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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

UD is...
"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)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Introducing a
New Feature on
University Diaries


Rent-A-Ruminant could be the name of this very blog, a place you go to watch someone ruminate not only on university issues, but also on Life Itself. And because it's the summer and university stories are a little less thick on the ground, and because UD lived on Bali in 2000 and kept a journal about Life Itself there, and to celebrate the fact that, as Reuters just reported, tourists are finally returning to Bali after a 2002 terrorist bomb emptied the island, UD inaugurates a summer feature on University Diaries -- Balinesia -- in which she offers excerpts from her Bali journals.

Go to her branch campus at Inside Higher Education for current university stories.


The Kokokan Hotel's setting is green and lush beyond belief. It lies along a fast-moving river and rice paddies. A dozen ducks live on the banks, and it's a pleasure to sit at a brookside table and listen to the water run and watch the ducks fuss, while in the background terraced rice grasses wave in the wind, and above them enormous palms do the same. A rooster stalks the grounds in the morning and keeps up a pompous racket for the rest of the day. Lizards lounge on our beach chairs, scuttling away when we approach from the pool.

A high wind ripples the rice plants, and oily brown water pours over the sluice below. The sun is marvelously out as the ducks, now in the lily ponds on the other side of the river, make their strange rounds. It's a landscape in perpetual motion and at the same time tranquil -- a cultivated and dynamic place.

I've taken a swim, and am now drinking tea riverside. The noise of the heavy river water is deafening, and yet I'm always drawn to it. Why do I love this covering noise? The tumult water makes when it's plentiful, and a sort of answering tumult in the rippling of the palms and the rice plants... Gaia visibly alive - her breath, her watery veins... The marvel of the water's ongoingness, the way nothing stops its flow. I can relax on my little overlook. The world's moving along just fine without me.

Three men work on the roof of the building under construction across the lily pond. They're hammering sheets of bamboo webbing. It looks slippery up there -- the men move laterally with great care. A woman appears nearby in the rice paddy just above the channel next to the river: she carries on her head with absolute ease a full laundry basket. She wears a light green sweater to match the rice plants, and a long brown batik skirt.

The late afternoon sun creates a blanket effect along the river - a generalized green, threaded with white rivulets pouring out from among ferns massed on the sides of the terraced paddies. Each rivulet is a secret water garden, hidden behind foliage. Women stand in the river wetting the webbing that the men will cover with wood beams. They're tightening the webbing, I suppose. Making it raintight.

Because no one else can hear me, and because I can't resist, I sing through all my Henry Purcell songs sitting here -- Fairest Isle, Music for a While, Altisidora's Song. Each song seems to fit the setting remarkably well. They're celebrations of loveliness, generosity, lack of covetousness, ease, and of places where all of these seem to come together. The long vocal runs (pleh-heh-heh-heh-heh-heh-sure...) trip nicely along with the riverrun, and things seem somehow in alignment, as they are supposed to be. Bali is a body of earth wearing its loose clothes well.

Do other people, I wonder, feel that their experience of pleasure of this transporting sort is in part for the sake of people who have died? (There's a sudden scent of incense as offerings to the gods are scattered about the hotel.) When I come to a place like this, I feel the spirit of the aesthetes whose work I love because they loved the world: Frank O'Hara, Paul Monette, James Agee, Thomas Wolfe, Albert Camus, Malcolm Lowry, Randall Jarrell, John Berryman. All of these men died young. I could swear they're lounging nearby, watching me experience for them the measure of bliss they missed.

Or, less sadly, they're applauding from the wings as another consciousness tries to maintain the sort of relationship to the world that was important to them.

Beauty calls us forth. It confirms our intimation of some aspect of immortality. We should attend to it, for ourselves and for the dead.