On Having No Time For Thomas Jefferson’s BS

I’m reading my fourth book on Thomas Jefferson over, roughly, the last year. And after I finish this one, I’ll likely start on a fifth (a selection of Jefferson’s writings).

I posted a picture on social media of the current one (Most Blessed of the Patriarchs) and friend made this comment:

I find him so annoying, so self-absorbed and extremely petty. How he was able to accomplish anything is amazing with these as his driving traits.

My first instinct was to respond with a defense, of sorts. Acknowledging his many faults, but still defending his role in our history and, ultimately, his role as a generally admirable person.

Here’s where I should mention that the commentator is a black woman.

Which is much of reason why I paused.

Because it’s easy for me to make a nuanced case for his virtues, in spite of his rank hypocrisy on the issue of slavery. But… I’m white. That’s a pretty simple for me to do, isn’t it?

And isn’t it also a fairly obvious reaction by someone whose ancestors were enslaved, were sexually assaulted by slaveholders like Jefferson (and while he may have loved Sally Hemmings, lets be clear that when you own a person, genuine consent is not possible)?

I can’t say, despite my desire to like Jefferson, that she is wrong to effectively state, ‘I have no time for his BS.’



He, umm… he did not, shall we say, stick the landing.

The final volume of Shadowmarch series managed to both be frenetic and also to drag terribly, an impressive accomplishment, but not fun to read.

Much of the book is an extended battle sequence – a series of engagements around the primary locale (Southmarch, if you’re interested) that are so frequent that they cease to hold the attention.

The climactic battle, involving a freed/awoken (though not ‘woke’) god, depended on some world building that the book didn’t earn. And some story lines turned out to be absolute nothings. There was, for example, a potentially interesting and morally weak poet named Tinwright who managed to take a large quantity of pages only to not do anything important or meaningful, in the end. It was like someone fired Checkhov’s gun, but missed and then did nothing more with it.

Finally, the ending went on for something like two hundred pages after the climax. Sure, Tolkien did that… but he was Tolkien. I didn’t know Tolkien, but I read a lot of his works, and you, sir, are no J.R.R. Tolkien.

Not Catching Up

I am trying and not completely succeeding in catching up on my periodicals. The more timely ones like Foreign Affairs and The New Yorker are first and Poetry gets relegated because its news doesn’t get old.

But if you find this one somewhere, it has a great poem by Aracelis Girmay (another Floridian, by the way).

Exact Thinking In Demented Times

Apparently, we’re doing back to back Viennese themed books.

The last one was better.

This one is good and interesting, but keeps failing to do more.

You see, Exact Thinking in Demented Times is about the Vienna Circle, a group of philosophers, mathematicians, economists, and physicists who roughly made up the core founders of (now mostly… I don’t want to say discredited, because that’s not fair, but let’s just say that it’s not something many people identify themselves as these days) logical positivism.

While it does a good job of showing how physics, in particular, played a fascinating cross-pollination role in this philosophical school, it doesn’t really tell us much about the actual philosophy. It also spends too much time on people who weren’t really logical positivists nor participated in the meetings on the Vienna Circle (I’m looking at you, Wittgenstein!).

And aspects of the depiction of the historical milieu seem a little half-baked. For example, I am assuming that the ‘demented’ references mainly to Nazism and fascism, but somehow, until the last quarter of the book (in a way that feels tacked on), he manages to elude the urge to talk about this key aspect of the time period.

So we neither get an exact picture of their thinking nor a good view of demented Nazis.

Which isn’t to dismiss it entirely. It was a worthwhile read, just not what it could have been.

And it did inspire me to try and dig up some Carnap make another go at reading him after some abortive efforts in college (I used to study at a table very near the shelf where The Logical Syntax of Language could be found, taunting me).

‘Late Fame’ By Arthur Schnitzler

Many years ago, while still in college, I read Schnitzler’s Road to the Open. I was inspired by some reading about fin-de-siecle Vienna and a reference to Freud calling him his ‘doppleganger’ (intellectually, not physically, I gather).

For most of the book, I read it as a sort of building satire, wending its way to an uncomfortably cringeworthy comic moment.

And then it didn’t. Continue reading

‘Shadowrise’ By Tad Williams

The Tad is back! By which I mean that Shadowrise, the third book in his Shadowmarch tetralogy, is much better than the disappointing second, Shadowplay.

This one is more exciting and the characters have grown so that they are less irritating than they sometimes were in previous installments (though I would have liked more from the perspective of Chert, the funderling [read: fantasy dwarf]) and he seems to have firm control over the narrative.

I’m already reading the fourth book and will blog about it soon, if my daughter will let me finish it.

Poetry East

I just finished reading the latest copy of Poetry East, one of my favorite poetry magazines.

One could criticize it by saying that it publishes too little work by new and emerging poets and too many by dead poets (like, Shelley levels of dead). But when you read it… well, it’s hard to criticize such a well put together publication with so much great poetry and beautiful (if not original) artwork.

This one (actually from Autumn 2017) features Carvaggio paired with passages from the Gospels (do you consider that poetry?). Ovid and Bernini. Facing pages with the Italian and English translations of Petrarch. Selections from American writers who visited Rome. English writers (the earlier mentioned Shelley, for example).

And yes, some new poetry. As part of three short poems collectively entitled Storyflowers, Suzanne Rhodenbaugh included this small gem, called Iris:

Once I was all lips and tongue.
Now I am a fist.

Can’t wait until the next issue.