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