Saturday, June 30, 2007

How is Catullus not included in the Dartmouth Canon?

I generally hate poetry but Catullus may change my mind. Here is an example courtesy of Ace:

Catullus 16
Latin Text

Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo,
Aureli pathice et cinaede Furi,
qui me ex versiculis meis putastis,
quod sunt molliculi, parum pudicum.
Nam castum esse decet pium poetam
ipsum, versiculos nihil necesse est;
qui tum denique habent salem ac leporem,
si sunt molliculi ac parum pudici
et quod pruriat incitare possunt,
non dico pueris, sed his pilosis
qui duros nequeunt movere lumbos.
Vos, quod milia multa basiorum
legistis, male me marem putatis?
Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo.

English Translation
I will fuck you in the ass and throat-rape you.
Kinky Aurelius and bottom-man Furius,
You who think that I'm a pussy
Because of my delicate verses.
It's right for the devoted poet to be chaste
Himself, but it's not necessary for his verses to be so.
Verses which then have taste and charm,
If they are delicate and sexy,
And when they can incite an itch,
And I don't mean in boys, but in those hairy old men
Who can't get their flaccid dicks up.
You, because you have read of my thousand kisses,
You think I'm a pussy?
I will fuck you in the ass and throat-rape you.


OK I'm joking. There really isn't anything particularly poetic about this. It's more like high school bathroom graffiti I was just surprised that there are apparently a number of people who study this guy's invective poetry. Good Work if you can get it I guess.

Monday, June 25, 2007

To the Lighthouse - Virginia Woolf

A few weeks ago I picked up the unabridged audiobook of To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf and I finished listening to it this week. I know a lot of people consider audiobooks cheating, and maybe they are but sometimes they are the only way I can get to a book. Anyway that's really neither here nor there the point is I finished.

Overall I was much more impressed by To the Lighthouse than by Dubliners. For one thing it had a unifying story where Dubliners was merely a set of short stories set in the same place. I also found the writing to be more descriptive especially the dinner scene at the house. I have to admit though that I was a little distracted at times by that. I kept thinking of the one Bergman film I have seen where everything appears washed out and flat. That was the way I was picturing the dining room with some guttering candles and deep shadows thrown in.

The major theme of the book seems to be the transience of life (as is noted in the Wikipedia article I linked) and I don't disagree with that, but I noted a couple subthemes also.

One is the centrality of the wife / mother figure in a family. Mrs. Ramsey is really the glue that holds although the characters together as a cohesive whole. It is her will that is imposed on the family whether they realize it or not and her approval they seek. At the end of the book when the majority of the surviving characters return to the Hebrides they are really doing so to mourn her.

The second ... honestly I had something really profound to say here but as I was typing I completely forgot what it was. Something about the perception of gender roles I think.

I also picked up a little bit of lesbian subtext in the first section of the book where Lily is thinking about sitting at Mrs. Ramsey's feet with her head in her lap thinking how beautiful Mrs. Ramsey was and wondering why she wanted Lily to get married and subjugate herself to a man.

There is also the traditional nod to death with the Boar's skull and the sea etc.

This isn't a book I would read again (at least not for pleasure) but at the same time I don't want to find Woolf's grave and spit on it like I did Joyce's.



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Friday, June 15, 2007

I need a "WOW" book

I am bogged down in my reading right now. All the books on my reading list are boring the hell out of me and I can't find one that jumps out at me. Here is what I am looking for:
  • It has to move fast
  • It has to have an edge
  • It has to make me think a bit
  • It has to be enough of center that it can make me wake up in the morning thinking did I really read that last night
  • It has to be fun.
Any suggestions. The two books that were even close were American Tabloid and A Million Little Pieces neither of those were really what I would call fun though.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

Yes I am still working on Civilization by Rogers Osborne but I had to read Guns, Germs, and Steel for a book club I belong to.

In Guns, Germs, and Steel Dr. Jared Diamond attempts to explain the causes of the Eurasian dominance of history and he does a pretty compelling job. 

Proposing an environmental reason the courses that various societies followed throughout their history Dr. Diamond narrows the reasons to three factors, domesticateble plants, large domesticateble animals, and geography.  He dismisses the idea that innate intelligence may have anything to do with the process (although he does propose the idea  that native New Guineans are more intelligent than westerner because the constant wars, battle against diseases, and other pitfalls of a primitive society naturally select for higher intelligence. )

Professor Diamond's theory goes like this.  In order for an advanced civilization to develop it must domesticate plants and large domestic animals.  Of the species that are suitable the vast majority are located in Eurasia (including North Africa).  In addition the environment must be geographically suitable. Because of the difference transporting crops and animals from the temperate to tropical areas the most suitable areas for this to happen are aligned along an east-west axis (again Eurasia).  No problem so far I have thought along similar lines since high school, long before I knew what geographic determinism was/is. 

Once the plants and animals have been domesticated Guns, Germs and Steel postulates that social more complex social organisms can evolve.  This is driven by the relative abundance of food which allows specialized artisans, warriors, and bureaucrats, eventually leading to modern societies.

One of the major problems I have with Guns, Germs and Steel is Professor Diamond's dismissal of the idea that technological progress may be driven by harsher living conditions.   Instead he dismisses it out of hand and just moves on.

Another is the way he squeezes everything into his theory.  Because Eurasia is easy to traverse it allows for the spread domesticated plants, animals, and technology.  China however is to easy to traverse so it lacks competition among rival states and stagnates.  India is too fragmented and can't develop the cooperation needed to advance.  Only Europe has the optimal amount of state fragmentation even though India and China were much more advanced than Europe for hundreds of years.

In addition, although Professor Diamond states that there is no innate difference in intelligence among the races he states that the hunter gatherers of New Guinea are naturally more intelligence because of the natural selection imposed by their environment, while Eurasians are selected for disease resistance at the expense of intelligence.  This is because of our close contact with domestic animals and is a fourth major factor in the spread of Eurasian dominance.

My final objection is Professor Diamond's obvious bias against western society.  This is obvious in his word choice when describing these societies, such as describing even ancient farming communities as sedentary, implying that the active societies are the hunter-gatherers.  This is a minor point but irritating.