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Fanciful Etymologies

Sep 22, 2011
The word “sincere” was often thought to derive from the Latin “sine cera” or “without wax” and was thought to refer to the adulteration of marble by unscrupulous Romans. Hence Ezra Pound, “We have a word ‘sincere’, said to date from the Roman luxury trade in fake marble” (“Confucius and Mencius,” Selected Prose: 1909-1965, [New York: New Directions, 1973]: 84). The OED notes that this has “no probability,” but it’s easy enough to see why it appealed to Pound, who was very concerned about the adulteration of all things in the present age.

Running with the Devil

Jun 3, 2009
I’ve been intermittently reading Richard Posner’s judicial opinions. They have been less witty and piquant than I had been expecting, but there are moments. Consider his decision to retell this, for example: James Gilles (“Brother Jim”) […] is a traveling evangelist–the latest in a line of Christian itinerant preachers stretching back to Saint Paul and prominent in Methodism in nineteenth-century America. Born near Vincennes, Gilles gives the following account of his salvation.

Dylan As Singer

Mar 19, 2009
I have a tin ear, and I once, remembering this opinion of Donald Fagen’s, played “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” for a date skeptical, let us say, of this: An astounding record. You get to hear on this what a fantastic singer he was. His range, which now, as far as I can tell, has reduced to a perfect fifth, used to be enormous. He starts very high on the verse and then drops an octave in about a second and sounds like he’s doing a duet with himself.

Mood Testing

Dec 23, 2008
It’s pretty easy to tell if I’m in a sentimental mood when I’m listening to music on my computer. If the Arcade Fire song “Intervention” comes up and I don’t skip it when he gets to the line about “working for the church,” then the natural lights of the season or something have gotten to me. I then sometimes read the reviews in The Yearbook of English Studies to get my edge back, if needed.

An Assignment

Nov 27, 2008
My sense is that the worldspirit has passed the genre* by, but I think that it would be a passable exercise to ask students in a first-year literature course to identify the rhetorical figures in the Old 97s song “House That Used to Be.” *Left deliberately ambiguous as to whether it is the genre of assignment or of “alt-country” that I mean.

Music Notes

Jul 13, 2008
I’ve been suffering under the delusion for days now that Jackson Browne’s album Lawyers in Love was in fact the soundtrack to the film Legal Eagles, which I think I thought was titled as above. I remember seeing Legal Eagles in the theater, though I don’t think any of us knew that it was a thinly veiled retelling of the goings-on surrounding the Mark Rothko estate or that an alternate ending with Darryl Hannah convicted of one murder shows even to this day on syndicated television stations across the land.

From the Onion

Sep 10, 2007
“Coming in at an exhausting 7,000 years long, music is weighed down by a few too many mid- tempo tunes, most notably ‘Liebesträume No. 3 in A flat’ by Franz Liszt and ‘Closing Time’ by ‘90s alt-rock group Semisonic,” Schreiber wrote. “In the end, though music can be brilliant at times, the whole medium comes off as derivative of Pavement.” That reminds me that I’ve been mulling over “The secondary stumbles because the cadence of the count has led them astray; pray their intuition leads them crashing into bodies in a perfect way.

The Antiquarian

Jun 28, 2007
“In every New England town library, there is likely to be an ancient Puritan virgin, shriveled and dried in the snows of sixty Massachuetts [sic] winters and suitably shrouded in black bombazine, who has been at work for the past twenty years on the story of her home town from 1633 to 1933, when Franklin Roosevelt was inaugurated and history came to an end” (Fischer, David Hackett. Historians’ Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought.

Caught up in the Action

Apr 7, 2007
I’ve been cursed. I cannot exorcise Glenn Frey’s “The Heat Is On.” I found it on youtube, this video from a more innocent era where it was modish to wear white sneakers with jeans and a sports coat, and played it for Clancy, who loved it. Now, as I’ve been composing a paper all day on the uses of some new literary theory, it haunts me. I’m always interested in people’s opinion of The Eagles and their ejecta (“heat,” remember).


Apr 1, 2007
When we drove home from Florence and emerged from the Mordor mists of western North Carolina, I heard a song on the UNC-Asheville campus radio station, which I quickly glossed for the Clancerian audience as one of these cheeky young bands who try to emulate, as it were, the AOR/ADR/DMSCA/PSCDWEEF/ (examine Christgau for explications) sound of various seventies enthusiasts. The fey whiskeyboned dj soon told us it was from the Marshall Tucker corpus—A New Life, I believe.

Satie's Gnossiennes Aren't Depressing

Mar 3, 2007
Contrary to what Clancy just told me while shutting my door. They are chemical wedding happy. I would like to have a comprehensive listing of every film that’s used them or the Gymnopedies in the background. The Royal Tenenbaums comes immediately to mind. Here’s a partial list. I’m reading, among other things, M. John Harrison’s Viriconium (with an introduction by Neil Gaiman in which he mentions buying a copy of the Codex Seraphinianus and refers to the panel I reproduced a while ago).


Jan 22, 2006
I’m very lazy about changing a CD in my car stereo unless I’m on a long drive. I think I once listened, as Clancy can attest, to Blonde on Blonde (mind you a scratched-copy with “Visions of Johanna”–the “all night long we sang that stupid song” from “Dr. Wu”–unplayable) for at least a month’s worth of driving. I’m coming up on a month now with The Harder They Come. Even thought about playing the first track as a way of explaining my grading policy.

Danish Break-Dancing

Mar 25, 2005
An early and definitive source is Lisbet Torp’s “‘Hip Hop Dances’: Their Adoption and Function among Boys in Denmark from 1983-84.” Yearbook for Traditional Music. 18 (1986): 29-36.

A Snippet

Dec 7, 2004
“People who sing create the thing that causes cowardice. And when a person spends his time in singing he loses his time.” (qtd. in William Vollmann’s “Across the Divide: What do the Afghan people think of the Taliban?” New Yorker, 5/15/2000). I should also note that Vollmann, in his preface to Rising Up and Rising Down notes that he wrote a commissioned piece for the New Yorker datelined 9/11/02 from Yemen which “was turned down for not being political enough.