Sunday, September 28, 2008


As a child, I enjoyed the Babar books by Jean de Brunhoff and probably still have some in a box somewhere. I found the drawings charming; the story a bit more disturbing. How could the author open with the mother being killed! I almost had a chance to find out more because in college, I dated someone related to the de Brunhoff family, and almost had a chance to meet the son Laurent de Brunhoff who carried on the family tradition with the stories and drawings.

So, it was great to get the Sept 22 New Yorker, and read a thoughtful article by Adam Gropnik "Freeing the Elephants: What are the Babar Stories Really About" which interrogates the questions of French colonialism and the fascination we have with the "wild" and "nature" versus civilization and "order." I especially liked the way that Gropnik positioned French stories with British and American. He says,
"In London, in children's books, life is too orderly and one logns fo the vitality of the wild; in Paris, order is an achievement, hard won against the natural chaos an cruelty of adult life; in New York, we begin most stories in an indefferent city and the child has to create a kind of order within it."(50)

(sorry, I haven't found the article online, but here's a slide show of images.
And here's an audio interview with Gropnik about the controversy of the elephants.

(Note: On a train across Scotland in 1968, I got in a huge controversy with a friend who claimed that the title was really Barbar. We had no way to check who was right. Very frustrating! Of course I should have entirely let it go.)

Photo copyright by de Brunhoff, print for sale from Russell Rare Prints.


The Time Eater indeed

Tomorrow is the first day of classes, and I'm excited to be back with my students - WR 222 - Argument as Public Discourse. Lots to talk about this election season. But up til now, with orienting the new graduate teaching assistants, my time has been eaten up.

Thus, I was fascinated to read about a new clock at Corpus Christi College in Cambridge, England, called, aptly "The Time Eater." The grasshopper on top of the clock's "dial"well portrays the way time seems to disappear. According to the article, "The masterpiece, introduced by famed cosmologist Stephen Hawking, challenges all preconceptions about telling time. It has no hands or digital numbers and it is specially designed to run in erratic fashion, slowing down and speeding up from time to time."

That is so true. This morning, for example, I thought I would get early to my desk to take care of projects,reports on my conference in Denver, planning for the TA practicum on Tuesday, etc. And now, it's 10:30, and very little progress. Maybe I should refer to my dial-up internet service as a Time Eater too. I guess I am just being stubborn and stingy (my Scottish inheritance?) to not fork out for faster internet service, but usually I do all my internet at work.

I have always been interested in clocks and often prefer an analog for the wall - so I can see how close we are to the next thing, but a digital for my wrist watch.

Digression --do you know how hard it is to find a petite digital watch - my old Timex keeps on ticking - do digitals tick? - but I fear that when it's time is done, I will have a hard time finding a replacement - most digitals are big honking sports watches for people with big wrists. It's not that I'm vain but my wrists are small.

My brother has always collected clocks and watches, and has a great many very interesting ones. I grew up in a house with a tall grandfather type clock, the chime turned off. It had been a gift to my grandfather (so it really was grandfather's clock) from his students at U Chicago. Now owned by my nephew who has a house with tall enough ceilings to accommodate it.

You might like the book Latitude about John Harrison who in 1725 invented the first clock that could tell time at sea. Without a pendulum, it relied on a grasshopper escapement. In fact the clock was invented by John Taylor "as a tribute to Harrison"

With this clock, sailors could compare the sun time of their current position with Greenwich Mean Time, as recorded on the clock, they could know where they were East-West, which is why before this early maps show America as very narrow, because there was no accurate estimate. Which is also why latitude is measured as/shown as hours and minutes. Very interesting to imagine how we try to make linear and logical sense of "time."

Photo, with Stephen Hawking, from same article.


Friday, September 05, 2008

Copy of my article, finally

I'm very happy to have at last a copy of College and Undergraduate Libraries, vol 15, 1-2, summer 2008, (with this wonderful cover of Whistler's painting!) and the article on Information Literacy that Anne-Marie Deitering (and here) and I wrote (p.57-79) "Step by step through the scholarly conversation : a collaborative library/writing faculty project to embed information literacy and promote critical thinking in first year composition at Oregon State University" .
And what's great is to find the other articles in the journal, all on a similar theme of IL in FYC. Great reading for the weekend.

Whistler painting from Your Daily Art, October 11, 2006