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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)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


Late afternoon after a long morning in Ubud. We visited the Monkey Forest - a short walk from the Kokokan Hotel - and as is customary with me, I found the trees and walls and sculptures more intriguing than the wildlife. Plenty of ugly gray monkeys underfoot, slowly peeling little bananas and eyeing your hands for more. For me the big star in Bali is the flora - everything grows to a fantastic size, and when you range it about with fountains and altars and pools...

Sun or rain, the landscape is smudgy, like Ireland. Ireland and Bali share the greening of stone that's been wetted and stuck with bits of soil over many years. But Ireland's landscape is treeless, its hills smooth and shadowy, its feel minimalist. The vistas here are utter abundance, bottom to top: rushing narrow water channels, paddy paths, squares of waving rice, ducks, farmers, temples, scarecrows, people parading in the middle distance, palm trees, paper kites, and, farther away, the jagged black tops of volcanoes, their midriffs clouded. "Anyone at all in Bali, seated by the side of the road or elsewhere, who bothers simply to look at what passes before him," wrote an early visitor, "will begin to doubt the reality of what he sees. Everything is beautiful, perfectly beautiful."

I'm sitting on the soft long couch on our balcony at the Kokokan. The rooster's crowing, the gamelan's banging at the music school up the hill, water's hissing from rivers, channels, and ponds. It's only 5:30 and already it's getting dark.

But nothing feels ominous - the dark, the wet, the far from home, the brooding music, the palms overhanging everything, spiders and frogs and lizards and snakes at our feet. Nothing feels ominous.

I want to have the courage of Wilditch, the boy in Graham Greene's witchy tale, Under the Garden. He tunnels underground to find a mysterious old man who instructs him in roguishly eluding the claims of the world: "Have no loyalty. Tell no one your real name."

Karol is a few islands away, on East Timor. He's part of UNTAET, the United Nations Transitional Administration. Among the things he's done there which lie somewhat outside his primary job as a professor of political science at the University of Maryland is defuse conflicts between guerrillas and UN officials.

On his last R&R visit to us, he said: "If anything happens to me, I've written a letter -- I wrote it in Singapore -- for Ania. It's with my important documents in Timor. Give it to her."