Thursday, March 27, 2008

You and me both, kid

Okay, entries have been a little thin this semester. Part of it's busyness, of course, but part of it is that I've been so much more enamored of others' words than my own. Lately, I've been encountering songs, poems, people, etc., that remind me of something either deep or superficial. This has always happened; it just seems more concentrated lately. On the superficial level, for example, a guy who looks just like my friend Andrew asked me for directions in front of MIT today. In the thick of my indexing project, I read the poem "Above the Oxbow" for probably the first time since I was thirteen and had no idea about the Summit House and the Connecticut River Valley, where the poem takes place - now those places are dear to me and already in the past.

I also keep coming across these phrases and songs that resonate with me on a very specific level. Sometimes it's in Sylvia Plath's journals; just before a birthday, for instance, she vows to herself to enter her second quarter-century in Boston and to live "to the hilt." (Here in Boston, I turn twenty-five soon.) Then there are the songs that have appeared on the radio and All Songs Considered, that I never heard before and made it onto my latest playlist: "Bottle Up and Explode!" by Elliott Smith, "Gray or Blue" by Jaymay, "To Be Alive and Alone" by Troubled Hubble.

The title of this post, however, comes from a line (which I think is correct; I consulted the resident expert) from a song to which I cannot stop listening: "Failsafe" by the New Pornographers. I realized I didn't really know what the word means, so (being me) I went to the OED, which describes it as a situation in which something "revert[s], in the event of failure or breakdown, to a condition involving no danger." Failure, basically, that is still failure, but causes a minimum of harm to all involved. It's an appropriate goal for me.

I don't know how to embed a sound file, and I couldn't find a video of the New Pornographers singing this song, but below is a version by the Choir Practice, which is the first version of the song I heard anyway.

I just have to say one more thing, because Clare said I should put it on the blog, and she's right. I just want to say that I am not making fun of the girl in the story; I just thought what she said was funny. Last week I was at the reference desk, and a student came in asking how to get to articles online. I asked her what databases she'd been using, and she said, "Someone told me a really good one was JSTOR." But she pronounced it "j'stor," like "je t'aime." It was, you know, the wrong emphasis on the wrong syllable. Which people like me find hilarious.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Sitting between Gutenberg and Confucius

I am blogging to you live - not from anywhere terribly exciting like SXSW or anything - but from the Bates Hall Reading Room at the Boston Public Library. After lunch downtown, I made myself come here and do a Power Point (ugh) for a presentation I have to do next week. Even the Simmons library is somewhat distracting at this point. This is the quietest place I know. Somehow, in this large urban library where there is often noise and chaos within and without, in this room people are serious about their reduction of distraction. There is no talking or eating or even loud typing. Also, it's beautiful. It's one of those rooms with names of authors and artists and philosophers engraved in gold around the ceiling...the title reflects where I'm sitting. I don't have a camera with me, so an image from somewhere else will have to, looking at it while being here is so postmodern. Also, depending on where I get a job, I may not be in Boston in a couple of months, so I thought I should hit my favorite places before graduation.

Here it is:

Monday, March 10, 2008

Indexing, the art of

Sorry it's been a little while. Spring break started on Friday, and I took much of the weekend to give myself a psychic rest before jumping back into work (both employment and school).

The big project I'm working on this semester (for subject analysis) is a subject index to the collected poems of Sylvia Plath. I spent the first two weeks or so doing background reading, including a book by G. Norman Knight called Indexing, The Art of. The title should give you some idea of the author's approach...this guy is serious about his indexing, and his indexing jokes. There are some pretty amazing metaphors, like, “Subheadings are the vassals of their headings and should always…have a close connexion with their lords and masters" (p. 54).

A few pages earlier, he writes, “In a ‘literary’ index…such elaborate headings add a certain attractiveness, and an index in narrative form can indeed become readable and in parts even exciting” (46). Hopefully, that's what this index will amalgamation of what critic, poet, and indexer have to say about these poems.

And I forgot how good these poems are; I haven't read the whole book through since I first acquired it...I think for my fourteenth birthday, but I could be wrong. Take this stanza from the middle of "Tale of a Tub," which articulates so well the impossibility of escaping physical reality:

We take the plunge; under water our limbs
waver, faintly green, shuddering away
from the genuine color of skin; can our dreams
ever blur the intransigent lines which draw
the shape that shuts us in? absolute fact
intrudes even when the revolted eye
is closed; the tub exists behind our back:
its glittering surfaces are blank and true.

Looking back on this post, it's a little self-important and academic. Sorry about that; I'm getting all English major-y again with this project. I'm also producing poems at a much higher rate than I ever have while being in school (and not in a poetry workshop class): about concerts, the leap year, and the hallway at MIT called "the infinite corridor," among other things.

Quotations come from....
Knight, G. Norman. Indexing, The Art of. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1979.

Plath, Sylvia. The Collected Poems. New York: HarperPerennial, 1992.