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My sixth flower bed — they are not doing so well as at first — late March and early April showers have been bitter chill … — so:

Truth to tell I’m having trouble writing these diary blogs even once a month — I’ve gone over to a fifth week. I’ve managed again by talking of an unspoken topic explicitly — my difficulties in socializing you might say, and linking these to topics in papers I’ve given and books and movies I particularly have loved. I didn’t quite ask if I’m one of these difficult women (writers) I spent a month reading and talking about online at Politics and Prose this March.

When that Aprill with his shoures soote … When in April the sweet showers fall … Chaucer, Canterbury Tales,
Prologue …

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain
— T.S. Eliot — tonight this describes some of my garden — I shall
in 3 weeks spend yet more money to have new plants that do well in the shade put in

Dear friends,

Here I am over a month later. I waited until the night after I gave my talk, Trollope, Millais and Orley Farm, so as to be able to report to you how it went: it seems splendidly. There were a sizable number of people; they listened, and I got good questions. They were friendly and generous, and the Chairman of the society asked me if I would like to do another. So I said yes :):

“Barchester in Pictures”. If he would like to put it in between the end of The Small House (upcoming in two weeks) and before the group begins The Eustace Diamonds (next up after that), it would fit very well. I would talk on Millais’s and George Housman Thomas’s pictures and any other 19th century ones for the Barsetshire books I can find, and combine it with commentary on the 1983 BBC Barchester Chronicles. I have a number of stills from that. He would have to alter the calendar.

Fast forward to Christmas, I could try the pictures for Can You Forgive Her? and the first five episodes of the 1974 BBC Pallisers. It’d be interesting because it would combine the Phiz style for half the pictures, the other half by Miss E Taylor (memo to self I have to find where I saw the new information on her) – a few of which are good, and this Simon Raven 20th century film adaptation. What to call it? “On Seeing Divergent Pallisers.”

A month has passed and I’m now deeply immersed in my Anglo-Indian books, and the course too seems to be going well in both places. I’m finding Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland a compulsive page turned, as I did this past month Joan Didion’s Play It as It Lays (in the Politics and Prose online class held by Elaine Showalter on “Difficult Women,” a bit of a disappointment — I will talk of this in my next Austen Reveries blog_. I’m watching a fascinatingly intricate and intelligent Anglo-Indian serials I missed several summers ago: Indian Summers. It is good: at long last Indian people are equally heroines and heroines, well nearly equally, in this psychologically complex portrait of the Raj in its last years.


Julie Walters as the tough memsahib with a gorgeous hat — the club was central to the culture, and today it goes on still for upper class Indians

These topics are not especially cheerful. I seem to see books and movies on Anglo-India and India everywhere and came across in The New York Review of Books, a grim report on how women are treated: horrifying story Indian girls kill themselves rather than risk return to family who’ve decided she had relationship with a man of they did not approve of: In the Orchard by Skye Arundati Thomas.

I’ve added to the two summer courses I told about in previous diary entries (Retelling Traditional History and Tales from an Alternative POV; and Sensational and Gothic Novels Then and Now), and one planned for next winter (The Heroine’s Journey): another fall Trollope course:

Two Trollopes: Anthony & Joanna: The Last Chronicle of Barset & The Rector’s Wife

We’ll read Anthony Trollope’s The Last Chronicle of Barset, the last 6th Barsetshire novel, seen once seen as his signature book. I’ve read with OLLI classes the first four; there is no need to read these, but we’ll discuss them to start, & I advise, if possible, readers to read the 5th, The Small House of Allington over the summer. His indirect descendent, Joanna Trollope, has recreated the central story of the Last Chronicle in her Rector’s Wife, which we’ll read in the last two weeks, & discuss her The Choir, another Barsetshire post-text, plus two excellent film adaptations of these in the 1990s.

I’m taking a course on Thurgood Marshall (I cannot say how much this US owes this courageous intelligent man — risked his life for many years winning case after case with very hard work), on Lincoln (as I knew from years ago the man loathed slavery), and in May will do that Anne Finch review, which will feed into a paper for the fall EC/ASECS: ) “From Either End of the Long Eighteenth Century: Anne Finch’s ‘Folger’ Book and Jane Austen’s Unpublished Fiction” — the centrality of manuscripts in the experience of these books. Tonight I experienced an hour’s zoom from the American Antiquarian Society where I heard the historian Thavolia Glymph talk about her latest book, The Women’s Fight in the Civil War, especially enslaved black women

Not that it’s all hard work or seriousness. I am just delighting in the new Sanditon, second season (as I did in All Creatures Great and Small): I truly find Rose Williams’s character of Charlotte Heywood as close to Austen’s conceptions of her heroine, somewhat modernized as I have come across since the 2008 Sense and Sensibility (Hattie Morahan) and previous heritage and appropriation Austen films between 1995 and 1998 (four remarkable films, 199-96 P&P, S&S, Emma, and Persuasion). And many of the stories feel like replays in a good feeling, cheerful vein of many of Austen’s paradigms. I just love how Charlotte-Rose sets out for work everyday, bag on her shoulder, no matter how anachronistic it is. I’m writing postings each week towards two new blogs on Sanditon 2 to match the previous two on Sanditon 1.


Sanditon Season 2 – Charlotte Heywood (Rose Williams) calls to mind for me Cassandra’s drawing of Austen from the back gazing out at the landscape

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What is new is I’ve subscribed to HBO Max, because it has the first two seasons of My Brilliant Friend (Neapolitan Quartet is the truer name) and is one by one, each week adding one of the new 8 episodes for Season 3 (Those who leave and those who stay).


Lenu (Ingrid Del Genio) and Lila (Elisa Del Genio) reading Little Women together

I just love this serial as I love the books.  It’s a version of the working class neighborhood in the Southeast Bronx that I grew up in.  I understand it — or this is how people behaved so I feel I understand even if I don’t quite get the motives that actuate the characters. I identify with both heroines. It was harder to identify with Lila because she was so angry and seemed so needlessly cruel to others who had not hurt her, but eventually I’ve come to see she’s sort of the Marianne Dashwood of the books, the heroine Christa Wolf was drawn to, the misfit.

This gets me to my unspoken topic: why I am so alone, why in life I’ve had a couple of friends at a time and no more, why I can’t sustain friendships, why I get myself in trouble publicly sometimes because someone has done something that seems to me so outrageously obtuse or
cruel and I’ve not resisted calling her out for it. Not much, just on the tiny point, but I have somehow hit something important — usually their ego somehow. One woman attacking all those who complain or protest during the Trump era when I said that was a form of political protest and justified and she wrong, she produced long screeds of her resume about how important she was and all her achievements. I realized to many I looked bad, and yet to me she looked so arrogant, showing Writ Large just what I was pointing out in small.

You might say this sort of thing on my part explains why I’ve ended up excluded from JASNA, never was included in the inner circle of the Trollope academic groups, never came near getting a full-time job, except in each of these instances I was excluded early on, before such an incident occurred. When I was invited to the Jane Austen summer program, by the end or third day I knew I would not be invited back, though what I had done unacceptable so early on, I don’t know. I would be thanked for coming. Stood up is the frequent story of my life. When I’ve been able to articulate what a person couldn’t bear — somehow I didn’t figure forth what I call showing off — someone has said to me, of course. It’s these instances, enough across my life to decide I am Aspergers and begin going to Aspergers meetings in person and now online. They are a comfort to me. I find I share so many traits with people there: like hating change, loving routine. It does look like the woman’s group may not survive because the woman starting it is beginning to ask for other facilities and cancelled this month’s meeting.

Jim was the one friend I made who supported me in every way and whom I truly got along with, who enabled me — to travel for example — and his dying takes from me my seeming ability to be part of life’s adventures as others understand these. Am I a difficult woman? this was not the meaning of the course because the four women writers we studied all were worldly successes and much admired by those who admired the tremendous resume woman. He shared my sense of values at core. He was alone too, only once in all the years we were married did a friend of his visit us. He never came back — that was my fault for not feeding him enough. I don’t know that my life would have been better had I been able to see myself as Aspergers and thus at least controlled these impulses or tried hide some of them when I recognize I’m getting myself in trouble but I at least would have had some explanation — if not the values others seem to have in uncountable ways I don’t get.

The unspoken topic is why you see me spend my life hard at work for no money, with no prestige but respect from those who have recognized value in what I’ve offered. I am willing to follow along and to support others in intellectual ways, but that is not enough valued, or other things matter much more. I am Lila — deeply angry somewhere in me because of the unjust way the world works which resolves itself into how I’ve fared or not fared.

So you see, gentle reader, or you may understand why I seem to be mad: this is no retirement. It’s me work work working in a sense all the time. Surrounding myself with books. I don’t know how to play except this kind of work: read, write, watch movies, share with others what I’ve found. What in Aspergers groups is the obsessive behavior over some area I can conquer. For Izzy ice-skating, tennis. For me literature and art. I don’t go out much because the pandemic has made the excuse and turned the pattern into not that uncommon — last weekend I did meet a friend in Washington, DC, and we ate out lunch together, afterwards seeing a powerful Merchant of Venice in the 7th Street and F theater. I enjoyed it but was glad to come home, relieved I did nothing wrong. I think this is a friendship faute de mieux. Her friends are dying, moving away to be near grandchildren, she is unmarried, no children, frail now.


John Douglas Thompson staggered under the onslaught of punitive law …

The play was played in a very simple way, plain costumes actors on a stage emoting at us, coming through the audience discreetly to bring home to everyone the difference between film/TV/streaming on your computer and whatever other devices you might use — and going to a theater to see a play done live by people in front of you with people all around.

John Douglas Thompson, the actor play Shylock was its core – as is often the case when this play is done very well. He was just so deeply hurt and poignant as an open source of a wound leading to profound rage, and when cut down the way he is by them all, it’s almost unbearable. I still think the very cent er of the play, the trial, its language deeply anti-semitic, and the forcing of Christianity on this man is part of this. The actress plays Portira was weak, she swallowed the second half of her central speech, and the rest of them were basically non-entities as they often emerge. A darkness was brought in by interpreting Lorenzo as an abusive husband, and Jessica, an outsider. They play down except for one moment the homosexuality or eroticism between Antonio and Bassiano, the audience’s murmur at the one moment suggested to me why they decided not to dare the homosexuality as part of what is happening on stage — why Portia is buying herself a husband.

I recommend it strongly to be seen as a live play. It is for Americans is so resonant as we have just watched the disgracefully racist and misogynistic attack on Ketanji Brown Jackson and all that that implies about the state of US society today. I also loved the outcast person.


Barnaby and his Raven, Grip — by Phiz, from Dickens’s novel, Barnaby Rudge

My paper on Trollope was on another of the solitary radical characters throughout Trollope’s novels who become his central heroes and heroine: this one Mary, Lady Mason, criminal forger, who just about gets away with it. She does not go to prison; she achieved her goal (providing a gentleman’s life for her son, a lady’s life for herself) by living apart. Phiz’s picture was one of my central pictures for transcendent book illustration art. I wrote and said:

This by Phiz again of the mentally disabled Barnaby Rudge and his faithful friend, the raven, to me captures more pity, respect and understanding for the comradeship of this outcast pair than any of Dickens’s words in the novel.

I will write a brief blog here, connect the talk put on the Trollope Society website eventually to my paper on Austen as a woman with traveling boxes but very little space to herself in my central Ellen and Jim blog soon (I hope).

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Sunday another friend, long time for me, also now alone (two divorces), but several children and grandchildren (whose successes she never tires of boasting of) came here and we ate together and watched three (!) episodes of A Jewel in the Crown and walked. But this is unusual. My life is here online, at my desk, with my books, DVDs and cats … It is form of keeping depression and loneliness at bay.

As I said last time, I find since before Christmas I am feeling less afraid of being alive in the world without Jim. I’ve lasted nine years, and (as long as social security and my widow’s annuity are continued) seem on a path to do this until I’m no more. I’m doing better on a form of acceptance of my lot without Jim. Not seeking distractions which make me nervous and eat up time — like going out so much to courses or lectures.
Traveling to try to make friends. I fought hard the first few years after he died, but now after the 3 year pandemic, I find I’m back where I was with only a world of Internet friends and acquaintances at a distance, a couple of friends nearby at most.

This month too, my long-time friend, Mary Lee, her husband died suddenly. She is (self-described) heart-broken. They were married for 51 years. I’m not seeing her much and like other friends whose partners have gone her life will change, and I doubt there’ll be the room for me there was. I find a deep congeniality with her despite her devout religion and my (as she recalled it in a letter so it irked more than I thought a joke phrase would) “fervent atheism.”

The thing is I have to be occupied – my mind absorbed. One new change or change back this past month is renewed anxiety and worry of the type I felt in the last months of Trump’s “regime,” and especially his concerted attempt to overthrow the US democracy-oligarchy and establish himself as a permanent corrupt dictator (Keptocrat) president pushing the US population into fascism. Not as strong, but Biden’s programs are not getting passed, this evil GOP is working successfully in many states to suppress voting rights, and they have in store for US people immiseration. I’m horrified by the brutally inhumane criminal war inflicted on the Ukrainian people by Putin and his Russians — and there worry about nuclear war as suddenly an actual possible death for us all here in DC.


The poor terrified animal — Ukrainians are modern people and value their pets

So I just can’t read E.M. Forster too many times, cannot lose myself in the intense sexual and affectionate bonding of Jamie and Claire (of Outlander) at midnight reading in bed or watching via DVD too often. I don’t tire of Cavafy’s poetry, which Jim so loved — “The God Abandons Anthony” Jim’s favorite.

And when the time comes and I can’t teach any more (I cannot predict what talent or gift or ability will have to go), I will turn to writing a book once again — something longer, and it will be an outgrowth of all the courses I’ve been teaching myself to give and all the books and movies I’ve been watching, all the blogging I’ve done over these past few years, alone with my beloved cat, ClaryCat (near me just about 24 hours a day) and writing about the next day to friends


Beloved Clarycat in a sun-puddle

I carry on having obscure pains in my chest, my face looks older every day, my body sagging, exhausted from a day of simply going to hairdresser, shopping for food, and practicing a talk 3 times while reading during interstices, this poem speaks to me especially (thanks to Graham Christian for putting the following as a posting on face-book:

Any Soul to Any Body

So we must part, my body, you and I,
Who’ve spent so many pleasant years together.
‘Tis sorry work to lose your company
Who clove to me so close, whate’er the weather,
From winter unto winter, wet or dry;
But you have reached the limit of your tether,
And I must journey on my way alone,
And leave you quietly beneath a stone.

They say that you are altogether bad
(Forgive me, ’tis not my experience),
And think me very wicked to be sad
At leaving you, a clod, a prison, whence
To get quite free I should be very glad.
Perhaps I may be so, some few days hence,
But now, methinks, ’twere graceless not to spend
A tear or two on my departing friend.

Now our long partnership is near completed,
And I look back upon its history;
I greatly fear I have not always treated
You with the honesty you showed to me.
And I must own that you have oft defeated
Unworthy schemes by your sincerity,
And by a blush or stammering tongue have tried
To make me think again before I lied.

‘Tis true you’re not so handsome as you were,
But that’s not your fault and is partly mine.
You might have lasted longer with more care,
And even now, with all your wear and tear,
‘Tis pitiful to think I must resign
You to the friendless grave, the patient prey
Of all the hungry legions of Decay.

But you must stay, dear body, and I go.
And I was once so very proud of you:
You made my mother’s eyes to overflow
When first she saw you, wonderful and new.
And now, with all your faults, ’twere hard to find
A slave more willing or a friend more true.
Ay — even they who say the worst about you
Can scarcely tell what I shall do without you.
–Cosmo Monkhouse (1840-1901)

Monkhouse devoted most of his literary career to sensitive art criticism, including a life of the visionary English artist H.M.W. Turner. This poem, from his 1890 collection, *Corn and Poppies*, exhibits skillful musicality, gentle humor, and hard-won wisdom that compare favorably with the achievements of Monkhouse’s more celebrated contemporaries, Tennyson and Browning. Like the best poems, it resists paraphrase; its wistful wit lingers in the mind. — Graham Christian

Ellen

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Friends and readers,

The past couple of weeks may be divided into four themes. My yearly October memories, sad now since Jim died October 9, 2013; autumn events, like conferences, Laura and Izzy going to New York City for five days of fun and ComicCon in Manhattan; planning for next spring and summer courses and this term the wonders of Trollope’s masterpiece, The Prime Minister (I never realized before quite how brilliant and absorbing it is); my usual latest books (Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables) and writing (“A Woman and Her Boxes: Space and Personal Identity in Jane Austen” for EC/ASECS) and continued investment in Austen, her movies and JASNA politics: and the recent very worrying political developments. I usually reserve the last for my Sylvia I blog, but tonight I’ll write about the coming immediate elections (one here in Virginia for governor may, frighteningly return us to a Republican leader who supports the openly destructive vengeful Trump) as I experience it — because it seems to me we are seeing an open repeat of the post-Reconstruction era where White Supremacy and ruthless political reaction is taking over parts of the US.

I wrote about nearly all of this on Facebook and twitter which have now assumed a kind of public short diary entry function for me — to remember for this blog and to express myself to others.

I began the first commemorations on October 3rd: My beloved husband, to whom I would have been married 52 years ago (Oct 6th, coming in 3 days) would have been 73 years old. Here’s a photo of him taken when he was probably 63 …

I re-shared the obituary I wrote for him. He was beloved by all three of us — and Clarycat. In my sadder moods I worry he didn’t know how much I loved him. But I think he did when his mental health was strong. People were very kind. October 6th, would have been Jim & my 52nd anniversary; we married a year to the night we met (so 1968 to 1969). In remembrance one of his favorite poems, one he’d quote once in a while, by Basil Bunting, a Yorkshire poet, a book of whose poems I bought for Jim one Christmas:

A thrush in the syringa sings.
Hunger ruffles my wings, fear,
lust, familiar things
Death thrusts hard. My sons
by hawk’s beak, by stones,
trusting weak wings
by cat and weasel, die.
Thunder smothers the sky.
From a shaken bush I
list familiar things
fear, hunger, lust.
O gay thrush!
— Basil Bunting

More favorite poems, one brief lyric he wrote himself, some favorite songs, and Clarycat as she was when she at the time was so deeply attached to him (she is the kind of cat who attaches herself to a special person and stays around that person all the time; now I am her staff (pun intended): Poetry and Song

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Outlander — poster for 6th season, a key sentiment for me for my love of the series: they will be together forever come what may (as in the haunting song, Never My Love) — I put it on a wall in my workroom

What a splendid time Laura and Izzy had in NYC. I read their tweets as (for example) Laura attended the Outlander session (the only actor there was Sam Heughan, together with key producers and Diana Gabaldon — all else zooming in); Izzy walked on Highline Park (near where their hotel room was), they ate out, saw many amusing sights.

They visited the 14th street subway station to see the Live Underground statues:

Laura has lifted my heart by saying yes, she’d like me to come with them next time they go to the city. I’d like to try again. There’s some life in the old girl yet. I enjoyed her homecoming tweet:

Maxx jumped on the counter while I was prepping dinner and knocked a bowl off the counter and it shattered.

Dinner was then delayed by 15 minutes while staff vacuumed and mopped the kitchen.

His Royal Fluffytail was most displeased.

Welcome home, me.

I spent about three weeks altogether with Austen’s novels and a set of very good books on them and the topics of personal and real property in her life (she had so little control over anything), space (ditto). I re-watched in binge ways the 2009 Sense and Sensibility (Andrew Davies, featuring Hattie Morahan, Charity Wakefield, Dan Steevens), the 1996 Persuasion (Roger Michell, featuring Amanda Root and Ciarhan Hinds), Lucy Worsley’s Jane Austen At Home, Amanda Root’s At Home with the Georgians; I’m now into 2008 Lost in Austen, Guy Andrews wrote it, and I swoon with Amanda [Jemima Rooper]) I’m not sure I realized how much this travel back in time enables a serious critique of the characters as conceived by Austen (hard and mean Mrs Austen, irresponsible Mr Austen), a critique partly meant by Austen herself.


Anne and Wentworth coming together in a sliver of space and quiet within the crowd ….

I enjoyed reading Wilkie Collins’s No Name (so there’s another Collins’ novel I’ve managed to process) and see what a strong male-type feminist he is, partly enthused by a class I’m attending at Politics and Prose via zoom with a very bright teacher, and so put in for a summer 6 week course at OLLI at Mason in person!

Sensation and Gothic Novels: Then and Now

In this course we will read Wilkie Collins’s Woman in White (4 weeks) and Valerie Martin’s Mary Reilly, a post-text to R. L. Stevenson’s Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde, the novella retells story from a POV of the housemaid (2). We will discuss what is a sensation, what a gothic novel, and how both evolved out of the Victorian era: what are their characteristics? how do these overlap & contrast; how do the genres differ. Many movies and plays have been adapted from Collins’s and Stevenson’s novels; we’ll discuss some of these, and I’ll ask the class to see the latest (I think brilliant) BBC 2018 Woman in White serial, featuring Jessie Buckley, scriptwriter Fiona Seres; and Stephen Frear’s 1996 Mary Reilly film, featuring John Malkovich, Julia Roberts, scriptwriter Christopher Hampton


First shot of Jessie Buckley as Marian Halcombe

I admit I so much more enjoy these serials and film adaptations of novels than the famous “art” movies we are supposedly studying in my Foreign Films course this term: the teacher carries on unerringly choosing these masculinist films (400 Blows, Fellini 8 1/2, King of Hearts), but even when the film’s center is a woman, Bergman’s Persona, she is kept at such a distance, cold and strange. I have dropped two of the courses I intended to attend — I grow so impatient with moral stupidity (how arrogant is the hero!) or complacency and conventional religious assertions over Oedipus in Oedipus Rex after the night before I’ve watched the old BBC 1980s Theban play with Michael Pennington playing the role so brilliantly, movingly, so shattered holding onto dignity. Claire Bloom as the mother forced to give up her baby only to find the gods have a wonderful joke of returning him to her. Who says Euripides is the more subversive?  The teacher makes good comments: how astonishing 15,000 men watching, all men actors, and the center a woman (I thought of the marginalized cripple Philoctetes). Enjoying Smithsonian lectures very much thus far — on Notre-Dame de Paris, moving account of the life and work of Van Gogh, now a series of musical concerts with Saul Lilienstein (he is aging but still so fine).

So my nights and days pass when I am at my best or luck in. Kind friends’ letters, poems sent me: a new friend made from Trollope zoom has organized a meeting: we are to meet with a few local Trollopians here in DC in November in a park one Sunday morning. Bad moments too, anxiety attacks: worry over bills, comcast (the bill never came; no use phoning them; did the check arrive? who knows?), the computer mysteriously shutting itself off so I babysit it for a couple of days. I remember what a desperately unhappy teenage-hood I experienced: came near killing myself at age 15. Literally took decades to come away from all the inward destruction of what was best about me and throw off bitterness and resentment. What’s not gone yet is the later results of that teenage-time in my life’s occupation, as a mother. What ever proliferating harm class contempt, predatory male heterosexuality do.

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Serious worry about the coming election at 5 in the morning, when the sky is dark:

I’m up early because I got out of bed as I was worrying about some serious developments happening which I daresay, dread, will affect the coming election. I probably will write a blog about this and put it in my Sylvia I because it’s my own POV and is about what I see affecting ordinary life which I’m part of. It seems for fear of losing many of these GOP people are running not only on the lie that Trump won but with the determination to rig the election if they are in a GOP controlled state (through votes out, refuse to certify) and if still the democrats win refuse to accept the results. This is what Trump wants; he wants default, he wants to see the US govt as we know it now destroyed. He made speeches openly asking for this — the last one in Iowa where GOP is dominant (Trump did win the state and the machinery there is GOP). If you stop doing elections fairly and stop accepting results, the US gov’t is over. It is true that in numbers there are now more democrats than republicans but since so much is gerrymandered, the electoral college and way senate is set up, GOP could still win “legitimately” — but they may not and that’s not enough for them.

There are Republicans now telling fellow GOP people to vote democratic on the issue of democracy. But not enough will do it. I have one of these angry faced women in my OLLI at Mason class: she is a classic white middle class GOP person voting for Trump. There are 3 males in my OLLI at AU class (uncomfortably to me but I ignore it) who look all iron indifference at any mention of women as a subject class — just bored silly and oh no that cop who murdered Floyd he did not lean on the black man’s chest the way is claimed (very unusual for any literature class I’ve seen in either OLLI and highly unusual for me to have so many males and they don’t go away) — in local neighborhoods I see red signs. Izzy says locally people don’t like Terry McAuliffe, a long time democratic political person. I don’t know him — I think of how we talk of politics in the class on The Prime Minister and realize such meditations make no transfer for most people to their lives.

Some of this was put on PBS last night – segments about how the GOP is now determined to rig the elections to come to win — and 90% of those calling themselves Republican are pro-Trump. It remains to be seen how people will vote of course. He is not literally on the ballot and it’s hard for me to accept that a huge minority of US people would vote Trump in again — his presidency was a disaster because of his treatment of COVID and because he was dissolving all agencies insofar as he could and setting up a kleptocracy. But they are (I think) determined to put down all social changes so as to keep a white male supremacy in charge — these people do not want the infrastructure bills — they don’t care if a huge number of US people live in hard poverty because they think only this way can they keep their privileged lifestyles. They want to see woman kept subordinate

Stupid stuff in a way shows this serious riff. It’s serious because Trump for example would end social security. He’s shown out: stop the central funding mechanism. Really put the US back to pre-1920 — I would not put open concentration camps beyond him — prisons are now partly that. Which stupid stuff. Well was yesterday Columbus Day or Indigenous People’s day. Biden signed an executive order calling Oct 12th Indigenous People’s Day. But he did not end Columbus Day. In NYC Columbus Day had become fraught years ago when the people living there started having 2 parades: one down one Avenue by Spanish people and another another avenue by Italians. Now you are getting demands not just for celebrations of Indigenous People but demands that Columbus Day be abolished. It was apparently signed into law by FDR — in the same era as these Confederate statues went up — and it was backed for years by Italian-American and Catholic groups who made Columbus their patriotic symbol. The man was a cruel thug, a thief, cruel beyond speaking (see Even the Rain), was failure in what he tried, but then was followed by similar Spanish behaviors (he was funded by Spain), he would not have regarded himself as Italian; he was Genoese. It’s all bogus history what’s said — many of these statues have been taken down in the past couple of years. US people are regularly refusing to recognize one another’s symbols and it is true progressive do want to change the way history is taught because what was taught was nonsense and validated great cruelty.

I tell the above because I think it indicative.

Yes maybe a civil war is coming. See these GOP governors resorting to ending all vaccines, literally amassing troops. AT core it is money for it began in the 1980s when the corporations put their money behind Reagan and the tax structure was altered dreadfully and it’s only gotten worse since then. Biden was to return to pre-1980s but is taking baby steps in that direction and he can’t get that passed. This propaganda on behalf of forcing women to remain pregnant when a man impregnates them, white supremacy, tyrannical police are what they (the wealthy and smart) have used to push fascism in its primal sense (states run by corporations and military) into now near wins if you rig the elections.

Biden of course was put into power because on the area of foreign policy he remains a modified colonialist, imperialism (he keeps up all Trump’s sanctions thus far — on Cuba which Obama was changing, on Iran thus far which Obama was changing, and on Venezuela where Biden is in the position of claiming the legitimately elected socialist president is not legitimate – he is still deporting these non-whites in big numbers, still building and expanding private prisons. He would have a qualified imperialist state where the people within the US would live decently: the GOP and corporations are no longer compromising and want the whole world to be impoverished to keep themselves in great wealth. The EU are a bunch of bankers. But he is law-abiding and within the US and for other peoples round the world is trying to re-spread social people-centered democracy

So there’s where we are — I am – on this October evening.


Autumn Woodland by Mark Preston

And dreams as reality: this comes from the long hours alone. I sleep but 4-5 hours a day. I get up and at first am drowsing and what happens is some dream I’m having is taken by somewhere in my mind to be real. In the afternoon my mind recurs to it. And I dream it again at night. Only if it lasts until wakefulness in the morning do I realize this is not so. For weeks I’ve been dreaming I’m writing a book on Austen; there is an author I’m dealing with, a publisher. Often the figures of these dreams come from movies I’ve been watching of late and so yes I’ve been steadily re-watching favorite Austen movies. This is innocent, non-hurtful dreaming, obvious wish fulfillment but other fragments are of the type I can’t tell about.

From Lost in Austen: she watching (Amanda in lieu of Fanny Price); a male figure emerging from the depths of consciousness (Mr Darcy), the used-up book dropped by a fountain (in the movie a Penguin copy of Pride and Prejudice)

The following morning into early afternoon: What I especially love about my Sylvia II blog is it allows me as far as doing such a thing in public is possible (I can’t openly discuss sex, nor specifics about individuals nor names) express my grief and occasional happinesses.

I now realize this coming weekend when I’ll be attending the EC/ASECS virtually, is also the first in-person JASNA in three years. I couldn’t go anyway as there is a conflict; I’d hate the hotel and the times I went to Chicago to conferences, disliked it. Once Jim and I went for our 39th wedding anniversary and explored the city, and we did enjoy it — except for that anonymous granite lonely hotel. But I am excluded regularly now because there is no reason to include me — no patronage, no title, no business I’m running, and so on, and I’ve written reviews which didn’t please (& I don’t fawn on people), gotten into miscommunications with the business DC group (enough to remind me of how I felt about feminism in the 1970s — for middle class snobbish ambitious privileged women). The last three times Izzy was hurt — she went out of her way to register promptly and saw herself put back again and again until of course there was no room. Years before I had bitterly complained and that was why we were allowed in. The price is very high. The dinner is a display of who you know. But Izzy has loved Austen (like me) and written fan fictions, enjoyed some of the lectures and the dressing up (the last time she bought herself a splendid hat) and conquered an original trauma over the ball so that she got to the point she stayed to the end.

Why do people love to exclude others — I regret that my daughter is excluded — and so enjoy getting back? I’m sure there are hundreds of variations on this story when it comes to conferences where exclusion patterns do not cost organizers anything. This is the reality of JASNA.

Ellen

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Hattie Morahan as Elinor Dashwood, drawing gazing on a Devonshire cliff (2009 S&S, scripted Andrew Davies) – a very favorite still for me

Friends and readers,

To one such as I most of whose working life — child, adult, and now older widow – has been spent in some version of school, there’s no firmer sign of fall than the “term” (or semester) is about to begin. Online OLLI at AU, three courses beyond the one I’m teaching, one on foreign films, one on race in America, from end of Reconstruction to 1965, and a third on the Theban Plays. Online at OLLI at Mason, one course beyond a repeat of the same one at OLLI at AU, Anne Bronte’s magnificent feminist The Tenant of Wildfell Hall begin on the same week. From Politics and Prose a week after that one 5 session cours on Wilkie Collins’s No Name with a superb teacher who enabled me to read Collins’s Woman In White some 3 years ago now. By October I hope to have enjoyed at least one of several sessions/lectures (a combination of books, art, music, architecture) I’ve signed up for online at the Smithsonian. The course I teach, two sections in effect, will be on Trollope’s The Prime Minister (Palliser 5) as qualified by a book of Victorian Women’s Writing, edited by Susan Hamilton, Criminals, Idiots, Women and Minor — the groundswell of proto-feminist essays and columns as the century evolved (on work, law, custom, the quality & circumstances of real women’s real lives)


The Pallisers, Episode 20, the two friends, Duchess & Mrs Finn, just before they meet Ferdinand Lopez who quotes a Swinburne poem at them, which Mrs Finn knows well is homoerotic (Susan Hampshire, Barbara Murray, Stuart Wilson)

The sky is darkening quickly just now (7:49) so you would not be able to see my new chrysanthemum bushes (4 larger, two dark colors, and 4 small around the miniature Maple): faithful watering twice a day, early morning and dusk has brought out more of the poppies (I put a photo of one of the bushes on the last diary entry) on my several bushes of these, and red berries on the holly (are they?) bushes

I did manage two more in-person events. Both rejuvenating and linked to the coming term. I had a late lunch with another new friend, a scholar-acquaintance this time, Maria Frawley who taught the Middlemarch at Politics & Prose this summer — the store slowly coming alive again. It was quite a trek to get there & back once again. Another happy couple of hours. I think I’ve gone to lunch over these past 6 weeks something like 10 times! (I haven’t told them all). I’m a lady who lunches. DC itself filled with traffic jams.

Then this past Thursday, the Pizza party across the street from OLLI at AU was to me delightful. These are people I’m comfortable with. I’m also respected by them — as I never was when I worked at universities as an adjunct (for over 30 years). Not invisible any more. Only 30 allowed and I recognized three people I also have seen and one person talked to at Politics and Prose too. I had found a small parking lot where I could park for 4 hours for $12 so I could have peace of mind — it’s an area where the city tows you away if you violate parking regulations, which are strict and user-unfriendly.

The last time I was in a group of people like this was Dec 2019, the OLLI at AU Christmas party. Then we had a band and dancing. I began to wish I had registered for the one class in person that attracted me but there was only an hour between its ending and the beginning of the class I teach at OLLI at Mason so I did the right thing.

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But what is heralding fall emotionally this year is the 20th anniversary of 9/11. There has been a pouring out of memories, on twitter, on News programs, emails, blogs, news-sites, newspapers. One of the more powerful and poignant was written by the gentle author at Spitalfields. My comment to him (he didn’t let it appear):

It is untrue that the world was changed by this single event. It was and remains an incident on an on-going cruel capitalist world, however scary and unusual on who was killed; a circus symbolic spectacular stunt pulled off by people who loathed the US for its imperialist and colonialist policies and actions; it was a horrific tragedy for those who died and all those connected to them; for those who became terribly injured and sickened working on the site in the days that followed — and were often refused decent health care because that would make it obvious that that NYC, and the stock market should have shut down for weeks. It made manifest what was and still is the underlying realities of US political policies.

The world did not change even if some of the policies of these gov’ts did. The Internet has changed some aspects of the world in this time of the pandemic but by no means the basic attitudes of the right wing capitalists who seem to hold the real power in any situation..
After 9/11, many corporations and individuals went on to make a lot of money in Iraq and Afghanistan and the real individual particular states who were involved (Bin Laden could not have done it just with with his Al-Quaeda — Saudi Arabian groups were part of this) were never exposed.

So here’s mine, all too ordinary: as has been true for most of these catastrophic world-as-village events, seen at one time on TV, and now this PC computer, I was at or near home, leaving a dentist’s office a little after 9:30.   I had felt suddenly & seen a commotion, excitement among the other people waiting, and asked the reception what was happening. I was told airplanes were hitting the World Trade Center!  I am ashamed to say I dismissed this as typical of this gullible receptionist. Could not be.

I went out to my car and found myself in a mounting traffic jam, so instead of 5 minutes to get home, it was 20. The phone was ringing as I reached the door, and I ran in and picked up, and it was Jim, in a drawn voice, “Not to worry. I’m just fine. I’m in the basement of the Australian embassy where we were all told to go, and scary huge men armed heavily are filling the building.” He had to get off his flip phone, but said quickly “put on the TV, CNN.” I did and I saw the first of the two tall buildings sliding down. Horror, shock, as I saw the fire line in the middle, and the camera switching way below to see a man shrugging intensely.

Soon from CNN I knew a story of  these two planes and that there was a third that hit the Pentagon. As it happened the library was hit — since rebuilt as a small annex where Izzy works today. I went onto the Internet, queried friends at C18-l and read the name of Osama Bin Laden as the perpetrator for the first time. I had never heard this name before.

The rest is quickly told. A phone call from T.C.Williams telling me the school was in “lockdown” and of course “not to worry,” as the young adults would probable be let out at the usual time. Another from Laura, frightened; she surprised me by coming over about two hours later with Wally (with whom she was living at the time, and whom she would marry the following year). She needed to see me and Jim and the house and that all was the same, as it ever was. The news shows had less news as time went on.

Two friends called for the first time in years to express anxiety over Jim.  I said he was not in the Pentagon that day, and my cousin contacted me.  The next day I did have bad pains in my chest, suggesting I was experiencing more stress that I admitted to myself.

I did think to myself what Susan Sontag wrote in a newspaper and was castigated for: “well, what do people expect — the US for decades stops social democracies, foments civil wars, pulls off coups, creates situations where no young native men can get a good job and itself bombs, strafes, this is the afflicted world hitting back. But astonishment at the audacity and effectiveness of this plan to take down the center of capitalism (Wall Street has no such hubristic building), of the US military (the magically numbered Pentagon), and a fourth plane (never hit) to set on fire and destroy the central imperialist house in classical style, painted white … ”

Now 20 years on, two horrible wars later, instigated by George W Bush and his cronies and associates in crime (making oodles of money as unscrupulous oil and other corporations), carried on to no reasonable purpose (at least in aims originally by this crew), hundreds of thousands of people killed, untold billions spent, with “surges” by Barack Obama as president in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Then the institution of these inhumane murderous drones aka killing people without trial and often getting “the wrong target” so even the last day in Afghanistan a whole family was murdered, the US support of an utterly corrupt puppet regime in Afghanistan, laying waste a country and leaving a life-long psychological maiming of countless young adult Americans — I met two of these when I taught in the years past 2003 – a young woman and a young man.

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Last night I re-watched a candid history for a second time, with informed (insofar as he could) and perceptive and humane analysis, Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. He streamed it from his corner of YouTube. In my judgement it should be required watching for everyone. Wikipedia offers a precise accurate summary.

I want to call attention especially to the unknown and uninvestigated business and political connections between Bush fils and the Saudi Arabian ambassador and gov’t leaders, to how most of the “terrorists” were Egyptian or Saudi Muslims, to the creation of an atmosphere of fear and dread around the US by Bush’s gov’t for two years in order to attack Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11 but has vast oil fields and Saddam Hussein, who disdained Bush senior. The years of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan where the US built up the origins of the Taliban (to defeat “communist” Russia). The lying forms of recruitment, the horrific treatment of Afghans. One scene stays with me that flashes through: a beheading of a man in Saudi Arabia. The legless young men in Veteran’s hospitals whose funds Bush was cutting.

Three other films to be watched in order to learn what happened and what the war in Afghanistan is rooted in. 9/11’s Unsettled, is second in importance because of its perspective: the first responders. Alas, apparently not being distributed anywhere I can find. This is about the thousands of people who grew very sick, and developed serious diseases in the time after 9/11 when they worked at ground zero with inadequate protection, and within days Wall Street was opened again, a local high school, Stuyvesant, because what was wanted was to be seen to be carrying on making money. And to make money. From Rudi Giuliani to Christine Todd Whitman, ironically the head of the EPA, what was then wanted was a cover-up and not only did the US health insurance companies fight back and refuse to pay for people’s treatments and injuries, refuse to acknowledge they were the result of 9/11, those who protested were maligned and punished. Read the story of Joe Zadroga, after whom one of the bills to provide for compensation was named, his wife, his father. One of the important reporters on the stories was Juan Gonzalez.


Lisa Katzman

The third is a Netflix serial, Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror, directed by Brian Knappenberger. This is an unflinching look at what was done by three administrations, but especially Bush, where the incident was used to extend surveillance, legitimize torture (Black sites), the nature of the Patriot Act, what came from it, Guantanomo, and again Drones.

There is a fourth, a Frontline series on PBS too: American After 9/11, directed by Michael Kirk. There is no reason anyone in the US should be ignorant of what happened, how it relates to what came before, and how it relates to how the GOP went extreme and is following Donald Trump (if it can and it’s going far) into destroying the US democracy, such as it still is (very oligarchic) and was (thoroughly racist, punitive in outlook, deeply anti-social individualism promoted).


Also talking about Biden

This might all lead to my reader wondering why I insist 9/11 didn’t change the world. It happened as a result of all the US gov’t had done since 1947, and the reaction to it was to intensify what led to it. 9/11 was the result of what the world had become since WW2 and the reaction just intensified those conditions and attitudes of mind towards empire and money.  I’m now thinking of the GOP efforts (thus far successful) of stifling the vote, and on that you can read Heather Cox Richardson and listen and watch over many days and weeks. Here is just one

A graver and more overtly political blog than usual. But it’s appropriate. Not to say anything would be deeply wrong, reprehensible to me who does care about what happens to myself, my family and friends, all the people I know, the thousands and thousands inside the US whose destinies are intertwined with mine, and by extrapolation (since especially since the pandemic) our connection to all those vulnerable and powerless people who are not making oodles of money but at risk or suffering badly because of the people in these gov’ts, their allies, their donors, and parties’ behavior. Silence could be construed as consent.

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That’s a volcano — the islands are volcanic

To return to my small life among books. Although it fails to bring me in, Edward Douwes Dekker’s Max Havelaar, a mid-19th century Dutch novel has taught me more about colonialism’s workings, how it’s done, than any single book previous: stunning cruelty of the Dutch in Indonesia and all around India, the southasian pacific. The brave life of the introducer, Pramoedya Ananta Toer.

I attended a Bronte conference last Saturday, wonderful, and I’ve yet to write up my notes, which I’ll couple with a couple of Gaskell and Bronte sessions from Gaskell house, and a May Sinclair session at Cambridge (profound talk, Sinclair also much influenced by the Brontes). I promise myself I will write up a blog about the Brontes, Sinclair and Gaskell next on Austen Reveries.  I’ve been astonished by what I’ve found in Trollope’s Vicar of Bullhampton, reading it daily with a group on FB – I certainly will write about it, together with John Caldigate, as unexpected radical social, justice and sexual politics.

I carry on reading Anne Finch’s poetry, going more thoroughly immersed into it, so that my old inner relationship with her is returning: extraordinary masterpiece Poems never published by her; and Poems she chose to publish or let others publish. I will read or read in the important books about her once again. And I listen on to Elena Ferrante’s The Story of the Lost Child, even poorly translated by Anne Goldstein and dully read by Hillary Havens, I am so drawn in I am continually thinking to myself well I would do that but not this. They are both me, Lila and Lenu. Ferrante hates fascism and misogyny (they are one and the same she says in her Frantumaglia

Good Heav’en I thank thee, Since it was design’d
I shou’d be fram’d but of the weaker kind,
That yet my Soul, is rescu’d from the Love
Of all those trifles, which their passions move
Pleasures, and Praises, and Company with me
Have their Just Vallue, if allow’d they be;
Freely, and thankfully, as much I taste
As will not reason, nor Religion waste,
If they’re deny’d, I on my Selfe can live
Without the aids a cheating World can give
When in the Sun, my wings can be display’d
And in retirement I can have the shade.
— Anne Finch, early in the first ms book

Ellen

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Her book has made a splash and you can hear it read aloud and find it discussed online


The Run-up to the Civil War: Field of Blood

Dear friends and readers,

I sometimes do give over a whole blog to an important or wonderful movie or play I saw, or a course I took.  The value of this is such blogs are much shorter than my diaries of 2-3 weeks.

I want to convey the content and importance of a lecture and talk I watched and listened to last night, one in conversation form between Heather Cox Richardson and Joanne Friedman.  The occasion the recent publication of Richardson’s book. She and Friedman know one another. They are scholars and historians and now public intellectuals.

It was via Zoom from Politics and Prose Bookstore in Washington DC, now online, as well as open to the public for buying books, and with the cafe working.

Here are two reviews:


Goldwater in Fredonia, Arizona, November 2, 1964

https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/southern-elites-western-libertarians-and-the-conservative-coalition/2020/04/17/f4352c1c-6d4d-11ea-b148-e4ce3fbd85b5_story.html

In a nutshell, Richardson’s shows how Goldwater’s defeat showed the Republicans how to build a new coalition after the Civil Rights act of 1964. Out of that defeat they pulled 40+ years of slow built-up victory to produce the fascism we see around us now

Click on the above title: despite the cover, this is a serious book showing parallels of violence then (1850s) and now (2012)

It seems Field of Blood should be chambers of blood. I have read elsewhere that pro-enslavement people openly said the way to stop abolition was to threaten the lives of any abolitionist, to beat and if necessary kill him or her – Harriet Martineau, the 19th century lecturer, woman political writer and novelist, and memoirist, had death threats on all her tours.

I had a hard time even sleeping after listening to Richardson and Fielding. They talked of how the Postal Service was attacked and censored in the 1840s to 50s. They said the measure of the crisis we are in now — that Trump will not concede even if he loses, and try to stay in power by any means if he is at all backed — is that the Postal Service is openly under attack. From the time there was a postal service it was obvious it was an important means of communication between people. It still is a life blood of a state.

Their way of talking about the crisis is different from what one usually hears. Instead of putting racism to the fore, they put oligarchy. They said the US was conceived as an oligarchy with some ameliorations; the people who wrote the constitution enshrined as an ideal equality, but they owned slaves and limited suffrage.

What is happening is the oligarchy which never went away is back in full force. They said that in the 1950s there was a consensus between liberal Republicans and conservative democrats that ideals for all were strong infrastructure (building highways, bridges, improving public transportation & communications), a strong safety net (social security, good schools) and equal opportunity for all in business; strongly individualistic all the time. But blacks & hispanics kept out except as subordinated workers (caste system).

But a wing of the Republicans (John Birch Society, remember them?) always hated this and fought (remember Buckley) against it, and ceaselessly tried to change the consensus: they won a major battle when equal time for all points of view on TV was made by them and their connections to vanish.

This powerful group (they go to the elite schools, sit on elite boards, fill local gov’ts) have worked to return to oligarchy once again. They believe only a few who are better than everyone else, more deserving, should have good services, food, freedom, live exclusive lives of privilege based on the long hard hours of work of everyone else: “mudsills” was the word in the 19th century. Mudsills now refers to working class whites and as many of the middle class whites as they can subordinate and crush to work for very little (as well of course as people of color of any ethnicity).

This group is replicating what was done in the 1850s: they have taken over the courts. They have gerrymandered the states & US senate egregiously and the courts allow now it — and they have harnessed to them white supremacists (idiot bigots), frantic evangelicals; a 15% portion of the American middle class who think they will be just fine. These people only talk about keeping women subordinate indirectly since they want their upper class white women to identify as powerful by virtue of belonging; so the issue is anti-abortion, anti-women’s rights over their own bodies as that is perceived as not threatening to wealthy or religious white women.

The pandemic has this group worried, but nothing else (they want more police), and not enough as the stock market is kept up by free money from the Fed. They are still using the word communism as a bugaboo because what they truly loathe is anything socialistic They may stop at nothing to stay in power — those in office are those obviously are not prepared to go against Trump publicly — or crooks sycophants themselves. They have oodles of money to send their children to private schools, to charter planes to their summer homes. The accumulation of preposterous amounts of money for themselves and their adherents, near zero taxes are their goals (pay only for military and protecting private property).

Richardson and Friedman suggested we are seeing a replay of the 1850s in 2012 terms. Below is a 1911 US political cartoon.

I conclude with a significant and timely essay online — by Frances Fox Piven:  how will Trump attempt to stay in power and what can we as a people do legally to prevent his taking over:  What if Trump Won’t Leave: Tump is prepared to do all he can to stay in power.  Can he be stopped?

Ellen (aka Miss Sylvia Drake)

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Chief Inspector Morse (John Thaw) and Sergeant Lewis (Kevin Whateley) (1987, first season)

Friends,

Times being what they are, I’ve taken to watching Inspector Morse. I started last week, at my usual witching hour for self-indulgent TV series, 11:30 to midnight, and it took a couple of nights for me to realize these shows go on for an hour and 45 minutes! That’s part of why they are so good: they develop the situation and characters slowly, with nuance, clever dialogue, and continually deepening in curious ways the character of our man of integrity, compassion, with his love of classical music, and extensive reading in high culture texts, Morse. Lewis is no fool and has his own personality, but he is the stable “ordinary” usual ethical person to Morse’s enigma. The fourth was a little more conventional than the first three, but all of them have recourse to corrupt politics (ultimately someone is making money off harming or exploiting someone else’s vulnerability) in the context of deeply observed individuals in complex fraught situations. I first watched these in 1987; they were a way for me to spend some of Thursday evening with Laura as she watched too. Now I think to myself I must’ve missed a lot. I was then more naive than these shows seem now. I’m sure I have confused notion or who did what and why and wish there were a wikpedia site explaining it all to me. This is common for me with mystery/thrillers and especially contemporary ones which are aggressive, have short scenes, un-nuanced, ratcheted up. I am drawn to the pain and real life predicaments of the people in the embedded stories. I like the tone of this 1987 Inspector Morse series.

I know it’s a kind of gimmick but I do find appealing and can identify with Morse’s brand of despair as seen in his favorite poem, A. E. Housman’s The Remorseful Day.

Here is YouTube of Thaw reciting the last lines:

To be appreciated, you do have to know the full text:

How clear, how lovely bright,
How beautiful to sight
Those beams of morning play;
How heaven laughs out with glee
Where, like a bird set free,
Up from the eastern sea
Soars the delightful day.

To-day I shall be strong,
No more shall yield to wrong,
Shall squander life no more;
Days lost, I know not how,
I shall retrieve them now;
Now I shall keep the vow
I never kept before.

Ensanguining the skies
How heavily it dies
Into the west away;
Past touch and sight and sound
Not further to be found,
How hopeless under ground
Falls the remorseful day.

Housman is another of Jim’s favored poets (he had many), we even own Housman’s edition of a classical Latin poet, Manilius. Jim used to quote from the introduction.

I also watch the HBO My Brilliant Friend (1st book in the Neapolitan Quartet), Second Season, The Story of a New Name twice a week.


Elena (Lenu) (Margherita Mazzucco), Lila (Raffaella) (Gaia Girace) and Pinuccia (Giuliana Tramontano) arrive at the beach

This seems to me just now the best contemporary TV story program. What is so striking is the intense felt reality of the film experience. I’ve not seen or felt anything like this in a long time. It’s not just that all the actors and actresses project real feelings fully that we can enter into, but the whole ambiance of the situations.

For example, we first see them on Ischia as they trudge down the beach. In an other film it would be all surface, glamour, here we feel how tiresome beaches also are, how heavy the umbrella, how weary the walk, hot the sun, and a sense of sticky sand. I put it down to not magazin-ing everything. The house is like a house I would stay in, the curtains thin, the stone steps hard, the doors ugly and off-center, painted in such a way that the shades are not perfect. All the surroundings are like this — a boat is not super expensive, perfect in way but messy, slosh slosh.

Their dialogues are what people might say: not elevated into top wit or reflection, but such wit and reflection as comes out is from offhand, slightly spiteful distrustful talk, the way people do ever one-upping one another — a real sense of contingent interaction.

The fights every one has, the ambiguity of positions only once in a while made explicit: Lenu who is treated as a servant and yet is the educated person there with books with her. The mother says I’ll be blamed. When a quarrel happens, the debris and then how sordid things can be — yet the beauty of the air, light. When they swim, they swim as awkwardly as I do — I mean the girls, as feeble in the sea and yet moving along.

What the film does is give us in a way what book can’t — the viscera through sound, music, real presences — the series fulfills the book. Much enjoyment in the photography of the island of Ischia and the waters, the colors, the sunlight. A movie can do so much more than a book in presenting this — it’s like the pleasure of watching the Durrells. I have no screen shots of the water, but I do the beach

As with Outlander, the increase of monopolization, with only a few companies owning everything means I can’t buy DVDs of this series (the 5th season of Outlander is not available except if you buy a membership for the fascistic line-up of Starz). Now the site that offered scripts has been taken down too. One result is less wide popularity, but finally to those with the money to make such a series, the ratings far count less than sheer numbers of dollars. Worship of dollars everywhere.

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Last night months after I bought them my Bernie Sanders T-shirt and yard sign arrived. How sad this felt — it’s tragic for the people on this globe, that’s how powerful the US president has become

One needs to try to escape when one lives in a nation whose federal gov’t is controlled by a man whose activities show him to be engineering sickness and death throughout the people said to be those he is serving; doing what he can to milk their taxes to make himself and other friendly billionaires and wealthy corporations richer, refusing to let the federal agencies do anything constructive (like testing, like helping them to have medical equipment), to let people get online to by desperately needed health insurance. It is an stunningly shameless perverse performance. Everyone afraid of him because he is so vindictive and will castigate publicly anyone who asks relevant questions, lies egregiously (“we have the best testing system in the world”).

I don’t know why but when I realized he was determined to destroy the post office I became especially distressed. I was shocked 40 years ago when during Reagan’s administration the direct attacks on the PO began. It was and continues to be one of the most selfless and apolitical of our institutions, a rare one that serves all people equally very reasonably. During Bush’s administration they cooked the books to put the department in egregious debt and still they survived.

Now they are singled out as excluded from these trillion dollar bills. I read Trump himself openly intervened here (when he has his thugs and gangster types outbid states trying to get medical equipment he does not personally intervene) and insisted no one answer phone calls from the Post office. Now they are not to get any money like any one but only a huge loan at very high interest rates.

All my life I have depended on the post office to send out my bills and when I send checks to send them back. No interruption of mails The 1916 rising was about the PO as a central place for communication. A friend described this in these words:  “destroying simple ordinary dedicated people’s modest middle class jobs, destroying a perfectly good and worthy government (though I suppose in our country now mostly private) institution.”

In the US it’s also racism: the PO is a place where many minority people work. And now to try to destroy them will prevent voting by mail which we may need to do in November. I have today bought two sheets of stamps at the online Post office; I opened an account. I have discovered many people are buying. If millions of us bought stamps, in this area we could stop Trump. It is a quasi-separate corporation.

This to me is peculiarly stunning. As a faithful reader of Trollope who delivered a paper on Trollope’s use of letters throughout his novels to the Trollope society in 2001: Since Trollope was a postal employee for 37 years, and then on and off again was a negotiator, and gave up years of life to a devoted service to creating a public unbiased efficient group imagine my horror at what is now being done to the US post office. Imagine his. The committees of correspondence were essential tools for reformists in the 1790s. I was just so horrified by this one. Is there nothing this man can do which will be seen as grounds for removal? just nothing? No powerful person stops him. It is the fault of the republican party which has decided he can do no wrong no matter what and no lie is too much for them to utter. They continually act in bad faith.

Trump and his important allies do know when to back off. They have to keep the military on their side and when they thought (these evil people who recognize one another) they could fire a captain for trying to protect his men against utterly senseless sickness and death, they backed off. The man who fired the captain has now resigned and there is talk of re-instating the captain. If there is a coup and no election and whatever is left of democracy or any social conscience is thrown out, Trump will have to have the military to back him so as to force people.

I don’t know when it will be time to dust off the old joke, “Praise God/Marx and pass the ammunition.” It is no longer funny. He is making war on the people of the US. the NYTimes reports 17,000 have died in the US since the start of this pandemic in January, that Trump was warned again and again, and instead had Fox News sneer and deny what was happening, that China did inform the UN and early. We are in the worst condition of all the developed countries of the world because of our incompetent hateful hard capitalist government. Tonight I witnessed long food lines across the US.

Saturday I was also personally distressed. Again I shopped at the Giant and saw my young African-American woman friend Monica. She is usually so controlled but not Saturday. She was distraught and angry with over-work, fear, and from being lied to. She had on a two part mask, gloves. What is happening is she can’t stay home at all, and the way her boss is getting her to work all five days in the DC prison office is by lying to her and her co-workers. They are continually promised tests and none emerge. Trump’s lies as a way of being have spread. Monica is lied to about all sorts of things. The virus is spreading in the prison and hardly anything is being done to help these people, many of them there for minor non-violent law infringements, most African-American. I saw on Amy Goodman how 1800 African-American prisoners in Louisiana were transferred to some infamously punitive prison, many of the infected, a place which will have almost no health care. Taken there to die. Louisiana is more than a thousand miles away. Monica was standing in front of me, her face fraught. I wished I dared to hug her. It took me a couple of hours to calm down.

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Frits Thaulow, Stream in Spring (1901)

I try not to think about what will happen — especially if Trump manages to steal the election again. I am joining in on Zoom sessions some three to four times a week. I am registered and attend two classes sent out by the OLLI at AU (on Italian-Jewish writing, mostly WW2, but some more recent texts; on Hamlet, sources, different texts, different films, reception, critical history) and one by the OLLI at Mason (19th century existentialism up to today — who knew the earliest thinkers were fanatically religious, throwing over the crucial insights of the Enlightenment?). And I’ve joined in twice with my Aspergers group online. There are of course joke pictures (click to enlarge):

This is a generic picture of what I see in two of them:


Gallery it’s called

In the two at OLLI at AU I’ve been a participant/class member seen in one of the many boxes stretched across the zoom rectangle. I’ve now been told by three people that I don’t “fill the screen” when it’s my turn to talk and my small square in a room becomes the central picture. I know I sit an angle, putting my laptop on the corner of the desk and using a chair where one of legs is missing so I swerve it to the side so it leans on two books, and that sometimes my cats are on my chair with me. They tell me and I have experienced this too that the instructor fills or usually fills the screen — they say that’s because these people sit up close, have a big screen, and also stare directly out into the space (of their room).

In my case, those seeing me see a book-lined room! I didn’t realize that because the cases are very much to the side and my workroom or “study” is not so book-lined as others in my house. My desk to the other side of the room is seen, a table to the back. Also some of scotch-taped pictures on the walls. It seems I am at a distance from the screen, I am seen from a side sort of, so I’m unclear as an image but my voice is loud – and very recognizable because of my accent. Many of the other participants (discussants?) “fill their screen,” so now I know they are using bigger computers and sit up close.

For a few people I can see their surroundings; one woman appears to be in a sort of child’s nursery: there is a cradle near by, a roll of toilet paper as part of a kit to take care of a young baby. Another in a huge modernized kitchen in the round. Several contrive to or naturally have a row of books in shelves behind them …. de rigueur on TV.

An online friend who has not participated in these asked me more about it, and I tried to explain more — last week I tried to say how odd is the experience, not like a classroom in some centrally important ways (we are not there altogether). So I wrote this:

I’ve thus far experienced zoom with four sets of people; one (OLLI at Mason, Existentialism) I could see no one but the instructor and have been told she cannot see us; and everyone is muted until she un-mutes someone! two (OLLI at AU) have this have this gallery effect with the teacher in the middle and larger and they leave everyone un-muted; you are asked to raise your hand. A third, the Aspergers friends, has the leaders/friends (who are paying for it) with everyone else as part of a whole screen gallery. So I actually see just about everyone joining in. I am too anxious to hit an arrow which might let me see more rows of people at a time; I am told that the instructor at OLLI at AU can see all the rows of people. The center is sometimes used for a text or film clip. Most people are more like David Brooks on PBS; just side glimpses and now I’m told they sit up to their computer or it’s a big screen. A few like me or Mark Shields on PBS, you see far more of the room. I’ve seen people using false background — it’s very unreal. Maybe it’s the people I’m with but like so many of the people on TV many have bookcases behind them. I have seen a dog or cat to the side but no one but me with a pet on their lap. I’m not quite semi-profile just my face and body to the side — partly I’m sitting in a chair one of whose wheels came off so I have it perched against the near by case and I keep my laptop sort of catty-cornered to me and it feels close as I’m trying to hear what’s being said. It’s a strange, experience, you do have more information but the people are not there with you and they are behaving in differently controlled ways. The person at the center is very powerful. Three of the four I participated in there was a site assistant on line to help too – I only saw that person where all the people but the instructor could not be seen.

I believe I’ve said here that I volunteered to teach on-line for both places this summer: The Bloomsbury Novel. I will use the method of myself in the center, with all the people able to see one another and me see them, and everyone unmuted. I’ve been reading Forster and Wendy Moffatt’s wonderful biography of him (we’ll read Maurice), started LaSalvo on Woolf again (we’ll read Jacob’s Room); my third choice is the novella by Vita Sackville-West, All Passion Spent;. And I’m reading more about the Bloomsbury circles, and started the delightful Francesca Wade’s Square Haunting: Five Women, Freedom and London between the Wars.

There are now many places offering live-streaming of classics, operas, movies, some for free (as an advertisement for themselves). Actors and actresses reading books aloud. Other ordinary people trying to reach us and cheer us and themselves up. I do get more letters from friends and I answer them all. I am grateful to those who write me once a day a note — more more. Who chat with me. There are funny jokes too, meant to lighten and cheer:

The most endurable, and at moments comforting and yet truthful of the news shows is PBS reports, with Judy Woodruff at “the helm.” I am finding during this stressful crisis that along with factual truth I care about tone more than usual. Most of the time I appreciate gratefully the news Amy Goodman reports on her DemocracyNow.org, which no one else does, but lately her tendency to try to be so dramatic in order to entertain is getting on my nerves, her repetition and showing of Trump, and the leading long-winded questions (speeches in themselves), and I prefer the simpler direct questions, and the attempts at uplifting stories Judy Woodruff tries to include. I like her crew, especially recently Malcolm Brabant, William Brennan. I am laughing at myself, but honestly I find myself feeling better after an hour of Judy as opposed to an hour of Amy.  Click on the image to make it way larger and look at her after a half century of TV journalism:

Ellen

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My cottage home this bitterly cold windy snowy morning. I’m glad I own it. Glad I live here, how it looks inside, filled with books and many beloved things, memories, with my cats (another order of being). Warm, lit. That my daughter has evolved it into her home too.

Gentle reader, have you considered how museums have become community centers — they really have. The Met in NYC and the National Galleries in DC and London function that. Crowded with people. I realized this for the first time when I read an unkind passing statement — but insightful — a few years ago by Suzy McKee Charnas in her Vampire Tapestry where the vampire stalks museums because they are a place where the public is not excluded most of the time and lonely sensitive souls are to be found on off days. She put it in a way that made me dislike her — but then it was her nasty vampire being so scornful. I reacted the way I did because I am one of these people who found herself by going to a museum – and theater too. A Future Learn course I took online showed that museums are well aware of this function, or they took it on as a way of getting funding.

So this winter solstice we again went to a museum. I’m not sure they will not become a more all-embracing community center than movie-houses as these movie-houses are bought up by monopolies and become increasing experiences of coercion for someone else’s profit. It’s also true that while theaters build a niche group of people who come expecting the same kind of experience, different plays attract different audiences, and a theater after all can play but one play at a time. For Christmas and Boxing Day and again New Year’s Eve, Izzy and I found ourselves in the midst of crowds of people like ourselves participating in this said-to-be communal holiday in two different movie-houses, one of them at a mall; in a museum; and then a vast theater house, the Kennedy Center, which had no less than 5 entertainments going with sold-out auditoriums. I’ll move from the most enjoyable to the less so, so gentle reader if you feel this is going on too long … I wind the reverie to a close with music, ice-skating, and chequered hope.


Scrooge with the Ghost of Christmas Past

I’ve known the Kennedy Center is a community place for a long time now. One summer they hosted original Sondheim productions all summer plus movies of older ones, and various related shows and by the last week, the place was so relaxed with people making music everywhere. Everyone is comfortable there partly because they are part of the same economic and cultural group and feel the others will not shoot them down. If you have the price of the ticket, it’s a good place nowadays. Not Trump’s America. Izzy and I went to the theater lab where I saw The Gabriels last year and this past December Liv Ullman’s Private Confessions. The two and one half-hour performance was titled Twisted Dickens as performed by a group called The Second City, a comedy club and playhouse group of artists who do improv, sing, dance, act, write. Very creative group. Their story-line was a hilarious and serious too parody/enactment of key moments with key characters in A Christmas Carol. The real defense of this story is that it continues to provide a living relevant framework for our modern feelings and experiences. In this case a reworking of many Christmas motifs and familiar re-tellings and moments from other popular movies and shows or icons. Each actor played about ten roles. My favorite moments included two appearances of the distraught George Bailey (the actor personated Jimmy Stewart from It’s A Wonderful Life), snow in his hair, trying to explain about Mr Potter and Uncle Billy and the $8000; he is last seen seeking “Clarence!” Clarence!”; the young woman who did a very funny Tiny Tim; the actor who was the audience member complaining, the actress-singer who was slick witty Dolly Parton with an elegant cigarette. A poor suffering governess. The ghosts of Christmas Past and Present (the actress playing Dolly Parton in a sexy cocktail dress) were got up unexpectedly, but the Yet to Come figure was swathed in black (from the 1951 Alistair Sim film).


Charlie Brown dialogue

Many modern references. One character is seen coming home, picking a bill and finding it’s from Comcast double charging him because they sent the bill late. That got a wide laugh — so my experience of having this happen to me three times (!) and each time hours on the phone, getting enraged is common. John Lescaut stayed with the single character of Scrooge and now and again there were clear references to Trump such as the horror everyone feels when they think he might tweet. Blessedly he never does during the performance. Characters are often desolated. There was a disquieting five minute debate by Charlie Brown characters on whether Christianity should be brought up: the thrust was we must not leave Jesus out (really) but also include Muslims and Jews. There are more than 3 religions in the world. Written by Peter Swinn and Bobby Mort, directed by Frank Caeti, starring beyond Lescaut Carisa Barreca, Aaron Bliden, Anne Bowles, Paul Jurewicz, Eric M Messner, Tia Shearer. I noticed audience members were dressed in all sorts of ways, and here and there a person alone.

We went downstairs in one of several packed elevators to see and hear the ball begin but did not stay. I would have loved to dance the way we used to when Jim was there. Still I wanted to see it again and remember. The last time we were there was 5 years ago with Jim: Elvis has left the building!. We then drove home and I watched my last Christmas movie for this year: Love Actually. For the sake of Laura Linney’s performance, Emma Thompson on a lobster in the Christmas pageant, Hugh Grant’s fantastic silent dancing, and Bill Nighy’s impeccable parody of a rock hit, Christmas is All Around Us (which is no longer on the Net so I can show only


the opening of the movie …

On Boxing Day, Izzy and I kept up the custom we began with Jim in the mid-1990s of going to a museum. Most years there are block-buster shows in the most famous ones: this year was no different: it was Vermeer and his contemporaries at the National Gallery. We had decided to try another museum — Washington DC is a city chock-a-block with museums — and since I’ve started to go to some through the Smithsonian programs, I felt we ought to try another. We went to the National Portrait Gallery. We had not been together ever.

We wandered around the vast place (it’s really two museums, one for portraits and the other “about America”) I again went through the Sylvia Plath exhibit to give Izzy a chance to see it; we looked at American art of the 19th century, historical pictures (which we talked about as Izzy knows a lot about American history), Matthew Brady’s photographs from the civil war — there the point made in part was how much of war-life was sitting and sleeping and living in a state of waiting; and then the horrific deaths in vast conflagrations. The National Gallery is never as mobbed at the Metropolitan Museum on Sundays or holidays, but still far more hectic in feel than this Portrait Gallery and we enjoyed this place because it was much quieter. Less people vying to see. The cafe was outside, and they had two large shops, one just books.


One of the less familiar images

Oddly one might say (were one naive) the one encompassing truthful exhibit they had was not advertised: on the second floor tucked up in a large corridor and corner with a couple of rooms was an exhibit about Marlene Dietrich: her life, her career, her art, many photographs, some famous, iconic, some I’d never seen before. It was honest: we see her bourgeois family, a photo of her looking somehow wrong in a picturesque conventional girl’s dress. I did not know how she married a wealthy man early on, and importantly a film professional; how heavy she was originally, that she trained as a violinist, grew up in the thick of the Weimar era, or anything about a daughter who meant a great deal to her (but is nonetheless bitter) from that marriage. It seems she was more of a transvestite than I thought: dressed as a man far more often than I realized. In her phases of female or feminine sexuality, there is more variety than one realizes too: she could be conventional as well as startlingly beyond what’s acceptance, funny as well as gypsy melodramatic.

She was at first a cinema hit but when the studios put her in films for a more general American audience, the films flopped. She returned to Europe. There were hand-written letters by her: she had many lovers, sometimes several at a time, among them Erich Maria Remarque and Edith Piaf. She became expensive to hire you are told — so in Touch of Evil (late Orson Wells) she is the charismatic presence but it’s a rare later appearance. She traveled around (presumably for much much less) during War World Two entertaining troops. There was a TV with clips from many movies and her life to: one of her throwing chairs at a young Jimmy Stewart in Destry Rides Again. In the 1970s she moved to Paris, bought an apartment and basically lived out a quarter of a century in seclusion (hardly ever left the flat). There were audios where one could hear her husky voice. Downstairs in the bookshop a very fat book about her by her daughter, Maria Riva, by no means balanced in approach.


Another: aboard a luxury cruiser

It is a shame or loss that this exhibit is kept half-hidden. We were handed for free a seven page essay in a pamphlet plus photographs from the exhibit. Her life, what we were seeing, explanations of the photos. She was an important individual of the 20th century and belongs in this Portrait Gallery museum, but not hidden away.


Here’s the corridor in case you happen on it

The National Portrait Gallery had advertised (among a couple others, all large, much blander) as the Christmas exhibit (though the word is never used as it is not yet publicly acknowledged how many people spend the Christmas day out of the house), The Faces of Battle, on US soldiers’ experience of war since 9/11. Said to be poignant. It was a long corridor of photographs and in separate rooms, photographs, paintings, instalments, films made by artists who had acted as reporters and accompanied troops in Iraq, Arghanistan, and other Middle Eastern countries where the US is openly at war. John Keegan’s book as alluded to and there was a sense in which you were shown what contemporary war is like: bombing and guerilla actions as well as interactions with civilians. The concentration was on the faces of these men and women, many now dead. They looked variously exhausted, stiff with trauma, glum and steadfastly enduring what they had to (stoic), carrying a lot on their backs, dirty.

Jun 29, 2009 – Kandahar, Afghanistan – Out of breath, US Army Spc. Larry Bowen age 26, sits shellshocked in a ditch next to his machine gun after a frontal assault on an insurgent position in close quarter fighting during an operation that lasted over several days in the Taliban stronghold of Siah Choy in Zhari District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan.
(Credit Image: © Louie Palu/ZUMA Press)

One room had pictures of the rooms of those who were all now dead. Very revealing — many were clearly of young men who had wanted to come there as some glorifying images showed. Sexy pictures. Flags. They were no longer naive in the photos. Agons in some of the photos. Some moving pictures showed the absurdity of some of the practices done. One problem was, What were they doing there not mentioned. There were many references to the bombs or guns that had killed them when they were going out on duty — but not what that duty was. We are told these men were blown up entering a private house but what were they doing entering that house? what was their purpose? Where was their rage as they killed? They came to inflict to seek out and destroy and if necessary kill others, do terrible damage to a groups of people the US gov’t and/or its allies and its donors want incinerated. Had the exhibit had twice as many rooms and shown the horrors inflicted on the Afghans, Iraqis and where the US is there by virtue of its money, supportive planes and boats, and arms it might have brought out the full horror of what this has been about — since 1947.


Reading — not quite the faces of battle

As to our usual movie and meal out in an Asian restaurant on Christmas day, Izzy and I are very fortunate to live near four movie-houses which are semi-art places or not controlled by the AMC distribution ownership of movie-houses corporate monopoly. All four are stand-alone theaters — not inside a mall. Two in DC. There a fifth complex of such places in Bethesda (American Film Institute is the movie-house name, nearby is a playhouse and near that a concert hall) but it is very far for us to go. Unfortunately, the two in Virginia are now practicing the ceaseless feed of clips or films between the “feature” (i.e., the one you paid to go see), but they are in much better taste, not so loud, and do not go on for so long and so endurable (occasionally interesting). One of these, Angelica Mosaic Theater was playing I, Tonya (click for excellent review), Christmas day.


Margot Robbie in a narrative segment

It’s a film very much worth going to see. Vivid, direct and combined documentary motifs (the actors faced us on chairs talking to us) with storytelling – at its best it recalled Cathy Come Home (not often enough) and was about class and violence, competitive aspiration and family life and malls too in America. How badly educated we are becoming; Tonya’s problem was she couldn’t present herself as fake genteel, as upper middle class virgin. She didn’t have the money to hire costume-makers. Her mother worked as a waitress, left by her husband early on; a cruel treacherous woman; all Tonya ever learnt was through bullying or harsh denigration. Her husband came from the same punitive milieu. So they broke directly through a crucial taboo in sports and directly assaulted the competition. The pre-feature film was about an artist in Eastern Europe, and the whole building of the theater, which has a cafe, is large and so one does not feel packed in. We enjoyed ourselves because we could relax. I figured out a way to drive to this theater using the streets; Izzy helped make sure that we didn’t lose our sense of geography as to where the parking garage was in relationship to the movie-house.

We then went to a Chinese restaurant we’ve gone to each Christmas since Jim died — we had gone with him there only twice. It’s small, inexpensive, with good food. No pretension. Usually it is so busy and it won’t take reservations for two. But if you get there at 4 as we did, there are far fewer people and we were served quickly. Isobel is is deeply engaged by ice-skating, blogs on it, studies it, we are going to Milan this March to see the a World Championship week of ice-skating so we talked of the movie in the context of her knowledge of the sport and its history.

Perhaps the less said on 70% of movie-theaters today, all AMC owned where the experience is more of a herd of exploited units in atmospheres of anomie created by discomfort, noise, the awful neon lights, techniques to make everyone competitive, where the theater itself sports as advertisements and trailers clips of high violence, torture, killing and coerced sex. But I feel I should not leave out the other movie we saw and this context. No fun to be had in such a place — the people you see on the lines to get tickets, in the theater space have determined faces (I had almost said slightly grimaced), which is why increasingly people prefer to shop online and watch movies via streaming online and DVDs. To go to such theaters and such malls is to voluntarily go to the equivalent of an airport; the movie-house auditoriums are transforming themselves into caste-ridden (assigned seats will soon become differentially priced) airplanes where you are forced into experiences you don’t want.


Streep and an actor playing a friend-reporter associate – you can see the emphasis on their upper class ways

I like to as truthful as I dare in this autobiographical blog and one’s awareness of the existence of such places influences how one feels nowadays about movie-going and its context, hence its penumbra of significance. That the Kennedy Center and the museums are still good places is why the particular exhibits or shows can speak to the individual who goes of civility, of assumed values of kindness, courtesy, companionship. We made the mistake of seeing Stephen Spielberg’s The Post in such an AMC theater and mall on the day before New Year’s Eve. You can read my review and a linked one (scroll down) in my original political Sylvia blog. I need to see the film again.

I wish for all my readers a good year to come where we all weather somehow whatever economic social and political damage is thrown at us all. Among Trump’s very first acts was to cut the food stamp program, to slash at the agricultural department. He didn’t tweet or boast about that.


Randall Enos: repeal, replace …. yes that’s the bipartisan (fool!) Obama — no it’s not a post-racist world Dorothy

I drove a friend to a CVS last night. It was in the dark and I couldn’t drive much better than she. She needed her allergy medicine, a nose spray and pills. The price of the nose-spray was $213.00. Suddenly up $175 dollars. She had had to change medical plans because of Trumpcare hitting her early. We left without her getting that needed stuff. “Reform” nowadays means changing the rules to let people die, take all opportunity for good education from them, unprotected from debt collectors (college students’ attempt to get help from the Education department are stacked up and shelved) — that’s the reverse definition that began with Bush fils. Trump reforms to allow predators to do what they wish. Until Trump is impeached, we are stuck in a hope mode: hoping no nuclear war, knowing that we are regarded by the Republicans the way they regard the colonialized exploited people outside the US borders: with utter indifference to our welfare, so much possible collateral damage on their way to become yet more obscenely rich. Let us hope we survive with our lives and friends’ (I include family in that word) lives and comforts and work and homes we cherish intact.

The last three days have been dangerously cold — dangerous for the large population of homeless people in the US. Temperatures well below freezing, high winds, snow. I took the photo of my house this morning. I was thinking maybe I ought to begin to sign Ellen at long last, but I think I’ll keep the slight distance and original framing of the blog (meant to be far more comic than it has turned out) this pseudonym provides.

No sensible cat would go out to rub itself against a snowman. I was equally mad (as in mad cats and human staff go out in the midday freeze) as I forged forth kitchen ladder-chair in hand to take colored lights off and out of intertwine in the outside tree yesterday afternoon. This Kliban cat is from this first week’s calendar desk-diary. I had thick gloves on too, and my pussycats, Clary and Snuffy, watched from the inside warmth by the window.

Miss Drake

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hillarytakingawalk-small
A recent photo of the woman who should right now be our president and is not — and a gov’t is being set up in the courts and elsewhere which endangers us all in every way

Dear friends and readers,

I thought I’d start this week’s diary with a couple of incidents that seemed more significant than my having seen a brilliant production of Gounod’s Romeo and Juliette at a rerun of the HD screening at movie-theaters, and heard two (to some extent) informative lectures on another opera, Carl Maria Von Weber’s Magic Marksman (English for Der Freischutz) about to be staged at George Mason University this Saturday evening, which I’m not yet sure I’ll go to. It was an slightly dramatic occurrence that helps explains why Hillary Clinton lost the electoral college, why it seemed so acceptable to excoriate her in public hearings repeatedly (and “lock her up” is still a rallying cry for Trump’s “base” — a scary bunch they have become) and accuse her of doing things called crimes which are in fact everyday business in top gov’t executives’ lives: Trump and his gang use private email servers — meanwhile she was not allowed to use a reasonable excuse that it is common, especially among those not so good at computer programs. Another example, commonplace, of what Rebecca Solnit wrote about so brilliantly last week in the LRB. In the case of Romeo and Juliette, the actress-singer was put into an outfit near falling off her; for the Weber opera, a member of the Virginia Opera Company made a mishmash of perhaps great art.

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cats_susan-herbertballerina
Susan Herbert’s ballerina

I still go to a gym (in the Northern Virginia Jewish Community Center) two mornings a week (maybe I should go three) where I take an hour long strengthening class. As with so many of these classes I teach or go to everywhere (not the individual lectures at the Smithsonian though) the ratio is 5 to 6 women for every man on days when there are a number of men. Some days there are few men (they are much less joiners of institutionally-formed groups). I’ve noticed (and thought to myself does the instructor knows she is doing this?) she calls on men all the time to count, to do attendance, she kibbitzes with them, she consults with them in front of the class as authorities. The other day I thought she was flirting. She is 60 and in good physical health, a grandmother as she likes to present herself, living alone with dogs, gardening. She does sometimes address women and there I’ve noticed she has the curious social impulse to talk to women I recognize as alpha types, respected, sometime previously in their life, asking them how they are doing. So maybe the calling on men was not a totally aware act.

But this Monday the man who counts as we exercise and another favorite male who sometimes replaces him were not there. She seemed to ask someone to count as we exercised. She keeps up a patter of talk and she watches to see if people are okay (the average age is 55-65 and older). So I started. I felt a curious frisson. So I changed to French numbers for two sets and that seemed to somehow break tension but then I returned to English (as I had no intention of showing off if it would be seen this way). Then — and this is what I want to communicate — between sets one woman near me quickly came over to me and said how strange to hear a female voice. Yes,she said that and did not look glad. Another said I was not quite carrying across the room. So I spoke louder. And finally one or other of the women half joined to count as if one woman could not do this alone, as ifshe should not.

In other words, they knew and approved of her behavior to men.

Today I realized had I any doubt, she knows it too. When we finished the first half hour of dance, and it was time to exercise, I was not sure she would like this, not sure it was not pushing myself in to be the counter even though both men were not there again. Clever lady, she encouraged me when she saw me begin. I am doing it differently than the men. They seem to sing out a number only at intervals (five, fourteen, and then the last), rather carelessly as a joke, drawling sometimes, but I did it throughout regularly on a regular beat. She said aloud she liked that and my voice was carrying. I wanted to say I’ve taught for over 33 years and think I know how to project. She then went to the trouble of indicating first she always demonstrate so the second movement is no. 1. Then as I continued, she complimented aloud, and said this was very good. So did someone else — a woman. I’m not her and not strong, so some of my numbers start to wilt or groan as we proceed and there was laughter –congenial as if I was expressing what others felt. She indicated a thank you when this part of the strengthening hour was over.

These two incidents went well beyond making a minority of people in the room comfortable. Not just to the men but for the women a woman having any authority disturbs the group. She complimented me to give me legitimacy to give me legitimacy. I was doing it differently, more plainly and seriously. Not cavalierly as if we were above our exercises, didn’t care about our bodies this way.

Even in such an unimportant powerless kind of assertion, this society is made uncomfortable when an ordinary women is given some kind of authority that is not granted because she is a trained teacher. I know as a teacher at OLLI I find the men raise their hands and tend to dominate the discussion; my unashamed feminist outlook is not liked and when I did Tom Jones with a class I got into contentious altercations with men that women in the class had to interrupt and stop.

Sickening when I think of what this past couple of months would have been — only that a ruthless horrific attempt to impeach Clinton would have begun. Reporters actually asked Trump if he would accept the election if he lost. Would they have asked her? Wisers head might have prevail as gov’t is needed and she not be impeached, and then we’d have had a repeat of the Obama frustrated years, but not lose ground and end in a nuclear war. She was demonized to the point she was likened to him which anyone with brains after a week or more sees is governing as a dictator and looking to turn the US gov’t into a male white supremacist fascist oligarchy for a long time to come. Hillary Clinton would have done nothing like what he’s done to Muslims, she’d be improving our social services, not shutting agencies up, putting idiots and corrupt people at the heads of those he wants destroyed, and planning to eliminate health care and slash social security for millions. Soon he will attack voting rights directly. She was going to try to get rid of Citizens United and fight for a constitutional amendment so that money could no longer carry doing what it’s succeeded in doing over 40 years and we could slowly resume our republic.

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Susan Herbert’s Fidelio

So what shall I say of the HD Met’s Romeo and Juliette? what was remarkable was how everything beyond the central love relationship was carved away from Shakespeare’s play. You were given the minimum story line you needed to have to understand the lover’s desperate situation. the set made a single slab the center which became marketplace, bed, tomb, a place for ghosts to wander.

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Set designer Bartlett Sher

There was a powerful actor-singer for Mercutio (Elliot Madore) a part necessary for the plot-design: he must be killed by the fiercely hateful Tybalt (Diego Silva), and we must have the nurse (Diane Montagu), Friar (Mikhail Petrenko) and at least one parent: the librettist has Juliette’s father. Other than these it was simply a chorus. The major songs and long scenes between Diana Damru and Vittorio Grigolo were not only beautifully, alluring, magnificently sung, but acted. They really were psychologically persuasive. All the actors looked the roles too — dressed as young twenty year olds in outfits redolent of today’s teenagers or people in movies in Renaissance garb. Despite my anxiety-ridden and troubled state of mind I was moved. Is it patriarchal? Not as strongly as the Kenneth Branagh production I saw at the Folger (also HD screened, with Lily James as Juliet) because Damru did not seem as much a victim as James, as a passionate woman choosing her fate: but throughout she wore this nightgown which displayed as much flesh as could fall out of the gown, arms, legs, thighs, breasts, this flowing blonde wig. Was it necessary for her to be on the edge of such exposure from the the middle of the first act on.

02romeo-superjumbo

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A typical poster

The two lectures on The Magic Marksman were part of a four session course on Opera given by the “community outreach music director of Virginia Opera company, Glenn Winters, and his lectures function as advertisements and explanations (pre-opera lectures so to speak) for the productions the company mounts at Mason. I went because the dates of the composer, Carl Maria Von Weber (1786-1826) and his opera are in the romantic era and looked so interestng. I thought I might learn something about the 18th century. I hesitate to go the opera because while years ago Jim and I saw a marvelous production by this company of Aaron Copeland’s The Tender Land, a deeply thoughtful meditative opera, more recently three productions have been awful: there was a boring Marriage of Figaro and Jim said if you make Marriage of Figaro boring something is wrong. And Winters was excruciatingly condescending; tasteless jokes he thought would go over well (one of them with a semi-racist poster); he seemed determined to reach an audience he set up as stubbornly bored and hostile to this opera by making as many popular vulgar comparisons as he could.

The story is a folk-fairy tale one of a young man who is mocked by his village when he fails to win a shooting contest, and who is tempted by a devil with his sidekick to take some magic bullets, and who with these wins but in doing so cheats and almost causes the death of his beloved Agatha. He has to go before a trial, is judged guilty but is not executed; compassion makes the sentence a year long wait in exile. He can then return and marry the heroine. Mr Winters said music is a follower of style, not an innovator (he made large general assertions over and over), yet the interest of the opera is how it anticipates Wagner, and substitutes the old witty rational stories for a this folk one. Winters retold The Sorrows of Werther in a mocking way, but I could see the character of the sensitive alienated young man is that of this hero.

The transformative forces are from witchcraft and the famous scene set in a “Wolf’s glen” in the forest where our hero and he devil Samiel; and the man who has sold his soul already, Caspar, meet to forge seven magic bullets, the seventh of which (unknown to our hero) will kill the heroine. There is a dead mother’s ghost who comes and warns the hero — and when the clip was played this audience (alas) laughed. I had a hard time asking if he thought the center was gothic because he wanted to liken it to Star Wars and showed a clip of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker and the central Flash Gordon sequence of one of the movies as the opera’s equivalent. He did respond when I asked if Weber was influenced by Anne Radcliffe and Mysteries of Udolpho with a yes, and looked at me, curious, but didn’t want to go in this direction. I would have liked to say gothic movies are done today but he was intent on his male action-adventure with stunts super-popular comparisons.

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I did find a staging of the Wolf’s Glen which is reminiscent in an austere way of Radcliffe’s Romance of the Forest, with one of her male-father villain type stalking along

He himself seemed to think the contemplative tranquil arias of the heroine were exquisitely beautiful but he talked of them as if we his audience would be bored, and want the passionate arias found in Puccini in all operas. Agatha is not sexy, not sensual he repeated over and over. It seems strange to me to try to appeal to an audience by talking to them half-hostilely about how they’ll be bored, seeming to complain and then playing music which is so appealing. At least I thought so. Maybe he did not and only liked the Wagnerian forceful macho magic music of the Wolf’s Glen which he did take a little time out to describe musically.

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To my dismay I discovered most Agathas are dressed ludicrously sexily or they are put into witch outfits (in dark red): here is a rare attempt at some tasteful fidelity

He did mention that Beethoven’s Fidelio is exactly contemporary with this piece and described Fidelio as a flop (not popular, not making money). Fidelio is to me a neoclassic opera moving into austere romance, with serious ethical themes in a story about prisons and liberty: in other words Enlightenment. What was the shame was I could see he might have given such an interesting talk on this opera and yet did not, substituting crap comparisons because he thought these might get the audience to come see this opera. The Magic Marksman was a tremendous hit and has remained a staple of German opera since it was first played. His argument was Max is undergoing an existential crisis, his identity is threatened and the opera teaches him and us to lose yourself in the German world, its community, its rituals. You must be a huntsman and not by cheating.

I do worry that if he had anything to do with this production he’d be so cowardly as to ruin it by downplaying what is best about it, and going for spectacular scenery and special effects so I am still not sure if I should go. For all I know the costumer will have been directed to make an outfit for Agatha as searingly revealing as Damrau’s for Juliette: she is supposed to be all innocence, virtuous, all obedience to family, a coming mother. What he could not stand perhaps is this is an opera for a sensitive romantic person which uses folklore; that its sources include a female gothic which I doubt he will know anything about any more than he really did Goethe’s masterpiece. He opened the lecture by saying there were three kinds of operas goers, papa bears (dedicated, knowledgeable for real), mama bears (casual) and baby bears (hostile and ignorant). This was embarrassing to listen to but note the knowledgeable is the male. He then said for years he was bored by people watching car races and had to learn it’s as legitimate an activity as opera lovers (perhaps they are fantastically mechanically learned). I was waiting for him to try to bring in football but he never did. He was content with the father-son battle in Star Wars.

An opera with a Werther at the center, a sensitive ethical heroine, caught up in the dark forces of the natural and gothic world, becomes a variant on Star Wars …. This is a stupid mishmash of an opera to try to make it appealing. As I write this out (and see what I think) I realize I’m not going. I am glad I have learned there is such an opera and have been able to gain some insights into it by listening against the grain.

But I am losing my thread. A male hegemonic order which intensely sexualizes women was seen in Gounod, and in this man’s drawling discourse was dismissive of anything intellectual, sensitive. And oh yes to be good and valuable it must be popular and make money.

What if we had a body of opera by women? It would tell such different stories.

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An example of one found in Menabilly began DuMaurier’s The King’s General where the heroine is crippled; Rose Tremain’s Restoration focuses on a mental aslyum and the plague in London — women’s historical fiction is a site for disabled characters, filled with grotesquerie

I am deeply engaged in my reading of Austen and the picturesque, in my reading for my coming teaching of a course on Booker Prize winners: I’ve now reread Michael Ondaatje’s masterpiece, The English Patient, Anthony Minghella’s screenplay and watched the movie. I carry on exploring historical fiction and the sources for Sontag’s Volcano Lover: a volume of fascinating essays called Vases and Volcanoes (collectors and wild geological and political forces). I watched the interesting film adaptation of Rose Tremain’s Restoration, have been listening to Gabaldon’s Outlander and browsing in Daphne DuMaurier’s The King’s General. I’m still reading about Surrealism and women artists (Whitney Chadwick’s book). About these more anon in separate blogs. I’ve much to do to interest me as long as I can stay among my books in my house. But I should not stay in alone altogether. Friends on the Net are not enough. I become desperate, and have panic attacks because of what is happening to the US and may hit Izzy and I hard. I was going to go to a local concert at someone’s home in Fairfax on Sunday, but it is the day of Izzy’s first social club of the year and I must drive her there.

So that’s this week from Lake Woebegone. Where we are really and truly Woebegone.

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Susan Herbert’s mad Edgar from Lear: Tom’s-a-cold

Ellen

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Leonora Carrington (1917-2011): Owls

Peace, where art thou to be found,
Where, in all the spacious round,
May thy footsteps be persued?
Where, may thy calm seats be view’d?
On some Mountain doest thou lie
Securely, near the ambient Skie,
Smiling at the Clouds below,
Where rough Storms, and Tempest grow;
Or in some retired Plain,
Undisturb’d does thou remain.
Whre no angry whirl-winds passe,
Where no streames oppresse the grasse,
High above, or deep below,
Fain I thy retreate wou’d know;
Fain, I thee alone wou’d find
Balm, to my ore’wearied mind …
Anne Finch (1661-1720), “An Enquiry after Peace”

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve not written here in nearly a week because I’ve been putting semi-autobiographical blogs on two of my other sites. Since I wanted my report on the massive demonstration in DC and Los Angeles (actually as big as D.C., both half a million people) and many other cities and towns inside the US and beyond (Europe, Asia) to reach more than my modest number of subscribers here, I put it on my Ellen and Jim have a Blog, Two site, where I have well over 300 subscribers, more email people and (unaccountable to me) some 2000 hits for periods of time on my Poldark and other blogs: The Rump versus Wall-to-Wall People: a few thoughts too.

Today I saw another great play relevant to what is happening in the US today: August Wilson’s Fences, the film starring, directed and partly produced by Denzel Washington where Viola Davis was nominated for an Academy Award: I was so distressed by how he treated his wife, and sons, as well as his own anguish, his brother’s disability, felt so vulnerable, and helpless, and then was confronted by the closing peroration justifying the vindictive irrational cruelties of the central male, Troy, on the basis that a man so crushed has the right to behave destructively to others. It was made plain the man was deranged by the way his society’s arrangements kept him from ever achieving anything higher than a driver of a garbage truck. He had had a great talent for baseball but as a black man had been thrown off the team it seemed for being so good at it — and black. He could not bear for his son to try to achieve anything out of jealousy but also in a perverse rational to protect him. Still the speech at the end was not about this, not about racism, but stood up for unqualified patriarchy within the black community for men. I left the movie distraught for the wife who this man had bullied and betrayed by having an affair with another woman and refusing to give it up; having a baby by her (she then conveniently dies). He won’t sign for her son to join a football team; he insists the boy stay with a demeaning job at a supermarket. Yet she justifies him as her God at the end. He was the only person who did and could protect her. But she could not escape him, for the only job she could have gotten was to a lowly paid cleaning woman. I was overcome with emotion.

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Viola Davis as Rose

Then I come home and felt another daily (sometimes it seems hourly) assault from the news — now Trump and his gang accuse those who reported on the protests inaugural day where pepper spray and tear gas were used against peaceful protesters trying to march — and read Rebecca Solnit’s starkly accurate analysis of the ceaseless misogyny behind Hillary Clinton’s inability to take power even with the majority of American voters voting for her. Read it and weep. Two hours ago that the man picked to head the FCC is determined to do away with Net Neutrality. Will I be able to write blogs? reach others?

I just don’t know how to live in fear, perpetually anxious. I’ve never experienced anything like this before. I did not realize what a dictatorship the US constitution potentially sets up. I can’t sleep as long as I should — maybe 4 hours at most, and then I will wake with a pain on the right temple, the whole of my right side sore and weak. Should I stop getting and reading the Washington Post daily, and the New York Times on Sunday. I want to support them as they are now becoming rare outlets for accurate news inside the US. I feel I need to know what’s happening. I’ve been reading a book by Whitney Chadwick about surreal art and the women artists involved in the movement and can see how their art is an attempt to express how living in conditions like ours today feels to women.

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Martha Rosler, Vital Statistics of a Citizen, Simply Obtained (recalls Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale)

Adrienne Rich, one of the great poets of the later 20th century put it this way in Contradictions: Tracking Poems:

The problem, unstated till now, is how
to live in a damaged body
in a world where pain is meant to be gagged
uncured    ungrieved over    The problem is
to connect, without hysteria, the pain
of any one’s body with the pain of the body’s world
For it is the body’s world
they are trying to destroy for ever
The best world is the body’s world
filled with creatures    filled with dread
misshapen so    yet the best we have
our raft among the abstract worlds
and how I longed to live on this earth
walking her boundaries    never counting the cost

In her powerful memoir, Almost There, Nuala O’Faolain quotes another poem by Rich:

You sleep in a room with bluegreen curtains
posters    a pile of animals on the bed
A woman and a man who love you
and each other    slip the door ajar
you are almost asleep    they crouch in turn
to stroke your hair    you never wake

This happens every night for years
This never happened . . .

What if I told you your home
is this continent of the homeless
of children sold    taken by force
driven from their mothers’ land
killed by their mothers to save from capture
— this continent of changed names and mixed-up
     blood
of languages tabooed
diasporas unrecorded
undocumented refugees
underground railroads    trails of tears
What if I tell you your home
is this planet of warworn children
women and children standing in line or milling
endlessly calling each others’ names
What if I tell you, you are not different
it’s the family albums that lie
— will any of this comfort you
and how should this comfort you?

I’ve been listening to Frances Jeater reading aloud (performing) Virginia Woolf’s great masterpiece of a novel, half prose-poem, The Waves, an attempt to get down the core experience of six lives through inside their minds impinged upon by all their outward experiences, what they read, where travel, some in war. Six begin in young childhood together, move across a lifetime where the turning points of years are represented by italicized sections describing a day from earliest to dawn across the morning to twilight to evening to dark night. To me it is superior to Joyce’s much lauded Ulysses: less self-indulgent, more humble, equally registering three women’s lives as well as men’s: from the central wife, mother, home-maker, Susan, sewing away in some scenes, putting her children to sleep in others (Viola Davis as Rose, the wife, in Fences spends her time cooking as well as sewing, washing, hanging out clothes),

“Vision begins to happen in such a life
as if a woman quietly walked away
from the argument and jargon in a room
and sitting down in the kitchen, began turning in her lap
bits of yarn, calico and velvet scraps,
laying them out absently on the scrubbed boards
in the lamplight, with small rainbow-colored shells . . .
Such a composition has nothing to do with eternity,
the striving for greatness, brilliance —
only with the musing of a mind
one with her body, experienced fingers quietly pushing
dark against bright; silk against roughness,
putting the tenets of a life together
with no mere will to mastery,
only care . . .” (Rich)

to Ginny, independent, lesbian, to Rhoda, terrified from a young age by the abrasive sexuality and competition, aggression she finds inflicted on her. Three males: Bernard, the writer (probably has a lot of Leonard Woolf in him), Neville, super-successful at signing, meeting in government, Louie, the dominating business man. Only Perceval, the old-time hero, gone to India, was thrown off by a horse pushed too far, and died. Inside the minds of people living according to or working against moulds.

This comes from The Waves: “I have lost friends, some by death… others through sheer inability to cross the street.”

Today I lost another friend over a political discussion. I was trying to say the comparisons between Bernie Sanders and Trump as “both populists” by centrist democrats and others are so misleading: two men could not be more unlike in their attitudes. She took great offence, began to accuse me of attacking her in some long ago blog, how dare I speak this way when I was supported by the Pentagon, and so on. How to remain calm? Without Jim I feel so vulnerable. I don’t understand my taxes — they are very complicated and I doubt unless I were to sit and study for 2 weeks I would not get it and if I tried to make them out I’d do it wrong. I was meant to and did live in Viola, Susan, Demelza’s way: as the wife of a loving man, in our case at the time, feeling in charge of his fate. I just don’t know where to find a place for calm, for feeling safe or secure. Each day I expect a blow on me or my daughter.

I fear above all losing this house and my books. This is my nest, my comforts, what I live life through: reading research writing. Others may regard my house as shabby, small, the neighborhood eyesore. My real atttidue is its a splendid solid house, large enough for so many books, comfortably for three and more people, two cats. I watched a cleaning maid come out of another house today: I hired a team too. I hired someone to mow my lawn. I can’t do that at all myself. I am so surprised and lucky and yet withoiut it now after all these years I’d know a personal death, it would be losing Jim all over again, losing my life, existential. Like the elderly woman in The Gabriels. I’m here too.

I just don’t know how to live in this atmosphere, I can’t live this way. Order, stability, social cooperation, courtesy, consideration, kindness, some feeling of safety are a core for me. I shall try to return to Jane Austen’s Emma tomorrow morning, but it is not easy to lose myself in my books any more. I shall now listen to Anne Finch in my blog on the poetry of retreat: how to do it for enough space each day to remain steady.

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Joseph Farrington, The Oak Tree (1785-90)

Fair tree! for thy delightful shade
‘Tis just that some return be made;
Sure some return is due from me
To thy cool shadows, and to thee.
When thou to birds dost shelter give,
Thou music dost from them receive;
If travellers beneath thee stay
Till storms have worn themselves away,
That time in praising thee they spend
And thy protecting pow’r commend.
The shepherd here, from scorching freed,
Tunes to thy dancing leaves his reed;
Whilst his lov’d nymph, in thanks, bestows
Her flow’ry chaplets on thy boughs.
Shall I then only silent be,
And no return be made by me?
No; let this wish upon thee wait,
And still to flourish be thy fate.
To future ages may’st thou stand
Untouch’d by the rash workman’s hand,
Till that large stock of sap is spent,
Which gives thy summer’s ornament;
Till the fierce winds, that vainly strive
To shock thy greatness whilst alive,
Shall on thy lifeless hour attend,
Prevent the axe, and grace thy end;
Their scatter’d strength together call
And to the clouds proclaim thy fall;
Who then their ev’ning dews may spare
When thou no longer art their care,
But shalt, like ancient heroes, burn,
And some bright hearth be made thy urn.

Another:

Kind birde, thy praises I designe,
Thy praises, like thy plumes should shine,
Thy praises, should thy life out Live,
Cou’d I, the fame I wish thee, give.
Thou, my domestick Musick art,
And Dearest Trifle of my heart.
Soft in thy notes, and in thy dress,
Softer, than numbers can Express.
Softer than love, Softer than light
When just escaping from the night;
When first she rises, unaray’d,
And Steals a passage, though the shade.
Softer than aire, or flying Clouds,
Which Phoebus glory, thinly Shrouds.
Gay as the Spring, gay as the flowers,
When lightly strew’d with pearly showers.
Ne’er to the woods shalt thou return,
Nor thy wild freedom, shalt thou mourn.
Thou, to my bosome shalt repaire,
And find a Safer shelter there.
There shalt thou watch, and should I sleep,
My heart, thy charge, Securely keep.
Love, who a Stranger is to me,
Must by his wings, be kin to thee.
So painted o’er, so Seeming Fair,
So soft, his first addresses are;
Thy guard, he ne’er can pass unseen,
Thou, Surely thou hast often been,
Whilst yet a wand’rer in the grove,
A false accomplice, with this Love.
In the same shade, hast thou not sat,
And seen him work some wretches fate?
Hast thou not sooth’d him, when in the wrong,
And grac’d the mischief, with a Song?
Tuneing thy Loud, conspiring voice,
O’re falling Lovers to rejoice?
If soe, thy wicked faults redeem,
In league with me, no truce with him,
Do thou admitt, but warn my heart,
And all his Slye design impart,
Lest to that breast, by Craft he get,
Which has defy’d, and brav’d him yett

These are texts in the manuscripts of Anne Finch at the Folger Shakespeare library; they are not the ones printed in the recent edition which consistently prefers the later often censored and somewhat inferior texts (FWIW)

He left me here among all these books in front of this computer 4 years 3 months and 16 days ago. If he were here, I’d have a better idea how to feel about what’s happening, how to think about it. Can a minority of people force the majority to lose their way of life?

Miss Drake

P.S. Someone just sent me this: How to stay outraged and yet not be torn to pieces, not lose your mind

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John Nash (1893-1977), The Garden under Snow (1924)

“And what with the high price of coal … “

Friends,

My blog is morphing again. I began it as a more or less daily account of my and Jim’s life in our retirement. When he was diagnosed with cancer, it became a cancer blog where insofar as it was humanly possible for me I told the story of his suffering and death from cancer. It morphed again into a widow’s diary. Now I must change again. It would be in bad taste for me to write as if I am indifferent to the political destruction of the US republic and any security and prosperity for 95% of its population. That is how countless Trump supporters are behaving from Wall Street and the Republican leaders and elite to those who may not have voted for Trump but don’t mind now that he’s gotten into power. I must assume from Trump’s rhetoric and quoted statements by his supporters that others are gladdened by the appointments of racists, sexists, intolerant religious people (a supreme court decision made intolerance, a right to discriminate, a religious liberty), preferably inept people as long as they are fiercely personally loyal t him, and fearfully war-mongering inefficient people at the head of agencies, a Verizon lobbyist to head the FCC. The Washington Post reported yesterday his appointments were greeted by widespread applause by his supporters.

What unites all my Sylvia blogs is I tell what is on my mind, what I am feeling as my daily life unfolds. I’ll reserve the old Sylvia blog for political activity and political arguments and essays I’ve come across, as last week I went to a rally near the Senate building. This will be thoughts affecting my general behavior, from the conversations all around me, from what will be forced on me in non-political events and spaces after say January 20th. This Friday night I went to dinner with a group of friends and we discussed the election intensely, and most places I’ve gone (teaching for example), the unfolding fascism is the topic, what forms it will take, fear over how it will affect each and every person there.

So, a central new insight I’ve had (which startled me) has been how the American Constitution is susceptible to be taken over by a dictator. It’s an 18th century document with an elected king at the center. It depends on his decency and good will to elect expert and socially conscious people to the departments and many other agencies which control many aspects of our lives. In the Parliamentary system as evolved in the 19th century the PM has to be elected by people within the party who are independent entities and have some real knowledge of the person and how the gov’t works so a Trump could not take over there, and the outspoken Brexit people didn’t and couldn’t. Here’s a story (how true it is I don’t know) placed on an 18th century studies listserv: “Kurt Godel, perhaps the most important mathematical logician of the 20th century, settled at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton in the 1930’s. When Godel went for his US citizenship oath, Einstein was sent to accompany Godel, as Godel was known to speak tactlessly. When the judge asked Godel to swear to uphold the Constitution, Godel rose and said that there was a logical path which allowed a dictator to emerge. Einstein quickly intervened and smoothed the process, so Godel got his oath … ”

This is partly the effect of citizens united. Quite a number of these republican wins were done by huge amounts of money. Then when they get in power they gerrymander the state so it becomes very hard to take it back. While in power they ruthlessly turn back the clock — as in North Carolina. I think the US system is now rotten because it is in effect obsolete: made for conditions that no longer obtain. Like the UK at the beginning of the 19th century, the American system is now a hollow pretense. It was never one-man one vote but now the popular vote is readily overturned and every effort being made to suppress the vote further. This fairly weak (as the writer admits) set of tactics show in just what desperate straits we are: how to resist Trump and his extreme agenda.

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Trump has used this development to pull off an extraordinary con trick. He’s is totally nerveless, daring and has instincts of social cunning that seem uncannily effective. Tolstoy would say he is being thrown up by forces of history much larger than himself which made his personality and now power grab possible. Yes he enacts racism, boasts of sexual assault, and so on — or he wouldn’t have been able to delude his constituency. But why this is not business as usual is all about is “the money, stupid.” Read his first 100 day plan. Trump is simply turning everything over, tax payers dollars, their internet, everything to corporations and the wealthy. That’s what he’s doing. And cutting their taxes too. All the talk about racism and yes horrible coming ruthless killings imprisonments wars even — are a distraction from what he is planning explicitly. Yet more massive tax breaks for the wealthy, the privatization of social security, abolition of medicare, repeal of Obamacare, destruction of federal jobs. I read his infrastructure plan: it’s a bonanza give away with no obligations on any corporate part to hire people even. He continues to engineer it as in the NYTimes and Post they are going on about the wrongness of identity politics – he is engineering this conversation with his appointees. Or on face-book people argue with tweets over the planting of Pence at Hamilton to engineer a provocative scene so he can hit out against Broadway, also Saturday Night Live (he holds a grudge against them for over 10 years when they dared to make fun of him) — militarized police were in the street nearby to intimate. He now plays these people on twitter and off. The ultimate aim is to repress freedom of the press and speech.

He holds no news conferences, no where he is questioned and must respond to give-and-take. I presume he will never hold a news conference with the press if he can avoid it. And there is nothing in the constitution which requires it (not that a requirement like this would necessarily bother him).

From the point of view of what vitally matters, multiculturalism (whether it can exist as a feeling which binds people together or not) is not just beside the point, but a distraction. I know (as I’ve said) how dire the situation is for the targeted people and that theoretically, ideologically (&c) whether identity politics works, is feasible, is possible (do people really identity outside their narrow cultural worlds?) but in the present time they don’t except as useless for deluding and distracting people, i.e.g, the Pence at Hamilton theater was a plant and there is a parallel in the history of Hitler’s regime. So an article like Lila’s in the New York Times saying political action dependent on group identities doesn’t work gets attention when such arguments are unimportant when it comes to what we are facing: this 18th century constitution allows for a dictatorship to emerge.

werefkinindustrialvilla
Marianne Von Werefkin (1860-1938)

The corporations of other countries, their thug dictators and the rest of the louts and globalized factories are watching to see Trump carry this out. The more decent leaders (Angela Merkel) are being pushed out by money, war, refugee crises; their whole agendas mocked and repealed (Obama); they themselves end up colluding and yet are thrown out (Dilma). Here and there a temporary win (as in Venezuela) but it’s holding actions. I understand the real terrors of US black people who face killing and imprisonment at will. I understand how crucial must be these issues to Muslims in the US who face registration, internment and deportation anywhere. People demonstrating for animal rights have long been considered eco-terrorists, and some thrown into prison and kept in solitary confinement too. How much worse each punishment will be — as the threat to resort to overt torture is realized. People disappearing. Giuliani Attorney General. Already with the high costs of lawyers, going to court, fearful demands the accused negotiate his or her way (plea bargaining) by threatening draconian sentences if you don’t give in and say you are guilty. But all these issues are secondary to stopping redistribution of income through taxes, ending all social programs and reinforcing the prison system to back it up.

What this means is the number 99% becomes irrelevant: the operative number is Romney’s 47%. He was seen shaking hands with Trump and photographed by the press (from afar). Romney said 47% of the US population are layabouts. What he meant is all these people (including me and probably some of my readers) are collecting “entitlements” (which word Romney would scoff at as a euphemisms). The plan is to cut all subsidies (as these might come to be called) from this 47%. To turn over their “entitlements” (as packages) to Wall Street to govern and use. The 47% can demonstrate, protest; the newspapers will tell the truth of what is being done to them, but can they stop it?

I read somewhere that five years ago someone predicted Trump could win the presidency. So I am behind-hand in this insight. Lots of people have had it well before me. Trump changed parties because he knew he could not take the Democratic constituency.

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A quite different insight and one not new, just reinforced: how men will not give up central power or authority to a woman. A woman can win a coterie vote of a group of politicians who she will be dependent upon (a Prime Minister) but not a vastly powerful presidency from millions of voters who cannot know her personally. All those men who refused to vote for her and professed themselves not to want Trump to win could live with him in power as a man. I don’t believe they didn’t want Trump; they are glad he has won rather than she and insist on how shaking things up will now produce a positive result. Delusionary and human life is short and what counts for us all is that short run, say 90 years. Reading and writing today on domestic abuse of women and children in 19th century fiction by women, I suddenly remembered how Hillary Clinton had worked hard for the rights of children and a recent case where a man brought to trial for beating a child defended himself he had the right to choose this punishment; it had been inflicted on him and so on. How sad that she couldn’t begin to convey this sort of thing at all. What was it? cowardice on presenting such a woman’s issue. Men didn’t vote for her anyway. She didn’t dare because it was controversial (how dare children have rights?!) and yet had she managed to think of some way to show it, how appealing she might have been to many. Would she have been too womanly on such an issue? She lacked the courage of who she is. No progress for children now. Oh no.

I will be giving another feminist course in 19th century novels, teach more women of letters: I was asked to at the OLLI at Mason this Wednesday. Be more outspoken in my women artist blogs. But now I see it was shooting themselves in the heart by the democrats to run a woman for president.

mark_gertler_-_merry-go-round
Mark Gertler (191-1939), Merry-go-round (from the 1920s), he was a lover of Dora Carrington who tried to get her to devote her life to him

Miss Drake

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Syrianchildwashedup

This photo of a Syrian child’s corpse, dressed so tenderly by someone, and still whole as the body washed up on a short, was everywhere on the Internet yesterday; today it’s being removed. But before people can forget and early this morning, someone put this poem on one of the sites I frequent:

“HOME,” by Somali poet Warsan Shire:

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbours running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
pitied

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

the
go home blacks
refugees
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
savage
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
drown
save
be hunger
beg
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying-
leave,
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here.

by Somali poet, Warsan Shire

Last week’s New Yorker had a worrying essay by Evan Osnos on this man who utters vicious obscenities and has become a media and campaign star. Trump with his beads for eyes in a fat face, false blonde-wig, baseball cap. Can he now buy the Republican nomination, can he win the US presidency by vilifying people fleeing the horrific wars around the earth?

Drowned with Aylan Shenu were his mother, Rihanna (she dressed him) and brother, Ghaleb. I watched on DemocracyNow.org a Muslim man rush at and wrestle down his pregnant wife, who was holding a baby and refusing to get on a hideously-over crowded train on the borders of Hungary said to be headed for Germany; he began to beat her to force her to get onto that train. She was crying hysterically that she did not want to, did not want to take her child onto that train.

BenCameron
Cartoon by Ben Cameron

Ellen

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