Austin Ratner

February 15, 2017  |  No Comments

Unlike J.M. Barrie or A.A. Milne, Lewis Carroll grants no asylum to wistful acknowledgements that childhood must come to an end. The lost laughter of childhood needn’t be lost forever. Read more about Lewis Carroll’s nonsense humor at TheMillions.

February 2, 2016  |  No Comments

Irish playwright Seán O’Casey called him “the jesting poet with a radiant star in his coxcomb.” Eugene O’Neill asked him to name his children. James Joyce asked him to complete ‘Finnegans Wake’ should Joyce himself go blind. He published plays, novels, stories, and poems, including a series of them in The New Yorker in 1929, … Read More

January 18, 2016  |  No Comments

When William Faulkner arrived in Stockholm to receive his Nobel prize for literature he supposedly declared his occupation as “farmer.” (Inge p. 122) Which raises a question—what kind of farmer describes a road “heavy with sixty days of dust, the roadside undergrowth coated with heat-vulcanised dust … [standing] at perpendicular’s absolute in some old dead … Read More

January 11, 2016  |  No Comments

Parallax

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner / Ulysses by James Joyce

The great modernists did not share postmodernists’ suspicion of science. Leopold Bloom, for example, the protagonist of James Joyce’s Ulysses, has physics concepts banging around in his head that reflect Joyce’s genuine curiosity about new discoveries in astronomy and other fields. In the Ithaca chapter of Ulysses, Bloom points out constellations in the night sky, … Read More

January 4, 2016  |  No Comments

William Faulkner, the colossus of American modernism who often said he wrote “to depict the human heart in conflict with itself,” was not an overtly political writer, but I know what he would have made of our latest national demagogue, Donald Trump. Faulkner knew a redneck when he saw one and Trump is a redneck, even … Read More

May 25, 2015  |  No Comments

When I was in medical school, a GI surgeon opened a lecture with a statement I’m sure has never been uttered before or since. “I have a confession to make,” he said with a weird grin. “I love infected pancreatic necrosis.” This surgeon, who so enjoyed the debridement of dead pancreas, had an infamous temper … Read More

May 20, 2015  |  No Comments

Paysannes: Madame Bovary Part III

“The Solitary Reaper” by William Wordsworth / Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

What’s the difference between a work of art and a dream? Legendary literary critic Jacques Barzun gives a concise and convincing answer: “the difference between a work of art and a dream is precisely this, that the work of art leads us back to the outer reality by taking account of it.” (Quoted by Lionel … Read More

May 14, 2015  |  No Comments

Flaubert shows the reader early on that Madame Bovary’s flight from one place to another brings her no relief, for her complaint is with no particular place but the universe itself. She runs like a rat in a maze, finding each new place as damned and disappointingly real as the one before. She can’t stop … Read More

May 1, 2015  |  No Comments

In 2006 David Foster Wallace wrote in the New York Times Magazine that you can appreciate tennis great Roger Federer even more “if you’ve played enough tennis to understand the impossibility of what you just saw him do.” I feel that way about Gustave Flaubert. It’s possible that you have to have worked as a … Read More

April 25, 2015  |  No Comments

A number of the heavy-weights of Roman literature were freed slaves. Terence, for example, was an African slave, brought to Rome by a senator. His master became impressed with his literary talent and, insensitive to the demotion in quality of life and pay it would mean, freed him from slavery to become a playwright. Horace, … Read More

March 31, 2015  |  1 Comment

It was a magnetic Israeli poet-warrior who, during my second visit to Israel, thrust The Little Prince into my hands. He declared it his favorite book with an absolute conviction that, it must be said, characterized a large number of his statements. On the other hand the book obviously spoke to him personally and individually—so … Read More

May 28, 2014  |  No Comments

English comedienne Katy Brand is by no means alone in her view that Mr. Darcy of Pride and Prejudice “is still the ultimate English sex symbol.” Last year, in the wake of Fifty Shades of Grey, an erotic fiction publisher in fact looked to profit from the latent sexual energy in Jane Austen’s novels by … Read More

May 21, 2014  |  No Comments

In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, the pompous, foolish clergyman Mr. Collins proposes marriage twice to two different women in a matter of days. The reactions he gets chart two different possibilities that at one time hung before Jane Austen herself. Heroine Elizabeth Bennett turns him down and afterwards Austen makes one of many funny commentaries on Mr. … Read More

February 24, 2014  |  1 Comment

As a recent article about skiing and climate change attests, poets have always been fascinated by snow. Eskimos, it is often said, have many words for the stuff. But what would the poets call the thick, hard substance spackling the cobblestones of Brooklyn’s Old Fulton Street last weekend? Maybe the Eskimo would look and say, … Read More

September 30, 2013  |  No Comments

Last March, an archaeological survey in Japan turned up a 16-inch unexploded artillery shell near a bullet train track in north Tokyo. The trains were stopped in early June so the Japanese army could dispose of it. Such incidents are normal in post-war Japan; tons of unexploded ordnance are discovered and removed every year there and it’s … Read More

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