May 04, 2009

The world in a grain of sand

El Cabrero sometimes teaches a night class in sociology somewhere comfortably off the campus of Marshall University. The most recent semester, now in finals week, I taught Deviance and Social Control.

Mostly I do it to get to use the library, wherein I can find all kinds of quaint and curious volumes of forgotten lore with which to regale the Gentle Reader.

I often find myself bringing works of literature and poetry to class because these can often get to the heart of the matter more quickly and clearly than reams of statistics. In the last few weeks of this class, I've brought in or referred to works by William Blake, Shakespeare, Herman Hesse, Herman Melville, and others.

William Blake's poem London, for example, speaks volumes about his time (and ours) in four short stanzas.

Aristotle noted the power of poetry for this kind of thing 2,400 years ago. In the Poetics, he discusses the difference between poetry and history. In modern terms, what he called poetry would include novels, plays and other works of literature, whereas history would include most kinds of nonfiction. He puts it this way

The poet and the historian differ not by writing in verse or in prose. The work of Herodotus might be put into verse, and it would still be a species of history, with meter no less than without it. The true difference is that one relates what has happened, the other what may happen. Poetry, therefore, is a more philosophical and a higher thing than history: for poetry tends to express the universal, history the particular. [emphasis added]

SINKING LIKE A ROCK. Stagnant or falling wages can make the recession worse, according to Paul Krugman.

WHICH GOSPEL IS THIS IN? A Pew survey found that regular churchgoers were more likely to support torture than those who were less observant.

THE FIRST GARDEN continues to attract attention.

SPEAKING OF FOOD, the ancestor of the current swine flu now sweeping parts of the world has been traced to US factory farms.

ANIMAL UPDATES. Fish may feel pain in ways similar to us, according to a recent experiment. And while we're at it, animals that are capable of voice mimicry also seem to be capable of keeping a beat.


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