For Auld Lang Syne, by Tom Browne in The Night Side of London (1902)
pseudopodium
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Post-production Comment: Selma (2014)

Conspicuously absent from its where-are-they-now summing-ups: the Voting Rights Act.

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Innavaidavavision Honey statement

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Science news

EL CERRITO, CA - Several hours before dawn, this hipster enclave hosted its latest innovation: the first public trial of a new approach to California's devastating drought.

After a brief transition signalled by translucent green curds, tap water was replaced with streams of guacamole. Constructed through a public-private partnership between local government and a nearby grocery chain, a novel cascade of steel rollers provided both hot and cold running guacamole to wary residents.

Normal service was restored by 5:30 AM.

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Consider the source

Assessing a sentimental favorite entails some self-assessment.

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Salve qui peut

In my fifties I began catching up with post-1960 English poetry Roy Fisher, J. H. Prynne, Bill Griffiths and last year I reached Alan Halsey, who quickly became a sentimental favorite.

Halsey's publications bolt around the field like a deranged beagle: drawings and collages; an anarcho-scholastic Robin Hood book and Shelley memorial; tossed-off proto-Flarf; cans of evaporated "Lives of the Poets" rolling out the condensery.... Happily for me, my favorite mode is one he started early, conveniently concentrated in Not Everything Remotely, and kept up, still going in his recent skinny-volume, Even if only out of:

it’s not as if meaning means
the imaginary something
something like ‘menagerie’
a hinge of exchange or henge
that hangs in the air and the air
as if obliged hangs itself

Like the Zukofsky which reeled me in as an inflamed youth, it could be called nonsense verse with an adult vocabulary. Sometimes it packs the oomph of an adult nursery rhyme along Niedecker or Spicer lines (Halsey namechecks all three); mostly, though, it's lighter, Zukofsker, import dissolving into the clack of nudged semantic tiles on a slider puzzle of found (or pounded down the gullet) sounds:

Broken Mirror
I

Present fragment included as
the dream working up to it
is no small thing to be saved.
If there is a war there is

therefore an external world
and these books, there is a world ex-
tended, present fragment included,
one’s order is the mirror

of another one’s chaos. Man
the measure tidies up until
no more remains of the remains
to be seen written out on the irritable

surface. The secrets of the skin-
deep defeat us, we have perfect
recoil as the argument turns,
on the point of death indistinct

as our present perception
and possessions in troops
and troops all the same are
or have to be recalled.
II

Present fragment as the dream working
up to it is no small thing and nothing
like to be saved. If there is a war there is
therefore an external world and a world ex-

tended, present fragment included,
one’s order is the mirror of another one’s chaos.
Man the measure tidies up until no more remains
of the remains to be seen written out on

its irritable surface: the secrets of the skin-
deep fade among the souls of the souls
in infinite regression which like kings of Europe
with its multitudes and neighbouring tribes

fall out. Across that corner of the field
of vision which is England with its tax
on memory, its perfect recoil. In which the
argument turns on the point of death indistinct

as present perception and possessions in troops and
troops all the same are or have to be recalled.

Halsey's verses include "auguries," "emblems," "charms," and "spells," and to the receptive soul that's how they work not a splashy stunt like levitating the Pentagon but the soothing mundane magic of mumbled beads and mantras and whistling in the dark. Keeping us safe by keeping us surfaced.

A lot is "political poetry" in the only sense I really understand, the sense where political formulae happen to be stuck in there clanking and thumping and crooning catchy obscenities along with all the other semi-organic clutter which can only be gotten out of your head physically. When life puts nits in your mind's ear, you just got to balance your itsy-bitsy top hat on your scalp, tweezer up your teensy whip, and make flea circus out of that shit: flea aerialists triple-somersaulting, flea bareback deranged-beagle-riders, that line of political poetry.

Along that line, Halsey has an edge on Zukofsky, whose interest in political economics stopped at the end of the 1930s around the same time his terminology obsolesced. Whereas Halsey had the good fortune to start at the dawn of the Thatcherite/Reaganomics hell we still inhabit. It's made a crap world but a steady muse.

"An edge on Zukofsky" ain't a commercially viable location, though. Just like with poor ol' Zuk and poor ol' Beddoes, Halsey's enthusiasts will always be outnumbered by the indifferent and the irritated. That last might be even the reason I looked Halsey up; it's the kind of bad review which would make me want to read the target.

You tell me what kind of good review this is.

It certainly isn't going to pretend that the peculiar satisfaction of these peculiar needs is particularly admirable or ideologically sound. Donald Rumsfeld was just as dependent on the dictionary and just as prone to dissolve sense in pattern. I suppose I would go so far as to posit that some nonsense verse is less toxic and more restorative than others and that the writer and readers of Through the Looking Glass are somehow better than Humpty Dumpty and the Red Queen. I wouldn't go so far as to claim that they're better than Alice.

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Happy New Year
4 Propositions for A Monetarist Theory of Time
  1. However it is measured
    time depends on expectations
    of trends in the supply.
  2. Because any observations
    are ‘clouded by problems’
    observed time changes in supply.
  3. Identification
    at one and the same
    time changes demand.
  4. The same demand making
    one time how much
    each is being observed.
- Alan Halsey, from
Sections Drawn Across The Vortex

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Movie Comment: The Unknown Known (2013)

Do you miss W.-Bush-era press conferences? If so, you can replay those hours of glory here, slo-mo with a Danny Elfman soundtrack. If not, be warned: it's Donald Rumsfeld's show.

I don't mean Errol Morris should have been "tougher" on Rumsfeld, or that Morris was "taken in." I mean Rumsfeld wins aesthetically. Morris depends on his performers to produce good improv material. Robert McNamara had intellect and conscience; forcing him to think on camera was enough to hang a picture on. Rumsfeld carries no such burden. He remains first, foremost, and only as Dick Cheney once introduced him: "an executive," a whirling shell of self-service around a moral vacuum. Character-driven hot-issue movie-making fails in the face of a character who's all shtick and a shtick which explains nothing. When Morris attempts to prod Rumsfeld, just like reporters attempted in the past, he gets just the same results, lie for lie, evasion for evasion, non sequitur on sequitur.

With no other structure at hand, Morris chooses to end on a cracking-under-the-strain moment of his own, asking "Why did you agree to do the film?" with such exasperation that Rumsfeld understandably calls the question "vicious." I wasn't interested in or suprised by Rumsfeld's answer, but I would have liked hearing Morris's.

Because the end result flatters his shtick less. The movie lies there like Heaven's Gate with bullshit in place of postcard-views, and the smell of bullshit spreads, tainting the pompous music cues and animated transitions to raise thoughts of management-by-Powerpoint not, in my experience, an advance on management-by-memo and then lingering to undermine Morris's post-production "oh yes I meant to do that" publicity.

It's rare I'm driven to such extremes but I agree with The New Republic: this material called for breaking old habits. If Morris had chosen to celebrity-profile Karl Rove or Dick Cheney, there would have been a lot less weird smiling; if he'd snagged W. Bush, there would have been a lot less smooth talk. But there would have been exactly the same inviolable vacuity and the same utter ease with unjustifiable power and the same numbing mystery. They make no more sense as individuals than Eichmann did.

More than the Supreme Court's coup, more than the 9/11 attacks themselves, what made me enter mourning for my country was the wedding of indefinite war to indefinite tax cuts. Sabotage like that, like keeping an Iraq invasion on the warmplate for decades, requires something more (and something less) than quirky personalities. These clowns conspired to shape history; history is needed to explain their success.

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M. John Harrison's "Getting Out of There" and back again

A year later and I keep re-reading this. Well, it's a pretty little thing innit? Gorgeous cover. Glossy paper. Fourteen pages of mouth-tested prose. Title chimes with an Alan Halsey. Proofreading! (You can't fully credit the omnipresence of typos till silence strikes.)

Maybe because I finished The Wine-Dark Sea right before the chapbook arrived, it reminds me more of Robert Aickman than any other Harrison story has reminded me of Robert Aickman. The soppingly grounded Englishness of it. Its protagonist of a certain age and dislocation and curiously libido-free urge to couple. Most of all its pacing: a determined no-nonsense but no-particular-tourist-destination-in-mind tramp into what critics call "dread" (the unaccountable corporate flight of nesting colonies of terns and gulls), not minding the gaps at all, or at least making only token efforts to fill them. This particular gap's as good as a nod to an Aickman influence:

‘That yellow lichen on the roofs down there,’ Hampson said, ‘I wonder what it is?’

She laughed.

‘I thought you were a local,’ she said.

Like all the best influences, Aickman's-on-Harrison was retroactive: verification rather than emulation. They'd independently developed an architecture of negative space.

Harrison, at least, consciously recognized and worked it. Here he explains how he wrote the story which first drew the comparison:

The way I started out, I asked myself a question: How would you write a horror story and take all the horror out of it? How would you write a ghost story and remove almost everything? a couple of sentences, a pair of sentences that would do the trick... "The Ice Monkey" was my first attempt at that. I wrote it as a normal horror story in which it's quite evident what had happened. And then I spent two or three weeks just removing sentence after sentence that directed the reader towards the normal ending, until finally you're left only two sentences in four thousand words which give you the clue as to what might or might not have happened. [...] Yeah, scraped it out. To see what would happen. I wanted to see where it would fall over. [...] After you've been doing it for twenty years, you put fewer of them in. When I started I had to throw out whereas now I know what not to put in.

But they differ in the thoroughness of their erasures. Aickman rarely sealed his unsettling build-ups without a deflationary appearance by crap F/X. Harrison's more likely to scrape away even that much comfort. His multi-volume fantasy series isn't threaded by hero's quest or cod-Gondal dynastic charts but by ways of not-knowing a city. Although some of us have always been creeped by roses, his dark occult novel horrifies mostly through absence. His macho sporting-life naturalism lacks self-pity, rivalry, the thrill of victory, or even the thrill of disillusionment.

Here are the dreadfully recurring associations of "Getting Out of There":

That last develops into the most blatantly anti-realistic aspect of the story, and it's hardly a Famous Monster of Filmland.

I took it because we have to take things somehow as a temporally-displaced dream-version of social media. I don't how you would take it; I'm pretty sure the bait wouldn't attract huge buzz from the buzzers of record. Very important novelists like Eggers and Amis (and Sinclair Lewis and Upton Sinclair) are newsworthy because they're journalists; they're terrified of burying the lede. Whereas Harrison knows the lede's there to enrich the soil. Insofar as "Getting Out of There"'s bit of fantasy was ripped from today's headlines, it was then collaged into plaster-of-paris, and then painted over.

And then discarded for a vacuum-welded clampdown of the unutterably mundane. The twirly-shiny bit played misdirection in a sleight-of-hand maneuver which models our sleight-of-hand transfer from post-youth to pre-senescence. After which, as the poet sang, "You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?" It wasn't where we were watching.

There's nothing jokey or puzzly about the gaps that bind this free indirect discourse. They're mimetic: deliberate sacrifices of discursive freedom for the respite of further indirection. A temporary but renewable respite. Renewable to a point.

Responses

tl;dr It's a horror story whose ultimate brain-melting horror is a happy ending.

Speaking of Harrison, "The Killing Bottle" is a fine fannish-vocational-scholarly analysis of his style.

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"Why, this is costume, nor am I out of it."

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Many of the difficulties of contemporary verse are indeed due to the attempt to reconcile the classical desideratum “dry and hard” with the necessity to experiment

If, however, we examine them as two statements showing a difference of personal temperament in their authors, this hard and fast irreconcilability between romanticism and classicism disappears, and we see them both as somewhat arbitrary distinctions based on the temperamental variations likely to occur in people dealing with what is virtually the same process. Both temperaments may even be found to exist side by side in the same period. Mr. Kiddier is historically a modest contemporary of Mr. Pound’s; and what, after all, does Mr. Kiddier say that Mr. Pound does not? He says that colour is the important thing in painting and that it is a very difficult and subtle medium. To say that it belongs to the fairies is only an extravagant and harmless way of saying that man has trouble in mastering it. To call colour a spiritual thing is merely an extravagant way of saying that, to use it properly, the artist must have high qualities, such as “insight, poignancy, retentiveness, plus the energy” Mr. Pound’s own list of the essentials in the “making of permanent sculpture.” If Mr. Kiddier insists on a first idea, Mr. Pound insists on a main one. The artistic sense relation which for the former should show in the association of trees in a picture is, true enough, defined as a kind of emotional sympathy in the artist rather than as a necessary relationship between the “motifs” employed. But is this not merely a tenderer, more ingenuous version of Mr. Pound’s own ingenuous enough remarks about the “complete thesis of principles” which the perfect statue apparently attains? [...] Romantic language such as Mr. Kiddier’s soon becomes trite after the surprise of its first use wears off; language such as Mr. Pound uses (I do not wish, of course, to suggest that either Mr. Kiddier or Mr. Pound invented their language) soon becomes jargon, which means not only trite but senseless for it is so limited that when it loses its literal sense its metaphorical sense (such as the application to poetry of terms invented for sculpture) becomes purely academic. We shall grow weary (if we have not already) of talk of circles, triangles, spheres, form, planes, stasis and masses sooner than talk of trees put in motion by the wind, fairies, sunbeams, seasons and the passing of centuries.

Shorn of its jargon, is there anything that Mr. Pound says which is not in Mr. Kiddier’s philosophy? He says that the artist makes the mechanical exercises of his art breathe out life, that everything must be in relation (Mr. Kiddier’s word), that the sculptor can make flesh out of stone as the colour-artist gets significant vibrations out of paint. His elaborate explanation of the technical merit of “The Dancer” is really a pedantic evasion of such words as “spirituality” about which Mr. Kiddier, if asked describe this statue, would in his ingenuousness not be squeamish. “The whole form-series ends, passes into statis with the circular base or platform” is merely the basic “sameness” or peacefulness of Mr. Kiddier’s philosophy of art into which variety shall not be introduced for its own sake. A romanticist would paraphrase Gaudier- Brzeska: “The sculptor must feel his subject as a whole and understand it minutely in its parts without allowing its soul to escape. More than this, he must be able to feel and understand with stone as well as with his heart and mind.” Whatever conviction this definition loses by its sentimentality, it gains by its applicability to more than one kind of sculpture [...]

This earnestness in the romanticist easily leads to vulgarity, this self-consciousness in the classicist, to snobbery. The reason why Hulme opposed fancy to the imagination was that he had a snobbish feeling against the imagination from its being associated with many vulgarities, not from any real objection to imagination itself: for fancy to him was merely an improved, more technical, narrower imagination. “Abstract” is another “classical” word that has come to have a thoroughly snobbish connotation. It generally means: lacking in sentimental allusions to fairies, trees, spirituality, time, spring. Likewise “mathematical” and “geometric” prove themselves to mean lacking in vulgar humanity, having non-vital realism. [...] Art, in Hulme’s words, is created to satisfy a desire. The desire appears to be, in theory, the desire for art itself; to create a discontinuity in man by isolating art from nature. So art is not the creation of a fiction, but a very gloomy feeling in man about his own nature. Why this is not a romantic attitude for the romantic includes some very gloomy feelings, indeed, about the nature of man is that the romantic gloomy feelings do not seem to be gloomy or pessimistic enough. [...] Classical art is therefore created to satisfy a desire for gloom which is really, however, a snobbish feeling about romantic gloom.

- Contemporaries and Snobs (1928) by Laura Riding
(ed. Laura Heffernan & Jane Malcolm)

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Zoning outward

Even the most immersive consumption bleeds into the world. We exit the movie theater and blink at the street's new lights. We close the book and reconsider the motives of our nearest and furthest.

And likewise on the production side we sometimes take our immersion out of its cone of isolation for a walk.

Of course, it may decide to interrupt the real-world just as rudely as the real-world interrupts the Zone. We're trying to take a break, take care of business, reconnect, recenter, while the unresolved worries at us like a bone spur.

But it doesn't always drag us back to the kennel. Our evil darlings might instead prefer to scavenge and mark, most ravenously among the village-explainers: systematizing philosophers, psychologists, fundamentalists, essentialists, political and conspiracy theorists, and so on. And though their pack includes astrologists and voodoo economists, there's nothing occult about its appetites: mundanity is their goal, and even the most unforeseen connections predictably arrive as confirmation rather than revelation. If Thomas Friedman go forth tonight, it is towards a flat-screen his steps will tend; let Plato open his door, he shall find Platonism lining his driveway.

Then there's the sort of production which barely requires immersion at all. Journals, blogs, a certain type of essay, a certain type of lyric, all rely more on establishing a habit than on designated locked-down Zones. As Serengeti, I think it was, said, "All things can tempt me to this craft of verse"; the foraging's opportunistic, more or less selective, more or less hungry, depending on taste and appetite and the neighborhood.

A world with unpredictable pops, sparks, and fizzles beats a world without. But it lacks the smooth reassurance of a whole, should we find such a notion reassuring. What I miss most from the very brief periods when I was writing fiction (as opposed to the longer period when I tried to be writing fiction) isn't so much the Groove itself as what happened on the breakaway walks, when new ingredients, new doings and sayings and settings, would drop down and trot over like cats, sometimes almost swarming for attention. "Chance furnishes me with what I need. I'm like a man who stumbles; my foot strikes something, I look down, and there is exactly what I'm in need of." And then those journals, those blogs, shed their own pretense of shoddy randomness and reveal themselves as indispensably fated allies: "Memory is imagination."

James Joyce, being James Joyce, sometimes groused about needing to fiddle the pieces so, but he plainly enough understood that the glamor of A (colossally conceived and laboriously hammered-out) Vision tarnishes while the unearned rewards and punishments of superstition keep their magic. For writers of fiction (and of big baggy poems starting at least from Whitman), the signature superstition is kledonomancy, placing the oracle of the shout in the street that is God.

Responses

Peli kindly reminded me of Erich Auerbach's "Figura":
... there is no choice between historical and hidden meaning; both are present.The figural structure preserves the historical event while interpreting it as revelation; and must preserve it in order to interpret it.

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Vehemently making nothing happen

When I contemplate the United States House of Representatives I understand the true meaning of "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world."

* * *

In related news, my close acquaintance Juliet Clark found her not-distant-enough acquaintance Anselm Dovetonsils merging Spoken-Word Poetry and Postcard Poetry into something he calls Google Voice Poetry:

Transcript Not Available
Hey missing this message
is for Mr. Triad.
I think a look at details,
a stunning information.
This is mighty not
where doing petitions quality.
You're looking for clues service.
For thinking that you want to get done in.
Your some exciting things are waiting.
Covet their care.

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Movie Comment: The Underworld Story (1950)

A wallop's packed behind that bland title: dangerously hot scripting, fully engaged performers, and gorgeousness like unearned grace wherever it looks. This early composition reminded me of a Jess collage

Executive office at the newspaper of record

pressing history like headcheese into slices of vision; holding Infinity in a managing editor's office. Appropriate for a tribute to the sustaining intimacy (they work hard and they play hard) of wealth, racism, law, and journalism.

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Our legal adviser, Dr. Atem, forwards alarming news from the Iron-John-meets-Porta-John front:

Future Ferals of America
by Anselm Dovetonsils
Earthy buddy. Yuh. Hail jib. Fight jhh FFA. Gggh
Fighting
Gggh
G

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New from the Repress: the Paradoxa Interview with William Tenn, AKA Philip Klass interviewed by Josh Lukin. We thank Dr. Lukin for the opportunity.

. . . before . . .. . . after . . .