Reading Seneca this morning, I had the feeling of being with a shrewd friend who was laughing at me! And I had to laugh along, because there was a lot of truth in what he said.
“We commonly give the impression that the reasons for our having gone into political retirement are our disgust with public life and our dissatisfaction with some uncongenial and unrewarding post. Yet every now and then ambition rears its head again in the retreat into which we were really driven by our apprehensions and our waning interest; for our ambition did not cease because it had been rooted out, but merely because it had tired–or become piqued, perhaps, at its lack of success.” Letter LVI, p. 111-112, in Seneca, Letters from a Stoic, ed. Robin Campbell (Penguin ed., 1969.
HA! just see all those books on my bibliography about Buddhism, alternative economies, compassion, and “letting go” etc., as contrasted with the exuberant posting when I made a sale on Etsy! We are all the same.
For West Seattle “Classic Novels (and Movies)” book club, 8/28/22, with answers below
A. Connections to European Literature
1. On Names. Like many English novelists, Sōseki Natsume chose funny and sometimes allegorical names for his fiction. Which one of the following is not a character in I Am a Cat?
a. Mr. Sneaze
c. Daft Bamboo
d. Utter Aimlessness
e. Opula Goldfield
f. Lancelot Yore
2. Social Commentary. Similar to Jonathan Swift and other satirists, Sōseki’s feline narrator casts a sardonic eye on his world. Which one of the following is not a target?
d. academics (grad students and professors)
e. the queen
f. Zen Buddhists
g. baseball players
3. Genre and structure. Sōseki’s knowledge of the early English novel allowed him a wealth of options for form, even if his work does not correspond to what is now the dominant paradigm (i.e. nineteenth-century works by Dickens, Tolstoy or Balzac). Which one of the following literary devices is not adopted in I Am a Cat?
a. a tight, chronological sequence of events from birth to adulthood
b. a loose, meandering sequence of observations on topical issues
c. an ironic first-person narrator who recounts dialogues overheard, apparently verbatim
d. a voyeuristic narrator who sees (and tells) things that others overlook or ignore
e. All of the above are used in I Am a Cat.
4. Maxims. As in many other works we’ve read, I Am a Cat is peppered with pithy quotes on life. Which one of the following is not from Sōseki’s novel?
a. “By the infinite flexibility of interpretation one can get away with anything.”
b. “The sad fact is that long-continued, pleasant normality becomes a bore.”
c. “A child needs an English nurse more than a mother.”
d. “One tends only to discover at the very last moment hidden defects in unexpected places.”
B. Japanese Particulars in I Am a Cat
5. Architecture and space. One of the most interesting insights for Western readers is how the traditional Japanese home would have been like to live in. Which one of the following does not characterize the master’s home in I Am a Cat?
a. thin, even translucent rice-paper walls
b. close proximity to neighboring homes
c. elaborate carving in the stone masonry
d. sliding doors
e. includes a little garden
6. Lost in Translation? Some of the humor of I Am a Cat is due to the feline narrator’s mastery of language, but some bits may strike us as odd! Which one of the following is not in I Am a Cat?
a. hecklers insult a person by calling him a “terra cotta badger”
b. a teacher is ridiculed for calling a beverage “Savage Tea”
c. a man is criticized for being “as light and flossy as goldfish food floating around on a pond”
d. an author is praised because he “also wrote importantly upon the seasoning of turnips”
e. All of the above are in I Am a Cat.
7. Food. Which one of the following products or dishes is not mentioned as a delicious treat?
a. snake rice
b. dried bonito
d. vermicelli noodles
C. The Feline Perspective
8. What does purring really mean, according to I Am a Cat?
a. the cat is laughing
b. the cat is anxious
c. the cat is seeking warmth
9. Wisdom to ponder. That cat espouses a Zen attitude which feels refreshing, all the while dishing out acerbic criticisms of men. Which one of these two quotes is spoken by the cat?
a. “Just as cowards grow aggressive under the spur of grog, so may students emboldened by mere numbers into stirring up a riot be regarded as having lost their senses by becoming intoxicated with people.”
b. “Nobody knows how many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth. Women are supposed to be very calm generally, but women feel just as men feel.”
10. What is the cat’s name?
d. He has no name.
1. d. (In the Buddhist tale of the big stone Jizō, pp. 505—510 in the Tuttle edition, the fool named Daft Bamboo walks with “utter aimlessness”—a manner, not a person!)
3. a. or e.
4. c. (That quote is from Karolina Pavlova, A Double Life.)
7. c. (Goulash is described as a culinary favorite in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.)
8. a. When he’s purring, the cat is laughing (possibly at us).
9. a. (That quote, dear reader, is from Jane Eyre.)
Come back next month for our quiz on The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro (1989).
For West Seattle “Classic Novels (and Movies)” book club, 6/26/22
With answers below
A. The Complicated Unfolding: Characters and Relationships.
1. Secrets revealed. People’s secrets come to light in many ways—gradual and abrupt—in the pages of Père Goriot. Which of the following is not a secret revealed?
a. Anastasie, Comtesse de Restaud, is actually Goriot’s eldest daughter.
b. Delphine, Baronne de Nucingen, is actually Goriot’s second daughter.
c. Monsieur Vautrin is actually a famous criminal nicknamed Trompe-la-mort or Death Dodger.
d. Mme Vauquer’s generosity actually does help the people of Borrioboola-Gha.
2. Mysteries remain. Despite the many dénouements in the second half, significant doubts nag at the reader. Which of the following enigmas is resolved?
a. Will Eugène de Rastignac remain loyal to his lady-love, Delphine de Nucingen?
b. Will Mme Vauquer find new boarders for her rooming house?
c. Will Vautrin escape from prison with the help of his confederates?
d. Will the Vicomtesse de Beauséant ever be seen in Paris again?
e. All of the above remain tinged by mystery, in one way or another.
B. Irony, heavy at times. The Balzacian narrator, and the novel’s characters, do not hesitate to pass judgment on people, often with funny/cringe-inducing results. Match the comment to the person being described. The characters: a. Père Goriot; b. Eugène de Rastignac ; c. Mme Vauquer ; d. Mlle Victorine Taillefer
3. “As happens with great souls, he wanted nothing he had not deserved.”
4. “Like all narrow-minded people, X habitually looked no farther than the sequence taken by events, without analyzing their causes. She liked to blame others for her own mistakes.”
5. “X blended in with the general atmosphere of wretchedness… She resembled a shrub whose leaves have yellowed from being freshly planted in the wrong sort of soil.”
6. “There was no more room for doubt. X was an old rake … the disgusting color of his hair was the result of his excesses and the drugs he took in order to continue them.”
C. 7. Education.Père Goriot, like David Copperfield, is considered a Bildungsroman or novel of education. Which one of the following precepts does the hero Eugène not learn in the course of his time in Paris?
a. “Believe me, young man, practice shooting. … It’s no good being honest.”
b. “Strike without pity and people will fear you.”
c. “Take care how you cut yourself. It is more dangerous than you think in this country.”
d. “If you want to succeed, start by not showing your feelings so plainly.”
e. “There are only two options open: dumb obedience or revolt.”
8. Which one of the following attributes is not mentioned to explain Eugène’s popularity among ladies?
a. his expressions of undying loyalty
b. his studiousness and work ethic
c. his southern impetuosity
d. his good looks
9. Marriage in Paris: a special kind of hell. Circle the quote that is not by Balzac.
a. “Poor old thing, I suppose she likes him, but, I must say, if he was one’s dog one would have him put down.”
b. “Young men from the provinces know nothing of the pleasures of a triangular relationship.”
c. “Our marriages have become a mere farce.”
d. “Chains of gold are the heaviest to bear.”
10. Money worries. There is one place in Père Goriot where several people go in secret, to solve worries about money. What place is called “that depressing and discreet friend of the young”?
a. a gambling den
b. a pawn shop
c. a brothel
11. Although Père Goriot seems to act in mysterious ways to his fellow boarders, Vautrin is the ultimate mystery in their midst. Which of the following does not designate his character?
a. “Let me tell you a secret: he doesn’t like women.”
b. “The very fact of his conviction brought him the most enormous honor among his own sort.”
c. “He has been fortunate enough to escape with his life from all the extremely risky exploits he has carried out.”
d. “that great lump of an Alsatian? / He is quite capable of absconding with all the capital and leaving us behind, the scoundrel!”
c. (That quote is from Bram Stoker, Dracula.)
a. (That quote is from The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford.)
d. (That quote describes the Baron de Nucingen, Delphine’s husband.)
Fantastic movie poster; love the symbols of greed and sorrow, rage and lust. That about sums up this cynical masterpiece… which can evoke tears or great merriment, depending on your mood when you read it.
P.S. For our next meeting, July 31, we’re going to read Jane Eyre!
Trivia Quiz for To the Lighthouse (1927) and A Room of One’s Own (1929) by Virginia Woolf
with the answers below
For WSEA “Classic Novels (and Movies)” book club, 5/22/22
I. To the Lighthouse
A. On Frustrated Yearning
1. The book begins with a scene of a young boy’s yearning, which opens the reader’s horizon to a long-awaited sea voyage. In a few lines, however, the dream of travel is dashed. Who is the first person to announce the trip’s impossibility, and why?
a. the protagonist’s nurse, because the boy is sickly and too weak for travel at present.
b. the child’s mother, who reminds him that he has schoolwork to do.
c. the child’s father, who announces that the weather “won’t be fine.”
d. a houseguest, who feels a west wind blowing.
2. On Comfort.
Among other things, words provide comfort to the child and it is usually his mother who speaks comforting words. Which of the following refrains is not spoken by the mother, Mrs. Ramsey?
a. “But it may be fine—I expect it will be fine.”
b. “Let’s find another picture to cut out.”
c. “Oh, how beautiful!”
d. “Well then, we will cover it up.”
e. “Think of a kitchen table, when you’re not there.”
3. Ordinary Misogyny. Quotes that we may find objectionable run through the narrative. Which is not from To the Lighthouse?
a. “They did nothing but talk, talk, talk, eat, eat, eat. It was the women’s fault. Women made civilisation impossible with all their ‘charm,’ all their silliness.”
b. “Treat ‘em like chickens, son. Throw ‘em a little corn and they’ll run after you, but don’t give ‘em too much. If you do, they’ll stop layin’ and expect you to wait on ‘em.”
c. “She was not good enough to tie his shoe strings.”
d. “There was Mr. X whispering in her ear, ‘Women can’t paint, women can’t write…’”
e. “She guessed what he was thinking—he would have written better books if he had not married.”
4. Extraordinary Restraint. Women react to men’s comments in ways that feel uncomfortably familiar—with silence, resentment, and smoldering rage. Which is not in To the Lighthouse?
a. “She had done the usual trick—been nice.”
b. “’Odious little man,’ thought Mrs. Ramsey, ‘why go on saying that?’”
c. “She would never for a single second regret her decision, evade difficulties or slur over duties.”
d. “She bent her head as if to let the pelt of jagged hail, the drench of dirty water, bespatter her unrebuked. There was nothing to be said.”
e. “If she had said half of what he said, she would have blown her brains out by now.”
f. All are in To the Lighthouse.
5. How long does it take before the Ramseys take the trip mentioned on page one?
a. two months
b. ten years
c. twenty years
d. one week
II. A Room of One’s Own and themes found in both books
6. Why does Woolf declare that “the true nature of woman and the true nature of fiction” must remain unsolved in her work? Which reason is not in the book?
a. because there are too many great women novelists to synthesize into one conclusion
b. because until the 17th century, most women were too poor and uneducated to write anything
c. because throughout history, women have lacked the time, money and solitude necessary to discover their genius
7. Acc. to Woolf, what emotion dominates the books (by men) explaining women and their works?
8. Creativity: How to explain it? Woolf attempts variously to describe what it feels like to conceive ideas and create things. Which quote is not by Virginia Woolf in these two books?
a. “It is fatal for anyone who writes to ignore their sex. The mind must be focused on one’s sexual identity, for its limitations and biological demands matter more than anything.”
b. “She could see it all so clearly, so commandingly, when she looked: it was when she took her brush in hand that the whole thing changed. It was in that moment’s flight … that made this passage from conception to work as dreadful as down a dark passage for a child.”
c. “Thought … had let its line down into the stream. It swayed, minute by minute, hither and thither among the reflections and the weeds, letting the water lift it and sink it, until—you know the little tug—the sudden conglomeration of an idea at the end of one’s line: and then the cautious hauling of it in, and careful laying of it out? Alas, laid on the grass how small, how insignificant this thought of mine looked.”
d. “The androgynous mind is resonant and porous … it transmits emotion without impediment … it is naturally creative, incandescent and undivided.”
9. Woolf’s reality. Which of the following is not in A Room?
a. “If she begins to tell the truth, the [man’s] figure in the looking-glass shrinks; his fitness for life is diminished.”
b. “It is remarkable … what a change of temper a fixed income will bring about. I need not hate any man; he cannot hurt me. I need not flatter any man; he has nothing to give me.”
c. “The Suffrage campaign has done the unthinkable! Finally, it has roused in men an extraordinary desire to help women achieve their potential.”
d. “Imaginatively, she is of the highest importance; practically she is completely insignificant. She pervades poetry from cover to cover; she is all but absent from history.”
e. “Any woman born with a great gift in the sixteenth century would certainly have gone crazed, shot herself, or ended her days in some lonely cottage outside the village, half witch, half wizard, feared and mocked at.”
10. What’s wrong with women’s writing of the nineteenth century? Which reason is not cited?
a. Ignorance and emotion. “Anger was tampering with the integrity of Charlotte Brontë the novelist. … Her imagination swerved from indignation and we feel it swerve.”
b. Lack of natural ability. “No woman has ever written as well as Dickens or Proust.”
c. Pressure of convention. “She was thinking of something other than the thing itself. … She had altered her values in deference to the opinion of others.”
d. Lack of female community and heritage. “They had no tradition behind them, or one so short and partial that it was of little help. For we think back through our mothers … it is useless to go to the great men writers for help.”
11. What advice does Woolf not proffer to young women?
a. “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”
b. There must be a lock on that door, the door to your room.
c. “Adopt the name of a man for your writing; anonymity runs in our blood.”
d. “All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn.”
2. e. (Son Andrew makes that observation, describing his father’s philosophical writings.)
3. b. That quote is from Not Without Laughter by Langston Hughes.
4. f. All are in To the Lighthouse.
To all women: please write! write simply, write sadly, write with your heart or your anger…
Write about your lives, about your thoughts, about your past, present, or future, but write, and let the world know you were here!
For what it is worth, I’ve pasted below a photo of the books I’ve created during my time on this earth, inspired partly at least by my reading of Woolf’s essay during my time as an undergraduate….
Woolf makes me proud to be a writer. To exist. To forgive us all, and to hope… for more great writers will come! Please write!
It’s been pretty damp out here lately. It’s easy to let your spirits fall flat and feel dreary. Even the computer sends out small, slightly ominous messages of warning, in the right-hand corner of the screen.
Yet I take heart in Emerson’s words this morning: “I am thankful for small mercies.” The beauty of green lush scenery and the ever-changing skies, the humorous way my computer seems to be speaking, commiserating about the weather… it’s all so endearing, so regular, so northwestern. It’s life happening right before our eyes. The passage which follows in Emerson rings strangely familiar too, to readers of Michael Singer and other contemporary writers on consciousness:
“The new molecular philosophy shows astronomical interspaces betwixt atom and atom, shows that the world is all outside; it has no inside.”
Emerson also reminds us, like Singer in Living Untethered (just got my copy and loving it!) that:
“Life’s chief good is for well-mixed people who can enjoy what they find, without question. .. To fill the hour–that is happiness; to fill the hour and leave no crevice for a repentance or an approval. We live amid surfaces, and the true art of life is to skate well on them.”
“Life is a tempest of fancies, and the only ballast I know is a respect to the present hour. … we should not postpone and refer and wish, but do broad justice where we are.”
— from Emerson, “Experience” in Selected Writings, pp. 350-352.
And then there’s “All Star Seattle Quilt” No. 1, finished yesterday! It was fun to stitch in some of my favorite natural scenes and landmarks from this city I love so much… and to blend them with fabrics from the many cultures which make this such a quirky, lively place to be: African block prints, Vietnamese tigers, Japanese cranes in flight, Mexican flowers in bloom–we have so much to be grateful for, in this outpost on the far western side of the country.
Hint: those T-shirts and the tiny pin represent local landmarks which will be featured in “All Star Seattle Quilts” Nos. 2 and 3, coming for summer!
Feeling blah and still aching from the shoulder where I crashed down, quite incorrectly, during a speedy Aikido roll on Monday, I was surprised and encouraged by these lines discovered during my morning reading, and so I share them for you.
“Every man beholds his human condition with a degree of melancholy. As a ship aground is battered by the waves, so man, imprisoned in mortal life, lies open to the mercy of coming events.”
“God enters by a private door into every individual.”
“Our spontaneous action is always the best.”
–Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Intellect” in The Selected Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Modern Library edition, p. 293-94.
Hang in there. You are not alone.
And some pretty pictures to remind us of what lovely things we can hold and create and appreciate, with our hands and simply by walking outside in nature, despite being shipwrecked in morality!
Exhausted, heart-sick, anxious and wretched? Me too. But we need to get over it. I got a surge of new energy–and humility–this morning from reading the powerful article in the New York Times Op-Ed section by Chad Sanders (author of the forthcoming book, Black Magic). The article is accompanied by the image above, by Hanna Barczyk, which says it all: hey white folks, stop drowning black people in your crocodile tears!
Basically, Sanders is here to chastise us–white people like me who’ve written to our black friends this week–and to explain why our messages are misguided and tiring. Black people are drowning in our smug letters and texts, he says. Moreover, he points out that us telling people, “Don’t feel the need to respond,” is wrong on all accounts: it is oppressive, condescending and not appreciated by the recipient. (How would you like it if someone told you how to feel? or not to feel?)
Most usefully, he provides instructions on what we CAN do, if we want to do something meaningful. As he writes, “please, stop sending #love. Stop sending positive vibes. Stop sending your thoughts. Here are three suggestions on more immediately impactful things to offer instead:
Money: To funds that pay legal fees for black people who are unjustly arrested, imprisoned or killed or to black politicians running for office.
Texts: To your relatives and loved ones telling them that you will not be visiting them or answering phone calls until they take significant action in supporting black lives either through protest or financial contributions.
Protection: To fellow black protesters who are at greater risk of harm during demonstrations.”*
Being a good student, I immediately got out my wallet and visited the link on Anti-Racist and Social Justice Resources of my favorite local public radio station, KEXP. After studying some options, I chose to donate $100 to National Bail Out. I like their slim organization–run by volunteers–and their clear mission: this is a “Black-led and Black-centered collective of abolitionist organizers, lawyers and activists building a community-based movement to support our folks and end systems of pretrial detention and ultimately mass incarceration. We are people who have been impacted by cages — either by being in them ourselves or witnessing our families and loved ones be encaged. We are queer, trans, young, elder, and immigrant.” Learn more at www.nationalbailout.org.
In conclusion, please excuse me, black friends, if I annoyed you or wasted your time with my emails this week. And I thank you, Chad Sanders, for helping me understand how I can help with funding organizations like National Bail Out. On a lighter note, I’m thrilled to see one of my clients wearing one of my face masks to a local demonstration! (Looking good, Shep!)
p.s. I’m still moving forward on plans for the “Respect” quilt project, and the special offer of a Honey Girl quilt for only $100 is still good for one more day! See day 73 for details.
fyi: no face masks made yesterday, but production resumes today…
Our lives are finite. We can only stand so much. Honey Girl’s actions during today’s thunderstorm prove it.
First, she was hiding in the bathroom because the lightning and thunder scare her. During a lull in the storm, I opened the door and she came out. A little. Then the thunder boomed and she went back in to the smallest place in the house: a tiny bathroom under the stairs. Her world is as small as she can make it. We can’t help it that sounds scare us, but being of a philosophical mind, we can find interest in the concept of being “finite.” And happily, it doesn’t have to scare us.
“Our lives are finite” feels grim; a death sentence. But if you examine the actual word and concept, it feels different. It feels a lot like peace.
finite, adjective and noun (from Latin finitus, pa pple of finireFINISH verb)
a. adjective. 1. Having bounds, ends, or limits; not infinite or infinitesimal.
b. Having an existence subject to limitations and conditions.
2. Fixed, determined, definite.
[Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, vol. 1, p. 962. Three other definitions follow, in math, grammar, and music.]
What I love about this definition is the concept of: “Not infinite or infinitesimal.” In other words, we do exist, we have the ability to act, we are not insignificant. Instead of despairing about our lives’ limitations, why not turn it around? Why not think of our bodies and minds as conduits through which we can make things happen. It’s the real potential at hand. Ignite the finite!
(For my part, I’ve already launched one long-term collaborative project with a distant friend today and I’ve got dozens of masks to sew, so my time feel’s short. I like it that way.)
As Denis Diderot once said, « J’aime mieux une belle chimère qui fait tenter de grandes choses qu’une réalité stérile, une prétendue sagesse qui jette et retient l’homme rare dans une stupide inertie. »
–Lettre à Falconet, in Esprit de Diderot : choix de citations, p. 61.
« I prefer beautiful fantasies that inspire men of genius to grandiose actions, rather than a sterile reality, supposedly the seat of wisdom, which enslaves their spirits to inertia.”
Yesterday’s face mask production, fyi
*with thanks to Laurent Loty’s beautiful book (with Éric Vanzieleghem), Esprit de Diderot: choix de citations (Paris: Hermann, 2013) and the bookmarks commemorating events at Université Paris Diderot, in honor of French philosopher Denis Diderot (1713-1784), editor of the Encyclopédie and many other works of Enlightenment genius.
One good thing about this pandemic is the creativity released around the world, when people have had time to do… well, whatever. People I know have been baking and planting gardens. Others have been making music. I’ve been sewing. But the best creation I’ve seen yet came to light today thanks to the New York Times article about the giant laughing kookaburra created in Brisbane, Australia by Dr. Farvardin Daliri.
I love Dr. Daliri’s thoughts on creativity: “My way of art is to worship what’s in front of me and appreciate with gratitude.” Noticing how people were growing depressed and anxious as the pandemic took hold, he says, “I think this is a time we need to reach out to each other. We may not meet all the requirements of people’s material happiness, but spiritually we can make them happy.” The article ends by noting that the kookaburra’s laugh is so infectious that it encourages real birds to join in. Check out the video; you will laugh too!
I’m smiling still… Thank you, Dr. Farvardin Daliri. You are making the world a better place, one smile at a time.