Chatting with ChatGPT

I can’t remember exactly what my sister and I were talking about on the phone when she suggested that I might find it interesting to look into ChatGPT, which went public just this past November. It could have been when I was telling her about this blog, with its focus on literature and language—and she mentioned the OpenAI language models. Whatever the prompt was, I did open a ChatGPT account. I was curious to see what chatting with ChatGPT would be like.

The Spirit of Fantasy and the Sense of Place

One of the reasons I’m drawn to fantasy is that I believe it offers the deepest sense of place that art can express. The criterion of fantasy is geographical. Fantasy is that form of storytelling which engages with the world that in the West for almost the past thousand years has been called Faerie (variously spelled). Faerie both is and is not this Earth.

Love without Profit: Q&A with Luca Sommacal

Every act of welcome is a gesture of gratuitousness. There is no profit or calculation that shapes the relationship, but only unconditional love for the destiny of the other. We don’t need anything more than this love to welcome someone into our house and thus into our life. For this reason, gratuitousness is at the origin of every experience of welcoming or hospitality.

An Intimacy Made Possible by Distance

In my imagination, a vav lives in me. I visualize it, the sixth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, along the length of my spine. The other letters of the tetragrammaton, too: yud, the 10th letter, rising like the small flame of an eternal light from the crown of my head; hey, the fifth letter, its roof stretching across my shoulders and its walls protecting each side of my torso, and, following vav, the second hey, its upper line resting on my hips, and its two parallel lines running down the sides of my legs.

A Fever for Life: Q&A With Marco Bardazzi

Piccinini was an Italian surgeon at Sant’Orsola hospital in Bologna, a husband, a father of four, and a passionate leader and friend of thousands of high school and university students in Italy between the 1970s and the end of the twentieth century. He died at the age of 48 in 1999 in a car accident on the highway between Milan and Bologna. At his funeral in Bologna, celebrated in the basilica of San Petronio by the then archbishop Giacomo Biffi, there were seven thousand people.

Q&A with John Touhey, contributor to Slant’s new book Cry of the Heart

I have been gathering and archiving Lorenzo Albacete’s writings and related audiovisual materials for the past five years. As a result, I now have a fairly comprehensive knowledge of Albacete’s overall body of work, but writing the biographical essay was an opportunity to make connections between all these materials and discover the person behind them.

Down on the Farm

Some months ago, I overheard two writers whose work I admire conversing about what makes subject matter—the stuff writers write about—interesting. I’m sure it was rude of me to eavesdrop. “Eavesdropping”— a fabulous word in itself— calls to mind someone lurking unseen, intent on overhearing what’s being said around the corner. It’s the vehicle of mysteries and comedies, depending on how much one overhears and in what context. Without eavesdropping, Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing would be a plotless bore.

Intertwining Rhymes

I’m always a bit in awe of poems where the rhymes intertwine. By “intertwine,” I mean that there’s rhyme-linkage between stanzas. (We could just as well call it interlocking or interlacing rhyme.) Of course the locus classicus for intertwining rhymes is the terza rima that Dante invented in The Divine Comedy.

The Theater of the World

Jane Clark Scharl’s one-act play Sonnez les Matines has just been published by Wiseblood Books. It is with some trepidation that I venture to say anything about drama. I don’t know that I’ve ever studied drama properly. What I mean is that I’ve always studied it as literature. Judging by the paucity of drama I’ve engaged with in the eleven years of post-secondary literary education I’ve received, there would seem to be something like a consensus that drama isn’t exactly literature.

Crosby, Angels, Language, & Music

One does not always think of German as a beautiful language. Okay, probably one never thinks this. It is the language of Hitler, after all. It is the language of spitting and of bringing up guttural noises from the back of one’s throat. The 1987 film Wings of Desire, though, and among many other things, is a movie about language and about how even German has its angelic side.

Poetry of the Gurney

I’ve lain or languished on various gurneys in our local hospital’s ED in recent days—cardiac and GI disorders brought me there. But I’m not thinking now about the medical issues involved. I’m thinking rather about what enabled me to find joy and solace in what was otherwise a painful, tedious, disorienting, frightening experience. It all has to do with sounds, beautiful sounds, sounds echoing across centuries. Sounds that I’ve managed to memorize over the years.

Literature: from Mammoth to Miniature

The one common theme of all these one-off volumes is: they represent a singular creative movement amid the lives of their authors, that is ultimately evanescent. They are the opposite of the books or careers that are like immovable boulders, or worse, business franchises. They produced something, and then they moved on. They are the living personification of Diana Vreeland’s purported fashion dictum, Elegance is refusal.

Alone in the World?

Preparatory to discussing Cormac McCarthy’s new fiction, a duology comprising The Passenger and Stella Maris, with Greg Wolfe via Zoom on January 25th, I’d like to offer a few ways into the books. The surname of the main characters, siblings Alicia and Bobby, is Western. Novelists do not name characters carelessly. Bobby and Alicia are the children, born in the late 1940s and early 1950s respectively, of a physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project which built the first atomic bombs.

Revisiting Little Women

What made me want to return to my favorite childhood book, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women”? Was it when I met my new dental hygienist recently? She introduced herself as “Amy”—which led me to tell her how, as a child, I’d named my newest baby sister “Amy,” because I was reading Little Women when my Mom was pregnant a fourth time.

What Does That Still Small Voice Sound Like?

What does that still, small voice “sound like”? Obviously we should be listening for it—always, unceasingly—but what are we listening for? What is it like to hear it? I’d like to offer a suggestion: that it’s like seeing a difficult work of art for the first time.

It’s Not My Time

When Carol died, I thought it’s not my time. Carol was my shadchanit, Jewish matchmaker. On a Saturday night in July 1989, I went with Carol and Bob, her husband, along with two other new friends, also a husband and wife, to the Beaucatcher Cinema to see “When Harry Met Sally.” I had just moved to Asheville.

Spiritual Bouquets

If, as is the case, the word “anthology” derives from a combination of Greek words meaning, “gathering of flowers,” then most poetry anthologies might best be described as mixed bouquets. Readers search them for a few spectacular roses and lilies amid the humbler baby’s breath and fern fronds that fill out the collection. Yet I suspect its far easier for twenty people to agree on the beauty of a particular flower than the merits of a recently written poem.

Pain

Is it a curse? Or a blessing? I’ve been pondering this question for years, ever since I first heard in high school the expression “No pain, no gain.” Or maybe it was when I eyed a similar expression (my first experience of chiasmus?) in the notice tacked up on the wall of my high school boys’ locker room as we headed out for football practice or a game: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

The Humor of Romance

Gawain and the Green Knight begins in Christmastime, the turning of the year, historically a time of revelry and mischief. I like to read Gawain in this season, but this year I decided to watch the film The Green Knight, which came out in the summer of 2021, after observing on social media that it is apparently divisive, people either love it or hate it.

The Cost of Independence: The 2022 Slant Books Annual Appeal

Almost exactly a year ago, Slant Books announced that it was becoming an independent, non-profit publisher. It was a bold, if not quixotic, thing to do at a time when a faltering economy has seen a number of small presses and journals closing their doors forever. Twelve months later….