Lobster in the library
At a dinner party in Montauk one year I was seated next to a marine biologist whose name was almost, but not quite, Langostino and whose specialty was lobsters. He had been observing them as they clanked along the sea bed in their bony armor. I was especially fascinated by his description of how they make love -- though "love" may not by the scientific term for crustacean congress. He -- Mr. Lobster -- has to wait until she -- Ms. Lobsterette -- molts, her soft body escaping from the shell she has outgrown, and before her soft underskin hardens into something like my old Levis. At that point, she is vulnerable and he with his great horny claw sort of protects her while he rolls her this way and that and has his way with her. (When he molts, he hides in a cave until his new armor is hard.)

The other thing that impressed me was the lobsters' dining habits. The seabeds that my conversation partner had observed were full of good things for a lobster to eat, mostly shellfish. The lobster would meander by, grab at a clam or an oyster, crack its shell with a mighty claw, and take a nibble -- then discard it and meander on to crack, kill and nibble on something else, but ignoring most of what's there because it is so abundant. And that's pretty much the way I behave in my actual and potential library -- the books that are on my shelves plus all those I know about and could easily acquire.

"Nibble, nibble, nibble, eh, Mr Gibbon?"

On lobsters in love


Literary "postmodernism" explained
My old mentor Walter James Miller, poet, literary critic and long-time professor of English at New York University, was kind enough to send me the CD of a lecture he delivered recently, Postmodernism, based on a book of that title edited by Derek Maus (Greenhaven, 2001). If you, like me, are interested in the topic but haven't made it a special project to keep up on all the literature about postmodern literature, you'll find this a really clear, sensible, good-humored introduction. And if you already know all about it but have trouble explaining it to others, you'll want to hear how this master teacher puts it all together.

For other lectures & info on Walter James Miller
For a review (by me) of Walter's most recent collection of poetry, Love's Mainland.


Opting for failure and other Iraq notes
William Safire concludes today's gung-ho column (NYT) thus: "We will help Iraqis win the final war against Baathist terror. Failure is not an option."

The problem is that the Bush administration already opted for failure by invading Iraq. War is a failure of politics. In this case it was a failure of diplomacy, of respect for the popular will (those millions of us who demonstrated in bitter cold to keep this war from happening!), and obviously of planning -- as David Rieff's article in the Sunday NYT Magazine reminds us (in case you needed reminding). As too often has happened in world history, the men with power refuse to recognize their failures and persist in a doomed course.

A couple of days ago Thomas Friedman wrote that France and Germany's refusal to give millions to support the U.S. occupation of Iraq, in contrast to the open coffers of the Saudis, proved that Saudi Arabia was more committed to stability and democracy in Iraq than are those two great European powers. This is loony! Can Friedman have forgotten that democracy means "government by the people"? As some people in France and Germany see clearly, there can be no democracy in Iraq as long as it is occupied by a foreign power. Paying for the U.S. to stay there, and thus to further subsidize Bechtel and the other profiteers, will only delay the process.


Recent readings: a vivid novel of war
I'm still trying to read a few more of the great books before I start on my after-death reading list. (See blog note from yesterday, 2003/11/01.) Here's a note on J. G. Ballard's Empire of the Sun. This vivid and chilling account of survival in a Japanese P.O.W. camp may help us imagine what those guys are going through in Guantánamo and other parts of the world. (Not that the Americans are cruel in the same ways as the Japanese -- they have different ways. But the experience of being penned up and under constant surveillance, and for nothing you can understand as a crime, must be similar.)