|. . . Juliet Clark|
|. . . 1999-07-15|
Juliet Clark kindly forwarded this excerpt from Prof. Louis Jordan's recent report on economic conditions in the San Francisco Bay area:
The wrong folks made it in my town --She queries readers: "Anyone for a seven-dollar martini?"
They finally got in;
And now I can't even muscle up enough money
To buy a shot of gin.
|. . . 1999-07-17|
Things that don't scare me, a very special episode: Ray Harryhausen dinosaurs. As Hotsy-Totsyite Juliet Clark commented while watching the inexplicably controversial season finale of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "I can picture the Mayor guy ruling the world. I can't picture a computer-generated lizard ruling the world."
|. . . 1999-07-30|
Juliet Clark writes:
Speaking of film noir: when somebody at the movie site where I used to work suggested doing a special item on Pam Grier, the 23-year-old Minnesota-born Swedish-American who was the company's most favored "content provider" sprung out of his slouch and cried, "Lemme do it! I AM Blaxploitation!!"And in a way I suppose he is....
|. . . 1999-08-18|
Join Juliet Clark on a well-crafted, Disney-inspired reminiscence. There's something almost haunting about it.(I guess the "almost" is in there so's not to confuse it with that f/x movie all the kids are crazy for.) Cholly will add that, like her other illustrated pamphlets, it's an enviably blissful marriage of text and picture, a Fred Astaire of graceful economy somehow strayed into the "Heyyy-eyyy, Abbott! I'm expressing myself! Look! I'm EX-PRESS-SING myself!" wide world of the Web.
|. . . 1999-08-24|
Juliet Clark initiates Hotsy Totsy's Irony Watch with the following, overheard on Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, California, August 18, 1999:
"Yeah, there have been an awful lot of yellowjackets around this summer. July and August are the big months for them. Ironically, all of the times I've been bitten by yellowjackets have been in July or August."
|. . . 1999-08-29|
Back-to-School Thesis Fodder: Juliet Clark informs us that a superbly self-aware description of film noir style was supplied by John McGuire in what's commonly cited as the first example of the genre, The Stranger on the Third Floor:
"What a gloomy dump! Why can't they put in a bigger lamp?"
|. . . 1999-11-03|
|Bringing out the Dead confirms that Martin Scorsese should stick to black comedy, that Paul Schrader should shut the fuck up, and (insight via Juliet Clark) that Nicolas Cage is the only possible choice to play Andy Kaufman in a bio-pic.
And -- wow, you know, we're all so used to hearing "Shut the fuck up" (I am, anyway), but it looks kind of odd in print, doesn't it? Like maybe it could be from a gangster movie instead of "Rub the snitch out" or from like a sea chanty:
Shut the fuck up, boys,
|. . . 1999-12-17|
The lights are strung up, Cholly's strung out, and the Club's finally got the true holiday merchandising spirit prancin' and dancin' and donnin' and blitzin' in The Hotsy Totsy Discount Warehouse Outlet:
|. . . 1999-12-21|
Who needs food when the menu's so delicious? Department:
"Bare lists of words are found suggestive, to an imaginative and excited mind" - EmersonOtherwise the quotes themselves are bring-downs. But the table of contents for the online Concordance to the Collected Essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson makes the best poem Charles Bernstein never appropriated:
|Adequate to Adults
Advance to Affairs
Altered to Amatory
Amphibious to Anglo-Saxons
Arbiters to Army
Army to Artery
Atmosphere to Attire
Attitude to Autobiography
B--, Aunt to Banquets
Beast, Beauty and the to Becky Stow's Swamp
Birth to Blurs
Bonny to Bosses
Boston Advertiser to Brazier
Budgets to Byzantium
Chilblain to Christ's Jesus
Class to Cloisters
Close to Coldness
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor to Combustion
Compliance to Conducts
Cones to Consciousnesses*
Consubstantiation to Contriving
Control to Copula
Copy to Countless
Court to Creature's
Cuba to Czars
Day, Commencement to Deadness
Deaf to Declaring
Degenerate to Demonstrator
Desirable to Devotions
Distemper to Doctrines
Drank to Driving
Droll to Dyspeptic
Effeminacy to Elicits
Eligible to Employs
Emporium to Enemy's
Energetic to Englishwomen
Eustachius to Everywhere
Evidence to Excessive
First to Fitting
Flowing to Forborne
* Link via Juliet Clark
|Foundation to Fowls
Gladiators to Go-Carts
God, Almighty to Goitre
Gold to Good
Good (continued) to Grab
Graze to Great Desert
Habeas Corpus to Handling
Hand-Looms to Harms
Heat to Hemispheres
Hole to Hooted
Hung to Hysterical
Infantry to Inmates
Intrusion to Intelligences
Jabber to Joyfully
Joying to Juxtapositions
Law to Lax
Leather to Leg
Librarian to Life
Line to Littleton
Look to Lost
M. C. to Magnanimously
Maladies to Man
Meal to Mechi
Medal to Memphis, Egypt
Menace to Methuselah
Mince-Meat to Minded
Negotation to Nevermore
Nothing to Nymphs
Once to Opium-Shop
Opponent to Organisms
Organization to Overwork
Ovid to Oysters
Passenger to Pays
Peace to Penury
Permutation to Perspire
Poets to Polls
Pollute to Positives
Proprietary to Puberty
Public to Purlieus
|Quack to Questions
Remedies to Replying
Restricted to Revolutions
Revolve to Rigging
Romes to Ruling
Rum to Rylstone Doe
Sail to Samos
Samples to Saxons
Seize to Sensations
Separable to Set-To
Shatter to Short-Sighted
Shot to Sidewise
Sinful to Skills
Sockets to Sometimes
Spirits to Squid
Squint to Stars
Steady to Stimulus
Strong to Subduing
Subject to Suetonius
Surprises to Sweeps
Taverns to Tempestuous
Templars to Testify
Testimonies to Thin
Tidal to Timely
Toledo to Tow-Head
Town to Trains
Truth to Turnips
Ubiquitous to Unexhausted
Unexpected to University, Yale
Unjust to Usages
Vat to Victory
Wave to Wealth
Wept to Whithersoever
Wit to Wolves
Woman to Woo
World Fairs to Wormy
Worn to Writings
Writs to Wyman, Jeffries
Yeoman, Middlesex to Yunani
|. . . 2000-01-05|
The other interesting thing about BBC America is its occasional presentation of "One Man and His Dog" (or, as we prefer to call it in our more enlightened household, "Person with Puppie"). (Link via Juliet Clark) Most Americans probably only know of sheepdog competitions through their parody in Babe, but the real thing is infinitely better -- if you like to watch genuinely happy doggies more than computer-manipulated pigs, that is (and if you don't, why am I bothering to talk to you?), because nothing could be happier than a working dog working. "Lassie" is soft-core at its most deceitfully mawkish and showdog shows are Victoria's Secret catalogs, but "Person with Puppie" is real hard-core dog-lover porn, hurrah!
So, as with "Iron Chef", we get a TV show premise so sure-fire that it probably doesn't even need a match. But that's not all we get! We also get the heartbreakingly damp beauty of sheep-country scenery, a color commentator who makes John Madden look like George Bush, and shepherds who're usually unflaggingly patient, wildly accented, and sexier than Harvey Keitel by a long shot and a close up both.
|. . . 2000-01-09|
Spoken, this is a very short story: The nicest father-and-son event I can remember was during my 1981 visit from college when we drove together to see Sam Fuller's war movie The Big Red One. When we got back home, my mother asked us, "So how was 'The Big Red One'?"
In print, it needs some explanation. Fuller's title refers to the numeral on the insignia of the First Infantry Division, and so each word carries equal weight: "the BIG, RED, ONE," like "the hootchie kootchie man" or "the solid gold Cadillac." Whereas my mother rendered its "one" more generically, swallowing it, as in "they're all very nice but I think I'll take the big red one."
When I told this story to Earl Jackson, I figured he'd say something about the Phallus, and then I'd say something about not talking that way about my mama, and so on. Instead he said, "That's evidence that English is a tonal language."
Juliet Clark has since pointed out another tonal moment in movie history: RKO's making Nicholas Ray change the title of his adapation of the novel Thieves Like Us (as in "all those judges and politicians are just thieves like us") because the audience might misread it as "The law-abiding public can't stand to watch this thing, but thieves LIKE us."
|. . . 2000-01-14|
Support Our Sponsors: Here's Juliet Clark to tell us more!
Although most of these toys are equally applicable to European and North American situations, there are some differences -- for instance, between the American and German versions of the "Western" scenes. (One shoots, the other doesn't.) And certain scenarios are reserved for American kids only -- e.g. the buffalo-hunting Injuns. On the other hand, the Germans get their own Sheriff's Office, "with prison cell and escape route". And only the Germans get to play in the Dschungel (Jungle), complete with colorful African mascot.
|. . . 2000-01-26|
Movie Comment: Having finally gotten around to The Straight Story (Juliet Clark: "If you're in a bundle of sticks, you can't move"), it's nice to find out that Paul Verhoeven isn't the only Hollywood director with the courage to flaunt his interest in fascism.
The odd thing is that so many reviewers have acted as if the movie is an anomoly in David Lynch's career. He's always maintained good fascist family values: drugs, perversion, urban life, and foreign things are evil; tidiness, lawns, and young Aryans are good. It's just that this time round he didn't try so hard to creep us out with his idea of "evil." For that relief, I'm willing to count it as the best thing he's done since the full-bloodedly Victorian Elephant Man.
But relief and Freddie Francis aren't enough to bring it to the level of his first, where the creepiness came from within. Or, for that matter, to the level of Starship Troopers. I mean, which Nazi visual trope do you think looks coolest on the big screen: bucolic nostalgia or shiny uniforms?
|. . . 2000-02-04|
Critics rave: "The drinking man's weblog... the stinking man's weblog. The blinking man's weblog." -- Juliet Clark
|. . . 2000-02-06|
In more "I would've gotten away with it too, if it wasn't for those meddling kids" news (via Berkeley High School alum Juliet Clark):
"Every other Bay Area newspaper just had the story of the tragic death, but we were finding out (the girl who died) wasn't even going to school and she was 17," said Megan, 16. "That made me think there was something bigger."
|. . . 2000-02-15|
San Francisco présent (via Juliet Clark):
"The great goal so long sought had finally been achieved: that of making Paris an object of luxury and curiosity, rather than of use -- a ville d'exposition, a display city placed under glass... an object of admiration and envy to foreigners, unbearable for its inhabitants."
|. . . 2000-02-26|
In "The Humble Genre Novel, Sometimes Full of Genius," David Mamet notices that all interesting literature has been genre literature, and still goes on to make a condescending ass of himself.
Only someone with genre-blinders firmly set could call Patrick O'Brian's elaborately archaic prose more "simple and straightforward" than Raymond Carver's or E. L. Doctorow's, or claim that the tedium of MFA fiction results from its "artiness" rather than its pointlessness, or publish their praise of happy genre peasants (too delightfully unselfconscious to realize that they should be devoting their intelligence to SOUNDING JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE) in the New York Times. (Link via Juliet Clark, who adds, "In the same hard-hitting issue: 'Has the End Finally Come for the Old Wooden Barn?'")
|. . . 2000-03-01|
Hotsy Totsy at Large
|. . . 2000-03-02|
The Bright Elusive Button Fly of Love
From PRODIGAL GENIUS: The Life of Nikola Tesla by John J. O'Neill:
"I have been feeding pigeons, thousands of them, for years; thousands of them, for who can tell --Juliet Clark: "Do you think Tesla knew how a man loves a woman?"
"But there was one pigeon, a beautiful bird, pure white with light gray tips on its wings; that one was different. It was a female. I would know that pigeon anywhere.
"No matter where I was that pigeon would find me; when I wanted her I had only to wish and call her and she would come flying to me. She understood me and I understood her.
"I loved that pigeon.
"Yes," he replied to an unasked question. "Yes, I loved that pigeon, I loved her as a man loves a woman, and she loved me. When she was ill I knew, and understood; she came to my room and I stayed beside her for days. I nursed her back to health. That pigeon was the joy of my life. If she needed me, nothing else mattered. As long as I had her, there was a purpose in my life.
"Then one night as I was lying in my bed in the dark, solving problems, as usual, she flew in through the open window and stood on my desk. I knew she wanted me; she wanted to tell me something important so I got up and went to her.
"As I looked at her I knew she wanted to tell me -- she was dying. And then, as I got her message, there came a light from her eyes -- powerful beams of light.
"Yes," he continued, again answering an unasked question, "it was a real light, a powerful, dazzling, blinding light, a light more intense than I had ever produced by the most powerful lamps in my laboratory.
"When that pigeon died, something went out of my life. Up to that time I knew with a certainty that I would complete my work, no matter how ambitious my program, but when that something went out of my life I knew my life's work was finished."
|. . . 2000-04-02|
"The gentleman reader cannot fairly be expected to work up a professional interest in a woman who picked up threads and ate them." -- newspaper review of The Shutter of Snow by Emily Holmes ColemanWell, that's obviously changed. The Shutter of Snow must be the twentieth-or-so "woman goes crazy but eventually gets out of the institution" novel I've read. Which is the kind of number I'd a priori only expect from plotlines like "boy gets girl" or "detective solves mystery."
Let's take it for granted that insanity is interesting. Why the gender gap, then? Why the Padded Ceiling?
One obvious reason is that well-educated women are (still) more likely to be institutionalized than well-educated men. As the old formula goes, women are institutionalized, poor men are jailed, and the rest of us pretty much do what we want.
Another (not necessarily unrelated) reason is that story-consumers and story-makers prefer that protagonists who show weakness be female. And going crazy and recovering are both pretty obvious signs of weakness. When I was trying to write fiction about loonies I've known, most of whom have been male, I felt immense internal pressure to turn them into female characters instead. (Like, try imagining Repulsion with a male protagonist. No, I mean it: try. It's good for you.) The standard storylines tell us that women go into institutions because they go crazy and men go into institutions because they're rebels. Women get better and men keep insisting they were right. (Sylvia Plath vs. Ezra Pound; The Shutter of Snow vs. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest....) Men-going-under stories tend to be about addiction rather than madness: appetite, not fragility.
But there's another reason for the twentieth century having produced so many of these stories: the number of untold and unrecoverable stories left over from the nineteenth.
"My mom says that when she was growing up in New Zealand in the Fifties, there were three career options for women: emigrate, become an airline stewardess, or go crazy." -- Juliet ClarkTake out emigration and airlines, and you're left with the options for the nineteenth-century Anglo-American upper class. In feminist-backlash post-abolitionist late-1800s America, good girls had achieved Stendhal's proto-feminist dream: women were being educated but only so that they might be fitter companions to educated men. In the post-feminist era, it wouldn't be tasteful to try to be anything else. A nice New England woman in politics? Laughable. In literature? In art? Etc.
"Any woman learning Greek must buy fashionable dresses." -- Henry Adams regarding his wife, Clover Hooper AdamsThe Civil War, with its bandage-making and fund-raising, was the high water mark of usefulness for the Adams/James generation of American women. Afterwards, if you were lucky, you could have children till you died in childbirth. If you weren't lucky, you either (like Alice James) shrunk into a mockingly dense point of invalidism or you found yourself over an abyss.
"We are working very hard, but it is all for ourselves." -- Clover Hooper AdamsAn abyss-swimming man might clutch for a job; a woman could only be headed for the bin. And in the nineteenth century they tended not to come back out.
"I shall proclaim that any one who spends her life as an appendage to five cushions and three shawls is justified in committing the sloppiest kind of suicide at a moment's notice." -- Alice JamesAs a girl, Clover Hooper swapped dark comparisons of the hospitals that swallowed up her female relatives and friends:
"I wish it might have been Worcester instead of Somerville which is such a smelly hideous place."As an adult, after almost a year of depression, she poisoned herself with her own photo-developing chemicals rather than face institutionalization.
"Ellen I'm not real -- Oh make me real -- you are all of you real!" -- Clover Hooper Adams to her sister, a few months before her death
|A hundred years' worth of vanished victims seems to call for at least fifty years' worth of survivor testimony: It is possible to come out of the bin; it is possible to describe it....
Of course, the downside of so much survivor testimony is that the survivors are likely to get fetishized. And then a demand naturally develops, and the supply of survivors has to be periodically replenished....
|. . . 2000-04-17|
Two tales of downtown San Francisco (as told by Juliet Clark)
|1996, Montgomery St. BART station||2000, Montgomery St. Wells Fargo bank|
|Panhandler: "Please help me. I'll work for food."
Tall 30-ish woman dressed in black: "Hmph. Can you code HTML?"
On the back of an ATM receipt:
|. . . 2000-05-22|
Biographical Dictionary of Film: "Skeets" Gallagher
I don't remember "Skeets" Gallagher showing up in The Celluloid Closet. I don't remember him in "The Sissy Gaze in American Cinema," either, but that's because he wasn't really a sissy.
Norma Shearer: "He looked my way once in New York."
Saddest might-have-been (via the American Film Institute Catalog):
"According to the Hollywood Reporter, in early August 1931, Come On Marines! had been scheduled to start production with 'Skeets' Gallagher as the lead, but by 12 August, production had ceased." Simper fi....
|. . . 2000-05-25|
Movie Comment: Prix de Beauté
Louise Brooks's international career was effectively washed and summed up at age 22 by Prix de Beauté: exhilarating innocent and amoral vamp and tragic Typhoid Mary of lust ("The Girl Can't Help It so we'd better kill her") all in one variably bouncing package. Even the title manages to do some summing up: as world traveller Juliet Clark points out, it can be translated as either "Beauty Prize" or "Price of Beauty."
No long black limousine door ever swung shut more solid than the final shot of Prix de Beauté, the eternally radiant Brooks trilling above her thrownaway husk in as definitively cinematic a moment as Maggie Cheung's resurrection in Actress or Buster Keaton's simiantographer in The Cameraman....
And, while laying Brooks to rest, Prix de Beauté premonitioned the decade to come: Miss Europe dreams of glitter, is shoved into grinding poverty, and is finally blown apart by resentment.
These reflections are occasioned by the recent restoration of the silent version of Prix de Beauté. Like in the early 1960s recording industry's mono-stereo transition, the late 1920s saw the movie industry making both silent and sound mixes, and like in the early 1960s, the old-style mix was almost always better.
Well, plus any restoration is gonna have hindsight and research and new prints on their side.
The point is you shouldn't run right out and look at the crummy semi-bootleg videotapes of the sound version, you should wait and support your local fancy-shmancy moviehouse when they show the silent version or wait till the silent version comes out on home video. Here's me to tell you why!
Thanks, me. Here's why:
In the sound version, it's positioned before Brooks gets her crack at fame and fortune and seems pretty much inexplicable, although it's powerful enough that viewers are willing to work hard to explicate it.
In the silent version, it's positioned after Brooks is dragged away from fame and fortune by "true love," and after "true love" proves so insanely insecure as to insist that she even stop fantasizing about fame and fortune. There, the sequence makes perfect sense: this is the reward that "true love" is willing to return her for her sacrifices: the honor of watching frantic clowns make assholes of themselves around a bunch of other frantic clowns.
The old organization makes the movie front-heavy (where the front's the weakest part) and leaves Brooks unmotivated in the second half, where the new (and presumably older than old) organization builds logically and satisfyingly.
|. . . 2000-06-08|
Headlines for a New Society
While indexing articles at the Pacific Film Archive library, Juliet Clark came across this rather racy item from the San Francisco Sunday ChronEx of February 10, 1985:
FLAMING SAMURAI SAGA BY THE JAPANESE MASTER
Kurosawa Makes 'Ran' Atop Mr. Fuji
|. . . 2000-06-23|
Today we're proud to present Episode 2 of Juliet Clark's exciting new serial:
THE DREAM FACTORY
Being John Malkovich (1999)
|. . . 2000-07-02|
Special Anniversary Narcissism Week! (cont.): Secret Origins of the Hotsy Totsy Club
|In an email interview for The Industry Standard (which I never saw, since it wasn't put on their website), Mark Frauenfelder asked, "Why do you keep a weblog?"
Like most of the writers I know, I want to be rewarded for being self-indulgent. This is the latest attempt.
|Email to Fred Pyen:
All of which semi-coordinates with a decade's worth of wondering what this thing I'm doing is all about and wanting an excuse to drag more of those thoughts into print ("and out of my mind," as Daniel Johnston says). The Hotsy Totsy Club being just another attempt at doing "this thing I'm doing" more directly, after having published criticism and feeling sickish and having published fiction and feeling sickish.
From the Generosity discussion group:
I specifically started the Hotsy Totsy Club (complete with dopey name) to escape questions of "responsibility to an audience," "working with the editor," "academic protocol," and so on, having previously run myself several fathoms into the ground on them. Not that I dislike audiences or editors or academics, some of my best friends etc., but for whatever reasons of personal neurosis such considerations were starting to keep my inchoate yearnings permanently inchoate. I like self-indulgence (when it's truly self-indulgence rather than a sleazy attempt at group flattery) and ephemera and overweening pretentiousness, but can't seem to handle long forms at present. In short, I'm trying for a self-indulgent ephemeral overweening pretentious bite-sized unprofessional mess, and, thanks to the web publishing model of low cost and wide distribution, I think I can get away with it for a while longer.
|. . . 2000-07-08|
Last night, poet Owen Hill wondered within earshot whether the current spate of degrade-yourself TV hits would bring on a relapse of popularity for Terry Southern's The Magic Christian. And as if to prove his prescience, here's Episode 3 of Juliet Clark's psychedelic serial:
THE DREAM FACTORY
The Magic Christian (1969)
|. . . 2000-07-18|
Movie Comment: Boy! What a Girl
As Juliet Clark points out, it's a rare putting-on-a-show musical comedy that could boast of such intimate acquaintance with desperate golddigging (although if Orson Welles had directed a musical comedy...): Given their strictly limited set of venues, race movie producers had to scramble even more than the Poverty Row studios, and this was one of their last gasps.
Like many a last gasp before and after, Boy! What a Girl bet on sheer quality being enough to change the world and save the day. (As we in the software industry know, that trick never works.) Its pressbook boasted that "the production cost of the picture is at least four times that spent on any all-Negro feature to date" (meaning, apparently, about $50,000), and predicted that "an all-Negro motion picture can be produced to play any theater in the country and not merely confined to the some 600 odd playhouses that cater strictly to an all-Negro audience."
They managed the sheer (very sheer) quality. Of the race movies I've seen, Two-Gun Man from Harlem and The Duke Is Tops were kind of fun, the others have been "of historical interest," but Boy! What a Girl is just plain (very plain) good: consistently knee-slapping farce (no one's ever come up with a silly French name to beat "Gaston de la Quatrième de la Douzième de la Pousse-café"), consistently professional acting, music (led by "Slam" Stewart) excellent enough to help us overlook the not-so-consistent lip-synching, and some of the dirtiest jitterbugging ever put on film. Even the familiar ugly-guy-in-drag shtick worked: unlike, say, Jack Lemmon, "Madame Deborah" gave forth with so much personality that you could really believe the marriage proposals.
But, of course, they lost the day. Even with cool white guy Gene Krupa making a cameo appearance, there was no way for a "race movie" to achieve crossover success in 1947: you can't reach the audience if the theaters won't show you, and that would've required the cooperation of major studios and their distribution channels. Instead of triumphantly launching a new business model, Boy! What a Girl signalled the end of an old one: in just two years, Hollywood began to loosen up a bit on its "servants and singers only, and make sure the singers can be cut" rule, and, unable to compete with the application of big money to limited visibility, the production of race movies ceased.
Though their timing may have been bad, the movie-makers' instincts were vindicated some years later when their show's leading lady was called out of retirement for a genuine (and typically compromised) crossover success.
|. . . 2000-07-24|
Juliet Clark continues her multifacetidisciplinary study of movies and/or life with "The Real Glory: A Photographic Testament to the Irresistible Glamor of a Career in the Film Industry," a behind-the-scrim look at how the cultural sausage factory inspires its pigs.
|. . . 2000-07-31|
Just in time for our Sexual Degradation Special, here's Episode 4 of Juliet Clark's tell-all serial...
THE DREAM FACTORY
Your Friends and Neighbors (1998)
|. . . 2000-08-23|
THE DREAM FACTORY
Hold Your Man (1933)
|. . . 2000-08-29|
"a specialized shop, department of a store, etc., usu. catering to fashionable clients"
Pamphleteer Juliet Clark writes:
Re the Salon.com Guide to Feeling Hip Because You've Heard of John Updike:And David Auerbach weighs in more fatalistically:
I'd like to point out that Eggers misspelled "aficionado," and the copyeditor didn't catch it.
I think your copyediting/programming analogy is apt in a lot of ways. In fact the whole Salon Guide reminds me to a painful degree of startup culture: young people who won't be young much longer demanding to be taken seriously for not being serious; seeking the Big Time while clinging to a fantasy of countercultural identity; using strained irony, self-created urgency, and an excess of spin to mask a fundamental laziness.
All I can suggest is that you sell your author copy and use the money to buy a good book. Wouldn't that be, like, "ironic"?
I do think that the Salon guide fills a void. We currently have no one to tell us which of the many, many idiomatically similar novels are the real thing and which are the product of overheated middle-class ramblings. The academics can't be bothered with it, since they're too busy keeping their own little flame alive. People like Lewis Lapham hate it all, and people like Michiko Kakutani are either indiscriminate (if you agree with them more often than not) or too harsh (vice versa), and they lack consensus-building skills. The remainder of the book-reviewing populace don't have enough credibility to be reliable. So I think contemporary mainstream book reviews, if there's a strong enough drive to hold people's interest, will go the way of movie reviews and devolve into capsule reviews, top ten lists, and "personality-based" reviewers. I don't think I can blame anyone for this process; it just happens when the collective standards of the producers and the consumers are low enough that the work being produced becomes undifferentiated.Oh, I don't really blame the Salon editors; I imagine it's pretty hard to resist the temptation to milk the cash cow when it's looking up at you with those big brown eyes. I just wish I hadn't seen the result. And I probably wouldn't have if the usual uncentrifugeable muddle of curiosity, vanity, and sense of responsibility hadn't talked me into becoming a contributor.... Being a critic, of course, although I blame myself, I attack them.
Consequently, tho, Carol Emshwiller will certainly be ignored, and even someone like Disch, who has needed to work his material into ostensible potboilers for the last 20 years. There is a need for something of a unified conception, and Carol Emshwiller may as well be Les Blank for all they care. (Which might make Michael Brodsky Kenneth Anger.) There definitely is a "celebration of shared limited knowledge", but who were the Salon editors to deny those who looked towards them for guidance?
If Auerbach's right about the editors' ambitions, the match was doomed a priori, since I'm even less of a consensus-builder than Michiko Kakutani. (Case in point: For the last twenty years every single time I've tried to read the NYTBR I've ended up throwing it across the room, and so I didn't even recognize her name.) When it comes to art, I don't see that consensus is necessary, or even desirable. That's probably what attracts me to the subject: I wouldn't be so exclusively an aesthete if I were a more enthusiastic politician.
One clarification / pettifoggery as regards "personality-based" reviewing: It's true that I believe a critic can only speak as an individual, and that criticism is most useful when individual works receive close attention as individual works. That means that I consider generalities issued from a presumed position of consensus to be bad criticism. It doesn't mean that I consider class-clown-ism a guarantee of good criticism. In my Salon.com tantrum I emphasized voice because voice was being emphasized by the book's publicity and reviews, but what really set me off was the 400-page-long lack of new insight into individual works: a generic free-weekly voice was just the means to that dead end.
In my own practice I use an overtly performative voice only because I have to. When I attempt a detached tone, I become too stumble-footedly self-conscious to move; when I do the jutht a darn-fool duck shtick, life seems better. That's a personality flaw, not a deliberate choice. Behind the Dionysian mask, I'm ogling those Apollonians plenty: I empathize with Jean-Luc Godard's film criticism but I'm in awe of Eric Rohmer's; Lester Bangs is a role model but I'd be so much more uncomplicatedly proud of something like Stephen Ratcliffe's Campion; my favorite Joycean is eyes-on-the-page Fritz Senn; my favorite historian is no-see-um Henry Adams; I loathe the bluster of Harold Bloom and Camille Paglia....
What matters is whether you communicate anything of what you see. If you don't have to keep twitching and waving and yelling "Hi, Mom!" while you do it, all the better.
|. . . 2000-08-31|
No word for pantyhose, though n.b. hotsy -- strong performance at the box office; "The Devil's Advocate made a hotsy bow last weekend."Speaking of [pantyhose], as everyone seems to be, Helen Razer please note the following suggestion from Le Mouton Sinistre:
If you're going to quote a song lyric with a 'panties' link, I really think it should be Mason William's "The Prince's Panties."And another loyal reader comes through with a [pantyhose] substitute that, oddly enough, I suggested many years ago as a name for a punk polka band: "Literhosen."
|. . . 2000-09-09|
To unclench our previous entry on the transformation of Insider Art to Outsider Art....
The process can always be side-stepped by looking at artifacts as History: History, like Cheese, is capable of digesting all. But inasmuch as we try to keep our receptiveness aesthetic instead of historical -- focused on surface pleasure rather than background book-larnin' -- when faced with an artifact imported from outside our assumed position, narrative impulse veers us towards seeing the alien context as the alienated individual and the artist as Outsider (rather than ourselves as Importer).
And unless you're talking bestsellers and movie deals and posters on bathroom walls, it's awfully hard to be sure you've made it off an insular group and onto the mainland. "Professional" or not, in my cartography, the arts and book reviewers of the semi-major media look just as self-congratulatory and determinedly deluded as any communal gallery, small press magazine, indie rock scene, little theater group, or crosslinking weblog....
|. . . 2000-10-07|
A little twernt tells us that our "online brand" is being devalued. Like most things once you hit forty, this is disappointing but not surprising: as tribes of hipsters migrate to the East Bay, appropriators were bound to gather around the most beautiful sign of The Most Beautiful Avenue in the World like flies on shit or UC Davis MFA poets on Hispanic graffiti. But what's a proprietor to do?
Option 1: Keep the brand name but diversify it. After all, there are many other Hotsy Totsy Clubs. Perhaps we could apply for an Absolut arts grant to go to each one in person and write up little reports full of our own special whimsy?
Option 2, suggested by founding member Juliet Clark: Rotate our "look and feel" to pay tribute to the many other fine watering holes of San Pablo Avenue: Wanda's Cocktails, Club Mallard, The Missouri Lounge....
Option 3: Attempt to maintain some explanation for the "ht" initials in our permanent URL; e.g., by calling ourselves Hound's-Tooth or Hoity Toity or Happy Trails or Hangtown or Hard Tack or....
Option 4: Leverage our well-secured "Kokonino" "online brand" with a title such as Hoozoo by Cholly Kokonino or The Enchanted Mesa or Going Maybe to Kaibito or Kolin Kelly's Brick Yard or even a simple dignified "Jail".
Option 5: Give the "personal touch" with a phrase that strikes deep into our singular soul. Possibilities include Ad Nauseam Per Aspera, Bellona Times, Now God Stand Up for Bastards, Fleet's In, Hick Jacket, The Ineffabilly Cat, Bunny Days, A Fustian Bargain, Topical Depression, The Grand Old Mopery, Rut, The Rest of Everything, Cerebral Pals, Essential Tremor, Twitchy & Screechy, Carp Per Diem, Boos Hound, The Disabled Debauchee, Alcoholic Children of Adults, Hoedowner, Now It Can Be Old!, Fromage to Eternity, The Interpretation of Dweebs, Meet George Jetsam, Eris Go Bragh, Chumps Elysées, and The Cruel Gay City of Love.
Gosh, I don't know. What do you think?
|. . . 2000-10-09|
Juliet Clark forwards a familiar analysis from "The Problem of Living In New York," by Junius Henri Browne, Harper's New Monthly Magazine, November, 1882:
Why is it, may naturally be asked, that people should continually pour into New York when there is not room enough for half of those already here? Why should they persistently seek to live in a city where, with hosts on hosts of houses, there are no homes save for the prosperous? There is abundant space in most of the towns a hundred miles distant. Why do not people swell the census there instead of crowding into an overcrowded capital where the chances of success, of competence even, are ten thousand to one against them? They come in such numbers because so many have come before them, because New York is the commercial center of the republic, because it is immensely rich and strong, because, in short, it does not need or want them....Oh, what a difference 22 years make! Henry Adams, from a 1904 letter:
Thousands and thousands of men who have no regular employment, and no special prospects, who are materially and mentally out at elbows, whose whole life has been a spiritual tragedy, could not be persuaded to-day to leave the city where they have been so constantly baffled and tormented, where they have suffered so intensely, were they assured of a regular and respectable livelihood in some quiet town of the interior. Myriads of inmates of the squalid, distressing tenement-houses, in which morality is as impossible as happiness, would not give them up, despite their horrors, for clean, orderly, wholesome habitations in the suburbs, could they be transported there and back free of charge. They are in some unaccountable way terribly in love with their own wretchedness.
The American, like the Russian, has undertaken too much. He does more than anyone else ever did, but he does not keep up with the machine. New York promises to become a first-class tragedy. Life there is a tour-de-force. Rents are fantastic, prices are absurd, conditions are chaotic, but the trouble has hardly begun.
|. . . 2000-10-13|
These are unsettled times, and there's nothing more unsettling than the question of Hotsy Totsy's new brand identity.
|So far, our visitors' suggestions for a new logo include:
And among the suggestions for a new title:
Long-time Berkeleyist Juliet Clark issues these gentle errata:
Did you notice that the address for the "Towne Dandies" is in Saint Helena? That's not even in the East Bay! These guys are tourists. They have no right to be hanging out on our street.
|. . . 2000-11-01|
Brown coleen Juliet Clark relieves us of the responsibility of Illustrating one Famous Ballad ourselves by finding a rare photo of "The Rocky Road to Dublin," which, it turns out, was a scenic railway in Coney Island. And I didn't even know that the Clancy Brothers had been to Coney Island! For that matter, I didn't even know that Coney Island was scenic!
I loike (typo, but I'll leave it) much about our previous Famous Ballad, but probably most the way it uses "Since it falls" in one line and "I should rise" in the next and then, since it already used "fall," completes the parallelism with the unexpected unrhymed flatness of "not." Piquant! The syntax may be stilted, but where would humanity be without stilts?
|. . . 2000-11-10|
Movie Comment: The Tall Target
As Americana indexer Juliet Clark points out, film noir lighting and camerawork are perfectly suited to handle a mostly-nocturnal 1861 train trip, and although The Tall Target may sound like an episode of The Wild, Wild West, it's actually more like The Narrow Margin with Marie Windsor replaced by Abraham Lincoln.
And with no love interest.
And with no police backup.
And with a civil war.
|And -- here's the real sad part -- with Dick Powell as the hero.
Director Anthony Mann always inclined to sullen stasis, and having to rely on Powell as his man of action takes all the spunk out of him: the stalemates are convincing, but oh, how those tired old joints creak in the plot transitions.
The period look and feel are gorgeous, though, and there's the anachronistic spice of seeing a character named John Kennedy try to stop a conspiracy of twenty well-hidden sharp-shooters with telescopic rifles from assassinating the president....
|. . . 2000-11-30|
|Without a strong hand at the till of the ship of state, our nation's copyeditors continue to run wild in the streets. From the very first issue of the Acme Novelty Library to the current Amazon bestseller, Jimmy Corrigan has remained consistently The Smartest Kid on Earth. But evidence collected by conspiracy theorist Juliet Clark suggests that over half of the newspapers who've responded with "Zoom! Bam! Pow! Comics Aren't Just For Geeks Anymore!" book reviews instead for some reason consistently refer to "The Smartest Kid in the World."
In the race to incompetence, San Francisco's own ChronEx wins by a bulbous red-veined nose. Directly beneath a large reproduction of a graphic containing the original title, it refers consistently to "The World's Smartest Kid," trimming Chris Ware's wordy epithet by a full 20%. Compare and contrast; let the voters decide!
|. . . 2000-12-03|
Movie Comment: SHADOW LAND OR LIGHT FROM THE OTHER SIDE
Spectators huddle closely ("otherwise you won't see anything but a blur") around a rickety flickering contraption tended by a woman with an odd accent. We bob and weave so's not to miss a single tawdry apparition, strain our ears to catch the wavering, trite, obscure, and thrilling message. The images shimmer like silver, or silverfish.
Effects were made the old-fashioned way: directly in the camera and shaken back out. The exaggerated planes of depth simulate, remarkably closely, late 19th century accounts and photographs of spiritualist triumphs: things appear at you -- ridiculously clunky handmades and hand-me-downs, what thrills in their appearance is precisely their undeniably transient appearance. (Yes, that's probably why polarized 3-D's used mostly for sex, but the match to spiritualism's even more uncanny.)
"Its light roupagem allowed that the beautiful azeitonada color of its neck, the shoulders, the arms and the ankles was seen very well. The long black and wavy hair went down for the shoulders until below of the chest and were tied by a species of teeny turban. Its feições were small, correct and gracious; the eyes were black, great and livings creature; all its movements were full of those infantile favours or as of a young gazela, when vi, shy and the determined one, among the curtains."
"The most convincing bio-pic since Man Ray, Man Ray!"
|. . . 2001-01-14|
And ephemeral archivist Juliet Clark forwards the news that real American hero Rick Prelinger has opened an Internet Moving Image Archive with several hundred downloadable archival films "free for everyone to use for any purpose except resale," including such edutainment favorites as "About Fallout," "Helping Johnny Remember," "As Boys Grow," and "Narcotics: Pit of Despair."
|. . . 2001-01-24|
In the words of the poet's own "I Have Been Half In Love With Easeful Joe the Barkeep":
O grave, where ith thy mar-ti-ni?
O Death, where ith thy thtinger?
We deeply regret our mistake.
|. . . 2001-01-26|
|The writer of my favorite single poem of the past five years is unknown, but all that really matters in the Digital Millenium is the property owner -- and, fortunately for us, that owner is Juliet Clark. We thank her for her generous donation.|
|. . . 2001-03-13|
We're accustomed to the obscuring of cultural artifacts by commercial interests and the destruction of natural ecologies by commercial interests, but it's rare to find a story that combines both processes as well as this one, passed along by Californian Juliet Clark:
"We hope to work with many people in Calaveras County who have expressed to us they would like to have Mark Twain's frog come home," said Patricia Foulk of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.
California once had millions of the frogs, but now only four places in the state are known to have more than 350, said Peter Galvin, a conservation biologist for the Center for Biological Diversity.
Not everyone in Calaveras County is enamored of the red-legged frog, which has not been found in the county for years.
Since 1928, the bullfrog has taken center stage at the Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee. Fair organizers and officials lobbied lawmakers over concerns that designating the county as a protected area for the red-legged frog would send the bullfrog packing and kill the event credited with bringing $1 million a year to the area.
"To establish red-legged frogs in the area they'd have to kill bullfrogs. That's tied to our economy," said Tim Shearer, city administrator for Angels Camp. "If they kill them, the frogs are not there for the tourists."
|. . . 2001-04-16|
|Our Motto:||(via June Brigman & Mary Schmich)|
What with nostalgia for when I had more writing time and anticipating when I'll have it again and too many dampened spirits among my compeers and maybe even a trace of Joey Ramone sentiment, I feel like expressing less sheepishness than usual about these web ventures. Although deciding that one's desire is deserving of respect probably fulfills some nutritional need or another, audience members with weaker stomachs may wish to turn away.
Yeah, as another asshole said in the catchiest phrase he'll ever coin, occasional writings are advertisements for oneself. But the reason so many of my treasured friends write well is because they're also advertising something better than just self: curiosity, engagement, humor, anti-solipsistic passion.... It's possible to attract attention for a worthwhile purpose, like mutual satisfaction.
And yeah, the web is vanity publishing. But it's not only vanity: it's also an attempt to add to the evidence that love is other than career. If that's hubristic, at least it's in a tradition of not particularly destructive hubris: Virtually every piece of critical writing I care about came from "amateurs," and quite a bit of the art as well. As a reward for being an amateur at a time when the persistent and cheap publishing medium of the web is available, I get a heartening number of responses from working students and from working artists (although only once from a working academic, I wonder why) -- but the beauty of amateurism is that by definition numbers don't matter. The success of a marriage doesn't depend on how many priests attend the wedding.
So, at Juliet Clark's suggestion (she's been reading E. B. White's wartime essays about his small egg-and-dairy farm), I'm going to stop using all those more unpleasant names and start calling myself a "gentleman critic."
|. . . 2001-04-28|
East Bay Dining: Caffe Mediterraneum
Recently, while reminiscing over a fine scotch at the Club, international troubleshooter Juliet Clark told us of her most treasured Caffe Med moment. Trying to distract herself from other sensory input by reading through the typically-Telegraph-Ave. graffiti, she found in very neat very tiny ballpoint pen the message:
That was ten years ago and she's never been back.
|. . . 2001-05-17|
After his classmates ratted on an eleven year old boy who'd made some drawings of weapons, he was expelled from Oldsmar Elementary School in handcuffs. (via Obscure Store) The principal explained "We just need to get it through kids' heads that there are certain things you don't say and there are certain things you don't draw."
"... although you should continue to buy them," adds consumer advocate Juliet Clark.
In other Obscure educational news, Norwich High School for some reason thought it would be a good idea to maintain a course on "feminist literature" (no elucidating link available) in a community whose standards don't allow explaining the term "phallic" to a 17-year-old. Teacher Richard Bernstein gets a $3000 fine and a formal reprimand, courtesy of the school's principal and the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court. (If he'd been a loyal Kokonino reader, he'd've known that the only correct answer to such queries is "Ask your mama.")
Hate the sinner, love the sin. As much as I dislike obscenity laws, I like the idea that exposure to Lacan can (who can? Lacan can!) be indefinitely postponed -- the guy bugs me, you know? If Lacan's "Phallus" [The proper page from Earl Jackson, Jr., has been purloined; the Google cache momentarily stops the gap] isn't to be construed as a weirdly and unnecessarily exclusionary and hierarchicizing penis, why didn't he just call it "the Object of Desire"? It's like turn-of-the-previous-century intellectuals who talked about "the Eternal Jew," always ready to point out (if, and only if, challenged) that they weren't referring to particular Jews; they were just using "Jew" as a convenient image.... Kids, images that seem to fit into an existing discourse that you don't trust and that require constant policing and clarification to prevent misuse are no convenience in the long run. (Except as branding, of course!)
I guess I should confess, though, that I wouldn't feel compelled to climb so high on my horse if he'd called the center of the symbolic order "Poontang" instead.
|. . . 2001-06-07|
Natural born veterinarian Juliet Clark showed us a New York Times article that will soon no longer be available even though it addresses the important issue of donkeys, and specifically the donkeys of Brazil:
The donkey has more than 100 affectionate nicknames in Brazilian Portuguese, including "drought endurer," "reservoir maker" and "earth smoother." [Not "donk-donk," though, because that's English.]Note the avoidance of sterilization as a solution..... I mean, I love donkeys. But not that way.
[But] "Nowadays people think they have to be modern and only want to hear about tractors," said Fernando Viana Nobre, president of the Donkey Breeders' Association of the Northeast. "A tractor gets the job done, but it's not a substitute for a donkey, because a donkey doesn't require gasoline at $2.50 a gallon, need spare parts or throw you into debt with the banks."
As recently as decade ago, when a national census put the number of animals at 1.3 million, a donkey fetched up to $100 at bustling livestock markets like the one here in Currais Novos, whose name means New Corrals. Now, in contrast, sturdy young males can be obtained for less than $1 a head, compared with $3 for chickens. "A cow gives milk and a chicken lays eggs," explained Josť Mata, a subsistence farmer here. "But what does a donkey do nowadays except eat and reproduce?"
Out in the countryside the Federal Highway Police have set up a special donkey patrol.... Since the beginning of 1999 the unit based here has captured more than 1,600 of the animals, ranging from single strays to entire herds wandering on roads. So many of the animals are now roaming unattended that collisions on highways are routine and the number of motorists killed or injured is growing. Truck drivers in particular complain that donkeys have become a pest and a menace now that people have no use for them.
During the 1970's and 80's, Brazil's donkey population was stabilized by exports of meat, primarily to Japan and France, where the lean meat was especially relished. But African nations have pushed Brazil aside in those markets, with help from Brazilian animal rights groups that objected to the meat trade and forced the closing of more than a dozen slaughterhouses.
|. . . 2001-06-30|
One step forward, two steps back
Earl Jackson, Jr. writes:
Memento, Fight Club and Usual Suspects seem to resonate in ways that I fear might be terribly obvious after the work I might do to discover that.... I think the producers of Memento should re-release it next year but retitle it Memento II.Those were the two movies that Juliet Clark immediately associated with Memento, as well. My guess is all three (and many other recent "challenging" successes from Hollywood) share some mutually-supportive traits:
His Memento II proposal makes sense -- reckon I'll have to wait for Memento III? or Is It IV? before I finally get to see those PalmPilot scenes....
|. . . 2001-07-20|
Beth Rust must have, at some pre-Web point, told me about the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, the deduction workouts constructed by her fellow New Hampshirt Frances Glessner Lee, but Juliet Clark sent me a reminder yesterday. What a lost killer app for QuickTime VR....
|. . . 2001-09-17|
On the calls to (any, don't matter which or where) arms: "It's like attacking Pat Buchanan by bombing the United States." -- Juliet Clark
|. . . 2001-10-02|
Buffy the Vampire Slayer Alternate Season Episode Guide, 2000-2001
|. . . 2001-10-10|
Token Non-Trivial Item of the Day
Juliet Clark forwards her sighting of a very rare bird, actual reporting from a San Francisco newspaper!
"Tens of millions of Americans can no longer get medical treatment, a job, a home, a credit card or a host of goods and services without agreeing to resolve future disputes in confidential, unregulated proceedings riddled with conflicts of interest. They cannot claim injury, fraud or discrimination without paying filing fees that may reach thousands of dollars. They cannot rely on legal guarantees of due process and fair treatment. They cannot appeal, except in rare circumstances...."
|. . . 2001-10-22|
Yesterday's entry was undoubtedly our Worst. Episode. Ever. ("Sort of ponderous!" - Juliet Clark) But should you for some reason desire more of the similar, see David Chess, Ted Honderich (via the above-mentioned wood s lot), and Flash (Flash not required).
|. . . 2001-11-13|
Consumption Blues, cont.
|A conversation with artist-historian Juliet Clark brought up these further points:
|. . . 2001-12-22|
I feel your gain
Employment consultant Juliet Clark reports:
|Just spotted this wonderful sentence in a job listing from Cedco Publishing Company ("seeking a brand manager for its line of illustrated gift books on the topic of witchcraft and magic"):|
|Salary + commission commiserate with experience.|
|I've always wanted a salary that would have more sympathy for my experience....|
I don't know... maybe I'm an ingrate, but I've had employers say "I'm so sorry" while they handed me a paycheck, and it didn't make me feel any better at all.
|. . . 2001-12-29|
Eagle-eyed Juliet Clark plucks this juicy hank o' middlebrow from Lewis Lapham's column in the September 2001 Harper's:
"Because the schools serve a spiritual and political purpose instead of an intellectual idea, they cannot afford to make invidious comparisons between the smart kids and the dumb kids, between the kids who read Shakespeare's plays and those who watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer."Elsewhere, another professional pundit does his dirty job of turning a short paragraph into a full column. (And I regret to say that my weblog compeers, those gay betrayers, are not linking to the original....)
|. . . 2002-01-24|
Photos by Juliet Clark
Scariest sight during last month's visit to Los Angeles was the line of normality-starved families waiting to visit The L. Ron Hubbard Winter Wonderland ("Santa's Home in Hollywood").
Department store Santas are disturbing enough; can you imagine the MEST-scarring trauma of a Scientology Santa? "Well, Jimmy, your free personality test indicates that Santa will bring you EVERYTHING YOU WANT FOR THE REST OF ETERNITY if you'll just stuff these copies of Dianetics in your parents' stockings...."
In Hubbard's holiday homily, note his characteristic replacement of wishy-washy "love" with manly paranoid "trust." That was the true meaning of Christmas 2001, all right: No telepathic mind control, no peace!
The nicest sights were at the Getty Museum's Devices of Wonder exhibition. Gadgets through the ages isn't that novel a curatorial idea, but not many curators get to plunge fist-first into Getty-sized pockets: a Chardin, for example, is casually thrown on as illustrative spice....
As usual in high-concept historical surveys, the contemporary work included seems an ill-advised afterthought. I'm not even sure what they were afterthinking: our investment-oriented rhetoric-privileging high art world pointedly shares neither intent nor craft with infotainment manufacturers. Better to just borrow a corner of the Exploratorium, or fill a plastic tub with boing-boing-ed swag.
On the other hand, the Joseph Cornell boxes fit right in, especially the knock-down twist-around pick-me-up gorgeous "Beehive (Thimble Forest)" -- with silver bells/boughs sadly frozen, though, by the conflict typical of such exhibitions: the fine art museum relies on preservation whereas the artifact relies on manipulation, and they compromise in mere display. Perhaps deep pockets somewhere sometime might be persuaded to provide replicas in the gift shop...?
|. . . 2002-02-21|
Movie Comment by Juliet Clark, with unintended reference to recent Movie and Other Comments - Storytelling
"It's very difficult to express self-loathing in narrative without sounding like an arrogant asshole."
|. . . 2002-03-11|
|. . . 2002-04-12|
|"I determined to think no more of America; but to set off the ensuing morning for the village of Oakland, in quest of my dear Sophia."|
|- John Thelwall, The Peripatetic, 1793|
|Photo by Juliet Clark|
|. . . 2002-05-03|
Neuraesthetics: Foundations, cont.
It's inherent to the mind's workings that we'll always be blinded and bound by our own techniques.
Another example of this -- which actually bugs me even more than ancient Egyptians taking brains out of mummies -- is when essayists or philosophers or cognitive scientists or divorced alcoholic libertarians or other dealers in argumentative prose express confusion (whether positive or negative) before the very existence of art, or fantasy, or even of emotion -- you know, mushy gooey stuff. Sometimes they're weirdly condescending, sometimes they're weirdly idealizing, and sometimes, in the great tradition of such dichotomies, they seem able to, at a glance, categorize each example as either a transcendent mystery (e.g., "Mozart," "love") or a noxious byproduct (e.g., "popular music," "lust").
|(Should you need a few quick examples, there are some bumping in the blimp-filled breeze at Edge.org -- "Why do people like music?", "Why do we tell stories?", "Why do we decorate?" -- a shallow-answers-to-snappy-questions formula that lets me revisit, through the miracle of the world-wide web, the stunned awful feeling I had as a child after I tackled the Great Books Syntopicon....)|
These dedicated thinkers somehow don't notice, even when they're trying to redirect their attention, what they must already know very well from intellectual history and developmental psychology both: that their technique is blatantly dependent on what seems mysteriously useless to the technique.
Cognition doesn't exist without effort, and so emotional affect is essential to getting cognition done. Just listen to their raised or swallowed, cracked or purring voices: you'll seldom find anyone more patently overwhelmed by pleasure or anger or resentment than a "rationalist," which is one reason we rationalists so often lose debates with comfortably dogmatic morons.
Similarly, "purely observational" empiricism or logic could only produce a sedately muffled version of blooming buzzing confusion -- would only be, in fact, meditation. Interviews, memoirs, and psych lab experiments all indicate that scientists and mathematicians, whether students or professionals, start their work by looking for patterns. Which they then try to represent using the rules of their chosen games (some of the rules being more obviously arbitrary than others). And they know they're done with their new piece when they've managed to find satisfying patterns in the results. It's not that truth is beauty so much as that truth-seekers are driven by aesthetic motives. ("It's easier to admit that there's a difference between boring and false than that there's a difference between interesting and true.")
Studies in experimental psychology indicate that deductive logic (as opposed to strictly empirical reasoning) is impossible without the ability to explicitly engage in fantasy: one has to be able to pretend in what one doesn't really believe to be able to work out the rules of "if this, then that" reasoning. The standard Piaget research on developmental psychology says that most children are unable to fully handle logical problems until they're twelve or so. But even two-year-olds can work out syllogisms if they're told that it's make-believe.
Rationality itself doesn't just pop out of our foreheads solitary and fully armed: it's the child of rhetoric. Only through the process of argument and comparison and mutual conviction do people ever (if ever) come to agree that mathematics and logic are those rhetorical techniques and descriptive tools that have turned out to be inarguable. (Which is why they can seem magical or divine to extremely argumentative people like the ancient Greeks: It's omnipotence! ...at arguing!)
An argument is a sequence of statements that makes a whole; it has a plot, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. And so rhetoric is, in turn, dependent on having learned the techniques of narrative: "It was his story against mine, but I told my story better."
As for narrative.... We have perception and we have memory: things change. To deal with that, we need to incorporate change itself into a new more stable concept. (When young children tell stories, they usually take a very direct route from stability back to initial stability: there's a setup, then there's some misfortune, then some action is taken, and the status quo is restored. There's little to no mention of motivation, but heavy reliance on visual description and on physically mimicking the action, with plenty of reassurances that "this is just a story." Story = Change - Change.)
And then to be able to communicate, we need to learn to turn the new concept into a publicly acceptable artifact. "Cat" can be taught by pointing to cats, but notions like past tense and causality can only be taught and expressed with narrative.
It seems clear enough that the aesthetic impulse -- the impulse to differentiate objects by messing around with them and to create new objects and then mess around with them -- is a starting point for most of what we define as mind. (Descartes creates thoughts and therefore creates a creator of those thoughts.)
So there's no mystery as to why people make music and make narrative. People are artifact-makers who experience the dimension of time. And music and narrative are how you make artifacts with a temporal dimension.
Rational argument? That's just gravy. Mmmm... delicious gravy....
I delivered something much like the above, except with even less grammar and even more whooping and hollering, as the first part of last week's lecture. Oddly, since then on the web there's been an outbreak of commentary regarding the extent to which narrative and rationality play Poitier-and-Curtis.
Well, by "outbreak" I guess I just mean two links I hadn't seen before, but that's still more zeitgeist than I'm accustomed to.
|. . . 2002-06-04|
|. . . 2002-07-25|
Twenty years ago I encountered Academia and ran away squealing like a libertarian.
But now I return.
What brought me back? One goal. One goal I have in mind. One monochromatic battle of darkness against light. I hate that stupid fight.
For I will never rest until an end's been put to high-resolution bitmaps and our cultural heritage has been saved by eight-color grayscale GIFs (or until I reach early retirement, whichever comes first). For every effin' U. teaches its baggy-jeaned tots and cane-wielding toddlers that strict two-color black-&-white is how digital archiving must be done, thus destroying all they digitally archive, and the U.s do more digital archiving than anyone, for they have much to destroy.
I don't know how this horrible delusion started. Maybe it's like some remnant of IBM punchcard chic. Long-term academic toiler Juliet Clark suggests it's because those B&W grislies at least reproduce predictably on laser printers. It might also be from numbing habituation to microfiche, or from world-is-language overdependence on OCR software since OCR software works off monochrome.
But open your eyes, people! And, once opened, roll them down the curvy lines and plump gradations, and past the obvious paper blotches, forgiving the poor pulped wood for its imperfections as it forgives ours, and back again. OCR software is even dumber than we are! And infinitely-high-contrast is why! Contextualized dark gray that doesn't fade into light gray on the outside and black on the inside is ignorable, and uncalloused vision is smart enough to know it. Dark gray mechanically transformed into black is noise, and black that shatters directly into white also approaches noise.
This is a disgrace, well-meant and hard-labored-over. This (via Portage) purportedly shows microfilm vs. paper, but (being merely two different digitalized graphics displayed on your monitor) actually shows bitmap vs. JPEG. Don't blindly follow the one-eyed king! Compare and decontrast. As the poet sang:
|. . . 2002-07-30|
Juliet Clark corrects my latest attempt at tech cred:
Actually, I wouldn't call "predictable results on a laser printer" a reason; it just happens to be the most common excuse I've heard. In reality the insistence on huge bitmaps as "archival" files probably has more to do with the reason why certain academics are still trying to deconstruct Madonna: because they heard a decade or more ago that it was the thing to do, and haven't been listening since.Certainly, it's hard to believe that all ugly digital archives have laser printers as their principal audience, and certainly, any really cool academic will be trying to deconstruct Buffy instead.
But a rewarding exchange with pierre-martin's infinitely patient Olaf Simons has taught me a bit (I don't often make jokes!) more tolerance. Simons scans for paper publication, and therefore has a big old bitpile of bitmaps available. Once they're made, he generously attempts to repurpose them for the web -- but paper, in his case, is paramount. And, unfortunately, even though shrinking a 600dpi bitmapped image to computer monitor size will look better in grayscale, it'll never look quite as good as shrinking an originally grayscale image would.
I also didn't account for pierre-marteau's use of another mostly-academic technique: by setting image tags to widths such as "50%," the site relies on the web browser to dynamically resize graphics to different resolutions and window sizes. So, in fact, the bitmapped pierre-martin image I linked to is -- if saved to a local file and then viewed at its original size -- much better looking than I thought it was.
One benefit of this technique is that it saves on labor. Another is that the web pages will print out nicely on a laser printer. There are some problems, though:
|. . . 2002-10-01|
The Secondary Source Review
Sexual Revolution in Early America by Richard Godbeer
Having dragged a mature-content filter through pre-1800 American source material, Godbeer sorts his catches by region and period, arranged quasi-dialectically; viz.:
|"There hardly passes a court day but four or five are convened for fornication or adultery; and convictions in this nature are very frequent." - "Letter from New England," J. W., 1682, London|
The conclusion, should conclusions be desired, is that technical and prison terms vary more across time-and-place than sexual behaviors do. But the real point of a book like this is to read the cool bits aloud, and although Godbeer has collected eye-catching material on such topics as bundling, sodomitical pillars of the Puritan community, and Philadelphia prostitution, he seems compelled to interrupt every few lines of quote with a few words of paraphrase. (That awful interference, wrecking your orgasm on the Playboy Channel.) Juliet Clark, star editor, explains this as dissertation house style, but we non-academics would prefer a straightforward anthology: interpretation is rarely needed, and, William Bartram aside, this stuff is hard to find.
Not that Godbeer is a bad writer when there's a need to write. He provides a usefully concise summary of the Thomas Jefferson Situation, for example:
|Jefferson's father-in-law, John Wayles, had a long-term relationship with his slave Elizabeth Hemings, who bore him six offspring. On Wayles's death, Hemings and her children came to live with the Jeffersons as favored house servants at Monticello. One of Elizabeth's daughters, Sally Hemings, became Jefferson's lover and gave him several children. None of their offspring remained in slavery as adults; significantly enough, the only slaves whom Jefferson freed were members of the Hemings family. Mary Hemings, another of Elizabeth's daughters, was leased to Thomas Bell in the 1780s, became his lover, and bore him two children. Jefferson later sold Mary and her offspring to Bell; that he did so at her request suggests a mutual affection between Bell and Hemings. They lived together as a couple for the remainder of Bell's life.|
If that sounds slightly incestuous, how about this?
|Byrd recounted in his commonplace book a story about a West Indies planter who "had an intrigue with an Ethiopian princess, by whom he had a daughter that was a mulatto." The planter sired another child with that daughter and then another with his granddaughter. That great-grand-daughter was "perfectly white and very honorably descended." The planter boasted that "he had washed the blackamoore white."|
Ah, good old plantation miscegenation.... It ain't incest if it's livestock breeding; on the other hand, it ain't bestiality if it's human beings. And rather than being a financial burden, the rapist's child becomes money in the bank. Kinda makes a feller proud, don't it?
(As an upcoming review subject points out, this win-win situation was exploited in typically enthusiastic fashion. When they call the American South a "slave-based economy," they don't just mean that slaves did the work. Unlike the industrialists and bankers of the North, the Southern aristocracy derived their wealth from property, and by far their most valuable property was people. That's why our Federal government never had the option of ending slavery by financial compensation, as England did: there simply wasn't enough money. Something to remember the next time you encounter a nostalgic lament over drove-down old Dixie....)
|. . . 2002-10-09|
|Photo by Ray Davis|
|. . . 2002-11-10|
(Bay Area activism via Juliet Clark)
|. . . 2002-12-11|
The Nature of Economies by Jane Jacobs, cont.
Jacobs first sketches the free-trade economist's notion of the export multiplier: the vitality of an economy can be estimated by weighing its exports (including such "exports" as tourism) against its imports, since the money brought in by excess exports and the added work that goes into supporting a population of excess exporters will be more than enough to keep the locals busy fat and sassy bees.
In the real world this formula has played out variably well, often distinctly unwell. Which, as Jacobs points out, makes it less of a formula than a hypothesis in need of amendment, and she reasonably suggests that we also take into account what's happening within the economy.
A community enjoyed by non-economists will likely include a secure diversity of local businesses and a reasonable distribution of local resources. In Jacobs's formulation, this localized recombinatrics is "import stretching" (where "imports" include geographical advantages and human skills), and it's not strictly correlated with increased summed export. She compares a prosperous economy to the biomass and diversity of a lush ecosystem. If you treat a rain forest as a black box, you may not find a startling amount of import or export going on, but it still thrives, and what it's largely thriving on is itself. The energy (water, sunlight, minerals) that enters the system is swapped around in a multitude of ways over a multitude of lives before leaving the system.
Expansion depends on capturing and using transient energy. The more different means a system possesses for recapturing, using, and passing around energy before its discharge from the system, the larger are the cumulative consequences of the energy it receives.This is a richly suggestive analogy which matches common perception as well as the Greenwich Village utopia of Jacobs's earlier books. Factory farms, company towns, and single-industry cities may show fine import-export ratios, but there are no theres there because the black boxes are too efficient. Although economists may insist that you can never be too rich or too thin, a cholera victim isn't a picture of health; yeah, there's the awesome beauty of Death Valley and the Antarctic wastes, but if that's all there is everywhere it gets old in a hurry.
So far, so very good. "Economists would do better to abandon export-multiplier ratios and turn their attention to import-stretching ratios."
But at those naughty economists is where Jacobs stops, and it's not nearly far enough. Let's agree that the number of businesses matters more than the gross size of a few businesses, and the distribution of profits matters more than the gross sum of a few profits. Having so agreed, need we worry about any foes other than myopic economists and the committees misled by them?
I think we do, because it's not just academics who emphasize import / export ratios. Not everyone wants to live in a thriving rain-forest ecology (in my own bedroom, I maintain stringent restrictions on biodiversity), and not everyone wants to live in a thriving economy. Many a dictator and plutocrat prefers their current arrangement, and Google finds a high proportion of "multiplier effect" citations among the rosy forecasts of third-world governments.
Jacobs is right that efficiency isn't always what's needed for the health of the citizenry at large, and right that businesses don't always become more efficient with expansion. However, expansion always does concentrate more capital into a fewer number of hands. And so, efficient or not, healthy or not, supported by Harvard Business School grads or not, there will always be pressure for larger and more centralized businesses because people with power want more power and they're in a good position to get it. Free trade economics is less a science or a technology than an assuager of conscience; earlier analysts posited a similar magical correspondence between the health of the king and the health of the kingdom.
And when the chickens come home to roost, one can always slaughter the chickens and move elsewhere. Imperialism from ancient Egypt and Greece through Fascist populists and American corporations has been a matter of conquering other territory with the power seized from one's own: think globally, leech locally. The unseen hand that coordinates the health of an economy with the profitability of its wealthiest business owners -- like the unseen hand that protects the balance of nature -- can easily be held in check long enough for personal capital to be made and permanent waste to be laid. (I once asked Juliet Clark what happened to the self-sufficiency of rain-forested New Zealand, and she shrugged: "When every economy is forced to be a global economy....")
Is there any counterbalance? Well, if humans are part of biology, and money and trade are therefore part of biology, then government and politics must also be part of biology -- and laws (including protectionist laws) might be our only pseudo-biological defense against pseudo-biological catastrophe. Government isn't going away any more than trade is. When libertarians say that government needs to stay out of business, they simply turn government over to those with no such compunctions: monopolists and profiteers.
Very few of us complacent argumentative coffee-swillers can compare to Jane Jacobs: at least two North American cities might have fallen apart without her work. But when she tells their hard-fought and forever-tenuous victories as a story of the little people taking on big government rather than as a story of a government's policy being changed by its own citizens, she doesn't improve our chances to keep her winnings.
|. . . 2003-03-28|
Notes & Queries
Might it depend on whether one is looking at Tommy and the other actors, or at the representations of them served as our daily fare? I'm genuinely unsure of the differences - the game is delimited in order that it can be played so that it can be wagered upon. The war is a "mosaic," says Tommy.In my posting I'd obscured an essential distinction between the covert partisanship of contemporary political coverage and the open partisanship of contemporary war coverage. In both cases, specialists often (and understandably) think in terms of "games"; news media have increasingly (and less forgivably) followed their lead by treating both as spectator sports, but with the implied viewer identification shifting from "gambler" to "fan." The partisanship is just a matter of degree, of course, since talking about the game rather than the consequences of government implicitly gives preference to those who are out for personal gain (the other side being hypocrites or fools -- whether they in fact lose or not), and talking about the game rather than the consequences of warfare implicitly gives preference to the strong aggressor (the other side being a bunch of losers -- whether they in fact lose or not).
Athleticism is a fine mode - would it include wresting, in which we take comfort in the mismatch and hiss the dastardly ones who break the "rules"?
Wrestling is an appropriate analogy for the requisite vilifying, but their video technique seems drawn more from inspirational NFL documentaries....
Another reader remains unheard and unidentified:
I am not going to say a damned thing.Not everyone is so inarticulate, thank goodness. Juliet Clark passes along a pointer to a genuinely responsive news agency:
In a time of crisis, Zap2it.com is looking at the big picture. At the top of their listings page, they ask the question on everyone's mind right now:Doug Asherman may supply an answer:
How will the War in Iraq affect my TV Listings?
The quote that I was looking for -- a little context first. Krazy is reading the "Krazy Kat" strip in the paper, and is quite confused...Waggish kindly writes:
Krazy "But, if *I* are *here*, and you is here, *HOW* come I are in the paper, and you also -- ansa me that."
Ignatz: "Because, Fool, how could it be aught were it not thus -- you answer *that*".
I appreciated your entry on dissertation advisors, and I'd add that since those relationships aren't based on need or symbiosis but on pure charity towards the grad student, there exists a fundamental neurosis that can only be alleviated insofar as the relationship can be recast as collegial friendship. This is what I've seen, anyway.And some stray merchant peddles his wares:
The Poet's Poet: Louis Zukofsky Reads From His Uncompromising Works. (PHONOTAPE-CASSETTE).
|. . . 2003-06-07|
Wendell Corey abraded 1950s Hollywood like an imperious acne-scarred iguana: outstandingly inexplicable as The Furies' love interest -- Barbara Stanwyck should've spent more time studying that copy of Are Snakes Necessary? -- and delivering his Rear Window banter with such open contempt that I half-expected him to try to pin the murder on Jeffries's little trollop.
"I don't know why you'd do such a thing."
I'd say Corey's Poole was as indelible a performance as Perkins's Norman Bates or Hopkins's Hannibal Lecter, except that no one seems to remember it. It certainly seems more realistic (although I've only met, that I know of, one mad killer myself), much more someone about whom you'd say, "He always seemed like such a nice man" and still never want to befriend or even stand very close to.
My shame to admit it, I probably wouldn't have gotten palsy with John Payne or Tom Neal, either. As Juliet Clark pointed out to me, Poole is a film noir hero in a film noir villain's role. The Killer Is Loose crossbreeds three strains of thriller (with a suggestion of the big heist film in the background):
"Even the island boys, they'd say Corporal Foggy, he get lost again, he forget his rifle."
"Yes, I remember."
"Yes, I remember."
Thus for the military. That other masculine bureaucracy, the police department, is equally dismissive:
"Worked himself into quite a stew, hasn't he?"We want Poole to prove his worth and show up the bullies, ideally without undue show of ego, just as part of the dirty job what a man's gotta do....
"Scared amateur -- bolted inside."
"Don't you see how wrong it was to do that?Which he does, kind of. Like later comic hero Travis Bickle would thwart the villains and get the girl, kind of.
I'm certainly going to settle with you for it."
"You said he wasn't crazy!"
"What's more, you've demonstrated an earnest and sincere intention to pay your debt."
"I've tried to follow the rules, sir."
Although Poole remains self-possessed and hard-working, the clear-headed dignity of his first scenes proves anomalous. Unbenownst to us, he was being sustained by the love of a good woman. Love meaning:
"She never laughed at me once."We never get to know this good woman, and, given the general run of pariah relationships, that might be just as well. But even if she had turned out to be Marie Windsor, the Pooles would've been sure to present a more appealing spectacle than the passive-aggressive whine festival offered by the movie's purported hero and heroine.
In Touch of Evil, Orson Welles mocked the narrative convention of the noble cop's good marriage with parody. The Killer Is Loose undercuts it more directly by collapsing that convention into the convention of the middle-class family who's never been tested by fire. By 1956, Joseph Cotten's schoolmarmishness had ripened into querulous old-maidhood, and his shallow bride (best known to noirists as Out of the Past's second-string femme fatale) makes his dithering dotage even more glaring.
The couple's domestic ineffectiveness seems catching, eventually spreading through the entire LAPD and squandering technology, time, and personnel in cross-purposed confusion.
|"I think so, but I can't be sure."
"Is it a man or is it a woman?"
"I'm not sure."
"If it is Poole, what's he waiting for?"
"He's not sure it's Lila."
"That could be...."
While Poole advances unprofessionally, clumsily, obliquely, bumping into a police car, driving over the center line, limping through the rain, slumping, slopping....
Does he make it?
Silly question. Naturally the natural order prevails, depositing a foggy pool of drag on a neatly trimmed lawn, to be mopped up off-screen later by some equally discardable service industry peon.
That's the story we've been told we were being told, but it's not the only story we've heard.
There's the triumph of being the one who walks out of the last frames of the movie, and there's another type of triumph in defining them. There's the triumph of victory, and a triumph in having set the game. And even a triumph in refusing to acknowledge the existence of a game at all.
What would such uncompetitive types want with winning anyway?
|. . . 2003-11-10|
Dr. Earl Jackson, Jr., reports from Hawaii:
I'm glad queer theory is forging new territory. Look at this book published by Chicago UP! Interesting managerie, isn't it.Ray:Peacocks, Chameleons, Centaurs
Gay Suburbia and the Grammar of Social Identity
by Wayne H. Brekhus
University of Chicago Press
Due/Published October 2003, 248 pages, paper
7 Vegan Peacocks, Christian Chameleons, and Soccer Mom Centaurs: Identity Grammar beyond Gay Identity
8 Duration Disputes: Identity Stability vs. Identity Mobility
9 Density Disputes: Identity Purity vs. Identity Moderation
10 Dominance Disputes: Identity Singularity vs. Identity Balance
Appendix: Grounded Theory and Analytic Fieldwork
"You are welcome, sir, to Secaucus.--Goats and monkeys!"Earl:
Actually, I believe the species most commonly discovered by pop ethnographers is the chimera, usually while on a snipe hunt.
i think the questioning bisexual trapped in a transgendered screenname analog would be best represented by the blast-ended skrewt.
[a jackson chameleon]
+ + +
If I were a Moomin I'd never stand for being demoominized by your categorical litmus test of queer fashion looks.
|. . . 2003-11-15|
Francis Goes to Pasture
Lawrence La Riviere White follows up:
How much of "actual scholarship" turns out as (to use Kierkegaard's word) chatter?With specific regard to our earlier attempt at understanding, he goes on to suggest that it's
For example, during the last Cornel West debacle, UC's John McWhorter weighed in against Professor West. Professor McWhorter cited his own current project, some modest essay modestly proposing modest new perspectives on some modest problem in linguistics (& from my small experience w/that field, those folks really can pare down an issue to the thinnest shavings). At this point I say to myself, "Yes, we should all be working hard & earning those paychecks, & I'm sure Professor McWhorter does fine work in his field, & I have no doubts as to his fine intentions, but what are the odds that this essay will make any difference to anything?" Given my own experience trolling through journal after journal, I'm not going to bet my mortgage on it. & I'm not alone in this belief. Professor Wai Chee Dimock, a one-time guest of honor at our school's graduate American Studies conference, advised us to remember that the shelf life for our writing is about ten years. In other words, no one reads this stuff anyway.
What's to be done? Professor Dimock seemed to be arguing for lower standards. Don't get too hung up on anything you're doing just now, because you're going to be on to something else soon enough. If you don't like the weather, wait ten minutes & it'll change. This smacks of rank professionalism to me. Don't worry about the point of the game, just play it. I am too much of a romantic, but also too much over-invested in artifacts, to keep that down. If it's pointless why don't we just skip it? More silence, please. & when we do speak, perhaps a formal recognition of the insubstantiality of our discourse. Essays instead of books. Feuillitons (why I feel that word should be translated as "firecracker"?) instead of essays. If we can't prove anything, why not have fun? Put a bit of sparkle in it!
not that graduate students & professors are dim, but they're not bright enough. As in, these problems are really difficult, & only the best & the brightest throughout our glorious history have made substantial progress on them. Though a recurrence of my chronic nostalgia is undoubtedly muddling me here, I think our current historicism has exacerbated this issue. Back when the problems were timeless, one could (not that many availed themselves of this option) have a certain humility before them. Who am I to claim a solution to the mind-body distinction? But now that it's all ad hoc (today's solutions for today's problems!), what's to stop me from knowing it all?Yeah, "always already" really gets my goat. Isn't that what "is" is? But for bulk search-and-replace of the phrase, Juliet Clark's suggested improvement seems more practical: "now inasmuch as ever".
Okeh I'm getting way too muddled here, but I hope you know what I'm trying to say. Let me say this much: perhaps more explicating what has already been said but not yet understood (how about an exchange of the "always already" (a phrase from Heidegger, which explains the stink of "I know the secret!" about it) for the "never yet") & less theory-making. Or as I'd say to the kids, let's clean up the mess we've already made before we start making a new one.
I should have made it plainer that I didn't mean any offense to real scholarship. As a blustering blowhard, I'm its dependent. (And as a blustering blowhard, I'm in no position to cast stones at philosophical hubris.) What motivated me was my continuing wonder at finding the grazing land of academic journals so lightly vegetated in comparison with fanzines or little magazines or genre fiction magazines or weblogs.
After, at White's instigation, considering more closely my use of the term "real scholarship" -- in the humanities, that would include transcription and translation and correction, letters and interviews, attention directed to the previously overlooked, re-publication of the currently out-of-print -- that contrast seems slightly less wonderful. Clearly my notion of "real scholarship" is as one with my notion of good fannishness. Again, I think of the amateurish era of Joyce studies, when the bulk of a journal could be taken up by "Notes" -- aperçus, speculations, elucidations, emendations, and jokes -- and its later aridity, talking long and saying little.
Grad school can't alone be responsible for thinning that fannish energy. As proven by the tender verdancy of academic weblogs, the joy of shared discovery continues ready to burst out, given half an opportunity. There's something herbicidal about professional academic publishing itself.
|. . . 2003-11-30|
|. . . 2004-02-01|
Apparently, while I've been focusing on issues such as Elvis and the irrelevance of academic prose, Howard Dean has been declared unelectable due to his use of an overly directional microphone. Juliet Clark: "They interview Dean and his wife and they sound perfectly reasonable, and then the anchor comes on and says, 'But his campaign just can't seem to escape the memory of that scream — because we're about to show it again!'" So unlike the demure behavior of our own dear Texas queen.... Just imagine the gleaming array of cutlery being polished for John Kerry!
This is why it's best to control both intelligence gathering and mass media. The rule is "Repeat." That rule again: "Repeat." You need a repetitive medium for that. Intelligence gathering is just gravy.
It's an old gag. Moustached phrenologist Bugs or Daffy feels (squeegy-squeegy) Elmer's head, and —"No bumps? We make some!"
That's how it works. How to break it is a tougher problem. As I recall, Termite Terrace usually resolved things with a big explosion and everyone waking up in Hell.
|. . . 2004-02-25|
Predictably, the first request Pseudopodium received was:
Along similar lines, Juliet Clark forwards this story from the Free Lance Star:
Authorities say the fight started when the victim, Michael Clapp, 38, discovered a bottle of medicine missing from his Townsend Boulevard apartment Wednesday night.
Clapp suspected his neighbor, 27-year-old Rodney Prophitt, and went next door to confront him around 7:15 p.m., city police spokesman Jim Shelhorse said.
When he did, police say, Prophitt knocked Clapp to the ground, then pulled off his artificial leg and struck him with it several times.
"At some point, Mr. Clapp was able to grab his leg back, get back to his apartment and call 911," Shelhorse said.
Clapp was treated at Mary Washington Hospital for a broken nose and other facial injuries. Shelhorse did not know what type of medication was taken or why Clapp has a prosthetic leg.
A reader is puzzled by our "Respond at brief" box:
But where does this go?To the top, Johnny!
Is The Scarlet Letter a protofeminist novel?No.
Speaking of old Turks of the deepest dye, pf takes issue:
"Shakespeare's drama individuates rather than inflates." But his poetry does the opposite.Intensifies instead, I'd say — unlike D. H. Lawrence, who really didn't shouldn't have wasted so much time getting to those last five words of his. What a snob he was. As if suburbanites didn't need bombast just as much as anyone else.
The use of courier as a font gives me nightmares involving Charlie Kaufman. Just thought you should know.
And what a burden that knowledge will be. If you have access to ITC American Typewriter, it's a worthy alternative.
Still the nightmares keep coming:
oh god no not stephen joyce pf (ps dh has got a bit of his own empty bombast which is what appeals to me about that poem)
|. . . 2004-05-03|
Photo by Juliet Clark
For those who've been wondering at what point your arms would be long enough to box with God, my calcuations place the Holy Button at 12' 8½" (or under).
Are you sure that's the possessive genitive? Could be made of the dry bones of the divine fallen. -pf
Or it could be a dental prosthetic swapped from deity to deity, like Walter Brennan's in Red River. Time for another schism, I reckon!
Long enough with a reasonable expectation of holding your own to box etc...
More conditions, eh? What next? "Your weight class too light to box..."? "Your trunks the wrong color to box..."? Listen, you just set the date and the purse and my boy will be there.
What's that in metric?
So, what'd you think of the Jane Austen Book Club?
I thought I'd better buy and read a copy. And I still think so. The author's appearance at Cody's on 4th St. this Saturday at 7 PM seems like a good time to get the process started.
You gonna bring Big John Kerry with ya? Or is he too busy denouncing Abu Gharib? High noon right here. Unless I get a call from dispatch. Or my lumbago starts up again.
Let the record show that I received this challenge at 1:36 PM. Typical.
A final commentator ties everything up in pretty red ribbon:
Jane Austen Fight Club
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a bloody beating.
|. . . 2004-06-16|
The family pub, Mullingar, c. 1904
From the collection of Juliet Clark
Thanks ever so much for the lovely birthday present. It suits me splendid. Everyone says I'm quite the belle in my new tam. I got mummy's lovely box of creams and am writing. They are lovely. I am getting on swimming in the photo business now. Mr Coghlan took one of me and Mrs. Will send when developed. We did great biz yesterday. Fair day and all the beef to the heels were in. We are going to lough Owel on Monday with a few friends to make a scrap picnic. Give my love to mummy and to yourself a big kiss and thanks. I hear them at the piano downstairs. There is to be a concert in the Greville Arms on Saturday. There is a young student comes here some evenings named Bannon his cousins or something are big swells and he sings Boylan's (I was on the pop of writing Blazes Boylan's) song about those seaside girls. Tell him silly Milly sends my best respects. I must now close with fondest love
Your fond daughterMillyP.S. Excuse bad writing am in hurry. Byby.M.
Over against the Rt. Hon. Mr Justice Fitzgibbon's door (that is to sit with Mr Healy the lawyer upon the college lands) Mal. Mulligan a gentleman's gentleman that had but come from Mr Moore's the writer's (that was a papish but is now, folk say, a good Williamite) chanced against Alec. Bannon in a cut bob (which are now in with dance cloaks of Kendal green) that was new got to town from Mullingar with the stage where his coz and Mal M's brother will stay a month yet till Saint Swithin and asks what in the earth he does there, he bound home and he to Andrew Horne's being stayed for to crush a cup of wine, so he said, but would tell him of a skittish heifer, big of her age and beef to the heel, and all this while poured with rain and so both together on to Horne's.
Gazing upon those features with a world of tenderness, Ah, Monsieur, he said, had you but beheld her as I did with these eyes at that affecting instant with her dainty tucker and her new coquette cap (a gift for her feastday as she told me prettily) in such an artless disorder, of so melting a tenderness, 'pon my conscience, even you, Monsieur, had been impelled by generous nature to deliver yourself wholly into the hands of such an enemy or to quit the field for ever. I declare, I was never so touched in all my life. God, I thank thee, as the Author of my days! Thrice happy will he be whom so amiable a creature will bless with her favours. A sigh of affection gave eloquence to these words and, having replaced the locket in his bosom, he wiped his eye and sighed again. Beneficent Disseminator of blessings to all Thy creatures, how great and universal must be that sweetest of Thy tyrannies which can hold in thrall the free and the bond, the simple swain and the polished coxcomb, the lover in the heyday of reckless passion and the husband of maturer years. But indeed, sir, I wander from the point. How mingled and imperfect are all our sublunary joys. Maledicity! he exclaimed in anguish. Would to God that foresight had but remembered me to take my cloak along! I could weep to think of it. Then, though it had poured seven showers, we were neither of us a penny the worse. But beshrew me, he cried, clapping hand to his forehead, tomorrow will be a new day and, thousand thunders, I know of a marchand de capotes, Monsieur Poyntz, from whom I can have for a livre as snug a cloak of the French fashion as ever kept a lady from wetting. Tut, tut! cries Le Fecondateur, tripping in, my friend Monsieur Moore, that most accomplished traveller (I have just cracked a half bottle avec lui in a circle of the best wits of the town), is my authority that in Cape Horn, ventre biche, they have a rain that will wet through any, even the stoutest cloak. A drenching of that violence, he tells me, sans blague, has sent more than one luckless fellow in good earnest posthaste to another world. Pooh! A livre! cries Monsieur Lynch. The clumsy things are dear at a sou. One umbrella, were it no bigger than a fairy mushroom, is worth ten such stopgaps. No woman of any wit would wear one. My dear Kitty told me today that she would dance in a deluge before ever she would starve in such an ark of salvation for, as she reminded me (blushing piquantly and whispering in my ear though there was none to snap her words but giddy butterflies), dame Nature, by the divine blessing, has implanted it in our hearts and it has become a household word that il y a deux choses for which the innocence of our original garb, in other circumstances a breach of the proprieties, is the fittest, nay, the only garment. The first, said she (and here my pretty philosopher, as I handed her to her tilbury, to fix my attention, gently tipped with her tongue the outer chamber of my ear), the first is a bath — But at this point a bell tinkling in the hall cut short a discourse which promised so bravely for the enrichment of our store of knowledge.
BLOOM(in tattered mocassins with a rusty fowlingpiece, tiptoeing, fingertipping, his haggard bony bearded face peering through the diamond panes, cries out) I see her! It's she! The first night at Mat Dillon's! But that dress, the green! And her hair is dyed gold and he...BELLO(laughs mockingly) That's your daughter, you owl, with a Mullingar student.(Milly Bloom, fairhaired, greenvested, slimsandalled, her blue scarf in the seawind simply swirling, breaks from the arms of her lover and calls, her young eyes wonderwide.)MILLYMy! It's Papli! But, O Papli, how old you've grown!
Then out there came the jew's daughter
Had this latter or any cognate phenomenon declared itself in any member of his family?Twice, in Holles street and in Ontario terrace, his daughter Millicent (Milly) at the ages of 6 and 8 years had uttered in sleep an exclamation of terror and had replied to the interrogations of two figures in night attire with a vacant mute expression.What other infantile memories had he of her?15 June 1889. A querulous newborn female infant crying to cause and lessen congestion. A child renamed Padney Socks she shook with shocks her moneybox: counted his three free moneypenny buttons, one, tloo, tlee: a doll, a boy, a sailor she cast away: blond, born of two dark, she had blond ancestry, remote, a violation, Herr Hauptmann Hainau, Austrian army, proximate, a hallucination, lieutenant Mulvey, British navy.What endemic characteristics were present?Conversely the nasal and frontal formation was derived in a direct line of lineage which, though interrupted, would continue at distant intervals to more distant intervals to its most distant intervals.What memories had he of her adolescence?She relegated her hoop and skippingrope to a recess. On the duke's lawn, entreated by an English visitor, she declined to permit him to make and take away her photographic image (objection not stated). On the South Circular road in the company of Elsa Potter, followed by an individual of sinister aspect, she went half way down Stamer street and turned abruptly back (reason of change not stated). On the vigil of the 15th anniversary of her birth she wrote a letter from Mullingar, county Westmeath, making a brief allusion to a local student (faculty and year not stated).Did that first division, portending a second division, afflict him?Less than he had imagined, more than he had hoped.
What did the 2nd drawer contain?Documents: the birth certificate of Leopold Paula Bloom: an endowment assurance policy of £500 in the Scottish Widows' Assurance Society, intestated Millicent (Milly) Bloom, coming into force at 25 years as with profit policy of £430, £462-10-0 and £500 at 60 years or death, 65 years or death and death, respectively, or with profit policy (paidup) of £299-10-0 together with cash payment of £133-10-0, at option:
still its the feeling especially now with Milly away such an idea for him to send the girl down there to learn to take photographs on account of his grandfather instead of sending her to Skerrys academy where shed have to learn not like me getting all 1s at school only hed do a thing like that all the same on account of me and Boylan thats why he did it Im certain the way he plots and plans everything out I couldnt turn round with her in the place lately unless I bolted the door first gave me the fidgets coming in without knocking first when I put the chair against the door just as I was washing myself there below with the glove get on your nerves then doing the loglady all day put her in a glasscase with two at a time to look at her if he knew she broke off the hand off that little gimcrack statue with her roughness and carelessness before she left that I got that little Italian boy to mend so that you cant see the join for 2 shillings wouldnt even teem the potatoes for you of course shes right not to ruin her hands I noticed he was always talking to her lately at the table explaining things in the paper and she pretending to understand sly of course that comes from his side of the house he cant say I pretend things can he Im too honest as a matter of fact and helping her into her coat but if there was anything wrong with her its me shed tell not him I suppose he thinks Im finished out and laid on the shelf well Im not no nor anything like it well see well see now shes well on for flirting too with Tom Devans two sons imitating me whistling with those romps of Murray girls calling for her can Milly come out please shes in great demand to pick what they can out of her round in Nelson street riding Harry Devans bicycle at night its as well he sent her where she is she was just getting out of bounds wanting to go on the skatingrink and smoking their cigarettes through their nose I smelt it off her dress when I was biting off the thread of the button I sewed on to the bottom of her jacket she couldnt hide much from me I tell you only I oughtnt to have stitched it and it on her it brings a parting and the last plumpudding too split in 2 halves see it comes out no matter what they say her tongue is a bit too long for my taste your blouse is open too low she says to me the pan calling the kettle blackbottom and I had to tell her not to cock her legs up like that on show on the windowsill before all the people passing they all look at her like me when I was her age of course any old rag looks well on you then a great touchmenot too in her own way at the Only Way in the Theatre royal take your foot away out of that I hate people touching me afraid of her life Id crush her skirt with the pleats a lot of that touching must go on in theatres in the crush in the dark theyre always trying to wiggle up to you that fellow in the pit at the Gaiety for Beerbohm Tree in Trilby the last time Ill ever go there to be squashed like that for any Trilby or her barebum every two minutes tipping me there and looking away hes a bit daft I think I saw him after trying to get near two stylishdressed ladies outside Switzers window at the same little game I recognised him on the moment the face and everything but he didnt remember me yes and she didnt even want me to kiss her at the Broadstone going away well I hope shell get someone to dance attendance on her the way I did when she was down with the mumps and her glands swollen wheres this and wheres that of course she cant feel anything deep yet I never came properly till I was what 22 or so it went into the wrong place always only the usual girls nonsense and giggling that Conny Connolly writing to her in white ink on black paper sealed with sealingwax though she clapped when the curtain came down because he looked so handsome then we had Martin Harvey for breakfast dinner and supper I thought to myself afterwards it must be real love if a man gives up his life for her that way for nothing I suppose there are a few men like that left its hard to believe in it though unless it really happened to me
|. . . 2004-07-13|
Being a decent little chappy, I properly joined my voice with John Hogan's to defend the honor of Mary Astor's performance in The Palm Beach Story. But was it proper, I wondered later, for me to have described her character as a "nymphomaniac"? "Horny," yes, but why be so clinical? Intense self-analysis suggests I was influenced by second-time-as-tragedy Written on the Wind:
|Joel McCrea||=||Poor but righteous hunk||=||Rock Hudson|
|Claudette Colbert||=||Practical glamour girl||=||Lauren Bacall|
|Rudy Vallee||=||Feckless rich kid||=||Robert Stack|
|Model airport on a table||=||McGuffin dreams are made of||=||Model oil derrick on a desk|
|Mary Astor||=||Worthless sleeparound sister||=||Dorothy Malone|
From this we learn:
Juliet Clark writes, although I hesitate to guess about which part:
Suddenly, I'm completely convinced!
|. . . 2005-05-11|
Into Me and My Gal's 19 days of shooting and 79 minutes of footage Raoul Walsh and team crammed comedy, romance, suspense, melodrama, sex both obsessive and healthy, a mute quadraplegic war vet, a lot of drinking, a cafe straight out of Thimble Theater, and a startlingly ahead-of-its-time caper sequence, and still maintained a relaxed keep-the-cameras-rolling kind of mood.
But that's not the point. The point is that Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett keep using the word "beezark" (or "beezok") — the same way they use "dope", as a roughneck endearment.
They really love that word. It's kind of infectious.
And, according to pre-Code ace Juliet Clark, in 1933's The Mayor of Hell, Jimmy Cagney addresses a reform school guard as "Ya screw... ya beezok" (or "beezark").
The "beezark" spelling is fairly well attested on the web:
It doesn't appear, however, in the OED or Webster's or the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, or in any of the several dozen reference works at UC Berkeley except one goddamned thesaurus where it's listed bare-assed as a "Term of disparagement", or in the archives of American Speech.
The last time I asked my readers for slang origins, it worked out pretty well. (I found the origin myself, but that's still pretty well.) This time the challenge is so great that I feel compelled to ask non-readers even. Any idea where this comes from?
beezark, n. : from the Old Norse 'baresark' or 'berserker'; one who is sufficiently incensed in battle to remove his upper garment (the sark or bearnie) and run amuck. Hence any lunatical or foolish fellow, ne'er-do-well, nincompoop or ragamuffin.
Thanks, Anon, our source for all good things. As a reader of Celtic and Icelandic sagas and a resident of Berkeley, that coincidence came to my mind as well. But "ber" to "bee" seemed a wide unattested leap to take across centuries of intervening North American immigrations, and so I didn't trust my instincts. Do you have a reason to? I'm just folk, and you know how people talk about folk etymology.
UPDATE: Language Hat, that wonderful wonderful Hat, to the rescue:
You may be having problems because you're spelling it "wrong" (though of course the spelling of slang terms isn't exactly set in stone); my reference books have it as "bezark." The Historical Dictionary of American Slang says:
bezark [orig. unkn.] an odd or contemptible man or woman. ca1925 in D. Runyon Poems for Men 15: This bezark... was once so quiet that we called him Silent Sam. 1929 in R.E. Howard Book 64: At this moment some bezark came barging up to our table and... leaned over and leered engagingly at my girl. Ibid. 78: Add to this the fact that he frequently shoved me against the wall, and you can get an idea what kind of a bezark I was fighting. 1932 AS (June) 329: Bezark -- a person [at Johns Hopkins Univ.]. 1942-49 Goldin et al. DAUL 259: Don't crack to that bezark (girl) of yours about touches (robberies).
(You can read an excerpt of the Robert E. Howard story here.)
And Cassell says:
bezark n. [1920s-40s] (US) an eccentric or unpleasant person. [? SE berserk]
I checked "beezark", I checked "beezok", I checked "bizok", but, dang, I must not have checked "bezark".
I mentioned this to one of your non-readers this afternoon, and he said they don't like it when you talk about them. He said they had a file, some charts, a graph or two. That it came up at meetings. And that's all he'd say about it.
Cobra Libre writes:
I don't actually have anything useful to add to "In Search of Beezark," but, by happy coincidence, my nighttime reading has recently taken a detour into Icelandic sagas, and so last night I opened up my new used copy of "Egil's Saga" to read:
"There was a man called Ulf Bjalfason. His mother was Hallbera, daughter of Ulf the Fearless, and she was the sister of Hallbjorn Half-Troll of Hrafnista, father of Ketil Trout. Ulf was so big and powerful that there was no one to match him. As a young man he used to go off on viking trips looking for plunder, and his partner in these was a man of good family called Berle-Kari, strong and full of courage. He was a berserk."
I'd like that last sentence on my tombstone, but I'm far too shy to run around amuck shirtless.
Me, I'd like the second sentence on my tombstone.
In fact, I'd like so many things on my tombstone, I may have to die more than once. Luckily, I'm a coward!
I happened to be re-reading 'The Thirteen Gun Salute' by Patick O'Brian just before checking in here, and there was an amusing (short) exchange between Jack and Stephen on the subject of 'running amock' 'or amuck?', Jack wonders; the subject comes up because of a couple of beserkers in Malaya who are, well, running amok, cutting people up. 'What a fellow you are, Stephen!' - Renfrew
UPDATE: In June 2005, the American Dialect Society Mailing List treated the subject. One poster noted many instances of "Bezark" as a surname. I'd noticed that myself, guessing that it's a corruption of the even more common family name "Bizok". And, as I had, he wondered whether the slang term might be a derogatory generalization. No evidence so far, though.
On firmer ground, Ben Zimmer moves the word's first printed attestation back to May 25, 1919:
"THE BUGS have no use for the beezark who carries a picture of himself in the back of his watch. It's a crippled loving cup that only has one handle." - "Two and Three: Putting the Next One Over" by Bugs Baer, Atlanta Constitution
Zimmer cited some more examples from Baer's column, and asked "Did Baer coin it, or just popularize it?"
UPDATE: A year later, and reader john l adds:
I stumbled across your reference to Thomas Thursday and the use of the word "beezark." Thursday used this term frequently in his humorous pulp stories. The first instance I know of occurs in "Missed in Missouri" (Top-Notch Magazine, May 15, 1920): "We put half of the side show on the bally doing all kinds of stunts, but didnít succeed in getting more than five beezarks to squander a dime." "Beezark" is one of many comic invectives he employed, e.g. yamneck, yapbean, dilbo, boobist, hickwah, etc. Thursday's publishing record is thin prior to 1920, but there's a remote chance he predates your 1919 refs, but it wouldn't be by much.
UPDATE 2010-10-21 : Terence O'Connell adds:
Another movie instance, which started my search: near the end of Sailorís Luck, a 1933 Raoul Walsh movie, James Dunn is quarreling with his girl friend Sally Eilers, whom he suspects of infidelity, and says something that sounds like "All you beezoks are alike."
UPDATE 2012-05-26 : Justin Patton adds (much to my embarrassment, since I bought the source text back in the 1980s):
Stumbled across “Beezark” in a Thimble Theater strip from October 12, 1929, and when looking it up online I found your site. Popeye and Castor Oyl are scammed into buying a “brass mine” in the Beezark Mountains, and then travel there to find that it doesn’t exist. The Beezark Mountains, or Beezark Center as it is later referred to over the next few months in the strip, are the primary location of the story arc that lasts until 1930, and are referenced several times. The residents of the Beezark area seem to be poor, naïve, farmers with large numbers or children, and many of them are represented sporting long beards and of advanced age (the police officer, fire chief, etc.). It seemed as though they might have been roughly based on residents of the Ozark Mountain area of the time.
October 12, 1929 – “Popeye and myself are going down to the Beezark Mountains and locate our brass mine.” – Castor Oyl
February 13, 1930 – “It happened about a month ago – I was strolling along the beach near Beezark Center in America.” – Fanny Foster
There are many other references between these two and afterwards, including a misspelling at one point of “Bezark”.
|. . . 2009-01-16|
The Social Misconstruction of Reality by Richard F. Hamilton, 1996
Hamilton gives us a polemic and a series of debunkings which ascend from trivial observation to war-cry:
Debunkings are always fun, don't you think? And since sociologists, like economists, advertise empirically-derived generalizations while under unrelenting pressure to justify policies which benefit specific parties, I'm sure the debunkers among them will continue to feel both vitally necessary and desperately beleaguered.
The polemic's more problematic. Hamilton wants to fix the social sciences and humanities. His diagnosis is gullibility; his posited causes are group-think and authority worship; his posited cure is individual contrariness.
Hamilton nets most of his gulls from journalism (particularly book reviews), introductory textbooks (particularly sociology), and interdisciplinary citations. Within the errors' overlapping discipline of history, only once did Hamilton himself blow the first whistle, and that was a case of simultaneous discovery. As corrective scholarship goes, the record compares well to "harder" sciences: physics theories can be elaborated for decades before finding confirmatory evidence, and the social impact of slanted pharmaceutical papers dwarfs any of Hamilton's examples.
Regarding journalism, anyone appalled by reviews lauding Weber's or Foucault's "meticulous" research must not have opened many "poetic," "masterful," or "shattering" novels or examined the similarly meticulous research of popular science writers. And I don't know from introductory textbooks. So let's move on to the interdisciplinary mash-ups of philosophy and literary studies and so forth.
Now, I grant that an abstract argument founded on a false premise, although possibly charming in other ways, won't advance the great Sherman's March of scientific knowledge. But the equivalence of citations with logical premises is itself an assumption in need of examination.
As empirical ice-breaker, I took the top hundred returns from a Project MUSE search for "Foucault" and "Discipline and Punish," along with a dozen or so Google Book results and a few examples from my general reading over the past few months. In that sample I noticed only one argument which would have been invalidated by refuting Foucault. The vast majority of citations either occurred in studies of Foucault himself (a filter which would catch Hamilton as well) or were... well, here are some examples:
For actor-network theory is all about power — power as a (concealed or misrepresented) effect, rather than power as a set of causes. Here it is close to Foucault, but it is not simply Foucauldian for, eschewing the synchronic, it tells empirical stories about processes of translation.
Discipline and Punish thus suggests a principle that can be seen to underlie many recent studies of early modern disciplinary power: "bad" discipline drives out "good." I want to ask whether it should or must, whether a more positive view of discipline can be successfully defended. My test-case is a lyric poem, George Herbert's "Discipline."
In Discipline and Punish: The Birth of The Prison, Foucault describes four basic techniques of discipline, all of which are exemplified in Lowry's novel and, to varying degrees, in the other dystopian novels as well.
The institutional, patriarchal discipline that serves as the dominant force in Auster's fiction is largely identical to that described by Michel Foucault.
This makes Foucault's view of the professions — as groups of pious experts devoted subconsciously to the establishment of narratives of knowledge, or "regimes of truth," for the propagation of their own power — an intriguing line of investigation for those who are fascinated by the historic controlling and detached image of the librarian and by the discursive knowledge base of librarianship.
What we see here is a shift from the spectacular to the scopic, and the scopic gaze of surveillance is that of an anonymous "white stenographer," a gaze that is stamped by the phallic authority of whiteness as it arrests the black body in its divestiture. The scene suggests the emergence of a regime of discipline with a far more generalized and anonymous system of surveillance that does not draw attention to itself as spectacular.
What the reformers likely called the Fear of God may have seemed more like the Fear of the State to Foucault. Hawthorne, too, was wary of the state's power and skeptical about relying on its judgments for enforcing morality.
In understanding the power relations manifested in the parades of revolutionary Zanzibar, Foucault offers valuable insights.
Huckleberry Finn even more radically views subjectivity as enthrallment to convention and habit.
Jane [Eyre]'s first description of John Reed's abusive behaviour and of her reaction to his tyranny sets a pattern that continues throughout the novel and that exemplifies the responses to tyranny outlined by Foucault.
An intriguing subcategory argues against Foucault-citers in ways that parallel arguments against Foucault's own work:
A thorough empirical critique of this simplistic and mistaken application of the Panopticon metaphor to the call centre labour process will form the latter part of this article....
... even if one grants that panopticism may apply to the power relations represented within fictional worlds no less than to those enacted in the real world, serious problems are raised by its application to the formal relations that pertain between novelistic narrators and fictional characters.
And a few citers rival Foucault himself in the audacity of their applications:
Thus, Foucault shows us (1) that an emphasis on self-discipline and ritual conduct does not imply a lack of freedom in and of itself and (2) that self-discipline and ritual conduct can actually be used as the basis for practicing freedom deliberately, as was the case among the ancient Greeks and Romans. Similarly, Confucian codes of self-discipline and ritual behavior can become the basis for the active, participatory practices of the citizens of a modern society.
While reading Djuna Barnes' Consuming Fictions by Diane Warren, I encounter the sentence:
In effect, the rather random operation of censorship in the twenties effectively endowed critics with a kind of panoptic power, which could at any time lead to the invocation of the law.
And I look down to find an indisputable footnote:
The ever-present possibility of being watched, and the consequences that this has in terms of self-censorship have been theorised by Foucault (see Discipline and Punish).
Warren pretends no interest in the history of penology, and she introduces no "kind of" logical dependency between claims about censorship and claims about prison reform. What work's being performed here?
Nothing equivalent to technical vocabularies, which condense clearly agreed upon definitions. In the humanities, popular brands become stretched and baggy from overuse, and restoring them to bear a full load of meaning requires redefinition within the essay or book itself — in which case no labor's been saved by their deployment. For instance, Michael Wheeler's Reconstructing the Cognitive World headlines a battle between Descartes and Heidegger, but then needs to explicate both philosophers in such elaborate detail that their names obscure the cognitive science he means to illuminate.
However, not all disciplines trade in generalizations about common nouns. Disciplines of particulars and proper names boast, if anything, a longer and more continuous history, reaching from Alexandria to the establishment and expansion of vernacular canons. What determines "scholarly value" within such disciplines isn't a correlative graph carefully sculpted from a half-hour test taken by twenty undergraduates for ten bucks each, but the prominent deployment of citations. The marking patterns of scholarship emerge from the talk of scholars, and this particular habit has nothing to do with detached analysis and everything to do with conversation: we begin each interjection with "Speaking of which..." or risk rudeness.
(Of course, political institutions which stabilize power imbalances may quickly make "politeness" indistinguishable from "coercion" and "obedience". See Bourdieu, Homo Academicus; Foucault, Discipline and Punish.)
In these examples, the citation is analogical and the cited author or text serves as a totum pro parte for some generality, or even some mood. Rather than a logical premise, it's an association, a hook, an inspiration, or an excuse. At its best, the arbitrary authority primes the essayist to genuinely novel insights. The middling browbeaten formula goes "I found this and was able to come up with something vaguely reminiscent in X." At its worst, "I went looking for something that would remind me of X and I found it," justifying pages of fond X reminiscence by one utterly unrewarding sentence's worth of application.
The pattern holds in primary sources as in secondary scholarship — or, to put it another way, primary sources in one context (Foucault studies, say) began as secondary sources in another context. Freud's blunder about Leonardo's bird was a bit embarrassing, but a mistake holds only a little less truth value than references to fictions like "Hamlet" and "Oedipus Rex." And in fact, the original whistle-blower, back in the January 1923 issue of The Burlington Magazine, also complained about Freud using Dmitri Merejkowski's Romance of Leonardo Da Vinci. To which the editor responded:
[Freud] says: "This deduction of the psychological writer of romances is not capable of proof, but it can lay claim to so many inner probabilities, it agrees so well with everything we know besides about Leonardo's emotional activity that I cannot refrain from accepting it as correct." He gives his reasons for doing so very clearly. Mr. Maclagan plainly states that Freud did not even pretend to have any data beyond "the unsupported guess of a popular novelist." Freud refers to Merijkowski on other occasions as an example of how an imaginative writer may sometimes illuminate matters that remain obscure to the merely exact investigator. We have all experienced the truth of that.
Seventy-seven years later, references to Freud himself would be defended on similar grounds:
... his work loses little if some of his sources are doubtful, and if not every single hypothesis proves to be fertile. It is self evident that, after almost ninety years, most of Freud's answers should have been refuted. But the potential of his questions is not exhausted. He himself predicted that his essay would primarily be understood as "merely... a psychoanalytic novel," but he also guessed that it "was especially pleasing to a few knowledgeable people". Perhaps they understood that it was these poetic overtones that were able to direct art analysis away from dull scholarliness and away from emotionalist reveries.
In other words, Freud could have justified his ideas with any made-up shit and have achieved the same results. However, it's particularly helpful to invoke someone else's made-up shit — to find a third party to interrupt, to incite, to provide some friction and spark in what might otherwise become a rather dull cocooning of the author-and-topic couple. The historical fiction of Leonardo worked as a hooky and ambiguously encouraging pretense for fantasy (which, appropriately enough, stabilized narcissism's role in Freudianism). And once Freud himself becomes primary cultural material, his historical errors matter almost as little as Shakespeare's.
(Although again ethics turn foggier and darker as we move outside a text-delimited community of equals to, say, the business of health care. See Foucault, Madness and Civilization. But let's leave that for another day; here I strive to understand the text-delimited community of equals.)
Since the history of referential scholarship is necessarily one of accumulation and fashion, reductionist threats of a firm theoretical foundation will always fall flat. For a long while after Discipline and Punish, most academics who wanted to talk about internally imposed constraints felt compelled to mention Foucault, if only so reviewers wouldn't criticize them for not knowing Foucault. At other times, the super-ego or false consciousness or the Harper Valley PTA might special-guest-star with very little modification to the central plot line. Some citations take the low common ground of a Nike T-shirt, while others are worn with the fervor of a team jersey during the World Cup. In the first edition of Factual Fictions, Lennard J. Davis namedropped Foucault as enthusiastically as a cafeteria chef shaking canned parmesan over a dish to make it "Italian."
There's a bit more to academic truth-value than just lack of rigor, though. The "scientific" heroism of Freud (and Foucault, and Nietzsche, and so on) didn't include careful transcription of sources, painstaking replication of results, or double-checked blind studies, but it did require expressing engaging and potentially unpleasant thoughts applicable across a range of enduringly interesting problems. Which is to say such humanities scholarship can be "true" or "false" somewhat as a novel or poem is true or false, with a truth-value that's utilitarian and context-dependent. The utilitarian side shows naked when defenders mock the barrenness of debunkers' "ideas": a flourishing brood of citations in itself proves the scholastic validity of the cited source.
Returning to the out-and-out errors reported by Hamilton, their longevity may spring from a few enduring mysteries:
The simplest explanations will probably remain the most stable in the face of argument. To take the three cases which exercise Hamilton most:
Unshakable though they might be, none of these snappy answers satisfy our perplexity. There must be more to it than that. A residue of an urge to explain will remain, and will be met by one plausible story or/and another.
But if I don't quite share Hamilton's high-colonic ideals, neither would I welcome the erasure of all distinctions between "Hamlet" as produced on Gilligan's Island and "Hamlet" as described by Stephen Greenblatt. The pretenses of a genre don't have to be air-tight (or thoroughly sincere) to be productive; the inevitable constructions of sociability and the "social misconstruction of reality" overlap but aren't identical. And there are other measures of scholarly worth besides citation volume — Michael Baxandall, for example, seems worth emulating despite his low production of forever footnotable trademarks.
Moreover, quasi-refutations of quasi-premises hold their own context-sensitive utilitarian value. For example, as satisfying and useful as attacks on the fascistic aspects of your parents' milieu were if your middle-class youth occurred in 1950s or 1960s Western Europe, in the post-Vietnam United States it might have been wiser to recall that most of Hitler's support came from the wealthy and from rural Protestants, and that religion determined votes more reliably than economic class.
To my non-academic eye, any harm done by Discipline and Punish hasn't been to historiography but to the ability of non-historians to keep track of the world surrounding them, a bit closer every day. For the sheer directness of its display, I'll perhaps unfairly single out Janet Holtman's "Documentary Prison Films and the Production of Disciplinary Institutional 'Truth'," published in 2002 in Virginia, which pits Foucault, Deleuze, Jameson, and Bourdieu against all of two actual films: The Farm: Angola USA, which "merely acts as another social scientific node by which the disciplinary power of the prison functions," and Titicut Follies, which "may number among the many 'odd term[s] in relations of power... inscribed in the latter as an irreducible opposite.'"
As mentioned above, and for perhaps obvious reasons, the documentary prison film is a type of discourse that seems to offer particularly interesting possibilities for analysis in terms of Foucault's theories. It is perhaps here that one might look to find a discursive formation whose effects are clearly recognizable on Foucauldian terms; an analysis of this particular cultural production as a type of truth-production may evidence the ways in which filmic discourses perpetuate humanist values such as the movement toward prison reform, the continuation of the social construction of subjectivities such as "the delinquent," and the normalization and implementation of some of the social scientific technologies of discipline that Foucault describes, such as the examination and the case study. A key question here, in other words, is "what do documentary prison films do?"
A more pressing question here and now, I would think, is "what are prisons doing?" In this regard, recent anti-humanist academics fought an enemy that in most parts of the world (notably the USA) had already been thoroughly defeated by a common foe. It's wonderful that Foucault gave us a new way to talk about repression in a relatively comfortable material position which permits extraordinarily free movement and speech, but not insofar as that's distracted us from H. Bruce Franklin.
H. Bruce Franklin has had extraordinarily free movement and speech, just not simultaneously. Back when he became the first tenured professor to be fired from Stanford for reasons other than moral turpitude, he lacked free speech; now that he's more safely tenured, he lacks free movement on accounta he's ol' (Possibly on a no-fly list too, with a history like his).
As for academic style, I think being an academic is a lot like being in a band that's trying to make commercially viable music (pardon if I drop the obligatory 'only not cool' etc.).
Oh, and -- I've this months for the first time really read Foucault more than in passing, and man, he can fake sources all he wants for all I care, the man is an analytic dynamo.
And Josh adds for very good measure:
Most of the first dozen uses of Foucault you quote are refreshing in their clarity and restraint: "Here's a nifty correspondence" generally beats Jamesonian or Bloomish grandiosity in my book. But you've persuaded me by the end that U.S. academics, with a few exceptions, are doing something, mutatis mutandis, like what James Holstun calls the fate of European philosophers whose "work has had a more productive history in Europe and Britain, where it actively engaged a lively humanist marxist tradition, than in the United States, where it rather quickly assimilated itself to regnant anticommunist ideologies." In the case of Foucault, himself an anticommunist, I guess you'd substitute something like "gay activist circles" for Europe and Britain and "the broader intellectual public sphere" for the United States. See, notwithstanding Halperin's fine demolition of it, Protocols of the Learned Elders of Sodom casts a shadow over every public discussion of Foucault, from the Right and the Left (Rée's "defense" of Foucault is about as helpful as Shaw's of Wilde or Struwwelpeter's of racial equality). Studying Seventies Foucault is fine, and a heartening number of cultural historians and literary scholars have made good use of his ideas without turning his highly experimental propositions into dogmas; but a look at, say, Chapter 16 of the Eribon biography shows Foucault spending two or three years doing work not only worthy of H. Bruce Franklin but being a kind of amalgam of Franklin, Bruce Jackson, and Clifford Levy: why doesn't "Foucauldian" connote work like what MF did in the Groupe d'Information sur les Prisons? Part of the answer, I fear, has to do with the replacement of the activist philosopher with the bogeyman Foucault Jim Miller's book gave us.
Juliet Clark noted that Holtman sets Titicut Follies inside a "Correctional Institution" without mentioning that it was a state hospital for the criminally insane, which lent at least a bit of surface plausibility to the censors' concerns about inmate privacy. (See Robson & Lewton, Bedlam,RKO, 1946.) The omission seems strange in an article so avowedly Foucauldian.
That voice on the phone
|. . . 2009-08-24|
A real friend would've taken away his keys and called a cab.
Easy to think of The Hurt Locker as an engaged no-concept genre termite against Tarentino's elephant, polished to a dazzling whiteness by the DP who embalmed Casino and The Aviator. But eleven million dollars is an unsustainable cost for termites, and Juliet Clark reminded me that lots of people still love The Sound of Music. As a wise drunk once said, "Are you lost? Yes, you are lost."
|. . . 2009-09-01|
The Death Wish in American Publicity Material : Part 7 in an Occasional Series
Bank of America bus-stop kiosk ads:
And for Part 8, master film writer Juliet Clark points to the Jeanne Dielman Criterion Collection Cooking Video Contest. One can only wonder what other categories of amateur video might be inspired by Chantal Akerman's masterpiece....
|. . . 2014-03-31|
Like Odets scripts and Cassavetes movies, most of the Neo-Realist canon looks simultaneously contrived and lazy, coasting on rhetorical conceit. Alberto Lattuada was a real director, though, complete with whistle and megaphone, and co-screenwriter/assistant-director Federico Fellini was no realist.
Re-doing Carmen as a noir and Carmen as an innocent victim is a sweet idea, although it leaves the lead little to do but be draggled — she's sometimes as much a prop as the sister in Night of the Living Dead. But John Kitzmiller plays fall-guy with the proper mix of dopiness and gravitas, and Giulietta Masina provides occasional shots of oomph in a transition from Gloria Grahame (in a supporting role) to Joan Blondell (in a supporting role).1 Linking it to the other occupation movie we'd seen that day, Lavorno's evil crimelord is embodied by the manager of the Hotel Majestic.
Interracial love and an unflattering view-from-below of the American occupation explains why this didn't get distribution at the time. What keeps it out of sight now? Inertia, most likely.
1 As noted by Joan Blondell scholar, Juliet Clark.
Ray, that really happened.
I know; I saw it with my own eyes!
|. . . 2014-10-12|
When I contemplate the United States House of Representatives I understand the true meaning of "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world."
* * *
In related news, my close acquaintance Juliet Clark found her not-distant-enough acquaintance Anselm Dovetonsils merging Spoken-Word Poetry and Postcard Poetry into something he calls Google Voice Poetry:
Transcript Not Available
Hey missing this message
is for Mr. Triad.
I think a look at details,
a stunning information.
This is mighty not
where doing petitions quality.
You're looking for clues service.
For thinking that you want to get done in.
Your some exciting things are waiting.
Covet their care.
|. . . 2016-02-28|
Gypsy by Carter Scholz, PM Press (2015)
The enormous weight of the waft which was quite light was the thing that kept me contained in my perfect state which was as good as the state of any other thing before it is broken.- Madeline Gins
Hold on to what you got but don't let go. Don't let it go.- Bo Diddley
This is a soft time to write future history. Our post-1980 vector's so well defined and so evenly accelerating; we've so clearly passed "If this goes on" and entered "As it will be."
Too soft to support hard science fiction, or at least too soft to support the supersized undertested battleships which have served as its principal transport since, oh, say 1980. What's your rusty debris worth without a hero's journey? Where's your rotting corpse's character arc? And the three-act structure? Where are the next eight hundred pages?
There were once other ways to make the trip, still choosable if not necessarily profitable. For his first hard science fiction publication Carter Scholz went old-school.
By his own account, he was old-schooled. Like me, Scholz "grew up and was educated during the Cold War, when math and science education were priorities." There was a certain fogginess about utility then, before our rulers successfully separated education-for-maximal-exploitation from the chaff of pure-science truth and high-culture beauty — I think they call it "rationalization"? Those were the irrationally unexuberant years when, as mentioned on the fourth page of Gypsy, someone like Louis Zukofsky could find a stable day-job at Brooklyn Polytechnic.
Passing references to poets are themselves a bit old-school in fiction: Shakespeare or Eliot for titles; Dickinson or Blake for epigraphs; Villon or Rimbaud for stock characters. Louis Zukofsky is an unusual choice, though.
Zukofsky's poetry wasn't widely available until the late 1960s. Back in 1978, the year of his death and the year his long "poem of a life," "A", was published, niche readers like myself and (I suppose) Scholz still thought it likely Zukofksy's brand of difficulty would follow the Modernist course of things and become, if not widely known, then about as widely known as twentieth-century poetry gets. It never happened. His niche readership now is probably no larger than his niche readership in 1978. Rather than poetic heroism triumphant, Zukofsky exemplifies th'expense of spirit in a waste of craft, sloughed off by posterity as insufficiently instantaneously rewarding.
At any rate, Louis Zukofsky's name does not appear after the fourth page of Gypsy.
* * *
Before turning even to the first page, readers will know Gypsy as a throwback by sheer lack of heft. Classic science fiction's markets were magazines and cheap paperbacks. A novella sells either/both, and novellas like Scholz's therefore became the classically approved dosage of mindblowing science fiction. (Longer volumes such as Asimov's Foundation trilogy would be constructed from semi-autonomous novellas and short stories, an assemblage known as a fix-up and carrying its own stylistic markers.)
As for three-act structures, an equally viable narrative strategy is available in hard science fiction's native version of the picaresque: one-damn-thing-after-another whack-a-bug-make-a-bug problem solving, drawing straight from the genre's turpentine-soaked roots in hobbyist magazines. Hollywood itself recalled that formula into service for two of its best recent spectacles, and that's how Carter Scholz builds Gypsy.
Although Scholz gives "Earth's first starship" every reasonable break, it finds (as it reasonably must) problems sufficient to his purpose. By way of comparison, consider our national attempts at an oceanic habitat, summarized by Ellen Prager in Chasing Science at Sea:
The U.S. Navy's first undersea laboratory, Sealab I, sank twice and filled with water before a successful launch in 1964 in the Bahamas. A tropical storm then halted the Sealab mission after only eleven days, although it was supposed to have lasted for three weeks. [...] Hydrolab also had its share of problems in the beginning, including one 25-mile (40-km) trip out into the Gulf Stream after breaking loose in a storm. [...] During decompression, when the air pressure inside the habitat was decreased, the internal air inside the toilet's holding tank not only expanded, it literally exploded, splattering its contents all over the entry trunk of the habitat.
A breathable atmosphere was within reach of Sealab; Gravity had Earth (and video-game physics); The Martian had NASA (and public funding and international good will). Scholz takes hard-science-fiction's nominal rules at their word, and so Gypsy has, at best, in its hoped-for sequence of events, seventy years of nothing. Pulp self-sufficiency could hardly desire a more congenial home. It is therefore, of course, populated by a secret band of brilliant, dedicated, rebellious, rationalist-if-not-necessarily-rational brethren and sistren with hands-on can-do attitudes; there's even Heinleinisch intervention by a left-behind robber baron.
There's not much Hawksian teambuilding chatter, though. Sustainability requires redundancy for backup; constraints of mass and energy require as quiescent an organic load as possible. Therefore at most one crewmember at a time can be conscious. The book's chain of puzzles must be linked in, as writer Juliet Clark put it, a game of exquisite corpse played against actual corpses.
These P.O.V. transitions provide Scholz ample opportunity to mimic fix-up novels' stock three-asterisk-separated gestures towards excyclopediac range and cosmic sweep, weaving flashbacks, expository passages, back-stories (almost aways of refugees, almost tautologically: anyone who reaches adulthood must have survived something to get there) — and monologues, of course, monologues: little self-pep-talks, little cries-on-one's-own-shoulder, simulated second-guessing, checking off the list, working shit out....
As decades pass, and glitches and kludges accumulate like a hoarder's maze of newspaper stacks, first delimiting paths and then blocking them, and the spacecraft-and-story Gypsy nears its destination, characters are given more time for reflection, and their monologues shift register. They abstract; their rhetoric is shaped. They become arias of anger, arias of despair, arias of nostalgia. They fit 2016, yes, but to some extent they'd fit 1917, or 404 BC, or 586 BC.
* * *
Gypsy's closing lamentation may not be instantly recognizable even in 2016. I don't know if the initial Locus reviewer saw the same printed letters pass her eyes; we certainly didn't read the same page.
Myself I found it most effective; it led me to write this to you. But how can I explain the effect without snuffing its already-slim chances of replication?
Tossing another kludge on the pyre, then:
That last chorus is a reference but not a quote. A collaboration of sorts between dead author and not-yet-dead writer, but also between immersion in books and immersion in the melting shards of a human-free but human-welcoming world. Its import will be missed entirely by most readers and missed deeply by a very few. "The Happy Few," I want to say; happy in the Stendhalian sense, as in "Happy to have met you" — no one would claim we're distinguished by our cheeriness, or by our good fortune, or by much other than our reluctance to trade up.
Even when we're offered sweet fuck-all to trade up to, to return to future history. In his deauthorized transtemporally award-winning story "The Nine Billion Names of God," Scholz editorially queried "That is the real last question: Do we need fiction? Do we need science?" and introducing those two interrogative sentences as a single question was no mistake. The triumphalism of art is as beside the point as the triumphalism of science: Two Cultures, one boat, no Coast Guard.
Going old-school one older, Gypsy brings grounded technophilia's sense-of-wonder back to its source in the Sublime of terror and pain. While a surplus of Big Dumb Objects may have calloused over our shock at the infinite scale of the universe, shock at the infinite scale of our loss snuffs out only with us. Science fiction still has one vacuum-packed export for the stars.
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.