Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Dullest Day

In Winnipeg now, after an incredibly slow trip from Vancouver. Not slow in terms of the train's schedule, as we were actually 40 minutes early arriving, but in terms of the pace of my work. Six of the twelve sleeping cars were completely empty and there were rarely more than a half dozen people in my car. It's been a bad season for Via out here. Strong dollar and new passport restrictions don't help.

I read quite a bit, but I was still in sleep debt from my recent travels and Saskatoon shenanigans, so focusing on what I was reading was a challenge. I did finally finish Diane Ackerman's Natural History of the Senses, which I heartily recommend for its insights and laden prose (only slightly overwritten on rare occasions). I'm also working my way through Earle Birney's One Muddy Hand: Selected Poems. I haven't read a whole lot of Birney in the past, mostly his justly famous poems, like "Vancouver Lights," "Mappemounde," "Bushed" and of course "David." I'm working on a review of the book and wishing that its editor had taken more time to re-shape the canonical Birney. Basically, this is a reprint of his 1977 selected, with a few later things added, plus intro, biographical intro and some snippets of Birney's prose on poetry. Not all of the stuff included in the 1977 book has aged well and this collection, at over 200 pages (with different poems, annoyingly, often crowded together on the same page), could have been much more effective as a reassessment than as a reprint.

I'm also reading The Pony Fish's Glow, a book on "plan and purpose in nature" that I picked up at a bookshop in Saskatoon. More accurately, it's on "the problem of plan and purpose." Very interesting so far. It's very hard to talk about evolution without slipping into the narrative mode of this-was-made-for-that. George C. Williams argues that we don't need to ditch this way of looking at things, we just have to understand fully what we mean by it. And he makes the to-me-irrefutable argument against "intelligent design" that I've been muttering for some time: If we're so intelligently designed, then why are so many of the design elements so fucking flawed and stupid?

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