Saturday, June 30, 2007

Philip Glass, Minimalist

Dear Philip Glass,

I have been studying your music for a few months now. Please understand, when I say study I am making no claims upon scholarship. I just mean that I'm concentrating on your music and theater pieces. I'm doing some reading then I'm listening again and reading some more.

Sure, I have some things to say after all my thinking and listening. This is why, this is why, this is why, why, why I like blogs. For I may publish my thinking to the world without peer review or edit (besides my own) and perhaps someone else reads and comments, agrees, disagrees. "You are out of your mind. Have you read what Nadia Boulanger had to say?" "No, but Persichetti was scathing!"
Who's there ?
Knock Knock ?
Who's there ?
Knock Knock ?
Who's there ?
Knock Knock ?
Who's there ?
Philip Glass.
So that's why I love to write blogs and express my opinions on the things I read and hear. And I'm sure you understand.

If I were to try to convince someone to start listening to your music, I would tell them that they already like your music. It's like if someone in the 30's and 40's tried to convince someone to enjoy the writing of William Faulkner. *Movie goers were already enjoying it whether they realized it or not in the form of movies like Today We Live, The Road to Glory, Slave Ship, To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep, and Land of the Pharoahs. But that was Faulkner.

Wide America is already enjoying your music in the form of The Truman Show.

Truman. Truman. Truman. Come back.
The unknowing public also loved you while they watched The Hours

And others. But that really isn't the point either. What is the point? What is? What? Who's point? Point is? Music that touches? Whose soul? Why do you care if they hear this music? Didn't he just open a new theater piece in New York? Did you see it, hear it, must run, good to see you, talk to you soon.

So when I sit in the car with my twenties something children and I say, listen to this just for a minute and then put on whatever music you like. They say. I like this. And I am satisfied for their souls have been touched too. And I really didn't have to convince them.

A friend of mine gave me a Philip Glass record. I listened to it for five hours before I realized it had a scratch on it.

So what I meant to say is, I like your music.


*Note: Faulkner said his work on the script for The Southerner was the best that he did. However, he is not credited with the work because it was produced by United Artists and he was under contract with Warner Bros.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Richard Wright's Native Son, Albert Camus' The Stranger, and Walker Percy's Lancelot

Dear Richard, Albert, and Walker,

I am fascinated by this thread of commonality between your books, Native Son (1940), The Stranger (1942), and Lancelot (1977). This is cute. Did you plan this or did it just happen? I imagine the three of you doing an IM Chat.

inside_resistance: sanctus+dude:
So this is how this whole series of books got going? No?

Well, I'll have to think about this some more. Others are thinking about it too, like Lemony Snicket and the Baudelaire children.

*Richard Wright, an American novelist of the realist school, asks a famous unfathomable question ... "Who knows when some slight shock," he asks, "disturbing the delicate balance between social order and thirsty aspiration, shall send the skyscrapers in our cities toppling?"
You guys are too much!


*The Penultimate Peril

Friday, June 22, 2007

Zorro's Woodland Home

Dear Stormland and Others Curious about the Life and Times of Zorro,

You asked about whether it is legal to live with a raccoon here in Tennessee. My answer is, "I don't know, I don't live with a raccoon. I just entertain one regularly." However, I am providing this exclusive video (Soon to be picked up, I'm sure, for an episode of Private Lives of the Rich and Famous.) It reveals the little known and seldom seen haunts of Zorro the Raccoon.

He appears to be slow and thoughtful as he retreats to his humble abode. This morning, though, after breakfast, he was quite hasty when the neighbor dog, Molly, arrived and took up chase.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Carter on US Policy on Palestinians

Dear President Carter,

Thank you for speaking out clearly and strongly on this subject. Did I ever tell you that you are the reason I became a registered Democrat. I must admit, I'm not dyed-in-the-wool and that if I were to describe myself politically I would probably say I'm a socialist, but I'd still vote for you. Will you run?

As a Woman in Black I have stood with the women in this photo in front of the Duncan federal building on Tuesdays here in Knoxville, TN. We have a silent presence that raises a persistent request to the federal government. Please, act for peace in Palestine. (I must note here with respect and appreciation. Our congressman Jimmy Duncan--son of Duncan of federal building fame--was one of the few Republican legislators, one of the few legislators on either side of the aisle who voted against the war of aggression in Iraq. Thank you Congressman Duncan!)

The Irish Times stated, "President Carter, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who was addressing a human rights conference in Croke Park, also said the Bush administration's refusal to accept Hamas' 2006 election victory was 'criminal.'" This is not the first time the US leadership has moved into the realm of what could be described as criminal, also immoral, war-mongering, disrespectful for humanity, insane. . .

I could rant on. But I want to thank you again, and ask you to continue working, using your voice and the well deserved influence that you possess, for reasonable peace in Israel, Palestine, and our world.


Betsy DeGeorge

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Eugene Onegin and Ennui

Dear A. Pushkin,

I read your poetic novel recently. It was, sigh, ok. I have heard the operatic version a number of times and saw it on the Met broadcast. It's, yawn, nice. So I figured it was time I read the book.

In your poem, "Onegin's Journey," (was that an addendum to the main poem?) I noticed that concise couplet, which, to me expressed the point precisely.

Oh God, I'm young, I'm fresh, I'm strong
And I've got boredom, all day long.
Onegin is not really a bad man, is he? But he is a bored one. And boredom disallows the kind of caring that engenders good, doesn't it. The want of good can degenerate to bad very quickly. In Onegin, it degenerates to a thoughtless flirtation and the killing of a friend. For that, Onegin pays with a life of more ennui and guilt. You don't really develop the guilt in your work, Alexander, but for 'Evgeny' ennui is punishment enough. Ennui, that is, and unrequited love.

Here is why I think Onegin is a generally good man.

1. He doesn't take advantage of Tatyana.
2. He writes in the margins of books.
3. His servants like him.
The first is obvious. In most pre-20th century literature, I think, protagonists get "good" points for respecting the life and sexual innocence of other human beings. This is probably no longer the case as far as I can guess, but when you were writing, it was true.

I might be questioned on my line of reasoning for my third point. But I think goodness used to be defined by how well servants and slaves liked their masters. To me this is strange, but reflects an interesting human trait. The very person who is in some ways the closest oppressor is deified for the kindliness of their oppression. Certainly Onegin is just a poor example of this, but literature runneth over with examples, from Harriet Stowe to Jane Austin, good is established not by active high virtue, but by the absence of high evil with the trimmings of petty virtue. (Perhaps I need to think more about this later but I think I've a headache now.)

Onegin wins my heart though, if perhaps he loses that of Tatyana, because he writes in the margins of his books.

Tatyana sees with trepidation
what kind of thought, what observation,
had drawn Eugene's especial heed
and where he'd silently agreed.
Her eyes along the margin flitting
pursue his pencil.
Everywhere his soul encountered there declares
itself in ways unwitting--
terse words or crosses in the book,
or else a query's wondering hook.

There is nothing I like better than an annotated book with margins full of reaction. How much we can learn about the reader from a simple exclamation point or underline. (I especially favor the double underline.) I have to tell you, this stanza was my very favorite of the entire book. There, as I droned along through the interminable passages of this overwritten book, my spirit was captured by your obvious appreciation of the marginal comment.

Lee Smith in her novel Saving Grace says you can get away with anything if you are nice about it. Of course neither her Florida Grace nor Onegin, whose delicate charm won many hearts, get away with anything in the end, for loved or not loved, they must live with themselves.

At this point I need to comment about Childe Harold, for it seems that this is the character that you drew upon for your skeleton of Onegin ("A Muscovite in Harold's Dress"). Lord Byron, whose portrait hung in Onegin's country library, said this of his Harold.
It had been easy to varnish over his faults, to make him do more and express less, but he never was intended as an example, further than to show that early perversion of mind and morals leads to satiety of past pleasures and disappointment in new ones, and that even the beauties of nature, and the stimulus of travel (except ambition, the most powerful of all excitements) are lost on a soul so constituted, or rather misdirected.
(Does anyone have a stick of gum?)

"Childe," as you know, means a youth destined for Knighthood. But neither Harold nor Onegin have the heart for nobility (whatever that is). Byron's description of Harold,
But long ere scarce a third of his pass'd by,
Worse than adversity the Childe befreel
He felt the fulness of satiety:
Then loath'd he in his native land to dwell,
Which seem'd to him more lone than Eremite's sad cell.
Whoa is this boring yet? So back to the point, poor Onegin, he is not a bad guy, but lost. He reminds me of the obese children suing McDonald's. Is there anything more pathetic than Harold, Onegin, and they, satieted and looking for something to eat.

Here's the thing, (I really need to take a shower) . . . I think U.S. Culture 2007 has been struck by a bad case of Oneginitis. You've had a century or so to think about this. Got a cure? Let me know, I've gotta go and take my Prozac.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

If Jesus Drove a Truck

Dear Jeff Street and Payne Hollow Folks,

Finally, the video debut of Stevie singing "If Jesus Drove a Truck." You folks have enjoyed this for some time at the Goatwalker. And thanks for posting the lyrics there. I suppose the true name of the song is "I Don't Know, I Don't Know, I Don't Know." The lyrics are the best part aren't they?

Thanks for your support for my "boy". Actually, I will have to stop using that phrase, for he is truly a fine man. I am not only proud of him, but I look up to him too.

Betsy, a.k.a. Stevie's Mom

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Dear Sapphire Quilt,

For a few years now you have been creating your own works of quilt art. I love everything that you have done, but I especially love the ones I get to wrap up in on chilly nights. (Keep in mind that for me, every night is a chilly night at some point or other.) I wanted to recommend to anyone passing through this blog post that they really should take a look at the quilts on your blog, Sapphire Quilt. I also wanted to post pictures of one of my most treasured possessions, a quilt that hangs not off my shoulders but above my bed. This piece was a loving gift from teachers and students at a school where your Dad worked for a number of years.

As I look at each of these squares I am reminded of stories and people.

Remember the Friday club? Dad would bring boys without fathers to our little old house in the country and show them how to do stuff. Remember when the horse ran off with that one kid? And when I got so mad at them for shooting the head off a doll with a 22 rifle?

Remember that Stop light that Dad put in the 2nd grade classroom. Green meant you could talk, yellow meant whisper, and red meant sssh!

How about the annual squirt gun battle staged by the 6th graders and the mini-marathons? And how about that time they dragged you to the principal's office for saying "Ass-phalt!"

Those were the days, when little Stevie wore teal converse sneakers, and little Diane could curl up in our arms she was so small. And speaking of curls, remember how Anne GG's were so wild and only Carrie Gwilt knew what to do with them. Did you know that she just had a baby! Plus she's a pediatrician or some kind of medical doctor on the side!

Our lives are really like quilts put together from lovely squares of remembrances aren't they? And you Sapphire Quilt are in the center portion of my quilt and one of the most beautiful of all.

I Love You So,


Friday, June 08, 2007

The Sand Child: An Interpretation

Dear Tahar Ben Jelloun,

I have continued to think about your book, The Sand Child and am ready to posit an interpretation. Tell me what you think. Of course I am not sure, but my thoughts feel like they are swarming closer to the center of what you are trying to say, and, perhaps, that is something.

My former post, Ben Jelloun Draws Such Strange Words in the Sand, helped me think through my initial ideas.

The father figure in the book is Western Colonial Influence. I, at first, thought this a difficult metaphor, yet it makes sense in relation to the patronizing attitudes of colonialists. Certainly, colonial forces always assume the role of father to the countries they inhabit. There is a line in the book that talks about the father lying with Zahra(F)/Ahmed(M)and the forms coming together. This relationship of father trying to form child in his own image is a fascinating one. It is complemented by all the allusions to Father bringing the child into the world of men and power.

Meanwhile the relationship of Zahra(F)/Ahmed(M) to the Mother figure, a representation of Mother Morocco or Mother Maghreb (Northern Africa, the area West of the Nile and North of the Sahara) is distant and especially so after the death of the father, i.e. the end of colonial rule. The child is left alone and unable to find a definitive path in the current world. Abandoned by all, including the storyteller, the child is first (or primarily) isolated from both the modern world and from tradition, and second (or secondarily) without a sure path forward, exemplified by the surrealist multiple storied ending.

There are oddities in the tale that I am unable to unscramble. The traveling gypsy episode may have some cultural roots and interpretations that escape me. I have heard and read that transvestite entertainers are part of standard issue Arabian fun. That is out of my realm of experience, but may play in here somehow. The rapes that occur in that section could speak to the psychological reality that one lives through rape over and over, hence its placement after what I have identified in my mind as the death of colonialism (i.e. the rape of one culture by another) is showing that the effects of the ravishing of a culture does not cease when the last ship leaves the dock.

The story hasn't ended. The end has not been written for North Africa or for Zahra. Perhaps the presence of Jorges Luis Borges in this book gives a clue to how it should be understood.

"The earth we inhabit is an error, an incompetent parody. Mirrors and paternity are abominable because they multiply and affirm it." — (dogma of a fictional religion in "Hakim, the masked dyer of Merv".) Part of this quote (See paper by Beauvais Lyons) or perhaps another version is attributed to a heresiarch of Uqbar in "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius". "Mirrors and copulation are abominable since they multiply and extend a visible universe that was an illusion, or more precisely a sophism."

History and existence are not locked down. Perception of history and culture is what we have. Who is telling the story? The gender, seemingly the most predetermined of the elements of a being is undermined, put in question, made into an incompetent parody. In the case of the Sand Child, the being is Morocco, and it has lost its footing in the sand, lost more than its footing, it has lost its shape, its gender, and must redefine itself. The story will be told, but those who must tell it have yet to find their voices.

OK. That is my attempt at interpreting The Sand Child. Next I'll read The Sacred Night.


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Marriage: What Makes it Work for 60 Years? An Answer from Gillian Welch

Dear Gillian,

My parents have just crossed over. That is, they have crossed over their 60th wedding anniversary. Now, they may not be big fans of your music exactly. But if someone asked them what it is that makes a marriage work for 60 years, they would answer something like the words to your song, By The Mark. "It's Jesus," they would say, "Just Jesus."

By The Mark

When I cross over
I will shout and sing
I will know my savior
By the mark where the nails have been

By the mark where the nails have been
By the sign upon his precious skin
I will know my savior when I come to him
By the mark where the nails have been

A man of riches
May claim a crown of jewels
But the king of heaven
Can be told from the prince of fools

On Calvary Mountain
Where they made him suffer so
All my sin was paid for
A long, long time ago

Marriage is a very tricky thing. But from what I have observed. They have it just about right.


Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Rupe 60th Anniversary Party

Dear Mom and Dad,

Congratulations. 60 years of marital bliss. Amazing! The party was wonderful. Stevie's song says, well, not all, but a lot.