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[SEPTEMBER 2007.]

I just found a fragment from Hecataeus, a Greek historian preceding Herodotus, most of whose work is sadly not extant:

Orestheus, son of Deukalion, came to Aitolia for a kingdom and his dog gave birth to a log, and he ordered it to be buried, and from it grew a vine with many grapes. Thus he also named his own son Phytios. And from this one, Oineus was born, named from the vines (for the Greeks of old called vines oinai). And from Oineus was born Aitolos.

Question: if your dog gave birth to a log, what kind of orders would you be giving?

 

J. recently picked up a small Farsi phrasebook with useful sections on dealing with the Iranian police and declining to participate in unspecified local customs. Also, the Farsi word for snow turns out to be “barf.” After running through the “barf leopard,” the “barfy owl,” and “Dashing through the barf,” true hilarity was achieved with:

Stopping by Woods on a Barfy Evening

...
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with barf.

And you all thought it couldn’t get better than Feuersnot.

Barf was general all over Ireland.

Persian not Farsi (in English); burf not barf (no Alif)

Ah ha. We also are not sure that the phrasebook, in practice, would be much help with the police.

Feuersnot? Firesnot? Are you planning on going to Iran and getting yourselves busted?

Well, no one expects the Spanish inquisition....

I do need for you to post some police related statements.....

Oh, I can't say no to the comment box! But no vouching for the transliteration here:

Ma'zerat mikham.
I'm sorry.

Nafahmidam ke kār e eshtebāhi mikonam.
I didn't realize I was doing anything wrong.

In kār o nakardam.
I didn't do it.

Mikham bā sefārat khod am tamās begiram.
I want to contact my embassy.

Mitunam ye vakil e ingilisi zabā;n begiram?
Can I have a lawyer who speaks English?

Hughugh e khod am o midunam.
I know my rights.

 

More Songs About Buildings and Food gets me to the classroom on time.

I have adopted this and made it my own!
Watch me work!
Watch me work!
WORK! WORK!

It’s the students who really have the scary work ethic down. I want an A, they say, how do I get an A? And I try to tell them, if I could tell you how to write the A paper then it wouldn’t be an A paper—it needs to surprise me—but I’m not sure the message is getting across. At 9:30 I leave the classroom with chalk dust all over my shoes, like an honest-to-God intellectual prole.

 

My working hypothesis about my class was that I was slowly running it into the ground, but yesterday a faculty observer came in and apparently he has falsified that hypothesis at least. Teaching comp in a lit program is weird. It’s sort of like having physics researchers teach the first year of college math—obviously there’s a lot of overlap in the skill sets, and just as obviously they are not the same field. I do get to break up the paragraph assignments with the book about the big bug.

Afterwards I am very tired and sit in the department lounge, where my eyes can’t focus on anything and I have some kind of dull visionary experience where all the furniture seems to hang around my head, very solid, in full color; I feel a faint vibration in my lips and become aware of the planes of bone behind my face. I hear we can go on like this for decades.

 

On This Day

There’s a new election in Guatemala; Álvaro Colóm, the genial center-left candidate, was also a front-runner when I was there for the last election—ack—four years ago.

I’ll teach or try to teach The Metamorphosis tomorrow, and what will I say about it? What I would like to say is that the piece does not lie about pain and that my standing at the front of a classroom seems a kind of implicit lie—that, like Gregor with his fabric samples, I have been given something not my own to sell, and that as an ungeheures Ungeziefer I would be best advised to stay in bed. But what an awkward exhibition that would be! So we will Work On Our Thesis Statements.

WOOTS!

 

—Who actually wrote that “Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” poem? Was it Longfellow?
—I don’t know. I sort of thought it was just some crap that had bubbled out of America’s collective unconscious.
—Yeah, but it’s surprising how often you think that and it turns out to be Longfellow.

I Googled it and J. was right; Longfellow all the way. I couldn’t read very much of it, because my subconscious kept revolting and suggesting alternate lines to close the couplets.

Then he said “Good-night!” and with muffled oar
He turned into a dinosaur.

Two weeks into my course. It’s a testament to something (not to me) that these young men and women are actually willing to show up at eight in the morning to hear me honk about the “Ancient Mariner” in front of the blackboard; I don’t know if this will continue through the semester. So I can consider myself invested in the classroom and then feel like shit for being the proximate cause of everyone’s boredom, or I can divest myself and take it as just something to be done two days a week, less unpleasant than a lot of other jobs I’ve had. That’s okay for now—I don’t even mind getting up early—but I don’t know what a career of divestiture would mean for the state of my soul. I was feeling all triumphalist over the summer because no one was making me do anything just then; but lo, we are engines of dissatisfaction.

In three days I turn 29, which means no more or less than the brute fact itself. Family is driving into town for a visit. The spider threads of our thin communities, stretched along the highways.

 

Old friends have been passing through and I started teaching this week; no sleep, all conviviality and coffee, so this is the first evening back in my quiet corner of the living room visiting this quiet corner of the internet. I finally wiped it off the Google map for good, so now I can once again smear my bleeding heart all over the screen without worrying about exposure to the people I’m supposed to be mentoring.

J. totally busted me the other night: “Sometimes I think you still have an idea that you’ll never have to work for a living.” At least I could laugh about it.

Here, this is one for the kids; my first-year adviser in the doctoral program here, one of the top Melville scholars in the country, was contacted a few years ago by DreamWorks with regard to an animated Moby-Dick then in pre-production. Over a two-hour conference call, which furnished by far the highest hourly wage of this professor’s life, it became clear that the DreamWorks executives, who had all read through the book to some extent, wanted primarily to settle some factual questions, such as how much time had elapsed between the whale taking Ahab’s leg and Ishmael’s voyage on the Pequod. The professor’s explanation, that the span of time is never mentioned because part of the book’s point is that the experience of trauma operates outside chronological time, didn’t make them very happy, but they pressed on; until after an hour or so it became clear that they were actually contemplating a Moby-Dick told from the whale’s point of view. With an environmental moral. At that point there wasn’t much more to tell them.

The film did eventually get the thumbs down, but not before some concept art was perpetrated. Admirers of the tortured Melvillean anatomy of the human heart ought especially to enjoy:
Baby
Hide & Seek
Squids

What a charming smile! Whale fellow well met.

 

 

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