8 Great Passages From Loren Eiseley’s “The Firmament Of Time”

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Loren Eiseley's The Firmament Of Time

Loren Eiseley’s The Firmament Of Time

As of this writing, the science writer/philosopher Loren Eiseley is one of the 3 or 4 biggest influences on my style of fiction. He was ‘there’ when, as a college student, I first discovered what makes good prose good, and what, by contrast, is mere subterfuge. He was there when, running out of large, over-the-top subjects to discuss, I first noticed what might happen when the discussion turns inward, and upon things that don’t ordinarily get illumined. And, of course, he was there when I was writing my first two novels, as I’d hunt for words, phrasings, and sentences to re-fashion into my own, and will continue to be there for subsequent books as I continue to work on what Loren Eiseley had started.

This is because Loren Eiseley was one of the first writers to hit upon and solve an ancient dilemma, a dilemma that’s implicit human progress: namely, how do you write on things that matter now, in a field — science — that is always going out-of-date, yet still remain relevant for centuries, way past said field’s natural expiration? The answer was simple, really. You transcend the genre, and push against the boundaries that have held things still by mere tradition. In this way, essays can become bigger, richer, more expansive; poetry and prose can morph and meld; things like ‘narrative’ can come apply to the world at large, as opposed to smaller texts. Of course, all this got Eiseley into trouble by scientists who did not buy into his approach, preferring, as they did, pure information over wisdom, and Eiseley had to juggle ‘standard’ research (he was a paleontologist, after all) and physical discovery with deeper observations, often straying from pure science into artistic and philosophic realms.

Yet time doesn’t really give a damn about science-drones, because, despite their importance, there are millions of them, most are doing the same exact thing, and if one scientist or theoretician dies, there’s another to take his place with near-identical ideas. It is a menial, mostly thankless job, and it is unfair, I guess, that only its communicators — the people who can transmute this information into wisdom — can get fame. But this is simply the mind’s own blueprint, not a social ill, and an expression of the specifics of human cares.

Last week, Dan Schneider conducted a 2½ hour video interview with the Loren Eiseley Society. Bing Chen (president) and Tom Lynch (vice president) discussed the man’s work and historical import, while Schneider, as per his style, prodded the men for answers for deeper queries. And, in celebration of this dialogue, I’ve decided to type out some of my favorite passages from one of Loren Eiseley’s lesser books: The Firmament Of Time. Yet as Eiseley goes on to show, even his lesser books have greatness in them, with much that is memorable, quotable, and representative of his work as a whole. Just look at how … Continue reading →

Transcript: Dan Schneider Video Interview (Part 2) from 9/30/2014.

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*Interview can be found here
*Part 1 can be found here
Dan Schneider Video Interview Series YouTube Channel
Dan Schneider’s website, Cosmoetica

Woody Allen does his banana thing. (c) CatholicVote.org

Woody Allen does his banana thing, as Dan Schneider & Alex Sheremet explain why. (c) CatholicVote.org

Dan Schneider: Now, the book ends with the last couple of decades of Woody’s cinematic output. You have it divided into a last two eras. What are the two eras? Give me a film, pro or con, that you think is the most representative, the best, the most interesting, what critics… whichever one jumps right out at you. So what are the last two Woody eras that you tackle?

Alex Sheremet: The last two eras are 1993 until 2004, so that’s the films between Bullets Over Broadway…No, Manhattan Murder Mystery and Melinda and Melinda. And then I go from Match Point in 2005, up until 2013’s Blue Jasmine. Looking at the first time period, that film that I want to talk about most is Celebrity. This is because this is a film that’s been pretty much ignored, it’s been neglected, and in many ways it’s been much more panned, even, than Stardust Memories, or Another Woman, or similar films. It has not necessarily had this kind of revitalization like some other films might have, and it’s… I wouldn’t call it a great film. It’s not up to par with his best work, but at the very least, I would argue that it is an excellent film. It’s an excellent film for the very reasons that people deride it for. For example, you have the character of Simon, through Kenneth Branagh, and he’s been derided as this really poor Woody Allen stand-in, that he’s merely doing the Woody Allen shtick in a way that Woody Allen wouldn’t be able to do.

But this is kind of the point. If you look at his appearance, he is clearly more handsome than Woody Allen, he looks more manly than Woody Allen, and he’s somebody that would much more easily fit into this kind of celebrity life than Woody Allen would. If you see, for example, the flirt scenes that he has with various women, if you see him going around with different models… these are not things that Woody Allen would be able to pull off, himself, because if he were to do it, it would look like mere comedy. And it would look like mere comedy because here’s this nebbish that has these glasses and just looks so awkward and just acts so awkward. There is no sense of genuine romance, there is no sense that this is a realistic move for this kind of human being to make. But with Woody Allen’s stand-in, as he’s being called, he does a very good job. He’s very realistic in that role, and these are all pluses. This is not the negative that it’s been made out to be. A close viewing of the film without allowing Woody Allen … Continue reading →

Transcript: Dan Schneider Video Interview (Part 1), via Cosmoetica.

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*Interview can be found here
The Dan Schneider Interview Series YouTube channel
Dan Schneider’s website, Cosmoetica

Woody Allen & Stardust Memories. (c) MGM

Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories. (c) MGM

Dan Schneider: This is Dan Schneider, and this is the first Dan Schneider Video Interview. My guest is Alex Sheremet, a writer, poet, and film critic. We will be discussing his latest book on the film career of Woody Allen. Before we get into that, I just want to give a little word on the nature of the Dan Schneider interviews. Those familiar with Cosmoetica know that I’d done several dozen interviews in a written format. One of the things that I’ve found out in this day and age is that a lot of people don’t have the time, and a lot of people simply are not good enough with words to do interviews. So I’m trying now to put Cosmoetica and the interview series online on YouTube and this is the first of those interviews.

Anyone who has ever saw the old television show Open End by David Susskind in the 1960s, this will sort of follow that format. Some interviews might be 40 or 45 minutes, others are an hour and a half, and others might run 2 or 3 hours depending on the subject matter and the interviewee. If you’ve ever watched the interviews at the Archive Of American Television, with television stars, we’ll follow that format. Basically, I’ll ask questions of the interviewee, who you will see on your screen before you. This is, again, Alex Sheremet, and this is being recorded on September 27th, a Saturday, 2014.

Alex is a poet, a writer, and a film critic. He has a new book coming out from a new press, and is about the filmic career of Woody Allen. Alex, what is the name of the book, and what is the name of the press?

Alex Sheremet: The book is Woody Allen: Reel To Real, and the press is Take2 Publishing.

DS: The book Woody Allen: Reel To Real…that suggests you may be doing more than just talking about the man’s filmic life. What is general thrust of the book, in just a few minutes?

AS: I think what you originally said was right. You first said the life and career of Woody Allen, and then you corrected yourself and said the filmic career of Woody Allen. And this is really what it is. I cover every single film that Woody Allen has ever appeared in, or otherwise written or directed. It covers every film in minute detail specifically addressing the art. So, if you want to talk about the thrust of the book, the thrust is really an evaluation. I go from film to film, evaluating each film as a work of art, because one thing I noticed when I would read a couple of dozen or so books on Woody Allen, there’s so much written about him online, there’s … Continue reading →

Public Domain: One Way Forward

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As a writer who constantly needs to have multiple books open at my work-table, as well as poetry, news stories, films, and my own notes, I’m always annoyed at how much SIMPLER this process could be if many of these materials were freely available online. Now, lots of people complain about issues of ‘access’, but, even more important is the fact that new artists must reasonably engage with older works. This includes extended quotation, the re-use of elements and narratives, and other forms of appropriation that, if we’re dealing with the public domain, can all be done without the fear of lawsuits. Combine this fact with the proliferation of e-readers, and quality publishers, such as Delphi Classics, who neatly collate and optimize complete editions of writers’ and painters’ works for a mere $2-$3, and you have not only a way of deepening culture at an exponential rate, but a new business model, as well, wherein publishers have an incentive to perfect these otherwise free works by adding ‘extras’ (images, biographical notes, technical scholarship, etc.) that would simply be impossible in print books.

But, instead, America has a public domain model that allows copyright throughout the author’s lifetime (understandable, and justified) PLUS 75 years… that is, long enough for descendants to skim off of an artist’s riches, then further entomb them in a network of family lineage, publisher demands, and the divvying up of who-gets-what, as opposed to a more rational approach that would ensure culture benefits, first– which is, of course, the true aim of most great artists, who, being dead, can live in one way only. On a personal level, I’ve been annoyed, for instance, at the fact that I could not excerpt Wallace Stevens’s great Yellow Afternoon in full, in my own novel, Doors & Exits, no matter how relevant, or how long ago he’s entered the social imagination, decades after he’s died. On a deeper level, though, there’s something else amiss, and it has to do with the future of one of the best and most neglected poets of the 20th century: James A. Emanuel, whose current issues re: the public domain should alarm anyone with a genuine interest in art.

According to Dan Schneider’s recent essay on James Emanuel and the public domain, Emanuel was, prior to Schneider’s 2001 discovery, championing, and interview with the man in 2007, pretty much unknown. There were no interviews, very few poems online, and no essays on the man outside of what might be found in obscure academic circles, in a godawful niche called ‘black studies’– because, after all, that’s what the clueless academics have pinned him as, a BLACK poet who “wrote about racism” (to quote the New York Times obituary), despite Emanuel having many poems attacking this very condescension.

Today, however, his reputations seems better. This is despite the fact that his Collected Poems are still out of print, and can run for around $200 on Amazon, up from the $15 or $20 … Continue reading →

If George Orwell’s none too good, you better say why.

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George Orwell is a social force, but not really an artist.

George Orwell is a social force, but not really an artist.

I recently came across an article posted over at Reddit (link to discussion), re: George Orwell, and it immediately struck me as one of those faux ‘bad-boy’ envious types. This is not because the writer, Will Self, argues that Orwell was a literary mediocrity– in fact, I’d agree with this claim, even if I might be a little more charitable. The issue, really, is Self’s argument, in one of those moments wherein a person comes to the right conclusion about something, but seems to have little to no clue as to why it’s right. This always get me dismissive, because what good is a good opinion if its trajectory is unknown, and its origin dubious? In fact, it means that as the thinker hits upon new phenomena, he’ll be unable to analyze it, ill-equipped as he is for such tasks, and dependent on luck. Such is the case, here, and Will Self’s argument, after a series of overdone digressions, can be broken down as follows:

Orwell isn’t very good because he is too ‘unadorned’. In fact, he’s not simply a mediocrity, but– and after hundreds of potential examples, Self settles on Orwell– the ‘Supreme Mediocrity’ of recent English memory, mostly because he is too plain. In fact, Self goes on to blame his ‘prose style’, as if style, in and of itself, can be good or bad, rather than what is DONE within this style. He then points to the following Orwell quote as an explanation of the writer’s mediocrity:

Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language – so the argument runs – must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.

Not exactly groundbreaking literary analysis, what with the invocations of ‘general collapse’, ‘decadence’, and other alarums that have been bandied about since the dawn of civilization, but not necessarily wrong, either. Language DOES go through periods of atrophy and decay, language IS abused via poor understanding of terms and definitions, categories, the mis-use of cliches, the non-belief in language, as a whole. And, of course, Orwell’s claim that language is “an instrument which we shape for our own purposes” is 100% correct, and is, in a very real sense, a good explanation for art as a whole: that art is a means of higher communication, and that standard English, ghetto-talk, curse words, holy words, Latinisms, neologisms, derivations, non-derivations, etc., are not preferable to one another. They are simply ONE means to the same goal: Continue reading →