. . . Berkeley

. . .

Paris as university town (courtesy of Librarians' Index):

Later the students moved to the colleges of "La montagne Saint-Genevieve". Afterwards, Place Maubert was given over to the gallows, and to torture by the wheel and at the stake, particularly under Francis I.

. . .

Juliet Clark initiates Hotsy Totsy's Irony Watch with the following, overheard on Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, California, August 18, 1999:

"Yeah, there have been an awful lot of yellowjackets around this summer. July and August are the big months for them. Ironically, all of the times I've been bitten by yellowjackets have been in July or August."

. . .

Steven Elliott, who once told Hotsy Totsy charter member Christina La Sala, "You can have the trains, I'm just going to cut out the sky," is currently sharing a gallery with our good friends Joseph Cornell and Marcel Duchamp at the Berkeley Art Museum.

As if that wasn't enough excitement, Christina and Steven just last night opened up an installation at the San Francisco State University Art Gallery -- a little number they like to call "Invisible Practices." Cholly hopes to host an exclusive interview on the project in the next day or two....

. . .

Who says the vast arbitrary not-my-responsibility bureaucracy of UC has no heart? Certainly not those of us who are eagerly looking forward to "Death at UC Berkeley: Communication and Community":

This workshop reviews the work of the Chancellor's Workgroup on Deaths, towards the goal of building a coordinated, cohesive response to deaths in a decentralized environment.

. . .

Errata: Reader J. Clark writes in all the way from Berkeley, California, to comment:

I think the new restaurant is called "3Ring" (all one word, just like 3Com -- so SF!).

. . .

Who needs food when the menu's so delicious? Department:

"Bare lists of words are found suggestive, to an imaginative and excited mind" - Emerson
Otherwise the quotes themselves are bring-downs. But the table of contents for the online Concordance to the Collected Essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson makes the best poem Charles Bernstein never appropriated:

Adequate to Adults
Advance to Affairs
Altered to Amatory
Amphibious to Anglo-Saxons
Arbiters to Army
Army to Artery
Atmosphere to Attire
Attitude to Autobiography
B--, Aunt to Banquets
Beast, Beauty and the to Becky Stow's Swamp
Birth to Blurs
Bonny to Bosses
Boston Advertiser to Brazier
Budgets to Byzantium
Chilblain to Christ's Jesus
Class to Cloisters
Close to Coldness
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor to Combustion
Compliance to Conducts
Cones to Consciousnesses*
Consubstantiation to Contriving
Control to Copula
Copy to Countless
Court to Creature's
Cuba to Czars
Day, Commencement to Deadness
Deaf to Declaring
Degenerate to Demonstrator
Desirable to Devotions
Distemper to Doctrines
Drank to Driving
Droll to Dyspeptic
Effeminacy to Elicits
Eligible to Employs
Emporium to Enemy's
Energetic to Englishwomen
Eustachius to Everywhere
Evidence to Excessive
First to Fitting
Flowing to Forborne
* Link via Juliet Clark
Foundation to Fowls
Gladiators to Go-Carts
God, Almighty to Goitre
Gold to Good
Good (continued) to Grab
Graze to Great Desert
Habeas Corpus to Handling
Hand-Looms to Harms
Heat to Hemispheres
Hole to Hooted
Hung to Hysterical
Infantry to Inmates
Intrusion to Intelligences
Jabber to Joyfully
Joying to Juxtapositions
Law to Lax
Leather to Leg
Librarian to Life
Line to Littleton
Look to Lost
M. C. to Magnanimously
Maladies to Man
Meal to Mechi
Medal to Memphis, Egypt
Menace to Methuselah
Mince-Meat to Minded
Negotation to Nevermore
Nothing to Nymphs
Once to Opium-Shop
Opponent to Organisms
Organization to Overwork
Ovid to Oysters
Passenger to Pays
Peace to Penury
Permutation to Perspire
Poets to Polls
Pollute to Positives
Proprietary to Puberty
Public to Purlieus
Quack to Questions
Remedies to Replying
Restricted to Revolutions
Revolve to Rigging
Romes to Ruling
Rum to Rylstone Doe
Sail to Samos
Samples to Saxons
Seize to Sensations
Separable to Set-To
Shatter to Short-Sighted
Shot to Sidewise
Sinful to Skills
Sockets to Sometimes
Spirits to Squid
Squint to Stars
Steady to Stimulus
Strong to Subduing
Subject to Suetonius
Surprises to Sweeps
Taverns to Tempestuous
Templars to Testify
Testimonies to Thin
Tidal to Timely
Toledo to Tow-Head
Town to Trains
Truth to Turnips
Ubiquitous to Unexhausted
Unexpected to University, Yale
Unjust to Usages
Vat to Victory
Wave to Wealth
Wept to Whithersoever
Wit to Wolves
Woman to Woo
World Fairs to Wormy
Worn to Writings
Writs to Wyman, Jeffries
Yeoman, Middlesex to Yunani

. . .

Movie Comment: Meet Me in St. Louis

  1. Probably the only example of Technicolor that's both classically MGM and unironically beautiful. Much more than the chintzy Americana of the script or the schematic performances, it's the impossible combination of impossibly rich and impossibly restrained color that fuels the movie's nostalgia. Vincent Minnelli's crew must've worked like mad to coordinate sets, costumes, lighting, and lab work to such an extent.

  2. I've seen Judy Garland's rendition of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" described as an "attempt to comfort her sister." On the contrary, it's very clear that Garland's character is intent on making her sister hysterical with grief, and not at all adverse to getting a little weepy herself. It's a sadomasochistic impulse I remember as pretty common in childhood (telling horror stories that scare the teller, making emotional threats that threaten to isolate the threatener...), but it's not usually depicted with so little editorializing.

    Of course, Minnelli was in no position to criticize. While Garland's fictional character struggled on screen to induce childish hysteria and adult melancholy, he was sweating bullets on the reality of the set toward the same ends.

    Aside from artists of the sentimental, the need for this kind of boundary testing mercifully tapers off in adulthood, only springing out in romantic crises (e.g., "I don't like you -- but I love you"). Which brings me, as I'm brought so often, to thoughts of that master of mature collaborative pain, Frank Borzage... and there is something Christmasy about that ridiculous sublime last shot in Man's Castle....

. . .

Movie Comment: It's not surprising that the best parts of Topsy Turvy ("IT'LL MAKE YOU FEEL LIKE WATCHING A BUNCH OF EXTRAS STAND UP AND CHEER!" - NY Film Critics) are the backstage-verité scenes -- given his working methods, rehearsals are probably pretty much all Mike Leigh sees of life nowadays -- but even some of those seemed a little queasy. Like the orchestral runthrough where an undisciplined fiddler refers to superstar conductor-composer Sullivan as "Dr. Sullivan" and is heartily corrected ('cause I guess it's supposed to be "Sir Arthur") by a fellow orchestra member, earning appreciative chuckles from the elderly Berkeley audience, who undoubtedly have their own problems with uppity underlings.

Man, I was with the sloppy guy: the only really proper title for a musician is "Perfesser." "Doctor" was already pushing it!

As Nature's Nobleman, H. L. Mencken, pointed out in The American Language: Supplement I, us Americans don't get a lot of practice when it comes to English titular grammar like "Lord before His Grace except after Excellency." Since it was clear that his copyeditors were never going to get titles right, in 1942, Robert R. McCormick, editor of the Chicago Tribune, decided it wasn't worth the trouble to print them at all. But then the English Disapproval Chorale (lead tenor the London Daily Telegraph, owned by Baron Camrose of Long Cross, né William Ewett Barry) turned out not to like that either.

Mencken quotes McCormick's response:

Obviously there would be no confusion in any one's mind if we omitted the Sir from Gen. Sir Bernard Montgomery. Nor would any one be in doubt about the identity of the person described as Gov. Windsor of the Bahamas. These changes in style would promote the idea in American minds that our allies, like us, are fighting for democracy....

So far as this country is concerned it will make considerable sacrifices to preserve a British democracy, but it doesn't find any great satisfaction in fighting for an aristocratic Britain. In deference to American opinion we should expect the British to abolish their titles and the privileges that go with them. After all, the deprivation wouldn't amount to much; it isn't as if Camrose didn't have another name that sounds less like soap to fall back on.

. . .

In more "I would've gotten away with it too, if it wasn't for those meddling kids" news (via Berkeley High School alum Juliet Clark):

. . .

UC Berkeley Art History Department Fight Song

In this paper I will argue.
      Won't you argue now with me?
Everybody likes to argue;
      No one likes to disagree.

In this paper I have proven
      What somebody else has shown
Was maintained and demonstrated
      Citing yet another drone.

. . .

Irony Watch

Chris Ware - art = Dave Eggers ?
'Cause I remember that comic Eggers did for the SF Weekly, and -- hoo boy, he sure ain't Chris Ware!

Among other equations derivable from San-Francisco-to-New-York transformation functions (well, more like Berkeley-to-Brooklyn, but you'd hardly expect a bohemian spokesperson nowadays to admit to being from Berkeley, would you?), we find that old favorite:

Snob + hypocrisy = Times rock critic

. . .

THE NEW OPTHOMOLOGIST - Number 23, April 2000
Contacts fall from the eye;
I am sick, I must die --
Lord have mercy on us!
- Shakespeare
Health Tip: After eating ribs, you might still have an extremely detectable amount of BBQ sauce left on your fingertips even if you've washed your hands three times. (Contributed by RD of Berkeley, CA)
"There's nothin' cornea than aqueous humor!" -- Dr. Borschtbeldt

. . .

In related news, Doug Asherman points us to a "well-funded startup" who stapled this flyer to a telephone pole on Sixth Street in Berkeley:

Software Developers with Expertise
in XML/Java/C++

Referral Fee
Sign Sign-On Bonus

I wonder how much they'd offer me for a proofreader....

. . .

"It's the TRUTH, Badenov...."

William K. Everson meets Bullwinkle J. Moose? (via signal2noise)

Well, I guess they were both in Berkeley often enough....

. . .

Movie Comment: Prix de Beauté

Miss Europe   Louise Brooks's international career was effectively washed and summed up at age 22 by Prix de Beauté: exhilarating innocent and amoral vamp and tragic Typhoid Mary of lust ("The Girl Can't Help It so we'd better kill her") all in one variably bouncing package. Even the title manages to do some summing up: as world traveller Juliet Clark points out, it can be translated as either "Beauty Prize" or "Price of Beauty."

No long black limousine door ever swung shut more solid than the final shot of Prix de Beauté, the eternally radiant Brooks trilling above her thrownaway husk in as definitively cinematic a moment as Maggie Cheung's resurrection in Actress or Buster Keaton's simiantographer in The Cameraman....

And, while laying Brooks to rest, Prix de Beauté premonitioned the decade to come: Miss Europe dreams of glitter, is shoved into grinding poverty, and is finally blown apart by resentment.

These reflections are occasioned by the recent restoration of the silent version of Prix de Beauté. Like in the early 1960s recording industry's mono-stereo transition, the late 1920s saw the movie industry making both silent and sound mixes, and like in the early 1960s, the old-style mix was almost always better.

Well, plus any restoration is gonna have hindsight and research and new prints on their side.

The point is you shouldn't run right out and look at the crummy semi-bootleg videotapes of the sound version, you should wait and support your local fancy-shmancy moviehouse when they show the silent version or wait till the silent version comes out on home video. Here's me to tell you why!

Thanks, me. Here's why:

  1. Like with a lot of "Continental style" silents, the characters are meant to be annoying and abrasive. OK, but having already pushed that envelope as far as it could stretch, the envelope busts like an overheated can of beans when annoying abrasive voices are added.

  2. In particular, Louise Brooks couldn't possibly play Miss Europe (née Miss France) with a Kansan accent ("New York Herald Tribune!"), so it's probably not her voice in the sound version, and she's the biggest star, so I feel ripped off.

  3. Like with a lot of "Continental style" silents, Prix de Beauté relies on clear crisp photography for much of its impact -- can't really appreciate all that grime and glimmer without clear crisp photography. Restorations tend to be clearer and crisper than crummy semi-bootleg videotapes.

  4. Most of all, the sound version blunders structurally in a big way. The second oomphiest sequence of the movie takes place in an urban carnival: crowded, obnoxious, irredeemably ugly, a fun time for Brooks's awful boyfriend but a headache for Brooks. I hate carnivals, I hate fairs, I hate parades, and I like this sequence.

    In the sound version, it's positioned before Brooks gets her crack at fame and fortune and seems pretty much inexplicable, although it's powerful enough that viewers are willing to work hard to explicate it.

    In the silent version, it's positioned after Brooks is dragged away from fame and fortune by "true love," and after "true love" proves so insanely insecure as to insist that she even stop fantasizing about fame and fortune. There, the sequence makes perfect sense: this is the reward that "true love" is willing to return her for her sacrifices: the honor of watching frantic clowns make assholes of themselves around a bunch of other frantic clowns.

    The old organization makes the movie front-heavy (where the front's the weakest part) and leaves Brooks unmotivated in the second half, where the new (and presumably older than old) organization builds logically and satisfyingly.

Close-ups of mute loudspeakers are a small price to pay.

. . .

Distribution of English Words in Diary of a Shinjuku Thief
30 "nonsense"
8 "sex"
2 "American"
1 "why"

. . .

Special Anniversary Narcissism Week!

We analytic egotists have to keep an eye out for mirrored abysses, which is why I've mostly resisted the impulse to dribble endless mission statements and explanations into the Hotsy Totsy Club until the sodden floor collapsed under me. But the Hotsy Totsy Club is a year old now, and as an analytic egotist I can think of no better way to celebrate than to spend an entire week on mission statements and explanations. Hee haw!

Hoozoo, by Cholly Kokonino

Let's start down to earth (or even lower) with Paul Perry's reasonable query, "Where is the Hotsy-Totsy Club?"
I currently live in Berkeley, California. The "original" Hotsy Totsy Club is a crummy bar, not far away from me on San Pablo Ave. ("The Most Beautiful Avenue in the World!"), where grizzled old boozers start congregating around 9 am. The neon in its sign seems to be burnt out in a new combination every day.
And Paul followed up with the equally reasonable, "I wonder exactly what role Cholly Kokonino had in the Coconino county of old?"
In all the strips I've seen, Cholly Kokonino was only a name without a character, a fiction within the fiction, a gossip-columnist pseudonym occasionally appended to Herriman's gorgeously overripe narrative setups.

The simultaneously snooty and slangy name is modeled after "Cholly Knickerbocker," a society columnist (or, more precisely, a series of society columnists) in one of the New York papers.

Applicability to the Hotsy Totsy Club is left as an exercise for the reader.

. . .

On my only day off for the last two weeks of February, I visited the inspiring and inspiriting Joe Brainard show at UC Berkeley's art museum (a little room packed to the gills with lovely bustle -- may we someday have a Brainard Memorial Mansion packed to the gills with such little rooms). More than any other late-20th-century artist I know of, Brainard created for the sheer consummating-and-fecund love of artifact. Sings like a fucking bird.

Not an easy bird to spot, either. Although I expect to expound more after my return visits in March and April, here's early notice so that other San Francisco Bay Area clubmembers can have their own shot at multiple visits.

. . .

Critics rave

An anonymous reader informs us:

yo, yo mama, mama, mama oy oy
Coincidentally, some years ago someone I'd just met gave me an extra ticket to a Yo-Yo Ma concert. I don't remember what the music was, but he didn't either: he looked puffy and drunk, and his performance ranged from lackadaisical to frankly out of tune. He still got his standing ovation from the rich old Berkeley lady crowd of PBS supporters, of course; it was like seeing William Holden at a Sunset Blvd. convention.... On the other hand, the first time I saw Johnny Thunders, he weaved, collapsed, muttered incoherent obscenities, and all night all told gave his way-too-heavy-a-burden guitar a total of two resoundingly satisfying thwacks. Johnny Thunders was the better showman.

. . .

East Bay Dining: Caffe Mediterraneum

The only "Med" thing about the Caffe Med is the state of its toilet -- a little slice of Brindisi right in Berkeley!

Recently, while reminiscing over a fine scotch at the Club, international troubleshooter Juliet Clark told us of her most treasured Caffe Med moment. Trying to distract herself from other sensory input by reading through the typically-Telegraph-Ave. graffiti, she found in very neat very tiny ballpoint pen the message:


That was ten years ago and she's never been back.

. . .

The Blasted Stumps of Academe

Lawrence L. White simultaneously kicks off our end-of-school special and continues our previous thread in high style:

I spent several days composing a response to your comments re Curtis White, but couldn't make sense in my own head. As Adorno also says, the aesthetic is inarticulate. Though he claims philosophy is necessary, he recognizes that the artwork always withholds its best part. It's a perfect marriage: one party claims the other can't live without them, the other party knows it.

One of the few ideas that have made sense to me in this dreadful canon debate is John Guillory's suggestion that instead of thinking of canons we should think of syllabi. It's an inescapable fact: only so many books can be assigned for the term, or, for those who have survived their educations still reading, only so many books can be read. (Mr. Bloom acts as if he has read everything, which is his claim to greatness, 'cause none of the ideas he's had about these books amount to squat.) You have to make choices, though you don't have to, or may not be able to, explain them.

Just as there is are Great Works syllabi out there, so too are there Race-Class-Gender syllabi. & both can be automatized. Try to get an American Studies PhD w/out reading Uncle Tom's Cabin. & try to read any of this stuff the way someone like Spicer would read. I bet my copy of Aesthetic Theory (w/marginal notes throughout to prove I read the whole thing) someone out there is doing a Race-Class-Gender critique of Updike, & is thorougly kicking old Johnny-boy's ass. Yes, he deserves it, but aren't there better things to do w/your time?

I want to read books that are smarter, truer, more beautiful (&, as Adorno & Stein point out, beautiful can be ugly) than I am. Criticism that's superior to its object is masturbation. & as my pa told me, beating off is a fine hobby but you don't want to make it your life's work. One of my fellow students did a master's thesis on Fern Gully. Kicked its ass up one side & down the other, undoubtedly. (Which reminds me: Derrida can avoid the topic of greatness because it goes w/out question in France. The question on the bac is about Rimbaud, not Asterix.)

The example of Spicer's reading -- wide, idiosyncratic, passionate -- shames me when I think of all the time I have wasted in graduate school.

  Bent over the old volume

. . .

Movie Comments Comment: Q & A with Moufida Tlatli after the PFA showing of her second film, The Season of Men

Any narrative artist from an underrepresented community will labor under two special pressures which conspire against the telling of any particular story that might be told:

  1. To be representative, in the same sense that a legislative body or Berkeley arts council might be. This pressure is antagonistic toward narrative structure per se, preferring a checklist approach.

  2. To tell a well-established story. Of course, this is a pressure felt by every narrative artist who needs outside funding or a living wage, but minority and Third World artists get it special: it's harder to get funding, "I don't get it" is likely to be mistaken for "You sold out," and there's the feeling that the artist's personal success will somehow reflect success on the community.
Resistance to one pressure lands the storyteller direct in the path of the other.

A singularly popular solution is to convince oneself that the story to be told is a representative collection of well-established stories, but this makes for one-hit wonders: to be representative is to be exhaustive.

. . .


The Joyce industry's balls-to-the-wall shift from amateur fannishness to academic respectability has dropped a moldy feather avalanche of fluff into journals and books, but that's only a minor annoyance. Now, if I was like Fritz Senn and had to go to lots of Joyce conferences, I'd probably be like Fritz Senn and be really annoyed about it -- I just attended my first Joyce conference this month, kind of hoping for something like Readercon's excellent panels, where some knowledgeable opinionated people knock ideas around with the audience, but instead finding a set up where one academic at a time reads a decidedly non-oral paper aloud, or almost aloud, for fifteen minutes -- what is the flipping point? -- when the heavily-accented guy mumbled a convoluted paper on Finnegans Wake and Lacan, doggedly including every single page reference, it was so over-the-top enervating that I almost had a giggle fit -- but, for good or for ill, I'm not at all like Fritz Senn, and so for me it's just a matter of gentle melancholy.

Gently heartening comes the news that our amateur ranks have just been incremented by the defection of James Joyce Quarterly editor Robert Spoo, who's left the University of Tulsa's English department to become a professional lawyer specializing in defenses of public domain. If it's true that intellectual property trials will be to this century what obscenity trials were to the last, it seems right to put a Joycean in the frontlines.

. . .

Meanwhile, some excellent object lessons in how not to handle transitions between the urgent and the mundane are being provided by the East Bay Express. (For those outside the area, the Express is a even dumber, even uglier sibling of the SF Weekly. Way back in olden times, when Dave Eggers was just a lousy cartoonist, the SF Weekly and East Bay Express were separate, independent, free weeklies. Then free-weekly-conglomorate New Times bought the SF Weekly, dropped most of its strongest points, inflated most of its weakest, and otherwise New-Times-ized it. And just this year, New Times went on to do pretty much the same to the East Bay Express, which, being a slightly weaker paper to begin with, now plays UPN to the Weekly's WB. I can't imagine why they bothered -- they'd already inundated the East Bay with SF Weekly boxes -- unless for the sadistic pleasure of firing Lynda Barry one more time....)

This week's letters pages were filled with long angry reactions to last week's cover, which showed the late Judi Bari wearing an "Earth First!" T-shirt and holding an Uzi ("The article is a wretched, wretched mess"), closed off by the following:


Last week's cover story ("The Unsolved Mysteries of Judi Bari") misidentified Brian Willson as a former Beach Boy. The Brian Willson that Judi Bari was referring to is a peace activist who had both his legs severed by a train during a protest.

While this week's cover manages to be even more tasteless:

Fig. 3: East Bay Express, Sept. 19
Best of the East Bay

(On "Page 9," by the way, the reader will find only an editorial -- not even a "Long-Time Berkeley Resident Feared Missing" headline.)

. . .

In the nick of time, tireless indexer Juliet Clark sends the following:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Alternate Season Episode Guide, 2000-2001
Out of My Mind (aired October 17, 2000)

Riley and I are getting to be good friends. We're tracking a pair of lowlifes who have been terrorizing the UC Sunnydale campus with a series of dimly-lit illegal boxing matches and offscreen murders. We discover that the hoodlums are headquartered at an abandoned gas station on the outskirts of town. We follow them there and proceed to beat them up. Suddenly somebody asks, "Where's Buffy?" Cut to the set of a Coppertone commercial, where Buffy and another blonde model are lying on beach towels. Nothing happens. Then we return to the action at the gas station, where Riley and I have tied the bad guys to an abandoned car and are taunting them with witty but not overly cruel remarks.

Into the Woods (aired Dec. 19, 2000)

Buffy is gazing out her bedroom window at night. She has a sweeping view of Santa Barbara; the neon lights on the Mission are glowing in the distance, and the houses on the hillside twinkle cheerily. Actually they are Christmas lights attached to a piece of plywood painted black, but the effect is still charming and romantic. Buffy looks pensive, knitting her eyebrows slightly as she continues to stare out the window. One of the little white lights goes out. "Riley?" Buffy seems to be sniffing the air, searching for something. "Riley?"

Intervention (aired April 24, 2001)

Spike has succeeded in luring Buffy back to his home, a trailer in the middle of People's Park in Berkeley. He claims to have found Buffy's lost purse under a bush, although obviously he stole it himself the last time they went to the movies; anyway, he invites her to his house to pick it up. In the trailer, Spike once again declares his love for Buffy. Buffy decides maybe she would like to sleep with him after all. The next morning, Spike shows Buffy all the things he's bought for the trailer, anticipating domestic bliss with his beloved. He's got a complete set of wooden spoons and several pounds of butter. Buffy is confused, then incensed. "Vampires don't eat butter! Anyway, I just wanted to get you out of my system." She exits. "You were almost as good as that robot," Spike mutters to the swinging cardboard door of the trailer.

Fall Season Preview (aired May 22, 2001)

Of course, Buffy is not really dead. She's been adopted by a family of vampires. This is legal because the vampires are not quite dead either. Angel turns out to be Buffy's step-brother. Hilarity ensues.

Fall Season Preview, Part 2 (aired July 15, 2001)

The ultra-secret Sunnydale Villains' Convention is underway, and by coincidence, the Scooby Gang is also holding a meeting at the conference hotel. They begin to suspect that something is wrong when they pass by the ballroom and see crowds of people dressed entirely in black leather. What they don't know yet is that the newest member of the Gang (a blonde who looks like an even smaller Sarah Michelle Gellar) is actually a spy for the villains' union! But soon she reveals her allegiance: she springs up in the middle of the Scooby meeting and swings her chair around her head, sending off sparks that threaten to zap the principal cast members' brains. This was why the new girl brought her own chair to the meeting, instead of sitting in the plush pink hotel furniture. Buffy tries to disarm the demon, but her magic chair seems to be indestructible. Luckily, Spike happens to have dropped in on the meeting; together, through a monumental effort, he and Buffy reduce the chair to tiny chunks of pressboard. When the chair is finally defeated, Spike breaks a remnant of leg into two tiny pieces. He puts one in his mouth and offers the other to Buffy. Gazing into each other's eyes, they eat the chair together, like bread.

Pre-Season Summer Movie Tie-In: Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (aired August 24, 2001)

A couple of idiots hear there's a Buffy fan convention coming up. They go to the mall in their Chicago suburb to buy costumes with sequins and special beaded glasses. They don't have any money, so they have to forge a check. But they can't decide what name to sign. They know the last name is Rodriguez, but the first name might be Matt, or Scott, or Jeff. While the clerk looks on, they practice various signatures in the margins of the check. After a while the exasperated clerk says, "Chinese proverb: even the woman with only one leg still has stinky feet. Also, those who have just hanged themselves are usually crazy." The clerk is not Chinese.

The First Annual Buffy Awards Ceremony (aired August 30, 2001)

Everyone's invited, even me. I discover that in fact I'm a member of the cast: I play the Irrelevant Older Friend. Because I'm just a recurring character and not a regular, I don't get a prize, but all the major players walk away with awards. All except Sarah Michelle Gellar, who is enraged. She complains to a security guard at the airport on the way home: "I even know the guy who put on this show! The last time I saw him he was all patting me on the nose and stuff, like we're supposed to be friends!" Later I'm sitting on the floor with some of the other cast members, discussing the upcoming season. Although I am only the Irrelevant Older Friend and not a professional, the other actors seem to value my opinion. I express my concerns: "There was something foreboding about the way Giles handed Buffy that bottle of detergent a couple of shows ago. I don't know, but somehow I felt that the show as we knew it ended with that gesture." The others nod thoughtfully.

. . .

September Gurl    
Although a Berkeley resident, I don't feel much team spirit -- dope-smoking morons and obnoxious rich kids aren't really my crowd -- but it is kind of neat how the harmless blather of our little city has made it a scandalous by-word nationwide, like it was Scottsboro or something....

+ + +

There's nothing coherent enough to call a "Left" in American politics. However, if a "Left" were to exist, it would probably be hanging around the Bay Area and Seattle and Portland; and if we try for an empirically based definition of what we find there, we probably do end up with something like synthetic zero's:

"... in the case of the far left, our side is always wrong. The left becomes a mere critiquer of the faults of our own society, and leaves the problems inherent elsewhere to someone else to criticize."
The Objectivist Party, in other words. No wonder it's so unpopular!

As for s.z.'s main point, I'm all for cultural imperialism. The sooner quaint tribal customs like gay bashing and Creationist teachers are wiped out, the better for everyone. I even love the tools of cultural imperialism -- books, movies, pop music, the Peace Corps, TV -- though I guess a disproportionate amount of my financial support goes to the Peace Corps.

The problems are that, first, despite the interest it holds for scholars and tourists, cultural imperialism alone isn't particularly effective: like, "All in the Family" was broadcast for years to Braymer, Missouri, without local attitudes changing. And, second, that the effort put into cultural imperialism is teensy compared with the efforts put into economic and political imperialism. It's generally less important to the imperialized than as a self-righteousness aid within the community of the imperializer.

Reconstruction was slightly about attempting to bring a nonracist society to the former Confederate states, but as practiced was even more about seizing property and power. European-Americans talked of bringing Christian civilization to our Native American brethren and sistren, but mostly brought eviction papers. Why is Cuba a criminal state and China most favored? The policy pivot in banana republics is the banana, not the republic.

So when those good old liberal humanist culturally imperialist banners are hoisted (long may they wave!), it's sensible to look for what might be hiding beneath them. It usually isn't all that hidden.


. . .

Having emerged from the interminable horror of World War II into the unterminable horror of a nuclear-powered Cold War, mid-century artists could see no way out but back. Post-apocalyptic pastoral cropped up in forms ranging from 1947's four hit versions of "Civilization (Bingo, Bango, Bongo)" to Bernard Wolfe's Limbo in 1950.

In 1946, director-writer-cartoonist Frank Tashlin published The Bear That Wasn't, a picture book in which a bear was driven into deep delusion by human contact. In 1950, Tashlin published The Possum That Didn't, in which an opossum was driven into deep depression by human contact. In 1951, while working on Son of Paleface, Tashlin published a third picture book, The World That Isn't, written and illustrated in much the same way as the earlier two books, but more unambiguously targeted at adults.

  The Artist Who Is

The Printing Press

Tashlin's message stayed as consistent as his technique: people may vary but their social institutions are inevitably insane. However, with the whole of humanity as its funny-animal protagonist, the third book follows a more ambitious path back to nature. Contemporary American existence is depicted in gag-busy pages and simultaneously "described" by a standard Western account of social evolution: the "Ice Age" is a drunken apartment party, the "discovery of the wheel" takes place in a town full of car accidents and happy morticians, time is measured, Christianity's gentle influence is felt, the printing press aids Man in his quest for knowledge....

Yoking high allegorical intent to his vulgar gag background, Tashlin doesn't distinguish between the familiar mild irritations of mid-century middle-class comedy (nagging wives, rude children, cheating contractors, taxes, billboards) and questions of life-and-death, and the conjunction sometimes jars.

But give him credit for following a premise through. Fantasists tend to wallow in daydreams of a fresh new start while simultaneously recoiling from the mass destruction needed to get there -- which, fairly or not, always seemed a bit irresponsible to me. Tashlin's proto-hippies and neo-arcadia are almost unique in being made possible by what's presented as a consciously -- and ethically -- intended apocalypse. Sort of like Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? with Burpelson Air Force Base in place of the chicken farm.

"In spite of the opposition, Man continued trying to think for himself, even though it was more difficult than... or... or... it was even more difficult than... or..."
He knew what to do...

. . .

Vision Statement

  What could be more appropriate

Twenty years ago I encountered Academia and ran away squealing like a libertarian.

But now I return.

What brought me back? One goal. One goal I have in mind. One monochromatic battle of darkness against light. I hate that stupid fight.

For I will never rest until an end's been put to high-resolution bitmaps and our cultural heritage has been saved by eight-color grayscale GIFs (or until I reach early retirement, whichever comes first). For every effin' U. teaches its baggy-jeaned tots and cane-wielding toddlers that strict two-color black-&-white is how digital archiving must be done, thus destroying all they digitally archive, and the U.s do more digital archiving than anyone, for they have much to destroy.

I don't know how this horrible delusion started. Maybe it's like some remnant of IBM punchcard chic. Long-term academic toiler Juliet Clark suggests it's because those B&W grislies at least reproduce predictably on laser printers. It might also be from numbing habituation to microfiche, or from world-is-language overdependence on OCR software since OCR software works off monochrome.

But open your eyes, people! And, once opened, roll them down the curvy lines and plump gradations, and past the obvious paper blotches, forgiving the poor pulped wood for its imperfections as it forgives ours, and back again. OCR software is even dumber than we are! And infinitely-high-contrast is why! Contextualized dark gray that doesn't fade into light gray on the outside and black on the inside is ignorable, and uncalloused vision is smart enough to know it. Dark gray mechanically transformed into black is noise, and black that shatters directly into white also approaches noise.

This is a disgrace, well-meant and hard-labored-over. This (via Portage) purportedly shows microfilm vs. paper, but (being merely two different digitalized graphics displayed on your monitor) actually shows bitmap vs. JPEG. Don't blindly follow the one-eyed king! Compare and decontrast. As the poet sang:

For what is a scan?
What has it got?
If not colors
Then it has dots.

. . .

Movie Comments Comment

So many folks boiling over with critical insight and political acumen! And post-movie Q&A sessions provide an irresistable opportunity to lance those boils.

  1. My Brother's Wedding at Pixar, Emeryville, CA

    Lots of great Qs here, including "Does the director know Martin Scorsese? Because [long demonstration that if you've never seen a Cassavetes movie, you'll think that anything with talkative city dwellers is ripping off Scorsese]" and the always popular "How much did it cost?" (Wrong answer, guessed at by the hapless host of the evening: "I'm not sure -- one point five million?" Right answer: $80,000.)

    Best of show:

    "You always hear about how African-Americans have absent fathers and single-parent families. But that didn't seem to be a problem in this film. So I can't help wondering: Just what is the real story here?"
    Which reminded me of someone at DEC who was talking about some political dispute in the news and concluded, "How can black people expect to get anywhere? They can't even agree on a candidate!" Except that guy at least had the excuse of being from New Hampshire and I at least got the relief of answering him. At Pixar, I was the guest of a nonprofit institution hoping to impress potential donors, so decorum was called for. And was maintained by my companion hustling me the fuck out of there.

  2. What Have I Done to Deserve This? at New Directors / New Films, NY, NY

    1985. Pedro Almodóvar's first movie in the States. Disgruntled director on stage, dressed to the nines and stoned to the gills. An extremely wealthy, old, and frail-looking lady in the audience, with a grandmotherly smile:

    "You wouldn't have been able to do this when General Franco was in charge, would you?"
    ... I have nothing to add to that.

  3. Prelinger Archives selections, and other movies, and songs, and books, and TV shows, and paintings, and photographs at PFA, Berkeley, CA, and other places

    A young academic male:

    "Paradoxically, though, I feel that [artifact] actually is subversive in a way, since [earnest explication of some detail of the artifact]..."
    This may be unheimlichly gauche of me to admit, but not all pleasures are, strictly speaking, subversive.

    For example, you know that warm feeling you get from someone agreeing with you? Or when you feel clever for working something out? Well, that's not actually called subversion.

    In fact, as a fellow comfortable guy, I'd say that the only context in which it makes sense for a comfortable guy to apply the word "subversive" to anything is when he's trying to have it banned.

. . .

Trading a living

The best way I can think of to memorialize last September 11 is to go to work late. That's how all the survivors I know of survived.

(When I worked at WTC myself, I probably tended towards promptness, or worse. It must be some delusion that I'm getting the job over with quicker that way.... But my most vivid memories of the place are simply of waiting for an elevator, joining in the competitive speculation over which would show first and be emptiest.

My most vivid memories that are my own, I mean.)

. . .

Fleet's In

"In the beginning of our government we were willing to introduce the least coercion possible on the will of the citizen. Hence a system of military duty was established too indulgent to his indolence. This [War of 1812] is the first opportunity we have had of trying it, and it has completely failed...."
I'm a liberal who wants a big fat federal government that gives big fat services to its citizens and rewarding employment to the citizens who staff those service industries -- one such service industry being the military. I respect the pacifists I've known infinitely more than the warmongers I've known, but abolishing the armed forces didn't work so well for Jefferson and Madison.

My opinion is biased by personal experience as well as historical evidence, since my father, my mother, and my brother are all Navy veterans. Our education, our excellent health care, and our eventual move to the middle class of the proletariat have all been funded by the Navy. Although I'm the odd civilian out -- it always being clear enough that my tour of duty would be divided between sick bay and the brig -- I'm grateful to the Navy. I simply wish more Americans had similar access to federally aided education, health care, and class mobility.

As you might imagine, should you feel up to imagining the feelings of someone who writes a weblog, I'm occasionally irritated by the presumptions of the fine young people who've surrounded me in Cambridge and San Francisco and Berkeley. If our armed forces have generally been deployed to bolster corporate profits -- well, what hasn't generally been deployed in that never-ending chore? including mass media, fast food restaurants, universities, computer programming, and much more that fine young people have no trouble sucking down? That happens to be the kind of history we're stuck in.

More often, though, I'm angered and frightened by what's behind their presumptions.

"... you'd think they'd treat our forces like human beings."
"That would be 'no'."

I blame the Vietnam War. That's safe enough; nobody likes the Vietnam War.

Talk about being "pro-military" or "anti-military" is as nonsensical (and common) as talk about being "pro-economy" or "anti-economy." There are at least two sides to an economy -- worker security and big business profits -- with party lines drawn between them. Just as clearly, there have always been at least two sides to the American military: the armed forces themselves and the profiteers who leech from them.

The leaders of the Republican Party have never been subtle (in their actions, anyway) about which of those sides concerns them. They were against the GI Bill as a democratizing force and they're certainly against bringing anything like it back. On the other hand, no pork barrel sweats more fat than military contracts: virtually no competition; virtually no punitive action for fraud; a captive audience of "consumers" whose whistleblowing can be stopped by direct order....

"In 1976, the senior military officers he polled were one-third Republican. Today, it's two-thirds. Liberals have all but evaporated. You go from a conservative-to-liberal ratio among senior ranks of 4-to-1 in 1976 to a ratio of 23-to-1 in 1996.... I was out in California recently, and a Marine told me that the commanding officer of his unit would play Rush Limbaugh's show over the unit's loudspeakers so everybody could listen to it while they worked."
By conflating those two sides into "the military," we've handed the armed forces over to politicians whose chief concern is profiteering, never more openly than in the current administration. "A strong military," "the military budget," "military spending" -- all these terms bandied about by the news media refer to transfer of money from taxpayers to the corporate friends of the Party. No distinction is made and thus no regard need be given to military personnel or national security -- as was made grotesquely apparent after last September's low-tech hijackings, when Bush claimed that the Star Wars pork fest was now more essential than ever.

Meanwhile, the left's withdrawal from and frequent vilification of "the military" has slaked the thirsty ghost of Joe McCarthy with sweet victory: the United States officer corps now consists overwhelmingly of right-wing extremists. Given the nature of the military hierarchy, once such a trend is in place, it's almost impossible to undo.

Except maybe through a resurgence of patriotism or a draft or whatnot....

. . .

"Well, guys, we've got to choose"

So asserts the most irritating stop on my regular weblog rounds.

The choices we're offered are a) a government that wastes its time trying to prop up lazy loser crybabies, or b) a government that stands firmly behind responsible highly-cultured hard-working individualists with rich daddies.

Well, guy, you missed one.

At over 900 pages, Rich Democracies is a brick worthy of laying upside your head, but Harold Wilensky's conclusions are easy enough to summarize:

There are a number of services that operate more smoothly (if never as smoothly as we'd like) when not held hostage to profit-making. Education, health care, mass transit, law enforcement, and the military come to mind. And those services benefit all classes.

Or they can, when the government tends to anything other than petulance and greed.

Why, I remember a time in America when even the upper-middle-class attended public schools. Nowadays, working couples scramble to top their mortgages and auto loans with high school tuition fees, and have to hope the children will be capable of scrambling for their own crippling debts once they reach college age.

I'm not sure why they didn't teach you this at Princeton.

I can guess, though.

. . .

"Ouaii? ... O! Re! Come il King!"
"Che? ... Ah, si, si! Come i Kinks!"

- Florentine conversation, 1989

Less theoretically, the mention of hip-hop summons forth a name capable of jerking the choke-chain on any lengthy bullshit Elvis rap: James Brown.

James Brown! the very words are like a bell!

In the 1950s, Brown covered as wide a stylistic range as Presley with more authority; his Wynonie Harris and Roy Brown derivations gave jump the best vocals it ever got. Then in the 1960s, when Presley was just screwing around, Brown invented a whole new style. Then in the 1970s, when Presley was just screwing around, Brown invented a whole new style again. Brown was producer and writer, singer and performer, America's Beethoven and Nijinski combined. And, unlike any of those guys, he shared a movie credit with the Queen, Lesley Gore: Ski Party, whose dialog supplied what I hope to be my own last words before succumbing to hypothermia: "Why, you're not the ski patrol! You're James Brown and the Famous Flames!"

So why aren't we celebrating James Brown twice a year (birthday and parole date), and why isn't he getting two-volume fifteen-pound biographies, and why aren't tourists swamping the name of the place Augusta GA, and why don't blowhards like Greil Marcus and me blow harder his way?

My blowhard instinct tells me to return to the initial thesis: James Brown was the hardest working man in show business, professional dancer, professional musician, whereas Elvis Presley's version of "TCB" was more like a four-year-old visiting daddy's construction site -- "What's this lever do?", and so on.

Amateurism don't cover all the bases, though. Frank Sinatra was both professional and criminally obnoxious, and you didn't see him dragged off to prison in his late 50s.

Nah, I'm afraid the answer's plain racism.

Of course, if I decide to drop concerns of narrative and media attention and think in terms of actual achievement, I have to admit that I don't listen to Brown all that often or Presley all that often. As far as career accomplishment goes, and it's pretty far in these cases, I haven't attended Presley nearly as much over as extended a period as Smokey Robinson, or the Ramones, or Louis Jordan (another natural born movie star), or Van Morrison, or Thelonious Monk, or, for that matter, since period extension doesn't matter that much if you can put the greatest hits on repeat, Nellie Lutcher, or the Shangri-Las, or Slim and Slam, or Gene Pitney, or, give 'im credit, Rufus Thomas.

Take away even the supportive statistics-slanting narrative of a reasonably sized career, and I find that mostly my shell-like ear is dedicated to scooping up popular music's brine shrimp and sea monkeys. Like Sam Phillips must've realized somehow deep inside, the moment doesn't require that narrative: the sales crew is who wants the narrative.

Maybe that's why us old-timey hip-hop fans have been let down, over and over, when we thought the star who could sustain had finally appeared out of the east or the west, re-establishing that nice secure rock-and-roll career path so the musicians who gave us pleasure wouldn't have to be scrounging around at pension time. Who we got as a grand old master all these years later, post Flash and Run and Roxanne and Markie and Marley and L. L. and Scott and the JBs and Kool G. and Polo? Dr. Dre, huh? Fuck. Dr. Dre, that's it?

Elvis means something to me, but the meaning only requires occasional pinches to wake it up. So Elvis must mean something outside of just listening to music proper.

That would make him a figurehead. A person who's a symbol. In this case, a hillbilly cat screwed up by too much money.

Is that politics? Kind of.

That's the thing with kings, right? They're politics, they're apolitical; person, symbol; your enemy, and not even in the same game. You don't get to pick them, and it doesn't matter much what you think of them. They change things when they show up. They're what you're stuck with till they die. (And if you're a good patriotic American, you won't be all that quick to replace them.)

And amongst the royalty? Forgetting Smokey and Mr. Jordan and so on, who were just working hard, doing their thing? Compared to icy pricks like Sinatra and Bing Crosby? Yeah, Elvis is my king.

. . .

The other night, in the Q&A following Frederick Wiseman's The Last Letter, was submitted what may be the quintessential Berkeley movie comment. The movie's heroine (and sole character) is a patriotric Soviet woman who, ghettoized by the Nazi occupation, finds herself embracing the traditional identities (Jew and Ukrainian) used as justification for her suffering and murder. The soundtrack is pure recited text, except for one hummed lullaby. Thus the Q:

"I thought the music was very beautiful and soothing. It sounded like a Native American melody to me, and so I was wondering what particular chant...."

. . .

Jack Spicer Is Dead, Alas

And when he was my teaching assistant, there was a course that I think was a model course that probably isn't taught anymore at Berkeley, a course called "Writing in Connection with Reading Important Books of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries." It's a very pretentious title. But the idea was that the student would read the book and would then write a paragraph showing the relationship between the book and what the student wrote, and what the student wrote could be poetry, fiction, essays, or a critique of the book, anything they wanted. Now, I had what I thought was a pretty substantial list, but when Jack came in he added all sorts of things. For instance, he added a whole section on science fiction, and that was very good because there is very good writing in that genre. And it was good for the students to read it, and it was good for them to try and do something parallel if they wanted to. But Jack was the perfect assistant to that class, and he extended the course, made more things possible. He was very sympathetic with students. The only student he didn't like was one who was writing stories that would go into the New Yorker. And it wasn't anybody who actually wrote stories later for the New Yorker, but that's what they were like. But anything else was OK with him.

Thomas Parkinson interviewed by Jack Foley, 1991
Talisman 10, Fall 1993

. . .

Movie Comment: Robert Gitt's road show of outtakes from The Night of the Hunter

Although more consistently harrowing, suspenseful, and amusing than the released work, I wouldn't describe the evening as revelational.



. . .

Anne Tardos & Jackson Mac Low, Wheeler Hall, UC Berkeley

So This Is Procreation!

. . .

Francis in the Army Corps of Engineers

Our too-infrequent correspondent Jessie Ferguson:

> it always seemed to me that agreement on the existence of some sort of
> outside world that had to be referred to was basically healthy. At least
> I've known some pretty sane science majors.

this is very true -- to the point of cliche? hm. i was reminded of it recently at a coffeehouse where some professor was holding office hours at a nearby table, going on and on about poststructuralist social theory. i don't hold theoretical discussions against people -- theory certainly has its place -- but i was particularly struck thinking later about the lack of real-world applications of the theories by their proponents. part of the trouble is that there is not a push for consensus among theorists or researchers in the social sciences, whereas there is in the natural sciences. there is no sense that it's "just fine" that people would do entire lifetimes of work on the same problems, taking completely divergent approaches and making incommensurable assumptions, in the sciences, because one of those sets of assumptions & approaches must be better than the other -- or else, by definition, you're looking at two different sorts of problem. so it's highly inefficient because people can waste so much time staking out their theoretical territory rather than working towards a shared body of knowledge. this is fine, i think, in fields which concern, say, pure aesthetics rather than praxis -- there doesn't have to be a Grand Unified Theory Of Jane Austen -- but it would be *helpful* if there were some very general consensus about how people are conditioned by social norms, for instance. if you didn't have completely different assumptions about human behavior being made by marxian sociologists and classical economists, both doing current work, both contributing & producing research papers, winning awards, being allowed to train other sociologists and economists or influence policy or what have you. in terms of any sort of reality, can these two (hypothetical) accounts really *both* be accurate?

to put it another way: if you ask me about the research i'm doing in biology and i say, well, i'm examining the ability of receptor x to respond to events y and z and i'm about to present the work at a conference, it would be pretty strange if i added that no matter what i said, five out of ten people were going to disagree with me -- but so what. or even something like having a paper in spectroscopy read by a particle physicist who would then declare that it was right from a chemistry perspective but wrong from a physics perspective. these things don't really happen. yet i think the "you have your story, i have mine" reply is fairly common in the social sciences and the socially-conscious humanities...

this is probably why people who do work in the humanities and actually care about the work they do get into trouble emotionally -- the only ones i've seen having a good time with it are the ones who are completely mercenary and basically see graduate school or the professoriate as a means to maintaining class privilege without the burden of a corporate job/lifestyle. by that i don't mean any disrespect. not much, anyway. to be honest, i wouldn't weep if some of those sinecures dried up -- i have a hard time believing anyone has a right to a life of the mind when it's so often a thinly disguised right to be economically supported at barely-sustainable levels at the expense of people who are no less talented or perceptive.

which... sigh... makes me sound like a socialist again. but i think it is hard fucking work enlightening people and there isn't any point in getting credit for doing it halfway... i think there is a benefit to social and cultural theory, but that in the current state of academia very few people benefit from it -- compared to the countless many who are directly affected by the Cato Institute and the World Bank and other organizations of interest to theory-loving goons. and i don't see that i have much power to change that.

so no, i don't know that i'm turning my back on the humanities themselves. i'm not writing any more papers on how milan kundera is a bastard, though.

It's true that the humanities don't support the law of noncontradiction. And I'm down with that; I'm an aesthete, not a logical positivist.

Still, it seems only fair that when we resign the duty of logical coherence, we should also give up our right to the rhetoric of indefinitely extendable "proof."

The little mystery we've been considering here is is just how empty most stuff published as humanities scholarship is. Not necessarily how foolish, or misguided, or self-conflicted it is, but how much nothin' fills the journals, and how much one nothin' tastes like another no matter what the trademark promises. Goofy Grape or Choo Choo Cherry, who can tell?

Ferguson's comparison helps clear that up for me. We can plod along in the sciences, filling crannies, verifying results or their lack, and so on, and still be producing something even if it's not discipline-shattering. But there are no negative results in the humanities: I can't construct an experiment that will convincingly prove that Lacanian analysis has nothing useful to tell us about the novels of William Dean Howells. Which leaves plodding-along humanities scholars able and prodded to demonstrate nothing-to-say one individual case at a time.

I'm afraid that Ferguson's probably also right to call this hard-won insight a cliché. Francis Bacon anticipated it, for one:

But the Idols of the Theatre are not innate, nor do they steal into the understanding secretly, but are plainly impressed and received into the mind from the play-books of philosophical systems and the perverted rules of demonstration. To attempt refutations in this case would be merely inconsistent with what I have already said: for since we agree neither upon principles nor upon demonstrations there is no place for argument. And this is so far well, inasmuch as it leaves the honour of the ancients untouched.

And in the plays of this philosophical theatre you may observe the same thing which is found in the theatre of the poets, that stories invented for the stage are more compact and elegant, and more as one would wish them to be, than true stories out of history.

In "the academic Left," we see the dispiriting spectacle of a holy crusade conducted against the Idols of the Marketplace for the Idols of the Theater.

It's not much of a match.

. . .

Thus I refute Berkeley

Expand your mind and your ass will follow.


If I titled comments, I would title this one "Au Hasard Balthazar":
why would a donkey follow a mind?
And this one "Jour de Fête":
So is my ass too big because my bike has a flat tire? Or did the tire go flat because my ass is too big?
we are all slaves to our sphincters

Given how fecund the coupling of Women & Nietzsche has been, I predict lasting glory for the first academic to propose the topic Digestion & Nietzsche. Nietzsche wrote more (and with deeper feeling) about his digestion than about women; yet so far as I know the subject remains untouched. Even Turbulent Velvet might be won over once the Master-Slave relationship is understood as an allegory of Nietzsche's extended struggle with constipation

. . .

"Critique & Proposals" by Chandler Davis

By far the best available introduction to the nonmathematical work of Chandler Davis is Josh Lukin's interview with him in Paradoxa 18. Among many enticing but unavailable texts, it mentions an informal piece of argumentation from 1949. Hearing of my curiosity, Dr. Lukin very kindly lent me a copy. And, hearing of my interest in sharing the work, Professor Davis very kindly lent me permission to publish it online. I thank them both.

You'll have your own reasons to find it interesting. Here are a few of mine:


Kip Manley notices:
You're back!

Which means I get to spend some time, at least, musing on how comics does something similar to SF (yet again)--

"From birth, science fiction has been defined (and bounded) by a community whose ambiguities of consumer, critic, and producer more resemble philosophical schools or high art movements than commercial publishing genres."

Though there's far more of a distrust of the critical enterprise in comics than in SF. --Artists, you know?

Anyway: there's as vibrant if more brief a history of APAs in comics, too. Scott McCloud lists his inventions in the field of comics, which include such notable creations as Five-Card Nancy and the 24-Hour Comic; he used to include the Frying Pan, a comics APA he founded back (I think) in the early '80s. But he doesn't anymore, because who knows from APAs?

I think he's still got them in a box somewhere in Thousand Oaks. At least I hope so: lots of comics history in there, in a raw, unfiltered form. But formalists are lousy packers, and they've moved a lot in the past few years.

I should feel ashamed that mere dayjob (backed up by a bit of illness and hardware trouble) kept me offline longer than a hurricane and homelessness have Tom Matrullo. But I'm too relieved to build up a good head of mea culpa.

Yes, the critical distinction is why I didn't mention comics myself. But it's true that American comics are another "commercial art" built on uneconomically passionate emulation and argument, with similar adolescent fans, similar reliance on self-publishing, and Dan Pussey as son of Jonathan Herovit. And I suppose one might make a case for some ambiguity even in the realm of criticism, albeit more among the pros than the fans or one could bring up the ambiguous role of the collector....

That ol' renegade Tom Parmenter is interested too, although I suspect he has stories of his own to tell. And I see that during my recent exile from good fellowship, The Mumpsimus appreciated Phil Klass.

The Happy Tutor reunifies compliment and complement.

David Auerbach returns, and very welcome he is, too:

I guess what I think of is how, with the regularly occurring exception (what comes to mind is that EC comics story where the astronaut takes off his helmet at the end and...he's black!!!) specifically designed to appeal to racial and cultural issues, science-fiction went for a casual universalism, at least in its "golden age." What I remember of reading old-style genre sf were characters with purposefully vague or unnatural names (Jermbo Xenthos, e.g.), which had little to no bearing on their position in the story. Since genre sf tended to revolve around the conceptualization of a single (usually recycled) idea, attendant aspects of character were incidental at best; I haven't read it in years, but I believe this even applies to the Asian protagonist of Delany's "Babel-17". Even something like Heinlein's racist "Fifth Column" is not "about" the race of its characters qua characters. The Asians might as well be aliens (and the story would have had slightly firmer scientific grounding if they had been).

With gender, it only partly applies. The same dichotomy--women are either indistinguishably "one of the guys" with their anatomy switched around, or else a brainless love interest whose role is determined wholly by their gender--usually applies, but the love interest is considerably more common and incidental because of the more common presence of a secondary love story. I remember thinking this when I read Asimov as a kid. It also seems that as male authors grow older, the ratio gradually tilts away from the former. I got more compelling portraits of, for instance, farmers (in Clifford Simak) and manic-depressives (in Theodore Sturgeon) from sf than I ever did of women or minorities.

This is evidently not what Davis wanted, as he says, but the failure of sf to meet his expectations seems more grounded in the agreed-upon restrictions of the genre rather than the failed imaginations of the authors. The generic restrictions of plot, character, and ideas would have made a socially progressive agenda stick out like a sore thumb. I always found "Stand on Zanzibar" very difficult to get through precisely because he approaches Davis's issues from the standpoint of problems to be solved through ideological architecture rather than areas meriting in-depth exploration. In the same way, you wouldn't go to Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" for a revelation of the social relations of the immigrant community. They're just too goal-directed.

Chandler Davis himself provides some additional thoughts:

I think it's true that the spirit of our APAs lives on electronically, without the health effects of inhaling hektograph solvent. As to my then simplified spelling, if that doesn't live on I won't mourn it.

My post mortem on my essay of 55 years ago is just what I told you I thought it would be: it's not all just what I would say today, but it was worth saying.

I don't think I told Josh or you one of the striking responses to my essay. Isaac Asimov remarked that when he wanted to make his character Preem Palver as harmless as possible (so that it would be a surprise when he turned out to be the most powerful guy in the galaxy), he gave him the accent & mannerisms of his father, an East European Jewish immigrant. (Didn't call him Jewish, though, I guess.)

. . .

Consumer News

A free market is a dumb market. I mean, even aside from its stubborn feuds with education, health, species survival, and so on even on its own terms of delivering quality goods to people who'll pay for them, it's a screw-up. Look at how short-sighted zombie-lived speculative greed over copyright has blocked consumer access to a wealth of wonderful reissues. Look at the Betamax. Or fresh produce.

But in those cases I know what went wrong. A more mysterious failure of American capitalism is the vanishing of orange bitters, key to such classic cocktails as the Manhattan which can bull on through regardless of casualties, like the Dirty Dozen Minus Two and, more tragically, the martini.

A mere mix of gin and dry vermouth is as dull, oily, and incoherent as the defeated executives who classically swill it. But with a brush of this liquid Philosopher's Stone, in a harp-and-bell glissando a bad marriage becomes a Drink an sich and you're transformed from Henry Jones to William Powell.

So why isn't it stocked anywhere? It's not like the bottles are that big.

Anyway, I'm not saying this just to taunt you, unless you don't live in the East Bay. I found a shelf that carries orange bitters at Monterey Liquors, 1590 Hopkins, Berkeley, conveniently near a source of fresh produce. Go thou and do likewise. (As garnish for the complete Cholly Martini, olives stuffed with preserved lemon are available from the Spanish Table on San Pablo Ave.)


Je zia sano!

Off your vole! (A raised glass: the truly universal language.)

By gum, that's an inestimable public service you just performed. Come over some time for a martini or three. -paul

It'll take a while to work out just which Paul this is. Happily, I have almost a pint of orange bitters.

I've been reminded that some connoisseurs "suggest simply allowing a ray of sunlight to shine through a bottle of Noilly Prat before it hits the bottle of gin." And it's true that the most sophisticated solution to bad marriages is to spend days at the office and nights at the Club. Hélas! I am a sentimental shopkeeper at heart.

Jordan turns out to be a child of privilege. Huh.

Under the provocatively proper subject line "I like 2:1 myself", brilliant Richard Butner pours:

Agree on free market = dumb market. Oh so many examples.

[...] But, re: the cinepad link in your recent post. Ahem. Bunuel (sorry, no tilde in this mail program) was right about a lot of things, but probably not the proper role of vermouth in martini construction. (At least he got the brand right.) See LCRW #12! A martini without vermouth is just a punchline to a bad joke.

I'm with you and we are right. I tried to let the spirit of Buñuel down soft and easy with some self-deprecation, but the sincerity of my self-deprecation wasn't meant to negate the sincerity of myself. I like the idea of a saved marriage.

A martini without vermouth is just a reference. Not even a joke. And I know the difference, 'cause I can't tell jokes.

. . .

The Quarrel between Philosophy and Philosophers

UC Berkeley, September 9, 2004, "The place of the Republic in Plato's political thought"

During a rushed tour of Plato's imaginary cities, grumbling at the pace, Christopher Rowe snapshot these antitheses:

  1. A city of philosophers needs no laws, but only philosophy determines just laws.
  2. In a flawed society, a philosopher is the only genuinely happy man, but a genuinely happy society has no need of philosophy.
  3. The split between early Plato and late Plato, with the Republic setting the border, doesn't represent a change in philosophy but a change in intended audience.

Rowe draws the line midway through Book II, after Socrates has described his ideal community: small, peaceful, and unambitious.

"For a dessert they shall have figs, chick-peas and beans. They will roast myrtle berries and acorns in the fire, all the while drinking in moderation. Living this way in peace and health, they all can probably expect to reach old age and pass on the same life to their children."

"But this is fare for a city of pigs, Socrates. Would you provide nothing else?"

"What do you suggest, Glaucon?"

"The usual things. If the people are not to be uncomfortable, they must be able to recline on couches and dine from tables. They ought to have sauces and sweetmeats the way we do."

"Now I understand what you mean. We are to consider the origins not simply of a city as such but of a luxurious city."

In Rowe's telling, Socrates (and Plato) remains perfectly satisfied with his earlier arguments, as he would have remained perfectly satisfied in his City of Pigs; he only changes his account (and his city) to deal with a different class of interlocutor. The myths of the Republic, like the laws of the Laws, are a second-best substitute for dialectic, since, unfathomably, not all citizens understand that happiness lies there rather than in their fevered appetites.

After Rowe's performance, another scholar heatedly submitted that, at the end of Book I, anyway, Socrates doesn't sound at all perfectly satisfied with his earlier arguments. The passages at issue seemed to me (no reader of Greek) too calculatingly ambiguous to ever settle the dispute, but both parties became vehement. As I listened to them, I thought about the treacherous allure of dialectic. What we desire is a collaborative effort at truth; what we slip into unawares is something more like civil litigation. From philosopher to vanity sophist in one frequent move and you know what they say about lawyers who represent themselves.

Writing exacerbates such slippage; we tend to treat our written word as our stake in the ground or our stake in the game. This troubles those of us who value discourse over intellectual property.

And yet when Plato attacks writing in Phaedrus, he leaves that aspect unmentioned. Instead, a writer himself, he attacks writing for not encouraging the illusion enough:

A writing cannot distinguish between suitable and unsuitable readers. And if it is ill-treated or unfairly abused it always needs its parent to come to its rescue; it is quite incapable of defending or helping itself.

Hey, what happened to the selfless play of dialectic? We no longer seem to be talking about conversation, something that multiple people have, but about something that one particular person makes. Something that needs to be defended, like a child.

And a stiflingly sheltered child at that. There's no recognition that our child might want to grow up, run with a fast crowd, listen to music we don't approve of, and maybe even settle down with an unsuitable partner and make some spiteful children of its own.

Well, just wait till dad kicks off.


Leigh Fullmer lays out a winning compaign platform:

in the ideal city, magnesia or not, i'm for lying, for "singing of beautiful and impossible things, of things that are lovely and that never happen, of things that are not and that should be" (oscar wilde). it's a generous kind of magicking for each other, nein? such lying gets around the problem of audience by sheer surfeit.
i thought christopher rowe was a writer from kentucky

You thought right, my friend! That other guy should have been billed as "Christopher Rowe UK".

. . .

In Search of Beezark

Into Me and My Gal's 19 days of shooting and 79 minutes of footage Raoul Walsh and team crammed comedy, romance, suspense, melodrama, sex both obsessive and healthy, a mute quadraplegic war vet, a lot of drinking, a cafe straight out of Thimble Theater, and a startlingly ahead-of-its-time caper sequence, and still maintained a relaxed keep-the-cameras-rolling kind of mood.

But that's not the point. The point is that Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett keep using the word "beezark" (or "beezok") the same way they use "dope", as a roughneck endearment.

They really love that word. It's kind of infectious.

And, according to pre-Code ace Juliet Clark, in 1933's The Mayor of Hell, Jimmy Cagney addresses a reform school guard as "Ya screw... ya beezok" (or "beezark").

The "beezark" spelling is fairly well attested on the web:

It doesn't appear, however, in the OED or Webster's or the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, or in any of the several dozen reference works at UC Berkeley except one goddamned thesaurus where it's listed bare-assed as a "Term of disparagement", or in the archives of American Speech.

The last time I asked my readers for slang origins, it worked out pretty well. (I found the origin myself, but that's still pretty well.) This time the challenge is so great that I feel compelled to ask non-readers even. Any idea where this comes from?


beezark, n. : from the Old Norse 'baresark' or 'berserker'; one who is sufficiently incensed in battle to remove his upper garment (the sark or bearnie) and run amuck. Hence any lunatical or foolish fellow, ne'er-do-well, nincompoop or ragamuffin.

Thanks, Anon, our source for all good things. As a reader of Celtic and Icelandic sagas and a resident of Berkeley, that coincidence came to my mind as well. But "ber" to "bee" seemed a wide unattested leap to take across centuries of intervening North American immigrations, and so I didn't trust my instincts. Do you have a reason to? I'm just folk, and you know how people talk about folk etymology.

UPDATE: Language Hat, that wonderful wonderful Hat, to the rescue:

You may be having problems because you're spelling it "wrong" (though of course the spelling of slang terms isn't exactly set in stone); my reference books have it as "bezark." The Historical Dictionary of American Slang says:

bezark [orig. unkn.] an odd or contemptible man or woman. ca1925 in D. Runyon Poems for Men 15: This bezark... was once so quiet that we called him Silent Sam. 1929 in R.E. Howard Book 64: At this moment some bezark came barging up to our table and... leaned over and leered engagingly at my girl. Ibid. 78: Add to this the fact that he frequently shoved me against the wall, and you can get an idea what kind of a bezark I was fighting. 1932 AS (June) 329: Bezark -- a person [at Johns Hopkins Univ.]. 1942-49 Goldin et al. DAUL 259: Don't crack to that bezark (girl) of yours about touches (robberies).

(You can read an excerpt of the Robert E. Howard story here.)

And Cassell says:

bezark n. [1920s-40s] (US) an eccentric or unpleasant person. [? SE berserk]

I checked "beezark", I checked "beezok", I checked "bizok", but, dang, I must not have checked "bezark".

I mentioned this to one of your non-readers this afternoon, and he said they don't like it when you talk about them. He said they had a file, some charts, a graph or two. That it came up at meetings. And that's all he'd say about it.

How irksome.

Cobra Libre writes:

I don't actually have anything useful to add to "In Search of Beezark," but, by happy coincidence, my nighttime reading has recently taken a detour into Icelandic sagas, and so last night I opened up my new used copy of "Egil's Saga" to read:

"There was a man called Ulf Bjalfason. His mother was Hallbera, daughter of Ulf the Fearless, and she was the sister of Hallbjorn Half-Troll of Hrafnista, father of Ketil Trout. Ulf was so big and powerful that there was no one to match him. As a young man he used to go off on viking trips looking for plunder, and his partner in these was a man of good family called Berle-Kari, strong and full of courage. He was a berserk."

I'd like that last sentence on my tombstone, but I'm far too shy to run around amuck shirtless.

Me, I'd like the second sentence on my tombstone.

In fact, I'd like so many things on my tombstone, I may have to die more than once. Luckily, I'm a coward!

I happened to be re-reading 'The Thirteen Gun Salute' by Patick O'Brian just before checking in here, and there was an amusing (short) exchange between Jack and Stephen on the subject of 'running amock' 'or amuck?', Jack wonders; the subject comes up because of a couple of beserkers in Malaya who are, well, running amok, cutting people up. 'What a fellow you are, Stephen!' - Renfrew

UPDATE: In June 2005, the American Dialect Society Mailing List treated the subject. One poster noted many instances of "Bezark" as a surname. I'd noticed that myself, guessing that it's a corruption of the even more common family name "Bizok". And, as I had, he wondered whether the slang term might be a derogatory generalization. No evidence so far, though.

On firmer ground, Ben Zimmer moves the word's first printed attestation back to May 25, 1919:

"THE BUGS have no use for the beezark who carries a picture of himself in the back of his watch. It's a crippled loving cup that only has one handle." - "Two and Three: Putting the Next One Over" by Bugs Baer, Atlanta Constitution

Zimmer cited some more examples from Baer's column, and asked "Did Baer coin it, or just popularize it?"

UPDATE: A year later, and reader john l adds:

I stumbled across your reference to Thomas Thursday and the use of the word "beezark." Thursday used this term frequently in his humorous pulp stories. The first instance I know of occurs in "Missed in Missouri" (Top-Notch Magazine, May 15, 1920): "We put half of the side show on the bally doing all kinds of stunts, but didnít succeed in getting more than five beezarks to squander a dime." "Beezark" is one of many comic invectives he employed, e.g. yamneck, yapbean, dilbo, boobist, hickwah, etc. Thursday's publishing record is thin prior to 1920, but there's a remote chance he predates your 1919 refs, but it wouldn't be by much.

UPDATE 2010-10-21 : Terence O'Connell adds:

Another movie instance, which started my search: near the end of Sailorís Luck, a 1933 Raoul Walsh movie, James Dunn is quarreling with his girl friend Sally Eilers, whom he suspects of infidelity, and says something that sounds like "All you beezoks are alike."

UPDATE 2012-05-26 : Justin Patton adds (much to my embarrassment, since I bought the source text back in the 1980s):

Stumbled across “Beezark” in a Thimble Theater strip from October 12, 1929, and when looking it up online I found your site. Popeye and Castor Oyl are scammed into buying a “brass mine” in the Beezark Mountains, and then travel there to find that it doesn’t exist. The Beezark Mountains, or Beezark Center as it is later referred to over the next few months in the strip, are the primary location of the story arc that lasts until 1930, and are referenced several times. The residents of the Beezark area seem to be poor, naïve, farmers with large numbers or children, and many of them are represented sporting long beards and of advanced age (the police officer, fire chief, etc.). It seemed as though they might have been roughly based on residents of the Ozark Mountain area of the time.

October 12, 1929 – “Popeye and myself are going down to the Beezark Mountains and locate our brass mine.” – Castor Oyl

February 13, 1930 – “It happened about a month ago – I was strolling along the beach near Beezark Center in America.” – Fanny Foster

There are many other references between these two and afterwards, including a misspelling at one point of “Bezark”.

. . .


(Pumped out for the sake of The Valve)
The use of the essay, for example, a kind expressing liberal interest at first, began with Humanism in the sixteenth century; and one of its forms, the miscellaneous familiar essay, ceased to be popular after the crisis of Humanism in the 1930s.
- Alastair Fowler, Kinds of Literature

At 9 PM on Saturday June 18, the Pacific Film Archive at UC Berkeley is showing a revisionist Western from 1972, Dirty Little Billy. All later muddy streets seem thin in comparison: puddled with New Age puke or John Ford horsepiss. Given its timing, a few of the Billy demythologizers may have benefited from personal experience of frontier communes.

Was the movie intended as history or satire? To some extent, whether you're mocking or creating is decided later, by who notices what and how they respond. Artmaking is largely about being distracted from your original purpose; sometimes you even wake up in a new neighborhood. If you want to explain Robert Browning's influence on Ezra Pound, you could start worse than with a Browning parody like "The Cock and The Bull":

I shoved the timber ope wi’ my omoplat;
And in vestibulo, i’ the lobby to-wit,
(Iacobi Facciolati’s rendering, sir,) ...

That's a recent addition to an ongoing retrospective of a Century of Imitation, along with Calverley's "Proverbial Philosophy":

A maiden’s heart is as champagne, ever aspiring and struggling upwards,
And it needed that its motions be checked by the silvered cork of Propriety:
He that can afford the price, his be the precious treasure,
Let him drink deeply of its sweetness, nor grumble if it tasteth of the cork.

Also Thomas Hood Jr.'s Poe, worthied by its expiring exclamation!, and Swinburne's "The Person of the House", which literalizes Victorian reticence as "That Only a Mother" later literalized pulp science fiction reticence and to similar effect, as well as another online copy of Swinburne's magnificent "Nephelidia".

In other serialization news, Paul Kerschen has just begun serializing a free translation of Franz Kafka's diaries, alongside the original German. And if you aren't already following the lifework of W. N. P. Barbellion, 1910 is the year his journal completes its transition from dissection of other species to vivisection of our own. As the few remaining years go by and he consults and reconsults his own archives, we'll see Barbellion develop a craving for precursors or peers. He'll read Portrait of an Artist and decide he and James Joyce have struck the same vein independently. Later still he'll excitedly decide he's just like Marie Bashkirtseff.... "Is there one who understands me?"

But once your isolating eccentricity does turn out to be a community, new issues arise. I believe Djuna Barnes said everything worth saying about surveys: "I am sorry but the list of questions does not interest me to answer. Nor have I that respect for the public." Yet since Mr. Waggish is a compatriot to whom I owe the deepest respect, if Mr. Waggish requests something, I must assume Mr. Waggish has good reason, and therefore:

Total number of books I've owned: I buy books because of not always having had access to a good library ("I will never go stupid again!"), but I winnow them because of moving fairly often in the past, but I still want to re-read more books each year so the collection does grow, and because I've lived in one place with access to a good library for a while I've been buying fewer books but unread bought books are piling up. So maybe four times the number of books I have now? Roughly. Within a factor of ten.
Last book I bought: It was a group. A translation of Heinrich von Kleist's Penthesilea, the new Hans Christian Andersen translation, Ron Silliman's Under Albany, and Justine Larbalestier's Magic or Madness.
Last book I read: This must mean what I'm in the midst of reading since the next query is the "Last book I finished"? Mostly right now Kinds of Literature by Alastair Fowler.

It's free of nonsense, and, for all its easy style, extremely concise: virtually every page of this library volume is mostly underlined, the table of contents bears a jot by each chapter title, and I found there a improvised torn-paper bookmark with the scrawled note "BUY WHOLE BOOK?" (It's out of print, of course.) Two-thirds of the way through and Fowler's heroic attempt to revive the form of the Anatomy became a worthwhile drama of its own.

In 1982, I would've argued against Fowler's low opinion of the works recovered by feminist critics, but, hey, by 2005, I bet he might argue against himself. I'm possibly more skeptical that something fixedly "literary" can be found in all the works that drift in or out of literature, but that disagreement means less in practice than I thought at first. I may know a bit more about contemporary American genres, but that's to be expected; Fowler is sensible with the parts he knows, and he has a far wider and more detailed grasp of literary history than my autodidacticism has managed. His biggest difficulty may be the usual academic one of distance from working artists. Genre doesn't just happen between books; it's also a way for the author to feel less lonely for a bit (before feeling betrayed). Publishing isn't just to make money; it's also to make contact (before getting an unlisted number).

Fowler's book was recommended to me by Wendy Walker. If Wendy Walker is a new name to you, for the love of god, drop that copy of Emma Brown and hie ya. I'd like to tell you how I came to get a book recommendation from Wendy Walker. I commuted daily between Nashua NH and Cambridge MA, and I read something about Samuel R. Delany appearing at some convention between, so I stopped there. Formal emphasis was placed on the most ambitious class of science fiction and fantasy, but participants also included small press publishers, readers of contemporary poetry, and listeners to contemporary music. Our conversations were intriguing enough to bring me back the next day. I kept in touch with some of the people I met that weekend, and one of them, Don Keller, kept suggesting I write down some of what I spun in conversation. I started doing so, and the practice eventually became habitual.

Wendy Walker's work is sui generis. But some genres are friendlier towards the sui than others. Her novel The Secret Service seemed to me one of the great books to be found in the 1990s, but who would find it? I browsed shelves randomly and was fortunate enough to live by shelves which included Sun & Moon Press, most of whose other contemporary authors were poets poets I admired, but whom I knew to be a sadly insular group. I gave copies to friends, recommended it, and wrote about it. Independently, so did Henry Wessells and Elizabeth Willey. Walker's cult was small but fervent, and, fearing that neither the writer nor her publisher had any clue as to its existence, I dropped him a note to suggest that an audience awaited.

The note was passed along. In a few weeks, Wendy Walker will be attending that uniquely ambitious conference in Massachussetts. It's a small world.

Or a big sign.

. . .

O Felix Error!

(Written for The Valve)
In whom the dear errata column
Is the best page in all the volume!
Thomas Moore

Establishing the "real meaning" is one goal of the critic's game, but no one achieves a perfect final score, even when they live in the author's time and know the author intimately. (Sociologists estimate that I misunderstand approximately 82% of what I write myself.) Although Blake wasn't referring to the Industrial Revolution, the "dark Satanic mills" we read inevitably reek of coal.

Since it's unavoidable, we might as well celebrate the preservative and generative aspects of literary misinterpretation. Misreading Virgil as a Christian prophet benefitted both Virgil's work and Dante's.

But how about misattribution? What benefits do we gain from that?

Forgery's not nearly as lucrative for English majors as for art students, and so I can only think of one.

Much as Microsoft or Sony won't be content till all content is licensed from Microsoft or Sony, a canon drowns competition through sheer shelf-filling reproduction. Misattribution to a canonical author can carry a work into otherwise inaccessible environments. How likely is it that we'd have good copies of the Song of Solomon or the Revelation of St. John if they hadn't wandered into exactly the wrong place at exactly the wrong time?

In English, Bardolatry promotes misreadings of the Bard and ignorance of everyone else. But, at the cost of their authors' names, some lucky parasites have hitched onto the Swan's belly. I got my first access to the helpfully anonymous "Tom O'Bedlam's Song" that way.

Appropriately, those Bardolators who worship misattribution itself perform the greatest public service. "After God, the Earl of Oxford has created most" looneys distributed copies of George Gascoigne's collection long before the first widely available scholarly edition. Ronald B. McKerrow pretty much established contemporary editorial scruples with his wonderful Works of Thomas Nashe, but it was last in print in 1958, and, on the web, only the Collected DeVere takes up the slack.


Josh Lukin points out the "felicitous misattribution of the 'St. Anthony Divertimento'":
. . . and could Brahms' "Variations on a Theme by Haydn" have even come into being as "Variations on a Theme by Ignatz Pleyel"?

Thanks, Josh that's an interesting case: a popular melody known only because of Brahms, who knew it only because somebody stuck Haydn's name at the top of the page.

Other recent re-attributions from Haydn involve Haydn's sticking his own name at the top a more ambiguous case than I had in mind. Presumably Haydn saw himself not as a plagiarist but as a guarantor of Genuine Haydn Quality, much as the senior tenured professor subsumes the work of underlings and spouses. In the art world, of course, few successful careers have been single-person operations, much to the confusion of our more naive age.

The literary equivalent has an even more dubious reputation: the factories of "Dumas" or "Nancy Drew" novels, and, on a more intimate scale, the ghostwriters. The late career of "Ellery Queen" is an amiguous case: since the named author is a fictional character, the only thing that makes Sturgeon's, Davidson's, and Vance's volumes more "ghostwritten" is the relative openness of the secret.

And then there's Klaatu....

. . .

Op-Edge: Irving Howe, 1963

I recently read the first year of the New York Review of Books.

Less poetry nowadays. Otherwise, they haven't tinkered much with the original formula: not as interesting as the TLS, not as ghastly as the NYTBR, and earnestly committed to political strategizing by people without any influence whatsoever. After a while it's like hearing people talk about TV: "All I can say is they'd better not kill off Scully!" Or else...?

Unbeknownst to the strategizers, they were guest-starring in a very special episode of another type of show entirely. "This decade only: Washington Week in Review broadcasts live from the Titanic!" So while they gripe about how JFK hadn't been leftist enough to lose the last election and he's dragging his well-shod feet so much it's almost like he wants to win the next election but it is kind of neat how he's actually willing to talk to some of them even though he's such an arrogant S.O.B. he still doesn't parrot what they told him while that's happening, the viewers have their eyes fixed on the digital clock at the corner of the screen: September 1963, October 1963, November 14 1963, November 28 1963, December 12 1963? jesus, how long were lead times back then anyway?

Ah. December 26 1963.

Readers of that issue would've brought a special sense of exhaustion to the magazines and newspapers of mid-September 2001. All these public spokespeople feeling professionally obliged to say something weighty and appropriate to the occasion, come on, man, get with it, Norman Mailer's watching!, OK, um, "Things will never be the same...."

Nothing to say, no reason to say it except for vanity, which, I guess, has to stand in for the triumph of the human spirit.

Oh, and except for Irving Howe.

His contribution wasn't reprinted in Selected Writings, which is understandable given how much material there was to work with. It got into Steady Work, where the horrorstruck bystander can watch a democratic socialist survive McCarthyism only to then survive Berkeley radicals, without ever once killing anyone. I can picture some people in 1965 or 1966 giving him a hard time about a few of these prophecies.

The poor bastards.

(Naturally I'm not going to try quoting the whole piece you think the NYRB doesn't know any lawyers? but these two excerpts should convey the flavor.)

And then, the nightmare city. Its police chief explains why he had announced publicly the time the first suspect would be moved, thereby giving the second killer his opportunity: "We could have moved him earlier, but we told you fellows [reporters and TV men] 10 a.m. and we wanted to live up to it." Immortal words, filled with the spirit of our century! The law becomes an appendage of publicity, and experience the raw material for spectacle.

Yet the city survives. "Dallas," runs a headline in the November 26 New York World-Telegram, "Dallas Finds Solace in Wealth." And the story opens: "Talk to the people of Dallas about guilt and they tell you about their mansions, their oil wells and their riches. They pour money on their wounds."

Blessed are the rich in pocket, for they have inherited the earth.

. . .

What has been shaping up in American society is a fundamental struggle as to its future direction, and the sad fact is that the most aggressive and determined political pressures have been coming from the right. Not merely or even primarily from the Birchers or Southern racists or conservative ideologies: in themselves these people are not too important: they matter as an advance guard, or noisy symptom, or extreme manifestation, of a deepgoing fundamentalist reaction, a slowmoving and incipient counter-revolution, that has been gathering among the middle classes.

This is a rebellion against history. It is a wish to be done with those burdens that mar the enjoyment of new-found wealth and status. It is a desperately nostalgic impulse to shake off the complexities which, in the absence of a coherent liberal leadership, have a way of emerging as the confusions of world politics. And as anyone can testify who has spent some time in the Far West, this reaction involves an unashamed class selfishness such as we have not seen openly expressed in this country for some time, a new kind of Social Darwinism which is laced with the snobberies of greed and racism, a frigid contempt for those millions who are said, somewhere in the invisible depths, still be to suffering poverty and joblessness.

I think we should take this phenomenon with great seriousness. Today it may appear as an attachment to Goldwater, but in social range and depth it goes beyond the Goldwater movement. Signs of it could already be found in the Eisenhower following, and it will survive the possible collapse of the Goldwater boom. For a few months this socio-political impulse may be silenced, but it speaks too authentically for the sentiments of millions of Americans to be long suppressed.

Every issue in American polities from civil rights to joblessness, from automation to support for colleges, from medicare to city planning now elicits a fundamental divergence in outlook. It cannot be helped: not all the speeches of President Johnson, nor all the columns of James Reston, can prevent it. The issue is not, as the rightist doctrinaire claim, between capitalism and socialism, but between a firm decision to pull away from modernity and social responsibility, and the inclination to move (more often, stumble) toward an enlarged welfare state.

This, I would contend, is the central issue in American political life, and the struggle in regard to it cannot be stilled or long postponed. It seems to me a little shocking when one hears intelligent people reduced to an American equivalent of Kremlinology and engaged in gossipy speculations as to whether "Lyndon" will shift his political stress for tactical reasons, and what "Arthur" said or didn't say. Instead, we had better do some hard thinking and make some genuine commitments. For, without indulging in the usual sort of scares about a resurgence of McCarthyism or the terrors of the Birchites (what matters now is a social impulse deeper, more native, more authentic than its extreme manifestations; it is a blend, so to say, of Ike and Barry) I think we should recognize how the contending forces are disposed and how serious and prolonged the coming struggles are likely to be.

From a liberal-left perspective there is reason for disquiet. The labor movement, facing major perils, dozes away in a state of intellectual torpor: it appeals to no segments of the unorganized, it gains no loyalties among the young, it barely makes itself heard in the discussions of national policy. The liberal movement, as a movement, has become slack, uncombative. And even the one tremendously encouraging development of the last few years, the rise of the Negroes, is for the moment balked, uncertain in perspective, a little exhausted, trapped in the dilemma that its all-too-reasonable immediate demands involve the deepest issues and problems of the American economy.

And the intellectuals? Those who are supposed to move in advance, not content with the complacence of the status quo? My own subjective impression is not a happy one. In New York, as I now see it again, there is much brilliance, but little direction; a great deal of talent, but not much purpose. A large fraction of the writing in the advanced journals strikes me as middleaged narcissism, a bit Alexandrian, in which the stress is upon intellectual display rather than intellectual conviction and influence. At the very time when there are larger audiences, few American intellectuals seem to be strongly concerned with the idea of a coherent political and cultural public. Things, as the sociologists say, have become "privatized."

Intellectuals ought to be able to look beyond the moment, which means to look beyond the pieties of "national reconciliation" and toward the difficulties ahead. No one is going to be adored for saying this, but that does not make it any the less true.

. . .

Consumer Alert

We interrupt this incomprehensibabble for some straightforward advice. If you care about movies and you can get to Berkeley, California, make the trip while the Pacific Film Archive projects an unprecedented selection of films by Frank Borzage: 12 in its official Borzage series, 3 as part of a Janet Gaynor fest.

From what I've seen before, I'm particularly looking forward to Man's Castle (the reason Lars von Trier doesn't impress me), Lazybones (the most mysteriously moving experience I've ever had in a theater), and A Farewell to Arms, whose recent restoration transformed a warhorse into full Borzageosis. Among those I've never had a shot at, I'm especially excited by Little Man What Now? if only because goddamn what a great title for a Borzage picture.

Enraptured cinephiles "invariably" consider Borzage the most unrecognized of great Hollywood auteurs. Despite his unique long-career-long meld of earthiness and transcendence, the situation's unlikely to improve until his best work becomes more widely available. Join us in our privilege.

. . .

Ba-lue Mun-deii Ba-lues-Are

Trifles light as air.
"Carve Dat Possum"
by Sam Lucas
(with an assist from "Go Down, Moses")
(as performed by
Harry C. Browne & Peerless Quartet,
The possum meat am good to eat.
Carve him to the heart.
You'll always find him good and sweet.
Carve him to the heart.
My dog did bark and I went to see
Carve him to the heart.
And there was a possum up that tree.
Carve him to the heart.

I reached up for to pull him in.
Carve him to the heart.
The possum he begun to grin.
Carve him to the heart.
I carried him home and dressed him off.
Carve him to the heart.
I hung him that night in the frost.
Carve him to the heart.

The way to cook the possum sound:
Carve him to the heart.
First parboil him, then bake him brown.
Carve him to the heart.
Lay sweet potatoes in the pan.
Carve him to the heart.
The sweetest meat in all the land
Carve him to the heart.

Carve that possum,
Carve that possum, children.
Carve that possum,
Carve him to the heart.
Oh, carve that possum,
Carve that possum, children.
Carve that possum,
Carve him to the heart.

As environments grow harsher, biodiversity becomes chaff. It's winnowing time again. A good time to know one's species.

Couple years back, the Fantagraphics web site posted a recording of a Nixon-era on-stage interview with stogie-chompin' obscenity-tossin' 100%-pure-bitter Walt Kelly.

I recollect one moment in particular, when, after repeated attempts to get him to admit to harboring some last splinter of child-like wonder and hope, Kelly roared, "So what you're saying is I'm a fairy."

Having worked on Pinocchio, Kelly knew from fairies, so I guess we can take his word he wasn't one.

Me either. I'm more a Jiminy Cricket type, 'ceptin I remain one of those folks Jiminy bets don't believe that.

Riddle me, riddle me, rot-tot-tote.... Squirrels have been suggested as an avatar, but I feel no bond to the greedy beggars.

I admire the white bear, but my wagging jaws lack tenacity.

And The Man's best friend, like poor poopy Hitchens, uplifted from brick-dodging junkyard dog to yapping Corgi, I pity you. You can't beat them, so you join them. Once you join them, they beat you more. Now they beat in sport instead of in earnest, but still it's more.

Also "a deer in the headlights of history" I'm not. I'm not so decorative, nor so herbivorous, nor so ignorant of trucks.

Nor am I a pedigreed, primped, and tenured gerbil, exercising my wits against a bell and mirror and sleeping on a bed of shredded Marcus.

A scavenger of garbage, a hisser, a sulker, urbanized but un-urbanable....

When nuance becomes an established technique of sabotage, us quibblers feed the revolution only in the most literal sense. We try to play possum and find we're playing Shmoo.

But I got nowhere else to go, so still I go Pogo. It's what's for dinner.

Berkeley, California – Wien, Osterreich.
For Phil Cubeta.


I think it would fly as a rap: "I'm the real Walt Kelly / I really rock 'em / I'll shoot you dead / An' ya won't play possum" etc. - RQH

An old friend anonymously inquires:

But what about Daffy Duck?

"When have I last looked on the round dot eyes and the long wavering bodies of the little black ducks of the moon?"

Josh Lukin triangulates:

First time I read Swamp Thing 32, I cried for five days straight. But I would not have objected if anyone'd thought my lachrymosity had a different orientation.

Phil declines.

. . .

Ba-lue Guy-eed-are : Dining

We eat, we drink, we eat and drink prodigiously, with gusto, it would do your heart good to see us, you'd get bored, you'd be appalled, you'd resent me, no, this will not become a food column, albeit I am a column of food.

I will meet two obligations, that's all.

La Zucca card

1. La Zucca, Venezia

Admirers of strong flavors and grace under pressure will have no trouble finding a good time in Venice. La Zucca stood out by its lack of frenzy. Frenzy's fine, some of my best friends are frenzied, but modulation is nice, too.

Especially the kitchen wasn't frenzied, nor slow, but lent focused attention to each dish qua dish, which tells with that stuff that's not boiled dough or fried squigglies you know, vegetables.

The overall effect was very California cuisine, except with Italian produce, and except for the cost. Those familiar with the Bay Area, imagine if Alice Waters priced the way Berkeley Bowl does. As if observation and accuracy were necessities of life instead of luxuries accessible only by the wealthiest.

After we paid, our extremely efficient server (who might've owned the place) came back and gave us each a stack of business cards, I guess to hand out to our fellow movers and shakers, so here you are.

All'Allegria logo

2. All'Allegria, Udine

Udine is a good town to get out of. That's why we went there, and why we slept for three nights in a comfortably sterile and soundproof hotel on the same block as the train station and the bus station.

But on our last night, after many rebuffs, we were determined to extract some pleasure from Udine's hard nut. A kind Venetian gentleman had recommended some restaurants. With his list, we ventured forth. Then returned to the hotel rebuffed. Then ventured again.

Cranky, tired, and in my case bruised and bleeding, we made unpromising material all'Allegria. We fell into the hands of a master.

I tell you, Myrtle, it was just like meeting Charles Boyer. Solicitous without smarminess, engaged without familiarity, quick to suggest, quick to catch demurral, he seated us, he soothed us, we fascinated him, later he conveyed the chef's fascination as well. When we asked for a wine suggestion, he apologetically wondered if we'd be willing to take a fresh selection with each course; he opened, poured, discoursed, succinctly, sufficiently.

In all this, not a hint of the obsequious, only noblesse oblige. He represents the kitchen: he controls our food; we are at his mercy; he is a warm-hearted man.

I took notes, it seemed the thing to do. Prosecco to soften the edge of evening. First course: Thin slices of peppery salami, of crudo di San Daniele, of cooked prosciutto, startlingly fresh, almost milky. Second courses: Pasta e fagioli. Cjarsòns, large ravioli with a sweet-and-sour filling, covered with grated smoked ricotta, a line of ground spices on the side. Stanig Sauvignon Blanc, from Colli, full, perfumed. Third courses: Frittura mista, squid, sardines, zucchini, something crayfish-like. Frico, a sizzling slowly roasted loaf of cheese and potato, served with polenta and perfectly intense arugula. Tenuta Beltrame, a Cabernet Sauvignon from coastal Aquileia, tasting of surf, bridged the dishes; our host expressed special satisfaction in our approval, the wine was made by his best friend. Finishing with an air of vanilla and stone fruit, Malvasia di Nonino ÙE grappa.

We were by no means alone. The dining area filled with the locals who had filled the bar; next to us was a table of physicists, from Germany, from Poland, from Russia, from the UK, attempting ethnic jokes, possibly part of the conference for whose sake Udine's galleries had been closed; their voices were muffled by the womb.

King of Hosts! We were hungry, and you fed us; we were weary, and you gave us shelter; I left a tip.


wot no risi e bisi?

In northeast Italy, October's not big on fresh peas. On the other hand: mushrooms!

. . .

Theory and Practice in Berkeley

The library's copy of The Moral Order is either stolen or misshelved.


'The Moral Order is extraordinary in its range ... Sometimes the book appears ...' -- Sociology, September/October 1983

"Such a prediction, of course, belongs to the realm of a utopian faith ... rather than to that of tested scientific theory." -- The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 90, No. 4. (Jan., 1985)

Accuracy in media...?

. . .


Resentment is my difference. Value my difference.

Approximately one out of every one Americans suffers from self-righteousness. And in some areas of the country, the epidemic has reached even higher levels. Here in Berkeley, we snatch at cause for grievance like it was the last roll of toilet paper in the store

* * *

There's something empowering about resentment particularly when combined with megalomania. Just look what it's done for God!


I depreciate the ressentiment.

Don't mention it.

. . .

Last Exit to the Road to Son of Paleface

The last time I tried writing about Son of Paleface was on September 10, 2001. Despite lingering associations, this seems a good time to pick the topic up again.

First, because PFA is giving locals a rare chance to see Frank Tashlin's self-consciously not-on-television movies on a non-television screen:

7:00 p.m., Friday, April 11, 2008 - The Girl Can't Help It
4:00 p.m., Saturday, April 12, 2008 - Son of Paleface
5:00 p.m., Sunday, April 13, 2008 - Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?
6:30 p.m., Wednesday, April 16, 2008 - Artists and Models
8:30 p.m., Wednesday, April 16, 2008 - It'$ Only Money
7:00 p.m., Friday, April 18, 2008 - Bachelor Flat

Second, because I'm now as old as Junior Potter was when he graduated Harvard.

Third, because, well, maybe I'll get to that later.

. . .

The Road from Son of Paleface

Hurry up; this is impossible.
- Junior Potter, Son of Paleface, 1952

Although Son of Paleface made money, Paramount didn't extend Tashlin's option. His next break came in 1955 when he managed to squeak under Hal Wallis's stringently low standards, and incidentally provided Jerry Lewis's first inkling that cinema could be a worthwhile medium.

Hope fell back to familiar (if depleted) ground. No more panicked thoughts of escape; the animal had become reconciled to its cage, unresponsive to prod or thrown trash. When he turned to the camera, it was in search of cue cards. Six years later Hope reprised the watered-down Western parody of Norman Z. McLeod, who Tashlin never did get around to killing. The final stop of interest is 1960's The Facts of Life, a grim comedy of re-failed-marriage in which Hope's forced unfunniness worked as stark naturalism.

Tashlin meanwhile found a way out of his pacing issues, not by accelerating the gags but by integrating them with the mise en scène. In his best pictures, even ontological intrusions fit into an overall rhythm the snapping point intermission of Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, the choreographed walks of The Girl Can't Help It, Jerry Lewis's shtick-till-I-drop slow a-goh-nee.... After Son of Paleface, Tashlin redirected his satire from the bad habits of dying genres to those of the movie mainstream: juvenile delinquency, gray flannel angst, and most notoriously the overstated but under-remarked bosoms of the era, which, especially in Rock Hunter, seemed to embody a miserable oscillation between the devalued real and the alluring purported.

His best pictures were intermittant, though, and their generation brief. After being tossed between the Scylla of Doris Day and the Charybdis of Lewis, a stormweary Tashlin vanished beneath the waves in 1968, Bob Hope aboard the wreck.

I have always thought that the most fitting way for an American man to die is in a brutal accident on the freeway. Because that way he will be giving up the ghost in a rare moment of freedom.
- Frank Tashlin, interview with Robert Benayoun, 1964
Rich as are the gifts of the imagination bitterness of world's loss is not replaced thereby. On the contrary it is intensified, resembling thus possession itself. But he who has no power of the imagination cannot even know the full of his injury.
- William Carlos Williams, Prologue to Kora in Hell, 1918


Jaime J. Weinman has unearthed Harvard University's response to their less-than-favorite son, and a New York Times piece by Tish-Tash himself.

Doris Day had wings, she could really sing, her timing (musical) is inspirational. She wound up with the zeitgeist overload of archetypal 50's jivety All-American girl, and thus those who disdain that, her. No fair. Like Lucille Ball, another too-popular for her own good genius.

Your cause is just. For that matter, I probably count as a Jerry Lewis fan I keep a copy of The Total Filmmaker close at hand. But this is an essay at Tashlin rather than Day, and I don't think The Glass Bottom Boat or Caprice represent either party's best work.

p.s Firefox blocks psdpdm with a "Suspected Attack Site!" no go page. Sea Monkey doesn't though.

Most of Pseudopodium is hand-crafted and impervious to non-self-inflicted harm, but the one portion of the site which I stupidly made dependent on web-hosted software NO ONE SHOULD USE WEB SOFTWARE! NO ONE SHOULD HIRE WEB PROGRAMMERS! exposed its succulent belly to some predator while I was in the midst of the professional and personal issues which continue to block my next damn post. Google picked that up and alerted the protection service used by Firefox 3. I've hurriedly dealt with the issue and I hope the good Googlians will overlook those intemperate remarks about web programmers and restamp their approval soon.


. . .

Phil Karlson in the Fifties

I'd hoped to write at the The Auteurs about the Pacific Film Archive series "Phil Karlson in the Fifties" (opening with two bangs and several beatings on June 5) but, well, you see how it's been around here.

Still, I should at least try to influence the one or two readers who might accidentally pass through this particular deserted funhouse: The close collaboration between Karlson and otherwise washed-up star John Payne compares to Sternberg's with Dietrich or Nicholas Ray's with James Dean. You'll never again hear the phrase "Thanks for nothing" except in Payne's voice. The non-Payne selections I've seen were inventive and fast-paced, and I still haven't seen what's supposed to be one of the best, The Brothers Rico.

Go. Watch. "Unvailable on DVD"!

. . .

Go, Pursued by Bears

Born and bred a concern troll, I combine the firm clarity of a Henry James with the nuanced teamwork of a Yosemite Sam. The only political value I ever delivered was standing sullenly in one spot, and even there my peak performance is long behind me. Not then as a particpant but as a spectator and so inexpert a spectator as to be uncertain whether any goals were scored in a racoon coat I wave my pennant and flask and agree the Big Game was well played.

. . .

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.

. . .

Sliced Turkey

I know everyone's excited about the Big Game, but let's take a moment to honor a real hero:

Operational Excellence helps Cal Dining save 5 cents per meal
(via Chris Tweney)

With savings like this, students can easily afford to proactively incent the world-class executives who've made the University of California famous. And to think some doubted the worth of that three-million dollar Powerpoint file!


I'm a little sad to see that Mr. or Ms. Cal Professor committed two typos in a paragraph complaining about others' "crimes against the English language."

I'll accept "chalk-full" as vocational dialect and "mist cursory" as a description of her/his annoyed mutter.

. . .

Movie Comment : All I Desire (1953)

In a post I persistently remember as "Dawn Powell for President," Roger Gathman noted Hillary Clinton's roots in conservative Chicago and asked, "But how about the Midwesterner who returns from the East Coast?"

For me, the question triggered a resurgence of survivor's guilt, resolving into the usual hysterical paralysis. But even as the Drama Queen express barreled away, another train of thought launched towards Hollywood's most peculiar specialist in Midwestern You-Can't-Go-Home-Again-or-Can-You parts: Brooklyn orphaned-and-abusively-bred Barbara Stanwyck.

Back in 1939, Remember the Night had dragged Stanwyck back to Indiana in the custody of killjoy D.A. Fred MacMurray (but this is a Mitchell Leisen picture so at least he's an attractive killjoy). There she's rejected by a shockingly real representative of the Heartland's evil-hearted 30%, meets warm welcomes from not-so-realistic representatives of the open-hearted 20%, sinks gratefully into the embrace of family and community, and is then rejected by them. Big romantic finish while the Breen Office chants "Lock Her Up!"

In All I Desire, Stanwyck's Naomi returns to Wisconsin under her own steam. This makes for a very different story, directed by a very different storyteller.

For some reason, The Film Dictionary of Received Ideas is considered particularly authoritative on "Sirk, Douglas," but Sirk was not a simplistic thinker. Instead of Sturges's-and-Leisen's rigid segregation of good and evil souls, here they're so thoroughly intermingled with the middling majority that, well, sometimes we almost can't tell them apart.

And embodiments of Naomi's original disgrace continue to walk the mean streets of Riverdale, although they seem to have slipped her mind during her busy years on the road: her extramarital lover remains a pillar of good ol' boy society and has assumed a pointedly paternal role towards her son the family's youngest child, born long after his two sisters and so closely to Naomi's escape that he may have precipitated it.

So Juliet Clark is certainly right to predict that "we can only feel relieved to be on the outside looking in" at this all-American home. But consider (as Stanwyck's character must) the alternative.

After ten years Naomi Murdoch's theatrical career has skidded midway down the music hall bill, with sour prospects ahead. (We'll never know how much talent she started with; she'd already borne three children, so she would have been trying to enter the profession at, let's say, age 28 or so?) Ostensibly, at least, she's seizing an opportunity to give her kid a thrill and pick up a little egoboo by way of a little fraudulence, after which she'll shed the pretense of stardom and return to her grind. But from the moment she struts off the train, she seems, so to speak, at home, which is to say on the stage, facing challenges, hitting her marks, sparking glee at each new win. She may not have been able to conquer Paris and London but this audience she can handle, and she'll surely find more opportunities to recite Shakespeare here than in burlesque.

The hometown hoaxer of Sturges's Hail the Conquering Hero is scabied by guilt; for the con-maiden of Sturges's The Lady Eve, the allure of sincerity goes foot-in-hand with the similarly vulnerable intimacy of full-frontal lust. In Riverdale, though, all self-expression is strictly utilitarian (albeit with none-too-well-thought-out motives); Naomi's just best at it.

The unrepentant criminal of Sturges's Remember the Night and the tempted ladies of Sirk's There's Always Tomorrow and All That Heaven Allows gladly lose their burden of selves in Good Clean Fun. But at no moment in All I Desire does Stanwyck convey pleasure untinted by performance. In Double Indemnity, what men mistake for sensuality is simply Mrs. Dietrichson's delight in manipulation; Mrs. Murdoch may have encountered similar confusion and may still.

(A few critics even predict that lechery will send Naomi back to the creep she nearly killed. I can't see it. Stanwyck was a magnificently wide-ranging movie star but one thing she could never play convincingly on-screen was being pushed around. If Naomi strays again, it'll be with someone of more practical use; Colonel Underwood, maybe.)

All I Desire's' "unhappy happy ending" is not all tragic and not all sacrifice. It's the role of a lifetime.

From which I conclude that if the Democratic party had shown the good sense to nominate a HUAC-supporting union-attacking self-martyring workaholic for president and relocated her to Illinois, she might have drawn a plurality of the state's votes.

(On the other hand, the original novel, screenplay, and directorial intent had Naomi opting again for self-exile, possibly after a bridge-burning public self-exposure, presumably to expiate her sins by someday dying in the traditional gutter. So maybe it really is just a crapshoot.)

Naomi's got the situation well in hand


Josh Lukin reflects on 1952:

Your HUAC reference got me thinkin' —the candidate who was uncritical of McCarthy (see Howe, Irving, Steady Work) managed to lose in his native Illinois during the McCarthy era. To be fair, he seems to have lost everywhere except in a handful of states where his running-mate was popular. And thank Heaven he did, 'cause where would we be without the four civil libertarians Ike put on the Court, right?

. . .

Down Home Music

Mojo Hand : An Orphic Tale by J. J. Phillips

1. "Eurydice's victims died of snake-bite, not herself." - Robert Graves

Protagonist "Eunice" is, as we can plainly see, an un-dry Eurydice. And love-object Blacksnake Brown is Orphic because he sets the stately oaks to boogie:

She went to the phonograph there and looked through the stack of records under it. Down at the bottom, dusty and scratched, she found an old 78 recording called “Bakershop Blues” by a man named Blacksnake Brown, accompanied by the Royal Sheiks. She lifted off the classical album, slipped on the 78, then turned the volume up. It started scratching its tune.

I want to know if your jelly roll’s fresh, or is it stale, I want to know if your jelly roll’s fresh, or is it stale? Well, woman, I’m going to buy me some jelly roll if I have got to go to jail.

Almost immediately she heard shouts and shrieks from the other room.

“. . . Oh, yeah, get to it. . . . Laura, woman, how long since your husband’s seen you jelly roll?”

“Gertrude, don’t you ask me questions like that. Eh, how long since your husband’s seen you?”

Eunice went back downstairs. Everyone had relaxed. Some women were unbuckling their stockings, others were loosening the belts around their waists. Someone had gotten out brandy and was pouring it into the teacups.

“Give some to the debs,” someone said, “show them what this society really is.”

Just as plainly, though, "Blacksnake" is a snake, with an attested bite. And for all l'amour fou on display, Eunice is only secondarily drawn to her Orpheusnake; first, last, and on the majority of pages in-between, she's after Thrace-Hades:

And even before that she had been drawn to the forbidden dream of those outside the game, for they had been judged and did not care to concern themselves with questioning any stated validity in the postulates. Playing with friends, running up and down the crazily tilted San Francisco streets, they would often wander into the few alleys between houses or stores down by the shipyards. [...] The old buildings were not of equal depth in back, nor were they joined to one another, and there were narrow dark passageways between the buildings. She would worm her way in and out of these, for they were usually empty, though occasionally as she would whip around a corner she would hear voices and would tiptoe up to watch two or three men crouched on the ground, each holding a sack of wine, and shooting dice. She would hide and watch them until the sun went down, marking their actions and words, then tramp home alone whispering to herself in a small voice thick with the sympathy of their wine, “Roll that big eight, sweet Daddy.”

This place which is also a community and a way of living maybe a good name for that would be habitus? although nowadays and hereabouts ussens tend to call it an identity. To switch mythological illustrations, what Odysseus craved wasn't retirement on a mountainous Mediterranean island, or reunion with his wife and child, both of whom he's prepared to skewer, but his identity as ruler of Ithaka.

What baits Eunice isn't so much the spell of music but the promise of capture and transportation. Brown's a thin, helpfully color-coded line who can reel her out of flailing air and into Carolina mud, a properly ordained authority to release her family curse (and deliver her into bondage) by way of ceremonial abjuration:

“We-ell, you being fayed and all, I doesn’t want to get in no trouble.”

The night was warm and easy, and it came from Eunice as easy as the night. “Man, I’m not fayed.”

He straightened up and squinted. “Well, what the hell. Is you jiving, woman, or what? You sure has me fooled if you isn’t.”

“You mean you dragged me out in the middle of the night into this alley just because you thought I was fayed? That’s the damndest thing I’ve ever heard.” But she knew it was not funny, neither for herself nor for him.

Blacksnake broke in on her thoughts. “Well, baby, if you says so, I believes you. But you sure doesn’t look like it, and you doesn’t even act like it, but you’s OK with me if you really is what you says you is. Here, get youself a good taste on this bottle.”

Eunice took the bottle and drank deeply, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.

(In many more-or-less timeless ways, Mojo Hand is the first novel of a very young writer. On this point of faith, though, it's specifically an early Sixties novel: that the Real Folk Blues holds power to transmute us into Real Folk.)

2. "Meet me in the bottom, bring my boots and shoes." - Lightnin' Hopkins

Having passed customs inspection, Eunice considers her down-home away from home:

Until this night she had been outside of the cage, but now she had joined them forever.

About twenty-hours later, "the cage" materializes as a two-week stretch in the Wake County jail:

But soon she came to learn that it was easier here. Everything was decided. That gave her mind freedom to wander through intricate paths of frustration.

Jail isn't a detour; it's fully part of Eunice's destination, and afterward she's told "Well, you sure as shit is one of us now." But what sort of freedom is this?

Some people intuit a conflict between "free will" and "reasoned action." (Because reasons would be a cause and causality would be determinism? Because decisions are painful and willful freedom should come warm and easy?) Or, as Eunice reflects later, in a more combative state of mind:

Since her parents had built and waged life within their framework, in order to obvert it fully she, too, had to build or find a counterstructure and exist within it at all costs. The difference lay in that theirs was predicated on a pseudo-rationality whereas the rational was neither integral nor peripheral in hers; she did not consider it at all. To her the excesses of the heart had to be able to run rampant and find their own boundaries, exhausting themselves in plaguing hope.

When the pretensions of consciousness become unbearable, one option is to near-as-damn-it erase them: minimize choices; make decision mimic instinct; hand your reins to received stereotype and transient impulse. Lead the "simple" life of back-chat, rough teasing, subsistence wages, steady buzz, sudden passions, unfathomable conflicts, limitless boredom,and clumsy violence. A way of life accessible to the abject of all races and creeds in this great land, including my own.

All of which Phillips describes with appropriately loving and exasperated care, although she's forced to downshift into abstract poeticisms to traverse the equally essential social glue of sex.

It was completely effortless, with the songs on the jukebox marking time and the clicking pool balls countersounding it all until the sounds merged into one, becoming inaudible. Eunice felt the ease, the lack of rigidity, and relaxed. She would learn to live cautiously and underhandedly so that she might survive. She would learn to wrangle her way on and on to meet each moment, forgetting herself in the next and predestroyed by the certainty of the one to come.

3. "At the center, there is a perilous act" - Robin Blaser

In this pleasant fashion uncounted weeks pass. Long enough for a girl to become pregnant; long enough for whatever internal clock ended Brown's earlier affairs to signal an campaign of escalating abuse which reviewers called mysterious, although it sounded familiar enough to me.

Blacksnake was Eunice's visa into this country. What happens if the visa's revoked? If our primary goal is to stay put and passive, what can we do when stasis becomes untenable?

Shake it, baby, shake it.

Having escaped into this life, Eunice refuses to escape from it:

There was no sense, she knew, in going back to San Francisco, back home to bring a child into a world of people who were too much and only in awe of their own consciousness. They were as rigid and sterile as the buildings that towered above them.

She'll only accept oscillation within the parameters of her hard-won cage. This cul-de-sac expresses itself in three ways:

It seems perfectly natural for the strictly-local efficacy of the occult to appear at a crisis of sustainability, scuffing novelistic realism in favor of keeping it real. The flashback, though, rips the sequence of time and place to more genuinely unsettling effect, and Phillips handles the operation with such disorienting understatement that this otherwise sympathetic reader sutured the sequence wrong-way-round in memory.

It's unsettling because we register the narrative device as both arbitrary and, more deeply, necessary. Being a self-made self-damned Eurydice, Eunice must look back at herself to secure permanent residence. But when the goal is loss of agency, how can action be taken to preserve it?

Instead, we watch her sleepwalk through mysteriously scripted actions twice over.

4. "Black ghost is a picture, & the black ghost is a shadow too." - Lightnin' Hopkins

Immediately after you start reading Mojo Hand, and well before you watch Eunice Prideaux hauled to Wake County jail, you'll learn that J. J. Phillips preceded her there. If you're holding the paperback reissue, its behind-bars author photo will have informed you that both prisoners were light-skinned teenage girls.

If you've listened to much blues in your life, you'll likely know "Mojo Hand" as a signature number of Lightnin' Hopkins. If you've seen photos of Hopkins on any LPs, the figure of "Blacksnake Brown" will seem familiar as well.

Since comparisons have been made inevitable, contrasts are also in order.

Blacksnake Brown is clearly not the Lightnin' Hopkins who'd played Carnegie Hall, frequently visited Berkeley, and lived until 1982. Eunice is jailed for the crime of looking like a besmirched white woman in a black neighborhood at night; Phillips, on the other hand:

In 1962 I was selected to participate in a summer voter registration program in Raleigh, North Carolina, administered by the National Students Association (NSA). [...] Our group, led by Dorothy Dawson (Burlage), wasn't large and the project was active only for that summer; but during the short time that we were in Raleigh, we managed to register over 1,600 African Americans, which, along with other voter registration programs in the state, surely helped pave the way for Obama's 2008 victory in North Carolina. [...] On the spur of the moment I'd taken part in a CORE-sponsored sit-in at the local Howard Johnson's as part of their Freedom Highways program, which took place the year after the Freedom Rides. [...] Our conviction was of course a fait accompli. We were given the choice of paying a modest fine or serving 30 days hard labor in prison; but the objective was to serve the time as prisoners of conscience, and so we did. In deference to my gender, I was sent to the Wake Co. Jail.

[...] Thus began a totally captivating 30 days an immersive intensive in which I got the kind of real-life education I could never have obtained otherwise.

This unexpectedly welcome "captivation" brings us back to Eunice, however, and thence to Eunice's own brush with voter registration programs:

“I don’t want to register.”

The boy shifted from one flat foot to another and scratched a festering pimple. “But ma’m, it’s important that you try and better your society. Can’t you see that?”

“No, I can’t.”

He paused a moment, and then proceeded. “Whatever your hesitation stems from, it is not good. It is necessary for us all to work together in obtaining the common goal of equality. It is not only equality in spirit; your living standards must be equal. Environment plays an important factor. You must realize also that it is not only your right but your duty to choose the people you wish to represent you in our government. If you do not vote you have no choice in determining how you will live.”

Eunice chuckled as she remembered Bertha back in the jail. She crinkled her eyes and laughed. “Well, sho is, ain’t it.”

In turn, that "festering pimple" suggests some animus drawn from outside the confines of the book. And in an interview immediately following the book's publication, its author came close to outright disavowal:

"I went to jail to see what it was like. I was in Raleigh on a voter registration drive. Somebody asked for restaurant sit-in volunteers sure to be arrested. I was not for or against the cause, I just wanted to go to jail." [...] Slender, with the long, straight hair, wearing the inevitable trousers, strumming the guitar, she also defies authority in her rush to individual freedom. She lives in steady rebellion against the comfortable escapist? atmosphere provided by her parents, both in professional fields and both successful. Her own backhouse, bedroom apartment, her transportation a Yamaha and a huge, black, 5-year-old Cadillac; her calm acceptance of her right to live as she pleases are all a part of the pattern of the new 1966 young.

(For the record, yes, I'm grateful that no one is likely to find any interview I gave at age 22, or to publish any mug shot of me at age 18.)

Forty-three years later, J. J. Phillips positioned Mojo Hand in a broader context: three separate cross-country loops during an eventful three years which she entered as an nice upper-middle-class girl at an elite Los Angeles Catholic college and left as an expelled, furious, disillusioned, blues-performing fry-cook.

Which of these accounts should we believe? Well, all of them, of course. Here, what interests me more is their shared difference from the story of Eunice.

* * *

The older Phillips summarized Mojo Hand as "a story of one person’s journey from a non-racialized state to the racialized real world, as was happening to me."

As always, her words are carefully chosen. In the course of a sentence which asserts equivalence, she shifts from Eunice's singular, focused journey to something that "was happening to" young Phillips. More blatantly, she tips the balance by contrasting "a state" with "the real world."

Contrariwise, someone might describe my own wavering ascent towards Eunice's-and-Phillips's starting point as "one person's journey from a racialized state" (to wit, Missouri) "to the class-defined real world." I'm not that someone, though. Even at the age of Mojo Hand's writing, when my scabrous androgyny was demonstrably irredeemable, I understood that, should I live long enough, my equally glaring whiteness would bob me upwards like a blob of schmaltz. And indeed, although my patrons and superiors have been repeatedly nonplussed by my choices, none ever denied my right to make them.

Whereas, in America, some brave volunteer or another can always be found to remind you that you're black or female. And in the ordinary language of down-home philosophizin', if you can't escape it, it's real: truth can be argued but reality can only be acknowledged, ignored, or changed. If "race" is an unevidenced taxonomy and "racism" is a false ideology, "racism" and "a racialized world" remain real enough to kill depending on time and place.

As does "class." And, like Phillips in Los Angeles, in San Francisco Eunice was born into a particularly privileged socio-economic class. Even if she'd stayed in San Francisco, she could've chosen to remove herself from that class, most likely temporarily, anticipating the "inevitable pattern of the new 1966 young." But merely by having the choice, she would have become in some sense, in some eyes, a fraud.

The Jim Crow South, however, offered any stray members of the striving class at most the choice of "passing," faudulent by definition. Thus, with the mere purchase of a train ticket, properly propertied individuals could reinvent themselves as powerless nonentities. What racialized Eunice and Phillips was travel to a place in which no non-racialized reality existed. What made that racialization lastingly, inescapably "real" was, for Eunice, a permanent change of residence. For Phillips, back in California, it was recognizing a racism which had previously stayed latent or unnoticed, and which continued to be denied in infuriatingly almost-plausible fashion.

5. "But I didn't know what kind of chariot gonna take me away from here." - Lightnin' Hopkins

Returning to the book's one encounter with progressive politics, after Eunice shuts the door on the pimpled young man, Blacksnake is bemused (not for the first time) by her volitional assumption of a cage in which others were born and bred:

“Oh, shit. Woman, I can’t vote. I been to the penitench. [...] Girl, you got some strange things turning ’round in that head of yours. Why did you come here anyway?”

“I don’t know. I just felt like it.”

Eunice sat down on the bed and scratched her head. It was useless to try and find the causes of her being here; she merely was and could never be sure whether it was a true act or a posture of defiance.

Odysseus traveled to reclaim his prior identity. How, though, would someone establish an identity?

By fiat, by fate. With that infallible sixth sense by which we know we were a princess dumped on a bunch of dwarfs, or the infant who was swapped out for a changeling, Eunice knows she's been denied her birthright. Or two birthrights, which Mojo Hand merges:

First, racialization; that is, membership in a race.

Second, the inalienable right and incorrigible drive to make irretrievable mistakes and trigger fatal disasters. In a word, maturity.

Never had she been forced to her knees to beg for the continuation of her existence, nor fight both God and the devil ripping at her soul; never had she been forced to fight to move in the intricate web of scuffle; never had she been forced to fight a woman for the right to a man, nor fought out love with a man. She had never fought for existence; now she would have to.

In well-ordered middle-class mid-century households, these are things parents protected children from, things children couldn't imagine their parents doing. Most of them are part of most adult lives, and once experienced, they're not likely to be forgotten. But depicting them comes easiest when they're assigned to disorderly elements, and a narrative's end is more attended than its torso.

In the novel's introductory parable, a girl who finds the sun (dropped by an old-fashioned Los Angeles pepper tree) is forced by her father to give it up. During her longest residence in Lightnin' Hopkins's Houston neighborhood, Phillips met similar interference: "I especially did not want to suffer the ultimate mortification of being ignominiously carted home by my parents, so I went back to L.A."

If Eunice had been dragged back to San Francisco, that anticlimax would be interpreted as an ironic deflation of a hard-won life. And so, in vengeance for her parents' deracination, Eunice is silently de-parented, and the book instead ends with her both adopting a new mother and waiting to become a new mother.

* * *

The United States between 1962 and 2009 incorporated a whole lot of habitussles, each with its own preferred ways to swing a story. Even as something is done (by us, to us, of us, the passive voice is the voice that rings real) and certainly afterwards we're spun round by potential justifications, motives, excuses, bars, blanks.... Whichever we choose, sho is, ain't it.

One year after 22-year-old J. J. Phillips saw Mojo Hand in print, 25-year-old Samuel R. Delany saw his own version of black Orpheus, A Fabulous, Formless Darkness, published as The Einstein Intersection. Neither fiction much resembles Ovid, and where Phillips mythologizes black community, Delany mythologizes queer difference. What the two writers shared was a reach for "mythology" as that which both describes and controls the actions of the mythological hero: a transcript which is a script; a fate justified as fulfillment of fate.

A story to make sense of senselessness and reward of repeated loss.

What Phillips suffered and enjoyed as an indirect, experimental process of frequently unwelcome discovery and retreat, confrontation and compromise, Eunice is able to consciously hunt as a coherent (if not rationally justifiable) destination. The mythic heroine's one necessary act of mythic agency was to decide to enter that story and, mythically, stay there ever after. The oaks rest in place, thoroughly rooted, frozen in their dance.

Lucky oaks.


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.