Friday, October 31, 2008

Four Day Blog Vacation: GOTV Being Something of a Ramble Without a Single Sentence James Wood Would Think Well of

Full time till the polls close Tuesday...
A four day time machine.
A slide that will shoot me out the other end when it's over

Then back to normal?

No. There is no normal.
And there's no back to
There's only this and this changing into another this
A feral state of disassociation
Far too much order in my life
It's why I call myself names in the morning
(And I do! I think of some foolishness.
Something years and years and years ago
And say, you stupid foolish person!
Actually, with more what they call swear words.
It makes me feel bad about myself, calling myself names like that.
Where is that coming from?
Better to embrace foolishness than curse the candle.
When I come back I will dismantle the fixtures
Looking forward to hearing the pins and screws clatter across the tile floor, the coiled wires
Tape them together for four more days
Four days
Maybe it will be time to change my name again.
Gets harder every time. Other people are too fixed on old names
Why not a new name every day, depending on how we feel?
Or on the weather. I definitely need a storm name.
If I had a strictly temporary name when I am in a political mode
It would be easier
My cat only knows me by the sound of my voice, my smell
This is good about cats, they let go of your name
Sometimes its hard to find it again in the morning.
This makes me realize, even as I write this, that I dislike having a name.
That I always have.
When I was a child I thought I disliked the name they gave me, like every child
at some point dislikes the name they were given.
But I begin to see that it's not that way.
That all names are equally burdensome.
They weigh you down.
False names are no help. Pseudonames.
In some ways they weigh you down even more.
Bbecause under the false name, like the names people assume on the Web
They are doubly weighty, the so-called real name
lurking under the so-called false name
(all names are equally false, though some are lighter than others)
like I just had an unsolicited call from someone who said she was a new user of Skype with a smoothchocolate body (why did I assume it was a woman?) a smoothchocolate body and white teeth and she was serious (she said)... or was it her teeth that were serious?
I told her I was an old man with no money and my body, while not so bad for being an old man,
is not exactly smooth and not chocolate and nevermind my teeth
so she can see that without the body or the money she has wasted her time sending me this message (I told her as much), but I hope she finds somewhere the sort of love she's seeking--not the love she's asking for but the love she seeking even if she doesn't know she's seeking it,
which would mean we had something in common after all, though not what she thinks or what I might dream about tonight, seriously smoothbody and teeth--not by choice, dreams don't work that way, more's the pity.

Four days and I can dismantle the Orderly Mechanism. I am so tired, so worn down by order... Order that is not even real order but only the illusion of order. What is it for? To keep us busy, Fred forbid we should have lots and lots of holidays like the French with time to think and get free of our names and our order and our schedules and appointments and serious obligations and all manner of whatever is serious and orderly. And I have not had a drop to drink, but I'm about to remedy that. Nothing like that third glass of wine to dismantle the order, to make you forget your name, to wake us up to the kind of dreams we hope we will dream when at last it comes time to sleep.

Studs Turkle
1912 - 2008

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pedigogical Jouissance

A dream

Had forgotten that I had a class to teach, had no preparation. Found myself in front to my students, a book in my hand. Something by Lacan but didn't know what. I opened it at random and began to read and when I looked up, my students were no longer there. Before me, a lake, a lake I could not see across but knew it was very deep and could see strange forms moving below the surface which I knew to be my students.

I remembered this dream, not on waking, but in the shower and it both amused and frightened me and I found myself laughing as though at a terribly funny joke.

Is this what I secretly want to do to my students? Turn them into primitive subaquatic monsters?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Zurawski's The Bruise: Reading Notes

Being a continuation of thoughts from my earlier post HERE

It's hard to grasp from a single passage or chapter what Zurawski is doing--how she sets up similes by juxtaposition; as she layers words sentence upon sentence, so ideas are layered in turn, chapter upon chapter. In the passage quoted in my earlier post, the sentence from the essay which the narrator doesn't understand but is compelled to cut out and carry with her are like (the "objective correlative," if you will) the varied memories she has retained in hopes of someday understanding them, that they may eventually come together like a constellation of stars in a figuration of meaning.

I find that I can't read more than a chapter at a time (they are not long). It's too much; I have to pause to assimilate what I've read. There are references to Kafka (her narrator is referred to as M_), to Blanchot, to Rilke (the terrible angel that leaves the bruise) but the strongest presence for me is Virginia Woolf of The Waves. The Bruise won the Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize, and it certainly is not 'Establishment Literary Fiction," but neither does it invite comparison with anything one might label "post modern;" This is rather, an example of what Josipovici might have been thinking of what he wrote of the unfinished project of the modernists. When I say that The Bruise evokes Woolf, I don't mean that she seems to be revisiting what Woolf had done, but that is feels like a continuation of something left unfinished, a project left waiting for someone with the facility for language and the sensibility of Magdalena Zurawski. This book has been the highlight of my year of reading.

You can find a full review on BookSlut and the chapter, "The Bridge" previously published by Shampoo, HERE

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Why Scientists are voting for Obama

From Cosmicvariance

From Real Climate, on the recent Nature Conservancy Meeting

One of the most important "green" organizations (and it should be emphasized that what makes them important, is their science based approach to decision making: on where and how and on what they will devote their resources), the The Nature Conservancy recently held an invitation only, but extraordinarily inclusive meeting. Read a report from RealClimate.Org on this meeting HERE

What does literature mean if we can't preserve a world for our children and grandchildren to read what we are writing, and what we believe deserves to be passed on?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Noam Chomsky on the Election

Voting for the "lesser of two evils" is not a bad thing--it makes a difference in peoples lives. Over time, the elite represented by the Democrats, though they themselves govern as one of the two great elites representing wealth, have introduced reforms that come closer to representing the interests of the population. Here is part one of an extended interview with Chomsky on the REAL NEWS NETWORK PART ONE and PART TWO on the politics of the financial crisis.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Reading at Robins: Pam Brown, Ron Silliman, Magdalena Zurawski

(notes on the Silliman, Brown, Zurawski reading 5 paragraphs down)

I wake from morning dreams unsure until well into the day where I crossed over from dream to waking, an experience paralleled at night as I review the events of the day sliding into hypnogogic dreams unsure where the waking reality leaves off and the dreams take up again. In dreams the unitary executive is fragmented, multiple, both observer and observed, actor and passive bystander--one of the factors in my never having nightmares. I won't try to explain that here. The analogy is to the rapid transitions in my waking life, from activities that make such different demands on me that it is like shedding skins between acts and reappearing on stage after not merely change of costume but change of body. And yet I remain somehow the observer, as in dreams, I am both actor and beside myself...I mean... as a shadow of the acting self and figure of its own apparently more substantive brother.

I prepare for class--go over the work of my students, give myself to the task at hand, choosing how to divide my concern between objective evaluation and critique and concern for the individual who is, while working at my desk, a shadow of their words more real than the words they have given me as a kind of offering to some absolute stranger they envision as a kind of Teacher God--praying that this god's judgment be balanced by compassion, that they might by submission, if not by hard work, receive its pity and be permitted to remain in the company of the elect, their scholarships intact. Then I meet them in class. The return of the Real. Where I quite disappear for 50 minutes at a stretch... figure and shadow alike. After 11 years I've gotten used to this, but the first few classes--it was a kind of altered state. There was one time when I found myself in the adjunct office and could not remember how I'd gotten there or for how long I'd been there. Class over--the half hour or so since had been very much a state like waking from a dream.

Class room teaching is as intense, as all absorbing an experience as anything I've ever know. Let me tell you, to show that I'm not exaggerating, that I once faced, the summer of 1966, what those of us on that green lawn in Canton, Mississippi, had good reason to believe would be a firing squad about to transform us into headlines on the next morning's news. I've stood before a federal judge with power to send me to prison for five years and told him, no, I would not serve in this unjust war. I've held the hands of men in their last hours of life, on a closed ward of the geriatrics unit of state mental hospital...knowing that I was the last and only one left to care. It's no hyperbole when I say, there's no experience more intense, that requires one to be more intensely present, than standing before a class... at least, if you take teaching for what it is, for what it means.

From class to... canvassing door to door. A volunteer for Obama. Yet another reality. And in the morning, I try to find an hour to write... lost in the fictive world of a novel that no one else may ever read.

I've gone through a few rough patches, but for the last ten years I've got it down pretty well, how keep the balance. Not to go into it over much--major part of this is being able to manage your own time, both sleep and waking, and not be forced to live by other people's clocks. Even so, I live within that spectrum... "labile" is the word they give it. Look it up.

All that is a long introduction to telling about a reading I went to. Ron Silliman was the main attraction, with Pam Brown and Magdalena Zurawski the warm up acts (if this had been a rock concert). I wish I could say more about Pam Brown, a poet from Australia, but the microphone so distorted her voice, and with my less than doggy hearing capacity, I was able to catch, at most... one or two words every few minutes. I noticed that others laughed at certain lines. I saw Ron Silliman's ample Santa's belly shake more than a few times. I'll read Pam Brown's book and try to make it up to her for what I couldn't hear. I'm so glad that Magdalena Zurawsky, next up, by keeping a few inches further back from the mike, made her every word intelligible.

Cannot omit thanks to CAConrad for hosting this reading, whose own ample presence has become a gravitational center for the adventure of poetry in Philadelphia.

Yes, Silliman was impressive. He read from the VOG section of Alphebet, his 1056 page poem, each letter of the alphabet a different book in a different style. VOG, he explained, was the one letter title that was an acronym. In the old days of TV, the voice over who would introduce the host, was called (not him, but his voice)... the Voice of God. More recently, those letters have come to stand for "Voice-over Guy." ... A chapter in the secularization of TV, says Silliman. I like the way he reads. Maybe cause it reminds me of how I try to read. Each line, each word, with due emphasis for meaning in context. Not the reading of an actor, nor the hypnotic pseudo-rhythmic convention of what I think of as the worst poetry readings... something that I've not heard lately... thank Fred...

All of this was to get to Magdalena Zurawski. I told you, I'm a labile sort of guy. I was trembling... near tears listening to her read from her novel, The Bruise, an FC2 publication, imprint of The University of Alabama Press. I even asked her to sign the copy I bought... something I NEVER do.

(Another post on Magdalena HERE)

Turn it and turn it... the darshan, says of the words of Torah: everything is in it. This is what she does. Turns and turns a single thought, a single observation, a single word, finding as she does, in each phrase, in each thought, an association, a nuance, which in turn needs be turned, re-turned, returned to over and over. By repetition that is not repetition at all, but layer upon layer of discovery, she employs the simplest prose, returning again and again to the same words, but with each return, layered with new meaning, new associations.

I'd like to offer the sections she read... her father's story of drowning, the story (again... this is about fiction and reality) of the dream of giving birth to a child with a wooden leg... but it makes more sense to pick a section less fraught... less "labile," to give an idea of the ideas she's working with--which are all about words and their problematic and necessary relation to "reality"... whatever that is.. Notice the way she exploits repetition of key words...

Here's the chapter: The Sentence. (typos are mine... )
Two years earlier I had found a sentence in an essay and ever since I had found the sentence I had kept it written nearly by hand on the lined side of an index card that I had cut to the exact size of a business card so that I could keep the sentence in my wallet in the plastic protective plastic that was meant to protect credit cards bank cards drivers licenses student ids family photos and especially certain business cards of great importance but that I had used primarily to protect this particular sentence that I had found in an essay two years earlier while reading the essay for my literature class. I can't remember what the essay was called or who had written it or why we had even read the essay or who had written it--or what its relationship was to the novels we were reading. I can remember even less of what the essay was about because when I read the essay I was a very young student of literature and there was very little that I understood about literature at all and whenever I was asked to read an essay about literature I rarely understood anything in the essay but I was stubborn and would always read the essay to the end because I thought if I forced myself to read the things students of literature were supposed to read even if I didn’t' understand the things as I was reading eventually I would understand them and I would be a student of literature and that is how I read the essay and so I had understood next to nothing that was written in this essay and I had understood very little of what my professor had to say about the essay but somehow I thought to write this one sentence from the essay down and to keep it with me always.
And I thought as long as I kept looking at the sentence one day I would eventually know what it meant to me--why I had written down this sentence and put it on a card that I kept with me always in my wallet and so when I was waiting in line at the refectory or standing on the corner by the library waiting for the night shuttle or sitting on the steps outside the Blue Room in between classes I would pull out my wallet and read the card to myself and see if I had not yet really understood the sentences and slowly I began to realize the reason that this sentence had been important to me was because it had nothing to do with literature but with real life and what it discussed was something in life I didn't yet myself know and so each time I read Each time a man speaks to another in an authentic and full manner...something takes place which changes the nature of the two beings present it was as if I were reading a sentence that was discussing something imaginary that was happening between two people in a story but of course I knew the speaking that the sentence was talking about was not the speaking of two people in a story but the speaking between two people in real life and I wondered if I could ever speak to someone on such a way and the more I wondered about such things the lonelier I felt as if I had never spoken to anyone every before. And so each time I pulled out the card to stare at my sentence I wondered when I would ever begin to speak in such a way and the more I thought that I wanted to speak to someone in a very real way the more scared I got that I never would be able to because I thought there were so many real things to say to someone that it seemed impossible to say them all and without saying them all it seemed as if somehow what one said was untrue because without finding sentences for all the thoughts in my head there would only be some parts of thoughts and that would not be true because it seemed each of the thoughts helped make a whole world and it seemed if I didn't find enough sentences or all the thoughts in my head I would never really be able to live in the same world with somebody and more than anything I wanted to live in the same world with somebody and so soon I stopped looking at the sentence altogether because it made me think it would be impossible ever to have enough sentences to speak to somebody in a real way and I might be stuck alone in my thoughts for a very long time.

That quote, Lacan... sounds like something Martin Buber might have written. There's an association I would never have imagined before. Buber was an important early influence on my thinking.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Television, Advertising and the Destruction of Political Discourse

From the Museum of the Moving Image: The Living Room Candidate.

Campaign commercials over fifty-six years, fifteen presidential elections.

Watching these in sequence, from 1952 to 2008 is utterly chilling.
Stevenson was right.


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Working an Obama Event in Philly

I don't have a digital camera. Don't even have a TV. I've volunteered at a number of events that I would like to have reported on... but with images? Better those who could demonstrate that a picture was worth... you know.

Worked an Obama event today. An hour or so last night, orientation. Got there at 7:00 this morning, helped set up chairs etc, then went to the cattle-chute: queue on its way to the security check... crowd control, that was my job. Non stop till about 1:45 when Obama began to speak. A LOT of people... puzzles me how some (very few, really, but disproportionate in the impression they leave) can be so angry and disrespectful of the inconvenience they cause others.. .but that went with the job description. Having teacher skills was a definite plus... aside from some rambling, the "difficult" encounters provided fruitful material for further thought.

Some great photos on the Philly event on a diary on Daily Kos. Here's the link while it lasts... the diary posts get scrolled off fairly rapidly.

24 more days till the election. 100 more days of Bush in the White House.

When I got home I went downtown and chanced on an anti-Palin rally at Broad and Walnut. Evidently she's in town and was expected shortly at the hotel there. Organized ( going by the t-shirts) by two unions, but a lot of bystanders and passers by were joining in. Within 15-20 minutes, went from a few hundred to, I'd estimate, two to three thousand people. The response was amplified by passing cars--honking horns, calling out the windows, V-for victory gestures. Open top tour busses--looked to be about half the passengers would wave and signal their approval. Quite an amazing demonstration.

I hope Alaska Sally caught a glimpse of it as she sped past in a convoy of black, window tinted, police escorted SUV's.

Didn't get so much as a glimpse of Obama. Could barely hear him. But that wasn't why I was there.

Persuasive canvassing tomorrow...

Now, time to think back... what did these experiences mean?

When I went in Friday night--just setting up the stage, the sound system... laying out the barriers, the street still open otherwise, went into the 52nd Street campaign office; they had a display of posters neighborhood kid's had done, markers and Crayons... they really tugged at the heart streets... most on the theme of "We LOVE you Obama!" You make us feel loved...

There were about a half dozen teens outside on the street soliciting volunteers... with these posters (done by much younger kids, of course) behind them, leaning against the walls. Stuff they were too old to put in such raw uncooked terms... but the way they would reach around to prop them up, caring for them... showed what they meant to them. "You make us feel loved..."

The stuff that you can document, that gets in the news, that fits into some statistical profile... all that stuff you can see and measure talk about objectively...that only begins to touch on the damage inflicted by bigotry... it's to the heart... that sense of being unwanted, feared, unloved by the greater world... that's at the center of this self perpetuating cycle. The responses that reinforce the bigotry of the majority, and in turn, goads ever more radical and often violent efforts at self-protective disdain and contempt of what are perceived as "their" values, "their" culture... I could feel that in the few very difficult encounters in my "crowd control" job... most (thousands-to-one most) were respectful and responsive and encouraging... recognizing this was not an easy job... many thanking me for doing this, sharing jokes... like, there should be a pin: we got Women for Obama, we got this union and that union... how about a button for Old While Guys for Obama!

... but those few difficult cases... all women, middle age or older... with HUGE chips on their shoulders... it was so clear, thinking back about the night before, those posters...

There is no more basic need then to know we are loved, and (can't have one without the other), that we are capable of love.... to quote Mr. Rogers... who, however people mocked him, was no sentimentalist. He was a genuinely wise man. Too be deprived of that, in either our personal and familial relationships... or in our social identity, is crippling, and It comes out... the pain comes back out, as a wish to inflict pain in equal measure.

That isn't an insight that can be made into a prescription for a cure.

There is no prescription, no script to follow that would not falsify the reality.

We cannot pretend to cure by "good thoughts and pure hearts" structural and institutional inequalities and built in injustices. But neither can we expect that any mechanist reform, however well intended, can bring us together until we are ready to recognize the reality of the "other"... one to one, many to many...and know, by discovering the truth of it in our own life experience, that--like Obama says in his speeches, over and over...not as an abstract principle, but experimentally, that the sum of what we have in common is always greater than our differences.

There were two or three really difficult encounters... and they stuck in mind, as the positive ones didn't. Why? Because these were the experiences that I could learn from.

I saw this on Daily Kos.

Hope or Hate
You Decide

I thought this was beautiful... there are qualities of the man in these photos you just can't fake, not over and over.

This has been a very emotional campaign for me. There'll be times canvasing, someone standing at the door, hands white with floor--come from preparing dinner, I apologise for catching her at a bad time. "Oh no, no," she says. "Thank you for doing this!" ... I often find myself choking back tears--kinda overwhelmed with it all. Like when I got home yesterday--7 hours without a chance to sit down, dehydrated, almost lost my voice working to keep the line in order and everyone happy, calming down the overly excited... kinda scary, too--these big events. You see the Secret Service, their dark glasses, the guns strapped to their sides, see them staking out buildings, rooftops--there's so many people all pressed together. One incident get out of hand and it could turn into a disaster. And people do dumb things: climbing over barricades, pushing to get to the head of the line--which gets everyone upset.. .but then Obama begins to speak, the crowd settles down, and after the's over. And it's a success, and the crowd spreads out... a little girl with missing front teeth between her mother and father, hand in hand, beaming--telling everyone she passes, "I touched Obama! He shook my hand! I touched Obama." And it's over... and it's all right... we did it, everyone working together, staff, event planners, volunteers... doing this in cities and suburbs and towns in every state in country... thousands of people who believe in "Government by the Consent of the Governed" ... We the People...we did it. Ten, fifteen thousand people packed together, filling the street for blocks and blocks... and now they are leaving, passing through the button sellers and t-shirt venders... and its okay... everything is okay... and I sit down when I get home and the tears flow in relief and happiness... and hope.

Hope is not about the future. Hope is not built on speculation on what the future holds. Hope is joining in, joining together, taking hands with others, doing what you believe in... doing. The minute you begin to act, it's isn't about you anymore. From the moment you begin to act you know--that you are not alone, and never were.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Why Underworld Matters

On the Quarterly Conversation, a brilliant defense of Underworld, contra James Wood, by Garth Risk Hallberg.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Atlantic White Cedar Bog

Tall, straight, resistant to rot, the Atlantic white cedar, was once the tree of choice for the masts of sailing ships. By the time coal and steam had replaced wind as the energy that carried men and cargo across the high seas most of them had been logged and the bogs and wetlands where they grew, drained and cleared. These trees create their own eco-system and do not thrive outside of densely shaded bogs like the one in the photos HERE.

They are part of the natural transition in the life of the shallow lakes and ponds. Like the cypress of southern wetlands and swamps, the Atlantic white cedar can survive long periods of high water by producing "knees" or pneumatophores that grow from and aerate the roots. The images here were taken in a relatively dry period. The sphagnum moss has shrunk back to pads and clumps around the trees. In wetter seasons, the sphagnum spreads out and grows thick and deep enough that you can thrust an arm into the moss up to the shoulder, and makes the bogs appear as though bathed in green light. It would be easy to imagine the great amphibians and gigantic dragon flies of the Permian period inhabiting these bogs. As the moss and trees mature and die and are replaced, the ponds and lakes where they grow around the edges, gradually fill in, and other dry land loving evergreens and deciduous trees take over the woodlands.

There are dozens of species of wildflowers, frogs, snakes and other reptiles unique to these bogs, which are now rare and difficult to find. I stumbled across the one in these photos by accident years ago, and my attempts to find it again failed until late this summer on a trip to Oswego Lake, (on the edge of the Wharton State Forest in Southern New Jersey) with my son and several of his friends. I have been disappointed at how little there is on the web about these wonderful trees--no photos that I've been able to find. The slide show is the courtesy of one of my son's friends, Jesse Rucco, who remembered to bring a digital camera.

More links to the Atlantic White Cedar

An interesting footnote... some years ago, before the energy/ climate/ pollution/ economic/ crisis was visible to any but the more vigilant and aware, proposals were made for ships by computer controlled wind and solar power... ideas ridiculed and squashed by oil fueled propaganda.

Imagine... sailing ships again--synthetic sails adjusted not by barefoot sailors consoled to a life of hardship by rum and biscuits, but computer programs tuned to satellite weather reports, power alternating between wind and solar energy.

Entrenched power is the greatest enemy of imagination and invention... in the so called real world, or far removed from that... the world of publishing.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Fall of Two Empires: USSR, USA


We must believe more in what we are not than in what we are. The later is always an illusion. The former may possibly be something more...