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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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Following the police killing of Daunte Wright in Minnesota, Constance Kassor examines how calls to defund the police can be linked to the Buddhist call to eradicate causes of suffering. The post Commentary: It’s Time to Defund the Causes of Suffering appeared first on Lion's Roar. [...]

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Science News
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Brown Dwarfs can Spin so Fast They Almost Tear Themselves Apart

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OSIRIS-REx Did One Last Close Flyby of Asteroid Bennu. It’s Almost Time to Come Home

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Telescopes unite in unprecedented observations of famous black hole

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NASA's NICER finds X-ray boosts in the Crab Pulsar's radio bursts

A global science collaboration using data from NASA's Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) telescope on the International Space Station has discovered X-ray surges accompanying radio bursts from the pulsar in the Crab Nebula. The finding shows that these bursts, called giant radio pulses, release far more energy than previously suspected. [...]

More than 5,000 tons of extraterrestrial dust fall to Earth each year

Every year, our planet encounters dust from comets and asteroids. These interplanetary dust particles pass through our atmosphere and give rise to shooting stars. Some of them reach the ground in the form of micrometeorites. An international program conducted for nearly 20 has determined that 5,200 tons per year of these micrometeorites reach the ground. [...]

Mars didn't dry up in one go

A research team has discovered that the Martian climate alternated between dry and wetter periods, before drying up completely about 3 billion years ago. [...]

Corals carefully organize proteins to form rock-hard skeletons

Scientists have shown that coral structures consist of a biomineral containing a highly organized organic mix of proteins that resembles what is in our bones. Their study shows that several proteins are organized spatially -- a process that's critical to forming a rock-hard coral skeleton. [...]

Why our brains miss opportunities to improve through subtraction

A new study explains why people rarely look at a situation, object or idea that needs improving -- in all kinds of contexts -- and think to remove something as a solution. Instead, we almost always add some element, whether it helps or not. [...]

Neanderthal ancestry identifies oldest modern human genome

The fossil skull of a woman in Czechia has provided the oldest modern human genome yet reconstructed, representing a population that formed before the ancestors of present-day Europeans and Asians split apart. [...]

From stardust to pale blue dot: Carbon's interstellar journey to Earth

We are made of stardust, the saying goes, and a pair of studies finds that may be more true than we previously thought. [...]

Evidence of Antarctic glacier's tipping point confirmed

Researchers have confirmed for the first time that Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica could cross tipping points, leading to a rapid and irreversible retreat which would have significant consequences for global sea level. [...]

A new state of light

A single 'super photon' made up of many thousands of individual light particles: About ten years ago, researchers produced such an extreme aggregate state for the first time. Researchers report a new, previously unknown phase transition in the optical Bose-Einstein condensate. This is a overdamped phase. [...]

New distances to two dwarf galaxies with unusually spread-out stars support the idea that these galaxies have little to no dark matter. The post New Distances Support Idea of Dark Matter–less Galaxies appeared first on Sky & Telescope. [...]

New applications of machine learning have enabled astronomers to classify 27 million galaxies and pick out a dozen rare quadruply lensed quasars. The post Astronomers Use AI to Investigate Quasars and Galaxies Galore appeared first on Sky & Telescope. [...]

The supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way released an unusual number of strong flares in 2019. Now, astronomers are trying to figure out why. The post Flares from the Milky Way’s Supermassive Black Hole appeared first on Sky & Telescope. [...]

Arcturus ascends in the east as Sirius sinks in the southwest. Orion tilts further as the Dipper rides high. And this week Mars threads the horntips of Taurus, closely followed by the crescent Moon. The post This Week's Sky at a Glance, April 9 – 17 appeared first on Sky & Telescope. [...]

The countdown has begun to a special total solar eclipse that will cross Mexico, the U.S. and Canada on April 8, 2024. The post T–3 Years Until the 2024 Total Solar Eclipse appeared first on Sky & Telescope. [...]

Bright comets will be scarce this year, but you can see one of the better ones this month as it races from Aquila to Canes Venatici. In other news, a new, bright nova has flared in Sagittarius. The post Make the Most of Comet ATLAS appeared first on Sky & Telescope. [...]

A recent study has identified the origins of many of the long streams of stars that encircle the Milky Way. These streams may contain hints about our galaxy's past. The post Seeking the Origins of Galactic Stellar Streams appeared first on Sky & Telescope. [...]

Light pollution is insidious in today’s world. This International Dark Sky Week, become inspired to see what you can do to raise awareness. The post Discover the Night: International Dark Sky Week is Here! appeared first on Sky & Telescope. [...]

A Tibetan cosmic-ray observatory has discovered high-energy particle accelerators within our galaxy. The post Tibet Observatory Confirms Existence of Galactic PeVatrons appeared first on Sky & Telescope. [...]

June 10th's annular eclipse of the Sun has a path that crosses southern Canada and the North Pole but will be a challenge to see. The post First Look at 2021’s First Solar Eclipse appeared first on Sky & Telescope. [...]