Sunday, October 30, 2005

[In case you thought I'd forgotten, here's the remainder of my rejoinder -- which is partly to Jane's response to an earlier post, partly to his original poetics post [which, jeez, you should know how to find by now if you care about this at all, but here], but mostly to nothing at all but my own worries about what one has to take on board in order to be a marxistian [can we go with "Marxalia," on this model?] which I freely admit are not specifically relevant to Jane's argument -- or perhaps, to poetics. After this post, we'll try to lighten up again around here.]

I don't think I'm exactly spooked by the ism-that-must-not-be-named, though Jane right that it's symptomatic of something that I am as prone to anyone to get distracted by its looming presence. And he's also right that little or nothing in the way of concrete economic or political theses/prescriptions need be accepted for his central argument to get off the ground. But if so, the argument does not have such a terribly controversial conclusion (so I'd have thought). One would have to take not just the existence but the efficacy of the transcendental more seriously than most parties to the discussion would be willing to do in their more sober moments to deny that what emerges emerges from history. (Why, that's just common sense!) My earlier thought was just that this is still to use "history," materialism, or both to make only a negative point, re (in this case) the poetic tendency at issue; what I might propose (though it was not what I was thinking at the time) is that giving one or another positive explanatory account of what all that Judeo-Christian language "really is" is exactly where more powerful (and thus controversial) conceptual engines, some of which are stamped "Marxist," are going to start revving. (Even Jordan's suggestion could be handled: Consider what it is that "Satanism" is standing in for in both metal and Mekon iconography.)

But, that said, and this is today's jumping-off point, I do think it possible that Jane slightly underestimates the neutrality of his premises. Minor instance -- "acting on the present to change it is the name of politics." (7.0). At best, this formulation is a "name" (I take it this means something like definition) of politics. But, on the formulation given here, it could also be a name of, oh, aerodynamics (see below). Surely not any dynamic endeavor counts as politics -- on most of the formulations I'm familiar with, the political sphere is essentially tied to one's involvement with other people. In fact, I thought the "name" of politics was something like: the sphere of theoretical and practical endeavors concerned with how to live together. But this is really beside the point -- other definitions of politics (you can look them up yourselves) seem to emphasize terms like "government" on the one hand, and "power" on the other. My point is just -- well yes, have a dynamic view of the political by all means, but note that is a view, not an truth of analysis you get for free.

But as I said, this is minor, and perhaps merely verbal. More interesting, perhaps, is the citation of the slogan "We only know one science, the science of history" (5.2). If the allusion to science is a rhetorical flourish (as I think it was not for Marx), so be it, excuse me and skip the rest. But, if the consequence of that formulation is, for example, that a certain mode of explanation constitutes a scientific theory for explaining and predicting historical events (qua changes in the way we humanly recognize and characterize these events, not under some unlikely reductive description via physical or biological categories), there is a bit of room for feeling nervous, however obscurely. For, I think, there is some reason to doubt that what's on offer could be a scientific theory. This, for me, is not because it quantifies over something other than, say, elementary particles; but simply because it recognizes, and operates in the space of, agents acting for reasons, the fulfillment of ends, and so on, as does the "theory" of everyday psychological (belief-desire) explanation. The very characterization of the sort of "events" either theory wishes to talk about presupposes this. And the key terms here -- "reasons," "ends" -- are notoriously resistant to being brought under the umbrella of "event causation" of a sort that leads -- where applicable -- to determinism. (And this is not changed by the idea that actually motivating reasons are opaque; psychoanalysis is a theory of the same kind as those at issue here.) I seriously think that the question of whether this can in principle be done -- whether by historical materialism or Churchland's "neurophilosophy" -- is at least a meaningful philosophical problem, and those whom it worries are not to be easily bought off by promissory notes. Or even more weakly: one should not be shocked by the fact that the change in self-understanding required to accept the claim would produce resistance on some fronts -- especially before the required nomological generalizations (laws, in the non-political sense) are before us.

Look, I don't get the sense that Jane is, in fact, a historical determinist, though he does have leanings that way when technology is at issue. (Though have a look in the comment box.) But I do think that when one moves from the notion of historical explanation to a "science of history," one is nudged in this direction, with questionable payoff.

Just to take some of this from a different angle, consider this later post. Jane treats a Slate columnist's disparagement of the view "that neat theories not only reflect the world but can change it as well, and in ways that can be precisely measured," with bottomless sarcasm: "Perhaps this assumption is indeed always mistaken, though numerous aeronautic engineers, say, would disagree." Yes: But surely one would have to be only a touch more charitable to the author to imagine that he had in mind "neat theories that take as their object persons and their actions." [And, if one wanted to be so charitable as to not accuse anyone who crosses one's path of bourgeois individualism, one might also imagine that to be a "person" is, in part, to enter into social relations.] If he was so read, would the complaint that Kramer simply missed the possibility that "Schelling's theory sucked" seem quite as inarguable? (Sorry to be recherche here -- if you're trying to follow this, it doesn't matter for what I'm getting at right this sec what the content of "Schelling's theory" is.) Anyway, note that the fact that aeronautics is a good predictive theory for certain kinds of entities -- including human beings, conceived merely as their bodies -- can only be a piece of inductive evidence that the theory "reflects the world," not a proof of that claim; in fact, the laws of any "special" scientific theory (that is, any short of one supplying the complete description of the physical world) are notable for not quite reflecting that world -- as we see from the fact that such laws implicitly bear ceteris paribus ("everything else being equal") clauses. The questions this raises -- e.g.if a law admits of arbitrarily many exceptions (depending on how many ways there are of all things not being equal), how is it that they have content at all? -- have been minor industries in mainstream philosophy of science; the salient point here is that it is not at all obvious that generalizations about psychology and the social sciences can rarely (if ever) be stated in an exceptionless manner for only the same reasons that this is the case generalizations about the physics of middle-sized dry goods. Why can't they? The answer I seem to be arguing for here has to do with the reasons/causes distinction bruited above; to repeat myself, notions like reasons and ends -- and the whole apparatus by which we make human and historical events intelligible to ourselves, individually and collectively -- are not the notions appropriate to a predictive theory of event causation.

To sum up: This does not mean that Marxism is a load of hooey insofar as it is not a science. (It comes close to being the former insofar as it interprets itself as the latter.) To the contrary, it is most utile, not to mention plausible, in just those forms which do not have pretenses of scientism (and, especially, determinism). It is an explanatory theory, a powerful framework of interpretation, a meaningful contributor to our project of self-understanding -- and, importantly, an improvement on many versions of that project, precisely in positing that social relations have at least as much bearing on individual wills as vice versa, and perhaps even that the former precede the latter in (if I may) explanatory or logical space. But in so far as it is more, I can only interpret it as (a) a normative and prescriptive theory, rather than a predictive one, and (b) a form of humanism, both because of the notions it must employ to recognizably describe what it takes itself to describe, and because of the nature of its prescriptive aims. A Marxism that claims to be an "anti-humanism" is, I admit, very hard for me to get my head around; but I strongly suspect that, even if I knew what I was talking about, I would plump for E.P. Thompson against Althusser (whatever the usefulness of particular Althusserian notions).

And maybe Jane would too; the foregoing is admittedly a lot to spin out from one passing reference to "the science of history." As I think I already said: (a) This post is not "against" Jane, It's just an attempt to get at something the original post and ensuing conversation got me thinking about, and (b) I'm not certain what it has to do with poetry in particular, except in leading me to pose a very broad question: Does poetic agency raise problems not raised by agency in general, and if so, what are they?

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

I'm posting as a separate item the following [slightly edited] response of Jane's to this earlier entry just in case anyone feels the need to link to it w/o getting stuck w/ a lot of other stuff. I'll try to respond in the next week or so, and that will end this round of butting into other people's arguments; but I don't expect to post otherwise between now and then -- attention is required elsewhere.

Jane says:

I hope that I am not being simply reactive, and that you will take it in the right spirit, if I try to explain why I think that half your post re poetics gets it exactly wrong, misreads what I wrote at the most direct level; at worst, I figure I can move toward clarifying my own presentation of the issue.

The part you got right, at least from a responsive level, is about the card on the table and unturned, viz. my analysis of the turn toward Christian language. Except you give me too much credit; I hadn't actually gotten to theorizing that, and am not sure I am the guy to do it, beyond some banalities, e.g., in a very dialectically depressing way, I suspect the turn toward transcendental figures is a historical evocation of an inability to grapple with history itself: a kind of hysterical paralysis. the transcendental isn't frozen like "Truth" but frozen like a deer in headlight. But as I said, this is a very unfinished set of thoughts, and I like your ideas on it as much as mine. By the way, it was Jordan who endeavored to suggest that the God-Hating was rightfully transcendental, just displaced.

As to the other half, what I am responding to is, "It's hard to get into what's going on here without making it a referendum on all of one's doubts and questions about Marxism, getting stuck there, and never getting to poetry." I know to a certain extent you are voicing a fictionalized position rather than speaking your own, but nonetheless, I think this gets the priority of my argument exactly backward. I do believe that the whole point, about which I am fairly clear, is that, once you admit of the category "emergent poetics" (and particularly the proposition that they are "emerging with history") that this leads, fairly inevitably, to an extent of relations to politics, insofar as politics is the involvement with the forces that shape the emergence of history and is nothing else.

That is: one is not required in any way at any moment in the argument to accept anything Marxian or Marxist (more on that useful pseudodistinction shortly) before thinking about emergent poetics' relation to politics and simultaneously to criticism. Rather, if one accepts the simple propositions 4.0-1 and 6.4, one can start to think about emergent poetics' political relations. I could easily have never mentioned Marx, deleted Sec 5, and the argument works just the same [...]

At no point in the argument, for example, does anyone need to accept that class conflict is the engine of history, that the owners of means of production and the owners of their own labor constitute the classes, that surplus value of labor is where all profit comes form, etc., etc. Never not once, not even implicitly. Yet these are all constitutive of a worldview we could call "Marxist." Conversely, when folks say "Marxian," they mean, i think, something less resembling a complete worldview, and more pertaining to specifics of Marx's analysis; it would be like saying an economic idea was Keynesian, as opposed to, you know, endorsing his whole macroeconomic program. and there is, yes, exactly one Marxian idea in the poetics, distributed (somewhat awkwardly) over two propositions (4.0-1). So, does one have to believe in Marxism or even in Marxian ideas to consider section 4 and proceed? is your hypothetical referendum really necessary to my argument? Boy, i really don't think so. As i said, I could have never mentioned Marx and the argument wouldn't quiver. I think that Sec. 4 is where "emergent" and "Marxian" overlap -- yes. Yet, in no way are they cast in a determinate relationship, in this argument. Moreover, I think this overlap is straightforward: Marx (and Hegel! and other people!) says that history is driven forward by dialectical pressures that bring new things into being which bear traces of and are responsive to previous stuff. The very word "emergent" seems like its going to overlap with that, just via the dictionary, you know?

That's not to say one couldn't disagree. If one disagreed with 4.0-1 and took the transcendental position, well, that wouldn't be the first time. My argument is toward suggesting that such a disavowal wouldn't be so much a contesting of the idea of "emergent" as it would be a departure from it, and I think I can see the nature of the philosophical debate there, in which i am accused of nominalism and i insist it's strict constructivism, etc., etc.

i think my case here (in this note) has to do with the panic people have around the idea of Marxism, which I do feel like you've given rather clear voice to. If section 5 has a purpose (aside from, apparently, to frighten the horses by saying the name), it's to make clear that Marxian criticism of poetry doesn't require one to accept any of Marx's worldview aside from that stated in 4.0, to wit: art expresses the word-historical conditions in which it is produced, the end. [...]

So for me, I fear the next question is, what is it about historical conditions that causes such a panic around the concept-cluster "Marx" that simple sentences stop working?

Read Colin McGinn's intellectual memoir The Making of a Philosopher. This is actually a nice non-technical introduction to some of the main areas in contemporary analytic phil of mind/language/epistemology, woven into the stirring tale of how a working-class secondary modern student from Blackpool became the Wilde Reader in Mental Philosophy at Oxford (and a guest on Nightline, offering soundbites on the nature of consciousness). I felt that the notion of a proposition is insufficiently glossed at one key point, in a way that would confuse the uninitiated, but otherwise, I think I can recommend this to anyone curious about the shape of the field, despite the Horatio Alger aspects. (And a few self-serving moments -- he takes credit for being the first to extenss Putnam's "externalism" about meaning to mental content in print, which might well be true; but he should really acknowledge that Tyler Burge [my dissertation chair, as it happens, though I don't really work on his stuff], who is mentioned anecdotally, in an seemingly unrelated context, did the work on this that is more widely cited.) One other book (maybe I've mentioned it here) that seems an approachable way into some of this material, though it's not a memoir, and is definitely thicker and less breezy than McGinn's, is Benjamin Lee's Talking Heads (Duke, 1997).


Headed downstairs from my office yesterday, just after posting, to find that I'd just missed a noon reading by Christina Pugh, a couple buildings away. I don't remember now what I thought of an essay of hers from Poetry earlier this year; but I've enjoyed, in a lowkey way, the poems I've seen -- I certainly would have given her my lunch (actually, blogging) hour. Ah well: Susan Wheeler at Columbia College in the Loop Wed., possibly followed by Cass McCombs at The Hideout (which is preferable to having to see him open for The Decemberists); Destroyer/New Pornogs at Metro Thurs. Nothing on for the weekend: must work.


Finally found an mp3 of "I'm Not Havin' It," which has come to mind at regular intervals ever since its brief currency on Yo! MTV Raps; perhaps you recall the video, seemingly shot for $30 in a Ramada Inn lounge? The track seems to be currently unavailable commercially. I can't honestly say I have a clear sense of Positive K's achievements, but on the basis of this and the more widely-remembered "I Got a Man", one might imagine that his entire career revolved around being shot down by Lyte (at least I think that's her on both; confirm, deny, someone?)

Monday, October 17, 2005

I want to (relatively) brief and clear about this, particularly in relation to this. Jane does not quite go so far as to lump Ange's formulation in as a form of "anti-intellectualism," but comes close enough for me to wonder if he is not misreading the rather precise "ledger" metaphor. What Ange appears to be calling for, at least there, is exactly for "life" and "theory," however their separation might be useful for some purposes (such as a hoped-for abstracting away from rank self-interest and other prejudices), to be more often accounted for as part of the same economy. Call it anedcote if you like (I think that term was only used in a version of the post Ange later cut), but one would often like to know the answers to just the sort of question Jane also asks: How does your theory impinge on your life? What does it make you do: listen to more hip-hop, break up with someone, turn down lucrative work, vote, not vote? And how does your life impinge on your theory -- how does your experience (which, note, must include the experience of intellection, of interpretation of experience [which is always already to some degree "interpreted" in the having]) bear on the theories you arrive at/accept/reject? (After all, I assume that no party to this discussion imagines that the order of theories we're talking about are to be arrived at a priori.) "Keeping double books," for all that the metaphor brings to mind the rationalization of modern accounting, is here a telling figure for one possible kind of sin/crime/error of omission. Note that one common version of this error -- the abstract espousal of feminist theories whose application in one's own love relationship is not readily apparent -- might not be irrelevant to Ange's third term: "guys."

Now, all that said, I do agree quite strongly w/ Jane that the notion of a sphere -- "life" -- that always trumps another -- "theory" -- because it's, um, well, lived is an unhappy one. If there is a general point that I take to have been made quite forcefully by, among others', the language poets'* critiques of "clarity" and "transparency" (and, ruh-roh, "affect") it's just this: don't pretend you don't have a theory [in this instance, of language, but the maxim ramifies], because you do. (Corrolary, and a large part of Joshua's polemical point -- don't go around making "theory" something that's done/possessed/applied by others, thus making your own position seem like a matter of common sense or, worse, nature.) I'm so with all that -- just so you know. [Immense complication here is, of course, the entire Kantian problematic: Where do the categories w/o which it would not be apprehensible by minds-like-ours at all end, and where do theoretical/conceptual constructions on top of those categories begin? That physical objects have positions in space is not, for example, exactly a theory.]

I wish I had a line of Borges' to hand, to the effect that "when I am reading, when I am writing, then too am I living." What person to whom the making of lines, sentences, argument is daily bread does not feel the force of that?

*I've decided to stop using "LangPo"; it's become too dismissive and reductive. And please note that I take it that the points just mentioned were and are made as forcefully or more so, and in pursuit of some (to my mind) righteous ends, by female writers associated w/ the movement/moment as by male ones.


Played 3 shows, Thurs.-Sat., in my inessential but, I hope, not entirely irrelevant role as Mountain Goats* keyboardist. John brought two Chapel Hill bands as openers, both previously unkown to me: Bellefea, a guitar-drum duo w/ a quite compelling frontwoman; and The Prayers and Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers, whose name John (and apparently everyone else who knows them) is lobbying to change.

First Chi. show at an all-ages gallery space w/ iffy sound; good, but not off the hook, suprising to hear John dusting off songs from The Hound Chronicles, highlight of my part of the set was probably "Mole," which is quite malleable. Spent time (not nearly enough) w/ Liz Clayton, also Tim Adams (Ajax/3 Beads of Sweat honcho), who hasn't written since I've been here on account of White Sox Fever, and Drew Gardner, a Claremonter whom I'd forgotten lived here, if I'd ever known. Fri.: Rabid Empty Bottle crowd; ended set by bringing out Prayers and Tears + me for songs that are, at this point, not likely to misfire: "See America Right" and "Against Pollution"; encored with "Palmcorder Yajna" and, at the request of two separate parties (one an actual birthday/bachelor party) the X-Glenns piano/vocal version of "Memories." Satisfying. Hopper says she was present, but I missed her; did see Amy Philips of EMP/Voice fame, who has apparently just moved here to work full-time as a news ed. for Pitchfork. Was fairly candid about my view of said weblication; told her I hoped she would improve it.

Sat. in Kalamazoo: Really the perfect-size town for a certain level of touring band, large enough to support a crowd that makes it worth the trip, small enough that they're happy you made it. On the other hand, it's also the sort of town where the Poetry Slam team has its own van. And both band and audience are lucky to have as friendly a venue as the Kraftbrau, which sends musicians off w/ a jug of the home brew of their choice (I went w/ the root beer). (Odd notes -- Among the decorations is, inconguously, a poster of the cover of an issue of Beardsley's Yellow Book. And, billed at another microbrewery/venue we passed on the way in, something called "The Stooges Brass Band.") Too bad someone decided, during one of the opening sets, to put her foot through the ladies' room window when her boyfriend left w/ someone else. Similar set to Chi., though I learned Berman's "Pet Politics" at soundcheck, and we threw it in. I felt redundant w/ the Prayers' keyboardist [Alex, an adept player who can also discourse on current events in the DC Universe w/ small provocation] on "Against Pollution," so I switched to (pretty hack) glockenspiel, but a piano/organ backed "Palmcorder" fell nicely into "Please Crawl Out Your Window" mode. Gathered as we were leaving for our hotel room that Prayers and Tears were off to a local afterparty/crashpad. Hanging out w/ indierockers after the indierock show: I have to admit, that even were I to tour extensively at some point in the future, that sort of activity would be less likely to feature prominently.

Bree and I tried to hit an estate sale the next morning, ended up in some neighborhood that had no address matching the one in the paper; listened to an hr. or so of the weekend big-band show on Chicago public radio, the newish Stars (best chorus: "I am trying to say/what I wanted to say/without having to say/I love you."), some Amy Denio, and most of a Steppenwolf Theater reading/staging of DeLillo's Cosmopolis, which appeared to be less of a novel than a rigged excuse for heiratic utterances on the nature of cybercapital, but was diverting nonetheless.


Quite odd: Later in the evening, back at home, houseguests gone, listening to more radio while baking eggplant, heard a 1995 talk by Bobby Seale, some combination of reminiscence and broad claims about what-is-to-be-done. Spent quite a bit of time on that sturdy old Hegelian bit about a quantititative increase or decrease leading to a qualitative leap. Then, about 3 hrs. later, picked Peter Winch's The Idea of a Social Science and Its Relation to Philosophy from my landlord's shelf, and found just the same formulation invoked w/r/t the origins of language, apropos misguided (according to Winch) responses to Wittgensteinian claims about rule-following and private language: "We can imagine practices gradually growing up amonst early men none of which could count as the invention of language; and yet once these practices had reached a ceertain degree of sophistication -- it would be a misunderstanding to ask what degree precisely -- one can say of such people that they have a language." Curious, in turn, b/c I've been reading Charles Travis' The Uses of Sense on some of the same issues. (Travis, a Scottish philosopher of language, is one of the reasons I'm teaching here; he left the NU dept. on short notice, publicly citing political reasons.) David Lewis' Convention is in part an attempt to put the thought expressed in the quote above on a less impressionistic footing: So, we've gotten from the Black Panthers to one of the main topics of my dissertation in two/three moves -- via Hegel, yet. Surprising, though, then again, the UCLA phil. dept. (where Lewis was in the late '60) is the very dept. that refused to fire/"harbored" Angela Davis. [Which, though I'm damn near free-associating now, is one reason some stereotypes about the politics imagined to be associated with analytic philosophy burn me.]

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Today's tip for effective one-sheeets: Don't use "sanctimonious" when you mean "sanctified."


Re the sardine poster in yesterday's post, Rael "The Middleman" Lewis writes, tersely and fascinatingly:

"Sidi-Ali Bey = Rene Grenier (former TL roomate/art student post-conversion to Islam).

Jossot himself converts to Islam = Abdul Karim Jossot."

I'm sure Grenier is mentioned in the Sweetman book -- which didn't make the cut for interstate travel -- but I feel like if I'd read something about conversions to Islam in a book about painting and anarchist politics the month of the London subway attacks, it might have stuck.


A record [movie] review, obviously, may have broader agendas than defending or attacking the work before it; it may be a stick with which to beat some other artist, including some earlier incarnation of the artist at hand, or even a pretext for promoting or dismissing entire genres. What it rarely is, is burdened by the apparent need to give a case for the very notion that some people enjoy listening to music [watching movies]. Cf. poetry reviews.


Recently added to ubuweb: An expansion of Strictly Kev's "Raiding the 20th C." mix-of-mixes, with some input from Paul Morley and inspired by his recent book, esp. where "I Am Sitting In A Room" is concerned. No, I haven't had a chance to listen to it yet -- 70 megs -- but I'm driving to Michigan this weekend.


If you still happen to take an interest in Elvis Costello, even the slight one of seeing just how mad his projects have become, here's a thread concerning some concerts he gave in Copenhagen debuting the songs for an eventual theatrical production -- commissioned by the Danish state opera -- based on the relationships among Hans Christian Andersen, Jenny Lind, and P.T. Barnum. Look for the couple of longer reviews, esp. by John Foyle. Somewhere, there's a torrent of one of the shows; yes, I'd listen.


"There was never a writer so learned to whom erudite friends were not useful. I in particular desire to be corrected by you in order not to be pecked at by detractors."

-- Alberti, prologue to Della pittura (trans. Spencer)

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Me, I've been trying to keep about five columns running in a single ledger. Problem: Incommensurability of scales of value.


Lautrec show (exclusive corporate sponsor = Sara Lee): Glad I made the effort. Good deal of surrounding work, inc. paintings, posters, cabaret invitations by contemporaries; one sees very clearly how most other artists of the time glamourize the Montmarte demimone in a far more banal way -- many of the other ads for the Moulin Rouge or Olympia could have been done by Petty or Vargas, Lautrec is the only one to give price of place to Valentin the Boneless. 7-min orientation film employs "decadent" and "anti-authoritarian" only in their most vague and innocuous senses, no surprise there. One highlight, this 1897 poster by Henri-Gustave Jossot. L to R: Sidi-Ali Bey (Arab politician of the time, can't find much on him, may have written the name down wrong), Yvette Guilbert, Henri Rochefort*, Sarah Bernhardt, Aristide Bruant. Available in the museum shop as t-shirt and as jigsaw puzzle. Noticed for third time that I respond strongly to Vuillard -- I don't know anything about his periods, but I like the fact that his work seems technically unpredictable.

*Can this be right? He was dead.


Sentence I never expected to write: Skipped out on Habermas' seminar (naturalism/free will -- we're up to Sellars) early yesterday, to catch end of Helene Cixous' talk on Derrida. I would call it a poetic reminiscence, woven with various philosophical themes, starting from a pair of occasions on which D. sent C. manuscripts "not to be opened" until some later date. Touching, though long (tendency to hammer on the polysemy of individual words by repeating them in a multitude of contexts).


Disappointed by Ben Marcus' attack on Franzen/defense of experimental fiction in Harper's. Rantishly organized, argument and even rhetoric unevenly excecuted, some appeals to authority/high-modernist namechecks that play right into hands of doubters, false statement to the effect that Stein is not a model for younger writers. Except for isolated paragraphs, he makes a better case for what he does like in the intro to a recent Viking anthology, w/o the burden of carrying on one side of a literary feud.

Very pleased, on the other hand, by Aaron Kunin's piece on Harriet the Spy (calling Tim Alborn!), Little Women, and connected matters (queer narratives of adolescence, to pigeonhole it) in a recent Rain Taxi.


Curious: Evanston manages to support two high-end guitar shops, but you have to get on 94 to buy a cheapshit keyboard stand.


Nutty, Bree's sister's cat, had to be put to sleep today. Bree very upset that she can't be there for comfort.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

No, not Round Two; that may have to wait until a particular piece of academic labor is not driving me to distraction. Progress steady, but slow. Just notes, in the usual mode:

Rec'd Ange's Starred Wire, finally, but I'm waiting 20 or 30 years to read it. Kidding. Need to make a date with the longish (orig. typed "longing") series near the end, but individual poems afford individual pleasures, and gain (if you've seen some in magazines) from their accumulation. An immediate startle response to rhymes I'd love to have found ("Maleviches"/"superstitious," plus, ending the previous poem, "hemistiches"), and sonic/graphic relations between single words too particular to have a name ("limp"/"iamb";"panache"/"earache"). I don't know, the light looks pretty 21st c. from here.


Double/Vanderslice last night at Schuba's (I bailed on Dungen): The Double continue to impress, moreso now that I know the songs. As I just wrote Mr. Niimi, expected but absent, I like their willingness to hurt their songs, and that there are actual songs there to bear the marks. Wish they weren't so non-communicative to the audience -- I think what they're up to is subtler than "dark and brooding," but the stage presence titls one's response in that direction. Was told that they used to not even mention they had stuff for sale; as someone who, if he were any worse at merchandising, would have people coming up asking for refunds, I empathize. JV has a new permanent band that, to be precise, doesn't so much rock as cook; fairly impressive that they didn't record Pixel Revolt w/ him, I don't think, but reproduce its tricky bits -- but I suspect/hope they'll get looser w/ it as they tour.


Watched another DVD that was sitting around, The Red House (Delmer Daves, 1947): Good, fairly showy Edward G. Robinson performance, but also interesting for the presence of a pre-singing career Julie London, playing a h.s. bombshell all the more forcefully for being 20. Two screenings, both at NU's student-run Block Cinema, both kinda comfort food for me. Arzner's Working Girls: The pet name thing between one sister and the rich guy wears thin, but otherwise, I love this movie only the slightest hair less than my favorite Arzner, Craig's Wife. This time, particularly noticed the economical set-ups -- there's this one shot through two car windows, an apt. house lobby, and into a waiting elevator; and the small parts played by intruiging actors, esp. the mad-looking switchboard operator/receptionist, two or three of the mannish women's-rooming-house residents, and Buddy Rogers' buddy "Bill," who makes the most of four dumb lines delivered drunk from an armchair. Puzzling than neither of the female leads went on to a better career, but Bree and I agreed that their unfamiliarity allows for more emotional involvement.

Also, Masculin/Feminin -- don't know, wasn't with it all the way this time, wondered if there was a Kubrick-y problem with "saying something" about "youth." Maybe it's partly that the "Marx and Coca-Cola" tag has ossified with familiarity. And the film is, obviously, unfair to Chantal Goya (both her character and, I suspect, what Godard thinks she is) in a way not the same as, but probably not unrelated to, Letter to Jane's unfairness to Jane. (I was disappointed w/ a CD of her yeye recs (inc. the songs in the film) that I picked up a few years ago; but I'm amused and sort of pleased that she went on to a long, sturdy career as an ultra-innocuous children's performer. Cheapie bins in Paris record stores are chockablock w/ 7"s on which she poses w/ Guignol, Puss-in-Boots, and the like.) But Leaud's performance hasn't dated -- the way he gradually gets worse at his cigarette-to-mouth trick, his lame sexism when he's with his friend, his complete befuddlement at how to deal with a woman he sincerely wishes to value in a different way, the crummy poetry of his make-a-record monologue. The character of the friend is interesting as well: He's a jerk, but he's also more politically committed, less content with gestures -- though it's hard to read how this fact is being judged at this juncture. Oh: And I had forgotten that the movie makes fun of Zimmy -- "Who's he?" "He's a Vietnik." "What's that?" "Half beatnik, half Vietnam." Interesting to note that it was shot by one Willy Kurant -- where was Coutard that week? Last question -- exactly what movie or kind of movie is the one the characters go see supposed to be parodying?


Bought tickets for the very last day of the big separate-admission Lautrec show at the Art Institute, which is to say, tomorrow; we tried to go the first week we were here, but I'd screwed up on which day the museum is open late; and then we put it off when Bree got sick. (She's better now, thanks.) I might not make the effort (esp. under work-related circumstances) if it didn't dot the i this summer's reading/viewing. Have until end of month to hit Flavin.

Friday, October 07, 2005

So: For a while now, it's been on my mind to respond in some way to Joshua's (it seems right not to use his blogonym in this instance) meaty poetics post, not least because it does us the favor of laying some cards on the table in a considered and reasonably orderly manner. It may not be an attempt to "prove anything via some rigorous logic" (0.3), but it would likely be much sillier if it were -- but it's more than some scattered snipings here and there, and as much as I enjoy a well-aimed potshot, I'm also pleased when it's not assumed that that's all we can manage.

But -- one difficulty, and perhaps a reason that there hasn't been a little more substantive comment (at least where we can all see it, not to say there hasn't been any) is that it's hard to get into what's going on here without making it a referendum on all of one's doubts and questions about Marxism, getting stuck there, and never getting to poetry. I don't know if I'm going to manage the trick -- but, I would like it to be understood that to the extent I'm critical of what's Marxist (or marxian, I never know when I'm supposed to use one or the other) here, it is not from the vantage point of someone who would like to see that framework picked apart so that it can be dismissed and we can all go back to selling ourselves and buying everything else, but from the vantage point of someone who would like the tools invoked to do at least some of the work they were designed for, but would like to check the thread on a few of the screws before operating the machinery.

That said, there is another difficulty, which is that there is one card that is on the table but left face down. (Don't worry, that metaphor has now served its purpose.) We're not actually told what the historical materialist explanation for God's Waldo-like appearances in The Hat, or in current poetry or recent theory more generally, only that there is one. Now, if that's just because there must be such an explanation for everything, ok, yes, that follows from 4.0-4.1 (if you're not following along, that's simply the statement of the core notion of what you think about artworks -- b/c you think it about everything there is, and some things there aren't -- if you're a Marxist). And I think that this is another reason why there's been a certain dampened quality to some of the response: though the argument moves away from this starting point around, mmm, 6.1, Joshua is suggesting that, behind the recent tendency of some poets, inc. some excellent ones, to "invoke Judeo-Christian language" lies not the causal antecedent some (who? these poets? some non-Marxist reader? a demographer?) would imagine -- felt spiritual, esp. transcendental, experience -- but something in the here and now, and thus in whatever led up to here and how. (History, in a not heavily-freighted sense.)

And, though it might not interfere w/ Joshua's appreciation of a poet who can rock the enjambment, the above thought might still annoy some (not me, particularly) -- but how upsetting one finds it would probably depend on what the something just adduced turns out to be. Considering the source, I can hardly imagine that our critic has no particular notion about what analysis ought to be given. My guess would that it would have something to do with the displacement of first, a sense of political frustration and second, a painful apprehension of complicity, onto some other realm -- a displacement that is more than understandable (recall, opiates do relieve pain) but worrisome to the extent that it takes the possibility of resolution out of our hands. But this, as I say, is a guess -- even the way I've put it is probably too idealistic (in a fairly heavily-freighted sense), and not useful specific to the present moment.

More later.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Rev'd The Double's Loose on the Air. No need to repeat what I said here, but I was struck that I got through a (short) review w/ no mention of the lyrics; after several listens, I had no real conception of what they were singing about -- possibly an effect of the production, possibly of the presence of lines like "hunger, gravity, lies" -- and that this didn't seem to me an issue I had to resolve, as it might have four or five years ago. Does this mean I'm lazy, or just that I've come to have a different attitude toward the "literary" claims of lyrics than this fellow. Whose blog, already maligned in some quarters, if he's actually a teen, tends to make me rather glad that there was no such thing at my age; that the few pronouncements I could make (basically, in my high school and college papers, and, even, I will not try to lie to you, in a FRP 'zine during junior high*) were unllikely to be read by those with a low tolerance for precosity. All of which in turn reminds me that, for all the ephemerality/non-material of this space, it's a hell of a lot more accessible and, barring the unforeseen, enduring than its 'zine-culture equivalents. Not heavy, I know, just hadn't thought of it for a while.

*Which, incredibly, still persists in much the same snail-mail only form -- though contributions are now photocopied rather than mimeo'd, as they were circa '84.

(Of course, I will regret this blog in a few years; a huge portion of my mental life to date consists of considering, at t2 something I wrote/recorded at t1 and thinking either/both "Jeez, I was much more productive then" and "Jeez, I was a frickin' idiot then.")


Need to temper my praise for Porton's anarchism/film book, now that I've finished it. Informed and informative, but: He's on the one hand happy to make value judgements about particular films, sometimes argued for and sometimes not -- he's particularly brusque on Les Amants du Pont Neuf ("Carax's vacuous film transforms anarchist salvos into 'art cinema' and nothing becomes rancid faster than a bloated commercial film masquerading as radical art") -- yet the book as a whole has only the lamest, survey-ish sort of conclusion: "I hope [this book] has proved that it is exceedingly difficult to say authoritatively what anarchist, plots, images, and forms are or should be: they are constantly in flux and subject to revision. Critics are rarely soothsayers, but it seems safe to say that the future will bring novel permutations of the ever-evolving anarchist aesthetic." And, despite (a) all the worrying about what aesthetic forms are appropriate matches for anarchist themes and (b) a good section on the problematic role of the anarchist intellectual/academic/pedagogue, the book's style and structure are as aludic (is that a word?) and even plodding as the sentence I'm writing right now.


A damn-sight better than Paul R. Gorman's Left Intellectuals and Popular Culture (1996), which I bought on remainder last Jan., stuck in storage, and then found on my landlord's shelf. This is just a small public service for anyone reading who is interested in these areas -- don't bother with this book, pretty obviously a cleaned-up dissertation (not that I don't empathize). Author's got one idea/critique which is put in various ways over and over: Critic of mass culture X was blind to the fact that its consumers could use it creatively/choose or reject particular instances of it/display agency.

And then cultural studies came down from heaven. Not to belabor the obvious, but doesn't this mode of argument tends to do to earlier theorists what Gorman claims the critic does to the "consumer"? Bonus question: what name of six letters beginning with "A" and ending with "O" appears nowhere in the book? Avoid. Try, perhaps, the M. Berube-edited The Aesthetics of Cultural Criticism (this year, Blackwell); typically lively introduction, interesting but inconclusive piece by David Sanjek, otherwise a lot of handwringing, at least some worth witnessing, about how to reconcile the terms of the title.


Speaking of Irish-American dialect fiction, here's the best bit from one of Edward W. Townsend's "Chimmie Fadden" stories. This is 1904 talking (the narrator, Bowery-born and now the "second man" for Mr. Paul, a swell of indeterminate occupation, is quoting his employer):

"Dere will soon be so many teeaters dat we all must be in de game, until Mr. Edison perfects his auto-actor. It's to be run by machinery, and warranted to make no holler, even if de ghost don't walk and all de press notices is roasts. Den will come a happy time. De critics will all be graduates of schools of engineering. 'De part of Hamlet,' de press notice will say, 'was excellently rendered by one of de new pattern, two and a half horsepower, drop forged, leading men constructed on lines invented by Mr. Mansfield. By a novel contrivance (for which de inventor has patents) its exhaust is made to resemble de sound of entusiastic applause. De power is directly geared to its legs, and, when a friction clutch is trun on dis character can be used for buck and fancy-step dances between de acts.

De Ghost was played by a high-powered, alcohol-heated, copper-tubed utility man, which slipped its eccentric in de battlement scene, and being hastily repaired, de wrong stop was pulled out, and it finished de scene with de lines of Rip Van Winkle. De Foist Grave Digger was geared a little too high for de requirements of de part, and trun Yorrick's skull into de gallery, causing a rough-house intermezzo. Furder rehoisals will no doubt smood de action in dis respect.

Ophelia was played by a low-pressure, napta, non-explosive design invented by May Irwin. We were not afforded opportunity to see dis model at its best, for in de middle of de touching mad scene an unfortunate accident to her repertoire attachment started her to singing "All Coons Look Alike to Me!" Dis was de result of engaging for de part a chilled-steel, gold-plated soubrette dat played in a Casino production last week. Furder notice is resoived, but we must urge managers to see dat de song woiks of lady-autos formerly employed in comic opera is trun out of gear when cast for de legitimate."

(Townsend, by the way, was also involved with the early comic strip The Yellow Kid -- sometimes mistakenly assumed to be a slur on Chinese immigrants, that character was actually of indeterminate ethnicity and completely silent until the creators decided to have him start spouting Bronx dialect; and, the author of the 1895 bestseller A Daughter of the Tenements which, from a quick Googling, seems to be mentioned in the same breath as Stephen Crane's Maggie as an early example of "slum fiction." DeMille, in his Lasky period, directed a couple of films based on the Chimmie Fadden character, here's a poster.


Aporia: I can't take metal seriously, and more or less can't stand it. I realize that, at the level of individual psychological explanation, this has much to do with precisely who was yelling "fag" at me as I walked home from school, and what was coming out of their Firebirds. And I accept the rudiments of a class-based analysis of the music's role as a displaced response to powerlessess; metal was by and large not the music of the college-prep/honors crowd. Yet -- I can't take metal seriously, and more or less can't stand it.

(By the way, when you think about high school, do you ever remember the moments when, on Friday, some kid was just, you know, some kid, and then the next Monday, they appeared as a fully-outfitted and apparently-committed member of one or another subculture?)


EC: Hmm, King of America + Blood & Chocolate = more than a handful. After that, I'm with you. Dylan: What can I tell you, I'm obviously not a boomer (and certainly didn't pick it up from my parents), but I listed to Love & Theft repeatedly and with pleasure upon release, not out of responsibility or self-education or some other form of shamming, but because the vocals have flow, there are a lot of great lines, and the rockers rock. I enjoy Infidels quite a lot as well, so sue me. Elliot: Sorry, you must have meant, "after Either/Or." Kanye: Couldn't he be "problematic" if you happen to have already decided what hip-hop's supposed to/allowed to be; decided, that is, on its limits? His albums are incredibly uneven, but it seems odd to lump "Crack Music" and "Golddigger," even before the K.O. overlay, in with backpacktronica. (Against myself: Seems pretty clear that what attracts critics-like-me to Late Registration is West's ambivalence about black machismo/materialism and their mutual imbrication at an explicitly disursive level, an ambivalence that is perhaps expressed rather than "explored" by much other (equally? more?) commercial hip-hop, in ways that are likely more difficult for the less-informed to read off the texts. Thus, strings aside, K. will appear "ambitious." In this light, Jay-Z's verse in the album version of "Sierra Leone," which SFJ's review treats as a bit inexplicable/irrelevant, looks to be a comment: Look, here's how someone acts when they are not bothered by what I'm bugging on in the rest of the song.) Destructiveness of Weill, K.: (1) Yeah, boy, I sure wish "Is That All There Is?" and Swordfishtrombones had never happened. (2) Yeah, again, if you had in mind the Bakunian associations of "destruction." (3) More seriously and accomodatingly, I would say Weill can be a baleful influence not so much on "pop" songwriting than on "singer-songwriting," in that nearly all of his vocal music was written for specifically theatrical situations, not as a vehicle for self-expression. Second: If by "Weill" you mean 6/8 time, minor chords, some surface dissonance, and maybe an accordion, well, sure -- Weill, without quotes, was a rather more complicated musician, well-trained in the thorny harmonic language of serialism but drawn to vocal music because he coudn't give up his love for melody (the sweet parts of, to take famous songs, "Bilbao" or "Surabaya" are as important as the jagged bits, and all this is usually missed by those who are bored by everything he did after coming to the U.S..) "Brecht/Weill" is up there with "surreal" on the list of Terms to be Shunned in Record Reviews without Due Caution, far as I'm concerned; here, we will give SFJ the benefit of the doubt and assume that he's listened to more Weill than I have Tori Amos. (And note with certainty that, whether I end up agreeing w/ his assessment or not, he would not invoke Imperial Bedroom lightly.) [Yes, there should be links all through this.]


"I gotta pick up the Berrigan collected" v. "when the hell do I have time to read the Berrigan collected?"

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Waco Bros., Fri. night at Hideout, doubling as an art show for Yard Dog, the Austin galler that represents High Sherrif Langford, as well as Eric/Rico Bell, Kevin Coyne, and (??) Tim Kerr. Started late, and I faded before the end, but the 45 mins. I saw was excellent: shit-kicking, economical, undeterred by a couple of power surge/PA failures. Also caught the last couple songs of fairly low-key alt-c locals The Phonographs' set; should have asked the keyboardist where he gets his gear repaired. Surprised Jon, Sally Timms by my presence; was kindly introduced to a couple of folks. Noted on the way out a Gibson hand-painted by Jon and tagged at $2,500 was marked SOLD.


Finally saw The Seventh Victim (dir. Mark Robson, but generally understood to be as much Val Lewton's baby). I love (and, after seeing this, still prefer) I Walked with a Zombie, but I'm a big enough Ashbery nerd that this got on my list b/c of his piece on it in Modern Painters (then in Selected Prose. JA credits it as a prime example of a totally studio-shot film that gives a vivid impression of New York-ness (West Villageness, specifically). I can see that, but I think my moviegoing muscle has atrophied a little -- I wasn't bored, but I was more aware of the film's ridiculous features that I would be if I were in the zone. E.g.: If you're a member of Satanic society so secret that it resolves to kill (non-violently, due to some confusing language in the charter!) those who leave, why would you use your secret triangle-in-parallelogram sigil as a logo for your cosmetics company ("La Sagesse")? Some hints of lesbian/orgiastic/"sensationalist" activity duly noted, but not as much fun as Julie Harris & Claire Bloom in The Haunting. Uneven performances: Tom Conway, who's in many of Lewton's movies, good as a George Sanders-type ("Dipsomania is so sordid"); Erford Gage totally insufferable as a "poet."

Rest of that day a bust: Was to meet J-Hop and J-Shep hereabouts, but all parties got stuck in godawful Loop traffic and we called it off.


More explicit but equally silly -- the secret sex club in Eyes Wide Shut, the DVD of which was on the shelf at the house we're renting. Firmly in that category of movie about which Pauline Kael compained: you're supposed to think it's deep because it's irreal/a dream. I guess it's fairly obvious by now that Kubrik was rather cruelly using Tom Cruise for his lack of range: the scene where he makes bland conversation at the deathbed of a woman who's about to come on to him might be the only completely effective moment in the movie. Kidman seems generally to have been accused of overacting, but I like that she's almost allowed to ruprture Kubric's system. Second worst thing about the movie: I think there's an attempt to do the sort of two-person domestic-interior scenes I love in Godard, but K. does almost nothing with the space -- all the "masterful" camera movement comes when Cruise is doing things like putting down his keys. Worst thing about the movie: I think K. may have actually believed the script's insights about "men" and "women." I haven't read the Schnitzler, but maybe K. would have done better to have kept the source material in the original period -- the Freudianism might not have seemed so moribund.


Also caught Elevator to the Gallows, Louis Malle's first film about a week ago. The actual elevator sequences are great, cropping and composition techniques drawing (this is a guess) on Bresson's slightly earlier A Man Escaped, but turned to, yep, genre ends. The film comes 2 years before Breathless, and has some similar elements (the self-romanticizing/ambivalently criminal young couple, the recording of new details of the Parisian landscape, here the motel where room service comes to individual bungalows by golf cart); so why is this merely a promising "start" while Breathless is, well, revolutionary? Minor reasons: The attempt at a more conventionally knotted plot, the use of the already-established Moreau, beginning to age fascinatingly and mostly wandering solo through the rainy streets accompanied only by her voiceover. Major reason: the fact that (as w/ 7th Victim, come to think of it) the inconsistencies and technical errors read as just that, rather than as energy, impatience. (How does the young couple manage to drive off in the car of the Germans they murder just after they've tried to steal it and been told the gearbox has been hidden? Who took the photographs of the principals' illicit affair, found in a camera in the final scene?) Wonderful Miles improvised-in-the-studio score, w/ Klook on drums.


Not to be all Jean-Luc-centric (and warning you that the new print of Masculine/Feminine is playing at the NU museum theater v. soon), but, hey Ange: Speaking not as a pop-analytic-philosophy-muse but as a fan, you know as well as anyone that I love Demy, right? (Just killed me that I missed the new print of Model Shop before I left L.A.) But, really, don't you think Godard, as much as any poet, has shown himself to be on to "the gamble" of art? Same for Dylan, who, like JLG, may be full of shit but also much that is not -- don't think I don't see you over in that comment box.


JLG, disingenuous in 1994 on his "committed" period:

"I have memories of recreation -- it was like school break. You pretend, and I was younger."

(Zero for conduct, Jean: I've read those interviews in Double Feature and MacCabe's Godard: Images, Sounds, Politics [1980 BFI volume, not the recent bio], and they don't really sound like playtime.)

This is quoted in Richard Porton's Film and the Anarchist Imagination (Verso, 1999), which I'm only halfway through but recommend wholeheartedly. Not that I agree with it wholeheartedly: the author makes no bones about engaging in plain old ideological critique which can sometimes underemphasize other kinds of cinematic meaning, but I'm learning tons, esp. about the various internicene squabbles among "anarchist" theories and legacies. Excellent on Clair's A Nous la liberte, and much else. Plus: Tantalizing descriptions of films I doubt I'll ever get a chance to see, like: New Babylon (1929), "Kosintzev and Trauberg's adaptation of Zola's Au bonheur des dames (a film whose delirious montage and anarchic spirit make it one of the most anomalous Soviet films ever made)"* and, especially, "Valentin R. Gonzalez's Nosostros somos asi! (That's the Way We Are, 1937), an anarcho-syndicalist musical comedy....This cinematic curio highlights debates on workers' and women's rights among precocious children who are the anarchist equivalents of Freddie Bartholomew and Shirley Temple." (And I thought I was doing well because I'd seen the '50s Hungarian operetta State-Owned Department Store, which this reviewer pegs precisely: "Under the standard Social Realist kitsch, you have the Viennese kitsch.")

*This maybe isn't that unseeable -- if anyone reading this knows that it's on video, please write.


Upset that I'm missing the Rivette retrospective back home, but at least they're not showing the only film other than The 7th Victim that JA treats in the Selected Prose, the 13 hr. Out 1.


Unrelated, far as I can see, to the previous chain: Finally listened to Interpol's Antics (mostly to compare to the new Double -- there are similarities, but they're pretty shallow). Pretty low-key and unambitious for a "hotly contested follow-up," innit? Is it possible that they're actually smart enough to know they're a pop band/not to swallow the pretension pill? (Against that, I suspect that Paul Banks is trying to be an interesting lyricist. The results are pretty awful, though I'll let you look 'em up yourself.) I don't think they're gonna be able to coast without at least one new idea for much longer. Their sense of arrangement, esp. keyboard additions, is pretty pro forma, and the performances are strangely laid-back -- the drummer (whom I basically like) lays behind the beat, the guitar lines even more so. Even as you're enjoying the thing, you notice that they're repeating melodic ideas four songs in.

Why do I care?

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