. . .


I'm very pleased to announce a new (and nomenclaturally significant) addition to our Bellona Times Repress: a short biography of Samuel R. Delany by his pseudonymous third-person researcher, K. Leslie Steiner. My thanks go to Josh Lukin for bringing the document to my attention, and to Delany for permission to post it.

Elsewhere, the never-out-of-style Lisa Maira brings news of cultural rebirth:

The web is cool again. The orginal Mr. Edible Starchy Tuber Head is back.

That eminent researcher, writer, and producer Chris Albertson handles intros for the Boy! What a Girl combo:

Cast includes musicians Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis (tenor sax), Beryl Booker (piano), John Collins (guitar), and John Simmons (bass).


Renfrew Q. Hobblewort, a man either of or four or thirty-four days ahead of his time, wishes us all:

Happy 40th anniversary of the Velvets' Summit High debut gig! - RQH

Isn't it nice? We're number one and so forth.

Speaking of mysteries, another reader has reviewed the entirety of our web-published career and sums it up like so:


We regret any inconvenience.

2005-11-21 - Another piece of Delany history just went up: his 1967 radio drama, The Star-Pit. Enjoy!

. . .

Salomé, What She Watched

(Written for The Valve)

Fenitschka and Deviations by Lou Andreas-Salomé, tr. Dorothee Einstein Krahn
The Human Family (Menschenkinder) by Lou Andreas-Salomé, tr. Raleigh Whitinger
Looking Back by Lou Andreas-Salomé, ed. Ernst Pfeiffer, tr. Breon Mitchell

Two-and-a-half stories into Menschenkinder (timidly Englished as "The Human Family") and I'm pleasantly surprised by their oblique viewpoints, the suggestive opacity of their sweeping gestures. By eight-and-a-half, my cracked fingernails are pawing the door while I whimper for air, air....

The last book to dose me like this was No. 111 2.7.93-10.20.96 by Kenneth Goldsmith, three years' worth of noticed utterances ("found texts" understates its inclusiveness), sorted alphabetically and by number of syllables. Against the author's advice, I read it front to back. (Not at one sitting, but still.)

For all I remember, two-thirds of the way through someone in Goldsmith's circle discovered true love and a revitalizing formula for social progressivism. If so, the next two hundred pages of advertising, trash-talk, and D. H. Lawrence warhorse scribbled them away. Goldsmith's big white volume flattens all layers of a life that seems not to have been unduly dull, solitary, or settled into solid shallowness as far as the mechanically-aided eye can reach. No there there, or anywhere else either; no under; no outside. Nothing but an unbreakable but by no means scuff-free surface. The discursive universe as the wrong side of a jigsaw puzzle.

I wouldn't imply any aesthetic affinity between Lou Andreas-Salomé and Kenneth Goldsmith. But the horror conveyed by both is an emergent formal property whereby the self-traced boundaries of a free-range spirit are established as crushingly limited.

Twelve stories by Andreas-Salomé have been translated into English. All were originally published in 1898 and 1899 and probably written in the same two-year burst. About half the stories have a male point-of-view; about half a female; some split down the middle. Although some include long letters or soliloquies, only one is in the first person. Elements and settings and character types and plotlines appear and re-appear trains, hospitals, mountain walks, hotels; doctors, artists; older men, slightly less older men; seductions, spellbindings, disillusionments, untrustworthy re-affirmations in never exactly replicated configurations, with just enough variation to convince us that a solution won't be found.

The puzzle is constant: There's a singularly intelligent and beautiful woman. (The traits are inseparable in these stories.) And all human value is placed in slavish idealization of the (almost always) gender-defined Other. Whether it's a case of male worshipping female, female worshipping male, or (rarer, dismissable) female worshipping female, such idealization is shown as irresistable but unmaintainable, thrashing between the fetishized parties —"I must sacrifice all for you!" "No, I must sacrifice all for you!"— and usually snapped by a sexual outburst.

(I confess that two of the twelve stories do offer "solutions", but both are so absurdly inept that the effect's more revolting than reassuring. According to one, a woman [or Woman] finds fulfillment only in childbirth; transparently the appeal of the theorized child is its strictly theoretical state as inseperable Other. Otherwise, the stories show far less interest in children or mothers than in fathers. Mothers aren't bright, or ambitious, or heroic. At most, they're embarrassing. And one such mother embarrassingly points out the egotism of the second "solution" offered: wait until the imperfect Other is safely dead, produce an idealized portrait, and rest content in mutual [but not consensual] redemption.)

As an exercise in spritual discicpline, I'd wanted to avoid gossip while reading Andreas-Salomé's fiction. But these exercises in objective solipsism are so clearly trying to work something out that my resolve crumbled, and I found, in the autobiographical essays she wrote more than thirty years later:

In the dark of night I didn't just tell God what had happened to me that day—I also told him entire stories, in a spirit of generosity, without being asked. These stories had a special point. They were born of the necessity to provide God with the entire world which paralleled our secret one, since my special relationship to him seemed to divert my attention from the real world, rather than making me feel more at home in it. So it was no accident that I chose the material for my stories from my daily encounters with people, animals, or objects. The fairy-tale side of life hardly needed to be emphasized—the fact that God was my audience provided adequately for that. My sole concern was to present a convincing picture of reality. Of course I could hardly tell God something he didn't already know, yet it was precisely this that ensured the factual nature of the story I was telling, which was why I would begin each story, with no small degree of self-satisfaction, with the phrase:

as you know

[After losing faith in God] I continued to tell my stories before I fell asleep. As before, I took them from simple sources, encounters and events in my daily life, although they had suffered a decisive reversal as well, since the listener was gone. No matter how hard I tried to embellish them, to guide their destiny along a better path, they too disappeared among the shadows. [...] For that matter, was I even sure that they were true, since I had ceased to receive them and pass them on with the confident words "as you know"? They became a cause of unconfessed anxiety for me. It was as if I were thrusting them, unprotected, into the uncertainties of the very life from which I had drawn them as impressions in the first place. I recall a nightmare—one which was often retold to me—which occurred during an attack of the measles, when I was in a high fever. In it I saw a multitude of characters from my stories whom I had abandoned without food or shelter. No one else could tell them apart, there was no way to bring them home from wherever they were in their perplexing journey, to return them to that protective custody in which I imagined them all securely resting—all of them, in their thousandfold individuality, constantly remultiplying until there was not a single speck of the world which had not found its way home to God. It was probably this notion which also caused me to relate quite different external impressions to one another. [...] It was as if they belonged together from the first. This remained the case even when the sum total of such impressions gradually began to overload my memory, so that I began to use threads, or knots, or catchwords to orient myself within the ever more densely woven tapestry. (Perhaps something of this habit carried over into later life when I began to write short stories; they were temporary aids in getting at something which was after all a much larger coherent whole, something which could not be expressed in them, so that they remained at best makeshift.)

And later:

[...] nothing can affect the significance of any thing, neither murder, nor destruction, unless it be to fail to show this final reverence to the weight of its existence, which it shares with us, for, at the same time, it is us. In saying this I've let slip the word in which one may well be inclined to see the spiritual residue of my early relationship to God. For it is true that throughout my life no desire has been more instinctive in me than that of showing reverence—as if all further relationships to persons or things could come only after this initial act.

It's easy enough to guess why such a person would have felt attracted to Freudian methods.

To return to her fiction, for those who'd prefer not to commit themselves, one Menschenkinder story is online. The books' most representative highlights might be "Maidens' Roundelay" (with a full double cycle of other-idealization and self-disillusion) and "Fenitschka" (which begins with near date-rape and ends years later in an ambiguously liberating act of forced voyeurism).

Having suffered the effects of full committal, I'm inclined to favor the two least representative stories. "On Their Way" is a black comedy of criss-crossed class incomprehension in which a young couple fail at romantic suicide but succeed at idiotic boyslaughter. "At One, Again, with Nature" stares aghast at the iciest of Andreas-Salomé's girl geniuses. Inventing California-style boutique organic produce, mocking country cousin and sugar daddy, romping with colts, kicking poor pregnant servants out in disgust, and anticipating the final solution of Ethan Edwards, Irene von Geyern escorts us out of the sequence into a harsh and welcome winter's wind.

These two don't solve the problem of Andreas-Salomé, but they do solve the problem of Story: an Other given the small mercy of The End.


peli grietzer asks:

How come all these large scale radical textual experiments operating by a linguistic rather than representational principal (No. 11...., Sunset Debris, etc.) end up being lauded for their sense of suffocation, melancholy and quiet hysteria?

I also like them for this very reason, it's just that it seems like all technically referential works guided by a non-mimetic logic end up being prized for the same emotional effect, that doesn't seem to have much to do with the actual specific non-mimetic logic they operate by.

I've noticed a similar trend among reviewers. (It may be just the default establishment mood in which to take any odd and encompassing work: the earliest defenders of James Joyce similarly treated him as a conduit of Waste-Land-ish moping.) But, for me, one of the meta-interesting things about radical textual experimenters, as with twelve-tone composers or free jazz musicians or three-chord garage bands, is that they don't all sound alike. Trying to articulate how that magic's managed may be among the most amusing challenges available to contemporary critics. Can we do any better than "voice"?

For the record, I wanna say that all of Silliman's work (including Sunset Debris) leaves me pretty cheerful, and the same goes for Gertrude Stein and Jackson Mac Low. On the other hand, the carefully crafted movies of Jean Eustache distill the bitterness of human limits into something finer than either Goldsmith (intentionally) or Andreas-Salomé (unintentionally) do by "accident".

For that matter, Goldsmith himself credits the development of his technique (and this message) to the influence of Andy Warhol, whose movies and fine art don't really effect me that way although maybe the Factory novel a would if I could stand reading it.

peli responds:

What I was really reminded of by your description of "No. 11.... "is the experience of watching season 2 of, let's say, Buffy when you're already a veteran of all seasons + Angel. Know what I mean? Knowing the resolving of the big point of narrative interest which just took place is going to be trivial from the perspective of five seasons later, not by a grand artistic architecture utilizing this trivialization, but just by everything moving on to different narrative interests that negate earlier ones (Oz and Willow being great great greatest love, later Willow and Tara being far more great greater love).

The obvious analogy with life actually devalues the poignancy of this, I think : in art we expect climaxes not to be retconned away meaninglessly, so it hurts more.

. . .

Three Ways of Looking at a Blacklist

Chandler Davis, full time mathematician, sometime fiction writer, and lifelong political activist lost his career in American academia for the third quality. Dr. Josh Lukin kindly mailed me copies of two of Professor Davis's comments on that loss:

"... From an Exile", written in 1960
"Did the Red-hunt Win?", delivered in 1995

In turn, Professor Davis has kindly consented to my making them freely available online. Both are beautiful examples of "plain speaking" rhetoric and possibly of interest for other reasons as well.

UPDATE, 2005-12-03: I've just added a third piece by Professor Davis, "The Purge". A history rather than an exhortation, originally written for the American Mathematical Society's A Century of Mathematics in America, it provides many more details about the post-WWII attack on leftist American academics (and the resistance to that attack).

. . .

The Real McKee

It's true that "authenticity" generally signals snobbery, racism, or willful ignorance up ahead. That it drags the Elmer Fuddish hunter into holes they wot not of. That it marks the hoarder and attracts the forger. And that I've built dudgeons high agin it. Why attempt to judge the Bushes by the authenticity of their bark when the poison of their fruit's so evident?

But I feel Jiminy Heartworm stir. Despite (and through) my open distaste with the term, haven't I, in my own ways, profited from it? When I starved, haven't I played it up to cadge a meal? or get the loan of a book? or of an ear? When I lack even a (birth) certificate of authenticity?

And the double-edged crutches my own criticism leans on terms like "organic", or "grace", or "attentive", or (borrowing from the young Louis Zukofsky and the young Sal Mineo) "sincere" if I was forced to systematize them, if I reaped occasional rewards by dropping them in the nickel slots of academia or reviews or NPR, would they be any better than "authentic"? Truly?

Well, maybe a bit, if they address the workings of the song between us rather than denigrating-through-idealizing the singer.

Leave the art's conscience to the art. The only "authenticity" that should concern critics is their own.


True masks speaking through real veils

AKMA has a follow-up thread.

Ray Davis adds:

I won my first programming job over (probably) more qualified and (certainly) better groomed candidates because (the boss told me later) I'd "looked more like a programmer."

That's one reason I support affirmative action. Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems unlikely that a similarly sullen, ill-prepared, shabbily dressed black kid would have "looked more like a programmer."

. . .

What Goes On

It was exactly as if she had been there by the operation of my intelligence, or even by that in a still happier way of my feeling. My excitement, as I have called it, on seeing her, was assuredly emotion. Yet what was this feeling, really?

The Sacred Fount made Henry James's friends fear for his sanity. (Henry Adams offered the cheery consolation that "most of the rest of us" would be institutionalized with him.) James himself seemed taken aback by the tumorous growth of the novel. It remained his most extreme experiment: a postmodernist parody of a country house mystery avant la lettre; a mad (social) scientist in a meet-cute(-and-go-nowhere) romantic thriller; a locked room containing the foully-played corpse of realism. (Possibly a suicidal frame-up.)

And it's my sentimental favorite. But I've never tried to work out a way to write about it. The Sacred Fount scares off analysis by example. Some critics express bafflement or disgust; others take short simple pleasure in their manifest superiority to James's first-person.

So I doff my Santa cap to Michael Wood for "The Museum of What Happens", a compact essay which takes the risk of taking the book's problems seriously, starting with the infamous unreliability of its narrator.


Peli tweaks my bruised conscience:

"**postmodernist** parody of a..." - You feeling ok? Never thought I'll see the day and so on.

I'm sorry we both saw it and so on. The adjective was laziness pure and simple; a cynical carnival barker move. And you can see by the comments the entry's drawn at the Valve just how successful a carnival barker I'd be.

Dr. Lukin diagnoses the lack of response:

I think it's that one doesn't fuck w/Shaviro or be a party to a fucking w/Shaviro. He'll cut off yer feet, like Coppola did to Fred Astaire. Or, I dunno, christen you "Kal-El."

. . .

Christmas Trimming

Between the ravages of the Bush administration, the wraths of the Universal Monotheism Smackdown finalists, and Miranda July Grossinger, 2005 has gone by without me once mentioning the Coppola family. This will not stand. By me. Up withwards. What's the point of an idée fixe if you drop it for the first general cultural collapse that comes along?

This one goes out to the old gang at the Hotsy Totsy Club:

"Hammett . For years I’ve been hoping to see the original Wim Wenders cut of the feature that I consider his most underrated, even after producer Francis Ford Coppola substantially revised it. Sam Fuller, who acted in both versions and contributed a few ideas to them (such as the shot from under the typewriter keys), told me more than once that the original was incomparably better. So I was crestfallen to learn from Wenders when he visited Chicago last spring that he recently approached Coppola’s company about bringing out a DVD with both versions, only to be informed that the director’s cut no longer exists. A video that was once made of Wenders’ version, taped off a Steenbeck, may still exist somewhere, but the film itself was junked. ... it’s an incalculable loss, and one that reminds us that things aren’t so different now from the way they were when studios were slicing up works by Stroheim and Welles."
- Jonathan Rosenbaum

Remember, kids: When a Coppola offers you a gift? It's gonna end up all about the Coppolas. You think anyone will ever hear again from the kindly old Napa vintner they got stuffed in the trunk of that cherry Tucker?


Kip Manley sighs:

All this about the Coppolas and yet not one word on Sofia's latest?


Maintaining the Peanuts groove, my one word is "AAUGH!"

. . .

"Always the cautious scholar, eh, Dr. Hunt?"

The title doesn't leap with jaw-clenched dagger from hundreds of faking-the-funk post-Tromatic direct-to-videos. But Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death is the real Cormanesque deal: an exploitation comedy that's genuinely funny.

Aside from the glaring absence of Queer Studies, its '80s-era academic and feminism jokes are knowing and affectionate. (I'm not going to spoil any of them here. The movie's fine for what it is, but it ain't inexhaustible.) For film scholars, there's an Immoral Mr. Teas reference. The performances are delightfully adequate, with Bill Maher standing out as Michael Douglas (or, in Time Out's phrase, "an ambulatory willy") and Adrienne Barbeau relishing her star turn as Dr. Kurtz. (And is that a long lost Kuchar brother heading up the male tribe?)

I first heard about CWitAJoD when it wowed a 1989 women's film festival in Portland. After fifteen years, my VHS copy's a bit bedraggled; happily, I was given the new DVD a few days ago. Very bare bones it screams for a bootleg commentary track but within an adjunct's travel budget. On your way to the MLA, pick up a copy as an interview icebreaker.

. . .

FOX Crossovers Gone Too Far?

Day's death toll in Iraq violence hits 20 / Troops' New Year's Entertainment includes 'American Idol' Star
As reported by the Monterey County Herald

. . .
My car, my rules

Return of the Repressed

Our very good riddance Anselm Dovetonsils has sent us a prose poem, and I can see why he wanted it out of the house:

(dedicated to Mark Newgarden)
When your predominant perfume is peanut butter. When all your vases are filled with dandelions. When you're standing outside a ladies' room holding two balloons and a doll. When you have four sets of playing cards. When your brand-new TV set is knobless. When you don't throw away cardboards from shirts, rolls from toilet tissue. When you spend Halloween crouching behind the neighbors' shrubbery. When you've written your grocery list in crayon. When your toothpaste tube has more on the outside than inside. When you buy a two-pound box of assorted chocolates and four lollipops. When you find a small tooth in your change pocket. When you ask the cocktail waitress for a couple. When the most important thing about the new neighbors is their teen-age daughter. When your first question is: "Is the fabric washable?" When your front door has more fingerprints. When you store Playboy magazine on the top shelf of the linen closet.
Yogi in a jar


When your poem has no line breaks.

I'm glad he left them out. It gets it over with faster.

. . .

I. "Graphs, Maps, Trees" by Franco Moretti

(Part of a group event at The Valve)

Moretti sounds like a happy guy. And it's infectious. Why pledge allegiance to a groove and turn it into a rut? Get out of that stuffy coffee shop and into a cool refreshing stats lab. Live a little! (With the aid of twenty grad students.) An OuBelLetriPo is overdue. Let's pick a quantitative approach and a subject out of the hat: "Pie charts" and "Coming-out stories"—wait, um, I wasn't ready; can I try again? "Income distribution" and "Aphra Behn"? Perfect!

Will you end up with a demolished bit of received wisdom? A sociological footnote? Or just graphic representation of a critical triteness? You don't know! You think Perec knew the plot of La Disparation before he started?

From this set of ongoing experiments, "Graphs" seem to be going best. Those cross-cultural Rise-of-the-Novel curves hold immediate appeal.

And what they appeal for is correlation with something else. Moretti plausibly and skeptically explains who might've stepped on the brakes when the curve dips, but who revs the engine? Do accelerators vary as inhibitors do?

Even more intriguing is Moretti's report that nineteenth-century English fiction genres tended to turn over in a clump every twenty-five or thirty years, rather than smoothly year by year. But his report relies exclusively on secondary sources, and risks echo chamber artifacts. Are generational timespans a convenience for the researchers he draws from? What if dialogic genres ("Jacobin novel" and "Anti-Jacobin novel") weren't shown separately? How closely do the novel's clumps lock step with transitions in other forms? How far can we reliably carry statistical analysis of a non-random sample of forty-four?

Plenty of intrigue, then, and plenty of opportunity to re-make the mistakes of others who've tried to turn history into a "real science."

Since maps are often referred to by writers (and, when otherwise unavailable, as in fantasy genres, often passed along to the reader), their re-use by critics tends to be confirmatory rather than revelatory most dramatically when Clive Hart walked each character's path through the "Wandering Rocks". In "Maps", Moretti's diagrams make a good case for a not very startling thesis: a nostalgic series of "village stories" will most likely feature a village from which meanderings are launched but which fades into insignificance over time. As he admits, his scatter plot of Parisian protagonists provides even less novelty: if you have an ambitious young French hero, you start him in the Latin Quarter and aim him elsewhere. (In 1987 Pierre Bourdieu diagrammed The Sentimental Education's character trajectories on a Parisian map and similarly found graphic confirmation of what was never really in doubt.)

Judging by early fruit, "Trees" hold the least promise. As presented, the "free indirect discourse" evolutionary tree doesn't meet Moretti's own standards of rigor, since he offers no material justification for either his selection of source material or his linkages.

His other evolutionary trees may be most interesting for failing to justify their initiating assumption: that visible decipherable clues define the classic mystery genre. Extending the branches to verifiable examples of "fair play" might draw the tree-builder into unabstractable tangles. In the classic blend of detection with gothic and horror elements, consider how often the resolution seems arbitrary, delivered with a wink. Given how poorly most human beings follow a logical argument, does anything more than lip service have to be paid to rationality? To what extent was that expectation set by reviewers rather than noticed by readers? How quickly after the rule's formulation was it challenged by re-assertion of other aspects of crime melodrama in spy stories, thrillers, procedurals, and hard-boiled stories, and then how quickly was it undermined by "cross-breeding"? (My own experience of genre change seems closer to Alfred Kroeber's self-grafting Tree of Human Culture than to species divergence. You only go so hardcore before background singers return to the mix.)

More exhaustive and more focused, Moretti's "everything published in the Strand" tree carries more conviction (and much less tidiness) than his initial "Conan Doyle and his rivals" tree. Exhaustively constrained to such an extent, though, the tree may describe something less than Moretti seems to hope for. I can imagine a tree tracing certain ingredients of virtual reality stories in 1980s science fiction. But would that graph evolution or just Gardner Dozois's editorial obligation to avoid strict repetition?

Moretti closes his trilogy with two general remarks.

One is a call for materialism, eclecticism, and description. This I applaud, since the most interesting scholarship I've read lately includes interdisciplinary studies of "accidentals", histories of readership and publishing, text-crunching of non-canonical sets, whether mechanically or passionately.... There's plenty of life even in purely literary anti-interpretive experiments such as those collected in Ben Friedlander's Simulcast.

The other "constant" Moretti claims is "a total indifference to the philosophizing that goes by the name of 'Theory' in literature departments." (He doesn't define "Theory" more precisely, but Novalis is apparently not on the prohibited list.) And here, I think, I'll keep my hands quietly folded.

I agree that twentieth century philosophers and psychologists have made awful interpretation factories, and that literary studies sometimes reek of old shit under new labels. But interpretations generated from political science, economics, quantum physics, or fMRI averaging tend to be just as inane. What makes such readings tedious isn't which foreign discipline has been used to slap together a mold, but the inherent moldiness of the affair.

For a critic and pleasure reader like myself, Moretti's text-twice-removed findings fit best in the foundations and framework of aesthetics, clearing false assumptions and blocking overly confident assertions. That's also where neurobiology, developmental and social psychology, and other cognitive sciences seem most useful.

Along with philosophy. Having agreed to open up the field, why ban one of the original players? This isn't the sort of game that's improved by team spirit.


Moretti didn't he do those beige still lifes Thibaud was so fond of? Or no, I remember now it was that beer. All well and good really, but what have you bastards done with Wealth Bondage?

That information is available only on a need to know basis.

And so is the Tutor, come to think of it.

And the only people who need to know are the ones gonna join him.

(You have to respect Candida's choice of domain registrars, though.)

II. "Sets Hamper Grasp" by A Contrite Form

"My interest is really, why do our senses start being filtered? And what does it do to our history and our art?"
- bhikku
* * *

Eidetic imagery the ability to retain in detail a pictorial configuration is found in approximately 8% of the school population, but almost never in adults, aside from artists.

In "Senses, Symbols, Operations" (The Arts and Cognition, David Perkins & Barbara Leondar, eds.), H. Gardner compared performances of a group of eleven-year-olds and a group of fourteen-year-olds across a wide variety of perceptual, motor, and cognitive tasks. For the most part, there was no improvement with age, or there was a slight decline. Improved: solving brain-teasers; recall of important narrative details. Significantly worse: memory of irrelevant details; dot-counting.

"...we must ask whether a cultural emphasis on operative thinking has had, as an unintended consequence, a deletrious effect upon figurative capacities. ...the decline of incidental learning, the waning of interest in the arts which is so characteristic of adolescence, and contrasting strategies of adolescents and preadolescents in the style discrimination tasks [adolescents tending to compare, preadolescents tending to describe] at least hint at the possibility...."
* * *
"Even as a schoolboy I took tremendous delight in Shakespeare, especially the historical plays. I have also said that formerly pictures gave me considerable and music very great delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry. I have tried lately to read Shakespeare and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. I have also lost my taste for pictures and music.... My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain alone, on which the higher states depend, I cannot conceive."
- Charles Darwin


'Shades of the school-house begin to close/Upon the growing Boy', eh? A rather worrying interpretation, but I suppose a logical one. My only quibble is with the phrase 'almost never in adults, aside from artists.' Is there not a spectrum between adults and artists? (strikes pose)

P F demurs mildly:

History sure as heck ought to be a science! (or rather there ought to be scientific work done in history, you can make room for belles lettres in it still), it just shouldn't import standards of sciences alien to it. Where would we be without scientific standards for the use of documents and a scientific orientation to the weighing of evidence? - but accepting that does not mean that you should demand accurate predictions from it, nor that it needs to be quantified, any more than taxonomy or paleontology.

And Genevieve-or-Michael Tucker more strongly:

Surprised to hear the conclusions you have drawn from Gardner's writing - only one set of experiments after all, there is plenty of literature on the eidetic elsewhere I should think. Personally I have had a very strong visual memory for most of my life, particularly for music on a page, but also for people, places, events with strong emotional connections. Sure, the details are rather corrupted now, but the visual is hard to drive out in those for whom it's the main learning strategy, I think.


Disappointment may be the reviewer's bread and butter, but it's cold mutton for an essayist. I tried to lend interest to this "book event" contribution by borrowing Moretti's bluff tone. If the results escaped fraudulence, it's only by their incoherence: flashy threads on a sketchy character.

As punishment, I was condemned to explain my reaction all over again in comments, first unpacking the reference to "echo chamber artifacts," and then taking up the perennial topic of cultural evolution.

Following Moretti's dismissive response, I became increasingly irascible. The reception of Graphs, Maps, Trees seemed to repeat a familiar irony: confidently self-proclaimed scientific objectivity met by hero-worship, declarations of allegiance, and inattention to the evidence. By the end of the Valve event, I felt like the hapless (and dickless) EPA inspector of Ghostbusters, pointing out the right things in the wrong movie.

Occasionally over the next few months I attempted to draw attention to related research, most pointedly in this post from March 4, 2006.

Eventually, though, I think I got the message. Graphs, Maps, Trees wasn't a collection of research papers. It was a celebration, a manifesto whose solipsism gave it the appeal of a human interest story. Any questioning of its results would inevitably be taken as dissent from its cause. In more ways than one, my lack of enthusiasm was genre-based.

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