Rose early. Cool and clear morning. Went running around East Bute Dock (one lap). Reading Thomas à Kempis, Flannery O’Connor (her first published short story, ‘The Geranium’), and the diaries of Thomas Merton (describing his meeting with Zen scholar and practitioner D. T. Suzuki).
Sat down and read Cormac McCarthy‘s play (or “novel in dramatic form”) The Sunset Limited. An African American man saves a white college professor from suicide, and they share a compelling dialogue about life, suffering, religion, and humanism. Sometimes McCarthy’s stage directions lack racial sensitivity and tact (e.g. “the black” vs. “the professor”), but the characters have an intelligent and entertaining critical dialogue. Dianne C. Luce offers an interesting reading of the text’s conclusion over at the official Cormac McCarthy website (contains spoilers):
“The novel’s denouement rests on the intellectual triumph of White, which ironically leads to his suicide, and the temporary rhetorical defeat of Black, who courageously recommits to his belief in the possibility of goodness. Thus the dialogue remains elegantly balanced, poised between forceful articulations of opposing views of life and human nature, giving ascendancy to neither. McCarthy seems to have no ideological agenda here, but rather he aims at capturing the internal debate of the thoughtful individual seeking to navigate the subway of earthly existence, who hears within him- or herself the competing voices of, on the one hand, empirical reasoning and world-wearying experience and, on the other, hope and the transcendent spirit.”
Overall, a genuinely engaging work struck through with darkly comic elements. Recommended.
Finished reading Stephen King‘s Under the Dome. It’s one of the author’s longest works, and has been compared by publishers and critics to his earlier post apocalyptic novel, The Stand. While the story of an hermetically sealed American community has the feel of a modern parable, Under the Dome is ultimately a straightforward (if fantastical) crime thriller about small town political corruption.
Watching The Cold War, a 24-episode documentary series produced for CNN back in 1998. Narration by Kenneth Branagh. Fascinating.
Read Richard Matheson‘s 1950s short story, ‘Long Distance Call’, in a 2007 Penguin anthology entitled American Supernatural Tales. I’m always struggle to find ghost stories that are genuinely chilling or unsettling, and I think that Matheson does a nice job. “Hello?”
Finished reading Alice Walker‘s The Color Purple. Wonderful; deeply affecting.
Analog. I grew up during a transitional phase when heavy analog technologies were being replaced by lighter, digital devices. A tactile nostalgia has since grown up around those cumbersome objects of the 1980s and 1990s. They have the charm of relics from a bygone age.
On the recommendation of a mutual friend, Jenn and I have been listening to Criminal, a podcast hosted by Phoebe Judge. It’s a true crime series that offers an alternative oral history of the American criminal justice system: it’s interesting, entertaining, strange, and often poignant. Highly recommended.
This week, I began working at Cardiff Metropolitan University as an Associate Tutor in English Literature. It’s a short-term post that will span the Spring semester, and it feels good to be teaching again. I’m working with texts by Ursula K. Le Guin, J. R. R. Tolkien, H.G. Wells, Philip K. Dick, Alan Garner, and Umberto Eco, among others.
Having left a career in academic research back in June, I wondered whether I would return to teaching in higher education—it was always the part of the job that I loved the most. So, as you can imagine, I’m delighted with my new role.
Cardiff. Late afternoon. I walk for two hours through the city. A couple of books in my bag. And a flask. Happiness.
I spent the greater part of this morning sorting through my books—for the second time this year. I decided to keep my favourite books (those that had the most personal and practical value) and donate everything else. My intention is to make use of the city libraries and local university libraries on a more regular basis. In the early afternoon I took three bags filled with novels, plays, and biographies to a local charity shop, and I am feeling better for it.