pseudopodium
. . . Intellectual property

. . .

It's official: dot-com-izing is the colorization of the 1990s! And see how nicely it can learn to play with the new copyright laws! As excerpted from some guy named Bloomberg:

American Film Technologies Inc. officials have ousted the chief executive of the company that pioneered "colorizing" of black-and-white movies and replaced him with a turnaround specialist, according to filings with securities regulators.
. . .
But a dropoff in demand for colorized films left the company struggling to survive, court papers said. American Film hasn't generated any revenues since 1995 and its lab and film library are sitting unused.
. . .
Rudy said he's arranged for a $250,000 cash infusion for American Film, which will now focus on offering colorized films via the Internet. The company is planning to offer color versions of such classics as To Kill A Mockingbird and A Farewell to Arms, he added.

By colorizing such older movies -- whose copyrights have expired -- American Film gets exclusive rights to the films for the next 95 years, Rudy said.

"We're excited about the possibilities of distributing our product over the Internet and rebuilding the value in this company," he said.

. . .

Mamas, Don't Make Your Babies Executors

It's corporations that have forced the vicious new copyright laws upon us and it's mostly corporations that reap the scattered profits and work the universal havoc. After all, corporations have the rights of an individual, are richer than an individual, but can't be institutionalized for criminal insanity like an individual. But because corporations do define themselves as individuals, the monstrous growth of their "rights" has to some extent trickled down to those individuals who have done individually absolutely nothing to merit control of an absent individual's work: to wit, relatives.

The Astaire widow's vacuum-cleaner-financed defense of posthumous dignity may be the most visible outcome. But, as with corporations, the true cultural danger of these suit-threatening and suit-hiring relatives is loss of the marginal rather than exploitation of the famous. Corporations and corporation-like individuals both prefer the risk of eradication to the risk of losing control.

Thus, word on the rue was that a major delay in bringing Jean Eustache's The Mama and the Whore back into distribution was the heir's hope for a windfall, and that a continued obstacle to bringing Mes Petites Amoreuses to videotape is the same. Since Mes Petites Amoreuses was an international flop as well as my favorite coming-of-age movie, if rue-word is true a windfall is unlikely and the stalemate will continue.

Moving past cinematic rumors to literary documentation, "difficult" poet Louis Zukofsky has gotten still more difficult as incarnated in his son, Paul. Possibly understandably teed off by the tongue-clucking directed towards his father by Lorine Niedecker scholars (after all, Niedecker never complained about her treatment), Zukofsky fils refused to allow the teensiest scrap of père's letters to enter into the otherwise excellent Niedecker and the Correspondence With Zukofsky. But gagging the accused isn't such a hot idea: a writer's best defense is usually their own testimony. Witness how the fuller disclosure of Pound/Zukofsky: Selected Letters of Ezra Pound and Louis Zukofsky easily snuffs the calumny that Zukofsky sucked up to Pound's anti-Semitism.

(Could be worse, I suppose, and it is in the case of Zukofsky's lifelong comrade, Basil Bunting, whose life and letters remain in darkness due to the mortar-and-brick combination of his estate's reticence and England's Official Secrets Act.)

The granddaddy of such repressers has got to be professional grandson Stephen Joyce, who's redirected the kind of smug never-forgive never-forget selfishness that usually gets expended on family feuds towards all scholars everywhere. In A Collideorscape of Joyce, a festschrift for angelic if plain-spoken Joycean Fritz Senn, Stephen Joyce plays the villain again, preventing inclusion of a new German translation of the last chapter of Ulysses and of a study of the manuscripts of the "Nausicaa" chapter, and, most unforgivably, blocking publication of exactly the sort of calumny-snuff referred to above:

"I'll never forget the moment when Lili Ruff produced a copy of the German translation of Ulysses, inscribed to her father by Joyce, with letters stuffed inside.... I was flabbergasted, honoured (never mind that I would later be thwarted by Stephen Joyce from publishing them). Because among those letters... were Joyce's sentiments regarding the treatment of Jews before the outbreak of World War II, and more evidence of his active participation in helping Jews to escape from Nazi Europe." -- Marilyn Reizbaum, "Sennschrift"

. . .

Criswell Predicts

Twentieth century == Obscenity trials
Twenty-first century == Copyright trials

And may gods help us all.

. . .

David Auerbach economically adds to our belly-down crawl around the thundering canon:

Can I make a simplifying statement that the missing element may be some sense of equanimity?

And speaking of which, please give Mr. Lethem a medal for his Salon Premium plug of today. He made better of a thankless task than I'd thought possible. His bait-and-switch of "It's not just that, but it's nothing more!" is some sort of inspiration.

Last, all I need from a novel is here.

For myself, it's wonderful to discover that, thanks to Salon Premium, I am now refusing to support Camille Paglia! (Admittedly, this is one of those "speaking prose all my life" thrills, but a thrill's a thrill.) On top of which, I can also actively not shore up the tottering incomes of Salon's CEO, editors, movie reviewers, and so on. Talk about win-win!

My attitude towards subscription might be a little old-fashioned, though, since I don't subscribe to newspapers but I was glad to throw some money toward the NosePilot kid and I'd be glad to pay Lynda Barry directly for her watercolors. What galls are the extravagently wasteful layers of plastic and cardboard pimping that wrap the product. The web doesn't need prejudging editors so much as postfacto pointers, and the web doesn't need high-salaried executives or designers at all. What the web (still) needs is a reliable way to handle genuinely micro micropayments and a reliable way to protect creators from being bankrupted by unexpectedly popular creations.

More than anything else, the Web means low-cost publishing with fast wide distribution. It's therefore not surprising that the Web is dominated by the sorts of publications that have traditionally only been held in check by cost or distribution worries:
  • Academic research
  • Fanzines and other publications created "for the love of it," including reprints of rare, low-interest material
  • Ego-driven essays, diaries, and artwork
  • Small press fiction and poetry
  • Non-marketing-driven comics
  • Publicity and advertising
  • Retail catalogs
  • Community resource guides
  • Public services, such as transportation reports and weather forecasts
  • Industry-specific magazines that are usually distributed for free
Since the Web is in essence low-cost, it's very hard for any given publisher to fight against that essence by seeking extra payment from its audience. Gross costs can be reduced by moving to the Web, but gross income is unlikely to appear. Thus, subscription services have only succeeded when they maintain fairly tight control over a much-desired service that could not be gotten elsewhere as easily: the fetishes of stock-market players and pornography addicts have proven particularly ripe for exploitation. On the other hand, a standard newspaper, magazine, or TV-style sitcom won't have much of a shot at bargain-hunting Web surfers' cash.

-- from Web Design Resources Directory, 1997, thus partly excusing the use of "surfers"

The dreadful commingling of the overpriced software industry and overpriced entertainment industry loaded huge amounts of unnecessary cost onto a model kept afloat till now mostly by inflated valuation and partly by advertising. Advertising alone can't come close to maintaining it. Good riddance in the long run, but in the short run, the tumbling mountains of garbage are, as is their wont, sweeping lots of great stuff away.

Services I would gladly pay to keep alive simply vanish without being given a chance, their wanna-be-like-the-big-guy owners using the same reasoning by which corporations are supressing the history of cinema: the copyright holders, not caring about what they hold copyright on, consider the cost-to-benefit ratio of giving permission too high to deal with. (You have to hire someone to give permission; you don't need to hire anyone at all to ignore requests. Suing for infringement, of course, is always worth the money.)

Instead of archiving and cataloging their own work, writers depend on crash-by-night magazines to collect and maintain material, when the realities of both print and online publication is that magazines work, at best, as initial publicity. Comics artists waste time on brain-dead Flash loops when they could be making full-color serials. Newspapers, rather than storing their articles as highly compressible dirt-simple text and collecting the small fees that would be otherwise fed to library photocopying machines, are closing access, increasing "reprint" costs to unrealistic levels, and publishing more material on expensive paper than on cheap diskspace.

After its jerrybuilt business district finishes collapsing, the web may find itself only set back five years or so. But even in the midst of the swirling dust, there are encouraging signs. Weblogging seems to have already spread to zine scene levels, without paper zines' constraints on further growth. And there are finally signs that some academics are ready to push against the utterly unnecessary waste of traditional journal publication....

. . .

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!"

. . .

Spoosday

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.

+ + +

In other intellectual property news, the coming Dark Ages are getting nudged along in a big way by big Bill Gates. By buying up major photo archives and burying them deep in the earth, he's ensured that they're only (and barely, if ever, even so) available via electronic transfer. By then claiming copyright on those electronic reproductions, he basically removes the original works from public domain. A very clever scheme which will do for the history of photography (and America, for that matter) as Hollywood studios have been doing for the history of cinema: erasing it. BookNotes has done a great job of collecting information on the story.

Gates's plan depends on the seemingly absurd notion that digitizing counts as "a substantial creative act" and that his reproductions are therefore new, original, and copyrighted works. Instant Rationality: Just Add Money! Still, it's hard to picture a clearer example of what "public domain" was meant to protect than Matthew Brady's Civil War photographs, so maybe our cowardly crops of leased legislators will eventually be shamed into unprofitable action.

(I've never been big on the Bill Gates as Dark Lord propaganda, on account of every CEO I've ever encountered has been completely evil in the exact same way. But between this and XP licensing, Gates's recent innovations in evil must awe even weasels like Jobs and Ellison....)

. . .

I sent this letter before I read about the increasing use of the DMCA as a convenient way to suppress web sites (link via BookNotes) without the bother of legal justification: a particularly clear example of the DMCA stripping rights away from US citizens and draping them around well-padded corporate shoulders.

Dear Senator Feinstein:

In recent news coverage of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, I read the following quote from "Howard Gantman, a spokesman for Feinstein": "We need to protect copyrights and this law was designed to do that."

I find this attitude deeply troubling. Copyright was already well-established law, and laws are meant to be enforced, not protected. Human beings need to be defended and protected; laws do not, except in so far as legislators may try to defend a particular law against other legislators in debate.

If there's one common theme to the Bill of Rights, it's the need to protect American citizens from such "preventative" legislation. There's no doubt that police officers and public prosecutors would sometimes more easily enforce the law if those amendments, and other troublesome parts of the Constitution, could be conveniently dropped. But if those provisions did not exist, much too much added power would be gained by the wealthy and politically powerful at the expense of the relatively powerless. Our Constitutional protections help level the legal playing field.

The DMCA is a classic example of the kind of legislation that citizens need protection from:

  • It is based on a presumption by the powerful (large corporations) that the relatively powerless (the individual purchaser) is the guilty party in any dispute.

  • It specially privileges the rights of the wealthy (who can buy into patented encryption and distribution methods) over the rights of the less wealthy human beings who actually do the work of creating what corporate lawyers like to call "intellectual property" but who are unlikely to be able to afford the extra layer of protection.

  • In the name of protecting copyright and preventing piracy, it criminalizes human beings who have never themselves violated copyright or committed piracy.

Public domain and fair use are always under attack by large media companies, but defense of those concepts is absolutely essential to the cultural health and heritage of a nation. Profitability is the only rule that can be followed by a publicly-held corporation, but there are reasons besides profitability for making our culture and history available. (To take an example of special interest to California, much American film history will be forever lost over the next few decades: films deteriorate, inaccessible, in vaults because the multinational corporations which own them do not see sufficient profitability in making them accessible to the public.) Those non-profit-oriented reasons don't have a chance without public domain and fair use.

But the DMCA assumes that the best way to avoid disputes over public domain and fair use is to guarantee absolute power to the large media companies.

There is no requirement that a digitally protected work automatically unprotect itself once its content enters into the public domain.

There is no requirement for fair use workarounds to digital protection. On the contrary, even investigating such a workaround is criminalized.

There is no way for the consumer and scholar to protect themselves against the industry-driven shifts in media technology fashion which seem to take place every decade or so. To take another example from American film history, several of the great early sound movies of Ernst Lubitsch have never been released on VHS tape or on DVD, due to lack of anticipated profitability. They were, however, released briefly in the now-obsolete laserdisk format. Laserdisk players are getting rarer and more expensive, and will someday will be virtually unattainable. Purchasers of the Lubitsch laserdisks -- film schools, for example -- are able to preserve their investment by backing them up to another media format. If those disks had been copy-protected, the movies contained on them would effectively be lost to the public. Similarly, if 78 RPM records could have been copy-protected, there would be little left of the early history of jazz or blues by the time copyright restrictions ran out. Only the most consistently profitable works can survive such technological shifts.

There is no consumer protection against profit-gouging deals between large corporations. An early target of DMCA enforcers was software that allows DVDs to be played on the Linux operating system. Microsoft was able to cut a deal with the relevant media corporations, and thus gain extra leverage against any competitor; Linux, as a free operating system, could not. Should the manufacturer of a copy of a fifty-year-old movie really be given so much influence over the purchaser's home computer setup? Again, the DMCA criminalizes consumer protection.

Defense of our legal rights against the arbitrary rule of the powerful is what we look to our senators and representatives for. I believe that history will judge the DMCA as harshly as McCarthyism and the Alien and Sedition Acts. I urge the Senator to reconsider her support of this unjust and destructive legislation.

Sincerely,
Ray Davis

. . .

Hungover by the chimney with care

Unlike myself, boing boing sobered up long enough to point to this interview-as-philippic from Lawrence Lessig:

"Copyright law silences speech. If the government wants to silence speech, it needs a very good reason. And if it doesn't have that reason, it should not silence my speech."
Incidentally (insignificantly, in fact), Dianne Feinstein's office finally sent a form letter response to my citizenly concerns about the DMCA and copyright extension; it turns out that I didn't realize the importance of intellectual property rights. Ho-K, Senator Feinstein!

I guess I should be grateful that they hadn't prefixed something about September 11 making Disney's and Universal's profits more imperative than ever....

. . .

Remember these names

The Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act (CBDTPA) prohibits the sale or distribution of nearly any kind of electronic device -- unless that device includes copy-protection standards to be set by the federal government.... Joining [Fritz Hollings (D-South Carolina)] as co-sponsors of the CBDTPA are one Republican and four Democrats: Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), John Breaux (D-Louisana) and Dianne Feinstein (D-California). At a hearing last week, Feinstein showed her colleagues a pirated movie that she said an aide had downloaded from a file-trading service.
One of them sort of springs out, doesn't it? Few South Carolinians outside Senator Hollings himself are likely to feel particularly tied to either movie-corporation or software-corporation money. But Senator Feinstein continues to betray the commercial interests of her Bay Area home base (not to mention such non-bottom-line interests as intellectual freedom, consumer rights, and cultural history) in favor of entertainment moguls. Isn't it about time for the computer and networking industries to start supporting legislators who'll protect their rights and the rights of their customers?

Then there's Feinstein's tired dog-and-my-little-nightmare-pony show, the exact equivalent of saying "I recorded a movie from cable on my VCR last night, and therefore VCRs should be illegal," probably because the RIAA used exactly that argument back when they wanted to ban VCRs.

God, I'm sick of Feinstein and her RIAA friends flaunting their lives of crime. She might just as well brag about parking in a disabled-only space before insisting that all car engines be stoppable by remote control, or about shoplifting from a used book store before insisting that no bookstores be allowed to operate without strip searches, or about stealing candy from a baby before insisting that babies not be allowed candy, or about letting her vicious untrained dog bite a caterer before insisting that caterers buy and wear padded clothing at all times. (Actually, according to a caterer friend, that last one is true, except that Feinstein didn't suggest the padded clothing, just told the caterer to get back to work. Actually, from what I've heard of Feinstein, she's probably done all those other things too.)

Earlier in the month, I wrote to California's other senatorial product of the Bay Area Democratic political machine, Barbara Boxer:

I have been a lifelong Democratic voter. But as a writer, an engineer, and an American citizen, I am concerned enough by this issue for it to decide my vote in future California elections.
Boxer is a liberal on other issues, so I wouldn't enjoy voting against her. Feinstein's a different kettle of day-old fish: she would be a Republican if she'd started from anyplace other than San Francisco, where her initial power-grab was only made possible by the assassination of Mayor Moscone. She's propped by corporate funds, and some of the funding should migrate.

United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary "User Comments":
0 arguments for; 186 arguments against

. . .

"Who's the weirdo?", cont.

You know what makes me happy?

OK, that's a stupid question. Of course you do. But do you know what makes me happy right now?

... well, yeah, "trying the patience of the reader" works, but you know what else?

It's when results reported in the Journal of Personality & Social Psychology match results reported in cognitive science texts from MIT Press. As for example, on the good ship Cognition in the Wild, skippered by Edwin Hutchins, who I trust, among other reasons, 'cause he says "the real value of connectionism for understanding the social distribution of cognition will come from a more complicated analogy in which individuals are modeled by whole networks or assemblies of networks, and in which systems of socially distributed cognition are modeled by communities of networks." Boo-yah!

Cap'n Hutchins set up a constraint-satisfaction connectionist network to simulate hypothesis resolution between communicating gatherers of evidence for or against conflicting hypotheses.

Consider a simulation experiment in which all the networks have the same underlying constraint structure, and all have the same access to environmental evidence, but each has a slightly different initial pattern of activation than any of the others. Furthermore, all the networks communicate with one another, all the units in each network are connected to all the units in the other networks, and the communication is continuous. This can be regarded as a model of mass mental telepathy. With a nonzero persuasiveness, each individual network moves toward [the same] interpretation more quickly. ... Once there, they respond only a little to additional evidence from the environment. Once in consensus, they stay in consensus even if they have had to change their minds in order to reach consensus.... a group mind would be more prone to confirmation bias than any individual mind.

... diversity of interpretations is fairly easy to produce as long as the communication among the members of the community is not too rich. If they are allowed to go their own ways for a while, attending to both the available evidence and their predispositions, and then to communicate with one another, they will first sample the information in the environment and then go (as a group) to the interpretation that is best supported.

Given that, he went on to set up primitive models of such painfully familiar conflict-resolution approaches as monarchy, Quaker-style consensus, and majority-rule voting. No surprises as to the plusses (shortened time to resolution) or minuses (d'oh!) of monarchy. Or of consensus:
if some individuals arrive at very well-formed interpretations that are in conflict with one another before communication begins, there may be no resolution at all.
With majority rule, he points out:
voting does not always produce the same results that would be achieved by further communication. That this is so can easily be deduced from the fact that the result of a voting procedure for a given state of the community is always the same, whereas a given state of the community may lead in the future to many different outcomes at the group level (depending on... the bandwidth of subsequent communication).
Probably because of wanting to keep the models simple, he doesn't mention another serious problem with working democracies, or at least the one I'm in right now: Block-voting by a prematurely and persistently frozen-state monoculture of theocratic fundamentalists. Once a plurality of voters has arrived at very well-formed interpretations, they may ignore any evidence that contradicts their hypotheses and still be able to win control of the government.

Hutchins speculates that "in some environments, chronic indecision may be much less adaptive than some level of erroneous commitment." And I have a further obsessive (with the combined force of two obsessions) speculative comment of my own:

  5.         The computer simulations I've seen of language and other human memory-experience-extenders assume constant access and transmission.

That might be true of oral culture. The only thing transmitted through time is what's always important at each time. (Which may in turn be how the notion of sacred narratives and formulae developed: as a way of keeping seemingly arbitrary language in place, working against the ravages of convenience.)

But artifacts -- such as writing -- can outlast their time and their popularity, and survive to transmit new information -- that is, to transmit old information to new recipients.

Anything that develops outside of our own cultural circumstances provides, by definition, that healthy "diversity of interpretation" based on "broken communication" between entities that have "gone their own ways for a while."

My quixotic rage against copyright extension has nothing to do with those profitable works that get all the publicity --those which are popular and reprinted. I don't care whether Disney gets the money for Disney properties or not, so long as the Disney properties are available.

No, the utterly blankly death-reeking evil aspect of copyright extension and extension and extension is our forced regression to a secular oral culture, crushing into dust (if paper) or vinegar-reeking glue (if film) those artifacts that aren't currently -- at every moment -- obviously overwhelmingly profitable.

. . .

Nobody Knows I'm Dear

Turbulent Velvet is right that mean-spirited uncivil attack is the discursive norm in contemporary American culture, and that any public discourse left to its own devices will veer in that direction.

Alex Golub is further right that that same corporate-made-flesh norm drives us, mooing and ineffectually kicking those pressed close behind, to infinite extension, followed by suffocation, of copyright.

"Ideology" is too figureheading a word to reliably take a stand on any one ground, but there should be some term for a culture's mostly unspoken, slavishly followed, and clearly inadequate notions of human effort and pleasure: for that which is expressed and maintained passively through (paraphrasing T.V.) exhaustion and impatience as much as actively through fear or vanity or ignorance. In some cultures, altruism is the standard rhetorical stance and people are hypocrites about everything else. In ours, aggressively selfish he-with-the-most-toys-wins competition is the standard, and it's anything other than playing-to-win that's seen (and hidden and dismissed) as perverse.

My optimism (such as it is) rests (or exerts itself [such as it does]) in my knowledge of the failure of that norm to fully satisfy or explain human realities. There are delights and desires outside the purely competitive; even here and now, some people can sometimes share that recognition.

  Lest you think me insufficiently bitter and cynical -- I'm not, honest! -- I hasten to protest that sympathetic, kind, companionable, or harmlessly intrigued intentions in themselves are no guarantee of followthrough, success, coherency, or even sincerity. It's just I'm bitter and cynical enough to think the same caveats hold when people express intentions like greed, vindictiveness, power-grabbing, or lust. Most straight guys, for example, can't tell the difference between lust and a hole in the ground -- but that's another topic for another day. For today, it may be enough to remember how often vehemently expressed greed leads to bankruptcy. All motives are unreliable -- so why selectively repress sociable motives in favor of the sociopathic?

For every 19,800 announcements of eradicated Mr. Nice Guys, we gain only 75 restored or replaced Mr. Nice Guys. Since Mr. Nice Guys are, in fact, a defining comfort of civilized existence, what are we to do?

One of the things I like about the Journal of Personality & Social Psychology is, after they diagnose some way we're fucked up, they try to hack a workaround. (But that's social engineering! Yes, and just talking is social engineering. Coming up with the original hypothesis and putting experimental subjects through the embarrassment and publishing the results are all social engineering. And when newspapers rabidly seize upon some stereotype-reinforcing abstract and caricature it in headlines, that's primo social engineering.)

In "Norm of Self-Interest and Its Effects on Social Action", Rebecca K. Ratner & Dale T. Miller summarize earlier (North American, I presume) studies: Contrary to selfish assumptions, having a personal stake or vested interest in an issue doesn't unduly affect a person's attitudes or opinions about it. Stakes and interests do, however, make it more likely that one's attitudes will be acted on.

The easy, passive, explanation is that this reflects the miraculous power of selfishness.

Instead, it turns out to be caused more by a presumed injunction against altruism. Volunteers insist on explaining, no matter how unconvincingly, their motives as selfishness ("It gets me out of the house," "I like the people I work with"). Non-volunteers -- notably those who remain silent while others are slandered, or passed over, or pushed in -- point out that "It's not my place to interfere," "People will wonder why I'm making a fuss." It's like they'll be perceived as rude.

Horrifyingly, their presumption is right. Among the (North American, I presume) subjects of these studies, public action and public protest truly are likely to draw disapproval when there's no obvious self-interest involved. "Naturally," on the other hand, when there is obvious self-interest, the dominent whatsit is confirmed and strengthened.

But Ratner & Miller, tinkering with this awful machinery, found that if the action is framed to make it seem more legitimate or less objectionable (e.g., through anonymity, or by explicit inclusiveness, as in "everyone wins, it's a win-win, don't worry, people will think you're being selfish"), even nonvested citizens become much more likely to act on their beliefs. Once they grow accustomed to that luxury, who knows what might ensue? Multiple-issue politics even? A boy can dream.

Have we come to this? Imaginary vests and an underground of good intentions? Very well then, if that's the best we can manage....

Act on! Divested, invested, join us, who are not you! You have nothing to lose but your shirts!

. . .

(I know I sound like a broken record. Pretty much all records would be broken if we had to wait 95 years to copy them.)
Intellectual Property Duties

William Blake didn't stop writing in 1818. It just looks that way because his antejerusalem manuscripts were destroyed after his death and before his most fervent admirers were born.

Our access to European pre-Christian culture depends largely on copyists' lack of judgment: wild-assed Christians, like wild-assed fundamentalists of other sacred-or-secular stripes, aren't shy about discarding the not-obviously-utilitarian.

A while ago, I picked up a "great young American poets" anthology from 1880 or so. I recognized only two or three names, and them not for their verse. Among the missing: Dickinson, Melville, and Whitman.

They might've stayed missing, too. Whitman developed a cult while he was living, but scandalized heirs could easily have snuffed posthumous printings. And under our current rules, Moby-Dick and The Confidence-Man wouldn't have entered the public domain until 1961, crimping the 1920s Melville revival.

I'm not worried about the Mouse or Gone with the Wind. Where there's money to be made and no insanity in the family, distribution will probably take place, with or without legal encouragement. And it's arguable, case by case, whether copyright hinders creation in the arts or promotes it or leaves it alone. But it inarguably suppresses art (and embarrassing evidence) after its creation.

Current copyright laws discourage copying in favor of hoarding. Art drops and disappears forever (or for 95 years, whichever comes first) into the capacious legal laps of those who are indifferent or passively hostile towards it. The longer the term of "protection," the greater the chance that a work will encounter an unmotivated owner and be removed from circulation.

Under the previous less-but-still-extreme corporate copyright limit of 75 years, the golden age of American pulp magazines would now be passing into the public domain. Instead, it's crumbling for lack of anyone to get definitive permission from. Individuals such as myself may be willing to take the risk of reprinting orphaned work and waiting to see who protests, but cultural institutions (you know, those people who have archives and funding) cannot.

Worst off -- being both most expensive and most fragile -- is the twentieth century's signature medium.

I became a Hong Kong movie fan in 1985, thanks to the NYC Film Forum's King Hu festival. Having been revealed as one of the greatest directors of the 1960s and 1970s, King Hu then seemed to vanish from American theaters. I'm used to Hong Kong studios' disregard for their own achievements -- one of the many crassnesses they share with 1930s Hollywood -- but I always expected another chance for King Hu, who was, after all, a commercial success in his day.

Forget it. Our local film archive tried for weeks to contact the rights holders. No response at all. As so often happens in the corporate world, it simply isn't worth anyone's time to answer: they figure a lawyer taking a half-hour to check the paperwork would cost more than they'll gain by showing the films. Just wait till 2074....

Although admittedly a novice lawmaker, I offer a possible solution:

Make copyright dependent on the active exercise of copyright.
Copyright "protection" has not only been extended beyond recognition: it's also been made completely passive. You no longer need to register or renew work for it to be legally yours.

That may be fair during an individual creator's lifetime. But the combination of passivity and indefinite-extension encourages disappearance rather than publication. Lengthening copyright on a marginal work makes it more likely to be out of print, unviewable, unrestorable, unencountered, unknowable, and lost.

If copyright extension was contingent upon distribution of a work, profitable works would continue to keep uncreative corporations and heirs fat and happy, while unprofitable works could be freed and rescued by scholars, fanatics, and gamblers.

. . .

The Mouse That Cleared

Only after I watched Michael Eisner chattering with John Travolta at last night's World Series game did it strike me that Scientology Inc. gains fully as much from copyright extension as Disney Corp. does, corporate copyright having provided its main legal recourse against its critics. Dianne Feinstein's Hollywood constituency includes churches as well as studios. Perhaps it's not mere unfortunate happenstance that Scientology has been such an early and extended applier of the DMCA?

Coming up next: applications of cyber-terrorism law!

Fun facts to know & tell: How dumb is Ray? For years, he vaguely believed that Michael Eisner had some connection with the Disney family. On closer analysis, this assumption proved to be based on associating the Disney logo with the signature of Will Eisner. And that's pretty dumb!

. . .

Ba-lue Mun-deii Ba-lues-Are

"So Round So Firm So Fully Packed" by Merle Travis, as performed by Johnny Bond & his Red River Valley Boys, 1947

So round, so firm, so fully packed
That's my gal
So complete from front to back
That's my gal
Toasted by the sun
And I'm a son of a gun
If she don't make my five-o'-clock shadow
Come around at one

You can bet your boots I'd walk a mile
Through the snow
Just to see that toothpaste smile
They mention on the radio
If you don't think she's a lot of fun
Just ask the man who owns one
So round, so firm, so fully packed
That's my gal

So round, so firm, so fully packed
She's for me
She's just like a money back
Guarantee
Like the barfly goes for drink
Like the bobbysocks go for Frank
And just like Jesse James would go
For money in the bank
Now she's so sweet and perfect-size
She's a whiz
But she wears a 45
(Gun, that is)
She's got the looks that's so impressing
She's got the pause that's so refreshing
So round, so firm, so fully packed
That's my gal

She always hits the spot
Like a twelve-ounce bottle of pop
And when she smiles I go so wild
I pert near blow my top
Now she's got lots of looks to spare
She's for me
And that certain ring she wears
Is a lifetime guarantee
She's done told me I'm top hand
Won't be long till she wears my brand
So round, so firm, so fully packed
That's my gal
Spanked with a foxtail brush
Corporation disciplines consumer with the foxtail brush of advertising

For a hundred years or so, Americans have explored the ambiguous frontiers of self-definition, forcing the world at gunpoint to join our exciting journey.

Of course I'm not talking about sea-froth like "gender play," or "virtual avatars," or "community." No, I mean the ambiguity so central they put it in the name: incorporation, the profit imperative made better-than-flesh and sent to earth to redeem humanity (value 5¢ ME CT VT MA NY). Which, with recent "trade" agreements, has become the global equivalent of the medieval European Church: a spiritual authority that trumps all local secular rule.

We simple consumers have come to terms with the inescapable as we always have, with our own small attempts at incorporation. We swear allegiance to our patron brands, pin their badges to our clothes, draw our commonplaces from their testaments, collect their relics, and blaspheme at leisure.

I witnessed one notch-click on the pendulum-blade of progress in the 1980s, when, after years of viewing paid celebrity endorsements, American youth volunteered life-service in the sandwich boards free of charge. (For some reason, blanketing the family Volvo NASCAR-style never took off the same way.) I'm a transitional type, myself: although I still unstitch the leatherette patches from Levis, I was perfectly willing to advertise nostalgically "aesthetic" corporate products.

A generation earlier, Merle Travis took the path of Solomon, Hafiz, Meera Bai, and Teresa of Avila, merging sexual desire and spiritual quest in the limited stability of lyric.

It's human nature to bolster one unattainable yearning with another, although that rarely resolves the confusion at their hearts. Here, the singer praises his darling using the sacred vocabulary of sales, which seems to imply that he's selling her. And yet he also insists on her as his exclusive property.

The collector who claims copyright: a Raymond Rohauer of love.

. . .

Time Flies Like a Banana

After the Tudors, the canonical history of English song splits into unsingable-poetry-for-reading and abstract-music-for-listening, a process pretty much complete by the time you get to Dryden and Handel.

Now, you could say (as Pound did) that this is disgraceful decadence, same as when music separates from dance. But why be doomy about it? People do get bored with constraints, after all. Unencumbered, music gained opportunities, and although they may have been squandered, aesthetics is with Abraham: Peradventure there be ten righteous within the genre, then spare all the place for their sakes.

Even when Renaissance lyric was most neglected, evidence of its existence wasn't completely erased. That's the magic of artifact: the old hat survives to be rediscovered as healing-touch relic. (And, paddling my hobbyhorse, that's also the tragedy of copyright extension, which buries work alive and then posts a guard against desecration by exhumers.) Meanwhile, among the unwashed folk, and then among the unwashed consumers, integrated song and integrated dance rattled merrily along outside the approved cultural marketplace, eventually to be picked up by ambitious self-marketers.

Most of us would admit that poetry's landholdings have only shrunk since Pound's youth. Verse is no longer written for newspapers; newspapers don't even quote it except for sake of scandal. We don't experience quotidian poetry; its role has been taken over by other arts.

And this isn't something to regret, unless you're too snobbish to credit any virtù outside your own. It's perfectly fine that Anton Webern wasn't Robert Johnson: compromise wouldn't have been improvement. Cultural history doesn't reflect a decline but a series of bifurcations and tardy acknowledgments.

So when I call poetry dead, or call our period Hellenistic, I don't mean it insultingly. The high arts aren't "high" as in class, or "high" as in IQ, but "high" as in "that venison is beginning to get pretty high." There's the ripeness of strawberries and there's the ripeness of cheese.

Twentieth-century-and-later Anglo poetry is interesting because it's a dead art. The dead have one great advantage: They don't have to make a living.

+ + +

Are weblogs, in contrast, a living form?

Not the way I do them.

. . .

This Is Monad Country

You may say I'm a dreamer,
But I'm not the only one.
I hope some day you'll join us,
And not a goddamn thing will ever get done.

Most of the people I've met who voted for Nader in 2000 have told me they'd vote for Nader again.

That makes sense. In 2000, Greens voted to feel righteous and Republicans voted to take over the government. After voting, Greens felt righteous and Republicans had taken over the government. Both parties could consider the election a success.

Myself, if I have to be willing to die or kill for my country, I'm certainly willing to make the sacrifice of voting for someone I don't like personally. Especially if it'll postpone those other duties. After all, I'm not so likeable either.

How sleazy am I? How many compromises am I prepared to make in the dirty world of politics? OK. Here goes. In a Bush-Kerry contest, if I thought the Bush adminstration would push tax rates and intellectual property laws back to 1950s levels, well I might vote for Bush.

Wuddya know? I'm an independent!

Responses

Instead, Bush-Cheney is only willing to push mass hysteria and socio-gender-sexual mores to 1950's levels...

. . .

The Secondary Source Review

"Antebellum literary culture and the evolution of American magazines"
by Heather A. Haveman, Poetics 32 (2004)

The eighteenth century called it a "magazine" in the sense of a warehouse "and there they put all their goods of any valure" and early synonyms included "Collection," "Miscellany," "Cabinet," and "Museum." Any original material was written by the editor, often anonymously or pseudonymously. Otherwise, snippets and clippings and bulletins were strung higgledy-piggledy, with little regard to the original sources' form, genre, topic, or ownership. Magazines tended to be unprofitable and short-lived, often lasting only a year or less, run on personal ego and ideals of community. At least one proudly published a list of its subscribers right up front.

The magazine of 1741 didn't look much like the magazine of the twentieth century and yet it does look familiar, doesn't it?

What transformed this proto-weblog to what we normally think of as a magazine was money. Printing costs strictly limited who could afford such vanity publications and how long they could afford them. Over the next century, increased specialization lured subscribers and advertisers, group editorship reduced the individual's burden, and the slow introduction of copyright 1 increased financial incentives for authors and publishers, who were now dealing with property rather than ideas. In the familiar way of things, publishers began paying the best contributors; writers began to believe they had a right to make a living (anonymity was dropped at this point); publishers then insisted on locking them into exclusive contracts, re-absorbing the author into the "house brand" where most general essayists and critics remain to this day.

Given this history, it might have been predictable that drastically cheapened wide-distribution low-consumption publishing would revive the long-repressed urges of early magazine editors, a process aided by URLs, which make anthologizing less like piracy and more like free advertising.

And other predictions follow: That weblogs will never become highly profitable. That their average lifespan will stay short. That group weblogs will tend to last longer. That weblogs will continue to be somewhat parasitic on the already (often commercially) published. That already (often commercially) published authors will grab the opportunity to re-assert their identity outside of any house brand.

Less certainly, Haveman suggests that specialized magazines were irrigation ditches as much as streambeds. Is it possible that their emphasis on commercially-sustaining communities helped divide America's increasingly heterogeneous culture?

Antebellum religious magazines vied to "sell" their ideas to the general public; in doing so, they were driven to differentiate themselves. An indirect and quite unexpected consequence was that the pluralistic, denomination-focused culture fostered by religious magazines shifted over the course of the nineteenth century from theological concerns to non-theological ones such as class and ethnicity.

From there an optimistic prophet might hope the low-cost grazing inherent in the weblog form could exert some tiny influence against social splintering and towards recognition of the commons. Even I have to admit an apparent beneficial effect on American poets.

Which brings an odder speculation upon me:

... poets abounded and poetry filled the pages of eighteenth-century magazines. However, as norms about paying contributors developed after the 1820s and as competition among large-circulation magazines heated up, poetry became uneconomical, as the cost to fill a column with poetry was higher than the cost to fill it with a short story or essay. George R. Graham, editor of the large-circulation eclectic Graham’s Magazine (1841–1858) paid $50 per poem to top-ranking writers in the late 1840s. When Longfellow submitted a sonnet, Graham complained that "in submitting sonnets at that price [Longfellow] was cheating, for fourteen lines did not fill up enough space for the money." Partly for economic reasons, poetry lost ground in magazines. It appeared in 72% of annual observations on magazines from 1741 to 1794, 61% of observations from 1795 to 1825, and only 29% of observations from 1826 to 1861.

If it's true that poetry died by being priced out of a market it wasn't designed for, then erosion of market barriers might trigger a renaissance of popularity. (Or, depending on your opinion of eighteenth-century magazine verse, a recurrence of plague.)


1.

Despite the 1790 establishment of federal copyright, American magazines continued to freely borrow from each other through the 1820s. Until the end of the nineteenth century, American copyright covered only American publications, and Harper's especially remained habituated to the privateering of work from England.

The present-day Harper's has become the most weblog-like of the old middlebrow standards. Atavism comes easy to conservative types.

Responses

Ptarmigan found another path through Haveman's paper. The Happy Tutor noted another early meaning of "magazine."

BertramOnline contextualized my comparison in an endless discussion (not to be confused with the infinite conversation). It's a fine distinction (with no kisses), but I actually didn't intend to say "The weblog is a magazine" so much as to say "The impulses behind the weblog are old impulses that previously lacked a viable outlet."

Locussolus expressed a skepticism that I've often expressed myself: "My own sense is that the peer-review-through-linking process is leading people to be more and more insular in their reading." All the more reason to celebrate the miscellaneous. When the second, and tidal, wave of poets discovered weblogs I predicted they'd stay fixed in a predetermined unbreakable infighting lump. To a large extent they do stick to crosslinking, but to an extent I never expected they've enaged in noncombative, pleasurable, and instructive discussion across what might otherwise seem warring tribes. So I maintain some small hope for some small advances.

Keeping things on the scat..."I shit nickels" or bricks etc. is folk poetry. Imagine nomadic Scythians jangling through the Caucasus, no poetry? Inferior poetry? Or just non-commodified poetry eh? We inherit the breezeway, and call it a refuge from the tempest.
The odd thing about these recent conversational turns is that I'm actually a very prim little fellow, completely un-Rabelaisian except for the drunkeness, gluttony, lechery, blasphemy, and logorrhea bits. Carry on robustly while I avert my gaze.
Public access to poetry was snuffed like a home-dipped candle in the (pardon) pseudo-polis of the abstract-agora of nascent retail media. People now spend more time in the mediated "zone" than they ever did clumped before outdoor rostrums or nose-deep in gazettes. That zone-time came blooming right out of the still-unraked muck of the capitalist sloughs of desire. Quibble away, scribes and fairies, but Britney Spears has poets on her payroll.Real poetry, like nature, bats last.

Poetry an idealized second-hand afflatus is not quite the same thing as poetry a form of writing once widely found in books, magazines, and newspapers. I use the word exclusively in the latter sense.

In my first draft, I mentioned the use of song lyrics in online postings, but I felt too lazy to collect statistics. Still I'm willing to bet a miniscule sum that they're quoted more often on Usenet and weblogs than in paper publications.

Most often newsgroups etc. Quoted, conceded. But heard? Even by, especially by the ink-stained? "Fortunate Son"? That's the folk poetry angle. Work chants. Sea chanteys. Lullabies. The actual names for, the naming of, the ding an suche. Poetry in those rectilinear packagings was commodified to get there. The formalising of it. And really of course what I'm throwing is that underneath the pop is Miltonian rock and roll brevity. Somewhere. Maybe.

. . .

Now, gods, stand up for bastards

... the number of authors must have been immense in a time when the writer was his own editor, the poet his own reciter, the dramatist his own actor. In a certain sense, the printing press was a hindrance to the practice of letters. It exercised a selectivity and cast contempt on writing that had not succeeded in being printed. This situation still obtains [1900], but is attenuated by the low cost of mechanical typography. The invention that threatens us now a home printing apparatus would multiply by three or four times the number of new books, and we would find ourselves in the situation of the Middle Ages: everyone who is the least literate and others, as is the case today would venture his lucubration which he would pass out to his friends before offering it to the public.
- Remy de Gourmont (via xvarenah)

I don't have many guilty pleasures, because when I find one I rationalize the guilt away. (Benefit of being a critic, I think. Perhaps that's why the criticism-writing gene has survived despite its negative effect on sexual attractiveness?)

Guilty guilts are harder to resolve. Or, more precisely, guilty shames, if we understand guilt as a private emotion and shame as a social one. Our pain is intensified when our shame is unjustifiable. Twisted by contrary winds, we sin against the light, Peter being the canonical example four times over.

I'm as content with online self-publishing as I've been with anything short of Old Overholt. But contentment is private and vanity is social, and vanity takes charge when, for example, I've just been introduced to someone at a party. I can't just talk about what I do; no, I feel an impulse to insist, with a great show of 't'weren't-nothin'ness, that I have been printed on real paper, and I could be printed again, I've been invited to, if I could only bring myself to write what editors would print and not feel so ill afterwards that is, if I was capable of doing what I'm not doing then I might do what I don't want to do except that I still wouldn't want to.

"This is what I would be if I was the sort of person I think you'd like to meet. Let's talk about that person, shall we?" The misogynous libertarian feels compelled to mention the existence of an ex-wife; the layabout assures us she once quit a marketing job; the straights reminisce about the time they dropped acid. Attempts at legitimizing our authority merely reinforce the legitimacy of the institutions we insist we're more than.

Publishing figured out the scam decades ago. Commodify a self-image for your labor force, make it your major product, and you'll be fighting off wannabe indentured servants with a stick. Higher education has it down now, too. Anyone who's not willing to work long hours at a demeaning job in dreadful conditions for almost no money is, by definition, a loser. In shows like American Laughingstock and Rich Narcissist with Too Much Time on His Hands Eye for the Working Person, TV has joined the act.

The goal is brand loyalty to the company store; brand identification is the method. It works, both coming and going. The Catholic lapsed remains a Jesuit. Everyday Stockholm syndrome: My prison, right or wrong.

So although I wish thewonderchicken well, I doubt I'll go to the launch party. I don't want to pretend to search for my papers again, much less pretend to want to peddle them. Maybe I'll stay home and read instead. Maybe pick up a bottle of Old Overholt first.

Responses

Regarding the author photo above, a reader writes:
In the big picture I think the most valuable thing I've done in the working world my entire life has been to build and maintain sanitary sewer systems, but I never expected to see a reference to this job's "romantic history."
the relationship between the definition of pseudopodium and the meaning of the name?
more on elvis please

Doesn't this entry count?

I think I'm a reasonably avid weblog reader. Of that list of that weblogging book, I recognized ONE. One which I didn't like that much. This admission is shameful. Wait, is Creeley or Yusef Komunyakaa editing this Best? But I heard the Billy Collins Best is the best Best of them all!

Shame, yes, but not on you. (For what it's worth, I follow four of the selected sites, and recognized a fifth which nowadays holds drafts of National Public Radio pieces; at least two of the other winners appear on that author's very Eggerisch group site. One McSweeney's Junior, extra cheese, hold the production value.)

We might easily theorize that a "Best of Weblogs" book would be a terrible idea (except for the easy money), but, even after experiencing newspapers' Best-Weblog lists, the things themselves come as a shock. Still, easy money is easy money, and the dot-com cows are long since dry or mad. So long as the authors keep their original publications online, no real harm's been done.

Grand-dad crow. Jack and Jack again. Or if Scotch Glenlivet, or -fiddich in a Pinch.But I really do believe the goal is immersion in the mediated. Get them all used to 24/7 camera on. And then some still-building group-mind will suck our souls into its mechanical belly and the thwarted God of all our history will be born and die in the same awkward sad unnecessary moment.
Why not just call it False Feet and be done with it? -- Renfrew Q. Hobblewort

The Thomas Nashe influence dies hard. Leave plain English to the genuine aristocrats; we upstarts need all the inkhorn we can reach.

sometimes all I want is to hear music I've never heard before. Is that too much to ask?

If you haven't found a copyright owner and paid them their asking price, yes, it is, yes.

Authorial firelight. That circle of what we were, gathered in. The spark of genius just as profound to make the young worried mother laugh and forget as to garner the adulation of ink-stained wretches by the busload. The man who could pretend to be a bear so well the children screamed, and then resolved it with a quick-change. The hand sliding down his face as the mask dropped away to reveal... That guy!

. . .

The Secondary Source Review

Language and Creativity: The art of common talk
by Ronald Carter, Routledge, 2004

An affable celebration of the formal qualities of informal conversation, backed by two big assets:

The book is therefore recommended to one and all, although it suffered a persistent limp after its first misstep into "Creativity," the gopher hole.

What Carter means by creative seems something more exactly named non-semantic, and better approximated by aesthetic, prosodic, performative, hedonic, ludic, or even politic.

What a difference a bad word makes.

For starters, and harrumphing as a math major and computer programmer, it's kind of offensive to presume (as Carter's forced to) that there's no creativity in semantics. Where do new abstractions and techniques come from? Yeah, I know some people think they're just lying around in the cave waiting for us to trip over them, but some people think that about alliteration too.

Attacking on the other front, prosodic patterning relies on formula. Tags, well-worn puns and rhymes, simple repetition, are all aspects of conversation that Carter wants to bring out, but calling them "creative" stretches the flavor out of the word.

CANCODE documents the impulse to self-consciously draw attention to the material units of supposedly transparent communication: a social need to undo meaning in favor of surface. That's worth documenting, all right. But Carter's "creative" slant gives preferential treatment to idiomatic metaphors when virtually any non-core aspect of speech or gesture can be fucked with: a proper name, for example, or an instruction manual.

Here's Carter's example of language which thoroughly "lacks the property of literariness":

"Commence by replacing the hub-bearing outer race (33), Fig. 88, which is a press fit and then drop the larger bearing (32) into its outer member followed by oil seal (31), also a press fit, with lip towards bearing. Pack lightly with grease."

Only a little earlier he had transcribed a group of friends making double-entendre hash of the job of drilling a hole in a wall. Imagine what they could've done reading this aloud. Imagine it in a political poetry anthology under the title "White Man's Burden". It doesn't take much effort to re-insert "literariness" into writing.

Re-insert the literary into writing.... That has a peculiar sound, doesn't it?

Writing, in our current origin myths, was designed to carry an ideational burden, starting with ledgers, shopping lists, and rule books. If that's the case, then it would require special writerly effort to reinstate the non-semantic balance conversation achieves so effortlessly. That special effort, which we might call "literary," would then receive special notice. When the social cues that hold conversation together changed, so would "literary" style, and, for example, the current fiction-writer's hodgepodge of brand-and-band names wouldn't be a sign of fiction's decline, but of its continued adaptability. (Man, I wish I felt this as easily as I argue it.) In a focus-driven reversal of perspective, the written, having gotten such abundant credit for its efforts to mimic ordinary prosody, would eventually become the norm for prosodic effects.

And so we end up here, praising quotidian conversation for possessing the very "poetic" qualities that originated in it. Carter's use of the term "creative" (as in "Creative Writing Department") reinforces this confusion while his evidence clears it up.

Finally, the positive self-help connotations of "creativity" somewhat obscures one of the most intriguing trails through CANCODE's walled garden: the extent to which playful, euphonic, and memorable language is prompted by hostility. Or, more precisely, how the verbal dance between meaning and surface mutually instigates and supports the social dance between individual aggression and communal solidarity.

This might help explain the peculiarly bickering or bitchy tone that emerges in the extended nonsense of Lewis Carroll, Walt Kelly, Krazy Kat, and Finnegans Wake, and why many a delightful bit of fluff begins life as vicious parody. (Also for the record, I think how the fluff ends up is just as important a part of the story as how it began. May all your unintended consequences be little ones.)

Responses

Now that's nattering!
Recognizing the essential truth of adaptability doesn't mean you have to like or even think well of the Thing, Adapted. (The eohippus was sweet, after all: was it too high a price to pay for the horse? Can't we all just get along?)

Danged good point. Almost fell into prescriptive grammarian hell there.

You were a math major?

The hows and wherefores have been mentioned here before, but, to my surprise, the whys have not, although they might be guessed at easily enough by more general remarks. In brief, given an apparent choice between paying more lip-service to my pleasures and being allowed to keep them, I preferred the latter.

But where does it all come from?

I ask the same thing every time I have a sinus infection.

"Pack lightly with grease" has such a delicate feel to it . . . very nice, very literary.

The always rewarding Tom Matrullo has found a particularly challenging angle to strike his flint against. May sparks fly high and wide.

John Holbo (aided by Vladimir Nabokov) combines the topics of abstraction, art, and aggression in a lovely meditation on chess.

. . .

On the Internet, No One Knows You're an Ex-Abstract-Expressionist

An American 1 grid, two by two, class by medium.

  Eye Word
High Painting Poetry
Low Comics Science Fiction

By "class" I don't mean to imply financial security or inherent merit. It's more an institutional distinction. The lowbrow is subject to cultural and economic pressure en masse; the highbrow is sustained largely by individuals' nostalgia for roles which are (now) free of such pressure. No one talks about a painting or a poem outside the brand of its creator, whereas comics and science fiction packaging may barely register the authors' names. Training in the highbrow tends to be academic; training in the lowbrow tends to be vocational. It's all business, of course, but the rhetoric of the businesses differ.

Although love is blind to such divisions, who we love is at least somewhat influenced by who our neighbors are and which strangers we most resent. And so it seems to happen that painters know poets and science fiction writers know comics artists.

When they start out, that is. While no one has money. Before the business side of the business becomes too apparent. As we've touched on here and there before, if the rows split by rhetoric, the columns split by business relationships.

Notoriously, a great many purchasers and publishers of poetry are or want to be poets to such an extent that contemporary literary journals cynically count on receiving more prize contestants than subscribers. The positions of consumer and producer within science fiction fandom are almost as fluid: critics regularly become authors; authors regularly become editors.

On the other column, in both brow levels of visual arts, the most powerful influence isn't the wannabe but the collector, who's very rarely any sort of producer themselves. And here's where economic class becomes explicit.

High Art, being about individual taste, individual genius, and the glamorized pre-industrial, requires the personal touch. Only the rich can collect art because the valued artist can only hand-craft a limited number of products. Even when the artist's product could be (or clearly is) factory produced, scarcity is enforced. During a painter's lifetime, the dealer may take a sizable cut, but the painter still profits from profitability. Commissioned works are not yet extinct.

Low Art, being the art of our own culture, openly depends on mass reproduction. In the comics world, work tends to be for hire, copyright owned by the syndicate rather than the artists. Creator, customer, and the financial exchange all become abstractions managed by The Company, or a series of companies. Meetings are awkward. Even when brought face to face with collectors, the good cartoonist is liable to stay with communal gift ethics rather than advancing into capitalism. Unsurprisingly, the comic book portrayal of comics collectors is less flattering than the typical patron's portrait in the high arts: grubby, infantile, tasteless.

Artists' personal inclinations and illusions aside, the businesses of visual art pander to the collector and the connoisseur. That's what they were made for. This can lead to a closed-room-where-something-died atmosphere that we outsiders find offputting. You don't get to be (or enjoy) Alan Moore or Grant Morrison unless you're comfortable with Silver Age superheroes, and you don't get to be (or enjoy) a San Francisco Art Institute graduate unless you're comfortable with bullshit "Statement"s. Not that I'm any fan of wall labels, but this attack on gallery pretensions by someone who's done a Spider-Man comic made me feel a bit queasy.

Now, as a thought experiment, drop the economic barriers even lower than pulp. Imagine vastly increased distribution for a vastly lowered cost. Community and collectors would no longer be in conflict except as copyright makes them so. Comics could be sold directly to customers. High art might rub elbows with low. Poets might associate with fanboys. Hell, fangirls might get a chance to be heard.

In some ways it's not so bad to live in interesting times.


1.

American comic books, comic strips, and science fiction are all explicitly (if sometimes misleadingly) rooted in juvenile pulp, whereas European comic books appear to carry more genetic material from middle-class nineteenth century albums of engravings. European science fiction publishing seems to maintain some continuity with furrowed-brow Edwardian futurologists. I don't know from manga.

Responses

A concerned reader informs us:

neighbor saw me in my boxers, I FEEL VIOLATED

Atomized junior properly ties class to collection management. The canon and the blockbuster determine what's most likely to be preserved and passed along; as barriers to transmission grow ever higher, less of the "uninteresting" non-canonical non-blockbuster survives to refresh future stagnant water. Again, web publication might work as a counterbalance but only if left to its own indiscriminate and promiscuous devices.

. . .

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.

Responses

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".

. . .

Walter Benjamin in the Age of Mechanical Copyright Extension

"Every age must strive anew to wrest tradition away from the conformism that is working to overpower it. The Messiah comes not only as the redeemer; he comes as the victor over the Antichrist. The only historian capable of fanning the spark of hope in the past is the one who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he is victorious. And this enemy has never ceased to be victorious."
- Walter Benjamin, "On the Concept of History", 1940

. . .

Reference Work, 1

For JL & JL
"NEVER MIND - ALL APOLOGIES"

Two artists in dudgeons, one low, one high:

And every single person in the real world looks at this, and that's why we make our films the way we do. Because you don't have the freedom, you don't have the integrity, you have to remake everything we've done anyway. I go to see Martin Scorsese, and I say, Don't you think I should tell you about the lenses? And he says, What do you mean? And I said, Well, you're remaking my film, which is Infernal Affairs. Infernal Affairs was probably written in one week, we shot it in a month and you're going to remake it! Ha ha, good luck! What the fuck is this about? I mean, come on. In other words, if you read The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, then you'd actually have a very clear idea [laughs] about what's really happening in the U.S. right now. So what do we do? You tell me. [...] If Martin Scorsese can make a piece of shit called The Aviator and then go on to remake a Hong Kong film, don't you think he's lost the plot? Think it through. "I need my Oscar, I need my fucking Oscar!" Are you crazy? There's not a single person in the Oscar voting department who's under 65 years old. They don't even know how to get online. They have no idea what the real world is about. They have no visual experience anymore. They have preoccupations. So why the fuck would a great filmmaker need to suck the dick of the Academy with a piece of shit called The Aviator? And now he has to remake our film? I mean this is bullshit. This is total bullshit. I love Marty, I think he's a great person. And the other one is Tarantino. Oh yeah, let's appropriate everything. Are you lost? Yes, you are lost.
- Chris Doyle
Let's see, if we chide the writer who makes reference to low-brow material, who appropriates cultural material because appropriations are a bit like sampling in rap, really borderline plagiarism, everyone knows this we'll have to roll back to T.S. Eliot. Oops, we have to throw Eliot on the scrap heap, too apparently he risked some high-low mixing, and some appropriations. Forget Joyce, of course. We'd better go even further back. Once you begin looking at the underlying premise a blanket attack on the methods that modernism uncovered the kind of bogus nostalgia for a pure, as opposed to an impure, literature, what you really discover is a discomfort with literature itself. [...] It's not about reading. That's the problem. It really is about I'm repeating myself class anxiety. Once you have an eye for this you spot it in odd places. I read a review in Book Forum where a critic, quite incidentally, in attacking Michel Houellebecq, said in an aside, "But then again, the French regard Hitchcock as art." Well, now, wait a minute! These battles were fought and won. These victories were decisive ones, fifty years ago. There's no rolling that back. Hitchcock is art. So if you pin Hitchcock's scalp to your belt: "Not only have I seen through Michel Houellebecq, the charlatan, but in fact I'm going to tell you that the auturists were wrong and Hitchcock is low-brow and unsavory," you've discredited yourself so absolutely that you deserve to read nothing but Trollope for the rest of your life.
- Jonathan Lethem

OK, first, Trollope worked a day job for the fucking post office, so let's leave Trollope out of this fight.

Otherwise, it's a fight I felt like starting myself when I read this shallow attack on shallowness two years ago. (Why didn't I? Well, I work a day job, see....) For John Leonard, the difference between profundity and immaturity comes down to name-dropping:

Is it so unreasonable to want to know more of what he thinks about Julio Cortázar and less of how he feels about Obi-Wan Kenobi? [...] Superpowers are not what magic realism was about in Bulgakov, Kobo Abe, Salman Rushdie, or the Latin American flying carpets. That Michael Chabon and Paul Auster have gone graphic, that one Jonathan, Lethem, writes on and on about John Ford, while another Jonathan, Franzen, writes on and on about "Peanuts," even as Rick Moody confides to the Times Book Review that "comics are currently better at the sociology of the intimate gesture than literary fiction is," may just mean that the slick magazines with the scratch and sniff ads for vodka and opium [sic] are willing to pay a bundle for bombast about ephemera.

This approaches J. Jonah Jameson levels of wrong-headedness. As if Ulysses would've been improved by more of Lohengrin and less of "The Low-Backed Car". As if John Leonard ever actually took time to honor Alfred Bester for referencing Joyce or Patricia Highsmith for referencing James and Camus.

He asks me, "Do you care how many times I have seen The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, or what's going on in my head while I watch Sara Evans sing 'Suds in the Bucket' on the country music cable channel?" And I answer: "No more than I care what's going on in your head while you watch Carol Burnett. I don't even care what you think about books. Moreover, if you were a movie critic or a music critic, I still wouldn't care about your renting a Demy video or your pseudo-ironic celebrations of Evans but you'd tell me all the same. What matters in our relationship isn't whether I care; all that matters is what the NYRB and New York Magazine will publish."

In Leonard's horror at public lapses of taste, this professional book-and-televison critic failed to notice that his subject is not a professional critic of anything and The Disappointment Artist is not a collection of criticism: it's a linked collection of autobiographical essays whose hooks happen to be American cultural artifacts. Lethem could hardly have been more explicit about it. In his long tribute to the The Searchers, the "critical" argument is confined to two paragraphs terminated by the sentence "Snore."

Sure, some generic ambiguity exists: there's that strain of criticism-as-New-Journalism which was domesticated down from mutants like Meltzer and Bangs into the cage-raised free weekly strains. But those conventions presume a like-minded community, whereas Lethem peddles his wares to a middlebrow camp unlikely to have any interest in his ostensible topics. Therefore the focus stays on Lethem-as-character.

So let's imagine our successful young novelist writing a similar autobiographical essay about reading Kafka or Cortázar:

"And suddenly I realized: I write fiction too. Just like him."

Yeah, there's news.

Equally newsworthy:

"Professional pundit publishes asinine remarks; bloggers rant."

But god damn it, I can't seem to let it rest at that. What irks me is the feeling that I share some aspect of some response with Leonard and, in a different way, or a different aspect, with Lethem, too. And again, Lethem's admirably blatant about it: he put Disappointment right there in the title for us.

... to be continued ...

Responses

Even if you don't care for my stuff, I recommend this essay by tomemos which starts from Leonard but goes in a very different direction.

Can't speak for Leonard but my celebrations of Evans are strickly appreciations of artistry.

My guess was that Leonard admired Evans but threw "the country music cable channel" in for distancing thus the "pseudo-" of his irony.

. . .

The Road to Son of Paleface, 3

Well, you know, I spent a long time doing cartoons. Finally, I just lost interest in it. So I thought what can I do? Be an agent, a gagman, a writer. I went into writing. Then, a few years later, I wrote a picture called The Paleface. After seeing the preview of it, I could've shot Norman McLeod. I'd written it as a satire on The Virginian, and it was completely botched. I could've killed that guy. And I realized then that I must direct my own stuff.
- Frank Tashlin, interview with Peter Bogdanovich, 1962
Tashlin confers with Jane Russell
"Frank Tashlin [having] got religion from Jane Russell, attends her bible class every Thursday night."

I've seen no information on Son of Paleface's production aside from the none-too-convincing publicity photo caption on the right. The script's progress, however, is documented at the Academy library.

As intellectual property, the "original story" Robert L. Welch registered in early March, 1951 compares well to most software patents. It can be summarized as "Paleface was a hit, My Little Chickadee had a plot, and Roy Rogers is available."

In late April, Welch and Joseph Quillan delivered a bulkier treatment. Their mish-mash of received storylines now included one which made it to the finished product the local Native American community's thirst for vengeance although it speaks well for Hollywood quality control that such proposed character names as "Chief Yellow Feather" and "Little Big Horn" were dropped. At this point the comedy is stocked with sure-fire laugh-getters like stranglings, knifings, and a bent shotgun shooting injuns over the shoulder. Even so, the authors' invention flagged: at the end there's a big chase, and "Then Bob Hope leaves for a series of personal appearances in Minneapolis."

Tashlin's name first appears on the June 8 draft. There's still an overly complicated snarl of characters, but Junior's sexual and filial neuroses and the peculiar loyalty of old Hank (later to be old Ebeneezer) are settled, along with many cartoony sight gags and a twisted revision of the first movie's hit song, "Buttons & Bows."

By the end of June, Tashlin has completely restructured the film, complete with a real ending, albeit not the one finally used. (The ghost of Potter's father nuzzles Jane Russell. JUNIOR: "I don't understand this. Crosby always gets the girl!") Most tangles are gone except for some unnecessary complexity in Jane Russell's motivation. (In this version, Potter père and his partner had stolen a gold mine from Russell's father, shot him, tripped him, and pushed him over a cliff.) A stage direction explains the train of thought which led to one of the film's more elaborate non-sequitur gags: "JUNIOR is in a large barrel bathing in the coy manner of all the deMille bathtub heroines."

At the end of July, the Breen Office unleashed its righteous wrath. Most of the excised material must have been written with some knowledge of its likely fate:

LILY: Darling, you look so warm. Let me loosen your tie.
JUNIOR: All right. Just don't loosen my belt. I'm liable to break a toe.
LILY: (Caressing his face) Darling, how smooth your skin is!
JUNIOR: There's plenty more where that came from, baby!
JUNIOR turns from keyhole.
JUNIOR: Hold on, friends -- in my excitement I swallowed the doorknob.

... and, sadly, the payoff of Junior's "kaboodle talk":

... what with havin' to sashay mah mavericks an' sagebrushing mah dogies an' brandin' mah stray buckboards till I'm plumb ornery... an' I ain't had mah ornery plumbed since I left Harvard.

Unsurprisingly, the Office also insisted on censoring all hints of homosexuality or bestiality. But despite their confident assertions "As you know, such a passage could not be approved in the finished picture," "Junior's dialogue is unacceptable for obvious reasons" Tashlin ignored every one of these requests. A Junior Potter without sexual confusion would have no character at all. The single damaging cut accepted by Tashlin (leaving the prenuptial scene short on gags) was comparatively innocuous:

LILY: I think I'll go and freshen up, dear.
JUNIOR: (Anxiously) Hurry back before the Reverend Mr. Schwartz gets here... Just think, pretty soon we'll be three... counting Schwartz... and then, in a year or two, who knows... maybe Schwartz will have a son.

Did they fear a reverend with children might offend Catholics?

. . .

(Resolution adopted at INTERPOL General Assembly, Stockholm, Sweden, September 8, 1977)

“Article One. No individual of any rank or condition may in future lend or borrow books except within his own family, and this privilege will extend in direct line only to the third generation, and collaterally only to the first cousin once removed, known also as a Breton cousin or cousin-germain; the penalty is a fine of five hundred livres, payable to the author of said book.

“Article Two. His Majesty forbids all lackeys, waiting-women, coachmen, kitchen-maids, scullions, chefs, and cooks to lend each other the books of their respective masters, and even more strongly does he proscribe their carrying these books without asking permission from one house to the next: and this, under pain of a year’s wages. And anyone who cannot pay this fine, should be branded on the left ear with the letters ‘L.O.B.,’ Lender Of Books; and then whipped at the doorstep of every bookseller in town.

“Article Three. His Majesty nevertheless permits his subjects to petition the Permanent Secretary of his Academy for a dispensation to buy and to read aloud books in private rooms, although not to carry these books away with them; the said Permanent Secretary will issue this permit in the form of a bull for a given number of years, or for life.

“Article Four. The Permanent Secretary shall be authorized to sell this bull at the same prices as a Crusade Bull, and to excommunicate from literature any person who does not make such a purchase once in a lifetime; without such excommunications affecting those made by bishops and curates within the kingdom.

“Articles Five and Six … up to 100,000, as the Minister may wish; His Majesty ordains that the present decree be registered in every literary Academy and society within the kingdom, and posted where necessary. Done in the Council of State, in His Majesty’s presence, at …”

While awaiting the government’s issuance of this decree or one like it, I have devised a way to end the swindle. My solution is to have this book bound in calfskin, with gilt edges, and forbid my bookseller to sell stitched brochure copies; and thus, on my own authority, plenary power, and positive science, I forbid the aforesaid *** to sell my work in loose pages, in boards, or stitched in marble paper or even sewn in blue, on pain of being denounced to posterity and my contemporaries as a pirate and thief: all this, for the very first work I produce. Ha! Ha! …

Your impatience is growing by leaps and bounds, but I had every right to take care of my own interests, before satisfying yours: every man for himself. No I refuse to be a martyr to foolish impartiality, neglecting my own affairs. I admit I chat a bit about myself: but where do you find an author who forgets himself in his work? Mine is the contemporary style.

- from “Chapter Thirteen: Various Projects Highly Important to the Public Weal”
of The Bohemians, written in the Bastille between 1784 and 1788
by Anne Gédéon Lafitte, Marquis de Pelleport,
& convincingly translated by Vivian Folkenflik in 2010

. . .

Perpetual Copyright on Intellectual Property

The old Roman law had insisted that freed slaves should continue to render obsequiuum personal service to their masters. This law was maintained with particular vigor in the church. In the words of the fourth council of Toledo (in 633 AD), the descendants of all slaves freed by the church were expected to continue to owe “service and obedience” to the church. They did this “because the church never dies.”
- Peter Brown, Through the Eye of a Needle:
Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350–550 AD

 

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.