On Literary Criticism

My ideal of literary criticism, or analysis, is insight into what is being said in the text–commentary that truly helps the reader not miss things such as, what the book is about, or important themes/thoughts contained in it. (Closely entwined with this is that other question: how are ideas communicated in the text?) Criticism that truly aids you to understand the author’s meaning is doubly rewarding if the author himself has a good insight.

But to whom can I, or anyone, go for insight into literary works? Perhaps one of the reasons that I chose music instead of literature in college, was that I felt that so much literary scholarship I had glanced at offered so little correct insight (or perhaps I should say, so much incorrect insight) into what the author was saying.

By the computer on which I’m writing is lying my younger sister’s copy of seven novels by Jane Austen bound together. Flipping back the floral decorated cover, I find an introduction by a scholar. It reads: “On first impression, her novels might seem to offer merely romance without redeeming social commentary, but…” What!?

The belief that social commentary is needed to redeem a work of romance, is an excellent example of an attitude which darkens many critics’ eyes. This scholar feels that to validate Austen, she must show that Jane did engage in some broader social commentary.

Going to school myself, I felt the pressure to write about what my teachers thought was important, and however much the author of this introduction herself buys into the idea that social commentary redeems romances, in her sentence I sense something of that pressure to justify herself to the teachers — now her colleagues. Perhaps when she was young she liked Austen for the personal and romantic, and now, by maintaining that Austen is a commentator on larger societal movements, defends Austen from the contumely of those who would look down their noses at an authoress who “merely” deals with the more personal aspects of being human. Perhaps she defends Austen from the despite of the critic that she herself has become.

But now am on thin ice as a critic — building a biography for this introduction writer from part of one sentence.

And though it might seem like it, I don’t feel that defending Austen merely on her skill at depicting the personal, as opposed to the idea that she is only valuable if she took up her pen to chronicle broad social changes, is making a defense of child-like simplicity against sophistication. I think that artwork highly conscious of, or built around, ideas of social change is often crude and caricaturesque. Are not Austen’s characters more finely drawn, more human, than those characters who are created and enlisted by their author to make a statement about society?

Worker and Kolkhoz Woman 

The piece of visual art above is highly conscious of a broad social movement, but for me misses the human element. Perhaps because those two represent millions of workers, their physique must be ballooned to huge proportions, but it seems as if the growth of their bodies was inversely proportional to the shrinkage of their souls. It might be better art if they were looking at each other with soft expressions. I’d rather learn what it is to be a human — what it is to interact as a human with other humans — from Austen.

And that’s my conclusion. The broader society is downstream of individual souls and their moral choices, friendships, marriages. Stories that illuminate the timeless aspects of these are not to be sneezed at. To write insightfully about romance needs no apology. 

If instead of saying “On first impression, her novels might seem to offer merely romance without redeeming social commentary,” the critic had written “To some her romances are just run-of-the-mill, but I will help you see the finer shades of characterization, psychology, and well-observed interactions in her romances. I want to give you insight into what she was saying, because Jane Austen was smart” I would have no complaint. 





Violence against Children

Quotes from abortionists in the video shared below: 

“The fetus is a tough little object…taking it apart is very difficult” “An eyeball just fell down into my lap, and that’s gross” “I might…pull off a leg or two”

You need to not just throw around the word abortion or “pro-choice” without thinking about what an abortion is — the violent destruction of a little boy or girl’s life. Ripping off a baby’s legs is horrible beyond words.

The birth of  my niece Flora last week re-enforced my desire to put an end to this butchery. Holding her just hours after she could have been legally ripped apart here in Oregon brought home how barbaric abortion is. Babies are so dependent on us, and holding her I just automatically feel my duty to take care of her, and protect her. Our greater strength is given to us to protect and help those weaker than us, not to rip them apart.

Chapman Landing by Canoe

All at once, all was still.
The water smooth, reflecting
Silky rolled beneath my paddle
As we came to Chapman landing.

Tall cottonwoods upon the right hand
Shone in sunlight and in the stream —
Upward downward from the island,
Leaves rippling softly as in a dream.

The pilings stood eerie and still
Where they used to unload the lumber —
Brought down from dark Vernonian hills —
With long gone noise, hardly remembered.

We turned to one another and spoke
‘Did you suddenly feel what I feel here?’
(Echoing across the water words woke
The dark and pitchy timber piers)

‘Here I feel a deep, dark cool 
Meet a warm soft sun in a magic pool,
And the summer evening softly breath
Where the landing lies by the island trees.’

Rally ‘Round the Flag

On our way to California in the year of ’63
Through Nevada’s barren land rode Mom and Pop, the girls and me –
Where the dry ground stretched before us, like an endless frying pan
And the alkali filled water wasn’t fit for beast or man.

On our wagon Pop had hoisted the old red white and blue
And those colours looked most beauteous up against the barren view.
In the shimmering heat one morning far ahead we saw a town,
Just a little mining outpost in the desert bare and brown.

As we neared the town a rider, young and fancy in his dress,
Came up to our little wagon and these words to Pop addressed
“Take a fool’s advice now mister,” and he eyed our Union flag,
“We don’t tolerate your breed here, best pull down that old dish rag.”

Pop just sat there for a minute, turkey duster cross his knee,
Then he grabbed the flag and raised it up so all the town could see-
Saying “If any man is yearning now to die for dixie land
Let him touch our country’s colours with his dirty rebel hands.”

Then Pop I guess he reckoned it was time to let her rip,
So it’s “Gee-up” tired oxen, and he cracked his black snake whip.
And we rumbled down the main street, while the townsfolk stood and glared
But something in Pop’s manner kept them all a little scared.

And I peered out from the wagon, where the streets with folks were lined
And I softly started singing the first song that came to mind-

“We will welcome to our numbers the loyal, true and brave,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!
And although he may be poor, he shall never be a slave,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!”

Then all the family joined me as we rattled through the town
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!
And it cheered our hearts to hear it a-thundering all around
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!

The Union forever! Hurrah, boys, hurrah!
Down with the traitors, up with the stars;
While we rally round the flag, boys, we rally once again,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!

Ruby Hill Nevada-1878

A Sign?

Last night I went to a friend and his fiancée’s engagement party, and he told the guests stories of the path that led to their engagement. This was one of the stories. A sign along the path.

“I liked talking with Abigail, but we were not yet in a relationship when our dear patriarch Pastor Alexey Ivanovich greeted me in the lobby one day.” At this all the youth from his church  (everyone at the party but me and my brother) groaned, and there was some laughter. 

“I should explain to Caleb & Ethan that Alexei Ivanovich is the father of our pastor, and he is the church ‘matchmaker’. He will come up to a young man and ask him “How are you?” And when the young man replies ‘Good,’ he gently corrects him:“It is not good for the man to be alone.” 

It was after the service, and Abigail and I were standing together talking when he came up to me, put his hand on my shoulder, and asked “How are you Timothy?”  I replied “Good.” 

He looked at me, and he looked at Abigail standing with me, and he said “Good. That’s good Timothy.”

The Peregrine Knight: Part XII –The Conclusion.

The Peregrine Knight. Part I

Then rode they out beyond the forest’s bounds
And soon came to a country wide and fair
With farms and verdant meadows all around
Where blooming orchards perfumed all the air
And when they asked the crofters living there
Whose lands these were, the men to them replied:
“The Countess of the Forest now rules here,
(Though we before by an earl were despotized),
From here her lands stretch further than a full day’s ride.”

O’er hill, down dale, where lightly blew the rain,
They onward made their way till Caerleon
They saw down by the sunny river plain,
Her towers and bridges and pavilions
All brightly decked. And there a festal throng
The wide and narrow streets did overfill
As overrunning cup. And there among
That holy-feast-day crowd they passed until
They came unto the castle great that crowned the hill.

And as they passed into the high-beamed hall
The lowliest porter to the noblest knight
And highborn ladies were astonished all
By her beside the knight, slender and tall,
As silver birch, with jet-black brows as bows
Taut for the the hunt, and hands as white crystal.
And all the court was eager then to know
The countess’ tale, and of the earl’s overthrow.

Then good King Arthur blessed the happy pair
And said “You’re passing welcome unto me,
And we shall see you wed this day, and share
With you in  joy, sweet songs, and revelry.”
And so it was, they feasted royally,
And drank from out gold-mounted drinking horns.
And knights from Cornish coast and far Orkney
In tabards bright, with ladies fair adorned
In silks and gems, all feasted there till rosy morn.

And when the sounds of British bagpipes’ squeal
And laughter’s peal, and ancient harper’s lay
Were faded from the hall, the guests did steal
Away to sleep all through the early day.
And four months more at court the knight did stay,
His wife beloved by all the maidens there,
But when the summer’s swifts had flown away,
And swallows took to wing, he made his prayer
Unto the king, that they as well might go from there,

And ride again together through the wilds
(Before white snow the vales should overlay)
Through autumn’s  golden trees and empty fields
Upon the road that goes the wild way,
And take that winding path for many a day
Unto the castle where they twain should dwell
Deep in the forest holding righteous sway.
The knight’s request did please King Arthur well,
And so they went, but of their tale no more I‘ll tell.

The Peregrine Knight: Part Eleven.

The Peregrine Knight. Part I

When evening wrapped the castle in its cloak
And warm winds wed the fragrance of the night —
The woodland after rain and torches’ smoke —
High in the tower sat the wounded knight
And listened after meat as his delight,
The countess, softly sang a psalm of yore,
Of wicked men as trees, who reach great height,
Whose flourishing branches spread the country o’er,
But suddenly are felled and burned, and seen no more.

Three weeks he tarried there within her lands
And caused tribute and honour to be paid,
While government she took within her hands.
And when he had so long beside her stayed
As Whitsuntide drew on, he told the maid:
“I must this coming feast in Caerleon keep
And cannot here much longer be delayed.”
Then paleness cross her rose-red cheek did creep
And as rose-petals fall, so fell she in a heap.

He lifted her from off the flagstones cold
And gently led her to her stately chair,
“Lady”, he said, “more wise than can be told:
Can I believe that I could ever bear
From out the forest the flower that I found there?
That you should at the court stand by my side,
Beyond its splendours wonderfully  fair,
And pledge before the King to be my bride?”
”No magic of the forest holds me here.” the maid replied.

“Then take my hand fair lady of this place,
Your hand in mine to me shall witness be
That truly you’re with me. And when your face
In shining summer smiles sheds light on me,
And I do look into your eyes and see
A loveliness unfathomable as the the sea,
That shall  another faithful witness be.
But if I still should doubt my ecstasy,
Then speak; So shall I know ‘tis true, by witnesses three.”