A nice half-hour today in what Mary Oliver calls the “dreamhouse / Of salt and exercise.” The weekend of high winds has churned up the sand in the water, so that swimming is like running through a sandstorm out of Prince of Persia. About 2′ swells today, once I got past the protected part of the beach. Post-Labor Day open water swims are precious.
All my E. 110 students should visit www.nypl.org before our class trip on 10/5. Spend a little time on the site to see what it has to offer your project, and also go ahead and register online for a library card. You’ll be able to pick it up at the circulation desk when we are there in early October.
Here’s a cover image of The Tempest from a 1707 ed of Shakespeare’s Works that I used in the opening case of the Folger show last summer. If you look at the terror on the faces of the mariners, the demonic glee of Ariel in the clouds, & the bemused unconcern of Prospero on shore (hard to see on the left hand side), it’s a pretty good image of grad school in English.
Please comment below & read this image back for me: do you see a different allegory, of teaching or learning or something else?
(This’ll give me a chance to test the comments, & to approve each of you as a commentor for the blog going forward.)
Saturday 4 Sept 2010 was a big end-of-summer day on the local blue humanities front. Turnings of the tide…
My son Ian & I swam in the Short Beach Days swimming races; Ian placed fourth as a nine year old in the 9-10 age range, & I placed third in the old guys 40+ category. We both need to work on our starts.
Both kids, plus some neighbors, entered the Sand Sculpture contest in the “unassisted” division, which meant that I could not help sculpt & instead got a great mid-day swim out to Half-Tide rock in the middle of the bay. Back in time to see them awarded “Most Original” for sculpting the “Short Beach Alien Invasion.” Nice use of seaweed & other plant materials…
As part of the haul from the kids’ “Juice Stand” in the afternoon, Olivia received a US quarter stamped with “Northern Mariana Islands” — one of the most coveted in our collection.
We’ve found three now from the non-state territories: Grandpa Bill received Guam in change from a DC taxi-cab, Ryan the babysitter got Samoa for Ian in a Branford Dunkin Donuts, & now Olivia’s Marianas from the Short Beach juice drinkers. Changes how you look at change.
Just after the 8:19 pm high tide, Olivia & I took a night swim — the moon hadn’t risen yet, a few bright stars behind fleecy clouds, warm water, and cold air. The beach is lit by street lights, and they dim fast as you swim out. Swimming is always about putting your body in a place that it can’t fully understand, where you move slowly & can’t see well. At night, in warm water, in the dark, swimming doubles itself — opaque and invisible and all around you. I love a night swim.
Also, “Lost at Sea” struck its sails in DC at 5:00 pm. Into the dark night…
My home waters are on the CT side of Long Island Sound, in a sheltered cove a bit east of New Haven, between the Farm River and Killam’s Point. I took this picture yesterday at the afternoon high tide, when I went down to swim with my daughter Olivia. If you squint you can see on the left side the house where the American poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox lived in the 19c.
On a calm day, the swimming is great — warm & salty, with no waves to speak of usually. The tide matters a lot to swimmers here. At low tide, it’s too easy to dig down into the silt with each stroke, but with a good flood, in this sheltered cove, it’s easy to swim out a mile or so in calm open water — out to Gull Island to disturb the birds, or even toward Kelsey’s, at the river’s mouth. Sometimes I worry about boat traffic, but it’s mostly kayaks & sailboats (inc the Yale sailing team).
The Sound doesn’t circulate all that much, so the water isn’t as clear as it could be. You can’t usually see the bottom, which is often enough silt anyway. I swim through a kind of sand- and salt-filled haze, with almost everything blurry even if I remembered my goggles (which I didn’t, yesterday).
This evening the surf will be up as Hurricane Earl passes offshore.
They began to go
To pieces at once under the waves’ hammer.
Sick at heart since that first stroke, they moved
Nevertheless as they had learned always to move
When it should come, not weighing hope against
The weight of the water, yet knowing that no breath
Would escape to betray what they underwent then.
Dazed, incredulous, that it had come,
That they could recognize it….
…And to some it seemed that the waves
Grew gentle, spared them, while they died of that knowledge.
“The Shipwreck” (Green with Beasts, 1956)
The new semester’s here, so it’s time to put away the summer reading & turn to class prep. In the past few months I’ve been reading postmodern (mostly 21c) novels that in various ways respond to The Tempest, & I thought I’d jot down some thoughts.
Thomas Pynchon, Mason & Dixon (1997): The utopian fantasia becomes a “Visto through the Wilderness,” as Englightenment rationality does for Pynchon what humanism did for Shakespeare, though Pynchon is more overtly skeptical. But I wonder if the deep ambivalence that’s M&D wears on its sleeve isn’t the underlying anxiety that clouds Shakespeare’s play: the sense that, at the end, Prospero’s brave new world isn’t as “brave” (in the early modern sense of decked out, dressed up) so much as it is costly, both morally and economically.
Barry Unsworth, Sacred Hunger (1992): The two cousins both want to be the princely heir, and the great thing about this book is that the multiracial utopian section, in which the proto-Darwinist doctor enters into a matriarchal mixed marriage with a former slave, isn’t cloying or overdone. Instead it’s a version of that old feminist plea about Caliban and Miranda forming an alliance, even if it doesn’t end up working out any better than it might in the play.
Marina Warner, Indigo (1992): What does Miranda want? She, too, gets her Caliban (in the 20c frame tale), and Warner’s novel presents the various Prospero-ish men as the fuller opacity than the fertile Caribbean. Great stuff about sports & sporting culture — perhaps an oblique way of thinking again about the theater, another profession that runs on sanguy or physical charisma?
David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas (2004): In the end more Melvillean than Shakeseparean (if that’s a distinction with a difference), Mitchell’s high-wire act of stylistic change mirrors, on the level of the phrase, the experience of radical cultural change that the novel describes (and that we’re all experiencing). Perhaps a bit sentimental on the last page? How can you reconcile the novel’s deep fear of corporate power structures with a humane plea for abolition? Need to re-read Benito Cereno..
Sleeplessness. Homer. Taut sails.
I have counted half the catalog of ships,
That caravan of cranes, the expansive host,
Which once rose above Hellas.
Like a caravan of cranes toward alien shores —
On princes’ heads godlike spray —
Where are you going? Without Helen,
What could Troy mean to you, Achean men?
Both the sea and Homer — all is moved by love.
To whom shall I listen?
Now Homer falls silent, and a black sea,
Thunderous orator, breaks on my pillow
With a roar.
Spent last week swimming on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe, about 1/3 mile south of Cave Rock & 4 miles north of State Line & its casinos. It’s a pretty extreme place: dry & windy, with thin air (6100′) & cold clear water (60 degrees, more or less). We got good weather for late summer — 80 by mid-afternoon, down to 50 or below in the evenings & early morning. The old family tradition of swimming before breakfast got bent a little, by pushing breakfast to 10 am so that the sun reached the beach before our plunge.
It’s one of the world’s great swimming holes: Caribbean-blue clear water, and when you’re under in that cold blue everything falls away. Swimming’s a bit like outer space under any circumstances, but Lake Tahoe feels more moonlike than the moon: the windy chop at the surface vanishes & all of a sudden it’s just you and the still bottom, with huge granite boulders scattered haphazardly like giants’ marbles.
It was wetsuit water, mostly, except a few times in the afternoons when it was too much bother to suit up again.
Rock hopping was the way to go, mostly, moving from one barely submerged boulder to another just poking up its froth-bearded head. A tricky place for nonwet navigators: we brought a little El Toro, which made a few abrupt stops when the centerboard found a rock before we did.