Showing posts with label books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label books. Show all posts


Quote of the Day: Anne Carson On the Social Contract

Woman with book at night
photo credit: notjanedoe
I wanted to find one law to cover all of living. I found fear.
— Anne Carson
Source: Carson, Anne. Plainwater: Essays and Poetry. New York: Vintage Contemporaries, 2000. Print.


He Reads Harry Potter, too

 photo credit:era145

I  am not sure if he is happy about reading the Harry Potter septology or if he is afraid of Voldemort.


Software Review: Access My Library for the iPhone

Have you ever wanted to use your iPhone to access your library's electronic resources? Well, you can with Access My Library.
I love access to my public library's online resources, like EBSCOhost and Galegroup resources.

I'm pleased to know I can access some of the resources I pay taxes for, not only on my computer but on my iPhone.

Gale Group, a leading reference resource has developed a nifty iPhone app that uses geotracking to locate the nearest public libraries in your area and allows you to access electronically through an app.

What this means is I can access Scribner's Writer's Series on my phone.
If I lived in San Francisco, then I could access the public library there as well.

Gale allows this access for free because it knows it helps libraries reach out to more of its patrons who may not have access to the stacks because of work or other commitments. This ensures libraries will continue to use Gale as an online database service.

The app enhances iPhone's ability to search out reputable resources. The worldwide web does not always contain the most desirable sources, and sometimes I need access to a subscription database to locate trustworthy information.

Now, only if the legal battle can cease, then Google can offer a similar service through its Books feature.


Reading is Smexy

It's a commonly underrepresented fact that reading is smexy.

Boy sits in between the stacks at a library to read a book.

YAY! Reading!

Yes, reading is smexy. It's that cross between smart and sexy — that makes any reader a sight for sore eyes. So pick up a book. And read. It'll make you look better than even a freshly cut do.


Marengo Street Free Collective Library

I was at Hey Cafe on Magazine street yesterday, sipping a coffee and writing, as usual.
I walked over to Marengo and Magazine and saw this green box.

Thit Marengo Collective Library
Take a book / leave a book
Take a DVD / Leave a DVD

Read! Watch!

Free Materials for the People
Noticed some Richard Wright; Season One of the Office.

Come help feed starving readers, at least with words, not spaghetti.


Libraries and Librarians in Film

EW did a thing on 18 movies with libraries, but I thought I'd add to the mix with just 3:
Citizen Kane
The Library Matron
The librarian grants access to a journalist to read the diary of Charles Foster Kane's guardian William Thatcher.
Citizen Kane (1941)
William Thatcher's diary in the famous Citizen Kane library scene
A stern-looking librarian leads a reporter into a cell containing a diary by Charles Foster Kane's guardian William Thatcher that may give him leads to the infamous newspaper magnate's sudden death. The journalist in the film plays the part of the dogged researcher who seeks out every possible avenue to sort out why did Kane spout out before he died, "Rosebud." He arrives at a fortress (or what appears to be a prison) that turns out to be an imposing archive. Granting permission to the journalist to peruse Thatcher's diary, The librarian tells him he can only read pages 83-142 and that he must leave the library premise by 4:40 sharp. I watched Citizen Kane for the first time with a librarian and she was quick to point out how librarians are erroneously depicted in popular culture as stern "guardians of the stacks." The mantra, it seems, is "the book shan't leave my sight!" I chuckle because the Kane library scene is sometimes true. I knew a librarian who went to the grocery store one afternoon and saw a patron in line and instead of telling her hello demanded to know why she had not turned in her overdue library book. True story. Anyway, I still consider this scene the quintessential library scene in film history even though it stereotypes librarians as "sole proprietors" of knowledge, I still love it. I think I was mesmerized by Greg Toland's brilliant cinematography: the way the light shines from above, illuminating the manuscript on the spare table, the way the camera makes you feel trapped inside the library walls, chained to nothing but a book. Then the camera focuses on a page in Thatcher's diary, I first encountered Mr. Kane in 1871." The book morphs into a flashback scene of little Charlie Kane playing in the snow with his sled. It's a stark effective scene as well as a metaphor for the increasing mystery of newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane's mysterious life.

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
The Library Know-it-All
Obi-Wan Kenobi scours the library databases in the Jedi library but to no avail.

Obi-Wan is surprised that not even the library has it!  
Obi-Wan Kenobi goes to the library to look for a planet in the star database in the Jedi Archives.  Obi-Wan has the right information but cannot find the planet. The librarian insists the planet does not exist because it does not appear in the star charts where it is supposed to be located. If it is not in the database, then it does not exist, the librarian remarks. Coincidentally, I was with the same librarian I saw Citizen Kane with when I saw this movie and she pointed this out to me with the same chagrin on her face as she did when she pointed out the Kane librarian trope. The Star Wars librarian is another variation of the Kane librarian: not only does the knowledge not appear in the record, if the knowledge is not in the record then it does not exist. So, does that mean if I do not have a birth certificate I do not exist? I become a tad bit nervous when librarians began messing with my existential priorities. The flip slide is the student researching a term paper: "I cannot find anything on my topic." It doesn't exist? Even Obi-Wan knows that; in case you were wondering, it was the Sith who smudged the planet from the star charts to hide their nefarious plans to create a clone army. So it just goes to show you, if it is not in the database, and it is supposed to be there, someone bad took it out, like a Sith Lord.    

The Library Catalog Haunted by a Ghost

I ain't afraid of no ghosts
The Ghostbusters stumble upon a ghostly specter in the stacks.
 If you thought an archive powered by the Force was cool, what about a card catalog haunted by a slimy ghoul? Ghostbusters has a fun opening sequence that features none other than the famous New York Public Library (although the interior shots were filmed in a library in California). I like the part when the green slime emits from the card catalog. Priceless shot!

EXTRA! EXTRA! See my post on the library scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade


The Iron Rail: Community Library, Art and Music Center in the Marigny Neighborhood of New Orleans

The Iron Rail is an out of the way community library, art center, music center, and volunteer bookstore in the Marigny neighborhood of New Orleans.
The Iron Rail hosts a community library in its building on Marigny Street
This out of the way community library, art center, music center, and volunteer bookstore in the Marigny is a really cool place. People come and go talking about music, and Michelangelo. In a studio in the back of this World II era warehouse, guys practice experimental music.

My buddy Airplane introduced it to me on Friday. For ten dollars or through volunteer hours, members have access to a nice collection of philosophy, literature, art, back issues of zines, anarchist tracts, and other good stuff.

If you have a paper to write for college in a humanities course, you have pretty much everything here. I found an Iris Murdoch book I've been wanting to read. Also, I lost my original Of Grammatology and they have that too. Items in the collection are organized by subject and author. The library is a browsing collection so don't expect a card catalog.

Hours are sporadic but the place seems to be mostly open after 1 until like 7.

Movie night is on Tuesday. Meetings are on Wednesdays.

The Iron Rail
511 Marigny Street
New Orleans LA
United States


Book Review: The Gutenberg Elegies by Sven Birkerts

Here lies a book review on the non-fiction tome The Gutenberg Elegies by Sven Birkerts.
     I read the Gutenberg Elegies in 2006 back when books were still being read in print (har har). The statistics were grim for the written word, but new studies indicate that the written word may be back but will reading survive in the long run? The eReader phenomenon had not yet hit critical mass even a few years ago, but we had been facing a problem at the library: students were not coming into the library. But, hits on the library web site had increased. Students had stopped coming to the library and had instead started doing all their research on the internet; they were checking the library's catalog online, using databases online (an awesome tool, by the way).
Fast-Food Restaurant Library
     Students were not using the library to come and stay: we had become more of a fast-food restaurant: come and buy and go. I was working at the time with a colleague, B., and she was telling me how she predicted back in the 90s that book would eventually be replaced by flexible devices that would allow readers to peruse books as if they were "print." I laughed at the time, even though Sony had come out with eBook readers, and so had a few other companies - but these clunkers were expensive and not amenable to a large selection. So, I read Sven Birkert's book, which is a philosophical musing on reading, words, language, and the art of the medium. At the time I was very nostalgic for books - even though books had not yet left the party. I could not imagine a life without physical books: the smell, the binding. the print, the presence of an actual book. But, then, as time went on, and Google announced its Books service, Amazon announced its Kindle, and now Apple, the iPad, I have come to realize that it is not "books" per se that we should be championing but READING. 
     Will I read my child Where the Wild Things Are from an electronic device or from a book? Maybe both? What about WRITING. Or both: reading and writing. It is one thing to elegize on the loss of the book, but as Birkerts points out, it is a sadder thing to lament the loss of reading. Will the fast production of eBooks toss out reading? Probably not. Will blogs eliminate writing? Probably not? I think the divide is not necessarily due to books versus digital media, but rather, a divide between permanence and impermanence. Books represent permanence. Working in a library you come to know this especially when a patron comes in looking for a book he or she once read: they, panic-stricken, come to the circulation desk, "Where is the book I read twenty years ago?! It is not here. I remember it was right there," they say, pointing to a space in the library that is now reserved for computer terminals. Books are supposed to be permanent; they are supposed to be dogeared, yes, but they must persist; Sometimes people are not too happy to discover their book had been relegated to the basement, replaced by a PC - and some people even lament when their favorite book has donned a new cover art. The gods must be crazy. If the book is not to be found, a worker would have to be sent to request for the book at another location, have it sent by courier, and voilá here was the book, albeit a different jacket cover than they had remembered, but so what. Or better yet: let us say the book had been discarded?! If it had been tossed to the Friends of the Library book sale? What then? What if I had said, "Well, you can read the book on our eReader? Or you can print the entire book on a printer? Or, well, we have to inter-library loan that book from Fresno." The patron would have been unhappy. Maybe furious. We want our physical books like we want our web pages: now, and at this very moment. We want permanence but we want our permanent print like want our Safari to load: instantaneously. I am frustrated that people are so nostalgic for the superficial when they should rather be proactive for the right reasons. It is one thing to lament the loss of the physical book, but I find people are not putting their money where their hearts are. Is this an elegy for the book, or is it rather, an elegy for intellectual curiosity? What scares me more is not the loss of the physical book, but something deeper and scarier: the loss of critical thinking. If the book is only meant to be a fetish for nostalgia, then, it defeats the purpose. Books will be around for a while. Sure. As long as reading = pleasure. But, there will also be Kindles, etc., right alongside of them. What I worry about is access to new and interesting stories, information, words, language, pleasure. Will there be egalitarian places where people can read? Not everyone can afford a Kindle (and for that matter, not everyone can afford a book). Will libraries be places with free access to Google Books and usage of eBook readers? Google states once they open their databases of copyright and out of print in-copyright books by subscription, public libraries will be granted a terminal with free access. 
     What if I want to read the Chronicles of Narnia at home but cannot afford the twenty bucks? In America, access to reading is taken for granted. We forget that it is a mark of a democratic society that champions unmediated, free access to knowledge. Will there continue to be places where people can write out their thoughts (like here on Blogger, which infamously deletes blogs for no apparent reason). Will proprietary devices create an elite upper class? I think impermanence is what we are scared of. We are afraid the loss of the book is the loss of civilization as we know it. What scares me more than anything is the middle-class person who says: "I don't have time to read" when there are people who really cannot afford to read. That scares me more than, "I want an iPad." Or, when I give students a list of books to read, and one of them says, "None of these stories interests me." But, then again, what am I hoping for? Have things really changed? Are people reading less in 2010 as they did in 1956? As they did in 1888? Actually, people are reading more, just not in print. But, the strange paradox is the advent of choice: I am sure today there are so many options to choose from when it comes to reading: just look at the number of books published every year; the number of news blogs, websites, etc. But, is every class of society given the opportunity to read? Who are the people reading more? The next thing to gage is writing. Are Americans writing more? Now, it may come back to permanence and impermanence. Is it the loss of something we are afraid of? If it is, what is that something? That's what I want to know. I will not sing an elegy for the book, but I may begin to sing an elegy for thought. If we are reading more, what are we reading, and if we are writing more, what are we writing. 
Start Memorizing a Book Like the Book People in Fahrenheit 451
     Should I do a Fahrenheit 451 and start memorizing my favorite book or should I go out and buy an iPad? Maybe, I should do both. But, what I think should be done is this: people need to ensure that reading is always made available to everyone in society. Budgets for information centers, books in braille, one book one city programs, writing workshops, poetry circles, lending libraries, etc., should not be cut. I lived in a posh city where citizens voted to not approve the library budget? What were they thinking? People said they just buy their books. They don't need a library. As we speed into the information age, we cannot make the mistake of denying reading to the masses just because books are like an iTunes song: 99 cents.


Book Review: The Lives of Animals

In J.M. Coetzee’s novella, The Lives of Animals, protagonist Elizabeth Costello is an aged novelist famous for writing The House on Eccles Street, in which she imagines the life of Marion Bloom of Joyce’s Ulysses. She has been invited to lecture on a topic of her own choosing at Appleton College, where her son is a physics professor. The novella is interesting because it is dubbed an academic work, a strange genre form that offers footnotes and, in this case, two full lectures on animal rights, as part of the University Center for Values Series.    Elizabeth, a non-human animal sympathizer, provokes a visceral response from the faculty — and her family — because of her views.  People cringe to sit at the same dinner table with a vegetarian — “an animal lover” — because it puts into question their own self-assumed values and assumptions that they may have held since childhood.  so, when Elizabeth sits down at the dinner table with her son and daughter-in-law (who is a philosopher) she wonders where are the children.  Norma answers that they are eating in the other room because she doesn’t want to inculcate in them the belief that eating chicken is wrong.  In this delicate scene, it is obvious that Elizabeth’s beliefs are not strictly theoretical and impervious to the sphere of breaking bread in the domestic sphere, for her beliefs concerning animal rights impose upon the familial as well as the academic. What we considered clean to eat and what we consider polluted, has perhaps, defined us as human beings, and when these basic assumptions are challenged, it causes us to defend ourselves because we do not want to be considered “polluted.”  As Mary Douglas in her book, Purity and Danger, wrote, “Pollution dangers strike when form has been attacked” (130).  Pollution — or dirt — is a deciding cultural factor that humans worry about; dirt makes us anxious — especially if we feel dirty or polluted or made to feel that way, for it threatens our sense of form and “unity of experience.”
    Coetzee’s novel is interesting because, as readers, we are privy not only to the two lectures Elizabeth gives at Appleton college on animals: one on animal rights and another on animals in literature — but also the responses and behaviors of those who hear her speak.  Again, the theme of who is polluted and who is clean surfaces.  Elizabeth makes the startling claim that the Germans, living near the Treblinka death camp, were willfully ignorant of the slaughter of millions of human beings.  They could have acted, but they went on with their lives, acting otherwise.  This willed ignorance, this inability to act, argues Elizabeth, is a mark of their self-inscribed inability to be human.  They refuse to see the death camps as a mark of their own pollution.
    Costello makes the analogy that the willed ignorance of the Germans of the Third Reich is tantamount to the willed ignorance of those who refuse to do anything about the inhumanity of the factory farms or lab testing on animals.  This is a shocking claim.  For isn’t Burger King and McDonalds an industry we tolerate?  Costello and writers like Peter Singer would claim that in both cases, the ill-treatment and murder of human beings like cattle, and the actual ill-treatment and slaughter of cattle, are considered equally unethical, and a mark of a human being’s propensity to use his reason, his practical mind, as a means to use someone or something for his own end.  The inability of humans to recognize this unethical state of affairs is a sin, according to Elizabeth.  Because it makes the human being less human.  The Germans who refused to recognize the horrors at Treblinka or Dachau, their inability to realize that the gold chain they wore, or the soap they used to wash their children — once belonged to a dead prisoner marks them as polluted.  This inability of the citizens of the Third Reich to realize their own complicity in the systematic transportation, labor and eventual slaughter of millions of people is the same — and Singer would argue too — of the industrial raising and feeding of factory farm animals for eventual slaughter and consumption.  The point being raised, is that the common element we share, all sentient beings, nonhuman and human — is the capacity to suffer.  The inability to recognize the animal who has the ability to suffer is what animal rights seem to address.  No one would rather think of a sentence like this, written by Singer, about a slaughterhouse in his book Animal Liberation: “Millions of gallons of liquefied feces and urine seeped into the environment from collapsed, leaking or overflowing storage lagoons.”
    But I don’t think most carnivores think of an actual, living, sentient being who suffered when they bite into their burgers.  Most American, would not consider Plutarch’s ancient, infamous expression “Of Eating of Flesh,” concerning animal rights, “You ask me why I refuse to eat flesh.  I, for my part, am astonished that you can put in your mouth the corpse of a dead animal, astonished that you do not find it nasty to chew hacked flesh and swallow the juices of death-wounds.” (quoted in Coetzee 38).      

    Most Americans, it has been said, don’t care how their meat is produced as long as it doesn’t kill them.  Probably, many people would assume it is a Darwinian survival of the fittest: eat them before they eat you!  We may care tenderly for our pet canine or feed affectionately the doves at the local park, but it seems, that we do not consider the ethical complicity we share in the disavowal of the animal to be nothing other than a means without any real end. 
    I would agree, that at this level, we are prone to see the animal as merely an automaton.  We would rather not think that the animal has the capacity to suffer, like us.  We would rather consign to a non-ethical realm our decision to eat meat, to be carnivorous — for as Coetzee, suggests, most of our beliefs about what is clean and what is polluted lie in deeply set cultural and familial mores.  The prevailing ethos in the West is the notion that only the human, the most perfect in the animal kingdom, has the Adamic privilege to render that which is less perfect, as subject to himself (see Aquinas on this issue).
    As concerns my own beliefs, I have had several stints of vegetarianism throughout my life, but I have to admit, I have not been consistent in my resolve to put away a carnivorous appetite.  But, as we mentioned in class, even the vegan probably has animal leather on their sandal.  So even they are not fully removed from involvement in the suffering of animals.  We are all complicit at some level with the suffering of the sentient creatures that inhabit this planet.  None of us can exonerate ourselves completely.  But, I think the heart of Animal Liberation, and any liberation for that matter, is consciousness raising; for, we cannot think, that just because we freed the slaves, or that we gave women the right to vote, that all forms of oppression have been eliminated.


Found Message: I Discovered a Personal Confession Left Inside of a Book at "McKeown's Books" in New Orleans

I found a card in a book with a personal message. Of course, I read it.

At this bookstore on Tchoupitoulas Street, I found a card in a book that said, "I never will know if my dad is alive or why he left us."

I never had a close relationship with my father. Reading someone else's confession is a commiseration, a recognition that I am not alone in my feelings. 

McKeown's Books

So, thank you, stranger, to the one who left a message in a book.


Let's Go to the Museum: "Oedipus Wrecks" in the Ninth Grade English Classroom

In this post, I write about a recent Ninth Grade English lesson based on the New York Times Learning Center curriculum where we turned our classroom into a museum full of objects based on the Greek Tragedy Oedipus the King by Sophocles.

Museum Exhibition of Oedipus the King
In all periods of my Ninth Grade English class at De La Salle High School in New Orleans, we created a museum exhibition for Sophocles tragedy Oedipus Rex.
Students create a puzzle game based on
Oedipus the King in a Ninth Grade English class.

In every corner of the room galleries were set up to showcase different significant objects from the play: the noose, the brooch, the crown, the walking stick, the nail, the masks the actors wore, to demonstrate non-linguistically the themes of the Ancient Greek tragedy.

In quadrant one museum-goers played the memory game, trying to remember different objects from the play. Can anyone remember where the brooch went? If you look carefully you can see one museum-goer chose a noose to demonstrate the noose Jocasta chose to commit suicide; I thought they performed the act with appropriate cheer.


I am glad we didn't have demonstrations of the brooch.

One group of students brought Oedipus cupcakes.

One group had sword fights to act out the fatal battle between Oedipus and his father at the crossroads. Clever. But, I heard one girl say, "He wants to kill his father?"

I liked the Oedipus crossword puzzle the kids created on the smartboard. That was fun. I found "furnace" and "citadel".

But, I could not get the smartpen to work. Doi *me imitating Homer Simpson*. So we had to remember what words were previously discovered.

I noticed that the success rate for the project was high. I should try to implement more projects like this one in the classroom. What do you think? I think it is important to try to encourage students to express in a non-linguistic form the themes of a piece of literature. Students react to thematic significance when they see the potent art of the literary piece brought to life. Isn't this what the Greeks did? They did not sit around in a classroom and underline important passages. In a way, it is the artistic expression of the work. It is a way to bring the work back to life; to take it from the textbook and reify the dramatic action.

I got the idea for the project from a New York Times learning center lesson plan using the idea of Orhan Pamuk's new novel the Museum of Innocence. In his new novel, every chapter is devoted to an object the main character Kemal associates with his ex-lover. We read the article in class and discussed ways we could create our own museum of innocence for Oedipus Rex. Fun stuff.

Well, I am off to attend a birthday party for my cousin. He turned sixteen today. Ain't that sweet?


Listen to an Audiobook: Hour Trips

Driving Is a Wasted of Time
     Extended driving times seem to waste so much intellectual potential. If you're going to take an hour-long trip turn off the radio and listen to an audiobook. This is a public service announcement from Greig. I am listening to Philip Roth's novel The Plot Against America.
     What are you listening to?


Word Diary: How I Discovered Coded Languages Like "Pig Latin" and "King Tut" as a Child (And As an Adult Learned More About Their History)

In this post (which is an update of the original post I wrote in 2009), I write about the use of encoded words and phrases that have meaning only to the initiated — or, put in another way — how we can even understand each other at all! If you think about it — words are just sounds, aural signifiers that are inert, the utterances of our vocal cords. But put into context, into meaning, and then voila — we have utterances that can break through the void and become language.

Nonsensical Languages in Linguistic Terms

Nonsensical languages are so much fun. Nonsensical in the linguistic sense, that the use of words, syntax, order of words, encoded meanings, enact a playful dynamic to undercut the formal use of the dominant language form and to lay bare the construct of language, how it works and operates. You know you are a fan of the nonsensical if you can enjoy Lewis Carrol's "The Jabberwocky." I am stunned that I understand what a vorpal sword is and chortle. Amazing. Simply amazing.

The Jabberwocky by Lewis Carrol

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
      And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
      The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
      The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand;
      Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree
      And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
      The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
      And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
      The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
      He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
      Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
      He chortled in his joy.

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
      And the mome raths outgrabe.

Most of the words in this poem are completely made-up. They are neologisms. It was only recently, after they entered the dominant language, that words like chortle and snort came into the main as "English words". But coded languages do not only appear in poetry. Look to the child's playground. Or other social spaces where the need to speak in secret emerges. Do you remember Pig Latin as a kid? I-ay o-day! We used to speak Pig Latin in the schoolyard so we could say bad words. Uck-fay ou-yay!

King Tut

"Hello" in King Tut Language
But, what about King Tut language? I stumbled upon this coded language* several years ago, working as a page in a public library - you come across a plethora of arcane, but useful books.

King Tut is a language I read about as a child in a book by Paul Dickson — it involves taking all consonants and simply doubling them and inserting a "U" in the middle. It works like code. Vowels are pronounced as usual. Here is the alphabet:

King Tut Letters

A, Bub, Coy, Dud, E, Fuf, Gug, Huh (or Hoy), I, Juj (or Joy), Kuk, Lul, Mum, Nun, O, Pup, Quk, Rur (or Roy), Sus, Tut, U, Vuv, Wuw (or Woy), Xux, Yuk (or Yoy), Zuz

Double Letters

If a letter is doubled, like in "book" you say bub-o-square-kuk.
"Hello, How are you?"
in King Tut is rendered
"Huh-e-lul-square-o, Huh-o-wuw a-rur-e yuk-o?" 
When King Tut is spoken it is unintelligible only to the uninitiated. It sounds like complete nonsense. But once you understand the code (i.e., the rules,), it's meaning becomes clear. Once you learn how it works, the code is broken and you can understand it. I have taught coded languages like King Tut to my freshman English class to impress upon them the artificial construct of a language (although I don't tell them that is why I am teaching it to them). 

It is quite impressive how quickly the students can understand what I am saying once I explain the rules. And what was at first an unknown string of sounds becomes intelligible.

But — of course, coded languages come into being for a purpose. And while I did not at first know the origins of King Tut, I learned about it as a coded language that was used by enslaved peoples in North America.

Update (August 2021):
I wrote about King Tut Language on my blog in 2009. I first read about it in the 1990s when I was a kid — reading about it in a book by Paul Dickson. Subsequently, I have learned that Tut Language has its origins in American slavery. Enslaved people used Tut to communicate amongst themselves and to practice literacy without being caught. Tutnese, or Tallehash, is way more complex in its original form than the modified version I learned. In fact, the alphabet I learned as a kid most likely is not Tut’s original form. When speaking in Tut, or writing in Tut, the coded words appeared unintelligible to outsiders; this allowed enslaved persons to speak, write, and practice literacy without being punished — as learning to read and write was forbidden by slaveholders. Enslaved people fought against their masters and learned in secret, and in code — in a way that shows the resiliency and tenacity of the human spirit. I apologize for my ignorance in originally writing this post, thinking that Tut was a child's language (like Pig Latin). It has a much richer history. And one that seems to be getting noticed as people start learning more about their individual histories.

Thank you to Gloria McIlwain's book "Tut Language" — it was the book that I read that introduced me to the Tut language's history and origins. Check it out if you wish to learn more. Here is the pronunciation table she provides (using the phonetic alphabet):
McIlwain, Gloria. “Tut Language.” American Speech, vol. 69, no. 1, 1994, pp. 111–112.
*(thanks to Dickson's Word Treasury by Paul Dickson)
Also, thanks to Wordie


A Public Service Announcement from Stones of Erasmus: A Library in Your Hometown

A public service announcement from Stones of Erasmus 
encourages you to support your local public library.
I was traveling by car with my buddy Airplane to Grand Isle, Louisiana one summer weekend. We saw this abandoned bookmobile on the side of the road. It looked apocalyptic and out-of-place. We made this video to bemoan a future where libraries don't exist and are abandoned, lost, or forgotten. Don't let reading die! Read a book. Share a book. Tell a story. Cite a page. Turn a page. Go forward. Do it in a novel. A play. A poem. Read!

Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth, Higher Education, Adult Education, Homeschooler, Not Grade Specific -


Report from Louisiana: Gay Friendly Libraries Are in Danger

A children's book that features two princes who marry
has garnered outrage in a local Louisiana library.
Gay books may be banned in local libraries in Louisiana and the State Congress agrees.
Or why gay-themed books in libraries are in danger...
In Slidell, Louisiana, a patron complained that the Saint Tammany Parish Library should not make available gay-themed books to young people. You can read the story here.

Basically, a state representative is trying to write a bill banning public libraries in the state from having books with gay characters available to children and young people. In other words, a book cannot have two prince charmings in love with each other. Similar to this was a movement made by concerned citizens that Fontainebleau High School, also in Louisiana, should not have a gay/straight alliance (Read here What the ACLU has to say).


Book Review: The Passion According to G.H.

A review of Clarice's Lispector's novel, The Passion According to G.H. 
Kafka’s Metamorphosis comes to mind when I read Clarice Lispector’s book The Passion According to G.H.  It may just be that a bug figures prominently in both books.

In Kafka’s story a man wakes up as a dung beetle, and his family, at the horror of what he has become, refuse to acknowledge his existence as a bug and Gregor dies of starvation. In Lispector’s story a woman confronts a cockroach she wants to kill and in the process of eliminating this invader, she co-identifies with the insect.  In both stories, there is a radical representation of an “other” entirely alien from what we would call “human.”  The bug of Lispector and the bug of Kafka repulses us. The bug repulses G.H. She is an otherwise  Mrs. Dalloway-kind-of-character. She is haughty and refined.

The novel begins with her epiphanic face-to-face standoff with a cockroach which she half-smashes in her doorway, watching it writhe in its final death throes. And after its white ooze has vacated its exoskeleton, she takes the carcass of the creature and consumes it in a kind of immanent form of communion.

With the consumption of the body of Christ in the form of bread at a Eucharistic celebration, there is supposed to be a kind of transcendent moment that touches the divine, for G.H. there is nothing like transcendence in her consuming of the cockroach. This is pure immanence, baby. In G.H.’s immanent vision — and to call it a vision is really a misnomer —  there is no transcendent moment for G.H.

Actually, she cannot describe the communion she has with the roach in words.  She is at that moment of consumption gone beyond instinctual drive to kill the roach and beyond her repulsion of the creature’s ancient and irreducibly alien existence and has reached for herself a state of immanence, which if described by language would deny the act as being, in of itself, immanent — which means, by the way, “within itself.”

At the moment of this strange climax, G.H. has pulled herself out of her own bootstraps and reached, in the nearest way possible, a kind of creaturely existence.  Unlike Gregor in Kafka’s moribund tale, who is transformed into a bug against his will and killed because his immanence is intolerable to the humans he lives with, G.H. chooses to find immanence in an uncharacteristic way.

Going to her maid’s room to tidy up the space, she catches sight of the bug and an instinctual rage propels her to exterminate the creature, to dominate it, to stand-over-and-above-it. Her action is similar to what Sartre does intellectually in Nausea, when he addresses the tree stump in a Parisian park and declares that he can stand above the rootness of the tree.  But for G.H., coming face to face with the cockroach’s mouth, with its eyes like a girl about to be married, pondering its multiple layer of cretinous skin, she herself becomes like a stupid beast. She also goes further than what Sartre proposes; Sartre manages his nausea by leaving the stump triumphant. Sartre says, “Ha. Stump. I am better than you!”  G.H. wants to see what is on the other side of the human/animal divide. She wants to reach what Baudelaire longed for in his prose poem about what would the conscientiousness of a beast be like. In the poem, Baudelaire dreams of being like the animal bête because it is oblivious to cares and to concerns. Baudelaire may be referring to his mistress in misogynist terms here, but the brute fact that the creature does not have to choose, I guess, is the implication.  While for Sartre, the ability to choose, to stand-over-and-above the brute creature is the existentialist definition of what it means to be human; it is the ability to define the essence of our being by freedom of choice that marks existentialist thought so well — some would say happily — especially if you find it repulsive to be one with the creature like G.H. and Baudelaire.

I read some of the passages from The Passion to a friend who had never heard of Lispector.  And he basically told me that he is repulsed by cockroaches and would never have done what G.H. did. Most of us are like my friend here. Most of us, including myself, have never stooped to the eye level of the cockroach to identify with it and then, literally, to embody it.  Perhaps for G.H., the ability of choice, that marks us as human, smacks of painful consciousness, an experience she is trying to escape from as if she is trying to be without being, to see without seeing, or to ingest without ritual. Like the medieval flagellant who exposes his body to the whip to feel pain, so does G.H. wish to eradicate her consciousness.  The encounter with the roach is an attempt to eradicate the trappings of culture and consciousness.  But why?  She says that she wants to desist as opposed to exist. To exist means “to stand outside of.”  To desist means “to stand from” as if to stand neutrally.  And she says that the animal insists. The animal stands from within.
photo credit: thenewhereheretics


Book Review: The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

Cherry-Headed Conures perched on a branch
Mark Bittner, the Cherry-headed Conure lover from Telegraph Hill, San Francisco, California, attributes the American poet Gary Snyder as an influence in his own life, writing, and spirituality — and, apparently, Buddhist spirituality — all bound up in his love for parrots.
     According to his book, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill (which was also made into a documentary of the same name), Bittner writes about how since he was a young boy, he considered himself different, “and was never going to have a ‘normal’ life” (5). His early adulthood was a nomadic existence; he was an exotic excommunicant, in a way, living with his sister for awhile, then in a friend’s van, never holding a steady job or aspiring for clear career goals. He describes himself as “on a path.” He writes, “I was twenty-two years old and leading the life of a 'dharma bum,' a term coined by the poet Gary Snyder that means ‘a homeless seeker of truth’” (5). Although Bittner does not cite where exactly Snyder wrote about a dharma bum being “a homeless seeker of truth,” I first figured that it comes from Snyder’s book Mountains and Rivers; in this book he weaves a very long poem that builds upon the Buddha’s teaching as an aimless seeker of truth. Upon further probing into Buddhism and dharma spirituality, I discovered that this phrase, “a homeless seeker of truth” was first actually attributed to Sidhhartha Guatama, or the Bhudda. He is called the Saddhu, “the homeless seeker of truth” according to a slim book I found on Bhuddist spirituality entitled, Fundamentals of Tibetan Buddhism by Rebecca McClen Novick.


Book Review: "The Farming of Bones"

Edwidge Danticat's novel Farming of Bones
Edwidge Danticat’s novel Farming of Bones (1998) is set in the Dominican Republic in October 1937 during the Parsley Massacre, the systematic slaughter of Haitian illegal laborers. Danticat writes the novel as a memory. The protagonist, Amabelle Désir (It is no coincidence that her name is désir/desire) is a young Haitian woman who survives the mass killing ordered by General Trujillo; around 30,000 people died.
The novel is a study in trauma: using sensuous language Danticat writes the body in pain. Like a patient in therapy, when the story is retold, the subsequent retellings of the story, four things happen.
  1. The body remembers.  This is why Amabelle says, “This past is more like flesh than air; our stories testimonials …” (281).
  2. The story, as a testimonial, repeated and retold differently and with divergent perspectives, with an occasional interpretation by the therapist is revisited. 
  3. The third consequence of this telling is a recognition that the story is held in tension with the official story — here the story told by the Dominican victors against that which is held in the heart of survivors or lost forever with the dead.
  4. The language acts as a kind of counter-narrative to the anger and hatred against the black, coffee-colored, bodies of the Haitians. 


Notes on Pico Iyer on Orhan Pamuk's Novel "Snow"

In an interview with Kazuo Ishiguro, Pico Iyer listens while Ishiguro explains the plot elements of his “indecipherable” novel The Unconsoled (1). The novel is about a pianist named Ryder who has an invitation to perform a concert in an unidentified town in Europe and stays at a hotel in town but he is not sure why he is there or if he has even been invited but he is afraid to ask anyone so he pretends his way through his stay. Without a past or a clear future Ryder has to figure his way through the maze. Through this clever set-up, Ishiguro says in the interview, the novel does not develop through the traditional conventions of flashback or chronological telling, but rather, the characters Ryder meets in the hotel are images of him or projections of himself through which we learn about Ryder’s story. Ishiguro’s idea is that when people dialogue with one another they really do not listen to the on another or understand them but rather project their own image of themselves (either past, present or future) onto the other person as an extension of themselves. Therefore, a person in a novel could be an extension of a past memory of the protagonist or a projection of his own feelings. Either consciously or unconsciously, the same strange set-up is in Pamuk’s novel Snow. Ka is a Turkish poet interviewing families of suicide “head-scarf” girls for an Istanbul paper, while also hoping to find a wife in the beautiful Ipek; so he travels to Kars, a border town near Russia, in the middle of a fierce snowstorm and ends up getting stuck there, surprisingly finding moments of happiness and able to write his first poem after four years of silence. The novel is framed by the streets of Kars not only as a geographical border but the confines by which the novel develops. One gets the sense when reading the book that everyone knows Ka’s innermost thoughts; his thoughts are transparent to everyone he meets, even the silliest incidents, like the newspaper publisher predicting that he will write a new poem and recite it at the evening’s National Theater production.  This is because the people Ka meet are extensions of him, as either visions of his past, or prospects for his future. 
Necip is a vision of Ka’s past.  When Ka meets Necip in the snowy streets of Kars, the boy tells him that he is a messenger from Blue, an Islamic extremist hiding out in the city (65-67).  Ka is struck by the boy’s beautiful, large green eyes and his piercing, childlike trust and precocity that Ka likens to his own youth, which is why, Ka admits, he is able to warm up to the boy.  Necip even tells Ka that Ka only likes him because he sees in him his own youth (I can’t find the page number!).  This connection is mentioned a few times in the novel along with the weird announcement of how much time in hours and minutes remain until Necip will die by a gunshot wound to the head, destroying one of his beautiful blue eyes, the vision of the poet.  Necip is the boy Ka once was but also a sad reminder of who Ka could have become; while Ka is from a secular, bourgeoisie class from Istanbul, Necip is a poor, religious kid from the country, doomed to die, caught in the fight between the radical Islamists and the secular government.  Necip believes in God while Ka only sees God in the traces of snow lacing the streets of Kars with silence (the silence of snow is alluded to at least a dozen times but I am not really sure what it means, but maybe I am not supposed to know).  Necip wants to be a writer and eagerly shares with Ka a manuscript of a sci-fi story he is working on and confesses his unrequited love for Hircan (aka Kadiffe, Ipek’s sister) who is much older than he is; while Ka sees that the boy’s ambitions are idealistic, it is seems he is drawn to Necip’s idealism as a panacea for his own stubborn refusal to be happy.  Ka’s poem “Snow” which he recites at the National Theatre in downtown Kars is a mirror image of Necip’s own dream of the hellish landscape of hell; the two poets share a common muse, it seems, although their paths are radically different.  Pamuk is sentimental just enough to bring you right back to reality but not gruesome to the point of excess. 
    Ipek is Ka’s hopeful prospect for the future.  She is Ka’s dream for a future life in Frankfurt where he can write poetry and make love to a beautiful woman.  He even admits that he arrived in Kars, not to only pursue the story of the suicide girls for the Republican but to seek Ipek’s hand in marriage whom he knows is living in Kar’s Snow Palace hotel which her father runs.  Ipek is Ka’s wish for happiness, a wish he is ashamed to admit because he secretly thinks he does not deserve happiness.  He does not know Ipek but remembers her from childhood; all he remembers – to his slight chagrin – is that she is beautiful and recently single.  He lumps onto her all his hope for a future, as if the clearing of the streets of snow and the end to tribal warfare will be over with the consummation of a kiss.  Ipek blushes at Ka’s advances and even lets him kiss her but she refuses to let him make love to her while her father is in the same building.  Ipek knows Ka wants her because she is beautiful; and she is not angry with this but at the same time she diverts his comments about a future life with a smile and a remonstration to stay on the present task.
   Blue is a strange mirror image of Ka. Ka is a good guy who writes beautiful poetry, a little conflicted and lives with a guilty conscience but for the most part would not seriously malign another human being; Blue is a suave guy, young and articulate but sinister – at least to me – in his reasoning. He is sensitive like Ka, but missing moral aptitude and a true sense of “what’s going on”. Blue is the fundamentalist side of Ka. I guess the Sheik falls into this category, but the Sheik represents Ka’s own theological doubt and uncertainty about the existence of God; Blue is Ka’s literal approach to the world to erase the poetic, natural beauty of Ka’s lyrics. Blue tells Ka not to report back to the West what he writes about the suicide girls. Blue wants to silence the Ka within him. 
    So far I can only articulate well enough Necip, Ipek, the Sheik and Blue as projections of Ka but I imagine all the people Ka meet are versions of him. Kars is like a winter wonderland, a mazy kind of place and a fragile dream; violence happens; things do not look good for the next half of the novel once the snow stops and forces will be able to move around freely. It should be interesting to see what kind of Ka emerges from this place – or if he ever gets out. It makes me sad to see that Necip will die, but maybe this is part of Ka’s journey – the death of childhood. I don’t know. At the end of this article, I don’t think I like my thesis anymore, but it helped me to do a close reading of the text.
1. Kazuo Ishiguro [videorecording] / the Lannan Foundation; directed by Dan Griggs. Los Angeles, CA : The Foundation, c1996.  Lannan literary series ; no. 49