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Literature

Poets and Philosophers: Beyond Rhyme and Meter

Poets thrive on paradoxes, creating them, giving them expression; philosophers also thrive on paradox, but by explaining them away. Poets present things as they are; philosophers explain how things come to be.

John Keats

O for a Life of Sensations rather than of Thoughts!

Letter to Benjamin Bailey
22 November 1817

I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable
reaching after fact & reason.

Letter to his brothers
21 December 1817

John Keats

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Northwestern University – Harris Hall 107 Redux: Bound to Please by Michael Dirda

Harris Hall

Harris Hall

I sat many hours in Northwestern University’s Harris lecture hall 107 during my years as an undergraduate and graduate student from 1968 to 1982.

As an undergraduate I listened to Alfred Appel lecture on James Joyce, Nathaniel West, Ernest Hemingway, Vladimir Nabokov, and the modernist significance of the great jazz artists of the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s: Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Billie Holiday, and Charlie Parker. How many college lectures have a soundtrack?

Appel’s lectures on Nabokov and the pop culture motifs that form much of the substance of Lolita informed and entertained us. Much of the content of Appel’s lectures on Nabokov and Lolita can be found, mutatis mutandis, in Appel’s still authoritative Annotated Lolita. Students listened in attentive silence to his lectures on Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River” and how Nick Adams found healing and relief for his battle-scarred psyche through fly fishing. This silence was atypical: more often than not, many of Appel’s lectures were punctuated with frequent laughter.

Alfred Appel

Alfred Appel Jr.

Appel made a lot of people laugh. I’ll never forget sitting in a Romantic poetry class on the second floor of University Hall when, just as Professor Gerald Prince was reciting these lines from Keats Ode to a Nightingale, “Away! away! for I will fly to thee, / Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,” Appel walks by the door opening to the hallway, flapping his arms like a bird. The class roared with laughter; Professor Prince, his back to the door, just stared at the class, mouth slightly open, dumbfounded.

In the early 70’s I also remember two other lecturers who held forth in Harris 107: anthropology professor Stuart Struever and, guru to the hippies, Stephen Gaskin.

Stuart Struever

Stuart Struever

Hearing anthropology professor Stuart Struever explain how the Vietnam War was essentially “maladaptive” encouraged students to continue or begin their protests of the war. I was so impressed and moved by the perspectives that an anthropological approach to understanding opened up that I changed my major to anthropology. During the 1970’s Struever was host to 100’s of student assistants who helped in excavating the 10,000 year old Hopewell burial mounds in Greene County, Illinois, about 270 miles south of Chicago. Struever was a colorful character who wore denim jeans and khaki short sleeved shirts as often as a tie and jacket, who interjected into his lectures stories of the years he spent buying and selling artifacts for import and trade in Africa. Think Indiana Jones.

Monday Night ClassOne warm spring evening in 1970 I listened to Stephen Gaskin — eventual founder of The Farm coop that settled in Tennessee — give a talk from a seated zazen half lotus pose, a talk about Buddha, weed, psilocybin, LSD, Jesus, and enlightenment — not necessarily in that order. That lecture was eventually anthologized in Monday Night Class, still in print forty years later. I will also never forget wandering outside after Stephen’s talk to the parking lot along Lake Michigan and being invited into one of the caravan school buses that followed Stephen’s lecture tour from the left to right coast and back again. I hung out for an few hours with a several guys and girls who were sharing a converted school bus. To this day the smell of patchouli oil brings back with hallucinatory vividness that evening and that after-lecture party in a converted school bus.

As a graduate student teaching assistant some 10 years later in the early 80’s, I remember Martin Mueller’s lucid background lectures on Shakespeare, especially his talks about The Merchant of Venice, Julius Caesar, and The Tempest. The last lectures I attended in Harris 107 were given by Henry Binder in a course comparing literary and cinematic treatments of the “American West” with evening screenings of Stagecoach, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, and The Wild Bunch.

These memories of hearing experts on various and sundry topics holding forth on their chosen fields of literature, philosophy, religion, politics, history — memories now thirty and more years old — wash over me in mostly, but not always, pleasurable waves of nostalgia. Nostalgia cloys, does not really satisfy, but that is part of its poignancy, part of its seductive charm — the fact that it does not satisfy is part of what makes it what it is.

Bound to Please - Michael Dirda

Recently I discovered Bound to Please, an anthology of a quarter century’s worth of book reviews by Washington Post Book World editor, Michael Dirda. Dirda has spent his professional life reveling in the writings, thoughts, and works of various authors, translators, biographers, artists, and historians who have each individually in turn dedicated their individual lives to exploring the works, thoughts, or times of their chosen subjects and fields of research.

Reading these reviews is like sitting once again as a bearded young man listening to an inspiring, knowledge-laden professor holding forth in Harris 107.

Postscript: By chance I happened to read recently that Harris Hall is being renovated. New generations scholars and, perhaps, a next-gen hippie-guru or two await their turns to lecture in Harris 107 to new generations of current and yet-to-be born Northwestern students preparing for their futures.

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Lightweight Iodine Thruster Could Help Solve Space Junk Problem

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An Active Galaxy That Erupts Predictably Every 114 Days Or So

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A New Idea to Harness Energy From Black Holes

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Starships Will be Launching From These Oil Drilling Platforms Bought by SpaceX

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3-D Printing on the Moon. From Regolith to Paste to Useful Objects and Structures

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Massive Binary Stars Huddle Up Surprisingly Quickly

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Event Horizon Telescope honoured by the Royal Astronomical Society

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2020: Perimeter's scientific year in review

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Perimeter Institute launches Clay Riddell Centre for Quantum Matter

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Perimeter congratulates 2020 winners of the Nobel Prize in Physics

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CHIME receives Governor General’s Innovation Award

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Perimeter participates in #Strike4BlackLives

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Perimeter among top winners at CCAE Awards

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Four new Simons Emmy Noether Fellows announced

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Anna Golubeva earns Borealis AI Fellowship

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Kevin Costello admitted as Honorary Member of the Royal Irish Academy

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Astronomers discover first cloudless, Jupiter-like planet

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Saturn's tilt caused by its moons, researchers say

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Butterfly wing clap explains mystery of flight

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Immune system mounts a lasting defense after recovery from COVID-19, researchers find

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Much of Earth's nitrogen was locally sourced

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A 'super-puff' planet like no other

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2020 tied for warmest year on record, NASA analysis shows

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COVID-19 reduced U.S. life expectancy, especially among Black and Latino populations

A new study finds that due to COVID-19 deaths last year, life expectancy at birth for Americans will shorten by 1.13 years to 77.48 years -- the largest single-year decline in life expectancy in at least 40 years. [...]

Climate change has caused billions of dollars in flood damages

Flooding has caused hundreds of billions of dollars in damage in the U.S. over the past three decades. Researchers found that 36 percent of the costs of flooding in the U.S. from 1988 to 2017 were a result of intensifying precipitation, consistent with predictions of global warming. [...]

'Galaxy-sized' observatory sees potential hints of gravitational waves

Scientists believe that planets like Earth bob in a sea of gravitational waves that spread throughout the universe. Now, an international team has gotten closer than ever before to detecting those cosmic ripples. [...]

NASA’s mission to the outer solar system has found more light than expected. That could mean more galaxies in the visible universe than we thought— or less, depending on who you talk to. The post What New Horizons Found in Deep Space — And Why It Matters appeared first on Sky & Telescope. [...]

The incredible variety of telescopes presents a real challenge for first-time buyers. Here's a no-nonsense primer to an astronomical rite of passage. The post How to Choose a Telescope appeared first on Sky & Telescope. [...]

SpaceX has placed more than 1,000 Starlinks in orbit, and other companies are following suit. Here's the latest on what's being done to protect astronomy. The post Beyond Starlink: The Satellite Saga Continues appeared first on Sky & Telescope. [...]

Measurements of Starlink's "VisorSat" show SpaceX has succeeded in making a less reflective satellite. But it's still visible from dark-sky areas. The post Starlink Satellites Are Fainter Now — But Still Visible appeared first on Sky & Telescope. [...]

Right after dark, face east and look very high. The bright star there is Capella, the Goat Star. To the right of it, by a couple of finger-widths at arm's length, is a small, narrow triangle of 3rd- and 4th-magnitude stars known as "the Kids." Though they're not exactly eye-grabbing, they form a never-forgotten asterism with Capella. The post This Week's Sky at a Glance, January 22 – 30 appeared first on Sky & Telescope. [...]

China’s Chang’e 5 spacecraft helped deliver samples from the Moon to Earth. Now it’s heading for an extended mission to observe the Sun. The post China's Chang'e 5 Probe Heads Sunward appeared first on Sky & Telescope. [...]

If you own an 8-inch or larger telescope you might see more than a dozen new and returning comets this year, including one potential naked-eye candidate. The post Comet Watch 2021 appeared first on Sky & Telescope. [...]

Don't be intimidated by astrophotography equipment — modest equipment can do great things. The post In Astrophotography, Bigger Is Not Always Better! appeared first on Sky & Telescope. [...]

NASA has granted two key planetary missions extensions, so InSight and Juno will continue to return data from Mars and Jupiter, respectively, for years to come. The post NASA Extends Juno, InSight Missions appeared first on Sky & Telescope. [...]

In the news this week: Globular clusters have the detailed scoop on our galaxy's past, and a "heartbeat" black hole binary in the Milky Way has gone mysteriously dim. The post Astronomy News: Galactic One-Two Punch, Black Hole Heartbeat Falters appeared first on Sky & Telescope. [...]