Tuesday, December 30, 2008

End Corporate Personhood!

When we want to come up with truly terrible SCOTUS decisions, Dread Scott comes immediately to mind, but in terms of lasting and intractable damage to democratic governance, perhaps nothing exceeds Santa Clara County versus Southern Pacific. To effect foundamental structural change:
Vote here to End Corporate Personhood

How about this: if the gaggle of accountants and crooks that run your HMO decide they don't want to pay for your child's surgery and prosthesis and you sue, you are granted lawyer for lawyer and dollar for dollar equivalency with the corporation in court. They have 150 Harvard Law School lawyers working against you, you get 150 Harvard Law School lawyers; they spend $50,000,000 in defence, you get $50,000,000 to pursue your case all the way to SCOTUS.
If equivalency is good, let's have real equivalency.
From the citizen driven social action network, CHANGE.ORG


An 1886 Supreme Court clerk's headnotes misreading (Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific Railroad) applied the 14th Amendment to corporations, extending to them all the rights, but none of the responsibilities, of human persons. The result has been the steady erosion of our democracy since then, and the consequent rise of the corporate state, which is primarily responsible for the military-corporate-media-academic complex, the expansion of the often brutal U.S. global empire (including the IMF, WTO, and World Bank) with its protecting militarism, and the destruction of our only planet's environment, all in the service of corporate capital's endless lust for power and profits. Corporate personhood is at the core of all of our problems. Ending it is the start of the way back to humane civilization.

Check out this video: Bad Apples

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Der Lindenbaum: Mann's Journey of the Soul

Two luminous posts on The Magic Mountain from Letters from a Librarian: from darkness to light--perfect reading for the northern winter solstice.
While this moves me to real tears, they are, I convess...  tears of wishes that will never be.
I think of Death in Venice.... we are never quite free of that first level... love as lust. We are in the end, animals.... simple, for all the complexity of our productions, simple in our animal being.  My cat, raising his paw, signaling me to send out the string on the end of the rod for him to chase... I realise, is not that unlike me. Other than... my cat... has none of my phantasmagoria to deceive him...
That is our great difference... our capacity for illusion and self deception.
... and then, I am left to wonder... the polar bears drowning in the slush that once was the ice caps that supported them, do not entertain a thought of either our complicity in their threatened extinction or of sympathy for the stupidity of our own inability to curb our instincts for mutual slaughter... we morne for them, even as we morne for ourselves, but they do not morne for us.
The Universe does not care. It will go on without us... or not. We alone have evolved to morne the loss... perhaps the only thing we have left to claim as our own.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Passages marked in reading...

Filling time and space (space/time?)   count down to the new year.
"I don't think of myself as a thief of language, but as a value-added remarketeer." Ron Silliman, The Alphabet, Keljak2, 150"

"Purpose of poetry is not to find your voice, but to lose it." Ron Sulliman, The Alphabet, Kaljak2, 153
"The community of victims is the same as that which unites victim and executioner: But the executioner does not know this." Camus. The Rebel.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Harold Pinter
The Hasmoneans were the Judean Taliban--they won the battle, but the rabbis said, the miracle resides in the light.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

How to Read Silliman's Alphabet (?): Hearing the Music in White Noise

"The nude formalists. If we are limning the true and ultimate structure of reality, the canonical scheme for us is the austere scheme that knows no quotation but direct quotation and no propositional attitudes but only the physical constitution and behavior of organisms."
Silliman, The Alphabet. KETJAK2: CARAVAN OF AFFECT, 140

The Alphabet makes for great reading in bars. Requires a special kind of attention. Not about holding on to long chains of logic or narrative (see Aristotle on why an Epic has to start in medias res) Quick pick up--instant recognition of what passes by in the moment, flash-back associations to parallel past moments (those you lived outside the book, and those you lived from earlier pages). The clamber and shifting disconnect of sensations: conversational fragments, a sudden rush of music heard and forgotten, reminders of bodily needs, for comfort and for relief, interruptions of scary moments and episodes of hilarity... all of it, everything around you falls into the text, becomes part of it, you look up from the page with a sense of heightened reality that the best damn toke of THC couldn't begin to equal.
The (?) in the post title so's not to sound bossy. Like, you know...linguists point this out (Google "discourse markers") the function of all those, like, you knows in conversational speech. Indicators of indirect discourse, for instance. He said, like, you don't like it here go someplace else! Meaning, he said something like that, but maybe not in those words.
Or, I like, you know, I totally loved his new tattoo! Meaning, this is probably hyperbole, it's more about the speaker's state of excitement telling the story than reality, but he/she (more likely she) knows you'll get her meaning.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


"Not a straight line but like the logic of chess, each move (each word) opens entire sequences, others shut forever (the train plunges into the tunnel) and reversing your steps can never take you back."

Ron Silliman, The Alphabet, Jones. 133

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sasha Steensen, THE METHOD: Palimsest of Poetry over a Dream of History

"BUT THERE IS ANOTHER METHOD" Olive Schreiner Quoted at the beginning of Barryman's 77 Dream Songs.

THE METHOD, Sasha Steensen. Fence Books, 2008

From the book jacket: "The Method is a manuscript of theorems and proofs written and diagrammed by the mathematician Archimedes in Syracuse around 250 BC."

A book lost, found, written over by prayers and bills of lading, stolen leaves transported to Cambridge, auctioned at Chirstie's, a journey become a dream palimpsest by Sasha Steensen. Read in a single gulp this morning from which I pulled myself free as reluctantly as from my morning dreams of a few hours earlier. Found yesterday at Robins lying on the table in the back where books of poetry are shelved, this is poetry that makes me wish there were no need in my life for anything but reading poetry.
road, come pass
with me terrors
by the side
of seas & easterlies

She dug the box
out of the closet.
She stuffed the baby's clothes
with rags
until a body
like a scarecrow's
filled the clothes.
She placed the body
in the bed
beside her.

And so it begins. The Method is at once Archimedes refusing to give up work on his theorems even as the Roman soldiers arrive with drawn swords to kill him, the manuscript lost and found, the voice of the poet, of poetry, of death and remembrance. By the third poem I heard Berryman's Henry and on page 53, there he was, lines quoted from the first of the 77 Dreamsongs.

If you had never seen a second snow
in Baltimore or Minneapolis, what matter, really
marveled Method,
scratching himself slowly in solemn spots.
You joined thought with thought thought outwent
measly Method to live on

rotten and stinking up the world's libraries.
O joyous departures fumbling in the trees,
coming emptily.
It wasn't the thought they thought they could
do it, was it,
out with it:

what was it, then, got under your pelt?
As you say, we suffer on, a day, a day, a day.
The weather's bad,
the sun much worse, yet Method jobs,
pays bills, banters, winks, shits, and sleeps
while your ghost limps comelier away.

Quite a lot of Barryman, it turns out--Barryman with a greatly expanded menu of forms: the middle of the book, a series of prose poems. THE PROPERTY OF A DECEASED'S ESTATE is a literal (and for once I can use the word literal , literaly) palimsest: lines overlapping. There is a PANTOUM that does a striptease, shedding words in repeated lines as it progresses.

Bones had slipped by half noticed ten pages earlier (ME, THEE ODES).

There are 44 poems in the book --no "collection," but a single long poem in 44 parts suffused and bound together as the fragments of a dream defy either division or coherence: read these two...


Every little whale-thought waits
awhile, then dives deeper
into sleep.

Once awake, blowing hard
for air, The Method dunno
what he saw

Ganging to remember
how he ate stars
how his liver escaped out his anus
and the sun rose through his genitals
or, how his eyebrows,
the two parents, or two sons, or two partners,
or two spouses
or two handmaids, or two proxies

became bushy and beautiful, then fell out

Only now,
beached on Cape,
driftwood stuck and nudged
into each side
by curious vacationers
does he know how every object
that looks like an object
will be destroyed


By heaven, and by the nightly visitant!
Would that you knew what the nightly visitant is.
It is the star of piercing brightness.

As the Method mulls this over, his bed coverings shift.
Someone slips in beside him, silently.
Someone sets a hand over his mouth, softly.
Someone lifts his teddy bear from his grip, gently.

At the Baltimore museum, the Method had met an exhibit of holy-mouthed men
set upon a bundle of hog hairs.
Had they tracked him here to bristle him in his bed, he asked Allah.

They scheme against you: but I too have My schemes.
Therefore, bear with the unbelievers, and let them be awhile.

I copied out lines. I poured over this book, page after page, but I cannot quote lines apart from the poems that contain them--it's enough to tear the poems--like the stolen leaf from Archimedes' manuscript--from the book itself, which simply must be read as a whole. Steenson's poems are at once gentle, aching with longing--and torn by violence, from the murder of Archimedes to Abu Ghraib:


from his corner
the Method sees
the methods
of torture:

if there had been a hanging machine
or quartering
had there been the stake and wheel
the gallows
beating detainees with broom handles and chairs
military dogs
bed of nails
if there had been sodomizing with chemical lights
or steam machines
if there was a network of gazes
a ball and chain
a scaffold
or photographs
of smiling guards
pointing to penises

(the other option was to take eastern Islam from the rear)
I take courage and flee,
carry it carefully
in my pants
& under my hat
spotted pards
sing a song

& it's like looking
at a noise
faraway, closer.

These are poems that cannot be reduced to paraphrase, that I would violate by attempting to explain or explicate. I can only respond, and beg you to try them for yourself. Perhaps someone else can do them justice. I looked in vain for a review or mention of Steensen on Silliman's blog. Was disappointed that I missed her reading at Robins early in December. Do read them and let me know what you think.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Poetry Reading Voice...

e ?
The poetry reading   v   

s  ?
It goes sorta like  th 

y ?
It drives me   c

A family resemblance to the spoken inflection of the freshmen women in my classes.
o u s?
Valley girlish... but deadly    s

One of the causes of my dropping out of the reading scene some twenty years ago, of why I was so pleased last year when I first heard CA Conrad, Ish Klein and several other Philly poets. I've been going to every reading I can manage since, and have not once heard that... voice?

With the little pause after the penultimate word at the end of the ... line?
Every line end ... stopped? I think it's supposed to indicate poetic ... irony? In case the audience doesn't get it from the ... words?

And the superscript question mark tag like a helium balloon tied to the last word.

I tried to describe that voice to someone recently. Someone who did not and does not go to readings. I couldn't remember it well enough to get it right.

Now I have a video.
From the Geraldine Dodge Foundation Festival of the School of Quietude.

I have a theory that this is where vampires come from... I know I can't listen to the end with wanting to sink my teeth into the poet's throat... not necessarily the jugular. More like the voicebox!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Wound of Conciousness: II (James Wood)

Following the comments to The Wound of Consciousness, let me add a clarification. Realism isn't the problem. It's the refusal to bring into the discussion the criteria for discerning how some representations are more, or more powerfully "real" than others.

If you call representations of a heightened individuality and autonomous consciousness "reality," how does that differ from making a claim, outside the context of literature, that this idea of individuality and consciousness is true.? More true than others? And outside the context of literature, how can you deny that these assumptions are fundamental to a belief in liberal democracy as it is currently practiced? Or to its assumptions about the relationship of the individual to economic society?

I think we go wrong when we confuse aesthetics, which is the studied response to works of art, with the works themselves: as if to say, if there can be such a thing as art for art's sake, then it must follow that there can be an "aesthetics for aesthetics sake," that a true aesthetic response will be as uncontaminated as the object of its concern is assumed to be. You might well hold as a theoretical starting point, that art is beyond all its uses, that it is always more than a means--which is what we mean by art for art's sake, and still grant that our relationship to art, and still more, our understanding and formulations about art, are always contaminated, always contingent to and dependent on the context in which we find ourselves. That is a recognition concerning ourselves, our limitations, not those of the work we are engaged with. Aesthetics does not discover and describe the elemental properties and laws of art in the manner of a physicist discovering and describing elemental properties of matter. We are the subject of aesthetics, ourselves in the act of engaging with art.

Edmond Caldwell draws on John Felstiner’s, Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew, to illustrate how a critic's claim to aesthetic purity, be it ever so innocent, by ignoring his own complicity in what it would deny, serves not his literary subject, but his own and his reader's wish to replace a full and passionately engaged encounter with a more comfortable illusion.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Kant and Schiller versus R.S. Gwynn

Anyone who can quote Kant and Schiller to good effect against R.S. Gwynn is going to be, at the very least, entertaining. At least for those able to admire the craft of the New Formalists while being left utterly unimpressed by their attempts to goad verse into poetry.

Here's Robert Archambeau of Samizdat Blog on R.S. Gwynn.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Wound of Consciousness

I began this as a comment to Edmond Caldwell's Contra James Wood: The Function of Humanism at the Present Time
I would like to have Wood explain the relationship between realism, that is, literary realism, and reality? Does he understand this autonomous human consciousness as a fictive representation of a corresponding state outside of fiction--in the presumably real world? Or does it represent a purely aesthetic reality, an ideological projection of a deeply felt belief which it is the artists responsibility to confirm? How is it possible to understand how consciousness can be autonomous? Even as an imaginative ideal, when it represents at its core a violation of the boundaries of inside and out, the distinctive achievement of life established when first a membrane governed exchange between what was within and what was external to the cell? Consciousness treated as interiority represents, not reality, but a kind of delusional thinking--one of great importance, one of those things, like belief in gods, that make us human--but what a restrictive and misleading thing it is to call this view a "realism" --by any definition!
When I look for what exemplifies human consciousness, I think of Northrop Frye writing of Homer: how in contrast to the battle scenes in the prophetic books of the Jewish Bible (very similar in many ways to the battles in the Iliad, with the heroes advancing before the assembled armies exchanging challenges and threats meant to intimidate the enemy before the battle began); what Homer contributed, Frye claims, is the possibility of an imaginative recognition of the suffering of the enemy, empathy that was not restricted to one's own tribe. The essence of human consciousness being: awareness of the other as one like oneself (think of the many versions of the Golden Rule). The sense of self grows out of both a confrontation with the limits imposed by the reality of others, and the ability to imagine and to experience the other side.
We are not monads. Language is created and experienced together. Between our first breath and our last, there is nothing we experience that is not in part a shared reality. I recently finished The Bruise, Magdalena Zurawski's wonderful extended meditation on the wound of consciousness (as close as I can come to a name for the--both physical and metaphorical bruise--carried by the novel's protagonist: a mark of Cain that both sets apart and protects, a wound like that in Kafka's Country Doctor). With great precision and insight, Zurawski leads us through the impossible journey, impossible to escape, impossible to resolve or conclude, of discovering what part of us lives out there in a real world, a world that is not us, and how it is, if we do, that we do not ourselves become nothing? In consciousness, even our bodies betray us. We cannot fulfill our animal lives, our natural sexuality without the danger of falling out of ourselves and into the other, and we cannot realize our own reality unless we do. I can't think of anyone I've read since I first came across Kafka who so deeply understood the contradictions of consciousness, and so bravely refused the temptation to falsely reconcile them, refuse to offer her readers the ideological comforts of characters in free flights of Woodsian autonomous consciousness.
Coincidental post on Laval Subjects touches on similar ideas.

More on aesthetics and realism: Wound of Consciousness II

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Odetta: 1931-2008

Odetta sings

Here she is, old, too frail to stand up... but listen to that voice.

This is amazing... Midnight Special

If you can listen to this with dry eyes, you have no soul...

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Calling a poem or novel 'pretentious' (or 'ambitious) relocates fault (or virtue) from work to author. Such words have no place in criticism.


I just finished Force. Not often I read almost 60 pages of poetry without coming up for air. CAConrad is right.

Start from the beginning.

I think of walking down a pebble and shell strewn beach--foam flecked fragments, sky and sea washed. Cliimb up from the subway, sounds and images flickering past echoed in words like flash cards, a shuffled deck. This book rearranges brain cells. I am looking forward to reading all 1054 pages.
" What is sadder than the small book of well-wrought
poems, none spilling over to the next page even, each pretending to its own completeness."

Ron Silliman: The Alphabet. ZYXT, 985

Monday, December 1, 2008

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Breaking the Necessary Silence

One of Bataille's impossibilities ( I would call them contradictions, but a contradiction is a fault of discourse--a limitation from which Bataille would have poetry break free: music, the slave of its instrument, will know freedom only in destroying the instrument that gives it voice.

Silence again.

... most of the day preparing submissions: poetry.


I've never been able to come up with an answer--a motive, that wasn't a cliche, an outright lie, a bit of rhetorical nonsense (I send my poems into the world as I send my children... rubbish. My poems are not my children. A metaphor with no meaning, no effect but to erase the question without addressing it).

"Then why do you write poems?"

That's a question I don't have to answer.

Or rather, the only answer... silence.

Bataille tells us that poetry is a cry without language, beyond language... that cannot exist but with language.

A contradiction that is both the creation of language, and beyond it.

In silence, the contradiction and its resolution are at peace. The lion and the lamb. The asp in the hand of the child. Death and silence.

That is not a world we are able to live in. To sustain ourselves, everything must be put to use, and in using and being used (the music played on the instrument of language... what language is for) ... we lose the sovereignty of being human.

Our only defense... language that becomes the silence.


Saturday, November 29, 2008

Georges Bataille: The Imposibility of Poetry

The essays in the beginning of Georges Bataille's THE ABSENCE OF MYTH, Writings on Surrealism. are primarily of interest for the light they shed on Bataille's early conflicts and later reconciliation with André Breton and on the history of surrealism: its flowering between the wars and transformation and reemergence after the liberation. The later essays deserve consideration in their own right, quite apart from their place in the history of a literary movement.

I would single out "War and the Philosophy of the Sacred, "Poetry and the Temptation of the End of the World," and "Surrealism and God," but those on Jacques Prévert, (From the Stone Age to Jacques Prévert), René Char (René Char and the Force of Poetry), Camus' (The Rebel (The Age of Revolt), and his critique of Blanchot on Sade (Happiness, Eroticism and Literature) represent aesthetic critical thinking above and beyond.

Begin with the impossible. And never back off.

If you want to think about, to write about "literature" (I am more and more estranged from this word... let's go back in time and call it all poetry... and what doesn't come up to poetry (or merely aspires to it without overwriting all earlier attempts to define it, is merely "literature." What we called the glossy hand-outs at the auto show when I was a kid in the 50's).

"...poetry is...literature which is no longer literary, which escapes from the rut in which literature is generally entrapped. For us, 'poetic' cannot have a set value in the same way as an Anjou wine or a fabric (Hear that, Mr. Wood!) (p. 138) ... if you want to think about poetry, there's no where else to begin.

... but with the impossible.

You have volunteered to be shackled to two draft horses. They are pulling, one to the north, one to the south. Your job, if you choose to accept it, is to never give way to one side or the other, even as they tear you, body and soul, asunder.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sad sad news for Philly....

Robins Bookstore is closing

This just breaks my heart. Losing an old and dear friend. So many memories tied up with this store, the readings, the best poetry selection in the city... I want to cry

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Ana Girl Cult: A Theology of Anorexia

I first recognized the tendency to reify this disorder in the life (and death) of Simone Weil. I have long been disturbed by the simple minded treatment of anorexia by the media and in popular lore: as though it were something young girls caught by looking at photos of skinny fashion models. There's clearly much more to this--a far more complicated disorder, and painfully difficult to treat. This tendency to imagine it as kind of spiritual exercise, a religion of death--something I thought about when I wrote my short story, A Theology of Anorexia, imaging the sensibility of a Weil in the life of a young American woman.

Nancy Maya Sloan's story, Ana Girl, published by Driftwood Press is a long, first person account of a recent internet cult of anorexics--a disturbing "support network," that makes a virtual religion of self-starvation. I wasn't aware of this until last night at a reading of Maya's story.

There's also a book, Holy Anorexia, on ascetic practices in the middle ages. I came across this after I'd written my story, working in a bank of radiographic transcriptionists. The woman next to me: a 40 something anorexic, who at one point weighed less than 70 pounds. People would get off the elevator when she entered... thinking she had AIDS or some other contagious disease.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Reality Chickens Come Home to Roost

Dan Green responds to Nigel Beal.

Once more with feeling: the boogey man of Realism.

And once again, my problem with literary realism begins with the problem of assuming that "reality" --of world or character, is something we just know when we see it. That it is not, in fact, the problem.

I don't understand what Nigel, or anyone, means by "natural;" and as what we take as "real" in the physical world is for physicists but a sensual phantasmagoria, so too, the apparent reality of character and self. What is more, it doesn't take special tools and measurements to notice this. While we can never entirely escape the phantasmagoria of character, self, society--it is a stage setting riddled with holes, anything but a seamless impenetrable surface. We have but to close our eyes in sleep and it shatters into splinters and fragments... or to open them--to rouse ourselves from our habitual waking sleep to realize that the phantom reality is not a given of the objective world, but a shimmering mutable composite, a collective creation.

This is not for me an inference drawn from abstract thought, but rather, an attempt to name what is otherwise an unnameable experience, how I find myself un-made in this world again and again.

How then, as a writer concerned with reality, am I to ignore this, ignore the tattered fabric, the frayed threads and ribbons fluttering in the wind of a reality beyond that of the phantasmagoria? What possible motive to do so other than to tell lies, to bring false comfort; why would I want to do nothing more than polish mirrors for readers to use to behold images of our shared illusions of self and world?

And why would I want to read what is neither comfort, nor even an escape, but a mockery of our fragmented reality, of our effort to build together a humanly habitable place in a world that is anything but whole?

As I noted in a comment I left on Legendumst, what the blinkered pursuit of the "natural," (maybe we should call it "lifeyness,")generates. are Reality Chickens: the Reality Chickens of commercial fiction… Reality Chicken factories safely caged laying our breakfast eggs on command, turning themselves, shmoo-like, into oceans of identical artery clogging nuggets."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

"Dont' bother your father, he's feeding his ancestors"

An exert from ThinkBuddha, Will Buckingham's blog, touches on the writing process, on how our brains delegate authority.

The thought, that is to say, emerges in the writing, and if it doesn’t emerge, I save the article as a draft so that, if I feel like it, I can come back to it later. To write – to use the image from Russell Hoban that I have quoted here before – is to (or to attempt to) make friends with your own head. This idea implies, quite correctly it seems to me, that our own heads go their own merry way without taking the trouble to ask us if that is OK. They do their stuff, and we do ours. And when they do things that we don’t like, we claim not to be in our right mind (“What was I thinking of..?”) whilst when they do things that we do like, we congratulate ourselves and tell us how clever we are.

But who, we might ask, is taking the credit here? Not the brain, but the noisy, garrulous self that seems ( to my mind at least – a curious expression in the present circumstances…) to pop in and out of existence, to come and go on whim. It is as if, in the busy office that makes up the mind, there is one colleague at least who, whenever he shows up for work (and, for much of the time, the work goes on far better without him) can’t help going on and on about what he is up to, about how important he is to the running of the whole show, about how the decisions that he made last week (his colleagues are too polite to point out that he was, in fact, mysteriously absent when the real work was happening) have been so successful that he is going to award himself a further bonus and a pat on the back…
I've had several ideas buzzing around in my own brain but I realize I'm not ready for them... or they're not ready for me. They buzz and fly about, but nowhere near ready to come in for a landing. Reviewing Bataille on Surrealism just stirred them up all the more. This is related (one of those buzzing flies) to something that came up at the end my of post on The Rhetoric of Hope, and was more my purpose in writing it than the stuff about Obama--though I only discovered this at the end:

The word 'literature' should be retired as the all-inclusive term for imaginative writing.

It will do for those four color fold-outs they give you at auto shows, or for Establishment Literary Fiction--all that stuff that's been chewed up digested and regurgitated as corporate feel-good pabulum, the stage dressing for our everybody's-a-participant Consumer Reality Show. All that stuff out there to seduce us into becoming believers...believing that this wonderful paper-moon fabrication is REAL.
Something about poetry punching through.
The words punching through ... like buzzing flies.

That what we used to call 'literature'... we can best recognize (an American colloquialism I happen to like) in poetry--where commercial success offers you no hand (and no cross-signals) in judging the good from the drech.
I'm telling you, I haven't thought this through yet. But poetry--what makes poetry poetry... is its power to punch through (there it is again) the conventions of reality, to disconcert our wish to believe. And anything that now or ever deserved to be thought of as literature--yeah--Flaubert too, he's no fucking 19th C. founder of ELF--no mater what the retro lit-crit voices chant! You've gotta have your head buried way deep in sentence level criticism to swallow that one.
I've been thinking about that too. Emma and M. Moreau... how their empty romantic dreams expose the bourgeois emptiness they hoped to flee--how Flaubert, in contrast with so many of his ELF progeny, doesn't offer false hope, feel-good symbols of noble humanity, the wonderful mystical blah blah blah satisfactions of love conquers all, the humble satisfactions of ordinary domestic life, etc etc etc... one emptiness exposes the other, reveals, not "reality" but the unrelieved unreality of the everyday. And by that means, leaves us, his readers... free.
No compensation but that.
Poetry. It's all poetry... or

So here's what I find myself thinking... flies buzzing away... my thesis. My reading touchstone.
... but they haven't landed yet.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Politics and Poetry: The Rhetoric of Hope

The man has a way with words, but what's that have to do with reality?

In the hundreds of conversations I've had on the doorsteps of South Philadelphia, how many times have I heard some variation of this question? The man has a way with words, but what does that have to do with reality? In thinking about my experiences in this campaign, from my first day as a volunteer, a bundle of voter registration forms in hand, standing outside the 69th Street terminal on an unnaturally warm day in early March, through eight months, working three major events, knocking on more than 2400 doors, those four long GOTV days that lasted forever and passed in the blink of an eye, I can't imagine a more important question, a question more worthy of thought. The man has a way with words, but what does that have to do with reality?

The question of trust is a question about language.

This is, of course, a question about trust, directed, I suppose, in the minds of those who posed it, at this man who used words like hope, and change--charging them with a power nearly impossible to define; a meaning richer and more potent than whatever definitions one might try to assign them, more than any particular issue or policy that might follow as their object.

Change--what kind of change? Change for what?

In my early conversations I would pretty much keep to the script; mentioning health care, funding for education, benefits for veterans, pointing out contrasts between Bush's policies and Obama's proposals, but it wasn't long before I recognized a pattern; that it was not so much the man they didn't trust, but the words. No, not the words, but words themselves, and the more particular, the more specific the content, the more evident the nature of that mistrust. At some point I began to listen more carefully to the rhetoric of Obama's speeches, to the way he used the word hope the word change: what I had thought of as very cleverly selected buzz words.

The things we do are the children of our intercourse.

I recognized that when he spoke of change, it was most closely associated with two related ideas: belief (change you can believe in), and in a great variety of contexts and expressions, with the quality of discourse. We must change the way we speak of and to one another, the way we listen to one another, and I realized that this change was primary; and of course--how could it be otherwise; specific policies and actions, whatever their nature, flow naturally from and follow the discourse that engenders them: that the things we do are the children of our intercourse.

By understanding change as change in the nature of our discourse, we can better understand how Obama uses the word hope.

What I found so engaging in Obama's speeches was more than his emotive power to inspire, to t make me feel good or to forge my identity with this or that ideology. There was something about what he was saying that was primary to the issues that he would list in the middle of the speeches; it was always clear that specifics were contingent, possibilities; this is what we can do, if... If we learn again to listen to one another; to address one another as more than objects or obstacles to some end we seek, as more than means. Understanding change in this way, we can better understand the relationship between hope and belief.

Hope is where poetry and politics meet.

Hope has no object. It is not the antecedent of something we desire or expect, nor is it something mystical or supernatural: it is simply (though anything but simple) an openness of heart and willingness to listen: the necessary if not sufficient quality we must bring if we are to engage in any fruitful public discourse. Hope, if it is real, refuses to name its object. To do so would be the death of hope, and in this I see the intersection of poetry and politics.

When I say "poetry," I mean all of literature. All of what is called "literature" is not poetry, but all of what deserves to be called "literature," is most certainly poetry. I think of Bataille's defense of surrealism: that somehow, what is, is made alive by what is not, or not yet, that we can never be satisfied by the "real." Everything we can name as real is past, always already archaic, dead, without that life which is yet-to-be: what in politics, in our expectations for the future, in what Obama means by hope--something without a nameable object. Political life, the evolving life of human communities--and poetry--converge in the not-yet, in the yet-to-be-named.

The unnameable reality of the spirit

A great political leader: a Lincoln, an Obama, or a leader of a people still in the political wilderness--a Moses, a Martin Luther King, bring a people into the political from the wilderness, from slavery, from aimless wandering, from the timeless sojourn, the ever repeated circle of the pilgrimage into the politics of poetry, the poetry of politics, from the slavery and servitude of the named toward the yet unnamed which is the realization of hope seen from the heights, the unnamed brought forth from the depths by poetry, of a future none can foresee or predict... the unnameable reality of the spirit. The change we can believe in.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

It's A Beautiful Day!

Feel the Love!

Photo: Sean of Philadelphia casts his vote

Monday, November 3, 2008

This is it...

Another 11 hour day, cause I get off early. The two staff people are working 18 hour days. Together, we've sent out volunteers who've knocked on from 12,00 to 15,00 doors. And that's 1 of 20 staging sites in Philly. Gotta figure we've hit close to 200,000 doors in Philly.

More than 100 volunteers. Hard to imagine any likely Democratic voter hasn't been visited... had some worries about voter fatigue, but volunteers come back with positive reports. This late in the process, that's good news.

I tell them what the assignment is, the objective for each walk, and try my best to turn it into a inspirational "fire 'em up" send off. Like a kind of stump speech. I use it as base, improvise to keep it fresh. In spite of losing my voice and counter to my wonder at how well received these spiels are, I seem to be a pretty effective inspirational speaker.

Another 12 hour day coming up. Have to be on site at 7:00.

By this time tomorrow... we may know

Saturday, November 1, 2008

One Day: Three to go

From a house in South Philly which the owner had opened to us as a staging site for our first day GOTV effort, we sent out in three shifts, over 100 volunteers.

I would guess that more than half were from New York--many came to Philly on one of the China Town bus lines and will come back again
They knocked on 3000 doors.

They recruited many new volunteers for election day.

One staging site.

Every door, every contact recorded and entered in the data base in preparation for the final election day push.

Reports were that the McCain campaign was going to target South Philly, sending in volunteers. Our canvassers saw no sign of them.

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 cheers....it'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...

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.