Thursday, 15 August 2013

Night 34: 15th August 2013

Essay
Germaine Greer. The Pulitzer Divorce (1983). Essay about injustice in divorce in America, especially when the wife is poor and young, and the husband is older and rich.


Poem
Robert Browning. Incident of the French Camp. Poem about a boy soldier meeting Napoleon as he is cut down. A sad tale of war, and all the sadder because nothing has changed and boys (and girls now) are still dying in stupid wars.


Story
Graham Greene. The End of the Party (1929). A weird story that was boring at first as it seemed to drag on and on. The ending was strange, and I still wonder why Francis was so frightened when his twin was not. A well-crafted story, but for me (living some 84 years after it was written), I thought it needed some editing and tightening up. Which is probably more a reflection on our shorter attention spans than on Greene's genius as a story teller.


Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Night 33: 14th August 2013

Essay
Germaine Greer. The Dalton Syndrome ~1981. The syndrome is usually known as PMS, but Greer names it after a Dr Dalton, who spent her career on premenstrual syndrome, treating it with progesterone, and keeping women who did terrible things out of prison using PMS as their defence. Greer's argument about PMS and the underlying mysogyny is a powerful one.

Poem
Richard Lovelace. To Althea from Prison. A poem about liberty, famous for the lines:
Stone walls do not a prison make
Nor iron bars a cage
Story
Graham Greene. Brother (1936). A powerful story about powerlessness in the face of external conflicts. A group of communists enter a cafe and demand drink but don't pay. Then the police come with their guns and drive the communists away, and then they demand drink. The proprietor has empathy for the communists and the Germans with them, but he is trapped and powerless with both groups.

Night 32: 13th August 2013

Essay
Germaine Greer. On Population and Women's Rights to Choose (1975). An interesting essay, especially seen from this distance, when the issues haven't changed that much – the world is still overpopulated, women are still oppressed, and their wombs are still political footballs.

Poem
Samuel T. Coleridge. Kubla Khan. An interesting poem, and I would like to learn more about it as I've no idea what it's about, except that it's about Xanadu and the grandson of Genghis Khan, who built the palace Xanadu in Mongolia. The language, images and rhythm are beautiful.

Story
Graham Greene. Jubilee (1936). Chalfont is a male prostitute who picks up women who will pay for his drinks. He meets a woman who has made a lot of money during the Jubilee, by 'cleaning up the streets' and through his meeting with her he becomes an old man. 

Monday, 12 August 2013

Night 31: 12th August 2013

Essay
David Hume. Of Refinement in the Arts. According to Hume indulgences are only vices when pursued at the expense of virtues, but in the Latin classics the ruin of the state was ascribed to the arts and riches imported from the East. Hume says they were wrong and contends that progress in the arts leads to greater freedom and equality.

Poem
William Blake. To the Evening Star. A very poetic and beautiful poem about the planet Venus (I assume!) Lots of symbolism and use of metaphors in this one. 


Story
Graham Greene. Special Duties (1954). I love Greene's descriptions, such as in this story of Miss Saunders, who mouses in and gives the impression of moving close to the ground. Miss Saunders is employed to seek indulgences from the Catholic Church for her rich employer.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Night 30: 11th August 2013

Essay
Germaine Greer. Dear John (1969). An unpublished essay/letter to John Gorton, which I couldn't even read. Very disappointed as I like Germaine Greer and have a great deal of respect for her, but I'm over this kind of essay. No more from this book for the moment! I understand the anger, but I don't feel it in the same way.

Poem
William Blake. The Tyger. 'Tyger! Tyger! burning bright/ in the forests of the night. An interesting poem, with some great rhythm and images, and also with intrigue.


Story

Graham Greene. Alas, Poor Maling (1940). An hilarious story about a man's stomach doing impressions of noises it 'hears'.


Saturday, 10 August 2013

Night 29: 10th August 2013

Essay
Germaine Greer. Flip-top legal pot (from The Madwoman's Underclothes) 1968. An essay against the legalisation of marijuana. First essay with foul language, which I hate, but she makes some very good points.


Poem
John Keats. Ode on a Grecian Urn. 'Beauty is truth, truth beauty – that is all/ Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.


Story
Graham Greene. A Day Saved (1935). A very strange story. I'm not sure I understand what it's about.




Friday, 9 August 2013

Night 28: 9th August 2013

Essay
David Hume. Of Tragedy. Contemplations on why we enjoy tragedies, and why the more horrifying/ frightening they are, the more we enjoy them.

Poem
Charles Lamb. On An Infant Dying As Soon As Born. Sad reflections on a baby dying soon after birth.


Story
Graham Greene. Proof Positive (1930). A very strange story indeed with a totally unexpected twist at the end. Very sombre in mood.


Thursday, 8 August 2013

Night 27: 8th August 2013

Essay
David Hume. The Stoic. 'The great end of all human industry, is the attainment of happiness.' I wish all the idiot politicians would read this essay – they seem to think the great end of human industry is to increase the GDP! The thesis is basically that man is a rough diamond elevated by art, learning, and most of all by virtue.


Poem
Emily Dickinson. The Only News I Know, and Chartless. The Only News I Know is a religious poem. Very uneven, I thought, and not particularly interesting. Chartless ditto: another religious poem about knowing heaven exists even with no evidence whatsoever. 'I never saw a moor/ I never saw the sea...'


Story

Graham Greene. The Basement Room (1936). A brilliantly written story about a young boy who witnesses something no child should ever see.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Night 26: 7th August 2013

Essay
David Hume. Of the Dignity or Meanness of Human Nature. Are humans demigods or no different from other animals except in vanity? Hume thinks those with the former opinion are more likely to act well to keep up with their high opinions of themselves, while those with the latter view are more inclined to vice and meanness. He concludes that philosophers who insist on the selfishness of man are misguided by the fallacies that: i) people do good because they gain pleasure from it, and therefore do good only for the selfish purpose of gaining pleasure) the virtuous are not indifferent to praise and therefore are virtuous only for the purpose of gaining applause.


It's interesting that I found Hume very difficult to understand, but I must be getting into his language and way of writing now, as I'm not finding his essays difficult now.


Poem
W.B. Yeats. Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen (1921). 'Many ingenious lovely things are gone/ That seemed sheer miracle to the multitude'... Yeats' thoughts on the state of the world. Well, yes, I think I need a decoding book for Mr Yeats! This is a poem we did at Uni, so I know a little about it but have forgotten most of what I learned.


The lines (7-8):
And gone are Phidias' famous ivories
And all the golden grasshoppers and bees.
(and lines later (47-48)) refer to a Greek sculptor who worked on the Parthenon and was famous for his work in ivory and gold, and the grasshoppers were brooches worn by the Greeks. I think he's saying that just as the Greeks thought their fine things would last forever, so did people of Yeats' generation (and so do we, of course). And they thought the rogues were all dead and wars were over. WWI changed that view forever. The lines (26-28):
… a drunken soldiery
Can leave a mother, murdered at her door
To crawl in her own blood, and go scot free
are about a woman called Ellen Quinn, who was shot by the British with a baby in her arms.


In II, Louie Fuller was a dancer in the Folies Bergeres, famous for whirling draperies. The Platonic year is the period in which constellations return to their starting points (?) I found this ref. In VI, Lady Kyteler was a witch, and Robert Artisson her incubus.


I still need a decoding book!

Story

James Stephens (1882-1950). A Rhinoceros, Some Ladies, and a Horse. (From the Classic Irish Stories Book). A boy gets his first job in a theatrical agency and is sacked the next day. An hilarious story, full of funny exaggerations.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Night 25: 6th August 2013

Essay
David Hume. That Politics may be Reduced to a Science. Hume is very knowledgeable about politics in other countries, such as France, Italy, and Poland, as well as that of Britain. Interesting thoughts on the advantages of a hereditary leader and the inconvenience and divisiveness of an elected leader. If governors are elected they must be elected frequently leading to these 'temporary tyrants' becoming more rapacious so they can accumulate sufficient wealth before they are replaced. Of ministers, Hume says: 'There are enough of zealots on both sides, who kindle up the passions of their partisans, and, under pretence of public good, pursue the interests and ends of their particular faction.' Nothing much has changed!

Poem
Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Sonnets from the Portuguese No. 43. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways./I love thee to the depth and breadth and height/My soul can reach when feeling out of sight/For the ends of Being and ideal Grace. etc. Beautiful and beautifully constructed.


Story
Graham Greene. The Innocent (1937). A man returns to the small country town where he was born, taking a one-night-stand date with him for the night. The town rekindles memories of his childhood and his first love. The ending reminded me a little of Ray Bradbury's poem 'Remembrance', since in both they return in middle years and find a note they had written as children. This is very different to the poem though. The smell of innocence.


Monday, 5 August 2013

Night 24 report: 5th August 2013

Essay
Jonathan Swift. A Letter of Advice to a Young Poet. His advice is to read the scriptures, but not believe them necessarily, to read the classics and not the modern writings (that sounds familiar!). (Other) 'authors are to be used like lobsters, you must look for the best meat in the tails, and lay the bodies back again in the dish.' He also recommends reading new plays, especially Irish ones (Swift was living in Dublin), and to keep a journal of your thoughts and the thoughts of authors you are reading. Wear rags when writing poetry, and clothe your muse with a forehead of Latin and Greek.

I found his use of the word 'bumfodder' curious. What on earth does it mean?

Poem
Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Sonnets from the Portuguese No. 16. 'If thou must love me, let it be for naught / Except for love's sake only...' etc. Another beautiful love poem.

Short Story
Graham Greene. Men at Work (1940). A wartime story about the realities of war for a public servant in London.

Night 23 report: 4th August 2013

Essay
Joseph Addison (1672-1719). The Vision of Mirza. The author says this is his translation of one of several visions he found in Cairo. The first vision is an allegory of life, death and heaven. Life is a bridge between two mists, with trapdoors (death) along it through which people fall.

Poem
Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Sonnets from the Portuguese No. 6. 'Go from me. Yet I feel that I shall stand/ Henceforward in thy shadow...' etc. I wasn't familiar with this sonnet, but I find it very beautiful. This woman knew how to write about love!

Short Story
Graham Greene. The Second Death (1929). A strange story about a young man on his deathbed, frightened of a dream or vision he had earlier in his life when he had been thought dead. I didn't understand the last paragraph.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Night 22 report: 2nd August 2013

Essay
Loren C. Eiseley. The Fire Apes. This is one of the essays Ray Bradbury mentioned in his talk, and I found it online here. I can quite understand why Ray was so impressed by this essay - it grabs you from the opening paragraph and then won't let go. Eiseley was a brilliant writer, and the anthropology - about Australopithecus, and about our own extinction - is fascinating. I'll definitely be reading this one again.

Short story
Saki. The Unrest Cure. In a train carriage, Clovis overhears a conversation between J.P.Huddle and his friend. Huddle is feeling old before his time and his friend suggests an 'unrest cure,' which is a cure for people 'suffering from overmuch repose and placidity.' Clovis gets an idea for an unrest cure Huddle will be unable to forget. A very entertaining story as always from Saki.

Poem
Walt Whitman. O Captain! My Captain! (1865) An interesting poem of a fallen ship's captain. Or is it a metaphor for something deeper? Well, I just checked it out and found my suspicion was correct. It's apparently about the death of Abraham Lincoln in April 1865, the captain of course; the ship is a metaphor for the USA and the fearful trip is a metaphor for the civil war (1861-65).

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Night 21: 1st August 2013

Essay
David Hume. The Epicurean.  Wisdom and nature point the way to true pleasure, and man's art is a shadow of nature's. I like his conclusion to: 'render not your joys too serious, by dwelling forever upon it,' but I found this is a difficult essay, with references to Xerxes, Caelia etc., with which I'm unfamiliar. I would need to read this several times to fully understand everything I think.

Poem
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The Day is Done. This is one of my all-time favourite poems so I wanted to re-read it. I used to have it memorised, and should put it in my memory again. I love the images, the language, the rhythm, the ambience of the poem - a melancholy misty night when reading poetry, the kind that gushes from the heart, and reading it aloud, soothes away the stresses of the day. I imagine them on a wintry night, with a log fire burning and an oil lamp or two. The only sound apart from the poems being read aloud are the breeze rustling the leaves of a tree outside, the crackling of the fire, and a sprinkle of rain on the roof.
'And the night shall be filled with music,
And the cares, that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away.'
That is so beautiful! (I wouldn't have used so many commas though, but that's because styles have changed.)

Short story
Graham Greene. The Blue Film (1954). I love the depth GG gets into his stories, and the characters he draws so deeply and in so few words. He was a genius. This is the story of a middle-aged man who has taken his wife on a business trip to Siam (now Thailand). She wants to do something decadent, such as smoke opium or see strippers, so he takes her to a dingy back alley cinema where they show blue (ie. porno) films, just for them.