. . . New Zealand

. . .

Guillaume Apollinaire and Ron Padgett seek venture capital to implement the Moon King's recently patented proposal for iMics, a sort of Webcam for streaming audio:

The flawless microphones of the king's device were set so as to bring in to this underground the most distant sounds of terrestial life. Each link activated a microphone set for such-and-such a distance. Now we were hearing a Japanese countryside....

Then we were taken straight into morning, the king greeting the socialist labor of New Zealand, and I heard geysers spewing hot water.

Then this wonderful morning continued in sweet Tahiti, at the market in Papeete, with the lascivious wahinees of New Cytheria wandering through it -- you could hear their lovely guttural language, very much like ancient Greek....

Terrible noises of the street, streetcars, factories -- we seem to be in Chicago and it is noon....

The angelus rings at the Munster in Bonn and a boat with a double chorus singing passes along the Rhine on its way to Coblenz....

. . .

Frances Farmer Action Figure

"The gentleman reader cannot fairly be expected to work up a professional interest in a woman who picked up threads and ate them." -- newspaper review of The Shutter of Snow by Emily Holmes Coleman
Well, that's obviously changed. The Shutter of Snow must be the twentieth-or-so "woman goes crazy but eventually gets out of the institution" novel I've read. Which is the kind of number I'd a priori only expect from plotlines like "boy gets girl" or "detective solves mystery."

Let's take it for granted that insanity is interesting. Why the gender gap, then? Why the Padded Ceiling?

One obvious reason is that well-educated women are (still) more likely to be institutionalized than well-educated men. As the old formula goes, women are institutionalized, poor men are jailed, and the rest of us pretty much do what we want.

Another (not necessarily unrelated) reason is that story-consumers and story-makers prefer that protagonists who show weakness be female. And going crazy and recovering are both pretty obvious signs of weakness. When I was trying to write fiction about loonies I've known, most of whom have been male, I felt immense internal pressure to turn them into female characters instead. (Like, try imagining Repulsion with a male protagonist. No, I mean it: try. It's good for you.) The standard storylines tell us that women go into institutions because they go crazy and men go into institutions because they're rebels. Women get better and men keep insisting they were right. (Sylvia Plath vs. Ezra Pound; The Shutter of Snow vs. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest....) Men-going-under stories tend to be about addiction rather than madness: appetite, not fragility.

But there's another reason for the twentieth century having produced so many of these stories: the number of untold and unrecoverable stories left over from the nineteenth.

"My mom says that when she was growing up in New Zealand in the Fifties, there were three career options for women: emigrate, become an airline stewardess, or go crazy." -- Juliet Clark
Take out emigration and airlines, and you're left with the options for the nineteenth-century Anglo-American upper class. In feminist-backlash post-abolitionist late-1800s America, good girls had achieved Stendhal's proto-feminist dream: women were being educated but only so that they might be fitter companions to educated men. In the post-feminist era, it wouldn't be tasteful to try to be anything else. A nice New England woman in politics? Laughable. In literature? In art? Etc.
"Any woman learning Greek must buy fashionable dresses." -- Henry Adams regarding his wife, Clover Hooper Adams
The Civil War, with its bandage-making and fund-raising, was the high water mark of usefulness for the Adams/James generation of American women. Afterwards, if you were lucky, you could have children till you died in childbirth. If you weren't lucky, you either (like Alice James) shrunk into a mockingly dense point of invalidism or you found yourself over an abyss.
"We are working very hard, but it is all for ourselves." -- Clover Hooper Adams
An abyss-swimming man might clutch for a job; a woman could only be headed for the bin. And in the nineteenth century they tended not to come back out.
"I shall proclaim that any one who spends her life as an appendage to five cushions and three shawls is justified in committing the sloppiest kind of suicide at a moment's notice." -- Alice James
As a girl, Clover Hooper swapped dark comparisons of the hospitals that swallowed up her female relatives and friends:
"I wish it might have been Worcester instead of Somerville which is such a smelly hideous place."
As an adult, after almost a year of depression, she poisoned herself with her own photo-developing chemicals rather than face institutionalization.
"Ellen I'm not real -- Oh make me real -- you are all of you real!" -- Clover Hooper Adams to her sister, a few months before her death
A hundred years' worth of vanished victims seems to call for at least fifty years' worth of survivor testimony: It is possible to come out of the bin; it is possible to describe it....

Of course, the downside of so much survivor testimony is that the survivors are likely to get fetishized. And then a demand naturally develops, and the supply of survivors has to be periodically replenished....

Step Inside

. . .

The Nature of Economies by Jane Jacobs, cont.

Jacobs first sketches the free-trade economist's notion of the export multiplier: the vitality of an economy can be estimated by weighing its exports (including such "exports" as tourism) against its imports, since the money brought in by excess exports and the added work that goes into supporting a population of excess exporters will be more than enough to keep the locals busy fat and sassy bees.

In the real world this formula has played out variably well, often distinctly unwell. Which, as Jacobs points out, makes it less of a formula than a hypothesis in need of amendment, and she reasonably suggests that we also take into account what's happening within the economy.

A community enjoyed by non-economists will likely include a secure diversity of local businesses and a reasonable distribution of local resources. In Jacobs's formulation, this localized recombinatrics is "import stretching" (where "imports" include geographical advantages and human skills), and it's not strictly correlated with increased summed export. She compares a prosperous economy to the biomass and diversity of a lush ecosystem. If you treat a rain forest as a black box, you may not find a startling amount of import or export going on, but it still thrives, and what it's largely thriving on is itself. The energy (water, sunlight, minerals) that enters the system is swapped around in a multitude of ways over a multitude of lives before leaving the system.

Expansion depends on capturing and using transient energy. The more different means a system possesses for recapturing, using, and passing around energy before its discharge from the system, the larger are the cumulative consequences of the energy it receives.
This is a richly suggestive analogy which matches common perception as well as the Greenwich Village utopia of Jacobs's earlier books. Factory farms, company towns, and single-industry cities may show fine import-export ratios, but there are no theres there because the black boxes are too efficient. Although economists may insist that you can never be too rich or too thin, a cholera victim isn't a picture of health; yeah, there's the awesome beauty of Death Valley and the Antarctic wastes, but if that's all there is everywhere it gets old in a hurry.

So far, so very good. "Economists would do better to abandon export-multiplier ratios and turn their attention to import-stretching ratios."

But at those naughty economists is where Jacobs stops, and it's not nearly far enough. Let's agree that the number of businesses matters more than the gross size of a few businesses, and the distribution of profits matters more than the gross sum of a few profits. Having so agreed, need we worry about any foes other than myopic economists and the committees misled by them?

I think we do, because it's not just academics who emphasize import / export ratios. Not everyone wants to live in a thriving rain-forest ecology (in my own bedroom, I maintain stringent restrictions on biodiversity), and not everyone wants to live in a thriving economy. Many a dictator and plutocrat prefers their current arrangement, and Google finds a high proportion of "multiplier effect" citations among the rosy forecasts of third-world governments.

Jacobs is right that efficiency isn't always what's needed for the health of the citizenry at large, and right that businesses don't always become more efficient with expansion. However, expansion always does concentrate more capital into a fewer number of hands. And so, efficient or not, healthy or not, supported by Harvard Business School grads or not, there will always be pressure for larger and more centralized businesses because people with power want more power and they're in a good position to get it. Free trade economics is less a science or a technology than an assuager of conscience; earlier analysts posited a similar magical correspondence between the health of the king and the health of the kingdom.

And when the chickens come home to roost, one can always slaughter the chickens and move elsewhere. Imperialism from ancient Egypt and Greece through Fascist populists and American corporations has been a matter of conquering other territory with the power seized from one's own: think globally, leech locally. The unseen hand that coordinates the health of an economy with the profitability of its wealthiest business owners -- like the unseen hand that protects the balance of nature -- can easily be held in check long enough for personal capital to be made and permanent waste to be laid. (I once asked Juliet Clark what happened to the self-sufficiency of rain-forested New Zealand, and she shrugged: "When every economy is forced to be a global economy....")

Is there any counterbalance? Well, if humans are part of biology, and money and trade are therefore part of biology, then government and politics must also be part of biology -- and laws (including protectionist laws) might be our only pseudo-biological defense against pseudo-biological catastrophe. Government isn't going away any more than trade is. When libertarians say that government needs to stay out of business, they simply turn government over to those with no such compunctions: monopolists and profiteers.

Very few of us complacent argumentative coffee-swillers can compare to Jane Jacobs: at least two North American cities might have fallen apart without her work. But when she tells their hard-fought and forever-tenuous victories as a story of the little people taking on big government rather than as a story of a government's policy being changed by its own citizens, she doesn't improve our chances to keep her winnings.

. . .

"I fall upon the books of life! I read!"

For the very most part, what Leggott finds in the genealogical record of Zukofsky's book is other books (including Zukofsky's own earlier work). There are some notes on the Zukofskys' retiree garden, whose progress guided the composition schedule, but (to judge from Leggott's presentation) as usual the material world impinged on Zukofsky mostly as calendar: dates of flowering join birthdays and Valentines as occasion for verse, while botanical expedition reports and seed catalogs join the shelves of poetry and philosophy.

As anyone who's ever written anything knows, the relation between preliminary notes and a finished work isn't simple derivation. If it was, there would be no point to the finished work, and we could stop reading any novel at its epigraph. (Not a bad idea in most cases.) The raw materials -- which is to say the words -- of Zukofsky's poems are drawn from other sources, as they are for most of us. The question is: what got made with them?

It's a question Leggott treats with understandable caution, given the extremity of her straddling. As a Ph.D. candidate, she shouldn't have to defend exemplary primary research; as someone who's publishing 400 pages about an inaccessible book by a not-yet-industrialized writer, she's got some 'splainin' to do. The lines between "ideal reader" and "genealogist" are blurred in self-defense.

She's careful in her talk about intentions; the intentionality she writes about is always tactical (and always tactful, given Paul Zukofsky's iron grip on the copyright), never going so far as to claim readerly recognition of Zukofsky's sources as Zukofsky's goal. When she says of Paradise:

"The garden must be like a real garden, with cycles of growth; blossoming and witherings."
the cycles are those of the writing, not those of the reading.

On the other hand, she knows hostile suspicions might be aroused when one seems to make interpretation and enjoyment of a supposedly functional work dependent on ancillary scribbledehobble, and so she defends the practice as a pragmatic smoothing of the way: Zukofsky was always ahead of his time, and this book, being newest, is ahead furthest. To help its time along, crafty Zukofsky deliberately dropped off its blueprint (in the form of notes, drafts, and galleys) at U. Texas. (Being from New Zealand, Leggott might not have realized how financially dependent American poets have become on archival donations to state universities.) And in using that material so extensively, Leggott is merely following Zukofsky's implied wishes. After all, it's always easier to inhabit a house once you've seen the blueprint. That way you can find the kitchen when you need it.

Leggott relates the material in Zukofsky's notesheets to Zukofsky's finished poetry using the Poundian-and-Objectivist dictate of "condensare" ("condensation" in Zukofsky; in Niedecker's exquisite American, "this condensery"). Now, besides being somewhat self-destructive (in both good and bad ways), "condensare" is ambiguous. In Pound's and Zukofsky's critical writings, "condensare" sounds something along the lines of Strunk & White or Readers Digest: don't waste words; don't dude it up; get to the point. Niedecker, for example, could often be said to follow the poetic practice Zukofsky recommended: notice something, reduce it to its essentials, and make it musical. (Not necessarily in that order, of course.)

In Pound's and (particularly) Zukofsky's poetic writings, what happens is less often condensation than fragmenting. The effect isn't of a cleanup or a liposuction or a diagram or a sketch or even an ideogram of "the original source"; the effect is of "the original source" being busted to bits and used to tile a more-or-less abstract mosaic.

Busting doesn't come much finer than in 80 Flowers. (Jackson Mac Low's mechanical word crushers don't count, since his original sources are explicitly cited as the subjects of the work.) No matter what the diligent scholar finds in the manuscripts, when a "quote" consists of a single word or two, or a punning transliteration of a single word or two, in what sense can 80 Flowers be said to reference Theophrastus, Juvenal, Horace, Chaucer, Gerard, Shakespeare, Thomas Campion, John Adams, Henri Fabre, Thomas Hardy, Albert Einstein, or private correspondence from Guy Davenport?

. . .

Disquiet American

I vacationed in New Zealand to be bludgeoned pleasantly insensible by landscape, birdsong, plantlife, wine, seafood, dairyfood, red meat, civil union acts, and Penguins both yellowed and yellow-eyed.

Two-thirds through, I went to a bar that'd pinned up the Daily Mirror front page, and for the last week, whenever I wasn't forcing my mind elsewhere, it chanted a single refrain:

"My poor country. My poor country."

Next: Back to the sucking-stones!


Oh! Give us the sucking stones! Do! -pf

. . .

A for Anything; or, Future Shuck

- in memory of Damon Knight, most prescient of Futurians

Yuval Noah Harari's speculations might be forgiven if they'd been extracted from a circa-1952 time capsule in some Detroit ruin. Within the postwar consensus of the 1950s and 1960s it was demonstrably possible for those less thoughtful than Knight, Pohl, and Kornbluth to believe increased productivity would result in less work for higher wages. But in the future we have, gains bubble directly up-uppity-up to the thinnest layer of surface scum, less-than-full-time jobs exist sheerly to let employers shirk minimum wage and health benefits, and those who've won such mini-jobs escape ennui by commuting from one paltry income to another, waiting for cheap dentists, hiding from murderous spouses, and suchlike.

Even Harari's cheerfully shabby Talmudic scholars, with their enviable nonemployed rate of 64%, are supported not only by an increasingly annoyed government but by the 71% of their wives who earn while hubbie studiously ignores the household chores and eight kids in other words, the familiar male bohemian lifestyle. Nice work if you can avoid it. (On the other hand I haven't found happiness scores for Palestine's unemployed 27% or the West Bank's unemployed 42%.)

In short but too long, "the meaning of life in a world" (which could be) "without work" is to crush as many other people as possible into a world of maximized work for minimized reward.

As for the greeny foamy microorganisms Harari seems to be addressing, they're rarely bored by the puzzle of how to gobble ever larger shares for ever extended lifetimes; the few left cold by pure greed can, I think, do without our concern given how many resources are already dedicated to keeping them entertained and enlightened.


Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.