Archives for March 2005


The Valve “is a literary weblog dedicated to the proposition that the function of the little magazine can follow this form. We mean to foster debate and circulation of ideas in literary studies and contiguous academic areas.” All that’s up right now is John Holbo‘s introductory post, but it’s long and meaty and deserving of your attention. After a fine blast of Trilling:

From the democratic point of view, we must say that in a true democracy nothing should be done for the people. The writer who defines his audience by its limitations is indulging in the unforgivable arrogance. The writer must define his audience by its abilities, by its perfections, so far as he is gifted to conceive them. He does well, if he cannot see his right audience within immediate reach of his voice, to direct his words to his spiritual ancestors, or to posterity, or even, if need be, to a coterie. The writer serves his daemon and his subject. And the democracy that does not know that the daemon and the subject must be served is not, in any ideal sense of the word, a democracy at all.

and an encomium to the “little magazine,” he digs into the depressing subject of the publishing crisis in the humanities, and specifically the problem of too many academic monographs chasing too few readers. His prognosis is both plausible and heartening:

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I don’t usually do the meme thing, but I’ve succumbed before, and when Cassandra beckons, who am I to decline? So here goes.
You’re stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?
Nabokov’s Speak, Memory.
Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?
Don’t think so. When I was at the age to have crushes, I was reading mainly science fiction, which back then wasn’t in the crushworthy-character business.
The last book you bought is?
Alien Tongues: Bilingual Russian Writers of the “First” Emigration, by Elizabeth Klosty Beaujour (and I thank naxosaxur for bringing it to my attention in the comments to this post; I can’t wait to read it!).
What are you currently reading?
A bunch of books about Russia in the exciting years before the 1917 revolution(s): Paul Miliukov and the Quest for a Liberal Russia, 1880-1918, by Melissa Kirschke Stockdale (Milyukov knew fourteen modern languages in addition to Latin and Greek); A Revolution of the Spirit: Crisis of Value in Russia, 1890-1924, edited by Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal and Martha Bohachevsky Chomiak; Blok’s fiery essays of 1907-08 (collected in my handsome OLMA-Press edition of Blok); Voline‘s The Unknown Revolution—incidentally, I created the Wikipedia page for Volin (or Voline, in the French transliteration he used), an important figure who’s been almost forgotten; Orlando Figes’s A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution: 1891-1924; and memoirs by Milyukov, Nina Berberova and her first husband Vladislav Khodasevich, and others.
Five books you would take to a deserted island:
I could actually be content with Beth’s list:
1. The Iliad
2. Collected Poems, Czeslaw Milosz
3. Oxford Book of American Verse
4. Collected Works of William Shakespeare (we’re going for length and re-readability here)
5. A Bible (maybe) or The Book of Common Prayer
But I’d probably replace the Bible with a collected Pushkin, and the other selections would vary depending on my mood at the time of choosing. Also, I’d want an OED.
Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?
I’m not. Let them get their own stick.


I regret to report that Robert Creeley died this morning; I found out via Steve Silberman‘s MeFi post. I’ll quote the poem that made such an impression on me when I first read it that I had to buy his Selected Poems:

As I was walking
  I came upon
chance walking
  the same road upon.
As I sat down
  by chance to move
  if and as I might,
light the wood was,
  light and green,
and what I saw
  before I had not seen.
It was a lady
by goat men
  leading her.
Her hair held earth.
  Her eyes were dark.
A double flute
  made her move.
“O love,
  where are you
  me now?”

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First, a story (from this Times piece by Ben Macintyre, which I found at Barista):

But there is one Roman delicacy even Jamie Oliver, our own Apicius, could not bring back to life. Laserpithium was a North African herb of indescribable deliciousness, akin to garlic, but far more tasty. The root, and its juice, was much favoured by Roman chefs; so much so that by around AD50, according to Patrick Faas, the culinary historian, it had been eaten to extinction and was thought to have disappeared altogether.
Then, in the time of Nero, a single plant was found deep in the Cyrenaic desert. If this lone seedling had been cultivated, then today we might still be enjoying Laserpithium with everything. Nero had other plans. The last surviving plant was dug up, shipped to Rome, and eaten by the emperor.

I don’t know (though I’m sure one of my readers will) how much truth there is in the story, but I zeroed in on the word “Laserpithium,” an ungainly word (made more ungainly by being pointlessly capitalized) that I had to investigate.

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This nifty tool takes Irish input and spits out dictionary definitions and morphological analysis of each word; it will also provide all other forms of the words if you ask it to. I should add that this is Modern Irish we’re talking about; if you tried to do it for Old Irish the computer would probably shriek, gibber, and die. (Via ilani ilani.)


Dennis Des Chene, a philosopher at Washington University, has a blog Philosophical Fortnights (note the admirable URL); a recent post made me very happy. First off, the cover of Marie Corelli’s novel attracts me as it did him:

On my way to Coleridge the other day I couldn’t help but notice the work whose front cover you see here. Could I resist? Of course not. It was that emdash between ‘love’ and ‘philosopher’. I have a soft spot for eccentric punctuation.

Then there’s the fact that the heroine of the book “is the daughter of a rich old man who with the Philosopher’s help is completing his lifework, The Deterioration of Language Invariably Perceived as a Precursor to the Decadence of Civilization.” And the icing on the cake is that Corelli’s own use of language is so dreadful:

Simply because even the million do not know “how” to read. Moreover, it is very difficult to make them learn. They have neither the skill nor the patience to study beautiful thoughts expressed in beautiful language. They want to “rush” something through. Whether poem, play or novel, it must be “rushed through” and done with. […] They have time for motoring, cycling, card-playing, racing, betting, hockey and golf,—anything in short which does not directly appeal to the intellectual faculties,—but for real reading, they can neither make leisure, nor acquire aptitude.
This vague, sieve-like quality of brain and general inability to comprehend or retain imprssions of character or events, which is becoming so common among modern so-called “readers” of books, can but make things very difficult for authors who seek to contribute something of their utmost and best to the world of literature.

Tu quoque, sweet Marie!


My wife asked if she should turn off the radio yesterday morning while we were listening to NPR’s Weekend Edition; I said no, the stimulation of hollering at the radio was good for me. What occasioned my high blood pressure and her solicitude was an interview with James Cochrane, a former editor at Penguin Books who’s written the latest in an endless series of interchangeable English-is-going-to-hell books, with entries on all the usual suspects: disinterested/uninterested, comprised/composed, free gift, you know the drill. What particularly got my goat, however, was an especially ill-informed rant about may and might; alas, just as I was composing my own rant in response, my site (for mysterious reasons) used up its bandwidth allotment for the month and I was unable to post. Now I don’t have to compose a detailed analysis of the man’s idiocy, because Geoff Pullum (“Q: Is James Cochran, then, nothing but a mendacious pontificating old windbag? A: Yes, it would appear that he is an utter fraud.”) and Arnold Zwicky (“he’s also ignorant, lazy, and self-important”) have done it for me. Thanks, Language Log! And don’t anybody buy that book, or I’ll have to smack you upside the head.


The Business & High-Tech Dictionary Project is a promising new online lexicon:

This project got its start with the realization that there are no web sites that focus on the etymology and usage of business and high-tech jargon terms. There are many business jargon glossary sites, but none that apply rigorous lexicographic standards to the subject.
The world of business, and particularly high-tech business, is fertile ground for neologisms and catch phrases. General and slang dictionaries do not cover many of these terms, either because they are used in too limited a context or because they appear faster than print dictionaries can react. The internet is the ideal medium for capturing these terms and describing how they are used. Not only can a web site respond to new terms and phrases much faster than a print source, but it can also rely on a web of contributors to expand the dictionary and provide citations of usage.

As they say, it’s “very much a work in progress,” and you can help it grow: go to the Contribute page, read the criteria, and fill out the form.
A sample that gives a sense of how useful (and entertaining) the project can be:

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A satisfyingly comprehensive page on the first Lithuanian book, Martynas Mažvydas‘s 1547 Catechism, or to be more precise Catechismusa prasty Szadei, Makslas skaitima raschta yr giesmes del kriksczianistes bei del berneliu iaunu nauiey sugulditas… At this page you can read the Foreword (in verse) and even hear the first two lines read aloud, and here is a lengthy discussion of the book (by Leonardas Vytautas Gerulaitis, from Lituanus). All this comes via the ever-industrious Mithridates, who has also put up some excellent links on Kyrgyz in two posts (1, 2).


The Tokyo National Museum has a gorgeous online calligraphy collection; I’m not sure what distinguishes the Books & Documents from, say, the Ancient Superb Writings in Japan, but it doesn’t really matter—it’s all good. Enjoy. (Via Plep.)