February Checkpoint #TBR2018RBR

Greetings, Challengers!

Congratulations! We have reached the second checkpoint and I am pleased to announce that we have 30+ book reviews linked up in our Mr. Linky widget (below). Nice work! Can we get another 30 this month?

I’m also thrilled to announce the winner of the first Mini-Challenge: Fanda from Fanda Classiclit! Fanda won a book of her choice ($20USD) from The Book Depository. She chose a copy of Charles Dickens’s Hard Times, in honor of Dickens’s birthday. Enjoy, Fanda! 

Question of the Month

What are your strategies for staying on top of your reading goals? Do you keep a bullet journal or other kind of planner? Do you aim for a certain number of books per week, per month? Do you just “wing it” and let whatever happens, happen? Tell us your secrets!

My Progress: 3 of 12 Completed / 2 of 12 Reviewed

So far, I’ve read 3 of my 12 required books. At the moment, I’m feeling pretty confident that I will be able to read and review all 14 books on my TBR Pile Challenge list this year! I’m pretty excited about that, although, to be honest, my two year-long projects have been suffering a bit since the semester started in mid-January. I need to stick to my commitment of pacing myself this year so that I can keep up with both of those projects (reading and writing) while also keeping up with my challenge list and other pleasure reading. It’s always a balancing act, isn’t it!?

Books Read So Far:

How are you doing?

index

Below, you’re going to find the infamous Mr. Linky widget. If you read and review any challenge books this month, please link-up on the widget below. This Mr. Linky will be re-posted every month so that we can compile a large list of all that we’re reading and reviewing together this year.

Each review that is linked-up on this widget throughout the year may also earn you entries into future related giveaways, so don’t forget to keep this updated!

LINK UP YOUR REVIEWS

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Joyce’s Ulysses: Episodes 7-12 #FebBloom

Melissa over at Avid Reader’s Musings is hosting a read-along of James Joyce’s Ulysses this month, and I promised to post my reading guides/reactions for anyone who might want another perspective on this difficult read. This post covers Episodes 1-6. If you are reading along or want to join, remember to use #FebBloom for social media.

The Episodes

Book Two, Continued

aeolus2-1027Aeolus: Episode 7 begins around 12pm (noon), in the office building that houses Dublin’s major newspapers. There are two major comparatives between this episode and the corresponding chapter of The Odyssey, as far as I can tell.  The first is a play on the character Aeolus who, in The Odyssey, provided Odysseus with a great gift – the sea winds trapped in a leather satchel, making it easier for Odysseus to get home.  The parallel here is with the “windy,” journalism being parodied in the episode – all these newspapers printing bold headlines but are devoid of any real, meaningful news.  In the second place, a parallel can be drawn between the instance of Odysseus’s men opening the satchel and releasing the winds, which threw them wildly off course just as their ship was coming in sight of home.  In Ulysses, Bloom’s goal (in this episode) is to navigate the demands of Keyes (who is placing an advertisement) and Myles Crawford, Bloom’s boss & editor for the paper.  Bloom comes very near to completing the “quest,” but at the last moment is foiled.

The symbol of keys is reproduced heavily in this episode.  The advertisement Bloom hopes to place is for a man named Keyes, first of all, and that advertisement would be accompanied by Keyes’ logo, which is a symbol of two crossed keys.  Bloom (and Stephen Dedalus) are both keyless, from their first episodes, so the idea of isolated, homeless wanderers is reinforced here in the workplace, too.  It is deepened even more when Bloom is placed in relation to his colleagues, as we saw in the “Hades” episode (there, Bloom was isolated by differences in humor and religion; here, he is literally struck by a door and essentially shoved out of the conversation).

What is a bit ironic, I think, is that half of this episode is devoted to the conversation being had by Stephen, O’Madden Burke, Professor MacHugh, and Crawford, and throughout their chat it becomes clear that they idolize long-dead heroes, people who can do nothing for them, while missing the fact that Bloom, perhaps this story’s epic hero and/or Christ-figure, is standing right in front of them the whole time.  The reader learns in later chapters that Bloom is thought quite highly of by many other people, but his peers dismiss him without second glance – certainly another allusion to the Christ story (worshiped by commoners, vilified by those in power).

Also in this episode are more comparisons between Ireland and “slave nations” of the past.  Ireland is essentially in bondage to England at this point in time, and this relationship is compared to that of Israel’s bondage to Egypt (Professor MacHugh even makes a point about preferring to teach Greek over Latin, the Romans having “conquered” the Greeks, so we get a similar comparison there, too).

unknow artist-728837Lestrygonians: “The Lestrygonians” finds poor Leopold Bloom headed into the National Museum in hopes of avoiding his rival, Blazes Boylan.  In the museum, Bloom finds himself examining the statues of Greek goddesses or, more specifically, their anal details. Ah, Bloom. Ah, Joyce.  The episode begins about 1pm and lasts about an hour.

Before reaching the library, which is where the episode will end, Bloom is wandering through the center of Dublin.  He meets and observes various people along the way, including a Christian Brother, a YMCA youth, a Mrs. Breen, and Dilly Dedalus, Simon Dedalus’s daughter (Stephen’s sister).

The only connection I can find between this episode and The Odyssey is in the scene at the Burton restaurant.  In Homer’s original epic, the Lestrygonians were cannibals, responsible for killing and eating a great deal of Odysseus’s men.  In the Burton restaurant, Bloom describes men eating and drinking in a disgusting, bestial, and primitive way.  He is so offended by their actions that he decides to leave and eat someplace else.

Like the scenes which describe characters urinating, defecating, nose-picking, and other such everyday unspoken activities, this scene and much of the chapter is one of observation.  Bloom is clearly a sharp observer of human activity, and the idea seems to be to reveal the humanity, the “realness” of common events.  These things happen, and they matter – probably one of Joyce’s major themes.

Bloom also thinks about Molly (his wife) and her soon-to-occur affair with Blazes Boylan.  He worries that Boylan might have venereal disease and wonders if he would risk giving it to Molly.  We also learn more about the strain in Leopold and Molly’s relationship, having to do with the death of their son, Rudy.  Apparently, ever since Rudy died, Leopold has not “finished” inside of Molly, preferring coitus interruptus instead.  Perhaps his fear, or hers, or both of theirs, that another pregnancy would result in another dead child?

A couple of recurring symbols also become strengthened.  We know of the “jingle” sound now being meant to signify Boylan & Molly’s affair, but we also have the lemon-scented soap as Bloom’s good luck charm (Odysseus’s moly) and of Boylan’s straw hat and tan shoes which, when described, always signal his presence, even when he is not named explicitly.

My favorite line of the novel thus far (with the line from “Hades” still a close second) occurs in this episode as well:  “Me. And me now.”  The emotion behind this, the sadness and loneliness, is incredible.  It is Bloom’s own way of restating a previous thought, “I was happier then.” What makes it so moving are the glimpses we have now had into Leopold and Molly’s first meetings and romance.

The scene where Bloom recalls Molly feeding him chewed seedcake from her own mouth first struck me as a kind of mother-son psycho-sexual situation; Molly is, after all, the one in charge, at least so it seems from the earlier episodes; but then I thought perhaps this is another way in which Molly’s sexuality, much more overt than Leopold’s, brings Leopold to her level.  He wanders around buying her pornographic books, thinks about hanging pornographic paintings above their bed (for her), all thoughts which likely would not occur to him except in the hopes of pleasing her – why did Molly choose him, someone not clearly passionate or “studly,” if not for the challenge of “awakening” him?  Of course, then one wonders why she is having an affair with the novel’s Don Juan – is this, too, because of Rudy and how her relationship with Bloom has changed since?

I think of most importance in this chapter is that we begin to see common people (Byrne and Flynn, in this episode) who remark upon what a decent guy Bloom is.  This will happen again and again in future episodes.

scylla-and-charybdis-bookpalaceScylla and Charybdis: Here we are at the Dublin National Library, which is where the last episode ended (with Bloom staring at goddesses’ anus’).  The episode begins at 2pm and lasts until 3pm – getting ever closer to the fatal hour.

This was one of the more difficult chapters to read because it  doesn’t seem to have much at all to do with the Ulysses story.  Instead, we find Stephen Dedalus discussing his theories on Shakespeare with a group of academics.  One idea that is reinforced here, though, is that of Stephen’s obsession with paternity.  The father-son thing strikes full-force in Dedalus’s ruminations on Shakespeare and Shakespeare’s ghost(s).

The Scylla and Charybdis connection, too, is hard to find.  In The Odyssey, we know that these are two monsters, Scylla being a six-headed monster and Charybdis being a massive whirlpool.  Homer tells us that Odysseus was forced to pass between the two and, having been advised by Athena, chose to pass by Scylla and sacrifice one man for each of Scylla’s heads (or mouths).  It seems that the set-up, here in Ulysses, is to compare the poet George Russell (A.E.), an Irish nationalist, mystic, and Platonist, with Stephen Dedalus, an Aristotelian – sharp-witted and willing to jab at his interlocutors.  In this comparison, the mystic Russell would surely be Charybdis, the whirlpool, and the cutting/biting Dedalus would have to be Scylla.

Alternatively, though, it is also true that Dedalus finds himself, throughout his lecture on Shakespeare, opposed by six forces – which would make Dedalus not Scylla, but the hero, Odysseus who, as in the Homeric epic, chose to navigate toward the six-headed monster.  In this case, the six foes to “satisfy” would be Lyster, Russell, Best, Eglinton, Mulligan and, oddly enough, himself (Stephen Dedalus).  Dedalus is clearly his own foe, as he is asked near the end whether or not he even believes his own theories about Shakespeare, and he must admit – no, he does not.  What this chapter does for Dedalus is, I think, what the previous episode did for Bloom – reinforce the fact that Stephen is an outsider, one who thinks and feels differently from his peers.

What I loved about this episode were two things:  First, the experiment with “composition of place,” which is a rhetorical technique used by orators (most notably, as Dedalus points out, the Jesuit St. Ignatius Loyola) to help the audience imagine a physical picture of what is being described by the speaker.  It was fun to witness Dedalus’s thoughts as he prepared to lead his audience any which way.

Also, I loved the debate between those who believed Shakespeare’s life and biography should be kept separate from the interpretations of his work, versus those, mainly Stephen, who feel the “man” Shakespeare, and all his history, played a significant part in crafting the plays & sonnets, and should therefore be considered in discussion.  As one who lives in the academic world, I can say this is still an ongoing debate with two staunch campus – those who feel a text should be read as text and only text, and those who feel that author and history should accompany any study of a text.  The debate, here, leads Stephen to analyze Hamlet as a psychosexual drama, well before it became popular (as it has been for some time) do so.  It also reminds us of the theme of dispossession, which is clear in Hamlet but also, again, in Stephen and Bloom.

Finally, I begin to wonder about Mulligan’s sexuality – is he homosexual, perhaps?  A quick search reveals that many critics seem to think so, and many others do not.  And, of course, there are those who think it doesn’t matter in the slightest.  I find it curious that Mulligan remained conspicuously silent during the discussion of Wilde and Shakespeare and male love.  Normally, Mulligan has something to say about everything.  What’s more, however, is the fact that he seems obsessed with Bloom’s sexuality – warning Stephen Dedalus that Bloom is “Greeker than the Greeks” (165) and is likely lusting after Stephen (179).  Perhaps the lady doth protest too much?

8zxoxq57mgwbmez32lfzr5iu9Wandering Rocks: Now, this was a fun chapter.  It is an interlude of sorts, coming after the first 9 episodes and before the remaining 9 episodes.  So, Ulysses itself consists of 18 episodes and this chapter also has 18 very short episodes with a coda – a mini-odyssey, almost Chaucerian, in its own right.  It begins just before 3pm and ends at 4pm, and within it are descriptions of various characters meandering about the streets of Dublin.  In The Odyssey, Odysseus was given a choice, by Circe, to sail either through the moving rocks or to pass by Scylla and Charybdis.  Odysseus knew that the only hero to have ever made it through the wandering rocks unscathed was Jason of the Argonauts, so he chose the other route.  To read Ulysses, though, we must go through Scylla and Charybdis and the wandering rocks – the significance?  Possibly Joyce just having fun at our expense.

While each of the short vignettes is interesting, what I find most-fascinating are the two which bookend the chapter.  These two bring a kind of balance to the whole chapter and remind the reader that Joyce, as an Irishman, is concerned with two oppressors: The Roman Catholic Church (Father Conmee, S.J. – vignette #1) and Great Britain (William Humble, earl of Dudley, G.C.V.O. – vignette #18).  Ireland is at the mercy of religious and political powers not its own.  Another piece to look at is vignette #10, which would be the middle (interlude) of the chapter which is the middle (interlude) of the book.  In this vignette, we find Bloom buying a pornographic book (Sweets of Sin) for his wife Molly.  Thus, at the center of the entire story is what?  Sex, Romance, Love, Marriage, Betrayal – a man trying to please his wife.

The “movement” or “wandering” of this chapter seems to come in two forms.  First, the obvious movement of the various characters who are being described throughout this episode, as a panoramic of Dublin.  Second, though, are all the little misdirections Joyce lays out for his reader.  I’m sure I didn’t catch all (or even most?) of these traps, but some I found include the fact that we are told twice Father Conmee is walking through Clongowes’ playing fields – was he walking in circles?  No! He is actually remembering Clongowes’ playing fields, not actually walking through them in real-time.  Then, there is also the funny little episode with Boylan’s secretary and the Wilkie Collins novel, The Woman in White.  She makes the mistake (Freudian Slip?) of wondering whether Boylan is in love with “that Marion,” meaning Marian Halcombe of the book (those who have read Woman in White probably caught this) but instead saying Marion, which is Molly Bloom’s real first name.

There are other moments of ambiguity, too, such as when Lamppost Farrell bumps into the blind lad, who then calls Farrell blinder than himself, and also the “Dentist Bloom” who is mentioned in passing, but who is not our Bloom.  In addition, there are rather funny juxtapositions of events or situations which lead to an expression of a rather sardonic nature.  Take, for instance, the moment when Father Conmee, engaged in deeply religious thoughts, stumbles across a young couple who just finished making love.  The horse game, and the mistaken “Throwaway” comes up in conversation just as Bloom arrives to find a book for Molly.  And, finally, though I’m sure I’m missing some, there is the song “The Croppy Boy,” which is an anti-British Irish ballad, but it is being sung as Kernan eagerly runs to see the royal cavalcade.  Joyce certainly gets two thumbs up for accurate (and entertaining) use of irony!

In this chapter and in the next, we witness a great deal of sentimentality and compassion.  Joyce, though, for some reason (perhaps being a naturalist?) ends this episode and the next one with antitheses to the sentimentality which pervaded the episodes right up until their endings.  Here, he does this by ending the chapter with Patrick Dignam, son of the dead Dignam whose funeral accounted for the first few episodes of the book.  Rather than displaying young Patrick as sad, in mourning, etc., we see a boy whose primary concerns are the vacation time he will get from school and the popularity (or attention) he’ll have upon returning, thanks to his dear old Dad’s having kicked the bucket.

pic9The Sirens: This chapter begins about 3:30pm and lasts about one hour, ending around 4:30pm.  It is the fateful hour to which the first half of the book has been leading. The Sirens is probably one of the most popular/well-known episodes from The Odyssey – even those who haven’t read the poem are likely familiar with the dangers of “the siren song.”  Here, the sirens include three women, two are barmaids and one is a prostitute.  None of them holds much power, though, and their relationship to the original sirens seems tenuous at best.  Bloom does evade all three, though, whereas other men of this episode are perfectly happy to be enticed by them, so there’s certainly that parallel.

The larger theme, though, and possibly the real connection to Homer’s epic might be music itself.  In The Odyssey, the Sirens did not have physical power over anyone – it was their song, their music, so beautiful and captivating, which held all the strength.  Here, too, the power of the episode is in its musicality.  Joyce begins the episode with a composition of themes – 57 of them, it seems- which are then recalled throughout the score.  The episode itself is difficult to follow because not much is said explicitly; instead, each line from the original outline corresponds to an action in the episode, which in turn has a larger meaning or significance.

There are also two songs explicitly sung in this chapter, the first of which is from an opera, Martha and the second of which is a song we are already familiar with from the previous chapter, “The Croppy Boy.”  Each of these songs is significant to Bloom’s situation.  The opera is a story of love gone wrong – a young man loses his mind over a woman, only to regain his senses when he marries her in the end. While Stephen Dedalus is singing this song, Bloom realizes that he is still in love with his wife, Molly, and he writes a “blotted” letter (perhaps the final one?) to his sort-of mistress-by-mail, Martha Clifford (who is certainly alluded to by the singing of said opera, Martha).  This would make the hero of that opera, Lionel, Leopold Bloom – but Leopold is not going mad over Martha, he is instead losing Molly, and himself because of it.

So, it seems Bloom might be destined to lose his two ladies.  Near the end of the episode, we see “one last, one lonely, last sardine of summer,” and this is “Bloom alone.”  Throughout the episode, we have heard the jingle jangle of Boylan’s carriage drawing toward Molly Bloom, and Leopold in a way hears it, too (or imagines it – as he knows the affair is about to take place).  Bloom in fact followed Boylan into the hotel where the singing, and all the action, takes place, but he makes sure to hide in the back, basically alone (with another outcast, actually – Stephen Dedalus’s “Uncle Richie” whom Stephen’s father holds in such contempt).  Thus, Bloom creates for himself the very situation which causes him his greatest pain – witnessing another man prepare, and go, to sleep with his wife.

At the very end of this episode, Bloom finds himself with an upset stomach, from the food or the alcohol.  He leaves and while walking passes by an antique store where a picture of Robert Emmet, a martyred Irish nationalist and orator, hangs, with the lines: “When my country takes her place among the nations of the earth then and not till then, let my epitaph be written. I have done.”  Bloom reads this, passing gas throughout, and ends the episode with one long, loud, fart, followed by the word “done.”  Brilliant and hilarious.  Another episode ripe with sentimentality “blown” apart by comic relief.  The point?  Possibly that real emotion, raw as it might seem, is preferable to long-winded pomp and circumstance.

Cyclops: Episode 12 begins around 5pm, in Barney Kiernan’s pub. This pub is metaphorically the Cyclops’s cave from Homer’s Odyssey, and there is a character in this episode, known only as “The Citizen,” who is Joyce’s model for The Cyclops.  This episode is one of the most explicitly similar to Homer’s epic, so far.

The episode is littered with references to long, cylindrical, sometimes sharp and/or heated objects, which recalls the stave which Odysseus used to blind Polyphemus, the cyclops (and which was burning hot, from the fire).  Some of the objects that appear are a cigar (which Bloom burns himself on), a long, thin ear-trumpet, and the handle of a street cleaner’s broom (which almost blinds the chapter’s narrator).  These objects are also rather phallic in nature, so there’s certainly something to be made of that as well, particularly when juxtaposed with Bloom’s scientific explanation for why hanged men often sprout erections (and sometimes ejaculate).

One also must wonder if the idea of “blindness” goes beyond just the link to Homer’s poem.  In this episode, we meet the anarchistic “Citizen” (another parallel to Polyphemus, actually, as he too was an anarchist), and other drunken guests, all of whom seem to have a rather narrow, bigoted view of the world.  We witness something new in Bloom during this episode – he actually stands up for himself and “his people,” in opposition to the racist “Citizen.”  The allusions to blindness, then, might be indicative of a metaphorical mental or political blindness – a simpleness of thought.  Incidentally, The Citizen is even further paralleled with Polyphemus at the end of this episode, when he throws a biscuit tin at Bloom, just as Polyphemus threw a boulder at Odysseus’s ship.  So, as I said, the relationship between Joyce and Homer in this episode are particularly explicit.

Some other interesting things to note are that Bloom twice refuses alcohol, apparently well aware of his own limits.  Also, the narrator at one point is describing his own urination, which given the description tells us that he has syphilis – why we need to know that is not quite clear, except that it fits with the types of characters in this bar as well as the overall mood of this setting – violent, dark, filled with hatred and confrontation.  A cyclops’ natural lair?

One of my questions about Bloom is also answered in this episode.  Sort of.  Throughout the book, he seems to be aware that Blazes Boylan and his wife are going to sleep together around 4:30pm.  I kept wondering why, then, he doesn’t just go home and prevent it?  We learn here, though, that he is going to visit the Dignam family, to pay his respects for their loss.  This is, I think, supposed to be another “positive” characteristic – a type of Christlike sacrifice, but, to me, it doesn’t quite work.  Unless, of course, Bloom doesn’t actually mind that his wife sleeps with other men?  Some issues arise later which make that seem possible.


So, there are my thoughts on the middle 1/3 of the book. What are your thoughts so far? Have you gotten as deep into the book as you hoped by this point? Did I miss anything that you found interesting/important/funny, etc? You can also find my thoughts on Episodes 1-6 here

We Should All Be Feminists

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a powerful and articulate essay that was adapted from the author’s December 2012 TEDx Talk. It serves as both a personal investigation and interpretation of what it means to be a woman today, but also a call to action for men and women around the world, all of whom, in Adichie’s opinion, should favor and support feminism.

The essay revolves around a single question: “What does feminism mean today?” It is developed out of an earlier TEDx talk titled “The Dangers of a Single Story,” which recounts the risks of succumbing to or perpetuating stereotypes. The expansion is logical because, as Adichie suggests, the word “feminism” has been damagingly stereotyped over many years and by many groups, some of whom simply respond to the word without knowing what it means and others of whom are fully aware, and know better, but attack the idea because it is an assault against their own privileged place in society.

What I found truly compelling about this reflection on feminism is that it is steeped in the culture and society of Nigeria, a country that still rigidly clings to the concepts of “gender roles.” Adichie provides a number of anecdotes that illustrate just how deeply rooted are these stereotypes and prejudices, such as the fact that restaurant hosts and servers will refuse to acknowledge a female customer if a man is with her, even if she is paying, because women are not supposed to have money and if they do, it must have been provided by the male (and never mind the idea that a woman might go out to a bar or club without a male chaperone). These examples might ring hyperbolic in the United States, but the reality is that this was our cultural response to gender not very long ago, as it was in Europe. The evidence that many countries are still oppressed by such stereotypes is a prescient reminder that our own society’s rules are new and thus relatively insecure, but also that we too still have far to go in seeking gender equity right here.

An interesting point that Adichie makes throughout the essay is that the “word feminist is so heavy with baggage, negative baggage” (11). She explains how pervasively peoples’ negative attitudes about feminism (or feminists) have spread, so much so that those prejudices often dominate the conversation and deny us room for reasoned discussion. How can we have a conversation about gender equality with someone who “turns off” at the first mention of just one word? It might be helpful to come up with a new phrase to help jumpstart and re-appropriate the conversation, bringing it back to a simple discussion about equity rather than the deafening, emotionally fueled debates about “man hating” and “angry women,” sort of like turning the conversation from “global warming” to “climate change” when it became clear that people easily conflated “warming” with weather and thus misunderstood the complexity of the systems involved and because it became apparent that people who wanted to mislead others about the topic could undermine the facts of the argument by making the word/situation seem ridiculous (“Oh, look at all that snow, we could sure use some global warming!”).

But feminism is what it is: a belief that men and women should be treated equally in all elements of society, economics, politics, etc. When taken this way, as Adichie suggests, few people think of this as a radical concept. So, how do we move past the word? Adichie believes that it has to start with all of us:

“I would like today to ask that we should begin to dream about and plan for a different world. A fairer world. A world of happier men and happier women who are truer to themselves. And this is how to start: we must raise our daughters differently. We must also raise our sons differently” (25).  

In other words, we need to take responsibility for the way that we see the world and perpetuate its injustices; we need to teach our children the benefit of seeing and being and creating a world that is better.

Adichie is clear that this means men and women must be equal partners in creating change, and that is in large part because anti-feminism hurts men, too. It oppresses men by prescribing their roles, too. Men cannot be free to be themselves, to truly think, act, and respond the way that they want to, if they are being conditioned to respond, always, in the “masculine role.” If a man is sad, why shouldn’t he cry? And why is that considered “un-masculine”? If a man loves his spouse or children or pets, why shouldn’t he express it? And why is doing so often considered “un-manly”? If a man finds relaxation in cooking or cleaning, why shouldn’t he do these things?

And the same goes for women. Feminism does not tell women not to enjoy cleaning the house, sewing clothes, or making crafts. It simply tells men and women to be who they are, regardless. Imagine the stress and anxiety that would be relieved and the freedom that would come to all of us if we weren’t being forced into predetermined roles that supposedly guide our every single response and our every single interest or ability.

“We teach girls shame,” Adichie writes. “We make them feel as though by being born female, they are already guilty of something” (33). Likewise, we teach boys to be in control and to crave competition, but we teach girls to be conciliatory and to apologize for having opinions. But “what if . . . we focus on ability instead of gender? What if we focus on interest instead of gender” (36). For Adichie, it is clear that this is all feminism asks of us: allow a person to be him/herself. Teach everything we can, so that our children can learn and try everything they want, and then let them decide what to do and how to act from all available knowledge, opportunity, and experience. Personally, I think that’s a world worth building.

Ultimately, I found Why We Should All Be Feminists thoughtful, relevant, and relatable. Although it is based on an oral lecture, it reads well as a written piece. Despite repeating some of the typical supportive arguments about feminism, Adichie adds crucial context by relaying her personal experiences as a woman and a Nigerian. I read this one in close succession to Reni Eddo-Lode’s Why I’m No Longer Talking (to White People) About Race, which also deals with issues of intersectional feminism (as well as structural racism) but in the United Kingdom. I think the fact that these conversations about race and gender are happening on such a large scale, and happening all over the world, is promising.

Leviticus 14-Numbers 2 #2018BibleRBR

Reading the Bible as Literature

Week Six: Leviticus 14-Numbers 2

99% of what happens in this part of the bible is simply a listing (and re-listing, and then some rephrasing, plus more reminders, and then some emphasis of the same) of rules, laws, and commandments. There is a whole lot of repetition, possibly because the priests are working from multiple source documents and possibly because they think the important rules really bear that much repeating. Who knows? There are also subtle differences in the way the repetition occurs. For example, the first occurrences tend to be simply lists of laws; then, the second occurrences are reminders of the laws plus what happens when someone breaks a particular law (Death? Ostracizing?). Finally, there are a couple of chapters that reiterate the most important of all the laws, which is to say the commandments, with a last segment reminding the people that, hey, if they cannot get their society to follow through, god will abandon them all, make them weak, turn them into cannibals, and other neat and interesting punishments. I’m all for listing as a rhetorical device, but some of these books are just out of control. 

Molech: Why does this name sound familiar? Ah, yes, MOLOCH! “Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unobtainable dollars! Children screaming under the stairways! Boys sobbing in armies! Old men weeping in the parks!” (Ginsberg, Howl, 1955-56). Anyhow, in the biblical story, Molech isn’t a demonic personification of capitalism. God is pretty clear about this Molech dude. Who is he? It seems he was a particular pagan god, one who required the most personal and difficult sacrifices from his followers: their children. So, when god commands his people not to spill their seed for Molech, he is telling them to cut it out with the child sacrifice, already. Some folks listened, some didn’t. The priests who wrote this section were probably concerned about misunderstandings about the story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his own son, Isaac. Perhaps people, especially new converts to monotheism, used the story of Abraham to justify their continued practice of this ridiculous ritual. The Israeli priests, however, make it clear multiple times in this book that the point was Abraham’s willingness to obey god; after all, the sacrifice never actually happened. God intervened at just the right moment to save Isaac’s life. Burning children at the stake? No good. (But witches and wizards, on the other hand… hop to it!)

Troublesome Laws: This second half of Leviticus continues with its list of laws, rules, and commandments. Some of them are guidelines for the priests, including how to “treat” leprosy and other ailments (the treatments for which sound a lot like witchcraft, which is ironic, considering). There are also a lot of rules regarding fasting, keeping various Sabbaths, treatment of strangers and debtors, etc. Some of the most recognizable are the ones we still talk about today, though, like Leviticus 18:4 & 20:13 which forbid man from laying “with mankind as with womankind.” This is often cited, along with the passages from Genesis’s story of the angels in Sodom, as proof that god forbids homosexuality. I read it differently, though. In the case of Genesis, the violation seemed to be against an ancient custom that protected house guests. In this case, my reading suggests this is less about homosexual relationships than it is about disrupting gender normatives. For man to submit as if he were a woman seems much more in line with other gender rules and customs outlined in the Old Testament. In other words, I see nothing about same-sex love or relationships per se, and instead see a law that reinforces patriarchal social systems. This section also deals with that law that bans wearing clothes of mixed fabrics (Lev 19:19), shaving one’s head, carving one’s skin (tattoos), killing witches, and others which have been largely abandoned. Some that continue to be treated as moral misdeeds include: incest, bestiality, bigamy (or at least the kind that deals with holding relationships with members of the same family simultaneously), and sacrificing children.

Strangers, Debtors, and Neighbors: Some of my favorite philosophies from the bible are reiterated in Leviticus. They coincide with many of the primary moral and ethical laws reflected by the Ten Commandments (which are retold/rephrased multiple times in this section). These include “love thy neighbor as thyself” and do not hold grudges (Lev 19:18), loving strangers as thyself (Lev 19:33-34), and acting charitably to all, including servants, debtors, and the poor. Leviticus 19:10 explains that at each harvest, a portion is to be left to the poor, and the customs of the 50-year Jubilee explain that debtors are to be regularly forgiven and society “refreshed” twice every century. What a thought!

OTHER INTERESTING BITS

Papa Priests: In this part of the bible, which essentially is written by and for priests, we see regular references to priests’ children. This means they have families. So, what is it with the Catholic law requiring priests be celibate and single?

Scapegoats: The origin of “the scapegoat” is reveled in Lev 16:26. Essentially, two goats are brought to temple for sacrifice. One is actually sacrificed, while the other, the “escaped goat” is returned to Azazel, the demon of the wilderness. Essentially, the goat that escapes is the one that takes man’s misdeeds with him back to the origin of sin, where they belong.

Culture-Building: Much of what happens in Leviticus is more evidence that the priests are outlining rules for establishing a clear and separate culture. These laws about what to wear, what to eat, when to worship, when to relax, and how to care for one’s self (e.g. avoiding tattoos, avoiding shaving one’s hair) reflect opposition to other cultures’ traditions. The Egyptians, for example, did often shave their heads and “curve” their beards. Other nearby people marked their skin with tattoos, cuts, and piercings. Like circumcision and other traditions, choosing not to do these things is an active way to create societal customs for themselves and their descendants.

Why I’m No Longer Talking About Race

I can’t remember exactly when or where I first heard about Reni Eddo-Lodge’s, Why I’m No Longer Talking (to White People) About Race, but I do remember thinking, “I need to read this soon.” As a white male feminist, I am always trying to listen more and talk less, both about race and about women’s issues. I don’t mean that I’m silent about issues (far from it). I talk about equality, social justice, etc. all the time, and rather loudly, to the chagrin of many of my social media followers, I’m sure; but I prefer to listen to the voices of women when there is a conversation about women’s issues, to the voices of black men and women when there is a conversation about race, to the voices of native Americans when there is a conversation about indigenous peoples’ rights, etc. So, I have been inspired by the #MeToo movement, by the rampant misogyny exposed by our most recent presidential election, and by the racism and white nationalism that is becoming ever more public and present in our society, to make conscious efforts to listen harder and to read more, so that I can be informed about others’ experiences and what I can do to be an ally (the same consideration I hope folks give to LGBTQIAA+ issues).

Imagine my surprise, then, when I saw a title from an intelligent and accomplished black feminist woman who said she has stopped talking to white people about race. Who needs to hear the message more than white people? How could she do this? Why is she giving up? All of these rather selfish and short-sighted questions arose immediately upon seeing the title, so I purchased the book in hopes to find answers. What I got, however, was not just the writer’s rationale for turning her attention elsewhere, but a host of thoughts on issues about intersectionality, race, gender, class, and British history. In addition, there was excellent insight as to what I can do as an ally, personally, but also how I can encourage positive ally behavior in others. I don’t know if these last benefits were even intended by Eddo-Lodge, but I hope to take the lessons and run with them anyway.

The book itself stems from a 2014 essay that the author first published on her blog. So many people begged her not to stop talking. Others completely agreed, understood, and supported her. And still others tried to turn the conversation and make it about themselves (no surprise to anyone with a history of feminist thought or activism, right?) I think the most important feature to come from the expansion of the post into a more formal, critical work, is the exposure of Britain’s deeply-rooted institutional history with racism. In many ways, Eddo-Lodge’s analysis of British history reminded me of what our own history of race has looked like in the United States, especially our issues with structural racism and the misunderstandings about it. The real damaging power of racism is not what happens on the individual level, but within all the systems that our citizenry, society, government, politics, and economy rely on to function.

In every area, white people (and white men, especially) have had an advantage. But the conversation keeps stalling at the point where individuals feel targeted. When we mention “white privilege” or “male privilege,” to someone who benefits from these, for example, they often take it as a personal attack and feel offended that we are blaming them for something they have no control over; on the contrary, where the conversation needs to go, Eddo-Lodge says, is beyond the personal and to the structural: we are not talking about your racism or your gender, but about the systems in which we all exist and where some people have a distinct advantage because of race and gender (and class). So, how do we help advance the conversation and encourage people to move beyond their first reactions based on their own personal and identifiable experiences (I was poor, too – I worked three jobs – I paid for my own college – nobody gave me the promotion, I worked 10 years for it –  my family came from nothing – etc. etc.), and toward the bigger issues?

I’m not sure Eddo-Lodge answers the question. I’m not sure there is any single answer to this question. But perhaps writing books like this one, reading books like this one, and encouraging others, who would not normally pick up books like this one to do so, is as good a start as we can possibly make. Have the hard conversations. Welcome people into the difficult and sensitive conversations.

Michael Oatman once wrote, “it’s odd to educate oneself away from one’s past.” History, written by the winners, is a powerful tool, and it hasn’t often told the whole story. Maybe the best thing that allies can do is to begin helping others, and themselves, to fill in the gaps and widen the lens. I hope people like Reni Eddo-Lodge keep talking, and writing, because their voices are crucial to this goal, and to the eventual possibility for a more just society.

Notable Quotes

“When I talk about white people, I don’t mean that white people have it easy, that they’ve never struggled, or that they’ve never lived in poverty. But white privilege is the fact that if you’re white, your race will almost certainly positively impact your life’s trajectory in some way. And you probably won’t even notice it” (87).

“White support looks like financial or administrative assistance to the groups doing vital work. Or intervening when you are needed in bystander situations. Support looks like white advocacy for anti-racist causes in all-white spaces. White people, you need to talk to other white people about race” (215-16).

“Combing through the literature on clashes between black people and the police, I noticed another clash – one of perspective. While some people called what happened . . . a riot, others called it an uprising . . . I think there’s truth in both perspectives, and that the extremity of a riot only ever reflects the extreme living conditions of said rioters. Language is important” (53).

“When swathes of the population vote for politicians and political efforts that explicitly use racism as a campaigning tool, we tell ourselves that huge sections of the electorate simply cannot be racist, as that would render them heartless monsters. But this isn’t about good and bad people. The covert nature of structural racism is difficult to hold to account. It slips out of your hands easily, like a water-snake toy” (64).

“I choose to use the word structural rather than institutional [racism] because I think it is built into spaces much broader than our more traditional institutions” (64).

Joyce’s Ulysses: Episodes 1-6 #FebBloom

Melissa over at Avid Reader’s Musings is hosting a read-along of James Joyce’s Ulysses this month, and I promised to post my reading guides/reactions for anyone who might want another perspective on this difficult read. This post covers Episodes 1-6. If you are reading along or want to join, remember to use #FebBloom for social media.

The Episodes

Book One

Telemachus_and_Mentor1Telemachus: This is the first chapter in part one of Ulysses, part one being concerned with the morning activities (approximately 8am-11am) of Stephen Dedalus. Dedalus was first introduced in Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man which, unfortunately, I did not have time to read prior to beginning this book. I think it’s a good idea, for anyone considering this book, to read Portrait first. In any event, Stephen Dedalus seems to be an artistic sort, bright and creative, but also a bit lost – confused, maybe. And a pushover. The link between Dedalus and Telemachus seems weak at this point. In The Odyssey, Telemachus is a young hero, come of age, who leaves home to find his father, Odysseus. Here, Stephen Dedalus is essentially being forced out of his home by a “usurper,” Mulligan. The main point of the chapter seems to be the contrast between Mulligan and Dedalus. Mulligan is a scientist-cynic and an extroverted type, whereas Dedalus is a dreamy idealist who keeps to himself. Stephen seems to be an atheist, yet he can’t tolerate the overt nature of Mulligan’s blasphemous lifestyle. Also, Mulligan seems to be concerned only with “what happens next” – he can’t get his mind to think any farther than the next drink (which he assumes Stephen will be paying for). Dedalus, meanwhile, is mired in the past, thinking constantly about his dead mother and how he might have wronged her by not praying at her bedside.

There might be something, too, about the fact that Stephen can’t see very well. I understand that his near-blindness played an important role in Portrait of the Artist, so I can only assume it will do so here as well. Some of the motifs being established in this first chapter might include father-son themes, the idea of a lost/raped Ireland (a wasteland of sorts), and symbols of “keys” and milkwomen, all of which could be religious symbols of sorts. Shakespeare’s Hamlet is also evoked quite overtly, and that play is perhaps one of the most famous for “false fathers,” meaning Dedalus would be Hamlet.

I don’t know much about Irish history, but certainly this chapter, and the next one, are highly concerned with usurpation and false fathers, and I believe England could be seen as both, by non-Anglicized Irishmen and women. The symbol of the key, then, may be related to Ireland’s future – will it continue to be subjected to English rule, or can it take its place again as its own nation? Who or what holds the key to Ireland’s destiny?

220px-Nestor_03Nestor: In this chapter, we are introduced to Mr. Deasy, Stephen Dedalus’s boss (head of the school where Dedalus teaches). In mythology, Nestor was a Greek soldier and friend of Odysseus. He was a chronicler of history and the first man whom Telemachus met on his journey to find his father. In both The Odyssey and Ulysses, this man has a “talent” for verbosity, a writer/rhetorician who speaks without saying much – Joyce takes Homer’s teasing of Nestor a step further, though, and makes Deasy an anti-Semite, a misogynist, and a bit of a buffoon, who often gets details of history, politics, and religion quite wrong. Deasy is one of the Irishmen who is obsessed with England and with being English himself. There seems to be a critique on capitalism and money in this episode, too. Talk of money, saving, etc. permeate the chapter, and the episode even ends with the word “coins.”

Of course, there is also the issue of Pyrrhus, who in Greek mythology was the victim of a usurper, similar to Stephen Dedalus’s self-described situation (though I think he’s more of a self-made victim than anything). Dedalus teaching his class about Pyrrhus, though, seems to mimic the situation in Ireland – those true to Irish history are somehow fighting for a lost cause, as England has clearly won. This, and Deasy’s tales, bring two main ideas to the forefront of the episode: money (greed) and military conquest (England over Ireland – Rome over Greece). Last, and probably always, is the recurring lamentation over the loss of his mother, whom he is reminded of again in his interaction with one of his duller pupils.

Proteus-AlciatoProteus: This was my favorite episode of the first part, though it was also the most difficult. It was dreamy, as suits, I think, Stephen’s character. It was also the most artistic, though, and some odd parallels between body waste / urination / phlegm and the creative process begin to be drawn (and are later picked up again in part two, with Leopold Bloom). That the episode is titled Proteus might be appropriate, as Proteus is the Greek god of the Seas (the setting finds Stephen wandering the beach of Sandymount Strand).

One of the trickiest bits, and perhaps where I got lost the first time, was in the imagining of Stephen’s visit to the Gouldings. I think, when I first read this section years ago, I thought Stephen actually went to the Gouldings, but it was clearer this time around that the entire trip was just imagined, taking place in his mind.

This episode, and particularly the beginning of it, might be the best, first example of Joyce’s “stream of consciousness” style that is so often lauded and reviled by readers. It’s what most people who cannot read his more difficult material complain about. Here, Dedalus is pondering the question “what is real?” Or, perhaps more accurately, what is real versus what is only “appearance.” These are complex philosophical thoughts, and they are only further complicated for the reader by the narrative style – we are inside Stephen’s head, trying to keep up with him as his thoughts bounce up, down, and all around. But, really, it’s kind of fun! I found myself thinking, “hey, that’s how I think!”

There are a few allusions to Aristotle in this chapter, too. In De Anima, Aristotle ruminated on knowing and being, as Stephen is doing here, and he wrote that humans are aware of their bodies through an idea he called diaphane (transparency), then through their colors. Also, we see in this episode the words maestro di color che sanno which mean “master of those who know,” and this is what Dante called Aristotle. In the first paragraph, Stephen plays with these ideas by first questioning whether what we see is real (nebeneiander – objects as they are perceived in space/proximity), then whether what we hear is real (nacheinander – objects as they are perceived in time/chronology).

There seems to be something going on with the way Stephen perceives himself, and this struggle he has to let go of the path and possibly redefine himself. There’s something to be said for Stephen as a Christ figure, here, with similar parentage and with his need to perhaps be crucified and reborn (arisen) in order to go through the change he needs in order to move on. Interestingly, he is a skeptic and rather hopeless and, like we will see in Leopold Bloom, he is a bit lost – isolated and wandering. Another parallel between the two will be something already mentioned – the act of creativity occurring in relation to bodily functions. At the end of this episode, Stephen begins to write and soon after we witness him urinating.

Finally, is there something to be said about the opening letter of each part? As I move into Book II, which opens with Calpyso, we see the opening words are “Mr. Leopold Bloom.” The letter M could represent Mr., but probably stands in for Molly. Similarly, the first part of the book begins with “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan.” This S, then, is used to describe Mulligan, but it also stands for “Stephen,” whom this first section is about. It could be nothing, but I doubt that… these first letters simultaneously describe one person, but also direct readers toward the subject of the section. Delightful!

Book 2

calypso-odysseus-1Calypso: Here we are, back at 8am again. This time, instead of being with Stephen Dedalus, we are with Leopold Bloom. A couple of things which I noticed immediately were the motifs of food and milk (or milk delivery). This means there is some parallel to be drawn, I think, between Bloom and Dedalus, which is strengthened by the fact that both men leave on their “odysseys” at 8:45am and that the start of this chapter picks up where the end of Dedalus’s last chapter left off, tying the motif of urination/deification to creativity.

What’s more, one might notice that the same cloud that is described in Telemachus and which affected Stephen’s emotions is also described in this episode, and its momentary blocking of the sun depresses Bloom somewhat, too. In both cases, the cloud signifies death – for Stephen, it is the memory of his mother’s death (of course) and for Bloom, the death of something perhaps more spiritual – his Jewish heritage, lost to Irish Catholicism.

Importantly, I think, we see again the symbol of the key, and the loss of it. Stephen willingly parted with his key, making way for the usurper, but Bloom has forgotten his key in his bedroom so goes out without it. Each, then, is perhaps willing himself into isolation and solitude? One difference, however, is that Dedalus seems to be a man of the mind, always thinking about physicality, what is real and what is not, whereas Bloom seems highly concerned with the tactile, and with the sense of taste.

Also, the overarching theme seems to be the subordination of Bloom to his wife, Molly, just as Odysseus was subjugated by the goddess Calypso. Interestingly, Bloom doesn’t seem to struggle against the bond, though – at least, there’s no sign, yet, that he minds being bossed around by his wife, making her breakfast and such. Perhaps they have a bit of a masochistic relationship? If not, then I do wonder what else it might mean when Bloom wonders why mice do not squeal when eaten by cats and then decides that perhaps it is because they like it!

There’s something going on with Molly and Milly (their daughter) and the idea of menstruation, but I haven’t quite figured that out, yet. Perhaps its one of the “hidden” or mysterious elements which this chapter seems littered with – Bloom’s card, hidden beneath his hat, for instance, and Molly’s letter, stuck beneath her pillow. There’s also the kidney Bloom buys at the butcher shop, which he hides in his pocket. On the surface, it’s clear that there is at least one affair, but probably more, being hidden – but the saturation of these hidden items leads me to think there might be more at stake.

7940264_origThe Lotus-Eaters: As its name suggests, this chapter has a drugged, confused atmosphere to it – something almost dreamlike. It is not dreamlike in the romantic sense, but in the sense that Leopold is wandering around, meandering, really, with a sort of vague sense of awareness or purpose, as if conducting himself on a walk in a dream. This is demonstrated well by the fact that his walk takes him in a complete circle, without any indication that this was the intention. I think this is one of the more clear relationships between Ulysses and The Odyssey, as the story of the Lotus-Eaters and Odysseus’s men is perhaps one of the most well-known episodes in that epic. In addition, it also reinforces the political/social ideas Joyce must have had about the Irish at the time – feeling they were drugged captives, of sorts, to their English patriarch. Did Joyce feel the Irish were willing subjects, or that they were, like Odysseus’s men (and like Leopold), simply trapped in some kind of dream, unable to create a reality for themselves?

There’s an odd but funny little joke in this episode, when Bloom realizes that two of his buttons are undone, and is glad that they were not lower (over his crotch). This leads Bloom to start contemplating the bath houses and, rather than dream about clandestine sexual encounters with beautiful women, as most men (?) would, we readers bear witness to this wonderful erotic desire he has to simply masturbate – but then, he finds he is limp and can’t perform. How bizarre! Certainly there’s something to be said, here, about Leopold’s manliness (or lack thereof). He’s ordered around by his wife and cannot even self-gratify (in a daydream, no less). Also not to be missed, probably, are the recurring descriptions of bed posts jingling – foreshadowing something, maybe?

cerberus_by_neonkitty9-d344xnzHades: So far, Hades has been my least favorite episode. I did enjoy the “descent” towards Hades, which included the “heroes” being ferried (in a coach) across the four rivers of Hades (here the Dodder, the Liffey, the Grand Canal, and the Royal Canal). Also, the many other parallels to Greek mythology, such as the mention of Rudolph Bloom’s dog, Athos, which must be an allusion to Odysseus’s dog Argos. Athos, though, is even more interesting in that its root is probably theos, meaning god, which reinforces the whole Joycean quip that “God is just dog backwards.” This is probably not the first allusion made to that particular joke, but it’s definitely the most overt. Carrying on that theme is the dog-like Father Coffey, who must be Ulysses’s answer to Cerberus, the giant, three-headed dog who guards the gates of Hades. There’s even a joke in the episode about dog biscuits!

I think this episode is the most clear, so far, in describing Bloom as an outsider. He is often misunderstood, misheard, or simply ignored by those around him, and he makes some serious fauxs pas when the group is discussing death and he says that it seems dying in one’s sleep, peacefully, would be the best way to go. Of course, for Roman Catholics, this would be horrifying, as sudden deaths do not allow time for one to repent, which is necessary for admittance to heaven. And, when discussing suicide, Bloom thinks to himself about how suicides used to be treated and gives probably one of my favorite lines of the book, so far: “They used to drive a stake of wood through his heart in the grave, as if it wasn’t broken already.” Bloom’s humanism starts to come through, here, and I found it truly touching, especially as the other men are discussing death in such a clinical, “by the rules” sort of way.

Some recurring themes from previous episodes that are revisited in this one include the idea of the “navelcord,” which here describes the coffin band but also recalls Stephen’s wish to telephone (via the umbilical cord) back to Eden. There is also the father-son theme again, which is one of the religious themes already presented, and the contemplation of shape and appearance (here, Bloom is thinking about his wife, Molly, but in Proteus, it was Stephen thinking about the shape of various objects). The parallel between this episode and Proteus is in fact quite strong. One new element I noticed, though, is the motif of the nails – Bloom considering his own nails, Bloom considering the nails and hair of corpses, Bloom wondering if the corpse’s body (Dignam, whose funeral they are at) would bleed if it were cut by a nail, etc. Is Bloom, then, a Christ-figure? Is he, too, being crucified, in a way, through isolation, in order to be reborn as something else later in the story? What else do Bloom and Dedalus have in common?


So, there are my thoughts on the first 6 episodes. Did I miss anything that you found interesting/important/funny, etc?


The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius was the Emperor of Rome from 161 to 180. Marcus Aurelius was known as one of the “Five Good Emperors” and was, indeed, the last of those. Having followed such Emperors as Caligula and Nero, Marcus Aurelius, a stoic general, fair but fierce, was well-respected in his time and remained so afterward, although his son Commodus thought he was weak (mistaking patience, poise, and temperament for weakness). My edition is the Penguin Classics Clothbound, which has both a brilliant introduction and exceptional end notes. 

The Meditations are essentially a collection of diary entries. Marcus Aurelius takes a philosophical and introspective approach to assessing his own personal and political life, including his relationships with family, friends, and teachers. He treats his daily and his whole life as a constant work-in-progress. One of the more unique aspects of this text is that they were never meant for public consumption, so one might argue that they have a rare honesty  and vulnerability in comparison with other classical texts.

When I first read the Meditations, I took them one at a time. This was a slow process, as each entry tends to be just a few lines in length, and there are hundreds of them. This time, I read them rather quickly, as a refresher/re-introduction to Stoic philosophy, which I am practicing much more practically and conscientiously this year (I am reading a variety of stoic writings but also engaging in a year-long daily stoic reading and writing exercise). Reading Marcus Aurelius was a helpful start because, like many of us (and probably more than most), as an Emperor and general, he was an extremely busy man. He felt the weight of the world on his shoulders and had to spend a lot of time on others’ needs. As a stoic, he often reminded himself to distinguish between what is necessary and what is frivolous, what he could control and what he could not; and he maintained perspective by writing daily, whenever he could find the time (usually in the morning or the evening).

In that spirit, I have been doing the same: reminding myself to control what I can, and to let go what I cannot. It has also been important to find time to write every day. Most of Marcus Aurelius’s writings seem to be reflections, which means he probably wrote them at night before bed; I have been trying to write briefly in the morning, pondering a particular stoic teaching and beginning my day with it in mind, and then writing briefly at night, reflecting on where I was successful or where I could do better. The exercises have been helpful in my personal and professional life so far, and thinking about them in context with one of the original and most prominent stoic philosophers has been an interesting experiment.

The Meditations are separated into twelve books, each with its own theme (sometimes tightly woven, sometimes a bit looser). They range from reflections on politics and his role as Emperor, to lessons learned from the important people in his life, to thoughts on religion and spirituality, atheism and the afterlife. Whether taking a single entry at a time, or one book at a time, or any combination thereof, the Meditations reveal the perpetual process of a thoughtful man determined to live a good life, to treat others better (though that was a daily struggle), and to find peace in the chaos.

Some of my particular favorite entries:

“It is ridiculous not to escape from one’s own vices, which is possible, while trying to escape the vices of others, which is impossible.” (7.71)

“Vanity is the greatest seducer of reason: when you are most convinced that your work is important, that is when you are most under its spell.” (6.13)

“Think of the whole of existence, of which you are the tiniest part; think of the whole of time, in which you have been assigned a brief and fleeting moment; think of destiny – what fraction of that are you?” (5.24)

“Fit yourself for the matters which have fallen to your lot, and love these people among whom destiny has cast you – but your love must be genuine.” (6.39)