. . . Mission Statement

. . .

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!

Hoozoo, by Cholly Kokonino

Let's start down to earth (or even lower) with Paul Perry's reasonable query, "Where is the Hotsy-Totsy Club?"
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.

The simultaneously snooty and slangy name is modeled after "Cholly Knickerbocker," a society columnist (or, more precisely, a series of society columnists) in one of the New York papers.

Applicability to the Hotsy Totsy Club is left as an exercise for the reader.

. . .

Special Anniversary Narcissism Week! (cont.): Secret Origins of the Hotsy Totsy Club

In an email interview for The Industry Standard (which I never saw, since it wasn't put on their website), Mark Frauenfelder asked, "Why do you keep a weblog?"
Like most of the writers I know, I want to be rewarded for being self-indulgent. This is the latest attempt.

The structural assumptions built into formal essays and short stories don't match what gives me the most pleasure in writing. House styles drive me nuts, and even when reviewers achieve a measure of stylistic and structural freedom, they're restricted topically. I offered to write a column called "You Kids Get Out of My Yard!" for GettingIt, but that, uh, didn't pan out. (More precisely, the editor laughed at me but still stood a drink.)

Finally, a couple of friends (Juliet Clark and Christina La Sala) suggested that I just start my own online magazine. I knew pretty much right away that it would take the weblog form, though I hadn't yet heard the term: I wanted frequent additions of mostly short pieces; I'd be providing most of the material, but I'd want other voices; there would be lots of linking, since a fair amount of what interests me is on the web and since I always begin research on the web.

Email to Fred Pyen:
All of which semi-coordinates with a decade's worth of wondering what this thing I'm doing is all about and wanting an excuse to drag more of those thoughts into print ("and out of my mind," as Daniel Johnston says). The Hotsy Totsy Club being just another attempt at doing "this thing I'm doing" more directly, after having published criticism and feeling sickish and having published fiction and feeling sickish.

Your "Is this the way I used to fall off this log?" is a pretty beautiful summing up of my "official publication" history.... But, yeah, inasmuch as I can come up with a no pressure form right now, the weblog is it. No economic pressures, therefore no care about numbers, therefore we can push offputting when we feel like putting off and push offshowing when we feel more like showing off and mostly we can just point offstage and say "No, over there!"

From the Generosity discussion group:
I specifically started the Hotsy Totsy Club (complete with dopey name) to escape questions of "responsibility to an audience," "working with the editor," "academic protocol," and so on, having previously run myself several fathoms into the ground on them. Not that I dislike audiences or editors or academics, some of my best friends etc., but for whatever reasons of personal neurosis such considerations were starting to keep my inchoate yearnings permanently inchoate. I like self-indulgence (when it's truly self-indulgence rather than a sleazy attempt at group flattery) and ephemera and overweening pretentiousness, but can't seem to handle long forms at present. In short, I'm trying for a self-indulgent ephemeral overweening pretentious bite-sized unprofessional mess, and, thanks to the web publishing model of low cost and wide distribution, I think I can get away with it for a while longer.

Kinda perverse, kinda oblique, but it's the one thing right now that I like doing-as-consumer that I can also do-as-producer....

. . .

Special Anniversary Narcissism Week! (resumed): Audience

From the email interview with Mark Frauenfelder: How popular is your weblog?

Beats me. I've tried to not pay much attention since the hit counts passed those of my two ancient Yahoo!-linked pages.

Unless you're advertising, popularity doesn't matter on the web. That's the whole point of the web as a medium: wide distribution is cheap, and therefore not dependent on things like popularity. I know the readers who'd enjoy my crypto-cornpone style are a small minority. I just want as many of that minority as possible to get a chance to enjoy it.

I used to tell my web design students that they should count success by the amount of nice email they got. I've gotten some nice email for the Hotsy Totsy Club.

To Paul Perry:
Perhaps I'm overoptimistic, but I think the distinction between community and incest is easily maintained with a little conscious exogamy. As Aquinas says, incest is sinful because its cramming together of multiple social relations "would hinder a man from having many friends." To share an interest in a form is one thing, and a nice thing. To share all the applications of that form would be incestuous if consensual; simple plagiarism if not. Which doesn't appear to be a problem in the ontogroup you've posited -- I doubt that you and I have ever had a link or a line in common, for example -- probably due to the very things that interest us in the form....
Answering David Auerbach: My question to you, about writing on the web: how do you react to the choice/imposition of a very imminent and particular real audience that trumps any thought of an ideal audience?
I recognize the words you're using, but I would've used them to describe my issues with print publication. The painfully particularized audience who happens to be subscribing to a particular magazine during my particular appearance or to have bought a particular anthology containing my particular story is (precisely because it's the target audience of the publications) more than likely to be bored or annoyed by my work.

Web publishing, on the other hand, is only "ideal audience." There are no promises, no presuppositions in those fluffy network-diagram clouds; anyone might bump into anything. No "ideal audience" right away? Well, put the pages into the search engines and wait. No "ideal audience" ever? Well, at least it was cheap. On the web, the non-ideal audience will simply not bother reading what I've written; that is, it doesn't exist as an audience.

The biggest problem I have with web publishing has to do with that very fluffiness -- the lack of antagonism and risk means fewer itchy stimuli to respond to, less friction to push off against, less lying but more solipsism -- which is where I'm hoping that crosslinking, email, and public discussion can help....

Although it seems to make sense that conventional publishing should lead to more topical and less personal discourse, that hasn't been my experience. In the shorter forms of paper-publishing, anyway, public commentary tends to be driven by professional feuds and personal friendships, and private commentary restricts itself to messages like "Would you write something similar for my publication?"

Books are available to a more diverse readership and thus receive more diverse reactions, but book publishing is much more big-businessy than magazine publishing, and its barriers seem well-nigh insurmountable to the easily discouraged or stubbornly erratic.

I've gotten many more direct and diverse and therefore useful responses from web publication, partly because search engines don't worry about enforcing an editorial tone, thus allowing for more startle effect, and partly because email makes it easy to send responses.

As for the cult of personality, I'd be happy to admit that I think it's impossible to separate "voice" from "content" -- at least for the kind of content and the kind of voice I have. What journalism and academia might describe as the "privileging of content" or as "self-discipline," I hear as "mendacious (if useful) voice of authority," and it makes me sick with hypocrisy when I mimic it. Scholarly and commercial venues would be accessible if I could stick to the point, and hip venues if I could stick to aggressive role-playing; but when de-emphasizing the performative and the off-putting is required for writing, then I simply don't write. And since I still seem to want to write, I make the working assumption that it's not required.

. . .

Special Anniversary Narcissism Week! (cont.): Technique

. . .

Collage by Christina La Sala
Special Anniversary Narcissism Week! (concluded): Rooms for Improvement

Over the past year, I finished a long essay, collaborated on a short film, wrote some letters, and made a living. But mostly it's been Hotsy Totsy.

Over the next couple, it won't be too big a surprise if I finish some other essays I've been promising for years (on Patricia Highsmith, on Jean Eustache...) or months (on Barbara Comyns, on Karen Joy Fowler...), or even something unexpected. And I better make a living. But mostly I expect it to be Hotsy Totsy.

Well, if this is gonna be my standard watering hole, I got some suggestions to make to the proprietor, if he can rouse himself up from behind that 1.5L jug of Wild Turkey for a moment....

. . .

Last week I was trying again to explain why the "information overload" and "drowning in noise" clichés don't apply to the weblog world. I wish I'd just waited till today when I could link to David Chess's compare and contrast with Usenet.

. . .

A little twernt tells us that our "online brand" is being devalued. Like most things once you hit forty, this is disappointing but not surprising: as tribes of hipsters migrate to the East Bay, appropriators were bound to gather around the most beautiful sign of The Most Beautiful Avenue in the World like flies on shit or UC Davis MFA poets on Hispanic graffiti. But what's a proprietor to do?

Destruction of the Sign   Option 1: Keep the brand name but diversify it. After all, there are many other Hotsy Totsy Clubs. Perhaps we could apply for an Absolut arts grant to go to each one in person and write up little reports full of our own special whimsy?

Option 2, suggested by founding member Juliet Clark: Rotate our "look and feel" to pay tribute to the many other fine watering holes of San Pablo Avenue: Wanda's Cocktails, Club Mallard, The Missouri Lounge....

Option 3: Attempt to maintain some explanation for the "ht" initials in our permanent URL; e.g., by calling ourselves Hound's-Tooth or Hoity Toity or Happy Trails or Hangtown or Hard Tack or....

Option 4: Leverage our well-secured "Kokonino" "online brand" with a title such as Hoozoo by Cholly Kokonino or The Enchanted Mesa or Going Maybe to Kaibito or Kolin Kelly's Brick Yard or even a simple dignified "Jail".

Option 5: Give the "personal touch" with a phrase that strikes deep into our singular soul. Possibilities include Ad Nauseam Per Aspera, Bellona Times, Now God Stand Up for Bastards, Fleet's In, Hick Jacket, The Ineffabilly Cat, Bunny Days, A Fustian Bargain, Topical Depression, The Grand Old Mopery, Rut, The Rest of Everything, Cerebral Pals, Essential Tremor, Twitchy & Screechy, Carp Per Diem, Boos Hound, The Disabled Debauchee, Alcoholic Children of Adults, Hoedowner, Now It Can Be Old!, Fromage to Eternity, The Interpretation of Dweebs, Meet George Jetsam, Eris Go Bragh, Chumps Elysées, and The Cruel Gay City of Love.

Gosh, I don't know. What do you think?

. . .

Progress Report

These are unsettled times, and there's nothing more unsettling than the question of Hotsy Totsy's new brand identity.

So far, our visitors' suggestions for a new logo include:
  • a guy fishing for compliments
  • Angry Housewife
  • dead horse propped up behind a checkerboard
  • something to do with el dorado?
Thank you!
And among the suggestions for a new title:
  • Iron Cuticle of Samizdat
  • Quack-a-Doodle Do
  • My Mother the Card
  • Hokey Pokey Club
Wow! Right on! Thank you again! Keep 'em coming!
El Dorado   Long-time Berkeleyist Juliet Clark issues these gentle errata:
Did you notice that the address for the "Towne Dandies" is in Saint Helena? That's not even in the East Bay! These guys are tourists. They have no right to be hanging out on our street.

Also by the way, I actually don't think Club Mallard is a good idea; tho it too has a lovely sign, it has been thoroughly colonized by the scooter set. I suggest the Mel-O-Dee Lounge instead.

. . .

Omission Statement

Intentionality is supposed to be a spur but a lot of the time it acts like a stall. Like, I decide what my next Hotsy Totsy entry is going to be. And then, every day, I decide that I don't quite feel like writing that particular entry, so I don't write anything. And then decide that I really can't email or phone people till it's done. And then that I really shouldn't have dessert till it's done. And so on to absolute zero.

What's even dumber than usual about this situation is that the Hotsy Totsy format was specifically designed to prevent it -- I was tired of consciously deciding on some fairly large project and then settling into a long glum staring contest with the decision, and wanted a project whose only spurs were of the moment. But goal-sitting is a habit that dies hard.

In fact, so many of us are so often found frozen in place with our hand on a doorknob that one might almost start to wonder if there's some higher purpose to it. Sort of like that theory that sleep evolved to keep us from walking off cliffs in the dark or getting eaten by nocturnal predators....

Actually, I think that's a silly theory.

. . .

The Neo-Reacto-Personism Amendments

  1. A good manifesto is like a good pratfall: no hospital; no parade; noise, just noise. (link via wood s lot)

  2. A manifesto, to be useful, must be unconvincing.

. . .

An Orator John Thelwall addressing the crowd in Copenhagen Fields, 1795 - from Caricature History of the Georges
It's all very well to compare a weblogger to Samuel Beckett or Emily Dickinson or William Blake, if by "well" we mean "ridiculous."

Closer analogies exist, however. I recommend John Thelwall to the attention of future analogy-drawers, and if the name of John Thelwall is unfamiliar, well, that's one of the reasons I think it's closer.

Thelwall was a self-educated Londoner who spent most of the 1790s working for free speech and universal suffrage (and therefore most of 1794 in prison). His unlucrative career of debating, lecturing, and publishing was launched by three volumes titled The Peripatetic; or, Sketches of the Heart, of Nature and Society; in a series of Politico-Sentimental Journals, in Verse and Prose, of the Eccentric Excursions of Sylvanus Theophrastus, Supposed to be Written by Himself, well described by the Analytical Review of May 1795:

"The author feels strongly on subjects of political oppression; and writes like an honest friend to his species... The author's design appears to have been to unite the different advantages of the novel, the sentimental journal, and the miscellaneous collection of essays and poetical effusions. The character of the language is rather of ease, than elegance.... We cannot however flatter Mr. T. so far, as to pronounce his style so peculiarly his own as to bear the distinguishing marks of original genius. It is too negligent, and, if we may conjecture, was too hastily written, to receive any characteristic impressions. It is, however, on the whole pleasing, and very naturally and forcibly expresses the writer's ideas and sentiments."
The book includes the thin and scattered pretense of a sentimental novel, but it's clear (and Thelwall freely admits in his Preface) that this "was not originally intended to form any part of the design, till it was suggested... that it might afford a prospect of more extensive circulation." (St. Martin's Press, please note that I could easily throw a couple of good incest-and-murder plots into any proposed reprint of the Hotsy Totsy Club archives.)

What the book more whole-heartedly provides is a meandering sequence of gassy mini-essays and dreadful poetry (which, according to this edition's editor, Judith Thompson, exerted great influence on Thelwall's magpie friend Wordsworth) encompassing speculative medicine, detailed sight-seeing reports, soul-searching over the extent to which a beggar deserves spare change, the causes of war and unemployment, the defects of an English education, historical anecdotes, who's better: Pope or Dryden?, the class hypocrisy of drug wars (the drug du jour being gin), self-congratulations on having gotten down from a scary high cliff, and so on, all fired up by truly blog-worthy righteousness.

A Minister in High Glee Prime Minister Pitt, who, during 1795's grain shortage, suggested that laborers who couldn't afford bread buy meat instead.
Here, for example, is how Thelwall sums up the Wat Tyler story, occasioned by a trip to Dartford, told through quotes from David Hume's "obsequious" history and interrupted by heatedly sarcastic asides:

I, for my part, am no friend to insurrections, to unrelenting vengeance, or even to sanguinary justice; but I appeal to the knowledge and common sense of mankind, whether the uniform conduct of all tyrants has not conspired to teach the world this lesson -- that when once you have got them in your power, you either must lop them off, or they will lop off you?

(And I, for my part, enjoy seeing George III called "a phlegmatic hog.") He closes with nine exclamation marks.

Always pompous, always well-meaning, occasionally insightful, and usually right -- yes, Thelwall seems a fine role model: followable, forgettable, forgivable.

     "... So, sullen fiend! to this dark cavern flies
   The man of crimes -- by hopeless pangs opprest.--
Fiend! thou art here.-- How ghastly glare thy eyes!
   While thy chill touch congeals my shuddering breast.
Come, endless Night! thy thickest mantle spread!
Ye kindred horrors! shriek around my head!"
The vehemence with which this was delivered in some degree alarmed my fellow traveller; but, for my own part, having fallen several times in conversation with persons occasionally visited by temporary fits of extravagance, I have learned to consider them as perfectly innocent, and to leave them to their own correction.

. . .

Induction of Intent

Phew. I'm glad that's over. Aren't you?

Serialization helps, but still the time it takes for me to finish any piece of writing increases exponenentially with the piece's projected length. That's why I had to give up fiction. All my ideas were for novels, and none would have been drafted before my great-great-grandniece's wedding.

During the month-long harrowing of Graceland, I solaced myself misty-eyed at One Pot Meal, Ftrain, and Fireland, which have all recently indulged in navel-gazing on the positive tip. A pleasant trick of nostalgia, since back in the olden "home page" times I didn't have much in common with Ftrain or Fireland.

My own models for the reversed-chronology many-entries-per-page form were Alamut (a professional artist's notebook) and Robot Wisdom (the "What's New" list of a reclusive crank). For those I quickly grew to think of as my compeers, the web was an adjunct to a more established career or, for the younger writers, a projected adjunct to a hoped-for career. Among them, my distinguishing trait (if any) was bovine rectus acceptance of the web as my primary medium and serial self-publishing as my primary work.

That wasn't the result of community values or allegiance to the cutting edge, but merely of crabbèd age. Insofar as I displayed confidence, it was the confidence that no other path was left to explore.

At thirty, I'd found it necessary to begin writing. By forty, I still found it necessary, but I had even less notion what to do about it. I'd made the mistake of believing that skill and intention were equivalent to capability: that a writer writes what they choose to write rather than what they're capable of writing. (This seems laughably naive to me now, but it's been a common enough naivete even among those I respect: think of Dashiell Hammett starting [and starting] his mainstream novel or Raymond Chandler finally getting the chance to work on that historical romance....)

In ten years of confusion, backtracking, and intermittant clarity, I'd gained ability and access, but my capability stayed stubbornly put. In 1999 as in 1989, the writing was motivated by dialogue, you-gotta-see-this enthusiasm, problem solving, and the mesmerizing glitter of verbal artifacts-cum-artifacts; it remained mulishly unspurred by ambition but turned into Red Hot Ryder's mighty Sliver whenever it whiffed a digression -- "Whoa, horsey! Aw, come on, horsey, won't you please whoa?" --; and it arrived as opaque fragment or self-undermining rant or pseudo-conversational speech.

Boy meets form. "For good or for bad," as one mildly disapproving friend said.

Three-and-a-half-years in, the compeers swarm and I grow ever more grateful to the form. Which is saying something, since it started pretty much saving my life from the get go.

Even the "vanity publishing" label comforts me, much as a fetishist might take comfort in wearing the fetished object, no matter how despised by the mob. Virtually all my writerly heroes enjoy only mild-to-imperceptable popularity. And so, if I had somehow managed to succeed in my ambitions for my own work, I was certain that I wouldn't have helped the financials of those nice editors in the slightest.

. . .

Right String Baby But the Wrong Yo-Yo

Once again, a large portion of the writers I follow are astir over their popularity relative to everyone else. I know we've been submerged in winner-take-all propaganda from birth, but I'm still always astonished by how eager we are to misapply competitive structures. Explanation trumps [link via OLDaily] truth every time.

Even Jonathan Delacour only almost gets it:

"My instinct is that the real innovations in blogging will be made by those of us in limbo: without the pressures of producing for mainstream tastes but with the ambition to do more than chat amongst a tiny number of friends."
Whenever I hear the word "innovation," I reach for my Catullus. But replace "innovations" with "worth," and that seems fine for how far it goes. It's still not going far enough because it's still accepting an implied hierarchy at odds with the matter at hand.

Despite some promising research, the technology of the web is hostile to mass popularity, as anyone who's been on the receiving end of a Slashdotting can testify. Only the Pyrite Rush years of web advertising made it seem otherwise, and those years are gone.

Delacour's "limbo" is in fact what the web was built for; the extremes of the hit-count scale are just gravy, not very well served. Commercial broadcasting and journalism are set up to handle high traffic and wide popularity. Email and bulletin boards are set up to handle friendly conversation. The niche markets and the midlists are what the web's low cost and wide distribution custom-tailor.

For the type of webloggers I read, the comparison that matters -- the comparison that decides the value of what they're doing -- isn't their hit count vs. the largest hit count on the web. What matters is their hit count vs. the number of readers they would have if they printed on paper (or not at all).

To take the biggest print-world celebrity on my regular rounds, Ron Silliman's Demo to Ink seems more worthwhile to me at Amazon sales rank 886,274 than Crash Profits at 3 or Atkins for Life at 7. His self-published and determinedly insular weblog may have reached more readers in four months than his manifesto-proffering The New Sentence (Amazon sales rank 452,995) has in fifteen years.

And Silliman is unusual in having so many books remain in print once printed. For those whose work appears mostly in journals, the summed hit count available through paper publication rarely matches a single week of a middling weblog.

. . .

Limbo has been confounded with the Elysian Fields

And not for the first time, god knows.

My friend the Angel climb'd up from his station into the mill: I remain'd alone; & then this appearance was no more, but I found myself sitting on a pleasant bank beside a river by moonlight, hearing a harper, who sung to the harp; & his theme was: "The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, & breeds reptiles of the mind."

But I arose, and sought for the mill, & there I found my Angel, who, surprised, asked me how I escaped?

I answer'd: "All that we saw was owing to your economy; for when you ran away, I found myself on a bank by moonlight hearing a harper. But now we have seen my eternal lot, shall I shew you yours?"

. . .

Audience Development Dept.

Reader msg was kind enough to send me a mission statement I can gladly put my mark to:

... here and now we get a breath of cheap beer and stale smoke after a forced march through the pristine landscape of some dotcom country club, singing those Wehrmacht jingles, those wanderjahr anthems yah?

what audience was it to begin with anyway? the present, the posterior? how about the ghosts that won't leave til they get their tales told? like kids with that glass of water one more story one more...

"ride hard, shoot straight, and speak the truth.
this is the noble law of youth.
old times are gone,
old days are done,
but the law runs true, oh little son."

a Winchester ad in the back of Field and Stream or one a them, from the 50's I think.


. . .

What is that usage known to all men?

My infatuation with this chart continues.

Partly it's the typical charm of Fowler's: a wealth of arbitrary and idiosyncratic declaration blandly presented as "usage." Such a lovely word, "usage": humble and extrovert and wise. How I used to love reading through that book! Science fiction poetry at its best.

Particularly, it's its use as (as Hector suggests) a guide. You pick your preferred (or required) sets of "MOTIVE" or "PROVINCE" or "METHOD," and then you trace a greasy line across the monitor to find your techniques. It's like consulting a dietician before going to the grocery store! Or a psychiatrist before having sex! So that way you know who you are and who you aren't and what you shouldn't waste time on and why you would just be wasting someone else's time if you tried to talk to them.

To get a full span, I had to add a couple of rows:



Confusion Coherency Parody Nobody


Confirmation Hopes and dreams Defeatism Depressives


Fellowship Criticism Obscure referentiality Clones


Disruption Communication Idiocy Clowns

Which provides a final benefit, that of determining my ideal audience and definitively answering that question asked so long ago by David Auerbach:

Given my chosen techniques, motives, provinces, and methods, my target audience is the intersection of depressives, clowns, an inner circle, my clones, my self, and nobody.

Time to start rounding up advertisers!

. . .

This Is Hard But This Is Easy
The Glorious Fourth

Apologies in advance. I sometimes geta meta about this time.

Although elaborated and confirmed by 1980s poststructuralism and 1990s cognitive science, my metaphysics struck around 1981 and stuck.

The difficulty has been deriving a practice. Or a praxis, for those of you who don't have to work for a living.

It might better be called an "ethics" or "aesthetics," but those words too easily slide into mere judging, even though making an ethical judgment is no more ethics than making an aesthetic judgment is art. Taste isn't a recipe, much less a cook or a cow. Life is not necessarily synonymous with habits of consumption.

Not that that's a bad slope to slip down. For nigh on a decade, I found grace as a middle-class consumer. The great American dream. And I do in fact believe in its greatness, or at least the possibility of its goodness. But down-down-downedy-down-down-*thump*! the bottom.

Then I struggled with print publication -- especially fiction, which I especially respected -- but I lack sufficient impulse. Too much ethic and aesthetic, not enough praxis.

So this is where I strive at present & for four years now & for the foreseeable future. And these are my Goals & Nongoals:

  1. Never supplant; always supplement.
  2. Explain; remain at odds. Don't argue.
  3. Ignore numbers. Respond to individuals.
  4. Trust the ephemeral, the trivial, the pompous, the pretentious, the clownish, the pedantic. Salvation behind and beneath the rock.
  5. Revise with abandon. Contradict myself. Apologize. Never delete. (My one deleted entry was one which became unexpectedly personal [as opposed to sincere] within an hour or two of its posting. Should it eventually become impersonal enough to regain sincerity, it'll be back.)
  6. Refuse compulsion. Refuse journalism.
  7. Truth to Turnips; Quack to Questions.
  8. When possible, cite and recite rather than write and rewrite.
  9. Erraticism equals discipline over the long haul.

. . .

The Secondary Source Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which brings an odder speculation upon me:

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . .

Up & Down with Dr Johnson

No man but a blockhead couldn't find an easier way to make money than writing.

* * *

Dr Robertson and I said, it was a pity Lord Hailes did not write greater things. JOHNSON. 'I remember I was once on a visit at the house of a lady for whom I had a high respect. There was a good deal of company in the room. When they were gone, I said to this lady, "What foolish talking have we had!" "Yes, (said she,) but while they talked, you said nothing." I was struck with the reproof. How much better is the man who does anything that is innocent, than he who does nothing. Besides, I love anecdotes. I fancy mankind may come, in time, to write all aphoristically, except in narrative; grow weary of preparation, and connection, and illustration, and all those arts by which a big book is made. If a man is to wait till he weaves anecdotes into a system, we may be long in getting them, and get but few, in comparison of what we might get.'
- The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D.


Correspondence with pf brought forth the reflection that Johnson to some extent fulfilled his own prophecy posthumously via Boswell's big book.

. . .

Now, gods, stand up for bastards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Doesn't this entry count?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . .

Questions of Turbulent Velvet

1) "It's all good and well to love your artifact, but why write to express your love for it?"

Because I am a river to my people. It's a small people cute as a handful of buttons but then it's a small river.

To put it another way: I don't write to the Heathers. I barely write to any public at all, as my poor editors used to bemoan. That's OK. Writing isn't oral tradition. It doesn't need a steady stream of oxygenated blood. Being stumbled over's the extent of my ambition.

To put it another way: Talking to myself is a poor substitute for conversation. Talking to the walls, or the page, or the screen is another poor substitute. But when those two substitutes get together (faint bass in the background)... they're about to discover (music begins to swell)... that they just might have to say (vocals kick in): "The Love I Saw in You Was Just a Mirage." No, wait, "I Like It Like That."

To put it another way: I wouldn't deny the thrill of spitting confrontation, or the increased attention with which it inevitably rewards me. Similarly, we get more attention when we break our child's arm than when we tuck our child into bed. Only a sociopath would take comparative levels of public attention as a guide through life.

Sociopathy is, as we've both noted, the sole spiritual goal currently approved and propagandized by our corporate fathers, a sociopath being the sole personage a corporation can convincingly mimic. And, as you've noted with special force, our weedy academic uncles mostly support that goal. Thus the need to explicitly remind myself of explicit reminders of slightly-less-sociopathic pleasures. Not that I believe that anything as piddly as an artist or as piddlier as a critic makes a lick of difference, but now's the season for empty things.

To put it another way: A vice that makes us better human beings is best renamed, no matter how minute the good effect or how greatly the renaming inconveniences our formulae.

Or, to put it another way: Where my attention's drawn, I become curious. But I'm constructed (or misassembled) in such a way that the only way I can feel I've understood is through words. If I don't write the words, they keep nagging the noggin. It's not heroic, it's chronic.

To put it another way:

—Goggins, you're the flamingest dirty devil I ever met, do you know.
—I had it on my mind to say that, Goggins answered firmly. It did no one any harm, did it?
Fff! Oo. Rrpr.

Nations of the earth. No-one behind. She's passed. Then and not till then. Tram. Kran, kran, kran. Good oppor. Coming. Krandlkrankran. I'm sure it's the burgund. Yes. One, two. Let my epitaph be. Kraaaaaa. Written. I have.



2) What's all this about "pleasure"?

A manly sentiment. Almost Nietzschean: "Thou goest to cozy sofas? Do not forget thy whip!"

(What heavy metal band was it wrote a song boasting about how quickly they ejaculated?)

I want to take your word on it. But was there really nothing but mechanical reflex behind that word's satisfying snap, tang, and closure? You took no satisfaction in its shaping? Then it seems unfair that I take such satisfaction in its shape.

When a living writer asks Why write? or Why live?, they handle snakes. Making is inherently pleasurable, even if the line between pleasure and painful necessity remains mercifully unfixable, even if that pleasure is easily diverted and diversified. Like gravity, it's a comparatively weak force with comparatively visible results.


Pleasure is nature's bell. To get the spit out. The spit's the thing.

T.V. continues to find marrow in the bone here and here.

And, by email, here:

I used to bury them in the backyard, but was too dimwitted ever to find them later.

Growling, wagging, we do what we can to save the world.

My moral ambitions do tend toward the doggish (though not the dogged more chihuahua than pitbull). The Tutor interpreted "stumble over" as in drunken bum, which is fair enough, but the pet lying obtusely in the path from bed to bathroom was part of the image, too.

. . .


Today this venture begins its sixth year.

I've already reflected at length on la vita nuova (viz., etc.), so I'll simply note a few home-grown features that have yet to appear in more formalized weblogging products. (Perhaps now that some are open sourced, I'll eventually add them myself.)

Author-managed archive boundaries
All the weblog creating tools I've seen bundle items up by units of time, producing a weekly archive page or a monthly archive page. Since not many of us synchronize our writing energies with the calendar, this produces arbitrary divisions of arbitrary size, reminiscent of the mid-sentence page breaks enforced by early online newspapers. Any automated assistance with archive bundling and movement off the front page should be based on length rather than date.
Chronological re-ordering of archives
On the front page, most-recent-first ordering makes perfect sense, since steady readers and steady writers will be coming to there to see what's new. Off the front page, the continuity and context provided by normal temporal sequence are more important. Sometimes they're essential.
Full entries returned on search
Partly because I so often serialize my (admittedly loose-limbed) essays, I prefer that full, readable pages be constructed on the fly, rather than answering a query with a series of links à la Google. This can lead to fairly long pages. But the weblog format promotes browsing and bumping into things over directed search and directed marketing, and scrolling supports that goal better than clicking "More..." does.


Zed Lopez informs me that Movable Type now meets two out of three:
>Chronological re-ordering of archives

In Movable Type, at least, this configuration is trivially easy to effect. My archives are in chronological order. All one needs to do is add sort_order="ascend" to one tag in one template.

>Full entries returned on search

Likewise, this is the difference between <$MTEntryBody$> and <$MTEntryExcerpt$> in one template.

. . .

Four Flies on Turbulent Velvet

For me, a still closer analogy is conversation, with its fragmenting veerings of immediate impulse, its easy changes of tone and subject, its relaxed or fraught (but inevitable) drops into silence, its emphasis on voice....
- Cholly Kokonino
Whatever sort of "practice" I've been casting about for and failing to define or assemble, I know it would have one important quality: it would be very directly dialogic. Yes, there'd be all sorts of byzantine qualifications to jury-rig just the right degree of privacy and publicity, to prevent the twin dangers of cold contractual individualism and co-dependent absorption. Still, this is key: I need other people dialogically. I need them far more than a writer needs his audience.
- Turbulent Velvet

Yes. We need them as a writer needs fellow writers.

Stories, poems, essays, and memoirs begin in response to more-or-less imagined peers. We haven't found a specific "genre of conversation" because every genre is a conversation, established and maintained by the conversational impulse.

And whereas most novelists, for example, find distraction from that originary impulse in the growing work itself, other writers linger by the source.

I know by experience this sort of nature that cannot bear vehement and laborious premeditation. If it doesn't go along gaily and freely, it goes nowhere worth going. We say of certain works that they smell of oil and the lamp, because of a certain harshness and roughness that labor imprints on productions in which it has a large part. But besides this, the anxiety to do well, and the tension of straining too intently on one's work, put the soul on the rack, break it, and make it impotent; as happens with water, which because of the very pressure of its violence and abundance cannot find a way out of an open bottle-neck.

It is no less peculiar to the kind of temperament I am speaking of, that it wants to be stimulated: not shaken and stung by such strong passions as Cassius' anger (for that emotion would be too violent); not shocked; but roused and warmed up by external, present, and accidental stimuli. If it goes along all by itself, it does nothing but drag and languish. Agitation is its very life and grace.

I have little control over myself and my moods. Chance has more power here than I. The occasion, the company, the very sound of my voice, draw more from my mind than I find in it when I sound it and use it by myself. Thus its speech is better than its writings, if there can be choice where there is no value.

- Michel de Montaigne
But because I do have some dim conception at the outset, one distantly related to what I am looking for, if I boldly make a start with that, my mind, even as my speech proceeds, under the necessity of finding an end for that beginning, will shape my first confused idea into complete clarity so that, to my amazement, understanding is arrived at as the sentence ends. I put in a few unarticulated sounds, dwell lengthily on the conjunctions, perhaps make use of apposition where it is not necessary, and have recourse to other tricks which will spin out my speech, all to gain time for the fabrication of my idea in the workshop of the mind. And in this process nothing helps me more than if my sister makes a move suggesting she wishes to interrupt; for such an attempt from outside to wrest speech from its grasp still further excites my already hard-worked mind and, like a general when circumstances press, its powers are raised a further degree.

The ideas in succession and the signs for them proceed side by side and the mental acts entailed by both converge. Speech then is not at all an impediment; it is not, as one might say, a brake on the mind but rather a second wheel running along parallel on the same axle. It is a quite different matter when the mind, before any utterance of speech, has completed its thought. For then it is left with the mere expression of that thought, and this business, far from exciting the mind, has, on the contrary, only a relaxing effect.

* * *

For it is not we who know things but pre-eminently a certain condition of ours which knows.

- Heinrich von Kleist

So if, like Montaigne, we find discussion "sweeter than any other action of our life," why bother to write? Why do some of us feel this impulse to rush ephemeral life, leaking and splashing from our cupped hands, into some more public and permanent form?

And why into this one? After a century of popular musics, motion pictures, talk shows, and improv comedy taped before a studio audience, why continue to transcribe or mimic half-remembered uncertainly-improved vivacity like poor old-timey storytellers, playwrights, philosophers, and critics had to?

Maybe we're talking talk a bit too up? Maybe talk has its own problems? I can't speak for Velvet or Montaigne, but the translator of the quoted essay, David Constantine, writes that Kleist "felt himself to be at odds, he felt embarrassed and uncomfortable, he was not understood. He was known as somebody who muttered to himself at the dinner table in company. People supposed, because of his difficulties in communication, that he must have some speech impediment. Ordinary dealings, ordinary efforts at communication, were bad enough; but to utter the truth of the heart, which he longed to do, this was a nightmare of impossibility."

My own delight in vigorous conversation, although sincere, isn't as reliable or benign as I tend to make it sound. It's true that I began publishing when an editor said I should "write that down and send it to the magazine." But I began writing shortly before, when I lost trust in the conversational sufficiency of lovers, friends, or jobmates. Or myself, for that matter.

Even when live discussion is available, sweetness may be lacking. After bouncing like Daffy, I deflate like Porkypine; I frequently absent myself from even the pleasantest parties. Aggressive engagement genuinely charms me, but even the hint of a slight or a dismissal makes me a sullen thin-skinned thin-lipped bore. And my own pleasure hardly guarantees pleasure for all. As Kleist notes elsewhere in his essay, "the faster speaker will always have an advantage"; what I consider a rewarding tussle between equals, others may consider the posturing of a loudmouthed bully.

Writing helps me suspend disbelief in persistent community. Writing helps me prolong the hope of shared pleasure and cooperative knowledge. If the intoxication's weaker, so is the hangover.

If T. V. and I are right that weblogging can approximate, more closely than any other form, our ideal of written conversation, then we can expect that weblogging will expose, more painfully than any other form, the costs and contradictions of that ideal.

But so long as we just keep reminding ourselves it doesn't matter, I guess it'll be OK. As the poet sang, or, more precisely, as the poet painted backwards in varnish on a hand-hammered and polished copper plate, relief-etched in acid, pressed in multiple pigments, hand-painted, and then sold a few copies of over the next three decades:

If thought is life
And strength & breath;
And the want
Of thought is death;

Then am I
A happy fly,
If I live,
Or if I die.


"if...we find discussion 'sweeter than any other action of our life,' why bother to write?"
We find sex, most of us do - when we find it at all - sweeter than child-rearing, with its disciplines and responsibilities - most of us do. It's the stretch of temporal finitude toward the in. The long haul and its gambles. A conversation that lasts months has depth built-in.

Yes. I tried to hint at something similar in the "distraction" of the growing novel, but failed.

Jelinek is a character in a novella by Bernhard, who is a character in a short story by Walser, who is a character in a play by von Kleist.

That reminds me of another failing in my post. I'd hoped to mention the peculiar nature of Kleist's dialog, with virtually every line of every character repeated questioningly and confusedly by other characters, as if we lived in a world of half-deaf Robert Benchleys. (And so we do.) At first its style seems more accurately described by Constantine's unflattering portrait than by Kleist's smoothed ride, but really, I think, essay, plays, and biographical note all accurately indicate Kleist's attention to the process of dialog. Only those of us who find communication troublesome feel the need to trouble ourselves with its workings, but our analyses will naturally be tainted by our troubles. Most people are fine with just turning the ignition key and accelerating (usually into the garage door).

We have been honored by the gaze of Dr. Amrit Chadwallah.

. . .

More Triumphalism

As another indication of our growing academic legitimacy, a researcher at Radcliffe has produced a study of bloggers:

Type I. This consists mostly of girls who are found naturally in literature courses and men who are going in for law. The type is nervous, high-strung, very imaginative, has the capacity to be easily roused and intensely interested. Their attention is strongly and easily held by something that interests them, even to the extent quite commonly expressed of being oblivious to everything else. But, on the other hand, they find it hard to concentrate on anything that does not catch the attention and hold the interest.... I could never get them to write well unless I got them distracted by talking to them or making them talk to me. The more interested and excited they got the more their hands would write. Their results in writing were of two kinds: either they would be taught a movement and then hold it firmly until the next one was taught, or else, being taught one movement, they would stick to that resolutely, and it was not possible to draw them away from it. As soon as they stopped talking, or their interest flagged, there was a strong tendency for the movement to slow up and soon stop....

Type II is very different from Type I, is more varied, and gives more interesting results. In general, the individuals, often blonde and pale, are distinctly phlegmatic. If emotional, decidedly of a weakish sentimental order. They may be either large, healthy, rather heavy and lacking in vigor, or they may be what we call anemic and phlegmatic. Their power of concentrated attention is very small. They describe themselves as never being held by their work; they say that their minds wander easily; that they work on after they are tired and just keep pegging away. They are very apt to have premonitory conversations, they anticipate the words of their friends, they imagine whole conversations that afterward come true. The feeling of having been there before is very common with them; that is, they feel under given circumstances that they have had that identical experience before in all its details. They are often fatalistic in their ideas. They indulge in day-dreams, but not those of a very stirring nature. As a rule they don't seem to have bad tempers are rather sullen. Many of them are hopelessly self-conscious and rather morbid.

They write best as a class when they are quiet. The effort to explain something usually stops the hand. They get rather sleepy, the arm and hand get cold and occasionally go to sleep. As a rule they are highly suggestible and learn movements readily, but instead of getting a new movement and sticking to it, they often show great vacillation, a constant tendency to return to other movements taught some time before. And even when a new movement gets fixed, there is a constant tendency to outcroppings of an old movement in most unexpected places. [...] The sense of otherness, of something else pulling or setting the arm going, was a very common experience.

I might use this to organize my loglist.


I do not like the idea that I am going in for law.
I have recently visited Berkelely, and am pleased to report that the "there" is there, possibly on the other side of a fault line from Oakland. I suspect Type I lives on one side of the fault, and Type II on the other.
Type II sounds about right for me.
She was ahead of her time.

Or perpendicular, maybe?

what is the null hypothesis?


Ooh, seeing that reminds me: I'm reading The Cambridge History of the English Language, Vol. 3: 1476-1776, and the only part that's made me sadder than I already was is that we don't still call "?" "the asker" and "!" "the wonderer".


. . .

Bathos : The Art of Thinking

Adam Tobin and Nick Piombino recently described this venture in extremely complimentary terms and conditions, the latter attached to a "Thinking Blogger Award." And as it happens, "Thinking" was already on my mind like a not-very-close friend you encounter thrice in one day.

First, the perennial question "Consciousness or What?" sprigged at a couple of online stops.

Then Joseph Kugelmass denounced IQ tests. Since those are the only tests I've ever done well at, I naturally share his disdain. But having someone agree with me naturally makes me rethink my position. By design the test is an equalizer not strongly determined by economic position or sex. Before we shout "IQ is dead!", shouldn't we have a replacement ready?

And finally, firstly, overwhelmingly, there's the dayjob, which is currently like being paid to wade knee-deep into a swimming pool filled with fleas a great advance from 2005 and 2006, when it was like being paid to swallow live caterpillars.

Geohistorically speaking, I'm lucky to have any dayjob at all. Unhealthy, impatient, clumsy, and ill-bred, I boast but one single talent: I easily (compulsively, even) exchange and extend abstract verbal models. This can make an amusing party trick, but until the advent of software engineering the only career it opened was that of heretic.

There are two essential feeds to the rattling jolting smoking metamachine in my head: a haze and an interruption. It ingests the interruption and reshapes the haze accordingly. Remove either component, and it stops. Thus I'm not a particularly observant person: perception stops being interruption when it becomes continuous, and when that happens I fall silent. Nor am I a particularly systematic person: I can develop a software application over several months with frequent checks against customer expectations and reactions, but I can't sit in a room by myself for a year and come out with an operating system.

Like my vocation, my avocation underwent a slow whittling down of possibilities. In poetry, fiction, reviewing a few pastiches and no more: the metamachine lost interest. Speculations, revised speculations, gags, counterexamples, juxtapositions are its natural products.

And serialized self-publication is its natural outlet. My early peers took this form as an adjunct or a preliminary to more "serious" work. For me, it was and remains central: a last resort in both senses (as seen in the major motion picture, Day of the Dead).

I mention all this to explain the difficulty of "writing a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think." I might've been able to come up with such a list in July 1999 it's easy to choose the top five finalists from a field of six contestants and that list would do you little good now, since from it only Geegaw is still active.

But with blogs abounding, a shared medium is no longer enough to establish a connection. (Music blogs being, still, a bit of an exception.) Instead I find clumped cross-linkings: clumps by profession; clumps of expertise or political opinion; clumps of wannabe for each subgenre of journalism; clumps of happenstance.

You can perhaps see why I prefer the last. Like browsing randomly across the library shelves, or like attending every film shown by MOMA, dipping into different weblog clumps increases the chance of "interruption", and thus of "thinking" as I experience it.

And so I'm reluctant to select five blogs myself. What if I include one of your clumps, dear reader? Wouldn't that be thoughtless of us?

Instead I ask that you pick five URLs which mean nothing to you at present from my daily checklist don't be afraid to scroll to the bottom follow them, and read at least one page from their archives. A few sites virtually all of you will know already, but unless you're Mark Woods (dear reader) it seems unlikely you know all the rest.

And to improve the odds, I've just added seven new ones.



You know, I was going to tap you in response to my being tapped, but never acknowledged my tap in the belief that you wouldn't acknowledge yours. Alas! My faith is shattered: Ray's (almost) been memed. - SEK

It (almost) happened once before. It's (almost) impossible to refuse anything to Messrs. Piombino and Waggish.

There's no meme, huh, there's just me-me.

Nick's the first to take up the challenge.

Kip Manley works it.

A few days after I posted this bit of self-analysis, Mark Dominus coincidentally pointed to an entertaining paper uncovering a solid predictor of programming success: the ability to assume and consistently maintain arbitrary conventions.

It now seems to us, although we are aware that at this point we do not have sufficient data, and so it must remain a speculation, that what distinguishes the three groups in the first test is their different attitudes to meaninglessness. Formal logical proofs, and therefore programs -- formal logical proofs that particular computations are possible, expressed in a formal system called a programming language -- are utterly meaningless. To write a computer program you have to come to terms with this, to accept that whatever you might want the program to mean, the machine will blindly follow its meaningless rules and come to some meaningless conclusion. In the test the consistent group showed a pre-acceptance of this fact: they are capable of seeing mathematical calculation problems in terms of rules, and can follow those rules wheresoever they may lead. The inconsistent group, on the other hand, looks for meaning where it is not. The blank group knows that it is looking at meaninglessness, and refuses to deal with it.

. . .

When life makes you a lemon, give lemonade

SPOILER WARNING, but I felt Barbellion finished the Journal properly. (And capped it with the best hiatus announcement in proto-blogging history.) Exclamations and expletives aside, odds are high that "Self-disgust" will be my last thought as well. Although of course one tries to avoid directly addressing a topic that forces polite bystanders to dredge up ineffective protests: it's dull and egocentric and even deadlier to conversation than say dreams or SAT scores or incomes.

The need to not quite express oneself leads I guess to writing but that hardly settles how much is not quite enough. Witness the "careers" of Barbellion or Henry Adams or Jean Eustache or so many others.... Three days ago for example I finished Dickinson's Misery despite the title. (Its true name is Dickinson's Genre. Virginia Walker Jackson justifies "Misery" as a generic metonym, like "Stars" or "Trillion Year" on a book about science fiction , but "Arch Playfulness" marks the same genre just as well, so tush.) While its argumentation may be knotty, it's not the usual loopy; anyway, the real joy's in the archival contextualizations and complications which re-establish Dickinson as unknowable: an Open and therefore Shut Case.

Yesterday for another example I finished an iffy novel by B. S. Johnson, an experiment marred by sloppy procedure, a eulogy uninterested in its subject, instead that imitable B. S. Johnson self-loathing, very understandable too, or "surprisingly accessible" as the critics say, it's the Malcolm Lowry problem, ha, he follows on Joyce and Beckett, but without the grasping or the distancing, we're flipping pages in his head, a fine fat one, still no room to breathe, we know how that ends.

Back to me though, about eighteen years ago for example I emerged upon a new plateau of despair and not long after began to write and then to publish. The triggers are clear enough; the motives are questionable. Just a week ago for example while I was in a frenzy of fatuous blundering the question arose. I have two pat answers and this being a social occasion I deployed the social one: I write to meet people. Now clearly that's false: I wrote before I met people, I write without meeting people, if these are advertisements for myself then they're the sort of ads that never mention what the product does. No, the primary motive must be my other pat answer, to get verbal structures "out of my head." But as I commented to Mr. Waggish ten days ago "out" is a vague word, and what I mean by the pat answer I used I guess is that meeting people is the only reward I receive from writing, which in turn determines the particular type of "out" I'm in: commercial writing pays too little, an academic position would make me go Stanford, and the thrill of seeing my name in print lasts thirty seconds to be followed by years of sore regret over my inability to edit the bylined piece, the unnecessary expense for readers who won't like it, and the unlikelihood of it ever reaching readers who will. Not that I don't suffer sore regret after meeting people but, you know, it's by far the best of the lot.

In conclusion then, The Unfortunates is another, Dickinson's Misery is good, Barbellion is better, and give me a call.


Call?! I'll see you and raise you!
next time I'm in California, I will.

Holy crap, it works!

. . .

Riffing on the less interesting

A critic's task is to derive a question to which this is the answer. The trouble with reviewing is having to publish all those negative results.

. . .

Locally maximizing global minima for fifteen years

I've lived a long time for someone who's done so little.

I would have done even less if I hadn't lived so long.

And if I'd tried harder I would've done even worse.


RE:15 yrs of poquito y nada. The stature of our accomplishments isn't relative to our comprehension of them. I thought that was the point of Hesse's Magister Ludi, scholars archiving someone else's exegesis on lepidopteric classifications, then some wayward genius in another time sparks everything off a phrase the author never even recognized as significant. Because it wasn't, to him, or anyone else he knew. There is no cosmic metric, no scale that holds still. Not this side of the Big Pillow.

Not sure about Hesse, but otherwise of course I agree. My love for the discarded has everything to do with my "ambition," as I guess it's called, to be occasionally stumbled upon by similar eccentrics and to not unduly annoy anyone else.

Asimov, so Bellow


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All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.