Repost-Five Short Stories Likely Worth Your Time

I claim no special literary insight, other than these five short stories have stuck with me, as they have for many other readers besides. Links included.

Regular readers will recognize the same ol’ post.

——————–

1. ‘Bartleby, The Scrivener: A Story Of Wall Street

Herman Melville

Catch-up with Turkey, Nippers, and Ginger Nut; their daily routines at the office.

Our narrator:

‘I am one of those unambitious lawyers who never addresses a jury, or in any way draws down public applause; but in the cool tranquillity of a snug retreat, do a snug business among rich men’s bonds and mortgages and title-deeds. All who know me consider me an eminently safe man. The late John Jacob Astor, a personage little given to poetic enthusiasm, had no hesitation in pronouncing my first grand point to be prudence; my next, method.’

We all want to be alone, and to be with others, and Bartleby…Bartleby would just prefer not to:

‘Ah Bartleby! Ah humanity!  ‘

——————–

2. ‘An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge

Ambrose Bierce

As they were for many other high-school boys, the first lines were enough for me:

‘A man stood upon a railroad bridge in northern Alabama, looking down into the swift water twenty feet below. The man’s hands were behind his back, the wrists bound with a cord. A rope closely encircled his neck.’

Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man?

———————-

3. ‘Everything That Rises Must Converge

Flannery O’Connor

O’Connor’s Southern Gothic style often flirts with the grotesque, and can traffic in the macabre, but there’s reason behind it, and a brilliantly skeptical, humane eye.  Few writers get so many things right, in my opinion.

The world is changing, and so is the South.

Julian’s mother is living in the past:

‘They had reached the bus stop. There was no bus in sight and Julian, his hands still jammed in his pockets and his head thrust forward, scowled down the empty street. The frustration of having to wait on the bus as well as ride on it began to creep up his neck like a hot hand. The presence of his mother was borne in upon him as she gave a pained sigh. He looked at her bleakly. She was holding herself very erect under the preposterous hat, wearing it like a banner of her imaginary dignity. There was in him an evil urge to break her spirit. He suddenly unloosened his tie and pulled it off and put it in his pocket’

——————–

4. ‘A Distant Episode

Paul Bowles

A lot can be ‘swallowed’ up in the desert, lost in translation; across time, language and civilizations.

Things don’t always end well for the intellectually curious and naive…:

‘It occurred to him that he ought to ask himself why he was doing this irrational thing, but he was intelligent enough to know that since he Was doing it, it was not so important to probe for explanations at that moment.’

Let’s leave it at that.

——————–

5. ‘Araby

James Joyce

To what does a man put his hopes?

But such wonderful writing:

‘When the short days of winter came, dusk fell before we had well eaten our dinners. When we met in the street the houses had grown sombre. The space of sky above us was the colour of ever-changing violet and towards it the lamps of the street lifted their feeble lanterns. The cold air stung us and we played till our bodies glowed.’

Anthropology, Empiricism Vs. Marxist Theory, Searching For Roots In Africa And Mainstreamed Radicalism in America-How Super Is Man, Anyways?

Roger Sandall’s home page where his essays can be found.

From “The Rise Of The Anthropologue:”

With the empirical base of the discipline becoming undermined and discredited, it was inevitable that the dialecticians would move in. Inevitable, in the first place, because the affinities between the anthropologues and the Marxists are so close. Both share a common atavistic enthusiasm for BC — Before Commerce, Before Capitalism, Before Civilisation itself. The average academic Marxist, even while tippling convivially at the bar, betrays a deep unhappiness in modern industrial society, and is obviously pining for a more primitive social order than modern capitalism provides. And the anthropologue is no less unhappy — anthropology being, as the editor of the quarterly journal Dialectical Anthropology, Stanley Diamond, has so trenchantly said, “the most alienated of the professions.” 

As to Stanley Ann Dunham’s early years on Seattle’s Mercer Island, before heading off to study Russian in Hawaii and Anthropology in Indonesia (it’s unseemly to say such things in public, but perhaps still relevant).

Obama plays up on his Methodist and Baptist grandparents in Kansas, when, in fact, Stanley Ann’s mother and father attended a Unitarian Church in Seattle, not Methodist or Baptist. Their church in Bellevue, Washington, was nicknamed “the little red church.”

Such radicalism is pretty standard fare for Seattle, and I’m not much interested in guilt by association nor political finger-pointing.

Rather, how do people looking for an escape hatch from religion, tradition and convention, define their formative years? The questions and supposed answers tend to be deep and lasting.

What kind of truth and knowledge claims could such ideas bear upon the laws we all must follow?:

Two of the teachers from the school Stanley Ann attended were notorious for their Marxist views. Teachers Val Foubert and Jim Wichterman taught students to reject the things many people believe are the bedrock values of America, and the curriculum included attacks on Christianity, the traditional family, and pupils were assigned readings by Karl Marx. The hallway between Foubert’s and Wichterman classrooms was nicknamed “anarchy ally.”   This is a website dedicated to the memory of Val Foubert who died in 2007.   http://www.valfoubert.com/

What was a kid from the South Side of Chicago, growing up in a mostly segregated American society, looking for in North Africa?

Shelby Steele weaves Gustave Flaubert’s ‘Madame Bovary‘ into his insights about the world, coming to realize the Black Panthers..had problems.

From Countee Cullen’s ‘Heritage:

What is Africa to me:
Copper sun or scarlet sea,
Jungle star or jungle track,
Strong bronzed men, or regal black…

Do ‘The Black Panther‘, and what’s left of Superman fit together into the postmodern morass, or does the nihilist, radical turn swallow up much of what’s good within the old character, replacing such idealism with Political Identity?

A lot can be ‘swallowed’ up in the desert, lost in translation; across time, language and civilizations.

A Distant Episode‘ by Paul Bowles.

Things don’t always end well for the intellectually curious and naive…:

It occurred to him that he ought to ask himself why he was doing this irrational thing, but he was intelligent enough to know that since he Was doing it, it was not so important to probe for explanations at that moment.’

It’s hard to get everything right, in fact, humility and wisdom recognize you must already have some things wrong.  So, which things?

Better to spend more time thinking such thoughts, though what gets one’s blood up enough to write, even, alas, blog posts, is pettier stuff.

Meanwhile, in the Valley of Self, onward ride the avant-garde, merging the arts with rather naked political ideology:

The other day, on the subway, I observed an American male in contemporary business-casual costume. The color of his trousers was richly nondescript.

Just as many old-guard institutional members of the liberal arts and humanities were overrun by the radical, righteous ideologues of their day, many companies and regular citizens, sooner or later, deal with the consequences.

Politics, ‘culture,’ the arts, and the social sciences are attracting many people who already have a core set of beliefs, ideas and assumptions, and the totalizing true-believers often have undue influence amongst them.

Maybe the popular ‘narrative’ of the 60’s being about personal freedom and individual Self-expression has helped lead to many of the current political and institutional failures, though many rates of change have increased dramatically, often much faster than our insitutions, traditions and laws.

Human Evolution, Evolutionary Biology and Genetics are actual fields worth studying!

John Hawks blog.

Political Theory is a rather different, but useful field. Carlo Lancellotti, on the works of Italian political thinker, Augusto Del Noce.

Full piece here, which could have some explanatory insight:

Del Noce’s emphasis on the role of Marxism in what I called the “anti-Platonic turn” in Western culture is original, and opens up an unconventional perspective on recent cultural history. It calls into question the widespread narrative that views bourgeois liberalism, rooted in the empiricist and individualist thought of early modern Europe, as the lone triumphant protagonist of late modernity. While Del Noce fully recognizes the ideological and political defeat of Marxism in the twentieth century, he argues that Marxist thought left a lasting mark on the culture, so much so that we should actually speak of a “simultaneous success and failure” of Marxism. Whereas it failed to overthrow capitalism and put an end to alienation, its critique of human nature carried the day and catalyzed a radical transformation of liberalism itself. In Del Noce’s view, the proclaimed liberalism of the affluent society is radically different from its nineteenth-century antecedent precisely because it fully absorbed the Marxist metaphysical negations and used them to transition from a “Christian bourgeois” (Kantian, typically) worldview to a “pure bourgeois” one. In the process, it tamed the Marxist revolutionary utopia and turned it into a bourgeois narrative of individualistic liberation (primarily sexual).’

Dogs, Snakes & Alas, Words

In the moment: There’s mention of Roger Scruton and some other interesting thoughts: ‘The ways of dog to Mann.’

Having had many dogs, I’m pretty sure I could infer what they were thinking a lot of the time (where are we going now? can I eat that? I’m gonna eat that), but I’m pretty sure I’ll never know what it’s like to be a dog.

Speaking of which, what’s it’s like to imagine oneself a snake and write about that? What have you done with your I/Eye, dear Reader?

From Paul Bowles Allal, found within this collection of short stories.

Moments passed with no movement but then the snake suddenly made a move towards Allal. It then began to slither across Allal’s body and then rested next to his head. He was very calm at this moment and looked right into the snake’s eyes and felt almost one with the snake. Soon his eyes closed and he fell asleep in this position.’

Long experience, but none yet yours?

 XXIV

A narrow fellow in the grass
Occasionally rides;
You may have met him, — did you not,
His notice sudden is.

The grass divides as with a comb,
A spotted shaft is seen;
And then it closes at your feet
And opens further on.

He likes a boggy acre,
A floor too cool for corn.
Yet when a child, and barefoot,
I more than once, at morn,

Have passed, I thought, a whip-lash
Unbraiding in the sun, —
When, stooping to secure it,
It wrinkled, and was gone.

Several of nature’s people
I know, and they know me;
I feel for them a transport
Of cordiality;

But never met this fellow,
Attended or alone,
Without a tighter breathing,
And zero at the bone

Emily Dickinson

It’s not so much the social science knowledge claims which worry, though there are epistemological problems of accuracy and reproducibility.  More often, it’s the hopes and moral sentiments which can follow into institutional rules, group-think, policy, and law.

Many people are quite reasonable, but some people need to be right because they can’t be anything else (watch out for this part of yourself).  Deeper problems within the latest published paper can be mere loose-ends, whereas getting funding to meet payroll and printing-out motivational mantras for the next meeting are what really matters.  Or worse yet, making the personal political and punishing political enemies.

Still, it’s interesting to get some data from longitudinal studies.  Tyler Cowen links to this book.

Cowen:

The traits of being “undercontrolled” or “inhibited,” as a toddler are the traits most likely to persist up through age eighteen. The undercontrolled tend to end up as danger-seeking or impulsive. Those same individuals were most likely to have gambling disorders at age 32. Girls with an undercontrolled temperament, however, ran into much less later danger than did the boys, including for gambling.’

Just thought I’d Throw This In There:

An interesting take from Slate Star Codex-‘The APA Meeting: A Photo-Essay:’

There’s a popular narrative that drug companies have stolen the soul of psychiatry. That they’ve reduced everything to chemical imbalances. The people who talk about this usually go on to argue that the true causes of mental illness are capitalism and racism. Have doctors forgotten that the real solution isn’t a pill, but structural change that challenges the systems of exploitation and domination that create suffering in the first place?

No. Nobody has forgotten that. Because the third thing you notice at the American Psychiatric Association meeting is that everyone is very, very woke.

This reminds me of a poem by Robert Pinsky, entitled ‘Essay On Psychiatrists’

V. Physical Comparison With Professors And Others

Pink and a bit soft-bodied, with a somewhat jazzy
Middle-class bathing suit and sandy sideburns, to me
He looked from the back like one more professor.

And from the front, too—the boyish, unformed carriage
Which foreigners always note in American men, combined
As in a professor with that liberal, quizzical,

Articulate gaze so unlike the more focused, more
Tolerant expression worn by a man of action (surgeon,
Salesman, athlete). On closer inspection was there,

Perhaps, a self-satisfied benign air, a too studied
Gentleness toward the child whose hand he held loosely?
Absurd to speculate; but then—the woman saw something

Maintaining a healthy skepticism:

Previous ‘elite’ links on this site, arriving at some yet predictable, unrealized truths:  Via Marginal Revolution via American Affairs: ‘The Western Elite From A Chinese Perspective:’

Kenneth Anderson At Volokh: ‘The Fragmenting of the New Class Elites, Or, Downward Mobility

Two Kinds Of Elite Cities in America?

There are people with careers writing about elites, becoming somewhat elite themselves, which haven’t fared too well

Dogs, Snakes & Alas, Words

In the moment: There’s mention of Roger Scruton and some other interesting thoughts: ‘The ways of dog to Mann.’

Having had many dogs, I’m pretty sure I could infer what they were thinking a lot of the time (where are we going now? can I eat that? I’m gonna eat that), but I’m pretty sure I’ll never know what it’s like to be a dog.

Speaking of which, what’s it’s like to imagine oneself a snake and write about that? What have you done with your I/Eye, dear Reader?

From Paul Bowles Allal, found within this collection of short stories.

‘Moments passed with no movement but then the snake suddenly made a move towards Allal. It then began to slither across Allal’s body and then rested next to his head. He was very calm at this moment and looked right into the snake’s eyes and felt almost one with the snake. Soon his eyes closed and he fell asleep in this position.’

Long experience, but none yet yours?

 XXIV

A narrow fellow in the grass
Occasionally rides;
You may have met him, — did you not,
His notice sudden is.

The grass divides as with a comb,
A spotted shaft is seen;
And then it closes at your feet
And opens further on.

He likes a boggy acre,
A floor too cool for corn.
Yet when a child, and barefoot,
I more than once, at morn,

Have passed, I thought, a whip-lash
Unbraiding in the sun, —
When, stooping to secure it,
It wrinkled, and was gone.

Several of nature’s people
I know, and they know me;
I feel for them a transport
Of cordiality;

But never met this fellow,
Attended or alone,
Without a tighter breathing,
And zero at the bone

Emily Dickinson

It’s not so much the social science knowledge claims which worry, though there are epistemological problems of accuracy and reproducibility.  More often, it’s the hopes and moral sentiments which can follow into institutional rules, group-think, policy, and law.

Many people are quite reasonable, but some people need to be right because they can’t be anything else (watch out for this part of yourself).  Deeper problems within the latest published paper can be mere loose-ends, whereas getting funding to meet payroll and printing-out motivational mantras for the next meeting are what really matters.  Or worse yet, making the personal political and punishing political enemies.

Still, it’s interesting to get some data from longitudinal studies.  Tyler Cowen links to this book.

Cowen:

The traits of being “undercontrolled” or “inhibited,” as a toddler are the traits most likely to persist up through age eighteen. The undercontrolled tend to end up as danger-seeking or impulsive. Those same individuals were most likely to have gambling disorders at age 32. Girls with an undercontrolled temperament, however, ran into much less later danger than did the boys, including for gambling.’

Just thought I’d Throw This In There:

An interesting take from Slate Star Codex-‘The APA Meeting: A Photo-Essay:’

There’s a popular narrative that drug companies have stolen the soul of psychiatry. That they’ve reduced everything to chemical imbalances. The people who talk about this usually go on to argue that the true causes of mental illness are capitalism and racism. Have doctors forgotten that the real solution isn’t a pill, but structural change that challenges the systems of exploitation and domination that create suffering in the first place?

No. Nobody has forgotten that. Because the third thing you notice at the American Psychiatric Association meeting is that everyone is very, very woke.

This reminds me of a poem by Robert Pinsky, entitled ‘Essay On Psychiatrists’

V. Physical Comparison With Professors And Others

Pink and a bit soft-bodied, with a somewhat jazzy
Middle-class bathing suit and sandy sideburns, to me
He looked from the back like one more professor.

And from the front, too—the boyish, unformed carriage
Which foreigners always note in American men, combined
As in a professor with that liberal, quizzical,

Articulate gaze so unlike the more focused, more
Tolerant expression worn by a man of action (surgeon,
Salesman, athlete). On closer inspection was there,

Perhaps, a self-satisfied benign air, a too studied
Gentleness toward the child whose hand he held loosely?
Absurd to speculate; but then—the woman saw something

Maintaining a healthy skepticism:

Previous ‘elite’ links on this site, arriving at some yet predictable, unrealized truths:  Via Marginal Revolution via American Affairs: ‘The Western Elite From A Chinese Perspective:’

Kenneth Anderson At Volokh: ‘The Fragmenting of the New Class Elites, Or, Downward Mobility

Two Kinds Of Elite Cities in America?

There are people with careers writing about elites, becoming somewhat elite themselves, which haven’t fared too well

Schlock Troops: ‘Steel Isn’t Strong, Boy, Flesh Is Stronger’-Some Links

Via David Thompson-‘The Manhoff Archives

Just one guy taking a look at the world he found himself in and taking some photos and videos along the way:

‘Major Martin Manhoff spent more than two years in the Soviet Union in the early 1950s, serving as assistant army attaché at the U.S. Embassy, which was located just off Red Square at the beginning of his time in Moscow.’

Paul Berman at Tablet:  ‘The Left And The Jews: A Tale Of Three Countries

‘In the early spring of this year, an angry dispute broke out in the United Kingdom between the mainstream Jewish communal organizations and the leader of the radical left, currently head of the Labour Party, who is Jeremy Corbyn; and a couple of days later, a roughly similar dispute broke out in France between the equivalent French Jewish organization and Corbyn’s counterpart on the French left, who is Jean-Luc Mélenchon; and the double outbreak suggested a trend, which raises a question. It is about America and the Democratic Party.’

I suppose we’ll see.

Movements of radical and revolutionary liberation depend upon the removal of injustice, and solidarity around certain ideals.  It seems as more individuals think in terms of group identity and identity politics, ‘the system’ becomes that which unites such identity groups against a common enemy, even if they come to have influence within ‘the system. ‘

Personally, I see ‘the system’ as largely comprised of everyday people engaged in maintaining the laws, traditions and institutions upon which we all depend. Such people often have their own reasons, thoughts and feelings as they go about their duties.  Such activities are best done locally.  Public trust in federal institutions is dangerously low at the moment, for many good reasons.

We could be in for a bad patch, indeed.

It seems more than fair to critique the laws, traditions and institutions which can and have brutally oppressed and excluded some, but how do the ideas and doctrines of radical liberation actually engage the energies and beliefs of the people within them?  What are some consequences of these ideas in practice, shorter and longer-term?  Why is authoritarianism so often claimed in enemies but never within these movements themselves (oh so human a characteristic…but a hallmark here), exacerbating authoritarian tendencies?

At its best, it seems to me the melting pot model engages the reasons people can become nasty, tribal, groupish, and violent towards one another, saying something like:  ‘Follow the laws, become a citizen, learn the language, defend the country and get ahead.  If you can’t get yourself ahead, get your kids ahead.’

There are obvious shortcomings of defending home and hearth, and that which is familiar and loved within such a model.  It doesn’t necessarily scale, and people being what we so often are, can easily resist change and outsiders and new ideas when what’s new might enrich us.  All of us can dwell in the natural ignorance of the head and the nostalgic sentiments of the heart for too long, and sometimes we can just be plain wrong.

Yet, the liberty allowed to pursue one’s own ends in such a fashion and the wisdom of seeing human nature more as it is, seem much more humane and capable of political stability and economic opportunity.

If you’re still with me, forget all the above, Dear Reader.

Clear your mind and focus on a single image.  Allow this image to occupy your thoughts.

Relax as the image becomes a single, ancient eye. Now open this eye, a lizard’s eye, and see the New World.

Join the Snake Cult! (and enjoy some prime Arnie ‘mittel-English’):

From Paul Bowles Allal, found within this collection of short stories.

I recall musical and deeply rhythmic English (Bowles was a composer who lived in Morocco for most of his life), along with a recurrent theme of Western innocence, ignorance and arrogance meeting ancient North African realities and brutalities.

‘Moments passed with no movement but then the snake suddenly made a move towards Allal. It then began to slither across Allal’s body and then rested next to his head. He was very calm at this moment and looked right into the snake’s eyes and felt almost one with the snake. Soon his eyes closed and he fell asleep in this position.’

What have you done with your I/Eye, dear Reader?

Something tells me the kind of fantastical savagery and imaginative schlock of Conan the Barbarian doesn’t quite capture the deeply moral, frighteningly real and lushly imagined Bowlesian world…

An Excerpt From Paul Bowles’ ‘Allal’ & A Strange, Schlocky Scene From ‘Conan The Barbarian’

From Paul Bowles Allal, found within this collection of short stories.

I recall musical and deeply rhythmic English (Bowles was a composer who lived in Morocco for most of his life), along with a recurrent theme of Western innocence, ignorance and arrogance meeting ancient North African realities and brutalities.

‘Moments passed with no movement but then the snake suddenly made a move towards Allal. It then began to slither across Allal’s body and then rested next to his head. He was very calm at this moment and looked right into the snake’s eyes and felt almost one with the snake. Soon his eyes closed and he fell asleep in this position.’

What have you done with your I/Eye, dear Reader?

Something tells me the kind of fantastical savagery and imaginative schlock of Conan the Barbarian doesn’t quite capture the deeply moral, frighteningly real and lushly imagined Bowlesian world…

But maybe it does highlight some themes Bowles’ drew into relief:

You know, maybe I’d just better put this up:

Five Short Stories Likely Worth Your Time

I claim no special literary insight, other than these five short stories have stuck with me, as they have for many other readers besides. Links included.

——————–

1. ‘Bartleby, The Scrivener: A Story Of Wall Street

Herman Melville

Catch-up with Turkey, Nippers, and Ginger Nut; their daily routines at the office.

Our narrator:

‘I am one of those unambitious lawyers who never addresses a jury, or in any way draws down public applause; but in the cool tranquillity of a snug retreat, do a snug business among rich men’s bonds and mortgages and title-deeds. All who know me consider me an eminently safe man. The late John Jacob Astor, a personage little given to poetic enthusiasm, had no hesitation in pronouncing my first grand point to be prudence; my next, method.’

We all want to be alone, and to be with others, and Bartleby…Bartleby would just prefer not to:

‘Ah Bartleby! Ah humanity!  ‘

——————–

2. ‘An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge

Ambrose Bierce

As they were for many other high-school boys, the first lines were enough for me:

‘A man stood upon a railroad bridge in northern Alabama, looking down into the swift water twenty feet below. The man’s hands were behind his back, the wrists bound with a cord. A rope closely encircled his neck.’

Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man?

———————-

3. ‘Everything That Rises Must Converge

Flannery O’Connor

O’Connor’s Southern Gothic style often flirts with the grotesque, and can traffic in the macabre, but there’s reason behind it, and a brilliantly skeptical, humane eye.  Few writers get so many things right, in my opinion.

The world is changing, and so is the South.

Julian’s mother is living in the past:

‘They had reached the bus stop. There was no bus in sight and Julian, his hands still jammed in his pockets and his head thrust forward, scowled down the empty street. The frustration of having to wait on the bus as well as ride on it began to creep up his neck like a hot hand. The presence of his mother was borne in upon him as she gave a pained sigh. He looked at her bleakly. She was holding herself very erect under the preposterous hat, wearing it like a banner of her imaginary dignity. There was in him an evil urge to break her spirit. He suddenly unloosened his tie and pulled it off and put it in his pocket’

——————–

4. ‘A Distant Episode

Paul Bowles

A lot can be ‘swallowed’ up in the desert, lost in translation; across time, language and civilizations.

Things don’t always end well for the intellectually curious and perhaps naive:

‘It occurred to him that he ought to ask himself shy he was doing this irrational thing, but he was intelligent enough to know that since he Was doing it, it was not so important to probe for explanations at that moment.’

Let’s leave it at that.

——————–

5. ‘Araby

James Joyce

To what does a man put his hopes?

But such wonderful writing:

‘When the short days of winter came, dusk fell before we had well eaten our dinners. When we met in the street the houses had grown sombre. The space of sky above us was the colour of ever-changing violet and towards it the lamps of the street lifted their feeble lanterns. The cold air stung us and we played till our bodies glowed.’