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Read my book, TEACHING BEAUTY IN DeLILLO, WOOLF, AND MERRILL (Palgrave Macmillan; forthcoming), co-authored with Jennifer Green-Lewis. VISIT MY BRANCH CAMPUS AT INSIDE HIGHER ED

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"Salty." (Scott McLemee)
"Unvarnished." (Phi Beta Cons)
"Splendidly splenetic." (Culture Industry)
"Except for University Diaries, most academic blogs are tedious."
(Rate Your Students)
"I think of Soltan as the Maureen Dowd of the blogosphere,
except that Maureen Dowd is kind of a wrecking ball of a writer,
and Soltan isn't. For the life of me, I can't figure out her
politics, but she's pretty fabulous, so who gives a damn?"
(Tenured Radical)

Thursday, July 19, 2007


At ten to seven in the morning, the familiar waking sounds of the Kokokan Hotel relax me: the clink of teaspoons being set out on the tables by the swimming pool in preparation for breakfast, the doofus roosters, the plinking of water into ponds, the tubercular cough of scooters gearing up for today's demolition derby on the broken streets of Ubud. I've settled into the routine of life chez Kokokan - the breakfast ladies, the pool, the quiet shuttle drivers, the glorious churning river.

There's already gamelan music in the background, and birdsong, and throaty frogs in the stone fountain. Incense spices the air. As I walk outside our room, there's a constant breeze, and clear skies with wifty clouds, and the low murmur of the hotel staff sweeping porches. Butterflies are rampant: they're black, or yellow and black, or they're that shiny blue that's almost black. The massive spider web hung from the branches of three trees across the courtyard bounces in the wind, and the red and yellow hibiscus flowers on the bushes just up the hill sway. The hotel staff picks these flowers each morning and puts them in the mouths of Hindu statues.

The sun lights up the small bit of terraced rice paddy that our porch overlooks, across the river. The wind pokes at the thready streamers on top of bamboo poles in the paddies. Frondy palms shake. The world's alight and abounding: in the sky, the kites that Balinese children like to fly bump along.

I'm thinking about my Purcell songs. When I sing Purcell and feel both his odd antiquity and my entirely contemporary engagement with it, I feel confirmed in both an immediate and a distant world... which I suppose brings me back to the idea I wrote about before: the idea that beauty is for me in large part about consort with the dead. "Come back now and help me with these verses. / Whisper to me some beautiful secret that you remember from life," writes Donald Justice in an elegy for a friend of his who was also a poet. If I can be entirely inside a Purcell song, then his spirit reanimates itself in me. It's as if there's a core within some human beings that can't be extinguished by death, and that in consort with the consciousness of someone like Purcell I also reanimate myself.

---summer, 2000---