Les mains d’Elsa

Apr 03 2011


Louis Aragon (1935), l’auteur du poème « Les mains d’Elsa »

Une correspondante québécoise m’a recommandé le poème ci-dessous, interprété par le chanteur Marc Ogeret. C’est très beau, je trouve; et l’interprétation d’Ogeret coupe le souffle, mais il y a une faute de transcription, je crois. La phrase « S’y brise » doit être « S’y taise ». (Voir ici, la dernière strophe.) Aragon est né 1897 et est mort 1982. Il était communiste, jusqu’aux révélations de Krouchtchev en 1953 concernant les crimes de Staline. Il était surréaliste aussi. En fait, selon Wikipedia anglais, il avait traduit « The hunting of the snark » de Lewis Carroll en 1929, « shortly before he completed his transition from Snarxism to Marxism ».

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Depression Before Spring

Mar 21 2011

"Slow Spring", a photo taken in Edmonton on March 20th, 2011

"Slow Spring", a photo taken in Edmonton on March 20th

March 21st, the first day of spring

This factoid about official calendars, that they date the beginning of spring as March 21st, never fails to amuse Edmontonians. But maybe some optimism about the advent of spring is warranted, as the birdsong today seemed unusually lively.

To celebrate our `slow spring’, I offer Wallace Stevens’s little poem about, if you will, cow spittle and birdsong. There is a Wikipedia commentary here.

Depression Before Spring

The cock crows
But no queen rises.

The hair of my blonde
Is dazzling,
As the spittle of cows
Threading the wind.

Ho! Ho!

But ki-ki-ri-ki
Brings no rou-cou,
No rou-cou-cou.

But no queen comes
In slipper green.

And here is a hymn to the beauty of the world.

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barbaric, unacceptable, or flat wrong?

Mar 17 2011

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Liberal MP Justin Trudeau is being pilloried in the Canadian press for objecting to the term “barbaric” as used to describe practices such as female circumcision, recommending the less pejorative term “unacceptable”. Both sides reject the view that such practices are neither barbaric nor wrong, but simply different, a view that  Philosophy considers under such rubrics as cultural relativism, which in various guises has enjoyed a vogue in recent years, especially in the academy. Ronald Dworkin wrote his  essay “Objectivity and Truth” in the mid-nineties, in order to confront Richard Rorty’s neo-pragmatic formulation of relativism. We are discussing that essay in PHIL 382 in connection with Dworkin’s critique in Justice In Robes of Rorty-style jurisprudence. By reference to Dworkin’s view, I want to suggest that neither Trudeau nor his critics get the issue quite right. Trudeau’s preference for the term “unacceptable” implies that what is wrong with the practices in question is that we dislike them, whereas the point is that what’s wrong with them is that they are wrong, period. As for those who favor the term “barbaric”, they cross over from properly making the point about wrongness to gratuitously casting aspersions on a culture. So they too miss the target. Two cheers for Trudeau and as many for his critics, and three cheers for Dworkin.

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argument and information

Mar 07 2011


Bradley Manning and Julian Assange

Ronald Dworkin has argued persuasively in Is Democracy Possible Here? and elsewhere that societies like ours should have a greater commitment to reasoned argumentation about political affairs, argumentation  broadly understood in the fashion associated with the philosophical tradition that he represents. Especially political argument must be grounded in facts, for otherwise it is either empty or, if informed by misinformation, blind: blinded by falsehoods. Those who take part in Dworkin-style political argument must benefit from as much transparency as possible, understood as availability of facts relevant to the debate, on pain of its being empty or blind. That is why Cablegate and its agents — notably the source of facts, Bradley Manning, and the purveyor, Julian Assange and Wikileaks — are so important.  The value of these facts should not be obscured by real or imagined defects in the character of these men or by apparently ill-founded fears for lives that might have been put at risk by the revelations. For their contribution to Dworkin’s ideal political debate, they should be deemed to be among the leading heroes of our times. The jailing, arguably the torture, of Manning is a great wrong. The legal harassment of Assange is deeply suspect.

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Je t’aime… Moi Non Plus

Feb 27 2011

Serge Gainsbourg

Serge Gainsbourg

Le stéréotype d’un chanteur français dans l’optique d’un étranger ?

Chantée avec Jane Birkin, sa chanson « Je t’aime… Moi Non Plus » a provoqué une scandale. On entend parler que cette chanson fut interdite à l’époque par le Pape, sans parler du BBC. Gainsbourg s’est créé l’image d’un poète maudit et provocateur. Il s’est marié plusieurs fois et il a eu beaucoup d’enfants, parmi eux l’actrice Charlotte Gainsbourg, dont la mère était  Jane Birkin. Son ivrognerie publique est légendaire. Selon Wikipedia, il a souffert d’un sentiment de rejet et de l’image « que lui renvoyait son miroir : celle d’un homme que l’on qualifiait de laid.» De plus, « les critiques, cruelles, se moquent de ses grandes oreilles et de son nez proéminent. » Par contre, il savait comment séduire des jolies femmes et chantait des chansons attirantes.

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The Dog of the South

Feb 26 2011

Charles Portis's novel

Charles Portis's novel

Some good reviews of this book led me to pick it up over Reading Week, or rather I downloaded it from Amazon on my Kindle. My first sustained reading experience on this newfangled e-reader, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The book made me smile from beginning to end. Your mileage may vary, but I think Portis is a very funny writer. I read his True Grit years ago. It was a different kind of effort and left me unprepared for this picaresque tale filled with more or less bizarre Heartland characters, like the less-bizarre protagonist, Ray Midge, whose wife has run off with another man, and the more-bizarre Dr. Symes (off-the-chart bizarre, really), who accompanies Midge as he tracks the wife down in order to get his car back. I am now a fan, so I am contemplating the remainder of his œuvre: Norwood, Masters of Atlantis, and Gringos. If they are as good as The Dog of the South, I have a lot of smiling to look forward to. Also I think the Kindle is pretty cool.

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La peau d’Élisa

Feb 15 2011


Holly Turner à L’Uni Théâtre, jouant le rôle d’Élisa

Samedi soir, j’ai assisté à une pièce de théâtre qui m’a coupé le souffle. Celle est intitulée  La peau d’Élisa, tirée d’un texte élégant par Carol Fréchette. Presque un monologue, cette pièce présente Holly Turner dans le rôle d’Élisa, dans lequel  elle est extraordinaire. Plus tôt cette soirée-là, nous avons soupé, mes amis français Thibault Dambrine et Jean Dumoulin et moi, au restaurant Le Bistro à La Cité Francophone, où mon amie Vivien Bosley a soupé en même temps avec ses amies. À la pièce, nous trois  nous avons assis en premier rang avec mon étudiant Edward Hayman. Après, je suis tombé sur Ted Fulcher, une ancre du groupe ManuLife dont je fais partie. (Holly est l’autre ancre.)  En tout, c’était une fête inoubliable.

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Gratulacje, Bart i Miranda!

Feb 07 2011

The MozART Group

The MozART Group

This blog celebrates the imminent nuptials of Bartlomiej Andrzej Lenart and Miranda Koshelek with this link to the MozART Group, sent to me by a friend who plays classical violin. The group’s Polish provenance is not alien to the betrothed couple. Bart is a stellar doctoral student of Philosophy here.

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What is a good life?

Jan 26 2011


Dworkin has recently published an essay in NYRB, drawing on his new book, Justice For Hedghogs. It’s entitled “What is a good life?

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Pleurez, oiseaux de février

Jan 21 2011

Émile Nelligan (1879-1941)

Émile Nelligan (1879-1941)

Un poème choisi par mon étudiant Michael Peterson

Michael explique: “Voici, finalement, une poème d’Émile Nelligan. Il nait a Montréal, en 1879, et est interné a l’age de 20 ans, à la demande de ses parents (en sécondaire, on m’a appris que c’était son père). Il meurt en 1941.”

Soir d’hiver

Ah! comme la neige a neigé!
Ma vitre est un jardin de givre.
Ah! comme la neige a neigé!
Qu’est-ce que le spasme de vivre
A la douleur que j’ai, que j’ai.

Tous les étangs gisent gelés,
Mon âme est noire! Où-vis-je? où vais-je?
Tous ses espoirs gisent gelés:
Je suis la nouvelle Norvège
D’où les blonds ciels s’en sont allés.
Pleurez, oiseaux de février,
Au sinistre frisson des choses,
Pleurez oiseaux de février,
Pleurez mes pleurs, pleurez mes roses,
Aux branches du genévrier.

Ah! comme la neige a neigé!
Ma vitre est un jardin de givre.
Ah! comme la neige a neigé!
Qu’est-ce que le spasme de vivre
A tout l’ennui que j’ai, que j’ai…

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