Sunday

Nov. 24, 2013

Land

by Carol Ann Duffy

If we were shades
who walked here once
over the heather, over the shining stones,
fresh in our skin and bones
with all of the time to come
left to be us,

if we were dust,
once flesh, where a cloud
swoons on the breast of a hill,
breathing here still
in our countable days,
the words we said,

snagged on the air
like the murmuring bees,
as we lay by the loch,
parting our clothes with our hands
to feel who we were,
we would rather be there

than where we are here,
all that was due to us
still up ahead,
if we were shades or dust
who lived love
before we were long dead.

"Land" by Carol Ann Duffy, from Rapture. © Faber and Faber, Inc., 2005. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the publisher and editor of The Little Review magazine, Margaret Anderson, born in Indianapolis, Indiana (1886). She grew up in the small town of Columbus, Indiana, but early on she decided that she didn't fit into small-town life at all. So she moved to Chicago, which was the artistic capital of the Midwest at the time. In order to create a circle of artistic friends, she decided to start a magazine devoted to the avant-garde. She said that her plan was to fill the magazine with "the best conversation the world has to offer."

She called her magazine The Little Review, and the first issue came out in March 1914. The magazine had a motto printed on the cover that said, "A Magazine of the Arts, Making No Compromise with the Public Taste." In 1918, the poet Ezra Pound showed Anderson the manuscript for a new novel called Ulysses by a man named James Joyce. When she read it, she wrote to Pound: "This is the most beautiful thing we'll ever have! We'll print it if it's the last effort of our lives." It took three years to serialize the whole novel, during which four complete issues of the magazine were confiscated and burned by the U.S. Post Office.

She was eventually convicted of obscenity charges for printing the novel. At the trial, the judge wouldn't let the offending material be read in her presence, because she was a woman, even though she had published it. But she said that the worst part of the experience was just the fact that all those issues of her magazine had been burned. She said: "The care we had taken to preserve Joyce's text intact. [...] The addressing, wrapping, stamping, mailing; the excitement of anticipating the world's response to the literary masterpiece of our generation ... and then a notice from the Post Office: BURNED."

She kept publishing The Little Review after that, but the issues appeared less and less frequently. Her last issue came out in 1929.

Margaret Anderson said: "I wasn't born to be a fighter. The causes I have fought for have invariably been causes that should have been gained by a delicate suggestion. Since they never were, I made myself into a fighter."

It's the birthday of the mathematician and philosopher Benedict de Spinoza (books by this author), born in Amsterdam (1632). He came from a family of Portuguese Jews who had been forced to convert to Christianity by the Spanish Inquisition. His father found refuge in Amsterdam, where there was a vibrant community of Jewish merchants and intellectuals.

Spinoza was a brilliant scholar, but he got himself excommunicated from the Jewish community for questioning the existence of miracles. So, he supported himself making lenses for spectacles, telescopes, and microscopes. In his spare time, he studied mathematics, philosophy, and theology and began to write. He was offered a professorship in Germany near the end of his life, but he turned it down because he thought it would take up too much time.

He published only three books in his lifetime, and only his first book, Principles of the Philosophy of Rene Descartes (1663), named him as the author. He was afraid that if he published his ideas, he would be branded a heretic by both Jews and Christians. But after his death, his friends secretly published most of his writings.

His most important idea was that everything in the universe is made of a single substance, and that everything in the universe is subject to natural laws. He also argued that the soul and the body are not really separate, but two parts of the same thing. He believed that God did not stand outside the universe, but rather that the universe itself was God, and that everything in the universe was perfect and divine.

It's the birthday of the novelist Laurence Sterne (books by this author) born in Clonmel, Ireland (1713). He was a preacher before he became a writer. He supported himself and his wife by doing double duty in two different parishes, as well as substitute preaching at a third parish. He did all this preaching in spite of the fact that he was skeptical about the existence of God.

He knew he wanted to try writing fiction, but his friends kept telling him to put it off until he was promoted to higher office. He finally decided he couldn't wait any more, and began to write what became one of the most revolutionary novels in English literature: The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1760), a fictional autobiography in which the narrator is unable to tell his own story, constantly being sidetracked by various absurd digressions on all sorts of subjects, questioning perceived ideas in ethics, theology, philosophy, sex, and politics. The book is also filled with black pages, excerpts of obscure theological debates, and a graphic representation of its own plotline.

The book went on to influence many writers of the 20th century, including James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Samuel Beckett. Italo Calvino said, "[Sterne] was the undoubted progenitor of all the avant-garde novels of our century."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

 









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