Lesegesellschaft (1843) by Johann Peter Hasenclever
. . .

Bumper Sticker


My fortune is assured.


re: the new picture: what's the dog reading?

It's obviously focused on the same item as the guy next to it, although the dog isn't moving its lips which makes sense since, according to the ever-reliable de.wikipedia + translate.google, a related painting is clear reference to the reader Evolution in the 19th Century Germany made. Maybe a pirated translation of "The Black Cat"? I side-note that a possible descendent of the artist as a mordant used dog feces replaced.

. . .

I like Christmas music because it's sincere.

Love songs get made without love, food songs without hunger, dance-craze songs with all title and no trousers. But a Christmas song's topic and execution coincide: pro forma obligation, hapless opportunism, special occasion and old habit, fizzled pomposity, tipsy savoir-ne-sais-quoi, the hopes and fears of disproportionate reward a shared desperation which keeps isolated-by-a-blizzard songs and need-a-date-for-New-Year's-Eve songs securely within the genre.

To spark that holiday glow Leiber-&-Stoller style, here are Ron Holden & The Thunderbirds.

. . .

Riffing on the less interesting

A critic's task is to derive a question to which this is the answer. The trouble with reviewing is having to publish all those negative results.

. . .

The Diddly Bow of Ulysses

While following three different strands of research, I've recently tripped over three different frustrated academics grappling with the use of "fugue" (meaning, roughly, some contrapuntal form which we don't fully follow) to describe texts by Joyce, Pound, Zukofsky, &c., none of them noting the most fruitful interpretation: Written language, like a violin but more so, is not a polyphonic instrument, and therefore it can only imply complex harmonies and simultaneous lines through anticipatory or reflective aberrations which the mind weaves across paragraphs and pages, as when weaving the implied melodies of Bach's works for solo strings. The term "fugue" appeals by emphasizing the mental effort without which intended polyphony remains apparent disorder.

(Kenner or Senn or someone must've sounded off about this sometime, but I can't find the reference. Can you?)


I agree, Ray, some academics should learn to play a few fugues before they play around with the term.

A serious issue, and not confined to the campus: for example, I myself can barely fake a power chord and yet listen to me chatter. However, these particular three academics are likely expert fuguers, capable of fuguing round the clock. Their fugues of choice, though, were keyboard works which (as they pointed out) were not closely imitated by the solo vocals of the poet or novelist. I don't dispute that; I merely wanted to counterpoint that word-sorters and bow-scrapers must rely on more skeletal or subliminal or fragmented approaches.

Fugue and counterpoint in Ulysses have of necessity to be in linear form as we are trapped in a narrative - so Joyce uses various methods to build in the semblance of parallel occurrences. But then he moved on: Thelonious Monk used to play two adjacent piano notes to imply the quarter-tone between; could it be that in Finnegan's Wake, Joyce was hoping to spark the mind to run all possible meanings of his portmanteau words simultaneously?

Yes, I agree, although again he couldn't quite sustain the feel of simultaneous voices we tend to search for a "base" meaning to provide the rhythm of the prose, with the other meanings connecting in a more staccato and less linear way, forming (as we remain immersed) sequences of characteristic mists or fogs whose effect may not be so far removed from the free-indirect-discourse with which Joyce began. Cage's "Roaratorio" does a splendid job of conveying this musically, but it couldn't be described as fugal.

Fiction-writer and songwriter Paul Kerschen writes:

Auguste Bailly registered this as a complaint back in 1928:

"The necessity of recording the flow of consciousness by means of words and phrases compels the writer to depict it as a continuous horizontal line, like a line of melody. But even a casual examination of our inner consciousness shows us that this presentation is essentially false. We do not think on one plane, but on many planes at once... At every instant of conscious life we are aware of such simultaneity and multiplicity of thought-streams.

The life of the mind is a symphony. It is a mistake or, at best, an arbitrary method, to dissect the chords and set out their components on a single line, on one plane only. Such a method gives an entirely false idea of the complexity of our mental make-up."

That's quoted in Stuart Gilbert, who made the very sensible response that perhaps giving a verisimilar picture of "the life of the mind" wasn't actually Joyce's first priority... and then everyone forgot that point for fifty years. My own view is that Henry James has sympathies much closer to Bailly's, and that his various experiments with time-loops and periphrasis are an attempt to get at something like Bailly's symphonic mind (though then again, this has nothing to do with polyphony in Bakhtin's reigning sense). This is all done to death in chapters one and four of "The Modernist Novel Speaks Its Mind" (PhD dissertation, UC-Berkeley, 2010), which I think might be up on ProQuest now.

Fiction-writer and composer Carter Scholz writes:

Though I revere them and their works, I have faint respect for Joyce's, Pound's, or Zukofsky's practical knowledge of fugue, or of musical composition in general. All had matchless ears for sonority and rhythm. But what they knew about "fugue" as a practice could be put on a postcard. It got waved around as an impressive magic word; hence the confusion and frustration.

You can legitimately try to get something remotely like that effect in prose or poetry, but it looks as much like antiphony as "fugue" or "counterpoint". It's like trying to dance architecture; only annoys the pigeons. Maybe I'm one.

It seems to me that the Bach solo string works imply harmony rather than melody, but that's a more interesting discussion. Do the voices dictate or follow? Cage's Roaratorio doesn't care -- it's heterophony.

Update: I picked it up from Basil Bunting! (Not a bad T-shirt slogan, that.) Bunting mentioned the analogy in interviews, letters, and lectures; viz., from Basil Bunting on Poetry, lecture 12:

Pound, however, and Zukofsky after him, was fascinated by the close texture of the fugue and by its somewhat spurious air of logicality. They wanted to know whether the design of the fugue could be transferred to poetry. A short but incomplete answer is that it can't. A fugue is essentially contrapuntal, several voices imitating each other, yet free of each other, all talking simultaneously, whereas poetry is written for one voice at a time or, at most, for voices in unison. But Bach had set an example. He wrote at least two fugues for unaccompanied violin. Of course they are not really fugues. No amount of double stopping can get three or more voices to sing simultaneously on the violin. The entries in Bach's unaccompanied violin fugues wait till the last entiry is done or nearly done before they start. Yet he manages to convey a rather teasing sensation of a fugue, never really satisfied. Similar sequences of notes are thrown up time and again, but they never mesh together as those of a true fugue do. Zukofsky wrote a fugue of this sort for unaccompanied voice. It's Part 7 of his long poem "A". It is not a fugue, but it does suggest one, suggests it very strongly.

Jeet Heer adds:

You might want to listen to the Bob Perelman lecture here -- he stars with a critique of the modernist poetics that draws facile parallels between poetry and music.

. . .

52 Pickup

Yesterday was my fifty-second birthday, my forty-second having occured ten years ago. Today is Daniel Johnston's fiftieth birthday. Tomorrow is Louis Zukofsky's hundred-sixth birthday. What better way to mark these occasions than with the latest melancholy seepage from Anselm Dovetonsils, as scraped by the indefatigable Renfrew Q. Hobblewort?

Don't get me started.

Footnotes from the Modern Russian Reader for Intermediate Classes:
Chapter Three Re-translated From English Because I Could Not Find the Original Text

Misha. Under everyone's feet. Mother, father. Used almost exclusively when addressing one's own parents. In his study. A very common diminutive of book. But there is nothing pretty about him. Interfered with their work. Suppose you take.

You will keep a diary. How could I know? I never thought anything out myself. Was he. Papa had. Let me. Leaned on the back of his chair. Is spelled with. Leave me alone. What else should I write?

Whose. No one's. As poets do. What he could write. What a day! But he is not allowed to go there. A quarter after nine. Clock. Used only in the plural. He was so happy about. Nevertheless. But what shall I do?

About what? He thought of what...Couldn't think of anything else. Ink. Used only in the plural. Was terribly bored. As soon as. He became very cheerful. An exclamation of fatigue or relief. What a sly man! My compliments. Misha felt deeply hurt.

Even more than mamma. He should talk! The one that sings. He became so sad that he was ready to cry. He felt sorry (for). How to treat him. Looked like. Diminutive of feet, legs. But this too. You only have to. Must not brag.

And in rhymes, too. and the like. If you are not interested. Why do you look so sad? She should still. What is wrong with you? Diminutive of cheeks. Diminutive of hands. I must not say.

About that. Let her leave me alone. I don't care. At night. I don't care at all. What a child! This must be shown...

You told on me. About everything. Popular for come. Affectionately and familiarly for brother. In his eyes. Diminutive of pillow, cushion. As though from. For no reason. You pay no attention to me.

Let us. Came out silly. Is no good. Oneself. Let's forget.

Holding each other's hand. No matter how it looks. For life. Little face. Affectionate form. Unless so used, the word is vulgar.

. . .

The Male Feminist: Myth or Menace?

As one of the repelled colonizers of Bryn Mawr's Denbigh Hall in 1978, I can actually speak with authority on this question. It's a completely trivial and distracting question, but hey, you take what authority you can get.

"Feminist" is a label. A label is not essence, nor an equivalence function. Like all such social markers, it's meant to be applied when applicable, and applicability varies by context.

In contexts where the label is a contested object of desire (notably some blogs and some academic departments; I'm not sure women's folk festivals even exist anymore): No, a man cannot be a feminist. Proof by contradiction: To insist on the "feminist" label would help me override a woman's voice or take a woman's place.

Anyway, the self-applied label usually conveys little information beyond hope for a merit badge. Treating a woman as a sentient being should be a matter of common decency rather than a newsworthy achievement, and enjoying the company of women might indicate nothing more than heterosexuality.1 You shouldn't need to be acknowledged as a "feminist" to feel disgust at date-rape, or to argue with idiots,2 or to shut up and let others get a word in edgewise. Painstaking accounts of female suffering can sometimes be useful to feminism, but to produce them you need only find female suffering attractive as spectacle.3 You only need ears to appreciate Joanna Russ's prose. And you only need eyes and a brain to notice that Hollywood buddy comedies (like William S. Burroughs) posit an Earth populated by two species: male humans and female Borg.

In contexts where the label is used dismissively (notably most non-academic settings after 1985 or so): Yes, a man can be a feminist. Dismissive senses include "crazy people who take that crazy shit seriously" or "killjoys who bitch about gross power imbalances" or "perverts who don't mind leg hair" and so forth. And I am, in fact and undeniably, one of those crazy killjoy perverts and might as well fess up to it. Besides, how far am I really gonna lower the tone of a neighborhood consisting mostly of Daddy's-Girl feminists, Let's-Go-Shopping! feminists, and Rich-Republicans-Are-The-Real feminists?

1   Stendhal supported higher education for women on the grounds that it would make them even more fun to hang out with. I find this a convincing argument.

2   From a vanished comment at vanished UFO Breakfast:

I reserve the right to reveal this revelation at my own site or deathbed confession, but I discovered the American economic class system, cultural class system, and how fucked up the rest of my life was going to be on my first evening at the Quaker teaching-oriented financial-aid-guaranteed no-frat no-football college when the guys I was walking with talked about going to Villanova to seek stupid girls because only stupid girls would fuck you.

And I knew -- I knew from the bottom of my balls -- that this was evil and wrong. Because only smart girls knew where the local Planned Parenthood was.

3   From innumerable cites, I pluck Hitchcock.


Jessie Ferguson kindly pointed out that at least one of my attempted jokes ("indicates heterosexuality") was too compressed even for my intended audience, and that blogs provide a safer home than the academy for contemporary feminist discussion. I've quickly revised in the hope of clarity.

Josh Lukin points out more error:

"You only need ears"? What kind of ableist message is that?
Marge: Homer, didn't John seem a little... festive to you? Homer: Couldn't agree more. Happy as a clam. Marge: He prefers the company of men! Homer: Who doesn't?

And remember, chicks dig male feminists!

. . .

"Women are lame, dude." - Some fool at a dot-com, c. 1998

The last good newish novel I read and the last good newish movie I saw both reprised Death Comes for the Comically Awkward Maiden. The novel, O Caledonia, was distinguished by Scottishness, lavish attention to immediate experience, and a jackdaw. The movie, The Forest for the Trees, was distinguished by mounting as its suicide method the most bizarre and least analyzed of all massively shared nightmares.

I'd call this a coincidence but distinguished examples are too quotidian to count. Male writers in a self-pitying or self-loathing mode find the effort of tragic narration magically ease once they change the sex of their protagonist no producer has to worry about Blanche Dubois being told to man-up. And, should the writer happen to have been a comically awkward maiden herself, she'll find acceptable closure so wonderfully close to hand. What was it Michelangelo said? Take a block and chip away anything that doesn't look like a story?

Thank the BVM for las locas of Barbara Comyns, of Ernst Lubitsch and Eric Rohmer.


I saw The Forest for the Trees recently too, and it is hands down the most horrifying movie I've ever watched. I watched Ade's other, more championed movie Everything Else, but it didn't have me reeling in my seat and feeling depressed. What's odd is that this movie was at first created to be comedy of all things.

Even odder, I believe it remains a comedy, and a fine one, too as does O Caledonia, whose sardonicism vinegars a potentially oleaginous cling to the matter of world and word. But my taste in comedy is notoriously broad.

I think the commenter meant Everyone Else, not Everything.

Thank you for the segue to our next scheduled puffabilly of thought!

. . .

Who is Ray Davis?

I read in a magazine the other day that I was mostly bacteria, and that sounds about right.

. . .

Guess Who This Is

Soundtrack by Ed's Redeeming Qualities; hear also, and

For most of my life I've mended the Cogito to:

"I think, therefore there are thoughts."

But if the truth of ego sum is not (you should pardon the expression) self-evident, why then do I (sometimes, on a good day) resort to the personal pronoun? This entertaining B&BS slugfest suggests that "I am" might simply be the most straightforward answer to the inescapable question:

"I know you are but what am I?"


you're clearly a thinking being

I am easily interpellated. I am so easily interpellated.

. . .

Small Faces Looseleaf Booked

My friends, that is to say my old acquaintances, found me ill at ease with them and, when they met me, they reproached me, though without making much effort to bring me back into their fold. This is the advantage of frequenting people with whom one's only link is pleasure: they'll greet you more eagerly than they'll bother to seek your company, they take everybody as they find them, lose contact with them without discarding them, enjoy meeting each other without particularly wanting to, and, when they're not there, forget them completely.
- The Confessions of the Count of *** by Charles Duclos, 1742,
tr. Douglas Parmée

. . .

Lurch for the Cure

Trumbull Park by Frank London Brown

I never trusted those suspense stories where comfortably well-off families get menaced in their own home by psycho scum. Every arbitrary authority who's ever pushed us around exists for their benefit and we're supposed to feel concerned when some dorks start calling each other daddio? Why?

And asking why? isn't healthy for suspense.

In Trumbull Park, lower-class families stuck where they're not wanted get menaced by very-much-at-home mobs for long past forty-eight hours, for weeks, for months, and those arbitrary authorities act as arbitrarily as we'd expect. Mary Helen Washington's right that some of Brown's 400 pages "anticipate the aesthetics of protest of the 1960s and 1970s." But even more of them anticipate the aesthetics of Romero's zombie movies.

Any why? is taken from life.

Title source: Skin Horse

. . .

Small Talk

Thomas Carlyle, age 37, to John Stuart Mill, age 26, 22nd Feby, 1833:

I really wish you would write to me oftener. Besides the comfortable, available intelligence your Letters bring, there is a most wholesome feeling of Communion comes over me, in your neighbourhood; the agreeable memento: Thou art not alone, then! Alas, it is a most solitary world; from Dan to Beersheba you walk, and find nothing but masks, a real Man is now almost as rare as a God has always been. One is ready to faint by the way, in that inane hubbub (under which too lies Darkness and Death!); one longs for speech; and there is but the (subternatural) cackling and sniggering “of imps in hellish wassail,” of harpies at their foul feed (the grand passion being HUNGER), intent only to reave and eat. Of all such my soul is exceeding sick; at times, even to loathing. In truth, it is oftenest a very Temptation of St Anthony with me; the inanimate Furniture of this Earth gets a ghastly ludicro-terrific vitality, the clothed Bipeds are mostly spectral,— and the Devil is at the bottom of it all. How pleasant the voice of a brother Eremite, a flesh-and-blood Reality (in better heart and health than yourself), at sound of whom the Devil and his works duck down into the Inane! Write to me, I pray you, with more and more heartiness; shew me your feelings as well as thoughts; and let us in all ways, while so much is permitted us, help one another as we can. “What is cheerfuller than Light?” says some one: “Speech,” is the answer. Speech, however; not Cackle. [...]

On one point, I am getting clearness: that it is not good for me to stay much longer in the Nithsdale Peat-desert. I will leave Craigenputtoch, before very long: but where I shall settle; here, in London, or where, is as dark as may be. Poverty and a certain deep feeling of self-dependence (often named Pride, but I hope misnamed) complicate the matter much. We shall see.— My son, before all thy gettings, get understanding —: now as ever, this is verily the one thing needful. For the present, I think of waiting without much motion till my Brother the Doctor return from Italy; perhaps his place and mode of settlement may help to determine mine. John loves me with a brother’s love; is a man of strong faculty, of the truest heart: it is really one of my best joys of late to discern clearly that he too is fixing himself on the everlasting adamant, and may front this Devil’s-chaos beside me, also like a man. In thes[e] scandalous days, such a brother is a Treasure: alas, unless Nature have accidentally given it you, where shall you seek for Friendship? I often wonder over the love of Brothers, over the boundless capacity man has for Loving: why has this long-continued Baseness, Halfness and Hollowness so encircled him with cowardly distrusts that he dare not love!— You shall see John, were he once home; I imagine, some relation may spring up between you: at lowest, you will learn to respect each other.

John Stuart Mill to Thomas Carlyle, 9th March 1833:

I ought to write oftener; though not exactly for the reason you jocularly give. I ought; and I would, if my letters were, or could be, better worth having: yet, even such as they are, not being altogether valueless to you, they shall become more frequent. Truly I do not wonder that you should desiderate more “heartiness” in my letters, and should complain of being told my thoughts only, not my feelings; especially when, as is evident from your last letter, you stand more than usually in need of the consolation and encouragement of sympathy. But alas! when I give my thoughts, I give the best I have. You wonder at “the boundless capacity Man has of loving” boundless indeed it is in some natures, immeasurable and inexhaustible: but I also wonder, judging from myself, at the limitedness and even narrowness of that capacity in others. That seems to me the only really insuperable calamity in life; the only one which is not conquerable by the power of a strong will. It seems the eternal barrier between man and man; the natural and impassable limit both to the happiness and to the spiritual perfection of (I fear) a large majority of our race. But few, whose power of either giving or receiving good in any form through that channel, is so scanty as mine, are so painfully conscious of that scantiness as a want and an imperfection: and being thus conscious I am in a higher, though a less happy, state, than the self-satisfied many who have my wants without my power of appreciation. You speak of obstacles which exist for others, but not for me. There are many of Earth’s noblest beings, with boundless capacity of love, whom the falseness and halfness which you speak of, have so hemmed round and so filled with distrust and fear that “they dare not love”. But mine is a trustful nature, and I have an unshakeable faith in others though not in myself. So my case must be left to Nature, I fear: there is no mind-physician who can prescribe for me, not even you, who could help whosoever is helpable: I can do nothing for myself, and others can do nothing for me; all the advice which can be given, (and that is not easily taken) is, not to beat against the bars of my iron cage; it is hard to have no aspiration and no reverence but for an Ideal towards which striving is of no use: is there not something very pitiful in idle Hoping? but to be without Hope were worse?

You see it is cold comfort which I can give to any who need the greatest of comforts, sympathy in moments of dejection; I, who am so far from being in better mental health than yourself, that I need sympathy quite as much, with the added misfortune that if I had it, it could do me no good. When you knew me in London I was in circumstances favourable to your mistaking my character, and judging of it far too advantageously: it was a period of fallacious calm; grounded in an extravagant over-estimate of what I had succeeded in accomplishing for myself, and an unconscious self-flattery and self-worship. All that is at an end; which is a “progress” surely. I would not now take the greatest human felicity on such terms.

Thomas Carlyle to John Stuart Mill, 21st March, 1833:

My Dear Mill,

Will you accept this feeblest Apology for a Letter, and write to me again, till I have time to answer you more deliberately.

You do your nature great injustice, as I can well discern, who see some ten years farther into it than you. However, this also was among your endowments, that you should be unconscious of them, and even prove their existence by sorrowing for the want of them. For the rest, go on boldly, whithersoever you have Light to go. To all men, whom God has made, there is one thing possible: to speak and to act God’s Truth, and bid the Devil’s Falsehood, and whatsoever it can promise or threaten, an irrevocable farewell. For no man is there properly speaking any more possible. I rejoice very deeply to convince myself by clearer and clearer symptoms that you have chosen this “better part”; and so I prophecy nothing but good of you. But we will talk all those matters, far more at large, in August; which will be here by and by.

One other thing gives me pleasure, that your interest in Politics abates rather than increases. Your view of that matter corresponds perfectly with my own: a huge chaotic Deluge of floating lumber mud and noisome rubbish, in which is fixation or firm footing nowhere. “Cast thou thy seed-corn on the Nile waters; thou shalt find it after many days.” What thou doest is is of most uncertain moment; that thou do it truly is of quite infinite moment. So believe; so have all good men, from the beginning of the world, believed.

I am grown a little better, both in body and mind. These wretched east winds are still to be tolerated: but the business of assiduous scribbling comforts me; heartfelt writing would make me forget everything, only this is not always possible. I have written a long half-mad kind of story about the Archquack Cagliostro, which you will see some time in some Magazine or other. I feel half-tempted to burn it; nevertheless let it stand: it is all moderately true, tho’ written about a grand Falsehood. One is rather sadly off with these Magazine-vehicles (Dog’s-meat Carts, as I often call them): however, it is once for all our element in these days; let us work in it, while it is called to-day. The sheets of Diderot were all fairly corrected two weeks ago; you will see it in the next Number of Cochrane. [...]

Thanks to John Plotz for drawing attention to this exchange, and to the Duke University Press and The Liberty Fund for making it publicly accessible.

. . .

Cholly on Software : The Signifying Code Monkey

There are benefits non-financial, obviously to working for an institution of higher education. But in a 27-year career I remember only four people with whom I couldn't establish some sort of working relationship, and I met three of them after leaving what's oddly called "private industry." Similarly, two of the three pieces I've regretted publishing were written within the context of a (mostly) academic website. Maybe it's true that there's something peculiarly toxic about this environment? Or maybe this particular pachyderm happens to find my own blend of tones and pheromones peculiarly noxious? For whatever reason, I've spent a painful number of turns playing the wrong side of Whac-a-Mole.


Josh Lukin suggests another hypothesis:

The experiences you had in a milieu different from "private industry" occurred, as you note with your "after", at a time (in your life and that of our society) different from the era when you worked in that industry. That's not an insignificant parameter.

It occurred to me that I might have gotten crankier with age. But given the crankiness of my youth, that's hard to credit. What with one damned thing after another, though, you're right that I might be a bit clingier these days, a bit less likely to exit-stage-left at the earliest possible cue, and therefore a bit more handy for thumping.

Josh follows up:

Note the "that of our society": I wasn't so much focusing on (or at least, I wasn't only addressing) the "crankier with age" possibility. Maybe people are meaner. I just read a blog comment from a guy who left the U.S. in 1998 and says that every time he comes back to visit, he sees more anger. Scheler said ressentiment is greatest in societies that make false promises of equality (he was arguing in favor of feudal attitudes, I think, but still . . . )

Mr. Waggish kindly writes:

I think you said it yourself already. Academia tolerates and even fosters antisocial behavior in various forms, while the private sector is much more strict in its codes of behavior hewing to some practical norm. Coders who work in academic nonprofits tend to be those who were "too weird" for industry, by their own account. Much of this may have to do with the ultimate bottom line of the holy dollar asserting itself far more incessantly in the private sector. (The exceptions like Bell Labs, which also attracted the types of people you simply could not deal with, have gone under precisely because they would rather spend their time perfecting an IETF RFC than writing server monitoring scripts in Python or (god forbid) Perl. So given an insufferable, ambitious, and/or dogmatic person, that person will either have the good fortune to rise to a management position in the private sector that he (occasionally she, mostly he) will then use to attempt to realize his treasured, pure vision of paradise, and fail repeatedly; OR, that person will be thrown aside by the capitalist machinery and will seek refuge in locations where the almighty dollar holds less immediate sway. See Albert O. Hirschmann's "The Passions and the Interests" for what I genuinely believe is the dynamic at work.

And adds:

I see what you were talking about as an extension of this Delany letter you quoted long ago.

Hmm. Now that, I don't see. Maybe it's because all four of my impossible-relationships were with men, and fairly stereotypical men at that?

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