Even worse than the good old days

Folks are comparing Roy Moore, chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, to Ross Barnett and George Wallace.  I’d expect comparisons to Orval Faubus, too, although I haven’t seen those.  (Yesterday, Moore entered an order prohibiting the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses in Alabama, in defiance of the federal district court ruling holding the prohibition unconstitutional.  This morning the United States Supreme Court declined a stay of the district court ruling over dissent by Thomas and Scalia).

I’m curious, though, whether those folks went the extra mile that Chief Justice Moore has gone here.  He’s entered an order even though there was neither case nor controversy before him– just entered an order out of the blue.  He’s done it solo– no other justice signed on to the order.

There are funky details to what he did that are also worthy of comment.  You have to wonder if he’s just having fun with us, or whether he and some friends wrote this thing Saturday night over bourbon down at their house on the lake.*  He notes that the Alabama Supreme Court is not required to follow decisions of federal district courts in Alabama, that they are only persuasive authority, not controlling, and that a suit against the Attorney General of the state establishing an Alabama law is unconstitutional doesn’t say anything meaningful to either the Alabama Supreme Court or the folks issuing marriage licenses.

I guess he’s about to learn some things about federal judges, the power of injunctions, and the reach of the Supremacy Clause.

Below is Charles Mingus’s “Original Fables of Faubus.”  Folks might be more familiar with the one without lyrics on  Mingus Ah Um; Columbia would not allow the song to be released with the words.  Not knowing that, for years I wonder why Mingus had titled such a great piece after Faubus.

*Note:  I am joking about the bourbon and the house on the lake.  It is completely invented.

I am considering a new comment rule

Update: I have changed the Commenting Guidelines to reflect (in boldface) the changes I am considering.  Let me know what you think about the changes (as opposed to what you think about other folks making comments) in comments; I’ve about decided to do this unless there is a reasoned objection.

Before I state the rule, I will note that I am considering imposing a rule that will not relate to content or the source of the comment, but give me an objective basis to shut people up when something has gone wrong in comments.  And thinking about my whole history of blogging, I think this rule might well resolve almost every time I have seen comments go wrong.

I also want to state that I am tired of seeing discussion threads that had a lot of substantive interesting content go south on the blog to such a degree that I find it so depressing that I don’t want to read the thread and just don’t for as much as days.

Here’s what I am considering:  A rule that after a certain number of comments that relate in no way to the subject matter of the post, as judged by me in my sole discretion, I am going to close comments on a thread.  I’m thinking perhaps 5 or perhaps 8 irrelevant comments (including by me), and that anyone who subverts the process by going into a different thread to continue the fracas will be subject to being set to moderation.

My largest reservation about this is that frequently a thread will go off into another topic in a way that is not tiresome at all, and is even interesting.  But I’m about ready to do something.

I don’t want to police what people say.  I don’t want to continue to read threads that redundantly rehash old battles.  I don’t want to assign blame.

If you really want to discourage me, use this thread to argue about who is wrong on this sort of thing.  Don’t do that here, that’s what Anderson’s blog is for.  I would prefer hearing thoughts from any and all about whether this would be an acceptable and possibly even good idea.

Notes on Re-Reading: “That Evening Sun” and The Sound and the Fury

“Jason!” mother ssaid. She was speaking to father. You could tell that by the way she said the name. Like she believed that all day father had been trying to think of doing the thing she wouldn’t like the most, and that she knew all the time that after a while he would think of it.  I stayed quiet, because father and I both knew that mother would want him to make me stay with her if she just thought of it in time. So father didn’t look at me.  I was the oldest.  I was nine and Caddy was seven and Jason was five.

William Faulkner, “That Evening Sun.”

Posted the quote for the second sentence, although this paragraph makes an interesting footnote for readers of Faulkner.  The story is narrated by Quentin Compson, who states in the second paragraph that the events he is narrating took place fifteen years ago.  That would make Quentin 24 at the time of the narration of “That Evening Sun.”

In The Sound and the Fury, Caddy was apparently born in 1893 or 1894 (she’s roughly a year older than her brother Benjy, who is having his 33rd birthday on Easter weekend in 1928).  If Quentin in “That Evening Sun” has the same age–gap with Caddy as Quentin in The Sound and the Fury, that makes Quentin born in 1891 or 1892, which would also have made him 18 or 19 in June of 1910, when he committed suicide in The Sound and the Fury. But then, his age in “That Evening Sun” (9) makes the event in that story take place in 1900 or 1901, and the narration (fifteen years later) take place four or five years after Quentin killed himself in The Sound and the Fury.  The short story was first published in 1931, two years after the novel.

The first draft of “That Evening Sun” was titled “That Evening Sun Go Down,” a title that survived through its publication by Mencken in The American Mercury, but that got trimmed when republished later in 1931 in Faulkner’s short story collection These Thirteen.  Would a “corrected text” version of the story restore the earlier title? I would not.  The story has three siblings; Faulkner had the idea of starting his novel with a fourth sibling, Benjy, after he wrote the short story and as he was working into the novel.  While he rewrote the story before submitting it in 1930-1931, he did not iron out the time inconsistencies with the novel.

There’s a passage in the story about pregnancy.  Nancy is pregnant, the children notice, and her husband, Jesus, says it’s a watermelon, and Nancy responds, “It never come off your vine, though.”  Mencken told Faulkner that, to publish the story, he’d have to change Jesus’s name, and cut the watermelon/pregnancy reference.  Argggh!  It got put back when the story was reprinted.

Notes on Re-Reading: Dam and Damn in Noel Polk’s rewriting of The Sound and the Fury

I’ve been looking at the Norton Critical Edition of The Sound and the Fury today.  It uses the Noel Polk “corrected” text.  Laying aside other qualms, one thing I’ve tripped over, repeatedly, is that the Polk version of Faulkner consistently spells damn without the final n (Jason damns a lot of things), while the first edition that I’ve always read sells the word conventionally.

I am having a problem explaining what justification an editor might have for inserting a non-conventional spelling obviously accepted in the final text of a book?  Here’s a sentence that shows what I am talking about, from the Jason section:

I stood there and watched her go on past, with her face painted up like a dam clown’s and her hair all gummed and twisted and a dress that if a woman had come out doors even on Gayoso or Beale street when I was a young fellow with no more than to cover her legs and behind, she’d been thrown in jail.

The first edition has, here and elsewhere, “damn,” and also reads “go on down” instead of “go on past.”  Again, I wonder what justifies these decisions by Polk that somehow he has evidence of what Faulkner would have wished instead of the final published texts.

These things all may seem small, but they really accumulate, particularly in a text that, to my mind, seems as carefully put together as this book.  And I have no doubt that Polk’s restructuring of Sanctuary, which made much deeper and greater changes, was a mistake.

Notes On Re-reading: Self-Assessment Department

It is not a book I enjoy re-reading but there are one or two funny scenes which redeem it from banality.

-Evelyn Waugh, from his 1964 preface to a reprint of his 1930 novel Vile Bodies.   They did not pull this quote to use as a blurb.

January 2015 reading list

The Sound and the Fury 

I’ve posted a number of thoughts about rereading this one.  It’s been about 12 years since I last read it, and I think this was the 6th or 7th time through.  Each time I see new things in the book; this time it was a more complete understanding of what was going on inside Quentin’s head.  I don’t know a book that more justifies re-reading.  This is part of a project of trying to work through Faulkner again.

The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate

I got a Modern Library pairing of these two for $4 at Carolyn Staton’s book stall at the antique mall in MidTown Shopping Center (I highly recommend the book selection there).  These are Nancy Mitford’s novels based on her family.  Years ago, I read her sister Jessica’s memoirs, a collection of journalism, and several other books, and followed that with some biographical books and a collection of letters from the Mitford sisters.  Somehow, I never got round to reading Nancy Mitford.  These two novels are hilarious, a great deal of fun if you know nothing about the family and essential reading if you do know about them.  Light, quick reading with a seriously barbed wit.  The humor and pleasurability of reading has renewed my curiosity about her biographical books.

Brideshead Revisited, Scoop, The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold, A Handful of Dust, and Men at Arms

I’d never read any Waugh except The Loved One, and had several of these bought decades ago at Choctaw Books in Jackson.  My enjoyment of his friend Nancy Mitford’s books lead me to go ahead and read through Waugh, which has been more-or-less a disappointment, although I’m keeping going.  By far the best is Gilbert Pinfold, which is Waugh’s account of his own mental breakdown, and where he turns the hardest form of his wit in on himself to excellent effect.  It also has this passage that has to be inspired in some way by an early encounter with the Mitford sisters (the phrase about their private language and “own games” nails them, and Waugh was in love with Nancy Mitford):

Twenty-five years ago or more Mr. Pinfold, who was in love with one of them, used to frequent a house full of bright, cruel girls who spoke their own thieves’ slang and played their own games. One of these was a trick from the school-room polished for drawing-room use. When a stranger came among them, they would all– if the mood took them– put out their tongues at him or her; all, that is, to say, except those in his immediate line of sight. As he turned his head, one group of tongues popped in, another popped out.  Those girls were adept in dialogue. They had rigid self-control. They never giggled. Those who spoke to the stranger assumed an unnatural sweetness.  The aim was to make him catch another with her tongue out.  It was a comic performance– the turning head, the flickering, crimson stabs, the tender smiles turning into sudden grimaces, the artificiality of the conversation which soon engendered an unidentifiable discomfort in the most insensitive visitor, made him feel that somehow he was making he was making a fool of himself, made him look at his trouser buttons, at his face in the glass to see whether there was something ridiculous in his appearance.

I am pretty sure I would trade all of Waugh’s novels for the chance to see those sisters make such a fool of Waugh.

Scoop, a satire of war journalism based on Waugh’s experience in Ethiopia at the time of the Italian invasion, is hilarious.  I am not a fond of Waugh’s love for certain things and the way he expresses it; the little-match-girl-looking-in-and-wishing-to-be-an-insider feel of his writing about old Catholic families of England does not do anything for me (laying aside his relatively readily expressed and manifold bigotries) which, among other things, made Brideshead Revisited not appeal.  I may reevaluate after attempting Vile Bodies and Decline and Fall, but am pretty sure that after those and the other two WWII novels, I’ll be done with him.

Would be interested in hearing in comments contrary opinions; several people I respect like Waugh a great deal.

The Sixth Extinction

This is New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert’s account of the ways in which human activity is causing mass extinctions.  It’s far from just climate change– the fungus wiping out frog populations was apparently spread by the way human beings have traveled everywhere, and that a specific African frog that carries the fungus and was taken all over the world for use in pregnancy tests, for instance. Each chapter is built around the author’s visit to a place connected to a particular extinction. It is an interesting read, although I’d liked to have learned a little more.

The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case

A wonderful use of a single event as an important window into history.  This is Michael Ross’s account of a trial in New Orleans in 1870 in which two Black Creole women were accused of kidnapping the young child of an Irish family.  Ross has a huge amount of rich material to work with– transcripts, extensive press accounts of a story that brought national attention in an atmosphere of great newspaper competition– and sets it in context, using the trial as a natural basis for talking about race, emancipation, and choices being made in the South in the late nineteenth century.  Without directly making the point, the book makes clear that this was a moment when the choices that resulted in Jim Crow were in no way inevitable.  It also gives a nice picture of New Orleans at a particular time.  Highly recommended for readers of legal, New Orleans, or Southern history.

Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad

Eric Foner’s latest.  This book was prompted by Foner learning of almost account-book level records of an important link in the Underground Railroad in New York City.  Foner wrote the standard history of Reconstruction, and, most recently, The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery, which was a favorite of mine a couple of years ago.  This one has an excellent overview of both writing about and the history of the Underground Railroad, and sets it in the debate among abolitionists about the best way to end slavery.  It  renewed my annoyance at William Lloyd Garrison, as, I suppose, did the Lincoln book a couple of years ago.

Opening the Bible

Thomas Merton’s short book about reading the Bible was given to me by a fellow fan of The Sound and the Fury, because there is a chapter about the book and the Dilsey/Easter section.  The first chapter, which quotes and cites the prophets admonishing people against listening to what prophets say about God’s words, was interesting (but was I being told to stop reading?), as was the section about The Sound and the Fury (although I tire of readers who go no farther in explaining Benjy than asserting he was an “idiot” who did not have any understanding of what was occurring around him.  The whole concept of stream of consciousness is that it is generated by the emotional and other understanding the viewer– Benjy– has of what he perceived, and that is what the Benjy section does.  Not sure what to make of a Catholic writer who chooses two extremely Protestant theologians as the only two modern ones quoted, Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.   Not sure I’m the best judge of the writing of Catholic theologians.

A Mississippi Slave Emancipation Story from 1821 that Caught My Attention

This is from the public and private acts section of Turner’s Mississippi Code of 1823.

Of Lucinda Jcfferson.

By An act to emancipate Lucinda Jefferson, passed November 24, 1821, the said girl Lucinda Jefferson is emancipated, set free from slavery and is invested with all the rights, privileges and immunities of any other free white female in this state:– It having been represented to the general assembly, that John Hopkins, Esq. of the county of Jefferson, did some years ago, purchase the said girl as a slave, whom be then believed and still believes to be the offspring of free white parents, who had by fraud, been made to pass as a slave: And the said John Hopkins having represented to the general assembly, that it is his wish that the said girl be restored to her natural and civil rights.

There is something going on here that is not being fully told. He “purchase[d] the said girl, whom he then believed … to be the offspring of free white parents” and that Lucinda “had by fraud, been made to pass as a slave….”  What, exactly, happened here?  There’s at least a (Faulkner) short story hiding in this legislation.  Below is an image from the 1823 code.

Perhaps I should offer a prize to anyone who could guess how I happened to trip over this statute.

Notes on Re-reading from an unexpected source

Near the end of Evelyn Waugh’s  A Handful of Dust, one of the characters, on an expedition into parts of the Amazon, becomes sick and lost and gets rescued by a guy raising cattle.  The rescuer is part native and part English, and grew up with his father reading to him, but never learned to read himself.  By the time Waugh’s character arrives, the cattle farmer had had one long-term visitor read to him but no more.  The library his father left was a more-or-less complete Dickens, some later lost through rot and swamp conditions.  But what he wished was to have someone else come along and read to him, and the character on an expedition but lost and very sick arrives and the cattle farmer shows him the books:

He unwrapped the nearest parcel and handed down a calf bound book.  It was an early American edition of Bleak House.  

“It does not matter which we take first.”

“You are fond of Dickens?”

“Why, yes, of course.  More than fond, far more.  You see, they are the only books I have ever heard. My father used to read them and then later the black man… and now you.  I have heard them all several times by now but I never get tired; there is always more to be learned and noticed, so many characters, so many changes in scene, so many words… I have all Dickens books here except those the ants devoured. It takes a long time to read them all– more than two years.

The ellipses are in the original.

Notes on re-reading: Decoding the April 7th section of The Sound and the Fury

The final events of William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury take place over Easter weekend of 1928.  The first section, “April Seventh, 1928,” is from Benjy Compson’s point of view and takes place on Saturday, although with Benjy free-associating across time from the 1890s to 1928.  The last two sections, April 6th and April 8th, take place on Good Friday (from Benjy’s brother Jason Compson’s point of view) and Easter Sunday (not tied to a particular character, although roughly from the point of view of Dilsey, a family servant who essentially holds the family together– she saw the first and saw the last).

The first (Benjy) section is all as-if by a camera, but leaping by free association across time.  Names and other cues are used in ways that might at first seem almost a practical joke (in some passages, the character Quentin is Benjy’s brother; in others is his niece) but that quickly become anchors that show time-shifts between different eras of the story.

By the end of undergraduate school, I’d read the book at least three times (and another three or four since), and had written in the first two pages of my copy of the book my decipherment the dates of each passage in the Benjy section.  These dates can be identified with precision with totally internal cues– I am a little surprised on my most recent re-reading that I had any doubt that passage E could have taken at any time other than 1910.  Here are my notes.

tsafwf one



Some name/date clues in the Benjy section for those interested:  Caddie (as in golf caddie) and Caddy (the sister), Quentin (he, Benjy’s brother) and Quentin (she, Benjy’s niece, named after her uncle), and Maury-Benjy-Benjamin (Benjy was named after his uncle, at first, and then his name was changed after Uncle Maury was shot) all provide date-cues.

I’ve skipped here the second section, narrated by Benjy’s brother Quentin at the end of his year at Harvard, and dated June 2, 1910.  Unlike the 1928 Easter dates, I’m not sure what these dates signify, other than that they are a few months after his sister Caddy married.   In my efforts to find some explanation for the selection of that date, I noted that Halley’s Comet was visible both at the time of Caddy’s wedding in April and on June 2nd, but haven’t drawn any significance from that.

Notes on re-reading: “all time and injustice and sorrow become vocal for an instant…”

Then Ben wailed again, hopeless and prolonged.  It was nothing.  Just sound. It might have been all time and injustice and sorrow become vocal for an instant by a conjunction of planets.

Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury