the Italian nun who won Italy’s version of a televised talent show, The Voice of Italy.  She is about to release an album, and a recording that has been preleased is Madonna’s classic song, “Like A Virgin.”  

You can find the original to compare on youtube, but here is Sister Cristina’s version.





Fantastic version. I never cared for the original, but Sister Cristina took an airhead song (sorry to those that really adore the original) and gave it real substance. And I'm not just talking about the added religious context. The arrangement itself, slowing it down and getting rid of that childish backbeat, gives it musical substance.  The change to mostly acoustic instruments, including a churchy piano, from the artificial and electric instruments in the original version, radically alters the song. That really adds to the context change and removes the airhead quality of the original.


God bless her.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Short Story Analysis: “Greenleaf” by Flannery O’Connor, Part 2

In Part 1 I discussed the backstory and context of O’Connor’s “Greanleaf.”  Please read Part 1 if you haven’t already.  I apologized for taking so long to post the second part.  Life doesn’t always allow me to ponder and write as much as I would like.  But the interim delay has let the story settle and allow me to really think it through.  Now I’ll get to the story’s main narrative, the finding of a loose bull on Mrs. May’s property, and the attempts to get it off and then finally kill it.


The first four paragraphs of the story capture all the themes, motifs, and symbolism that the bull carries throughout.  So it’s worth reproducing those paragraphs here.

Mrs. May’s bedroom window was low and faced on the east and the bull, silvered in the moonlight, stood under it, his head raised as if he listened—like some patient god come down to woo her—for a stir inside the room.  The window was dark and the sound of her breathing too light to be carried outside.  Clouds crossing the moon blackened him and in the dark he began to tear at the hedge.  Presently they passed and he appeared again in the same spot, chewing steadily, with a hedge-wreath that he had ripped loose for himself caught in the tips of his horns.  When the moon drifted into retirement again, there was nothing to mark his place but the sound of steady chewing.  Then abruptly a pink glow filled the window.  Bars of light slid across him as the venetian blind was slit.  He took a step backward and lowered his head as if to show the wreath across his horns.

For almost a minute there was no sound from inside, then as he raised his crowned head again, a woman’s voice, guttural as if addressed to a dog, said, “Get away from here, Sir!” and in a second muttered, “Some nigger’s scrub bull.”

The animal pawed the ground and Mrs. May, standing bent forward behind the blind, closed it quickly lest the light make him charge into the shrubbery.  For a second she waited, still bent forward, her nightgown hanging loosely from her narrow shoulders.  Green rubber curlers sprouted neatly over her forehead and her face beneath them was smooth as concrete with an egg-white paste that drew the wrinkles out while she slept.

She had been conscious in her sleep of a steady rhythmic chewing as if something were eating one wall of the house.  She had been aware that whatever it was had been eating as long as she had had the place and had eaten everything from the beginning of her fence line up to the house and now was eating the house and calmly with the same steady rhythm would continue through the house, eating her and the boys, and then on, eating everything but the Greanleafs, on and on, eating everything until nothing was left but the Greanleafs on a little island all their own in the middle of whatever had been her place.  When the munching reached her elbow, she jumped up and found herself, fully awake, standing in the middle of her room.  She identified the sound at once: a cow was tearing at the shrubbery under her window.  Mr. Greanleaf had left the lane gate open and she didn’t doubt that the entire herd was on her lawn.  She turned on the dim pink table lamp and then went to the window and slit the blind.  The bull, gaunt and long-legged, was standing about four feet from her, chewing calmly like an uncouth country suitor.

Here we already see two of the same themes that were in the backstory: the lower classes encroaching upon Mrs. May, and her paranoid belief the lower classes are plundering her belongings.  The bull is referred to as “some nigger’s scrub bull,” meaning it’s associated not with pure breed bovines but with the contaminated and lowbred, as she views the lower classes.  And Mrs. May dreaming that the bull is eating away at her property signals the reader toward her perception of the Greanleaf’s rise at her expense.  That there is so much sexual suggestion (the bull “coming to woo her” “like an uncouth country suitor” for a “stir inside her room” and she “hanging loosely” in her nightgown) calls forth the fertility motif, and her rejection of the wooing establishes her sterility, symbolized oddly by the “egg-white paste” upon her face. 

But the bull doesn’t just symbolize some scrub lower class such as Mr. Greanleaf.  The bull is “like some patient god” and is identified with light and has a wreath crown across his head.  A bull deity wooing a woman alludes to the classical myth of Europa, where Zeus, disguised as a white bull, seduces the nymph Europa and carries her away to Crete where their progeny become the three judges of the underworld.  The whole main narrative of the bull culminating with a sexual embrace at the story’s climax constructs a story of a modernized retelling of an ancient myth.  James Joyce made this famous with his novel Ulysses, a modern retelling of the Odyssey.  In such a retelling, while there are parallel events and details, there is usually an inversion of some kind that makes the modern character an anti hero.  While Leopold Bloom parallels Odysseus in Ulysses, he is hardly heroic.  Joyce has inverted a key element while maintaining the parallel.  Another example of a modern retelling is how Joe Christmas of William Faulkner’s Light in August is an inversion of Jesus Christ, though the events of his life parallel Christ’s.  Here Mrs. May is an inversion of a fertility goddess, and clearly the inversion of fertility is sterility.

But the Bull stands for more than a pagan deity.  The wreath across his head is a kingly crown, and a few paragraphs further we are told it’s a “prickly crown.”  And given the “light” and the glow that comes off the bull into Mrs. May’s room and the connotation of the prickly crown to a crown of thorns, we can easily make the association that he also represents Christ.   Notice too how in the first paragraph quoted above the bull bows before her, beckoning.  O’Connor is suggesting through this pantomimed allegory Christ calling Mrs. May.  In fact the whole main narrative of the bull showing up and the attempt to drive him away is an analogue of Christ calling upon the woman and her driving Him away.  Notice her first interjection to the bull: “Get away from here, Sir!”  The use of “Sir” as an honorific address is very natural to southern articulation, though here used cynically.  But “sir” is just a shade away from “lord” and what O’Connor wants the reader to hear once the analogy is identified is, “Get away from me, Lord.”  And to pursue this a bit further, “get away from me” is an inversion of what Virgin Mary says at the embrace of God at the Annunciation “Let it be done unto me.”  And May is Mary’s month, as I pointed out inmy reading of Hopkins’ poem, “The May Magnificant.”  O’Connor is working on several planes simultaneously. 

One can also see the attempt to get the bull off her property as a sort of liturgy.  In fact there are implied liturgies throughout, almost as a sort of bass rhythm that modulates the story.  We see the repetitive return of the bull calling as a ceremony; we see Mrs. May’s reaction to the bull as a ritual; we see Mrs. May sitting at table with her sons as a rite, the broken table from the son’s fighting as a sort of black ceremony.  O’Connor portrays liturgies as gratifying or disdained.  We see Wesley’s ritual of his commute and teaching at school as sort of a bitter observance.  But the most important ritual presented is Mrs. Greenleaf’s healing ritual.  The first time Mrs. May saw her perform this ritual, she was taken aback.  It was in the field, by the woods, the about the same place the bull would later gore Mrs. May.

Out of nowhere a guttural agonized voice groaned, “Jesus!  Jesus!”  In a second it came again with a terrible urgency.  “Jesus!  Jesus!”

Mrs. May stopped still, one hand lifted to her throat.  The sound was so piercing that she felt as if some violent unleashed force had broken out of the ground and was charging toward her.  Her second thought was more reasonable: somebody had been hurt on the place and would sue her for everything she had.  She had no insurance.  She rushed forward and turning a bend in the path, she saw Mrs. Greenleaf sprawled on her hands and knees off the side of the road, her head down.

The “violent unleashed force charging” is an allusion to the bull which would later come toward her, which is also clearly an allusion to Christ.   Throughout the story you can find several instances of things charging toward Mrs. May, setting up the climatic ending.  Mrs. Greenleaf’s embrace of ritual and Mrs. May’s rejection of it (she winces at the scene before her, but especially at the articulation of Jesus’ name) furthers the theme of fertility in the numinous sense as opposed to the sterility of a secular world view.  It is significant that Mrs. May is the cause for breaking the ritual. 

“What is the matter with you?” she asked sharply.

“You broken my healing,” Mrs. Greenleaf said, waving her aside.  “I can’t talk to you until I’m finished.”

And then Mrs. Greenleaf goes on in her charismatic state of mind to call out, “Oh Jesus, stab me in the heart!  Jesus, stab me in the heart.”  That is foreshadowing, yes, since it is Mrs. May that gets literally stabbed in the heart by Jesus, but more than foreshadowing.   O’Connor is suggesting that the avoidance of numinous ritual is impossible.  Mrs. May will eventually meet Jesus, will be stabbed in the heart, and the broken ceremony will be completed.  You can avoid and reject Jesus, but Jesus through life’s rituals and rhythms of life is still going to call on you.

And the overarching rhythms of life are suggested in a number of places.  The story flows with intervals of day and night.  The interweaving of past and present and future (the future through Mrs. May’s projection of her son’s futures and her death) as the story unfolds, and then emphasized when Mrs. May lays back on the hood of her car waiting for Greenleaf to kill the bull: “With her eyes closed, she didn’t think of time as divided into days and nights but into past and future.”  There is also the bull’s “rhythmic chewing.”  There are the frequent images of round configurations, the circle of the wreath around the bull’s horns, “the rim of the pasture” with the bull in the center, the circle of the trees on Mrs. May’s property.  The circle is a loop back to itself, and so associated with rhythm.  There are the seasons of the year, especially spring, the season of return.  That is the significance of the names Greenleaf and May, and Mrs. May even exclaims, “Spring is here!” on the morning of going out to kill the bull.  And there are the rhythmic allusions to light and the sun throughout the story.  The rhythms and rituals connect the story to a sacramental fabric that O’Connor sees woven into the world.

And finally the climatic event ties together all the elements of the story.  She is waiting on the hood of her car for Mr. Greenleaf to have killed the bull.

In a few minutes something emerged from the tree line, a black heavy shadow that tossed its head several times and then bounded forward.  After a second she saw it was the bull.  He was crossing the pasture toward her at a slow gallop, a gay almost rocking gait as if it were overjoyed to find her again.  She looked beyond him to see if Mr. Greenleaf was coming out of the woods too but he was not.  “Here he is, Mr. Greenleaf!” she called and looked on the other side of the pasture to see if he could be seen coming out there but he was not in sight.  She looked back and saw that the bull, his head lowered, was racing toward her.  She remained perfectly still, not in fright, but in freezing unbelief.  She stared at the violent black streak bounding toward her as if she had no sense of distance, as if she could not decide at once what his intention was, and the bull had buried his head in her lap, like a wild tormented lover, before her expression changed.  One of his horns sank until it pierced her heart and the other curved around her side and held her in an unbreakable grip.  She continued to stare straight ahead but the entire scene in front of her had changed—the tree line was a dark wound in a world that was nothing but sky—and she had the look of a person whose sight has been suddenly restored but who finds the light unbearable.

Mr. Greenleaf was running toward her from the side with his gun raised and she saw him coming though she was not looking in his direction.  She saw him approaching on the outside of some invisible circle, the tree line gaping behind him and nothing under his feet.  He shot the bull four times through the eye.  She did not hear the shots but she felt the quake in the huge body as it sank, pulling her forward on its head, so that she seemed, when Mr. Greenleaf reached her, to be bent over whispering some last discovery into the animal’s ear.

In the first post on this story, I started this analysis by questioning the worthiness of the ending, and now that I’ve gone through the story in micro detail, I conclude the ending is most definitely fitting.  My qualms on the initial read had to do with whether the reader was prepared for such an ending.  Her death from the bull seemed to come out of the blue.  But most definitely the climaxed was foreshadowed.  It was foreshadowed from the subtle allusions in the story to Mrs. May’s future death, all in a hypothetical context, and from the various things that are metaphorically “charging” toward Mrs. May.  The other complaint that might get placed on this ending is that it’s rather awkward, if not contorted.  O’Connor does revel in the gothic, and she is identified as an author of Southern Gothic, and the American Southern Gothic Movement Such a grotesque situation is at the essence of the gothic, so one shouldn’t be surprised.

But more importantly the ending pulls all the themes together.  We can see the ending as the sexual union with the pagan deity, culminating the Europa myth.  We can see the ending as a final answering to Christ’s call.  No matter how she tried to reject Jesus, ultimately you cannot avoid Him.  We can see the ending as enlightenment, an epiphany: her “sight has been suddenly restored.”  We can see that the gradations of humanity that she was so concerned about in life are in the end unimportant: she consummates with a “scrub bull.”  We can see the sterility of her life ended and transformed into a new fertility.  Christ through His sacrifice is an agent of fertility.  We can even see the climatic death as a crucifixion, pinned and suffering, her life now transfigured.  We can see the ending as the closing of the circle, the return to the bull beckoning outside the window.  We can see the ending as a healing, perhaps inspired by Mrs. Greenleaf’s prayer.  All the hurts, the paranoia, the concerns, the burdens are now relieved.  And finally the culminating act can be seen as acceptance of fate and God’s will.  Here Mrs. May finally transforms into the Blessed Virgin at the Annunciation and has God’s will be done unto her.  I would like to think that the whispering in the bull’s ear contains the word “yes.”


It is astounding how rich and deep this story is, as rich and deep as any ever written.  A masterpiece.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Faith Filled Friday: Letter to the Romans 1:1-17

I started reading St. Paul’s letter to the Romans and I was really struck with the opening seventeen lines.  Here’s the New American Bible translation which divides the seventeen lines in a greeting, a thanksgiving, and a profession of the Gospel.  I took a few liberties with the arrangement on the page so I could emphasize the individual sentences.  I put the line number in parenthesizes and did not separate according to established line numbers so that one could read the sentence as it flows. 


The NAB translation has been criticized for its lack luster English, and while the diction may not be elevated I find the rhythm of the sentences rather pleasing.  When people criticize bible translations for not having lofty or sublime language, they are usually reacting to the diction.  But diction should be a function of the original text.  It should approximate the original language’s style, elevated or low, simple or flowery.  If the original text is not lofty in its original language, then I don’t see any reason why the translation should be.  I can’t speak to the diction choices made for any of the translations since I don’t read the original Hebrew or Greek. But I can appreciate the sentence arrangement.  Here it should also approximate the original style but it should have modern rhythm.   

Quick orientation: Paul is writing to the Christian community in Rome for an upcoming visit.  He has been planning such a visit for many years, but his plans have been repeatedly disrupted, mainly because he’s been incarcerated for preaching Christianity. 

Paul’s Epistle to the Romans

Greeting

(1) Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God, (2) which he promised previously through his prophets in the holy scriptures, (3) the gospel about his Son, descended from David according to the flesh, (4) but established as Son of God in power according to the spirit of holiness through resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.

(5) Through him we have received the grace of apostleship, to bring about the obedience of faith, for the sake of his name, among all the Gentiles, (6) among whom are you also, who are called to belong to Jesus Christ; (7) to all the beloved of God in Rome, called to be holy.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Thanksgiving

(8) First, I give thanks to my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is heralded throughout the world.  

(9) God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in proclaiming the gospel of his Son, that I remember you constantly, (10) always asking in my prayers that somehow by God’s will I may at last find my way clear to come to you.

(11) For I long to see you, that I may share with you some spiritual gift so that you may be strengthened, (12) that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by one another’s faith, yours and mine.

(13) I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I often planned to come to you, though I was prevented until now, that I might harvest some fruit among you, too, as among the rest of the Gentiles.

(14) To Greeks and non-Greeks alike, to the wise and the ignorant, I am under obligation; (15) that is why I am eager to preach the gospel also to you in Rome.


God’s Power for Salvation

(16) For I am not ashamed of the gospel.

It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: for Jew first, and then Greek.

(17) For in it is revealed the righteousness of God from faith to faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous by faith will live.”


I love that part about mutually encouraging one another’s faith.  Faith does seem to increase as more participate together.  I hope you got to appreciate the rhythm of the sentences, but more importantly I hope it provided a touch of faith for this Friday.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Priest and the Prostitute by Victor S E Moubarak

This is neither a book review nor an analysis.  This is a strictly a plug for a fun book written by a frequent visitor to this blog.

While I was traveling last week and in my personal time while not working, I grew a little tired from Dante’s Paradisio and flipped through my Kindle and came to a recent purchase of a lighter read.  One gets mentally exhausted traveling, going through tedious engineering meetings, and reading complicated literature.  A mental break was in order for something less stressing and recreative.   

There on my Kindle was Victor Moubarak’s book.  You may know Victor (the Victor I call Victor M. since there is another frequent visitor also named Victor) from his comments here or from his own blog, Time For Reflections.  It’s a fun blog and I stop there frequently myself.  On Victor’s blog he occasionally tells tales of a certain Father Ignatius.  He also has a short story collection pertaining to Fr. Ignatius’s activities and adventures, The Adventures of Father Ignatius, which I also own.   Between the short stories and the blog posts, I had come to the conclusion early on that Victor was an actual priest and that he was writing from experience because he writes so convincingly.  Well, I found out he isn’t; he’s married with children.  But he has an incredible insight into priestly life and experience (I don’t know how). 

He recently wrote a full novel, The Priest and the Prostitute, with the Fr. Ignatius character, and when it came to my attention I quickly bought it off Amazon as a Kindle ebook.  So I read it this past week to get a mental break and I couldn’t put it down.  What a fun book, though the situation for Fr. Ignatius isn’t so fun since he’s accused of murdering a prostitute.  Here’s a short section, from the beginning of Chapter 4.

Three months on and Father Igantius had truly settled at St. Vincent.  His original apprehension that returning was perhaps an unwise move had all but faded away.  It’s surprising how quickly one settles back to an old routine when feeling comfortable and at peace with oneself.

He celebrated Mass each morning at eight, visited the homeless shelter twice a week, spent most afternoons dealing with paperwork or visiting the sick at the hospital or at home, or going one or two parishioners temporarily in jail.  And every Friday evening he sat by the log fire in the large room listening to Verdi in company with Sister Martha who too had fallen back into the old routine of calling on him on her way to the convent. 

One fresh late-August evening Father Ignatius arrived at St. Vincent at about nine o’clock just as it was getting a little darker.  He got out of the car and was on his way towards Parish House when he was approached by a blonde woman in her late thirties who’d just walked out of the church and made her towards him.  He was surprised that the church was still open at this hour and he made a mental note to lock up before he got into the house.

“Hello Father Ignatius,” said the woman as she stopped some four feet away.

It was a moment when one’s brain works at a million miles an hour trying to work out a situation and getting nowhere.  Her voice sounded so familiar.  So did her face.  Father Ignatius tried hard to remember who she was and where he had met her before but it seemed his “little grey cells” had let him down.

“Don’t you remember me Father?” she said eventually, “I’m Joanna!”

“Oh yes, hello!” he heard himself mutter.

Joanna was an occasional visitor to the church on Sundays many years ago.  She was politely known as a lady of the night, and made no secret of the fact.  Many surmised that most gentlemen of the parish had at one time or another been entertained by Joanna.  Indeed she had confessed her sin many a time to Father Ignatius although she never named names.

“Just hello,” she said, “No hug?”

“I remember what happened the last time Judas hugges someone,” said Father Igantius and regretted saying it almost immediately.

I’m going to stop there, because that’s a really good hook.  Isn’t that enticing?  The characters are idiosyncratically charming, and you really feel for Fr. Ignatius’ predicament.  Set in a North England town, presumably one where Victor lives, and though I’ve never traveled there it felt very immediate.  He captures it well I think.


Victor who apparently has skills in various media has put together a little video to advertise  the book.





You can get it at Amazon, and the Kindle version is only $4 at the American site.  It’s worth it.  It’s not high literature like I normally read, but I really enjoyed it.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Literature in the News: Famous Dogs in Literature

Now that we have a new canine in the family,  it must be Divine Providence that sent this blog post my way from the Books section of the HuffPost, titled “7 Memorable Dogs from Literature” by Mikita Brottman.  Being a dog lover, dogs in literature has occasionally crossed my mind, but I’ve never gone out of my way to note them down.  This was a useful and fun exercise.

Brottman starts her list with with why dogs are particularly memorable in literature.

Who could forget Old Yeller, or the dog of Anton Chekhov's short story, "The Lady with the Dog"? Fictional pups have the ability to tug at our heartstrings in a way their human counterparts sometimes cannot.

I can’t remember if I read Old Yeller in school.  I may have but none of my synapses can find trace of it.  Chekhov’s “The Lady with the Dog” came quickly to mind.    It’s one of those must read short stories.  But Brottman doesn’t list either of those as a “memorable” dog.  I’m just going to list her seven, and you can go over to see why she finds them memorable.

Bull's-eye from Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Caesar III from “Coming, Aphrodite!” by Willa Cather
Flush from Flush: A Biography by Virginia Woolf
'Issa' from Marcus Valerius Martialis' poetry
Jip from David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
Kashtanka from "Kashtanka" by Anton Chekhov
Shock from 'The Rape of the Lock' by Alexander Pope

Now that’s a rather interesting list.  I think Brottman was trying for the obscure.  The only one I have read on that list is David Copperfield and I didn’t think of Jip initially but I do recall him now.

Who would I add?  Here are the ones that came to my mind.

Argos for Homer’s The Odyssey.  How can anyone forget Odysseus’s dog who recognizes his master in disguise having returned after 20 years away?  Of course it’s a stretch since dogs don’t live twenty years, and for the dog to have been so attached to his master they would have needed a few years of bonding on top of the years away.  But Argos is the epitome of a faithful dog.  



The hound from Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles.  Was there ever a dog in literature that caused so much terror?  What a great story.    



Bendicò from Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s great Italian novel, The Leopard.  Few people will probably identify this one, unless you’re into Italian literature, but that Great Dane in the story was most memorable.  



Buck from Jack London’s The Call of the Wild.  How could Buck not make Brottman’s list?  It’s a whole novel from the point of view of the dog.  If he’s not the most famous dog in literature, he’s probably the most heroic.  


Sounder from the young adult novel Sounder  by William H. Armstrong.  I definitely remember reading this in school, and in the little research I did here I was surprised to find that Armstrong was not African-American.  He was a white man from the south.  I can’t recall a better story of love for a dog than this one.  



Would it surprise you that Wikipedia has a page of a List of Fictional Dogs?  Of course it shouldn’t surprise you.  Peruse the list.  I have to say, it is way incomplete.  But it’s an interesting list.  The one that surprises me is Blue from Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury.  I’ve read that novel at least three times and for the life of me I can’t recall a dog in the novel.  Is it there at the beginning when the children are playing outside and we’re in Benjy’s mind?


Well which fictional dogs do you find memorable?  I’d love to hear.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Notable Quote: Slow Reading by Richard A. Lanham

This comes from my read of Richard Lanham’s Style: an Anti Textbook.  Lanham has been on a discourse on prose rhythm.  To set up one of his points he contemplates the notion of speed-reading:  “And the speed-reading course is plain lunacy.  Its mere presence horrifies: reading is something to be gotten through.”

Here’s his developed thought:

Before prose rhythm can be sensibly considered, one must redefine reading.  It cannot be a jet flight coast-to-coast.  It must be a slow walk in the country, taken, as all such walks should be, partly for the walking itself.  Every course in composition ought to be a course in Slow Reading.  To read a prose text aloud, again and again, is the most important single act you can perform, if you are to understand its style.  As for rhythm, if you do not read aloud (at least with the mind’s ear), there will not be any.  Rhythm cannot be studied by itself, directly.  Until a text is read aloud there is no rhythm to study.  Of course we can silent-read for rhythm, but only if we have learned, paradoxically, how to read aloud silently.  Until you have explored this dimension of prose style, you will not know it is there.  Once you have explored it, you’ll find a passage of mumblespeak literally unreadable.  With luck, you may not write any more of it yourself. 


That is actually quite satisfying to hear.  I am a notoriously Slow Reader.  I savor sentences and rhythm.  I listen with my “mind’s ear” all the time.  Lanham also goes on to say that audio books are excellent vehicles for acquiring the nuances of English prose rhythm.  I love audio books.  But I listen to them in a very unconventional way.  I really don’t like listening to an audio book without the written words in front of me.  I can’t follow the sentence structures if I’m just listening.  What I love to do is listen to an audio book while I read.  This way I get a professional performer and reader to articulate the language.  With the words right in front of me, a great reader provides what might be for me the best form of entertainment possible.