|. . . New York|
|. . . 1999-08-04|
Hey Hey in the Hays Office: Sex, (Christian) blasphemy, and violence were explicit targets of the written Production Code, and they make great marketing for pre-Code film festivals. But the individuals responsible for implementing the Production Code also took care to safeguard such American family values as racism and antisemitism.
On The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, 1939
The original plan was to show Astaire and Rogers accompanied by black musicians, to represent the orchestras of Jim Europe and others who often worked with the Castles. The idea was scrapped, however, when Hollywood's censorship office gratuitously pointed out to RKO that this would "give serious offense to audiences throughout the sourthern part of the United States... and your studio is likely to be deluged with protests." A similar admonition was wired from RKO's New York office: ".... strongly advise use of white men. No one remembers or cares which they used and we should not take chance with colored."On Three Comrades, 1938
... many changes between the original script and the final one were requested by the Hays Office before approval was granted.... no use of the Nazi emblem or mention of specific German leaders were to be used; a scene in which a bookburning takes place had to be removed; a "We are Jews" speech delivered by the character Dr. Becker was to be deleted; some additional lines of dialogue, situations and character names concerning Jews were to be deleted.... Additionally, suggestions were made to change the setting of the film from the 1930s to two or three years after the end of World War I. According to a 27 Jan 1938 letter sent to Louis B. Mayer by Joseph I. Breen, PCA director, the Hays Office suggested, "It might be better to make the Communists the 'Heavies'... do not indicate by emblem or uniforms that the period is other than following the war." Another suggestion offered by Breen was to delete a reference to Felix Mendelssohn.Much of the crew from Three Comrades reassembled two years later to make The Mortal Storm, which was able to attack the Nazis openly -- albeit with a blanket substitution of the term "non-Aryan" for "Jewish."
|. . . 1999-08-17|
Bosley Crowther, thou shouldst be living at this hour: Never trust a guy who says that High Noon is a masterpiece.
Actually, it's kind of nice to know that even the current generation is capable of producing a movie pundit who's script-happy and film-blind. And it makes sense that he'd find a home at Salon, which, with help from Gene-Shalit-on-'ludes Charles Taylor and mirror-lensed Camille Paglia, is starting to make the New York Times look like Cahiers du cinéma.
|. . . 1999-11-20|
I remember reading to him a German translation from a speech by Radek in which the Russian attacked Ulysses at the Congress of Kharkov as being the work of a bourgeois writer who lacked social consciousness. "They may say what they want," said Joyce, "but the fact is that all the characters in my books belong to the lower middle classes, and even the working class; and they are all quite poor." I know he was a convinced antifascist.
-- Eugene Jolas
Underbred.... the book of a self taught working man....It's sleight of hand, a kind of shell game. A few flourishes of the shells labeled "Modernism" and "Postmodernism" keep us from noticing the writers who have not been shoved into them and from noticing the essential differences between the writers who have.
-- Virginia Woolf on Ulysses
Class, for example.
Yeats's, Pound's, and Eliot's works were in defense of a dreamlike aristocratic status; they loathed the city, or, more specifically, the city's middle class and the city's poor.
Pound and Eliot first became interested in Joyce as a semi-articulate witness to those urban horrors, a sort of Dublin Dreiser. And they lost interest in him as the serialized episodes of Ulysses left realism behind: he was no longer a witness but a class-climbing eccentric who somehow assumed that the world owed him a living. (Biographers still seem to have trouble with that notion, but one should bear in mind that the world of the time seemed perfectly content to supply Yeats, Pound, Stein, Woolf, and so on with livings.)
By the time we get to Louis Zukofsky and Lorine Niedecker (if we ever do; they're still not part of standard academic curricula), those beastly New York Jews and bestial Midwestern immigrants who so offended Henry James are actually writing, without apology, as if they could possibly fit into some respectable (and quite imaginary, thank the lord!) society....
|. . . 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:
|. . . 2000-01-07|
The San Francisco Bay area: William H. Chambliss had the style and humanity of a 19th-century Limbaugh ("Then a man named Booth took pity on society and killed Mr. Lincoln, to keep him from making a giant April fool of Uncle Sam..."), but he also had the gossip of a Drudge:
Married men who were determined to bring their wives out here were advised to steer well clear of San Francisco. They were told that any place in the State, even Sacramento and Oakland not excepted, would be better for married gentlemen who entertained hopes of raising children of their own.
. . .These were not by any means the only interesting persons whom I saw at San Rafael. Besides Mr. Wilberforce, who always makes people weary when he attempts to talk, and Webster Jones, who is always talking about the quantities of wine consumed at the latest parvenu dinner party, -- but never mentions his father-in-law's "business," or past record, -- and Charley Hoag, who was looking around to see if there was anybody in the crowd whose name he did not have in the Blue Book ; and "Billy" Barnes, who ruined his prospects of getting the nomination of the "Octopus" party for governor, by publishing his picture in the Wave ; and Ward McAllister, Jr., whom C. P. Huntington appointed to a fat position, as Pacific Mail attorney, in order to curry favor with a certain leader of some of New York's prominent dancing people, there were some remnants of a crowd of silly parvenus who disgusted everybody of any refinement at the Sea Beach Hotel, Santa Cruz, in June, 1893, by putting "private parlor" signs on the reading room door.
|. . . 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?'")
|. . . 2000-03-08|
Chris Ware - art = Dave Eggers ?'Cause I remember that comic Eggers did for the SF Weekly, and -- hoo boy, he sure ain't Chris Ware!
Among other equations derivable from San-Francisco-to-New-York transformation functions (well, more like Berkeley-to-Brooklyn, but you'd hardly expect a bohemian spokesperson nowadays to admit to being from Berkeley, would you?), we find that old favorite:
Snob + hypocrisy = Times rock critic
|. . . 2000-03-18|
In Old Manhattan
Ray, reading aloud from the plaque on a fence: "Also buried here are such 19th century notables as: Preserved Fish, the merchant."
Laura: "You should write a biography."
|. . . 2000-04-26|
In New York in the 1980s you could always tell it was safe to talk to someone about music if you saw FM antenna wire tacked up all over their apartment, 'cause that meant they were trying to drag in from Upsala College, East Orange, New Jersey, the reluctant signal of WFMU, the radio station so hip that its program guide was a zine -- a pretty good one, too, especially when it came to graphics, what with Kaz DJ-ing there and bringing his fellow RAW artists along for the ride.
In 2000, Upsala is upsadaisied, there are no oranges in Jersey, Your Old Pal Irwin is calling himself just plain Irwin with a last name of some sort attached, and I'm dragging the signal across a much longer wire. But at least the signal is better!
|. . . 2000-04-27|
Even aside from the New York Times reporter's hopeless muddle over the word "virus," I have mixed feelings about this story. On the one hand, The Sims is proving to big business monkeys that the CD-plus-downloadable-behavior-changes software model I've been pushing (with no luck) for six years actually does work. On the other hand, I'm not programming The Sims.
"Like almost everything in the game, the guinea pig's function as a disease vector was carefully simulated, Mr. Wright said. For example, the guinea pig only spreads the disease if a Sims player neglects to clean its cage, and only if a player reaches into the cage to pet the software animal and is bitten will he get sick. Someone who has gotten sick sneezes and coughs and will infect other human characters in the game who come within several 'tiles' distance."
|. . . 2000-05-01|
Movie Comment: Something Wild, 1961, with Carroll Baker and Ralph Meeker
Mr. Maltin calls this film "bizarre," but that's just plain wrong. It's actually pretty fucking bizarre, starting like a film noir Ms. 45 ("She couldn't say 'NO' ... She couldn't say anything!" reads the tagline) and ending like a Roman Polanski Moonstruck.
The cast and the Sanitation-Department-less New York location shooting prepared me for a Kazan-Lumet snorefest. What I got instead was the sole American representative of Rossellini-and-early-Fellini-style Neorealism, complete with ritual degradation of the director's wife. Not that the direction's as good as Rossellini or Fellini; in fact, it's kind of rotten. But it's American! (You know it must be 'cause Aaron Copland did the score.) It's New York! It's Carroll Baker! Ralph Meeker (whose character must've picked up a copy of "How to Brainwash Girls" during his stint in Korea)! And Jean Stapleton! And that's gotta beat good direction.
Almost just as well, since "good direction" might have ruined the Euro-trashier delights of the movie. Like the Bergman-does-Tobacco-Road scene where Ralph Meeker crawls slowly moaning, more slug than dog, towards stock-still Carroll Baker, grabs her ankles, gets pushed away, does it again, gets pushed away, does it again, and gets kicked in the eye! Boy, then do we hear some moaning. Blood comes pouring out.... And the tiny horrible apartments and feverishly icky sadistic voyeurism put those Italian comparisons of mine into a sweatbox till they shrivel to more like Polanski. Which makes a feverish icky kind of sense, since the director is an Auschwitz survivor....
Plot: Take a downtrodden girl and just keep treading harder.
Moral: If you love something, lock it in a cage in the basement for six months and then let it go.
Cinematography: What C.H.U.D. should've looked like. (In that same year of 1961, the same cinematographer shot The Hustler. 1961, Eugen Schüfftan, grotesquely sharp black-and-white, and tortured neurotic ladies will forever slumber limbs-a-tangle in my mind.) (And two years earlier, as if stocking up against Ralph Meeker's later shortage, Schüfftan had shot Eyes Without a Face.) (And thirty-one years earlier, he'd shot People on Sunday, and here I boggle past speech.)
|. . . 2000-05-19|
calamondin's latest entries make me miss New York more than I even usually do....
|. . . 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.
|. . . 2000-07-01|
Special Anniversary Narcissism Week!
We analytic egotists have to keep an eye out for mirrored abysses, which is why I've mostly resisted the impulse to dribble endless mission statements and explanations into the Hotsy Totsy Club until the sodden floor collapsed under me. But the Hotsy Totsy Club is a year old now, and as an analytic egotist I can think of no better way to celebrate than to spend an entire week on mission statements and explanations. Hee haw!
I currently live in Berkeley, California. The "original" Hotsy Totsy Club is a crummy bar, not far away from me on San Pablo Ave. ("The Most Beautiful Avenue in the World!"), where grizzled old boozers start congregating around 9 am. The neon in its sign seems to be burnt out in a new combination every day.And Paul followed up with the equally reasonable, "I wonder exactly what role Cholly Kokonino had in the Coconino county of old?"
In all the strips I've seen, Cholly Kokonino was only a name without a character, a fiction within the fiction, a gossip-columnist pseudonym occasionally appended to Herriman's gorgeously overripe narrative setups.
Applicability to the Hotsy Totsy Club is left as an exercise for the reader.
|. . . 2000-08-21|
|. . . 2000-08-22|
The Media Question of the Month (and potential Word of the Day) was raised by Joseph Gallivan in the New York Post:
On hearing last week that Freenet was on hit list of Hilary Rosen and the RIAA to be shut down, Clarke laughed. ".... any legal action against me would be just as ridiculous as taking legal action against the manufacturer of women's [pantyhose] that were used in a bank robbery. Both Freenet and women's [pantyhose] provide anonymity to those who use them."So what word or phrase do you reckon is hiding behind the "[pantyhose]" brackets? I hope it's a dirty word for pantyhose, 'cause I've been wanting one bad!
|. . . 2000-08-27|
Doug Asherman queries: "Here's something probably no one cares about, but....is there a conspiracy to hide all the good music from us? And the good books? Are people in the arts laughing at us for buying their crap? And if so, what can we do about it?"
|Disclaimer: Ray Davis is a paid contributor to The Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors.|
Despite my familiarity with Salon, I was surprised by the Reader's Guide. It's like stooping to pick up what looks like an ordinary mediocre valise only to find that it's been packed full of mediocre lead bricks.
According to the official mission statement, "We decided to let our contributors' enthusiasm and curiosity be our guides."
These guides would seem to share one enthusiasm (the New York Times Book Review), one curiosity (what's on the front page of the New York Times Book Review?), and one path (to the trade paperback table at Borders).
I'm hardly a specialist in late-twentieth-century fiction, but if I'd wanted to provide a service to readers I would've found room for Joanna Russ, Patricia Highsmith, Chester Himes, Carol Emshwiller, Jack Womack, Bob Gluck, Barbara Comyns, Thomas Disch, Alexander Trocchi, Wendy Walker, M. John Harrison, Pat Califia, John Crowley, would've asked someone to tell me more about Patrick O'Brian and Dorothy Dunnett....
In fact the book includes only two authors that really matter to me: Karen Joy Fowler (given a short entry) and Samuel R. Delany (a short entry). Broadening my selection to writers I merely respect would add Elmore Leonard (a short entry) and Toni Morrison (a long entry, because she publishes in the mainstream genre) to the overlap.
And it's not because I haven't heard of the book's choices, which are beautifully (if unintentionally) parodied by John Updike's inset guide to "Timeless Novels about Loving," apparently repurposed from TV Guide:|
"Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert - A young bourgeois wife seeks spiritual and sexual fulfillment away from the marital bed and runs grievously into debt."
Yeah, my list is idiosyncratic. An idiosyncratic list is what you'd expect to get from a serious pleasure reader. Whereas the Salon.com Guide is what you'd expect to get from a serious follower of publicity.
The depersonalized author selection ensembles beautifully with the reviewers' khaki prose. Dumbed down for ease of swallowing, it's the house style of virtually every free weekly paper: "authority" and "irreverence" and "wittiness" depilated of information or personality or humor. Journalistic blatherers used to flatter their readership by pretending it was full of good taste and morality while somehow simultaneously dumb as a stump. Nowadays the readership's still dumb as a stump yet somehow full of detached ironic wit.
Thus it makes sense that the only writer given full stylistic rein is "Pagliacci Dave" Eggers, who ends his celebrity roast of Kurt Vonnegut:
"So. Vonnegut is good. If you like books, and like to read them even if they are easy to read and frequently funny, you will like the work of Kurt Vonnegut, a writer. Also: He has a moustache."Robert Benchley, move over! ... Or roll over. Do something, man! ... Guess he's dead.
|Even John Clute, one of the most eccentric stylists ever to write a review, is sanded down to transparency here. Which is extra sad, since his argument against the tyranny of the "mainstream literary" genre lances so precisely the core of this book. Restricting yourself to mainstream fiction in the late twentieth century is like restricting yourself to heroic tragedy after 1650. The mainstream's just not where good writing is being done. Unless you crave watery flavorless writing.|
How did this awful thing happen? One clue may be found in the opening of the entry for Angela Carter:
"Carter enjoyed little renown during her life, but after her death....""Little renown"? Say what? Angela Carter? The only way I can make sense of this is to translate it as "I wasn't assigned Carter in high school and I didn't read the New York Review of Books back then, but after I graduated...." An editor should've caught the gaffe, but since an editor wrote it, it was probably immune.
Someone on the staff did make time, though, to reduce my already undistinguished sentence:|
"An early devotee of poststructuralist and feminist theory, Delany in 1979 began Return to Nevèrÿon, an archeological fantasy series that was to occupy him on and off through the 1980s."to complete nonsense by deleting "in 1979." Maybe someone in the publishing business could clear this up for me: Are copyeditors paid more for adding lots of mistakes to a manuscript, like programmers whose productivity is measured by lines-of-code? Or do they fuck things up out of sheer gotta-leave-my-mark egotism, like programmers who work nights and weekends?
Another clue: from what I can gather, my topic was originally assigned to a friend of the editors who decided only when the deadline was nigh that it was too hard to finish the research. These aren't enthusiasts trying to communicate their enthusiams: they're a clique trying to act like grown-ups.
From the mission statement: |
"We encouraged our contributors to think of you, the reader, as an intelligent, interested friend or relative who'd just asked, 'So tell me about John Updike. What are his books like?'"I find it unlikely that your auntie would be asking you such a thing unless she was checking how well you'd learned your lessons.
|What we got here is not just smugness, but downright noisy celebration of shared limited knowledge. It's like that guy in the museum painstakingly explaining every perfectly obvious thing to his wife. It's like my geeky friends parroting TV shows. It's what they teach you to do in school. And it's what makes a successful journalism career. Salon.dot critics are they who seek to enjoy, without incurring the Immense Debtorship for, a thought thunk.|
|See Also: Anyone who enjoys this crap should probably seek out the opinions of more journalists. Those intrigued by my crackpot theories can find them expressed more calmly in a 1998 response to Jonathan Lethem.|
|Ray Davis will be appearing with other contributors to The Salon.com Readers Guide to Contemporary Authors at A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books in San Francisco, Thursday, September 14, 7:30pm.|
|. . . 2000-09-16|
As a certified holder of a Bachelor of Mathematics certificate, I can confidently assert that rationality exists only as a way to juggle all the words one feels compelled to throw into the air. But even that certificate is no guarantee of success, and the Outsider Art go-round left a hatchet, a raw egg, and a beach ball on my face.
Most of the muddle was caused by my smudging across questions of production (what do we notice? what attitude do we take? what markets do we approach?) and questions of consumption (how do we notice? how do we understand? how do we enjoy?) as if all of 'em were one big really dumb question.
Thus, Doug Asherman points out that I claim that the worst thing is the formation and mutual support of a mediocre group, when the really REALLY worst thing is when the mediocre group manages to convince larger groups to take it even more seriously than it takes itself.
Regarding "insularity," David Chess suggests
that there is no "mainland" at all, except in the sense of a particularly large (or visible, or well-funded, or populous) island.(In fact when we're talking The New York Review of Books it's not even that large an island; it's just that the islanders think it's centrally located.... Minifesto: I'm not sure that a decentered self is necessary for ethical living, but I'm pretty sure that a decentered self-image is.)
And giving David Auerbach the last long word:
With all respect, I want to reframe your insider/outsider argument, because
I'm not eager to see another generation of writers inspired by Colin
Wilson's The Outsider willing themselves into solipsistic states of media
attention and minor celebrity. I'd like to displace the insider/outsider
dichotomy into the realm of 'material'. There's a quote from John Crowley's
review of Lanark that I'm thinking of:
But the outsider brand, in its two forms--
The Jack Spicer bit is priceless, but all those "Crazy Buddhist art. Crazy Hindu art. Crazy Medieval German art." fall more under the rubric of exotica rather than "outsiderism," I'd say. What the two have in common is a desire to attach the label of foreignness to the work. I think this is less a narrative conceit (as you say) than an impulse on behalf of both the producers & consumers to mythologize & escape. And it's going on contemporaneously too: what Richard Ford & David Foster Wallace have in common is a mythologizing of everyday materials, albeit in very different form. It's not very good mythologizing (Richard Yates did it best, and most honestly, in my view), but it's still an updated variant on what Mailer, Updike, Oates, and the rest of those geezers have been earning accolades for for years. The dominant short story paradigm in most of the anthologies these days seems to be (1) the "I'm so real" Carver-derived approach of Tilghman, Offutt, and many others whose names I've forgotten, or (2) the creepy, sub-supernatural angstploitation of Lorrie Moore, Ann Beattie, David Gates, and I suppose Russell Banks. Both are variants on the same impulse to impose a private "outsider" view on ordinary materials through sheer will -- because that's the only thing that can make it worthwhile. It's a lousy approach. I think the consequent turn to the exotic stems from the same cause -- when people get fed up with the fakery of the above, they turn to the irreducibly foreign.
And then there's people like our friend Jandek who apparently achieve some level of commodification by being fetishized by collectors, and the ensuing debate over whether he and others are the "real [foreign] thing" or not. It's very important to the consumers that they are -- what could he possibly have to say if he were just like you and me?
Granted, I think America (north and south) is more prone to mythology than the Europeans or Asians (hence our great legacy of comic books & comic strips!), but the current crop of writers is too civilized to do it honestly. So while they're too self-conscious to apply the label to themselves even as they incorporate it into their fiction, those who feel it...
still don't use it as a primary marker in their work, though they may try. I look at Bruno Schulz's work and compare it to Beckett's, and while I see them trying for similar effects, I think Beckett is more successful. This despite Schulz's Kafka-like isolation and Beckett's (relative) integration into the various scenes around him. I'm tempted to see the issue, then, as irrelevant to the quality of the work being produced -- though it may just be that Beckett was just such a prima facie genius to everyone around him that he could have been totally maladjusted and still fit in.
Thomas Bernhard, on the other hand, is a writer who I think really hurt his work by being so socially involved in Austrian theater and politics, but I don't think that it was socialization per se that damages his books so much as an innate desire to throw obscene epithets at other people. With or without the opportunity to hurl them from a respected position in Austrian letters, I think his work would've suffered the same.
|. . . 2000-09-28|
When you talk about what's "natural," you restrict yourself to what you "know"
During my couple of years of software engineering in New York City, three of my best co-workers were black. In San Francisco and Silicon Valley, I have yet to meet a single black software engineer at all, good, bad, or mediocre -- although I've certainly met plenty of bad and mediocre software engineers.
Does that mean there's a genetic difference between African-Americans in New York and African-Americans in California? Or does it mean that the oh-so-wired-and-aware computer culture of California works hard to maintain its blind spots?
That example's hard to change, but it was easy to express: all in newspaper language, ready to say. The next one's harder -- I've been trying for twenty years and haven't managed it yet.
|. . . 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.
|. . . 2000-11-10|
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....
|. . . 2000-11-23|
A reproduction of a drawing made in pencil on common drawing-board, and sent through a wire by this apparatus. This very ingenious system is called the Fac-simile Telegraph. It has been tried between New York and Philadelphia, though not used as yet for commercial purposes. It is a system promising many advantages, because it gets rid of the Morse operators, and does away with the expense of copying the message.
Science News from "The Telegraph of To-Day," Harper's New Monthly Magazine, October, 1881:
The needle at the transmitting end glides over the paper so long as the paper is smooth. When it meets the slight dent made by the lead-pencil tracing the message, it drops into the depression in the paper and closes the circuit by touching the fingers on the arm that supports it. The closing of the circuit makes a mark at the receiving end, and the aggregate of all the marks reproduces the message, be it words, plans, designs, or figures, exactly as it was drawn or written.
|. . . 2000-12-28|
Dear Mr. Davis,
This morning while working in the front lobby of this Santa Clara hi tech firm, I checked out the site on Tuesday Weld. It took me a while to find out how to respond to the creator of the site, but I ultimately found your e-mail address...
I have been studying Tuesday Weld for about 12 years. Right now I am hoping to set up an interview with Ken Anger, who knew her intimately, through [...] the owner of the Silver Screen Hollywood memorabilia shop, which is located in Manhattan. He is a friend of Anger, and I have a friend in Santa Cruz who is an associate [...] And I happen to have a young niece who is an aspiring journalist who is transferring to New York University this spring semester, where she will study journalism...
Over the years I have met a number of people who were aware of the remarkable behind the scene aspects of Tuesday Weld's life and influence. The manner in which you present your information on your web site suggests that you are aware of some of these hidden things as well...
The friend of mine in Santa Cruz [...] talked at length with Ken Anger at the Silver Screen years ago about Tuesday Weld's hidden influence in the realm of underground occult activities. Another figure I know, a New Age teacher (now deceased) with widespread Sufi/Masonic/Rosicrucian contacts told me that Tuesday was involved in the promotion of a certain grand master to the leadership of the AMORC Rosicrucian order in San Jose back in the eighties... A Vietnam veteran I knew in Santa Cruz who was a political activist said he had attended a ritual in the Santa Cruz mountains in which Weld officiated (it didn't involve anything scandalous). He once got up in a political meeting I attended in Santa Cruz and said that Weld was doing all she could to help the cause....
I could tell other stories as well... The hidden life of Tuesday Weld has largely been undisclosed in the media, and remains one of the great undisclosed stories of the sixties and seventies. The only major reference to her that discloses her occult connections, but only in a discreet way, is a long forgotten book, "Popular Witchcraft," which was published by Bowling Green University Press in 1972. In it Anton LaVey in an interview says that his book "The Satanic Bible" was partially dedicated to Tuesday because "she was the embodiment of the goddess," and was "part of the ritual." LaVey's remarks reflect a close personal acquaintanceship with Weld, and hints heavily on her involvement in his ritual activities. So why the coverup?
Anyway, I await your response.
|Thanks for the note -- I'm glad you're enjoying the site.
I'm sure you know much more about Weld-the-person than I do, and you're bound to know still more much after dipping into Kenneth Anger's pool -- everything I've learned has been through letters and packages sent to me by kind readers of my initial essay. Her biography turned out (very unusually for an actor!) to be a suggestive match to my critical interests, and so I've been glad to pass the second-hand knowledge along to my web audience. But I can't claim to have been thoroughly taken by the biographical impulse myself.
Similarly, my only personal interest in the occult is as a distance-and-direction-estimating narrative-generating parallel to other ineffective-yet-compelling pursuits, such as art-making and emotional outbursts, that I feel closer to.
But if you find the idea of a dilettante leech appealing, please feel free to pass your findings along!
|. . . 2001-03-10|
|Zeke Manners & His Gang|
His songs were covered by the Andrews Sisters, Hank Williams, the Byrds, Robert Byrd, and broke up the Calvanes.
"At Mr. Manners's request, he was buried 'as a hillbilly.' He wore a baseball cap celebrating the Spice Girls, red suspenders and purple glasses from a 99-cent store. A cigar was in his pocket."
|. . . 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.
|. . . 2001-06-01|
My Life of Crime (linked with the proviso that "State & Local" governments are clearly more villainous than "Big" government)
|. . . 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 José 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.
|. . . 2001-06-23|
I don't write about music as much as I used to, but as I was reminded yesterday by one of my fraternal quadruplets, everyone should always write about Television, so here's one of the things I used to write:
If they'd stuck together, Richard Hell and Tom Verlaine might've headed THE band of the late '70s. As singer, Hell was the loosest and most natural sounding of a new breed of screech-and-gulp-ers. As frontman, Hell invented punk fashion. (Malcolm McLaren, having failed to cut a lasting deal with him or with the New York Dolls, took the Dolls' sound and Hell's look [and lack of interest in bass] back to England for his pick-up band.) And Verlaine could take care of the remaining little chores like writing and playing music.
But they were jerks who hated each other. Hell left, ultimately deciding that a musical career took seriously uncool amounts of exertion. Verlaine thereafter leaned on a whiter-shade-of-pale imitation of Hell's phlegmatic vocalese, coming off like Barney Fife next to the Lawrence Olivier instruments.
I read where Verlaine and Hell were childhood pals who escaped from the orphanage together. Yeah, right; and those are their real names, and Bob Dylan was a freight-hopping Okie. But I believe the story about them finding Richard Lloyd through the Village Voice ad: "Fender guitarist wanted for all-Fender band." There's one guitar lineage for the pliant and slippery Gibson, starting around Chuck Berry and leading to both heavy metal and L.A. AOR, and another for the clanky cranky jangle of the Fender, starting around Buddy Holly and leading nowhere by the mid-'70s. Smooth excess vs. rhythmic constraint. (Which is why a first time Television listener can feel let down after all the hype: "I thought this was a guitar band?" It's a different language of guitar.) Lloyd, a classic pop musician, plays classical Fender -- clean lines with a clear structure -- and makes a perfect friendly adversary to Verlaine's soul-trapped-in-wood-by-an-evil-spell....
Ooh la, Verlaine's guitar. As weak as his solo studio work can be, I'd never pass up a chance to hear Verlaine in concert, wringing an incredible double-back-on-a-dime range seemingly out of his bare hands. Keith Allison is right to use the word danger so often. It seems like a physical transformation is going on: a centaur with Verlaine's spindly upper body shoved on a Siegfried-sized bucking horse, or a guitar Little Mermaid (book not movie) who wished for a human voice and now feels knives in its throat every time it breathes.
Add the jagged drumming of Billy Ficca, and although the band runs like clockwork, it's with glass gears and a lot of sharp edges. Luckily, Television was rounded out by the bass of "Nonsonic" Fred Smith, the only non-virtuoso in the band and the only nice guy -- nice enough to help keep the band together for the course of two albums and a couple of tours, and nice enought to show up on both Verlaine's and Lloyd's post-breakup albums.
"But I love disaster. And I love what comes after...."Something went wrong after 1981 (see sidebar). With Lloyd's solo work, the problem is easy enough to figure out -- he writes tuneful pop rock but has a completely tuneless voice. With Verlaine's studio recordings, I don't know. There's a pervasive lack of motive force, an absence of "danger," though that seems an awfully melodramatic way of putting it.... ENERVATION, DON'T GO TO MY HEAD. But all the live shows I've seen over the last twenty years, including the recent silent film accompaniments, have been a different matter. And spirit.
|. . . 2001-07-04|
Declaration of Dependence
Even the most attentive reader will have failed to discover one of those near-ubiquitous "other weblogs" sidebars in the Hotsy Totsy Club, but that's not because I'm a Mister Stuck-Up Patootie McSnoob. On the contrary, I love all the crazy kids in our impressively scatterbrained new genre. It's just there's no room for sidebars in a dive like this: individual entries assume a formatting freedom which precludes a page-high multi-column layout.
Since I'm currently engaged in a couple of more extended projects (a tribute to Son of Paleface, a "reading edition" of George Gascoigne's autobiographical novel, and an essay on Jean Eustache), let's celebrate the Club's second anniversary and my lapse of attention with an Other Weblogs Fullbar:
Manual: allaboutgeorge - Ancient World - Arts Journal - blort - Bovine Inversus - BradLands - Brain Dump - clinkclank - ComicGeek.CA - Dagmar Chili - daily dean - Dancing Sausage - dangerousmeta - DrMike - Eclogues - feminist media watch - grim amusements - Gus - Honeyguide - JimWich - John Saleeby - Lines & Splines - Making Light - markpasc - METAEZINE - metameat - Neat New - NewsTrolls - NextDraft - NQPaOFU - Obscure Store - Open Brackets - Pumpkin Publog - s. kamau mucoki - Splinters - Timothompson - Tomato Nation - Unknown News - Usability Weblog - World New York
|. . . 2001-09-20|
Mais où sont les neiges d'antan?
That's one of the things about New York City. Sometimes it's impossible, intractable, insanely frustrating, running counter to the grain of anything you try to do. Other times it's full of light and grace, magical coincidences happen, and marvels pop up unexpectedly all over the place.
|. . . 2001-09-28|
Henry Adams responds to yesterday's buried-in-FDR's-clenched-jaws pipe dream, via his 1870 essay, "The New York Gold Conspiracy":
"Nevertheless, sooner or later the last traces of the disturbing influence of war... will disappear in America, as they have sooner or later disappeared in every other country which has passed through the same evils.... Yet though the regular process of development may be depended upon, in its ordinary and established course, to purge American society of the worst agents of an exceptionally corrupt time, the history of the Erie corporation offers one point in regard to which modern society everywhere is directly interested. For the first time since the creation of these enormous corporate bodies, one of them has shown its power for mischief, and has proved itself able to override and trample on law, custom, decency, and every restraint known to society, without scruple, and as yet without check. The belief is common in America that the day is at hand when corporations far greater than the Erie -- swaying power such as has never in the world's history been trusted in the hands of private citizens, controlled by single men like Vanderbilt, or by combinations of men like Fisk, Gould, and Lane, after having created a system of quiet but irresistible corruption -- will ultimately succeed in directing government itself. Under the American form of society no authority exists capable of effective resistance. The national government, in order to deal with the corporations, must assume powers refused to it by its fundamental law, -- and even then is exposed to the chance of forming an absolute central government which sooner or later is likely to fall into the hands it is struggling to escape, and thus destroy the limits of its power only in order to make corruption omnipotent. Nor is this danger confined to America alone. The corporation is in its nature a threat against the popular institutions spreading so rapidly over the whole world. Wherever a popular and limited government exists this difficulty will be found in its path; and unless some satisfactory solution of the problem can be reached, popular institutions may yet find their existence endangered."
|. . . 2001-10-16|
The Indefinite Conversation, cont.
Reader Toadex Hobogrammathon directs our attention to the welcome subject of to rojec tmy ergnaoreys:
|thro yr Ardent urgency, have I can come to Z;
accidental Ctrl-b, close window, I wrote a something to Ray, ... ;;;; What may I be writing an Rutgersial anthological comment on Zukofsky, do yo have any bookings to recomment,?? Or articles?? Are you attributed to him?
I mean, I'm drafted by class, to write by an anthology of Rutgers, what Z did and said, and so forth. I got a goddamn refridgerator the last guy had to assault me with some whirr less than buzzing, when one dranks enough to listen.
And before a four days ago, I didnaot know tha te emoeuseic of A24 is H via C, so enough of tracking up and through the left,
good days to you and thakn yuo of all the
Louis Zukofsky was a man, and a big man. Killed him a bar when he was only three, climbed up a mountain without skinning his knee, wrote naw-thing lak po-ee try, and brought home a baby bumblebee. Zukofsky is a legend of the West.
|I remember being
furious and moping around my parents' house when Time magazine said Frank
O'Hara had been killed by a dune buggy on Fire Island.
I was very pouty for weeks & my dad said, "Why don't you write to Louis Zukofsky?" I perkled up & asked him who he was. He didn't really know, but LZ had been on the same TV program (NET) that O'Hara was. "And plus," he said, "he lives in Port Jefferson. And he's always writing letters to the editor" [of our nearby paper, The Port Jefferson "Record"] - "complaining about this or that."
Well I got on my bike, I was like 13 or 14, and headed to Port Jefferson which was about 10 miles away and went to the house of Louis Zukofsky. He would always write letters to the paper about traffic in front of his house, etc.
He was not happy to see me - I don't think he cared for school children. I was about 13. He was a mean curmudgeon, but the garden was beautiful to my eyes. I resolved as soon as I was old enough to get a drivers license, to take a big station wagon and drive right through his hedges, in the middle of the night. I think my brief encounter with Zukofsky colored the rest of my reading of him, ever since. "99 Flowers" indeed! He wouldn't have had 1 flower left if I had had my way! Luckily my childhood anger faded by the time I was 15 or so and started to drive. I didn't meet any other poets until I was about 17 and met Paul Blackburn in New York. But Alex Haley did come to our classroom & told us all about writing the "Autobiography of Malcolm X."
I'm reading this over & I'm, like, stunned at how stupid I sound.
More insight from Killian: "Louis: Harry Dean Stanton. Celia: Kate Nelligan. Paul: Macaulay Culkin."
|. . . 2001-11-04|
The blurb is a difficult form at best, but its authors risk especial injury when they wrap a subject as prickly as Thomas Bernhard, whose pinched sneer -- more vitreous than vitriolic, less sulphurous than hydrogen-sulfidic -- casts a consistently unflattering (if dim) light on all around it. (And on itself as well; it seemed to me that Woodcutters would've worked better if the narrator's scornful scare-italics had slowly increased their share of the prose until they covered every word he set down....)
The most amusing page of Woodcutters (and for pity's sake I'll skip the introductory sentence which blows the joke) is the nearly Flaubertian (first draft Flaubert, anyway):
|To present The Wild Duck to the Viennese public was not just a risk, said the actor, but a considerable gamble. The Viennese simply did not respond to modern drama, as he put it -- they never had responded to modern drama. They preferred to go and see classical plays, and The Wild Duck was not a classical play -- it was a modern play, which might admittedly one day become a classic. Ibsen might one day join the classics, and so might Strindberg, said the actor. He had often felt that Strindberg was a greater dramatist than Ibsen. Yet at other times, he said, I've felt the opposite to be true -- that Ibsen is superior to Strindberg and has a better prospect of becoming a classic. Sometimes I think Miss Julie will one day become a classic, and at other times I think it'll be a play like The Wild Duck. But if we attach too much importance to Strindberg we do Ibsen an injustice, he said, just as we do Strindberg an injustice if we attach too much importance to Ibsen. Personally, he said, he loved the Nordic way of writing, the Nordic way of writing for the theater. He had always loved Edvard Munch too. I've always loved The Cry, he said -- which of course you are all familiar with. What an extraordinary work of art! I once went to Oslo just to see The Cry, when it was still in Oslo. That doesn't mean that I have a preference for the Scandinavian countries, he said. Whenever I was in Scandinavia I had a nostalgia for the south, or at least for Germany, he said. Stockholm -- what a dreary city! To say nothing of Oslo -- so enervating, so soul-destroying. And Copenhagen -- enough said!|
But the second most amusing page is the back cover:
"Mr. Bernhard's portrait of a society in dissolution has a Scandinavian darkness reminiscent of Ibsen and Strindberg...."
-- Mark Anderson, New York Times Book Review
|. . . 2001-11-09|
David Auerbach writes (or rather wrote, eleven days ago -- I gotta improve my turnaround time!)
Your treatment of free will as being subordinate to the predictability issue
is justified (there are articles out there maintaining that chaos theory
proves the existence of free will), but I think there's some cultural
significance to the free will issue that you've overlooked. Free will is
mostly used in ethical and political contexts. You say that regardless of
your free choice, you'll be held responsible for hitting the lamppost, but I
think that's only 2/3 true. Given the 3 canonical reasons for the sentence
(I know I'm taking a Sartre-like position that inconsistency is the worst of all possible sins, but hey, that was always true in the rarefied world of philosophy.)
So, if you follow determinism, people can be assigned responsibility for actions without having any moral desert for what follows from them, and I've never seen a convincing argument linking the two. But introduce free will and the world is suddenly a much fairer place. And it's not just coincidence that
(t1) Paul Allen deserves to have 50 billion dollars.sounds a lot better than
(t2) Paul Allen should have 50 billion dollars.People like Robert Nozick have always been careful to couch their moral pronouncements in the first form rather than the second, and with good reason. But it's only with the presumption of some sort of free will that the statements have any meaningful difference.
It's been a few years, but I recall that Rawls uses the same desert principles to defend his social justice system, and I've never understood why, because he doesn't seem to need them. ("The poor deserve to have a decent standard of living" vs. "The poor should have a decent standard of living.", e.g.) Maybe it makes his arguments more palatable to Confucianists.
So my main point of departure from you is that I think there is a very definite use for the concept of free will beyond religion, unfortunately. The best that can be said is that free will is a far more established concept for neocons to pin their hopes on than, say, substantive due process or strict constructionism. You're probably right on the irrelevancy of the concept in classical civilizations, but that's a question for Alasdair MacIntyre to answer.
Work calls, but free will is a nice distraction from matters of importance. (I note the triumphalist tone in that piece clashing nicely with utter despondency in the privacy entry.)
I actually don't hear much about the world being a fair place, so I'll skip that debate.
Only in special circumstances (which I'll get to in a bit) does the notion of "desert" rely on the assumption of free will in the deserver. Instead, "desert" relies on the existence (tacit or explicit) of some disher of deserts, and moreover assumes that the disher has free will. It's meaningless to discuss "what reward or punishment is deserved" if there's no possibility of a rewarder or punisher. Without such an agency, all we have is "what is" or (if you're feeling ambitious) "what is caused."
It's easy for me to say that "Carol Emshwiller's books deserve front page coverage by the New York Times Book Review, the Times Literary Supplement, and the New York Review of Books" not because I assume that Emshwiller's books have free will, but because it's easy for me to picture the fat-cat top-hatted stogie-chomping editors of those organs free-wilfully derelicting their duties, the cads.
On the other hand, I'm more likely to say that "I wish M. John Harrison's books were bestsellers" or "People should really be doing more to make M. John Harrison's books bestsellers" than to say that "M. John Harrison's books deserve to be bestsellers" (and even less that "M. John Harrison deserves to write bestsellers"), because the birth of a bestseller is far too confusing a process for my pretty little blond head to handle.
And what ho! here's monotheism again! A more general notion of desert (or, as the professors call it, justice) assumes (again, often tacitly) a more general notion of judge: a universal, omniscient, omnipotent, fair, righteous, and free agency. When we say, "I deserve to be happy," that's who we're appealing to; when we say "Those 6000 people didn't deserve to die" (or, conversely, "Those 6000 people deserved to die") that's who we're implicitly arguing with (or explicitly agreeing with). Similarly, when we (or more likely they) say that "Paul Allen deserves fifty billion dollars," they're imaginatively placing themselves in the role of that wise and benevolent deity called the Free (ha ha ha ha!) Market.
Consider instead the human agents of the employee benefits organization CIGNA who decided that Wilson H. Taylor deserved a $1,200,000 salary and a $3,500,000 bonus. It's hard to believe that they cared about Taylor's freedom of will any more than Microsoft cares about its programmers' freedom of will. On the contrary, I imagine that any business would prefer that its employees be as deterministic as possible. What they instead assume is their own right to hand such a large sum of money over to an individual -- and, particularly, to an individual who so resembles themselves.
The apparent justice of such judgments depends on a shared context; that is, ideally on a jury of one's peers (as opposed to a jury of the peerage -- e.g., Bush before the Republican Supreme Court as opposed to you-or-me before the Republican Supreme Court, or Steve Ballmer in front of Microsoft's board as opposed to you-or-me in front of Microsoft's board). When I bomb a building, whether I'm punished or praised depends on what context I share with judge and jury; when I do my job, whether I'm given a million-dollar bonus or laid off depends on the same.
Which finally brings us to the barely visible sliver of human existence in which the notion of "justice" and the notion of "free will" overlap. "Free will" (or "determinism") is experienced more often in introspective recollection than in action -- "It's my own fault" or "I didn't really have a choice" -- and punitive judgment is, very slightly and only after the more essential matter of deciding whether a law has been broken or a party has been injured, a matter of applying that introspective experience to someone else's past conduct. On a jury or on the bench, we assume both an unusual freedom and an unusual weightiness in our decision making, and the closer the miscreant came to our own (extremely rare) state of knowledge and power, the more culpable we consider them. *
Therein inheres the wit of T. P. Uschanov's swinging the deterministic spotlight onto the hidden-but-necessary P.O.V. courtroom characters of judge and jury.
|*||Which is putting it awfully idealistically, of course: many judges and juries couldn't care less about that aspect of "justice," and those who could find it much easier to apply these strict standards externally than internally: that is, we blandly assume that the (extremely rare) mindset that we're in at the moment is the same as held in whatever external situation we're considering, and then blandly forget that mindset while going about our quotidian affairs. Thus the honestly self-righteous indignation displayed by those in power when they're declared miscreants, or by daytime talk show audience members who find themselves treated roughly on the talk show stage.|
|. . . 2001-11-13|
|. . . 2001-12-23|
Although my usually beloved readers were of no help in tracing the origins of "Is dis a system?" and therefore are, per threat, to be smote again with the jawbone of a Betsy lyric:
...anyhow, never mind, it doesn't matter, 'cause the mysterious unseen (and probably unwashed) hand of the American muse has already hooked my snoot in the right direction. While trying to use up some trade at Moe's, I found a copy of Nize Baby, prose mitt illustrations from Milt Gross yet. What I really wanted was a pure collection of comics from Milt Gross, but I never get what I really want, so I brought the book home anyway: at least it was Milt Gross, and for a high-low-brow waggler the pages' surface resemblance to contemporaneous work by John Dos Passos and William Carlos Williams was irresistable:
First Floor —So it was a socksess de hoperation?
Second Floor — A whole night long I couldn't slip.
First Floor —Wos boddering you maybe de — efter-defects, ha?
Second Floor —No — was cerrying on in de next bat from me a patient someting tarrible. So I made a complain to de head sturgeon from de hospital. So he explained wot he was soffering from attaletic fits!
First Floor —So you came home.
Second Floor —Hm. I went for a copple of wicks to rest in a cemetarium so den I came home.
Third Floor —So, Isidor! (SMACK) Wid a paddler you ronning arond to paddle de hepples, ha? (SMACK) De huss from de paddler you got to fid yet, he should bite you off maybe a feenger, ha? (SMACK) To de dalicatassen store you wouldn't go, when she esks you de momma, ha? (SMACK) De lassons wot you got to stoddy you don't do it, ha? (SMACK) Benenas you should paddle better, ha? (SMACK) A hockster you should grow opp maybe yet, ha? ( SMACK.)
|Fourth Floor —Oohoo nize baby, itt opp all de mosh witt milk so momma'll gonna tell you a Ferry Tale about De Dug in de Manager. Wance oppon a time was seeting a dug in a manager. So de manager was full from hay wit hoats. So it came along a cow so he said, "I'm filling a leedle hongry —I tink wot I'll goin' in de manager und have a leedle bite hay maybe." (Nize baby take anodder spoon mosh witt milk.) So it came in de cow — but dot doidy dug was sotch a crenk witt a minn ting wot you wouldn't billive it could exeest. So he stodded in to bok —"Gr-r-r-rrr! Gerraderhere, you cow!!" So de cow went away like a gantleman — so de naxt day he came beck so dot doidy dug sad. "Grrr-rr-rrr! Gerradahere, you cow!!" So de cow sad, "Wot's de metter? You don't want me I should itt it opp de hay??" So de dug sad, "NO!!" So de cow sad, "You want maybe you should itt it opp yourself de hay?" So de dug sad, "NO! I don't want I should itt it und I don't want you should itt it." So de cow sad, "Hm, you don't want you should itt it und you don't want I should itt it. Is diss a system???" (Oohoo, sotch a dollink baby ate opp all de mosh witt milk!)|
|. . . 2002-03-28|
...low nutrient levels, waterlogged conditions, and acidic waters...
Here's a perfect example of weblogs' parasitic dependence on print media for original content: while I've been sitting around moping, The New York Times has broken another big story!
Welcome, Ms. Maira! I'm just sorry you couldn't have joined us in 1994.
Next week's headlines: "My Armpit Noises Didn't Land Me That Promotion After All," "Frat Boys Complain: The Spark Is Gone From Drunken Vomiting," and "'Which X Are You?' Quizzes Somehow Seem Less Accurate Now That I'm Divorced with No Health Insurance and Two Children to Support"!
|. . . 2002-06-05|
|. . . 2002-10-23|
But none, I think, do there embrace
Once the bouncers let us in, the voting booth is fine & private place enough for us to express our natural mild altruism without fear of shame. It's no surprise, then, that we tend not to vote our pocketbooks so much as vote our impressions of how the country is doing ("I'm in debt and unable to afford a house and working long hours and without health care, but the TV and radio say our kids will be millionaires") and how warmly our values are stroked.
Unluckily for us, the people who control our impressions keep their minds squarely on business.
There's a simple solution - do what they do. I'm talking about building up a network of "think tanks" etc, that work together, and reach the public with a coordinated "communications engine." This is why I'm always pushing people to understand how the right is making all of this happen for them - so that eventually people will suddenly say, "Duh!, Why aren't WE doing that, too?" It took time, but we have the advantage of using what they have built up as a model - they've been through 30 years of trial-and-error. Also we have the advantage of having the truth on our side. WE aren't trying to convince blue-collar workers to give up their health care and pensions so that rich white guys can have bigger private jets - THEY are. So our task is not monumental.I hope.
It can be done. The money exists on our side; there are huge amounts of money for environmental groups, etc., not to mention the amounts that the Democratic and Green Parties have been able to raise every 2 years. Add to that moderate Republicans - even they are under attack from the right now and an appeal to them to join up could bring needed resources.
And there are already a number of great organizations on our side. The research I've been doing is looking at the right, but I'll be researching and publishing what does exist on the moderate/progressive side. But what is missing is the coordination - the right actually has weekly coordination meetings - and the awareness that we need to work to build a "movement" just like the right has done since the early 70's.
I fear. The problem in assembling such a coalition nowadays isn't necessarily hornlocking over conflicting issues and values -- televangelists and CEOs of global corporations didn't just happen to wake up together in bed one morning. The problem is that the natural allies of such a coalition will insist on locking horns. It's been a very long time since the wandering splinters of the non-right-wing have maintained the discipline to stay in line, pursue one goal at a time, and remain confident that one hand will eventually wash the other. Everyone enjoys self-righteousness, and the easiest source is to attack our annoying co-workers. After all, that's what the TV and radio are cheering us on to do.
|. . . 2002-12-24|
The Weeds of Crime: Three Men on a Horse
Synopses: A sissy in a mutally adoring marriage who's threatened by masculine hostility and a job crisis can solve all his problems by joining a bunch of gangsters.
More mugs than you can shake an ugly stick at
Three Men on a Horse trampled Broadway in 1935, and has been trotted out for summer stock, amateur theatricals, and sit-com rip-offs ever since.
Handed such a slab of certified Grade-A merchandise, Hollywood took the rare and unadvisable step of adapting it closely -- that is, barely.
As with Too Many Girls, there's some documentary interest in getting an unadulterated look at 1930s theater, complete with original cast members, original bathroom and easy virtue gags, and even original sets. But Too Many Girls had Rogers & Hart & lunacy on its side, and it quickly becomes apparent that the art of the legitimate "well-constructed" comedy hasn't declined nearly as much as the art of the musical. The talkies were better than plays pretty much right away.
Stuck in our expensive seats, we pause for laugh lines, we pause even longer for forced laugh lines, we check our watch when it's time for intermission, and the cinematographer's snore goes almost entirely uninterrupted. (Or, as the IMDB reviewer puts it, "Throw a few special effects in and the movie would be a real winner.")
Well, actors enjoy plays even if cameras don't: Sam Levene is easier to take as a negligent criminal than as his usual negligent cop; worrying about her Erwin "lying in some hospital sick, or the back of some drug store," Carol Hughes ditzes with the best of them (where the best of them, as we'll see, is Una Merkel); Frank McHugh discards his usual cynical-idiot bray for unshakable dignity and becomes a surprisingly touching poet-hero. I didn't know he had it in him.
Nor did I know that Joan Blondell had that voice in her; nor did I want to. (Virtue is easy; accents are hard.) Blondell putting on a fake New York accent is as disturbing as me putting on a fake Groucho nose. It says something about the difference between acting and movie acting that she's the least professional aspect of the film and figures in its only moment of visual interest: a bizarrely interpolated upside-down glamor shot explaining why she's draped across the hero's legs.
And -- "'Cause I'm just crazy about poetry. That's why." -- she also initiates the kind of exchange a guy wouldn't mind on his tombstone:
"You're kind of nice, do you know it, Erwin?"
"I'm dizzy, Patsy."
|. . . 2003-01-09|
Bacalhau, small pond
In New York, he was hot. Now he's not even humid.
|. . . 2003-04-06|
I've written before (and will again) about our urge to subsume lyric in narrative.
Genealogical narrative is a way to co-opt even the most abstract work. It's more indirect a method of identification than some; still, the artist remains the point-of-view hero.
The utility of Leggott's book is not as crib sheet, reference, or propaganda. Direct application's not the point. What Leggott provides isn't an explanation but disproof (and liberation) by example.
By removing all proper names from "A" 22 and 23, Zukofsky said that he was trying to convey the "noise" of history. As Leggott demonstrates, that's not a reversible process. Putting the proper names back in doesn't make it less noisy; it just makes the room more crowded. (And two hard-boiled eggs!)
She spends sixteen pages on the first 40-word song -- a dozen or so pages on many others.... And having shown just how far that gets us, Leggott leaves me satisfied to give up.
Whether as a goal or as a side-effect that contented him, Zukofsky was determined that his heart us invisibly thyme time would stay invisible. And he did his job: it will, no matter how much thyme time we apply.
But the odd thing is how, over these hundreds of pages, any lingering sense of frustration or disappointment is worn away. As we vicariously live through Leggott's months of flipping between notebooks, manuscripts, the ten-volume Century Dictionary, a Shakespeare concordance, the Burpee seed catalog, the Loeb Library, the Zukofsky library, "A", and All, we participate in a renewed echo, in a resemblance fit to join the very resemblances she's documenting: the plagiarising Renaissance naturalist, the classical transcriber of hearsay, and the transplanted bookish New York retiree scrabbling in the soil to figure what bulb the hell just sprouted. A transtemporal community of focused potterers, joined in vegetable contemplation.
Our identification becomes non-narrative and experiential -- in other words, lyric.
Zukofsky was smart to call his country retirement project 80 Flowers instead of 80 Sunday Double Acrostic Solutions. The title plants it straightforwardly in the tradition of anthologies anonymized, fragmented, winnowed, condensed, abstracted, arranged, but alive.
Here in his final work, by sheer dint of artificial wordiness, he created something as opaque as the material natural: organic but not subjective; inhuman, cultivated, fragile; blossoms which may invite, to the inquiring or ambitious mind, explanation or replication, but which remain intractibly themselves.
"That central privacy, a silence where words leave off (and flowers bloom?) is unassailable...."
- Michele J. Leggott
|. . . 2003-04-12|
|Here Comes Trouble|
1956 - 2003
|. . . 2003-10-26|
Movie comment: Lost in Translation
After the California recall I didn't think it was possible to feel any more alienated, but seeing this movie did the job. Now I feel alienated from New York, too.
Imagine Larger Than Life devoting half its running time to the elephant, solo. Now imagine the elephant, solo, shot full of tranquilizers and stumbling around in pink panties. Well, Lost in Translation's not even that good, unless you find Gap ads more entertaining than elephants.
Doesn't anyone remember Bill Murray's Rushmore interviews? When he said he took a salary cut because Wes Anderson's screenplay assured him he wouldn't have to work as hard as usual? Whereas he was usually paid to pump life into otherwise barren scenes? Haven't any reviewers noticed that their favorite Lost in Translation moments are precisely what Murray was talking about? "OK, Bill -- do karaoke!" "Stupid Japanese commercial -- take fifty-four!" No wonder he looks trapped.
Aside from leaving improv room for Murray, the script is only what you'd fear from a comfortably wealthy arts major, complete with a voice-of-authority encouraging the protagonist to keep on writing, she'll be great someday. Very much Life Without Zoe, Part Deux, and almost enough to make me watch Storytelling again -- now there's an unwelcome impulse.
Sofia Coppola wants to make herself look good the way Woody Allen used to make himself look good, but she's unable or unwilling to provide her stand-in with any distinguishing marks. Scarlett Johansson's dialog is just as vapid as Anna Faris's, her stare even more vacant. The movie's one attempt at wit is so clumsily executed that it took a minute to work out the point: The heroine's Hollywood rival says merrily that she's registered under the pseudonym, "Evelyn Waugh." (OK, so the rival has a sense of humor.) Sofia/Zoe/Mary Sue looks sulky and objects, "But Evelyn Waugh was a man." (OK, so Sofia's got no sense of humor...?) Then Sofia's husband complains that Sofia is too aggressively intelligent and well-educated, having gone to Yale. (OK, so... uh... we're supposed to have assumed that someone would use the name "Evelyn Waugh" without knowing who he is? And shouldn't Yale have warned her that English isn't the official language of Japan?)
Coppola's blind faith in our blind faith in her POV's superiority puzzled me, but here's my tentative solution: Having been told all her life she's a genius, she interprets lack of interest in her ass as a sign of intellectual shallowness. "Daddy doesn't act like that."
At this point the only future I see for humanity is if the entire species goes sterile except for Kimberly Chun and some guy who hasn't yet expressed his opinion in print.
As for Sofia Coppola, call me when she remakes The Furies.
|. . . 2003-11-08|
Technicians of the Sacred
|VOL VIST DU GAILY STAR|
Slim & Slam
(Slim Gaillard & Slam Stewart)
New York, August 17, 1938
|Vol vist du gaily sta
Vol vist du gaily sta
Vol vist du gaily sta
Vol vist du gaily sta
I found my lucky star
Vol vist du gaily sta
I told my lucky star
Vol vist du gaily sta
Vol vist du gaily sta
Maña maña maña mi
Maña maña maña fi
|Vol vist du gaily sta
I found my lucky star
Vol vist du gaily sta
Vol vist du gaily sta
I told my lucky star
Vol vist du gaily sta
Vol vist du gaily sta
Vol vist du gaily sta
Vol vist du gaily sta
Maña maña maña mi
Maña maña maña fi
"What's the matter, man?"
"What do you think about what volvistugailysta means?"
"Man, I don't know. What does it mean, man?"
"Don't mean a thing, don't mean a thing."
"Well, all right, man."
"Just a little jive talk. In the Floogie language, you know."
|. . . 2004-09-27|
Continuing the discussion:
As has been pointed out many times before, "genre" is not a simple compound, or even a clear formula, and its assorted aspects of publishing, writing, and reading are only loosely interdependent. Some writing, it's true, affirms generic coherency, snug and compact in a neatly labeled bundle. But much of what I'm drawn to seems badly wrapped, corners rubbing against frays and duct tape.
It always comes marked, however. No matter how much writer or reader idealizes invention from whole cloth, there'll be some natural discoloring, someone to see a pattern, and someone to apply a dye. Even the launderer's hand grows red with wringing.
To drop the metaphors:
Which is why, as I wrote earlier, plowing cover-to-cover through some 19th century volumes of Blackwood's or Harper's, or High-Modernist-era New York Times book reviews or High-Hollywood-era movie reviews, would be salutary for most English and creative writing majors. Someone who refused to look at smut would have missed Lolita (fittingly, Nabokov himself first received Ulysses as an exemplar of smuttiness); someone who refused to look at sea stories (or flop gothics) would have missed Melville; someone who refused to look at cornpone humor would have missed Twain; and so on. And someone who refused to read academically canonized writing would miss all the same books now. For we who love to be astonished, it's worth attempting to read Hammett's and Thompson's (or Fitzgerald's and Faulkner's) prose the same way whether behind pulp covers or a Library of America dustjacket.
To take a limit case, there are (and have been) an astonishing number of readers who treat everything written by women as its own genre, resulting in a comedy of re-interpretation when misattributions are corrected and as the purported "genre" is denigrated or celebrated.
All this from publishers and readers. For a writer, genre may considered a conversational context, with one's social circle not necessarily restricted to one's neighbors, or even to the living. Since the literary mainstream's "discovery" of Patricia Highsmith began, I've seen a number of bemused references to the influence of Henry James, but this isn't an unusual phenomenon. The work itself is always more (or less, if truly "generic" work) than whatever genre it's in.
Carol Emshwiller, John Crowley, Karen Joy Fowler, Jack Womack, and Kelly Link write the sui generis they write and publish in whatever genre welcomes (or allows) them. But a contemporary may find it useful to learn that they all began publishing within the context of the science fiction genre, whether they themselves started as genre readers or not. And although I seek out Dalkey Archive and Sun & Moon Press spines in the bookstores, I enjoy knowing that the past decade of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction has shown more lively variety than any university-sponsored or trust-funded fiction journal.
Lucius Shephard also
God, yes. There are, oh, let's not start feeling guilty about not mentioning M. John Harrison, there are lots more. And then all the great writers who are publishing mysteries, thrillers, romances, Y/As, and including, sure, the literary mainstream and the poetry presses, but all of them, now ignored or long forgotten or even deservedly noticed, should get more than just a for instance, and I just meant for instance.
|. . . 2004-10-06|
A question at the end of one of Jeff VanderMeer's recent posts has been nagging at me -- "Do writers of experimental fiction need to prove they can tell a good story before they start experimenting?"
Conclusions elude us. It could be there are none to be drawn without distortion.
Matthew Cheney and I both seek out the tang of the unexpected problem; we welcome obstacle. And so, faced with increased experimentation, we're likely to tilt our camera eye to make a narrative of progress where others may tilt a decline. Whenever Joyce published, he lost a former supporter. Gardner Dorzois, among others, regrets the "squandered promise" of Samuel R. Delany's maturity. And I'm sure there are some who wish M. John Harrison had never put Viriconium through its literary retcon.
Nothing I've read in the past few years can compare with the experimentation of Tom Jones or Wurthering Heights, but we don't see Mark Amerika giving them props. Me, I don't think Beckett ever again wrote anything as brain-droppingly new as Watt; I think of his last thiry years as laying down a very good groove and think of John Barth's later career as safe shtick. Make Barth as hard to find as Barbara Comyns or Bob Brown and I'll reconsider.
Was Orlando more or less experimental than To the Lighthouse? How about positioned between To the Lighthouse and The Waves?
Flaubert started out with wildly uncontrolled blurts of fantasy. Were those stabs in the murk less or more experimental than Madame Bovary? Was Salammbo less experimental than The Temptation of St. Anthony? Bouvard & Pécuchet?
If Melville chafed against the limitations of the autobiographical sea story while writing Typee, it doesn't show. The sincerity of Modernist poets' juvenilia is hardly its besetting problem.
That is, the trigger is being granted permission to experiment, either from the publishing industry or oneself. If you write to make a living, there may not be much of a distinction. The Glass Key wouldn't have been Hammett's first publication, if only because he couldn't have afforded it.
The most startling such transformation I've personally witnessed was at Clarion 1993, when a workshop member who'd slaved over unconvincing Analog filler realized that such an apprenticeship wasn't required, and suddenly began producing beautifully polished and balanced works of ambiguous speculation. (Like most good artists, he seems to have eventually decided that artmaking wasn't worth the effort, but that doesn't dim the thrill of witness.)
And — does Dan Green's hospitality know no limits?— still more at the Reading Experience.
Update: Dan weeded and discarded his initial post in 2006. Here was my comment at the time:
I'm prone to note resemblances, which is fine, but then rhetoric sometimes tempts me to go too far. So I might talk about a "tradition" of presumptious lyric, and in that jumble together some unaristocratic Tudors, some Restoration satirists, Keats, the Objectivists, the New York School, and Language poets. I suppose somewhat the same impulse determines Oxonian anthologies and encourages such after-the-fact categories as film noir, nationalist canons across the world, and women's writing.
In your brief overview of "experimental writing," there's a temporal gap between "Tristam Shandy" and James Joyce's career. Do any books fit in there? I ask partly because I think I'd like them, and partly because explicit experimentation *as a tradition* would seem to require a firmly established norm, and I'm not sure when the particular narrative conventions being fought became firmly established, or how long it took before insurgent tactics became narrative conventions in their own right.
I also wonder about the conceptual gap between a single book and a career. "Tristram Shandy" stays just as wonderful but becomes slightly less startling positioned between the "Sermons of Mr. Yorick" and "A Sentimental Journey"; Sterne-as-career becomes slightly less startling positioned between the polyphonic digressions of sixteenth and seventeenth century English fiction and the sentimental, didactic, and political novels of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Even before an "oppositional" tactic becomes group property, it may be a personal habit. Is a writer who attempts something drastically new in each new publication only as "experimentalist" (to use Steve Mitchelmore's word) as a writer who challenges narrative convention the same way every time? (I'm not denigrating the latter, by the way; I believe in the power of the groove.)
Conversely, early Joyceans proved that it was easy to miss the formal ambitions of "Dubliners" and "Portrait" without "Ulysses" and "Finnegans Wake" to foment suspicion. One might read "Moby Dick" as a (failed) conventional narrative, but can one say the same of "The Confidence Man"? 150 years after "Madame Bovary", we might take it as conventional, but I believe Kenner is right to draw Joyce's artistic ambitions directly from Flaubert: "A Simple Story" to "Dubliners", "Sentimental Education" to "Portrait", "Temptation of St. Anthony" to the later episodes of "Ulysses", "Bouvard and Pecuchet" to Leopold Bloom -- and, on a different trail, to Beckett's "Mercier and Camier".
And there's that final gap between the isolated heroic figures of the modern canon and a contemporary American school of writers who share some publishers, make livings in academia, and swap blurbs, bridged by the pulp-sprung and compulsive Burroughs.
Well, I'm afraid all this gap-minding sounds both more detached and more combative than my feelings justify. You yourself call it a "pragmatic" distinction. I suppose my uneasiness truly comes down to worrying just what use our pragmatisms get put to. Provisional categorization can work as a portal of discovery. (Jerome McGann's championing William Morris as the first Modernist is a delightful example of what can be done with hindsight genre.) But windows require walls, and human beings do seem to love their wall-building. Once we have our categories up, it may be hard see around them. If I'm not mistaken, a similar uneasiness stirred your "Don't Change" entry of September 22.
I suppose I sound as if I'm trying to eradicate distinctions, when what I'd like is to make them finer.
|. . . 2005-05-28|
I suppose many readers of The Valve eventually get around to The Yale Journal of Criticism on their own, but if un-lit blogs can point you to the New York Times front page, it must be OK for me to point you to "Petted Things" by Ivan Kreilkamp, starring the Brontë sisters as animal rights pioneers.
Kreilkamp's essay pleasingly draws from history, the authors themselves, and recent Derrida in the service of (to me) a novel, amusing, and evocative association of realism with anthropomorphism. The critic even shows good reason for having treated "the Brontës" as a group rather than as individual novelists.
Potential Disney adaptors of Jane Eyre should especially note the story of Clumsy, A Dog:
"Tell how he grows ugly in growing up;... Madam's disgust for him; the rebuffs he suffers.... Clumsy, for that is what she calls him now, banished to the yard; his degradation; detail his privations, the change in food and company."
Everyone else should especially note that Carol Emshwiller's Carmen Dog carries far more entertainment value than its equivalent in Lucas-movie-and-junk-food.
Afterthought: The Brontës as potential writers of noble-dog stories reminds me of one of my own favorite alternate-literary-history scenarios: What if, rather than giving up their shared fantasy worlds, the Brontë sisters had successfully brought their mature styles and concerns into Gondal and Angria, weirdly anticipating Joanna Russ's Alyx, M. John Harrison's ret-conning of Viriconium, Samuel R. Delany's Nevèrÿon...?
|. . . 2005-07-24|
I recently read the first year of the New York Review of Books.
Less poetry nowadays. Otherwise, they haven't tinkered much with the original formula: not as interesting as the TLS, not as ghastly as the NYTBR, and earnestly committed to political strategizing by people without any influence whatsoever. After a while it's like hearing people talk about TV: "All I can say is they'd better not kill off Scully!" Or else...?
Unbeknownst to the strategizers, they were guest-starring in a very special episode of another type of show entirely. "This decade only: Washington Week in Review broadcasts live from the Titanic!" So while they gripe about how JFK hadn't been leftist enough to lose the last election and he's dragging his well-shod feet so much it's almost like he wants to win the next election but it is kind of neat how he's actually willing to talk to some of them even though he's such an arrogant S.O.B. he still doesn't parrot what they told him — while that's happening, the viewers have their eyes fixed on the digital clock at the corner of the screen: September 1963, October 1963, November 14 1963, November 28 1963, December 12 1963? — jesus, how long were lead times back then anyway? —
Ah. December 26 1963.
Readers of that issue would've brought a special sense of exhaustion to the magazines and newspapers of mid-September 2001. All these public spokespeople feeling professionally obliged to say something weighty and appropriate to the occasion, come on, man, get with it, Norman Mailer's watching!, OK, um, "Things will never be the same...."
Nothing to say, no reason to say it — except for vanity, which, I guess, has to stand in for the triumph of the human spirit.
Oh, and except for Irving Howe.
His contribution wasn't reprinted in Selected Writings, which is understandable given how much material there was to work with. It got into Steady Work, where the horrorstruck bystander can watch a democratic socialist survive McCarthyism only to then survive Berkeley radicals, without ever once killing anyone. I can picture some people in 1965 or 1966 giving him a hard time about a few of these prophecies.
The poor bastards.
(Naturally I'm not going to try quoting the whole piece — you think the NYRB doesn't know any lawyers? — but these two excerpts should convey the flavor.)
And then, the nightmare city. Its police chief explains why he had announced publicly the time the first suspect would be moved, thereby giving the second killer his opportunity: "We could have moved him earlier, but we told you fellows [reporters and TV men] 10 a.m. and we wanted to live up to it." Immortal words, filled with the spirit of our century! The law becomes an appendage of publicity, and experience the raw material for spectacle.
Yet the city survives. "Dallas," runs a headline in the November 26 New York World-Telegram, "Dallas Finds Solace in Wealth." And the story opens: "Talk to the people of Dallas about guilt and they tell you about their mansions, their oil wells and their riches. They pour money on their wounds."
Blessed are the rich in pocket, for they have inherited the earth.
. . .
What has been shaping up in American society is a fundamental struggle as to its future direction, and the sad fact is that the most aggressive and determined political pressures have been coming from the right. Not merely or even primarily from the Birchers or Southern racists or conservative ideologies: in themselves these people are not too important: they matter as an advance guard, or noisy symptom, or extreme manifestation, of a deepgoing fundamentalist reaction, a slowmoving and incipient counter-revolution, that has been gathering among the middle classes.
This is a rebellion against history. It is a wish to be done with those burdens that mar the enjoyment of new-found wealth and status. It is a desperately nostalgic impulse to shake off the complexities — which, in the absence of a coherent liberal leadership, have a way of emerging as the confusions — of world politics. And as anyone can testify who has spent some time in the Far West, this reaction involves an unashamed class selfishness such as we have not seen openly expressed in this country for some time, a new kind of Social Darwinism which is laced with the snobberies of greed and racism, a frigid contempt for those millions who are said, somewhere in the invisible depths, still be to suffering poverty and joblessness.
I think we should take this phenomenon with great seriousness. Today it may appear as an attachment to Goldwater, but in social range and depth it goes beyond the Goldwater movement. Signs of it could already be found in the Eisenhower following, and it will survive the possible collapse of the Goldwater boom. For a few months this socio-political impulse may be silenced, but it speaks too authentically for the sentiments of millions of Americans to be long suppressed.
Every issue in American polities — from civil rights to joblessness, from automation to support for colleges, from medicare to city planning — now elicits a fundamental divergence in outlook. It cannot be helped: not all the speeches of President Johnson, nor all the columns of James Reston, can prevent it. The issue is not, as the rightist doctrinaire claim, between capitalism and socialism, but between a firm decision to pull away from modernity and social responsibility, and the inclination to move (more often, stumble) toward an enlarged welfare state.
This, I would contend, is the central issue in American political life, and the struggle in regard to it cannot be stilled or long postponed. It seems to me a little shocking when one hears intelligent people reduced to an American equivalent of Kremlinology and engaged in gossipy speculations as to whether "Lyndon" will shift his political stress for tactical reasons, and what "Arthur" said or didn't say. Instead, we had better do some hard thinking and make some genuine commitments. For, without indulging in the usual sort of scares about a resurgence of McCarthyism or the terrors of the Birchites — (what matters now is a social impulse deeper, more native, more authentic than its extreme manifestations; it is a blend, so to say, of Ike and Barry) — I think we should recognize how the contending forces are disposed and how serious and prolonged the coming struggles are likely to be.
From a liberal-left perspective there is reason for disquiet. The labor movement, facing major perils, dozes away in a state of intellectual torpor: it appeals to no segments of the unorganized, it gains no loyalties among the young, it barely makes itself heard in the discussions of national policy. The liberal movement, as a movement, has become slack, uncombative. And even the one tremendously encouraging development of the last few years, the rise of the Negroes, is for the moment balked, uncertain in perspective, a little exhausted, trapped in the dilemma that its all-too-reasonable immediate demands involve the deepest issues and problems of the American economy.
And the intellectuals? Those who are supposed to move in advance, not content with the complacence of the status quo? My own subjective impression is not a happy one. In New York, as I now see it again, there is much brilliance, but little direction; a great deal of talent, but not much purpose. A large fraction of the writing in the advanced journals strikes me as middleaged narcissism, a bit Alexandrian, in which the stress is upon intellectual display rather than intellectual conviction and influence. At the very time when there are larger audiences, few American intellectuals seem to be strongly concerned with the idea of a coherent political and cultural public. Things, as the sociologists say, have become "privatized."
Intellectuals ought to be able to look beyond the moment, which means to look beyond the pieties of "national reconciliation" and toward the difficulties ahead. No one is going to be adored for saying this, but that does not make it any the less true.
|. . . 2007-03-31|
What is hell? Hell is oneself,
Hell is alone, the other figures in it
No particular technique or taste associates T. S. Eliot with post-1940 conservative American poetry. Only agreement on what poetry is, practically speaking, for:
No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be....
What a silly complaint. Hamlet was a loser. We're supposed to feel sorry for you because you're not Hamlet? Who the hell would want to be Hamlet?
Answer: No one. But lots of us would want to act Hamlet. What rankles is not being John Barrymore on Tour, nor being meant to be.
Eliot's legacy: a nation of Malvolios performing air soliloquies in front of their mirror.
Whenas, opening up the cast, the best of the New York School were willing to play Sir Andrew, Feste, or Sir Toby Belch.
Consider their collaborations and plagiarisms, and imagine the scandal if Jarrell had ripped off a stanza of Lowell, or Sexton of Plath. In a democratized revival of manuscript culture and sprezzatura, these were social acts.
Try to reach directly from the alienated individual to the vasty universal and you're apt to sprain something. Instead, poets could escape solipsism by embracing and populating insularity. The lyric "I" presented a formal problem whose formal resolution wasn't so much supported by coterie as it expressed the music of the thing itself — or, as Lytle Shaw put it, The Poetics of Coterie. 1
By that I don't mean to imply that all of O'Hara's or Mayer's best work, or any of Ashbery's or Guest's, is "occasional verse" in the traditional sense. Remember: This is New York. Is a momentous event upon us? Only with every little breath I take.
and you take a lot of dirt off someone
is the character less bad. no. it improves constantly
you don't refuse to breathe do you
I've acted perfectly dreadful, true, but why should I pretend to be so upset and expect you to be interested? I've acted perfectly dreadful at lots of parties.
Sure, it's an emergency; that doesn't mean it's serious.
Because (as the poet sang) every time you chase me down the street with a knife, it's a real special occasion.
Peli responds with kind words followed by an understandable protest:
But, way unfair on Eliot!
It's hard to properly state my contention and I'm stuck with rabidly overstating it, so please downgrade its volume when reading : Starting to feel like I've had a linguistic error and in America Avant-Garde refers to a personality type -- vaguely correlated with the poet's aura being vigorous, excited and humanistic or stoically domestic (meanness is allowed in measured dosages, as long as it's a vigorous meanness) -- and has fuck all to do with one's approach to constructing texts. To you guys Paul Celan is probably indistinguishable from Anne Sexton.
Ah, but I didn't say that was all there was to Eliot — I said that's what conservative poetry took from Eliot.
More generally, I agree I'm emphasizing personality here more than seems realistic. That's because I'm trying to balance my more ingrown tendency to overstate the possibility of pure formalism. (When I was eighteen, Frank O'Hara sounded like noise.) What counts as a correction in my own course would count as a wrong turn for some other navigator on some other trip.
It is the most shattering experience of a young man's life when he awakens and quite reasonably says to himself: "I will never play The Dane."
|. . . 2007-05-28|
"But then Michael Palmer might not be a Language Poet. We won't know until he dies and they cut his heart open and see if L=A can be found there.... And the politics of it all is fascinating, but there are people who are much better equipped to speak about it than I am. You might want to go and talk to some of them about it, if you're interested."
Note: The following is based on second-hand hints and third-hand extrapolations. That is, it's gossip. And since I'm art-for-art's by nature, it's not even good gossip. But my essay's carried me out of my depth, and in this deep water I'll paddle. Feel free to administer a little paddling of your own.
I told my conversion narrative because it's not unique. (It's not interesting, either, but that wasn't why I told it.) For me it happened in 1989; for others it happened in 1982 or in 1999, or it will happen in 2007. All that changes is the number of precursors and passersby clumped into the Katamari Damacy of "Language Poetry".
No conspiracy lies behind that phenomenom, and protests were futile. It's merely a side-effect of success, enthusiasm, and inattention. I've witnessed similar confusions in punk and hip-hop, and a recent museum show dedicated to "the Beats" included work by Frank O'Hara and Jess.
What distinguishes LangPo is the stability and range of its success. The Beats weren't moving by the time of that pleasant curatorial blunder; the Language Poets continue. And the formal advances responsible for that success were political ones:
Instead the group's glue is found in the non-poetic work of "poetics": self-publication, self-promotion, self-defense.... Creative members could parlay any diction they liked so long as they cooperated with the critical members. And, David Bromige aside, those critics weren't fooling around: they've been painfully sincere, with most of the pain directed outwards.
This community, like any community, coheres by selective memory and selective attention. I share a class background with Ron Silliman, and an allergy to academic power structures. Naturally we except our friends from our prejudices. Silliman, however, sometimes deploys those prejudices even in defense of his friends and despite the disposable incomes which back their publications. Then there's the contrast between Perelman's finger-wagging and high-fiving, and in another way Susan Howe sacrificing her own layouts while insisting on the primacy of Emily Dickinson's....
I don't mean to characterize them as villains in this history. (They are, after all, three of my favorite writers.) Conservatives and the old-garde haven't been shy about marking their dry discolored turfs, would-be Young Turks tried similar tactics, and when Bromige enlivened the Buffalo Poetics list, the mob who shouted him down wasn't led by his fellows. The Language Poets didn't invent the game: they only managed it better.
I do mean to imply that the game has a human cost. If I haven't heard versions of Luther Blissett's story quite as often as versions of my own, still I've heard them. And worse, the one-time-enemy may be appropriated: I remember some poet I respect (whose name I don't remember) being asked by someone somewhere if she considered herself a Language Poet, and her answering something like she wouldn't have minded but someone I respect less (whose name I also don't remember) said she wasn't Marxist enough. (As I warned, my gossiping skills are weak.) Then there's Benjamin Friedlander, often called a Language Poet because he paid them close attention, and scarred by them for the same reason.
Given the human payback, though, was it worth it? Could any avant-garde have managed the scarcity-economy of print better?
I don't know; I just hope the post-print world does.
* * *
The web hosts an economy of attention: Who's attended to? Who should I attend to?
It's one question with two faces, self-ish and other-ish, inseparable yet rarely perceived simultanously. We become two-faced in asking it. We lament the lack of attention paid our so worthwhile work and then spend a half-hour responding to an irksome comment made by someone who doesn't particularly interest us.
In the mailing lists, there was no way around it: you had to slog through mire to reach anything at all. While the web allows for greater selectivity and wider browsing, established algorithms steer us towards continued dysfunction. Jordan Davis may have closed Equanimity to focus on other projects, but (as usual) I fear the worst. And there's Gary Sullivan's recent comment....
The next innovation in American poetry might better target LangPo's social aspects than its lyric ones.
Mark me as a Luther Blissett story. Sure, I like\love 80% of first-gen LangPo, but would you speak as kindly of the things you rightfully mention to be the actual correlate of the LangPo appellation -- their theory, norms, critical language, self-definition of their practice, analysis of literary history? This aspect wasn't only lackluster, but managed to salt the earth rather thoroughly with unimpeachable dogmas, and as much as I love A.K.A and Sunset Debris it wasn't worth it.
It *isn't* worth it, even. Which is why I'm halfway to goodbye poetry hello video-games, and even though I probably won't, I'll always feel a little miserably about my field of interest\study in a way I never thought I would before I discovered that the guy who wrote Tjanting has essays.
A God's mask have ye hung in front of you, ye "pure ones": into a God's mask hath your execrable coiling snake crawled.
shiver down the spine
I HATE BEACH
Turbulent Velvet extrapolates.
|. . . 2007-06-20|
Criticism being a discursive form, it's natural that readers should guess at the critic's intention. And since I didn't describe my intentions at the start, some readers guessed wrong. Not surprising at all, very much business as usual, but given what those intentions were, I'll attempt a settlement.
(Although I've always been lousy at wrapping up. I look at the rumpled wads covering the gift and hope it's the thought that counts, but when the gift itself is only a thought you really have to wonder....)
But somewhere enabling that bendable "taste", like the wire embedded in Gumby, I suspected a thin core of hypocrisy. The experience of poetry conveyed more "person" than my preferred critical rhetoric allowed. (And, yes, it also conveys more "other-than-person" than the rhetorics of political righteousness or self-help or histrionic heroism allow. But what would be the point of arguing with people who aren't my friends?)
And so I investigated my terms, flipping over each rock until "diction" paid off, insofar as one can describe an unattractive pale slimy creature as a payoff.
Immersion in a writer's work creates an ephemeral social contract, each author founding a Republic of Letters in which we feel welcome or not, an aspect of poetic experience which the communally-rooted blarney of pop music criticism gets at more directly than close reading ever could. I wondered (not for the first time) if it would be possible to achieve a similar informality (creased jeans allowed) in poetics. But however I tried styling it, the admission didn't come naturally to me. Only this morning did I find a clear formulation:
Poetry can't depend on the personal but can't avoid conveying a personality. Readers grasp that personality and put it into narratives. And there's apparently some peculiar glamor in imagining oneself the sort of person who gets put into such imaginary scenarios.
The same uncomfortable state of affairs holds for the performing arts: Professional ethics dictate the loss of self; audiences dictate a pseudo-self back again; and finally a host of wannabes dream of jumping straight to the vices. The "depersonalizations" found in literary history might be compared to theatrical techniques like "the Method" or "the alienation effect", originally taken as ways to make the actor invisible, while in retrospect we see the usual shtick and celebrities.
I don't mean to celebrate this process — only to acknowledge it.
I started from Eliot, but I could've started anywhere, with Yeats or Swinburne or Tennyson, or Byron's millefeuille of sincere insincerity, or his contemporaries' sometimes literally fraudulent tapping of the national soul, or the sweat-soaked Augustans, or the political-sexual-financial desperation of Tudor classicists. Always the risk that the Muse ain't talking, it's just ol' Virgil makin' shit up.
No, I retraced this particular arc of the literary roundabout only because someone on the Valve had expressed a certain conception of "the New York School" and then someone else on the Valve had expressed a certain conception of "Language Poets", and I'd promised to attempt reconceptualizations.
Message, if not legible, at least delivered. Or if not delivered, at least sent.
A Derrida reference? Quelle horreur!
|. . . 2007-11-18|
Two artists in dudgeons, one low, one high:
And every single person in the real world looks at this, and that's why we make our films the way we do. Because you don't have the freedom, you don't have the integrity, you have to remake everything we've done anyway. I go to see Martin Scorsese, and I say, Don't you think I should tell you about the lenses? And he says, What do you mean? And I said, Well, you're remaking my film, which is Infernal Affairs. Infernal Affairs was probably written in one week, we shot it in a month and you're going to remake it! Ha ha, good luck! What the fuck is this about? I mean, come on. In other words, if you read The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, then you'd actually have a very clear idea [laughs] about what's really happening in the U.S. right now. So what do we do? You tell me. [...] If Martin Scorsese can make a piece of shit called The Aviator and then go on to remake a Hong Kong film, don't you think he's lost the plot? Think it through. "I need my Oscar, I need my fucking Oscar!" Are you crazy? There's not a single person in the Oscar voting department who's under 65 years old. They don't even know how to get online. They have no idea what the real world is about. They have no visual experience anymore. They have preoccupations. So why the fuck would a great filmmaker need to suck the dick of the Academy with a piece of shit called The Aviator? And now he has to remake our film? I mean this is bullshit. This is total bullshit. I love Marty, I think he's a great person. And the other one is Tarantino. Oh yeah, let's appropriate everything. Are you lost? Yes, you are lost.
Let's see, if we chide the writer who makes reference to low-brow material, who appropriates cultural material — because appropriations are a bit like sampling in rap, really borderline plagiarism, everyone knows this — we'll have to roll back to T.S. Eliot. Oops, we have to throw Eliot on the scrap heap, too — apparently he risked some high-low mixing, and some appropriations. Forget Joyce, of course. We'd better go even further back. Once you begin looking at the underlying premise — a blanket attack on the methods that modernism uncovered — the kind of bogus nostalgia for a pure, as opposed to an impure, literature, what you really discover is a discomfort with literature itself. [...] It's not about reading. That's the problem. It really is about — I'm repeating myself — class anxiety. Once you have an eye for this you spot it in odd places. I read a review in Book Forum where a critic, quite incidentally, in attacking Michel Houellebecq, said in an aside, "But then again, the French regard Hitchcock as art." Well, now, wait a minute! These battles were fought and won. These victories were decisive ones, fifty years ago. There's no rolling that back. Hitchcock is art. So if you pin Hitchcock's scalp to your belt: "Not only have I seen through Michel Houellebecq, the charlatan, but in fact I'm going to tell you that the auturists were wrong and Hitchcock is low-brow and unsavory," you've discredited yourself so absolutely that you deserve to read nothing but Trollope for the rest of your life.
OK, first, Trollope worked a day job for the fucking post office, so let's leave Trollope out of this fight.
Otherwise, it's a fight I felt like starting myself when I read this shallow attack on shallowness two years ago. (Why didn't I? Well, I work a day job, see....) For John Leonard, the difference between profundity and immaturity comes down to name-dropping:
Is it so unreasonable to want to know more of what he thinks about Julio Cortázar and less of how he feels about Obi-Wan Kenobi? [...] Superpowers are not what magic realism was about in Bulgakov, Kobo Abe, Salman Rushdie, or the Latin American flying carpets. That Michael Chabon and Paul Auster have gone graphic, that one Jonathan, Lethem, writes on and on about John Ford, while another Jonathan, Franzen, writes on and on about "Peanuts," even as Rick Moody confides to the Times Book Review that "comics are currently better at the sociology of the intimate gesture than literary fiction is," may just mean that the slick magazines with the scratch and sniff ads for vodka and opium [sic] are willing to pay a bundle for bombast about ephemera.
This approaches J. Jonah Jameson levels of wrong-headedness. As if Ulysses would've been improved by more of Lohengrin and less of "The Low-Backed Car". As if John Leonard ever actually took time to honor Alfred Bester for referencing Joyce or Patricia Highsmith for referencing James and Camus.
He asks me, "Do you care how many times I have seen The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, or what's going on in my head while I watch Sara Evans sing 'Suds in the Bucket' on the country music cable channel?" And I answer: "No more than I care what's going on in your head while you watch Carol Burnett. I don't even care what you think about books. Moreover, if you were a movie critic or a music critic, I still wouldn't care about your renting a Demy video or your pseudo-ironic celebrations of Evans — but you'd tell me all the same. What matters in our relationship isn't whether I care; all that matters is what the NYRB and New York Magazine will publish."
In Leonard's horror at public lapses of taste, this professional book-and-televison critic failed to notice that his subject is not a professional critic of anything and The Disappointment Artist is not a collection of criticism: it's a linked collection of autobiographical essays whose hooks happen to be American cultural artifacts. Lethem could hardly have been more explicit about it. In his long tribute to the The Searchers, the "critical" argument is confined to two paragraphs terminated by the sentence "Snore."
Sure, some generic ambiguity exists: there's that strain of criticism-as-New-Journalism which was domesticated down from mutants like Meltzer and Bangs into the cage-raised free weekly strains. But those conventions presume a like-minded community, whereas Lethem peddles his wares to a middlebrow camp unlikely to have any interest in his ostensible topics. Therefore the focus stays on Lethem-as-character.
So let's imagine our successful young novelist writing a similar autobiographical essay about reading Kafka or Cortázar:
"And suddenly I realized: I write fiction too. Just like him."
Yeah, there's news.
"Professional pundit publishes asinine remarks; bloggers rant."
But god damn it, I can't seem to let it rest at that. What irks me is the feeling that I share some aspect of some response with Leonard — and, in a different way, or a different aspect, with Lethem, too. And again, Lethem's admirably blatant about it: he put Disappointment right there in the title for us.
Even if you don't care for my stuff, I recommend this essay by tomemos which starts from Leonard but goes in a very different direction.
Can't speak for Leonard but my celebrations of Evans are strickly appreciations of artistry.
My guess was that Leonard admired Evans but threw "the country music cable channel" in for distancing — thus the "pseudo-" of his irony.
|. . . 2007-11-20|
nnyhav writes: "I want to bring to your attention that when Lethem is elided from the interview, what remains reads like a Donald Barthelme short."
[greyhound and master are approaching in the distance] Rosie hates that dog. And her owner is totally oblivious. I just think he's goofy — Rosie really dislikes that dog. I'm going to hold on to you, Rosie.
So, we talked last — almost two years ago? We were going to reconvene for your essay collection, and things didn't work out. And we connected after that, and you gave me the impression that you had things on your mind — maybe not of great urgency, that were pressing on you. [laughs] — vituperation. Since the novel, you have published some stories and published an essay collection, which is something of a hybrid. Certainly they are essays — but not exactly. These were written for the purpose of being in one collection?
Hey, hey. Stop it. OK, OK. [Dog and owner pass by.] See what I mean? There is something odd. Good girl, Rosie. So, this was at a point everything you wrote was for publication? I was focusing on your having said that you wrote it and there had been no commission? The Searchers is a perennial in top 10 movie lists. Is there writing you didn't include or you discarded?
Have you read Greil Marcus's Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads? You must have read Dylan's Chronicles. I found it to be an odd awkward read, though I enjoyed it. I liked the audio version read by Sean Penn, which gave me a better feeling for it. Yeah, I didn't access it well on the page.
What do you make of the review that Brent Staples published in the New York Times last week on The Disappointment Artist? My first question was, "Why publish that now?" Not that there should be a time limit and in fact I liked that — Maybe it's a break with the industry's conventional wisdom that a book has a six-week window — so this was not tied to the publication date. It's as much if not more about him than about you.
See how fierce she is?
American newspaper book reviewing seems to be insubstantial, and for me the only reason to read them is for a particular writer, not for news or judgment about a book. The magazines are just a hair better. Why are newspapers so stingy with how many books they notice? Do these things actually sell books? I mean the good versus the bad. Some critical mass has to be achieved.
The short-story collection, the essays, so here you are and here it is summertime — are you sitting by idly doing nothing? A novel! Were the stories diversions while you figured it out? Appendices?
At the moment do you look at — where is the seam or break in your career trajectory? They think that because it's more personal and — Can you recall the content of your first novels? Are you propelled by or moved by some desire to be original, to never repeat or recapitulate or cover old ground? Do you even think in those terms? [laughs] Maybe another way of asking that big, sloppy, puppy dog question that I tried is: As you create a larger body of work, how self-conscious are you about — No, but thinking about, "Have I learned something?" Maybe it's not as concise a thought as "Am I a better writer?" or something like that. Perhaps, "Can I do this?"
You had to read Roth as opposed to — I don't get the sense that you've had that kind of personal experience or reflected on that kind of personal experience. That you really thought about where you lived and traveled. You had to read it to get it? The naming of some specific real world thing gives it an additional potency? Or even whether there is an accurate description — Is that what you want from your reader? If I'm watching a movie, do I want to be conscious that I am watching the movie?
OK, thank you. [laughs]
There is that recurring issue of all that's relevant is what's on the page. A porous, permeable self-contained entity. Um — yeah. [laughs] You still live in Brooklyn — an area that has a very high writer population per capita. You said something about living — there's the writing, which is a big part of your life. When you live in Brooklyn, what's your life experience outside of writing? What do you do? Is your living always tied to being a writer? How conscious or self-conscious are you about what you do? Do you skydive? That's seems to be an expected writerly thing to do. You're a pain the ass. Hey! Quiet.
If you are Borges or that type of writer, you are expected to not have a life outside books and letters and to sit in a room and fill up pages. I'm not expecting it, or anything. When you talk about a life that is including things that are [more] specific, that are real, then one becomes curious about what those things are that you are seeing and experiencing and most of all utilizing to make stories and tell stories. Not that I really want specifics — just to know that you are doing something other than sitting in a room all day and writing, or trying to. [laughs]
So much for short attention spans. Ian McEwan wondered how short attention spans allowed for the consumption of big books like The Da Vinci Code — he speculated that attention spans might not be a matter of biology but of culture. Our training inclines us to look at realism as the truth because we can readily identify these things — There is some laziness possible when one reads certain texts. I notice some writers will insert "fictional" facts — They'll create places and flowers and all sorts of things and that's taken notice of as if the rest of it is of a different metaphysical status. Seemingly smart and savvy people fall prey to this impulse. To what do you ascribe their motives? With imagination — [laughs] Does that suggest a steady downward spiral of the critical conversation? It's worse than reactionary.
[laughs] What you read about Houellebecq now is that he reportedly fell asleep in a TV interview. All this ambient trivia. The danger of becoming what you are fighting.
If "x without x" [Garfield without, Lethem interview without] ever becmes a thing, someone should totally to a "Kenneth Goldsmith's 'Soliloquy' without Goldsmith"
Clearly, Bob Newhart should get busy filing lawsuits.
Sentemental comedy of Goldsmith's attempt to revive comedy
Update: Cerebus without.
|. . . 2007-12-16|
Ah ha, I can hear you saying, well I can tear the heart out of this pretty damned easily, I can smell its derivations from a mile away, in fact I need only open the book at random to find just what I want, just the right food for my article: I do not feel you have made the slightest critical effort to grapple with its form or its intentions. What you have actually succeeded in doing is to injure a fellow who feels himself to be a kindred spirit.- Malcolm Lowry to Jacques Barzun, May 6, 1947
I have always been grateful to him for the tact he showed in refraining from reviewing any of my novels. We have had many exhilarating talks, have exchanged many frank letters. [...] In the present case, however, things have gone a little too far.- Vladimir Nabokov to NYRB, August 26, 1965
Readers of our previous episode may have noticed that superhero comics aren't the only serialized genre with a weakness for apocalyptic conclusions.
And also that I never quite settled its central question. After all, my posited clash-of-values clashes high and low alike. Why should the low take special umbrage?
The answer's Purloined-Newspaper close at hand. Inveighing much more loudly than society painters or classical musicians, critics and teachers have traditionally raised the hackles who later come home to roost. To quote the powerful formula of the critic's mooching, pretentious, and despised name saint, "Let's you and him fight."
Nor was this the first time I might have found occasion to mention our own dear form. The "downward turn" marks the serious review as well as the serious novel — it almost defines the subgenre.
What completely defines the entire genre is our naked dependency on reference. We obtain the product of someone else's hard work, usually for free, and then as our own hard work read, hear, or view it. From such moral low ground it's absurd for a TV critic to insult a novelist's interest in comic books or for a jazz critic to protest cultural "appropriation" — and yet the pot still calls the kettle a minstrel show.
Working artists may feel ripped off by extra-generic not-quite-peers who haven't paid their dues, and peacemakers like Campbell and Lethem reasonably argue that the apparent deadbeat may well be paying dues to a different union. But opinions cost nothing. What respect is due the pure parasite?
Let all such artists as understand one another, therefore, plagiarize each other's work like men. Let each borrow his friends' best ideas, and try to improve on them. If A thinks himself a better poet than B, let him stop hinting it in the pages of an essay; let him re-write B's poems and publish his own improved version. If X is dissatisfied with Y's this-year Academy picture, let him paint one caricaturing it....
Clearly there's no place for critics in this practitioners' paradise — but I can't help but add that philosophers would be banished as well: If R G C doesn't believe professional photographer N should protect all possible sources of income and credit, let him stop advising it from the pages of a book; let him open a studio and lead by example.
Greatest of sinners, we're distinguished only by the blatancy of our sinning. As Lethem and Campbell say, all art is referential art. Even when aesthetic experience is more "contrast" than "compare", it manifests against a web of associations.
And performing against that web we project similar illusions. Mainstream fiction writers aren't sensitive to every nuance of human nature, mystery writers can't track down criminals, and literary critics don't approach their prey with intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic. When we encounter such misconceptions among our readers we may be taken aback, but they arise naturally from formal demands. Certain narrative effects require trust and so a storyteller doesn't (usually) push against the audience's idea of plausibility. Similarly when our goal is to build a discursive structure we need only evidence enough to fasten the joints, and ignorance itself may find utility as a (hidden) dado.
Some of us exult in fraudulence as a windfall; some accept it as a mutually understood rule of the game, not worth further comment; some blazon our bad conscience on our pennons. "I find myself speaking about my adoption everywhere I go in this world."
* * *
Here we go, then:
I don't read much contemporary mainstream fiction.
Partly that's because I don't like much. Too often it tastes like watered-down soup, promising only an occasional fly. I've always been ungenerous and impatient towards DeLillo, for example, and I've got no interest in Franzen despite his being right about Peanuts.
Partly it's lack of urgency. At the moment I have easier access to exorbitantly priced academic publications than I ever expect again. Little magazines, comic books, and pulp fiction instantly drop out of print and out of sight. Whereas, much as I look forward to Chabon's big novels, I know I'll be able to find them later: few public libraries skimp on Pulitzer winners.
And I don't read for the sake of conversation, or at least not that sort of conversation: I care no more about the New York Times bestseller list than I do about the Super Bowl.
Although of course if I had a friend on a Super Bowl team I'd be very pleased for him, and maybe even inquire after the score....
The friend, in this case, being Jonathan Lethem.
We're not especially old or intimate friends — no anecdotes of sex behind the drum kit — and my position's not unique: Jonathan's at ease in a wide range of social settings, and dozens of people can claim closer acquaintance.
Instead it's been a familiar sort of intellectual friendship — "a warm affection sometimes [invigorated] by exasperation." We approach very similar tastes and ideas with very different impulses from very different departure points. In particular, we share (and argue over) a stubborn antagonism to genre boundaries: I first met Jonathan while he was making his name as a writer of sf stories, but I first admired him as the editor of an artsy zine called Idiot Tooth.
As I gave up trying to write fiction and as Jonathan more often performed man-of-letters chores, a greater portion of our conversation took place in public, most concentratedly in what he called our Spy vs. Spy act for the New York Review of Science Fiction. In a way, this continues the act. But in another way....
* * *
In another way, I need to confess one more lie of omission, right at the beginning. It wasn't only the pressure of my day job that kept this essay unfinished in 2005 and 2006 and earlier this year. It was disgust at what the essay promised to become.
I write to gossip about artifacts, not about their authors. I've rarely felt conflicted when mentioning people I know. Just switching from first name to last is enough to do the trick.
Here, though, following Leonard's lead, I'd be dealing with some general issues but restricting specifics to Lethem's career — that is, I'd use him as a very convenient whipping boy.
"Now look, Ray, when you found yourself with that book in your hand, what did you think about? Could it have been... 'consumption for use'?"
That's a poor reward for friendship. When Yvor Winters and Allen Tate publicly attacked The Bridge, they don't seem like courageous upholders of poetic standards. They seem like opportunistic back-stabbing creeps.
I can't say I escape a similar charge. But since I found myself unable, finally, to avoid setting up this ambush, I'm glad at least to be caught in the same crossfire. What else are friends for?
Josh Lukin writes:
"What respect is due the pure parasite?" I'm sorry to bring it up again, but that question reminded me of my feeling that this is somehow the exemplar of its genre (Farber would appreciate it, IMO).
If Ansible only had an "As We See Others" column . . .
"and yet the pot still calls the kettle a minstrel show." -- I know you don't aim for targets this low, but you have inadvertantly devised the perfect put-down for Mister Sasha Frere-Jones.
|. . . 2008-04-15|
Since I know some readers share my interest in the sub-subgenre of academic endnotes, I'd like to share the belated highlight of Lee Zimmerman's "Against Depression: Final Knowledge in Styron, Mairs, and Solomon", Biography 30.4 (2007):
17. Noonday Demon's website — www.noondaydemon.com/biography — announces it "has won . . . fourteen national awards, including the 2001 National Book Award, and is being published in 22 languages. It was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. It has been on the New York Times bestseller list in both hardback and paperback; it has also been a bestseller in seven foreign countries. Among the honors garnered by The Noonday Demon are the Books for a Better Life Award, the Ken Award of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, the QPB New Visions Award, the Voice of Mental Health award of the Jed Foundation and the National Mental Health Association, the Lammy for the best nonfiction of 2001, the Mind Book of the Year for Great Britain, the Prism Award of the NDMDA, the Charles T. Rubey LOSS award, the Silvano Arieti Award, the Dede Hirsch Community Service Award, and the Erasing The Stigma Leadership Award. It was chosen an American Library Association Notable Book of 2001 and a New York Times Notable Book. . . . Mr. Solomon has lectured on depression around the world, including recent stints at Princeton, Yale, Stanford, Harvard, MIT, Cambridge, and the Library of Congress." The collection of those offering high praise in book-jacket blurbs is especially high-powered: Styron, Harold Bloom, Louise Erdrich, Larry McMurtry, Naomi Wolf, Adam Gopnik, and Kay Redfield Jamison.
18. The book's claim to mastery has been widely accepted. In a New York Times book review, Richard Bernstein writes: "'The Noonday Demon' is one of those rare volumes that deserve the adjective 'definitive.'"
19. See, for example, works by J. B. Harley and by Jeremy Black.
20. It is tempting to regard this infliction upon the reader in light of what Solomon calls his "several episodes of violence" against other people (179). In one such episode, feeling "cruelly betrayed" by someone he "loved very much," Solomon "attacked him . . . threw him against a wall, and socked him repeatedly, breaking both his jaw and his nose. He was later hospitalized for loss of blood."
21. In considering Solomon's representation of antidepressant medication, I should make mention of an unusual circumstance that Solomon only hints at. He does acknowledge that "It is hard for me to write without bias about the pharmaceutical companies because my father has worked in the pharmaceutical field for most of my adult life," and that "His company, Forest Laboratories, is now the U.S. distributor of Celexa" (13). But such cautious phrasing omits significant information that would seem to bear on the question of possible "bias." Since 1977, Howard Solomon has been the CEO, and since 1998 the CEO and Chairman, of Forest Labs, and according to Business Week in May 2002, "since its U.S. launch in September, 1998, Celexa has come to account for almost 70% of Forest's overall sales — about $1.6 billion in the fiscal year that ended on Mar. 31" (Berfield 74). (Forest now also produces another major antidepressant, Lexapro.) For 2005, the Forbes list of the most highly paid CEOs of American companies ranks him as fourth, with a compensation for that year of $92,115,000; for the five-year period ending that year, his compensation is listed as $294,895,000 ("Executive Pay").
(Should anyone now be nervously eyeing their melancholic loved ones, please be assured that bloody fisticuffs are not a typical symptom of depression — although, as I recall, fury is a side-effect of some antidepressants....)
Well, it takes all kinds of affective disorders. Solomon sounds bipolar; I started on Lexapro to treat my own anxiety and found that it helped a little but was really effective in mitigating my anger problem. At least for the first twenty-two hours after my daily pill . . .
Dr. Josh Lukin cites:
Celebrity right-wing psychiatrist Paul McHugh, reviewing The Noonday Demon in Commentary, singled that passage out as exemplary of what's amiss in Solomon's thinking:In one scene of this book, Solomon describes, and excuses, a vicious assault on one of his homosexual partners in which he broke the man's nose and jaw and sent him to the hospital in need of blood transfusions. Some of the physical sensations he felt as he delivered his bone-crushing blows were, he freely admits, pleasurable. More: even today, "part of me does not rue what happened, because I sincerely believe that [without it] I would have gone irretrievable crazy." And a bit later, he adds: "Engaging in violent acts is not a good way to treat depression. It is, however, effective. To deny the inbred curative power of violence would be a terrible mistake."Sontag, thou shouldst be living at this hour!
At least one admiring reviewer of The Noonday Demon paused to point out that these statements might appear to justify acts that were, well, criminal. They certainly do that, not to mention that they conjure up images of brownshirt thuggery. But they also happen to flow naturally from Solomon's conception of depression less as an illness than as a stage on which to enact a heroic drama of the self.
Hey, when is it not a good time for Sontag to be living?
|. . . 2008-05-26|
Hurry up; this is impossible.- Junior Potter, Son of Paleface, 1952
Although Son of Paleface made money, Paramount didn't extend Tashlin's option. His next break came in 1955 when he managed to squeak under Hal Wallis's stringently low standards, and incidentally provided Jerry Lewis's first inkling that cinema could be a worthwhile medium.
Hope fell back to familiar (if depleted) ground. No more panicked thoughts of escape; the animal had become reconciled to its cage, unresponsive to prod or thrown trash. When he turned to the camera, it was in search of cue cards. Six years later Hope reprised the watered-down Western parody of Norman Z. McLeod, who Tashlin never did get around to killing. The final stop of interest is 1960's The Facts of Life, a grim comedy of re-failed-marriage in which Hope's forced unfunniness worked as stark naturalism.
Tashlin meanwhile found a way out of his pacing issues, not by accelerating the gags but by integrating them with the mise en scène. In his best pictures, even ontological intrusions fit into an overall rhythm — the snapping point intermission of Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, the choreographed walks of The Girl Can't Help It, Jerry Lewis's shtick-till-I-drop slow a-goh-nee.... After Son of Paleface, Tashlin redirected his satire from the bad habits of dying genres to those of the movie mainstream: juvenile delinquency, gray flannel angst, and most notoriously the overstated but under-remarked bosoms of the era, which, especially in Rock Hunter, seemed to embody a miserable oscillation between the devalued real and the alluring purported.
His best pictures were intermittant, though, and their generation brief. After being tossed between the Scylla of Doris Day and the Charybdis of Lewis, a stormweary Tashlin vanished beneath the waves in 1968, Bob Hope aboard the wreck.
I have always thought that the most fitting way for an American man to die is in a brutal accident on the freeway. Because that way he will be giving up the ghost in a rare moment of freedom.- Frank Tashlin, interview with Robert Benayoun, 1964
Rich as are the gifts of the imagination bitterness of world's loss is not replaced thereby. On the contrary it is intensified, resembling thus possession itself. But he who has no power of the imagination cannot even know the full of his injury.- William Carlos Williams, Prologue to Kora in Hell, 1918
Doris Day had wings, she could really sing, her timing (musical) is inspirational. She wound up with the zeitgeist overload of archetypal 50's jivety All-American girl, and thus those who disdain that, her. No fair. Like Lucille Ball, another too-popular for her own good genius.
Your cause is just. For that matter, I probably count as a Jerry Lewis fan — I keep a copy of The Total Filmmaker close at hand. But this is an essay at Tashlin rather than Day, and I don't think The Glass Bottom Boat or Caprice represent either party's best work.
p.s Firefox blocks psdpdm with a "Suspected Attack Site!" no go page. Sea Monkey doesn't though.
Most of Pseudopodium is hand-crafted and impervious to non-self-inflicted harm, but the one portion of the site which I stupidly made dependent on web-hosted software — NO ONE SHOULD USE WEB SOFTWARE! NO ONE SHOULD HIRE WEB PROGRAMMERS! — exposed its succulent belly to some predator while I was in the midst of the professional and personal issues which continue to block my next damn post. Google picked that up and alerted the protection service used by Firefox 3. I've hurriedly dealt with the issue and I hope the good Googlians will overlook those intemperate remarks about web programmers and restamp their approval soon.
|. . . 2011-07-23|
I'd had a fairly full career as a painter, but I couldn't accept this new stuff. That was the problem. Months would go on, and I couldn't accept it. In the house are hanging some few things I kept, some of these pure abstract things — they looked very good. And then in the studio I would do these things, the guys in cars and all that. While I was in the studio, they were done with convictions. That's what I meant. I did them, then I'd come in the house to eat and whatnot, and I'd look at these beautiful things from the past and I'd think, "The hell with that stuff in the studio, that's terrible! I can't really stomach it." I'd get sick, I'd stay up all night. Then I'd run back in the studio, and then the things in the house looked terrible. These three beautiful lines which are so satisfying. So, you can fill between the lines. There was one point in the middle of this stuff, I wanted to roll them all up and hide it, not show it. I mean, you have no idea. They were so worn with pushpin marks. Up would go the pure things. Big sigh of relief. "Whew, I can live there." Come in the next day — "I can't stand that, it's got to be dirt." Down they'd come. Up would come the drawing with cars, this stuff, books, shoes, everything, ahh! The only way I could get over that torture, as I was telling Close, was one night, solo drinking, I thought, "There's got to be a solution to this." So, I thought, "Okay, I'm dead. I died." And that idea stuck to me. It started like a playful game, but it became sort of serious. What if I had died? I'm in the history books. What would I paint if I came back?
And yes, it's true, they don't look like weekend canvases by Bud Fisher or E. C. Segar. They look like the gifts Bub would carefully, carefully paint for his proud Aunt Alicia.
And since Guston's most passionate and long-lived infatuation was with Piero della Francesca, I'm naturally reminded of the Sansepolcro Resurrection, the most effective religious art I've ever experienced, removing all doubt about the credibility of a slain-and-back-again condemned-and-judging God-and-Human, since the thing's fucking standing right there in front of me. (In my notebook in 1994 I added, "Eyes that go both ways. Him and Elvis look good in pink.")
For us non-deities, though, death puts a real strain on relationships.
And of course my very old and dear friend, Morty Feldman, I'd been telling him about this stuff when I'd come into New York, but he didn't want to come up to see it. Then finally he came up, and he was, I think, pretty upset. So, you lose friends. But I think Baudelaire said, "Second to the pleasure of surprising yourself is the aristocratic pleasure of surprising your friends." And I think I wanted my close friend Feldman to say, "You mean that's you?" He was close to my work for twenty years. And I wanted to feel as if I was saying to him, "You think you know me? You don't know me." It's curious.
|. . . 2012-04-08|
Although I love the Internet more than any technosociological shift this side of antisepsis, I'm appalled that, nineteen years into the web, library executives continue to swap out book collections, with their paradigmatically long shelf life, in favor of expensive and quickly obsolescent computers so that people who walk into the building can find only exactly what they could find anywhere else on the planet.
But then I also thought it was crazy when the Metropolitan and MOMA replaced their paintings and sculptures with Philco Tandem Predictas, so what do I know?
martin browning from G+:
I forget who it was who redesigned the SF main library twenty years or so ago, but I do remember his notorious statement, quoted by Nicholson Baker, that he had no intention of treating a library as a "museum for antiquated books."
|. . . 2012-10-28|
Although there are nonprofessional readers of great literature, no one writes literary criticism but professors of literature. No one reads it but other professors of literature. There are effectively no amateur producers or consumers of the product. [...] Although there are no amateur literary critics, there are nevertheless many nonprofessional readers of great literature who might actually look at good commentaries if they were written in understandable English.- "The Politics of Obscurity: The Plain Style and Its Detractors",
Michael Scrivener & Louis Finkelman,
Philosophy and Literature 18.1 (1994)
Sadly, Professor Scrivener exercises his ministry beyond the gentiles' earshot. But what can one literary critic do against history?
* * *
Retreating to the realm of pure fantasy, let's pretend that I recently read the five-year-old last volume of John Crowley's Ægypt, and three days later unpacked a basemented box containing a ten-year-old issue of The New York Review of Science Fiction whose front page featured Sondra Ford Swift's "Pierce Moffett the Ass: Apuleian and Brunonian Themes in John Crowley's Dæmonomania."
And in this altered world Swift would most presciently describe the at-bottom centrality of the Ass who was to ground that last volume, and in her last paragraph pinpoint, faraway at the start of the series, the thrownaway sentence that presaged Pierce Moffett's comedic end as published one year after the end of Sondra Ford Swift herself. It would be that rare occurrence, unknown to (say) Gene Wolfe, a Challenge to the Reader fairly met to the credit of both parties.
This must be false memory, I know, and yet — the clarity!
* * *
To return to that which is the case, I next encountered Magical Imaginations: Instrumental Aesthetics in the English Renaissance by Genevieve Guenther, a professor (or philosophical doctor at least) of literature.
Tossing Dame Frances Yates ass over teakettle, Guenther emphasizes the inseparability of occult and rhetorical influence in Elizabethan-Jacobean England. Yes, alchemy encouraged labware; yes, cosmological speculation encouraged astronomical observation. But propaganda, spectacle, sleight of hand, ritual, and pretty shiny things primarily affect the practitioners' and audience's minds.
On this we enlightened successors agree both with the period's magicians, philosophers, and poets, and with their persecutors. Where we might demur is at which secondary effects follow. Upon sensawunda is a "real demon" displayed or a "real storm" brewed or a "real soul" lost? For Guenther's churchmen and heretics, the sorcerer is deluded, yes, but he's deluded for the benefit of Satan or as a step toward Platonic verities; the sonnet is seductive, yes, but the ensuing love or damnation is sincere enough; if the miracle was goosed by human hands and human psychology, it merely proves that God chose human means.
At $65 for a padded and anticlimactic 145 pages, I won't be purchasing many gift copies of Magical Imaginations. But I recommend it to other readers with interest in Sidney's Defense, Spenser's allegory, Marlowe's Mephistopheles, Shakespeare's plots, James I's laws, John Dee and Giordano Bruno and so on.
For example, readers of, or like, John Crowley. If we peer at Crowley's sources along Guenther's sightline, then Ægypt's figure and ground flip. The novel becomes less about John Dee and Giordano Bruno and so on, and more about its own inception, more like Engine Summer's incarnation of Engine Summer's motive force.
Or, depending on one's circumstance, more like gruel of the already-known.
For me, as for Pierce Moffett, 1977 initiated a sometimes velvet and not quite bloodless psychic revolution. That leaves me more sympathetic towards his sins than a less besmirched reader might be. But it also leaves me unable to credit the speed and ease of his redemption.
Less idiosyncratically, I've lived the three decades since revolution's end. And contrary to Ægypt's claims for the quotidian, the history of the world did change; it is not was it was; some observers even claimed history ceased altogether. Not through the offstage superhippieheroics of Dæmonomania's catastrophe, of course, but through the chemycal operation of artful words upon the soul.
I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."
And if we consider the way-things-once-were in Guenther's telling, then the history of the world not only changed; it changed back. In the land of corporations and consumers, survey says: ignorance, please; superstition, fear, and shell games for all.
We wished for more wishes, and, a generation after golden dawn in America, our Endless Things reward us with Endless Summer and the prospect of Endless Vacation. Ægypt, finally, was not fantastic enough for belief.
|. . . 2012-12-15|
Brain Storm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences
by Rebecca M. Jordan-Young
Terrible title; slightly misleading subtitle. Jordan-Young isn't fool enough to take on the entire "science of sex differences" armed only with thoroughness and rigor. Instead she surveyed a single research topic — the determination of stereotypically gendered behavior by prenatal hormones — and that proved enough to fill thirteen years and three hundred pages.
Of course Jordan-Young's chosen slice and the broader headline-whoring community draw from a common store of techniques. For example, the grossly tendentious summary, whereby "All the children preferred to play with the truck, but truck-deprived children who picked up a doll were slightly more likely to be girls" becomes "Men are hard-wired to be mechanics and women are hard-wired to be nurturing." And the whatever looks good at the buffet approach to confirmation: a miscellany of self-evidently sexually linked characteristics is compared to the particular evidence at hand; positive correlations are reported, negatives discarded; and the winnowing vanishes behind the paper's title. Particulars may never be successfully replicated, but that's just nit-picking; the titular beast thrives on.
In a few respects, though, the hormonal shtick is instructively unique.
Killjoys might blather all we like about purported "facts" like the cultural specificity of gender-keyed colors or the tendency of homosocial communities to consider womanizers effeminate, yeah yeah whatever — that's not science! Where's our nonlinear regression?
Stereotyping hormonalists have been churning out text for a century now, and the brain organization theory targeted by Jordan-Young was introduced in the year of my own chemically-imbalanced birth, 1959. That makes it by far the most venerable line of current research and therefore most firmly established — but also most vulnerable to social change.
When, for example, early researchers managed to correlate higher IQ scores to one set of subjects, they would describe that population as "more masculine." What was significant evidence for them would become insignificant noise to their successors, disadvantaged by the revelation that men in the general population didn't really test higher after all.
And early research described women who weren't particularly interested in sex or sexual fantasies (involving men or anyone else) and never experienced orgasm as more feminine than freaky chicks who fucked around or masturbated. Whereas by the mid-1970s good girls and boys had other expectations, and asexuality began to count as less heterosexual/feminine/normal rather than more.
But, as Jordan-Young shows, later paper-writers and popularizers would continue to cite these earlier papers as if they were supportive rather than contradictory. Pluralism had infected SCIENCE ITSELF!!1!
Still, a lot of studies report some significant differences in prenatal-hormonally-divided populations. Crediting the integrity (within limits) and validity (within limits) of those studies, is there any way a single biological factor might genuinely sway social behavior in one direction at one time, yet in another direction at another time?
Well, if the biological factor attracted unusual attention to a child's sex, and if extraordinary attention influences behavior, then one might expect some deviation from expected sexual norms even while expectations change. What do I mean by "extraordinary attention"? Consider:
The vast majority of women and girls with classic CAH, even in fairly recent studies, have had clitoral surgeries [and] have either impaired clitoral sensation or no sensation at all.... for most women with CAH, vaginal penetration is painful.... In a very large study that is now more than twenty years old, Mulaikal and colleagues found that the sexual orientation and activity women reported was more closely related to their vaginal condition than to the degree of prenatal androgen.... Medical visits every three or four months are often considered necessary to monitor children's hormone levels as well as their response to treatment. As Karkazis documents, girls with CAH, as well as their parents, often experience the genital scrutiny as "intrusive and dehumanizing."
This feels like a nice solid piece of work — which (as you probably already realize) did not achieve New York Times Number One Best Sellerdom or win blurbs from our leading bullshit artists. Was Jordan-Young's analysis fatally flawed? Probably not; the most negative critique I've found goes "We wish she'd written about more flattering things and oh hey look over there at that other book, man, that's a bad book, in conclusion why do these women write such bad books?"
No, most likely the fate of Brain Storm was determined from its very conception, and by that I don't just mean the terrible title:
A long time ago I was asked to analyze a sex survey conducted by a popular magazine, and the editor was especially interested in comparing the interests and behavior of men and women.... When he finally said to me, "People don't buy this magazine to learn something, they like to confirm what they already know" — I knew it was time to withdraw from the project.
* * *
Reading in Time: Emily Dickinson in the Nineteenth Century
by Cristanne Miller
A densely researched, rationally argued, and slightly miscellaneous contextualizing of Dickinson's techniques, subject matters, and career path by a writer with clear mind-mouth-ears-&-throat, access to large libraries, plenty of patience, and a healthily congenial attitude towards those she disagrees with. If she somehow neglects to cite this seminal-in-my-dreams Valve effusion, well, I confess to having missed some of her prior art as well.
Cordellia Fine's 'Delusions of Gender' came out at almost the exact same time and got a lot of buzz/praise, and is a very good book.
Yeah, but it looked (and looks) a bit poppy for my taste — more what I like to write than what I like to read. Pretty much on that basis it's the whipping-book of the "negative critique" I linked to; their complaint about Jordan-Young, on the other hand, is that she didn't shift her focus from claims about human sexual orientation and stereotyped social behavior to less embarrassing and more useful research — that she wanted to write this volume rather than some other.
|. . . 2013-03-18|
Mrs. Paradise,1 leaning over the Kirwans 2 & Charlotte, who hardly got a seat all Night for the crowd, said she begged to speak to me. I squeezed my great Person out, & she then said ‘Miss Burney, Lady Say & Seal3 desires the Honour of being introduced to you.’
Her Ladyship stood by her side. She seems pretty near 50, at least turned 40,— her Head was full of Feathers, Flowers, Jewels, & gew gaws, & as high as Lady Archers,4 her Dress was trimmed with Beads, silver, persian, sashes, & all sort of fine fancies; her Face is thin & fiery, & her whole manner spoke a lady all alive.
‘Miss Burney, cried she, with great quickness & a look all curiosity, I am very happy to see you,— I have longed to see you a great while,— I have read your Performance, & I am quite delighted with it! I think it’s the most elegant Novel I ever read in my life. Such a style!— I am quite surprised at it: I can’t think where you got so much invention.’
You may believe this was a reception not to make me very loquacious!— good Heaven! I did not know which way to turn my Head.
‘I must introduce you, continued her Ladyship, to my sister,— she’ll be quite delighted to see you,— she has written a Novel herself!— so you are sister Authoresses! A most elegant thing it is, I assure you,— almost as pretty as yours,— only not quite so elegant. She has written two Novels,— only one is not so pretty as the other. But I shall insist upon your seeing them. One is in Letters, like yours, only yours is prettiest. It’s called the Mausoleum of Julia!’5
What unfeeling things, thought I, are my sisters! I’m sure I never heard them go about thus praising me!
Mrs. Paradise then again came forward, & taking my Hand, led me up to her Ladyship’s sister, Lady Hawke, saying aloud, & with a courteous smirk ‘Miss Burney, Ma’am, Authoress of Evelina.’
‘Yes, cried my friend Lady Say & Seal, who followed me close, it’s the Authoress of Evelina! So you are sister Authoresses!’
Lady Hawke arose & Curtsied. She is much younger than her sister, & rather pretty; extremely languishing, delicate, & pathetic; apparently accustomed to be reckoned the Genius of her Family, & well contented to be looked upon as a Creature dropt from the Clouds!
I was then seated between their Ladyships, & Lady S. & S., drawing as near to me as possible, said,— ‘Well,— & so you wrote this pretty Book!— & pray did your Papa know of it?’
‘No, Ma’am, not till some months after the Publication.’
‘So I’ve heard!— it’s surprising!— I can’t think how you invented it! there’s a vast deal of invention in it! And you’ve got so much humour, too!— now my sister has no humour,— her’s is all sentiment,— you can’t think how I was entertained with that old Grandmother & her son!— ’
I suppose she meant Tom Branghton for the son.
‘Lord, how much pleasure you must have had in writing it!— had not you?’
‘Y — e — s, Ma’am.’
‘So has my sister,— she’s never without a Pen in her Hand,— she can’t help writing for her Life,— when Lord Hawke is Travelling about with her, she keeps writing all the way!’
‘Yes, said Lady Hawke, I really can’t help writing. One has great pleasure in writing the things,— has not one, Miss Burney?’
‘Y — e — s, Ma’am.’
‘But your Novel, cried Lady Say & Seal, is in such a style!— so elegant!— I am vastly glad you made it end happily. I hate a Novel that don’t end happy.’
‘Yes, said Lady Hawke, with a languid smile, I was vastly glad when she married Lord Orville! I was sadly afraid it would not have been.’
‘My sister intends, said Lady Say & Seal, to print her Mauseoleum, just for her own friends & acquaintances.’
‘Yes, said Lady Hawke, I have never printed yet.’
‘I saw Lady Hawke’s name, quoth I to my first friend, ascribed to the play of “Variety”.’6
‘Did you indeed! cried Lady Say, in an extacy,— sister!— do you know Miss Burney saw your name in the news papers about the Play!— ’
‘Did she? said Lady Hawke, smiling complacently, But I really did not write it: I never writ a Play in my life.’
‘Well, cried Lady Say, but do pray repeat that sweet part that I am so fond of,— you know what I mean,— Miss Burney must hear it,— out of your Novel, you know!’
Ly H. ‘No, I can’t,— I have forgot it.’
Ly S. ‘O no,— I am sure you have not,— I insist upon it.’
Ly H. ‘But I know you can repeat it yourself,— you have so fine a memory,— I am sure you can repeat it.’
Ly S. ‘O but I should not do it Justice!— that’s all, I should not do it Justice!’
Lady Hawke then bent forward, & repeated ‘If when he made the declaration of his Love, the sensibility that beamed in his Eyes was felt in his Heart, what pleasing sensations, & soft alarms might not that tender avowal awaken!’
‘And from what, Ma’am, cried I, astonished, & imagining I had mistaken them, is this taken?’
‘From my sister’s Novel! answered the delighted Lady Say & Seal, expecting my raptures to be equal, it’s in the Mausoleum!— did not you know that!— Well, I can’t think how you can write these sweet Novels!— And it’s all just like that part!— Lord Hawke himself says it’s all Poetry!— For my part, I’m sure I never could write so. I suppose, Miss Burney, you are producing another? A’n’t you?’
‘O, I dare say you are! I dare say you are writing one at this very minute!’7
Mrs. Paradise now came up to me again, followed by a square man, middle aged, & hum drum, who, I found, was Lord Say & Seal,8 afterwards from the Kirwans, for though they introduced him to me, I was so confounded by their vehemence & their manners, that I did not hear his Name.
‘Miss Burney, said Mrs. P. — , Authoress of Evelina!’
‘Yes, cried Lady Say & Seal, starting up, ’tis the Authoress of Evelina!’
‘Of what?’ cried he.
‘Of Evelina!— You’d never think it!— she looks so young!— to have so much invention, & such an I elegant style! — Well, I could write a Play, I think, but I’m sure I could never write a Novel.’
‘O yes, You could if you would try; said Lady Hawke, ‘I assure you.’ ‘O no, I could not! answered she, I could not get a style! — that’s the thing, I could not tell how to get a style! — & a Novel’s nothing without a style, you know!’
‘Why no, said Lady Hawke, that’s true But then you write such charming Letters, you know!’
‘Letters? repeated Lady S. & S. simpering,— do you think so? — do you know I wrote a long Letter to Mrs. Ray just before I came here!— this very afternoon!— quite a long Letter!— I did, I assure you!’
Here Mrs. Paradise came forward with another Gentleman, younger, slimmer, & smarter, & saying to me ‘Sir Gregory Page Turner,’9 said to him, ‘Miss Burney,— Authoress of Evelina.’ At which Lady Say & Seal, in fresh transport, again arose, & rapturously again repeated ‘Yes,— she’s Authoress of Evelina! Have you read it?’
‘No,— is it to be had?’
‘O dear yes!— it‘s been printed these 2 years!— You’d never think it!— But it’s the most elegant Novel I ever read in my life! writ in such a style!’
‘Certainly, said he, very civilly, I have every inducement to get it. Pray where is it to be had? every where, I suppose?’
‘O no where, I hope!’ cried I, wishing at that moment it had been never in human ken.
My square friend, Lord Say & Seal, then putting his Head forward, said very solemnly, ‘I’ll purchase it.’
Lady Say & Seal then mentioned to me an hundred Novels that I had never heard of, asking my opinion of them, & whether I knew the Authors: Lady Hawke only occasionally & languidly joining in the discourse. And then, Lady S. & S., suddenly arising, begged me not to move, for she should be back again in a minute, & flew to the next Room.
I took, however, the first opportunity of Lady Hawke’s casting down her Eyes, & reclining her delicate Head, to make away from this terrible set,— & just as I was got by the Piano Forte, where I hoped Pacchierotti would soon present himself, Mrs. Paradise again came to me, & said, ‘Miss Burney, Lady Say & Seal wishes vastly to cultivate your acquaintance, & begs to know if she may have the Honour of your Company to an Assembly at her House next Friday? And I will do myself the pleasure to call for you, if you will give me leave.’
‘Her Ladyship does me much honour, but I am unfortunately engaged.’ was my answer, with as much promptness, as if it had been true!10— FB.
- Frances Burney to her sister, Susanna Burney Phillips,
February or March, 1782,
from The Early Journals and Letters of Fanny Burney: Vol. 5 1782-1783,
ed. Lars E. Troide & Stewart J. Cooke
|. . . 2015-06-16|
SUPERSTITION. 1. ... religion without morality. ... 4. Over-nicety; exactness too scrupulous.- A Dictionary of the English Language by Samuel Johnson
A view held in late antiquity is that the use of the words superstitiō ‘superstition’ and superstitiōsus ‘superstitious’ with reference to religion derives from the idea that such practices were superfluous or redundant.- Oxford English Dictionary
January 31, 1930: At last J.J. has recommenced work on Work in Progress. The de luxe edition by ? soon to come out — about the old lady A.L.P. I think. Another about the city (H.C.E. building Dublin). Five volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica on his sofa. He has made a list of 30 towns, New York, Vienna, Budapest, and Mrs. Fleischman has read out the articles on some of these. I ‘finish’ Vienna and read Christiania and Bucharest. Whenever I come to a name (of a street, suburb, park, etc.) I pause. Joyce thinks. If he can Anglicize the word, i.e. make a pun on it, Mrs. F. records the name or its deformation in the notebook. Thus ‘Slotspark’ (I think) at Christiana becomes Sluts’ park. He collects all queer names in this way and will soon have a notebook full of them. The system seems bad for (1) there is little hope of the reader knowing all these names — most seem new even to Joyce himself, and certainly are to me. And supposing the reader, knowing the fragment dealt with towns, took the trouble to look up the Encyclopedia, would he hit on the Joyce has selected? (2) The insertion of these puns is bound to lead the reader away from the basic text, to create divagations and the work is hard enough anyhow! The good method would be to write out a page of plain English and then rejuvenate dull words by injection of new (and appropriate) meanings. What he is doing is too easy to do and too hard to understand.
April 28, 1930: His method is more mechanical than ever. For the ‘town references,’ he scoured all the capital towns in the Encyclopedia and recorded in his black notebook all the ‘punnable’ names of streets, buildings, city-founders. Copenhagen, Budapest, Oslo, Rio I read to him. Unfortunately he made the entries in his black notebook himself and when he wanted to use them, the reader found them illegible.- Reflections on James Joyce: Stuart Gilbert’s Paris Journal,
ed. Thomas F. Staley & Randolph Lewis
Joyce lost his faith but kept his superstition. And proselytized. By constructing reality effects which transform from red herring to vital clew on research and re-reading, Joyce fed the generic allures of puzzle-mystery and conspiracy theory into formalist realism, and thereby trained a generation of Joyceans into an everything-connects superstition of their own.
But while in the midst of serializing those carefully cross-wired diagrams of sub-sub-trivia across Ulysses, he began to immerse them in pointedly redundant anti-reality effects. "Cyclops" may be scrupulous about something, but whatever it is ain't "meanness." And after his increasingly bouncing babes were carted to the printshop and carted back again, he would improvise riffs across the proofsheets, snatching any chance to strengthen the scribbly cross-hatched fabric of the book or merely to, like the god of creation, wake up bleary-eyed and say Fuck me what was I doing last night?
On reading a letter from his daughter Milly, who had just turned 15 on 15 June, Bloom says ‘Fifteen yesterday. Curious, fifteenth of the month too.’ More to the point, Joyce’s revision in proof gives the letter 15 sentences. But every editorial attempt to ‘correct’ Milly’s adolescent syntax and punctuation, by reverting to earlier versions, has of course changed the count and obscured the point. So too, the passage in which Bloom reflects on the rate at which an object falls to earth (‘thirty-two feet per second’) is heavily revised in print to make it the 32nd sentence in the paragraph, where reversion to earlier readings, as in the 1984 edition, obscures that convergence of sign and sense. On page 88, Joyce added in proof a sentence of eight words to expand a newspaper death notice. It reads: ‘Aged 88, after a long and tedious illness.’ To page 77 he added in proof the phrase ‘seventh heaven’; and on page 360, Bloom meditates on cycles.- Bibliography & the Sociology of Texts by D. F. McKenzie
What this showed McKenzie and John Kidd was that James Joyce thought his books too brittle to survive a page break. What it shows me is an unquenchable thirst for suspicious coincidence. Such details might have struck some unknown peculiar reader of the first edition, as they happened to strike the first edition's known peculiar writer; peculiar readers of later editions will presumably be struck by plenty of details of their own. Throw enough and someone will be struck. And who knows but that many of the belated recognitions of 1950s and 1960s Joyceans were just as casually opportunistic? If Joyce considered each precious intersection vital, wouldn't he have included them in his first drafts and poured them into the ears of his authorized explicators?
The contingent and ephemeral hold all we can reach of the necessary and eternal; we mold meaning from the pleasantly stinking loam of chance — such Good News can't be carried in rice-paperish porcelain; its vehicle should be built to survive chipping; should, ideally, become self-healing....
Or so I gather from the cheerfully incorporated bloopers and wide-world-of-kitchen-sinks ("Frightful stench, isn't it? Just too awful for words") method of Finnegans Wake, and from Joyce's remarks when questioned by a friendlier sort than Gilbert: his hope that a random reader in some far-off location would trip across a regional reference (my own muddy MO! my own K.C. jowls, they sure are wise!) and feel peculiarly addressed. In this work, at least, the readerly goal writerly assumed doesn't seem to have been full mastery — mulching libraries and and acquaintances so rapidly, odds are slim that Joyce himself would recall much source material after a month — but frequent recognition.
(Why a lad or lassie from Baton Rouge or Bucharest should bother to position themselves so as to encounter these happy accidents would be an unfriendly question to ask any author, I think, and at any rate went unanswered.)
Absolute control remaining unreachable, the artist might endeavor to maximize happy accidents. During my first reading of Finnegans Wake in 1980, I found a history of the Beatles, and, if we choose to take auctorial intention into account, this would be as the author intended. Most attempts to adapt Joyce's works to other media have been miserable things. The relative success of John Cage's slick and cheesy Roaratorio depends on chance, but isn't happenstance.
Flaubert's invention of detached formalist realism had the (possibly unanticipated) effect of rallying readerly sentiments against the all-powerful know-it-all artificer and toward his deluded, destructive protagonists. Eventually, in Trois Contes, he worked out of this particular bind by letting his protagonist retain her delusions (with Joyce following suit in "Clay"). But his less detached-realistic works avoided the question altogether. We can easily picture the endearingly idiotic tenacity of Bouvard and Pécuchet as a one-joke comic strip like "Little Sammy Sneeze" or "The Family Upstairs" or "That's My Pop!" Lines on paper don't sense pain as we know it.
Joyce found a way to join forces with himself. Even on my first, unaided reading, I felt rightness in the increasingly grotesque gigantism of Ulysses, and when I return to the book, that (possibly unanticipated) affective response is what I want to relive: an alliance with breathing ugly-as-life almost-humans repeatedly smacked down under floods of mocking inflation and bouncing up again ignorant as corks and damaged as new. Yes, the two male leads are having one of the worst days of their lives, presumably at the behest of some author. But because The Author in Our Face has directed our attention to his louder, noisier, and impotent assaults, the result is less like a vivisection than like a mixed-animation heroic epic of "Duck Amuck" starring Laurel and Hardy.
I've never managed a similarly direct response to Finnegans Wake, although I keep hoping. It looks like giants all the way down. Faced with a foundational secular religious document, I want Krazy Kat and I get Jack Kirby's New Gods.
James Joyce and Louis Zukofsky share an odd career pattern: a hermetic retreat into and outrageous expansion of the nuclear family, attempting to fit all space-time into an already crowded apartment.
The "cocooning" idiom bugged me from the start. A cocoon isn't a cozy retreat or celebration of stasis. By definition, cocooning occurs with intent to split. Maybe it's appropriate for them, though?
Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
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All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.