pseudopodium
. . . copyright

. . .

It's official: dot-com-izing is the colorization of the 1990s! And see how nicely it can learn to play with the new copyright laws! As excerpted from some guy named Bloomberg:

American Film Technologies Inc. officials have ousted the chief executive of the company that pioneered "colorizing" of black-and-white movies and replaced him with a turnaround specialist, according to filings with securities regulators.
. . .
But a dropoff in demand for colorized films left the company struggling to survive, court papers said. American Film hasn't generated any revenues since 1995 and its lab and film library are sitting unused.
. . .
Rudy said he's arranged for a $250,000 cash infusion for American Film, which will now focus on offering colorized films via the Internet. The company is planning to offer color versions of such classics as To Kill A Mockingbird and A Farewell to Arms, he added.

By colorizing such older movies -- whose copyrights have expired -- American Film gets exclusive rights to the films for the next 95 years, Rudy said.

"We're excited about the possibilities of distributing our product over the Internet and rebuilding the value in this company," he said.

. . .

Mamas, Don't Make Your Babies Executors

It's corporations that have forced the vicious new copyright laws upon us and it's mostly corporations that reap the scattered profits and work the universal havoc. After all, corporations have the rights of an individual, are richer than an individual, but can't be institutionalized for criminal insanity like an individual. But because corporations do define themselves as individuals, the monstrous growth of their "rights" has to some extent trickled down to those individuals who have done individually absolutely nothing to merit control of an absent individual's work: to wit, relatives.

The Astaire widow's vacuum-cleaner-financed defense of posthumous dignity may be the most visible outcome. But, as with corporations, the true cultural danger of these suit-threatening and suit-hiring relatives is loss of the marginal rather than exploitation of the famous. Corporations and corporation-like individuals both prefer the risk of eradication to the risk of losing control.

Thus, word on the rue was that a major delay in bringing Jean Eustache's The Mama and the Whore back into distribution was the heir's hope for a windfall, and that a continued obstacle to bringing Mes Petites Amoreuses to videotape is the same. Since Mes Petites Amoreuses was an international flop as well as my favorite coming-of-age movie, if rue-word is true a windfall is unlikely and the stalemate will continue.

Moving past cinematic rumors to literary documentation, "difficult" poet Louis Zukofsky has gotten still more difficult as incarnated in his son, Paul. Possibly understandably teed off by the tongue-clucking directed towards his father by Lorine Niedecker scholars (after all, Niedecker never complained about her treatment), Zukofsky fils refused to allow the teensiest scrap of père's letters to enter into the otherwise excellent Niedecker and the Correspondence With Zukofsky. But gagging the accused isn't such a hot idea: a writer's best defense is usually their own testimony. Witness how the fuller disclosure of Pound/Zukofsky: Selected Letters of Ezra Pound and Louis Zukofsky easily snuffs the calumny that Zukofsky sucked up to Pound's anti-Semitism.

(Could be worse, I suppose, and it is in the case of Zukofsky's lifelong comrade, Basil Bunting, whose life and letters remain in darkness due to the mortar-and-brick combination of his estate's reticence and England's Official Secrets Act.)

The granddaddy of such repressers has got to be professional grandson Stephen Joyce, who's redirected the kind of smug never-forgive never-forget selfishness that usually gets expended on family feuds towards all scholars everywhere. In A Collideorscape of Joyce, a festschrift for angelic if plain-spoken Joycean Fritz Senn, Stephen Joyce plays the villain again, preventing inclusion of a new German translation of the last chapter of Ulysses and of a study of the manuscripts of the "Nausicaa" chapter, and, most unforgivably, blocking publication of exactly the sort of calumny-snuff referred to above:

"I'll never forget the moment when Lili Ruff produced a copy of the German translation of Ulysses, inscribed to her father by Joyce, with letters stuffed inside.... I was flabbergasted, honoured (never mind that I would later be thwarted by Stephen Joyce from publishing them). Because among those letters... were Joyce's sentiments regarding the treatment of Jews before the outbreak of World War II, and more evidence of his active participation in helping Jews to escape from Nazi Europe." -- Marilyn Reizbaum, "Sennschrift"

. . .

Criswell Predicts

Twentieth century == Obscenity trials
Twenty-first century == Copyright trials

And may gods help us all.

. . .

David Auerbach economically adds to our belly-down crawl around the thundering canon:

Can I make a simplifying statement that the missing element may be some sense of equanimity?

And speaking of which, please give Mr. Lethem a medal for his Salon Premium plug of today. He made better of a thankless task than I'd thought possible. His bait-and-switch of "It's not just that, but it's nothing more!" is some sort of inspiration.

Last, all I need from a novel is here.

For myself, it's wonderful to discover that, thanks to Salon Premium, I am now refusing to support Camille Paglia! (Admittedly, this is one of those "speaking prose all my life" thrills, but a thrill's a thrill.) On top of which, I can also actively not shore up the tottering incomes of Salon's CEO, editors, movie reviewers, and so on. Talk about win-win!

My attitude towards subscription might be a little old-fashioned, though, since I don't subscribe to newspapers but I was glad to throw some money toward the NosePilot kid and I'd be glad to pay Lynda Barry directly for her watercolors. What galls are the extravagently wasteful layers of plastic and cardboard pimping that wrap the product. The web doesn't need prejudging editors so much as postfacto pointers, and the web doesn't need high-salaried executives or designers at all. What the web (still) needs is a reliable way to handle genuinely micro micropayments and a reliable way to protect creators from being bankrupted by unexpectedly popular creations.

More than anything else, the Web means low-cost publishing with fast wide distribution. It's therefore not surprising that the Web is dominated by the sorts of publications that have traditionally only been held in check by cost or distribution worries:
  • Academic research
  • Fanzines and other publications created "for the love of it," including reprints of rare, low-interest material
  • Ego-driven essays, diaries, and artwork
  • Small press fiction and poetry
  • Non-marketing-driven comics
  • Publicity and advertising
  • Retail catalogs
  • Community resource guides
  • Public services, such as transportation reports and weather forecasts
  • Industry-specific magazines that are usually distributed for free
Since the Web is in essence low-cost, it's very hard for any given publisher to fight against that essence by seeking extra payment from its audience. Gross costs can be reduced by moving to the Web, but gross income is unlikely to appear. Thus, subscription services have only succeeded when they maintain fairly tight control over a much-desired service that could not be gotten elsewhere as easily: the fetishes of stock-market players and pornography addicts have proven particularly ripe for exploitation. On the other hand, a standard newspaper, magazine, or TV-style sitcom won't have much of a shot at bargain-hunting Web surfers' cash.

-- from Web Design Resources Directory, 1997, thus partly excusing the use of "surfers"

The dreadful commingling of the overpriced software industry and overpriced entertainment industry loaded huge amounts of unnecessary cost onto a model kept afloat till now mostly by inflated valuation and partly by advertising. Advertising alone can't come close to maintaining it. Good riddance in the long run, but in the short run, the tumbling mountains of garbage are, as is their wont, sweeping lots of great stuff away.

Services I would gladly pay to keep alive simply vanish without being given a chance, their wanna-be-like-the-big-guy owners using the same reasoning by which corporations are supressing the history of cinema: the copyright holders, not caring about what they hold copyright on, consider the cost-to-benefit ratio of giving permission too high to deal with. (You have to hire someone to give permission; you don't need to hire anyone at all to ignore requests. Suing for infringement, of course, is always worth the money.)

Instead of archiving and cataloging their own work, writers depend on crash-by-night magazines to collect and maintain material, when the realities of both print and online publication is that magazines work, at best, as initial publicity. Comics artists waste time on brain-dead Flash loops when they could be making full-color serials. Newspapers, rather than storing their articles as highly compressible dirt-simple text and collecting the small fees that would be otherwise fed to library photocopying machines, are closing access, increasing "reprint" costs to unrealistic levels, and publishing more material on expensive paper than on cheap diskspace.

After its jerrybuilt business district finishes collapsing, the web may find itself only set back five years or so. But even in the midst of the swirling dust, there are encouraging signs. Weblogging seems to have already spread to zine scene levels, without paper zines' constraints on further growth. And there are finally signs that some academics are ready to push against the utterly unnecessary waste of traditional journal publication....

. . .

In other tabloid news, on learning that an evil viewer has used the copyright-infringing technology of videotape to shorten their copy of Star Wars Episode 1, the MPAA's Jack Valenti rabied: "It's like drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa!"

. . .

Spoosday

The Joyce industry's balls-to-the-wall shift from amateur fannishness to academic respectability has dropped a moldy feather avalanche of fluff into journals and books, but that's only a minor annoyance. Now, if I was like Fritz Senn and had to go to lots of Joyce conferences, I'd probably be like Fritz Senn and be really annoyed about it -- I just attended my first Joyce conference this month, kind of hoping for something like Readercon's excellent panels, where some knowledgeable opinionated people knock ideas around with the audience, but instead finding a set up where one academic at a time reads a decidedly non-oral paper aloud, or almost aloud, for fifteen minutes -- what is the flipping point? -- when the heavily-accented guy mumbled a convoluted paper on Finnegans Wake and Lacan, doggedly including every single page reference, it was so over-the-top enervating that I almost had a giggle fit -- but, for good or for ill, I'm not at all like Fritz Senn, and so for me it's just a matter of gentle melancholy.

Gently heartening comes the news that our amateur ranks have just been incremented by the defection of James Joyce Quarterly editor Robert Spoo, who's left the University of Tulsa's English department to become a professional lawyer specializing in defenses of public domain. If it's true that intellectual property trials will be to this century what obscenity trials were to the last, it seems right to put a Joycean in the frontlines.

+ + +

In other intellectual property news, the coming Dark Ages are getting nudged along in a big way by big Bill Gates. By buying up major photo archives and burying them deep in the earth, he's ensured that they're only (and barely, if ever, even so) available via electronic transfer. By then claiming copyright on those electronic reproductions, he basically removes the original works from public domain. A very clever scheme which will do for the history of photography (and America, for that matter) as Hollywood studios have been doing for the history of cinema: erasing it. BookNotes has done a great job of collecting information on the story.

Gates's plan depends on the seemingly absurd notion that digitizing counts as "a substantial creative act" and that his reproductions are therefore new, original, and copyrighted works. Instant Rationality: Just Add Money! Still, it's hard to picture a clearer example of what "public domain" was meant to protect than Matthew Brady's Civil War photographs, so maybe our cowardly crops of leased legislators will eventually be shamed into unprofitable action.

(I've never been big on the Bill Gates as Dark Lord propaganda, on account of every CEO I've ever encountered has been completely evil in the exact same way. But between this and XP licensing, Gates's recent innovations in evil must awe even weasels like Jobs and Ellison....)

. . .

I sent this letter before I read about the increasing use of the DMCA as a convenient way to suppress web sites (link via BookNotes) without the bother of legal justification: a particularly clear example of the DMCA stripping rights away from US citizens and draping them around well-padded corporate shoulders.

Dear Senator Feinstein:

In recent news coverage of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, I read the following quote from "Howard Gantman, a spokesman for Feinstein": "We need to protect copyrights and this law was designed to do that."

I find this attitude deeply troubling. Copyright was already well-established law, and laws are meant to be enforced, not protected. Human beings need to be defended and protected; laws do not, except in so far as legislators may try to defend a particular law against other legislators in debate.

If there's one common theme to the Bill of Rights, it's the need to protect American citizens from such "preventative" legislation. There's no doubt that police officers and public prosecutors would sometimes more easily enforce the law if those amendments, and other troublesome parts of the Constitution, could be conveniently dropped. But if those provisions did not exist, much too much added power would be gained by the wealthy and politically powerful at the expense of the relatively powerless. Our Constitutional protections help level the legal playing field.

The DMCA is a classic example of the kind of legislation that citizens need protection from:

  • It is based on a presumption by the powerful (large corporations) that the relatively powerless (the individual purchaser) is the guilty party in any dispute.

  • It specially privileges the rights of the wealthy (who can buy into patented encryption and distribution methods) over the rights of the less wealthy human beings who actually do the work of creating what corporate lawyers like to call "intellectual property" but who are unlikely to be able to afford the extra layer of protection.

  • In the name of protecting copyright and preventing piracy, it criminalizes human beings who have never themselves violated copyright or committed piracy.

Public domain and fair use are always under attack by large media companies, but defense of those concepts is absolutely essential to the cultural health and heritage of a nation. Profitability is the only rule that can be followed by a publicly-held corporation, but there are reasons besides profitability for making our culture and history available. (To take an example of special interest to California, much American film history will be forever lost over the next few decades: films deteriorate, inaccessible, in vaults because the multinational corporations which own them do not see sufficient profitability in making them accessible to the public.) Those non-profit-oriented reasons don't have a chance without public domain and fair use.

But the DMCA assumes that the best way to avoid disputes over public domain and fair use is to guarantee absolute power to the large media companies.

There is no requirement that a digitally protected work automatically unprotect itself once its content enters into the public domain.

There is no requirement for fair use workarounds to digital protection. On the contrary, even investigating such a workaround is criminalized.

There is no way for the consumer and scholar to protect themselves against the industry-driven shifts in media technology fashion which seem to take place every decade or so. To take another example from American film history, several of the great early sound movies of Ernst Lubitsch have never been released on VHS tape or on DVD, due to lack of anticipated profitability. They were, however, released briefly in the now-obsolete laserdisk format. Laserdisk players are getting rarer and more expensive, and will someday will be virtually unattainable. Purchasers of the Lubitsch laserdisks -- film schools, for example -- are able to preserve their investment by backing them up to another media format. If those disks had been copy-protected, the movies contained on them would effectively be lost to the public. Similarly, if 78 RPM records could have been copy-protected, there would be little left of the early history of jazz or blues by the time copyright restrictions ran out. Only the most consistently profitable works can survive such technological shifts.

There is no consumer protection against profit-gouging deals between large corporations. An early target of DMCA enforcers was software that allows DVDs to be played on the Linux operating system. Microsoft was able to cut a deal with the relevant media corporations, and thus gain extra leverage against any competitor; Linux, as a free operating system, could not. Should the manufacturer of a copy of a fifty-year-old movie really be given so much influence over the purchaser's home computer setup? Again, the DMCA criminalizes consumer protection.

Defense of our legal rights against the arbitrary rule of the powerful is what we look to our senators and representatives for. I believe that history will judge the DMCA as harshly as McCarthyism and the Alien and Sedition Acts. I urge the Senator to reconsider her support of this unjust and destructive legislation.

Sincerely,
Ray Davis

. . .

Hungover by the chimney with care

Unlike myself, boing boing sobered up long enough to point to this interview-as-philippic from Lawrence Lessig:

"Copyright law silences speech. If the government wants to silence speech, it needs a very good reason. And if it doesn't have that reason, it should not silence my speech."
Incidentally (insignificantly, in fact), Dianne Feinstein's office finally sent a form letter response to my citizenly concerns about the DMCA and copyright extension; it turns out that I didn't realize the importance of intellectual property rights. Ho-K, Senator Feinstein!

I guess I should be grateful that they hadn't prefixed something about September 11 making Disney's and Universal's profits more imperative than ever....

. . .

Remember these names

The Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act (CBDTPA) prohibits the sale or distribution of nearly any kind of electronic device -- unless that device includes copy-protection standards to be set by the federal government.... Joining [Fritz Hollings (D-South Carolina)] as co-sponsors of the CBDTPA are one Republican and four Democrats: Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), John Breaux (D-Louisana) and Dianne Feinstein (D-California). At a hearing last week, Feinstein showed her colleagues a pirated movie that she said an aide had downloaded from a file-trading service.
One of them sort of springs out, doesn't it? Few South Carolinians outside Senator Hollings himself are likely to feel particularly tied to either movie-corporation or software-corporation money. But Senator Feinstein continues to betray the commercial interests of her Bay Area home base (not to mention such non-bottom-line interests as intellectual freedom, consumer rights, and cultural history) in favor of entertainment moguls. Isn't it about time for the computer and networking industries to start supporting legislators who'll protect their rights and the rights of their customers?

Then there's Feinstein's tired dog-and-my-little-nightmare-pony show, the exact equivalent of saying "I recorded a movie from cable on my VCR last night, and therefore VCRs should be illegal," probably because the RIAA used exactly that argument back when they wanted to ban VCRs.

God, I'm sick of Feinstein and her RIAA friends flaunting their lives of crime. She might just as well brag about parking in a disabled-only space before insisting that all car engines be stoppable by remote control, or about shoplifting from a used book store before insisting that no bookstores be allowed to operate without strip searches, or about stealing candy from a baby before insisting that babies not be allowed candy, or about letting her vicious untrained dog bite a caterer before insisting that caterers buy and wear padded clothing at all times. (Actually, according to a caterer friend, that last one is true, except that Feinstein didn't suggest the padded clothing, just told the caterer to get back to work. Actually, from what I've heard of Feinstein, she's probably done all those other things too.)

Earlier in the month, I wrote to California's other senatorial product of the Bay Area Democratic political machine, Barbara Boxer:

I have been a lifelong Democratic voter. But as a writer, an engineer, and an American citizen, I am concerned enough by this issue for it to decide my vote in future California elections.
Boxer is a liberal on other issues, so I wouldn't enjoy voting against her. Feinstein's a different kettle of day-old fish: she would be a Republican if she'd started from anyplace other than San Francisco, where her initial power-grab was only made possible by the assassination of Mayor Moscone. She's propped by corporate funds, and some of the funding should migrate.

United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary "User Comments":
0 arguments for; 186 arguments against

. . .

"Who's the weirdo?", cont.

You know what makes me happy?

OK, that's a stupid question. Of course you do. But do you know what makes me happy right now?

... well, yeah, "trying the patience of the reader" works, but you know what else?

It's when results reported in the Journal of Personality & Social Psychology match results reported in cognitive science texts from MIT Press. As for example, on the good ship Cognition in the Wild, skippered by Edwin Hutchins, who I trust, among other reasons, 'cause he says "the real value of connectionism for understanding the social distribution of cognition will come from a more complicated analogy in which individuals are modeled by whole networks or assemblies of networks, and in which systems of socially distributed cognition are modeled by communities of networks." Boo-yah!

Cap'n Hutchins set up a constraint-satisfaction connectionist network to simulate hypothesis resolution between communicating gatherers of evidence for or against conflicting hypotheses.

Consider a simulation experiment in which all the networks have the same underlying constraint structure, and all have the same access to environmental evidence, but each has a slightly different initial pattern of activation than any of the others. Furthermore, all the networks communicate with one another, all the units in each network are connected to all the units in the other networks, and the communication is continuous. This can be regarded as a model of mass mental telepathy. With a nonzero persuasiveness, each individual network moves toward [the same] interpretation more quickly. ... Once there, they respond only a little to additional evidence from the environment. Once in consensus, they stay in consensus even if they have had to change their minds in order to reach consensus.... a group mind would be more prone to confirmation bias than any individual mind.

... diversity of interpretations is fairly easy to produce as long as the communication among the members of the community is not too rich. If they are allowed to go their own ways for a while, attending to both the available evidence and their predispositions, and then to communicate with one another, they will first sample the information in the environment and then go (as a group) to the interpretation that is best supported.

Given that, he went on to set up primitive models of such painfully familiar conflict-resolution approaches as monarchy, Quaker-style consensus, and majority-rule voting. No surprises as to the plusses (shortened time to resolution) or minuses (d'oh!) of monarchy. Or of consensus:
if some individuals arrive at very well-formed interpretations that are in conflict with one another before communication begins, there may be no resolution at all.
With majority rule, he points out:
voting does not always produce the same results that would be achieved by further communication. That this is so can easily be deduced from the fact that the result of a voting procedure for a given state of the community is always the same, whereas a given state of the community may lead in the future to many different outcomes at the group level (depending on... the bandwidth of subsequent communication).
Probably because of wanting to keep the models simple, he doesn't mention another serious problem with working democracies, or at least the one I'm in right now: Block-voting by a prematurely and persistently frozen-state monoculture of theocratic fundamentalists. Once a plurality of voters has arrived at very well-formed interpretations, they may ignore any evidence that contradicts their hypotheses and still be able to win control of the government.

Hutchins speculates that "in some environments, chronic indecision may be much less adaptive than some level of erroneous commitment." And I have a further obsessive (with the combined force of two obsessions) speculative comment of my own:

  5.         The computer simulations I've seen of language and other human memory-experience-extenders assume constant access and transmission.

That might be true of oral culture. The only thing transmitted through time is what's always important at each time. (Which may in turn be how the notion of sacred narratives and formulae developed: as a way of keeping seemingly arbitrary language in place, working against the ravages of convenience.)

But artifacts -- such as writing -- can outlast their time and their popularity, and survive to transmit new information -- that is, to transmit old information to new recipients.

Anything that develops outside of our own cultural circumstances provides, by definition, that healthy "diversity of interpretation" based on "broken communication" between entities that have "gone their own ways for a while."

My quixotic rage against copyright extension has nothing to do with those profitable works that get all the publicity --those which are popular and reprinted. I don't care whether Disney gets the money for Disney properties or not, so long as the Disney properties are available.

No, the utterly blankly death-reeking evil aspect of copyright extension and extension and extension is our forced regression to a secular oral culture, crushing into dust (if paper) or vinegar-reeking glue (if film) those artifacts that aren't currently -- at every moment -- obviously overwhelmingly profitable.

. . .

Nobody Knows I'm Dear

Turbulent Velvet is right that mean-spirited uncivil attack is the discursive norm in contemporary American culture, and that any public discourse left to its own devices will veer in that direction.

Alex Golub is further right that that same corporate-made-flesh norm drives us, mooing and ineffectually kicking those pressed close behind, to infinite extension, followed by suffocation, of copyright.

"Ideology" is too figureheading a word to reliably take a stand on any one ground, but there should be some term for a culture's mostly unspoken, slavishly followed, and clearly inadequate notions of human effort and pleasure: for that which is expressed and maintained passively through (paraphrasing T.V.) exhaustion and impatience as much as actively through fear or vanity or ignorance. In some cultures, altruism is the standard rhetorical stance and people are hypocrites about everything else. In ours, aggressively selfish he-with-the-most-toys-wins competition is the standard, and it's anything other than playing-to-win that's seen (and hidden and dismissed) as perverse.

My optimism (such as it is) rests (or exerts itself [such as it does]) in my knowledge of the failure of that norm to fully satisfy or explain human realities. There are delights and desires outside the purely competitive; even here and now, some people can sometimes share that recognition.

  Lest you think me insufficiently bitter and cynical -- I'm not, honest! -- I hasten to protest that sympathetic, kind, companionable, or harmlessly intrigued intentions in themselves are no guarantee of followthrough, success, coherency, or even sincerity. It's just I'm bitter and cynical enough to think the same caveats hold when people express intentions like greed, vindictiveness, power-grabbing, or lust. Most straight guys, for example, can't tell the difference between lust and a hole in the ground -- but that's another topic for another day. For today, it may be enough to remember how often vehemently expressed greed leads to bankruptcy. All motives are unreliable -- so why selectively repress sociable motives in favor of the sociopathic?

For every 19,800 announcements of eradicated Mr. Nice Guys, we gain only 75 restored or replaced Mr. Nice Guys. Since Mr. Nice Guys are, in fact, a defining comfort of civilized existence, what are we to do?

One of the things I like about the Journal of Personality & Social Psychology is, after they diagnose some way we're fucked up, they try to hack a workaround. (But that's social engineering! Yes, and just talking is social engineering. Coming up with the original hypothesis and putting experimental subjects through the embarrassment and publishing the results are all social engineering. And when newspapers rabidly seize upon some stereotype-reinforcing abstract and caricature it in headlines, that's primo social engineering.)

In "Norm of Self-Interest and Its Effects on Social Action", Rebecca K. Ratner & Dale T. Miller summarize earlier (North American, I presume) studies: Contrary to selfish assumptions, having a personal stake or vested interest in an issue doesn't unduly affect a person's attitudes or opinions about it. Stakes and interests do, however, make it more likely that one's attitudes will be acted on.

The easy, passive, explanation is that this reflects the miraculous power of selfishness.

Instead, it turns out to be caused more by a presumed injunction against altruism. Volunteers insist on explaining, no matter how unconvincingly, their motives as selfishness ("It gets me out of the house," "I like the people I work with"). Non-volunteers -- notably those who remain silent while others are slandered, or passed over, or pushed in -- point out that "It's not my place to interfere," "People will wonder why I'm making a fuss." It's like they'll be perceived as rude.

Horrifyingly, their presumption is right. Among the (North American, I presume) subjects of these studies, public action and public protest truly are likely to draw disapproval when there's no obvious self-interest involved. "Naturally," on the other hand, when there is obvious self-interest, the dominent whatsit is confirmed and strengthened.

But Ratner & Miller, tinkering with this awful machinery, found that if the action is framed to make it seem more legitimate or less objectionable (e.g., through anonymity, or by explicit inclusiveness, as in "everyone wins, it's a win-win, don't worry, people will think you're being selfish"), even nonvested citizens become much more likely to act on their beliefs. Once they grow accustomed to that luxury, who knows what might ensue? Multiple-issue politics even? A boy can dream.

Have we come to this? Imaginary vests and an underground of good intentions? Very well then, if that's the best we can manage....

Act on! Divested, invested, join us, who are not you! You have nothing to lose but your shirts!

. . .

(I know I sound like a broken record. Pretty much all records would be broken if we had to wait 95 years to copy them.)
Intellectual Property Duties

William Blake didn't stop writing in 1818. It just looks that way because his antejerusalem manuscripts were destroyed after his death and before his most fervent admirers were born.

Our access to European pre-Christian culture depends largely on copyists' lack of judgment: wild-assed Christians, like wild-assed fundamentalists of other sacred-or-secular stripes, aren't shy about discarding the not-obviously-utilitarian.

A while ago, I picked up a "great young American poets" anthology from 1880 or so. I recognized only two or three names, and them not for their verse. Among the missing: Dickinson, Melville, and Whitman.

They might've stayed missing, too. Whitman developed a cult while he was living, but scandalized heirs could easily have snuffed posthumous printings. And under our current rules, Moby-Dick and The Confidence-Man wouldn't have entered the public domain until 1961, crimping the 1920s Melville revival.

I'm not worried about the Mouse or Gone with the Wind. Where there's money to be made and no insanity in the family, distribution will probably take place, with or without legal encouragement. And it's arguable, case by case, whether copyright hinders creation in the arts or promotes it or leaves it alone. But it inarguably suppresses art (and embarrassing evidence) after its creation.

Current copyright laws discourage copying in favor of hoarding. Art drops and disappears forever (or for 95 years, whichever comes first) into the capacious legal laps of those who are indifferent or passively hostile towards it. The longer the term of "protection," the greater the chance that a work will encounter an unmotivated owner and be removed from circulation.

Under the previous less-but-still-extreme corporate copyright limit of 75 years, the golden age of American pulp magazines would now be passing into the public domain. Instead, it's crumbling for lack of anyone to get definitive permission from. Individuals such as myself may be willing to take the risk of reprinting orphaned work and waiting to see who protests, but cultural institutions (you know, those people who have archives and funding) cannot.

Worst off -- being both most expensive and most fragile -- is the twentieth century's signature medium.

I became a Hong Kong movie fan in 1985, thanks to the NYC Film Forum's King Hu festival. Having been revealed as one of the greatest directors of the 1960s and 1970s, King Hu then seemed to vanish from American theaters. I'm used to Hong Kong studios' disregard for their own achievements -- one of the many crassnesses they share with 1930s Hollywood -- but I always expected another chance for King Hu, who was, after all, a commercial success in his day.

Forget it. Our local film archive tried for weeks to contact the rights holders. No response at all. As so often happens in the corporate world, it simply isn't worth anyone's time to answer: they figure a lawyer taking a half-hour to check the paperwork would cost more than they'll gain by showing the films. Just wait till 2074....

Although admittedly a novice lawmaker, I offer a possible solution:

Make copyright dependent on the active exercise of copyright.
Copyright "protection" has not only been extended beyond recognition: it's also been made completely passive. You no longer need to register or renew work for it to be legally yours.

That may be fair during an individual creator's lifetime. But the combination of passivity and indefinite-extension encourages disappearance rather than publication. Lengthening copyright on a marginal work makes it more likely to be out of print, unviewable, unrestorable, unencountered, unknowable, and lost.

If copyright extension was contingent upon distribution of a work, profitable works would continue to keep uncreative corporations and heirs fat and happy, while unprofitable works could be freed and rescued by scholars, fanatics, and gamblers.

. . .

The Mouse That Cleared

Only after I watched Michael Eisner chattering with John Travolta at last night's World Series game did it strike me that Scientology Inc. gains fully as much from copyright extension as Disney Corp. does, corporate copyright having provided its main legal recourse against its critics. Dianne Feinstein's Hollywood constituency includes churches as well as studios. Perhaps it's not mere unfortunate happenstance that Scientology has been such an early and extended applier of the DMCA?

Coming up next: applications of cyber-terrorism law!

Fun facts to know & tell: How dumb is Ray? For years, he vaguely believed that Michael Eisner had some connection with the Disney family. On closer analysis, this assumption proved to be based on associating the Disney logo with the signature of Will Eisner. And that's pretty dumb!

. . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . .

Ba-lue Mun-deii Ba-lues-Are

"So Round So Firm So Fully Packed" by Merle Travis, as performed by Johnny Bond & his Red River Valley Boys, 1947

So round, so firm, so fully packed
That's my gal
So complete from front to back
That's my gal
Toasted by the sun
And I'm a son of a gun
If she don't make my five-o'-clock shadow
Come around at one

You can bet your boots I'd walk a mile
Through the snow
Just to see that toothpaste smile
They mention on the radio
If you don't think she's a lot of fun
Just ask the man who owns one
So round, so firm, so fully packed
That's my gal

So round, so firm, so fully packed
She's for me
She's just like a money back
Guarantee
Like the barfly goes for drink
Like the bobbysocks go for Frank
And just like Jesse James would go
For money in the bank
Now she's so sweet and perfect-size
She's a whiz
But she wears a 45
(Gun, that is)
She's got the looks that's so impressing
She's got the pause that's so refreshing
So round, so firm, so fully packed
That's my gal

She always hits the spot
Like a twelve-ounce bottle of pop
And when she smiles I go so wild
I pert near blow my top
Now she's got lots of looks to spare
She's for me
And that certain ring she wears
Is a lifetime guarantee
She's done told me I'm top hand
Won't be long till she wears my brand
So round, so firm, so fully packed
That's my gal
Spanked with a foxtail brush
Corporation disciplines consumer with the foxtail brush of advertising

For a hundred years or so, Americans have explored the ambiguous frontiers of self-definition, forcing the world at gunpoint to join our exciting journey.

Of course I'm not talking about sea-froth like "gender play," or "virtual avatars," or "community." No, I mean the ambiguity so central they put it in the name: incorporation, the profit imperative made better-than-flesh and sent to earth to redeem humanity (value 5¢ ME CT VT MA NY). Which, with recent "trade" agreements, has become the global equivalent of the medieval European Church: a spiritual authority that trumps all local secular rule.

We simple consumers have come to terms with the inescapable as we always have, with our own small attempts at incorporation. We swear allegiance to our patron brands, pin their badges to our clothes, draw our commonplaces from their testaments, collect their relics, and blaspheme at leisure.

I witnessed one notch-click on the pendulum-blade of progress in the 1980s, when, after years of viewing paid celebrity endorsements, American youth volunteered life-service in the sandwich boards free of charge. (For some reason, blanketing the family Volvo NASCAR-style never took off the same way.) I'm a transitional type, myself: although I still unstitch the leatherette patches from Levis, I was perfectly willing to advertise nostalgically "aesthetic" corporate products.

A generation earlier, Merle Travis took the path of Solomon, Hafiz, Meera Bai, and Teresa of Avila, merging sexual desire and spiritual quest in the limited stability of lyric.

It's human nature to bolster one unattainable yearning with another, although that rarely resolves the confusion at their hearts. Here, the singer praises his darling using the sacred vocabulary of sales, which seems to imply that he's selling her. And yet he also insists on her as his exclusive property.

The collector who claims copyright: a Raymond Rohauer of love.

. . .

Time Flies Like a Banana

After the Tudors, the canonical history of English song splits into unsingable-poetry-for-reading and abstract-music-for-listening, a process pretty much complete by the time you get to Dryden and Handel.

Now, you could say (as Pound did) that this is disgraceful decadence, same as when music separates from dance. But why be doomy about it? People do get bored with constraints, after all. Unencumbered, music gained opportunities, and although they may have been squandered, aesthetics is with Abraham: Peradventure there be ten righteous within the genre, then spare all the place for their sakes.

Even when Renaissance lyric was most neglected, evidence of its existence wasn't completely erased. That's the magic of artifact: the old hat survives to be rediscovered as healing-touch relic. (And, paddling my hobbyhorse, that's also the tragedy of copyright extension, which buries work alive and then posts a guard against desecration by exhumers.) Meanwhile, among the unwashed folk, and then among the unwashed consumers, integrated song and integrated dance rattled merrily along outside the approved cultural marketplace, eventually to be picked up by ambitious self-marketers.

Most of us would admit that poetry's landholdings have only shrunk since Pound's youth. Verse is no longer written for newspapers; newspapers don't even quote it except for sake of scandal. We don't experience quotidian poetry; its role has been taken over by other arts.

And this isn't something to regret, unless you're too snobbish to credit any virtù outside your own. It's perfectly fine that Anton Webern wasn't Robert Johnson: compromise wouldn't have been improvement. Cultural history doesn't reflect a decline but a series of bifurcations and tardy acknowledgments.

So when I call poetry dead, or call our period Hellenistic, I don't mean it insultingly. The high arts aren't "high" as in class, or "high" as in IQ, but "high" as in "that venison is beginning to get pretty high." There's the ripeness of strawberries and there's the ripeness of cheese.

Twentieth-century-and-later Anglo poetry is interesting because it's a dead art. The dead have one great advantage: They don't have to make a living.

+ + +

Are weblogs, in contrast, a living form?

Not the way I do them.

. . .

Shake a Leg

Predictably, the first request Pseudopodium received was:

Kick Me!

Along similar lines, Juliet Clark forwards this story from the Free Lance Star:

Authorities say the fight started when the victim, Michael Clapp, 38, discovered a bottle of medicine missing from his Townsend Boulevard apartment Wednesday night.

Clapp suspected his neighbor, 27-year-old Rodney Prophitt, and went next door to confront him around 7:15 p.m., city police spokesman Jim Shelhorse said.

When he did, police say, Prophitt knocked Clapp to the ground, then pulled off his artificial leg and struck him with it several times.

"At some point, Mr. Clapp was able to grab his leg back, get back to his apartment and call 911," Shelhorse said.

Clapp was treated at Mary Washington Hospital for a broken nose and other facial injuries. Shelhorse did not know what type of medication was taken or why Clapp has a prosthetic leg.

A reader is puzzled by our "Respond at brief" box:

But where does this go?
To the top, Johnny!

Another asks:

Is The Scarlet Letter a protofeminist novel?
No.

Speaking of old Turks of the deepest dye, pf takes issue:

"Shakespeare's drama individuates rather than inflates." But his poetry does the opposite.
Intensifies instead, I'd say unlike D. H. Lawrence, who really didn't shouldn't have wasted so much time getting to those last five words of his. What a snob he was. As if suburbanites didn't need bombast just as much as anyone else.

In other news that stays news, copyright extension has worked its special magic again; cf. And Mister Pants and Dirk Hine are back and badder than ever. Which would make them superquadruperbad!

Responses

The use of courier as a font gives me nightmares involving Charlie Kaufman. Just thought you should know.

And what a burden that knowledge will be. If you have access to ITC American Typewriter, it's a worthy alternative.

Still the nightmares keep coming:

oh god no not stephen joyce pf (ps dh has got a bit of his own empty bombast which is what appeals to me about that poem)

. . .

Notes & Queries

Regarding our makeover, a reader shudders:

J-peg, the hook
Another poses the riddle:
Q: Why wasn't Ulysses S. Grant an anti-semite?
A: Because he was a son of Jesse!

We tend to be a bit down on copyright extension around here. Providing some balance, Doug Asherman exemplifies its promotion of the progress of science and useful arts.

. . .

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.)


1.

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.

Responses

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.

. . .

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.

Responses

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!

. . .

The Secondary Source Review

Language and Creativity: The art of common talk
by Ronald Carter, Routledge, 2004

An affable celebration of the formal qualities of informal conversation, backed by two big assets:

The book is therefore recommended to one and all, although it suffered a persistent limp after its first misstep into "Creativity," the gopher hole.

What Carter means by creative seems something more exactly named non-semantic, and better approximated by aesthetic, prosodic, performative, hedonic, ludic, or even politic.

What a difference a bad word makes.

For starters, and harrumphing as a math major and computer programmer, it's kind of offensive to presume (as Carter's forced to) that there's no creativity in semantics. Where do new abstractions and techniques come from? Yeah, I know some people think they're just lying around in the cave waiting for us to trip over them, but some people think that about alliteration too.

Attacking on the other front, prosodic patterning relies on formula. Tags, well-worn puns and rhymes, simple repetition, are all aspects of conversation that Carter wants to bring out, but calling them "creative" stretches the flavor out of the word.

CANCODE documents the impulse to self-consciously draw attention to the material units of supposedly transparent communication: a social need to undo meaning in favor of surface. That's worth documenting, all right. But Carter's "creative" slant gives preferential treatment to idiomatic metaphors when virtually any non-core aspect of speech or gesture can be fucked with: a proper name, for example, or an instruction manual.

Here's Carter's example of language which thoroughly "lacks the property of literariness":

"Commence by replacing the hub-bearing outer race (33), Fig. 88, which is a press fit and then drop the larger bearing (32) into its outer member followed by oil seal (31), also a press fit, with lip towards bearing. Pack lightly with grease."

Only a little earlier he had transcribed a group of friends making double-entendre hash of the job of drilling a hole in a wall. Imagine what they could've done reading this aloud. Imagine it in a political poetry anthology under the title "White Man's Burden". It doesn't take much effort to re-insert "literariness" into writing.

Re-insert the literary into writing.... That has a peculiar sound, doesn't it?

Writing, in our current origin myths, was designed to carry an ideational burden, starting with ledgers, shopping lists, and rule books. If that's the case, then it would require special writerly effort to reinstate the non-semantic balance conversation achieves so effortlessly. That special effort, which we might call "literary," would then receive special notice. When the social cues that hold conversation together changed, so would "literary" style, and, for example, the current fiction-writer's hodgepodge of brand-and-band names wouldn't be a sign of fiction's decline, but of its continued adaptability. (Man, I wish I felt this as easily as I argue it.) In a focus-driven reversal of perspective, the written, having gotten such abundant credit for its efforts to mimic ordinary prosody, would eventually become the norm for prosodic effects.

And so we end up here, praising quotidian conversation for possessing the very "poetic" qualities that originated in it. Carter's use of the term "creative" (as in "Creative Writing Department") reinforces this confusion while his evidence clears it up.

Finally, the positive self-help connotations of "creativity" somewhat obscures one of the most intriguing trails through CANCODE's walled garden: the extent to which playful, euphonic, and memorable language is prompted by hostility. Or, more precisely, how the verbal dance between meaning and surface mutually instigates and supports the social dance between individual aggression and communal solidarity.

This might help explain the peculiarly bickering or bitchy tone that emerges in the extended nonsense of Lewis Carroll, Walt Kelly, Krazy Kat, and Finnegans Wake, and why many a delightful bit of fluff begins life as vicious parody. (Also for the record, I think how the fluff ends up is just as important a part of the story as how it began. May all your unintended consequences be little ones.)

Responses

Now that's nattering!
Recognizing the essential truth of adaptability doesn't mean you have to like or even think well of the Thing, Adapted. (The eohippus was sweet, after all: was it too high a price to pay for the horse? Can't we all just get along?)

Danged good point. Almost fell into prescriptive grammarian hell there.

You were a math major?

The hows and wherefores have been mentioned here before, but, to my surprise, the whys have not, although they might be guessed at easily enough by more general remarks. In brief, given an apparent choice between paying more lip-service to my pleasures and being allowed to keep them, I preferred the latter.

But where does it all come from?

I ask the same thing every time I have a sinus infection.

"Pack lightly with grease" has such a delicate feel to it . . . very nice, very literary.

The always rewarding Tom Matrullo has found a particularly challenging angle to strike his flint against. May sparks fly high and wide.

John Holbo (aided by Vladimir Nabokov) combines the topics of abstraction, art, and aggression in a lovely meditation on chess.

. . .

On the Internet, No One Knows You're an Ex-Abstract-Expressionist

An American 1 grid, two by two, class by medium.

  Eye Word
High Painting Poetry
Low Comics Science Fiction

By "class" I don't mean to imply financial security or inherent merit. It's more an institutional distinction. The lowbrow is subject to cultural and economic pressure en masse; the highbrow is sustained largely by individuals' nostalgia for roles which are (now) free of such pressure. No one talks about a painting or a poem outside the brand of its creator, whereas comics and science fiction packaging may barely register the authors' names. Training in the highbrow tends to be academic; training in the lowbrow tends to be vocational. It's all business, of course, but the rhetoric of the businesses differ.

Although love is blind to such divisions, who we love is at least somewhat influenced by who our neighbors are and which strangers we most resent. And so it seems to happen that painters know poets and science fiction writers know comics artists.

When they start out, that is. While no one has money. Before the business side of the business becomes too apparent. As we've touched on here and there before, if the rows split by rhetoric, the columns split by business relationships.

Notoriously, a great many purchasers and publishers of poetry are or want to be poets to such an extent that contemporary literary journals cynically count on receiving more prize contestants than subscribers. The positions of consumer and producer within science fiction fandom are almost as fluid: critics regularly become authors; authors regularly become editors.

On the other column, in both brow levels of visual arts, the most powerful influence isn't the wannabe but the collector, who's very rarely any sort of producer themselves. And here's where economic class becomes explicit.

High Art, being about individual taste, individual genius, and the glamorized pre-industrial, requires the personal touch. Only the rich can collect art because the valued artist can only hand-craft a limited number of products. Even when the artist's product could be (or clearly is) factory produced, scarcity is enforced. During a painter's lifetime, the dealer may take a sizable cut, but the painter still profits from profitability. Commissioned works are not yet extinct.

Low Art, being the art of our own culture, openly depends on mass reproduction. In the comics world, work tends to be for hire, copyright owned by the syndicate rather than the artists. Creator, customer, and the financial exchange all become abstractions managed by The Company, or a series of companies. Meetings are awkward. Even when brought face to face with collectors, the good cartoonist is liable to stay with communal gift ethics rather than advancing into capitalism. Unsurprisingly, the comic book portrayal of comics collectors is less flattering than the typical patron's portrait in the high arts: grubby, infantile, tasteless.

Artists' personal inclinations and illusions aside, the businesses of visual art pander to the collector and the connoisseur. That's what they were made for. This can lead to a closed-room-where-something-died atmosphere that we outsiders find offputting. You don't get to be (or enjoy) Alan Moore or Grant Morrison unless you're comfortable with Silver Age superheroes, and you don't get to be (or enjoy) a San Francisco Art Institute graduate unless you're comfortable with bullshit "Statement"s. Not that I'm any fan of wall labels, but this attack on gallery pretensions by someone who's done a Spider-Man comic made me feel a bit queasy.

Now, as a thought experiment, drop the economic barriers even lower than pulp. Imagine vastly increased distribution for a vastly lowered cost. Community and collectors would no longer be in conflict except as copyright makes them so. Comics could be sold directly to customers. High art might rub elbows with low. Poets might associate with fanboys. Hell, fangirls might get a chance to be heard.

In some ways it's not so bad to live in interesting times.


1.

American comic books, comic strips, and science fiction are all explicitly (if sometimes misleadingly) rooted in juvenile pulp, whereas European comic books appear to carry more genetic material from middle-class nineteenth century albums of engravings. European science fiction publishing seems to maintain some continuity with furrowed-brow Edwardian futurologists. I don't know from manga.

Responses

A concerned reader informs us:

neighbor saw me in my boxers, I FEEL VIOLATED

Atomized junior properly ties class to collection management. The canon and the blockbuster determine what's most likely to be preserved and passed along; as barriers to transmission grow ever higher, less of the "uninteresting" non-canonical non-blockbuster survives to refresh future stagnant water. Again, web publication might work as a counterbalance but only if left to its own indiscriminate and promiscuous devices.

. . .

Consumer News

A free market is a dumb market. I mean, even aside from its stubborn feuds with education, health, species survival, and so on even on its own terms of delivering quality goods to people who'll pay for them, it's a screw-up. Look at how short-sighted zombie-lived speculative greed over copyright has blocked consumer access to a wealth of wonderful reissues. Look at the Betamax. Or fresh produce.

But in those cases I know what went wrong. A more mysterious failure of American capitalism is the vanishing of orange bitters, key to such classic cocktails as the Manhattan which can bull on through regardless of casualties, like the Dirty Dozen Minus Two and, more tragically, the martini.

A mere mix of gin and dry vermouth is as dull, oily, and incoherent as the defeated executives who classically swill it. But with a brush of this liquid Philosopher's Stone, in a harp-and-bell glissando a bad marriage becomes a Drink an sich and you're transformed from Henry Jones to William Powell.

So why isn't it stocked anywhere? It's not like the bottles are that big.

Anyway, I'm not saying this just to taunt you, unless you don't live in the East Bay. I found a shelf that carries orange bitters at Monterey Liquors, 1590 Hopkins, Berkeley, conveniently near a source of fresh produce. Go thou and do likewise. (As garnish for the complete Cholly Martini, olives stuffed with preserved lemon are available from the Spanish Table on San Pablo Ave.)

Responses

Je zia sano!

Off your vole! (A raised glass: the truly universal language.)

By gum, that's an inestimable public service you just performed. Come over some time for a martini or three. -paul

It'll take a while to work out just which Paul this is. Happily, I have almost a pint of orange bitters.

I've been reminded that some connoisseurs "suggest simply allowing a ray of sunlight to shine through a bottle of Noilly Prat before it hits the bottle of gin." And it's true that the most sophisticated solution to bad marriages is to spend days at the office and nights at the Club. Hélas! I am a sentimental shopkeeper at heart.

Jordan turns out to be a child of privilege. Huh.

Under the provocatively proper subject line "I like 2:1 myself", brilliant Richard Butner pours:

Agree on free market = dumb market. Oh so many examples.

[...] But, re: the cinepad link in your recent post. Ahem. Bunuel (sorry, no tilde in this mail program) was right about a lot of things, but probably not the proper role of vermouth in martini construction. (At least he got the brand right.) See LCRW #12! A martini without vermouth is just a punchline to a bad joke.

I'm with you and we are right. I tried to let the spirit of Buñuel down soft and easy with some self-deprecation, but the sincerity of my self-deprecation wasn't meant to negate the sincerity of myself. I like the idea of a saved marriage.

A martini without vermouth is just a reference. Not even a joke. And I know the difference, 'cause I can't tell jokes.

. . .

Ass Meat Research Group Update

Adding immeasurably to my cred as a "literary blogger," Aaron Mandel has sent me a scoop. And not just any scoop a scoop of edible offals!

Several years ago it was your webpage that alerted me to the existence of contemporary authors Ass Meat Research Group, Chilled The Fresh and Frozen Horse.

If you have not been keeping tabs on the gentlemen or ladies in question, I can inform you that when I checked sometime in 2003, I found that Amazon had miscredited all their works to some boring old single entity called "The Fresh, Chilled and Frozen Horse and Ass Meat Research Group".

However, it seems that Ass Meat Research Group, at least, is back to the literary world, now collaborating with Czech poet-manque Sheep The Edible Offals of Bovi.

by Preserved The Salted, et al

I see Bloo the Meat and Preserved the Salted have also been active:

by Meat Offals and Bloo the Meat

Still no reprints of Rosin the Bow or Preserved Fish, however. I blame copyright extensions.

. . .

Walter Benjamin in the Age of Mechanical Copyright Extension

"Every age must strive anew to wrest tradition away from the conformism that is working to overpower it. The Messiah comes not only as the redeemer; he comes as the victor over the Antichrist. The only historian capable of fanning the spark of hope in the past is the one who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he is victorious. And this enemy has never ceased to be victorious."
- Walter Benjamin, "On the Concept of History", 1940

. . .

Playstationed

(Also at The Valve)

Variations on a theme by Amardeep Singh

I have always liked Andersen's fairy tale of the Steadfast Tin Soldier. Fundamentally, it is the symbol of my life.
- Thomas Mann to Agnes Meyer
At that moment one of the little boys picked up the soldier and tossed him right into the stove, giving no explanation at all. The troll in the box was most certainly to blame.

The tin soldier stood there, brightly lit, and felt a terrible heat, but whether it was from the actual fire or from love, he didn't know. The paint had worn right off him, but whether this happened on his journey or from sorrow, no one could say.

- Hans Christian Andersen
Every day you see his army march down the street,
Changing guards at the High Road.
He's a tin soldier man
Living in his little tin wonderland,
Very happy little tin soldier man
When you set him on your knee.

In Singh's account, a feminist critic of Toy Story would be pleased that a girl owns toys. A less sanguinely imagined feminist would also note the toys' rigid gender segregation, with girls relegated to support and nagging while character development, plot points, and boffos go to the boys. Another viewer might be nettled by the contrast between a story which merged handmade family toys with imported plastics and a production which contributed to the replacement of hand-drawn original characters with celebrity-voiced 3-D models. Or by the movie's recycling in more concentrated form an earlier era's conformist fantasies, newly trademarking someone else's nostalgia to push "like momma used to buy" security. And leave us let aside those misguided children who for some reason lack access to such lovably life-fulfilling objects....

I believe these reactions to the Toy Story movies are possible since, alongside cheerier reactions, I felt them all myself. And, as with Amardeep's reactions, I think they all suggest stories about criticism. He's struck (or stuck) a rich vein here as Hans Christian Andersen did when he first made the fairy tale a vehicle for meta-fiction.

* * *

"The Steadfast Tin Soldier" isn't an example of Andersen's meta-fictions. (I've made a long list of them and I just checked: "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" isn't on it.) But as the ur-text of Toy Story 1 and 2, it might have something to offer meta-criticism. Let's see!

This particular tin soldier "the one who turned out to be remarkable" is disabled a birth defect left him only one leg and immobile. While the other toys gain autonomy and "play" (that is, squabble, jostle, chafe, bully, whine, and put on airs), the tin soldier stays resolutely toylike, moved only by outside forces.

But his immobility has nothing to do with his disability; on the contrary, it's his claim to mastery: No matter what threatens him, no matter who attracts him, no matter how it might benefit him to bend or speak up, he remains "steadfast", silent, at attention until the end, of course, when we find what stuff he's made of.

The troll-in-the-snuff-box curses the soldier for the fixity of his male gaze, its object an immobile paper ballerina en pointe. Misled by his unvaried point of view, he believes her also one-legged, and therefore a suitable match. He learns his mistake only a moment before one of the children decides to put away childish things with a vengeance.

* * *

I don't know how other folks take the "station" in "Playstation". I'm a Navy brat, so I assume it refers to a tour of duty something you're assigned to live through, pleasant or not.

For me, not; maturing seemed a continuous trading up. (Until I got to backaches and ear hair, anyway.)

But then my version of maturity like yours is a bit peculiar.

* * *

Advertising supports and depends on reader identification. This story is your story; this story is brought to you by this product; this product produces your story.

Our story, ours right here, is a story of salvation-through-consumption. No matter how we put it to ourselves, literary readers' status as consumers seems clear enough to publishers and copyright hoarders. What makes us niche consumers is our attachment to kid's stuff stuff we refuse to throw away despite its blatant obsolescence.

For most non-academics, including a number of English majors I've met, all literature is children's literature. Prepubescents get Gulliver's Travels, adolescents get Moby Dick, and college freshmen might be served an indigestible bit of Henry James. Once normal people have a job, they never again bother with such things until they have children of their own. Even if they patiently crate, uncrate, and re-shelve their T. S. Eliot and Emily Dickinson volumes over the decades, they won't place Amazon orders for A Hundredth Sundrie Flowers or Best American Poetry 2004.

(Which is why "fair use" nowadays tends to get narrowly defined as educational use. No normal adult would want access to a 1930s novel or magazine or song or movie for its own sake.)

In such a world, disputes between proponents of "realistic" and "experimental" fiction seem as absurd as a Federation-outfitted Trekkie snubbing a Dark Shadows fan for his fangs. Grown-ups know the real battles are between the Red Sox and the Yankees or the Christians and Satan, and know the only stories worth reading are True-Life Adventures of themselves. To the vast majority of Americans, all of us here are only marginally distinguishable from the arrested development cases depicted by Chris Ware or Barry Malzberg.

I carry some of their skepticism. It was bred into me, like my bad teeth and whiskey craving. I wince at a poem demanding that this war be stopped right now!, or at a blurb like "You can't spell 'Marxist' without Matrix", or at the ALSC Forum's complaint that community college composition classes stint the Homeric epic, and it's the same wince I made at Ware's "Keeping Occupied" column:

A lonely youth in eastern Nebraska came up with the idea of drawing circuit chips and machine parts on squares of paper and affixing them to his skin with celluloid tape. Hidden beneath his socks and shirt sleeves, these surprising superhuman additions would be just the things he needed to gain respect and awe while changing clothes amongst his peers before gym class.
- Acme Novelty Library. Winter, 1994-1995. Number Four, Volume Three.

. . .

Reference Work, 3

Jonathan, if you're reading this -- rather than ask you to back out of a business commitment, rather than deprive the fans of what will probably be an excellent story, I propose that you simply retitle the story and rename the characters. "Omega The Unknown" has little or no commercial cachet, so call the book something else. Call the kid something other than James-Michael Starling. Make the book your own, and I'll have nothing to complain about.
- Steve Gerber
If I'd wanted to make a comic book that had no connection to anything anyone had ever done before, that didn't utilize existing characters, I likely wouldn't have been talking with Marvel in the first place. The allure of working with Marvel was to take something that existed and repurpose it, give it a different spin. After all, I work with solitary materials all the time.

And it seemed, of course, that Gerber, like so many of the comic book writers that I'd so admired, had himself done so much of this kind of repurposing and knitting in to the collective tapestry. So I couldn't imagine there being a reason not to do it. I was quite disconcerted when his reaction was so unhappy.

- Jonathan Lethem

The levelling of cultural class distinctions was before anything else a fact of consumption, celebrated by consumers: '60s postmodernists pigged out on several civilizations' worth of colorful munchies, and eventually we reached the boys-must-have-their-toys retail world of Nick Hornby.

Commendably, Chabon and Lethem have kept content-producers in mind and on the page. What impressed me most about Kavalier and Clay's reception wasn't its Pulitzer Prize but its approval by comics professionals. The Fortress of Solitude doesn't just reference soul music and graffiti to gesture at its protagonist's inner life: it includes soul musicians and taggers as characters, and its turn away from them created genuine reader distress a rare formal achievement in the high-mainstream.

Still, even the well-wisher can be blindsided. "It's all folk music," and folk will insist on fussing over their quaint differences.

* * *

Restricted to graphic evidence, a Martian researcher would conclude that cartoonists have bullied high artists pretty much since comics began. For every ambiguously dismissive Roy Lichtenstein or Mike Kelley appropriation, there must be dozens of gag panels about Manet, Renoir, Picasso, Pollock, Warhol, Moore, Rauschenberg, or, well, Lichtenstein.

So why's so much offense expressed by the aggressors?

Money's the obvious answer. That's supposed to be the reason we do everything, right? We're freakin' on rational gameplay! When Rolling Stones asserted copyright on a cover version or a Beatle repurposed a song structure, it can't be compared to the credits we find on rural blues 78s or to retitled bebop permutations of "I Got Rhythm": raising the stakes changed the game.

But these financial differences seem more justification than explanation. As Lethem's rightly pointed out, most high-mainstream fiction writers aren't awarded MacArthur Fellowships or big Hollywood pay-offs: the midlist's dying everywhere. Most attempters at high art have to live hand to mouth, or on someone else, or by not-so-highly-artistic labor. Similarly, not all SF and fantasy writers or comics professionals can be fully described as class-traitor hacks pumping out propaganda for the Man.

Even if the income discrepency was real, there'd have to be more behind this inter-genre hostility and defensiveness. Otherwise, we'd see the same intransigence within the genre. Instead the temporary setting aside of such distinctions is a characteristic pleasure of any living art: Will Eisner chatting at the convention; F&SF pages shared by Neil Gaiman and a first sale; Ian McKellen drinking with the stunt crew....

Noncombatant Eddie Campbell suggests that the comics world's exaggerated concern over Roy Lichtenstein's "plagiarism" springs from the same source as the high art world's unconvincing defenses of Lichtenstein's "originality":

And that is the problem with art today: the artist believes he must find a style (or a schtick really) and defend it with his life. And if all the schticks are already taken, he must pull one out of his ass. He must find one, invent one, fabricate one, for he can be nothing if he cannot be original. It's what I once saw termed 'the neurosis of innovation'.

But given its studio labor hand-offs, house styles, ghosting, and swipes, the comics world must have appropriated that neurosis from the high art world which seems odd if it's meant to explain hostility towards the high art world.

My guess is that on both sides of the Lichtenstein line, resentment came first as that fine young critic Dennis P. Eichhorn said before he threw up, "This is WRONG!" and was then intensified by embarrassment over the resentment's irrationality.

What is WRONG depends on conflicting unexamined notions of what's right.

The markets for literary fiction, paintings, and sculpture came over time to center on The Artist: the artist is the guarantor of value; value increases with proximity to the artist; the "property" at stake is the individual masterwork and the master's name. Kurt Vonnegut was willing to lend out the "Kilgore Trout" character only until he feared it threatened the more important Kurt Vonnegut franchise. Even if Lethem would be fine with a band naming itself the Subtle Distinctions or Monster Eyes, he might not feel flattered by a political blogger assuming the pseduonym "Jonathan Lethem".

In more openly collaborative arts, the big return came from cross-media cross-laborer merchandising. Whether financial or emotional, the stablest investment was in a recognizable character or setting. No matter who wrote the book, if it's Superman it's DC's. And the self-evidence of "creator's rights" isn't just a side-effect of employee exploitation by particular employers: Vaughn Bodé's lack of full-time legal staff made Ralph Bakshi's Wizards no less vile a theft. If Steve Gerber ran SG Comics, he'd have a staff of artists and writers; if someone lifted a gag or a layout, water off a duck's back. His desire to protect "Omega"-as-name is generically as one with Lethem's desire to re-write "Omega"-as-name.

Continuous copyright extension, pushed by corporations but justified by individuals, ratchets mutual befuddlement into pandemonium. The collision of these two contexts bruises feelings, threatens litigation, and brought on much of the shock and/or awe of post-WWII high art.

On the other side of what used to (before the train wreck) be the tracks, studios feel compelled to signal closure ever more vehemently, then to repress the memory. The star system was once a way to let contract players like Jimmy Cagney and Edward G. rise and fall and rise again; "Leon Schlesinger"'s Elmer and Daffy would exit stage up or down, and be back for the next matinee. But with every movie a blockbuster and every director an auteur, the most exploitable "property" becomes the individual work, and contemporary Hollywood prefers remakes to series or reissues. After losing the groove it lost the plot.

Freed of fleshy wear and tear, pledged to continuity, superhero series exhibit the syndrome most starkly: the big narrative statement kills, the trademark resurrects. For the smartest producers, apocalyptic death and painful rebirth convey the horror of our quotidian nightmare: our economic house of bubbles; our self-help books that change lives like socks; our sin-again-born-again spiritual amnesties; our flips from force-fed to famine.... The weaker producers merely participate.

... Next: The Startling Conclusion! ...

. . .

Saturnine by Rayner Heppenstall

Although the paper stock's pure 1943, page five warns us the text won't keep to AUTHORIZED ECONOMY STANDARDS:

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS AND DISCLAIMER

Fragments of this narrative have appeared in Harper's Bazaar, Kingdom Come, The New English Weekly and Partisan Review. It is fiction. Outside pp. 130-134, all the characters are imaginary, and no further reference is made to a living or recently deceased person except Messrs. L. N. Fowler of Ludgate Circus, Dr. Pearson of the Middlesex Hospital, the Grand Duke Cyril of Russia, Lifar, de Basil, Balanchine, Nijinsky, Legat and Diaghilev of the Russian ballet, Lawrence of Arabia and D. H. Lawrence, Duke Ellington, the late Canon H. R. L. Sheppard, Jessie Matthews and Sonnie Hale, Isobel Baillie and Anna Wickham, Lady Astor, Henry Moore and Ben Nicholson, Gabo, Miró and Georges Bernanos, Gordon Craig, Heifetz and Rudolf Steiner, a number of all-in wrestlers and Joe E. Brown, Clark Gable and the Chinese naval attaché, Marshal Pétain, M. Stalin and Mr. Winston Churchill, the late Mr. Neville Chamberlain, the Hangman and the reigning house of this realm.

A slip is tipped in:

SATURNINE by Rayner Heppenstall
This First Edition is limited to 1,650 copies,
of which 1,600 copies are for sale in the
United Kingdom.
Erratum: p. 5, line 3, for "pp. 130-134" read
"pp. 124-128."

And yes, while the narrator observes perspectival and temporal bounds, his text otherwise strays. Phlegmy strands of narrative dissolve and re-emerge in a fashion difficult to capture in a short excerpt, but this paragraph incorporates a number of characteristic concerns:

At the age of fifteen, Caroline was physically mature and obstinately shy. This was the fault of her mother who still kept her in very brief, childish frocks, so that she had something of the perverse and rather horrible attraction of the principal boy in a pantomime. She was a large, handsome child, with clustering, fair hair and big, golden legs. Her face had the suggestively Jewish nose and short upper lip of a virgin sheep newly dipped. She was presumably born under Aries. I found her disturbing and was rather ashamed of the fact. Margaret said that I had no need to be, for the child was obviously of an age to be desired or she wouldn't be that shape.

(Margaret is the narrator's wife.)

Later experts reached to the nouveau roman for a parallel; myself, I was reminded more of Italo Svevo and Burroughs's Queer and Baron Corvo's certainty that all his vagaries were projected from heaven in letters of fiery gold Saturnine's most startling literary reference comes when the narrator considers naming his newborn daughter after the boy-toy-gondolier in The Desire and Pursuit of the Whole. (And in a startling biographical coincidence, Heppenstall's wife was also named "Margaret", and she also bore a daughter in 1940, and an unadvisably cumbersome name also seems to have been considered.)

All these comparisons are afterthoughts at best; the reading itself is an "inexplicable tumble." About two-thirds through, Heppenstall belatedly defends his technique in reviewer-friendly terms:

It seems as if I were telling four or five stories at once, but that is how it was. I can imagine this story divided up between four or five distinct novels. There would be the novel dealing with a business man who crashed and upon whom a hitherto suppressed romanticism thereafter took its revenge, causing him to suffer from delusions and eventually to lose his memory. There would be a novel dealing with the London of before the war and during the Sitzkrieg, its decadent intellectualism, its circles of vice, the disintegration of personality later to be remedied by a national risorgimento. There would be novels of simpler theme, the downfall of an erotophile, the errant husband and wife brought together by the birth of a child. More interesting perhaps than any of these, there would be a highly atmospheric novel dealing with experiences in a half-world of death and rebirth. But in actuality these and other potential themes were inextricable, and I cannot truthfully say what effect attached to what cause or indeed which was cause and which effect. Any attempt at all-embracing consistency would be dishonest (and I believe that it is always so in life and that all novel-writing is dishonest in its degree). I can but play upon the surface and hint at underlying depths wherever I am aware of them.

Nevertheless, I am certain that all things do cohere within a pattern, that anarchy and chaos are conditions not to be found in nature and that, if one were possessed of the necessary technique, the whole of a man and a man's life could be read clearly from a single hair of his head, as some claim to read it in the palm of his hand.

The reviewers of 1943 did not return his friendliness. But when we step back a bit, Saturnine's architectural scheme (if not its pattern) appears clear enough: four parts, chronologically arranged, each climbing a bluff of crumbling consciousness and ending on a cliffhanger. The first part might be a bit more obsessed with class hatred, the second with mysticism, and the third with sex I haven't run the stats; vague impressions seem truer to the material and the fourth detaches from an increasingly mobilized world.

In that fourth part we reach pp. 124-128 (not to be confused with pp. 130-134), a long and apparently essential (albeit fruitless) visit with unimaginary Oskar Kokoschka and his young lover, "Mom"; a Google Books snippet tells us that "Kokoschka and Croft also seemed to have had a major argument about Saturnine.... Kokoschka, who features in the book, had tried to persuade Heppenstall, a friend of his, to work Croft 'into the story.' Although in the end no reference was made to Croft in the book, Croft considered Saturnine 'in the very worst of taste.'"

That, at least, is undeniable. The Daily Express particularly didn't care to consider the stink of excrement and putrefaction which rises from the Queen of England and the little princesses "if you stick your nose in the appropriate place," and then there's the company of sailors and the lady sawn in half and the pro wrestling, the new recruit's micropenis and the more fabulous penis of Paradies, the narrator's worm and the Siamese kittens' worms, revulsion towards Christmas and sympathy for "the German cry against encirclement," and this maternity-ward farewell:

‘I expect they’ll start by shaving you,’ I said.

‘Darling,’ said Margaret. ‘They've shaved me already. Kiss me again, darling.’

The nurse went out.

Margaret said:

‘Darling, do you love me?’

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘At least, I think so.’

All accurate enough, we suppose, but in the very worst of taste. While we would never, ever presume the book was autobiographical ("it is fiction"), we do have to wonder just what his friends and lovers see in the narrator, no Adonis, and a self-iconoclast that destroys his own virtues underneath your eyes. It's small wonder that only 1650 copies of Saturnine were ever printed; the tasteful can thank infinite copyright extension for keeping it (and every other of Heppenstall's books) out of print. May the Guardian of the Threshold preserve us from pirates!

Responses

Too late!

. . .

Our Democratic Heritage

"'A Sacrifice on the Altar of Slavery':
Doughface Politics and Black Disenfranchisement in Pennsylvania, 1837-1838"
by Nicholas Wood, Journal of the Early Republic, 31.1, 2011

(in honor of MLK-EMI-Sony and Intellectual Rentier Day,
another thing behind the distributor paywall)

I knew that who's-the-real-victimizing, delusional Father Fundamentalism, and selective application of State Rights all had deep roots. But I didn't until now appreciate how much Northern Jim Crow also owed to triangulation and too-big-to-failure.

Democrat John J. M'Cahen admitted that free blacks were "civilized creatures, possessed of the same faculties, and capable of forming the same impressions as the whites." Nonetheless, "the peace, happiness, and prosperity of a community, sometimes depended on the adoption of measures, which bore somewhat harder on one portion of the people than on the other." Similarly, Charles Brown who had previously described the happy slaves in Virginia acknowledged that he "knew negroes living in the county of Philadelphia, who were fully as competent to exercise the right of voting as any man in the city or county of Philadelphia." Still, like M'Cahen, Brown supported disfranchisement. And although Brown denied that his actions were done purely to please the South, he equated black suffrage with abolitionism and disunion. The proponents of black suffrage "would have us put ourselves in an attitude of defiance to the southern states, instead of doing all that lay in our power to quiet the apprehensions and alarm which the mad schemes and conduct of northern abolitionists had created among them!" However, Brown trusted his fellow delegates would choose correctly "if the right of the negroes to vote was to be put in the scale against the union of these states."

. . .

Perpetual Copyright on Intellectual Property

The old Roman law had insisted that freed slaves should continue to render obsequiuum personal service to their masters. This law was maintained with particular vigor in the church. In the words of the fourth council of Toledo (in 633 AD), the descendants of all slaves freed by the church were expected to continue to owe “service and obedience” to the church. They did this “because the church never dies.”
- Peter Brown, Through the Eye of a Needle:
Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350–550 AD

 

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