Translating: More than words, more than form, more than culture.

tabladaI was inspired by reading the poetry of Juan Tablada, presented in both a computer rendered translation and a human interpreted translation. I decided to try out this process, applying my skills as an English major in the global arena: I hope that Dr. English will be proud of me!

Ce Rosenau’s analysis of the poetry of Tablada sets up a spirit of inquiry in the realm of translation. How can a translation ever be accurate? Should a translator prefer vocabulary over form? Is it possible to translate the form of a poem? One must also remember the culture behind a poetic work must be transferred somehow. One must also remember that the effect of the translated poem supersede  the translation’s accuracy.

CaifanesI chose to translate something from my favorite Rock en Espanol band, Caifanes. Their album Diablito is musically an interesting cross of cultures, featuring both mainstream American rock styles as well as elements of traditional Latin American music. The problem for me as a translator was not only to navigate the potholes of idioms and syntactical structure but to also preserve some element of the original song. I never thought songs could be accurately translated (without it being a full overhaul cover version) until I stumbled upon a Spanish Language tribute to the Cure, in which all of the songs were translated yet still kept to the original tune. What a feat!

tributoBelow you have the original lyrics, a literal translation into a poem, and thirdly a music translation of the poem back into actual lyrics that try to follow the metric structure of the original song. The third column should be able to be sung to the same tune as the music. I hope that you may all enjoy Caifanes’ Diablito as much as I do– but in a more accessible way.

Check out the album and love it!

Original                        Literal Prose Trans.         Musical Translation

Detrás de tí Behind you Right Behind You
Voy detrás de ti I go behind you, Right behind you, dear
Como un perro infeliz Like an unhappy dog. Like a sad little dog
Voy detrás de ti I go behind you, Right behind you, dear
Como una sombra vil Like a vile shadow. Like your shadow here I come
Ya no quiero andar I don’t want to walk I don’t wanna go on
Detrás de ti Behind you anymore. Behind you, dear
Voy detrás de ti I go behind you, Close behind you, dear
Como nunca nadie fue Like nobody ever went. Like no one ever has before
Voy detrás de ti I go behind you, I’m behind you, dear
Como nunca nadie andará Like nobody ever walked. Walking like never one before
Ya no quiero andar I don’t want to walk I don’t wanna go on
Detrás de ti Behind you anymore. Behind you, dear
Nunca volteas You never turn around. You never see me
Nunca me miras You never look at me. You never turn to me
Ya no sabes quien anda You don’t know anymore who walks You don’t even know who it is
Detrás de ti Behind you. Behind you, dear
Voy detrás de ti I go behind you, Right behind you, dear
Recogiéndole la piel Grasping skin. Reaching out to feel your skin
Voy recogiendo lágrimas I go grasping tears, Grasping catching up my tears
En un vaso de papel In a cup of paper, In a little paper cup
Ya no quiero andar I don’t want to walk I don’t wanna go on
Detrás de ti Behind you anymore. Behind you, dear
Antes de que nos olviden Before they forget us
Antes de que nos olviden Before they forget us Just before we are forgotten
Haremos historia We will make history. We’ll be making history
No andaremos de rodillas; We will not walk on our knees. We won’t be walking on our knees anymore
El alma no tiene la culpa The soul does not take the blame. And the soul will not take all the blame.
Antes de que nos olviden Before they forget us Just be before we are forgotten
Nos evaporemos entre magueyes We will evaporate among magueyes, We’ll be all dried up beside the cactus
Y subiremos hasta el cielo And we will rise up to heaven, Then up to heaven we will rise up
Y bajaremos con la lluvia And we will come down with the rain. Then come back down among the raindrops
Antes de que nos olviden Before they forget us, Just before we are forgotten
Romperemos jaulas We will break cages, Breaking out of our cages
Y gritaremos la fuga And we will shout the flight. And shouting our escape out loud
No hay que condenar el alma The soul is not to be condemned. You don’t have to put to death your spirits
Aunque tú me olvides Although you may forget me, Although you will forget me
Te pondré en un altar de veladoras I will place you on an altar of candles, I will lay you on a candle-lit altar
Y en cada una pondré tu nombre And in each one I will put your name, On each one I will carve your sweet name
Y cuidaré de tu alma And I will care for your soul. And I’ll take care of your spirit
Mira que la vida no es eterna See how life is not eternal See now how your life is not eternal
Mira como te ha dejado esta vida See how this life has left you Look just how this life has left you behind
Antes que pienses que vas a envejecer Before you think you are going to grow old. Even before you think you’ve lost all of your youth
Mira como te ha dejado esta historia See how this story has left you See just how this tale has left you alone
Antes que pienses que vas a enloquecer Before you think that you going to go mad. Even before you think you’ve lost your maddened mind
Mira que la vida no es eterna See how life is not eternal! See now how your life is not eternal
En cualquier momento nos olvida At any moment it forgets us. At whatever moment we’re forgotten
Mira como se te cae todita la cabellera See how every little bit of hair falls, See it now how every strand of hair is falling down
Antes que pienses que vas a enloquecer Before you think that you are going to go mad. Even before you think you’ve lost your maddened mind
Mira como se te escurre todito el corazón See how every little bit of your heart drains, See your heart is drained of its final drop of blood
Y tú, y tú, y tú no haces nada And you, and you, and you do nothing. And you, and you, and you can do but nothing
Mira que la vida no es eterna See how life is not eternal! See now how your life is not eternal
En cualquier momento nos olvida In whatever moment it forgets us. At whatever moment we’re forgotten
De noche todos los gatos son pardos At night all cats are dun By nighttime black and white are all of these creatures.
Hay perros que no ladran There are dogs that do not bark There’s dogs who don’t go bark-bark
Pero te laman los huesos But they lick bones. Yet do they lick at your bones
Hay gatos que maúllan There are cats that meow There’s cats who hiss and meow
Hasta exprimir su vientre Until they squeeze their belly. Until they squeeze out their belly
Hay gente que no ladra There are people that do not bark There’s people some who do not bark
Pero te exprime el alma But they squeeze the soul. But they do squeeze out your spirits
Hay gente que te odia There are people who hate you There’s people hateful towards you
Pero te lame las manos But they lick your hands. But still they lick at your giving hands
Así Just so! Like this!
Hay gente que no arriesga There are people who do not risk: Some who want nothing risky
Le tiene miedo a la muerte They have a fear of death. They’re so are afraid of dying
Hay gatos que no mueren There are cats that do not die: There’s cats who die nine times
Le dan la vuelta al cielo They take a trip to heaven. They take a trip up to heaven
Así Just so! Like this!
De noche todos los gatos At night all cats By nighttime black and white are all
Son pardos Are dun. Of these creatures.
Pardo me duermo Dun I sleep I sleep in black
Pardo te sueno Dun I dream I dream in grey
Hay perros que defienden There are dogs that defend There’s dogs who’ll fight back at you
Hasta clavar colmillos Until they sink their fangs. And sink their fangs to your bones
Perro que labra Dog that barks… The dog that barks
Perro que ladra no muerde The dog that barks does not bite. The dog that barks does not bite you
De noche todos los gatos At night all cats By nighttime black and white are all
Son pardos Are dun Of these creatures.
Pardo me duermo Dun I sleep Sleeping in blackness
Pardo te sueno Dun I dream Dreaming in grey
Sombras en tiempos perdidos Shadows in lost times
Voy a través del cristal I go across the microscopic crystal I go all across the crystal
Microscopico de tu piel celular Of your cellular skin Microscopic, the celular tissue: your skin
Ciego incompleto terreno cruzado Blind, incomplete, earthly, crossed I am blind, undone, all earthbound and crossed
De esquina a esquina te pierdo From corner to corner I lose you Around corner past corner, I lose you
De esquina a esquina te pierdo. From corner to corner I lose you Around corner past corner, I lose you
Junta tu rostro mojado con el mío Join your wet face with mine Bind up your dampened face next to my own
Nunca me quites de ese embrujo tuyo Never take away this bewitching of yours No, please do not ever quit me of this your bewitching
Ay, amor, hazme creer que todo es verdad Ay, love, make me believe that all is true Oh, my love, make me believe that all this is true
Ay, amor, hazme brincar sobre el mar Ay, love, make me jump over the sea Oh, my love, make me to leap, down to the sea
Somos sombras We are shadows Shadows we are
en tiempos perdidos In lost times In ages forgotten
Quiero romper el cristal I want to break the crystal Wanting to burst the crystal
que empaña mi cuerpo confuso, difuso That tarnishes my confused and diffused body That mists o’er my body, confused diffused
Muerdo historias humanas I chew human stories I mouth out the histories of humans
Que nunca han sido comprendidas, olvidadas That have never been comprehended, forgotten. That never have been understood, all forgotten.
Junta tu monstruo dolido con el mío Join your pained monster with mine Bind down your monster in pain with my own
Nunca me lleves en tiempos perdidos Never carry me into lost times No, please don’t leave me in ages forgotten
Ay, amor, hazme creer que todo es verdad Ay, love, make me believe that all is true Oh, my love, make me believe that all this is true
Ay, amor, hazme brincar sobre el mar Ay, love, make me jump over the sea Oh, my love, make me to leap, down to the sea
Somos sombras We are shadows Shadows we are
en tiempos perdidos In lost times In ages forgotten
El negro cósmico Black Cosmos Darkened Universe
Estoy perdido entre las misas de María I am lost between the Masses of Mary All lost, I kneel between the Marian Masses
En una doctrina que no entiende libertades In a doctrine that does not understand liberties Lost in a doctrine which knows not of any freedom
Estoy cambiándome me de fases de escondidas I am changing in phases in the dark And now I’m changing in the darkness in fases
Estoy regado en la misma sobredosis I am watered in the same overdose And still I’m nourished by an overdose, the same one.
Estoy perdido en las escamas de tu vida I am lost in the scams of your life All lost scraped off among the scales of your lifetime
Estoy quedándome sin sangre querida I am staying without my beloved blood Still I remain yet all without my dearest life-blood
Estoy hundido en las palabras sobrehumanas I am steeped in the superhuman words All sunk, I steep myself in words of supernature
En que me digas que me crees y no crees nada In that which you say, that which you believe, and you do not believe anything. In what you tell me that you believe but you believe nothing
Que voy a hacer What am I going to do, What will I do?
Si el cadáver no se olvida con la piel If the cadaver does not forget the flesh? If my corpse just won’t forget about my flesh?
Que voy a hacer What am I going to do, What will I do?
Si el presente distorsiona mi razón If the present distorts my reason? If the moment still distorts all my good sense
Estoy perdido en un negro cósmico I am lost in a black cosmos. All lost, I’m in a darkened universe
La célula que explota The Cell that Explodes A living cell that bursts asunder.
Hay veces que no tengo ganas de verte There are times that I do not care to see you. There are times when I just don’t want to see you.
Hay veces que no quiero ni tocarte There are times that I do not want even to touch you. There are times even when I don’t want to touch you.
Hay veces que quisiera ahogarte en un grito There are times that I would like to stifle you in a shout. There are times I’d rather drown you in a scream
Y olvidarme de esa imagen tuya And forget that image of yours And rid myself of every image of you
Pero no me atrevo But I do not dare. Still I wouldn’t dare to!
Hay veces que no dejo de soñarte There are times that I do not stop dreaming of you, There are times I just can’t stop all my dreams about you
De acariciarte hasta que ya no pueda Caressing you until I can no longer. Or I will caress you as much as I possibly can
Hay veces que quisiera morir contigo There are times that I wish to die with you, There are times when I wish most just to die right beside you
Y olvidarme de toda materia And forget all material. And rid myself of everything material
Pero no me atrevo But I do not dare. Still I wouldn’t dare to!
Hay veces que no sé lo que  me pasa There are times that I do not know what happens to me. There are times I can’t tell what has come over me
Ya no puedo saber que es lo que pasa adentro Now I cannot know what happens within. Can’t even tell what it is that goes on deep within me
Somos como gatos en celo We are like cats in heat. You and I like cats wild in heat
Somos una célula que explota We are a cell that explodes. We are a living cell that bursts asunder
Y esa no la paras. No la paras. And you don’t stop that. You don’t stop it. And you just can’t stop that. You won’t stop it.
Aquí no pasa nada Nothing happens here Nothing ever happens around here
Éramos todos de papel We were all of paper Made up of paper, so we are,
Liso y blanco sin doblar Smooth and white without folding Smooth and white, creaseless yet.
Y fuimos hechos para andar And we were made to walk And made for wanderings afar
De par en par, sin reclamar Pair by pain, without claim. In pairs, pair by pair, without any claim
Hace tiempo me dijeron Some time since they told me Time ago since they told me
Aquí no pasa nada That nothing happens here. Nothing ever happens ’round here
Que todo esta guardado That all is guarded Everything is gaurded safe
Para que no le pase nada So that nothing happens. So that nothing happens ’round here
Que esta tierra es de ciegos That the Earth is for the blind That the world is made of blind men
Y que el tuerto esta en el cielo And that the one-eyed is in heaven And only one eye is allowed in heaven
Para guardarlo todo To guard it all To keep it all gaurded safe
Y que no pase nada A so that nothing happens. So that nothing happens ’round here
Somos sumisos y obedientes We are submissive and obedient, We do obey we do submit
Con ganas de gritar With the desire to shout, Wishing to shout
Con ganas de matar With the desire to kill. Wishing to kill
Pero hace tiempo que aquí But there has been much time since But its been sometime since, around here,
Nos educan para mentir They taught us to lie. That they taught us how to deceive
Los dioses ocultos The occult gods
Por qué no puedo andar a gatas Why can I not walk on all fours Why can’t I walk on all fours
Como lo hacen los locos Like the mad men do? Just like the madmen who do
Por qué no puedo resignarme Why can I not resign myself Why can’t I take it all with smiling
Y aguantarme hasta la risa And endure unto a smile. Endure it all with resignation
Por qué uno quiere lanzarse Why does one want to throw oneself, Why would one want to take a leap
Desde lo alto From up high, From up high
Y al bajar buscar olvido And upon coming down to seek oblivion? And at the bottom find oblivion
Serán los dioses ocultos It will be the occult gods T’will be the gods of a cult
O serás Tú Or it will be You. Or it will be You
Será una decisión mortal It will be a mortal decision. T’will be a choice of life and death
Por que no puedo desgarrarme la piel Why can I not tear my skin Why can I not just rip apart my body
Hasta lograr un vacío Until I achieve emptiness And then achieve a state of nothing
Porque uno se retuerce entre rincones Why does one twist between alleys Why does one twist about through alleys
Mirando al cielo en busca de alguien Looking at the sky in search of someone. In search of someone, head up to heaven.
El elefante The Elephant
El otro día pude hablar The other day I could talk The day before I was able to talk
Con el sabihondo paquidermo With the wiseacre pachyderm With the wise-guy pachyderm
Muchos secretos me contó He told me many secrets So many secrets he told me
Pero uno solo quiso ver But I wanted to see only one There was just one I wanted to see
Y fue volar And it was to fly It was to fly
Volar y volar Fly and fly To fly and to fly
Hasta llegar Until arriving Until you arrive
A la nada To nothingness To the nothing
Bajo el sol Under the sun Under the sun
“Estoy dispuesto a destruir “I am disposed to destroy I am accustomed to destroy
Todo lo que no sea verdad All that is not true Everything that is not truth
Estoy dispuesto a marginar I am disposed to reject I am accustomed to reject
Todo lo que no sea real All that is not real Everything that is not real
Para tí For you Both for you
Para mí For me And for me
Para seguir buscando el penacho To continue searching for the crest To go on seeking the crest
Bajo la luna Under the moon.” Under the moon
Estoy dispuesto a imaginar I am disposed to imagine I am disposed to imagine that
Que no existe represión That repression does not exist There is no such thing as repression..
Después de tanto reclamar To reclaim, after that much And afterwards to reclaim it all
Bajó su trompa y se echo al suelo He laid down his trunk y threw himself to the ground. Lowered his trunk, and fell on the ground
Y se fue se fue And he went, and he went And he flew and he flew
De su jaula hacia la nada Out of his cage towards nothingness From his cage unto the nothing
Sobre la luna Over the moon. Over the moon.
Amárrate Hitch yourself
Aunque no te importa nada Although it does not matter to you Although you do not have a care
La vida de un delfín The life of a dolphin For the life of a dolphin
Nadarás a fin de siglo You will swim at the end of the century You will smim at the end of this age
En tu pecera In your fishbowl. Inside your fishbowl
Si no sabes si eres rata If you do not know whether you are a rat If you don’t know if you are a rat
o una masa amorfa más O more than an amorphous mass, Or nothing more than a shapeless mass
Solo basta darle un beso al espejo Only to give yourself a kiss in the mirror is enough. It is enough to blow a kiss in your mirror
Si no quieres entender If you do not want to understand If you don’t want to understand
que invernando están las brujas That the witches are wintering The witches who are now wintering
Amárrate a una escoba y vuela lejos Hitch yourself a broom and fly far away. Hitch yourself upon a broomstick a fly away
Lejos Far away. Away.
Muy lejos Very far. Far away
Aunque no puedes Although you cannot. Even if you can’t
Aunque te mueres. Although you may die Even though you may die
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Sigur Rós: Citizens of the World

Sigur Ros

Sigur Ros: Live at the Fisher Theater, Detroit, 2013

Track 13 

The day after Easter, April 1st, they were coming. We were waiting eagerly, since Christmas when I bought the tickets for my sister to see her favorite band live, Sigur Rós. Right after the feast of the Resurrection, after forty days of mortification, this lively experience could not have been timed better.
Track 7,
After the drive, the dreary city, the heavy traffic, and the crammed parking, we entered the Fox Theatre and feasted our eyes. The excitement began to give way (the best kind of excitement) to a stimulated intellect. I told my sister I would have to write on this one.

The band on stage with lighting effects and a video accompaniment.

The band on stage with lighting effects and a video accompaniment. A pretty good shot taken by my ecstatic sister.

Track 15
The music of Sigur Rós, the almost famous Icelandic alternative-rock-folk-electronica-classical band, always stimulated this kind of excited thought.
Track 9
Music dances with poetry and emotion dances with intellect according to Rukeyser’s Life of Poetry: “One of the invitations of poetry is to come to the emotional meanings at every moment. That is one reason for the high concentration of music in poetry” (Rukeyser 19). I say that this band has a high concentration of poetry in their music.
Track 2
Yet, how can I call something poetic if I cannot understand the words? More than the language barrier between Icelandic and English is the further estrangement, a deliberate one, of the band’s invention of Hopelandic, a gibberish non grammatical language featured in most of their songs. Debates about the nature and scope of narrative come to mind especially the two examples juxtaposed by Nash in his essay “Slaughtering the Subject.” One a string of syntactic shells a la mad-libs, the other a claim that post-war narratives not only immortalize the human struggle but incarnate the exigency for change (Nash 200).
Track 5
Their music is both: an empty syntax filled with meaning. Music engenders the poetic imagination. Poetic imagination reaches the “emotional meaning.”
Track 8
The response is higher than emotional. Such feeling is useless unless it leads the mind to the love what is good or hate what is evil. This binary is often confused among people who listen to only their own songs, limit themselves to one radio station. Many Americans listen to just that one radio station; not caring what lies beyond the border. In “Citizens of the World”, Martha Nussbaum declares the possibility of a test of morality through “awareness of cultural difference. [It] gave rise to a rich and complex debate about whether our central moral and political values exist in the nature of things (by phusis) or merely by convention (nomos)” (54). Sigur Rós conveys global meaning in its alien language.
Track 16
I wanted to throw the world away, defy human oppression and inhumane civilization. When I was writhing to the beat of Dýrason’s endless drum solo for their encore Popplagið, I felt like “Diogenes the cynic, choosing exile from his own native city, defiantly refus[ing] protection from the rich and powerful for fear of losing his freedom” (Nussbaum 56). I wanted to run away with them. The expert videographer flashed distorted images of all the symbols of modern power and technology, the battle lines drawn against human freedom. Jonsi and the band traveled the world and fought with their experimental music against the ideology machine of record companies. They were a new Diogenes. I wanted to live in Iceland: a nation that chose oceanic exile over the colonial plague of the continents.
sigur bomb1Track 11
The desire for self-exile, if divorced from the desire for world citizenship, is vain. It is not enough to defy the powers that be. The goal is to lead our leaders away from their (i.e. our) tradition of destruction. The jarring music of Kveikur with its video accompaniment of atomic bomb test footage reminded me just how urgent this is. If the spirit of Nussbaum’s article were instilled fully into our schools’ curriculum before nuclear proliferation, then perhaps our nations would understand that:

The accident of where one is born is just that, an accident; any human being might have been born in any nation. Recognizing this, we should not allow differences of nationality, or class, or ethnic membership, or even gender to erect barriers between us and our fellow human beings. We should recognize humanity… and give that community our first allegiance. (Nussbaum 59)

sigur vaka liveTrack 4
The nameless sorrow of Vaka featured a slow video of a smoldering red landscape in which figures uncannily covered by gas-masks stared menacingly towards the audience. Zooming out, the frightening figures were discovered to be none other than children playing at a dancing game. Perhaps after we burn up our continents … perhaps then our children will pledge allegiance to the community of humanity.
Track 6
It is not too late. Nor did the band’s famously peaceful music leave me in my all too ready despair. Comfortingly intimate songs like Fljótavík reassure one of the possibility of peace.
Leaving the concert and returning to my pen and paper, my duties, I remembered Dickens’ exhortation from Hard Times: “Dear reader! It rests with you and me whether, in our two fields of action, similar things shall be or not.” It is my duty as a writer to make world peace. But I wonder: who ever got there, to make world peace; even beyond the world citizen stage— even beyond the self-exile stage, without great music to push them on?

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I Am Called “English Major”: Three Parables


I tried to hide from the officers of the New Order Revolution but after slipping in and out of coffee houses, dervishes, and internet cafés (the usual hiding places of “traditionalist criminals,” as they called us) I was found out. An informant must have seen, underneath the portable telescreen in my briefcase, a piece of paper (contraband).

Now they burst into my apartment and pushed me off into the night. If I was lucky, one of them would shoot me before they brought me to the tribunal under the charge of “English Major.” It is now a capital crime to be an “English Major” (the term they misappropriate for bookish people, preservers of text contraband, and subversive thinkers). I should have just stuck to my e-reader …

“Tell me why I shouldn’t just kill you now, comrade?” The officer stopped so startlingly in an empty field. I could almost feel the ground under me pull me in and I could almost see the smoke of a gun shot as he lit and offered me my last cigarette.

I caught my breath and told him why:

Three Parables on Literature




Around the beginning of the history of the English Peoples, almost a millennium and a half ago, the Venerable Bede tells us of the great monasteries of Lindisfarne of Northumbria, where many monks labored to produce the finest illuminated manuscripts in the kingdom. One such monastery that was forgotten by official texts was under the guidance of Abbot Scripticius, a venerable man who loved God as much as he cared for the men under his patronage. He would accept even the common thief into his monastery and turn him into a good saint and a better calligrapher (such was his skill in teaching comparable to his holiness).

One unfortunate day, an envious bureaucrat effected the transfer of this holy and talented abbot to a more prestigious monastery in East Anglia. No sooner had the clerics wept their farewells than they met their new master with fear: the stern and half-witted Abbot Venderoptimus. The new superior to the Northumbrian monastery of St. Ignotus was no more a man of God than a man of the world. He thought that the time, effort, and love spent on illuminating manuscripts was nothing more than a waste of tempus and scaeta compared to his own fundraising schemes. Many monks were distraught but would not dare disobey their superior, for Christ had said to Pontius Pilate: “You have no authority more than that which God has granted you from above.” Instead these holy and talented monks prayed and wept before the shrine of the Virgin, Tower of Ivory, all the while continuing with their illumination with straining eyes under the dim light of a candle during their short hours of repose.

But the Tower of Ivory interceded for these holy and talented monks in a visitation of grace most strange! The unholy Venderoptimus was just about to effect his plan for the downsizing of the monastic letters department, for his own monetary ambition when suddenly, one day, strange long boats arrived briskly on the shore of their beautiful Northumbrian coast, and before the monks could begin their salutations they found themselves under attack from an invading Viking fleet.

The monastery was in a bad way. The Vikings had no mercy. They destroyed the things most dear to the holy men, they burned many manuscripts to salvage the gold leaf, and they had even slain a few of the more valiant clerics. They took the all of the gold that the greedy Abbot Venderoptimus was so keen on hoarding, and it is said that, in a flash, realizing his folly, the unholy abbot repented of his ways and took to arms dying to defend the holy house.

Many of the monks, there holy place in shambles, survived along with a certain number of manuscripts they had hidden. These saintly scholars spent all of their unwatched hours studying these precious scrolls, from the most Holy Scripture even to the most mundane register, until they had very nearly copied the works in their memory. Now, the Viking conqueror of this region, Harald, a lesser prince with the wrath of ten dispossessed princes, was very keen to maintain his fleeting rule over his conquests. Worse than his immense greed, having picked every last ounce of gold out of the region, was his superstition. This invader set out to destroy the unintelligible runes of the Anglo-Saxons, fearing that they contained the power of their vengeful gods. Every monk was given the time to try and hide his scrolls before this fearsome invader caught them, vellum in hand, destroyed the dear manuscript and injured the unsuspecting victim. Harald was very fond of executing varied punishments. One monk was blinded with a hot iron as his Evangelium was reduced to ashes. “You won’t be able to see another rune, now, will you?” he said. Another monk had his hands crushed under the weight of many stones. “You won’t be able to write another rune now, will you?” he said. Another monk was suffered to lose his voice to hot oil poured in his mouth. “You won’t be able to chant for the aid of your gods now, will you?” he said. Many more terrible things were suffered until some of Harald’s men, uneasy by this violence passed the rumor of it until, the Viking superior, Good Sigurd, heard of it and caught the cruel Harald in the act of torture. Harald was tortured in as many ways until he lost his life, crying in remorse for the men he had harmed.

The rule of Good Sigurd was a mild one. While the monastery never regained the glory of old, the holy and talented monks were allowed to practice their art once again. Except now, they were mostly maimed. They came together, one without hands, another without eyes, and after much prayer they thanked their heavenly protectors that they had spent so much time putting these holy and nearly lost works to memory. They said among themselves, “You may have no eyes, but you can write yet. I may have no hands, but I may speak yet. He may have no voice, but he may see yet. Let us all form one industrious brotherhood and recreate these holy and dear manuscripts that we have yet in our memory, working with each man’s ability as one illuminator.

And so, the holy and talented monks, in the spirit of their father Abbot Scripticius, recreated the entire library of St. Ignotus monastery that has inspired English clerics to this day.


Long ago, in the glorious years of the Dark Ages when—

“What are the dark ages?” The officer interrupted, offering me another cigarette, “Wasn’t that like the civil war and stuff?”

I accepted the smoke glad for the bought time, and glad that the officer took some interest in my tales. “Much further back in time, good comrade, something they don’t tell us in the academies any more.” And I continued

Long ago in the glorious years of the Dark Ages, when men were valiant and fought for their convictions, when Christians struggled to keep their religion alive in the face of conquest… long ago in the Spanish town of Avila during the Umayyad Caliphate there lived a valiant scribe who was in the service of Abdul Fattah an administrator of the Diwan al-Rasa’il, or the Board of Correspondence. This valiant scribe was allowed to keep his post under the Caliphate due to his proficiency with the Spanish language. His name was Anastacio “Astuto” Escibañez, nick-named “Astuto” or “smart” not only for his proficiency with the language but also for his strong mind for survival. What does that mean? I will tell you.

In this year in Avila, there was a terrible massacre of scribes and secretaries, killed by the Arabic occupiers. But it was not the Arabs that were the aggressors, each of these men of letters, one by one, would stand outside of the Diwan al-Rasa’il office at night and shout out lines of poetry from the great masters, the Holy Scriptures, even the most mundane texts of their native language. They would shout in the middle of the night until the officials ran out of pillows with which to plug their ears and went outside to see what the commotion was about. These fanatic men of letters, one by one for days, would continue to shout never making any sense in reply to the Arab regent who imprisoned them. Before the clement officials could figure out what all the shouting meant or was about, an irritated guard would slay the men, one by one, still shouting in the dungeons. It is believed that either these men of letters lost their mind from the distress of the lost prestige of their language and writing or that they were over zealous to win the martyr’s crown.

“Astuto” Escibañez, however, found this to be folly and did not participate in this grand rebellion despite his own sorrow at witnessing Spanish Departmental Funding Cuts. This wise man not only convinced his fellow scribes to suffer patiently the infidel’s invasion and to keep their poems dear to their inner hearts, but he also was able to maintain a sizable library of manuscripts, containing not only Christian scripture but also some of the earliest Old-Spanish poetry. Another way this smart man won his nickname was from the personal appreciation of his Arab superior, Abdul Fattah, whom “Astuto” treated respectfully, won his friendship, proved his value, and even got the man to share a bottle of contraband wine with him one night. That night, under the sunshine of the bottle, Abdul Fattah asked the respectable “Astuto” to show him his secret library. “Astuto” obliged his superior respectfully, without the fear of betrayal, and welcomed him to his hidden storeroom. There, having uncorked a second bottle of wine, the blissful Abdul Fattah begged his dear friend and wise servant to read again and again the mellifluous lines of the Old-Spanish poetry:

La gloria de la lengua familial volverá en el siglo filial.

Thus, after such camaraderie the two were ever close. The one swore to serve his master despite their clashing cultures. The other swore to protect his servants despite their strange customs. Abdul Fattah even ordered some of “Astuto’s” library to be copied into his own Caliphate archives.

La gloria de la lengua familial volverá en el siglo filial.

As time passed as soon as the poet foretold, the great Spanish kings from the line of exiled Pelayo, fought fiercely from the North and thus began the Reconquista the great Nation. The victorious Spaniards drove south until one day they reconquered the small town of Avila. When the conquering commander ordered the Diwan al-Rasa’il to be sacked, just as the defeated Caliphate’s Abdul Fattah was being lead out to be executed, a voice from heaven burst from the office of the poor Arab reading the lines of the Old-Spanish poets:

La gloria de la lengua familial volverá en el siglo filial.

The awed soldiers halted the execution and upon discovering the library of the defeated Abdul Fattah, they were moved to tears seeing the man’s love for the Spaniards’ most prized heritage. Abdul wept along with them for the unfortunate death of his dear friend “Astuto” Escibañez who had died soon before in an accidental fire that consumed his house and his hidden library during the violence of the reconquista. The Spanish commander shed tears with this group and not only pardoned condemned man but allowed him to maintain his office in the new Academia that began under Spanish rule.

Thanks to this wise and noble Spaniard, thanks to that kind and loving Arab, and thanks to their love of culture and multi-culture, we have preserved some of the oldest surviving manuscripts in the Spanish Language from the two men’s very own libraries.

“Is that really so?” The officer asked in astonishment

“Well, that’s how the story usually ends except that collection was destroyed just recently in the New World Order Cultural Revolution.”


Very long ago, in a land very far away, Mexico, to be exact, long before the Spanish arrived, there lived a small town king, they called a tlatoani, whose name was Teiuc. This king was the victor of many wars in his region, showering wealth on his people and especially favoring his information scientists, engineers, and mathematicians. This king was so fond of technological advances that he mandated the purchase and use of the “dog statuette on wheels” for all families, winning the inventor quite a windfall of precious cacao beans.

This king’s zeal spread into his conquered territories where he believed he could better the lives of such backwards people with the introduction of technological advancements. A renowned storyteller, named Itzli, resisted the efforts of this philanthropic king claiming that the imperial force was working to wipe out the record and traditions of his people. After he introduced the soon-to-be-global-selling pictorial codex, Tlatoani Teiuc simply laughed at the holy storyteller whose congregations were dwindling in numbers.

            “Do not follow the paths worldly!” He would preach at the end of his rapturous holy tales, “For though they heap up obsidian and drink chocolate in plenty, their glory will pass away to another as quick as it was stolen away. These books that they make, turning the spoken word into stone, shall be consumed in the same flame that wrought them.”

“But storyteller, Itzli,” one would object, “Your tales are rapturous and our heritage is sacred. Should we not also make your words eternal in the codices of the great Empire? Perhaps, by doing so, even the conquering empire may believe our myths and glorify our ways, having read our holy words pictorially.”

“Nay, I say to you, followers, that the medium is message!”

“Master storyteller, you speak in esoteric terms. What does that mean?”

“I say to you, keepers of the Oral-Tradition, that once we submit our holy word to the unholy stone-words of the conquering empire, their poisonous error will infect the sacred and our holy myths will become tainted, misunderstood, mistranslated, misleading.”

But try as he might he could not convince his flock to remain faithful. They were so excited by the novelty of the pictorial codex, its strange texture, its bright color, and its symbolic text, its efficient beauty that they found the ranting of the old storyteller to be boring. Many followers would fall asleep during story time even!

After fruitless exhortation, the tribe’s leaders constrained the storyteller to record his myths with a codex writer of Tlatoani Teiuc, who simply laughed haughtily at the backwards ways of this conquered tribe.

After years of struggle to maintain the traditions of his people, the poor storyteller Itzli, suffering from a shattered spirit, took a great knife and drove it into his own broken heart letting his blood pour out upon the now deserted holy place as a last sacrifice to a forgotten and lonely god.

A young boy was there and caught the poor story teller in his last moment of agony. Dear storyteller, please don’t leave us!” He wept bitterly holding the old man, “I only know little bits of our holy myths! How can we ever hold on to our faith with you gone? How can I ever learn the holy tales without you? How can the world even see the truth of our spoken word, the only true truth, when everyone has left to the codices? Please don’t die, dear storyteller.”

Itzli wanted to console the young boy who dreamed of being a prophet some day, but he knew it was futile, in the face of an all consuming imperial machine that made machines of imperial consumption; nothing would be left of their sacred word. He wanted to console the boy but he passed into the realm of the gods.

A little later, the Tlatoani Teiuc was awed by a display of obsidian blades newly designed by his inventors. After showering them with precious cacao beans, and after laughing to scorn the primitive ways of his numerous tributaries, he wondered, “Wouldn’t it be great it one of my men could invent an obsidian rod that could shoot out fire like a lightning bolt?”

The next day, gunshots rang out in the distance. The neighing of horses, a strange tongue, and even stranger technology brought Tlatoani Teiuc’s empire to a smoldering end.

 * * * * *

The officer apologized that he had run out of cigarettes to give me, then, ill at ease a bit, he began to make sense of my parables: “So the first tale tells me that the people who cut funding to the Humanities are assholes. The second tale tells me that holding on to the books of another culture is important. The third tale tells me that technology is nothing but bad.”

I replied courteously, “That is pretty much it only a few things to point out. The first tale also shows us that it is necessary to have a team of English people each with different talents to preserve and make sense of our great works. The second tale more importantly demonstrates the need for lovers of literature to endear themselves to those in power: to make those in power fall in love with the lovable works of literature. Finally, the third tale stresses the fact that the flow of technology must not be stopped but that older methods should be valued and preserved so as not to lose he nuances that make them special, sacred, or dear.”

“Alright, comrade, you make a good point. What a world we live in, huh? If only we could go back to the 2010’s, you know? Things were so stable and prosperous back then.”

“Yeah, they were.”

“Well you convinced me. I won’t turn you in to the torturers. I’ll kill you now.”

A deafening shot blasted before me.

I fell to the ground.

“Just remember to go north and pass the border. Of course, you know better than to keep your old name, right?”

The officer stepped away and joined his company.

I felt myself all over but there was no blood.

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Remember, man, that thou art dust and unto dust you shall return.

TodayImage I made a trip to my old High School to celebrate the feast of Ash Wednesday. The chapel was as beautiful as I remember it. The choir was as enchanting as I remember it. The children were a bit taller than I remembered them. The ceremony was just the same as I remembered it. But one thing was different in every little aspect of the church and parish, everything was getting older.  Everything was one more Ash Wednesday closer to the four last things: death, judgement, heaven, hell.

The reality of mortality overcame me. As I knelt to receive the blessed ashes, and as the priest declared over me in Latin:

Memento, homo, quia pulvis es et in pulverem reverteris.

I was reminded of my blog. The question of immortality and mortality, what will last and what will fade, what people will be forgotten and what books will be turned to ashes… these are the questions that lie in the back of the head as I type out my transient relationships with books. (If there was a saint or a title for Our Lord on Ash Wednesday, they would be the patron saint of this blog!)

Memento, homo, quia pulvis es et in pulverem reverteris.

Often, we write something with the imagination that all the world will read it, that it will become a bestseller, that it will be preserved through the ages in the canon. But someday, sooner than we think, it will return to dust.

Memento, homo, quia pulvis es et in pulverem reverteris.

The classic poets claimed that their poems would grant its subject immortality: literary immortality. However, who remembers the hidden subject of any poem beyond their name or even their trace characteristics written therein?

Memento, homo, quia pulvis es et in pulverem reverteris.

What good is literary immortality anyway if one loses the eternal life of heaven? When we do return to dust, will there really be a part of us that lives on?

Memento, homo, quia pulvis es et in pulverem reverteris.

Dante said that the souls of Hell enjoy only the small consolation of being remembered on Earth. Nevertheless, he meets with several renowned writers whose writing both won them fame and cost them their soul.

Memento, homo, quia pulvis es et in pulverem reverteris.

Although our disintegration is inevitable and all too soon, some take consolation in writing now as if the transient present was all that mattered: what is written now and what is read now and what is bettered thereby now is all that matters.

I hope this is consolation enough for you, dear readers and writers.

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Who does Shock serve? Response to Felski continued.


ImageBut I have not entirely convinced myself. As I consider my own encounters with shock, I recall often saying with cynical weariness that “nothing fazes me now,” referring to the lifelong chain of narrative assaults on my constructed consciousness. Looking back, I think I could have done without all the shock. Is it because I, like the rest of modern youth, have been familiarized with a glamorized superficial shock, and I wasn’t trained to encounter the life-changing experience that Felski describes? I do remember as a child being simply terrified by the visions of hell that radiated from the unsupervised television: a soldier is shot to pieces, a woman takes a knife to the fingers of a helpless man, a child drops dead of thirst in a desert, a gang with blades and bats and bars begins beating a life-size cardboard box while its owner watches helplessly as blood begins to pour from the box, a woman in a hospital bed suddenly bleeding through all her veins, a man enters a dark room and is struck on the head repeatedly with a hammer, etc. etc.. I remember being terrified, yes, and I also remember crying much at the sight. I saw the world as nasty brutish and short, and, yes, I think that the experience of shock ruptured my constructed consciousness indeed.

ImageThe “use” of shock is further complicated in my own experience as a young man of faith and a growing intellectual. It seemed as if every intellectual endeavor was pitted against the virtue of faith and the joy that it brings. I remember reading much as a youth (moving away from the previous shock waves of television) and watching the seeds of doubt fall through the cracks of my shock-ruptured consciousness: could the bleak existentialism of Waiting for Godot be irrevocably true? Was the tyranny of power and mind control of 1984 so similar to religious institutions? Could human beings be left so utterly abandoned to turn to cannibalism in O’Neil’s Thirst? Could mankind be so horribly cruel and beyond the power of redemption while he tears out the eyes of Gloster in King Lear?   How could the rejection of divinity ever be avoided  after the endless strife of The Color Purple? How could Descartes spiral of radical doubt ever be undone? After several collegiate years of spiritual crisis and after so many narratives in this train of thought, I began to wonder if I had not lost my soul as Doctor Faustus, hungry for knowledge. But what good would all of that knowledge do for the tragic hero when his soul is dragged away by Mephistopheles? What use has all of this shock been to me, when the surety of Faith is what has been broken apart?

There is much more to said about this, but let me conclude without conclusion. It is arguable that a revived Faith is stronger after the blows of shock and doubt. It is also probable that Faith, once lost, is irrevocable. Is knowledge preferable at the price of Faith? Are the two incompatible? Ignorance is bliss, the saying goes, and I cannot deny it. Real Faith also requires a willful resignation to the mysteries of divinity. In any case, I wish to reconsider the stress on the “usefulness” of shock; I wish to consider an alternative way to compromise, to encounter and allow oneself to be shocked but somehow, also not putting one’s faith at peril in so doing.

As always, your thoughts are most welcome on the topic. Think of the binaries knowledge/ignorance and despair/happiness for a deconstruction perspective. To be critical of our culture also, we take for granted that knowing is the ultimate good. Consider the uses of Felski: who or what do they serve? Has anyone encountered the same conflict that I have described?

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A Desensitized Generation: A Response to “Shock”

ImageA tangent off of Rita Felski’s The Uses of Literature.

Below is a link to her website as professor of English:

If ever you’re in Virginia for a semester, you can look her up and maybe take a class!

After describing three uses of Literature: the effects that reading has on us, after the “voluptuous cradling” of enchantment, the introspection of recognition, and the wizening gaze to the outer world of knowledge, Rita Felksi explains a fourth quite different than these one that most readers could identify even before this essay. She explains the category of shock as being both “the antithesis of the blissful enfolding [of] enchantment” (113), and the experience of being “left floundering and speechless, casting about for words to make sense” (110), and thereby almost inimical to knowledge. Yet, many people voluntarily pursue the effect of shock in these opposed categories of thought. It troubles more people than myself (I hope) to see the enchantment of spectators of a horror film, actually enjoying the portrayals of murder. It was all too common to participate in classes where the litany of “what’s messed up in the world” left me aghast and the rest of the class smiling in the pride of knowledge. Perhaps, it is not an inconsistency in the theory of Professor Felski, much as it is a cultural familiarity and a perverse enjoyment of the effect of shock. I don’t think this majority of people have been raised with the proper mentality to handle shock.

 Image           The article addresses this cultural familiarity with shock: “We are now immune to the shocking insofar [as] shock itself has become routine… immersed in a culture that is driven by an insatiable demand for novelty and sensation” (107). If you don’t believe it, then just read her comparison to the Victorian era or our class’s anecdote of Dr. Jekyll. Consider the students who shrug at a Picasso or simply laugh at Waiting for Godot. Consider the increasingly realistic portrayal of active violence in video games. Consider the infinity of depravity and the omnipresence of pornography on the internet. Oh, no! Here I go again. You’ve probably heard this all before, so let’s refocus, before leaping into the sea of tirades on gun violence legislation, freedom of speech violations, student depression surveys, and consumer society condemnations, and many many more. Why is it so shocking that we are always being shocked? It would seem that the very problem of shock is not the pervasiveness of that unpleasant stoss (105), but rather that no one is shocked anymore. The experience of shock, as Felski theorizes, has lost its power.

ImageBut who would have thought that this habitual “intellectual and visceral” (106) reaction to works of art and entertainment would be of use? Why do we need to be shocked? Should we not be glad to have our consciousness assaulted early for a lifelong callousness to the disturbing narratives in life? One must review Felski’s account of the avant-garde’s use of shock and their self-destruction. She drops off by concluding that the avant-garde artists failed in their shock campaign to change to the world, yet she skips a vital connection that is anecdote has with her previous musings on the callousness of post-modern readers. It was the very barrage of shock from the modernist avant-garde that broke all barriers of experience for the post-modern generation. This flood of shock combined with the mania of consumerism has brought about the endless “demand for novelty and sensation,” already mentioned. Yet after thousands of experimental films and thousands of sensational novels, we find nothing that is truly new, neither does any reader feel any sensation anymore.

ImageWe ought not to abandon the mission of the avant-garde. Change needs to be made. There are “hypocrites and charlatans who [still] deserve to be shocked” (110). Shock and change are not as distant one would assume. The helpless “limit experience” of Foucault, that bracing “blend of solipsism, paranoia, brutality, and despair,” that one suffers while watching the Bacchae, has no recourse to the understanding of knowledge, it has cast out the consolation of enchantment. This speechlessness of tragedy throws oneself into the depths of the greatest mysteries, the human condition: shock is of the same family as recognition. We see ourselves both as the “helpless plaything of the gods” and as the brutal senseless child killers. Shock, (in its true form, not superficial “glamorized transgression” (110)) breaks through the framework of our constructs of reality, and reaches into the unfathomable soul of man.

I think it is only when our constructed notions of reality are shocked, and only when the soul is pierced through its shell, that the impetus to change is truly born.

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Snowflakes beyond a hot tub: a meditation

(Just a non-academic reflection of theological and moral import.)

I arrived on Eastern’s campus on a Monday, bright and early, as they say. After dropping my little sister off at the neighboring community college, I did a poor plowing job on the now snow covered road on my way to campus. With several hours until my next class, the usual temptation came to me: just put the heater on high, pull out the emergency blanket from the trunk, pull your hat down over your eyes and drift away into a cramped car-nap (my fellow commuters, you should be familiar with my use of jargon). But this day, I resisted my guardian devil’s call to sloth: I packed my bag and made my way to the REC-IM!

Here I was able to spend a good three hours getting in touch with my inner fish at the Club pool, sweating out the toxins of a week of indulgence in the sauna (while reading essays on literature, of course), and after a good old fashioned hot-cold treatment in this manner I submerged myself in the finest luxury our University has to offer: the club jacuzzi. It was only after suffering the bite of winter winds, the exertion of swimming, and the seasonal polarity of the sauna that I felt worthy to laze around the hot tub.

It was in this state of rare luxury that I was presented with an amazing spectacle. The bay windows of the Club Pool, right next to the hot tub, give on a clear view of the outdoors. While the bubbling heat relaxed my sore and sleepless muscles, a shower of snowflakes covered the cold earth not more than three yards beyond me. While I smiled in bliss, the heads of passersby were downcast and frowning. The contrast was striking. It was almost unfair.

I got to thinking about my own blessings. I thought of the many luxuries, small and humble though they may be, that our campus affords us. I used to harshly criticize the school. I thought of the great privilege it is to be a college student in the first place, when many may never have the chance. I used to buck against the goad of it all. I thought of my fortune to have shelter: one so wonderful yet so short lived as this one, as well as a house with central heating, the hospitality of family, a boiling workplace, when many are yet without shelter, freezing to death in this bitter winter. I have cursed all of those places many a time. Yet I don’t think I was just a selfish bitter punk that whole time. I always realized I was blessed and fortunate. I always knew that I never deserved to have any of those necessities much less luxuries. Perhaps, it was just a resentment to that strange moral space of having more than one deserves. I realized that I did not even deserve to be alive, yet there I was basking in the glory of a hot tub. The contrast was striking.

I got to thinking about Death. There were so many snowflakes. Watching them fall you can kind of zoom in on a single plane of action in that storm of infinite particles. When you zoom in you can begin to trace the path of a single flake as it falls or is whisked away (this adventure requires only a slightly trained eye and a calm disposition). After losing track of so many flakes in such fast succession. I thought also of how I only could hold a passerby in my gaze for no more than a quarter of a minute. Everything in my steamed lens of reality was transient. I thought then of Our Lady of Fatima who showed the children a vision of Hell: “souls were falling into Hell like snowflakes,” they said. I prayed that their vision was just enhanced time-lapse photography, not really as unthinkable as the relentless rapidity of weather before me. It couldn’t be. I thought of all the people passing by my one way glass. I mused how they were here one minute gone the next, how they may very well be there once again the next Monday, how they walked the same routine path, how they were probably really going nowhere in life, how they were all very likely to be depressed, how they were all very likely to feel no purpose in life, how they could very well all be dead by next Monday. I thought of how many of these people were possibly already in their own personal hell. Then, if I were to zoom out of my little camera world and see the tide of humans making trails in the snow, zoom out more and all across the world… then, I thought of how the vision of souls as snowflakes wasn’t really too far off. The comparison was striking.

I got to thinking about God. Sitting in a hot tub, attended not only by a lifeguard but also an institution, was a little taste of Heaven. I wonder if Heaven is a giant club pool (at least I hope there is one there for me…) Moreover, I wonder how close or how distant are my own musings from the Eternal Presence of God in Heaven, gazing down on man on Earth. Would he shed a tear, as I did, for the infinity of suffering that befalls all human beings through history, each and every human being every day? Indeed, for Christ left the hot tub of heaven for the snow-covered waste of Earth and wept over Jerusalem.

I got to thinking of many many more things…

Dear readers, you should try the hot tub meditation some time if ever you need food for thought.

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Response to “The Life of Poetry”



Counter Battery Fire

They fear it.    They turn away, hand up, palm out
fending off moment of proof, the straight look, poem.
The prolonged wound-consciousness after the bullet’s

The prolonged love after the look is dead,
the yellow joy after the song of the sun.

(“Reading Time: 1 Minute 26 Seconds”)[*]


In a flood of noise for a sale of

sights on a stream of cents

for the limited time only

there the joyous run their eyes

closed for the season out of batteries

in the shop of love in the out of

work the plastic need and the supply

chained to the walls with television

screens the thoughts of selfish starving

minds their business there is their own

there is

a break

in the line

The line the production line don’t you mind those empty-sound moments in time go on go on find yourself a position bind your night with half off hobby mime the Mr. Show climb the progress cliff up from the slime the medieval slime wash your work lazy work hands in grime of success don’t fall behind the tide the line the production line stand in line don’t read the lines don’t read those lines

Or else at your allotted respite time

You run the risk: catching enemy rhyme

Enemy fire! Spread Democracy! Open Forum! Unique You! Like them! Friend them!

Fire all we got! Raphel mai amecche zabi almi!”[†]  

Soul Idiotic…

Fire fire! Righteous bastard! Hegemonic history!

Bourgeois book! Canonist Despot!

Keep to thy horn and vent thyself with that…

Toot your own horn! Call in reinforcements!


When wrath or other passion touches thee.

War of attrition! War on terror! War on drugs!

We will always have the money!

We will always lull the fear!

We will always sell their fix!

You don’t sell. You have no use.


To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
To let go the means, to wake.

Insurgents retreat! Stock-Market Spike! Blowout sale!

Go to sleep. Go to sleep. TTYL.

I lived in the first century of these wars.

Guerrillas, covert, in the woods. Let sleeping dogs lie. Opportunity cost. Let the scienceless, progressless, nonproductives starve. ROTFL.


Book Burning / Book Drowning

Another verse of the hymn arose, a slow and mournful strain, such as the pious love, but joined to words which expressed all that our nature can conceive of sin, and darkly hinted at far more. Unfathomable to mere mortals is the lore of fiends… and every other voice of the unconcerted wilderness were mingling and according with the voice of guilty man in homage to the prince of all.

(Young Goodman Brown)

To the woods we have run, for our city’s undone,

When, before, like a lion, Prince Devil was roaming,

In the safety of chapels, to prayer we would run,

And the wise ones tell tales at the hour of gloaming.


With the trees we respire, for the stacks are on fire

When, before, in sheep’s cloth, Father Wolf would have preached:

“Any word that’s unfit be erased,” He required;

But a brave soul dared read in a grove he had reached.


Red roses have stopped us to smell them,

Because the whole world has been shelled.

Soon ago, when the devil was only a myth,

The new god was mankind: No-Man’s Land, he created, and Hell.

Such as poetry, life: forgotten forthwith.


To the woods we have run for the city’s in flood

Of electronic waves from the telescreen show

From producers: the Father of Lies. In cold blood,

The sought soul withers; never himself will he know.


To the woods we have run for the city is drowned

And the Satanic hymn we now hear from downtown,

In a chorus of books lying dead in a mound,

Is the siren who summons dead souls by its sound.


To emergency wailing of sirens they drift

Wrapped in paper, “bestsellers”, they float the ink-mire.

So to you, unconcerted dark wilderness, my thanksgiving I lift

That the tree still holds refuge: the classicist’s spire.


Lament for Blind Souls

There sighs, complaints, and ululations loud

Resounded through the air without a star,

Whence I, at the beginning wept thereat. 


She once was young and pure, wide-eyed to see,

Wide-minded to know, she but wanted to know



The war-cry of crusaders whose dogma was

The building of Eden from the Waste

The Joy of the Purchase

The Hope of the Exile

The Charity of the Self

The Fortitude of Holy Drudge

“Such heresy cannot be tolerated. It is an offense to almighty economy!”

They chanted while piling brick upon brick

To the skyscraper of New Babel

Their monument to learning

Endless learning

Their altar of criticism

Eternal deconstruction.

Their spire of wisdom

From whence all unholy

happy ignorance                        brainwashing faith

oppressive hegemony              medieval mentality

idle poetics                                   dead white thinking

backward traditions                  cowardly theism

All unholy mal-isms may be sought and destroyed.

It was in such an intercontinental ballistic strike that

She lost her eyes.

In the fission flash of a flood of black figures on backdrop of white light:

So many words, signifiying


So, she can see nothing now

But grope in the darkness

For some pieces, some objects,

Some shards of the grail she sought.

(But know that she is but one of thousands!

But perhaps the last one who will know it!)

So for her and for thousands of blind souls

I have committed writing poetry

To draw maps for the blind

To drop clues to the groping

To piece fragments to the puzzled

(They cannot see: that is why they are so baffled when they hold a poem.)

I furtively shatter the postmodern mosaic

“Wanted: for Vandalism of Relics”

Into the bomb blasted pieces the modernists left.

I spray paint upon the Holy Post-Modern Collage

“Wanted: employed or unemployed”

Because you cannot paste together

An edited New Testament      A deconstructed Chaucer       A burnt Koran

A faded hieroglyphic              A shredded Poetics                 A shattered Gilgamesh

And build your own paper-maché.

I break it all into pieces (for it may never be whole again)

So that the relic may give her new eyes to the past

So that the future may not keep her blind

But that gripping the broken past

She may see beyond her eyes.

[*] Rukeyser, Muriel. “Reading Time: 1 minute 26 seconds.”

This link is a lovely source for many of the Muriel’s Poems. Check some out! You may begin to understand her essay better by reading her poetry first (a rather uncommon sequence of learning). This poem along with her essay “The Resistances” inspired the response.

[†]This and the following lines in italics are from Dante’s Inferno Canto XXXI. 67, 70-2. Here they meet the giant Nimrod who is cursed to speak in gibberish for his sin of constructing the Tower of Babel.

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We Are All Semi-Literate

After reading the manifesto of E. D. Hirsch on cultural literacy, and after reading his extensive list of “what literate Americans know,” I was not as appalled to see how much I did not know as I was excited to begin a new quest for knowledge, not just any trivia but actual “important” facts.I think this is the true spirit behind Hirsch’s philosophy and the intended attitude behind his often misunderstood authoritative tone.

Below I have begun a list of what I do not know. (I’m sure that the complete something like this beyond the limits of the appendix would be an infinite endeavor, but one not unlike a life-mission.) I hope to do regular research to update this list with the basic context demanded by the author.

DEAR READERS, I invite you, please! Leave comments on this post with the meanings to any such items that you do know. This will be a very fun way learn as well as a great way to complement our social learning beyond schools. Moreover, such a challenge should help us all to overcome that culture of fear of asking that we talked about in class.

Thank you all for helping me become more literate each day!


Aaron, Hank


a capella


Addams, Jane

Abada Addis


Albatross around one’s neck

Aleutian Islands

Alliance for Progress

All the news that’s fit to print

American Gothic (image)





Armenian Massacre




Atom Smasher




Babbit (Title)


Baez, Joan

Bakke case

Balance of terror



Banneker, Benjamin

Barber of Seville, The (title)

Barrymores, the

basal metabolism


Battle of Britain

Bauhaus Movement

Bay of Biscay

Beale Street



Berkshire Hills

Berlin, Irving

Bernhardt, Sarah

Berry, Chuck

beta radiation

bete noire


Birch Society, John

Bizet Georges

Black, Hugo

Black Boy (title)

Black Hills, the

Black Hole of Calcutta


Blue and the Gray, the

blue-chip stock

Blue-tailed fly (song)

Bohr, Niels

Bohr atom

bolt from the blue


Bosporus, the


Bradley, Omar


brain trust

bread and circuses

Brer Rabbit


Britain, Battle of

Brown, John

Brownian movement

Brueghel, Pieter (the Elder)

Bryan, William Jennings

Buffalo Bill

Bumpo, Narry

Bunche, Ralph

Burke, Edmund

burn with a hard, gemlike flame

Burr, Aaron

Burr-Hamilton duel

buying a pig in a poke


Calder, Alexander




carbon-14 dating

carrying coals to Newcastle

carte blanche

Caruso, Enrico


Casey at the Bat (title)

cast thy bread upon the waters

Catherine the Great

cathode ray tube (CRT)

cause celebre


Cezanne, Paul

Chamberlain, Neville

chef d’oeuvre





cobbler should stick to his last, The

Cohan, George M.


Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean (song)


common-law marriage

Confessions (title) (Rousseau)

continental drift

cool your heels

Cornwallis, Lord



court packing

covered wagon

Crazy Horse

creature comforts

Crick, Francis

Crimean War

Crystal Palace

Cullen, Countee

Cumberland Gap

Cumberland Mountain


curry favor


Cyrillic alphabet


Daley, Mayor Richard

Damoc;eas, sword of

danke schon


Darrow, Clarence

Davy Jones’s Locker

dead heat

Debs, Eugene

Degas, Edgar

duGaulle, Charles


De Mille, Cecil B.



diamond in the rough

Diary of a Young Girl (title)


Dien Bien Phu


Dillinger, John

Disraeli, Benjamin

Doctor Livingstone, I presume?

dog in the manger

Don Giovanni (title)


Don River

Doppler Effect

Dos Passos, John

double indemnity

Douglas, Stephen A.

Douglas, William O.


Dreyfus affair

Dunbar, Paul Laurence

Durer, Albrecgt

Dutch treat

Eastern Establishment

eat humble pie

Eddy, Mark Baker


Edwards, Jonathan

Eichamann, Adolf

Elbe River



elementary particles

eminence grise

eminent domain



established church

Establishment, the



European Common Market

Eustachian tube

excise tax


Fabian tactics

fait accompli

Fall of France

Faraday, Michael

farm bloc

Farragut, Admiral David G.


feather your own nest

Federal Republic of Germany

feedback loop

Fermi, Enrico

Fieldings, Henry

Fields, W.C.

fifth column

first-strike capability



foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds., A

footprints on the sands if time


Fortune 500

For want of a nail the kingdom was lost

Foster, Stephen

Four Freedoms

Fourteen Points

Freedman’s bureau

Freedom Riders

French and Indian War

Friends, Society of

From the sublime to the ridiculous is one step

Gallup Poll


Ghandi, Indira

Garbo, Greta

Garibaldi, Menotti

Garrison, William Lloyd


Gauguin, Paul

Gehrig, Lou

geometric progression

George III

German Democratic Republic



Gibbon, Edward

Give him enough rope and he’ll hang himself

Give my regards to Broadway

giving the devil his due



global village

Glorious Revolution

Goebbels, Joseph

Golan Heights

Goldburg, Rube

Golden mean

Gompers, Samuel

Good Neighbor Policy


Goring, Hermann

Graham, Billy

Grandma Moses


Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution

Great Smoky Mountains

Great Society

Great War, the


Greenly, Horace

Griffith, D. W.

Gresham’s Law


Gunga Din (title)

Gutherie, Woody


Had we but world enough, and time…

Hague, the

Hale, Nathan


Harding, Warren G.

Hearst, William, Randolph

Heep, Uriah

Hegel, Georg

Heisenberg uncertainty principle


Henry, Patrick

Haiwatha (title)

Himmler, Heinrich

Hiss Alger

Hobbes, John

Ho Chi Minh

hoist with his own petard

Holmes, Oliver Wendell

Home is the sailor, home from sea

Hoover, J. Edgar

Hope, Bob

A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse

Houston, Sam

How you gonna keep ’em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree?

hue and cry

Huxley, Julian

hydrological cycle




ideal gas

If the mountain will not come to Mohammed…

I have not yet begun to fight.


Indian file

Indian summer


I never met a man I didn’t like

in loco parentis

integrated circuit


International Monetary Fund

Intrauterine device (IUD)

inversion (meteorology)




It ain’t a fit night out for a man or beast

Ivan the terrible

Jackson, Jesse

Jacksonian Democracy

Jacob and Esau


Jericho, Battle of



John Birch Society

John Brown’s Body (song)

John Bull

John Henry (song)

Johnson, Samuel

Jones, John Paul

Joplin, Scott

Joseph, Chief

Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho (song)


justify the ways of God to men




keep the wolf away from your door

Kennedy, Robert

Kent State

Key, Francis Scott


Khruschev, Nikita


Kidd, Captain William


king’s  English, the

Kinsey, Alfred


Kitty Hawk



Lafayette, Marquis de

Lafayette, we are here

La Fontaine, Jean de

La Guardia, Fiorello

Lake Victoria

Land of Nod


La Scala

Lavoisier, Antoine

lean and hungry look

leave well enough alone

Leda and the swan

Left Bank

left-handed compliment

Legree, Simon



Lennon, John

L’etat c’est moi

Letter from Birmingham jail (title)

Levant, the



Lippmann, Walter

Liszt, Franz

litmus test

Little Big Horn

Little Eva

Little strokes fell great oaks

Lloyd Georges, David

local anesthetic

Loch Lomond


logrolling (politics)

Long, Huey

Lord, what fools these mortals be!


Louis, Joe

Louis XIV

Lower East Side




Mach number

Mad dogs and Englishmen (go out in the midday sun)

Madison Avenue

Maginot Line

Make haste slowly

Make hay while the sun shines.


Malthus, Thomas

Mandela, Winnie

Manet, Edouard

man Friday (girl Friday)


Mann, Horace

Mann, Thomas

Marat, Jean Paul

Marathon, Battle of

Marbury v. Madison

Marconi Guglielmo

mare’s nest

Marshal Chief Justice John

Marshal, general George C.

Marshall Plan

Martha’s Vineyard, MA

massive resistence

Mata Hari



Maxwell, James Clerk

Meir, Golda




Mellon, Andrew

Mencken, H. L.

Mendeleev, Dmitri

mercator projection




Mexican War

microwave communication

middle ear

mind your p’s and q’s.

Mine eyes have seen the glory…

miss is as good as a mile., A

Mitty, Walker

Mojave Dessert

Momaday, Scott



Monroe, James

Montaigne, Michel Eyquem de

Mont Blanc


Montessori, Maria

month of Sundays




most unkindest cut of all

Mount Rainier

Mount Vernon

Mount Whitney



MX missile

My Lai massacre




Nation, Carrie


Native Son (title)

Nazi-Soviet nonagression pact


negative income tax

Nehru, Jawaharal

Nelson, Admiral Horatio


Never give a sucker an even break.

Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.

Never say die.

New Amsterdam

New Frontier

New Left

New Right

Nightingale, Florence


nitrogenous wastes

noble gas


normal distribution

North Sea


Nose out of joint

Nuclear free zone



That’s quite  a lot and only the first half! I have my homework set out for me!

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

My Past and My Future in “I Just Wanna Be Average”


Photograph of Mike Rose.

You Can follow his blog below. How cool this modern communication!

My personal romantic affection for Los Angeles and the his kept Mike Rose’s memoir from Lives on the Boundary far from my own memory of experience apart from the typical apathy of youth. I even envied the deceptively traditional community of his hometown, when he described the quirky wanderers of Vermont street like Ed Gionotti, Bud Hall, Old Cheech grabbing himself, and Lester the “toothless cabbie”: although I knew the street of my childhood well (although the storefronts are all out of business) I don’t remember a familiarity with a single townsperson except the clerk at the cornerstore (although that is now a a corporate chain). Who is Mike Rose to complain, I protested, with his museum from the Old World way of life while I waste away in the prison cell block of dead solitary souls that is Midwest suburbanism?! Soon, however, I understood that the unsocial community, the broken family, the self-centered individual were not just symptoms of my own time and place but that the modern disease that engenders them had been all too chronic in this memoir. The gripping turn of tone that catches readers the most, when he finally indicts the previous list of suspects, neither affectionate to people nor loathsome to situations, with a solid accusation, caught me: “I cannot recall a young person who was crazy in love or lost in work or one old person who  was passionate about a cause or an idea” (17) What a horror to know that this life of quiet desperation reaches ever further back! What a picture of human existence: “short and brutish, sad and aimless, long and quiet” (18)!

But the hope for Mike Rose’s future was not lost, despite the financial difficulties of his parents, despite the looming urban violence, despite the mechanized mis-condemnation of the test scores.

At that point in the reading too, I began to see that not only could there be hope for my own future in this short and brutish life, but that my past was much more similar to that of Rose than I had assumed. While Mr. Rose spoke Italian fluently, my parents were both only third generation immigrants with the spirit of the old world and the struggles of assimilation still fresh. My parents and his parents were similarly living in the working class (which has a strange tendency to render the same household scenery…). The comic books and other such pulp were replaced by video games in my generation but our imagination seemed to feed on such brain-rotting distraction rather than become another host. While Mike played with his chemistry set, I would direct grandiose make-believe adventures with a small group of friends. We both were dazzled by the infinity of astronomy. We both even look back the same way on the suffering enchantment of adolescence. As I read I experienced the kind of “recognition” that Rita Felski describes.

This experience of recognition grew oddly more and more real as the memoir went on. I was sent to a St. Joseph’s Academy, a traditional Catholic boarding school (not by grace of the immensely generous savings of tips from Mrs. Rose, despite the best wished of my divorced and unemployed mother, but by the grace of an immensely generous sponsorship by a member of our parish). So it is that while others find this memoir distant and unrelatable, I totally understand the lineup of eccentric poorly paid teachers of an expensive school. I am also familiar with the small school where the athletic and tough “vocational” kids take stand above the rest; the emulation, the fear, the toughness, I am familiar with it. I hated literature class in the same way because of the same kind of bad teacher, until I met my Mr. MacFarland (in my Junior Year, no less). Mr. Peter Bourbeau with a double Bachelors in Art and Literature “decided at twenty-six (I’m pretty sure he was that old), to find a little school and teach his heart out” (32). The just-right presentation of classic literature, the “keeping difficult people in line,” the return to reading, the not so good grades, the indecision about college, and, at last, the idyllic first years at college; all of this ran in a quick parallel to my own fond memories.

But I never would have thought I would have taken more after MacFarland than after Rose.

Now, here I am at twenty-five years of age (not yet twenty-six), having almost completed my degree, having forsaken the “credentials courses” (32) (i couldn’t bear to neither), and ready to teach my heart out in a small school. With a hopeful interview with a small Catholic school arranged, could I perhaps be another Jack MacFarland?

My aspirations at this point in time certainly aim this way, yet I feel I must detach myself from the romanticized memory of Roses early years of academic awakening, a memory of the best years of life I share as well. I feel that there is something more important to capture from earlier in this memoir: something I must never forget if I am to complete the cycle of mentorship enacted for the salvation of Mike Rose.

It is too easy for an intellectual to lose sight of the world “beneath” him. Mike Rose is a highly successful intellectual, but he came from working class stock. His memoir from Lives on the Boundary focuses less on the joys of intellectual awakening than on the difficulties of “vocational track” people struggling through a society that despises them for their fecundity and their inclination away from intellectual pursuits. More than being the Jack MacFarland that saves Mike Rose from stifled talent, a truly masterful teacher must not forsake his “less intelligent” pupils but must perform the truly difficult task: to find a place in this world, to find some power of mind, to help find a soul for the titular students of this memoir, the “difficult” ones, the less than intellectual: those who “just wanna be average.”

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