“The Philosophy of Composition” is a lovely little essay, but, as Poe himself admitted, it’s a bit of jiggery-pokery, too. Poe didn’t actually write “The Raven” backward. The essay is as much a contrivance as the poem itself. Here is a beautiful poem; it does everything a poem should do, is everything a poem should be. And here is a clever essay about the writing of a beautiful poem. Top that. Nearly everything Poe wrote, including the spooky stories for which he is best remembered, has this virtuosic, showy, lilting, and slightly wilting quality, like a peony just past bloom. Poe didn’t write “The Raven” to answer the exacting demands of a philosophic Art, or not entirely, anyway. He wrote it for the same reason that he wrote tales like “The Gold-Bug”: to stave off starvation. For a long while, Poe lived on bread and molasses; weeks before “The Gold-Bug” was published, he was begging near-strangers on the street for fifty cents to buy something to eat. “ ‘The Raven’ has had a great ‘run,’ ” he wrote to a friend, “but I wrote it for the express purpose of running—just as I did the ‘Gold-Bug,’ you know. The bird beat the bug, though, all hollow.” The public that swallowed that bird and bug Poe strenuously resented. You love Poe or you don’t, but, either way, Poe doesn’t love you. A writer more condescending to more adoring readers would be hard to find. “The nose of a mob is its imagination,” he wrote. “By this, at any time, it can be quietly led.”
more from The New Yorker here.
Brian Ross at ABC News:
A video tape smuggled out of the United Arab Emirates shows a member of the country's royal family mercilessly torturing a man with whips, electric cattle prods and wooden planks with protruding nails.
A man in a UAE police uniform is seen on the tape tying the victim's arms and legs, and later holding him down as the Sheikh pours salt on the man's wounds and then drives over him with his Mercedes SUV.
In a statement to ABC News, the UAE Ministry of the Interior said it had reviewed the tape and acknowledged the involvement of Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al Nahyan, brother of the country's crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed.
“The incidents depicted in the video tapes were not part of a pattern of behavior,” the Interior Ministry's statement declared.
The Minister of the Interior is also one of Sheikh Issa's brother.
The government statement said its review found “all rules, policies and procedures were followed correctly by the Police Department.”
More, including the video, here. [Photo shows Sheikh Issa.]
The obituary seems to be experiencing a renaissance. In her 2006 book The Dead Beat, Marilyn Johnson reveals a worldwide ring of rabid obituary enthusiasts—members of the Church of Obituaries, she calls them. They flip past the Sports and Business sections eager to read the day’s death roll. They “surf the dead beat” poring [:)] over blogs and newspapers searching for fascinating facts about Antoinette K-Doe, who turned a nightclub into a public shrine to her husband, or the guy who invented sea monkeys. Obituaries aren’t dirty little secrets as much as they used to be, lurking in hidden corners and ready to terrify those who cross their path. They are public, normal, interesting, fun. There’s howtowriteanobituary.com which involves everyday people in the writing process, and patrickswayzeobituary.com, a forum writing the demise of the movie star even as he lives. There’s even a glossy online magazine with the snappy name Obit. But the real change is with the obituary writers. Once shamed to the backs of periodicals to deliver dour, Margie Zellner-style obituaries, many are now part of this new movement to “out” death by making it more accessible and “natural.” They are reconsidering the obituary not as the final judgment, but as a way death can be presented as a sum total of its stories. Everyone has stories, everyone dies, and in writing about death, death and life become more of a circle. The obituary is not the period on the sentence of existence, but a mere interpretation.
more from The Smart Set here.
—Smokey Bear, the guardian of our forests, has been a part of the American scene for so many years it is hard for us to remember when he first appeared. Dressed in a ranger's hat, belted blue jeans, and carrying a shovel, he has been the recognized forest fire prevention symbol for over 50 years.
Smokey the Bear Sutra
Once in the Jurassic about 150 million years ago,
the Great Sun Buddha in this corner of the Infinite
Void gave a Discourse to all the assembled elements
and energies: to the standing beings, the walking beings,
the flying beings, and the sitting beings — even grasses,
to the number of thirteen billion, each one born from a
seed, assembled there: a Discourse concerning
Enlightenment on the planet Earth.
“In some future time, there will be a continent called
America. It will have great centers of power called
such as Pyramid Lake, Walden Pond, Mt. Rainier, Big Sur,
Everglades, and so forth; and powerful nerves and channels
such as Columbia River, Mississippi River, and Grand Canyon
The human race in that era will get into troubles all over
its head, and practically wreck everything in spite of
its own strong intelligent Buddha-nature.”
“The twisting strata of the great mountains and the pulsings
of volcanoes are my love burning deep in the earth.
My obstinate compassion is schist and basalt and
granite, to be mountains, to bring down the rain. In that
future American Era I shall enter a new form; to cure
the world of loveless knowledge that seeks with blind hunger:
and mindless rage eating food that will not fill it.”
And he showed himself in his true form of
Read more »
Ben Hoyle in The Times of London:
Pinteresque, Dickensian, Shakespearean. Not many writers are so distinctive and influential that their name becomes an adjective in its own right. J. G. Ballard, who died yesterday morning after a long battle with cancer at the age of 78, was one of them.
“Ballardian” is defined in theCollins English Dictionary as: “adj) 1. of James Graham Ballard (born 1930), the British novelist, or his works (2) resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in Ballard’s novels and stories, esp dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments.”
His influence stretched across a modern world that he seemed to see coming years in advance.
His dark, often shocking fiction predicted the melting of the ice caps, the rise of Ronald Reagan, terrorism against tourists and the alienation of a society obsessed with new technology.
As Martin Amis once said of him: “Ballard is quite unlike anyone else; indeed, he seems to address a different – a disused – part of the reader's brain.”
The bands Joy Division, Radiohead, The Normal, Klaxons and Buggles all wrote records inspired by Ballard stories.
The plainness of Edward Thomas' “The Owl” vs. the struggle of Gerard Manley Hopkins' “Carrion Comfort.”
Robert Pinsky in Slate:
Paint may be troweled or knifed onto the canvas in thick strokes or dribbled or splashed. In other works, the painter's strokes might be delicate, the surface nearly flat. Sometimes orchestration is elaborate or dense. Sometimes it is minimal and plain.
In a comparable way, one poem might generate its emotion with eloquent plainness, the force of directness. Another poem might work by turbulent or ecstatic or violent elaboration, the force of eruption. The two classic poems for this week illustrate what I mean.
“The Owl” by Edward Thomas (1878-1917) presents its narrative with a mild, somewhat conversational simplicity: Downhill I came, the speaker explains; then I was at the inn; then I heard the owl; and what the owl's cry brought to mind made me regard my comfort as “salted and sobered.” The poem gets its power from fine, crucial variations from ordinary speech. For instance, both “salted” and “sobered” fit the vocabulary of an inn—a place where salt is consumed and where people are sobered or not. The moral meanings of the phrase—comfort is both relished and tempered by a reminder of its opposite—grow out of that plain vocabulary. In the line after he uses the word “plain,” Thomas deploys some effective, precise words of one syllable; while he “escaped,” others in his predicament “could not, that night, as in I went.” Thomas' penetrating but apparently simple language—like a fine, scentless oil—goes deep into its subject. His moral reflection is tentative rather than assertive, minimal rather than sweeping, quiet rather than loud, and candid about appreciating his own good fortune. The poem respects the mysterious nature of fortune, and expresses that respect with its even, temperate voice. (There's an irony to the word “soldiers” in the final line. Thomas died as a soldier in World War I. He is the subject of the elegy “To E.T.” by his friend Robert Frost.)
From The Guardian:
The theme of the London book fair this year is Indian writing. Vikram Seth, Amartya Sen, William Dalrymple and other writers in frequent circulation in this country are going to be joined by writers – K Satchidanandan, Javed Akhtar – distinguished or popular on their own terrain but less known here, for five days of discussions and celebrations. Something like this happened in 2006 to the Frankfurt book fair, when planeloads of Indian novelists and poets descended on the Intercontinental Hotel, waved to each other over breakfast, and then read from their work to courteous audiences in the afternoons and evenings.
The theme then, too, was India; and the “idea of India” acted as a catalyst to a process that might have already begun, but received, at that moment, a recognisable impetus – the confluence, in one place, of literary and intellectual dialogue with what is basically business activity, each bringing magic and movement to the other. The India-themed Paris book fair followed swiftly.
Qurratulain Hyder, novelist, short story writer and prose stylist of rare accomplishment, is one of Urdu's greatest writers. Literary critic Aamer Hussein has compared her to her contemporaries, Milan Kundera and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, as “one of the world's major writers: eclectic, iconoclastic and versatile”. In her 30s, she wrote her magnum opus, Aag ka Darya – published in English for the first time in 1998 as River of Fire – a great river of a novel, majestic in its sweep, grand in its vision. She maintained that writing can encompass “fact, reportage, imagination, documentary presentation, the epistolary form”, even cinematic treatment. All her novels, novellas and short stories are a testament to this belief, as well as to her cosmopolitanism and uncompromising secularism.
Ritu Menon, founder of Women Unlimited, India's oldest feminist press
More here. (Picture: Ms. Qurratulain Hyder, my beloved Aini Apa)
From Associated Press of Pakistan:
ISLAMABAD, Apr 21 (APP): Subcontinent’s great and Pride of Performance ghazal, thumri and classical singer Iqbal Bano died in Lahore in local hospital after brief illness. She was 74, a private TV channel reported. Bano was born in Delhi in 1935. She won the Tamgha-e-Imtiaz (Pride of Performance) medal in 1974 for her contributions to the world of Pakistani music. She was musically talented, with a sweet and appealing voice. From a young age, Bano developed a love for music.
In Delhi, she studied under Ustad Chaand Khan of the Delhi Gharana, an expert in all kinds of pure classical and light classical forms of vocal music. He instructed her in pure classical music and light classical music within the framework of classical forms of thumri and dadra. She was duly initiated Gaandaabandh shagird of her Ustad. He forwarded her to All India Radio, Delhi, where she sang on the radio. Iqbal Bano was invited by Radio Pakistan for performances, she being an accomplished artist. Her debut public concert was in 1957, at Lahore Arts Council, before an elite crowd. Music lovers feted her beyond imagination. With each recital, she generated more and more public appeal. She was considered a specialist in singing the works of Faiz Ahmed Faiz. She has given such musical relevance to the ghazals of Faiz, that Bano and Faiz are apparently inseparable in popular imagination. Because of Faiz’s imprisonment and hatred of the Pakistani Government towards him, Bano roused a strong crowd of 50,000 people in Lahore by singing his passionate Urdu nazm, “Hum Dekhenge.”
Stephen M. Walt in Foreign Policy:
Here's an IR theory puzzle: Why do some seemingly powerful states exert relatively little influence on world politics, while other states with more modest capabilities cast a bigger shadow than one would expect? Although there is no consensus on how national power should be defined or measured, most IR scholars would probably agree that there is a substantial but not perfect correlation between national power and international influence. Indeed, one could imagine a simple regression, with “power” on the X-axis and “influence” on the Y-axis, and a diagonal line bisecting that space. I'd expect most states to array themselves pretty close to that line: as their power increased (measured in terms of GDP, population, military capability, resource endowments, etc.) one would expect to see a corresponding increase in their global influence.
But what about the outliers — either the “overachievers” who swing a bigger bat than one would expect or the “underachievers” who wield less influence than their overall capabilities might provide? Here's my personal, decidedly un-scientific top five list in each category, followed by some thoughts on what might explain why some states punch above their weight and some potentially major powers cast a comparatively small shadow.
“OVER-ACHIEVERS” (in no particular order)
With a population of only 9 million, one wouldn’t expect Sweden to cast much of a shadow, despite its advanced industrial economy. Yet for its size and population, Sweden has been a significant international player. Its welfare state and other social policies have been widely-studied and a model for others, and diplomats such as Dag Hammarskjold, Folke Bernadotte, and Olof Palme were all important international voices. Sweden still devotes a higher percentage of its GDP to foreign aid than any other country, and institutions such as the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute have amplified Sweden's visibility on major issues of arms control and disarmament. Awarding the Nobel Prizes probably doesn't hurt either.
More here. [Thanks to Kris Kotarski.]