Sunday, June 28, 2009

Jonathan Littell's letter to the Jury of the Athens Prize for Literature

The Literary Saloon has posted Jonathan Littell's letter to the Jury of the Athens Prize for Literature.

Barcelona, June 23, 2009

Ladies and gentlemen,

I have just been informed that my book Les Bienveillantes -- Eumenides in Greek -- has been awarded the Athens Prize for Literature. I am very touched by this honor, all the more so as it has been granted in and by the very city where those same Eumenides, pacified at last, were once settled "in honor for the rest of time," to make "their home at Athene's side."

In the days when Aeschylus wrote his great tragedy, literature was a public affair, the affair of every citizen. It was a political affair, in which the most fundamental values and problems of the polis would be invoked and debated, a religious affair too, an affair of ethics as much as aesthetics. Judgment of the work was thus the business of the whole city. The prize that was awarded incarnated the public's sense that the work had, in some important way, contributed to the public good, and the prize ceremony, like all political and religious ceremonies of the time, was a public event, one worthy of record, to be remembered by succeeding generations.

Today, the matter is different. While literature may touch on affairs of politics or religion, it no longer participates directly in them. Even when it seeks to explore the deepest questions besetting mankind, it now properly belongs, in the common view, to that sphere of human activity known as "culture." The divorce, one might say, is complete. This fact in itself is neither admirable nor deplorable, it is simply a state of affairs. And as such it implies new roles, new responsibilities. It has always been my view that literature is a very private matter now, and that what takes place between a writer and his work belongs to a sphere utterly separate from the interaction of that work with those who read it, comment it, praise it or damn it. Privacy, for me, is a fundamental condition of creation, of work. It was so before my book was published, and must remain so now. It is in this spirit that I express my hope that my inability to join you today will be taken for what it is, an expression of our common love for literature. I thank you very much.

Jonathan Littell

Friday, June 26, 2009

Death of Michael Jackson

Who killed Cock Robin ?

The sense of loss when a public icon dies is real. We identify these figures with important moments of our lives. I in no way mean to mock that, but the very potency of the psychological attachment raises some disturbing questions. First, the way the mourning and recapitulation of life and career takes over the news cycle implies a judgment on the part of those selecting the news; projecting the death of a pop star front center on the stage of unfolding history suggests something not entirely right with our collective mental health.

Equally significant: what happens to the object of this public idolatry when the charismatic force is rooted in impossible fantasies, fantasies the stars feel compelled to vicariously live out, a kind of sacrifice, so the fans can have the juice and still go about their normal lives? It would take a remarkably grounded individual to resist the temptation to make those fantasies real: the one about never-ending childish innocence, for instance. MJ must have been especially vulnerable, never having had the opportunity to experience the normal stages of disappointment/loss/impotence of will/and then adjustment that turns us into mature adults.

The self-destructive character of so many ‘stars’ is not simply an individual failure: it’s a cooperative relationship, for the fans, a dance of fantasized life, a dance of death for their celebrated star.

If only he had felt called upon in the “love” he so much needed from his fans, to write a song about growing up… about growing old… How much of that feeling of loss is guilt at knowing we were watching and encouraging a man on a journey that no one could survive?  

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Little bird on the back of the Great Beast

It's impossible to overstate the importance of unscripted events like we're seeing in Iran. We fall into the illusion of the power brokers, those who benefit from the status quo, that history is made by policy makers, politicians, backroom deals by looters and corporate death dealers. This is what they want us to believe. This is what they depend on our believing: that history is made by them, by the leaders.
 Their 'control' is a con-game. They are like little birds riding the back of a sometimes lumbering, sometimes charging rhino... whispering into its ear, picking at the lice... believing THEY are in command.
It is not so.
It never is.

There is no more important lesson to be learned.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Dan Green channeling Jonathan Mayhew:

A part of a continuing conversation reclaiming the centrality, or rather, the continuity of writing effectively marginalized by these misleading labels (experimental, postmodern, post avant...) with modernist literature of the late 19th and early 20th Century. 
One might add to Dan Green and Jonathan Mayhew's observations the importance of market driven forces in that interrupting "resurgence of realism and naturalism from the 1930s to the 1960s:"  what I would call the 'late, or decadent capitalist nostalgia, represented by James Wood.

Jonathan Mayhew questions whether there is such a perceptible difference between the "modern" and the "postmodern," both in fiction and poetry, as we are sometimes led to believe. As Jonathan observes, "the term [postmodernism] took on a different meaning after Lyotard and Jameson. Basically, the word was hijacked as a term for 'poststructuralism' or for 'late capitalism,' respectively."
Jonathan suggests that poets from this period were really "continuers of a tradition" extending back to Williams and Pound, that these "new" poets' work still essentially belonged to the "modernist period." I think the same is true of what was postmodern fiction "Post-" modern meant not just after modernism but more specifically a return to the spirit of modernism understood as the attempt to expand the possibilities of form and style in fiction, an endeavor that to some extent had been interrupted by a resurgence of realism and naturalism from the 1930s to the 1960s

Monday, June 22, 2009

Fantasy and Dream: The Supreme Tyrant and the Dreamers on the Street.

Fadi Abou-Rihan  has been posting a running commentary on Winnicott's ideas on 'Found Things," on the trasitional quality of play,  dreaming and fantasy.  Go to his post, Structure and Process, to follow his ideas.
While I can't pretend to offer useful interpretation--I was struck by Winnicott's distinctions between fantasy and dreaming, on the comparitive fixity of fantasy--which is tyrannically (I don't think that that overstates it) re-guided back to whatever has been identified as the desired object, as opposed to the poetic quality of the dream, whose "agility is the mark of a mucking about and a taking liberty with whatever it may encounter."
 How often I've experienced in my writing--parfticularly when the going gets rough, the words hard to come by--that I've become 'fixed' in just this way, to a goal, preconceived--even if one I'm as yet unable to articulate, that I'm trying to keep everything within bounds...coloring within the lines, not at all unlike fantasy daydreams in states of infatuation: securing the hand of the lover, of winning the prize, getting the book published. This is not, I think, a matter of releasing a bundle of unacknowledged desires pent up in some prison cell of the unconscious. It is not a turning inward, however much it involves unconscious and perhaps repressed forces; rather, it is a losening outward--a movement toward the world, a relaxation of the border police. Play brings new aspects of reality into view... into play, involves us in the world in ways we had missed, or avoided, or feared.
It is certainly possible to push ahead in that goal oriented mode, "purpose driven" writing; one can even learn to be quite good at it, which may be the worst thing that can happen--that one can get good at it; good at making it happen... which is really a way of not letting it happen. The mental Besiji may indeed succeed in striking fear in the hearts of the dreamers, chasing  them 'safely' indoors, shooting the Voice through the heart, letting it bleed to death on the street. We need to learn to say to the Voice, like the primal cry that it is... don't be afraid! Don't be afraid!

Here are exerts from the post.
By the early 1970’s, Winnicott elaborated further on the quality of this interaction when, with the help of one of his patients, he introduced a distinction between “fantasying” and “dreaming.” Fantasying is an isolated and isolating activity as with, for instance, the daydreaming of the perfect partner, perfect job, perfect home, or perfect finances, the daydreaming of, in sum, the perfect and perfectly satisfying life (the aeternitas) in the face of an intolerably disorganised, unmanageable, and fleeting reality (the tempus). Fantasying instigates no action; it at best runs parallel to and at worst substitutes for life and action; it is a fixity that distracts from and drains objects and relations; it inhibits and at times altogether paralyses them . Dreaming, on the other hand, corresponds to the agility typical of an excursion into an “imaginative planning of the future” (”Dreaming, Fantasying, and Living”, 35), an excursion that precipitates and looks forward to action as much as it is shaped by it (DFL, 26-33). Doctor and patient had come to see that fantasying about an action and dreaming about it belong to two separate orders; indeed, “fantasying was about a certain subject and it was a dead end. It had no poetic value. The corresponding dream, however, had poetry in it, that is to say, layer upon layer of meaning relating to past, present, and future, and to inner and outer, and always fundamentally about [the dreamer]” (DFL, 35; emphasis in the original).
Yet, and however distinct they may be, fantasying and dreaming remain inextricably implicated in one another. The fixity that is the trademark of fantasying speaks a strong attachment and a wish to revise and preserve as is, in other words, a fidelity to a particular object or situation, while dreaming’s agility is the mark of a mucking about and a taking liberty with whatever it may encounter

Sunday, June 21, 2009

James Meredith March Against Fear.

 1966 .<--(click to No. 5. in the slide show.   Freedom Summer one year later. Tear gassing in the school yard, photo #5 of Harry Benson's slides. The young man on the ground on the right side of this photo... me, 25 years old (my appologies to the photographer for posting this earlier without attribution. I found it at a site that did not include credit).   This was Mississippi

Lest we forget. from Wikipedia:
In Canton, Mississippi the march was attacked and tear-gassed by the Mississippi State Police joined by other police agencies. Several marchers were wounded, one severely. Human Rights Medical Committee members conducted a house-to-house search that night looking for wounded marchers. The nuns of the Catholic school extended their help and hospitality to the marchers, especially to the wounded.

I stood before Mississippi State cops... I thought they would shoot us. They didn't. Tear gas and rifle buts. The most liberating moment of my life.
Perhaps some part of my obsession with events in Iran.
What is a 'tweet'... but a cyber pen held up to a sword?
(see comments for more detailed account)

Foucault in Iran: What is at Stake?

From One Way Street: Aesthetics and Politics
Foucault in Iran

With no abatement in the anti-government fury now gripping Iran, it’s worth recalling Michel Foucault’s remarks on the 1978-79 Iranian revolution, which toppled the Shah. In a career full of provocative statements, Foucault’s most notorious stance was his enthusiastic endorsement what he called the “rapture” (ivresse) of the rebellion that killed thousands of Iranian civilians and left the country in the grip of a repressive theocratic order.

I haven’t heard anyone describe the current uprising as rapturous, but there’s certainly been some degree of romanticization of the role of the Internet in fomenting rebellion in the IRI. It’s easy to imagine that the thunderous voice of Iranian rebellion is a Tweet, but that’s mostly because Twitter is virtually the only source of news from the streets of Tehran. Iranians themselves are much more likely to communicate through cellphone text messages.
Daily life was the primary political battleground for Foucault, and it was here that the 1979 Iranian revolution failed, as he recognized. In this sense the stakes are the same today. In the US we have some valid interests in seeing political change in Iran. After all, Iran is a state spinning its way to a nuclear bomb. But there’s also a sense of American triumphalism in the commentary here: Iranians chose the ayatollahs while we chose the Internet, and now we’re winning. It’s worth keeping in mind what Foucault would say is really at stake in Tehran right now: not the freedom to use Twitter, but the very possibility of risking everything to become more of what one is.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Is it real? The Social Media News Breakthrough?

From Brian Mattix's notes... link at end of quotes
This is pretty lengthy, but I didn't expect to experience what I did today when I woke up this morning. I just wanted to share this crazy experience I definitely didn't plan on happening on a Saturday, and get what I saw and felt off my chest:

Last night, I went to sleep a little earlier than usual, and thanks to the show Real Time with Bill Maher, I found out hundreds of thousands of protesters were planning a protest at 4pm their time, about 6:30am here, so I wanted to be up by at least 8am to see how the situation was going. My normal means for getting a big story like this are the cable nets, especially CNN. I was interested because of the potential story, and I also needed to know so I could post a story for For about 30-45 minutes, it didn't seem like anything was really going on, until I started poking around YouTube and Twitter.

I usually don't go for Twitter, because it really seems trivial, but today it seemed like a good idea to check it out. Within a half-hour it was clear a BIG story was happening, something you wouldn't know if you were watching TV. The first clips I found were the basic clips you see everywhere on TV, large crowds chanting, throwing rocks, etc. But when I found the Twitter topic #IranElection, I was immediately sucked in.

First of all, the updates hitting this page were literally in the hundreds per minute. It was like the AP wire was on September 11 (if you worked in media that day, you'll remember how hectic those bulletins got that morning), but instead of news bulletins, they were a combination of unconfirmed on-the-scene reports, support from people around the world, misinformation and disinformation from the Iranian government. I had never seen anything like it, ever. Not only that, but most posts included links, which allowed video clips and photos to be spread.

It was immediately clear that the CNN story I had copied and pasted from their website was not going to do the story justice.
Please read the rest HERE
And WHY are news media stories 10-12 hours behind what we can find on our own--and if half way intelligent, sort out wheat from chaff--draw conclusions way ahead of the bought and paid for so-called "journalists?"


HERE is the death that has become an icon.

As the messages scroll past, one can see in the repetitions--every Iranian Tweet ( heard claimed... and believe) is repeated more than 50 times. But not all are repeated... ReTweeted. There is a communal selection process... mythmaking before our eyes.
And nothing so far compares with the death of this young woman--the look of astonishment on her face... though I'm sure she was past consciousness, and that sudden flow of blood, the cries of her father... it is finished. Before our eyes. Before the eyes of the world.
We cannot see them all, all of the fallen. They vanish as though they never were--but for the few who mourne them, the fathers, sons, daughters, mothers, friends... and out the swelling need to see, we take up this single image, this single death, this single irreplaceble life and make of it a sign for all the others, all those otherwise lost, fallen in darkness...and in this vision we find... strangely... even for we who are not believers... light. A light that illuminates all ... all of the fallen.
Neda... has become her name, the voice of a revolution, the call to freedom.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Fragments and Synthesis: The origins of Narrative

As Tweets become increasingly repetitious and I search for more synthetic reporting, I think about how much we have to learn from what has been happening in Iran: how it's been reported, how stories and myths comes to be.  I can't understand how anyone interested in fiction, with the origins of narrative, would not be facinated almost to obsession with the unfolding of events in their various guises.

Huffington Post has been most creative, as I see it, in bridging the transition from the stream of granular, fragmented and democratic factoids to a synthetic assimulation that adds space for empirical verification and intellectual reflection--while remaining close to the immediacy of the unfolding events.
The old and the new: She has found ways to use the new media to do what Edward R. Murrow did reporting on the London blitz.

Poetry and Politics: Iran

From the Huffington Post: 6/18/09

1:47 PM ET -- Life imitates art. Today's mourning rally passed through Ferdowsi Square in Tehran. Ferdowsi is, as an Iranian-American friend put it, "like the Persian Homer," having written the epic Book of Kings.

Here's a shot from the Square today sent in by an Iranian, of Ferdowski being inducted into the Uprising:

As it turns out, English professor Rich Newman is in the process of translating the Book of Kings, and wrote a moving post about how it ties into the current unrest:
The connection between literature and politics is always a difficult one. Treating politics as if it were literature, politicizing literary texts, are strategies that people use to advance agendas that are fundamentally political, and often not progressive/egalitarian, in nature. Especially in connection with what is going on in Iran right now, when people are really dying and when the Iranian government is doing everything it can to isolate the entire nation of Iran so that it (the government) can restore what it believes should be the (clearly repressive) order of things, to talk about life imitating art, to read what is going on in Iran through the lens of Iran's own literature, has felt to me like a self-indulgent and gratuitous intellectual exercise.

Yet literature, and in this case specifically poetry, also helps people give meaning to their lives; it can inspire, and it can connect us to something larger than ourselves in ways that political feelings, not matter how strongly felt and/or acted upon, often cannot. And so, precisely because people are really dying in Iran--because I really do believe, along with William Carlos Williams, that people die every day for lack of what is found in poetry--and precisely because there is so much at stake over there, and because Iran is a culture that loves and reveres its poets, I have decided to write.

Perhaps connecting the unrest in Iran not only to the specific history of the Islamic Republic and the revolution out of which that republic was born--which most analysts, reasonably, are focusing on--but also to the Iranian culture that is larger and older than both the Republic and Islam, will make a difference. What that difference might be, and to whom, I have no way of knowing, but I just don't think it is mere coincidence that the current unrest finds echoes in a story Iran has been telling itself about itself for centuries: the tale of Kaveh and Zahhak from the poem commonly referred to as Iran's national epic, Shahnameh (Book, or Epic, of the Kings), part of which I am in the process of translating.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Clay Shirky on Twitter and Iran

A useful analysis of the new media HERE.
NYU professor Clay Shirky gave a fantastic talk on new media during our TED@State event earlier this month. He revealed how cellphones, the web, Facebook and Twitter had changed the rules of the game, allowing ordinary citizens extraordinary new powers to impact real-world events. As protests in Iran exploded over the weekend, we decided to rush out his talk, because it could hardly be more relevant. I caught up with Clay this afternoon to get his take on the significance of what is happening. HIs excitement was palpable.

What do you make of what's going on in Iran right now.
I'm always a little reticent to draw lessons from things still unfolding, but it seems pretty clear that ... this is it. The big one. This is the first revolution that has been catapulted onto a global stage and transformed by social media. I've been thinking a lot about the Chicago demonstrations of 1968 where they chanted "the whole world is watching." Really, that wasn't true then. But this time it's true ... and people throughout the world are not only listening but responding. They're engaging with individual participants, they're passing on their messages to their friends, and they're even providing detailed instructions to enable web proxies allowing Internet access that the authorities can't immediately censor. That kind of participation is reallly extraordinary.

Which services have caused the greatest impact? Blogs? Facebook? Twitter?
It's Twitter. One thing that Evan (Williams) and Biz (Stone) did absolutely right is that they made Twitter so simple and so open that it's easier to integrate and harder to control than any other tool. At the time, I'm sure it wasn't conceived as anything other than a smart engineering choice. But it's had global consequences.

Iran Elections: Why We Must Watch!

Tweeter is virtually the only source consistently reporting from the post election crisis. #iranelection, being the most important channel. Many of the linked images and videos are extremely disturbing... the one posted on Huffington Post of the man dying after being stabbed in the throat.... but we must not turn away. We must not avert our eyes.

The world watching doesn't guarantee there won't be a massive blood letting, but with an internal struggle for power and such a broad based support for the opposition, it will at least make it a more difficult decision--to open fire and unleash a massacre. So far, violence has been sporadic and relatively uncorrdinated, inititated by para-military, not neccesarily under orders from the highest authories.
It's terribly important that we keep watching, and reporting what we see, spreading the word. Some of the scenes are disturbing... watching a man die on the street after being stabbed in the throat... a video later linked on Huffington Post... but we cannot alow ourselves to be one of those faces in the window who pull the shades and turn away while the rapist on the street below has his way.
Reporters have been locked into hotels. Foreign reports have had visas cancelled. Tweeter is virtually the only source of information coming from Iran--our information lifeline. #iranelection is the most active Tweeter channel, with new images and videos. Follow this... spread the word.  It matters.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Imagine a newspaper written by poets? Why not?

Haaretz tried it for a day.

From Tweets to Narrative.

Images from Iran Many new photos by Farad Rajabali, who is doing an extraordinary job.

I've been following news from Iran, obsessively. I say "news;" what I mean, are Tweets. Primarily from #iranelection, and #persiankiwi. An endless scroll of fragments, often repeated, passed on from one source to another, information picked up from readers in other parts of Iran, other parts of the world, filtered through commercial media, recycled through Tweeter.

The compulsion to keep watching is driven by two needs, the desire to "know what happens next," and to tie the fragments together, to discern their connection, not at all unlike reading a book. The affective and cognitive components are inseparable: each serves to give form to the other. Raw emotion is profoundly disturbing, unsettling, creates a desire to know, to understand what those feelings are about, how they are connected to what is happening, what they mean.

The reality... that is, the fragments of information, the strings of words, the anguish and wonder they evoke, resist, powerfully resist, assimilation into narrative. The story made to package what is happening--out there, and in us as we observe and react, enhances the sense of coherence, prepares the experience for retelling, for remembering, while losing in something like proportionate measure what gives the fragments their immediacy, their feel of reality. An impossible trade-off, because the reality is unendurable: a fragmentation that penetrates and tears apart our sense of a coherent Self, and yet--as long as we remain immersed in the unfolding of events--the narrative--any narrative--has the feel of illusion, of a lie.

I read the streaming Tweets, the fragmented, unassimilable Reality, and feel myself in the basic workshop of the creative imagination, a chaos of raw materials, bits and pieces--awkwardly working them over with an array of tools I know I will never master, uncertain who or what is being worked over, or who or what is agent.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Politics and Metaphysics?

Not metaphysics exactly... but thought that penetrates the obvious, that calls to account the easy... and the difficult... reductions, that translate irreducible reality to manageable abstractions.

Right up there with my favorite "reality checking" blogs: Cosmic Variance and Real Climate... Levi Briant's Larval Subjects

Let me quote at length here... only in the hope that you will take in the whole of this post, and circle back and take in the general conversation on Larval Subjects. Bryant is concerned with "reality" in a way that no one hoping to understand politics... or the role of imaginative literature in addressing that reality,can afford to ignore.

The "Becket" refereed to here is not Samuel, but a blog pseudonym...

Apparently if one finds fault with Badiou or Zizek’s accounts of the political, they immediately fall into the category of “neoliberalism”. It seems to me that the motivation of such critiques, however, is instead something quite different. On the one hand– and independent of questions of politics –there are genuine reasons for finding fault with the metaphysical and ontological claims of Badiou and Zizek. Both, in my view, fall into the anti-realist camp. It seems to me that there is a strong tendency within French inflected Continental philosophy to subordinate all questions of philosophy to political imperatives. As a result, one is supposed to choose their ontology, metaphysics, or epistemology on political grounds rather than grounds that directly pertain to these questions. I suspect that this suturing of the philosophical to the political has more to do with academic insecurities pertaining to the place of philosophy and cultural studies in the contemporary world (having lost a lot of ground in the last three centuries) than anything to do with these questions themselves.

On the other hand, within the domain of politics, I find it difficult not to wrinkle my nose in amusement at Beckett’s charge of an unwillingness to confront ideology. Beckett seems to be of the view that politics unfolds through critiquing ideology. However, having witnessed twenty years of critiques of ideology I’m led to wonder what critiques of ideology have ever done to really change anything. The conception of politics as ideology critique seems to largely result among bookish academics that believe it is books and discourses are the primary real and who are therefore persuaded that change takes place through books and discourses. Like the obsessional– who might this obsessional be? –who talks endlessly precisely to avoid saying what really should be said, this conception of the political endlessly dissects various narratives and cultural formations to create the illusion of acting without ever hitting the real. Indeed, there’s a very real sense in which those literary studies types so delighted by Zizek seem to be more motivated to find a justification for writing about their favorite movies and television shows rather than changing social organization in any significant way.

The critique of Badiou and Zizek on political grounds has little to do with the attempt to defend neo-liberalism, and everything to do, I think, with the manner in which both exclude the domain of political economy from the field of the political. In the case of Zizek we get the assertion of a parallax between economy and politics without ever getting any substantial analysis of economic issues. In other words, one half of the parallax always gets short shrift. In the case of Badiou we are directly told that the domain of economy falls entirely outside of politics. In both cases we get the comfortable analysis of signifying formations, meaning, etc., but never much in the way of concrete engagement with the world. In my view, time would be better spend reading Harvey but that requires paying attention to drearily boring things like actual numbers, trends, economic phenomena, etc., and lacks the narcissistic self-gratification of thinking oneself as a subject of truth procedures or engaging in a “radical act”. What we thus get is a profound contradiction between the form and content of these discourses, the subject of enunciation and the subject of the statement. At the level of content and statement there is the declaration of a certain radicality that purports to be seeking to undermine “capitalism” (whatever that might mean… as if capitalism were an “entity”). Yet at the level of form and enunciation, we instead get a form of theorization and a mode of comportment towards the social world that functions to insure that everything remains in place just as it was before. Was it a critique of ideology that led to certain recent changes in American politics? Weren’t these critiques all over the place for the last eight years? Why did things begin to give in 2006? Better to understand the workings of an assemblage or a network to target the key points or nodes in that network than to tarry with the foam that floats up from those networks at the level of discourses.

Like all forms of obsessional thought, these sorts of political theory believe in the omnipotence of thought, ignoring the manner in which forms of social organization require their telephone wires, highways, electricity, sites of exchange, etc. As a result, they perpetual miss the real infrastructures that organize bodies and render social relations impossible, instead believing that the important things are the electrical pulses that travel along those telephone lines, i.e., the messages. It is remarkable to observe, however, how quickly the content of those messages change when, for example, a shift in these infrastructural phenomena takes place, e.g., the collapse of the economy. Perhaps there is a confusion of causes and effects here.

Last performance of InterAct's ReadingAloud

Received this announcement.

InterAct has offered an open venue for writers of short fiction where you could hear your stories read by professional actors. A story--a chapter from my novel-in-progres, was read this past November. Saddend to hear of their passing.

If you're in Philly, show your support for the arts, and all their variety.

Dear Writing Aloud Writers Past and Present.

As some of you may have heard, the upcoming performance of Writing Aloud
on Monday June 15 marks the final installment of the series and the
closing of the program.

With much regret, we at InterAct have made the decision not to continue
Writing Aloud after this season. But I am writing to you now to invite
you to come celebrate the ten great years the program had!

Please join us for the closing performance on Monday, June 15, at 7:00 at
InterAct, 2030 Sansom Street.

The program will feature stories by Gloria Klaiman, Brenda Witmer, and Tom
Teti, read by Nancy Boykin, Miriam White, and Tim Moyer, and it will be
followed by a reception so that we can all drink a toast to Writing Aloud

Tickets are already selling quickly to friends and admirers of the
program, so I urge you to call and reserve now. You can book tickets:
over the phone by calling 215-568-8079.

Thank you for your participation in Writing Aloud.
I hope to see all of you on the 15th!


Rebecca Wright
Literary Director & Dramaturg
InterAct Theatre Company
2030 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103


Behind the Silence

All my attention has been absorbed in trying to finish my novel. For months I've found it difficult even to find words for my journal--though thoughts are beginning to bubbling to the surface again, a few words here, a few there.

I go through these periods. They are not easy. Often a sign of coming depression,  increasing isolation. Even in conversations, it's difficult to find anything to say. Not made easier by worry about how I'm going to earn my living. I was coming out of one these phases when I began this blog--in fact, the Barking Dog was in part an effort to break through, to find words to penetrate the silence--a subject that informed a number of those early posts, some of them recycled below

Silence ?
Going over a long passage of interior monolog, I realized I had been visualizing this scene as though it were staged and the actor playing the role had been speaking his thoughts to the audience. When I stopped writing, I saw him sit down, silent for some time before the change of scenes.
What kind of silence? I thought.
The words would not stop. The audience would no longer hear the character's inner voice, but would know that it continued beyond their hearing--and to the members of the audience, the silence would be outside them, beyond them, for they would play back the words they had heard, transform them into their own interior monolog, as I was doing even as I imagined my character sitting in a silent room... silent, I thought-but no one hears the silence, for the voice is never still.
When I open a book and begin to read, the words on the page do not emerge out of silence, but enter the verbal currents already flowing in my own mind--but they do not replace them, rather they flow over them as a second layer, interacting, sometimes disappearing beneath the surface so that for a moment I am aware only of my own thoughts, my own words--until the written words regain my attention and rise again to the surface. Currents from many rivers merging, and yet each following its course.


Poetics of Renunciation
What I admire and seek to emulate are those works that bring me most forcefully into the presence of a uniquely individual voice and consciousness. This is the opposite of the exposition of Self--even when imaginatively fecund, artfully presented and emotionally powerful. More like the erasure of Self, a stripping away of ego, of the I.
Writing that approaches selflessness (the self as sacrificial offering)  requires a self to sacrifice.
This is neither paradox nor contradiction.
It isn't what the work is about, but what happens to the contagion of self that clings to the subject. Forge words into knives to strip the flesh from the bone; may the greater voice emerge from the death of the lesser.

Why Bother?
Art snuck in the back door. Not all at once. Giotto appropriated religious icons and deflected attention from content to form.

A beginning.
Soon enough, a blink of an eye in cosmic time, an apple and a Madonna are one.
The same paradigm for the literary arts.
William Hazlitt's essay on fame. What we now call "fame" was for Hazlitt, notoriety. Fame, for Hazlitt, might never come to the poet while he lived, but what matter? The true poet wrote not for recognition in his own time, but for posterity... for eternity.
We have no such thing now. Not that we can believe in. A compensation there for the Romantics... even for the modernist--say, pre-Becket, but not for us. What then does it mean? If there is no other compensation, why not sell out to the highest bidder?
          What's a whore, but a realist? A Good Capitalist? 
The metaphysics of the is, is all about the bottom line. What works, is. What else is there?
I don't believe this. But am helpless to explain why.
I will do what I do. Confirmation comes my way... or doesn't, but the question remains.

This is not a frivolous question. I know talented people--who, having no other model, no more powerfully persuasive mythology--have given up, sold out to the Great Beast... for the dream of the Beamer, the trophy paramour, financial independence... the illusion of a Place in the World... because they had no alternative, no believable narrative to draw on--to believe in against all evidence.

I have no future so I have nothing to sacrifice--it's easier for me, if only because I no longer have a choice.  But what of the young? What can I tell them when they ask... when they tell me, why bother?
Dust and Silence

I look about this room: cheap desk, computer, second hand book shelves, box fan on the floor, two K-Mart lamps, the blankets I roll out at night to sleep on; nothing here that will outlive its present use. Nothing that has more than momentary utility to recommend it--except, perhaps, the books. But even these: paperbacks in tatters, worn volumes, covers held together with tape--if I searched I might find a few first editions--may even have one or two autographed volumes, though I couldn't tell you which or where.

Everything here, disposable--like my life; objects which, were I an ancient tribal chief, a seer, elder, bard--only because they would be meaningless apart from my life, might be buried with me.
All but the books.
Let them be read until the pages come loose and fly away in the wind. Let them be read till they too are dust, to be rejoined again in dust and silence.
Silence is Nameless
Why do I keep thinking about silence--Silence, an absence, a thing we can know nothing about, or know only as we know death, as metaphor, surmise, the nothingness that frames the span of our life, the before and after beyond experience, experience that is always filled with signs, signs that may not speak but are never silent. I think of the silence of the woman pouring milk. It is hers, in that room before that window, in the light that caresses her, in the shadows that surround her, but it is not ours. Vermeer doesn't give us silence. She reminds us of the presence of something we cannot know. The silence is in the painting, not in us; we know it only as an absence that draws us out of ourselves, like the silence that frames the lines of a poem. We read the words, read to the end of the line, to the end of the poem and encounter there that same absence. We call it silence, but the silence is on the page, in the white spaces between the words, it is not in us. It is not ours. We say that we have come from silence, as we will return to silence. But our saying this is an admission that between birth and death there is no silence. Look into the eyes of an animal and you will see it--the impenetrable silence we are not permitted to enter, and if we were, if we could (as perhaps we do in dreamless sleep) we would emerge with no trace, no memory of where we had been, no knowledge that we had been there. Is it possible, then, that we do enter into this silence, which we neither experience, or know or remember, that silence is the dark matter of our being--that does not interact with our voluble lives? Even if it were so, even if it were possible to know, it would be useless knowledge. We are left always with this intimation that there is something more, but we can never know or name what lies beyond it, and if we are honest, we will refuse to do so.


Journal Entry: October 8, 1977

Logic is language talking about itself
Logic is language talking to itself

Poetry is language talking to itself, unable to resist the desire to be overheard.
Poetry is language talking to itself, indulging in the desire to be overheard.

Poetry is the desire to be overheard, talking to itself.

Friday, June 5, 2009

No place in the world...the right place for a writer

I knew (sensed) that this was coming. The end of a phase. Given the students and where they came from, I was always grateful for the one or two each term who thanked me for opening their minds, who told me I was a good teacher.

God knows I tried. 

This was the closest I've come to having a legitimate place in the world, an occupation there was no need to explain or apologize for. Twelve years. I've never held a job this long.

It was "real"... maybe not high-end respectable to the human flesh eating class, but it was there, listed on the registry. I existed... 

Far more important to me--I loved teaching.  I had way more freedom than I suppose I had any right to expect or enjoy... but in the end, with top down evaluations, statistical analysis of student evaluations... etc ... I was exposed for the outsider I truly was, and am. At least, I'm sure that went into the decision. 

I did my best to honor the program... while remaining forever outside its perameters. 

I will be always be gratefull, for the years left of my life, to my collegues--who were always respectful and personnally open, and most of all, to the committment at Saint Joseph's to the personal needs of the students. More than a "mission statement" commitment. The one most important factor in my year to year effort to fit in and do my part to honor my responsibility... it was always more than a way to pay the rent, though it gave me little more than that in compensation. 

Like I said.... I had a sense, an inner sense, that this was a phase that was drawing to a close. Anxious about what comes next? Sure... but excited... and in a way, back to my own way... as an outsider, a pariah... with a taste in my mouth of what it feels like to imagine one "belongs" somewhere. 

Interesting prospects... looking for work at age 68, with no "real world" experience in anything.

I am amazed... at how fortunate I've been. And acutely aware of how my own background has prepared me--taught me the proper masks to wear in order to get by, when I have  been no more worthy than many of those I pass on the street... holding out their hats for coins.

If I end up beside will be no injustice... not to me. Only the injustice I've managed to escape most of my life by the skin of my teeth.  

And if I can keep writing... I'll be all right.

Severance package...

Class reductions, tenured faculty replacing part-timers. I've really enjoyed teaching. It's been a great priviledge.

I can joke about the severance package (my head), but the truth is, no billion dollar handout could replace the experience of these past 12 years.

All things come to an end.

Social Security will cover a little more than half of my basic expenses. Have to find a way to earn another $600 a month. My needs are modest. 

May have to find a dry spot under a bridge with wireless to keep on barking.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Like a Fox

Every evening about this time a man passes by. Pushing a grocery cart. A kind of prop--usually empty. Up the middle of our one-way street. Against the traffic.

I don’t have to look for him. I hear him. Even in cold weather when the windows and door are shut.

He shouts, curses. As though he is angry, challenging any and everyone not to “fuck with him.” But I don’t think he is. Angry. No one around here pays him any attention—certainly don’t feel threatened.

It seems a kind of learned program. A defense strategy. On occasions when he sees me sitting on the stoop, he waves a fist--not in threat, but as a gesture of recognition.

I gesture in kind. Fellow conspirators against the greater insanity of the world.

And he smiles—even while keeping up his cursive rap. Who can imagine what kind of abuse this man has suffered? I won’t venture to classify the disorder, but it’s likely longstanding and relentless.

At this point, he has a system. Crazy like a fox. Really crazy—but with a method. The streets here—especially on the other side of Broad where he’s headed, can be dangerous at night. 

Don’t nobody mess wit ME! He shouts. I’m fucking NUTS. You can’t scare ME, bro! I’m WAY too fucking crazy to notice!

… I hear him, I listen... till he’s out of earshot.

My own craziness has never achieved such coherence. 

Maybe one evening I’ll follow him. Has he, perhaps, been inviting me to do just that?

I could learn from him. There is much I could learn from him.

Author Interview

Here's an interview/questionaire I did for Serenity Promotions.