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April 28, 2010

final performance with Calamity

[sung to the tune of that camp classic "The Princess Pat; or, Rigabamboo"]


The Siblings James


The siblings James

Are super smart

Their IQs are

Well, off the chart.

There’s Alice, Will,

And Henry too.

(Wilky and Bob fought in the war,

But came back too blue.)

These three are

The siblings James.


The siblings James,

Now who are they?

They wrote some stuff,

They thought all day.

Their clever pens

They scratched and scratched.

That’s why they’re called

The siblings James.


Now Henry James

He liked to write

He wrote some books

They’re really long.

His short stories

Are better though.

He had a point

He drove it home!

He liked info

He thought it best

To have it all

And fuck the rest!  


Now William James

He had a bear

Will made a claim:

“The truth will tame”

He wouldn’t run

Not from that bear.

He had no fear

He wasn’t scared.

He thought that we

Should be ourselves

And chase the truth

And not our [bad] habits.


Now Alice James

She sat around

And read the news.

And drank some tea

[Well, we assume.]

Some days were good

She went outside

Some days were bad

—The bed was fine.

We’ll never know

If she could’ve made it

Here at Bryn Mawr—

She might have fainted!


And these three are

The siblings James.


The siblings James.

We read their stuff

And it was fine.

Not too much fluff.

It’s summertime

Now we’ve had enough!

Yet we won’t forget

The siblings James.

Using a call-and-response song was fitting because the course has been about our responses to the children of the James family.


April 18, 2010

Ugh. I accidentally hit the back button and erased all my work. Why is there no auto-save feature? OK. Well. Let's try this again.

from Gertrude Stein's Tender Buttons: "Objects"

"an arrangement in a system to pointing" (1)

"So then the order is that a white way of being round is something suggesting a pin and it is so disappointing, it is not, it is so rudimentary to be analysed and see a fine substance strangely, it is so earnest to have a green point not to red but to point again" (2).

"If the chance to dirty is diminishing is necessary, if it is why is there no complexion, why is there no rubbing, why is there no special protection" (6).

I really like this particular quote. I'm open to the idea that striking words against each other will spark something new, some new meaning or new perspective. The notion that language should be explored appeals to me, and, if I'm understanding "Objects" with the help of "Modifying the Mind," Stein is trying to warn us that language is growing stale? Or stagnant. I like that word.

"A table means more than a glass even a looking glass is tall. A table means necessary places and a revision a revision of a little thing it means it does mean that there has been a stand, a stand where it did shake" (10).

Someone explain this to me because I'm dying to understand. Is she comparing language to a table? That language, when it was being formed, as society standardized it, that moment of jeopardy or uncertainty, could have led to so many possibilities to which we are now closed?


I'm on the fence about Gertrude Stein. On the one hand, "Object" made my head hurt. On the other, it's absolutely fascinating. I just don't know what to do with it. She creates these fragile gossamer images with her mixed-up syntax and use of words. It's interesting to feel myself slowing down and really reading the text in order to stumble as little as possible. But I don't think it's possible not to stumble while reading Stein.

"Modifying the Mind" from Gertrude Stein and the Essence of What Happens was inordinately helpful in making sense of Stein. Or rather, not in making sense of the text, but in terms of coming to grips with her intention. I'm intrigued by the idea that Stein creates, or forces the reader to use, new neural pathways. The way Stein twisted William James's theories is amazing. The fact that she used put his ideas into an art form is pretty cool. I mean, I am still tripping over my tongue trying to read "Objects," but I can appreciate the background structure, can't I?

I think it would be interesting to look William James's metaphors and Stein's created images side by side and see if I can learn something new. But we shall see. I have to think a little more, perhaps.


April 13, 2010

from Paul Grobstein's  /exchange/rorty

Biological evolution, undertstood in these terms, may well be the archetype of a process proceeding without unwobbling pivots or unchallengeable starting points. And of pragmatism. And of "finitude" and "irreducible temporality". And of the value of the idiosyncratic. There is no way to say what works except by trying it out. What exists at any given time is what has worked. What is next tried out is influenced but not determined by the past, and it in turn influences but does not determine the future. As the process proceeds new possibilities come into existence that derive precisely from the particularities of what has existed so far. The story of biological evolution suggests not only that life can be successfully lived without unwobbling pivots or unchallengeable starting points but that such a life can be enormously productive .

This post isn't so much me analyzing, or thinking critically, just me responding to something that I liked. I like the idea of each moment as its own, as belonging to a tradition, but not owned by that tradition.

April 10, 2010 

"Hegel and His Method" The Writings of William James: A Comprehensive Edition ed. John J McDermott

I really enjoyed Willam's rant about Hegel; it made him (William) seem more human. Also, this essay just seemed more humorous to me, or maybe I'm finally getting the hang of his writing style. Either way, imagining William writing "passion for slipshod in the way of sentences" (513) just made me laugh. I'm actually inclined to agree with good old William in terms of his view on Hegel. The notion of interacting with reality by being conscious of what it is not seems like a lot of effort. At least, that's what I understood from William concerning Hegel.

My favorite line: "divine oracles are notoriously hard to interpret" (520). You made me laugh out loud, William, something I never thought would happen while reading your essays.


April 4, 2010 

The Writings of William James: A Comprehensive Edition ed. John J McDermott

Oh William James, what will I do with you? First you lull me into complacency with a bizarre story of some metaphysical argument about a squirrel on a tree. My advice to you is this: get some new camping buddies.

I still am having trouble coming to grips with William James's philosophy. I just can't quite get a firm grasp on what he is trying to convey. So this post will consist of me writing out my thoughts on William's well-articulated philosophical ramblings.

What Pragmatism Means "In what respects would the world be different if this alternative or that were true... this simple test of tracing a concrete consequence" (378-9)

Let me see if I have this right. Pragmatism, is essentially common sense. You follow the course with the best outcome? I understand that it is more complex than that. To quote someone, possibly Kkazan, this seems like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book. Well, if you were cheating that is. James is telling us that pragmatism can solve most, if not all, of our problems because it will help us identify the best course of action. If we take an objective look at the choices, if we think rationally about the consequences of our actions, surely we will see that no, we should not take candy from babies, or something along those lines. Is James asking us to slow down a bit, to stop and look at a map before we go left instead of right?

But then a comment from class, or possibly something I'm making up, pops into my head. Wasn't there some discussion about spontaneity and William James? Have I lost my mind? It's possible. But pragmatically I think not, since completing course work would be more difficult, so maybe I'll wait until after finals for my breakdown...

And since, in order to convince myself that I, in fact, am not crazy. I've gone through the class notes: (from Day 17)

Anne: James children did not have an academic education like we have. They never had the kind of institutionalized experience we have had. James came to Harvard through the back door. He was the cheerleader for Individuality and spontaneity. Colleges had simply become title-giving machines.

Weezy: The value of spontaneity is clear with all the James. They’ve all been risk takers and tried new things. Took paths that had not been followed before. Actions lead to other actions. Spontaneity was valued. Abundantly clear that the ability to change ones intellectual course is incredibly difficult and ultimately damaging.

How do I reconcile pragmatism, the notion that decisions can be thought out and decided, with our discussion of James as a cheerleader? Granted, opinions change, and maybe his did. In which case, I kindly take my leave.


March 28, 2010

The Writings of William James: A Comprehensive Edition ed. John J McDermott

" bent on rehabilitating the element of feeling in religion and subordinating its intellectual part. Individuality is founded in feeling; and the recesses of feeling, the darker, blinder strata of character, are the only places in the world in which we catch real fact in the making, and directly perceive how events happen, and how work is actually done. Compared with this world of living individualized feelings, the world of generalized objects which the intellect contemplates is without solidarity or life" (Conclusions [ to The Varieties] 770)

This essay reminds me of the reasons I lost my faith. Not in that it solidifies those reasons, but because it articulates everything that I feel is wrong with organized religion today.  I was raised Catholic and required to participate in the church until I was confirmed. Unfortunately, I have never truly felt at home in the Catholic church. I love the ritual aspect but I do not agree with most of the structure of the church. The Catholic church provided me with a sense of inclusion, but not a complete unity. William James's desire to individualize religion is extremely interesting. It helps me reconcile my desire to have some faith with my apprehension of organized religion. James expresses the idea that our individuality is the key to faith. We are not alike, so why should our faiths be exactly the same?


March 15, 2010

The Writings of William James: A Comprehensive Edition ed. John J McDermott

However much I hate stream of consciousness writing, and trust me, I do not like it, William James does an excellent job of articulating that which we all know, but are loathe to explain: thought. We understand that we think, that we make conclusions, but how does one articulate that? How do we explain to another person our unique thought-process?

Reading his essay The Stream of Thought, makes me think of jokes and the fact that once you have to explain a joke, it's almost not as funny. As though something is lost in trying to translate a stream of thought from one person to another. There is a hesitation that I, at least, struggle to overcome. There is that chance that in explaining this joke or something else, you bare something personal to this other person. What if they don't agree? Or they don't find it funny? Explaining one's thought-process is a personal thing. It says a lot about a person, or at least I think so. And so, it is with great trepidation that I post this link (but I'm totally laughing just at the memory of this video.)


March 4 (almost 5), 2010

I'm enjoying this class more than I thought I would. Not to say that I thought I would hate it, but I wasn't optimistic enough to hope that the discussion in this class would be as comfortable as it is. As Calamity once said to me, "It's like gossip hour in a coffee shop." I think that sitting in a close circle is really conducive to the discussion. Plus, our proximity makes it super easy to look awkwardly at one another until someone speaks. It's motivational.

The freedom the class has with writing a paper is amazing. I love that I can try to construct an academic paper around a creative topic. It's interesting the see the way each of us connects to the James family.

The only concern I have had thus far is the way that the reading for Portrait of a Lady was divided up. Reading a quarter of the book between Monday and Wednesday is much harder to do than reading a quarter from Wednesday to Monday. I realize that this isn't a major concern, and this situation may never arise again in this class, but if there was some way to make the reading proportional to the amount of time between classes, that would be awesome.


February 28, 2010

Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

"He [Osmond] remarked to Goodwood that he was very sorry they were to lose him; he himself should particularly miss him" (516).

This surprised me, this bizarre one-sided friendship between Goodwood and Osmond. Osmond legitimately enjoyed talking to Goodwood in a way that surprises the reader. Perhaps the same thing that scared Isabel about Goodwood attracts Osmond to him. I can't find the page in the beginning, but Isabel said there was some firmness about Caspar that made her hesitate. I can't help but wonder about why Osmond is interested in Caspar. It's really strange.


February 21, 2010

Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

Calamity and I watched (for the most part) Jane Campion's Portrait of a Lady over the weekend (it's in the library and we couldn't pass up such an intriguing cast. John Malkovich, guys. Seriously.) And then I watched the video for Annie Lennox's "Walking on Broken Glass" (it was playing in Acme and that song is just so catchy.) The connection? John Malkovich.

In the video, Malkovich reprises his role from Dangerous Liaisons. I have not seen the movie, but essentially his character is Vicomte (a viscount, a sort of representative) de Valmont. The courtly style of the video reminds me of the layers of subterfuge within James's Portrait of a Lady. Just as in this video ("Walking on Broken Glass"), in which relationships are convoluted and twisted, and you aren't really sure why Lennox just doesn't stick with Hugh Laurie's character rather than married-John Malkovich, the connections between the characters in Portrait of a Lady are more insidious than a cursory glance reveals. While I have not yet finished Portrait of a Lady, I have questions beginning to form in the back of my mind.



February 14, 2010

From Henry James's "The Real Thing"

"the real thing could be so much less precious than the unreal"

It is not necessarily the physical appearance of an object/person that gives it value, but the emotional attachment and capabilities. I

As I'm reading "The Real Thing," I keep thinking about the "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter" commercials, mainly the new ones with Megan Mullally. The (surface) concept of both the short story and these commercials is to address the misconception that what is "real" is necessarily the best thing. The Monarchs fit the visual requirements, but they are lacking in some manner. They are set in the ways, accustomed to their previous lifestyle, unaware of change. As the world changed around them, they were photographed and kept static. Miss Churm adapts to become whoever the narrator asks her to be. Her life centers around being what is necessary.

Now I'm not entirely sure how all this connects to those butter commercials, but in my mind that slippage between "real" and "unreal" is similar in both mediums. -commercial with Megan Mullally

In the "Vicar of Dibley" clip, it was that confusion of what is real and what is not that attracted me. - "Vicar of Dibley" clip



February 6, 2010

From Henry James's The Turn of the Screw

"Here at present I felt afresh--for I had felt it again and again--how my equilibrium depended on the success of my rigid will, the will to shut my eyes as tight as possible to the truth that what I had to deal with was, revoltingly, against nature. I could only get on at all by taking "nature" into my confidence and my account, by treating my monstrous ordeal as a push in a direction unusual, of course, and unpleasant, but demanding, after all, for a fair front, only another turn of the screw of ordinary human nature" (115).

The governess's remarkable calm, or perhaps just her insane amount of determination to see this through to the end, is quite similar to Alice James. There is no cowardice in her, or if there is, she suppresses it well. Whether ghosts or hallucinations, this ordeal seems like a test, orchestrated by James, for the governess in order to see how far she can be pushed.


January 31, 2010

From The Diary of Alice James

"What is living in this deadness called life is the struggle of the creature in the grip of its inheritance and against the consequences of its acts" 39).

"... people can't harm anything that they don't know; they don't learn things in the air, and by absorbing one of your surfaces they cannot construct you and divine the nature of others" (109-110). 

"So, with the rest, you abandon the pit of your stomach, the palms of your hands, the soles of your feet, and refuse to keep them sane when you find in turn one moral impression after another producing despair in the one, terror in the other, anxiety in the third and so on until life becomes one long flight from remote suggestion and complicated eluding of the multifold traps set for your undoing" (150).

I wish to revise my statement about Alice being bitter. Over the course of reading her diary, my mental image of Alice has become clearer. Yes, she has the capability of viciously attacking anyone within the confines of her diary, but Alice also explores her situation in a way that appears almost separate from her consciousness. We talked a little in class about how Alice disassociated herself and saw her surroundings from both an outside and internal perspective. I feel the passages I selected address this ability.

Alice protects her inner-most self, that much is obvious. Within her diary she assures herself that no one can truly "know" her unless she invites them in. Alice's concerns about people making judgments about her, buried under her commentary on politics, religion, and everything else, is the only level on which I truly feel a connection to Alice. For the most part, I remain at a distance from her writing, but in the rare moments when she addresses how she engages with her condition and her emotions, I can understand why Henry felt that Alice was perhaps more intelligent than William and himself.


January 24, 2010

Alice: Harry what's your idea finally why I am like this. And don't tell me because I'm so sensitive.

Harry: But I'm not. I think it's because you're so intelligent.

Alice: I don't think I'm intelligent at all, that's the truth. If you want the truth.

Harry: Ah mouse. You wrong yourself. Perhaps you're the most intelligent of us all.


Harry: What is intelligence but a form, the form, of intensity. And, yes dear heart, I'm not your match in the extraordinary intensity of your will and your personality. That would create enormous practical problems of life, if you chose to live in what is called, in a permanent fit of overvaluation, the real world (29).

 -From Susan Sontag's Alice in Bed

I think it's interesting that Harry paints Alice as fundamentally different than him. It is almost as though she sees the possibilities of the world and cannot reconcile those images with the world around her. Harry and the rest of the family navigate reality assisted by their intelligence, but Alice cannot.



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