Monthly Archives: September 2011

Martin Heidegger and T. S. Eliot: Birthday Greetings

Today, September 26, is the birthday of the German philosopher, Martin Heidegger.  It is also the birthday of T. S. Eliot, perhaps the greatest English language poet who ever lived.

Heidegger was great philosopher, or so we are told.  I am not sure I can agree.  He was an admirer Adolf Hitler and his gang of Nazi warlocks, even long after the horrors of Nazism were well documented.

Garrison Keillor reminded us of these two notable births in today’s broadcast of “The Writer’s Almanac.”  Here is a quotation from Heidegger’s On Time and Being provided by Keillor:

“It has not been demonstrated that the sort of thing which gets established about the Being-present-at-hand-together of the changing and permanent when one takes time as one’s clue, will also apply to the connection between the ‘in me’ and the ‘outside of me.’ But if one were to see the whole distinction between the ‘inside’ and the ‘outside’ and the whole connection between them which Kant’s proof presupposed, and if one were to have an ontological conception of what has been presupposed in this presupposition, then the possibility of holding that a proof of the ‘Dasein of Things outside of me’ is a necessary one which has yet to be given, would collapse.”

I have had some experience with the German language, having spent two years as a student at the University of Bonn where, I might add, Karl Marx once studied.  I cannot imagine trying to read Heidegger in the original German.  If Heidegger’s mind is reflected in his writing style, need we wonder at his coming under the spell of Nazism?

T. S. Eliot, however, spoke to the soul as well as the mind in his poetry.  One might struggle with understanding “The Waste Land,” or “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” but there can be no doubt about what he wanted to say in “The Journey of the Magi”:

A cold coming we had of it,

Just the worst time of the year

For a journey, and such a long journey:

The ways deep and the weather sharp,

The very dead of winter.

And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,

Lying down in the melting snow.

There were times when we regretted

The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,

And the silken girls bringing sherbet.

Then the camel men cursing and grumbling

And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,

And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,

And the cities dirty and the towns unfriendly

And the villages dirty and charging high prices:

A hard time we had of it.

At the end we preferred to travel all night,

Sleeping in snatches,

With the voices singing in our ears, saying

That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,

Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;

With a running stream and a water mill beating the darkness,

And three trees on the low sky,

And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.

Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,

Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,

And feet kicking the empty wineskins.

But there was no information, and so we continued

And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon

Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,

And I would do it again, but set down

This set down

This: were we led all that way for

Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,

We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,

But had thought they were different; this Birth was

Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

Both men were indwelt by a spirit, but a different spirit.  Some might be attracted to Heidegger’s philosopher.  I prefer T. S. Eliot’s poetry.

Until the next time, be good to all God’s creation, and always
live under the mercy.

You can listen to T.S. Eliot reading “The Gift of the Magi” at http://www.poetryarchive.org/poetryarchive/singlePoem.do?poemId=7070

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Where is My Stimulus Package?

My friend Harold is one of those “good old boys,” born, raised, educated, and working in the great state of Mississippi. He talks tough and looks every bit like the hard working man that he is.  When he asks how I or my family is doing, I know that he is sincerely concerned.  Just this past Friday, Harold emailed me about an opportunity he feared I might overlook.

“Just wanted to let you know,” he wrote, “today I received my 2011 Social Security Stimulus Package.  It contained two watermelon seeds, cornbread mix, a prayer rug, and ten coupons to KFC.  The directions were in Spanish.  Hope you get yours soon.”

I immediately fired off a reply thanking him for his concern and assured him that I would be on the lookout for an email from our generous Uncle Sam.  Since Harold’s last name starts with “M” and mine with “W,” it is not unusual for communications from our well-to-do uncle to reach Harold before they reach me.

It is possible, I suppose, that my Stimulus Package was sent by “snail mail,” and is therefore “in the mail,” as they say.  Uncle Sam is known for his thrift.  Some folks I know go so far as to say that he is “penny wise and dollar foolish.”  I’m not sure if I agree.  I always try not to be judgmental.  “Think before you speak.”  “Get your facts right.” That’s what I say.

Harold’s good news of an impending gift from our uncle does, however, present me with a bit of a dilemma.  Having given some thought to how I might make the best use of my Stimulus Package, I can see where there may be some problems.  “Don’t be caught day dreaming when the good fairy comes,” that is what granddaddy use to say.

What am I to do with the watermelon seeds? All of my land is in some sort of government land bank.  According to my accountant, I cannot plant anything on it.  If I do, I will lose my government check for the non-use of my productive land.  Right now it is growing a nice dependable “green” crop.  We all want to “go green” these days, as you know.

I do not want to appear unconcerned about the need for economic recovery.  So, I am willing to try out planting those watermelon seeds.  I will need, of course, some assistance from the government.  The soil will need to be tested for its suitability for growing watermelons.  I understand there is a government agency that will do that for me, free of charge. 

I will have to purchase some new farm equipment to actually plant and harvest the crop, assuming that all goes well with the weather, etc.  I am trusting that there will be some help in that area with tax write-offs, depreciation tables, and an interest free “small” business loan, etc. 

Also, I will have to assume that those troublesome federal agents will not try to interfere with my efforts to provide financial assistance for the needy Hispanic immigrants in my area.  Let us not have any of that shit about “illegal” immigrants.  If they are here, they must be legal.  Right?  The federal government won’t have let them in if they weren’t, would they? 

I might point out that we have a very nice Super Walmart nearby.  Since it opened a few years ago, all of those small local businesses that were charging such high prices have closed.  It may be true, as some liberal critics have charged that the abandoned buildings have made the town look more like a mini Detroit than Mayberry, but we must accept progress. 

There shouldn’t be any problem with my workers living off of the wages I pay.  The wages are, after all, determined by the market forces at play regarding illegal immigrant labor.  I do not wish to brag, or pat myself on the back, but picking watermelons in the healthy open air is much better for them than working long hours at either Walmart or a chicken plant.

Did I mention how competitive the watermelon market is at present? Watermelons of substandard quality are being brought in and sold at ridiculously low prices by Walmart and other mass marketers.  I must assume that Congress will authorize a suitable watermelon subsidy to cover my losses.  I do want to be patriotic.  I do want to do my part in the economic recovery, but as you know, no one wants to take risks these days, at least not until the economy recovers.

What the hell am I to do with the cornbread mix?  I am grateful that they did not just give me surplus cornmeal, flour, etc., like the government did in my granddaddy’s time.  But why should I have to add the water, mix it, and bake it at my own expense?  What does Uncle Sam think?  Just because he gets everything free—e.g., health insurance, full pension (even if he works only one day), travel allowance (or even a chauffeured ride to Walmart)—does not mean that I can afford to hire a cook.  It would make more sense to send me some sort of food stamps or a plastic card that I could use at Walmart to get my cornbread muffins already made and packaged.   Need I point out that more people would be employed by doing it that way?  What does it take to get those politicians in Congress to think?

Prayer rug?  Well, the wife has been praying a lot lately.  The house does need some work done on it, especially after that bad wind blew some shingles off of the roof.  I have applied for some of that government emergency aide, but FEMA seems to be dragging its feet on getting it to me.  When it comes in, we plan to not only repair the roof, but also replace the rug in the living room and remodel the kitchen.  You know what they say, “If the wife ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

As for the KFC coupons, ever since those Yankees bought the colonel out, God only knows where they get that stuff they call “chicken.”  It may come from Vietnam, bird flu virus included at no extra cost.  Besides, we eat catfish (also from Vietnam) and suck crawfish heads here in Mississippi.  Nothing brings the community together better than a good gospel sing and dinner on the grounds with fried chicken and catfish, boiled crawdads, and hushpuppies.

Our country is going through a difficult time.  Ever since FDR foisted his socialist New Deal on the nation, we have been burdened with high taxes.  When will people wake up and admit that if you force higher taxes upon the rich, there will be less wealth to trickle down to the needy?

Do not fear.  We will get through this econnomic slump, so long as they don’t mess with our Second Amendment rights.

Now where is that Stimulus Package?

Until next time, be good to all God’s creation, and always live under the mercy.

 

 

 

 

Of Love, Wine, and Good Food

Arthur Fiedler, the famous conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra, once said that it was the album cover that caught the individual’s attention.  A classy cover would sell more recordings.  A brief look at the covers of LP’s recorded by the Boston Pops under Fiedler’s direction will reveal how seriously he followed his own advice.  

I think the same can be said of book covers.  I googled “book covers as art” and came up with over ten thousand references.  Numerous internet sites address the topic of book, magazine, and comic covers as a form of art.  Do you like a classic book cover, but cannot afford to buy the book?  Well then, you may purchase it as a poster, postcard, or even on a T-shirt.

To put it bluntly, covers sell books.  Studies suggest shoppers wandering around in a bookstore will decide to purchase a book they have heard of within ten to twenty seconds.  What grabs their attention? The cover!

I can testify to the truth of this in my own life.  When I walk into the local Barnes and Nobles bookstore just to browse and enjoy a cup of coffee, I peruse the book displays on my way to the coffee shop.  Always, my eyes are drawn to a book, or books, that “look interesting.”  To put it another way, a book cover catches my attention.

The cover may be great, but what makes the sale is the first sentence or two.  If the first sentence does not “hook” me, I set the book down and continue browsing.  How could one resist a novel that begins, “What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died?” Everyone, or nearly everyone, will recognize that as the opening sentence in Erich Segel’s bestseller, Love Story (1970).  If that doesn’t sell you, then read on:  “That she was beautiful and brilliant?  That she loved Mozart and Bach, the Beatles, and me?”

There are many memorable opening sentences.  The American Book Review has a list of “100 Best First Lines from Novels.”  Number one is “Call me Ishmael” from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (1850).  At number twenty-two:  “It was a dark and stormy night . . .” popularized by Snoopy in the Peanuts cartoons, but actually penned by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton in his novel, Paul Clifford (1830).  I do not know anyone who has actually read it.  I suppose most are waiting for Snoopy to finish writing his book.

While browsing in a store recently, my wandering eyes were drawn to a book lying on a table.  On the cover was a watercolor of a young couple, obviously walking hand-in-hand down some Parisian street.  I assume Paris, not just because of the title, Lunch in Paris:  A Love Story, with Recipes, but because of what the young lady is carrying.  She has a fish-net-like shopping bag over her shoulder.  In it are a fish, a loaf of French bread, and what appears to be lettuce. The book’s title and the author’s name, Elizabeth Bard, are done in black script as if written with a small paint brush.

The romantic picture aroused memories of a visit to Paris in the summer of 1968, two months after the famous May riots.  There is no other city quite like Paris.  The very name instantly conjures up images of the Eiffel Tower, sidewalk cafés, green parks, running fountains, art museums, the Moulin Rouge, romantic music, and so much more.  Of course, my memories are somewhat romanticized.   Reality was not always as much fun.

I picked up the book because of the cover art.  Out of curiosity, I turned to the opening chapter and read the first sentence:  “I slept with my French husband halfway through our first date.”  I thought, “Now that’s the way to start a book.”  I had to continue reading the first paragraph:  “I say halfway because we had finished lunch but not yet ordered coffee. . . .  The question was posed lightly:  It looked like rain.  We could sit it out in a café or, since his apartment was not far, he could make tea.”  She goes on to explain in the next paragraph:  “It seemed like a simple choice; I like tea.”

That was enough for me.  I was hooked.  I had to read the book.

Lunch in Paris (New York:  Little, Brown and Co., 2010) is a memoir of
finding love along with good food and fine wine in, of course, Paris.  Elizabeth Bard was living in London when she first met the love of her life in the person of a Frenchman named Gwendal.  The initial meeting was followed by an exchange of emails over several months, and finally Elizabeth’s journey to Paris to see Gwendal.

From the first, the reader discovers that Elizabeth’s romantic passion is not for Gwendal alone, but also for French food. From their first lunch at a noisy canteen opened for business in 1896, to Bard’s ever more frequent trips to spend weekends with Gwendal, to her decision to move to Paris and share Gwendal’s tiny apartment, the book is a fast-paced, often humorous memoir of love and food.

Each chapter is followed by a selection of French recipes and directions for preparing them.  Among “Recipes for Seduction” are “French Mint Tea” and “Pasta à la Gwendal.” There are recipes for special occasions, classics like onion soup, and even a recipe for a comfort food Bard calls “Gwendal’s Quick and Dirty Chocolate Soufflé cake.”  I am tempted to try some of the recipes—e.g., “Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble.”  Others, I would not try, even if paid to do so.  Do people really eat snails? You can call them by a fancy French name, “escargots,” but a snail is still a snail.

Lunch in Paris is a book to read and enjoy.  It does not have any deep philosophical message, unless it is that all those romantic stories about discovering true love in an exotic environment do come true, sometimes.

Should you choose to read Lunch in Paris, I recommend a comfortable chair, a footstool, a café latte, and an almond croissant.

Until next time, be good to all God’s creation, and always live under the mercy.

For some very fine examples of book covers as art:
http://www.abebooks.co.uk/books/great-fiction-covers.shtml

“100 Best First Lines from Novels” may be found at:
http://www.pantagraph.com/news/article_a125216a-649f-5414-88b5-76a688ea3b6a.html