From the Times Literary Supplement: Dylan’s voice, music, and words

A visionary trinity. ProfesSir Christopher Ricks is one of the most energetic octogenarians we have on the literary scene. Age has clearly not impaired his hearing, which has been and remains so keenly attune to the sounds and subtleties of (among others) Milton and Tennyson, that it has served as an aid for our own. Dylan’s Visions of Sin, one of his more recent hearing aids, has helped the tone deaf to attend not only to Dylan’s allusions, but also to the music in the words that themselves play as Dylan plays and pays tribute to his tambourine men. In turn, the poet has himself earned tribute, recently being awarded the nobel prize for literature. Was this supposed to be among those sins that expositor had argued the poet as envisioning?:”Literature? But he’s a folk-singer!”

Some reminders, since one of Dylan’s powers is that of a great reminder.

First, that every artist, insofar as he or she is great as well as original, has had the task of creating the taste by which

Niels Meilvang/EPA, Image for The Times Literary Supplement

Niels Meilvang/EPA, Image for The Times Literary Supplement

the art is to be enjoyed (Wordsworth’s conviction). Second, that the art of song is a triple art, a true compound. And it doesn’t make sense to ask which element of a compound is more important: the voice, or the music, or the words? (Which is more important in water, the oxygen or the hydrogen?) And that therefore there is a danger, even while we are very grateful this time to the Nobel Committee, if we simply allocate Dylan’s art of song to literature or Literature, of our privileging the words, as though song were not a triangle and often an equilateral triangle.

(In water, I would much prefer oxygen to hydrogen.) We must not so obtusely consider Dylan’s art by neglecting the triangle, often equilateral–acute observation. Not triangulating between those dumb of Dylan’s literary virtues (in his visions of sin) and others in praise of them, but between those in the latter group, minding us that Dylan’s genius comes in his being able to so valuably combine three mediums into a high art that reaches us all.

When Dylan sings condemned to drift or else be kept from drifting, he compounds it all, with voice and music joining with words within a different drift and drive. And his drive?

Why are you doing what you’re doing?
[Pause] Because I don’t know anything else to do. Im good at it.
How would you describe it?
Im an artist. I try to create art.

More than try. The Nobel citation speaks of Dylan as having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition. More, even, than that.

It is the same reason why Auden hailed Professor Ricks as the “critic every poet dreams of finding,” that critics like Samuel Johnson and Christopher Ricks are so good at reminding. More, even, than that.

Read his full post at The Times Literary Supplement

Autumn in Full Color

Fall colors outside the Castle, October 2016.  Photo by Kassandra Round.

A fall scene outside the Castle, October 2016. Photo by Kassandra Round.

At The End, A Beginning: A playlist to accompany the books of Genesis and Exodus

In case you need any help resonating with the gravitas of these texts…..

1. Bob Marley’s “Exodus”

Marley’s lyrics like “We’re the generation…trod through great tribulation” in this classic reggae hit lend millennial readers of the Hebrew Bible some additional encouragement in a time of much political upheaval in the United States.


2. Berliner Philharmoniker-Go Down, Moses-arr. Tippet


One of the world’s most famous classical performance groups perfectly capture the pain and rapture of Moses’ trials throughout the book of Exodus and of the spirit in which the hymn was originally conceived, as an American spiritual that originated as a hymn sung amongst slaves in the American south, both before and after the abolition of slavery.


3. Soundtrack Suite to the Ten Commandments

The acclaimed score to the classic 1956 Cecil B. DeMille film interpretation of the Book of Exodus.


4. Leonard Cohen- You Want It Darker

The hit Canadian singer released this track on his 2016 album by the same title, grappling with religion, age, sex, and “one’s demons”…


5. De La Soul- Exodus

Off of the acclaimed hip-hop group’s 2016 album “And the Anonymous Nobody….”, this track makes the playlist with its lyrical rhymes and the aching sentiment that “It’s the years that we own and we’ve earned them/ see the bridges we built now are burned down…”.


6. Jeff Buckley- Hallelujah

Jeff Buckley’s heart-wrenching 1994 ballad is a play not on the force and gravitas of the books of Genesis and Exodus, but on the hidden vulnerabilities and raw pain that can be accessed through religious comparison.



7. Matisyahu- Jerusalem (Out Of Darkness Comes Light)

Mathew Paul Miller, better known by his Hebrew and stage name, Matisyahu (meaning gift from God), is a Jewish-American hip-hop artist, best known for blending themes from his Orthodox Reconstructionist Jewish background with reggae and hip-hop music.

  1. Hazel O’Connor-Eighth Day

Off the punk icon’s 1980 record entitled “Breaking Glass”, Hazel O’Connor offers a decidedly more punk interpretation of the Creation, in what she calls “an alternative Book of Genesis”.

  1. Bob Dylan- Every Grain of Sand

This quiet ballad by Dylan came in 1981, just after he was born again into Christianity, and references the Book of Genesis. Music critic Tim Riley of National Public Radio calls it “aprayer that inhabits the same intuitive zone as “Blowin’ in the Wind” – you’d swear it was a hymn passed down through the ages.”


“That’s Gilgamesh’d Up”: Recreating the Music of Ancient Sumer

We know what you’re thinking. Gilgamesh… sung? No, it’s not the newest historical musical, hoping to capitalize on the hysteria for history-themed performances catalyzed by Hamilton. We’re talked here aboutthe opening lines of the Epic of Gilgamesh performed by musician Peter Pringle. The piece is not only played on a Sumerian lute called a “gish-gu-di” but is also sung in ancient Sumerian. You can’t get any more authentic than that, or so says Pringle:

The EPIC OF GILGAMESH is the earliest great work of literature that we know of, and was first written down by the Sumerians around 2100 B.C.

Ancient Sumer was the land that lay between the two rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, in Mesopotamia. The language that the Sumerians spoke was unrelated to the Semitic languages of their neighbors the Akkadians and Babylonians, and it was written in a syllabary (a kind of alphabet) called “cuneiform”. By 2000 B.C., the language of Sumer had almost completely died out and was used only by scholars (like Latin is today). No one knows how it was pronounced because it has not been heard in 4000 years.

What you hear in this video are a few of the opening lines of part of the epic poem, accompanied only by a long-neck, three-string, Sumerian lute known as a “gish-gu-di”. The instrument is tuned to G – G – D, and although it is similar to other long neck lutes still in use today (the tar, the setar, the saz, etc.) the modern instruments are low tension and strung with fine steel wire. The ancient long neck lutes (such as the Egyptian “nefer”) were strung with gut and behaved slightly differently. The short-neck lute known as the “oud” is strung with gut/nylon, and its sound has much in common with the ancient long-neck lute although the oud is not a fretted instrument and its strings are much shorter (about 25 inches or 63 cm) as compared to 32 inches (82 cm) on a long-neck instrument.

Andy Lowings plays The Flood.  Image for the Lyre EnsembleInterested in more Sumerian music? Then you shouldlisten to The Flood by the Lyre Ensemble, as recommended by Core alum and University of Texas grad Dygo Tosa (Core ’06, CAS ’08)… he’s a Classics teacher at Brookline High School, and he knows from oldies but goodies. The Floodis an album of ancient Sumerian and Babylonian music that features the sounds of a replica of the Gold Lyre of Ur. Listen to a preview here and let Core know what you think. (We envision the first week of CC 101 as far more impressive if the lecturer opened with a reading of Gilgamesh in its original tongue, but that’s just us.)

From Vox: Trumps grab ‘em by the p***y line anticipated by 600 years

That “Canterbury” contains “Cant-“, and that “cant” shares a precarious assonance with another word, suggests that one of our most Donald_Trump_(8566730507)_(2)literate bards and bawds, Chaucer, might have anticipated Trump’s latest perversion. This possibility was recently illuminated by Constance Grady at Vox. Or, less likely, Trump might have been paying tribute in his comment to some of his favorite poesy. If so, then he is in every sense of the word medieval, but classicist in delivery, combining with his own thumping demagoguery the Roman art of declamation. The most famous of these rhetoricians was Quintillian, whom in addition to Trump, Chaucer might have been alewding while brooding the following lines.

And prively he caught hire by the queynte,
And seyde, Ywis, but if ich have my wille,
For deerne love of thee, lemman, I spille.

Suprisingly, wille is not willy, and spille is not spilly. In modern English, which translates roughly into Trump, it would read:

And discretely he caught her by the pleasing thing,
And said, Oh, but if I have my will,
For secret love of you, darling, Ill die.

This was from Nicholas, a puerile bibliophile, to the beautiful Alison, who today, willy-nilly, would probably not have given her number, or vote. “This kind of violent, domineering act is not acceptable. It has been around for centuries, and it has never been acceptable. If Trumps words emerge, as Drimmer and Fleming argue, from our cultural legacy, then it is our responsibility to come to terms with that legacy. It is our responsibility to show the Nicholases and Don Drapers and Trumps of the world that their actions are reprehensible,” and pusillanimous.

Read Grady’sfull post at Vox.

From BUToday: Rite of Passage 2016: Learning from Adversity

If anyone has a story that can justly be called BUnique and BUtiful, then one of our Core first-year students, Abbey Janeira, has certainly made her own a strong candidate. She was profiled in a recent article at BU Today:

Abbey Janeira (CAS ’20) is used to facing challenges. As an eighth grader, she was diagnosed with a chronic, often debilitating medical condition that led to frequent hospitalizations throughout high school and often left her feeling alone. Despite that, she says, she was able to maintain a 4.0 grade point average.

Image for BUToday

Image for BUToday

A year and a half ago, Janeira’s family life changed dramatically when her mother decided to adopt five children from Bulgaria, all with special needs or critical medical issues. (She also has an older sister.) Where many would be daunted by the challenge of helping to care for so many siblings with pressing health care concerns, Janeira embraced it.

When you’re having a bad day and you’re sitting there and feeling upset, she says, they can tell and they just come up to you and give you a hug. Its not something you can replicate with anyone else.

Janeira says she’s wanted to be a doctor her whole life, but that dealing with her own illness and that of her brothers and sisters has made her determined to become a pediatric surgeon and researcher. Her goal is to find a cure for spina bifida, a condition that has left her four-year-old sister, Addison, in a wheelchair. “It’s made me more understanding of other peoples situations as well as my own,” she says.

The last bit really strikes the Core note doesn’t it?On that note, welcome to Core, Abbey. We’re glad you’re part of our community. (We encourage readers to leave their own message of welcome in the comments section below.)

Meet Abbey at BU Today.

From The Guardian: Stop pushing the same ‘classic’ books, trust modern writing

One reason why it is necessary to keep “pushing” the “classic books” is that they strengthen the things that remain. For one of our present monomanias is for “innovation,” against which the classical works provide much needed traction.Without it, it is easy to feel one is living a chopping-block mode of existence, bound to cut oneself as the present accelerates implacably toward the “cutting-edge.” Slashing away, Samantha Shannon, writer of paranormal and dystopian juvenilia, is dyspeptic that the BBC (Big Boring Classicist) recommends for kids a list of books so predictable that it has made us all clairvoyant. Dyspepsia relieved:

Shutting todays children out ... a closed library in Hackney, London. Photograph: Garry Weaser for the Guardian

Shutting todays children out … a closed library in Hackney, London. Photograph: Garry Weaser for the Guardian

The list isnt a bad one. Its just not a new one. Created by the public, it sets out 10 books that children should read, and includes the usual suspects: The Lord of the Rings, To Kill a Mockingbird and the Bible, with Harry Potter coming out on top. Yes, its right that we acknowledge that they are all important contributions to the history of literature; yes, it is also understandable that we want the next generation to experience the books that we have loved.

But havent we seen lists like this one too many times before? I was reminded of the 25 books that will stick with you and blow your mind list that the Independent released in February. With the exception of Frankenstein, the list was made up solely of books by white men, most of whose names are already entrenched in the public consciousness. The list in question acclaimed the books for withstanding the test of time but what about books written in our time? Why do we invest such little trust in books written today?

I should think that H.P. Lovecraft would be the stronger candidate than H.P. “the boy who lived.” But then, the former is one of the white men who died. But to answer: the book and the cask show that time makes lucrative both the investment and the interest. And it is Poe and the Apostles who show how in combination (books and wine), they can also make for good paranormal fiction.

Read her full post atThe Guardian

From The Atlantic: How Banning Books Marginalizes Children

In this corner, the cries for diversity are heard so regularly, that one can’t help but to feel they are unified into some kind of chant. Meanwhile, the coroner is busy trying to figure out why a tiny but vicious minority of those marching is taking aim at the canonical paladins, otherwise called Dead White Men (DWMs). Professor Paul Ringler has therefore raised a very timely beacon at The Atlantic, which might provide a useful distraction for the diversifiers. Quickly, they must dispatch a band for the children’s publishing industries, where not only are paladins and Aladdins alike being held prisoners, but where their arguments would seem comparatively adult. If nothing else, there is evidence to suggest that the publishers have DWMs, and we must not let the children get hold of them at any cost. What costs, Dr. Ringler?

52 percentof the books challenged or banned in the last 10 years feature so-called diverse contentthat is, they explore issues such as race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, mental illness, and disability.

Who benefits when Sherman Alexie’s TheAbsolutely TrueDiary of Part-Time Indian, which deals with racism, poverty, and disability, is banned for language and anti-Christian content?

Illustration for The Atlantic

Illustration for The Atlantic

Who’s hurt when Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings’s picture bookI Am Jazz, about a transgender girl, is banned? The history of children’s book publishing in America offers insight into the ways in which traditional attitudes about appropriate stories often end up marginalizing the lives and experiences of many young readers,rather than protecting them.

When librarians and teachers reject works that may be emotionally inappropriate for children (a common reason), they’re adhering to the traditional and mostly prevailing view that children’s literature should avoid controversial topics. Its understandable that adults want to minimize children’s anxiety, and schools are often under intense social and financial pressure to maintain established standards. But it s also important to recognize that this tradition was established in the 19th century to serve the needs of the white, wealthy Protestant producers and consumers who have dominated the field of American children’s literature for much of the past 200 years.

With Dr. Ringler beating the drums of war, now more than ever it is time to find a leader. We sound the clarion for Lord Nelson, in whom is combined all the powers in the grand lineage from Homer to Joyce, to return in due course and restore to order the office that has been pillaged, ravaged, and debauched in her absence.For the kids: “Once more unto the breeches, dear Nelson, once more.”

Read his full post at The Atlantic.

A note from Lord Nelson

Our “Lord Nelson” — Prof. Nelson, director of Core, on sabbatical this year while the ship is being helmed by Acting Director Prof. Diana Wylie — is in Ireland, away from the academic high-mindedness (and occasional hijinks) of the Core office. Thinking that we wouldn’t want her to miss out, we wrote her a quick note last week, letting her know how things were going. In Nelsonian fashion, she wrote back quite soon after, addressing comments to some of the specific Core office inhabitants, and to the Core community generally. For your interest, we share her email below.

From: Nelson, Stephanie
Sent: Friday, September 30
To: Core Curriculum

faculty_nelson_saddleHello Core Curriculum!

How great to get your message. I’m delighted all is well there and you seem to have all wonderfully under control.

Tell Femke [Femke Hermse, Senior Peer Mentor for the Natural Sciences courses]that I’ve discovered something very extraordinary, which is that if you actually get to sleep as much as you want to at night you don’t find yourself falling asleep during the day. You actually don’t even feel tired! It’s amazing. Tell her that she should try it. And so who says Yanni will necessarily be getting a Polytropos award?[Yanni Metaxas, Core senior and office staff member]

Everything is wonderful here. The only tragedy was that one of my hens was run over, but the poor woman who did it was so very upset I couldn’t be mad. And she left a whole big bag full of strawberry plants for the garden the next day, which was very sweet. I just need to find a day that it’s not raining so I can plant them. I’m going this evening to Cavan, the big town, to the immigration officer who seems to drop by the Garda (Police) Office once a month or so, to see if he’ll let me stay until December. Fingers crossed!

And I diligently write away at the Joyce and Homer book every morning until at least 1:00. Even if the sun is shining and I have strawberry plants to plant.

Very much looking forward to meeting Gilligan [the Core office’s resident freshwater turtle]. Do give him my best and tell him he’s very welcome indeed. I was thinking we needed some intelligent life around the place…



Persons wishing to say hello to Prof. Nelson themselves, can reach her via email:

From The New York Times: Can You Read a Book the Wrong Way?

Some people are so religiously devoted to a method of reading that we may properly call them Methodists. Others feel the text should be all things to all men, which is good politics but bad for criticism. For if every interpretation is welcomed open-armed, then little room is left for pressing one reading against any another.Lolita may then be read as a spiritual allegory, a

Adam Kirsch Credit Illustration by R. Kikuo Johnson, for The New York Times

Adam Kirsch Credit Illustration by R. Kikuo Johnson, for The New York Times

policy solution, or anything else in between with equal justification. Two agnostics at The New York Times, Adam Kirsch and Anna Holmes, debate the matter. Ultimately, both invoke the impenetrable defense: Its subjective! Where do they differ? On Virgil, Kirsch writes:

One thing he surely did not think he was writing was a fortunetelling guide. But soon enough, readers began to use the poem to perform the sortes Virgilianae, or Virgilian lots, in which you would think of a question and then select a verse at random to

answer it. Using the Aeneid as a kind of oracle remained popular for a very long time: The emperor Hadrian did it in the second century A.D., and King Charles I was still doing it 1,500 years later.

Here, if anywhere, is surely an example of reading a book the wrong way.

Centuries ahead, Mrs. Holmes opines:

As for reading portions of a narrative out of order, some books are obviously meant to be consumed this way

Anna Holmes Credit Illustration by R. Kikuo Johnson, for The New York Times

Anna Holmes Credit Illustration by R. Kikuo Johnson, for The New York Times

(collections of essays and poetry; reference books and anthologies) or, at the very least, manage to dispense with the very idea of a beginning and an end. Skipping or skimming parts of a narrative should not only be expected but encouraged, particularly if an author is writing without clarity or purpose or showing off. Lifes too short to slog through some smarty-pants attempt to demonstrate a mastery of mechanical engineering or botany.

Advice that would make it difficult to learn either mechanical engineering or botany: Or am I just reading her unjustly? Says who? Blunt surface reading can lapse just as easily into prating interpretation, and it is not clear which is the worse. Ideally, close reading will show the work of literature as standing in tension with itself. It is the task of the critic then to tilt the lenticular, showing the immense implications that subtle differences in meaning can have. Is it “April is the cruelest month,” or “April is the cruelest month”? Or December?

Read the debate at The New York Times