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I am posting this as a benchmark, not because I think I'm playing very well yet.  The idea would be post a video every month for a ye...

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Growth of a Critic's Mind

I find my own mind to be an interesting place to hang out. If it weren't, I would have a hard time justifying the publication of its products. I chose, as my field of study, the most complex possible works of literature in the most difficult genres. My intelligence, such as it is, was brewed in this cauldron. If I am smart it is in the same way that someone lifting heavy weights in the gym is strong. The strength is not an attribute the exists prior to the gym. Really complex, difficult works of literature exercise the human intelligence in a way that almost nothing else can.

Monday, April 23, 2012


Pullum on "hopefully"

A Memory Exercise

Several months ago I saw a movie called "The Mechanic" with Charles Bronson. I had seen the movie before, with my father in a theater when I was a child, and then several times since. The last time I watched it I tried to be super-consious of what was happening because I wanted to perform this experiment. I will try to recreate the movie in my memory, to see how much I remember. Then I will re-watch it to see how much I had forgotten. The relevance to scholarly writing is the question of memory itself. How much we know depends on how much we can bring to mind in accurate memory. Charles Bronson plays a hit man or "mechanic." I don't remember his first name. In the first scene he performs an assassination by first breaking into the target's second-storey apartment. He places certain explosives in the man's gas stove and in a book in the bookcase. (There is no dialogue at all during the first part of the movie while he assassinates this man.) The Bronson character watches the man through binoculars from an apartment on the other side of the street. When the explosions happen, he shoots the man from there. The target is a middle-aged or elderly man with glasses and a scholarly demeanor. Bronson always gets his assignments in manila envelopes after receiving a phone call. These calls are laconic, and the envelopes contain a large photo along with other written information. Bronson's father, before him, had also been an assassin. The next scenes are with Bronson and a gangster figure, in the back yard of the gangster's house. He is introduced to the gangster's son. The next manila envelope he receives contains a picture of his gangster friend. He drives to a beach with him, or meets him there, and shoots him as he tries to clamber down some rocks to escape. In the following scenes, the viewer sees the funeral of the gangster, in which Bronson is in attendance. The same night of the funeral, he receives a call from the gangster's son to help out with a situation of a girl who is committing suicide. They are there to help her kill herself, apparently. She has slit her wrists and is in a bathtub. The question is how far they will go before they seek help for her. No matter how many times I see the movie I can't remember how this is resolved, except that the point is to show Bronson's sang-froid--a trait shared by the gangster's son. At some point around here Bronson goes to visit a woman played by Jill Ireland, an actress of limited range who was married to Bronson and played many roles in his films. They have sex. The gangster's son, also played by a rather wooden actor (like Bronson himself!), approaches Bronson to be trained as a hit man himself. The wooden acting is designed to convey a sense of affectlessness. They certainly never chew up the scenery or emote. Bronson is reluctant to reveal his profession at all, and they have some coy conversations, but he ends up agreeing to train and adopt as a partner the younger man. There are scenes of training, one in a martial arts studio, in which a karetaka from Japan breaks someone's ribs. The first hit the two men carry out together is done on the grounds of a large mansion. There are many bodyguards to be taken out, whether before or after the hit on the mobster, and a spectacular motorcycle chase to conclude. The purpose of the scene is to demonstrate the prowess of the two hit men as a team. The next assignment is in Italy. Before they go, the younger hit man receives a manila envelope with Bronson's photo in it. In Italy,the assignment involves taking out someone on small yacht of some kind. There is diving involved. They get on the boat, kill the guy and some bodyguards perhaps, though I don't specifically remember, and return to shore. They are attacked by groups of men in sports cars driving on a mountainous road by the shore. They win this battle, with some cars exploding, and return to the hotel. Drinking red wine, which we might have seen a bit earlier, the younger man reveals to Bronson that he has been poisoned with strychnine. Everyone makes a mistake, and Bronson's is that he couldn't work alone. The younger hit man returns to California and gets in his car. He notices that there is a note on the steering wheel. It is from Bronson, to the effect that if he returns from Italy alone, he will be killed in the car, which then proceeds to explode just at the moment he finishes reading it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


What are your moves?

If I think of Wordworth, I know he has certain moves that he uses consistently. The Shakespearian / Miltonic enjambment that creates a rocking movement from line to line. The way of ending a phrase with two latinate words, like "abundant restoration." A certain trope, whose name I don't know, that consists of using two adjectives close in meaning to each other in close proximity:, like "steep and lofty." This trope has Shakepearian resonance, if we consider lines from Hamlet like "led by a delicate and tender prince."

A vocabulary is not just a set of words, but a set of moves or devices, of ways of making phrases and sentences. Marjorie Perloff will introduce a quote with an imperative: "Consider the following passage:... " I know I have my own moves as well. It would be good to have a certain self-awareness about them.

Rule #14

Rule 14 is "Take some down time." You need to let your project rest for a while sometimes. Maybe a day, maybe a week. You need to take a vacation once in a while, whether it is a day or a month.

This rule contradicts all the other rules about writing every day, I know. I am perfectly capable of writing almost every day for almost a year, but I also have found I need to take some time off once in a while. Usually, I find that what I am doing during this time off is some intense kind of thinking of another sort. For example, during the recent stretch I have been learning "Tintern Abbey," a poem of 159 lines.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


Jonathan is memorizing "Tintern Abbey." I have no idea why, but I've learned not to question what he feels he has to do. For some reason, he needs to memorize this poem, and who am I to stop him? Other things he's done I've had serious doubts about, but it seems to have worked out ok, so I'm not going to try to convince him not to spend hours memorizing a poem by Wordsworth that is way out of his field and unrelated to anything he is working on. He wouldn't listen to me anyway.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

One Way to Get Unstuck

Often during a major project, you will feel stuck, unable to move forward, or burnt out. One easy way to maintain continuity is to reread everything you have written on the project, including incomplete drafts. You will inevitably find yourself re-engaged with parts of the project you might have forgotten. You will be adding sentences to chapters you hadn't thought about in a while.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Rule #50

Rule $50 (to jump to the end of the pamphlet) is to write your own rules. You know what is going to work best for you. Just make sure they are real rules and not excuses for why you can't do as much as you should be doing.