Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Contra Woods

Happy to add a link to Contra James Wood, where political connections and ideological subtexts I've noted in previous posts... more subtle with Woods than the more obviously bought-and-paid-for Myers, but disturbingly obvious, are exposed.

Edmond Caldwell's critiques are precise and on target.

This is the literary axillary of the New Liberalism, the failed ideology of "The End of History."

I've been ranting about this for more than 25 years, since Hilton Kramer left the New York Times for the New Criterion.

These are critics for whom literature comes second, governed by their reluctance to acknowledge writers they fear might undermine the power elite whose world view they believe artists are obligated to serve.

The Critical Oracle

Stephen Mitchelmore links The Reading Experience for a thoughtful look-in-the mirror on literary weblogs.

Dan Green proposes a new category of book blogs: critblog. It's a useful distinction because, as his post explains, the proliferation of literary weblogs has been led by "superficial chitchat and literary gossip" rather than critical engagement with the oracle.

A "critical engagement with the oracle."

I like that. I like that from many sides... the way I like to circle around those large, multi-figure works when I visit the Rodin Museum on the Parkway. Multi-figured, multi-dimensional. As many dimensions as there are possible points of view. Oracles are like that. You take them at their word to your peril. Better to circle around. Play with the syntax. Imagine them in all the possible dimensions that seem to make sense. And then, reconfigure them and begin to work out the patterns that don't. ..

... make sense.

Not at first.

This is what I was beginning to get at in my post with the somewhat embarrassing title, at least, the morning after... Me, an Artist?.

I had in mind then, what I often feel writing on this blog--that it is not like the writing I do working on my novel. Revising a poem. It's more a kind of performance. Done in full view. Often terrifying... because it unfolds on an empty stage in an empty theater with doors and windows open... walls and posts in the city papered with flyers announcing the event. And they come, or they don't come--for the most part, all but invisible. Like trails in a cloud chamber. I wake in a panic infused with their... your... silent judgement... imagined... but real as the word of the oracle, the word misread, the furies loosed.

I should write reviews. I should work out my thoughts on the novel I've just finished reading. Make this into a nice LitCrit blog. Safe... safe... about ideas safely sublimated.

But I don't. And I ask myself why?

... because I come here to find my oracle.

Not my "muse." But the word spoken that wakes me to myself--wakes me from myself. Even if it terrifies me. The word of the oracle... this is what I take back, take with me--away from the stage. To be opened in private... writing. Alone... but not alone, because in the word of the oracle resides the presence of all those who were or might have been there listening, judging, waiting...

Waiting for me to retreat into my solitude--no longer alone.

Every subject--even the "shallow gossip," the "chit-chat" --belongs to the performance. It's the beginning of the work itself.

Écorché vif

Isn't there a Jacque Brell song on this? Or is it someone else... something about the plains of Flanders?

When it's all finished, all over--the writing. It's no longer mine. Safe. Safely out there. Other.

But everything on this blog is work-in-progress.

When the oracle is present, still present... nothing is finished, all is in flux...

Good writing. Fine critical thought. Well wrought reviews... come later. Come after.

There is a place for that... it's our goal, our hope, what we want to achieve.

But let there be a hollow in the rocks above the sea where we can go to meet a voice capable of shaming us with our impotence, tempting us with its power.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Me, an "artist?"

Why the "" around "Artist?"

I would like to claim modesty. Aw gee whiz... me? An artist?

I grew up--was raised to a state of awareness by artists, living and dead--from mothers, uncles, siblings--all the way back to those strange stick figures who dabbed in charcoal and ocher by lamplight with marvelous precision a catalog of animals their contemporaries were, at that very instant in time, engaged in exterminating. To claim a place in the pursuit of the arts is not a claim to a special class, let alone, to genius. No. What bothers me is the class of "art" itself.

As impossible to define as "religion."

As impossible to define as what it means to be "human."

This is the driving question in my novel, The Magic Slate.

I've become aware of something... of more than a few somethings... since beginning this blog.

This is writing of another kind. I make no pretence to making "art"... though I see those, like Lotusgreen of Japonisme... who seems incapable of doing anything that isn't...art... whatever that is.

As naturally as breathing.

And she does it in full view...

One of the things I've become aware of: that what I do in the realm of "art"... ( a category I don't trust even exists... ) I do in private. Turning my efforts over and over.

A short story, Godzilla's Eye, of some 5,00 words... I have more than 500 pages of drafts that went into that throw-away effort. Nice that the Laurel Review thought to publish it... but who reads these little reviews? A few dozen?

I spent almost a year on this story. Not all my writing is that labored--but the point here is the element of privacy: privacy of composition. And my thought is... that the "art" is not in, maybe never in, the end "product."

In a sense: art does not exist--not as the "product."

Here, I use the quotes as defense against the common associations with the word... ."product."

Think Sarah Palin....

A person perfectly willing to turn herself into pure product... and what does that bode for the rest of us, should she gain real power? What are we to become in her eyes?

Is this what I mistrust? Is this why I place quotes around the word, "art?"

If what you see, hear, feel think.... respond to, in a work of art, is about nothing but the finished "product"... you have missed. Not a part. But everything.

The finished work is not "art." It's the best possible suggestion the artist could come up with to what really matters. Suggestion. Not an end point, but an invitation back into the process. An invitation to an endless conversation carrying us forward. Why I see the best critics, not as enemies, but as allies, as co-conspirators. And why I am so disturbed by end-point critics--critics of the "final product," whether the more sophisticated and polished sort--Woods, or the thinly disguised politicized propagandists like Myers.

So I re-write my posts. Edit on line. What matters... is process. And in process...we are all participants.

And yet I recoil... I post and delete...

To act with others, before others, unleashes unpredictable reactions.

To do that... to be able to do that... is the very definition of Trust.

As opposed to, manipulating every expression as means to convert the "other" to your side (Rove. Borg)

I'm thinking... we need more, not less "risk."

Compose in public.


So I've been writing this poem... and revising it, and revising... up front. The Storm Chaser.

I've been doing this with my posts for months...then waking in a panic and deleting them.

So what... if what matters is PROCESS.

We need a new form of critique... a criticism of process. Which is going to be NOTHING like those workshops-- churn out more of the same bullshit fellowship funded jerkoff bullshit.

In a sense... nothing new. A return to engagement. Real encounter... where what matters is the process, the journey...

Encounter... is everything

The Divine Redactor ? Jame's Kugel: How to Read the Bible

Lawrence La Riviere White has posted a review over at The Valve

Here's an exert: White's review is followed by a facinating and high-level discussion. Much here that bears on literary interpretation, authorial intent, of culture and history as redactive forces.

I finished James L. Kugel’s How to Read the Bible! And I’d like to spoil it for you. Alert! Kugel carefully and rather effectively, I think, holds off on his conclusion till near the end, only making his first pass at it at the ¾’s mark, in his discussion of the Song of Songs, and holding off on a complete presentation to the last chapter. What a fitting place for a conclusion! Nonetheless, he managed to keep me in suspense, and I imagine this technique worked well in the lecture version, making for a dramatic last session.

The dramatic tension of the book is announced in its subtitle, A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now. Of course the tension of the story is, which is correct, then or now? And in setting up this tension at the beginning of the book, Kugel is careful to identify himself as an Orthodox Jew, creating a sense in the reader that despite his prodigious career in modern Bible scholarship, the book will come out in favor of the ancient interpreters. Which it unsurprisingly does, but in a way that raises some surprising ideas.
Read the rest

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Modern American Suburb: The Death of Hope for General Prosperity

Good to see new visitors to this old post... the destruction of the political integrity of the Constitution, of the environmental integrity of the planet, of the intellectual integrity of the electorate... and of the local, national...and ultimately, the world economy... laid out to the development of the modern American suburb. HERE


"I’ve been in Alaska only a week, but I’m already feeling ever so much smarter about Russia." Maureen Dowd

From Lotusgreen, Japonisme Just Because Someone is Cute is no Reason to Vote for Them

Don't leave without clicking the links by each photo.

Friday, September 26, 2008

America Through the Looking Glass: A Virtual coup d'etat

Michael Hudson: Once in a Century Ripoff. From Real News Network

This is the Bush cliques attempt to manufacture an October Surprise from the mortgage meltdown--a virtual coup d'etat.

From Joe Bageant's Blog

Take comfort, the country is run by idiots.

Meanwhile, I had the repugnant experience of talking to two economists a couple of days ago, one an international financier, and the other a wealthy developer with a master's degree in economics (who appears in my book.).

I posed this question to both:

What if we took the bail-out money and paid off every college loan, every credit card, every pending foreclosure and every mortgage in arrears, and every unpaid hospital bill? Wouldn't that free up a lot of income to stimulate our economy, 70% of which is based on Americans consuming good, services and commodities? Wouldn't it be better to have the money circulating, stimulating the U.S. economy than stashed in overseas as accounts? If Bush's little $250 rebate propped up the national economy for a couple of months, wouldn't distributing the $700 billion push the economy into the stratosphere? What if we used it to pay down the national debt? Wouldn't the American dollar reverse its plunge? At the very least for the first time in 80 years Americans would actually owe the debt to themselves, not the unseen financial lords.

The international financier said: "It just cannot be done. The financial machinery of our free market economy would fall apart. Then we'd be in worse shape than ever."

"How's that? It seems like it's already fallen apart. Been turned into a swindler's paradise, with the swindlers now asking that all future productivity of Americans be signed over to them, since there's nothing left to steal at the moment."

"It simply cannot be done. Nor should such socialism ever be allowed. It's a ridiculous idea."

The economist developer, when asked the same question, "Why not bail out the American people, instead of the fat cats?" was more honest:

"Doing that would have unintentional consequences.'

"Like what? You're an economist, so tell me."

"Well, I don't know. That's why they are called unintentional."

"So why should the American public be perpetually and increasingly in debt?"

"Because debt is the source of American wealth."

"Wealth for whom?"

"Obviously for those who understand the system and have the know how to use it to its best purpose for all concerned."

"Won't that devalue the dollar over time?"

"Sure, but if you've got enough dollars it doesn't matter. Look at how African dictators live, despite that their nations' currency is worthless."

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Two Choices... both false

... but maybe one more "true" than the other?

Bail out the billionaires... Nationalist Socialism (check out their history)

Bail out those who will actually suffer from the meltdown... that's "socialism"

Codes hiding codes hiding codes... politics so far removed from anything approaching the ideal of people voting their perceived interests, thanks in no small part to the Rovian Talk Radio irrationalists, that we are on a skid to no one knows where, a collectively chosen road to mutual suicide.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Death, Where is thy... OUCH!

While I'm into linking in place of writing for myself, here's LitLove at her best on Julian Barnes.

Monday, September 22, 2008

A deal No One Could Refuse

Mark 1:11-13

and a voice came from heaven "Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased."
12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and Satan said, hey bro--get a load of this (and Satan showed him a real big satalite view of the world and did say to Jesus, "Bro, this is yours. Just do what I ask.

And Jesus said, "No way." Get thee behind me."

Cut the Tutuyee shit, bro...you still don't get it?"

What you mean, says Jesus?"

"I'm talkin real money, Satan says. Like, big U.S. bucks... okay, okay, check it out, future shit. You can do that, right? Most powerful fucking nation on earth (scuse my French).. la la la."

"How far in the future?" says J. "I mean, what's the excange rate? Can't take a vacation in France by early 21st." What you take me for?" "

Seven... Hundred... BILLION...(and counting... way more when you sweep away the BS."

"Whooo...how much you say?"

(there is the sound of distant off-stage thunder)

"That's just for starters...over a trillion for sure."

"What's the catch?"

"No catch!" That's the beauty, man ... ah, sorry, 'Son of Man'. Hey, there's the beauty! No catch, no accountability. Courts can't peek at what you do. Up to you. You just say, 'trust me,' and hey! Who they gonna trust if not you, bro?" (Satanic cackle) ....

"Ah... can we maybe, you know... talk behind that rock over there?... maybe we can do business?"

"Solid! A deal not even the Son of Man can refuse !... but of course, you'll only use it, to the last penny, for the General Good, right?"

"Oh bro... you know me, you know me.... let's talk...

(Off stage lightning, thunder... sound of very large old man tearing his beard...."

Sunday, September 21, 2008

National Socialism: Let's Call a Spade a Spade

I'm banging my head against a wall. I'm thinking about class on Tuesday. How do I go in there and talk about constructing sentences? I don't talk politics in class. My job is to teach English composition. I take that job seriously. I believe in it. ...I want to work on my novel. I want to read poetry... but here we are... we knew Bush Inc. was a fascist cover... now the loin cloth has been ripped off and there it is, in our faces--hairy limp purple veined pulsating impotent--everything but a Nazi tattoo to make it clear what that ugly fist is squeezing in its death grip begging us to suck it back to life.

They want to give the Treasury Department the power to take over any economoc asset--no review, not by congress, not by the courts. So much for Constitutional checks and balances. The biggest single transfer of power to the executive branch ever--the very one's who brought us to this plank tottering over the abyss! State socialism... excuse me, Nationalist Socialism...haven't we heard that label somewhere? And by Bush and his so-called "conservatives! You want to scream for the insanity of it all!

And who... or what.. is a heart beat away from becoming president if the yahoos win? A willfully ignorant narcisist, a version of Bush in skirt and steroids--who thinks her grandfather kept a T-Rex in the back yard to guard his cave!

Here's Stirling Newberry:
It would give Paulson not only the power to buy assets, but put terms in place which would make legal investigation of those arrangements impossible, and these contracts could not be questioned in a court of law. It is the Authorization for Use of Military Force, Protect America Act, and war spending votes all rolled into one. Having seen that it cannot assume the unitary executive since the Supreme Court rejected it, they are now turning to Article III to get a trembling Congress to accept it. There is a crisis, but there is no catastrophe. Even when the physical nexus of the financial world was directly attacked, there was no need for this kind of unlimited spending power.


This is not a financial crisis in the end, as the Paulson Proposal shows, but a constitutional moment, where the very mandate of government is in play. Paulson wants the tax payer to be the fool of last resort, the group of people stupid enough to buy things that no one else on the planet is stupid enough to buy.

Okay, let's listen to an economist... a sober voice. We need the comforting voice of reason in these trying times. Here's Paul Krugman (are you digging your foxhole yet? there's no time to waste...


We are not without hope. The blowback is beginning. Obama has rejected the proposal as offered in a seven point plan offered in NC this afternoon and Pelosi, after a conference call with Obaman, both Clintons and others, has announced that congress could not accept writing a blank check.

Here's the whole of the Newberry piece: a detailed political and economic analysis:

Friday, September 19, 2008

Short Notes on Old Reads

On books read... posted on Goodreads.

Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World by Mike Davis

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars

Here is the historical background to the "global economy." A snapshot of who is going to suffer as global warming and rising seas bring us ever greater not-so-natural disasters. Mike Davis is the indispensable guide to geopolitics and the distribution of poverty, wealth and power.

View all my reviews.

Suttree Suttree by Cormac McCarthy

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
There are writers who, early in their career, try on the voice of an author they admire, only to be defeated by the master. In Sutree, McCarthy out Faulkners Faulkner, working his way well past imitation to independence. The tribute is there, Faulkner's presence is palapable, but the voice is McCarthy's own. Of his books, I rank this second only to Blood Meridian.

View all my reviews.

Simone Weil's the Iliad or the Poem of Force: A Critical Edition Simone Weil's the Iliad or the Poem of Force: A Critical Edition by James P. Holoka

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
A brilliant misreading of the Iliad. Weil, this modern gnosic, has dissected the nature of "force" in a few pages... pages rolled, set aflame, igniting the fagots beneath you: read Weil and burn.

View all my reviews.

The Book of Illusions: A Novel The Book of Illusions: A Novel by Paul Auster

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
I need to read this again. I missed something. I knew as I read it that I was missing something. And I knew this was a book I would have to read again. It's on my list. Not the short list. But not the "some day" list either.

View all my reviews.

English Sentences English Sentences by Paul Roberts

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars

Paul Roberts wrote this, and "Understanding English," appropriating ideas drawn from generative linguistics to teaching grammar to high school students. Francis Christensen--who died far too young--drew on Roberts in writing two essays that are arguably the best guides to teaching English composition, period, bar none, end of story.

"A Generative Rhetoric of the Sentence," and "A Generative Rhetoric of the Paragraph."

They read like nothing else on the subject. This will be my twelfth year teaching freshman English. I can't imagine what I would do without them.

View all my reviews.

The Transit of Venus (Virago Modern Classics) The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
Some years ago I read a New Yorker story by Hazzard, "In These Islands." I read it a second time, then and there. Turned back to the first page and read it again. Then a third time.

There are expansive writers--like the late DFW, Whitman, Henry Miller--and there are those who fuse language in a crucible: Dickinson, Laura Riding, George Oppen: poets more often than novelists... though McCarthy has gone from one to the other, from the expansive Sutree to the compression of The Road.

No one can capture a character in a passing phrase like Hazzard... what reminds me of Dickinson is not her poems, but her letters. My parents, she writes to Higgenson, "address every morning an eclipse they call 'our father.'

This is the novel as a kind of poetry. Visionary... compressed to breathless irony.

View all my reviews.

The Pilgrimage The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
Compostella... compost of stars?

I read this, one: because I was curious about Coelho's extraordinary popularity, and two: because at the time there was someone I knew--and we'd talked about taking this walk.. . for entirely secular reasons... (my idea was to do in reverse). There are some of the best preserved Romenesque sites in Eurpoe along the route, neolithic caves... I'd still like to do it.

Any takers? I need a companion.

View all my reviews.

Middlemarch (Signet Classics) Middlemarch by George Eliot

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
A wonderful book... but I never got over my disappointment.. that extraordinary introduction conjured in my mind a different sort of work... and what I got was...well, a very good 19th novel.

View all my reviews.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Suicide, Depression, David Foster Wallace

But for misery and suffering, I might, indeed, be said to have existed in a dormant state. I seldom could prevail on myself to write a letter; an answer of a few words, to any that I received, was the utmost that I could accomplish; and often that not until the letter had laid weeks, or even months, on my writing-table. Without the aid of M., all records of bills paid, or to be paid, must have perished; and my whole domestic economy, whatever became of Political Economy, must have gone into irretrievable confusion. I shall not afterwards allude to this part of the case; it is one, however, which the opium-eater will find, in the end, as oppressive and tormenting as any other, from the sense of incapacity and feebleness, from the direct embarrassments incident to the neglect or procrastination of each day's appropriate duties, and from the remorse which must often exasperate the stings of these evils to a reflective and conscientious mind. The opium-eater loses none of his moral sensibilities or aspirations; he wishes and longs as earnestly as ever to realize what he believes possible, and feels to be exacted by duty; but his intellectual apprehension of what is possible infinitely outruns his power, not of execution only, but even of power to attempt. He lies under the weight of incubus and night-mare; he lies in sight of all that he would fain perform, just as a man forcibly confined to his bed by the mortal languor of a relaxing disease, who is compelled to witness injury or outrage offered to some object of his tenderest love: -- he curses the spells which chain him down from motion; he would lay down his life if he might but get up and walk; but he is powerless as an infant, and cannot even attempt to rise.

From Thomas de Quincy's Confessions of an English Opium Eater. He isn't writing about depression in this passage. He's writing about opium. The pain of addiction. It is, nevertheless, a remarkably accurate representation of the deepest stages of depression. I suspect the neurochemically induced states of opium addiction likely share many properties with the neurochemically induced states of "natural" depression. I note this in passing. It's important to my concern but not its focus, not the motivation for writing this post. My motivation is the suicide of David Foster Wallace--or more accurately, some comments I've heard, and a few that I've read; comments that evince a profound lack of understanding of depression--of the experience of profound depression. This surprised me. With all that's been written on the subject, this surprised and disturbed me.

Riding on the bus and the el to class I turned this over in my mind. What can I say that hasn't been said before? I'm not sure I've come up with anything new (unlikely), but perhaps one or two neglected points--not clinical information, but regarding the experienced reality?

The normal everyday "healthy" mind goes through his or her routines with an unquestioned and seldom shaken belief in "free will," or whatever name you want to use for this... this... whatever it is we mean by those words. Important words! An important--essential belief, however distorted the mythologies we wrap it in. I'm not a "determinist." I too believe in freedom, but I don't think of this as something possessed by, or a capacity of individuals. Rather, it is something that happens between us.

Something given. Given and received--or rejected. I like how Hannah Arendt represents this idea. That action--speech action--before another, action that is not "acting," the purpose of which is not to control or manipulate, but to relate to--to present to the other one's own reality--that such action releases, initiates, a chain of unforeseen and unpredictable consequences.

Therein is our freedom. And nowhere else.

The Roves of the world want to control every outcome, but in the end, make themselves slaves of the chain of cause and effect... or more accurately, the slaves of their pre-conceived notions of cause and effect, more and more profoundly divorced from reality, more and more profoundly enslaved to each bound action, each designed in turn to gain their desired ends against the threatening possibilities of genuine freedom.

Received notions of "free will" are not about reality. They are about preserving "necessary illusions."


the very idea of law depends on this illusion. That we are free, and hence, responsible--in some simplistic way for all our actions. Nowhere is the illusionary nature of this assumption more apparent than in the formulations that tie responsibility with "knowledge of right and wrong." As though "knowing" were in itself the necessary and sufficient condition for free action.

How many have we collectively, in the name of the law, disgraced, imprisoned, murdered in the name of this delusional claim?

Which brings me back to my subject: depression. The distinction has recently eroded between "pure" depression and it's cyclical relatives. That seems wise. Even monopolar depressives are not always depressed--so there is always a degree of cycling, of transition from state to state. The need to categorize tempts us to make distinctions where they are not justified, or to ignore the spectral relationships--as early definitions of species ignored the genetic boundary lines.

Manic-depression (a term I much prefer... as does Kay Redfield Jamison--co-author of the definitive clinical text on this disorder), is likely the oldest described "mental" disorder. Understandable, as those who endure it pass though stages that must baffle those near to them... from "normal" intelligent... and not uncommonly gifted individuals... to manically delusional to profoundly melancholic... and suicidal.

A parenthetical note here: mania is commonly thought of as a kind of super euphoria. It may begin that way, but never ever lasts more than a few hours in this state... after which, it is really a kind of supper depression... on fast forward. Make that... super fast forward. Equipped at its worst--as are the depressive phases--with hallucinations and delusional episodes that parallel (why manic-depression is so often misdiagnosed) schizophrenia or other more intractable brain misfunctions.

Now I come to the point. What I wanted to write about. Two elements of the experience of depression. Or perhaps, two that are one. The first has to do with our assumptions about "freedom." The second, with assumptions about the governing power of "reason."

When we entertain taking action--from the trivial to the profound, we imagine the possibility before we set out.

Imagine this: you are profoundly depressed. You have to get up and go to work. You have to buy food so you can eat. You look out the window. Across the parking lot is a supermarket. This is what you see. You understand that it would take a few minutes to cross that lot and make your purchases... but that isn't how it feels. It feels like you are looking across the Atlantic Ocean. And to get to that store, you would have to swim. And you cannot, cannot, cannot imagine how it would be possible. If you can't FEEL the possibility, how do you take action?

But you do. You go to work. To perform the daily routines... but it as though you had weights clamped to you ankles, to your wrists-- an enormous weight on your back. Every exertion drains you... and you cannot, absolutely cannot.... until.. there is no more energy left.. There is nothing left for relief from this futile effort... which you've kept up for the sake of those you love... nothing.... but death

Second part.

You are standing on the platform of the el at rush hour. The train is speeding into the station.

You think: I could step forward now. Or I could wait.

If I stepped forward now, the speeding train would smash me to blood and splattered organs. I would become a nightmare to all who saw this...

Or... I could wait.

The train would stop. The doors would open. I would step in.

I understand the difference... but emotionally. Makes no difference.

Spock is not the answer. We need emotional intelligence. If we can't FEEL the difference, we're in big trouble.

Someone deeply depressed, or manic, may KNOW and UNDERSTAND way better than any goddamned normy in shouting distance... but their affective understanding has become ripped loose from their reasoned understanding....

... so it's a toss of the coin.

...do I step forward now...and get smashed by the oncoming train?

... or do I wait 30 seconds... and walk through the open doors?

I walked though the open doors.

By the toss of a coin.

... I didn't have time to pick up the penny...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Summer Review

I stare at the blank text box and realize that what I've be running through my head reads like one of those annual Christmas letters.

I wish I could include the sky tonight, the sky as it appeared as I walked home from my evening canvasing. Not what I saw, but the sky itself so you could write your own descriptions. You have eyes... why do you need me to tell you what you see?

I didn't finish the novel. Does that make my summer a failure? It keeps reappearing in different guises. Each chapter, a different conceptualization... but of what?

How will I know till I finish this chapter? The next chapter. The one I'm working on at the moment. There's the problem. Each chapter, each section, grows out of its own idea of what it belongs to, of the nature of its service to the whole. In fact, that is the idea of the whole, or what it's become. By default? Or was this true from the beginning? The coiled nautaloid. The melting patterns on the frosted windowpane.

Volunteer canvasing. Thousands of doors. Oh, and rediscovered an Atlantic White Cedar bog in the Jersey Pine Barons (photos to come!)

Speaking of canvasing--I'm sure you've noticed that the best campaign ads (and the worst) are being produced independently: for a couple of the better ones...


What did I read?

Makine's Music of Life

Flaubert, Sentimental Education

Musil, Man Without Qualities

James, The Europeans

Gombrowicz, Ferdyurke... which won a place right up there mext to Zeno's Conscience. Pure pleasure.

Several books of poetry... Donald Finkel's What Manner of Beast... which ultimately disappointed
Lewis Warsh, The Origin of the World--which didn't! ( oh, and went to a reading Saturday: Warsh, Michael Hennesy, Brien Carpener... Warsh the Main Act)
Finkel's Detachable Man... (maybe I'd missed something?... eh... )
Paul Auster, Disppearances
Al Ferber, L'Strange Cafe (my son-the-chef will love this: must remember to give it to him... and

... I should mention that he (my son, not Al Ferber) will be leaving The Plough and the Star on 2nd where he's now head chef. Set to open a new restaurant on Passyunk only three blocks from me. The whole inner family now in South Philly! (see what I mean by the Xmas letter thing?... I can't get away from it. Like trying to finish my novel...

...summer readings: The Magic Mountain, de Quincy, Confessions of an Opium Eater, Beckett, Fin de Partie, George Open, New Collected Poems.

Fall reading: first item pulled from the stack: Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American cities.

First paycheck of the fall term. An interview with DFW: how much teaching demands of you... how it saps your energy, how time consuming if you want to do it well.

If I didn't teach... I only have two classes, don't know that I could do more--but those two classes... if I didn't have them, at the end of the summer and left to my own devices... and vices... they keep alive.

My students, each of of them... they are my saviors. They rappel down the cable from the hovering copter and pull me from the flooded wreckage where I've foolishly believed I could survive the storm alone... they pull me aboard, give me their need, their incomprehension, their defiance, and each year I find again, in them, what I thought I'd lost... life beyond myself... beyond my Self...and they save me.

The sky tonight... I thought of David Foster Wallace. I have no idea how it is I am alive and 67 years old and he did not live to see his 48th year.

That was the year I began to write, to make of my writing a life project. A last life project... a project for life.


You tell me...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

David Foster Wallace

LA Times

Suicide, where it is not granted a cultural validation... as in Classical Rome, or Japan, is almost always a "side effect" of depression... whether manic-depression, (bipolar disorder)or some point on the spectrum between pure melancholia and its pendulamatic relative... perhaps the oldest of objectively described brain disorders.

I feel this... the way I feel distant storms.

Because I know. Because I remember.

I don't know, did not know, David Foster Wallace.

But he is my brother. And I am terribly saddened by what I cannot but believe was eminently preventable, and should never have happened.

My sympathies for those who were close to him, who needed and loved him... please, understand... don't misplace the blame.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

More on Imagining the Real

Will Buckingham in his post, Lies in Which Everything is Not False.
has been playing with similar ideas. Closer to mine than Blake's far more daring formula, Everything Possible to be Believ'd is an Image of Truth. While I avoid the question of "truth;" Buckingham is braver. He writes:

According to Wendy Doniger, in the South Sudan storytellers begin their tales with the following intriguing formula. This, by the way, calls for audience participation, and so the lines in bold are the ones spoken by the storyteller, whilst the italicised lines are those spoken by the audience.

This is a story.
It is a lie.
But not everything in it is false.

This, more or less, is how stories begin in the South Sudan
I'm going to skip to the end of his post. You can read the rest on his blog, Think Buddha
This is a Buddhist text.
It is a lie.
But not everything in it is false.

If any reading of a Buddhist text started like this, it would have an interesting and, I think, extremely positive effect. Because to relate a story knowing that it is a lie in which not everything is false is to place an ethical demand upon both the teller and the audience alike. (Italics mine)
This is how I've always read religious texts and demonstrates what's wrong with the kind of categorical dismissals you find in that flurry of militantly atheist books of the past few years--as though there were a power of influence in the texts themselves independent of their readers: a mirror reversal of what the fundamentalist believer in biblical inerrancy would claim! The one denies and the other ignores the responsibility of the reader in our relationship to the text. No text has any power over our lives other than that which we lend to it in the willing surrender of the ground of our experience.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Everything you can imagine is real...

This has been running though my brain... reading the séance chapter in The Magic Mountain. Of course, the reality seldom--perhaps never--corresponds to the form it takes in the imagination. Much that is real is not true. But the claim holds. Everything that is, is real.

The question then: what sort of reality are we dealing with?

My father had buttons from the '52 and 56 elections.

"I like Ike."

I imagine they would not sell well in Texas now.

My imagination on this point may well be both real and true, do you suppose?

Galveston Bay is vulnerable to storm surge. Not only because the surrounding land is low, but because of the shape of the bay... do you remember letting yourself slide back and forth in the bathtub when you were a kid? In no time at all the water is rushing out over the ends of the tub onto the floor. So a ten foot storm surge becomes a 40 foot surge, multiplying in volume and force as the waves return and cross in a bay like that.

Ike's weakening over Cuba had the effect of making it a much, much larger storm (apply the law of the conservation of energy). It made landfall as a powerful, but small, compact storm. Now it's fucking HUGE.... and the way the pressure is dropping, it promises to become both large and powerful.

Exciting things, these big storms... my fascination with them crosses the limits of decency. I have a Category 10 tornado in the pit of my soul, the size of a pinhead: the conservation of energy again, in reverse. My TORNADO has become a black hole.

Come right in, it says with a beautifully symmetric smile, a kind of twist of the lips, corkscrew like, like water going down a drain, plunging over the falls in a barrel, back into the mouth of that abyss that spewed us out into the world in the beginning, the black womb older than death.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Dangerous Occupation...

... journalists covering constitutionally protected assemblies

818 arrested outside the RNC


..."the media can embed themselves with the police, and not get in trouble"

Monday, September 8, 2008

Storms of Ambiguity...

I'm obsessed with storms... they suck up my time...I follow them, grab at the hems of their garments hoping for electrified illumination, epiphanies... great storms are like LSD to my fragile mind. Even my dreams change when there are storms about.

But Hans Castorf has been kissed... a Russian kiss, by Clavdia Chauchat... and my student wants to defend his ridiculous circumlocutions, his Elegant Variations, by an appeal to ambiguity!

What was this kiss? And what was Chauchat, but a homoerotic evocation of a childhood encounter... and how did he come by her radiographic plate if they did not have "concourse" after their last parting? And and and...

Ambiguity demands exactitude. Precision. On all its levels. Follow them down. story by story...

Ike Ike Ike... yikes

I love and hate and fear them, these storms. I weep at the thought of the destruction they will bring and yet I cheer them on...and if I were there, their target, it would be worse... I would cheer them on all the more.

Whose side am I on?

Large Hadron Collider

Between preparing for for classes, canvasing and storm watching, its been hard to come by time for new posts.

With so many distressing things in the world--here's a reminder of what our strange and extraordinary species can do when wonder and intelligence make common cause. HERE is a link to Cosmic Variance on the Large Hadron Collider, where protons will be shot at near the speed of light around a 17 mile underground tunnel, forced into a collision in hopes that sensors may record (among other things) the brief and happy life of the elusive Higgs boson. The LHC is scheduled to be turned on Wednesday.

Scroll down (you'll have to go HOME first) for an awesome photo of one of the gigantic and unbelievably complex sensors.

By all means, view this History of CERN.

And for fun, if you haven't viewed it yet, Kate McAlpine's LHC rap HERE

The science, I'm told, is spot on!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Freedom of the Press ?

Update and call to action on arrested journalists outside the Republican Convention.