Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A bevy of birthdays

But first a poem from The Writer’s Almanac:

Optimism


by Jane Hirshfield


More and more I have come to admire resilience.

Not the simple resistance of a pillow, whose foam returns over and

over to the same shape, but the sinuous tenacity of a tree: finding the

light newly blocked on one side,

it turns in another.

A blind intelligence, true.

But out of such persistence arose turtles, rivers, mitochondria, figs—

all this resinous, unretractable earth.

"Optimism" by Jane Hirshfield, from Given Sugar, Given Salt. © Harper Collins, 2002. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Jane Hirshfield, (books by this author) born in New York City (1953). When she was in first grade, she wrote, "I want to be a writer when I grow up." She went to Princeton, worked on a farm for a year, and then spent the next few years studying Buddhism at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in northern California. She didn't write at all while she was there, almost eight years, but since then she has published many books of poetry, including Of Gravity & Angels (1988), Given Sugar, Given Salt (2001), and After (2006).

It's the birthday of the philosopher and critic Judith Butler, (books by this author) born on this day in Cleveland, Ohio (1956). When she was a teenager, she went down in her basement to smoke cigarettes, and one day she found her mother's college textbooks — books by Benedict de Spinoza and Søren Kierkegaard — and she was fascinated. Then she started reading Jewish philosophy, because she had such bad behavior problems that she was forced to take a private tutorial with her rabbi, who introduced her to Jewish thinkers. So when she went to college, she chose to study philosophy, and from there moved into fields like queer theory, feminist theory, and cultural studies. And she went on to write many books, including the popular Gender Trouble (1990), where she argued that we "perform" our gender.

She wrote, "Let's face it. We're undone by each other. And if we're not, we're missing something. If this seems so clearly the case with grief, it is only because it was already the case with desire. One does not always stay intact."

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