Jun. 19, 2014

After Work

by Jane Hirshfield

I stop the car along the pasture edge,
gather up bags of corncobs from the back,
and get out.
Two whistles, one for each,
and familiar sounds draw close in darkness—
cadence of hoof on hardened bottomland,
twinned blowing of air through nostrils curious, flared.
They come deepened and muscular movements
conjured out of sleep: each small noise and scent
heavy with earth, simple beyond communion,
beyond the stretched-out hand from which they calmly
take corncobs, pulling away as I hold
until the mid-points snap.
They are careful of my fingers,
offering that animal-knowledge,
the respect which is due to strangers;
and in the night, their mares' eyes shine, reflecting stars,
the entire, outer light of the world here.

"After Work" by Jane Hirshfield from Of Gravity and Angels. © Wesleyan University Press, 1988. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the film critic Pauline Kael (books by this author), born in Petaluma, California (1919). She was a film critic for The New Yorker for almost 25 years.

She said, "You have to be open to the idea of getting drunk on movies."

It's the birthday of Salman Rushdie (books by this author), born in Bombay, India (1947). He is the author of a travelogue, The Jaguar Smile: A Nicaraguan Journey (1987), as well as the novel The Satanic Verses (1988), which caused an enormous amount of controversy and forced Rushdie into hiding after Islamic extremists issued a fatwa death sentence upon him. Other novels include The Moor's Last Sigh (1995), The Ground Beneath Her Feet (1999), and most recently The Enchantress of Florence (2008).

It's the birthday of the short-story writer and memoirist Tobias Wolff (books by this author), born in Birmingham, Alabama (1945). He is best known for his memoir, This Boy's Life.

It's the birthday of mathematician, physicist, and theologian Blaise Pascal (books by this author), born in Clermont-Ferrand, France (1623). A child prodigy, by the time he was 19 he had already perfected the first mechanical calculator for sale to the public. In the field of physics, he discovered that air has weight, and he conducted experiments to prove that vacuums could exist, which led him to formulate the hydraulic principle that "pressure exerted on a fluid in a closed vessel is transmitted unchanged throughout the fluid." This principle is used today in devices such as syringes, hydraulic presses, automobile brakes, and aircraft controls. In mathematics, he founded the theory of probabilities and developed an early form of integral calculus.

He spent much of his life in conflict between science and religion, and was one of the first philosophers to seriously question the existence of God. But in 1654, he experienced a revelation, the account of which he carried sewn into his coat lining until his death. He came to the conclusion that there was no science to prove God exists; instead, humans must rely on their faith. He produced two great works of religious philosophy, Lettres Provinciales (Provincial Letters, 1657) and Pensées (Thoughts, 1658).

Blaise Pascal, who wrote, "In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don't."

It's the birthday of the music journalist and cultural critic Greil Marcus (books by this author), born in San Francisco (1945). He was named for his father, Greil Gerstley, who was killed in World War II before Marcus was born. Gerstley served on a Navy ship, one of three that were deliberately sent into a typhoon. Although the other officers urged him to mutiny, Gerstley refused, and all three ships sank. The incident inspired Herman Wouk's novel The Caine Mutiny (1952). Gerstley's son was born six months later, and when the boy was three years old, his mother married Gerald Marcus. Gerstley's death was never discussed, and Marcus was an adult before he knew the full story of how his father died.

After he graduated from Berkeley, Marcus got a job writing reviews for Rolling Stone magazine. Most other reviewers just wanted to talk about lyrics, but he wanted to go deeper. He wanted to write about music the way Pauline Kael wrote about movies. So Rolling Stone's founder, Jann Wenner, paid him $30 a week to be the magazine's reviews editor. In the decades since, he's written numerous volumes of rock music criticism and other criticism, and edited several others, including A New Literary History of America (2009). It's a collection of essays covering the Colonial period right up to the election of Barack Obama. He's written books about the Doors, Elvis, punk rock, Bob Dylan, and Van Morrison.

Marcus very rarely reveals anything about himself in his work. This is in stark contrast to his friend and fellow critic Lester Bangs, whom Marcus once described as "a one-man orgy of abandon, excess, wisdom and satire, parody — the bad conscience ... of every band he reviewed or interviewed." Marcus doesn't like to talk about himself, or his personal life, even when asked directly in interviews. He says, "People write memoirs ... out of a great sense of self-importance," and adds, "I don't think my life itself is very interesting." He views people like Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin as attention-seeking "phonies."

"All our lives, from the time we became sentient beings and lost our lives to Little Richard and Elvis Presley, people were telling us ‘you're going to outgrow this,'" Marcus said in an interview with the Los Angeles Review of Books. "And in some way everybody believed we would: believed it with resentment, believed it with sorrow, believed it with a weary shrug of the shoulders, but believed it. But when the Beatles showed up ... suddenly we realized, ‘no, you don't have to outgrow this.' You can't outgrow this, you shouldn't outgrow this, and you won't outgrow this. And that was really something."

Last spring, Marcus gave the commencement address at New York's School of Visual Arts. In it, he disputed the division of "high culture" and "popular culture": "Nearly everything I've written is based on the conviction — the experience — that there are depths and satisfactions in blues, rock & roll, detective stories, movies, television, as rich and as profound as those that can be found anywhere else. [...] Who can argue that that sense of transportation is not as present in The Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter" ... as in the art most exalted in motive, most revered in history?"

Marcus's next book is The History of Rock 'n' Roll in Ten Songs, which comes out later this year (2014). For the book, Marcus chose 10 songs, released between 1956 and 2008, that he feels most embody the spirit of rock music.

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




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