Thursday, October 1, 2015

Diversity vs. Dispersity

A girl explains to conservative, small-town country folk what "diversity" means at a state university (from Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons, p. 550). The question marks sometimes indicate intonation, not an actual question.
Laurie piped up again. "At State, everybody calls diversity dispersity. What happens is, everybody has their own clubs, their own signs, their own sections where they all sit in the dining hall—all the African Americans are over there? . . . and all the Asians sit over't these other tables?—except for the Koreans?—because they don't get along with the Japanese, so they sit way over there? Everybody's dispersed into their own little groups—and everybody's told to distrust everybody else? Everybody's told that everybody else is trying to screw them over—oops!"—Laurie pulled a face and put her fingertips over her lips—"I'm sorry!" She rolled eyes and smiled. "Anyway, the idea is, every other group is like prejudiced against your group, and no matter what they say, they're only out to take advantage of you, and you should have nothing to do with them—unless you'r white, in which case all the others are not prejudiced against you, they're like totally right, because you really are racist and everything, even if you don't know it? Everybody ends up dispersed into their own like turtle shells, suspicious of everybody else and being careful not to fraternize with them. . . ."

Monday, September 28, 2015

U.S. News and college rankings

From Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons (p. 514), imagining the thoughts of a college president amidst a sports scandal:
What about these rumors that four of the team's players had SAT scores of under nine hundred? The President thought about that. For a start, it would knock Dupont from second, behind Princeton, in the U.S. News & World Report rankings down to . . . God knew where. U.S. News & World Report—what a stupid joke! Here is third-rate news weekly, aimed at businessmen who don't like to read, trying desperately to move up in the race but forever swallowing the dust of Time and Newsweek, and some character dreams up a circulation gimmick: Let's rank the colleges. Let's stir up a fuss. Pretty soon all of American higher education is jumping through hoops to meet the standards of the marketing department of a miserable, lowbrow magazine out of Washington, D.C.! Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, Dupont—all jumped through the hoop at the crack of the U.S. News whip! Does U.S. News rate you according to how many of the applicants you offer places to actually enroll in your college and not another? Then let's lock in as many we can through early admissions contracts. Does U.S. News want to know your college's SAT average? We'll give it to them, but we will be "realistic" and not count "special cases" . . . such as athletes. Does U.S. News rate you according to your standing in the eyes of other college presidents? Then a scandal indicating that all our lofty pronouncements about the "student-athlete" at Dupont are not only a joke but a lie—well, anybody could write the rest of that story.
Also from Wolfe's book. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

God as divine poet

From John Donne’s Expostulation 19 (Devotions):
My God, my God, thou art a direct God, may I not say a literal God, a God that wouldst be understood literally, and according to the plain sense of all that thou sayest? But thou art also (Lord, I intend it to thy glory, and let no profane misinterpreter abuse it to thy diminution), thou art a figurative, a metaphorical God too; a God in whose words there is such a height of figures, such voyages, such peregrinations to fetch remote and precious metaphors, such extensions, such spreadings, such curtains of allegories, such third heavens of hyperboles, so harmonious elocutions, so retired and so reserved expressions, so commanding persuasions, so persuading commandments, such sinews even in thy milk, and such things in thy words, as all profane Authors, seem of the seed of the Serpent, that creeps, thou art the Dove, that flies.

Culture denigration vs. animal rights

The following quote is from Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons (p. 391). Mr. Starling is a Nobel Prize-winning professor of neuroscience, and this episode takes place in his class at the fictional Dupont University.
"That's José Delgado," said Mr. Starling, "and that's a two-thousand-pound Andalusian bull . . . and those . . . sticks . . . you see sticking out of his shoulders are the picas the picadors—you know picador?—have stabbed him with to make him angry."
"Oh—my—God!" It was an indignant yelp from a girl somewhere below. Charlotte had no trouble interpreting it. Animal rights was one of the issues some people on campus really got heated over. "That—is—horrible! It's—so—wrong!"
From the lecture Mr. Starling said sharply, "That's your reaction to a culture different from your own? I'm sure I mentioned that José Delgado was Spanish, and in case I didn't mention it, that's a bullring in Madrid. Spanish culture is far older than ours, by a factor of millennia. You are perfectly free to object to it. You are free to object to all cultures different from your own. Would you favor us with a list of alien cultures you find most objectionable?"
Laughter spread slowly through the amphitheater. Clever parry, Mr. Starling. Denigration of another culture, especially one whose people are less well off than your own, and referring to anything as evil, which would indicate you might very well have religious convictions, were more socially unacceptable at Dupont than cruelty to animals.
Oh, the amusement when conflicting religions collide. For more on animal rights hypocrisy, see here.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Wordsworth's "She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways" decomposed

Published version here. Decomposed version here (section on structure & climax, p. 251).

She Lived Among the Untravelled Ways
She lived among the untravelled ways
That high hills rise above,
A Maid whom any girl might praise
And any man would love:

Fair as a rose beside a stone
Half hidden from the eye!
The fairest start that anyone
Could see in all the sky.

She dwelt unheard of, few could know
That she was dead, but she
Is sleeping her last sleep, and oh,
How great a loss to me!

Donne's Holy Sonnet 7 decomposed

Published version here. Decomposed version from here (section on structure & climax, p. 237).

At earth's imagined compass points and poles,
Now all you angels, let your trumpets blow
Then rise from death, you multitudes of souls
And to your scattered bodies swiftly go:
All whom the deluge or whom fire did kill,
Whom war or dearth, disease or age has slain,
Laws, tyrants, accidents; those living still
Who'll see the Lord yet need not feel death's pain.
But wait, Lord; let them sleep on while I grieve
For if my sins are more than all of these
'Tis late to ask forgiveness and reprieve
On Judgement Day. Here, bending on my knees,
I do implore instruction in repentance
Which dost insure that Thou'lt commute my sentence.

Shelley's "Ozymandias" decomposed

Published version here. Decomposed version from here (section on structure & climax, p. 221).

"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair
Of leaving name, face or one thought behind—
No monument, no testament or heir,
No faintest trace another age might find."

"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and rejoice:
Though Man and everything he builds must die
Given good fortune and the proper choice
You still can rule your world the same as I."

"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and admire
The splendors of my buildings and my Art.
Though death and dust shall bury each empire,
Great art alone endures to rule the heart."

Auden's "Musée des Beaux Arts" decomposed

Published version here. Decomposed version from here (section on metrics & music, p. 197).

Musée des Mals Arts
How well they comprehended, the Old Masters,
The situation of Mankind's disasters,
Which come to pass while others eat and talk,
Open the windows or just dully walk;
How when the old are reverently waiting
For Jesus' birth, there must be children skating
Upon a pond beside a frozen wood—
Children who thought the change might not be good.
Further, Old Masters always understood
That martyrdom and torture like as not
Take place in some ill-lighted, cluttered spot
Where beasts endure their troubles, try to ease
Their ills and quite ignore men's agonies.

In Brueghel's Icarus, all things turn away
From the catastrophe: the ploughman may
Have heard the splash and the forsaken cry
But didn't really care; the sun on high
Still lit those legs that fell into the green
Bay water while the ship that must have seen—
How strange! a person plunging from the sky—
Needing to get someplace, sailed calmly by.

Blake's "The Tyger" decomposed

Published version here. Decomposed version from here (section on metrics & music, p. 159).

(in iambics)
O tyger, beast that burns so bright
In darkling forests of the night,
What godlike hand, what deathless eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Within what distant deeps of skies
Did burn the fire of thine eyes?
Upon what wings dare he aspire?
What hand would dare to seize the fire?

(in anapests)
O tyger, you creature that's burning so bright
In the threatening, darkening forests of night,
What hand of immortal, what deity's eye
Dare hope it could fashion thy feared symmetry?

Where, in the furthermost depths of the skies
Did blaze the devouring fire of thine eyes?
What are his wings that would dare to aspire?
What is the hand that would dare seize the fire?

Yeats's "The Second Coming" decomposed

Published version here. Decomposed version from here (section on metrics & music, p. 151).

Born Again
From turning in its ever-widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falc'ner call.
Things buckle since their center cannot hold,
The violent tide is loosed and everywhere
The ritual of innocence is drowned;
The noble lack conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intense desire.

No doubt some revelation waits at hand;
No doubt the Second Coming's now at hand.
The Second Coming!—words I've barely said
When now an image from the spirit world
Disturbs my sight: far off in distant sands
A shape with lion trunk and human head,
A gaze that's blank and ruthless like the sun,
Is slowly moving heavy thighs; all 'round,
The shadows reel of angry desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare when a cradle rocked;
What uncouth beast, its hour come round at last
Now stalks to Bethlehem to soon be born?