John Williams’ “Stoner,” an Academic Novel Review

dreamstime_8445313testAn academic novel, assuredly but it feels like Dreiser, too.  William Stoner is not a tragic hero, but his pathos is poignant.  Stoner hails from the country around Booneville, Missouri, where he was born into a rugged, hard-working farm family in 1891.  He works the land with his parents, but finds his way to the agricultural college at the University of Missouri just down the road.  Thanks to a required course, Stoner discovers English literature and unbeknownst to his parents changes his field. His uncomprehending parents accept this change which will only increase their own drudgery.

Stoner, after the callouses of field work are gone, discovers a new kind of drudgery as his own indiscreet behavior causes Hollis Lomax, a vindictive department head to condemn him to a taxing schedule of undergraduate courses and relentless grading of freshman composition.  By this time he has become a senior professor and by tradition should be working with doctoral students.  Like his stoical father back on the farm, Stoner bears up, but the opportunity for pav back does come for Stoner.

The farmer’s son makes a very bad marriage to a banker’s daughter, a mean, selfish, frigid  princess.  Again, Stoner suffers her cruelty stoically compensated only by his love for his daughter.  A beautiful affair with a young teacher brings him joy for a time.

Williams places Stoner into the very realistic world of academic politics as accurate today as in the early 20th century.  Ultimately professors have jobs to do like everyone else.  There is nothing really special about being a professor.  If Stoner is a hero, it is not because he completes with glory an agenda of Herculean tasks.  It is because he meets despair and death with stoicism that touches the sublime.

David Millken

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Atheist, Agnostic, Deist, Spiritualist: Love

dreamstime_8445313testI know I am not an atheist.  To say that God doesn’t exist is like saying God does exist  I mean in terms of rational logic and scientific proof.  Enough people have tried and failed for me to regard the debate as entertainment. I do know that both the rational and non-rational exist.

Take a novel like Moby Dick.  Reason and rationality are not Captain Ahab’s best traits. A huge white whale is not an evil.  Yet Moby Dick is full of truth and falsehood, brotherhood and hate — pretty much empirical realities of this world.  The clash of both, too, is real.  Compulsive obsession is there, too.

The agnostic takes no stand regarding the existence of God, neither denies or affirms.  In the terms of mere reason I can buy this view.  Don’t presume to know where logical knowing is impossible.  The deist and his notion that God made a clock, wound it up, set it on a shelf and then walked off is fiction.  One can believe in a fiction. Fiction can tell the truth.

In a non-institutional sense spirituality works best for me — so long as I don’t turn it into an -ism.  There’s plenty of spirituality in every major religion of the world, plenty of spirit in art where music, poetry, painting, and fiction can evoke awe and wonder, beauty and sublimity.  They can lift us to the very brink of belief in Something beyond our material world.  It’s here that I go to Keats and his idea of Negative Capability, the idea that all we need to know is truth, beauty.  But we must not force either into some simple notion given us by fact and reason alone or some dogma.  And that means science, too.  We shouldn’t worship Imagination either.  Best to listen to the heart and keep our wits about us.  What’s more irrational than Love?

Steadfast and cautious,

David Milliken

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The Tortoise Factor has a New Look and Feel.

dreamstime_12228042-50x50-2.jpgBecause I loved the teal look and my little sea tortoise(above) swimming to the light above the sea’s surface, I found it difficult to change my header..  Tortoise is on the beach now and the tones are earthy.  Now, I really like the tracks of other tortoises who have left their trail in the sand and the youngster who is making new tracks.  And this time there are two humans in the scene.  I think the image invites a lot of thought and feeling..  Comments appreciated.  What do you think the humans are discussing?

Steadfast and cautious,

David Milliken

 

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Upon Finding My Father’s Masonic Bible: Fulness of Joy

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I’ve often ventured down behind the furnace where I’ve stashed a lot of old books. Today I came across a Bible, given to my father in 1950 on some Masonic occasion. The faded light blue King James Version fell open to some prayers of David.

Recently I had come across Psalm 16:11, “Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore.” And so I read the eleventh verse and then I read the previous ten. Being seven decades into the a path of life myself, I had to ask if the Lord had shown me the path of life. I am still contemplating that question so I have no answer yet.

Like many people living in 2014 I have been mostly secular. One thing I know. David when he sought God’s preservation, wasn’t thinking much about a new iPad, PC or even a new Hyundai. And unlike me and my greatest recent pleasure, he wasn’t thinking much about the recent path of the Kansas City Royals. And yet we know that David, the King had his comparable pleasures. So in certain other moods, he thought of the “fulness of joy,” a far more profound and sacred joy than mere entertainment or even success. Such contemplations are very far from our amused minds these days. Or are they? Do the current atrocities like beheadings and devastating diseases like ebola make us long all the more for some transcendent joy? Of course, and that is why we make so much of little things like pennant races and Rose Bowls.

All I know for certain is that my trip down to the furnace room was worth it. I am thinking about the “fulness” of many things right now. David Milliken

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Resilient Royals endure, in this ultra-pleasant town

This one might not be as great and powerful as some of those Royals teams of the mid- and late ’70s and ’80s. But right now, after Salvador Perez, the heart and soul of this team, slammed a hard ground single down the third-base line off A’s rental pitcher Jason Hammel to prevail in one of the wildest wild-card games ever, they are the toasts of this ultra-pleasant town.

via Resilient Royals endure, eke out wild win in biggest game in 29 years – CBSSports.com.

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In Pensive Mood and Solitude

Wordsworth uses the phrase “in vacant or pensive mood.” He wanders with the daffodils when the mood strikes. My thoughts have turned to my old home place, a large, five-bedroom brick home built on a hillside in the Appalachian foothills of Harrison County, just outside Bowerston, Ohio. The home sits in the center of six acres, an old apple orchard. Outside that plot and ringing it is land owned by a local brick company. Earlier on there were dairy farms. In the far distance as a kid I could see the S-curve on the Panhandle Division of the Pennsy railroad. At night on schedule a flourescent passenger train wound through the Conotton Valley. As did the coal trains on the Wheeling and Lake Erie and Nickel Plate lines. Eighteen miles to the east lay the Hanna coal mines around Cadiz. Over in Scio there was a world-reknowned pottery. We were all company towns in those days. While my elders and relatives made and extracted things from the clay earth, I wondered my hillside where I learned the peace of solitude. And the essential company of dogs.

Thomas Wolf says “You can’t go home again.” Well, I did. I returned to the old place. You can go home again. It was the great pleasure of my life. The acre of lawn I once mowed with an 18-inch push Lawn Boy as a teen, I mowed again with a riding Snapper mower. To heat the old place I obtained an old Ford tractor and manure spreader for a trailer. Weekly I ventured into the woods for fuel. Came very close to cutting off a toe or two. I loved being alone in the woods, but on that occasion I shouldn’t have been. God gave my toes a narrow escape. Harry and I cut some wood together.

Harry came to my aid often — especially on a Christmas Day when our well pump broke. Harry knows everything about how to make things work — especially friendship and helping others.

Back then I took a shot at politics, but chose the wrong party.

I always walked the woods. Later, I cycled the roads where I had to climb steeply to Hanover Ridge, Rumley Ridge and over on to Deersville Ridge. But there were boat rides on Tappan Lake, too, with Danny and Pat from New Philadelphia.

The memories, the love, the friendships abide with me always. These few recollections do not begin to tell the stories of friendships I had in Harrison County,where everyone knows the worth of solitude and company as well. Best ever.

David Milliken

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Some Things Make Me Happy

Some things make me happy — in the seventh decade of life.There’s Sidney, a Westie puppy, who’s come on watch since one of our old girls died at fifteen. Semantha she was. I was so depressed even this little poop spreader and piddle fountain doesn’t stress me. Vitality simply bounces off the walls at our place. Even Nancy, our elder female, has emerged from her funk and depression after losing her old friend— never thought she’d bark and trot again. Nothing like a puppy nip to get some juices going again. I enjoy a cold can of Vernor’s ginger soda more than I used to; well, it hasn’t replaced bourbon, but helps me cut down a little on the cocktails. It’s also good with bourbon. Something about metabolism makes me unable to drink like a sailor anymore. On my suburban patio atop a hill, I listen to the sound of rotating rubber on the crosstown parkway — telling myself it sounds like the New England surf I haven’t heard in too long.

Life is too short not to continue appreciating old re-runs on TV or one of the small films that show up at a favorite, old fart theater, one that’s pandemonium free. Yet I still enjoy Star Wars battles, too.

Adventure for me is hanging on to Windows XP for a while yet. I beefed up my anti-virus surveillance and so far have had no major attack from the hackers and other demented folks. Rather, I am hassled by expert geeks from India wanting me to buy more ongoing checkups. For the most part I’ve only had problems when I don’t do a regular disk cleanup and defrag.

Books, often thick ones, entertain and enlighten me as they always have. They are jargon free and I don’t have to fret about all that I don’t know about SEO. Ongoing gratification for the gift and privilege of living trumps most everything else these days. especially this great enigma of life itself. David Milliken

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Virtually Human: We need human rights for cyberconscious beings.

Mindclones are software versions of our minds, software-based alter egos, doppelgangers, or mental twins. A mindclone is created from the thoughts, recollections, feelings, beliefs, attitudes, preferences, and values you have put into it. Mindclones will experience reality from the standpoint of whatever machine their mindware is run on. When the body of a mindclone dies, the mindclone will not feel that they have personally died, although the body will be missed in the same ways amputees miss their limbs but acclimate when given an artificial replacement. The comparison suggests an apt metaphor: The mindclone is to the consciousness and spirit as the prosthetic is to an arm that has lost its hand.

via Virtually Human: We need human rights for cyberconscious beings..

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Johnson, Vanity of Human Wishes, 1749

Let Observation with extensive View,

Survey Mankind, from China to Peru;

Remark each anxious Toil, each eager Strife,

And watch the busy Scenes of crouded Life;

Then say how Hope and Fear, Desire and Hate,

O’er spread with Snares the clouded Maze of Fate,

Where wav’ring Man, betray’d by vent’rous Pride,

To tread the dreary Paths without a Guide;

As treach’rous Phantoms in the Mist delude,

Shuns fancied Ills, or chases airy Good.

How rarely Reason guides the stubborn Choice,

Rules the bold Hand, or prompts the suppliant Voice,

How Nations sink, by darling Schemes oppres’d,

When Vengeance listens to the Fool’s Request.

Fate wings with ev’ry Wish th’ afflictive Dart,

Each Gift of Nature, and each Grace of Art,

With fatal Heat impetuous Courage glows,

With fatal Sweetness Elocution flows,

Impeachment stops the Speaker’s pow’rful Breath,

And restless Fire precipitates on Death.”

via Johnson, Vanity of Human Wishes, 1749.

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