Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Brain and Culture

Last night I caught the last fifteen minutes of 'Night Waves' on Radio 3, where the interviewer had a spot with US Professor of Psychiatry, Bruce E. Wexler, discussing his book Brain and Culture

Wexler's theory is that as the brain develops in youngsters neuron connections are forged and reforged as a byproduct of environment, and cultural forces around us. As we approach adulthood, our internal environment becomes fixed, thus making it harder for us to adapt to changes in the external environment. He argues for one thing, that this could contribute to culture clashes, where one cultural group does not understand another.

I know I'm simplifying things here immensely, but Wexler's book sounds really interesting. One for the reading pile after my courses end in October!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

quis custodiet...

or the domino effect of the power of opinion.

I’m not unaware of the importance of peer-related opinion. You can’t study for a literature degree without it banging you over the head after about five minutes of studying the courses.

All the many –isms of literary critical thinking have developed to a stage where plurality is just a nice word for saying that there are many diverse opinions about what and how we should think of texts that we have read.

My preferred method for reading texts is to stuff the critics and read the book (but drag the critics back in when it comes to writing the assignment and getting a better mark!), which may just be me missing the point, as I usually do.

In this case, I’m tying together some received opinions that, (a) Heart of Darkness - J. Conrad should not be read any more as a text for studying, because of the objections to racist content, and that, (b) the old debate between the ‘establishment’ and the ‘proles,’ has come to blogging and internet technology /usage.

This second debate sparked over An Army of Davids: Glenn Reynolds non-fiction account of what most people in the blogosphere who have a clue know already. That blogging serves as an instant way of getting around the big-gun opinion factories, and that you could possibly make money out of said insta-pinion while you’re at it. Reynolds has his own blog Instapundit, which amply demonstrates the point. Two separate reviews of his book demonstrate how the argument is developing into those who do appreciate the wider implications, and those who don't.

Why am I tying these two received wisdoms together? Because as someone relatively removed from the US sphere and the Euro sphere (trust me it’s an island), I don’t like to take things too far – whether Conrad set out to be racist or not, isn’t the point – the novel presents characters. Those characters are given words, actions, an opinion etc. by the writer, but that does not mean that those characters or narrators are expressing the opinion of the writer per se. You can only argue at the best of times, what a writer may have meant – but you can’t ultimately prove it.

As for Reynold’s Army of Davids being "trashed by Rosen?" Well, everyone knows how good infamy can be in generating sales for books – Ginsberg’s Howl being a case in point. In Reynold’s case the peers judging the judging demonstrate nicely the domino effect (I include myself ironically in that comment also). Reynolds doesn’t seem too bothered by the slating – he knows what he’s worth.

What the important point is, is to note that Reynolds is an advocate of what might be paraphrased as the rights of the many to use the power of blogging, for whatever needs that it may fulfil. Petrona's blog shows a far more considered response to this idea, than I am capable of.

By the time the dust settles on this one possibly Reynolds book will be already out of date, since the pace of internet business development is so fast.

And the word for the day is: bloviate – to discourse at length in a pompous or boastful manner.

Thursday, June 22, 2006


How do you look
for a tell in openness,

Recall the small eyes
convexed by spectacles,
the moment of surprise
when they revealed
the wide shy blue.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Not Midsummer's Day

A poem by Hedgie, (June 18th) sent me off thinking (like a coffee percolator - it takes me a while).

I always thought that Midsummer's day was the same as the longest day of the year, which in the Northern Hemisphere is today: unlike the Southern Hemisphere (hi CB) who enjoy the shortest day of midwinter (do you guys enjoy some sort of feast to break things up?).

I digress - St John's Eve - is the evening before Midsummer's day and according to research is the 23rd of June.

Confused yet? It doesn't take much with me.

The other thing is that it reminds me of The Eve of St Agnes, by Keats which again according to research is 21st January. Almost but not quite the opposite end of the calendar spectrum and the female to the male, the yin to the yang etcetera, etcetera!

So anyway, today is just the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere - not Midsummer's day.

So don't go visiting any weird hills, gyrating and celebrating just yet!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

More stuff on Frank

I found a copy of A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island, when I was browsing for Ginsberg links yesterday. O’Hara sets out a conversation with the rising sun, and uses his trademark candour to keep levity doing it’s job.

The Sun woke me this morning loud
and clear, saying "Hey! I've been
trying to wake you up for fifteen
minutes. Don't be so rude, you are
only the second poet I've ever chosen
to speak to personally
so why
aren't you more attentive? If I could
burn you through the window I would
to wake you up. I can't hang around
here all day."
"Sorry, Sun, I stayed
up late last night talking to Hal."

Isn't that so casual, and yet so effective? I love O'Hara!
He doesn’t let the poem get too serious until near the end when the sun leaves:
 "No, go I must, they're calling
"Who are they?"
Rising he said "Some
day you'll know. They're calling to you
too." Darkly he rose, and then I slept.

On investigation I discovered that O’Hara’s poem reinterprets a poem by Russian poet, Mayakovsky, who had a similar method of using comic diffusion and gravity. Mayakovsky belongs to the earlier era around the 1910's in Russia, part of the futurist movement in Russia. I was reminded of the beginning of our 20th C lit course, where we covered Chekhov, and all the discussion of diagnosis and letting seemingly insignifcant details do the work.

Mayakovsky's poem is called An Extraordinary Adventure
What is interesing about this poem is the challenge of the narrator to the sun:

I yelled to the sun:
"Hey, wait there!
Listen, golden brightbrow,
instead of vainly
setting in the air,
have tea with me
right now!"

So the sun agrees to come down – but my favourite bit is here:

"I've withheld my fires you see
the first time since creation began.
You've invited me?
So lay out the tea,
and, poet, lay on the jam!"

Mayakovsky’s ending is slightly more hopeful, without the seeping darkness that O’Hara’s turn has:

Shine all the time,
for ever shine.
the last days' depths to plumb,
to shine - !
spite every hell combined!
So runs my slogan -
and the sun's!

Brilliant to find one thing leading into another like this. I especially like the poet laying on the jam (I hope something didn’t get lost in translation!). It just goes to show that there really isn’t anything new under the old sun.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Frank O'Hara

The subjects of the next assignment I have are Frank O'Hara and Allen Ginsberg's poetry. Initially I was totally non-plussed by both poets, but I have to say they're both growing on me rapid!

This 20thc Lit course I'm taking is great for all the introductions to poets and writers that I might never have read otherwise! I'm having great fun currently looking on t'internet to find resources, since the local library wouldn't really be a goer for these.

Today, I'm mostly finding O'Hara links.

So far: The Academy of American Poets shows info on his life, and an essay looking at O'Hara's essay 'Personism' besides plenty of other prose essays. 'Personism' is in our reader, and demonstrates O'Hara's refusal to take art as seriously as some would have us do. That's a really fun way of looking at the meaning of literature and of art in general. I like O'Hara's attitude - it's so fresh!

Poems like Rhapsody really catch my eye, for his new way of looking at New York. I've never been there, but looking at a map today with the poem in front of me, led me to appreciate what he tries to capture in his work. I'm going to have to visit NY now. I can see how bands like the Velvet Underground and artists like Andy Warhol came out of this exciting time in the US, even if under the intensifying cloud of the Cold war.

But I got really enthusiastic about his work when I read Having a Coke with You
His sheer enthusiasm for life, especially when in love points out what he thinks all those artists have missed out on: "some marvellous experience" that validates what we are as humans and that is so difficult to truly capture in art, without seeming ridiculous.

The last third of this poem, reads like a potted history of modern art, from Rembrandt through Futurism and beyond. I had great fun looking up the references to art pieces in 'Having a Coke...' The best one was the Marino Marini reference to the rider and the horse. I think I might have found the piece he was on about but even if I'm wrong, it's still a fun picture!

Well, O'Hara did work in the Museum of Modern Art!

So, on to Allen Ginsberg tomorrow or Wednesday, life permitting.

Friday, June 16, 2006


Today is the day when the teddy-bears normally have their picnic.

The only problem is with C.J. Haughey getting the old heave-ho in Dublin, some of the events have been cancelled to show respect.

With that then here is one way of marking the day

It could be worse.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

From Laredo to the Green Fields of France

A comment posted by Dan (you know who you are!) further back about The Life of David Gale, prompted a little research on the quote that Dan left from another movie Bang the Drum Slowly.

I love finding out about something that I know nothing at all about – but I was intrigued to find the lyrics to As I was a-walking the streets of Laredo bearing a strong ressemblance to another song I do know from my childhood, The Green Fields of France. I know this reasonably well (due to being force fed by my Grandmother) from the Irish folk band the Fureys and Davy Arthur.

When I hummed along to Laredo, using the air from Green Fields, I knew there was a strong chance I was right…

Who cares anyway…?

"It's a long, long way, from there to here..."

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A -Z meme

as per: BB

accent: Generic Irish, allegedly with a slight American twang (mother's influence). Although when up north of Ireland, everythings 'wee this and wee that' and when in the UK, I came back "wiv a lahvly Lahndin" accent.

booze: Yes. Beer and wine - not at the same time though. Not mad about spirits. Although I do like to polish off a bottle of Baileys over the festive season.

chore I hate: All of them - delegate, delegate, delegate! And then do them again yourself.

dogs/cats: Neither. I think six children create enough mess. Have two goldfish called Bob and 2Bob. Mother's day present, which I get to clean out as no-one else will *sigh*

essential electronics: PC. MP3 player. Cattle Prod (kidding!).

favourite perfume/cologne: Used to be Rive Gauche/YSL. Love Chanel 19. Sometimes plain old 'fresh out of the shower' is good though.

: White gold. Not mad about 9ct gold, prefer deeper shades, but it's too expensive. I like silver but rings always bend out of true on me

hometown: Dundalk, Ireland

insomnia: Seasonal/hormonal/stress... whatever!

job title: Female Humanoid

kids: 6. 3 girls, 3 boys aged 13 to 5

living arrangements: Semi-attached to the street - threatens to take off every time someone slams the front door.

most admired trait: Either my big nose or my big bum - depends on what mood he's in.

number of sexual partners: I stopped counting after 3...

overnight hospital stays: Does having babies count?

phobia: Used to be squeamish about the sight of my own blood. Got over it after first baby exploded over hospital wall - only kidding!

quote: "Oh, you're right there Ted," Father Dougal Maguire, Channel 4, Father Ted

religion: Lapsed RC

siblings: Younger sister of 31

time I usually wake up
: When the screaming gets too loud for my sleeping comfort.

unusual talent: Bending people to my will (according to eldest child peering over my shoulder at present).

vegetable I refuse to eat: None... although I do go easy on the oul Brussel Sprouts at Christmas - for obvious reasons ;¬)

worst habit: Picking my nose. Well...

: Lots of dental ones :¬(

yummy foods I make: All of them! Kids favourite is homemade steak and kidney pie - but that's reserved as a winter warmer. It is more expensive to buy 'convenience foods' for our lot, so cooking is one way of saving money.

zodiac sign: Sagittarius - as Billy Connolly says: "licensed to shit in the street."
Not that I ever did...

Monday, June 12, 2006

Gilgamesh - An epic coming to you soon!

Do you have a spare two hours to spend listening to an epic poem?

Would it make a difference if I told you that the poem is between 3000 and 4000 years old?

Did you ever wonder what may have contributed to the inspiration for J. R.R. Tolkien's creation stories for the Numenoreans?

Gilgamesh is the original warrior/king/hero, whose best friend Enkidu is created for him by the Gods, to teach Gilgamesh about humilty and mortality. This version that the BBC chose to abridge and dramatize is by poet and translator, Stephen Mitchell, better known for his work on Rainer Maria Rilke. Mitchell's version relies on a deceptively simple rendering of the epic, no less powerful despite his lean use of language.

The very best way of enjoying this epic poem is to hear it, as well as reading it. Buy it quick and then you can listen to it. Or just listen to it - it really is timeless drama

And hurry! This link is only live for another six days - do try and get to it!