Nov. 28, 2008

The History of Effects

by William Greenway

The Bible was created by Bishop Ussher
in 4004 B.C. Then Galileo cooked the universe
too long, and the earth, like a yolk, slipped off
center and everything began to wobble.
Freud needed a reason to talk about sex,
and Marx wrote a bestseller
so he could retire rich.
When the species started to hunt
for their origin, they discovered Darwin.

So now the ears of corn put down
tethers to the earth, trees rake
the wind into piles, the sun turns the world
like a ballerina, the way a magnet whirls
a rotor. Silence squelches the radios,
and darkness the bulbs. Automobiles are invented
to reach the malls, and choppers to haul
body bags, and animals come to live with us
to quench our loneliness and nourish our hunger.
We've begun to love the people who need us
as dandruff rises from sweaters to infect our hair,
and parachutes are the white flags
of suicides that fail.

"The History of Effects" by William Greenway, from How the Dead Bury the Dead. © The University of Akron Press, 1994. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the novelist and physicist Alan Lightman, (books by this author) born on this day in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1948. He started publishing poems while he was a postdoctoral fellow in astrophysics at Cornell. He was a professor at Harvard and then MIT, where he taught both physics and writing. He changed the curriculum of MIT so that students had more humanities courses, and he founded a collaborative theater program that explored science issues through drama. And he started writing novels.

His first novel was short and poetic, a series of vignettes describing the dreams Einstein might have had while he was working on his Special Theory of Relativity. It was called Einstein's Dreams (1993), and it was an international best-seller. He went on to write four more novels, all involving science: Good Benito (1995), The Diagnosis (2000), Reunion (2003), and his most recent, Ghost (2007).

Today is the 100th birthday of the French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, (books by this author) born in Brussels, Belgium, in 1908. He grew up in Paris, and in college he studied philosophy and law. He got an offer to teach at a college in Sao Paulo, Brazil. In Brazil, he went into the Amazon rainforest, met indigenous people, and started researching them. And he realized that he actually wanted to be an anthropologist. He lived with various indigenous groups; he tried to learn everything he could about their culture. Then he started writing books — A World on the Wane (1961) and The Savage Mind (1966). He argued that all people have the same capacity for intellectual thought, not just people in Europe or America, not just people living in civilization. He said that all people have similar mental structures, because all people want to structure the world to make order out of chaos. And he said that magic and mythology, ritual, art, and kinship are just as important as science or literature in the development of mental structures. That's why his way of thinking is called Structuralism.

He wrote many more books, including his epic four-volume study called Mythologiques. He took one myth, and he followed it from the southern tip of South America up through Central America, North America, and into the Arctic Circle. The four books are published in English as The Raw and the Cooked (1969), From Honey to Ashes (1973), The Origin of Table Manners (1978), and The Naked Man (1981). He still publishes occasional articles, and he is still alive on this day, his 100th birthday.

It's the birthday of William Blake, (books by this author) born in London in 1757. He was a poet, a mystic, and an artist. When he was four, he told his parents that he saw God put his head in the window. And at age nine, he said that he saw a tree filled with angels. He wrote Songs of Innocence (1789) and Songs of Experience (1794), which were both very popular. He used his famous process of illuminated printing to illustrate his poems.

He said, "For everything that lives is holy, life delights in life."


"To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."

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




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