Jul. 15, 2010

Black Umbrellas

by Rick Agran

On a rainy day in Seattle stumble into any coffee shop
and look wounded by the rain.

Say Last time I was in I left my black umbrella here.
A waitress in a blue beret will pull a black umbrella

from behind the counter and surrender it to you
like a sword at your knighting.

Unlike New Englanders, she'll never ask you
to describe it, never ask what day you came in,

she's intimate with rain and its appointments.
Look positively reunited with this black umbrella

and proceed to Belltown and Pike Place.
Sip cappuccino at the Cowgirl Luncheonette on First Ave.

Visit Buster selling tin salmon silhouettes
undulant in the wind, nosing ever into the oncoming,

meandering watery worlds, like you and the black umbrella,
the one you will lose promptly at the day's end

so you can go the way you came
into the world, wet looking.

"Black Umbrellas" by Rick Agran, from Crow Milk. © Oyster River Press, 1997. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of political commentator Arianna Huffington, (books by this author) born in Athens, Greece (1950), for whom The Huffington Post is named. It was just over five years ago, in May 2005, that she launched the blog in which she and many celebrities contribute political commentary. The site quickly gathered large numbers of regular visitors, and today it is one of the most visited sites on the Web. Traffic statistics vary quite a bit, but according to Google Analytics, The Huffington Post has 22 million unique users each month.

It's the birthday of novelist Iris Murdoch, (books by this author) born in Dublin (1919). But she was a philosopher before she was a novelist. As a student, she wrote in her journal, "For me, philosophical problems are the problems of my own life." She took classes at Cambridge from Ludwig Wittgenstein, and her first book was a study of Jean-Paul Sartre and existentialism, published in 1953. In the meantime, she had written five novels, but she threw all of them away because she wasn't satisfied with them. In 1954, she finally finished a novel she was proud of, about an Irishman's adventures in London and Paris. It was published as Under the Net, and it was a great success.

It's the birthday of a man whose ideas are well-known (if not well-understood) to humanities students around the world and especially in the United States. French philosopher Jacques Derrida, (books by this author)the founder of "deconstruction," was born 80 years ago today in El Biar, Algeria (1930).

He's the author of more than 40 notoriously dense books, including Of Grammatology (1976), Specters of Marx (1993), Of Spirit (1989), Resistances of Psychoanalysis (1998) and The Animal That Therefore I Am (2008). [Note: Dates refer to English translations.]

Derrida generally refused to define "deconstruction." When asked to do so once in an interview he said, "It is impossible to respond. I can only do something which will leave me unsatisfied." One time when giving a lecture he said, "Needless to say, one more time, deconstruction, if there is such a thing, takes place as the experience of the impossible."

But lots of other people have tried to explain what deconstruction is. Terry Eagleton gave a pretty straightforward version in his reference book Literary Theory: He said it's "the name given to the critical operation by which oppositions can be partly undermined, or by which they can be shown partly to undermine each other in the process of textual meaning."

People have called deconstruction "literature's revenge on philosophy," "a positive device for making trouble," and even "a sustained assault on the Western philosophical tradition." Critic Peter Lennon said, "Deconstruction is a theory which appears to lend itself most readily to babbling obfuscation."

Derrida's most famous words: "There is nothing outside the text."

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