Double Take

May 4, 2008 § Leave a comment

Travelers talk a lot about seeing things for the first time-the notion of a fresh, unbiased eye, the aperture opening at the right instant and capturing in the frame of one’s mind what the experienced eye simply can’t see. Those who stay in one place speak in much the same way-though in these cases people speak of the familiar giving way to the sudden if not astonishing moment of seeing something anew.

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Because I’ve been making photographs on this trip I’ve been thinking about photography. Susan Sontag’s comments about the aggressiveness of the photograph-how the collection of photographs not only changes the sense of what is worth looking at but what we have the right to observe-have been coming back to me as reach for my camera. It has been interesting to consider her argument as I gather images of our lives in India. “Essentially the camera makes everyone a tourist in other people’s reality, and eventually in one’s own,” she writes in On Photography. In an interview Sontag observes that in the People’s Republic of China, “people don’t see ‘photographically.'” Like people in the West, the Chinese photograph one another, as well as monuments and famous places.  “But they’re baffled,” Sontag continues, “by the foreigner who will rush to take a picture of an old, battered, peeling farmhouse door.” Indeed here in India I’ve noticed baffled looks when I pull out my camera and photograph a sign, a door, or a ripped up sidewalk.
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We’ve been in India long enough now that I am no longer noticing the things I was noticing when we arrived. The air is no longer as dirty, the streets are not as crowded, and the sound of horns is not as loud. Or so it seems. Last week I was walking on Bandarkhar Road with a canvas bag full of apples, oranges and mangoes and I noticed that I was no longer thinking about the crowds or the exhaust or where I avoid placing my foot. (Yes, I was thinking about not thinking about something.) On the other hand, I am becoming more tolerant of the irrepressible stares we attract from many of the locals. (At times it feels as if the people of Pune had never seen anyone with white skin and light hair, weird clothing, and odd manners.)

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And then yesterday, as we walked the familiar route home from the pool, I felt a sense of routine. As usual, we stopped to buy bananas at the fruit market. But then an older man standing behind us said with a big smile that we had just bought bananas using no words. Indeed both the vendor and I had smiled at one another. And, guided by our previous meetings, when we had agreed (using my little Hindi and his little English) on two bunches of bananas-one that would be ready the following day. I had my rupees ready, he had as usual handed each of the wet-head kids an extra banana, and I found myself standing mute with a bag of bananas.


Danyavaad, I said, and we started for home. The older man, with his bag of bananas, caught up with us before we reached the entrance to the Deccan Gymkhana. We stood on the sidewalk, with our bags of bananas, and we asked him about living in this neighborhood in the 1950s. He told us about how everyone used to walk everywhere, the coming of bicycles to the city, and his impressions of the now crowded streets of Pune. We talked about his impressions of the US, too, during his frequent trios to visit his three children living in California.


So routine, if you let it, has a way of avoiding you. And, more often than not, in looking more than once-the classic double take-I am seeing something else in what I thought I already knew. Yet my double takes are more extended than the expression might suggest. Just the other day I was running on the ridgeline in the early morning and I stopped to listen to an unfamiliar bird call. And then I noticed, for the first time, that the season was changing-that the dry, cracked ground was teeming with small green shoots of clover-like grass.

Final Writing Projects

June 5, 2015 § Leave a comment

Project #6: Notebooks and Letters. Due Wednesday June 10

 “The things taught in schools & colleges are not an education
but the means of education.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journal, July 15, 1831

The purpose of this project is to experience discoveries about literature and literary production that are available when you read beyond the assigned texts in a course. Your work will involve a couple of hours reading Emerson’s writing in the library and taking notes. This project is also the first step in preparing you for your longer project on the writing of Ralph Waldo Emerson that begins next week.

Here is what you need to do:

1) Go to the library. The work begins in the main collection in and around PS1631 .A3. You will be looking specifically for the sixteen volume Journals and miscellaneous notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson (Edited by William H. Gilman et al.) and The letters of Ralph Waldo Emerson (Edited by Ralph L. Rusk);

2) Read. The task is for you to find and to transcribe passages that you find of interest and that you feel would be useful for you (as well as others) who are interested in Emerson’s writing. You may look for (and may find) a comment on an idea we have discussed or that you have already identified (books or “creative reading”) or something new;

3) Transcribe the most relevant quotes (3 or 5 or?). Then, after the sequence of quotations, write a brief (500 words or so) commentary on the quotations you chose that will explain the relevance of the material to students and readers of Emerson;

4) Give the post a title and post it in your projects archive.

Here is an example of a commentary that might be used to elaborate on Emerson’s definition or sense of the relationship between thought and action:

Emerson on Thought and Action

“What is that knowledge which is most effectually concealed from every man? What he is doing. Who is that person whom each man has never seen? Himself. What is that which every man desires to know and which he is most incapable of representing? His own thought.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson, Early Lectures

In the Course of Lectures on the Philosophy of History Emerson began at the Masonic Temple in early December of 1836 there comes a turn, in lecture four, to literature. Emerson begins the fourth lecture, delivered on January 5th 1837, by making a distinction between art and the literary arts. “Whilst Art delights in carrying a thought into action, Literature is the conversion of thought into action” (55). Emerson goes on to ask: “What is that knowledge which is most effectually concealed from every man? What he is doing. Who is that person whom each man has never seen? Himself. What is that which every man desires to know and which he is most incapable of representing? His own thought.”

Please have a look at what else is available for the student of Emerson’s writing. For example, you might browse The Correspondence of Emerson and Carlyle.(Edited by Joseph Slater, PS1631.A35 C3) or follow up on our in-class discussion of Emerson’s concept of the scholar by perusing Merton M. Sealt Jr.’s Emerson on the scholar (Columbia : University of Missouri Press, 1992).

Have fun. As Emerson says, “Do your own quarrying.”

Final Writing Project on the Writing of Ralph Waldo Emerson
Due Saturday June 27

Introduction The final writing project in this section of English 215 is a continuation of the intellectual work you have already completed this summer session. Your essay on Emerson, at the same time, is a culmination of your thinking and writing about Emerson in this course. Emerson’s writing is well suited to an introductory college level course in literary study. His writing explores fundamental questions about the literary activities of reading and writing; from his early sermons to his later essays, his thinking is theoretical and philosophical and practical; his literary compositions are singular examples of the literary essay; he wrote regularly, and perceptively, in his journals; he was a dedicated correspondent and indefatigable lecturer; and he was an accomplished poet.

Emerson’s writing, moreover, has engaged and inspired generations of readers. The written commentary on Emerson’s writing is astonishing in its breadth. His literary and philosophical provocations have generated essays and books and inspired countless literary projects, from Walt Whitman to Mary Oliver. Emerson is also important in the literary and cultural history of the United States. His thinking and writing took up the challenges and contradictions of American democracy—including the question of slavery, the displacement of American Indians, and the multitude of nineteenth-century campaigns for social, political, and economic justice.

For these reasons Emerson’s words, and the words that have been written about Emerson’s words, offer an ideal case study for students seeking to experience and to develop the human capacities of what Emerson himself called creative reading and creative writing.

The Project Write a 2500-3000 word essay (5-7 double-spaced pages) that makes a persuasive case for the interest and value of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s thinking and writing.

Timeline, Due Dates, Process 

Week 4

Monday June 8 No class meeting (online work) Do the reading on the Schedule page. Due: Project #5 on Emerson’s “The American Scholar.”

Wednesday June 10 Do the reading on the Schedule page. Due: Project #6 on Emerson’s Notebooks and Letters. Discussion of final essay and brainstorming.

Week 5 

Monday June 15 No class meeting (online work). Due: send a 1-page project description (prospectus) to

Wednesday June 17 Do the reading on the Schedule page. Discussion of the project descriptions and library work.

Week 6

This week (Monday June 22 and Wednesday June 24) the class will not meet. The week is set up for you to have maximum time for reading, thinking, and writing.

I will be available by e-mail for individual consultations or we can do a Google hangout if you would like to talk with me.

The Final Essay will be posted on your blog no later than Saturday June 27 at 10 PM.

Signs of India (6)

June 12, 2008 § 2 Comments

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June 10, 2008 § Leave a comment

The road from Manali to Leh is stunningly beautiful. Of course there are washouts and holes and detours. There is mud and snow and rivers to cross. And most of the road is one lane and the art of moving around large trucks with wheels inches from a thousand foot drop is common. Far below, in the river valleys, one can see the rusty carcases of cars and trucks that tumbled off the highway.

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The mountain passage is hard on vehicles, too. The truck drivers and auto drivers work together to fix flat tires, broken brake lines or a snapped engine belt. Every hour, it seems, there is a group huddled around a vehicle trying to fix one thing or another.

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When we get to Tanglang la (5328 meters) we all gather around a loader blocking the one-lane road. What needs fixing? Numerous guesses float in the high mountain air. A truck driver brings spare fuses. The loader starts–but then dies again.

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Finally, after two hours and some work on the engine the loader starts again and we are on our way, descending into Ladakh.

Manali to Leh

June 7, 2008 § Leave a comment

Into Himal Pradesh on a curvy road where we stop for Nathaniel to heave his five-star breakfast on the side of the road. More climbing and descending before passing through the Kullu valley to Manali where spend two days among beautiful pine forests, rivers and charas (cannabis) bushes alongside the city lanes.

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It’s summer in India and the tourists have descended upon this mountain town. The main street, at night, is like a festival, with traditional dancers, drug dealers and people who look as if they want to be hippies.

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Our agenda in Manali (besides buying a shawl or two and walking beneath the grand pines and breathing clean mountain air) is to arrange a journey by car to Ladakh. And we do. On day one we climb the switchbacks on the single-lane road to Rohtang la (3978 meters) where we stop amid Indian tourists playing in the snow. 

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We leave the crowds behind as we descend into the Chandra River valley. The road is washed out in places, and narrow; and yet somehow we find our way around trucks as they slowly climb to the pass.

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We spend the night in the isolated village of Keylong where we stay in a guest house where we have dinner and watch Rajasthan defeat Chennai in the final game of IPL Cricket season. We begin day two with a morning hike through terraced fields of peas and potatoes and then in the car again, climbing from the Bhaga River up over the stunning Baralacha la (4950 meters) and down to roadside tents at Sarchu where we spend the afternoon and evening walking along the river, eating and tending to children with altitude headaches.

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Day three is the longest, about ten hours of travel time, with three passes, the third and highest over 17.500 feet.

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From Sarchu we enter Jammu and Kashmir, climbing over Lachlung la (5060 meters) and then descending through a stunningly beautiful gorge to a roadside camp at Pang where we eat chapati omelettes and butter tea. Then up again from the army depot across the high plain with wild asses and khampa nomads tending sheep. Then higher once again, to Tanglang la (5328 meters), where we change a flat tire above 17,500 feet and then wait for close to two hours as road workers try to fix a loader blocking the one-lane road.

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And then down through a narrow canyon to Upshi, in the Indus River valley, where we eat a late lunch, repair our flat tire, and drive up the valley to Leh.

Signs of India (5)

June 5, 2008 § Leave a comment

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June 2, 2008 § Leave a comment

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After a night in Delhi and a six hour bus ride north we find ourselves in a five-star hotel in sector seventeen of Chandigargh—the capital of both Punjab, the “land of five waters,” and Haryana, “abode of the god”—at a three-day conference with Indian Fulbright scholars.

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The city of Chandigarh, envisioned by Nehru and designed by Le Corbusier, is home to Nek Chand Saini’s rock garden where we enjoy an afternoon walking narrow corridors among the animals and human-like figures.

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Coming and Going

May 26, 2008 § 1 Comment

The Southwest monsoon is holding steady this week, having reached the Andaman Islands five days early; it is forecast to reach Kerala on May twenty-ninth, two days before its average arrival on the Southwest coast. We are regretting our imminent departure from central India, for we will miss experiencing the annual arrival of the monsoon. Still, yesterday afternoon pre-monsoon rains drenched the city of Pune-the first soaking rain since we arrived in late December. The skies darkened at about five. Then heavy rain fell for about an hour. The temperature dropped to thirty-six or so, though it was a steamy evening as E and enjoyed a good soak on our walk home from the bookstore.

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This morning the sky is clear and the air crisp. The trees seem greener, washed clean by yesterday’s rains. In the afternoon we watch the Cheel chicks in the nest at the top of a tree above the Tilak Tank. Every day they grow larger, their feathers darkening. While we watch, the mother takes flight, pumping her broad wings under dark thunderhead clouds building above the hills to the South of the city.

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