Category Archives: Links

‘Trump’s an asshole,’ sings Denis Leary, 2016 asshole update

Since this post of Denis Leary’s song seems popular and pertinent, I’ll add the updated, 2016 version, done by Denis Leary and James Corden:

Here’s the original:

Link: ‘The Mind: Less Puzzling in Chinese?’

In an essay at The New York Review of Books, writer Perry Link questions whether Western languages’ emphasis on using nouns over using verbs perhaps contributes to, or even creates, philosophical problems.

Link begins by explaining that:

Indo-European languages tend to prefer nouns, even when talking about things for which verbs might seem more appropriate. The English noun inflation, for example, refers to complex processes that were not a “thing” until language made them so. Things like inflation can even become animate, as when we say “we need to combat inflation” or “inflation is killing us at the check-out counter.” Modern cognitive linguists like George Lakoff at Berkeley call inflation an “ontological metaphor.” (The inflation example is Lakoff’s.)

When I studied Chinese, though, I began to notice a preference for verbs. Modern Chinese does use ontological metaphors, such as fāzhăn (literally “emit and unfold”) to mean “development” or xὶnxīn (“believe mind”) for “confidence.” But these are modern words that derive from Western languages (mostly via Japanese) and carry a Western flavor with them. “I firmly believe that…” is a natural phrase in Chinese; you can also say “I have a lot of confidence that…” but the use of a noun in such a phrase is a borrowing from the West.

Link points out that how we talk about things can shape our thinking. If we label something with a noun, that might lend some sort of existence to that something:

Ancient Chinese philosophers did discuss “being,” but to do it they used the words you, “there is,” and wu, “there is not,” both of which are fundamentally verbs. By contrast ancient Greek thinkers often conceived their puzzles in terms of nouns: What is “justice”? “Beauty”? “The good”? And so on.

I wanted to see whether “assuming that things exist just because nouns that refer to them exist” might cause problems for serious Western philosophers. I read Colin McGinn’s book The Mysterious Flame: Conscious Minds in a Material World about the “mind-body problem”—which, briefly put, is the problem of how “mental substance” and “physical substance” can affect each other. Although a major problem in Western philosophy since Descartes, the question has scarcely been noticed in the history of Chinese philosophy. I much admire McGinn’s writing; I chose him purposefully as a powerful representative for the West.

At one point in his book, McGinn focuses on the curious fact that our perceptions of the world are often perceptions of things in space, and yet the perceptions themselves occupy no space. He writes:

Consider the visual experience of seeing a red sphere two feet away with a six-inch diameter. The object of this experience is of course a spatial object with spatial properties, but the experience itself does not have these properties: it is not two feet away from you and six inches in diameter. …When we reflect on the experience itself, we can see that it lacks spatial properties altogether.

For me, the crucial phrase here is “the experience itself.” Is there such a thing? The noun “experience” exists, but that is not the question. Does the experience exist? We might feel intuitively that it does. But does that intuition arise, in part, from the grammatical habit of using nouns like “experience” and assuming that they refer to things? Classical Chinese poets see, hear, and feel in all sorts of ways—they have no trouble “experiencing.” But they find no need to talk about “experience” as a noun. The modern Chinese word jīngyàn, “experience,” was invented to accommodate Western language.

Link also points out something that I’m often arguing to my students, that numbers and ideas — “mental things” — don’t need to exist:

McGinn goes on to point out that numbers, like the experience of red spots, do not occupy space. “We cannot sensibly ask how much space the number 2 takes up relative to the number 37,” he writes. “It is hardly true that the bigger the number the more space it occupies.” Then he writes:

To attribute spatial properties to numbers is an instance of what philosophers call a category-mistake, trying to talk about something as if it belonged to a category it does not belong to. Only concrete things have spatial properties, not abstract things like numbers or mental things like experiences of red.

In my imagination an ancient Chinese philosopher might well accept McGinn’s point, but then ask him: why do you talk about “mental things”? Is that not also a category-mistake? If I see a red spot, do I not simply see a red spot? The red spot, yes, is a thing, but “I see” is not a thing. I see is I see. If you change it into “my sight” or “my experience of seeing,” you are performing a grammatical act, but that grammatical act has no power to change the way the world is. Your perplexity about how two “things” relate comes only from your grammar.

Link concludes thus, focusing on language contexts of philosophical problems:

Once one enters an Indo-European language, the mind-body problem indeed is hard, and I had not been trying to solve it on that turf. At most, I have discovered only a question: are people who think in Indo-European languages better off because their languages lead them to clear conceptualization of an important puzzle, or are thinkers in Chinese better off because their language gets them through life equally well without the puzzle?

After reading this, I wonder whether Link’s point applies not just to philosophy but also to Buddhist ideas about seeing what things are real.

‘Let’s go show ’em what we fy-ound’: Notes from a week in the South

The full name of this store is "Crabs - We Got 'Em"

The full name of this restaurant at the public parking lot at Pensacola Beach is “Crabs – We Got ‘Em.” 19 June 2016.

“Have fun on your stupid trip,” said Caitlyn One Waitress at our diner as we ate breakfast before leaving for a 14-hour drive to Pensacola, Florida. Of course, Caitlyn One also told us, “I could barely go to Wisconsin Dells,” a two-hour drive away. 18 June.

"Pensacola Bch"? Pensacola Bitch?

Pensacola Bitch?

Crossing the Ohio River from Illinois into Kentucky, my wife said, “Now it’s really vacation. We’re not in Illinois anymore … though I’m not really sure now much ‘Kentucky’ says ‘vacation.'” 18 June.

View of Pensacola Beach from the third-floor men's room near the Drowsy Poet

View of Pensacola Beach from the third-floor men’s room near the Drowsy Poet coffeehouse. The Quietwater Beach is on the left, the south-facing, gulf-facing beach is out of sight beyond the center of the photo.

“Alabama is definitely the Nebraska of the south: a long frustrating state … between me and where I want to be,” my wife said as we drove south on I-65. Alabama is “prettier,” she said, but “just as unrelenting in its nothingness” of roadsides showing but wall-to-wall forests. 19 June.

Truck-nuts of a state highway logo.

Alabama exit sign.

“Truck nuts of a state road sign,” my wife said of the Alabama logo, where the gulf coast part of the state does seem to dangle a bit. 19 June.

A black skimmer bird, I think, at the beach at about sundown.

A black skimmer bird, I think, at the beach at about sundown.

As M. drove on I-65, she said of other drivers as she was speeding up, “Alright, fukkers, you’re between me and my beach.” 19 June.

Groovy sand dollar remains.

Groovy sand dollar remains.

At lunch in the Boardwalk Cafe at the Quietwater Beach at Pensacola Beach: A mom-ish woman said to a teen-ish girl, who’d been talking about parasailing: “You know what you’re gonna do? You’re gonna end up talkin’ yourself out of it … and it’ll all work, and if you did drop your sunglasses, you can say, ‘remember when I went parasailing and watched ’em go smash?’ It’ll be a better memory.” And then the young woman said, “Are you guys gonna be out on the boat with us?” And the older woman answered, “No, we’re goin’ shoppin.” 20 June.

Crucifix tramp-stamp.

Crucifix tramp-stamp.

“Think of Jeezus as you’re doin’ me from behind,” I heard someone say as we both spied a woman with a crucifix tramp stamp. 20 June.

Garbage bin at the marina: No fish carcasses!

Garbage bin at the marina: No fish carcasses!

“No shirt, no shoes, no problem, but please, no Speedos,” said a guy on a dolphin cruise boat — the “CHASE-N-FINS” — over his loudspeaker. 20 June.

Two days later, I heard a roll-call coming from that same boat. A young adult was calling out these names, to which elementary students answered “… Analise, Oliver, Micah, Isabelle, Hunter, Kaden, Isaac, Riley … Scarlett…” 22 June.

No booze, except at the beach.

No booze, except at the beach.

“Atticus was the daddy I always wanted,” said a woman at the hotel pool who saw me reading To Kill a Mockingbird. 21 June.

Alligator heads at Alvin's Island store.

Alligator head end cap display at Alvin’s Island store.

These alligators died for farm-related reasons.

These alligators died for farm-related reasons.

“Wur ’bout to do this thang,” said a white guy, seemingly in all seriousness of accent, outside of a watercraft rental place at Pensacola Beach. 20 June.

A beach corrugation with white sand.

A beach corrugation with white sand and sand dollar.

“Life and death. There it is, right off the end of the marina,” I said of big fish chasing little ones. 20 June.

A barracuda lies in wait around the corner of the elevator at our hotel.

A barracuda lies in wait around the corner of the elevator at our hotel.

“seh-CURE-ih-tee!” mock-shouted a 50-60-year-old dark-haired woman at the hotel pool as she tried to adjust her chaise lounge. She finally said, “I got it!” Another of the women in her party said, “I doubt it.” “Security!” was about the only spoken word of hers that I could make out through her southern accent. 21 June.

“He’s swimmin’ nay-ow!” said the dark-haired older woman to a gray-haired women, who had been teaching water-motility skills to a young boy. “And that’s how you can float on your back,” she’d said to the boy earlier. 21 June.

Please don't crap in the Hampton hotel's pool.

Please don’t crap in the Hampton hotel’s pool.


At the beach at evening, a woman said to a toddler, “Let’s go show ’em what we fy-ound,” with that last word having two syllables. 20 June.

The view on walking into Flounder's boutique.

The view on walking into Flounder’s boutique.

“I’m almost sick of the ocean — there’s too much of it,” said my wife as she was a little overwhelmed on the morning of our second day at the beach. She was less overwhelmed after a nap. 21 June.

A morning view of the marina near the coffeeshop.

A morning view of the marina near the coffeeshop.

“Now he’s walking slow as molasses … he hasn’t gone all day,” said a woman to another woman, perhaps about the 3-4-year-old boy as they and my wife and I all rode the hotel elevator one floor. 21 June.

At the Cactus Flower restaurant on the boardwalk, a 40-ish-year-old woman whose button-down shirt stopped well short of her white-patterned bikini bottoms came in with her family. A posted sign said that shirt and shoes were required, but the sign hadn’t claimed the necessity of pants. 21 June.

Two jazz musicians at Lillo's at Pensacola Beach.

Two jazz musicians at Lillo’s at Pensacola Beach. 22 June.

Be “ready to catch the meatball,” said the sax player at Lillo’s Tuscan Grill as he picked up his horn and aimed it toward my wife and me. His guitarist had already started playing a jazz version of Gershwin’s “Summertime.” Later, near the end of the song, the sax player added, “meatball’s comin’.” 21 June.

We went to Lillo’s the next night, too, and we heard him joke of the place, “you can tell it’s a classy place when they have lefthanded forks,” said Joe, the sax guy, 22 June.

“Don’t try to jump on that, dude. It’s pretty unpredictable,” said an adult guy in the pool. He had a full (but not long) beard, sunglasses, and a rust-orange baseball cap with an outline of the state of Texas on it. He said this to a young boy who was trying to jump on a floating object from the edge of the pool. After warning the boy a second time, the man said, “I did that one time; it didn’t feel good.” 22 June.

A little later, that boy, or his brother, was told by their mother, “five minutes time out. If he wants to act dumb at the pool, I’m gonna act dumb with him, too.” 22 June.

A folded bill on the tip jar at Drowsy Poet cafe.

A folded bill on the tip jar at Drowsy Poet cafe.

A waitress asked if she could get the plates “out of yer-all’s way?” 21 June.

“Would you stop talking like that? You’re gonna do it in public and then we’re gonna have to get killed,” my wife said of my repeating certain southern-accented phrases, such as when I heard a man at a breakfast place order “a sahd of” hash browns or something. 22 June.

A young girl declared that she was about to do a “butt-sit” on the bottom of the pool. 23 June.

From the balconies above the hotel pool, I heard a Southern- accented teenage female voice shout: “Let me see ’em — Ah get to pick!” A short time later, I heard the same voice shout, “You take one mo-er and this goes off the balcony!” 23 June.

My journal in front of a palm tree

My homemade (recycled cover around blank pages) journal in front of a palm tree at Pensacola Beach.

I asked a serious-seeming woman about the fairy tales books on her table at the Pensacola Beach Drowsy Poet coffeehouse. She said she was doing academic research about fairy tales and Shakespeare, and we talked about teaching writing. It was a fun conversation. Later that day, I searched her name, “Tana” (short for “Montana,” she said), and “Shakespeare,” and I found this website that seems to be hers, and it lists a number of her publications, several of which I was glad to read. It was neat to find out someone I had just met was so accomplished, but had I known that before meeting her, I might have acted like an awed fan, and then I might not have had as good a conversation. This was something I thought about again when I went to the Harper Lee hometown and thought of Lee not as a regular person but as an idea, quasi-magical Writer Harper Lee.

My homemade (recycled cover around blank pages) journal at the Monroeville, Alabama, County Old Courthouse.

My homemade (recycled cover around blank pages) journal at the Monroeville, Alabama, County Old Courthouse. 25 June.

After a tense couple minutes during which several lifeguards had searched for a missing boy at the Quietwater Boardwalk, the boy was found and he was safe, and as the lifeguards were leaving the boardwalk, a bystander teasingly asked if there were any sharks out there. “We checked all the waters: you’re set, man,” responded one lifeguard. 24 June.

The gray streak on left side of photo is the dolphin seen by boatmate Jeff and my wife, on right.

Swimming with wild dolphins off the Panama City Beach coast. The gray streak on left side of photo is the dolphin seen by our boatmate Jeff and my wife, on right. 23 June.

A dolphin.

A dolphin in clear blue water. As this was the best view I could get from above the water, I decided to push off the front of the pontoon boat with the others and see through the goggles. We saw dolphins several times, including babies with big ones, and my wife got within arm’s length of one big dolphin that glided slowly below her. I also heard some of the dolphin’s squeaks when my head was below water line.

View of Shell Island near Panama City Beach from the back of the pontoon boat from which we sought dolphins.

View of Shell Island near from the back of the pontoon boat from which we sought dolphins. Floating facedown and parallel to the waves, I felt lifted and dropped, like I was in a car getting a little airborne over a hill.

Beach lizard in my view as I wrote my journals, 25 June.

Beach lizard in my view as I wrote my journals, 25 June.

At the Tennessean truck stop near Lewisburg, TN. The fine print explains that $99.99 buys 16,000 firecrackers.

At the Tennessean truck stop near Cornersville, TN. The fine print explains that $99.99 buys 16,000 firecrackers. 25 June.

‘That’s a damn story’: Considering To Kill a Mockingbird after visiting Monroeville

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I read To Kill a Mockingbird just before visiting author Harper Lee’s hometown Monroeville, Alabama, recently, and I’m left with some questions about the nature of fiction, nonfiction, and real places, and how these intersect. Seeing the town and thinking about Nelle Harper Lee’s life story got me confused; I’ve yet to make sense of these things for myself. Since I don’t yet have an overall theory, I’m going to list some things I learned and what these things imply.

In the beginning of the novel, Maycomb, Alabama, lawyer Atticus Finch is the widowed, 50-something father of 6-year-old Scout Finch and her 10-year-old brother Jem Finch. Scout and Jem befriend a boy, Dill Harris, who spends summers in Maycomb living with his aunt Rachel Haverford “next door.” Neighbors “three doors to the south” are the Radley family, and “the Radley Place jutted into a sharp curve beyond our house. Walking south, one faced its porch,” and “the Maycomb school grounds adjoined the back of the Radley lot.” Arthur “Boo” Radley was kept “out of sight” from his teen years on after a run-in with the law.

Nonfictionally, Monroeville, Alabama, lawyer Amasa Coleman “A.C.” Lee was 52 when Nelle Harper Lee was 6. Her brother Edwin would’ve been 11 then. Nelle befriended neighbor boy Truman Capote, who lived with his Faulk aunts in the house directly north of the Lee house. Neighbors two doors to the south were the Boulware family, whose property extended into a south-easterly curve, whose house faced north, and whose back lot adjoined the elementary school yard. Alfred “Son” Boulware, Jr.’s “father promised to keep him under his thumb in lieu of punishment for an adolescent theft.

A piece of the oak tree that was the model for the oak tree near the Radley house in the book.

A piece of the oak tree that was the model for the oak tree near the Radley house in the book. Also in the case are pennies, a gold watch and chain, gum wrappers, marbles, and carved soap figures.

An intriguing example of the mix of fiction, nonfiction, and real physical objects is the display in the courthouse museum pictured above. There’s a photo of the real oak tree that was supposedly the inspiration for the oak tree in the novel, and there’s a chunk of wood from that tree. The other objects represent the gifts that Jem and Scout found in the tree, an incident that may have had a nonfictional precedent, but there’s no claim that these other objects were the actual gifts. There’s a card reading “The Famous Tree,” naming a real tree made nonfictionally famous by a fictional text. About this display, visitor David G. Allan wrote, “It’s this kind of conflation of history and fiction that happily muddles your head in Monroeville.”

Of course, after the similarities, there are also many distinctions between the fictional characters and the real people, and because of the earlier similarities, these differences become that much more stark. We readers might wonder why certain things were changed when so many things were not. For instance, Nelle Harper Lee’s mother was alive until Nelle was 25, but the mother, “Frances Finch Lee, also known as Miss Fanny, was overweight and emotionally fragile,” according to Nelle’s New York Times obituary. Nelle had two older sisters; Scout does not. Dill lived with one aunt; Truman Capote lived with at least three aunts and an uncle.

 I’m very tempted to use the phrase “real life” to describe Nelle’s life. But of course, her life story isn’t real in the way the streets and buildings and trees that I saw a few days ago were real. Her life story and the town’s history are simply nonfiction, as are the old photos of Nelle and of Monroeville in the museum and in books such as this. The house where she grew up does not exist and is only a story; the Lee house was torn down in 1952 and replaced with a food stand, now Mel’s Dairy Dream (see photos here).

What seemed the most real when I was at Monroeville were the physical objects before me, but it was actually hard to keep my attention on those things because I kept thinking of them through conceptual overlays (like a heads-up display, projecting information onto what I was seeing) of both the novel and of the history. The fiction and the nonfiction were both ideas, abstractions, but I kept applying them to the physical items I saw. I snapped pictures of anything associated with Scout or with Nelle; for instance, I took this photo of the pavement around Mel’s Dairy Dream while thinking “maybe Nelle Harper Lee once stepped here.”

Pavement at the site of the former Lee house.

Pavement at the site of the former Lee house and the current Mel’s Dairy Dream store.

I realized then I’d been thinking that the possibility of Nelle having stepped in a place made that place special. I was regarding her as more than just a regular person (whose footfalls aren’t special). I realized this thought was an example of magic thinking, that somehow I must have started to believe, by being in this town where Nelle lived and about which she wrote, that I could somehow enter the story itself and live within the funny, charming sensibility of the narrator’s depiction of Jem and Scout. This sounds absurd, of course, and it is, but I suspect this thinking might be similar to that of people who visit a site of a miracle or an important historical event. Why go to a place like Monroeville, Lourdes, or the Gettysburg battlefield unless I’m expecting, somehow, to get closer to, become part of, and be personally transformed by, the reality of these places I’d previously only read about?

I can read and analyze a novel like To Kill a Mockingbird without being anywhere near the town that inspired the novel’s setting. To visit the town does give me a chance to see for myself what buildings described in the story look like and how places relate to each other (for instance, now that I’ve walked from the elementary school to where the Lee house was, I think the length of Jem and Scout’s walk at the end of the book was exaggerated. But perhaps Nelle Harper Lee knew that the walk didn’t actually take long, and she made it seem longer to increase suspense in the story). Of course, even as Lee was writing in the 1950s, the town of her youth in the 1930s had changed. It’s also foolish to compare fictional descriptions to what I saw in the real town because, well, the fiction writer is free to change whatever she pleases, and also, to say a real place is “the basis for” or “the inspiration for” or “the setting for” a fictional place is basically meaningless. The fictional town and the real town are not be the same; it’s only in our abstract thinking that we conjoin the two.

Nelle Harper Lee wrote the book because, she told an interviewer back in 1964, in one of the last interviews she granted,

“This is small-town middle-class Southern life as opposed to the Gothic, as opposed to ‘Tobacco Road,’ as opposed to plantation life,” she told her interviewer, referring to the Erskine Caldwell novel, and adding that she was fascinated by the “rich social pattern” in such places. “I would simply like to put down all I know about this because I believe that there is something universal in this little world, something decent to be said for it, and something to lament in its passing,” she continued. “In other words, all I want to be is the Jane Austen of South Alabama.”

Mockingbird does present an image of her childhood’s cultural and material conditions and does effectively convey this to her readers. In doing this, she created characters based closely enough on real people so that the real people can be identified: noble Atticus as A.C. Lee, reclusive Boo Radley as Alfred Boulware. A.C. Lee is said to have been appreciative enough to sign copies of Mockingbird as “Atticus,” but Alfred Boulware’s relatives (he died before the book was published) have not been pleased by their association with the book, as I was told by Monroe County Museum staffer Rabun Williams.

Nelle benefited from writing about real people, but since she became famous, she seemed to discourage others from writing about her:

She returned to her solitary life in Monroeville, keeping the press and the public at bay. In writing “Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee” (2006), Charles J. Shields maintained that he had conducted 600 interviews with friends, acquaintances and former classmates of his subject, but Ms. Lee eluded him, turning down his requests for an interview “with vigor,” he said. (Times obit)

After turning other people into the abstractions of fictional characters, Lee perhaps did not want to be turned into the abstraction of Author Harper Lee. She wanted to control her own life story, though she did not allow others to do this. According to the Times obit, “Ms. Lee lived a quiet but relatively normal life in Monroeville, where friends and neighbors closed ranks around her to fend off unwelcome attention by tourists and reporters,” which protection was perhaps more than Lee granted to the people she wrote about.

By writing about her home town, Lee has also reshaped it. Entering Monroeville from the south on Rt. 21, I saw a sign that said “Literary Capital of Alabama.” While home to only about 7,000 residents, nearly 30,000 visit every year. The old courthouse has become a museum dedicated to Lee and Capote, and local actors put on play of Mockingbird each year, on the courthouse lawn and in the old courthouse itself. The book and museum prompt goofball tourists like myself to wander around taking pictures. Museum staffers and other locals also become storytellers as they share their own stories of Monroeville and the Lee family. The town has many empty storefronts, and poverty seems a problem in Monroe County, but no doubt the area would suffer more without its literary fame.

The book’s title comes from father Atticus’s warning to children Scout and Jem not to shoot mockingbirds with their air rifles for “it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird,” and it’s a sin because, as another character explains, “mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy.” Mockingbirds are a symbol of beauty, of selflessness, etc. On the other hand, a mockingbird “often imitates other birds,” and so could also be a symbol for taking the expression of others and making it one’s own.

Update, 22 July: This essay makes a point about the mockingbird as a symbol of the South, and that it wouldn’t necessarily deserve the praise it gets in the novel.

Some additional links about Nelle Harper Lee:

† Google Books link to I am Scout biography of NHL by Charles Shields.

† NY Times review of Go Set a Watchman

“A Queer Look at Harper Lee’s ‘Go Set a Watchman'”

† “The Decline of Harper Lee” at

Daily Mail article on Harper Lee from 2010

“In Search of Harper Lee” (dated 2010, seemingly written in 1997)

† Sister Louise Lee Connor obituary

Alice Lee practices law at age 100

†  The Guardian: Should Marja Mills’ memoir have been published?

† Go Set a Watchman in the papers of Harper Lee’s literary agents

†  Rabun Williams’s speech at Harper Lee vigil

Some comments regarding Boulware

19 Things about Harper Lee

10 Facts about Harper Lee from

† Southern Literary Trail: Monroeville

Two nonfiction pieces Lee wrote

† An early (1960) review of Mockingbird includes this section:

Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird is sugar-water served with humor. … It is frankly and completely impossible, being told in the first person by a six-year-old girl with the prose style of a well-educated adult. … A variety of adults, mostly eccentric in Scout’s judgment, and a continual bubble of incident make To Kill A Mockingbird pleasant, undemanding reading.

Bind a book

I’ve spent the last couple weeks learning to make my own blank journals. Here are some tutorials I’ve used to learn how to assemble the folded pages into signatures (4 sheets, 16 pages) and then to stitch these signatures into a text block.

Here’s a tutorial about completing the book by adding covers:

Next, I want to practice making my own book cloth and coptic-stitch notebooks:

Here are some photos of the books I’ve already made. In the photos below, the paper is heavyweight (70 lb. in top photo, 50 lb. in lower two photos) drawing paper, and the thread is cotton embroidery thread, and the covers are both recycled from books discarded from a library. I kept the original endsheets with the cover but took out all the other original pages, and then glued in the new text blocks to the endsheets.

Putting a new text block into an old cover.

Putting a newly stitched text block into an old cover. 

The text block here is 2-3 inches thick.

The text block here is 2-3 inches thick. It’s about to go into the recycled cover in foreground.

The press, which holds the book while and after I glue it, is made from a couple pieces of 1" thick scrap.

After the pages are stitched, they are compressed and glued. My press holds the book while and after I glue it, and it’s is made from a couple pieces of 1″ thick scrap and 4 carriage bolts of length 5-6 inches.

Close-up view of the text block after gluing.

Close-up view of the text block after gluing. The glue seems to keep the text block compressed.

Links: Gaps between words, etc.

1. From a discussion at The New Yorker about the poetry of Rosmarie Waldrop:

The phrase [book title “Gap Gardening”] makes us think hard about the way language works, and about how words catalyze reality, rather than transcribe it. In nature, nothing can come from nothing, but in language it happens all the time.


What I love about Waldrop are the enigmas and paradoxes on every page, the belief that language is most beautiful when it slips or falters, and the sense that these linguistic short circuits most often happen in urgent verbal exchange.

2. Some context to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

3. NY Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan’s final blog post: “Five Things I Won’t Miss at The Times — and Seven I Will”

4. An article about a weird mid-20th Century cultural phenomenon: spanking.

5. NY Times article about how messages written on vase shards inform Bible scholarship.

6. Plato’s Academy versus Diogenes the Cynic: 2 ways of doing philosophy.

7. Brains aren’t computers because brains are analog: How brain capacity isn’t understood yet.

8. The Tree of Life is still being remodeled.

9. Some subjects “underrepresented in contemporary fiction” include joy —

“In our insistence on despair as the most authentic iteration of experience, we risk writing fiction that is hamstrung in its ability to represent our humanity with the necessary breadth and nuance. The despairing self, characterized by alienation and misery, is limited and incomplete, and not a particularly accurate representation of the lushness of life as it is lived, mingled thing that it is”

— and characters beyond the “bourgeois” —

“a writer might free herself from the tired pursuit of fiction as a matter of professional advancement and set out in quest of the stories that don’t get told”

10. A review of “At the Existentialist Cafe” points out that the author, Sarah Bakewell, “shapes her answers in the form of biographical narratives, because her central theme is that the large impersonal ideas pursued by much modern philosophy are less profound and illuminating than the varied and conflicting truths found in stories of individual lives.”

Links: Autobio fiction, economical art, writerly authority

1. “At the Writing Academy,” a fiction by Karl Ove Knausgaard. I’d heard of Knausgaard’s “My Struggle” books (here and here) as autobiographical fiction, which interested me because I was inspired years ago by the autobio aspects of Kerouac’s On the Road  and because I’ve long pondered how to publish certain aspects of my journal writings. This selection above is the only part of Knausgaard’s books I’ve read, but I was a little underwhelmed by how much the story felt more like fiction than like nonfiction. It seems as if his story is shaped in a traditional story arc, rather than dealing with the messiness and day-to-day unclarity of live as lived — as my lived-life seems to be, anyway.

2. This essay makes a great point about how one’s economic situation can limit — in a good way, a creative way — the art one can make. Richard Brody writes of filmmaker Joe Swanberg:

Rather than imagining specific stories for films that required some more distant and complex organization, that required travel, specific actors, settings, effects, or crowds, Swanberg has made movies that relate clearly to the specific circumstances of his own life—but his discovery of drama within those circumstances has been nothing less than prodigious.

Everyone has lots of stories; lives proliferate stories, as is proven by most of our conversations. Whatever we tell our friends and relatives and colleagues, whatever we think about our relationships and our work, is a virtual screenplay that, in a thoughtful telling, would fill out a feature film with ease. Swanberg is a prolific filmmaker because he recognizes and extracts the drama from what’s nearest at hand.

3. An intriguing essay I found worth reading, even if I’m not sure I agree with its conclusions. Some points:

In 1980, Michel Foucault gave an anonymous interview for Le Monde because he was, in his words, “nostalgic for a time when, being quite unknown, what I said had some chance of being heard.” Calling himself the “Masked Philosopher,” he suggested that the unknown author has an “unrippled” “surface of contact” with the reader, and that the book without an author might “land in unexpected places and form shapes that I had never thought of.” He temporarily shed the authority of his name, because “a name makes reading too easy.” …

In The Irresponsible Magician, Rebekah Rutkoff gets to the point. Her prose can be perplexing, but only because we are so used to our books coming with elaborate instructions that tell us how to read them. …

IN a sense, The Irresponsible Magician is a book about authority. It flashes brightest when it throws into conflict different ways of knowing … Authority produces blind spots and excesses. As such, it’s a form of eccentricity. We all hold some tattered scrap of authority, and there is no version of it that is not somehow distorted or compromised. …

And yet something crucial distinguishes the famous from the unknown: the fact that the celebrity is both person and image. His image sustains his personal power and authority, but also undermines it. He cannot always control where he appears, what with so many unannounced cameos in books and dreams and unauthorized TV biopics. His image goes wild but leaves him trapped. Like the professional critic, or the anthropologist, or psychoanalyst, the celebrity’s authority is limiting; it leaves him a slightly automated servant to his own identity. …

The most striking thing about The Irresponsible Magician is the fact that dreams function within it as real, legitimate evidence—not just about the author’s inner life, but about the world writ large. This is the lesson we ought to draw from it. We’re used to treating dreams as belonging to the individual; analysts treat them as signposts on the hero’s journey out of neurosis and into an uncertain truce with the-world-as-it-is. But dream-data is not just individual. It’s also social and historical. Each dream reveals a foundational lie—that, for example, the world is a mall—while at the same time revealing there is a truth in the lie—that the structure of the mall commands the world and that the world is falling apart. Our job is to hold tight to these contradictions, to refuse to resolve them but instead to harness their dialectical heat. The result will not be dream-interpretation, but dream-criticism.