Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Celebrities on Twitter

For me, Twitter is about microblogging and mediated social interaction, but not surprisingly, it also produces its own celebrities (one of my arguments, going back to my doctoral dissertation, is that every new medium results in a new kind of hero, or as we call them nowadays, celebrity), celebrities famous for their tweets and overall presence on Twitter. And Twitter also becomes a means of self-promotion for celebrities who, by definition, turn all that they do into "advertisements for myself," to use Norman Mailer's famous phrase.

Networks being ecologies by another name, as media ecologists should well understand, it is interesting to consider the niche that major celebrities make for themselves on this social medium. This was the topic of a New York Times article written by John Metcalfe appearing in the Sunday Styles section, March 29, 2009, p. 11, and entitled The Celebrity Twitter Ecosystem. Here's what Metcalfe had to say:

HONESTLY, does anyone care that Martha Stewart has a blog supposedly written by her French bulldogs, Francesca and Sharkey?

Snoop Dogg might, perhaps, because Ms. Stewart recently sent him a Twitter message urging him to visit “The Daily Wag.” “Yo Snoop,” she wrote, “check out MY doggies’ new doggie blog.”

Tha Doggfather received this dubious shout-out because Ms. Stewart follows him on Twitter — “following” being Twitterspeak for signing up to get someone’s musings delivered directly to your cellphone or computer. She is also following P. Diddy, Rachel Maddow and Jimmy Fallon and, in turn, is followed by Michael Phelps, Jane Fonda and nearly 200,000 other people; they were all alerted on March 4, for instance, when she had lunch with Ludacris, whom she found “just charming” and who “loved lunch — esp. choc cake.”

Now, of course, this use of twitter might make you titter, if not guffaw, but keep in mind that the celebrity industry has meant big bucks for a long time, from the early 20th century movie star fan magazines and gossip columns, to periodicals like the National Enquirer and People magazine, to television in general, not to mention celebrity news programming like Entertainment Tonight and Access Hollywood, and now TMZ on TV and online. But this celebrity twitter is something new, as we get to observe celebrities interact with each other, and celebrities behave like fans as they encounter other celebrities:

That Ms. Stewart recently broke bread with the artist behind “Pimpin’ All Over the World” is just one of the many weird bits of trivia that can be gleaned about famous people on Twitter. There are at least a hundred well-known actors, singers, business magnates, politicians and writers using the service, and their chitchat — most of it authentically written by the stars themselves, according to interviews with them or their publicists — is available for anybody to see. (Not to obsess too much over Martha, but just the other day she welcomed Emeril Lagasse to Twitter, sending him a note that said, “i am still loving the etouffee you made yesterday.” O.K., yes, she did buy up most of his franchise last year, but there you go.)

What is the sound of celebrities tweeting? Well, it might be Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails notifying Dave Navarro, a musical collaborator who now plays for Jane’s Addiction, that he’s “hanging on the bus.” Or maybe it’s Ashton Kutcher and John Mayer comparing notes on being 31 years old (from John to Ashton: “Let’s open a hip new restaurant together. ‘31 club.’ Where it’s always standing room only. It will fail but we will have had fun.”).

Most celebrities let anybody follow them on Twitter, but are pickier about whom they follow themselves. Mr. Kutcher, for instance, in addition to following his wife (Demi Moore) and a stepdaughter (Rumer Willis), follows a mix of boldface names from different walks of life, including Evan Williams (a Twitter founder), Soleil Moon Frye (remember “Punky Brewster”?), Maria Shriver and Ellen DeGeneres. (The latter two are not shown on the already-too-crowded chart below.)

It seems that — just like the rest of us — celebrities enjoy hearing about other celebrities, and Twitter lets them participate in a giant cross-disciplinary mash-up of a conversation.

Of course, the allure of celebrities on Twitter is the sense that we are allowed into their backstage, private lives that the papparazzi only provide a fleeting glimpse of. And of course, that they are offering themselves unscripted, unfiltered, un-thought-out, in candid moments of stupidity and failure:

To the delight of many, some celebrities expose themselves on Twitter in a way you won’t see in Entertainment Weekly. “I love it when they don’t talk with their publicists before posting things,” said Mario Lavandeira, who is better known as the gossipmonger Perez Hilton, “like Solange Knowles talking about how she was taking a lot of Nyquil and then ended up passing out at the airport.” (Erykah Badu and Q-Tip were among 23,000 people who received Ms. Knowles’s increasingly distressed alerts on Feb. 17, which culminated a day later with the tweet: “Woaah ...How’d I end up in the hospital?”)

Unlike the heroes of previous media environments, celebrities are often ironic figures, especially when they lose control of their images, and come across as inferior to us, their fans, in many ways, their lives out of control, unable to manage their emotions or remain in a stable relationship, and are prone to accident, injury, addiction, sickness, and suicide.

On that subject, one of the students in my Interactive Media class at Fordham University, Dominic Caponi, posted on our class blog, The Social Moose, a short piece, That's how I beat Shaq, which identified an interesting article in Time magazine entitled Celebrity Twittering: Is That Really You, Shaq? written by Claire Suddath, and dated March 24, 2009. This one focuses on the interaction between celebrity and fans via Twitter:

He wasn't really Shaq. He couldn't have been. The person known on Twitter as THE_REAL_SHAQ sometimes posted more than 50 Tweets — 140-character dispatches — daily, broadcasting his thoughts, actions and feelings to some 327,000 subscribers to his Twitter feed. Surely the four-time NBA champion had better things to do than tell random people what he was up to more than twice an hour.

That's what Phoenix software engineers Jesse Bearden and Sean Neden thought — until they used THE_REAL_SHAQ's Tweets to find out.

Enticing lead, and now for a bit of general information:

More than 6 million people mini-blog about their lives on Twitter, including a surprising number of celebrities. Sean (Diddy) Combs recently Twittered about a tantric sex session, a 48-hour juice fast and taking a bubble bath with an Oscar statue. John Cleese has written about his pet chickens, while MC Hammer has mused on the economy ("We just fed the nation 15 [years] of evil soup. Now we're throwing up"). Other celebrities, including Shaquille O'Neal, post actual information about where they are and what they're doing. And they encourage fans to meet them.

And back to this partciular story about Shaq:

When THE_REAL_SHAQ wrote that he was eating at 5 & Diner — a chain of 1950s-themed restaurants throughout the Southwest — Bearden and Neden drove over to the downtown Phoenix location to see if it was really him. They found the 7 ft. 1 in., 320-lb. Phoenix Suns center seated alone in a corner booth, futzing with his cell phone. "He looked just like a random guy at a diner," says Neden. "Except, you know, he was Shaq."

The men ignored the superstar as they walked to a nearby table, where they proceeded to argue about whether they should approach him. "We tried to act cool," says Bearden, "but I guess he could hear us arguing." Suddenly Neden's phone vibrated with a Twitter message. "R there any twitterers in 5 n diner wit me?" asked THE_REAL_SHAQ. "Say something." So they slid into the booth next to their idol, talked about Twitter and cell phones, and got their photo taken with the man whose hands, they say, "were like bear claws."

Now here comes a brief acknowledgement of how crazy it is for O'Neil to be doing this. Very brief, because the story is mostly a celebration of the democratizing effect of Twitter, so it would be a bit of a downer to bring up the fact that this would be a great medium for stalkers, kidnappers, and assassins:

It's debatable whether O'Neal, who commands a $20 million salary from the Suns and has earned more than $250 million during his NBA career, should be giving out his real-time location on the Internet. But it's clear that he isn't the only celebrity for whom Twitter has changed the relationship between object of adulation and adulator.

Earlier this month, actor Levar Burton sent a message to his 146,000 Twitter followers inviting them to a "Tweetup" at a Toronto bar. About 40 people showed up, some because they were die-hard Star Trek fans, others because they had nothing better to do. Burton says he felt safe because of the type of fans he attracts. "Star Trek, Roots and Reading Rainbow had great cultural impact and inspire great fondness in people," he explains. "I don't have the type of fans who come up to me and want to put a cigarette out on my arm."

John Hodgman, an author and the PC in the Mac ads, uses his 50,000 Twitter followers, whom he refers to as "Hive Mind," as a focus group for his books. He considered removing a reference to Tron in the paperback version of More Information Than You Require, but Hive Mind unanimously asked him to keep it in. "So I will," he says. "And I will probably note that the Internet liked it."
Of course, at this point we get into a whole other phenomenon, the hive mind or crowd-sourcing, use Twitter responses as a source of information. This does suggest some interesting possibilities for collaboration between celebrities and fans. But somehow, I suspect that this boosterism will last only as long as it takes for the next David Chapman to come along (just in case you're not familiar with the reference, he's the guy who killed John Lennon). But for now, well, here's the deal:

"I see this whole Twitter thing as a social experiment," says Burton. "When I meet fans, normally a studio or somebody has set up an event and there is an agenda. Now I can do it myself." Burton plans to host another meetup in the future, though he has to be careful, he says, because his wife doesn't like them. "She said it was dangerous," says Burton. "Then again, she's from Indiana."

So far, O'Neal's fan encounters have been safe. Sometimes when he plays hide-and-seek, no one even comes to find him. But as Twitter user and host of VH1's Best Week Ever Paul F. Tompkins puts it, "Anything's easier to do if you're a giant."

So far. The celebrity-fan relationship is a very tricky one, because there is so little distance between the two to begin with, in contrast to the heroes that emerged out of print culture, manuscript culture, and oral culture. But celebrities will always be happy to associate with one another, as this reinforces their celebrity status. To return to The Celebrity Twitter Ecosystem for the end of the article, Metclafe concludes:

The accompanying chart shows a small and idiosyncratic sample of the celebrities who follow one another on Twitter. It represents a snapshot taken from March 18, and should be read with the caveat that allegiances can change quickly on Twitter (followers can drop follow-ees with a simple keystroke, and vice versa). Except for a few obvious fakes (Vladimir Putin), these accounts are all authentic, even if they might not seem like it.

And here now is the chart, which is rather extraordinary, after all, as an illustration, that is, not for the significance of its content:

Is there an obsession with Twitter these days? Sure seems like it. Over in the New York Times Week in Review section, they featured an editorial cartoon by Mike Keefe of the Denver Post on the subject:

As a communication scholar, I'd like to applaud Keefe for addressing the subject. Of course, writing does not go back to the "caveman" days, but rather to the first city-states of the Sumerians of Mesopotamia, who invented cuneiform, which was originally written on clay tablets, not stone. But hey, A for effort Mike, you know? And a good commentary on what well could be taken as the advancement and decline of verbal communication--Neil Postman would approve. And what could be more highly evolved in all of the twitterverse than celebrity tweets? Indeed, what more is there to say?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Desert Island Poems Part Seven

It all comes down to this. You've seen me post the follow picks:

Desert Island Poems Part One
Desert Island Poems Part Two
Desert Island Poems Part Three

Desert Island Poems Part Four
Desert Island Poems Part Five
Desert Island Poems Part Six

So, now it's time for my final, seventh poem. And for this last selection,
I'm going to return to the ancient world for The Song of Songs. The Song of Songs is one of the books of the Bible, and it's otherwise known as The Song of Solomon or Canticles. The Hebrew name, Shir HaShirim, The Song of Songs, actually means the greatest of songs, the greatest song of all.

The Song of Songs is a love poem, erotic, romantic, taking us from courtship to consummation. It says nothing about God or religion. How then did it make it into the Bible? The practical view is that the Rabbis wanted the Bible to cover every aspect of human life, including relationships.

From another perspective, The Song of Songs is one of three books attributed to King Solomon, presumably about his relationship with the Queen of Sheba. And old Sol being the greatest of the kings of ancient Israel, excepting only his father David, and Solomon also being the king who built the Temple in Jerusalem, his authorship seems to be reason enough to include it. Solomon's three books represent three stages of life, The Song of Songs being virile youth, Proverbs being mature wisdom, and Ecclesiastes being the rant of a cranky old man.

From yet another point of view, though,
The Song of Songs may well have been attributed to Solomon simply to justify its inclusion in the Bible.

The traditional religious perspective, though, is that the love poem is a metaphor for the relationship between God and humanity. We approach each other as lovers, prayer being a form of courtship. We treat each other as persons rather than objects, entering into what Martin Buber called I-Thou or I-You relationships, rather than I-It relationships. Love is not possible in I-It relationships.

We seek communication, which is only possible if we have at least something in common, some common ground. We look for that common ground, and look to increase it through communication, to know one another better and better. Love is the grounding that brings us closer together, and through communication grounded in love, we seek communion, that is oneness, a state of identification and union with our beloved--t
o be as one, a moment of complete communication when communication no longer is necessary, when the medium of love becomes the message in its entirety.

That is why I have chosen this poem.

Parts of
The Song of Songs have been incorporated into the Sabbath liturgy, and it is considered a main foundation of the Kabballah, the tradition of Jewish mysticism.

I am going to try to embed a music player that can play a recording of a recitation in the original Hebrew. It's not exactly the best version, but it can give you an idea of what the poem sounds like, in case you're interested:

In case this doesn't work, here's the URL of the archive where you can go listen to the recording: http://www.archive.org/details/ShirHaShirim-TheSongOfSolomon_565.

The Chabad provide an accurate translation of the Hebrew, along with rabbinic commentary, that you can access here: http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16445

But I'm going to pick an English translation which, while less accurate, is the most poetic English language version of all, and that's the old King James Version. When James I ordered the translation of the Bible into English in the early 17th century, he didn't realize that he was setting into motion one of the most important events in the history of English literature, one that would forever alter and enrich the English language. It has been said that the King James Bible is the only great work of literature, in fact the only great work of any kind, to have been produced by committee. Here then is the greatest of songs in the English language (note that the division into chapter and verse was a later addition to the original text, introduced by the Christian Church):

Canticles (Song of Solomon)


1: The song of songs, which is Solomon's.
2: Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine.
3: Because of the savour of thy good ointments thy name is as ointment poured forth, therefore do the virgins love thee.
4: Draw me, we will run after thee: the king hath brought me into his chambers: we will be glad and rejoice in thee, we will remember thy love more than wine: the upright love thee.
5: I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon.
6: Look not upon me, because I am black, because the sun hath looked upon me: my mother's children were angry with me; they made me the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept.
7: Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon: for why should I be as one that turneth aside by the flocks of thy companions?
8: If thou know not, O thou fairest among women, go thy way forth by the footsteps of the flock, and feed thy kids beside the shepherds' tents.
9: I have compared thee, O my love, to a company of horses in Pharaoh's chariots.
10: Thy cheeks are comely with rows of jewels, thy neck with chains of gold.
11: We will make thee borders of gold with studs of silver.
12: While the king sitteth at his table, my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof.
13: A bundle of myrrh is my wellbeloved unto me; he shall lie all night betwixt my breasts.
14: My beloved is unto me as a cluster of camphire in the vineyards of En-gedi.
15: Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves' eyes.
16: Behold, thou art fair, my beloved, yea, pleasant: also our bed is green.
17: The beams of our house are cedar, and our rafters of fir.


1: I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.
2: As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.
3: As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.
4: He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.
5: Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love.
6: His left hand is under my head, and his right hand doth embrace me.
7: I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes, and by the hinds of the field, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, till he please.
8: The voice of my beloved! behold, he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills.
9: My beloved is like a roe or a young hart: behold, he standeth behind our wall, he looketh forth at the windows, shewing himself through the lattice.
10: My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.
11: For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;
12: The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land;
13: The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.
14: O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely.
15: Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.
16: My beloved is mine, and I am his: he feedeth among the lilies.
17: Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, turn, my beloved, and be thou like a roe or a young hart upon the mountains of Bether.


1: By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, but I found him not.
2: I will rise now, and go about the city in the streets, and in the broad ways I will seek him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, but I found him not.
3: The watchmen that go about the city found me: to whom I said, Saw ye him whom my soul loveth?
4: It was but a little that I passed from them, but I found him whom my soul loveth: I held him, and would not let him go, until I had brought him into my mother's house, and into the chamber of her that conceived me.
5: I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes, and by the hinds of the field, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, till he please.
6: Who is this that cometh out of the wilderness like pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all powders of the merchant?
7: Behold his bed, which is Solomon's; threescore valiant men are about it, of the valiant of Israel.
8: They all hold swords, being expert in war: every man hath his sword upon his thigh because of fear in the night.
9: King Solomon made himself a chariot of the wood of Lebanon.
10: He made the pillars thereof of silver, the bottom thereof of gold, the covering of it of purple, the midst thereof being paved with love, for the daughters of Jerusalem.
11: Go forth, O ye daughters of Zion, and behold king Solomon with the crown wherewith his mother crowned him in the day of his espousals, and in the day of the gladness of his heart.


1: Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves' eyes within thy locks: thy hair is as a flock of goats, that appear from mount Gilead.
2: Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep that are even shorn, which came up from the washing; whereof every one bear twins, and none is barren among them.
3: Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet, and thy speech is comely: thy temples are like a piece of a pomegranate within thy locks.
4: Thy neck is like the tower of David builded for an armoury, whereon there hang a thousand bucklers, all shields of mighty men.
5: Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins, which feed among the lilies.
6: Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, I will get me to the mountain of myrrh, and to the hill of frankincense.
7: Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee.
8: Come with me from Lebanon, my spouse, with me from Lebanon: look from the top of Amana, from the top of Shenir and Hermon, from the lions' dens, from the mountains of the leopards.
9: Thou hast ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse; thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes, with one chain of thy neck.
10: How fair is thy love, my sister, my spouse! how much better is thy love than wine! and the smell of thine ointments than all spices!
11: Thy lips, O my spouse, drop as the honeycomb: honey and milk are under thy tongue; and the smell of thy garments is like the smell of Lebanon.
12: A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.
13: Thy plants are an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits; camphire, with spikenard,
14: Spikenard and saffron; calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense; myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices:
15: A fountain of gardens, a well of living waters, and streams from Lebanon.
16: Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out. Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits.


1: I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse: I have gathered my myrrh with my spice; I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk: eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved.
2: I sleep, but my heart waketh: it is the voice of my beloved that knocketh, saying, Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled: for my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night.
3: I have put off my coat; how shall I put it on? I have washed my feet; how shall I defile them?
4: My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door, and my bowels were moved for him.
5: I rose up to open to my beloved; and my hands dropped with myrrh, and my fingers with sweet smelling myrrh, upon the handles of the lock.
6: I opened to my beloved; but my beloved had withdrawn himself, and was gone: my soul failed when he spake: I sought him, but I could not find him; I called him, but he gave me no answer.
7: The watchmen that went about the city found me, they smote me, they wounded me; the keepers of the walls took away my veil from me.
8: I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if ye find my beloved, that ye tell him, that I am sick of love.
9: What is thy beloved more than another beloved, O thou fairest among women? what is thy beloved more than another beloved, that thou dost so charge us?
10: My beloved is white and ruddy, the chiefest among ten thousand.
11: His head is as the most fine gold, his locks are bushy, and black as a raven.
12: His eyes are as the eyes of doves by the rivers of waters, washed with milk, and fitly set.
13: His cheeks are as a bed of spices, as sweet flowers: his lips like lilies, dropping sweet smelling myrrh.
14: His hands are as gold rings set with the beryl: his belly is as bright ivory overlaid with sapphires.
15: His legs are as pillars of marble, set upon sockets of fine gold: his countenance is as Lebanon, excellent as the cedars.
16: His mouth is most sweet: yea, he is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.


1: Whither is thy beloved gone, O thou fairest among women? whither is thy beloved turned aside? that we may seek him with thee.
2: My beloved is gone down into his garden, to the beds of spices, to feed in the gardens, and to gather lilies.
3: I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine: he feedeth among the lilies.
4: Thou art beautiful, O my love, as Tirzah, comely as Jerusalem, terrible as an army with banners.
5: Turn away thine eyes from me, for they have overcome me: thy hair is as a flock of goats that appear from Gilead.
6: Thy teeth are as a flock of sheep which go up from the washing, whereof every one beareth twins, and there is not one barren among them.
7: As a piece of a pomegranate are thy temples within thy locks.
8: There are threescore queens, and fourscore concubines, and virgins without number.
9: My dove, my undefiled is but one; she is the only one of her mother, she is the choice one of her that bare her. The daughters saw her, and blessed her; yea, the queens and the concubines, and they praised her.
10: Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners?
11: I went down into the garden of nuts to see the fruits of the valley, and to see whether the vine flourished, and the pomegranates budded.
12: Or ever I was aware, my soul made me like the chariots of Amminadib.
13: Return, return, O Shulamite; return, return, that we may look upon thee. What will ye see in the Shulamite? As it were the company of two armies.


1: How beautiful are thy feet with shoes, O prince's daughter! the joints of thy thighs are like jewels, the work of the hands of a cunning workman.
2: Thy navel is like a round goblet, which wanteth not liquor: thy belly is like an heap of wheat set about with lilies.
3: Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins.
4: Thy neck is as a tower of ivory; thine eyes like the fishpools in Heshbon, by the gate of Bath-rabbim: thy nose is as the tower of Lebanon which looketh toward Damascus.
5: Thine head upon thee is like Carmel, and the hair of thine head like purple; the king is held in the galleries.
6: How fair and how pleasant art thou, O love, for delights!
7: This thy stature is like to a palm tree, and thy breasts to clusters of grapes.
8: I said, I will go up to the palm tree, I will take hold of the boughs thereof: now also thy breasts shall be as clusters of the vine, and the smell of thy nose like apples;
9: And the roof of thy mouth like the best wine for my beloved, that goeth down sweetly, causing the lips of those that are asleep to speak.
10: I am my beloved's, and his desire is toward me.
11: Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the field; let us lodge in the villages.
12: Let us get up early to the vineyards; let us see if the vine flourish, whether the tender grape appear, and the pomegranates bud forth: there will I give thee my loves.
13: The mandrakes give a smell, and at our gates are all manner of pleasant fruits, new and old, which I have laid up for thee, O my beloved.


1: O that thou wert as my brother, that sucked the breasts of my mother! when I should find thee without, I would kiss thee; yea, I should not be despised.
2: I would lead thee, and bring thee into my mother's house, who would instruct me: I would cause thee to drink of spiced wine of the juice of my pomegranate.
3: His left hand should be under my head, and his right hand should embrace me.
4: I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, until he please.
5: Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved? I raised thee up under the apple tree: there thy mother brought thee forth: there she brought thee forth that bare thee.
6: Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame.
7: Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned.
8: We have a little sister, and she hath no breasts: what shall we do for our sister in the day when she shall be spoken for?
9: If she be a wall, we will build upon her a palace of silver: and if she be a door, we will inclose her with boards of cedar.
10: I am a wall, and my breasts like towers: then was I in his eyes as one that found favour.
11: Solomon had a vineyard at Baal-hamon; he let out the vineyard unto keepers; every one for the fruit thereof was to bring a thousand pieces of silver.
12: My vineyard, which is mine, is before me: thou, O Solomon, must have a thousand, and those that keep the fruit thereof two hundred.
13: Thou that dwellest in the gardens, the companions hearken to thy voice: cause me to hear it.
14: Make haste, my beloved, and be thou like to a roe or to a young hart upon the mountains of spices.

And there you have it!

I have to say that in working on the Desert Island Poems series, I sometimes felt like I was in an episode of Lost. And other times I felt like Gilligan. But I thank you for your kind attention, I hope Si is satisfied and, now that it's done, I think I'll go have one of those island desserts...

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Desert Island Poems Part Six

You've stuck with me for Following up on Desert Island Poems Part One, Desert Island Poems Part Two, and Desert Island Poems Part Three, Desert Island Poems Part Four, and Desert Island Poems Part Five, so now it's time for pick six, my penultimate choice.

So far, this has turned out to be a bit of a dead poet's society, so it's only appropriate that I now turn to a living poet, one who is better known for the lyrics he's written for a band called the Grateful Dead, but who has also published several books of poetry, and spoken word recordings: Robert Hunter. This selection comes from the book and recording entitled Sentinel.

I had to type the poem up myself, so if there are any mistakes, I do apologize, but here it is:

Gingerbread Man

by Robert Hunter

Wading into the fray
As though possessed
Despite all odds
Bloody but unbowed
Caution to the wind
Not to be nay said
All banners flying
Times without name
Name without number
Written on the wind in ballpoint
I am the gingerbread man
Knock-kneed and trembling
Yellow-bellied and shit scared
Jumpy as all get-out
Trembling like a leaf
Whistling in the dark
Nervous as ninepins
One over the elbow
A new way of talking
A new way to talk
A new way of cutting
A new way of cutting through

Do you like it
Do you love it
Do you want it
Do you need it
Will you hug it
Will you feed it,
cut it into thin
strips and eat it?

Flying in the face
Flying in the face
Flying in the face of danger

Heedless of harm
Laughing at disaster
Letting chips fall where they may
Without a "by your leave"
Times without name
Name without number
Written on the sky in solvent
I am the gingerbread man
Jittery as all bejeezus
Skittish as a squirrel
Prudently cautious
Breaking out in a cold sweat
Scared of my own shadow
One over the elbow
A new way of talking
A new way to talk
A new way of cutting
A new way of cutting through

Do you fight it
Do you fear it
Do you taste it
Do you hear it
Do you walk up
and rub noses
or just turn
the hose on it?

Flying in the face
Flying in the face
Flying in the face of danger

Reckless in abandon
Sheer force of will
Without regard to life or limb
Nor any backward glance
Dauntless, undeniable
Indomitable strength of purpose
Times without name
Name without number
on the sky in stars written
on the skin in stars
I am the gingerbread man
Lacking intestinal fortitude
Spineless, frightened out of my wits
A yellow streak down my back
Grinning like a shit-eating dog
Lilly-livered with tail
between legs, cold feet
Heart in my throat
One over the elbow
A new way of talking
A new way to talk
A new way of cutting
A new way of cutting through

I am the gingerbread man
Times without name
Name without number
This is a gingerbread angel
From over the bright blue boom
Flying down to feast on my
Peppermint eyes and pluck
The raisins from my smile.

Names worth dropping
Names in vain
Names to be reckoned with
Forms of address
for the formless
Alias the Nameless

This name of mine
This name of yours

I do not paint
I do not dance
I do not dream
I do not think
I do not take
I do not give
I do not light
I do not burn
I do not stare
I do not blink
I do not sleep
I do not wake
I do not live
I do not perish

Flying into the teeth
With feckless mettle
Daring the Devil
Lashed to the mast
With full might and main
I am my name

My name is the name
that when you call it
I come.
My name and I
answer to anything.

You can listen to Robert Hunter reading this and other poems courtesy of the Rhapsody music site: just click
here for Rhapsody MP3 Music Downloads: Sentinel by Robert Hunter (free to listen to, 99 cents to download).

And that's all for this installment of Desert Island Poems, stay tuned for the series finale Part Seven, coming soon to a Blog Time Passing near you!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Desert Island Poems Part Five

Following up on Desert Island Poems Part One, Desert Island Poems Part Two, and Desert Island Poems Part Three, and Desert Island Poems Part Four, here now is my fifth pick, and it happens to be the third poem from the 19th century that I'd like to take with me, this one just for fun. It is an absolutely brilliant mock tragedy, written by Ernest Thayer, on the subject of my favorite sport, which has been traditionally known in the United States as the national pastime. I'm talking about, of course, baseball:

Casey at the Bat
by Ernest Lawrence Thayer
The outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville nine that day:
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play,
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A pall-like silence fell upon the patrons of the game.

A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to the hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, "If only Casey could but get a whack at that--
We'd put up even money now, with Casey at the bat."

But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
And the former was a hoodoo, while the latter was a cake;
So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
For there seemed but little chance of Casey getting to the bat.

But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Blake, the much despisèd, tore the cover off the ball;
And when the dust had lifted, and men saw what had occurred,
There was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.

Then from five thousand throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It pounded on the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.

There was ease in Casey's manner as he stepped into his place;
There was pride in Casey's bearing and a smile lit Casey's face.
And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt 'twas Casey at the bat.

Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt;
Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance flashed in Casey's eye, a sneer curled Casey's lip.

And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped--
"That ain't my style," said Casey. "Strike one!" the umpire said.

From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
Like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore;
"Kill him! Kill the umpire!" shouted someone on the stand;
And it's likely they'd have killed him had not Casey raised his hand.

With a smile of Christian charity great Casey's visage shone;
He stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the dun sphere flew;
But Casey still ignored it and the umpire said, "Strike two!"

"Fraud!" cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered "Fraud!"
But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
And they knew that Casey wouldn't let that ball go by again.

The sneer is gone from Casey's lip, his teeth are clenched in hate,
He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate;
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey's blow.

Oh, somewhere in this favoured land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout,
But there is no joy in Mudville--mighty Casey has struck out.

And while the sound quality is not up to contemporary standards, the early 20th century recording of De Wolf Hopper reciting the poem brings the perfect tone to this masterpiece:

And that's all for this installment of Desert Island Poems, stay tuned for Part Six, coming soon to a Blog Time Passing near you!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Desert Island Poems Part Four

To continue on from Desert Island Poems Part One, Desert Island Poems Part Two, and Desert Island Poems Part Three, here now is my fourth pick. And while the last poet I included, Edgar Allen Poe, lived in New York City for a while, the next poet I'm taking with me was a native New Yorker through and through. Emma Lazarus is a personal favorite of mine, a Jewish-American whose roots went back to colonial days. She was well educated and very assimilated, but over the course of her life, she awakened to her roots and became an ardent Zionist. And while the last few lines of this sonnet are very familiar, the full poem is not as well known:

The New Colossus

by Emma Lazarus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
The twin cities she refers to may be New York and Brooklyn, which was a separate city until 1899, or it may be New York and Jersey City, which is actually much closer to Liberty Island than New York. Lazarus wrote and donated this poem for an auction to raise funds to construct a pedestal for the Statue of Liberty. It was only later, after the statue was in place, that it was decided to place a plaque bearing the poem on the pedestal:

I would take this poem along especially because it reminds me of where I come from in a number of different ways, and that is something I would not ever want to forget. And one of the most ancient functions of poetry is, in fact, to help us to remember.
Poetry lets us "think memorable thoughts," as Walter Ong put it.

And that's all for this installment of Desert Island Poems, stay tuned for Part Five, coming soon to a Blog Time Passing near you!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Desert Island Poems Part Three

Following up on Desert Island Poems Part One and Desert Island Poems Part Two, here's the third installment in this series. It has been argued that Tolkien was "the author of the century," in reference to the 20th century, and when it comes to the 19th century, I think a case could be made for Edgar Allen Poe, who invented the detective story, pioneered genres such as horror, science fiction, the flâneur tale, etc., and wrote some of the most memorable poetry imaginable. And while I was tempted to go with one of his lesser known works, such as "Eldorado," the fact remains that "The Raven," with its innovative rhyme structure and haunting imagery, is his masterpiece:

The Raven
by Edgar Allen Poe

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door --
Only this, and nothing more."

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; -- vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow -- sorrow for the lost Lenore --
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels named Lenore --
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me -- filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
"'Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door --
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; --
This it is, and nothing more,"

Presently my heart grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
"Sir," said I, "or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you" -- here I opened wide the door; --
Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, "Lenore!"
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word "Lenore!"
Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
"Surely," said I, "surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore --
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; --
'Tis the wind and nothing more!"

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not an instant stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door --
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door --
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
"Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou," I said, "art sure no craven.
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the Nightly shore --
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!"
Quoth the raven, "Nevermore."

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning -- little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door --
Bird or beast above the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as "Nevermore."

But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered -- not a feather then he fluttered --
Till I scarcely more than muttered "Other friends have flown before --
On the morrow will he leave me, as my hopes have flown before."
Then the bird said, "Nevermore."

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
"Doubtless," said I, "what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore --
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
Of 'Never-nevermore.'"

But the Raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore --
What this grim, ungainly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking "Nevermore."

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion's velvet violet lining that the lamp-light gloated o'er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o'er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by angels whose faint foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
"Wretch," I cried, "thy God hath lent thee - by these angels he has sent thee
Respite - respite and nepenthe from the memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!"
Quoth the raven, "Nevermore."

"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil! -- prophet still, if bird or devil! --
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted --
On this home by Horror haunted -- tell me truly, I implore --
Is there -- is there balm in Gilead? -- tell me -- tell me, I implore!"
Quoth the raven, "Nevermore."

"Prophet!' said I, "thing of evil! -- prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us -- by that God we both adore --
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels named Lenore --
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden, whom the angels named Lenore?"
Quoth the raven, "Nevermore."

"Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!" I shrieked upstarting --
"Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! -- quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!"
Quoth the raven, "Nevermore."

And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted -- nevermore.

Christopher Walken seems to be perfectly suited for a reading of the poem:

But Vincent Price's version is the classic. It may come across as a bit campy today, but it certainly demonstrates the dramatic potential of the poem:

And that's all for this installment of Desert Island Poems, stay tuned for Part Four, coming soon to a Blog Time Passing near you!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Desert Island Poems Part Two

Picking up where I left off in Desert Island Poems Part One, Beowulf was an obscure composition before a professor of philology at Oxford University brought it to the attention of students of English literature. That professor was J.R.R. Tolkien, best known as the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, books that would be first on my list to take with me to that desert island if I could include novels. Tolkien was also a poet of no small talent, and I would definitely include one of his poems in my group of seven. Choosing just one is difficult, but I'm going to go with a poem that is written in both English and one of the fictional Elvish langauges that he created, Quneya, and that expresses his special sense of spirituality which blends the Christian with the pagan (Elbereth is much like a mother goddess, but in Tolkien's cosmology is more like an angel of the One God known as Eru Ilúvatar.


by J. R. R. Tolkien
Snow-white! Snow-white! O lady clear!
O Queen beyond the Western Sea!
O Light to us that wander here
Amid the world of woven trees!

Gilthoniel! O Elbereth!
Clear are thy eyes and bright thy breath.
Snow-white! Snow-white! We sing to thee
In a far land beyond the Sea.

O stars that in the Sunless Year
With shining hand by her were sown,
In windy fields now bright and clear
We see your silver blossom blown.

O Elbereth! Gilthoniel!
We still remember, we who dwell
In this far land beneath the trees,
Thy starlight on the Western Seas.

A Elbereth Gilthoniel,
Silivren penna miriel
O menal aglar elenath!
Na-chaered palan-diriel
O galadhremmin ennorath,
Fanuilos, le linnathon
nef aear, si nef aearon!

Ai! laurie lantar lassi surinen!
Yeni unotime ve ramar aldaron,
Yeni ve linte yuldar vanier
Mi oromardi lisse-miruvoreva
Andune pella Vardo tellumar
Nu luini yassen tintilar i eleni
Omaryo airetari-lirinen.

Si man i yulma nin enquantuva?

An si Tintalle Varda Oilosseo
Ve fanyar maryat Elentari ortane,
Ar ilye tier undulare lumbule;
Ar sindanoriello caita mornie
I falmalinnar imbe met, ar hisie
Untupa Calaciryo miri oiale.
Si vanwa na, Romello vanwa, Valimar!
Namarie! Nai hiruvalye Valimar.
Nai elye hiruva. Namarie!

Ah! Like gold fall the leaves in the wind,
Long years numberless as the wings of trees!
The long years have passed like swift draughts of the sweet mead
In lofty halls beyond the West
Beneath the blue vaults of Varda
Wherein the stars tremble in the song of her voice,
Holy and queenly.

Who now shall refill the cup for me?

For now the Kindler, Varda,
The Queen of the Stars, from Mount Everwhite
Has uplifted her hands like clouds,
And all paths are drowned deep in shadow;
And out of a grey country darkness lies on the foaming waves between us,
And mist covers the jewels of Calacirya for ever.
Now lost, lost to those from the East is Valimar!

Farewell! Maybe thou shalt find Valimar.
Maybe even thou shalt find it! Farewell!

Gilthoniel A Elbereth!
A Elbereth Gilthoniel
O menel palan-diriel,
Le nallon si dinguruthos!
A tiro nin, Fanuilos!

A! Elbereth Gilthoniel!
Silivren penna miriel
O menal aglar elenath,
Gilthoniel, A! Elbereth!

We still remember, we who dwell
In this far land beneath the trees
Thy starlight on the Western Seas.

And here is Tolkien reading an excerpt in Elvish:

And that's all for this installment of Desert Island Poems, stay tuned for Part Three, coming soon to a Blog Time Passing near you!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Desert Island Poems Part One

Over on MySpace I was asked by Si Philbrook, aka Si, aka Captain Poets (ok, no I just made that last one up) to do this Desert Island Poems thing that he came up with, choosing seven poems that I would want to have with me if I were going to be stranded on a desert island and could only take seven poems. How this could ever come to pass is beyond me, but I guess that's besides the point. So I did it and posted it on my blog over there, but I think this is something worth adding to Blog Time Passing as well, so I'm going to post it here as well, but I'll post each selection separately, so as not to get all overwhelming like.

Now, I have to confess that when I agreed to do this over on MySpace, it was based on a misunderstanding. I thought Si had asked me to pick seven island desserts that I would take with me, which would have been much easier, as they all would have involved pineapple, coconut, and ice cream, and rum.

So, ok, it's desert island poems, which is just a fancy way of asking me to choose seven poems that mean something to me. But how to pick just seven? I have to begin by admitting that the whole thing is a bit artificial and arbitrary. But all right then, a desert island, no wifi, no kindle, no laptop, no phone, no lights, no motorcars, not a single luxury.

No books. Fine, then, I'm also going to rule out certain categories to make my task easier.

First of all, I'm not going to pick any poems from MySpace poets, and from any other poets that I know personally. Sorry guys, and gals, but I just don't want to play favorites.

Second, I'm assuming that no children are present on this dessert island, because if there were, I would pick poems to read to them, poems that I myself love dearly, including And to Think that I Saw it on Mulberry Street, Dr. Seuss's poetry having been very near and dear to me, and an absolute delight to read aloud.

Third, I'm ruling out song lyrics, even though they most certainly can be considered poetry. Otherwise, I would probably include some of Bob Dylan's works, like "Mr. Tambourine Man" (but I know that one by heart so why bother?). No theme songs either, like Gilligan's Island (not that I ever would pick it).

Fourth, I'm ruling out plays, even though the origin of the theater is as a modified version of poetry, as for example the great Attic playwright Aeschylus shifting the performance from one reader to three. Otherwise, I'd be tempted to pick seven of Shakespeare's plays, starting with A Midsummer Night's Dream and Macbeth. But I would not pick any of his sonnets, which simply do nothing for me.

And fifth, speaking of epics, and with a tendency to take things literally, if I were going to be stuck on a dessert island, I would probably grab seven epic poems because their length would give me something to occupy myself with in my isolation. I'd be particularly interested in taking epics that were originally produced without any recourse to writing, by oral poets otherwise referred to as singers of tales. My choices would include the Iliad and the Odyssey, Gilgamesh, the Kalevala, and the Elder Edda, but I probably would include one or two epics written by literate poets—I'm particularly fond of Ovid's Metamorphoses. But somehow that would feel like cheating, so I'm only going to pick one, and that one because of its poetics as much as anything.

All right then. For my first and only epic poem, I am going with Beowulf, and in particular with the new translation by the great Irish poet Seamus Heaney that was published in 2000, the original having been composed in Anglo-Saxon, otherwise known as Old English.

You can hear Heaney read four excerpts from the epic online, courtesy of The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Archive page (just click here).

And that's all for this installment of Desert Island Poems, stay tuned for Part Two, coming soon to a Blog Time Passing near you!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Twitlight Zone

So, today Christine Tracy drove me from Grand Rapids to Ypsilanti (what the hell kinda name is that, anyway?), where Eastern Michigan University is located, not far from Ann Arbor. Christine is a journalism professor and media ecologist at EMU, and I have a public lecture I'm doing there tomorrow. But today, for about an hour during the first part of the drive, I stopped getting tweets on my cell phone. I don't know what happened, was Twitter down, or was it my Sprint mobile service? All I know is that I felt vaguely uneasy about the lack of incoming messages. Just like the movies, it was quiet... too quiet.

After about an hour, though, the tweets started back up, and now that I'm in my hotel room, checking my e-mail, I found a link to a YouTube video that was sent to the Media Ecology Association listserv. The video is called Twouble with Twitters, and is described simply as, "A young man struggles against the pressure to Twitter his life away." And here it is:

I think you can understand my aha! moment, here. This is why I stopped getting tweets for this morning. I guess I entered the Twitlight Zone (cue scary music... do doo do doo do doo do doo...)!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Of Maps and Territories

I'm in Michigan for the week, having spent today at Grand Valley State University, giving a guest lecture in Corey Anton's class, talking about McLuhan and media ecology, and giving a public lecture this evening on digital communication (for an earlier version, see my earlier post, Eight Bits About Digital Communication, Media, and Culture). Corey is a member of the Media Ecology Association's Board of Directors, succeeded me as editor of the MEA journal, Explorations in Media Ecology, and recently joined the Board of Trustees of the Institute of General Semantics, and in fact we had some nice talks in between events about Alfred Korzybski and general semantics. So it seems only appropriate to post this video here, which circulated on the MEA listserv a little while ago, under the subject heading of The Map is Not the Terriority:

And there you have it, a hard-earned, hard-learned lesson! If only we could really get the point through to actual government officials, politicians, and policy-makers, that the maps that they draw up of any given situation are never going to be entirely accurate and they have to prepare for the unknown, and that the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, or as Robert Burns so eloquently put it, "The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men, Gang aft agley." And what are plans, after all, but maps of things yet to come, things that will be, or things that may be.

The great general semantics scholar Wendell Johnson famously said, "To a mouse, cheese is cheese; that's why mousetraps work," going on to note that human beings treat words in the same way, as static and unchanging. But the worlds of mice and men can be turned upside down in a moment, and that's what Robert Burns was saying in his famous poem from 1785:

To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough

Wee, sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie,
O, what a panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi' bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee,
Wi' murd'ring pattle!

I'm truly sorry man's dominion,
Has broken nature's social union,
An' justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An' fellow-mortal!

I doubt na, whiles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen icker in a thrave
'S a sma' request;
I'll get a blessin wi' the lave,
An' never miss't!

Thy wee bit housie, too, in ruin!
It's silly wa's the win's are strewin!
An' naething, now, to big a new ane,
O' foggage green!
An' bleak December's winds ensuin,
Baith snell an' keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an' waste,
An' weary winter comin fast,
An' cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell-
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro' thy cell.

That wee bit heap o' leaves an' stibble,
Has cost thee mony a weary nibble!
Now thou's turn'd out, for a' thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the winter's sleety dribble,
An' cranreuch cauld!

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o' mice an 'men
Gang aft agley,
An'lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!

Still thou art blest, compar'd wi' me
The present only toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e'e.
On prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
I guess an' fear!

And so Burns ends with the distinguishing characteristic of human beings as a class of life, that we engage in time-binding. And speaking of time, I better go, I'm traveling to Eastern Michigan University tomorrow, to give a lecture there on Thursday, if all goes according to plan...