You should never believe an author if he tells you why he has certain recurring themes.
Or good or ill humanity—welcoming the darker odds, the dross:
—Foams and ferments the wine? it serves to purify—while the heart pants, life glows
This poem is one of the first things I ever posted here, about four years ago today. It’s hard to agree with Whitman, that the heart of the day is not in the chosen, but in the choosing.
It is hard to agree, though like all hard things that does not mean the poet is wrong.
I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.
On April 16, 2012, the Pulitzer Prize Board announced that it would award no Pulitzer for fiction in 2012. This was, to say the least, surprising and upsetting to any number of people, prominent among them the three fiction jurors, who’d read over three hundred novels and short-story collections, and finally submitted three finalists, each remarkable (or so we believed) in its own way.
And yet, no prize at all in 2012.
How did that happen? http://nyr.kr/MSxOeh
The delightful dishing of literary dirt, with a cliffhanger to boot. And, a great mini-review of the finalists, the perfect kind, which makes you want to read them immediately …
Things themselves become so burdened with attributes, signs, illusions that they finally lose their own form.
—Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization
A recent episode of Radiolab on color took up one of my favorite lines of thought on language, by way of color (here’s another version of it in relation to wine). Specifically, it notes that the color “blue” does not exist in the earliest periods of most languages, and that colors are sort of sequentially introduced in the history of language. First, black/white, then red, then other colors, and finally, and almost always last: blue.
Guy Deutscher, one of the guests on the program, has a great quote from nineteenth century German philologist Lazarus Geiger discussing ancient sagas in general:
These hymns, of more than ten thousand lines, are brimming with descriptions of the heavens. Scarcely any subject is evoked more frequently. … But there is only one thing that no one would ever learn from those ancient songs who did not already know it, and that is that the sky is blue. (#)
Deutscher speculates that this pattern in language derives from both the dearth of naturally blue objects in the world—which are extremely rare—and, more interestingly, the lack of a need for a color-word until a culture can reliably make that color. Or, the word for blue is useless unless, well, you can put blue to use.
And for people without the color-word for blue, like the Himba of Namibia, the color blue just doesn’t exist … or rather, it exists, but it just doesn’t signify for them. They sort of just don’t notice the difference between, say, blue and green.
And the sky? The episode speculates that its association with the color blue is more cultural than we might think. And any idea that can make me question whether or not the sky is blue—to make me see the very sky differently—is worth a blog post …
The Radiolab episode “Colors”
And if you haven’t got honor and pride, then nothing matters. Only there is something in you that doesn’t care about honor and pride yet that lives, that even walks backward for a whole year just to live; that probably even when this is over and there is not even defeat left, will still decline to sit still in the sun and die, but will be back out in the woods, moving and seeking where just will and endurance could not move it, grubbing for roots and such—the old mindless sentient undreaming meat that doesn’t even know any difference between despair and victory, Henry.
—William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom! (#)