Poetry of the Dangerous Classes

After striking the cranium the bullet was moving at 900 feet per second, a pathetically sluggish, glacial pace compared to the synaptic lighting that flashed around it. Once in the brain, that is, the bullet came under the mediation of brain time, which gave Anders plenty of leisure to contemplate the scene that, in a phrase he would have abhorred, ‘passed before his eyes.’

— Tobias Wolff, “Bullet in the Brain”

I want to talk about one of my favourite short stories today: “Bullet in the Brain” by Tobias Wolff. (Please click on the title to read it and then come back; otherwise this post isn’t going to be very interesting. And be careful — graphic imagery ahead!)

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Reign of the Table

With a large part of the populus at war with various long-standing and once-believed-sensible institutions — government, the economy, even society itself — it comes as no surprise that our timeless scorn of bureaucracy hasn’t let up either. In fact, you could make a good case for this shared hatred to have the potential to bridge the political divide that has been growing in many Western countries. Finally, something on which we can all agree.

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My Natural Idiom

I have an idea that some men are born out of their due place. Accident has cast them amid certain surroundings, but they have always a nostalgia for a home they know not. They are strangers in their birthplace, and the leafy lanes they have known from childhood or the populous streets in which they have played, remain but a place of passage. (…) Sometimes a man hits upon a place to which he mysteriously feels that he belongs. Here is the home he sought, and he will settle amid scenes that he has never seen among men he has never known, as though they were familiar to him from his birth. Here at last he finds rest.

— W. Somerset Maugham, The Moon and Sixpence

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An Ode to João

Há novos muros de Berlim, novas cortinas de ferro, novas barreiras, ódios velhos renovados. Os famintos e perseguidos batem à porta dos prósperos — prósperos estes muitas vezes às custas dos que exploraram tanto tempo — e as portas se fecham. O diferente é visto com desconfiança ou desprezo. (…) A diversidade é a glória do homem, mas a rejeitamos pelo desejo de uma uniformidade castradora e falsamente segura. Foram quinze meses em Berlim. Storkwinkel 12, Halensee, pertinho da Rathenauplatz. Foi muito bom: temeremos menos, compreenderemos mais e, se Deus for servido, amaremos mais.

— João Ubaldo Ribeiro, Um Brasileiro em Berlim

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The Atrocity of Composition

I hate tricks. At the first sign of a trick or a gimmick in a piece of fiction, a cheap trick or even an elaborate trick, I tend to look for cover. (…) Writers don’t need tricks or gimmicks or even necessarily need to be the smartest fellows on the block. At the risk of appearing foolish, a writer sometimes needs to be able to just stand and gape at this or that thing — a sunset or an old shoe — in absolute and simple amazement.

— Raymond Carver, “On Writing”

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Que Pena

Here we are: another university term of feigned confidence is drawing to a close. I’m officially done with exams, and semester break is holding me in its warm embrace. You know what that means: time to celebrate my freedom from the clutches of education by giving an unsolicited account of my intellectual progress!

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