|. . . 2015-06-16|
SUPERSTITION. 1. ... religion without morality. ... 4. Over-nicety; exactness too scrupulous.- A Dictionary of the English Language by Samuel Johnson
A view held in late antiquity is that the use of the words superstitiō ‘superstition’ and superstitiōsus ‘superstitious’ with reference to religion derives from the idea that such practices were superfluous or redundant.- Oxford English Dictionary
January 31, 1930: At last J.J. has recommenced work on Work in Progress. The de luxe edition by ? soon to come out — about the old lady A.L.P. I think. Another about the city (H.C.E. building Dublin). Five volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica on his sofa. He has made a list of 30 towns, New York, Vienna, Budapest, and Mrs. Fleischman has read out the articles on some of these. I ‘finish’ Vienna and read Christiania and Bucharest. Whenever I come to a name (of a street, suburb, park, etc.) I pause. Joyce thinks. If he can Anglicize the word, i.e. make a pun on it, Mrs. F. records the name or its deformation in the notebook. Thus ‘Slotspark’ (I think) at Christiana becomes Sluts’ park. He collects all queer names in this way and will soon have a notebook full of them. The system seems bad for (1) there is little hope of the reader knowing all these names — most seem new even to Joyce himself, and certainly are to me. And supposing the reader, knowing the fragment dealt with towns, took the trouble to look up the Encyclopedia, would he hit on the Joyce has selected? (2) The insertion of these puns is bound to lead the reader away from the basic text, to create divagations and the work is hard enough anyhow! The good method would be to write out a page of plain English and then rejuvenate dull words by injection of new (and appropriate) meanings. What he is doing is too easy to do and too hard to understand.
April 28, 1930: His method is more mechanical than ever. For the ‘town references,’ he scoured all the capital towns in the Encyclopedia and recorded in his black notebook all the ‘punnable’ names of streets, buildings, city-founders. Copenhagen, Budapest, Oslo, Rio I read to him. Unfortunately he made the entries in his black notebook himself and when he wanted to use them, the reader found them illegible.- Reflections on James Joyce: Stuart Gilbert’s Paris Journal,
ed. Thomas F. Staley & Randolph Lewis
Joyce lost his faith but kept his superstition. And proselytized. By constructing reality effects which transform from red herring to vital clew on research and re-reading, Joyce fed the generic allures of puzzle-mystery and conspiracy theory into formalist realism, and thereby trained a generation of Joyceans into an everything-connects superstition of their own.
But while in the midst of serializing those carefully cross-wired diagrams of sub-sub-trivia across Ulysses, he began to immerse them in pointedly redundant anti-reality effects. "Cyclops" may be scrupulous about something, but whatever it is ain't "meanness." And after his increasingly bouncing babes were carted to the printshop and carted back again, he would improvise riffs across the proofsheets, snatching any chance to strengthen the scribbly cross-hatched fabric of the book or merely to, like the god of creation, wake up bleary-eyed and say Fuck me what was I doing last night?
On reading a letter from his daughter Milly, who had just turned 15 on 15 June, Bloom says ‘Fifteen yesterday. Curious, fifteenth of the month too.’ More to the point, Joyce’s revision in proof gives the letter 15 sentences. But every editorial attempt to ‘correct’ Milly’s adolescent syntax and punctuation, by reverting to earlier versions, has of course changed the count and obscured the point. So too, the passage in which Bloom reflects on the rate at which an object falls to earth (‘thirty-two feet per second’) is heavily revised in print to make it the 32nd sentence in the paragraph, where reversion to earlier readings, as in the 1984 edition, obscures that convergence of sign and sense. On page 88, Joyce added in proof a sentence of eight words to expand a newspaper death notice. It reads: ‘Aged 88, after a long and tedious illness.’ To page 77 he added in proof the phrase ‘seventh heaven’; and on page 360, Bloom meditates on cycles.- Bibliography & the Sociology of Texts by D. F. McKenzie
What this showed McKenzie and John Kidd was that James Joyce thought his books too brittle to survive a page break. What it shows me is an unquenchable thirst for suspicious coincidence. Such details might have struck some unknown peculiar reader of the first edition, as they happened to strike the first edition's known peculiar writer; peculiar readers of later editions will presumably be struck by plenty of details of their own. Throw enough and someone will be struck. And who knows but that many of the belated recognitions of 1950s and 1960s Joyceans were just as casually opportunistic? If Joyce considered each precious intersection vital, wouldn't he have included them in his first drafts and poured them into the ears of his authorized explicators?
The contingent and ephemeral hold all we can reach of the necessary and eternal; we mold meaning from the pleasantly stinking loam of chance — such Good News can't be carried in rice-paperish porcelain; its vehicle should be built to survive chipping; should, ideally, become self-healing....
Or so I gather from the cheerfully incorporated bloopers and wide-world-of-kitchen-sinks ("Frightful stench, isn't it? Just too awful for words") method of Finnegans Wake, and from Joyce's remarks when questioned by a friendlier sort than Gilbert: his hope that a random reader in some far-off location would trip across a regional reference (my own muddy MO! my own K.C. jowls, they sure are wise!) and feel peculiarly addressed. In this work, at least, the readerly goal writerly assumed doesn't seem to have been full mastery — mulching libraries and and acquaintances so rapidly, odds are slim that Joyce himself would recall much source material after a month — but frequent recognition.
(Why a lad or lassie from Baton Rouge or Bucharest should bother to position themselves so as to encounter these happy accidents would be an unfriendly question to ask any author, I think, and at any rate went unanswered.)
Absolute control remaining unreachable, the artist might endeavor to maximize happy accidents. During my first reading of Finnegans Wake in 1980, I found a history of the Beatles, and, if we choose to take auctorial intention into account, this would be as the author intended. Most attempts to adapt Joyce's works to other media have been miserable things. The relative success of John Cage's slick and cheesy Roaratorio depends on chance, but isn't happenstance.
Flaubert's invention of detached formalist realism had the (possibly unanticipated) effect of rallying readerly sentiments against the all-powerful know-it-all artificer and toward his deluded, destructive protagonists. Eventually, in Trois Contes, he worked out of this particular bind by letting his protagonist retain her delusions (with Joyce following suit in "Clay"). But his less detached-realistic works avoided the question altogether. We can easily picture the endearingly idiotic tenacity of Bouvard and Pécuchet as a one-joke comic strip like "Little Sammy Sneeze" or "The Family Upstairs" or "That's My Pop!" Lines on paper don't sense pain as we know it.
Joyce found a way to join forces with himself. Even on my first, unaided reading, I felt rightness in the increasingly grotesque gigantism of Ulysses, and when I return to the book, that (possibly unanticipated) affective response is what I want to relive: an alliance with breathing ugly-as-life almost-humans repeatedly smacked down under floods of mocking inflation and bouncing up again ignorant as corks and damaged as new. Yes, the two male leads are having one of the worst days of their lives, presumably at the behest of some author. But because The Author in Our Face has directed our attention to his louder, noisier, and impotent assaults, the result is less like a vivisection than like a mixed-animation heroic epic of "Duck Amuck" starring Laurel and Hardy.
I've never managed a similarly direct response to Finnegans Wake, although I keep hoping. It looks like giants all the way down. Faced with a foundational secular religious document, I want Krazy Kat and I get Jack Kirby's New Gods.
James Joyce and Louis Zukofsky share an odd career pattern: a hermetic retreat into and outrageous expansion of the nuclear family, attempting to fit all space-time into an already crowded apartment.
The "cocooning" idiom bugged me from the start. A cocoon isn't a cozy retreat or celebration of stasis. By definition, cocooning occurs with intent to split. Maybe it's appropriate for them, though?
|. . . 2015-05-03|
I find little profit in the jealous conflict waged as to the values of the so-called realistic and romantic schools; save that it has brought out some good criticism, and that every such warfare is stimulating to both sides. Otherwise, it is chiefly an expression of one's taste or distaste for certain writers, or his opinion that too persistent fashions should in their turns give way. Often it is a dispute or confusion as to the meaning of a word. For who can doubt that art, to be of worth, must never be an abject copyist yet should have its basis in life as it is and things as they are,— or that impassioned speech and action must be natural even in their intensity?
- "A Critical Estimate of Mrs. Stoddard's Novels"
by Edmund Clarence Stedman, 1901
“Let us treat the men and women well : treat them as if they were real : perhaps they are.”— EMERSON.
- epigraph to Two Men by Elizabeth Stoddard
“You do not like novels?”
“No; nor fairy stories, nor poetry.”
“Not a literal novel, like ‘Jane Eyre’?”
“Literal! Charlotte Bronte cheated her readers in a new way. She threw a glamour over the burnt porridge even, at the Lowood school, and the seedcake which Jane shared with Helen Burns. Did red and white furniture ever look anywhere else as it did at ‘Thomfield’? Haven't we all red and white articles which have never stirred us beyond the commonplace?”
“The glamour of genius.”
“Genius casts its glamour over ordinary things: we who have none say there is a discrepancy between the real and the ideal.”
“But life must be illustrated.”
“It can not be; the text ruins the attempt.”
“Does not passion illustrate it?”
“I do not know.”
“Somebody says; ‘Nothing is so practical as the ideal, which is ever at hand to uphold and better the real,’ and I believe it.”
“Shoal water,” cried Parke from the bow.
“We are among the rocks, Jason,” said Philippa, bending over the side.
- Two Men by Elizabeth Stoddard, 1865
As everyone before me has said, Elizabeth Stoddard is a unique writer. Something about her approach kept me reaching towards Carol Emshwiller as a comparison point. She writes her characters too deep from the inside to permit introspection, from the outside like specimens in a jar, and as far above them as a reteller of myths, all as facets of a single unshakeable attitude rather than a toolbox of techniques.
|. . . 2015-04-17|
A [science fiction] wealthy with metaphors does not tend to constitute a world, but instead floats in its own air.- adapted from Daniel Albright, Lyricality in English Literature
|. . . 2015-03-29|
Although auteurs like M. John Harrison will always fit old clips into new montages, the all-out fixup novel served as loyal attendent to the commercial market for short stories and novellas and did not survive its patron.
While fiction magazines withered, academia doubled-down on publish-or-perish. Journal and books lists exploded, culture took its course, and for several decades humanities' new-shelves have been as loaded with fixups as a 1950s paperback rack.
Of course, not all the tactics of their original home were carted over. Lacking the pretense of organic character-focused narrative, no fixing-up scholar need attempt the reconstructive surgery of Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler. Isaac Asimov's Foundation is the model: elucidation and proof of millenia-spanning psychohistory through chapters on Theocritus's Idyll 15, Eliza Heywood's Distress'd Orphan, and Grand Theft Auto V's soundtrack. As the man says, "ideal for tales of epic sweep through time and space."
|. . . 2015-01-23|
Conspicuously absent from its where-are-they-now summing-ups: the Voting Rights Act.
|. . . 2015-01-14|
|. . . 2015-01-11|
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.
|. . . 2015-01-07|
Assessing a sentimental favorite entails some self-assessment.
|. . . 2015-01-04|
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 could be called nonsense verse with an adult vocabulary, like the Zukofsky which reeled me in during my inflamed youth. 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:
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.
Michael Orlando writes:
Thanks for the Beddoes link, I've thought that about HM since I was intoduced to him via a Chinese backdoor by Schafer.
|. . . 2015-01-01|
4 Propositions for A Monetarist Theory of Time
- Alan Halsey, from
Sections Drawn Across The Vortex
|. . . 2014-12-30|
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 Morris's shtick less than Rumsfeld's. 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.
|. . . 2014-11-18|
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?’
‘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.
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.
|. . . before . . .||. . . after . . .|
Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.