New Year -- New Resources

Monday, April 27, 2009

If you like historical fiction, I think you'll enjoy Ursula LeGuin's Lavinia, which gives voice to the silent Italian wife of Aeneas in Vergil's poem. For any reader who wants to go beyond the faux mythology of Twilight, this novel captures a young woman's emotional daring beautifully. The story has gore, sex and life after death, but also love, honor, and real poetry.

(One of my favorite pieces of literary trivia is that LeGuin is the daughter of the anthropolgist who wrote Ishi the Last Yahi, and all her fantasy and science ficiton novels are grounded in an exquisite and authentic detailed speculation about how other cultures might live and worship.)

I've loved Biblical archeology stories ever since I first read about the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is strange (as Susan Gubar points out in her new literary biography of Judas), that so few of us raised within Christian churches were ever taught to see Jesus as a Jew before the Scrolls raised those issue.

Whether you think the historical Jesus was a Rabbi who disliked the Temple hierarchy, a secret Essene, a Jewish Zealot, or the divine founder of Christianity, the debates over the scanty historical evidence are fascinating.

An entertaining, non-academic contribution is Nina Burleigh's new book, UNHOLY BUSINESS, which explores the Israeli legal case for forgery against the antiquities dealer behind two of the most important finds of 21st century: a unique engraved stone which purported to be contractor's list for the First Temple (Solomon's); and a stone ossuary dated to 60 CE and inscribed in Aramaic as belonging to "James, son of Joseph and brother of Jesus."

Long before the trial, both the finds were political footballs, the one validating the Western Wall as part of the Temple Mount beneath the Muslim Dome of the Rock; and the other proving Jesus lived and (equally divisively) that he had a "brother" -- the Protestant view -- not a "cousin" -- the Catholic view. Burleigh gives a clear idea of both the theological and criminological issues, with very likable Israeli detectives as central figures.

If you’ve been to Israel, Burleigh will help you relive some of the archeological highlights; if you haven’t, you’ll want to go.

(There's a lovely quote in the book from a minister who, although he volunteers on archeological digs every summer, says, in the end, faith is faith precisely because there is no proof; he doesn't worry that his faith can be disproved by science, and therefore, I gather, science can't be his enemy.)

Monday, April 20, 2009

There's a wonderful piece in today's Chronicle of Higher Education about teaching literature by Mark Edmundson, Professor of English at the University of Virginia.

He argues that the critic's role is not to apply a particular critical framework (e.g. a Marxian view of Blake) but to lead a reader to understand a Blakean view of Blake, an Emersonian view of Emerson:

I said that transformation was the highest goal of literary education. The best purpose of all art is to inspire, said Emerson, and that seems right to me. But that does not mean that literary study can't have other beneficial effects. It can help people learn to read more sensitively; help them learn to express themselves; it can teach them more about the world at large. But the proper business of teaching is change — for the teacher (who is herself a work in progress) and (pre-eminently) for the student.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

There's a second article about Google News in the NY Times:

No one would use on any search engine, whether Yahoo or, at all if there weren't News to read on the web; don't the web sites people click through to read deserve credit from for bringing people to the search engine, where they read ads?

Search engines need content; search engines make more money from ads than web sites do; therefore serach engines should share ad income with content providers.

Why doesn't a newspaper deserve royalties for a click through to their site? It's as easy to do as it is for Google Books to pay authors.
I've long thought that it's backwards to pay more for your internet access than for what you read on the internet. I believe paying for news will make it more valuable. Cheap is often worth less. Why should Google make all the money when no one would go to Google News if there weren't good news stories to read?

See today's New York Times:

Thursday, April 2, 2009

I just caught up with two new paperback reprints, Drew Gilpin Faust's THE REPUBLIC OF SUFFERING: Death and The American Civil War and Germaine Greer's SHAKESPEARE'S WIFE.

From the Drew Gilpin Faust I learned that not until the tremendous losses of Union soldiers in the Civil War did public care for the returned bodies of soldiers become ritualized. The post-war effort of major figures, such as Walt Whitman, to find and return home the remains buried in battlefields created ceremonial respect for the "fallen" unlike any civilian displays hitherto.

This fact was all the more moving for me, because I live in a house built circa 1750. Three young men from the family living there during the Civil War -- two brothers and a son-in-law -- fought for the Union. Only one survived, and they are commemorated twice in graveyards: once, in the large cemetery, among memorial stones for each soldier from this Connecticut Town who died; and again, in the small family burial ground two miles from this house, with mother, father, grandfather, and sisters. I don't know if their bodies were returned.

From Germaine Greer's imaginative historical "biography" of the much-maligned Ann Hathaway Shakespeare of Stratford on Avon, I learned:

Ø how little evidence there is for any "facts" about William Shakespeare's life and his feelings his wife;
Ø how even the "second-best bed" legacy in his will may not be the insult critics have always said it was;
Ø it is as likely a supposition that they married for love as the idea William Shakespeare hated his wife;
Ø it is plausible that Ann raised and supported his children as a faithful and financially savvy spouse, letting him make a career in London that would have been impossible anywhere else in England.

Just turning Shakespearean legends on their heads and learning how many Elizabethan women did more than just survive hardship (and their lot was harder) is worth the read. Whether or not you accept any of Greer's more fanciful ideas -- that Ann Hathaway was the subject of some of the sonnets or that she helped finance the publication of the First Folios out of the estate -- you will want to reread all the plays in a new light. Especially, I think, THE TAMING OF THE SHREW.