Tag: Profiles in Literature

Profiles in Literature: on hiatus

Greetings, literature-loving Dharmenians!  I regretfully have to announce a few-month hiatus on the series, at least until the summer.  Unfortunately the real world has a way of infringing on my valuable internet time, and with a dissertation defense looming at the end of the semester I can’t really justify the weekly half-day spent putting these diaries together.  

But a hiatus is not a GBCW, and I fully expect the return to the series as soon as this particular hurdle is cleared.  In the meantime, follow me below for a few quick announcements, future writers to be explored, and requests…

Profiles in Literature: E. E. Cummings

Greetings, literature-loving Dharmiacs.  Last time we discussed gay Harlem Renaissance author Richard Bruce Nugent, who tapped into the experimental cadences of black modernist literature to spin fantasies on queer life long before it became acceptable to do so.  This week we’re going to talk about another American experimental writer, albeit one who achieved enormous popularity both at home and abroad.

With torture and extraordinary rendition so much in the news, it may come as something as a surprise that today’s subject experienced the agony of unjust political imprisonment first hand.  But in 1917, this recent Harvard graduate and volunteer in a World War I ambulance corps found himself thrown in prison for “espionage” without recourse to any legal defense.    Fortunately for history (and for us) the experience did nothing to crush his puckish personality, and he went on to become one of America’s most warmly loved artists.

Follow me below for a jaunt with this 20th century master:

Profiles in Literature: Richard Bruce Nugent

Greetings, literature-loving Dharmenians!  Last time we met over the wreckage of the Civil War and acid humor of one of its most famous veterans.  This week we’ll stay in the United States, but jump ahead a few generations to an almost-forgotten writer who merits a closer look.

After World War I, black soldiers returning from the front were disgusted by the treatment they received from countrymen they’d fought and died defending.  At the same time, black intellectuals like W.E.B DuBois and Alain Locke began to envision a cultural project that would elevate the African American experience in the eyes of its otherwise cultural oppressors, while political activists like Marcus Garvey brought pan-Africanism to the streets of New York.  Throw in a sudden burst of artistic imagination and some seriously talented writers, and you’ve got all the ingredients for the Harlem Renaissance.  

Today we’re going to talk about one of its most fascinating personalities.  

Profiles in Literature: Ambrose Bierce

Greetings, literature-loving Dharmiacs!  Last week we sailed to ancient Mesopotamia to search for everlasting life with the great king Gilgamesh, and along the way we learned about ancient Sumeria from the venerable Moonbat.  This week we’ll jump forward to 19th century America, where a journalist with a bitter sense of humor is reshaping the horrors of war into brutally incisive portraits of human nature.

Ambrose Bierce: soldier, journalist, war correspondent.  He fought in the most brutal Civil War battles and waged a one-man war against the entrenched interests of Big Railroad in California.  He moved in all levels of society both here and abroad, then disappeared during the Mexican revolution, possibly killed by Pancho Villa’s forces.  He was suspicious of politicians as of human nature in general, and since his death has become synonymous with acidic misanthropy.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the works of this distinctly American writer…

Profiles in Literature: Gilgamesh

Greetings, literature loving Dharmosets (or whatever)!  Earlier this week, the venerable Moonbat wove a history of ancient Mesopotamia, of Sumeria and Akkadia and Babylonia, of kings and tyrants.  Today it is my daunting challenge to supplement his essay with a close reading of Gilgamesh, the semi-fictional account of a Sumerian king on a mad quest for immortality.

If you haven’t read Moonbat’s excellent introduction to the history of ancient Sumeria – drop what you’re doing and read it now!  Then you’ll be ready to wrestle with the ancient man-god-king before he drags us to the edge of the world in search of eternal life.  Along the way we’ll meet goddesses and giants, scorpion-beasts and feral men, and we’ll learn about life before the Great Flood…

Profiles in Literature: Zadie Smith

Greetings, literature-loving dharmaniacs!  I apologize for my two-week hiatus from the series, but the demands of real life took me away from the computer longer than I expected.  And what better way to celebrate a re-start than by picking up with a writer whose work is so recent, the ink is practically still drying on the page…

How do we form our identities?  Do we rely on our parents, our neighborhoods, or our religion?  What happens when those sources are compounded by immigration, or by mixed families, or by social circumstances that don’t align in ways that suggest convenient ways of defining ourselves? 

At least one author is diving headlong into this mess… And she’s doing it with style.  Join me below for a conversation with one of England’s most talked-about young authors.

Profiles in Literature: Debating the Canon!

Greetings, literature-loving dharmiacs!  Last week we discussed the bizarre and wonderful Oulipo, who helped free us from notions of rules and rule-breaking by refocusing our attentions on structure and organization.  This week we’re going to take a step back and throw ourselves into one of the largest debates around literature: the canon.

What is the canon?  It’s that generally accepted corpus of books that we consider “great”, even if there’s a bit of variation about the specifics.  It’s why our high school reading lists are similar without being identical – Homer, Shakespeare, Twain – and why certain books get the deluxe leather-bound treatment centuries after they’ve been written.  But the canon is also a  problematic concept, and today we’re going to talk about why.

Profiles in Literature: Oulipo

Greetings, literature-loving dharma bums!  Last week we traveled to contemporary Japan to rub elbows with bestselling pseudo-surrealist author Haruki Murakami.  This week I’m taking a slightly different tack than usual and profiling a group rather than an individual author.

Did you ever wish you could break free from the constraints of language and literature and simply express yourself purely?  Well, one group of mid-20th century writers would tell you that’s nonsense, and we’re bound by more constraints than we even realize.  In fact, why not pile on more!

Sound crazy?  Then let me introduce you to the wickedly funny, darkly screwball, surprisingly warm group of radical theorists who started meeting in France in the 1960s: the Oulipo.

Profiles in Literature: Haruki Murakami

Greetings, literature-loving DharmeniansLast week we let ourselves be absorbed into the beautiful incomprehensibility of Job, and nearly every commenter had a different take on that crotchety Old Testament god.  This week we’ll zip ahead thousands of years to a writer who’s still churning out novels today – how’s that for a flash forward?

Here’s a situation to consider: it’s the middle of the night in an abandoned temple in the middle of metropolitan Japan, and Colonel Sanders (yes, that Colonel Sanders) is telling you that the fate of the world relies on your flipping over a rock.  There’s nothing underneath the rock, and nothing seems to happen when you move it, but the man from the chicken bucket seems awfully insistent.  What do you do?

Welcome to the wonderful, weird, and occasionally horrifying world of Japan’s most (internationally) popular novelist.

Profiles in Literature: the Book of Job

Greetings, literature-loving dharmosets!  Last week the series had a guest poster who tackled a close reading of one of Edith Wharton’s best known works, The House of Mirth.  This week we’re going to crawl into the WayWayback machine to address one of history’s most baffling short stories.

Why do people suffer?  If there is a God, and he does have a ‘plan’, why do people who believe in him find themselves suffering the same indignities as people who don’t?

I have no interest in the religious side of this question (I’m an atheist), but the it makes for fascinating art. If you think religious texts aren’t appropriate fodder for literary analysis… well, then this ain’t the essay for you!

Otherwise, join me below for a trip through ancient Edom.

Profiles in Literature: Jorge Luis Borges

Greetings, literature-loving Dharmiacs! (or whatever you’re called)  Last week we danced with the Dame of Amherst and found that she had a few crafty tricks up her embroidered sleeve.  This week we’ll continue with our theme of mind-twisting literature, but we’ll first relocate to a slightly warmer climate:

The setting is Buenos Aires, the time is the 20th century.  A blind seer is guiding us around the labyrinthine National Library, spinning yarns on everything from gauchos to Gargantua.  But how much of it is true, and how much of it is a devilish game?  Have we been wandering around a library with no exit?…

Follow me below through the twisted paths of Argentina’s most famous fabulist.

Profiles in Literature: Emily Dickinson

Greetings, literature-loving DocuDharmists (do we have a name for readers yet?), and welcome to the latest installment of my series on writers great and small, ancient and modern, popular and obscure.  Last week we spent time with the grand dean of Czech literature, Karel Capek, and watched him weave his humanistic philosophy through a dizzying mix of comedy, science fiction, and drama.  This week’s subject stuck mainly to one genre – lyric poetry – but she used her deceptively simple lines to open a world of equally dizzying complexity.

If you think you know everyone’s favorite New England agoraphobe, think again!  Let’s jump back to 19th century Amherst for tea and sympathy with one of America’s leading poetic voices.

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