Bellona Times
But he keep callin' me complacent... while all the time I is doin' my duty as a citizen... night an' day!
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. . . 2003-04-17

More Math

Fiction     Any problem can be solved with another layer of indirection

Narrative     Programming

. . . 2003-04-18


Natalie Schulhofer sends us an update from that other Times:

A report in the At the Movies column of Weekend on Friday about the death of
the Hong Kong actor Leslie Cheung, who played a police academy graduate in
John Woo's film "A Better Tomorrow," misidentified the actor who played
his older brother. That actor was Ti Lung, not Chow Yun Fat.

Which should serve nicely as icebreaker in the big hangoverless cocktail party in the sky when Cheung meets Joe LeSueur:

FIRST CHAPTER: Digressions on Some Poems by Frank O'Hara, By KINKY FRIEDMAN

Speaking of whom, in still another Times, Mary Ann Gwinn & Michael Upchurch tell us about "the books most likely to provoke, intrigue and inspire [but pointedly not 'inform'] us this season":

"The Art of Burning Bridges: A Life of John O'Hara" by Geoffrey Wolff (Knopf). The novelist-memoirist ("Providence," "The Duke of Deception") examines the life and career of novelist John O'Hara ("Appointment in Samara," "Butterfield 8"), the 1940s-'50s writer whose star is back on the rise. This biography follows the April publication of a memoir by O'Hara's lover: "Digressions on Some Poems by Frank O'Hara" by Joe LeSueur (Farrar, Straus & Giroux).

. . . 2003-04-19


  We ask here: Who is in bad faith? The [weblogger] or the champion of sincerity? The [weblogger] recognizes his faults, but he struggles with all his strength against the crushing view that his mistakes constitute for him a destiny. The critic demands of the guilty one that he constitute himself as a thing, precisely in order no longer to treat him as a thing. And this contradiction is constitutive of the demand of sincerity. Who can not see how offensive to the Other and how reassuring for me is a statement such as, "He's just a [weblogger]" which removes a disturbing freedom from a trait and which aims at henceforth constituting all the acts of the Other as consequences following strictly from his essence. The champion of sincerity is in bad faith to the degree that in order to reassure himself he pretends to judge, to the extent that he demands that freedom as freedom constitute itself as a thing. We have here only one episode in that battle to the death of consciousness which Hegel calls "the relation of the master and the slave."

+ + +

Juliet O'Keefe derives a better world:
My favourite definition [of love] is still from Delany, as found in The Spike's fuck-off letter to Bron: When you love someone, you want to help them any way you can. I'm just kind of fond of that, as it takes ego and obligation out of the equation.

And bhikku derives a greener:

When Thurber was asked, 'What do you believe?' he said, 'I believe in the sudden deep greenness of spring.'

. . . 2003-04-21

Stone Soup Test Kitchen

One of the things that shocked and upset me about the Stanford writing workshop was the way you weren't allowed any errantry of statement, any room for experiment with the poetic persona that you'd initially been admitted for.... -- Cahiers de Corey
A genuinely useful workshopping ethic is one of the supports that's kept literary science fiction (barely) alive. As a Clarion workshopper, your job is not to describe what you wanted from an author's work and how you were disappointed. Your job is to intuit what the author was trying to accomplish and then to attempt to explain (with whatever mix of politesse, wit, and irritability comes naturally to you) where the author's missteps might have been. The author meekly takes notes, allowed only to request elucidation of particular points.

All parties expect your intuitions to be wrong and your explanations to be inapplicable. The assumption is that those mistakes, fully explained, may still be of use to the author -- whose job as an artifact-maker, after all, is largely to be aware of what mistakes will be made by the reader when the author isn't present to clarify them.

One can't guess at an intention without assuming a shared context and one can't anticipate missteps without assuming an audience. In even deader (or, if you prefer, even less commodified) genres like those of poetry or painting, the notion of an audience has largely been lost, and so the imperative to separate artifact from personality and group allegiance and so on may not be felt so strongly. Instead, workshops find use as a means of bolstering personality and enforcing group allegiance.

(Parallels to the weblogging medium are left as an optional exercise.)

. . . 2003-04-22

Fustian Bargain

Sturges' free-wheeling dialogue is his most original contribution to films and accomplishes, among other things, the destruction of the common image of Americans as tight-lipped Hemingwayan creatures who converse in grunting monosyllables and chopped sentences. Sturges tries to create the actually American image of a wrangle of conflicting, over-emotional citizens who talk as though they were forever arguing or testifying before a small-town jury. They speak as if to a vast, intent audience rather than to each other, but the main thing is that they unburden themselves passionately and without difficulty -- even during siesta moments on the front porch.

As the words sluice out of the actors' mouths, the impression is that they teeter on the edge of a social, economic or psychological cliff and that they are under some wild compulsion to set the record straight before plunging out of the picture.

This would seem the deeply desired, much-fantasied reward of a people that endures the unbelievable tormented existence Sturges depicts elsewhere -- a people whose semi-comic suffering arises from the disparity between the wild lusts generated by American society and the severity of its repressions.
"Preston Sturges: Success in the Movies"
by Manny Farber & W. S. Poster, 1954

I'm plenty patriotic, but when I look at some of what I've written here -- I know you're not supposed to, but it happens -- I start to think that there's a lot to be said for grunting monosyllables.

A lot.

But that would kind of miss the point, I guess.

. . . 2003-04-23

Heil me! How Can We Lose When We're So Sincere?

"If there is a God, then he gives us not only life but also consciousness and awareness. If I live my life according to my God-given insights, then I cannot go wrong, and even if I do, I know I have acted in good faith."
-- Adolf Hitler, December 1941

. . . 2003-04-25


Hangovers are nature's way of preparing us for the experience of chemotherapy.

. . . 2003-04-27

Critics rave
Things have their times, as Oysters have their wool:
Dogs have their dayes, as Distaffes have their Gall,
So all men living ought to dwell at Hull,
For Hallifax cannot containe them all.
A statesman once corrupted is a Gun,
That ferrets Screachowls from Bellona's Beard,
To make a handsome Codpiece for the Sun
To were upon the pommell of his sword.
Man unto Man, is Man; but Man to Man,
Is Herrings flesh, made of a yard of Ale,
With the ingredients of a Dripping pan,
Whiles Pancradge Church begets an Issue Male.
John Taylor, 1654
Preston Sturges ferrets screech-owls from Bellona's beard

. . . 2003-04-28

Ba-lue Mun-deii Ba-lues-Are: Answer Song

Art is short; regret is long. More than a decade afterwards, when I hear the Bobbettes, I relive all (well, four) of the regrets I felt while watching David Cronenberg's Naked Lunch.

  1. That Cronenberg didn't have Burroughs dub all the characters' voices. Better yet, do it George Pal Puppetoon style, like the best of 1991's overabundant crop of hallucinating-writer movies did. Or at least cast Dr. Benway with someone capable of conveying the exuberance! the whimsy!

  2. That Cronenberg didn't use a more honest title, like "The Introduction to Queer."
    (Not that it would necessarily have guaranteed a better experience. Some years later, I was an appalled witness to Queer! The Opera, which set the novel's text [slightly edited: insults to "transvestite lizzies" and "Californian brandy" were deemed too shocking for Bay Area sensibilities] to de-tuned Andrew Lloyd Webber with summer-stock-Fosse choreography. All through the first act, I kept telling myself, "At least they aren't going to shoot Judy Davis, at least they aren't going to shoot Judy Davis...." Just before intermission, the characters fell silent, the lighting turned grim, and a previously unseen woman made up as Judy Davis walked out and got shot. I missed the second act.)

  3. That Judy Davis wasn't allowed to interpolate a lip-synched music video of "I Shot Mr. Lee".

    Cronenberg must be the only reader to open Naked Lunch and find a novel about wife-killing and writer's block (although it would certainly explain Norman Mailer's enthusiasm). The Bobbettes could've supplied a little balance:

    One - Two - Three
    I shot Mr. Lee.
    Uh oh!
    Three - Four - Five
    I got tired of his jive.
    Uh oh!
    Woh oh oh, he should've never
    Uh oh!
    Woh oh oh, he should've never

  4. That I've never been able to find an appropriate "I Buried Paul" song for Judy Davis to lip-synch in the movie's other great imaginary music video opportunity.
Well, regret is long, but art is reproducible. All together now:

Shot him in the head boom boom.
Uh oh!
Shot him in the head boom boom.

. . . 2003-04-29

"What then is the relationship between quotlibetality and indifference?"
- Giorgio Agamben, The Coming Community


That's my philosophy.

That's what I used to say: "Whatever.... That's my philosophy."

But this seems too cynical and passive an attitude to adequately fit these times. A more dynamic and forward-thinking approach is needed.

So anyway.

That's my new philosophy: So anyway.

. . . 2003-04-30

Audience Development Dept.

Reader msg was kind enough to send me a mission statement I can gladly put my mark to:
... here and now we get a breath of cheap beer and stale smoke after a forced march through the pristine landscape of some dotcom country club, singing those Wehrmacht jingles, those wanderjahr anthems yah?

what audience was it to begin with anyway? the present, the posterior? how about the ghosts that won't leave til they get their tales told? like kids with that glass of water one more story one more...

"ride hard, shoot straight, and speak the truth.
this is the noble law of youth.
old times are gone,
old days are done,
but the law runs true, oh little son."

a Winchester ad in the back of Field and Stream or one a them, from the 50's I think.


. . . 2003-05-01

Product Placement

...compliments of Milwaukee Road 'white coal'
Harper's wartime ad

+ + +

Too Cool for School

"My men showed no mercy. Outstanding."
- Squad leader, Third Battalion
(via PeterMaas)

+ + +


To complete today's survey of infectious American enthusiasms, a request.

If you followed that Bobbettes link the other day, you may have noticed this:

In 1964, the group recorded "Love That Bomb" for the motion picture Dr. Strangelove while continuing to record unsuccessfully for Diamond....
Unfortunately, record companies have been too distracted by more pressing issues to be able to keep the Bobbettes in print and I haven't found a used collection. So you keep your eyes peeled for one, and I'll do the same with mine, and we'll let each other know who finds it first, deal?

. . . 2003-05-02

You're Never Short of Readers When You're Under Surveillance

But, I have gotten (some will say) such a powrefull and furious Adversary by this quarrell that I shall fill my life full of troubles & dangers. Indeed, I looke to find them perfect enimies; but (since I must have enimies) they are such foes as I would desire to have. I expect they will prove violent & subtill, but not so violent or subtill, as the Devill, who is every moment watching to devour me: And, it may be their malice will make me so vigilant over my selfe, that I shall the better escape his. I have heard one that thinking to kill his enimie, gave him a sleight hurt that cured him of a mortall disease; and so may they serve me. I was ever as carefull as I could be, of my wayes; Yet, knowing no great Foes I had, but such only as were sprituall, I more strived for an inward sincerity, then to make fayre appearance outwardly; and therefore gave, perhapps, some occasion now and then, of scandall through my simple freedome; because, haveing no ill purpose, I thought every looker on, would censure as charitably of my Actions, as my Intentions deserved. But, now I shall have remembrancers to provoke me to more strict circumspection, & betwixt the Devill in secret, & my new foes in publike, shalbe kept, I hope so watchfull, that myne eye shall not dare looke off from God. Nor, my hand fasten itselfe upon the rotten staffe of any humane protection. I will perswade my selfe, that where ere I goe, one of them doggs me: & though it is not the feare of the world for which I make conscience of what I do, yet an outward object may sometyme quicken an inward consideration when it is almost asleepe, & I embrace the occasion,

They lately threatened the marking of my wayes: & I therefore give them hearty thankes: for, I never since behold one of their Fraternity, but it is an Alarum to me, & drives me immediately to consider, what I last did, what I am then doing, & what I purpose to goe about. Nay, I have apossibility of brave Advantages, if their enmity encrease, as it hath done hitherto. There is not an oversight which I was guilty of since my cradle, nor a Folly which was ever suspected of, nor any forgetfulnesse which I may be prone to fall into; but I hope they will enquire it out & lay it to my charge. That the great Accuser may have the lesse to object, at the last Judgment.

These priveledges will I gaine by it. If they accuse me of ought wherein I am truly faulty; it shall I trust move me to a true repentance, begett in me amendment for the tyme to come; & through the shame of this life, lead me into the glory of the next. If any cryme be objected whereof I am cleare, I will remember that the world hath sometyme praised me more then I diserved, so (letting her praises & disparagments to ballance one another) will forgive her, & have as little to do with her, hereafter as I cann.

The Schollers Purgatory
by George Wither, 1624

. . . 2003-05-03

Another waffling Democrat!

From "Dean's straight-talking image is getting tarnished By Mark Z. Barabak / Los Angeles Times":

Dean, a 54-year-old physician by training, had a more moderate record during his 11 years as Vermont governor than his current favor among liberals would suggest. He was a friend of the environment and signed landmark "civil union" legislation that granted gay and lesbian couples all the rights and benefits of marriage. But at the same time, he supported gun-owner rights, cut taxes, capped spending and consistently balanced the state budget, leaving enough for a rainy-day surplus that has spared Vermont the fiscal trauma facing most other states.
Yes, as a liberal, I insist that rights go unsupported, that budgets be unbalanced, that governments maintain no surplus, and that spending always increase. In fact, the persnickety fiscal competence of the Reagan and Bush and Bush adminstrations is the very thing that turned me against them. No deficit, no peace!

. . . 2003-05-04

Ressentimental Journey

When the Happy Tutor and Turbulent Velvet and Jeff of Visible Darkness convene, we should choose our words (or rhetorical figures) carefully, if only because it suddenly sounds like we're living in an Alan Moore comic book, where words (and clichés) actually count for something. (The Happy Tutor's costume we know; TV I picture masked as V as in Vendetta; JoVD, a bit blurrier, as a John Constantine / Swamp Thing morph who blends the sartorial approaches of Chow Yun-Fat's two Jeffs. Actually, I guess that would just leave him looking like Alan Moore.)

There's an immediate appeal to the ethic that satire should only be directed upwards. The difficulty is in determining just what direction that might be. When Peter Parker or Clark Kent quip at the expense of villainy, is that bullying? Or does it only become so once they're suited up?

With increased power comes thinning skin. It takes less to insult a king than to insult a peasant; traditionally, a child or wife can infuriate a parent or husband simply by assuming equal status as a human being. Should I be noticed insulting the king, the proper king has me whipped or hung: I have wounded his sensibilities.

In the United States (every man a king), such injury usually releases itself in an aggrieved whine, the bully's whine: "I never get what I really want" (that is, everything).

When anyone (no matter how powerless) takes offense at some asshole's thoughtless words and actions, it gets called "fascism." When anyone (no matter how podunked) disagrees with someone who controls continent-spanning broadcasting, it gets called "censorship." When anyone (no matter how politely) fucks or worships in an unfamiliar fashion, it gets called an "attack." And so it shouldn't have so surprised me that the French have received the rhetoric historically due a war's aggressor merely for declining to join the war we initiated.

William Bennett cannot sleep easy so long as a single reader enjoys unprescribed work; Pat Robertson's soul will not be free until all on earth agree with him and have donated their savings accordingly; Wall Street Journal editorialists writhe under a tax yoke unjustly shifted from the shoulders of lucky duckies. Despite the protection of their god, their wealth, their state, and their family, they still feel victimized. And when they crush the peasant, the villain, the upstart, they do so in self-righteous self-defense.

The process is hardly confined to talk radio. Here in liberalville, few will admit to security or to influence, and fully-tenured mistresses of the postmodern are as scrambling and resentful as the merest billionaire.

So in this game of loser-takes-all, who wins the right to satirize? The last great period of Hollywood comedy taught us that cheats (Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy) and the crassest wealthy (Rodney Dangerfield) are lovably put-upon underdogs fighting against the repressive forces of hard-working sincerity (the EPA, snobs, and literati), and I know which camp I'm assigned to.

Rightly so. I, singularly, find myself with no kicks to make. American, white, male, hetero, clever: I know exactly what further privileges I've gained thanks to those enviable starting points, having counted them one by one as they released into my convulsive grasp, and I'm very pleased with each.

That being the case, who's left for me to mock? Snoop Dogg? Because otherwise, by their own sincere admission, everyone else is worse off than I am.

And so I try to mock only those who I can't imagine weeping over my attacks. Given my hot temper, sometimes I guess wrong, and then I'm very sorry. Or sometimes I attack myself, and (being a critic, and thus myopic and trembly) scatter my shot. Still, that's my rule of nose-thumbing: harmlessness.

This would make me an ineffectual satirist. But I'm no satirist. The blind gesturing obscenely at the blind, the deaf whispering insults behind a broad hand -- is that satire? Dixit insipiens, at most.

Why take the risk of mocking at all?

Well, see, me, I like being criticized. And although I don't like hurting people's feelings, I also don't want to be ignored. A tawdry impulse, but, like most tawdriness, heir to its own peculiar glamour. A dream drives me, as it drives so many, a dream best described by that no-hit-wonder of unpopular music, Professor Anonymous, in his big non-hit "Got To Let It Out":

So let me tell you that it feels great
To really believe that it is my fate
To make people happy just by being alive
To make people happy just by being alive

But people are hostile shit-throwing little monkeys, and if we want to make 'em happy, we must accept the consequences.

+ + +

The Happy Tutor had in fact already pegged me as no satirist, and my little essay would have benefited by careful study of this chart.

We regret any inconvenience.

. . . 2003-05-05

Doctah, Heal Yuhself!

When I was very young, I read in a kid's book about heartfull lab scientists trying to save a chimp who was starving itself to death on account of being appalled by organic existence.

And what some bright scientist did was hold the little traumatized critter down and smush overripe banana all into its paws.

And the chimp, released, appalled, with no other way to get clean, licked the banana goo away and was saved.

I don't remember much from prepubescence. That book stuck, I guess, only because I'm pretty much just as prissy now as I was then.

Maybe overripe banana is an even better analogy than the charnelhouse?

  Cholly Kokonino

. . . 2003-05-06

The Old Sentence

From The Origins of English Nonsense by Noel Malcolm:

The French literary historian Paul Zumthor has made a useful distinction between 'relative' and 'absolute' nonsense poetry. In relative nonsense, each line or couplet makes sense in itself, and it is only the juxtaposition of them in the verse that is without meaning; whereas in absolute nonsense the transgressions of sense occur within the smallest units of the poetry. ... foremost among them [the relative nonsense forms] was the 'resversie', which put together a pointless sequence of personal statements, sententious remarks or fragments of conversation. Each statement was a distich of unequal length, linked to the next by rhyme (ab, bc, cd, etc.): this strongly suggests that the form had its origin in a dialogue-game between two poets. Thus, for example:

Nul ne doit estre jolis
S'il n'a amie.
J'aime autant crouste que mie,
Quant j'ai fain.
Tien cel cheval par le frain,

No-one should be happy
Without a girl he loves.
I like the crust as much as the dough,
When I'm hungry.
Take this horse by the bridle,
Miserable man!...

... the 'medley' took up the form of a popular song or ballad and turned it into nonsense by stringing together a series of unconnected lines or couplets. ... Such a device might be described as an inversion of the literary device of the 'cento',1 in which different lines from classical authors were put together in such a way as to make a new, connected, sense.

From "An Excellent New Medley" by Martin Parker, 1633:

The Saylor counts the Ship his house,
I'le say no more but dun's the Mouse,
He is no man that scornes a Louse,
   vaine pride undoes the Land:
Hard hearted men make Corne so deare,
Few Frenchmen love well English beere,
I hope ere long good news to heare,
      hey Lusticke.2

1) I know what you're thinking, but, sadly, "" has been snatched by a domain hoarder.
2) "Oh joy."

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

Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
All other material: Copyright 2003 Ray Davis.