Blake's Book of Job

One of Blake's greatest, and commercially successful, pieces of work was his 22-plate set of engravings for the biblical Book of Job. The Book of Job is seriously bonkers and Blake was a perfect fit. Wikipedia has a nice collection of the plates along with some watercolors he did on the same topic.


Intro to Blake

Leo Damrosch's book starts with a bold statement: "William Blake was a creative genius, one of the most original artists and poets who ever lived."

Blake was born in London on November 28, 1757. He was an engraver, painter, and poet. His big thing was he saw visions. He literally saw heavenly hosts, angels, and demons walking around in the waking world. Many thought he was mad and he was described as having enormous eyes.


Stranger Than Fiction

The unbelievable power of nuclear devices is what really captivates McPhee and Taylor. It is magnitudes higher than what most people think of when they think of explosions.

An example:

"He said that Carson Mark had once pointed out to him a number, a fact, that brought with it the most astonishing realization he had ever experienced in physics. It had to do with binding energy, and it was that when Fat Man exploded over Nagasaki the amount of matter that changed into energy and destroyed the city was one gram -- a third the weight of a penny."


Fission / Fusion

A Dumb Guy (Me) Tries to Understand Fission & Fusion

Disclaimer: This is almost definitely a deeply flawed explanation. But, it helps me to think about it this way.

Nuclear weapons get their explosive force by splitting heavy atoms (Fission) or merging light atoms (Fusion). Both processes rely on the conversion of physical matter into energy. The trick is: when two atoms are fused, the resulting atom is lighther than the sum of it's parts. This mass can't simply disappear: the extra mass is converted into an explosion.

Fission uses heavy elements that have absorbed lots of energy (and lost mass) when they were formed millions of years ago in exploding stars. During fission (inside the bomb / millions of years later) this energy is simply released when the atom is split.

Fusion uses light elements that actually release energy when they fuse together. They don't take much energy to bind, so the lost mass doesn't all get used up in the binding energy - the extra mass gets blasted out into the world as the nuclear explosion.



"Randall Jarrell once wrote that even in the Golden Age people were always griping about how everything looked yellow; all our hopes elude us."

- from Loitering


Doubt and the Unknown

We are just starting out, but it's clear from the first few essays in Loitering that the book is fiercely sad, mercilessly - surgically - self-conscious, and  beautifully written. D'Ambrosio's writing is a weird mix of world-weary wisdom, clear-eyed observation, and basically just writing about a bunch of things that he doesn't know much about. And he admits as much right up front. He says he doesn't do research. He just writes from a place of doubt and uncertainty. He says he doesn't even Google because he "wouldn't want to gunk up the works with irritable facts and information..." But it's forceful stuff. As he says, these are essays, not articles.

"My uselessness appalls me."


Dylan Thomas in Interstellar

There's been a spike in interest about Dylan Thomas recently because his most famous poem "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" was featured heavily in the film Interstellar. The movie was pretty good, though the use of the poem was a bit ham-handed. (Michael Caine repeated it melodramatically about 10 times.) In any case, the poem is about raging "against the dying of the light" probably in terms of getting old and dying. The film used it on a more profound level: humans colonizing other planets as an act of "raging" against an existential threat.

Interestingly enough, Michael Caine says he KNEW Dylan Thomas irl:

In Interstellar, you recite Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” which sounds a lot harder to nail than math talk.
As an actor, you just read the reality of what is going on. I love that poem. I also knew Dylan Thomas quite well. I knew him, but he didn’t know me. He was always drunk when you met him. I know he’s dead, but I’m sure if you said, “Did you ever meet Michael Caine,” he’d say, “I don’t know.” He was a fabulous poet. He was just around in the bars and clubs in London. He was a very bright Welshman who drank too much.

See the full interview on Vulture: http://www.vulture.com/2014/11/michael-caine-interstellar-interview.html


Thomas on Thomas

Thomas describes his technique in a letter: “I make one image—though ‘make’ is not the right word; I let, perhaps, an image be ‘made’ emotionally in me and then apply to it what intellectual & critical forces I possess—let it breed another, let that image contradict the first, make, of the third image bred out of the other two together, a fourth contradictory image, and let them all, within my imposed formal limits, conflict.”


Selection for Jan/Feb 2015

Dylan Thomas: Selected Poems

O, kingdom of neighbors, finned
Felled and quilted, flash to my patch
Work ark and the moonshine
Drinking Noah of the bay
My ark sings in the sun
At God speeded summer's end
And the flood flowers now.