Commonplace: Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space

“This being the case, if I were asked to name the chief benefit of the house, I should say: the house shelters daydreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace. Thought and experience are not the only things that sanction human values. The values that belong to daydreaming mark humanity in its depths. Daydreaming even has a privilege of autovalorization. It derives direct pleasure from its own being. Therefore, the places in which we have experienced daydreaming reconstitute themselves in a new daydream, and it is because our memories of former dwelling-places are relived as daydreams that these dwelling-places of the past remain in us for all time.

Now my aim is clear: I must show that the house is one of the greatest powers of integration for the thoughts, memories and dreams of mankind. The binding principle in this integration is the daydream. Past, present and future give the house different dynamisms, which often inerfere, at times opposing, at others, stimulating one another. In the life of a man, the house thrusts aside contingencies, its councils of continuity are unceasing. Without it, man would be a dispersed being. It maintains him through the storms of the heavens and through those of life. It is body and soul. It is the human being’s first world. Before he is ‘cast into the world,’ as claimed by certain hasty metaphysics, man is laid in the cradle of the house. An always, in our daydreams, the house is a large cradle. A concrete metaphysics cannot neglect this fact, this simple fact, all the more, since this fact is a value, an important value, to which we return in our daydreaming. Being is already a value. Life begins well, it begins enclosed, protected, all warm in the bosom of the home.”

Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space


Commonplace: Elie Wiesel and Tim O’Brien on the Power of Story

“When the great Rabbi Israel Baal Shem-Tov saw misfortune threatening the Jews it was his custom to go into a certain part of the forest to meditate. There he would light a fire, say a special prayer, and the miracle would be accomplished and the misfortune averted.

Later, when his disciple, the celebrated Magid of Mezritch, had occasion, for the same reason, to intercede with heaven, he would go to the same place in the forest and say: ‘Master of the Universe, listen! I do not know how to light the fire, but I am still able to say the prayer,’ and again the miracle would be accomplished.

Still later, Rabbi Moshe-Leib of Sasov, in order to save his people once more, would go into the forest and say: ‘I do not know how to light the fire, I do not know the prayer, but I know the place and this must be sufficient.’ It was sufficient and the miracle was accomplished.

Then it fell to Rabbi Israel of Rizhyn to overcome misfortune. Sitting in his armchair, his head in his hands, he spoke to God: ‘I am unable to light the fire and I do not know the prayer; I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is to tell the story, and this must be sufficient.’ And it was sufficient.

God made man because he loves stories.”

~ Elie Wiesel, The Gates of the Forest

“Forty-three years old, and the war occurred half a life-time ago, and yet the remembering makes it now. And sometimes remembering will lead to a story, which makes it forever. That’s what stories are for. Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.”

~ Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried

Simone Dinnerstein

I tend to listen to classical music when I’m deep into writing mode or need to put myself there (I’m on deadline). Lately, I keep on turning to the music of Simone Dinnerstein, mostly the Goldberg Variations, which have a soft spot in my heart partly because of their prominence in Ian McEwan’s Saturday and partly because the way the music works is precisely the way a good argument should work, or at least, it sounds like I think good writing would sound if transmuted into music.

Dinnerstein has a new album out of Bach’s Inventions and Sinfonias, and she has thus been making the NPR rounds. I caught her on Diane Rehm yesterday discussing her new album and the work she does educating kids about Bach and classical music in general. What struck me was how accessible Dinnerstein thought classical music should be. I think what I like about her playing is that it’s not fussy or elite. Indeed, the above video shows how this music should be seamlessly apart of everyday life not separated out into elite boxes.

You can hear it in this Aria from the Goldberg Variations. The music and playing is precise, but there’s such a simple joy in the execution. Perhaps simple is too reductive; Dinnerstein asks you to pay attention to how she’s playing. But she clearly enjoys the act of putting notes together, letting them flow from her fingers in a sinuous rippling arc of small pleasures.

Chat Indicator

Fantastic and sweet article about the indicator bubble in chat and text messaging by the guy who invented it. My colleagues and I talk a lot about our students inability to understand tone in writing. Text messaging and instant messaging don’t convey tone or feelings well. Unless you’re the kind of reader who reads emotion into what you’re reading or is adept at reading and hearing voices that aren’t in the voice of your inner monologue–i.e. a lit nerd–then you need emoticons to just understand half of the tones of a text conversation. Not even lit nerds are truly good at this. After all, writers of stories are actively trying to convey emotional states and produce affect. Text conversations do not have the space or time for this kind of nuance. This guy invented one little things to help written conversation flow, at least in the immediacy of this medium. After all, letters used to express a lot of emotion, but the space to think and mediate gave the writer more time to imbue emotionally connection into their missive.

Andrew Sullivan on Kansas and What Just Happened

I’m still trying to understand what just happened in Kansas, which just passed a law that reads like something from the 1960s, just instead of it being about race and racial discrimination, it’s about discrimination against gays and lesbians. It’s so comprehensive that it extends to people who support marriage equality and gay rights:

The law empowers any individual or business to refuse to interact with, do business with, or in any way come into contact with anyone who may have some connection to a gay civil union, or civil marriage or … well any “similar arrangement” (room-mates?). It gives the full backing of the law to any restaurant or bar-owner who puts up a sign that says “No Gays Served”. It empowers employees of the state government to refuse to interact with gay citizens as a group. Its scope is vast: it allows anyone to refuse to provide “services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges; counseling, adoption, foster care and other social services; or provide employment or employment benefits” to anyone suspected of being complicit in celebrating or enabling the commitment of any kind of a gay couple.

The ramifications are daunting, and as Andrew Sullivan aptly notes, it’s straight out of the Jim Crow play book, which I thought we’d put into the historical archives department of the world under the label Horrible Historical Documents that Should Never Be Emulated But are Preserved to Remind Us of How Inhuman We Can Be. The last part is particularly alarming. I have friends who are gay who just got engaged. I’m over the moon for them; they embody the kind of loving, supportive, caring relationship we want all committed relationships to be. Under this law, someone would be able to be deny me services and perhaps employment for supporting my friends. It’s an extreme reading of the law to be sure, but I don’t think any law can tell me whose wedding I get to attend. Read all of Sullivan’s piece. It’s worth the time.

Commonplace: Helen Cixous, “Laugh of the Medusa”

“I want all. I want all of me with all of him. Why should I deprive myself of a part of us? I want all of us. Woman of course has a desire for a ‘loving desire’ and not a jealous one. But not because she is gelded; not because she is deprived and needs to be filled out, like some wounded person who wants to console herself or seek vengeance: I don’t want a penis to decorate my body with. But I do desire the other for the other, whole and entire, male or female; because living means wanting everything that is, everything that lives, and wanting it alive. Castration? Let others toy with it. What’s a desire originating from a lack? A pretty meager desire.


Elsewhere, she gives. She doesn’t ‘know’ what she’s giving, she doesn’t measure it; she gives, though, neither a counterfeit impression nor something she hasn’t got. She gives more, with no assurance that she’ll get back even some unexpected profit from what she puts out. She gives that there may be life, thought, transformation. This is an ‘economy’ that can no longer be put in economic terms. Wherever she loves, all the old concepts of management are left behind. At the end of a more or less conscious computation, she finds not her sum but her difference. I am for you what you want me to be at the moment you look at me in a way you’ve never seen me before: at every instant. When I write, it’s everything that we don’t know we can be that is written out of me, without exclusions, without stipulation, and everything we will be calls us to the unflagging, intoxicating, unappeasable search for love. In one another we will never be lacking.”

~ Helen Cixous, “Laugh of the Medusa”