Upsides and Downsides

Truly, as Hamlet said, there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.

The insurer Lloyd’s of London was founded hundreds of years ago in one of London’s 2,000 coffeehouses, he notes. Literature, newspapers and even the works of great composers like Bach and Beethoven were also spawned in coffeehouses.

For all the upsides coffee has brought the modern world, it also ushered in its fair share of downsides, too. Europeans carried coffee with them as they colonized various parts of the world, and this frequently meant they enslaved people in order to grow it.

On Another upside, and downside, to coffee, from Slate’s Daily Ritual’s series, coffee is an historically documented aid to the creative mind and its work. According to Balzac.

Coffee glides into one’s stomach and sets all of one’s mental processes in motion. One’s ideas advance in column of route like battalions of the Grande Armée. Memories come up at the double, bearing the standards which will lead the troops into battle. The light cavalry deploys at the gallop. The artillery of logic thunders along with its supply wagons and shells. Brilliant notions join in the combat as sharpshooters. The characters don their costumes, the paper is covered with ink, the battle has started, and ends with an outpouring of black fluid like a real battlefield enveloped in swaths of black smoke from the expended gunpowder. Were it not for coffee one could not write, which is to say one could not live.

But then again, according to Balzac:

Many people claim coffee inspires them, but, as everybody knows, coffee only makes boring people even more boring.

  • Student Evaluations. Notoriously interesting, mysterious, helpful and depression-inducing. One helpful strategy: check-in with students more often, be self-reflexive.

I wouldn’t wait until the end of a course to see how I’d done or to think about changing my pedagogical strategy. I would ask some hard questions at the end of each lesson to help understand what I was doing and why I was doing it. Similarly, when we encourage students to be self-reflexive, we are asking them to understand what they are learning as they are learning.

Another point of view, from The Onion, on Leon Rothberg, Ph.D., who received poor marks from Chad Berner, who took his introductory English 161 class.

“Students and the enormous revenue they bring in to our institution are a more valued commodity to us than faculty,” Dean James Hewitt said. “Although Rothberg is a distinguished, tenured professor with countless academic credentials and knowledge of 21 modern and ancient languages, there is absolutely no excuse for his boring Chad with his lectures. Chad must be entertained at all costs.”

The mortal sin of the translator, [Nabakov] wrote, was to sacrifice what he called “absolute accuracy ” for the sake of readability. “A schoolboy’s boner is less of a mockery in regard to the ancient masterpiece than its commercial interpretation or poeticization,” he wrote. “The clumsiest literal translation is a thousand times more useful than the prettiest paraphrase.”

But on the other hand…

[Pevear] cites Edward FitzGerald’s groundbreaking but flawed Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam as a “notorious example.” When the brilliant Robert Graves attempted to correct his predecessor’s distortions of the Persian language, the end result was “worthless and dull. And then you go back to FitzGerald and it sings. It sings the wrong song, but it sings. These are some of the ironies of translation.”

  • Pynchon. Here is the first page, and first page only, of his new novel (click to enlarge).

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