I’m getting further behind, aren’t I? *sigh* And wait until you see April’s recap, when I get that one written (hopefully I’ll be motivated to get it done during the break). After the jump, reactions to Joyeux Noel, Where the Truth Lies, The Lookout, All About My Mother, Langston Hughes’s autobiographies, Zora Neale Hurston’s first novel, The Eight by Katherine Neville, and more!
Well, I think my presentation of my Langston Hughes paper went pretty well yesterday, so I’m going to go ahead and post it. And also plug a new site that just opened from private beta, called Scribd. It’s basically a site for you to upload documents, and it displays them in Flashpaper, and allows downloads as .pdf, .doc, and even converts to .mp3. I’m not wholly convinced that this is a needed service, since documents are so easy to upload pretty much anywhere, but the conversion to different file types is nice (would work as an online .pdf converter, in fact, if you don’t have one), as is the Flashpaper display. I also like that you can embed documents in the Flashpaper player (because I’m a huge fan of embedding everything). Like this:
So it could be that this does fill a useful niche, though I doubt it will ever take off like YouTube or Odeo or Flickr. Right now the site’s servers are pretty slammed, though, because it’s getting press from TechCrunch and other Web2.0 trackers, so converting is really slow ATM. Anyway, it’s an interesting entry into the Web2.0 space, so I thought I’d mention it.
While I’m mentioning things to do with .pdfs, I need to return for a moment to my PDF Rant from a couple of weeks ago, because I actually found a .pdf reader that does what I need to do. I mentioned that Foxit Reader let me do some annotation, but I gave it short shrift. After poking around in the menus for a while, I found additional toolbars that let me add comments, arrows, even a “typewriter” tool that puts the comments directly on top of the .pdf. (The comment tool puts a marker box that you have to click to see the comment.) The highlighter tools still don’t work if the document is a scanned copy as opposed to OCRed text, but you can work around that by using drawing tools around the part you want to highlight. It’s still not IDEAL, but until people quit using DRM, it’s passable.
And while I’m mentioning things with websites, I must transfer my anger from .pdfs to Blogger. Not too much anger, because I don’t have to use it very often, since I gave up using it as my blogging platform a long time ago. But I would like just once, JUST ONCE, to be able to leave a comment on someone’s blogger blog without having to type in the verification code MULTIPLE TIMES. Note that I don’t have a problem with the verification code. It’s a very good idea to have it. But there’s some sort of bug or something in blogger, because every single time I leave a comment, I type in my comment, type in the verification code, hit “post comment” and it pops up with red text telling me to enter the verification code. I DID! And so I do it again. Sometimes it works this time, but often I have to do it AGAIN. Google, the last upgrade to blogger fixed a lot of things, and added a lot of helpful functionality. But the comments are still broken! (Also, I dislike the fact that posting comments opens a second window instead of just doing it all on the same page, but that’s an aesthetic choice, I guess.)
My European Romanticism professor had an interesting anecdote today. This is not an unusual occurrence–he has many, many wonderful anecdotes. There should be a book of just his anecdotes. This isn’t even one of his more intriguing anecdotes, actually. But we were talking about how German Romantics theorize about poetry a lot, but don’t actually write very much, as opposed to English Romantics, who write a ton of poetry, and theorize about it less. And the professor brought up this time when he was in a class in Europe, somewhere (I missed the beginning of the story), and the other students were from scattered places around Europe–England, France, Germany, Netherlands, you get the picture. Anyway, for some reason, they got on the same topic–why the English write poetry and the Germans write ABOUT poetry. Just by way of demonstration, he asked us to raise our hands if we’d ever attempted to write poetry, whether or not we even showed it to anybody or thought it was good or anything. Every single hand went up. Including mine. And he said that was typical among English-speakers. However, when he mentioned that to this German guy in his anecdote, the German guy was totally shocked at the idea of having tried to write poetry. Apparently it never occurred to him or his countrymen to do it. We didn’t come to any conclusions as to why this might be. But it’s interesting.
I especially find it interesting that, yes, I had to raise my hand. I don’t consider myself any sort of a fiction/poetry writer now. I just don’t think I’m creative in that way. But I once wrote a poem about a movie I liked, when I was about twelve. And I wrote some haiku last week. Yes. Last week. I like writing haiku, oddly enough, though I’ve only done it a few times. It’s very tightly structured and it’s all about capturing a single moment. And I like that. Now, it wasn’t good haiku, of course–making only 12-17 syllables (depending on who you listen to about how to write English-language haiku) really meaningful is harder than it sounds. But here’s one from the park on Saturday:
Warmed by the sun,
A squirrel sleeping.
I’d never seen a squirrel asleep before. But there he was, in the crook of a branch. I thought he was dead or something, except I guess he would’ve fallen off, but then his head moved just a bit. I watched him for probably ten minutes. He woke up then, and started checking out other branches on the tree, but it was funny–like he wasn’t fully awake yet. He’d go to a different branch and sit there perfectly still for a few minutes, then crawl up to another branch. No running, no jumping. I went back to reading, and the next time I looked up, he was gone.
I’m still not too enamoured of Romantic poetry (although we read a great one by Victor Hugo today, where he compares his revolution of using natural language in poetry with the French Revolution; really funny), but I’m totally all about Langston Hughes, who we’re reading in the Harlem Renaissance class. I misspoke a few days ago when I said he was “pretty communist.” He was never a member of the Communist Party. However, he was “pretty leftist” for a while. A lot of his 1930s poems are very proletarian and radically revolutionary. But they’re very powerful and resonant…and for that time in history, it’s really not surprising. There were a TON of Communists running around in the 1930s, and Hughes, for example, seems to have been interested in Communism mostly because of its promises of racial equality (and also economic equality; the two issues were very closely intertwined for him), and because he was so very against fascism, especially after being a war correspondent in the Spanish Civil War. Anyway. I keep feeling like I have to defend him, because I really love his writing (his prose is really good too), even when I don’t necessarily agree with his politics. And anyway, I’m a little bit of the position that in theory, communism would be a good plan, if only this dad-blamed original sin didn’t get in the way. But it does, so that’s that.
I’ve been working on a paper about Hughes (and, yes, his leftist poetry), and we all know what working on papers means. Procrastinating through playing with WordPress themes! But not on this blog. Or not yet. I’m really, really close to switching, but the one I’ve got in mind is a four-column theme, and will thus require lots of modding to get all my sidebar elements properly placed. Over spring break perhaps. But I’ve been sort of on-again, off-again playing with using WordPress as a Content Management Solution (or System? I know it’s CMS, but I’m not sure what it stands for…) at wordpress.the-frame.com (I know, creative subdomain, right? Told you I wasn’t creative), and have turned it into a sort of mini-anthology of Stuff I Like. Which now includes several Langston Hughes poems. There will almost certainly be more, once I’ve read the rest of the Collected Poems, which will be tomorrow night. After the final paper is turned in. But you should go check out the Hughes poems I’ve got up there so far. Most of these are from the 1930s, so several have strong leftist content. Also, they’re decidedly not politically correct for our time period. Just so’s you know. Some of his poems work better with explanation, so if you’re going “Whoa, how can she like THAT?” ask me and I’ll tell you the history behind it. (Hey, I want the three biographies I read to be good for something!)
I spent the afternoon reading Langston Hughes poems (for a paper I have to write in two weeks), and wow. He’s apparently pretty Communist. Interesting. But then there’s this great anti-academic one (Hughes went to Columbia for a while, but hated it):
He never was a silly little boy
Who whispered in the class or threw spit balls,
Or pulled the hair of silly little girls,
Or disobeyed in any way the laws
That made the school a place of decent order
Where books were read and sums were proven true
And paper maps that showed the land and water
Were held up as the real wide world to you.
Always, he kept his eyes upon his books:
And now he has grown to be a man
He is surprised that everywhere he looks
Life rolls in waves he cannot understand,
And all the human world is vast and strange–
And quite beyond his Ph.D.’s small range.
Remember when I used to be all about academia? Heh. Don’t get me wrong, education is great, and I love it, and I love school, and I love taking classes…but there’s a limit.