. . . Duchamp

. . .

Simcoe, among other eminent weblogs, has pointed to one of those attacks on the fraudulence of Modern Art that crop up about as often as my gout. This one drags out dusty whipping-boy Mapplethorpe, but distinguishes itself by spending more time on the blandly corporate-friendly Gilbert-and-George, who apparently once managed to outrage someone. Probably the same guy who wanted to ban the Pet Shop Boys.

Yeah, so the art world of teachers, curators, critics, trust funders, and investors is absurdly indiscriminate. So journalist pundits aren't? We're given a choice of blindnesses -- are you philistine or are you gullible? -- that assume homogeneity among objects made and displayed by people and homogeneity among the people who look or prod at the objects.

As a gullible philistine, I apply the same pair of criteria to all art whether Ancient or Modern: Is it pretty? And is it funny?

Caravaggio and Botticelli and Pollock and Jess are in their different ways all very pretty and very funny. Piero della Francesca isn't exactly funny but he gives me a funny feeling, which is extra points. Duchamp is King of Comedy. Mapplethorpe is always pretty but only funny once in a while; I mostly think of him as a society portraitist, like Annie Leibovitz except prettier. "Piss Christ" was astonishingly pretty, which made up for the dopiness of the joke. On the other hand, the Koonses and Kellys remind me of those "Far Side" rip-offs in the paper: slick and inept at the same time. For sheer entertainment value, you're unlikely to find anything in the local art collections that'll compare to George Herriman. But that would've been at least as true 100, 200, or 300 years ago.

Art critics should explain why they think a particular piece of art is pretty or funny. Art teachers should explain how to make particular pieces of art prettier or funnier. Otherwise they're just being blowhards and they're well on the way to a successful career. And why all this fuss about the stuffed horse? I bet there are stuffed animals in plenty of English museums. Not to mention the House of Lords.

. . .

Lumière & Company had a nice notion: take a beautiful little 1895 movie camera, holding about a minute's worth of film, lend it to some directors, and then show the collected results. The problems were who the camera was lent to and how the results were shown. The minute-movies are of a trite piece, and they're widely separated by making-of-the-minute-movie documentaries (often showing a laughably out-of-proportion crew) and by footage of tedious answers to pompous questions. Even the credits sequence is a downer: there are only three women among the forty directors, and one of 'em is Liv Ullmann.

Which gives a clue as to how the nice notion turned nasty. There aren't many female directors in the big studio systems, but there are plenty in the experimental film world. As with the IMAX experience, all the Lumière production managed to prove is that standard studio directors don't know what to do without a standard studio, missing the positive side: no matter what their other problems might be, experimental filmmakers know how to experiment. (It's no suprise that the most praised of the forty minute-movies was by David Lynch, who began as an experimental animator.)

Which naturally turns our thoughts to Zoe Beloff, one of our favorite experimental filmmakers, for whom the Lumière project's constraints would've been tailor-made.

As evidenced by Beloff's digital-video work: the best I've seen, and I think that's because she doesn't just understand the pre-cinema nature of Web and CD-ROM media (although that understanding is rare enough) -- she loves it. True, those teensy low-res frame-skipping black-and-white windows on black backgrounds are no more than you'd get from a flip-card peep-show -- but she loves flip-card peep-shows. True, QuickTime VR is less Gibsonian-virtual-reality than it is a contemporary version of those cheesy nineteenth-century panoramas -- but she loves panoramas.

Beloff has always been influenced by pre-cinema movies, but her latest online project comes right out and gives us a hands-on museum of Thaumatropes, Phantasmagorias, Auto-Magic Picture Guns, and Nic Talkies. Some of the rickety old toys didn't quite work for me -- but that's to be expected of rickety old toys -- and some of the sideshow spiel seemed a mite overblown -- but that's to be expected of traveling spectacles. And Marcel Duchamp as maker of the world's largest magic lantern slide works for me just fine....

. . .

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....

. . .

A Throw Of Loaded Dice Sometimes Will Abolish Chance

Rhonda Roland Shearer and Stephen Jay Gould are understandably full of themselves after their discovery of two previously uncommented-on hacks by Marcel Duchamp:

. . .

yes - it is dark

Tricky Cad: Case V, 1958, detail
Flirty skirty Marcel Duchamp had his little fling with "4-dimensional perspective," but when you're portraying eternity nothing beats a long-term relationship. And the paste-ups of Jess show a forty year commitment to four-dimensional perspective studies, with time, no longer viewed in rigid profile, as the fourth dimension.

As we all know by now, comic strips use spatial separation to convey temporal change; Jess's early "Tricky Cad's Time Space Continuum Has Collapsed!" work exploited that convention. To rearrange the sequence of comics is to change our four-dimensional point-of-view, to focus down an oblique line that cuts across the forward-march of image....

Jess's later work layers precisely trimmed and arranged bits of advertising, art books, jigsaw puzzles, and news magazines ("the images of our times") into a very-deep-focus Universal Now! as dizzying in its novel jumping-out of dimensionality as Jane Russell in 3-D or the "floating pictures" of the Dutch, the restless lost-in-time and lost-in-space eye shifting across a single, massive, unified, static surface that seems to dis-and-re-establish a new implied viewpoint every quarter-inch or so....

Arkadia's Last Resort
Arkadia's Last Resort; Or Fête Champêtre Up Mnemosyne Creek [Autumn], 1976, detail
Jess's monumental paste-ups of the 1960s through 1980s reproduce ex-TREEM-ly badly. First, they're huge -- Arkardia's... is 47" by 71", which is, what?, a four-by-five? Second, since they're built up of printed material from very varied sources, pretty much any reduction into new print material is going to obscure differences and blur dividing lines. Probably the only decent way to preserve and distribute this stuff is in high-quality fold-out prints even larger than the original or in large high-resolution digital scans with no photographic middleman. For the curious and easily satisfied, the Club provides a just-as-inadequate full sketch of Arkadia's....

. . .

The 100 Super Movies au maximum: The Fatal Glass of Beer

  It is a sad song
"It is a sad song...."

Nonsense is what closes before the theater gets rented. I've read folks who claim that's because nonsense is an anarchistic blow against the rigid patriarachy, but they usually have such poor taste that I can't trust them. More likely, not that many people enjoy nonsense. Even to achieve decent cult status, it has to hide beneath a pretense of parody: Andy Kaufman's and Steven Wright's contrasting parodies of stand-up comics, Robert Benchley's parodies of inarticulate bureaucrats, Marcel Duchamp's parodies of gallery art, Ulysses's parodies of all kinds prose, The Simpsons' parodies of The Simpsons....

And once that small degree of success is attained, the pressure to eliminate all irrational thought really starts to build. Nonsense is not anti-form (good nonsense has beautifully controlled tone and structure), but it is in some ways anti-narrative, particularly the sort of transparent identification-friendly narrative that publishing and other entertainment industries are set up to provide. Sense holds together and makes "natural" what nonsense interrupts, distracts, and makes an arbitrary mess of. For the crafters of transparent narrative, nonsense's disruptions are most easily explained as toothless villainy: a generator of conflict and a delayer of the inevitably sensible resolution.

"In the theatre, he was a make-believe character playing in a make-believe world. In films, he was a real character acting in real stories.... If he must play a nasty old drunk and be publicized as a nasty old drunk in order to work on the Edgar Bergen radio show, then so be it.... it was after Fields escaped realism and returned to his world of make-believe that he made his best films."
-- Louise Brooks, "The Other Face of W. C. Fields"

Never Give a Sucker an Even Break is a return from exile, all right, but it's the return of a very tired 61-year-old in more dire need of Mrs. Hemoglobin than he might realize. And so my own favored glimpse of the ancient Fieldsian kingdom comes from the 1933 short, The Fatal Glass of Beer, a relatively straightforward filming of a well-honed stage parody of Yukon melodramas: there's little room for him to show off his physical grace, but the deadpan purity of his nonsense is all the more bracing.

"Long shot, medium shot, two-shot, or closeup, Bill performed as if he were standing whole before an audience that could appreciate every detail of his costume and follow the dainty disposition of his hands and feet.... As he ignored camera setups, he ignored the cutting room."
-- Louise Brooks

"It's certainly a bright moonlit night tonight."
  Although most of the attempts at "opening out" the sketch are typically Sennett -- the over-literal illustrations of Mr. Snavely's ballad and the close-ups of his dogsled's team plop in about as amusingly as a cowpie in the face -- one segment suggests what Fields might've achieved if he'd been (or been allowed to become) as engaged with the mechanics of film as he was with the mechanics of performance.

After Mr. Snavely goes out to milk the elk, we're treated to typical stock footage of a herd. Which then turns into badly done rear projection. And then (as the herd begins to gallop and the camera moves closer to them and Fields reproaches the loss of any possible suspension of disbelief with his usual mildness) goes on to turn into utterly absurd rear projection -- a cinematic approach to the legendarily polished ineptitude of his juggling act.

"The Fatal Glass of Beer" by Charlie Case, as adapted by W. C. Fields

MR. SNAVELY: You won't consider me rude if I play with my mitts on, will you?

OFFICER POSTLEWHISTLE: Not at all, Mr. Snavely. Not at all.

MR. SNAVELY: There was once a poor boy,
And he left his country home
And he came to the city to look for work.

He promised his ma and pa
He would lead a civilized life
And always shun the fatal curse of drink.

Once in the city,
He got a situation in a quarry
And there he made the acquaintance of some college students.

He little thought they were demons,
For they wore the best of clothes,
But the clothes do not always make the gentleman.

They tempted him to drink
And they said he was a cow'rd
And at last he took the fatal glass of beer.

  When he'd found what he'd done,
He dashed the glass upon the floor
And he staggered through the door with delerium tremens.

Once upon the sidewalk,
He met a Salvation Army girl,
And wickedly he broke her tambourine.

All she said was "Heav'n --" [RAISES HAND] "-- Heaven bless you,"
And placed a mark upon his brow
With a kick she'd learned before she had been saved.

Now, as a moral to young men
Who come down to the city:
Don't go 'round breaking people's tambourines.

OFFICER POSTLEWHISTLE: That certainly is a sad song.

MR. SNAVELY: Don't cry, constable. It is a sad song... My Uncle Ichabod said, speaking of the city: "It ain't no place for women, gal, but pretty men go thar."

. . .

When life gives you scraps, make collage

I gained new insight into the miracle of heterosexuality yesterday when I first read "A fixing on rotation" (via Bovine Inversus) while first hearing The Vernon Girls' "You Know What I Mean" (via alt.binaries.sounds.mp3.1960s). Insofar as I can, given my limited web space, I'd like to share the experience with you....

"You Know What I Mean" by

(Sha la la la la la. Sha la, la la la.)
(Sha la la la la la. Sha la, la la la.)

Messt1 this boy he started to tuh-wist me.
All night long we were doing the twist.
Then about half past ten he kissed me.
Boy, did I know that I'd been kissed.

Ooooh! -- uauchghh! (phlegm-hawking sound)2

Well, you know what I mean.
Well, you can't get over a thing like that.
Boys are natural twisters.
You know wot I mean.

I became his fi-nance fixer,
Paid for everything while he
Twisted like a cement-tuh mixer
With every ohther girl but me.

Ooooh! - uauchghh! (phlegm-hawking sound)

Well, you know what I mean.
Well, you can't get overrh a thing-uh like that.
Boys are natural twisters.
You know wot I mean.

Spends my dough but more to resist him3
He was awful cute you see.
When my loost's run out, that twister's
Dawn4 away and run out on me.

Ooooh - wackgh! (disgusted sound)

Well, you know what I mean.
Well, you can't get over a thing-uh like that.
Boys are natural tuh-wisters.
You know wot I mean.

When you're tempted, don't-uh you linger.
Just remember he can twist
Some gehls round his little finger
And you might be next on his list.

Wagh-khchh. (ladylike phlegm-hawking sound)

Well, you know what I mean.
(Dumb dummy, dummy dummy dumb dumb)
Well, you can't get over a thing like that.
(Dumb dummy, dummy dummy dumb dumb)
Boys are natural twisters.
You know wot I mean.

So I said to him, Mary, like, I said, lissen 'ere y'flirt, I said what d'you think you're doin'? But 'e went awn! Twistin'! In fact he twisted the legs off me, I couldn't....

Bachelor stripped by his brides, even
1. A peculiarity of this Liverpudlian variant is its transformation of a terminal "t" to "ss." Thus, "met" to "mess," "loot" to "loos."

2. The only pre-1977 use of spitting as a hook in pop music?

3. Obviously wrong, but it took me so long to realize that what sounded like "five months" was actually "finance" that I despair of solving this problem.

4. Dialect, mannerism, or mistake? Topic for further research.

. . .

In other tabloid news, on learning that an evil viewer has used the copyright-infringing technology of videotape to shorten their copy of Star Wars Episode 1, the MPAA's Jack Valenti rabied: "It's like drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa!"

. . .

Instructions to a Painter, first

Marcel Duchamp to Jean Crotti, 17 August 1952 (iffily translated from French):

  You were asking my opinion on your work, my dear Jean. It's very hard to say in just a few words, especially for me as I have no faith -- religious sort -- in artistic activity as a social value.
Artists of all eras are like Monte Carlo gamblers and the blind lottery sends some on their way and ruins others. To my mind, neither winners nor losers are worth bothering over. It's business, good for the winner and bad for the loser.
I don't believe in painting in itself. Every painting is made not by the artist but by those who look at it and grant it their favors; in other words, no painter understands himself or knows what he does -- there's no outward sign to explain why a Fra Angelico and a Leonardo are equally "recognized."
It all happens through our little friend luck. Artists who, during their life, have managed to get people to value their junk are excellent traveling salesmen, but nothing guarantees immortality to their work. And even posterity is a pretty slut who retracts some, resuscitates others (El Greco), and remains free to change her mind in 50 years.
This long preamble to tell you not to judge your own work as you are the last person to see it (with true eyes). What you see there isn't what makes merit or shame. All words used to explain or praise it are false translations of what takes place past the sensations.
You are, like all of us, obsessed with the accumulation of principles or anti-principles which generally cloud your mind with their terminology and, without knowing it, you are a prisoner of what you think a liberated education.
In your particular case you are certainly the victim of the "School of Paris," that good joke which has lasted for 60 years (the students awarding themselves prizes, in cash).
To my mind there's no safety but in esotericism. But for 60 years we've attended the public exhibition of our balls and multiple hard-ons. The Lyons grocer speaks in enlightened terms and buys modern painting.
American museums want at any price to teach modern art to young students who believe in the "chemical formula."
All this breeds only vulgarization and complete dissipation of the original fragrance.
This doesn't cancel what I said above, because I believe in the original fragrance but like any fragrance it evaporates very quickly (a few weeks, a few years at most); what's left is a dried nut classified by the historians in the chapter "History of Art."
So if I tell you that your paintings have nothing in common with what we see generally classified and accepted, that you've always produced things entirely your own, as I truly believe, that's not to say that you have the right to be seated next to Michelangelo.
What's more, this originality is suicidal, in the sense that it distances you from a "clientele" used to the "copies of copyists" that are usually called "tradition."
Another thing, your technique is not the "expected" technique. It is your technique, you own borrowed from no one -- there again, the clientele isn't attracted.
Obviously if you'd applied your Monte Carlo system to your painting, all these difficulties would have changed to victories. You could even have started a new school of technique and originality.
I won't speak of your sincerity because that's the commonplace most widely spread and least valid. All liars, all bandits are sincere. Insincerity doesn't exist. The malign are sincere and succeed by their malice but their being is made of malicious sincerity.
In 2 words do less self-analysis and work with pleasure without worrying about opinions, yours and those of others.



. . .

Ceci n'est pas un biscuit Neuraesthetics: Representing

In a 1989 study that's been much cited by those looking to improve their toddlers' SAT scores and investment portfolios, a bunch of 4-year-olds were tortured by being told that they could have a few pretzels now if they wanted, but that if they waited they could have some cookies instead. Researchers then tracked how long it took for the children to crack.

Unsurprisingly, it was harder for the children to delay gratification if the cookies were displayed in plain sight, or told to think hard about cookies while waiting.

But that effect reversed when representations of the rewards came into play:

"Children who saw images of the rewards they were waiting for (shown life-size on slides) delayed twice as long as those who viewed slides of comparable control objects that were not the rewards for which they were waiting, or who saw blank slides.

"... children facing pictures of the rewards delayed almost 18 minutes, but they waited less than 6 minutes when they pretended that the real rewards, rather than the pictures, were in front of them. Likewise, even when facing the real rewards they waited almost 18 minutes when they imagined the rewards as if they were pictures."

Which may provide insight into cave paintings and pornography and Marcel Duchamp, even if it does toss up advertising as a topic for further research....

See also "An information processing account of implicit motive arousal" by Oliver C. Schultheiss:

I suggest, however, that the verbal-symbolic system's very power to encapsulate a particular incentive in a string of symbols is a double-edged sword. Through the development of delay of gratification, individuals learn to use the verbal-symbolic mode of incentive representation and may grow used to the fact that goals represented in this way do not experientially arouse a strong motivational-emotional state. At the same time they may come to expect that they will experience such a state when they finally attain the incentive. Therefore, the development of gratification delay through symbolization not only enables them to pursue long-term goals, but may also make them more vulnerable to adopt and pursue goals that may not be emotionally rewarding in the end.

. . .

Now it feels all lumped up again.. JAIL

Lawrence L. White writes that our recent serial on comic poetry glanced off a thought much on his mind:

What if the non-sequitur were a legitimate figure of speech?

I take this thought to be a lesson of Gertrude Stein's work. I'm sure Mr. Weinberger counts Stein among the better angels. "Cubist simultaneity" would be her invite to the party. But one thing perplexes me about his list of virtues: two of them are based directly on pictures, and maybe even the third (one creative writing teacher suggested to us that dreams were more like rebuses than stories). None of them are about language. & I thought the lesson we all got from Cezanne was that your medium was the truest path into the problem.

[...] I do mean the "what if" part seriously. There's an odd triumphalism to a lot of Language poetry proponence. As if it really did move mountains. Now I'm not saying that Stein wasn't one heck of a triumphalist, but the parts I like (there are plenty available) are when she's wondering if she's managed to get her latest contraption off the ground yet & if so how long it's going to stay airborne.

Seriously or not, I'm not sure a what-if is necessary. The non-sequitur, like other approaches to nonsense, is already "a legitimate figure of speech" in the living language. It only seems exceptional within the bounds of purposefully restricted discourses such as funeral orations, or shareholder reports. To bring it into those restricted areas isn't to overcome the quotidian but to enrich (or corrupt) with the quotidian.

True, the power fantasies of poets and theorists (and science fiction writers and superhero comics and hiphop MCs and so on) are laughable. But, far from being an attack or a defeat, deflation reveals the true nature of their achievements.

And, as you say, worrying aloud about the impression one's making while in the midst of purposefully restricted discourse is a deflationary technique mastered by Gertrude Stein as well as Robert Benchley. (Which may hint at why my readings of Derrida have been unusually benign.)

I'm aware of my tongue! Unable to stop fretting about one's own place in one's own medium -- doesn't that send us back to Cézanne's school?

Before and beyond any other response they might elicit, Manet's paintings (like Stein's writings) were funny, mocked (more-or-less warmly) even by friends and supporters. Accordingly, the affections of caricaturists and parodists often sided with their irresistible target rather than with their hostile employers. Marcel Duchamp said that when he was a cartoonist hanging out with other cartoonists (not to insinuate that Duchamp ever stopped being a cartoonist), "The conversation centered above all on Manet. The great man that he was." Or, in Baudelaire's reassuring words, "the first in the decrepitude of your art."

I'm trying to avoid terms like "Postmodernism" -- John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, found the lyric stance as distressingly risible as Frank O'Hara or Jack Spicer ever did. But I suppose it might be true that one would need ever higher doses of delusion to avoid self-consciousness after the printer's devil has stopped tapping at the casement window for new installments. Just us and the medium, all alone by the telephone.

. . .

With, Around, or Over?

Etymology all round humps fecundity and pleasure together with smacking, fidgeting, flicking, scratching, messing up, and sweeping across. Only Old English seems to have prioritized the homey fuckbuddy (which I admit warms me towards Tolkien), and only French the kiss.

Even a preposition isn't always enough to disambiguate. Is the fucking off we confess to the same fucking off we demand of others?

* * *

I see chess as an allegory for life. The point is it's a contest between two opponents.
- Weldon McDonald
Because problems are the poetry of chess. They demand from the composer the same virtues that characterize all worthwhile art: originality, invention, harmony, conciseness, complexity, and splendid insincerity.
- Vladimir Nabokov

Journalists call them both chess "masters". But as I remember Vladimir Nabokov considered himself more problemicist than competitor, whereas by all accounts Marcel Duchamp played a vicious semiprofessional game.

Could that be why chess supplanted Duchamp's artistic career but nourished Nabokov's?

* * *

There are at least two ways to get a game wrong:

  1. Refusal to stay within the bounds of the game.
  2. Inability to see outside the bounds of a game.

The second mistake is more dangerous, since it's more often made by winners, and their rewards usually come from outside the game's bounds and the players' expertise in a large nonrenewable fee after a boxing match, for example, or in journalistic attention after a bestselling novel, or in governmental control after an election.

* * *

Mixed emotions and two left feet. This is a peculiar dance, and like everyone else I step it peculiarly.

As spectator of aggression, I love the graceful conviction of martial arts films, but I can't fill the imaginative gaps left in superhero comics or pro wrestling.

As actor, "I like it but it don't like me." I get the kind of kick from public elocution that people other than Cole Porter get from cocaine, but the rebound's fierce. Between the crush of doubtful conscience, a low boredom threshhold, and a hair-trigger temper, I'm worthless or worse at anything but the smallest-scale cannon-fodder political actions. Similarly, despite my self-evident pleasure in pontification, I'm unable to teach when coercion or grading are involved.

In both cases, skills relevant to a game are more than offset by my distracting awareness of conditions outside the game proper.

Which makes me a very unprofessional player.

It doesn't make me a player hater, though. Our society depends on good politicians, good teachers, and good propagandists. What makes Tom Matrullo's shylockia ridiculous is his implication that political games are novel, rather than an inevitable aspect of representative republics.

What makes him outrageous is his acquiescence to game-for-game's-sake: the refusal to acknowledge that a game is more than a score and that a life is more than a game. Whether a reporter is "partisan" or not hardly matters when all the pages are sports pages, when a voter's job is not to save themselves but to pick the most attractive contestant, when a senator's job is not to avert a health care crisis but to beat Clinton. All three branches of federal government are now made up of high-fiving high-scorers. The destruction of my country simply doesn't register except as winnings.

I led such a quiet life. Then somehow I woke up and found myself married to Mike Tyson.


kari edwards draws an unpleasant connection between this unpleasant post and the unpleasant image on the title bar:

your gender graphic seems to be the same cheap "trans" gender joke that shows up in the mass media, such as sheik 2... this is a cheap joke as the expense of a population that is the target of hate crimes.

and if it is so so funny.. replace it with a person of color, or someone with a disability-.. and if not, why not? why is gender the joke? are you not just reenforcing gender stereo typing from a phallocentric gaze...? some on.. this is on the same level as george bush's ruse on gay marriage..

Another reader, another correction:

The destruction of the idea of your country. Right before Grandmasters comes Ghosts. Wasn't Parcheesi the one where you could let other kids play too?

Or, more cautiously still, the destruction of my idea of my country.

The destruction of our idea of our country. I need the reminder at times. Other times I need a minder. Matrullo is calling you "Ray" as familiar or opponent? I couldn't get that from either context. Things are heatin' up. Get that belt on.

I hardly ever wear a belt. But it's easy enough to give me one.

And here to do the job is another nightmare husband:

Arnold Schwarzenegger, the weight lifter and Hollywood actor turned California state governor, accused the state legislature of being "girly-men" and called on voters to "terminate" those that oppose his budget plans at the polls, California news media reported Sunday....

Key provisions of the Governor's budget proposal include school distribution of steroids and Viagra, new subsidies for L.A.'s plastic surgeons, and mandatory sexual harassment insurance.

A sheik joke for John le Bischop, finding his own corrupt flesh remembered long after its integrity got relinquished; who, filled with whatever that is, used his position to generate steam of a kind, the unnatural repression of natural inclinations, dubbed un- while he indulged them. Love the sinner hate the sin; love the baby, hate the act that brings it into being. Flicking is suggested for the mosquito, after smacking, as the smear so common among the thoughtless causes release of bodily fluids, hers, which can be pathogenic to the smearer, as the dermis is breached immediately prior, being the cause of the smacking itself. And remember, she's just trying to feed her kids.

Impressed by the cut of my gormlessness, Candida Cruikshanks offers me a chance at a capon gown.

As if I wasn't already having a bad hair day, another reader pours scorn upon my head:

Natterless bumpkins.

As we both know, we don't come here to watch me bemoan what we call "personal life." In default of anything better, here are a late addition to the Milly Bloom discussion and a warning to avoid installing Yahoo Messenger 6.

An anonymous grader at the School of Love gives me:

amores 3.7

No more summer sessions, hurrah!

Adam Kotsko approves.

. . .

Against the Millennium

I've recently seen a few online academic leftists

(I hate calling them leftists. It's not like they have anything to do with the pragmatic, boring, and downright disgusting work of American politics. Better to describe them as millenarians. It's like reading Pat Robertson, except that Pat Robertson actually wields power.)

I've recently seen a few online academic millenarians attack "liberals" (or, better yet, "right-wing liberals") for having brought us, well, everything that the Reagan and Bush administrations brought America.

It seems to me that the only way liberals can be held responsible for Bush initiatives is by not having prevented them. On which academic millenarians haven't scored well either.

* * *

The public intellectual can sometimes be effective when brought to bear on particular issues and policies. But that role ranges between absurd and dangerous when we judge entire forms of government. An "honest outsider" wouldn't have a high-risk bet on the game.

Of course, since Žižek was born and raised in Tito's Yugoslavia, his celebration of Lenin is about as "outside" as an American liberal celebrating the New Deal.

* * *

Yes, liberal democracy works for class mobility, and yes, that weakens class struggle. But, given the relative powers of the upper class and the lower class, you'd have to be either insane or rich to think class struggle is a good fight to bet on. The big rock candy mountain generally turns out to be rat excrement. The most successful revolution of the twentieth century was the one Franco raised against the Spanish Republic.

* * *

Democracy's inherently divisive power can balance the inherently coalescing power of wealth only so long as other forces stay unaligned. What typically seems to wreck the balance (other than invasion) is religious or nationalist mania whipped up by a good propaganda network. But in a secular capitalist democracy the balance is always in question.

It's easy to see why those of us with a taste for absolutes and verities lose our patience. The promise of liberal democracy hasn't been and never can be fulfilled. That's because all it promises is to maintain tension. Any fulfillment must be tactical and temporary for the simple reason that politics won't go away.

I admit that sometimes, in some places, even that much faith seems misplaced.

But anyone capable of swallowing Lacan has lost all right to skepticism.

* * *

Anyway, Žižek's not into fantasizing revolution for social equity. He's into it because it lets him be simultaneously naughty and puritanical. Here, he plays Uncle Joe to the simple serfs of America, with many spankings in store for nubile pop stars.

Hey, I got a sample population for you, Slavoj, 'cause those Kansas proles are my people. (Well, Missouri. Next best thing. My mother worked for Ashcroft's campaign.) All my high school friends whether skeptic, undecided, closeted, Republican, Nazi, Democrat, or just scared have been born again. (Not that things seem to be going better for them second time round.)

And you know what? They'd hate you worse'n I do.


Grrr. My Grranddad's middle name was 'Kansas'. For reals. Here's S.Z. on Abu Ghraib: "the Iraqi prisoners were effectively being initiated into American culture" also "You can find similar photographs in the US press whenever an initiation rite goes wrong in an army unit or on a high school campus" - Rush Limbaugh for bookworms.

My own dislike for Žižek is moderated by his open fraudulence. As he explains in the link above and here, when he got a chance to play an effective role in politics, rather than attacking the "liberal-democratic hegemony", he helped found the Liberal Democratic Party. And when he got a chance to try out the claims of Lacanian analysis, he wasted his therapy on hoaxing his analyst.

That doesn't mean I've grown exactly fond of him. As a hoaxer, he'll never reach the sublimity of Duchamp or Buñuel. With his steady stipend and his rotation of wife-tenders and his millenarian admirers, he's got a comfy shtick and he's shtuck there. And don't get your hopes up when people praise his prose style. They mean it's lively compared to other Leninist Lacanians.

But such naked craving for attention is more embarrassing than hateful. (I hope.) Worse are the fool's zanies, making moon-eyes at his "playful" "trickster" antics while swearing by the patent medicine.

Like much of academia, the fondness for Zizek is cultish. It's only his appearance in mags like In These Times (to wildly negative reviews) that seems to make liberals nervous. The troublesome thing is not what he says so much that seemingly intelligent people buy into it. But then again, why should that surprise me?

Mitsu Hadeishi writes:

It seems to me that Zizek suffers from a tendency towards what I would call a sort of intellectual inconsistency --- on the one hand, the whole point of postmodernism is to critique the notion of a totalizing (and totalitarian) single world view --- and Zizek is consistent in the sense that he criticizes Stalinism for this --- he does seem to have such a fondness for socialism not so much as a totalizing system but as a symbol of attempts to help the working class that he constantly attempts to use postmodern insights to prop up arguments in favor of state intervention on behalf of workers, a fondness which is perhaps a bit irrational. I don't, however, think it is accurate to accuse him of "millenarianism" --- such a concept is actually thoroughly unpostmodern, it is precisely opposed to pretty much everything that any postmodern thinker ought to take seriously. In fact, I see Zizek rejecting this totalizing impulse quite thoroughly when he discusses Stalinism, which he sees as a degeneration of socialism. However, still does seem to be guilty of a certain irrational bias in that his articles often seem to be aimed at the "goal" of a sort of postmodern version of socialism though I haven't seen a clear picture of what this would mean in practice.

As far as I can tell, he does criticize Lenin on postmodern grounds for making a couple of key mistakes: the most egregious of which is his conflation of a supposedly objective necessity (the criticizers of the revolution are objectively opposing the advance of social justice, and thus ought to be shot) with a radical subjectivism (*I* have decided that these ideas are opposing social justice). He rightly says this sort of totalitarian impulse is based on a fallacy (I noticed in researching this, however, that Lenin in fact said these words two years after the Bolsheviks had abolished the firing squads, so he was clearly speaking metaphorically, at the time.)

He is really, it seems to me, simply being sort of impish in his use of Lenin, here, because he's not actually suggesting a return to Lenin, but simply a resurrection of a simple notion, which is that choice is not merely choice between two alternatives within a single framework, but rather also includes choices between frameworks. His use of Lenin is meant to be provocative, but hardly serious in the sense that it seems pretty obvious he doesn't mean a literal return to Lenin, merely a resurrection of that aspect of his thought which happens to coincide with something that isn't entirely crazy.

The problem I have, of course, with Zizek here, is that I don't know if he really has an understanding of economics. The basic idea that one ought to question whether or not one has the best set of choices rather than merely questioning one choice or the other --- this is obviously a valid point. Zizek is not arguing in favor of a suppression of alternate points of view; he's rather arguing in favor of the increase in the number of points of view, to re-include some now semi-discredited notions of socialism as an ideal. However, I think Zizek probably doesn't really understand the central problem with state intervention, which isn't that there is a problem with trying to help the lower classes but rather simply with the notion of centralized bureaucratic decision-making, which is, ironically, the same problem with overly powerful corporate concentrations of capital.

I agree with your general critique of him, however, in that I happen to believe the function of politics ought not to be the creation of an ideal state, but rather merely the prevention of the devolvement into a disaster. Thus, to me, Democrats v Republicans are a real choice: a choice between a relatively stable society which remains somewhat unfair and a society headed for doom. In this sense Zizek and other similar intellectuals miss the point in a sort of ivory tower idealism. Nevertheless what they're saying I don't think is quite as crazy as it is being made out to be by some. It seems to me Zizek's essential point is framed correctly (i.e., that one ought to question the choices as well as question the choice) --- I just think he nevertheless overromanticizes socialist impulses as the alternative (as well as overromanticizing the possibility of an idealized state).

My outbursts were far from clear on this score, but by "academic millenarians," I meant the American citers of Žižek rather than Žižek himself.

. . .

Nothing Personal, 5

What does it mean to talk about a poet's "voice"? Or to praise a poet's contribution or opposition to "diction"? Something about a poem in a particular context, context and poem held as a unit.... It's an intuition of vocabulary and aim, stops and breaks, approach and territory. It's what good parody flushes out of its home digs and into the open.

Whatever it is, what I wrote earlier didn't quite get it. Personality per se isn't the issue and depersonalization isn't the goal "depersonalizing"'s just another formula for sounding like a poet. Personality is undiscardable: it's not in our hands to discard, being a matter of how a subject is perceived. Posing or not, once the camera snaps, I'm captured in a pose. With all the will in the world, ideas seep into our things.

No, Marcel Duchamp wasn't trying to escape marcelduchampitude. What he disliked was not himself, but a certain rhetoric of self-presentation which leads to a certain social relation....

For example, to comments which read like a pro-anorexia support group's. Honestly pursued self-indulgence is a rare thing; what usually goes under that name is a desperate fraud of self- and peer-flattery. Jack Spicer's and Frank O'Hara's flatness "I am a real poet" opens up that window lets the bad air out.

Not that window openers necessarily benefit directly. Unhealthy as their verses sound to me, Duncan, Ginsberg, Berryman, and Lowell all outlived O'Hara and Spicer. A fresh expression of acerbic alcoholism is nicer than a stale one, but that doesn't make it safe to operate heavy machinery: you're still alone in a room with a hangover. The mostly-sober Objectivists were unusual in being able to take the matter of the contemporary lyric past how someone fucked you over, how you fucked someone else over, or how fucked up you are.

Which may in itself be enough to justify associating them with Language Poetry.


Sense of Doubt?
As much as their left-wing earnestness and their formal choices *what*?

I see what you mean. Would I could return the favor. I hope trimming the sentence helped a bit letting it grow didn't seem to.

Speaking of compression artifacts, I got an email this morning titled "GMT Book" and starting "Dear GMT Event Contributors," and I must've spent two minutes trying to remember when the hell we ever discussed time zones on the Valve.

. . .

Josh Lukin, August 18 1968 - July 25 2019

... a man of infinite patience and compassion, awesome learning, immense honesty, and almost grating humility, he represents to me the peak of what a scholar can be.
- from "Acknowledgments" in "A Literature of Suspicion: Critiques of 1950s Ideals in the American Roman Noir," a dissertation by Joshua Benjamin Lukin, 2003

Dick Macksey was the role model Josh mentioned most often to me, with H. Bruce Franklin a close second. I suppose what makes us think of someone as a "role model" or a "mentor" rather than simply "admirable" is validation-by-example of an ethos we would like to share once we've been assured that it's possible. And for those who succeed, descriptions of one's role model can conveniently be repurposed by others as a self-portrait.

Josh successfully lived as if the greatest of scholarly virtues, the primary impetus and guide which could not be sacrificed to convenience or time, was generosity. I'm told there are few higher-education jobs more draining than repeated first-year composition classes in an un-Ivied urban university, but year after year he gave his all to students. Almost half the longer pieces in his publications CV consist of interviews with non-canonical authors (and Josh Lukin was the Ernest Haller of interviewers). One of his two book credits comes from editing a collection of next-to-forgotten work from a writer better known as a mathematician; for the other, he edited a collection of essays about undercelebrated writings from an undercelebrated age. If he'd only labored over some first-time-into-English translations, he would have bullseyed every bullet point on the "Valuable Scholarly Work Which Will Not Advance Your Career" slide.

The virtue of "generosity" covers a wide and sometimes conflicting range, and its expressions are shaped by opportunity and need. (To put it more bluntly, Josh Lukin could not have reached into his shelves and handed anyone a first edition copy of Tristram Shandy although he could and did provide a year's worth of very welcome Donald Westlake recommendations.) In Josh's scholarly home turf of American studies (most often non-mainstream fiction, most often mid-20th-century), his characteristic expression turned away from both a Hermeneutics of Suspicion directed at naive-yet-safely-canonical Literature and the quietist or martial celebration of received wisdom, to demonstrate a Hermeneutics of Recovery and Acknowledgment which let suspicious Literature handle the Suspicion.

More broadly, he worked (and played) to break through the gated solipsism of those who conform to the hegemony du jour and the solitary confinement of those whose experiences or very existence have been denied:

But the taking of sides is not always the point: some of [Chandler] Davis's stories and essays rely on poetic force to evoke the understanding that to put it in propositional form “This state of feeling, or sequence of feelings, is possible and even common.’ A criterion for artistry and for radicalism in such a tactic is whether the statement is necessary and unusual: the pedagogy of feeling to which we are subjected every day by the clichéd and conservative discourse around us does not need more literature to reinforce it. Andrea Hairston has written, “Repetition is meaning. What we hear endlessly, goes without saying—is learned.” We need the tools to unlearn it, or to find affirmation of what we rarely hear validated; but we aren’t blessed with authoritative guides or methods for determining where poetic truth appears, or what manifestations of poetically shared feeling “further our understanding of ourselves and our society.” We must fall back upon our own rational faculties and our own moral imagination, with curiosity and compassion fueling our drive to connect with others.
- "Afterword: Alternatives to Reverence" from It Walks in Beautry
What artists, educators, performers, and historians can do for such movements is establish connections and continuities. If the hegemonic discourse reproduces itself by telling people with dissenting ideas that they are ridiculous, unhip, criminal, isolated, or mad, then any indication that they might be reasonable, aware, just, sane, and possessed of views that are shared by other people or were validated in other eras can help to build courage and conviction. Documenting what happens when shame is used as a mode of social control, when men are limited to a small repertoire of stereotypical roles, and when class is conflated with personal worth, the Literature of Suspicion can tell a receptive reader that a life such as his has been noticed or that her own suspicions that the dominant order's claims are false have been shared.
- "A Literature of Suspicion: Critiques of 1950s Ideals in the American Roman Noir"
Although I will in the remainder of this essay speak of having recognized familiar experiences in literature, I actually tend to feel that the text has recognized me rather than the reverse. And in being so recognized, I get, paradoxically, assured that responding, or having responded, with shame (or indeed with other intense affects) to past or ongoing experiences may not in fact be shameful.
- "Science Fiction, Affect, and Crip Self-Invention Or, How Philip K. Dick Made Me Disabled"

To my suggestion that Josh go public with his particularly acute critique of a then-trendy bit of poisonous rhetoric:

But right now, getting X *more* talked-about seems to me to be as desirable as a fistula (Asking Delany for his thoughts on the guy was a strategy for getting more Delanyan thinking into the world, not more reflections on X per se). You know me --I wunna call attention to as-yet insufficiently celebrated scholarship (among which I count Hoberek's book) or promote the creation of critical work that circumnavigates the Usual Cliches. Or, you know, get more sleep.
- correspondence, 2005
What's at stake here for me is that I would kind of like to say "These authors I have interviewed provide us with tools to rebut, or see through, or assert our dignity in the face of, or ignore, the toxic fantasies of X, Y, and Z" 'cause one is supposed to have a theory as to what theme holds one's work together. I hope my argument ends up having advantages beyond the fact that I know about irony. I'll have to engage Landy's "Nation of Bovarys," I guess; but surely we all see our own insufficiencies and plunge into bovarysm in order to escape the condemnation which, deep in our consciousness, we are the first and perhaps the only ones to make.
- correspondence, 2011

* * *

Present-day curators of American higher education in America set high value on "generosity" among the donor class but otherwise maybe not so much, and the freshly doctorated Josh Lukin duly became a contingent employee with a teaching load which discouraged extended research, writing, or publisher stalking. Chronically short on time, and showing caution appropriate to the academic precariat (as well as caution appropriate to the reader of Patricia Highsmith), Josh reduced his weblog to un-Waybackable ash long ago, and kept his Facebook account on lockdown more often than not. His latter-day academic publications include book reviews, reference-book entries, and a few historically-informed pedagogically-slanted close readings. All of them excellent jobs; all of them informative, convincing, and true to his own values. At least one of the reference entries has won an impressive citation list in its own right.

But such material requires some fading-into-the-background, and few hold much of Lukin's distinctive voice.

Most obviously (and understandably) missing are the puns. Josh perceived a world of whirling nimbuses of potential pun, where a quiver of displacement might at any moment discharge a cackling flash too loud and bright to ignore.

Then there was his affection for a mostly-vanished mode of mid-century secular American Jewishness; in one phone conversation with Josh, I would hear more Yiddish than from my year in Brooklyn. Like other drops from approved diction into "down home" idioms, it played a tutoyer role, and as such sometimes made a guest appearance in his interviews.

Most crucially, his academic publications muted the unique virtue of his wit, which somehow contrived to be engagingly genial even when furious or despairing. When he stung, he left a sting worth attending. You might gather some notion from his Chandler Davis afterword, and "Science Fiction, Affect, and Crip Self-Invention," and, less formally, from his Aqueduct Press self-bio. Although his dissertation is officially unpublished and (like virtually all contemporary literary-studies dissertations) modularized for easy cannibalization, and has in fact been partly cannibalized, it also coheres and builds, which makes me suspect that extended Lukin may be the best Lukin.

For that reason, I've kept close and frustrated track of the book-length projects he's mentioned over the years: a collection of his "interviews with feminist authors"; "Noir Recognitions, a study of identity in the 1950s novels of Jim Thompson, Patricia Highsmith, Shirley Jackson, and Philip Dick"; and, most intriguingly, "an unpublished draft of a memoir (Urgency: Growing Up with Crohn’s Disease)." Maybe someday, someday... well, a fan-boy can dream, can't he?

* * *

The Josh Lukin I knew was deeper, wider, and funnier than the academically-published Dr. Joshua B. Lukin, but still not quite Josh complet. I know from hearsay that he, like me, loved to eat, loved face-to-face conversation, and exhibited a disconcerting tendency to burst into song (myself in chants which echo Michael Hordern's, Josh [I imagine] in a Melchiorisch heldentenor accompanied by Segovian guitar). But residing 2800 miles apart and on very different career tracks, we (and Ann Keefer, his partner in all things) met only once in the flesh (being flesh, we of course immediately dined), and the late hours of our phone calls discouraged outbursts which might startle sleepy cats.

Still, it was Josh Lukin enough to fill a satisfying portion of my life. Long after the bulk of free-and-direct discourse retreated from the spooky public sphere into Mark'n'Jack's ClickLike Clubhouse, he continued to engage with an uncredentialed unknown non-academic who (true to form) could not conceivably advance anyone's career a whit. For sixteen years, through mutually inflicted bafflements, bruisings, and boosts, he was my most reliable correspondent, and for sixteen years he instigated my most extended and educational phone calls, punctuated by his signature placeholder, "What, can, I, say...," intoned with the delighted perplexity of a sated gourmet faced by another platter of amuse-bouches. Despite being given the advantage of a four-hour time difference, I'm such an early-rising geezer I sometimes found myself unable to even take notes during the last part of these calls, and wished I'd asked permission to record them for later listening.

(Timmi Duchamp maintained an even longer and closer epistolary/telephonic friendship. I wonder how many more of us are out there?)

Josh always suffered from greater or even-greater health problems, and they worsened this year, interfering not only with his work but with his and Ann's preparations to relocate. In mid-July he phoned to tell me that diagnostic progress had finally been made and a biopsy had been scheduled, and he figured I might be able to say something more than "We will keep you in our thoughts and prayers." I did so; he did so; we enjoyed ourselves but grew fatigued, as a sleepy old guy and a mortally ill guy will. Before we hung up I asked him to phone me again next week with the results of his biopsy, then thoughtlessly added, "We'll be thinking of you." I quickly apologized for violating our contract, at which he just as quickly chortled, "Like Oscar Wilde said, heh, the only thing worse than being thought about is not being thought about."

I didn't hear back from him the next week but wasn't surprised no matter what course of treatment he was prescribed, he and Ann would also be busy with their move.

Early on Sunday morning, July 28, I saw an obituary for Richard Macksey in the Washington Post, and sent a short email to Josh expressing condolences and asking about the biopsy. Late on Sunday night, I realized it had been a while since I checked on Facebook inhabitants, briefly logged in, and found that Josh had died two nights before.

He would've mocked my sentimentality with relish (with mustard, even), but Josh meant the world to me I know he did because the ground beneath me vanished when I read the news and free-fall makes me clingy. I hope this Sondheim number is sardonic enough to pass muster (and the mustard) with his memory.


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.