This little post is more personal than literary, although it does involve a Kurt Vonnegut quote from God Bless You, Mr Rosewater. As I’m sure many of you do from time to time, I often wonder about how to live a good and moral life. These ruminations have increased since the birth of my son one year ago.
Every parent has wishes for their child, and what I hope for my son more than anything is encapsulated in this quote. Of course if he was smart, or funny, or good at sports, music, other manner of talents it will also be amazing, but above all else, I hope that he will be kind. At the end of the day that’s what I strive for as well, although I don’t always accomplish it.
Do you agree with Vonnegut’s rule? Do you live by another one? I’m always interested to know.
I’ve been reading some Sir Walter Scott lately. Any serious reader of 19th century literature has to have at least cursory knowledge of Scott’s writing, as his influence on pop culture and his writers of the age like Goethe, Eliot, and Austen was immense. As I was reading through Ivanhoe, specifically the part where Rowena’s room is described I got the strangest feeling of deja vu.
Following a hunch, I dug out my copy of Poe’s Ligeia and found what I was looking for. Rowena’s room, which is a highly symbolic element of Ligeia and is the site of major plot events, was heavily borrowed from Rowena’s room in Ivanhoe.
It’s no secret Poe took influence from Scott in the creation of his Rowena. He very much intends to make use of the “girl next door” vs. “femme fatale” trope that Scott uses masterfully with the mild-mannered Rowena and dangerous Other, Rebecca. But, the question I asked myself as I started comparing the passages is, what is Poe taking from Scott, and in what ways is he extending Scott’s imagery and ideas? Continue reading
In honour of finally finishing all the volumes of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, I decided to share this quote from Time Regained, which captures one of the main reasons why I love reading.
Thanks to reading, I have lived many lives. I have seen a brave new world as Prospero’s daughter and seen the brave new world that John Savage saw when he hung himself. I have witnessed one hundred years of solitude and the fall of the House of Usher.
Like Tiresias, I have been man and woman. I have been madness maddened searching for a white whale. I have been a genteel woman in the English countryside, hoping for a suitable match for a husband. I, like Tiresias, have witnessed the empty romance of the typist and the young man carbuncular and the enduring romances of Dante and Beatrice, Petrarch and Laura, and so many others.
I have gone through the looking glass, through the wardrobe, and through the wall to Diagon Alley. I’ve been abducted by Tralfmadorians and been instructed not to panic (and to bring a towel). I’ve awoken to found myself transformed into a monstrous vermin and (more than once) awoken to find it was all a dream.
What lives will you live today?
People like to rag on this generation, the generation before us, even the generation to come. Ultimately, we are all human and have virtues and vices alike. There is good and terrible music made every decade and each generation is entitled in their own special way.
I’m a big fan of absurdist theatre. Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is my favourite play. I’ve seen Beckett’s Waiting for Godot 3 times and have enjoyed it every time despite its bleakness. When I saw this quote while reading the stageplay I had to put it up on the blog. It’s a bit depressing, yes, but I don’t think it’s wrong.
If you read Vanity Fair or The Luck of Barry Lyndon (or watched the amazing Kubrick adaptation), you discover pretty quickly that Thackeray is a cynic. His books are filled with some characters who are truly delightful, extremely awful, and always amazingly human. But I think at the end of the day Thackeray believes in humanity, or at least some human individuals, and delivers to us this piece of advice from Vanity Fair on the benefit of kindness.
As I mentioned in my previous blog post, you never know much or in what way you’re impacting the world. Being kind can make a much bigger difference than you might think. I’m incredibly shy and for a long time would rarely give out compliments (or you know, talk to people in general), but I found that being kind, even in little ways, changed the perceptions people have of you and make the world a little bit better of a place.
Remember: you don’t know what’s going on in someone’s life. Letting them know they look beautiful today or you thought they did a good job leading the last staff meeting can make a big difference. So go out and give a genuine compliment today! See what happens 🙂
“The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together.”
–Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem
Our actions often have unintended consequences. Things we create have the power to affect others in ways we couldn’t imagine. Canadian poet Earle Birney explores this idea in his moving poem “El Greco: Espolio”, which examines a famous incident in Western culture and takes a look at the often less thought about players in the scene.
I’d been reading some Hannah Arendt for an upcoming post I’ve been working on and found this quote I liked. One of the reasons I love fiction so much is it is able to tell us indirect truths, truths we get to figure out for ourselves. Sometimes when a lesson is explained through a story it is more emotionally involving and impactful than non-fiction material.
How has fiction affected you?