The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection

Decent book on the very real cultural shift that’s happening as we are forever wedded to our devices, never daydreaming, the concept of reverie falling by the wayside, busy busy busy. Harris describes my generation as being digital immigrants, having to adjust to the new realities, while younger folks are the digital natives who were born connected to the internet, never lacking answers at the click of a keyboard. The digital immigrants are the only ones able to identify what is missing, what life was like before and after. What are the consequences of this hyper-connectedness that create artificial relationships? Empathy has declined 40% over the last 30 years in a University of Michigan study (p 30). We are the last of the daydreamers. What effect will that have on our attention spans, our creations, our real quality of life? “We see more, yet our vision is blurred; we feel more things, yet we are numbed.” With the help of algorithms, the content you consume online is more personalized, confirming beliefs you already have, the “filter bubble.” This glorification of your own taste is detrimental to real learning, you’ll never encounter something that stretches your boundaries or challenges you. “Televisions and computers are crutches for your attention. And the more time you spend on those crutches, the less able you are to walk by yourself.” The obese brain rears its head – we can no longer afford to indulge the automatic desires of our brains for distraction.
Harris finds it difficult to read War and Peace, but then buckles down and focuses, removes himself to a wifi-free-zone of his house. “Any devoted reader knows how important it is to have a proper cave in which to commit the act.” Yet another data point against digital reading, eye-tracking studies confirm that “when we read online, we read in a cursory way, we scan for information, taking in 20% of the words on a web page, often far less.” Manguel on movement toward digital text:

For me the experience is one that is above all superficial. That is, the digital text has no physical reality for me. And it seems to require a certain urgency and speed, which is not what I look for when I’m reading. (p 16)

There are some chapters that seem unnecessary to the argument, existing mainly because Harris desires to go behind the scenes at hookup apps like Grindr and Manhunt. Overall a worthy read if you can overlook his subtly hostile tone toward women.

The Thing with Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human

Mediocre book that tries to connect bird behavior to humans, grouped chapters falling into Body, Mind, Spirit buckets that purport to show similarities. Sense of smell, memory, monogamous love, pecking order, etc. Some bits were of interest– how birds navigate by “seeing” the earth’s magnetic field, how birds use spatial memory to recall where they dropped their seed caches during the summer. Naturally anytime anyone talks about memory these days, they have to name-drop Simonides, the 500 BC Greek who was outside when a building collapsed and who could identify the bodies by visualizing where they all sat. Mostly discouraged by the jarring quality of the writing itself (my Achilles heel), he tries too hard to be cute and link disparate topics (“We’ll come back to chickens. But first we have to talk about tennis for a moment.”)

Long Quiet Highway: Waking Up in America

I’m ambivalent about this book. Something in Goldberg’s tone stuck in my craw, her self-importance perhaps, but I grudgingly give respect for her ability to push herself out there, to confront her ego by recognizing it. More enjoyable were the echoes of her epic book, Writing Down The Bones, and details about studying with Zen Master Katagiri Roshi in Minnesota for several years. She gave several shout outs to the Zen Center in San Francisco, nestled cozily on Page Street a few blocks away. Also interesting description of returning to Taos after many years absence and being dismayed by the gentrification, but she catches herself and says it’s not that, it’s just that the people she knew had moved away or changed. It was a different scene in her hippie days living in communes and operating a health food store. Picked this up after seeing it categorized as a travel book, but it’s more of same old same old Goldberg on Zen and writing.

Imperial City

The best awful book I’ve read in awhile. Truly awful, but could not put it down. Trashy, in a 1930s kind of way (pub’d in 1937). Filled with the fabulous four A’s: adultery, abortions, alcoholism, apathy. Unfortunately populated by extremely wooden characters and stilted dialog. But the drama! And the amount of characters that gets packed into nearly 700 pages! There are so many characters interwoven in the plot that luckily the awful writing sometimes stoops to telling you why a particular name sounds familiar, such-and-such is so-and-so’s daughter/son/wife/cousin/girlfriend/sponsor/pastor. Exhausting. However, I find it was worth the struggle. Who can resist a portrait of 1937 New York, the gilded class, the theater class, the underclass, Harlem rioting? This upper-crust family of misfits includes a capitalist pig, a communist professor, a drunk playboy, and a clueless heiress who marries a gay man. The capitalist, Christopher, has a disease (usually called alcoholism) that he indulges by getting onto his yacht and getting blotto for a month. “The last vestige of self-discipline disappeared, and this emperor of finance and industry… became suddenly a goggling, drooling inebriate.”
So many characters to write about! Some words should be used to describe the mysterious Terry Minning whose calm, sarcastic indifference melts as she pens a letter to her beau Mack, retreated to the wilds of Hollywood for work. She doesn’t want marriage but he does. It’s a common theme among the strong ladies. The weak ones, like the actress/harlot Ruby and demure secret-Jewess Helene Little, desire marriage to stable and rich men. So many characters, and they almost all appear as jury candidates for the trial at the end! It makes it seem like the 7 million people population of New York in 1937 was the size of a small 500 person town.
Beautiful depiction of Coney Island plebeians:

As Elinor stared, in fascinated horror, details began to emerge from the seething mass. Her eye picked out individuals or groups in the horde below her. Companies of young people played leap-frog, tossed balls back and forth over recumbent bodies, shuffled in the loose sand to the accompaniment of portable phonographs, pushed each other roughly about, sang noisily, exposed their raw backs to the withering sun, and sat or lay with bare arms and legs amorously intertwined. (p 41-2)
Everyone’s jaws were moving: those who were not munching ice-cream cones and hot dogs or licking lolly-pops were industriously chewing gum. The air was thick with the smells of brine, pickles, sauerkraut, spiced sausage-meat, sizzling lard, and human exhalations. People shoved and trod on each other’s toes to reach the booths where stentorian vendors extolled the merits of pop-corn and pink spun sugar and Eskimo pies. Spectators stood five-deep behind the players of skee-ball, Japanese ping-pong, and coney races. There were long queues waiting to buy tickets for the Old Mill, the Love Ride, the jolting little electric auto-racers, the barrel in which the motor-cyclist risked death, the crèche where the pre-maturely born babies were displayed in incubators. In the swimming-pools of the large bathing establishments, the divers shouted and splashed. (p 43)

*****
Reco’d by Neglected Books

Counsels and Maxims

Once you get started with the exuberant Schopenhauer, it’s hard to stop. Thus I went once more unto the breach and slurped up his book of advice, filled with cheery tidbits like “the safest way of not being miserable is not to expect to be very happy” (p 11). He reveals an intellectual crush on eighteenth century writer Nicholas Chamfort that makes me curious about that sarcastic, brilliant man. He continues his reliance on referencing Goethe, “instead of finding pleasure, happiness, and joy, we get experience, insight, knowledge – real and permanent blessings instead of fleeting and illusory ones,” this the thought that runs through Wilhelm Meister like a bass line.
He spends fourteen pages detailing the need to be self-sufficient and to love solitude:
“A man can be himself only so long as he is alone; and if he does not love solitude, he will not love freedom; for it is only when he is alone that he is really free.” (p 24) And “Intellectual superiority offends by its very existence, without any desire to do so. [Society] compels us to shrivel up, an act of severe self-denial; we must forfeit three-fourths of ourselves in order to become like other people.” (p 25)
Thoughts on politeness:

It is a wise thing to be polite; consequently, it is a stupid thing to be rude. To make enemies by unnecessary and willful incivility is just as insane as setting your house on fire… Wax, a substance naturally hard and brittle, can be made soft by the application of a little warmth, so it will take any shape you please. In the same way, by being polite and friendly, you can make people pliable and obliging even though they are apt to be crabbed and malevolent. Politeness is to human nature what warmth is to wax.
Of course, it is no easy matter to be polite; in so far as it requires us to show great respect for everybody, whereas most people deserve none at all… You should never lose sight of the fact that ordinary politeness is only a grinning mask: if it shifts its place a little or is removed for a moment, there is no use raising a hue and cry. When a man is downright rude, it is as though he had taken off all his clothes and stood before you. Like most men in this condition, he does not present a very attractive appearance. (p 77)

On staying focused:

The things which engage our attention are of such diverse kinds that they present a medley of glaring contrasts. There must be a corresponding abruptness in the thoughts and anxieties these various matters arouse in us, if our thoughts are to be in keeping with their various subjects. Therefore, the first step is to withdraw our attention from everything else: this will enable us to attend to each matter at its own time, and to enjoy or put up with it, quite apart from any thought of our remaining interests. Our thoughts must be arranged in little drawers, to that we may open one without disturbing any of the others. (p 45)

On the importance of keeping a journal:

The advice here given is on a par with a rule recommended by Pythagoras – to review, every night before going to sleep, what we have done during the day. To live at random, in the hurly-burly of business or pleasure without ever reflecting upon the past is to have no clear idea of what we are about; a man who lives in this state will have chaos in his emotions and certain confusion in his thoughts; as is soon manifest by the abrupt and fragmentary character of his conversation, which becomes a kind of mincemeat… And in this connection it will be in place to observe that, when events and circumstances which have influenced us pass away in the course of time, we are unable to bring back and renew the particular mood or state of feeling which they aroused in us: but we can remember what we were led to say and do in regard to them; and this forms, as it were the result, expression and measure of those events. We should, therefore, be careful to preserve the memory of our thoughts at important points in our life; and herein lies the great advantage of keeping a journal. (p 23)

We should never forget that the present is the only reality, the only certainty; that the future almost always turns out contrary to our expectations; that the past, too, was very different from what we suppose it to have been. Both the past and the future are, on the whole, of less consequence than we think… The present alone is true and actual; it is the only time which possesses full reality, and our existence lies in it exclusively… let us remember Seneca’s advice, and life each day as if it were our whole life – let us make it as agreeable as possible, it is the only real time we have. (p 19)

Why you hate people as you get older:

On passing his fortieth year, any man of the slightest power of mind will hardly fail to show some trace of misanthropy. It is natural that by this time he has inferred other people’s character from an examination of his own; with the result that he has been gradually disappointed to find that in the qualities of the head or heart he reaches a level to which they do not attain; so he gladly avoids having anything more to do with them. It may be said that every man will love or hate solitude in proportion as he is worth anything in himself. (p 102)

The Wisdom of Life

An appropriate book to snuggle up with on one’s birthday, letting cheery old Schopenhauer light the way with his torches of intellectual snobbery. I do enjoy old Schopey, minus his sexist and racist rants (p 28 and 48 among others). In this work, he reduces humans to three distinct things: what a person is, what a person has (property, possessions), and a person’s reputation. Having your health and a sound mind will get you far along the path of happiness. He recounts wisdom found from an old book, “If you laugh a great deal, you are happy; if you cry a great deal, you are unhappy” then goes on to exhort “If cheerfulness knocks at our door, we should throw it wide open, for it never comes inopportunely.” (p 21) He praises the anti-social intellect and goes on to rage at stupid people:

“intellectual dullness is at the bottom of that vacuity of soul which is stamped on so many faces, a state of mind which betrays itself by a constant and lively attention to all the trivial circumstances in the external world. This is the true source of boredom – a continual panting after excitement, in order to have a pretext for giving the mind and spirits something to occupy them… Nothing is so good a protection against such misery as inward wealth, the wealth of the mind, because the greater it grows, the less room it leaves for boredom. The inexhaustible activity of thought! finding ever new material to work upon in the multifarious phenomena of self and nature, and able tnad ready to form new combinations of them – there you have something that invigorates the mind, and apart from moments of relaxation, sets it far above the reach of boredom.(p 26)

More raging against idiots (he waxes quite poetical on the subject):
“Hamlet says, A knavish speech sleeps in a fool’s ear. And Goethe is of the same opinion, that a dull ear mocks the wisest word and again that we should not be discouraged if people are stupid, for you can make no rings if you throw your stone into a marsh. Lichtenberg asks: When a head and a book come into collision, and one sounds hollow, is it always the book?” (p 96)
He uses Lichtenberg again to inflict a grave wound on Hegel’s reputation:

The fame which vanishes proves itself to have been spurious, unmerited, due to a momentary over-estimate of a man’s work; not to speak of the kind of fame which Hegel enjoyed, and which Lichtenberg describes as trumpeted forth by a clique of admiring undergraduates – the resounding echo of empty heads – such a fame as will make posterity smile when it lights upon a grotesque architecture of words, a fine nest with the birds long ago flown; it will knock at the door of this decayed structure of conventionalities and find it utterly empty – not even a trace of thought there to invite the passer-by. (p 98-99)

Naturally he agrees that the best state in life is to be born with some property and thus freedom from having to work in drudgery, “to start life with just as much as will make one independent, to live comfortably without having to work, is an advantage which cannot be over-estimated. Only under a favorable fate like this can a man be said to be born free, to be master of his own time and powers, and able to say every morning, This day is my own.” Voltaire is quoted, “We have only two days to live; it is not worth our while to spend them in cringing to contemptible rascals.” This leads further on to the thought that “what is worth doing is hard to do,” although immeasurably easier to do with enough leisure, eh Schopey?
When Socrates saw various articles of luxury spread out for sale, he exclaimed: How much there is in the world that I do not want. (p 15)
Great section on how to treat insults: “True appreciation of his own value will make a man really indifferent to insult; but if he cannot help resenting it, a little shrewdness and culture will enable him to save appearances and dissemble his anger.” (p 84)

The wise man will strive after freedom from pain and annoyance, quiet and leisure, consequently a tranquil, modest life, with as few encounters as may be; and so, after a little experience of his so-called fellow-men, he will elect to live in retirement, or even in solitude. For the more a man has in himself, the less he will want from other people – the less, indeed, other people can be to him. This is why a high degree of intellect tends to make a man unsocial. True, if quality of intellect could be made up for by quantity, it might be worth while to live even in the great world; but, unfortunately, a hundred fools together will not make one wise man. (p 27)

A great footnote on p 100: “Our greatest pleasure consists in being admired; but those who admire us, even if they have every reason to do so, are slow to express their sentiments. Hence he is the happiest man who, no matter how, manages sincerely to admire himself- so long as other people leave him alone.”
Other odds and ends:
* I picked up the word “pleonasm” – using extraneous words (e.g. the burning fire).
* Ridiculous section on female honor requiring purity in exchange for being taken care of, “Women depend upon men in all the relations of life; men upon women, it might be said, in one only.” He also ranks women & priests as the “two classes of persons to whom one should be most careful to give as little tether as possible.” Read the whole piece of garbage on pages 67-9.

Travels in West Africa

Fantastic travelogue published at the end of the 19th century detailing Kingsley’s adventures in the Congo and Cameroon. I came across Mary Kingsley twice recently– mentioned in Woolf’s Three Guineas and in Welsh’s Unveiling of Timbuctoo. Freed from domestic servitude after her parents die within weeks of each other, Kingsley traipses off to Africa to collect specimens of fish and fetishes. Imagine a Victorian-era woman clad in thick skirts and boots fighting her way through the jungle and becoming chummy with cannibalistic natives. Her prose is delightful and made me laugh several times. This fearless woman steers canoes down rushing rivers at night while her companions are sleeping, climbs the nearly 14,000 foot peak Mungo Mah Lobeh in Cameroon, watches gorillas and elephants foraging, and goes deep into the jungle with her cannibal Fan friends. She has a fascinating account of how they hunt elephants– enclosing the animals into a pen and then drugging their water supply before shooting them.
On the benefits of wearing a skirt while galloping around Africa:

About five o’clock I was off ahead and noticed a path which I had been told I should meet with, and, when met with, I must follow. The path was slightly indistinct, but by keeping my eye on it I could see it. Presently I came to a place where it went out, but apeared again on the other side of a clump of underbush fairly distinctly. I made a short cut for it and the next news was I was in a heap, on a lot of spikes, some fifteen feet or so below ground level, at the bottom of a bag-shaped game pit.
It is at these times you realise the blessings of a good thick skirt. Had I paid heed to the advice of many people in England, who ought to have known better, and did not do it themselves, and adopted masculine garments, I should have been spiked to the bone, and done for. Whereas, save for a good many bruises, here I was with the fullness of my skirt tucked under me, sitting on nine ebony spikes some twelve inches long, in comparative comfort, howling lustily to be hauled out. (p 125)

A description of battling a crocodile from her canoe:

On one occasion, a mighty Silurian, as The Daily Telegraph would call him, chose to get his front paws over the stern of my canoe, and endeavored to improve our acquaintance. I had to retire to the bows, to keep the balance right, and fetch him a clip on the snout with a paddle, when he withdrew, and I paddled into the very middle of the lagoon, hoping the water there was too deep for him or any of his friends to repeat the performance. (p 5)

Describing an elephant’s expression when smelling something bad:

It is very quaint the intense aversion the Africans have to this scent, and the grimaces and spitting that goes on when they come across it; their aversion is shared by the elephants. I once saw an elephant put his trunk against one of these scented bushes, have it up in a second, and fly off into the forest with an Oh lor! burn-some-brown-paper! pocket-handkerchief-please expression all over him. (p 48)

Explaining the prevalence of polygamy in non-slave-holding tribes (where essentially the women are slaves):

I well remember M. Jacot coming home one day at Kangwe from an evangelising visit to some adjacent Fan towns, and saying he had given to him that afternoon a new reason for polygamy, which was that it enabled a man to get enough to eat. This sounds sinister from a notoriously cannibal tribe; but the explanation is that the Fans are an exceedingly hungry tribe, and require a great deal of providing for. It is their custom to eat about 10 times a day when in village and the men spend most of their time in the palaver-houses at one end of the street, the women bringing them bowls for food of one kind or another all day long…
There are other reasons which lead to the prevalence of this custom, besides the cooking. One is that it is totally impossible for one woman to do the whole work of a house – look after the children, prepare and cook the food, prepare the rubber, carry the same to markets, fetch the daily supply of water from the stream, cultivate the plantation, etc. etc. The more wives the less work, says the African lady; and I have known men who would rather have had one wife and spent the rest of the money on themselves, in a civilised way, driven into polygamy by the women; and of course this state of affairs is most common in non-slave-holding tribes like the Fan. (p 88)

On reading travelogues:

My most favorite form of literature, I may remark, is accounts of mountaineering exploits, though I have never seen a glacier or a permanent snow mountain in my life. I do not care a row of pins how badly they may be written, and what form of bumble-puppy grammar and composition is employed, as long as the writer will walk along the edge of a precipice with a sheer fall of thousands of feet on one side and a sheer wall on the other. (p 174)

The Highest Tide

Entertaining and informative story about a teenager awaiting his growth spurt while he discovers incredible sea creatures washing up on the beaches near the cove where he lives. Minimal parental oversight sends him off in his kayak at night, turning up giant squid and ragfish, phosphorescent marine life, huge sea worms and cucumbers. The kid quotes Rachel Carson’s The Sea Around Us and becomes a local celebrity after spouting off precocious bits about the sea attempting to tell us something. All teenage stories must have some sort of love element, so we’re introduced to the thinly constructed character of Angie, an older bi-polar unstable teen who overdoses, screeches loud music, and we’re somehow meant to believe that she mutters “I’ll wait for you” to the kid as he kayaks around the cove at the end. Another female character is the old lady who the kid feeds and pulls off her toilet as needed, an elderly psychic who predicts the largest tide in recent history, claimed to be the kid’s best friend. And balancing out the age groups, there’s the kid’s mom, seen in fleeting bursts of yelling before she storms off to live with her sister and abandons the kid and his dad.
You reluctantly take in all of the dramatic highs and lows, getting swept up in the story’s tidal pull. It’s packed full of details about marine life that sneak up on you, like the face that frightened sea cucumbers can vomit their organs and then regenerate them once they’re out of danger.

The Vacationers

I shouldn’t be surprised that a book called The Vacationers turned out to be such a beach read, pure fluff sucked down my brain tube in mere hours, requiring no thought process, no chewing, no mulling or appreciation of language. If there’s one thing that I require of my beach reading, it’s that I don’t stub my toe on the 2nd paragraph and puzzle over its meaning. I choked as I was meandering along and had to re-read it a few times. It sits like a brick in the middle of a pristine tub of water – inexplicable. Which is unfortunate, because the first paragraph, nay, first sentence had such promise. “Leaving always came as a surprise, no matter how long the dates had been looming on the calendar.” We see Jim, rushing around to pack for a vacation, and can hear his wife and daughter in similar thrashing through the house.
But then, the thudding reject of paragraph 2:

There were things Jim would have taken out of his bags, if it had been possible: the last year of his life, and the five before that, when it came to his knees; the way Franny looked at him across the table at night; the feeling of himself inside a new mouth for the first time in three decades, and how much he wanted to stay there; the emptiness waiting on the other side of the return flight, the blank days he would have to fill and fill and fill. jim sat down at his desk and waited for someone to tell him that he was needed elsewhere.

I get that Straub wants us to slowly unravel the mystery of the unraveling marriage between Franny and Jim, but what is he, a dentist? “inside a new mouth for the first time…” leaves a lot to be desired in terms of hints of infidelity. But even that first bit, “the last year of his life, and the five before that, when it came to his knees.” Is he getting old? Or is he begging for so much forgiveness over the last 5 years that his knees are giving out?
Suddenly, we meet Sylvia, out on the street hailing a cab. It becomes apparent in a bit that Jim is her dad. The Manhattanites are headed to Mallorca for a family vacation, meeting brother Bobby and his girlfriend, along with Fanny’s dear friend Charles and his husband. Two weeks in a friend’s house on an island of Spain, drama ensues. The son cheats on his girlfriend in front of his sister, much to her disgust. The father’s infidelity comes out, and Charles punches Jim. Charles & hubby Lawrence find out predictably that they are chosen as the parents for an adopted boy. Sylvia loses her virginity to her Spanish tutor. Franny dashes off to get tennis lessons from a famous pro and knocks herself unconscious and later has lunch with the instructor while hubby Jim is spying on her on the back of new friend Terry’s motorcycle. It’s all very whirlwind and good-ending-y, if that’s your cup of tea.

1913: The Year Before the Storm

Quite the palate cleanser. Perfect book for the attention deficit disorder generation. Snippets and sentences and paragraphs detailing the lives of famous men (of course!) in the year 1913. “Speaking of sickly: where is Rilke, by the way?” I do appreciate the meshing and merging of several timelines into one lollipop; we find Stalin and Hitler taking walks in the same park in Vienna in early 1913 and later spy Yugoslavia’s Tito as a car driver in the city. We see Freud and Jung square up against each other, cries of “patricide!” ringing in their ears. Matisse brings Picasso flowers when he’s sick. Gertrude Stein never speaks to her brother after he leaves. Thomas Mann begins to write Magic Mountain. Proust publishes À la recherche du temps perdu. DH Lawrence runs away with his real life Lady Chatterly. And on and on and on. An overabundance of lesser-known German artists/writers try to shore up the tottering pages.
Women are categorized as something to be shared among artists (p 11), things that artists sleep with (p 65), profoundly depressed (a worthless rehash of the old Virginia Woolf rut, p 66), insane (p 78). Woolf pops up again later in a suicide attempt, all sorts of liberties are taken with the retelling, which make me suspect the “facts” of the rest of this mouth-freshening mint of a book. It’s all razzle-dazzle without any meat on its bones. Truly worthless, name-dropping kind of book wrapped in a terrific concept. Take a year, boil down a timeline into chewable bits that still have meaning, construct the world before the world fell apart. Coulda, shoulda been a better book.

My Struggle: Book 1

I was initially turned off by the rock-star reception the author got at a signing in NYC, line stretching around the block, stomach churning at the indignity of subjecting an author to the celebrity treatment. But after many months of seeing it hovering around bookstores and hearing various encomiums singing its praises, I gave in. I’m glad I did. The Norwegian writes his life in the form of a novel, swirling round the fact of death, his father’s death in particular, dancing around the painful process of writing itself – the false starts, the endless jot file for worthless prose that is churned out day after day.
He ventures deep into his memories, showing us a four year old self, an eight year old who sees Christ’s face in the water, a teenager with elaborate plots to sneak beer over to a friend’s house, a twice-married man facing his first child’s birth. His older brother is worshipped, his father detested and feared. The mother seems sheltering and kind but we never get much of a glimpse of her (the rest of his prose not particularly female-friendly either, but that’s so common that it’s surprising to actually notice it). When his father kicks it, he and his brother go to rescue the hellhole their grandmother is living in, cleaning up soiled clothing and endless bags of bottles (alcoholism). Tears, tears, and sobs over his father’s death – due to freedom at last? It’s definitely powerful writing, it places you smack in the middle of the scene, paints you a picture you can’t resist inhaling. Queuing up Book 2 now.

Even though the suitcase was heavy I carried it by the handle as I walked into the departure hall. I detested the tiny wheels, first of all because they were feminine, thus not worthy of a man, a man should carry, not roll, secondly because they suggested easy options, shortcuts, savings, rationality, which I despised and opposed wherever I could, even where it was of the most trivial significance. Why should you live in a world without feeling its weight? Were we just images? And what were we actually saving energy for with these energy-saving devices?

Lysistrata

Bawdy, ribald humor and word play must have delighted the Athenian audiences of 411 BC. After missing an allusion to this play in one of my recent reads, I filled (some of) the gaps in my mind by exploring this work. Basic idea is that the Greek women are tired of the ongoing war, and Lysistrata hatches a sure-fire plan to end it: by withholding sex from men until the war is over. She joins forces with the “enemy’s” women, so that it’s a global curse on the warring men. Both sides agree to end the war, after the men parade around with painful cramps and members at attention. The women also take over the Acropolis and lock away the funds that are used to pay for the war. The translator (Sommerstein) astutely notes the complete absence of female slaves in the play; in other texts it is routinely assumed that a man’s female slaves are sexually available to him. In this work, the only slave that appears is a man, caring for a baby. Lysistrata means “Liquidator of Armies.”