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Showing posts from September, 2009

An Imaginary Correspondence

The Scottish man of letters Andrew Lang (1844-1912) was a friend of Rhoda Broughton, and in his book of "epistolary parodies," Old Friends (1890), he imagined a correspondence between Professor Forth in Broughton's Belinda and Mr. Casaubon in George Eliot's Middlemarch. The correspondence also includes letters between other characters in the two novels. Having just read both Middlemarch and Belinda, I was amused by Lang's interweaving of the two plots. The complete correspondence, courtesy of Google Books, can be read below.


Reading Journal: "Belinda"

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Rhoda Broughton, Belinda. Originally published in 1883 in Great Britain. Reprinted by Virago Modern Classics in 1984.

"All my energy was directed upon one end," Professor Mark Pattison writes in his memoirs, "—to improve myself, to form my own mind, to sound things thoroughly, to free myself from the bondage of unreason, and the traditional prejudices which, when I first began to think, constituted the whole of my intellectual fabric. I have nothing beyond trivial personalities to tell in the way of incident. If there is anything of interest in my story, it is as a story of mental development."

Pattison, the Rector of Lincoln College, Oxford, devoted his life to scholarship. His major work was a biography of the late sixteenth-century classical scholar Isaac Casaubon, and it is as the putative model for another Casaubon—Mr. Edward Casaubon in George Eliot's Middlemarch—that Pattison is remembered today. Although the identification of Pattison with Eliot'…

Dino Kale and Chicken Pizza

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Dino kale is in season and available at Just Food Co-op. It travels about fifteen miles from Gardens of Eagan to the produce section of Just Food. I picked up a bunch of dino kale yesterday and fashioned it into a pizza topping, along with grilled chicken and fresh cherry tomatoes from a friend's garden. Most of the ingredients—except for the olive oil, salt and pepper, and mozzarella—could be found in season now from local sources. Barbara Kingsolver, whose Animal, Vegetable, Miracle I'm in the midst of reading, would approve.

Dino Kale and Chicken Pizza

1 grilled chicken breast, cubed
half a bunch of dino kale, chopped
olive oil
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper
cherry tomatoes, halved
grated mozzarella
pizza dough

Preheat oven to 425°. Heat 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan. Add minced garlic and cook, stirring often, until lightly golden. Add chopped dino kale and sauté over moderate heat until limp, 5-10 minutes. Stir in chicken during the last minute or t…

Reading Journal: Burke's Speech on Conciliation with America

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Edmund Burke

The British politician and writer Edmund Burke (1729-1797) is often claimed as the father of modern conservatism, and in the pages of Burke's great speech on Conciliation with America (1774), conservatism sounds eminently reasonable. In tone and intellect, there is a vast difference between Burke and the living, fire-breathing conservatives of Fox News, whose object is to inflame rather than to persuade. One wonders what Burke, for whom conservatism was a matter of civility and the preservation of polite civilization, would have made of Glenn Beck, for whom it's a matter of fear- and hate-mongering.

It's true that Burke had an Irishman's hot temper. "Burke's faults," says Hammond Lamont, the editor of a nineteenth-century school text of the speech, "were clearly those of an ardent temperament." Edward Gibbon called Burke "the most eloquent and rational madman I have ever known." Most television conservatives these days st…

Frontenac State Park

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September woods

The steep walk down from the bluff

In Yan Teopa Rock

Lake Pepin, from above In Yan Teopa Rock

Frontenac State Park is located on the bluffs above the western shore of Lake Pepin, about 10 miles south of Red Wing and 5 miles north of Lake City, Minnesota. From the top of the bluff, there are impressive views over Lake Pepin. A rather steep path leads down the bluff and runs parallel to the lake shore, eventually arriving at In Yan Teopa ("rock with opening" in the Dakota language), a natural limestone arch. On this Sunday morning in September, we saw numerous warblers in the woods, beginning their fall migration.

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

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Middlemarch is back on the shelf, and my next big read is Edward Gibbon's The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Gibbon's monumental work originally appeared in six volumes between 1776 and 1788, and is available in various modern editions, including the hefty three-volume Penguin edition elegantly introduced and edited by David Womersley. Pictured above is the 1114-page first volume.

There are some interesting affinities between George Eliot, the philosophic novelist, and Gibbon, the philosophic historian. Both probe into the dark recesses of human motivation; both approach their subjects with an equal measure of irony and sympathy. David Womersley, in his introduction, writes: "[T]he belief in unintended consequences naturally led the philosophic historian to form surprisingly nuanced judgements prompted by unexpectedly broad sympathies... Individuals and institutions, which he could only condemn as in themselves criminal or perverse, at moments con…

Morning Glories

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On the corner of Fifth and Winona Streets in Northfield

Let Them Eat Shrimp

Yesterday afternoon was the annual "garden party" at the college president's house to celebrate the first day of classes at Carleton. In the past (at least since we arrived at Carleton in 1990), the party has been known for the heaping trays of jumbo shrimp served to the faculty and staff. But this year there was no shrimp. According to an article in Time magazine, the shrimp was eliminated as a cost-cutting measure: "Carleton College will save $3,800 by skipping shrimp and wine at annual faculty parties."

Although Time presents a gratifying picture of elite cake-eating college professors having to go without their shrimp and wine during a severe economic downturn, there seems to be another side to the story. The garden party followed the opening convocation, at which the address was given by Gary Nabhan, a leader of the local foods movement and author of books such as Coming Home to Eat (2001) and Where Our Food Comes From (2008). And Carleton's new fo…

Joe Wilson in Historical Perspective

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A contemporary political cartoon of Preston Brooks beating Charles Sumner on the Senate floor.

May 3, 1910. Senate candidate Frederick Hale (R-ME) horsewhips newspaper editor Charles Thornton Libby for allegedly slandering Hale's mother in the rural Six Town Times. Hale is later elected to fill a Senate seat once held by his father, and has a long career in the United States Senate.

September 4, 1813. Future President Andrew Jackson, horsewhip in hand, approaches future Senator Thomas Hart Benton (D-MO) in a Nashville hotel and shouts, "You damned rascal! I'm going to punish you!" As Jackson attacks Benton, Benton's brother Jesse Benton shoots Jackson point blank in the back. Jackson is carried from the scene, and as he's being treated, the blood from his wound soaks through two mattresses. Years later, when Jackson is President, Tom Benton becomes his most loyal ally in the Senate.

In 1851, when Charles Sumner (R-MA) joins the Senate, Benton tells him he …

Middlemarch Revisited: Rosamond and Dorothea

Shallow, self-centered Rosamond fantasizes that Will Ladislaw is hopelessly in love with her. When Dorothea finds them together, in what appears to be an attitude of some intimacy, Rosamond thinks the situation is entirely to her advantage, never imagining that Will is in fact devoted to Dorothea. Eliot writes:
Shallow natures dream of an easy sway over the emotions of others, trusting implicitly in their own petty magic to turn the deepest streams, and confident, by pretty gestures and remarks, of making the thing that is not as though it were. She knew that Will had received a severe blow, but she had been little used to imagining other people's states of mind except as material cut into shape by her own wishes... (834)."Making the thing that is not as though it were." It sounds, for one thing, like a definition of what a novelist does. It also sounds like Dorothea herself, who, as Celia says, sees only what isn't there. But Dorothea's imagination has been…

Middlemarch Revisited: Judgement

We have known from the beginning that Dr. Lydgate and Rosamond are essentially incompatible. He's a serious, ambitious doctor whose goal in life is the advancement of science. Rosamond is a pampered doll whose goal in life is the advancement of her social position. To maintain her in the style she expects, Lydgate falls into debt, and is nearly ruined. I expect that most of us find our sympathies on the side of Dr. Lydgate, but he bears his share of the responsibility for the marital difficulties he and Rosamond face. Like most of the men in Middlemarch, Lydgate has an autocratic streak that contributes to Rosamond's exasperating immaturity.

When a pregnant Rosamond wants to go out riding again with Lydgate's fashionable cousin, Lydgate tells her: "surely I am the person to judge for you. I think it is enough that I say you are not to go again" (629, emphasis added). His caution seems reasonable—and, as it turns out, warranted—but his tone is disturbingly p…

Scenes from Labor Day Weekend in Chicago

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My avatar (Emperor Hadrian) at the Art Institute of Chicago

Cloud Gate in Millennium Park

Waterlilies in Lincoln Park Conservatory

The Chicago skyline from the roof of the building where we stayed

Moonrise over Lake Michigan from the roof of the building where we stayed

A little boy running around the fountain in front of Navy Pier

Nicole Mitchell and the Black Earth Strings at the 31st Annual Chicago Jazz Festival

Middlemarch Revisited, Part VII: Riddles

Doubtless a vigorous error vigorously pursued has kept the embryos of truth a-breathing: the quest for gold being at the same time a questioning of substances, the body of chemistry is prepared for its soul, and Lavoisier is born. But Mr. Casaubon's theory of the elements which made the seed of all tradition was not likely to bruise itself unawares against discoveries: it floated among flexible conjectures no more solid than those etymologies which seemed strong because of likeness in sound, until it was shown that likeness in sound made them impossible: it was a method of interpretation which was not tested by the necessity of forming anything which had sharper collisions than an elaborate notion of Gog and Magog: it was free from interruption as a plan for threading the stars together (Middlemarch, chapter 48, p. 520).Dr. Rolleston, who obliged George Eliot by dissecting a brain for her, had an aunt named Frances Rolleston, who in 1863 published a book called Mazzaroth; or, the…

Parallel Universe

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This morning, I had the rare pleasure of seeing my friend Shannon out school shopping with her two adorable little girls. We seem to move in different circles in the real world (as opposed to the virtual world of blogging and Facebook), and seeing Shannon and Julia and Genevieve is such a treat that, after one such rare meeting, I wrote a poem about it. Coincidentally, this afternoon's mail brought a copy of the most recent issue of Green Blade: The Magazine of the Rural America Writers' Center, featuring the poem "Parallel Universe (for Shannon)." The magazine also features poems by fourteen other poets, including my friend Joyce Sutphen (a Minnesota Book Award winner and occasional guest on A Prairie Home Companion).

Parallel Universe
for Shannon

When I met you downtown, I think I understood
why Julia and Genevieve acted as if I wasn’t there—
perhaps I wasn’t. Perhaps I was only seeing into
the parallel universe where you were living my life.
I recognized the stroller…

Held Back

Each child who walks into a Minnesota classroom next Tuesday represents a unit of state education funding, known as the "per pupil" allowance. A school's general education revenue is calculated by multiplying the per pupil allowance by the "average daily membership" of the school; that is, by the average school enrollment over the course of the year. Because enrollments can vary over the course of the year, the state holds back a percentage of state funding until the beginning of the following school year, when enrollment numbers for the previous year have been finalized.

In the past, the state "hold back" has generally been between 10% and 15%. This year, because of the state's budget crisis, Gov. Pawlenty has increased the hold back to 27.5%. This amounts to $1.8 billion in delayed payments to Minnesota schools.

For every $100 a school district spends, state funding on hand only pays $72.50. The state pays the remaining $27.50 in the followi…