Furthermore...

D is off to jury duty today, so I made a valiant sacrifice and sent Harry with him to while away the hours. But not before I had made a troubling but utterly UNSPOILERY discovery (at 2 a.m., when I was surreptitiously reading it so that I wouldn't be totally left in the dust when he finished it today): Harry is my age. In fact, he is older than me by about two and a half months (or, to put it more clearly, he was born two and a half months before I was, although he is much younger than I currently am in the books). That just isn't right.

But it reveals a further interesting thing about the book's magically apocalyptic internal history (and I apologize if this sounds ignorant to those of you who have read the last half of Deathly Hallows - I am still only on page 350 or so): not only is it not set in our Muggle present day, but it takes place in the mid nineties, in a pre-9/11, pre-7/7, pre-Iraq and Afghanistan wars Britain. This had just never occurred to me before.

OK, maybe I should stop talking about the novel until I have actually finished the damn thing. Legal system of California! Let my boyfriend and his fat, fat children's book go!

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Today I am fascinated by micronations, tiny communities that declare their independence from other established countries. I was reminded of this interest while reading about Hay-on-Wye, the Welsh book town that was ruled for the last few decades by King Richard, a toilet plunger-wielding bookseller. But then I recalled my visityears ago to Christiania, a hippy micronation of squatters in an old military camp in Copenhagen. And we haven't even touched on the many libertarian maritime micronations of cruise ships and platforms, the odd commonness of micronational seccession in Australia in recent decades, or the new development of the purely conceptual, internet-based micronation.

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My condolences go out to Skip Prosser's family and the Wake Forest community. The university's basketball coach died yesterday of a sudden massive heart attack. He was a credit to the schools he worked for, and had a great history with Wake Forest. I hope that fans from other schools in the conference will be empathetic with Wake's players and fans in the upcoming academic year and season.

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Years ago, I took a women's fiction course that began with the professor asking the question "Can the reader tell, based on an author's prose, what the gender of the writer is?" In other words, is women's writing (as an artifact: the writing-as-a-text rather than the act- or experience-of-writing) coherent and distinctive from men's? I would love to teach a course like this in the near future (perhaps incorporating creative non-fiction, poetry and drama as well), and I think this is a fruitfully troubling question with which to start. My professor said that she used to hand out unfamous passages from famous works of literature by men and women, and ask her students to identify the gender of the writer. They were almost always wrong.

Well, now there is the Gender Genie (a moniker that I am sure could yield a delightful feminist/identity studies reading). You can go to this website and enter in a passage of text (preferably more than 500 words long) from a book, your blog, your dissertation, whatever. It will then do a terribly-scientific-I'm-sure analysis of the types of words you use, and tell you what the gender of the author is.

To my great delight, I found out that most of my blog entries (especially those written with the more abstract language characteristic of my academic persona) reveal a thoroughly male author. [This blog entry, the part I have written so far, barely edges into the female side of the spectrum, with a female score of 737 and a male score of 702.] I know I am using a pseudonym here, and even my real name is actually somewhat gender-ambiguous, so I will hasten to add that I, like my blog, am female.

So, I don't really know what else to say about the Genie. Other than - wow. There is a great gender studies dissertation in there somewhere.

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What a very odd story from the New England Journal of Medicine about a nursing home-dwelling cat who appears to have the ability to sense impending death and the sympathy (an anthropomorphizing word, I know) to give comfort to the dying. Also intriguing is this discussion about Oscar's story from the Washington Post. I am fascinated by the range of responses the story has evoked, and by how much these responses say about our values (about how life ends as much as about how we relate to animals, including our fellow humans).

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Today's poem was again from the July 23, 2007 New Yorker (on whose cover polar bears and penguins frolic on a summertime NY street). My periodicals will probably be supplying most of the poetry for this project until I return to Connecticut in late August and am reunited with my library. At any rate, today it was David Ferry's poem "Lake Water" that came into my life, a poem in which (like Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach") the metaphysical seeps into the poet's gaze over vasty waters.

In the long first section of the poem, in which the speaker describes the "plane of the lake" through a series of metaphors, slant glances at its sexuality and childlikeness, I distrusted the poem, which seemed to fill the mouth with too many words for comfort, beauty, or even basic communication. How delightful, then, to find that this distrust was a device, as the poet turns our suspicion back on the act of metaphorizing in the second and third sections.

The second section, my favorite, begins with a reversal of the first's metaphor:

The plane of water is like a page on which
Phrases and even sentences are written,
But because of the breeze, and the turning of the year,
And the sense that this lake water, as it is being
Experienced on a particular day, comes from
Some source somewhere, beneath, within, itself,
Or from somewhere else, nearby, a spring, a brook,
Its pure origination somewhere else,
It is like an idea for a poem not yet written
And maybe never to be completed, because
The surface of the page is like lake water,
That takes back what is written on its surface,
And all my language about the lake and its
Emotions or its sweet obliviousness,
Or even its being like an origination,
Is all erased with the changing of the breeze
Or because of the heedless passing of a cloud. (63, emphasis mine)
Here is the circularity of metaphor: the poem is (about) a plane of water, which is like a page of poetry, which itself lake-like it the delicacy of its surface tension, the precariousness of its balance, the mystery of its sources and movements.

The final section takes "Lake Water" in an unexpected direction, to the face, just after death, of someone the speaker knew: unaccessible, uncommunicative, like a poem, like a lake.

"But maybe," the final line adds, "my saying so is a figure of speech."

3 Responses so far.

  1. Jill says:

    I will be very circumspect here to avoid spoiling anyone's read of the "last" Harry Potter. Your ruminations on Harry's age (ie, that he is older than you, yet younger than you) made me wonder about the significance of the fact that the book actually ends in the future (currently, that is). Could this be a premonition of sequels?

  2. jenclair says:

    Love the comment about micronations and will be looking at this idea more closely...especially Hay-on-Wye and King Richard.

    On the gender idea--Smilla's Sense of Snow is one book that has stuck with me over the years as a male author writing a female character and sounding like a male author writing a female character.

    The poem makes me think of Keats' epitaph: "Here lies one whose name was writ in water." What irony.

  3. I am intrigued by the idea that you mention, Jill, about the (almost universally hated epilogue) skipping over our readerly time period and taking us into the future. I am not sure what it imports, but it does rather raise the question of what the Wizarding world response to 9/11 and 7/7 was (since the implication made by the books is that everything in the world is hunky-dory after V has been dealt with). I hope that that isn't a spoiler for anyone - I assume we all knew that the last book was going to end with V being dealt with in some way.

    Jenclair - I am so glad that you mention the Keats epitaph, since it was my (late) undergraduate advisor's favorite topic to discuss with his Romantics students.

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