Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Mathematician's Apology by G.H. Hardy

One of the great autobiographies, and one of the greatest presentations of the mind of a mathematician for non-mathematicians in literature, is A Mathematician's Apology by the great English mathematician, G.H. Hardy.

I provide a link to a free online copy of the book above, but try to get the book from a library or borrow it from a friend. For those of us who have an aversion to math, or who have the disdain for reason that many of us in the humanities exhibit, this book will provide a window into the joy and pleasure and creativity of the mathematical life of the mind.

This wonderful book is a must-read for those with an interest in the history of math/science, the intersection of math and culture, or the life of the mind overall. Some people might find it a revelation.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Literature for the Millions (?)

Simon Loekle
On Saturday mornings, from 6:00 A.M. to 8:00 A.M., on WBAI, 99.5 FM, Simon Loekle presents readings from great literature (and recordings of classic old jazz performances). His program is titled "As I Please". Simon is a great scholar and performer of literature. He is one of the best readers you could ever hear. He is an "independent scholar", i.e., unaffiliated with any academic institution, but he is known by all of the major James Joyce scholars and has a regular scholarly cartoon addressing some aspect of Joyce studies in the James Joyce Quarterly, the premier publication devoted to Joyce scholarship. I can vouch from my own knowledge of the field, that he is also one of the most insightful experts on the poetry of Ezra Pound of our time.

If you are interested in literature, particular the more challenging masterpieces, one of the best introductions that you can have to the work of James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Basil Bunting, Dante, Villon, and other Modernists and their masters is by listening to Simon's readings. There are archived recordings of broadcasts of Simon's program at the WBAI archives page; just search for "As I Please" and play. Broadcasts are only available for a few weeks, so treat your ears and brain to what Simon Loekle can provide in the way of nourishment for the intellect and soul while they are available.

Simon has a Web page that provides a wealth of information and literary and musical delicacies. There is much to be learned there, and much enjoyment to be had: "As I Please: Simon Loekle." As Frances Steloff used to say of her now-gone bookstore, the old Gotham Book Mart, which was once the greatest book store in the Western Hemisphere: "WISE MEN FISH HERE". Simon will enrich your life to come, if you let him.

Simon also reads at Swift Hibernian Lounge on the fourth Monday of every month, February through November. Readings at Swift are presented from a pulpit imported from Dublin, from the very cathedral in which Jonathan Swift presented sermons. It is a wonderful experience to be at Swift for one of Simon's incomparable performances. Simon's commentaries on his readings are peerless. He is brilliant. Simon is a world-class scholar and a great performer of literature.


The Drunken Odyssey
An excellent podcast about "the writerly life" is the weekly orgy of literary delectation, "The Drunken Odyssey." "The Drunken Odyssey" is the brainchild of writer, boon companion, and charismatic professor John King, who teaches at Full Sail University in Florida. John has a particularly good reader in his stable of performers who record for him, so...lend John your ear and attend to words, the pleasure they can provide, and what it means to be a writer. Given my personal literary taste, I find last June's Bloomsday podcast particularly useful as an intro to the masterpiece of the master of the masters. :-)


Books in the library at Trinity College in Dublin.
If any of you are interested in attending poetry in the area, there is a Facebook page that announces many events in the area: Voices of Poetry. These events are usually, at least in part, open readings, so you might enjoy the opportunity to step up to read your own work. That can be a good experience.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Words matter, and learning about things not already in your frame of reference matters. Here is an example:
Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin

And, in the spirit of the season, as Gov. Walker sees it, let me wish all of you Molotov!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

In case some of you adhere to a traditional misunderstanding, science can be profoundly touching and poetic. Here is one of my all-time favorite cartoons, and my favorite from the series of science-based commentaries, "xkcd":

This is a combination of image, idea, and words. The effect is deeply touching and thought-provoking. There is less to the world without your "philosophy", Horatio!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Viewing a degree as a commodity to be bought with minimal effort and negligible mental fatigue can reward a person with an M.A., a J.D., a career as a lawyer, then as a judge, and then as a long-time member of Congress. But Louie Gohmert is not a good role model, kids.

Education Is Not a Commodity I

So many times this semester, it has been hammered home to me that education is viewed as a commodity to be purchased. That disheartens me somewhat, but I am not entirely discouraged. The reason is this: You are all young. Ideas that have been scored into your life-assumptions can still be modified, corrected, or removed.

You are used to the idea that when you go to a store you purchase an item you want; when you go to a restaurant you pay for the food you want; when you hire a person to do a service, such as auto repair or house-painting, the result is what you have paid for and if it is not to your satisfaction you complain.

So your assumption is that school is the same way. You pay for it, and at the end you receive a diploma, which is a chit to be cashed in in the form of better employment. Along the way to the diploma, you are given grades, which are more valuable if higher.

Ah. And there's the rub. You have to work for the item you want to purchase. And it is not easy.

Getting an education is difficult. Going to the store is not! But education is difficult. You have to read--which so many of you have done too little of, to now--and you have to write, and you have to pass tests. The writing is easy if you are texting to friends. But college weights it down with far more demanding requirements than you are used to. A higher quality of expression, a deeper understanding of what you write about, a larger body of information retained. And you don't have the background to slip into it natively. You are not used to such laborious expenditure, particularly for an end that is distant and...really...the benefit unseen.

So, for many students, the response is to resent the work and those who assign it.

But education is NOT a commodity. It is a task that you should take on yourself, and it should be a duty for your lifetime--learning should never stop. Writing well is a wonderful skill. Reading well is another. Apart from math, these are the two most important skills that you might develop, because all other learning and opportunity might arise from them. And--this should not be overlooked--a great deal of pleasure and personal enrichment.

I have repeatedly made a plea to both classes this semester: Read. Please. From the end of the semester, when your work is finished, to the beginning of the next...read. Eschew television and social media escapes. Think of reading as brushing and mental floss and weight-training all in one for the brain.

Reading is a skill. It will improve with increased use. Don't short-change yourself! An unaccustomed intensive excursion into the life of the mind will stand you in good stead when the next semester starts. You will read with more ease, and your reading comprehension will be more fluent and deft.

Try it.

You will see.

Monday, December 8, 2014

"'Ullo, 'Ullo, 'Ullo! Wot's All This, Then?" [First Post!]

This new blog will be a place to chat with students, and perhaps even for students to cross-pollenate their thinking. Subjects will include--but not be limited to--grammar, literature, topical readings, and reading lists.