pseudopodium
. . . Yale

. . .

I dreamt last night that I was at Yale. The event calendar for incoming students listed "Randy Newman. Earthquake - 8 PM." I was impressed that they knew when the earthquake was going to be, but then someone told me it was the name of a club.

. . .

Who needs food when the menu's so delicious? Department:

"Bare lists of words are found suggestive, to an imaginative and excited mind" - Emerson
Otherwise the quotes themselves are bring-downs. But the table of contents for the online Concordance to the Collected Essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson makes the best poem Charles Bernstein never appropriated:

Adequate to Adults
Advance to Affairs
Altered to Amatory
Amphibious to Anglo-Saxons
Arbiters to Army
Army to Artery
Atmosphere to Attire
Attitude to Autobiography
B--, Aunt to Banquets
Beast, Beauty and the to Becky Stow's Swamp
Birth to Blurs
Bonny to Bosses
Boston Advertiser to Brazier
Budgets to Byzantium
Chilblain to Christ's Jesus
Class to Cloisters
Close to Coldness
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor to Combustion
Compliance to Conducts
Cones to Consciousnesses*
Consubstantiation to Contriving
Control to Copula
Copy to Countless
Court to Creature's
Cuba to Czars
Day, Commencement to Deadness
Deaf to Declaring
Degenerate to Demonstrator
Desirable to Devotions
Distemper to Doctrines
Drank to Driving
Droll to Dyspeptic
Effeminacy to Elicits
Eligible to Employs
Emporium to Enemy's
Energetic to Englishwomen
Eustachius to Everywhere
Evidence to Excessive
First to Fitting
Flowing to Forborne
* Link via Juliet Clark
Foundation to Fowls
Gladiators to Go-Carts
God, Almighty to Goitre
Gold to Good
Good (continued) to Grab
Graze to Great Desert
Habeas Corpus to Handling
Hand-Looms to Harms
Heat to Hemispheres
Hole to Hooted
Hung to Hysterical
Infantry to Inmates
Intrusion to Intelligences
Jabber to Joyfully
Joying to Juxtapositions
Law to Lax
Leather to Leg
Librarian to Life
Line to Littleton
Look to Lost
M. C. to Magnanimously
Maladies to Man
Meal to Mechi
Medal to Memphis, Egypt
Menace to Methuselah
Mince-Meat to Minded
Negotation to Nevermore
Nothing to Nymphs
Once to Opium-Shop
Opponent to Organisms
Organization to Overwork
Ovid to Oysters
Passenger to Pays
Peace to Penury
Permutation to Perspire
Poets to Polls
Pollute to Positives
Proprietary to Puberty
Public to Purlieus
Quack to Questions
Remedies to Replying
Restricted to Revolutions
Revolve to Rigging
Romes to Ruling
Rum to Rylstone Doe
Sail to Samos
Samples to Saxons
Seize to Sensations
Separable to Set-To
Shatter to Short-Sighted
Shot to Sidewise
Sinful to Skills
Sockets to Sometimes
Spirits to Squid
Squint to Stars
Steady to Stimulus
Strong to Subduing
Subject to Suetonius
Surprises to Sweeps
Taverns to Tempestuous
Templars to Testify
Testimonies to Thin
Tidal to Timely
Toledo to Tow-Head
Town to Trains
Truth to Turnips
Ubiquitous to Unexhausted
Unexpected to University, Yale
Unjust to Usages
Vat to Victory
Wave to Wealth
Wept to Whithersoever
Wit to Wolves
Woman to Woo
World Fairs to Wormy
Worn to Writings
Writs to Wyman, Jeffries
Yeoman, Middlesex to Yunani

. . .

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.

. . .

Elvis Dead at Budokan

The scope of our eugenics proposal has been reduced thanks to intervention by Ross Nelson:

I believe my first comment to the missus upon exiting that "film" was, "Was that a rich girl's movie, or what?" Leaving aside the complete and utter implausibility of Charlotte as Yale Philosophy major, I really can't imagine anyone who's not clinically depressed suffering from terminal ennui as much as she does, unless we assume (and we also assume this is true of Ms. Coppola), that Japanese luxury hotels and weeklong trips to other continents are so common as to be unworthy of any attention what so ever. I did like the whiskey ads, though.

I knew I had to see Bubba Ho-Tep when I heard the plot, though I didn't have high hopes. My low expectations were not really exceeded, though I thought there were some flashes of brilliance, mostly in the filming of the time-dilation and decrepitude of the home. I was reminded of a line of dialog in Urinetown when Officer Lockstock say, "Be careful, Little Sally, too much exposition can ruin a show." Not to mention repetitive voice-over narration. Still, this feels like a show that deserves a remake. One where the writers get a little more time and money.

Or a lot less time in the end product.

. . .

The New Republic by W. H. Mallock

If I know you, you're most likely to have encountered (and immediately forgotten) W. H. Mallock as the unwitting source of A HUMUMENT, which paints over his ponderous three-decker, A Human Document. In his own time, however, Mallock's name was made by his first novel, The New Republic, a best-selling satire à clef consisting almost entirely of dialog.

Its timing was right. His targets (Jowett, Huxley, Arnold, Ruskin) were in the ascendant, and their tones would remain recognizable well into the next century. Mallock himself established at least one long-lasting Victorian reputation: Most of his readers came to the book already holding some image of Thomas Carlyle, which Mallock's timid "Donald Gordon" wasn't likely to reshape, but most would first encounter Walter Pater, then at the start of his unprolific publishing career, as "Mr. Rose," and "Mr. Rose" Pater would stay for the rest of their lives.

Mallock obtained his B.A. from Oxford in 1874. Two years later, still hanging around Oxford, he began serializing the book. It's the work of a clever and vindictive student, a vicious mimic with little experience of life outside home or school. The New Republic's deflating and punctured monologues, drawn from close observation of college lectures and sermons, match his gifts perfectly. (Its gauche attempts at poetry and man-of-the-worldliness match his limitations just as strikingly.)

Contemporaries naturally saw Mallock as the successor to Thomas Love Peacock. But Peacock's mockery was affectionate, based on the long drop from his friends' grand hot air balloons to their farcically messy private lives. In contrast, there's real venom in Mallock and little else of potency and so I'm more inclined to see him as the founder of that new line of satire which was to include Aldous Huxley and Wyndham Lewis. George Orwell was equally inclined to see him as the founder of the endemic "silly-clever religious book, which goes on the principle not of threatening the unbeliever with Hell, but of showing him up as an illogical ass."

Mallock was a pioneer in still another way. It's only a rumor that Carlyle bid him farewell with "Can ye hear me, Mr. Mallock? I didna enjoy your veesit, and I dinna want to see ye again." And it's only a rumor that, before Mallock's homophobia ruined Pater's reputation in the world at large, he ruined Pater's career at Oxford by fetching stolen private letters to the Master of the College, Benjamin Jowett. But we have sufficient proof before us that Mallock was unscrupulous in the spreading of rumors a piece of work, as they say. Willing to allow for the doctrines of might makes right (when he has the might) and survival of the fittest (while the rankings stay frozen in his favor), courageously resolved to manipulate the foolish masses for the benefit of the greater good (that is, himself), vehemently defending all the privilege of noblesse and none of the oblige, combining the social conscience of a libertine and the self-righteousness of a roundhead, Mallock's a recognizably contemporary conservative. It's easy to picture him as a Young Republican at Yale, blitzing out a novel which tells off PC and poststructuralism and women's studies to great acclaim and publicity....

And it might be pretty funny. He might actually do a book or two worth reading before his toothsomely juicy contempt shrivelled into a Buckleyish (or even Bennetish) bore. The New Republic is often (always at its nastiest) very funny. God forsake me, a few times I even squirmed. As David Daiches wrote for a newer moribund Republic in 1951:

If we can read through The New Republic without at one point or another being made to feel a little foolish, we are wise indeed. On questions of religion, culture and progress the view of the modern liberal intellectual tends to be a conflation of Benjamin Jowett and Matthew Arnold, and it is salutary (to use a favorite word of Arnold's) to have it so cunningly challenged.

(This on-line edition is dedicated to The Happy Tutor.)

Responses

Lawrence White wrote:
Your link to the Tribune columns led me to think, Orwell would have made a great blogger. Or is that going too far? I do like reading Orwell & thinking about his right-wing advocates. When I'm reading him gleefully fantasizing about the underclass training machine guns on the army, what is Roger Kimball reading?

For that matter, what is Roger Kimball wearing? Did his mom buy those clothes?

and ann coulter will be remembered more for her bosom than her buddies

Hey, that's unfair!

even constant vigilance may not be enough (dan reynolds)

Good thing, 'cause I need some sleep.

Gosse on Pater is wonderful!

Gosse may have been a dull critic but as an easy-going late Victorian raconteur he was excellent. From the same essay collection, I pulled the more personal comments on Walt Whitman and Christina Rossetti.

Lawrence White likes those too:

The Gosse on Whitman is quite beautiful. I guess I'm just a sap at heart but it was the sweetest thing.

In honor of all this Gosse love, I've just posted a portrait of the man himself.

tell them all how it really is

I used to have a blue guitar,
Till I smashed it one green day.
It would not play things as they are,
As Peter Townshend may....

. . .

The Quarrel between Philosophy and Philosophers

Someone who reaches over the chessboard before their opponent can make a move, snatches the king, and dashes out the door with it doesn't understand the point of playing chess. Introduced to baseball, someone might remark on the sad padding of the whole affair: to determine a winning team, one inning would probably be enough. (Indeed, when TV summarizes a game, it's typically with the score and a single pitch.) Or a baseball fan might deprecate cricket's misuse of balls and bats.

These mistake the goal of a game for the point of the game.

In contemporary anglophone culture, poetry is that form which explicitly marks the workings of language over the work to be done with language. This nonutilitarian position has advantages and disadvantages, freedom among them. However, someone who's ascribed to a particular historical variant of the poetry games may measure other variants against its goal posts and touch lines and find them lacking.

Or someone may wonder why we'd fuss with philosophy. Verified truth is science's job, and the science du jour knows how to get it (with wide tolerance of exceptions, embarrassments, and half-assed explanations).

But the point of studying philosophy isn't verifiable truth any more than the point of eating is chestnut soup with foie gras custard. The discipline's founded on dialogue. What we gain from it is the pleasure of the exercise and (possibly) some ability to handle multiple systems of abstraction more coherently, flexibly, and sincerely sincerity being what distinguishes the philosophy game from sophism.

A well-lubricated shift between the gears of dogmatism and cynicism takes care of most social contigencies, and so "Develop heartfelt abstract multiformity" isn't on everybody's to-do list. As a natural born bible-thumper, though, I've found the effort to my benefit. Left to its own devices, a love for abstract reasoning can grow narrowminded, vicious, and eventually delusional.

So, no, I don't know if most philosophy departments are useful to most students in which uncertainty they're no different from any other academic department but one did supply the two or three classrooms in which I learned something.

There were other classrooms even within that department, of course.

There's no law of noncontradiction in the history of thought: Plato and Nietzsche, Descartes and Kant, Pierce and Popper all are valid. But such a law may well be enforced by a particular school or a particular teacher. Sadly for philosophy, the most common instigator of sincere discourse, even among philosophers, is self-promotion.

Responses

They told me poetry was naming things. And that all the basics were covered, so now the poets were naming really abstruse stuff, like the way it feels to go to work with a hangover under a totalitarian regime when you're in love with a waitress who wants to move to Milan.

Poets' children might disagree about their knack for names.

If chestnut soup with foie gras custard isn't the point of eating, what is?

Pecan-encrusted whitefish with braised greens and a Sancerres on the side, of course.

No, no, no, fried peanut butter and banana sandwhiches!

. . .

Heathcliff, Come Home

(Written for The Valve)

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...?

Pointless, I know, but at least it's a break from imagining the rest of Emma.

. . .

The Sport Parade (1932)

Leonard Maltin mentions the lame story, the flashy direction, and Robert Benchley's brilliant screen debut, not looking as puffy-fishlike-thing-on-the-beach as he would a few years later but already blatantly inserted, as America's worst color commentator ("And it should be a great Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Dartmouth game today at Yale Stadium, here in Cambridge, Massachusetts...").

True, true, all true. But it says something probably not worth saying about heterosexual hegemony and the all-male capsule review business that unmentioned goes the most eyeboggling aspect of the movie, young pre-Code Joel McCrea. I always accepted on faith that this sullen, stubborn, humorless, not-too-bright character was sexually attractive, but I never really understood why till I saw him with no clothes on.

OK, he's not completely nude on screen. But I gotta say if Jean Harlow or Myrna Loy had spent a sizable portion of a movie greased up and wearing only tighty-whities, Leonard Maltin sure as hell would've found it fit to mention.

Plus: "Skeets" Gallagher!

Responses

Ray Davis writes:
Speaking of het. heg., last night I dreamt I visited Patricia Highsmith's home around dinnertime. She threatened to turn testy at times, but her adoring husband and son maintained a sort of stoic cheer through the distraction of baseball. Whether pitching, batting, or fielding, Highsmith was an astonishingly graceful player, and seemed to derive comfort from her own easy precision on the field.

Others dream differently:

All kidding aside, being Patricia Highsmith's son, the Patricia Highsmith of literature as opposed to of earth, and they are different, would be I think, less like The Natural and more than a little like being Betty Topper of Norco.

. . .

The Lie of the Last Minstrel

Factual Fictions: The Origins of the English Novel
by Lennard J. Davis, 1983 (2nd ed. 1996)

Both Tom Jones's hero and genre were mysterious bastards. Unlike the hero, the genre's parentage remained open to question, and, in '83, Davis ambitiously aimed to prune classical romances (and even the mock-heroic anti-romance) from its family tree.

In place of that noble lineage, he proposed a three-act structure:

  1. Set-Up: The literate public happily consumes crime-and-punishment ballads and monstrous-birth broadsheets which claim without scruples to be both true and improved, wondrously new yet mostly recycled.
  2. Crisis: Economic competition, diversified political power, and new libel laws forcefully direct the attention of writers and readers towards previously unproblematic distinctions like timely/timeless and provable/interesting....
  3. Resolution: ... which reconfigure more stably in (verifiable yet evanescent) journalism and (undeniable yet false) realism.

In his own storytelling, Davis sometimes stumbled most painfully, he blew the punchline and I wished he'd included a chapter on "secret histories", whose length, legal issues, and formatting (memoirs, correspondence, oddly well-informed third-person narrators) all seem to make them at least as germane as ballads. Most of all, without broad quantitative analysis to back them up, such ventures can always be suspected of cherry-picking the evidence.

But I'm an irresponsibly speculative collagist myself, and these cherries are delicious. I already understood how framing narratives relieve pressure, how they establish both authenticity and deniability: "I don't know, but I been told." But I hadn't realized how often pre-fictional writers had felt the need for such relief. Not having read a life of Daniel Defoe, I hadn't known how brazenly he forged even his own letters. And, speaking of letters, I hadn't read Samuel Richardson's flip-flops on the question of his real-world sources.

The sheer number of examples convinces us that something was shifting uncomfortably, tangled in the sheets of the zeitgeist. How else explain, across decades and forms and class boundaries, this increasingly vexed compulsion to face the old question head on, like a custard pie?

And by the end of the book, we still haven't found fully satisfying answers; the process continues. Recently and orally, for example, our impulse to simultaneously avow and disavow narrative discovered a felicitous formula in the adverbial interjections "like" and "all like".

We haven't even fully agreed to accept the terms of the problem. Remember those quaint easy-going characters in Lennard Davis's Act I? Believe it or not, living fossils of unperplexed truthiness roamed the Lost World of rural America during our lifetimes! My own grandmother sought out no journalism and no novels; she read only True Confessions and watched only her "stories" that is, soap operas, "just like real life" they were, another quotidian reconfiguration.

* * *

All novelists descend from Epimenides.

Well, OK, if you want to get technical about it, so do novel readers ("All Cretans know my belief is false"), and so does everyone else.

That's the problem with getting technical. (Or, Why I Am Not an Analytic Philosopher, Again.)

But what about memory retrieval??
In contrast to common past-future activity in the left hippocampus, the right hippocampus was differentially recruited by future event construction. This finding is notable, not only because others report right hippocampal activity to be common to both past and future events (Okuda et al., 2003) but also because it is surprising that future events engage a structure more than the very task it is thought to be crucial for: retrieval of past autobiographical events....
It does seem strange that no regions were more active for memory than for imagination. So memory doesn't differ from fiction? At the very least, it didn't result in greater brain activity than fiction, not in this particular study (an important point).
There was no evidence of any regions engaged uniquely by past events, not only in the PFC but across the entire brain. This outcome was unexpected in light of previous results (Okuda et al., 2003). Moreover, regions mediating retrieval processes (e.g., cue-specification, Fletcher et al., 1998) such right ventrolateral PFC (e.g., BA 47) should be engaged by a pure retrieval task (i.e., past events) more than a generation task (i.e., future events). More surprising was the finding that right BA47 showed more activity for future than past events, and that past events did not engage this region significantly more than control tasks.
- The Neurocritic, citing
Addis DR, Wong AT, Schacter DL. (2007)

(I should admit, even though that re-citation honestly conveys what's on my mind I happened to read it while writing this, and so there it is it doesn't honestly convey what I consider a strong argument. Like The Neurocritic, I'm skeptical about the functional neuroimaging fad; it seems too much like listening to a heart pound and deducing that's where emotion comes from. Reaching just a bit farther, then from my keyboard to my bookshelf....)

For researchers in the cognitive sciences, a narrative works like a narrative, whether fictional or not:

... with respect to the cognitive activities of readers, the experience of narratives is largely unaffected by their announced correspondence with reality. [...] This is exactly why readers need not learn any new "rules" (in Searle's sense) to experience language in narrative worlds: the informatives are well formed, and readers can treat them as such.
- Richard J. Gerrig, Experiencing Narrative Worlds

According to Davis, modern mainstream genres partly result from legal changes which forced propositionally ambiguous narratives to face courtroom standards of truth. I didn't find his evidence completely convincing, but there's something that felt right about his tale.

A narrative is not a proposition. When narrative is brought into a courtroom, interrogation attempts to smash it into propositional pieces.

But any hapless intellectual who's made a genuine effort to avoid perjury can testify how well that works. We don't normally judge narratives: we participate in them, even if only as what Gerrig calls (following H. H. Clark) a side-participant. If we restricted ourselves to "deciding to tell a lie" or "trying to tell the truth," there wouldn't be much discourse left. Depending on personal taste, you may consider that a worthwhile outcome; nevertheless, you have to admit it's not the outcome we have.

We've been bred in the meat to notice the Recognizable and the Wondrous. The True and the False are cultural afterthoughts: easily shaken off by some, a maddening itch for others, hard to pin down, and a pleasure to lay aside:

At the tone, it will not be midnight. In today's weather, it was not raining.

Responses

January 2009: Since I haven't found anyplace better to note it, I'll note here that the best academic book I read in 2008 (unless Victor Klemperer's The Language of the Third Reich counts) was Reading Fictions, 1660-1740: Deception in English Literary and Political Culture, by Kate Loveman, whose metanarrative convincingly allows for (and relies on) pre-"novel" hoaxes and satires while not erasing generic distinctions.

. . .

Kick him when you're down

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....)

Responses

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."

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.

Sontag, thou shouldst be living at this hour!

Hey, when is it not a good time for Sontag to be living?

. . .

We regret any inconvenience.

Rosemund Tuve to William Empson, Valentine's Day 1953:

Obviously I've not been writing an 'answer' to that article you enclosed, in any usual sense. About the practical matter you mentioned... 'saying this had led to my altering my remarks' I don't imagine you'll want to alter them much of any. It's too hard to alter things. I'm so much more pleased that you'll take a stand on 'the reader ought to try to make out what the author...' (etc. p. 4, all of that sentence) than I am unpleased by what touches me, that that's worth the rest whether just or not, given present critical assumptions in many quarters. (Often unadmitted; just practised). I find that I don't care a hang (so I don't rootle them out here and argue) whether you say dreadful things about me that I don't think true, and so far as I can tell this is because you go at the poetry so hard. I would normally think we'd 'both look rather more sensible' if you took out some of the arguments From Character of Author; I believe they'll cause mirth to those who know me. Sometimes I laugh too. I'm just not the kind you envisage. Anyhow I can't seem to get angry about any of it, neither in 1950 or now. Maybe that's the kind of complacent you say the book is. Did you in your heart (or wherever you think these incautious things) think that? Then either long-practiced suspending judgement ruins the capacity of words to carry the tone of voice, or I'm George Herbert's greatest failure in that lesson, or it's you, and you're angrier than I think. You write excessive, but I don't think you are.

If we ever meet, which wouldn't be so odd, I'll find out. When you come to America again, stop in New London. It's no jump from N.Y., the Thames is handsome here, we'd get whomever you picked down from Yale, the whisky is good enough and the conversation provocative. Or serene; as you choose.

Responses

Sarang follows up.

 

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