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Poem by Gregory Corso

I Am 25 by Gregory Corso

With a love a madness for Shelley
Chatterton Rimbaud
and the needy-yap of my youth
has gone from ear to ear:
I HATE OLD POETMEN!
Especially old poetmen who retract
who consult other old poetmen
who speak their youth in whispers,
saying:–I did those then
but that was then
that was then–
O I would quiet old men
say to them:–I am your friend
what you once were, thru me
you’ll be again–
Then at night in the confidence of their homes
rip out their apology-tongues
and steal their poems.

Now, this doesn’t mean I’m “ageist.” It’s more about the spirit of the “old at heart” poets and writers.

I wanted to post this poem by Gregory Corso, a beat poet, because I’ve been thinking a lot about freedom of expression and that youthful spirit of writing which I mentioned in a previous post. The beat poets of the 50s and 60s definitely had it, and I think many poets today still do.

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The Dostoevsky Blog?

Image courtesy of Maira Kalman, from her book The Principles of Uncertainty

A while back, I wrote about Dostevsky’s The Idiot, and it still remains my most popular post. Yes, contrary to all expectations, Dostoevsky is more popular than seagulls, Jim Butcher, and Socrates combined… not bad for a dead white guy! I briefly considered renaming this “the Dostoevsky Blog” but that would make it hard to promote my own writing, unless I pretended my name was Dostoevsky.

Without going too extreme, I will see if we can have something of a semi-regular feature on Dostoevsky books. Also, if you have any questions about Dostoevsky or his writings, you can email me or leave a comment, and I’ll post the answers on this blog.

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Fantasy Book Review: Imperative

This is the first in a series of books about a crime-solving wizard named Quinn Larson. The good thing about this book is that Quinn Larson is a lot like Harry Dresden from Jim Butcher’s famous urban fantasy series. The bad thing about this book is that at times it’s too much like the Dresden files. A tall, sarcastic wizard who lives alone in an old house with a lab in his basement, with a summoning circle… sound familiar? Aside from that, I enjoyed the magical goings-on and the fairy politics in this fast-paced urban fantasy.

The magical world P.A. Wilson creates is quite unique. The novel is set right here in beautiful Vancouver and could double as a guidebook to all the city’s hidden supernatural hangouts. For example, the Sidhe court is located in the not-yet-yuppified part of Yaletown (just as I always suspected!) There are different clans of fairies (Rose, Lily, Bulrush, etc), and then there are the Sidhe, kind of like fairies but much more crazy and ambitious. Vampires are extinct because humans had discovered and obliterated them. In fact, the plot hinges on the fact that supernatural creatures must remain hidden from the humans, since we tend to destroy all such things that scare us. So, when Quinn Larson discovers fairies murdering humans with magic potions all over the city, he knows he must put a stop to it before the humans figure out what’s going on.

The entire plot is a race against time to protect the humans so that the humans won’t start killing the fairies. There’s a strong underlying ethos to it all, similar to Buddhism. For instance, Quinn is sworn not to do harm to the Sidhe, or to anyone in general. He must overcome his enemies without killing them. This opens up the potential for some clever spell-making and ingenious plans. Imperative is refreshingly different from most fantasy novels where there is a clear delineation between good creatures and bad creatures. Here, there are no black and white divisions, and if one species suffers, everybody suffers.

On the whole, this is quite a page-turner. The magical world is easy to plunge into, and the plot is complicated and suspenseful. The weakness of the novel is in the character development. We don’t really see who Quinn is for the first few chapters as he walks around discovering things, and as the story is told from the first person point of view, we hardly know who the “I” is. Other times, he transitions too quickly from feeling horrified about the murders to romantic and then to sarcastic moods. There’s a whirlwind of emotions which could have been made more believable.

The similarity with Harry Dresden still bothered me, but as the author herself states, “Harry Dresden is the dark knight of urban fantasy,” and this Quinn Larson novel is definitely not as dark as some of the Dresden ones. There is a comedic tone to the proceedings, which makes Imperative a light and enjoyable read.

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Thou shalt censor for the sake of manliness!

Unmanly Achilles?…

I’ve taught one of the funniest classes ever, and I can’t really take credit for it being funny. All the laughs came from  that well known stand up comedian Socrates, brought to you by Plato’s chef d’oevre The Republic. Now, you wouldn’t think that one of the cornerstones of Western philosophy is also outrageously funny, but my student and I were consumed with fits of giggling after discussing this masterful work of political thought.

Of course, it was not intentionally funny… At first, Socrates talks about his plan for designing the perfect city, to be ruled over by a Philosopher King, who would basically be a tyrant. Such tyranny, however, is justified because the philosopher obviously knows what’s best for the people. Among other things, he would ensure their moral soundness by censoring Homer’s poetry and other works that portray gods and heroes in a “negative” light. He is expecially concerned that heroes should not be depicted as weak and unmanly:

Then we shall be right in getting rid of the lamentations of famous men, and making them over to women (and not even to women who are good for anything), or to men of a baser sort, that those who are being educated by us to be the defenders of their country may scorn to do the like.

More specifically, he points out Achilles’ mourning of Patroclus as an outrageous example of unmanly behaviour:

Then we will once more entreat Homer and the other poets not to depict Achilles, who is the son of a goddess, first lying on his side, then on his back, and then on his face… now taking the sooty ashes in both his hands and pouring them over his head, or weeping and wailing in the various modes which Homer has delineated. Nor should he describe Priam the kinsman of the gods as praying and beseeching, rolling in the dirt, calling each man loudly by his name.

Very strange indeed… In our times, we censor things that are either too violent or too sexual, whereas in Plato’s times people were more interested in censoring out strong expressions of emotion because they were considered unmanly! One can only conclude that Socrates’ ideal man would somewhat resemble a screen persona portrayed by Clint Eastwood. Whether he has just seen his best friend killed or his favorite ice cream flavour sold out, the only hint we would get of inner turmoil would be a powerful glare of those piercing blue eyes.

Yes, it was funny to think of censorship being used in that way, but on second thought, maybe Socrates was on to something. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we had a Philosopher King who would censor out huge chunks of Jersey Shore? I had to suffer through a few episodes of this travesty because my former roommate was a fan, and it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that show is unmanly. Whether you use Socrates’ definition or a more contemporary one, of a man being someone strong, dependable, and not petty, it is clear that the men of Jersey Shore fall short of the mark. As far as I could tell, they are usually busy gossiping, cowering away from their problems, and when they’re not busy with drink and debauchery, judging others who engage in drink and debauchery. All of this should be censored out, leaving only the parts when the characters are either asleep or interacting respectfully with their Italian elders. And then the show would probably lose some of its appeal and people would stop watching it. So maybe censorship can be a force for good! What do you think, readers? Have you ever wanted to censor a movie, TV show, book, or anything else?

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Dickens and Dostoevsky

I haven’t blogged in a while, being busy with my students, some of whom are studying Great Expectations and some The Idiot by Charles Dickens and Fyodor Dostoevsky, respectively. So I’ve been in the throes of reading both books, especially the Dostoevsky. He’s got very intense plotting, so one always feels “in the throes” of it.

I’ve realized a very important thing: that movie I saw recently, Our Idiot Brother must have been inspired by The Idiot, but it was a somewhat dumbed down version, which is kind of ironic if you think about it. In the movie, the main character is literally really stupid, whereas in Dostoyevsky’s novel he’s actually extremely intelligent but a very nice and sincere guy, so everyone thinks he’s an idiot. However, the movie wasn’t bad. I can see now how it hearkens back to the original novel. In the movie, Ned (played by Paul Rudd) is an innocent and impractical guy who loses his farm and his girlfriend, so he is taken care of by his mother and three sisters. Being extremely honest, Ned proceeds to turn his sisters’ lives upside down by inadvertently revealing the web of lies that they had built up. And interestingly enough, another movie version is in production. It seems it will be closer to the original, though I don’t know whether it will be set in 19th century Russia or whether it will be another modernized American version.

Anyways, reading them side by side made me wonder whether Dickens and Dostoevsky ever actually met in real life. I discovered that there is some uncertainty about whether they actually met. Dostoevsky describes it in his journal, but it’s quite possible he made the whole thing up. Such a meeting, however, has definitely taken place on my book shelf, and I think it’s having a very a good effect on me by making me more smarter and what not.