Thursday, December 22, 2005


Having lived more than five years in Ithaca (New York), I know the difference between "bitterly cold" and "kinda cold," but even with that knowledge under my belt, this vacationing (non-native) Floridian is finding the kinda cold weather in New York City pretty damned bitter. The blog's not exactly hiatusing, but you won't see much of me until the new year.
Lots of folks bitching a blue streak about the MTA strike (frankly, more of them back in Florida than here in NYC, so far as I've heard -- I don't think they actually have unions down there). Joshua Clover talks sense:
Whatever poor matter the laborer or client nation can bring to market must be exchanged for basic physical protection which is always under threat of being removed or indeed turned on the protectees, should they fail to perform as commanded: Pinkertons, embargoes, bombers. There is no corporate language that is not the language of threat, something Mayor Bloomberg knows perfectly well when he dares to call the striking transit workers "thuggish" and "selfish." He should perhaps make investigations with the dictionary.

Bob has gotten back at me for my "bullcrap" comment by disseminating a photo of some bookish dork he's pulled off the internet and implying that it's me. A low blow indeed, Robert, a low blow indeed. A more accurate image:
Happy Holidays to everyone out there!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Zach Barocas: Among Other Things

Some time ago Kasey Mohammad posted a list of “clichés” about contemporary poetry, one of which went something like “Clark Coolidge, who is also a bebop drummer, writes remarkably percussive poetry.” I suppose it’s fair enough to mark the resemblance – Coolidge has often enough made the connection between his own work and jazz forms – tho one doesn’t often find physics writers talking about how Einstein’s papers have “violin-like” melodies to them, or literary critics talking about how Wayne Booth’s paragraphs have a “cello-like” sonority (or how Pound’s lines often sound like a slightly out-of-tune bassoon).

All this as prelude to noting that despite what his blurbists have to say – Norman Finkelstein calls the poems “off-beat, pitch perfect,” and Peter O’Leary speaks of a “percussive instinct” in “these lyrics whose rhythm is honesty” – I don’t really find the poems of Zach Barocas’s Among Other Things: Poems & Proposals to be particularly “drummish.” Maybe Zach himself is: he spent a good chunk of the 1990s as drummer of Jawbox, by all accounts one of the more melodically intelligent post-punk bands. These days he lives in Minneapolis, and runs the wonderfully spare poetry/visual art website Cultural Society. The aesthetic of Cultural Society – clean, sans-serif, updated only when there’s work its editor feels worth presenting – is evident as well in Among Other Things. The poems are mostly short; Barocas’s most common form is a two-line stanza (tho there are a number of exceptions); thruout there’s a sense of thoughtfulness & deliberation. I don’t feel the raging energy of punk (“old school” or “new”) or post-punk, but the clean and close deliberation of a kind of post-Eno minimalism.

The collection is punctuated with a series of numbered “proposals,” a form that O’Leary calls “a hybrid elegy/epigram,” which to my ears leans more towards epigram than elegy. But that title, “proposal,” suggests how these little poems are more than squared-off statement; they lean into the future, propose what ought to or might take form in the realm of thought and personal relations. One proposes to the person with whom one hopes to spend one’s life; one proposes a work to be pursued. Even the poems here not designated “proposals” have a sense of proposition, as “Things To Do Today” or “For the Rest of Our Lives”:
I propose pretty marriage:
orchids to wrists, garters to thighs,

to seatbacks.

Dark glasses to sunup,
the mesh & thrust of motor-

parts to the knock of piston

the tongue to
the eye.

On the other hand, the “proposals” themselves are sometimes devoted to a kind of phenomenology of poetry, a rumination on the physical and sensory bases of the poem, as in the 9th and 11th proposals:
What flashes silver
& quickens the eye?

Diamonds or minnows,
fiberglass slivers,

stainless steel (in its
own dull way), & ice.

Silver, then, is just
a kind of white light,

a glint of white &
the way we name it.
It is not merely
the incandescence,

the radiance, one
barely, if at all,

contains; it is the

witness, too, warmed &
facing the light’s source

alone, basking with-
out fear, that matters.

I don't want to give the impression – as these quotations might – that all of Among Other Things is in this quiet and ruminative mode. There're a fair number of love poems here, barroom pickup poems, morning after poems, and a really knockout set of "Notes on Music" (where, if anywhere, Barocas's percussive sensibility to comes to the fore). The book as a whole is a focused and lovely group of poems, & – as Barocas’s first – a remarkably self-assured collection, promising more pleasures to come.

Monday, December 19, 2005

marking time on the web

It's a slow weekend for blogging, but nuggets keep turning up on the internet, here & there:

In the Guardian yesterday, Harold Bloom with a typically weary & mournful analysis of the contemporary American political scene, thru the lens of the writers of the American Renaissance. Money quote: "Though he possesses a Yale BA and honorary doctorate, our president is semi-literate at best. He once boasted of never having read a book through, even at Yale. Henry James was affronted when he met President Theodore Roosevelt; what could he have made of George W Bush?"
World O' Crap continues a indefatigable Augean stable-cleaning job of keeping up with what the loonies are saying about just about everything, including most recently Brokeback Mountain.
Rue Hazard remains dark; perhaps John is off writing some more poems (which I ought to be doing).
John Matthias's "Automystifstical Plaice," a fine and zany poem on Hedy Lamarr, George Antheil, Ezra Pound, Francis Picabia, the internet, wireless telephones, etc. etc. is now online. Go and read, and know modernism is alive and kicking. (Thanks to Bob for the tip.)
Josh Corey has read and is enthusiastic over Michael Coffey's CMYK. I concur, wholeheartedly. Josh describes the book admirably, but I can't resist another snippet, this from the journal-poem "Datebook 2002":
sa/1/5: Today, partly cloudy and warmer, high 40; tonight, turning cloudy, low 32.
Today, abundant sunshine, high 37. Tonight, clear and chilly, low 29; a weak jet stream disturbance passing overhead.

Andy Warhol drew a picture of Frank O'Hara's penis. O'Hara crumpled it up.

Painting was slow for a mind that fast; shopping, however, was quick.

Her legs scissored, open and closed, like Hélène Cixous.

Friday, December 16, 2005

how you weather division

I think I was probably a bit too abrupt with Bob Archambeau the other day – at least that “bullcrap” comment was the fruit of too many late-night “South Park” episodes, too little sleep, & too many cups, not of some refined Sumatra bean concoction, but of good old-fashioned Fol-zhay. Bob is absolutely right in reading Enlightenment disinterestedness as a “double-edged sword,” a stance enabling both an admirable even-handedness in political and ethical decisions (the judge who sets aside her own personal convictions in order to ruled equitably on a case) and a set of divided social roles that often manifest very different ethical priorities (how we behave with our friends, with our family, at our jobs) in the same person.

The notion of a disinterested aesthetic sense, one capable of “appreciating” works of art whose ideological content & effect one might find otherwise repellant, is indeed part & parcel of this disinterestedness, but it was far from clear to me, as I read Bob’s learned post, that the moment of the theorization of a disinterested aesthetics is somehow the “tipping point” or the foundational moment of a more generalized disinterest. (There's certainly a historically specifiable shift, which we can roughly name “Kant,” and one of whose indices is the reading of Milton: compare Coleridge’s Milton – which Bob quotes – a disinterested aesthete, aware of the ideological “wrongness” of the cathedral, yet still convinced of its aesthetic value, to Samuel Johnson’s: in Lives of the Poets, Milton runs a very close second to Homer as the greatest “Epick” poet – he’s not the best, but perhaps only because he’s not the first – but he does so despite his “surly Republicanism,” the traces of which in his poetry are not some ideological “content” that the disinterested reader can discount, but real live blemishes that are outweighed by the beauties & strengths elsewhere evident.) Happily, however, the interest of Bob’s ruminations – & how many other contemporary poets have actually gotten around to reading Shaftesbury? (my copy of Characteristicks glares mournfully down at me…) – doesn’t really depend on this causal relationship between aesthetic disinterest & the split self of the post-Enlightenment west.

But… but nonetheless… Those of us invested in talking about cultural artifacts, and especially those of us interested in the sorts of pleasure generated by artifacts traditionally categorized as “aesthetic” (or generated by regarding artifacts of whatever sort thru an aesthetic lens), are likely to be pretty interested in the origins of the category of the aesthetic & its relationship to modern subjectivity, especially at that foundational moment three centuries back. Terry Eagleton makes a pretty provocative case in his Ideology of the Aesthetic, where he argues that the emergence of an autotelic aesthetic realm is contemporary with, & deeply linked to, the emergence of the bourgeois subject & the “public sphere.” And that new bourgeois subject and public sphere, a grouping of autonomous individuals maintained not by overt coercion but by ideals of harmony & self-realization, is directly underwritten by the new ideology of the aesthetic: “What is at stake here is nothing less than the production of an entirely new kind of human subject – one which, like the work of art itself, discovers the law in the depths of its own free identity, rather than in some oppressive external power.” (19)
If the aesthetic comes in the eighteenth century to assume the significance it does, it is because the word is shorthand for a whole project of hegemony, the massive introjection of abstract reason by the life of the senses. What matters is not in the first place art, but this project of refashioning the human subject from the inside, informing its subtlest affections and bodily responses with this law which is not a law. It could then be as inconceivable for the subject to violate the injunctions of power as it would be to find a putrid odor enchanting. The understanding knows well enough that we live in conformity to impersonal laws; but in the aesthetic it is as though we can forget about all that – as though it is we who freely fashion the laws to which we subject ourselves. (42-3)
That’s Eagleton, I’m afraid, at his most totalizing. I’m still working my way thru the book – the 2nd chapter, on Shaftesbury, Hume, & Burke, & the 3rd on Kant are quite dazzling – but I’m afraid that there’s no real happy ending in sight, only a deeper and deeper realization of how profoundly our aesthetic pleasures – guilty or otherwise – are entangled in our social being, which is divided, split, bourgeoisified, sliced ‘n’ diced to the core.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Divide THIS!

I’ve been meaning to respond to Bob Archambeau’s big post on aesthetic disinterestedness for some time now, but I find that Eric Selinger, now happily (for us) back online, has said many of the things that were rumbling inarticulately in my own mind. “Modernity is disinterest,” Bob sums himself up with relish (& risotto on the side), drawing parallels between a gesellschaftlich division of roles in the contemporary western subject (we’re loving parents at home who go to work in SUVs and pollute the environment our children will have to inhabit, we believe in all sorts of socially responsible goals, including a “freedom of speech” which allows various right-wing loonies to spread doctrines that would end up silencing everybody except right-wing loonies and putting an end to everything we hope for) and a “disinterestedness” in our aesthetic responses, where we can appreciate the fine points of Pound's spondaic line while still being good philosemitic lefties. (By the way, there’s an interesting take on this issue in the latest APR, of all places: Robert Hass’s meditation Zukofsky’s elegy for Lenin, a slightly touched-up version of the talk he gave at last year’s University of Chicago Zuk-fest – suffice it to say that Hass doesn’t allow the political naïveté of LZ’s Lenin-worship to go entirely uninterrogated.)

But I’m with Eric: I don’t buy that a theorizing of aesthetic “disinterest” – the segregation of aesthetic judgments from ethical or political judgments – started by Shaftsbury & others is the beginning of a slippery slope to ethical relativism, or self-division. As Bob puts it,
once we become divided from parts of ourselves at the level of aesthetics (where the stakes seem so low to so many people), we’re ready to become divided from other parts of ourselves, like ethics. We’re ready to treat people with the same disinterest Coleridge’s Milton treated the Cathedral, without bias regarding our personal prejudices. We’re ready to treat our own actions that way, too, without reference our own ethics (“business is business,” we tautologically opine, while doing things we wouldn’t countenance if we weren’t enabled in the divorcing of individual ethics from professional ethics).
I’ll be blunter than Reb Selinger: I’m not just “deeply skeptical” about this slippery slope (as my old philosophy professor taught me to be skeptical about every slippery slope argument) – I think it’s (as Cartman would say) Bullcrap.

It’s unconvincing (don’t take that “bullcrap” the wrong way, Bob) because the splitting-up of the Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment Western subject is entirely overdetermined, entertwined and inter-influenced in so many directions that it seems patently reductive to point to this one aspect of division of psychic labor (yes, it all does come down to capitalism, somewhere) and premise another aspect upon it. A disinterested aesthetics is no doubt part and parcel of the ambivalent project of enlightenment (cf. here Fredric Jameson’s wonderful parsing of the “Odysseus and the Sirens” section of Adorno/Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment, where – roughly – the rowers with their ears blocked correspond to the proletariat, while Odysseus is the bourgeoisie who allows himself to attend to the experience of beauty, but only by imposing upon himself the disinterest of the “aesthetic” – the cords which tie him to the mast, & prevent him from physically responding to it), but I can’t buy it as somehow a “triggering” element.

Eric somehow restrains himself at the end from quoting Winston Churchill on democracy (“the worst of all possible systems, the only problem is that none of the others is better”). It’s worth for the moment quoting Zizek on elections, if only in glancing acknowledgment of what’s going on in Iraq:
At the moment of elections, the whole hierarchical network of social relations is in a way suspended, put in parentheses; ‘society’ as an organized unity ceases to exist, it changed into a contingent collection of atomized individuals, of abstract units, and the result depends on a purely quantitative mechanism of counting, ultimately on a stochastic process…. In vain do we conceal this thoroughly ‘irrational’ character of what we call ‘formal democracy’: at the moment of an election, the society is delivered to a stochastic process. Only the acceptance of such a risk, only such a readiness to hand over one’s fate to ‘irrational’ hazard, renders ‘democracy’ possible…. It is true that democracy makes possible all sorts of manipulation, corruption, the rule of demagogy, and so on, but as soon as we eliminate the possibility of such deformations, we lose democracy itself – a net example of the Hegelian Universal which can realize itself only in impure, deformed, corrupted forms; if we want to remove these deformities and to grasp the Universal in its intact purity, we obtain its very opposite. So-called ‘real democracy’ is just another name for non-democracy… (The Sublime Object of Ideology 148)

Now where will I find the time to start thinking about Bob's "I"s?

Technocrap & Christian Allegory

I’ve done it! I’ve managed to recover the something like 400,000 emails from my old, defunct machine which I thought I’d lost forever, or which had been reduced to some kind of pixellated sludge. Here’s how it works: [WARNING: the following is only of any possible interest to Macintosh geeks, to those of my enemies who are seeking to topple me from my exalted position by detailing my minor obsessions, and – judging by the message boards out there – to about 50,000 people who have exactly the same problem I did] The “old” Macintosh Mail – hereafter known as “Pink Panther,” or PP – stored mail in much the same way every other email program did; in these folder thingies called “mbox”es, where the entire contents of a mailbox would be bunged together into a single document, which when you opened it with Textedit or something looked remarkably like a page from the late Cantos. The “new” Mail – hereafter known as “Paper Tiger,” or TP – stores email messages in mbox folders, BUT stores them as separate “emlx” files; that’s so the “Searchlight” function (hereafter known as SLF) can read each & every single one of them (gosh, now I sound like a college president) and tell you when you used the word “desuetude” in an email to someone you haven’t seen or thought of in 5 years. Seems like there’d be a problem translating those PP mboxes into TP emlxes, right? Bet even Ezra Pound couldn’t do it!

Well, wrong. The problem had nothing to do with that. Turns out that all of the mailbox folders except for your inbox, your “sent” box (hereafter known as SB), and your “trash” (hereafter known as “trash”) are stored in a folder known as “Mailboxes,” which is in the “Mail” folder, in the “Library” folder, in your user directory. [Carruthers! – You in the back! WAKE UP!] Said folder was missing, & I had to create it from scratch, a delicate procedure which I believe can be used to demonstrate the fundamental truths of intelligent design. (I hit Apple-shift-N, and then named the thing.) That did the trick.
Joshua Clover posts a cool parody of right wingnuttery from The Colbert Report:
This movie’s been labeled a Christian allegory, just because its hero, “Aslan the lion,” sacrifies his life on a hilltop to save the world, and through the power of love rises from the grave to defeat evil. Sorry, doesn’t work as an allegory. Last time I checked, Jesus wasn’t a lion. This is worse than taking the Christ out of Christmas; this is taking the Christ out of Jesus...[The Passion of Christ], now that was a great Christian allegory. I’m pretty sure Jim Caviezel symbolized Jesus.

Funny thing is that I’ve just been thinking about the Narnia books as Xtian allegory. (By the way, I am not a Narnia fan; I confess to being a pretty deeply sick Tolkien fan, but the Lewis books just never did it for me. For the record, Tolkien thought they were pretty weak, too.) I think Adam Gopnick, in his 21 November New Yorker review of Alan Jacobs’s biography of Lewis, The Narnian, nails what's wrong with Narnia as allegory:
a central point of the Gospel story is that Jesus is not the lion of the faith but the lamb of God, while his other symbolic animal is, specifically, the lowly and bedraggled donkey. The moral force of the Christian story is that the lions are all on the other side. If we had, say, a donkey, a seemingly uninspiring animal from an obscure corner of Narnia, raised as an uncouth and low-caste beast of burden, rallying the mice and rats and weasels and vultures and all the other unclean animals, and then being killed by the lions in as humiliating a manner as possible – a donkey who reemerges, to the shock even of his disciples and devotees,a s the king of all creation – now, that would be a Christian allegory. A powerful lion, starting life at the top of the food chain, adored by all his subjects and filled with temporal power, killed by a despised evil witch for his power and then reborn to rule, is a Mithraic, not a Christian, myth.

Monday, December 12, 2005

War Poetry/Lit Crit

I’ve been interested in Robert Archambeau’s discussion of war poetry (with contributions from the inestimable John Peck). I don’t find the Kevin Prufer poem he quotes particularly compelling (at least on third & fourth readings), but I did have some thoughts about the “anonymity” he discusses. First of all, I don’t particularly read what’s going on in David Jones’s In Parenthesis – the superposition of previous wars over the Great War – so much to be a matter of the contemporary soldier’s “anonymity” (after all, Jones carefully and emblematically names his contemporary Tommies) as simply a matter of precisely superposition. That is, the Anglo-Welsh Great War soldier does not lose his contemporary identity when he recognizes that he’s standing in the same shoes as one of King Harry’s invaders of France, but rather finds his contemporary situation enriched (a dreadful word, given the horrors described in the poem, but I can’t come up with a better at the moment) and deepened. Which to me at least is something far more interesting (and one sees it as well in Bunting’s “The Spoils”) than a mere loss of contemporary identity, contemporary name. Yes, as Archambeau puts it it’s a matter of “getting at the shared life beyond the individual life,” but I don’t think it necessarily involves the loss of individual identity, as in the anonymity imposed by the state apparatuses of Jarrell and Auden.

For my money, Prufer isn’t so much making use of Jones/Bunting modernist tropes as he is adopting the icy unnaming of Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried” – a short story effective not for so much for showing the universality of the war experience as for making it come alive through specific and telling individual detail. And isn’t the Unknown Soldier synechdoche rather than metonymy for all the unknown dead? [wink]
Michael Peverett pointed out last week, in connection with my note on Rosmarie Waldrop’s Reluctant Gravities, that an extract from that book can be found online; he also reminds us that Waldrop’s book of critical essays, Dissonance (if you are interested) is out from the University of Alabama Press, by far the most prestigious venue for new studies on modern & contemporary poetics (nudge nudge, wink wink!). He also responds to my brief note on Margaret Talbott in the New Yorker, where she claims that “in science – as opposed to, say, literary criticism – interpretations can be wrong” (my italics). I responded with an instance of a howling misreading in a performance of Midsummer Night’s Dream. Michael comments:
I am not so sure about your example from MND. This is a misunderstanding of 16th-century English and yes it is wrong. MT obviously doesn't have this in mind when she talks of "interpretations"... My own view is that value placed on an artefact cannot be wrong (or right), but leaving value aside there is many a true and false statement that may be made about an artefact - the leaves in the painting are really green not blue, for example, or Christ's rib-cage is short of a rib.
Okay, yes, Talbot doesn’t mean the sort of “interpretation” that involves knowing what a word or sentence means, or how it ought to be inflected in performance – in fact she doesn’t mean “interpretation” at all when she talks about literary criticism, she means evaluative judgement, as Michael alludes to a bit later. What she’s saying in short is “science deals with stuff that can be right or wrong, but literary criticism is all a matter of taste, de gustibus & so forth.” Now I think think that there’s more than just a coincidence of names between “interpreting” a work of literature by writing an essay or commentary on it and “interpreting” it on stage (for a play) or in a public reading (for a poem or story). (We see the distinction much more clearly in music, where “interpretation” almost always means performance, while what musical scholars do is “analysis” or “commentary.”) But whether one takes what Talbot says as a vague remark about what literary critics in the New Yorker generally do, or as a general impression of interpreting literature is all about, her words have the effect of setting literary studies back a century or more – which is where I suppose most New Yorker readers would like it to be.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

A Technical Hiatus

It's been one of those weeks – not just the profound joy of exam week & exam grading, but Tuesday night the hard drive of the computer just up & died – rather spectacularly, with a sound like (as my mother would say) a "dying calf in a thunderstorm." I'd been hearing that sound intermittently for a few days, so I had every last damned thing backed up.

So the short version is that I've got myself a brand new computer, and have moved up to the next generation of the Macintosh OSX – Tiger, I think it is, replacing Panther or Jaguar or Tabby or some damn thing. And it's pretty cool (been using it in the office for a few months now already). Just one glitch: The Mac email program (called, rather flamboyantly, "Mail") has apparently changed their method of saving messages over this last update; useta be they would save a mailbox as a single ".mbox" file; now they save every single message as a separate ".emlx" file. What difference does this make? (After all, as far as I know computers run by sorcery anyway – cf. Fredric Jameson on our inability to understand our technology paralleling our inability to grasp the global economy...) Well, in short the new, Tigerish "Mail" seems unable to understand the old Manx Cat "Mail" – it just won't import those damned mailboxes – and at least for the nonce I seem to have lost about seven years worth of email files.

So, if you've ever sent me an email in your life, I'd much appreciate it if you'd send me another one so I can start building that address book back up again. (Especially you, John, since now I've lost your snailmail address...)

Monday, December 05, 2005

Rosmarie Waldrop: Reluctant Gravities

Rosmarie Waldrop’s Reluctant Gravities (New Directions, 1999) is a lovely, modest, and insinuating book. In her earlier volumes The Reproduction of Profiles and Lawn of Excluded Middle, Waldrop deployed a rhetorical “you,” a second person wholly different from the storm-trooper “you” of the workshop poem, whose only significance is to mildly defamiliarize the same old “I.” (When the workshop poet writes “you,” we all know that she or he’s winking at us: “Don’t worry, folks, it’s really all about me!”) Reluctant Gravities takes the silent addressees of Reproduction & Lawn & gives them (as the blurb puts it) “a voice and a response.” These 24 prose poems are each 4-paragraph dialogues between a “he” and a “she,” reuminating over issues of memory, gender, language, poetry, the passage of time. My own reading imagines them as an aging couple talking in bed (much reference here to “sheets”) long after lights out, thinking together over two long, separate & shared adventures in writing and representation.

The poem’s voices are wry but literate, shot thru with allusion – not as educational showing-off, but in the easy manner of someone deeply familiar & comfortable with the most memorable forms into which human thought has been cast. I read this book in a headlong rush, enchanted with its calm, beautiful, but sometimes disturbing and desperate music. She: “You walk as through a formal garden, an inner music cadencing your steps, and all paths intersect. Whereas I shlepp on swollen feet, arms scratched by perhaps imagined brambles, through a wilderness where roads disappear, where even riverbeds wander. And the point vanishes.” He: “You think you are taking a clean sheet of paper, and it’s already covered with signs, illegible, as by a child’s hand.” She: “I always want to hear the sirens, albeit tied to the mast, but I fear becoming the sailor with ears plugged, just plugging away at the oar.”
What if all our thinking, she says, were a search through underbrush and mud. Trying to decipher the forest without artificial light. The rustlings of language give us the illusion of a deeper dimension. But our equations don’t net the unknown quantity. We’re only as good as our words.

And what can writing not be compared to? she asks. Having a ball? A child growing from your long-tailed sperm? A boatload of foreigners climbing the Statue of Liberty, waving flags? The price of deciphering seems to be transparency, also called fainting. The wings of the dragonfly are beautiful, but the body is not itself. I want the missing meat, bone, metabolisms and ratios of heat and hunger. At the price of windows muddied with fingerprints.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Yes, fuzzy humanists can be wrong too

A nifty, vivid article by Margaret Talbot in the 5 December New Yorker on the Dover “intelligent design” trial. Kenneth Miller, a Brown University biologist, testifies that 99.9% of all the organisms that have ever lived on earth are now extinct: “an intelligent designer who designed things, 99.9 per cent of which didn’t last, certainly wouldn’t be very intelligent.” One moment ruffled my hackles in Talbot’s discussion of the pro-ID Discovery Insitute’s “teach the conflicts” approach:
The “teach the conflicts” rationale for working intelligent design into public-school science classes has a certain appeal. It sounds to most people like a healthy aversion to orthodoxy. Of course, most scientists don’t like it, because in science – as opposed to, say, literary criticism – interpretations can be wrong. (my italics)
Clearly Margaret Talbot hasn’t spent much time reading literary-critical journals lately, or marking undergraduate papers. Or for that matter attending student productions of Shakespeare plays. At a production of Midsummer Night’s Dream a couple-three years back at Our University, the fellow playing Lysander read the wonderfully sarcastic line, “do you marry him” (if you, Demetrius, are so beloved by Hermia’s father, maybe you should marry him rather than Hermia; ie, "do" as an imperative) – as a question: “do you marry him?” If that ain’t a wrong piece of literary interpretation, I can’t imagine what is.

Hegel’s Haircut

On January 21, 1801, Hegel arrived [in Jena] and took up residence at Schelling’s place at “Kipsteinishchen Garten.” The only likely picture of him at this time (a silhouette) shows him sporting the very fashionable “Titus” haircut (probably best known as Napoleon’s haircut), a style identified with “modernity” (and sometimes with the Revolution), which he was to keep all his life. (A silhouette of him during his university period shows that he probably never sported the more traditional, long-haired, braided look of the generation immediately preceding his own; indeed, he seemed to have had an unkept, rather spiky, “revolutionary” haircut during his university years.)

–Terry Pinkard, Hegel: A Biography (Cambridge UP, 2000) 106
Nietzsche writes somewhere that even the best poets and thinkers have written stuff that is mediocre and bad, but have separated off the good material. But it is not quite like that. It’s true that a gardener, along with his roses, keeps manure and rubbish and straw in his garden, but what distinguishes them is not just their value, but mainly their function in the garden.

Something that looks like a bad sentence can be the germ of a good one.

–Wittgenstein, Culture and Value 59e
  I hate anything that asks me to participate in being a sensitive person
  And I don’t want to read thoughts that are markers of that package which is some writer’s sense of his or her own specialness

–Lyn Hejinian, A Border Comedy (Granary Books, 2001) 38

Wednesday, November 30, 2005


A difference between philosophy and literary studies: in philosophy, the distinction between a piece of “commentary” or “secondary literature” & a piece of new philosophizing is far less clear-cut than the distinction between a piece of literary criticism & a new work of literature. In the latter field, the commentary almost never gets read as a literary text in its own right (with some very rare exceptions – Lawrence on American literature, Olson on Melville, Zukofsky on Shakespeare – but even then, such books are often put in a special category of “poets’ criticism”). On the other hand, Kripke on Wittgenstein, Heidegger on Hölderlin, Derrida on Heidegger, Cavel on Thoreau and Emerson, all of these seem every bit as important as other works by the same philosophers less directly moored to previous texts.
Wittgenstein: “People nowadays think that scientists exist to instruct them, poets, musicians, etc. to give them pleasure. The idea that these have something to teach them – that does not occur to them.” (Culture and Value, 36e)
An undergraduate philosophy professor of mine, newly arrived in southwestern Virginia, meets his backwoods girlfriend’s father and introduces himself as a philosopher. “A philosopher? So, what’re some o’ yer sayins?”
Zukofsky on Shakespeare in prose (Bottom: on Shakespeare) every bit as “poetic” as Zukofsky on Mallarmé in verse (“A”-19).

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Bad Writing in High Places, pt. ii

A photo snapped over this long holiday weekend at the base of the grand phallic Yorktown monument, commemorating the 1781 siege of Yorktown which ended with the surrender of Cornwallis’s army to a combined Franco-American force under George Washington & the Comte de Grassi – and thereby pretty much ending the Revolutionary War. Now don’t get the idea that I spend my holidays visiting battle sites: on the contrary – I’ve driven thru central Pennsylvania a hundred times, and never come closer than twenty miles to Gettysburg. Okay, I once stopped in Scotland to snap photos of the site of Drumclog (Scott, Old Mortality), but that’s about it. Let’s just say we happened upon this whacking great erection blocking out a lovely view of the York River, & with my constitutional inability to see an inscription without reading it, I had to linger and read not merely the inscriptions on the four sides of the base, but all the plaques the Daughters of the American Revolution had laid round about. One of them – reproduced above – strikes me as a neat epitome of the degradation of public discourse in these United States over the past 200 or so years:
We are now friends with England and with all Mankind.
Benjamin Franklin, 1783
American Peace Commissioner

Now that’s lovely – as fine a balanced period as one could ask for from le philosophe Franklin, transatlantic representative of the age of reason.
This great peace monument is a symbol of the sacrifices in lives and property in the Revolutionary War, which ended at Yorktown and which brought us our independence. It symbolizes, too, the peace between the mother country and America – a peace not seriously interrupted since 1781.
Horace M. Albright, 1931
Director, National Park Service

Oh dear. Public stolidness not unrelieved with turgidity. Without questioning Mr Albright’s history (perhaps the War of 1812 was a “serious interruption,” or those tense years when Henry Adams, junior legate to the embassy in London, was waiting for the UK to cast in with the Confederacy), one notes how a Hooveresque concern for “lives and property” manages to make the Revolution, once figured in terms of Roman virtue, a matter of capital investment.
The Treaty of Paris was the first step toward an alliance with Great Britain which has grown stronger through two centuries to become one of our most important alliance relationships. Political, cultural, economic, and defense ties between our two nations are firm and lasting.
Ronald Reagan, 1983
President, United States of America

I suspect Reagan wrote this bit himself – at least it’s hard to imagine one of his speechwriters guilty of these two sentences of unremitting, bland boilerplate. Would Lincoln, would Pitt, would Burke, for God’s sake would that toad-eater Tony Blair have allowed those two solecisms – “alliance relationships” and “defense ties” – to appear over his name? If the Gipper’s shade is listening, an “alliance” is by definition a “relationship”; and “defense ties” is merely a lazy, bureaucratically crippled way of saying “miliitary ties.” I’ll content myself with addressing the dead; there’s no-one in the White House now who reads or listens to anything.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Ad Interim

Off tomorrow morning to spend some quality time waiting in airport lines – er, that is, off for a wee Thanksgiving break, to give my students a respite from my increasingly incoherent teaching, to get a breath of the autumn in latitudes with actual seasons.

And not a moment too soon. I find myself (as the charismatics say) "convicted" by John Latta's burst of blog-loathing (prompted by his reading Virgil Thomson's letters):
Do it ever come down that—full of bullion and bumptious—one of you prints out a passle of such bloggery talk, essential “stuff” come down out of the zone blogique, harry’d by its muchness, “happy at the thought,” though gummed out taut on tenterhooks to read it all, and you—oh, The World itself gets its gumption up to demand something of you and that revery-look you wear so affably, and, well, you don’t get back to them pages blogeoises for, oh, a few days? It does me, and it undoes me. I find myself full of kittle and contempt, bilious at the perusal, fanning through the pages like a sneer-wind, worse it is than yesterday’s news in yesterday’s newspapers. (For those, the common consent is, can at least serve for the wrapping up of the post-repast fish bones . . . or the pre-prandial fish guts . . . or the lousy book by Stanley Fish you.) Is it sensible to write junk day after day? Or pour over the books of wayward saints for pre-chewables, quotes and queries for th’international short attention span? Maybe it’s not.
Haven't met a harangue like that since the last time I cracked an Edward Dahlberg book. Glad Stan Brakhage comes to the rescue & saves our reading pleasure. "BEAM 4," ARK, nicht wahr?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Tom Raworth: Tottering State

Bliss! another cold front has descended, which down here means that one is almost tempted to put on a sweater at night (longtime Florida residents can be seen venturing out of their condos in parkas and mittens…).
After many dippings-in, and almost a decade & a half of having the book glare down at me with slighted hurt from the shelf, I finally read thru Tom Raworth’s Tottering State: Selected and New Poems 1963-1983 (The Figures, 1984). (And this after having read a half dozen of his single volumes, as well.) The selection’s been superceded at least twice now, I believe, but in cases like this I’m inclined to think of books of poetry as rather like fine wines; the pages might yellow and get spotted, but the contents are just as satisfying as when they were first bottled.

I saw Raworth read at least twice back in the day, when I was living in the DC area and found myself at least on the margins of a very lively “scene.” The nerve center of that scene of course was Rod Smith, working at Bick’s Books in Adams-Morgan (where I got Tottering State) before he shifted over to Bridge Street Books in Georgetown. I remember Raworth, a big shaggy hulk of unreconstructed Englishness, lighting up a cigarette between readers at Bick’s upstairs reading space, then, finding no ashtrays, flicking his ash into the Tibetan bowl gong that Rod used to summon the audience to quiet down and prepare for poesy. Raworth reads like no-one I’ve ever heard: a dense, rapid spray of words, poems over before they seem to have begun, the performance almost as lively as the mercurically shifting words on the page.

There’re a lot of books of poetry asking me to read them, but I regret having put off Tottering State for so long. For one thing, aside from the sly precisions of Raworth’s musical ear, the constant bitter ironies, and the poised sense of line, the poetry is really a great deal of sheer fun. Take, for instance, “Love and Pieces,” whose title seems to play games with early Creeley, but whose last lines place us smack-dab in the neighborhood of Raworth’s own rapid-fire delivery:
met language static
on the street
thinks he’s one
of a new elite
you have to learn
you can not teach
“there goes the town of spanish boot”
“only the buildings”
julius reuter
service de pigeons
i can not prove a second ago
to my own satisfaction

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Stupid Days

Busy, busy days, barrelling towards the end of the term, trying to make up time lost to Wilma (tho no longer anticipating “Gamma”), “looking forward” to finals. I try to avoid doing what I ought to be doing – some of it perfectly respectable, to be avoided simply on Oblomovian principle, other bits just plain stupid. Reading around. The schizophrenia of re-reading Antony Easthope’s Poetry as Discourse and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe’s Poetry as Experience at the same time. (My own magnum opus: Poetry as Rhinoplasty.) Steven Helmling (who’s written a – quite good – LZ biographical essay), The Success and Failure of Fredric Jameson (SUNY, 2001), quotes a passage of FJ that is either of a ravishing, beautiful difficulty, or the most purple thing since Stephen Dedalus’s dreadful villanelle (are those last two words redundant?):
Barthes thought certain kinds of writing – perhaps we should say, certain kinds of sentences – to be scriptible, because they made you wish to write further yourself; they stimulated imitation, and promised a pleasure in combining language that had little enough to do with the notation of new ideas. But I think he thought this because he took an attitude towards those sentences which was not essentially linguistic, and had little to do with reading: what is scriptible indeed is the visual or the musical, what corresponds to the two outside senses that tug at language between themselves and dispute its peculiarly unphysical attention, its short circuit of the sentences for the mind itself that makes of the mysterious thing reading some superstitious and adult power, which the lowlier arts imagine uncomprehendingly, as animals might dream of the strangeness of human thinking. We do not in that sense read painting nor do we hear music with any of the attention reserved for oral recitation; but this is why the more advanced and rational activity can also have its dream of the other, and regress to a longing for the more immediately visual, or be sublimated into the spiritual body of pure sound.

[but no, this isn’t Pater – or EP, or LZ –]

Scriptible is not however the poetry that actually tries to do that (and which is then itself condemned to the technical mediation of a relationship to language not much more “poetic” than the doctrine of the coloration of orchestral instruments and the specialized, painfully acquired knowledge of their technologies); it is the prose stimulated by the idea of sound, or the sentences that something visual – unfortunately, our only word for it is the image – calls into being by suggestion and by a kind of contamination. We don’t write about these things, it is not a metaphorical representation that the sensory pretext summons but rather something related by affinity, that prolongs the content of the object in another, more tenuous form, as though to prolong a last touch with the very fingertips. (Signatures of the Visible 2-3)
James Buchan, Capital of the Mind: How Edinburgh Changed the World (John Murray, 2003) – and that, uncomfortably, is the British title; the US edition, where vulgarizations usually occur, is Crowded with Genius – brings alive the 18th-century Scottish Enlightenment, Em’bro, that “precipitous city” thru which hurry (dodging the wind) the portly Hume, the capacious Adam Smith, the whoremonger Boswell, and the beleaguered James MacPherson, whose “Ossian” poems remain (as of two days ago, when I tried them once again) entirely unreadable. Dr Johnson read them, pronounced them fakes, and took none of MacPherson’s bluster:
MR JAMES MACPHERSON – I received your foolish and impudent letter. Any violence offered me I shall do my best to repel; and what I cannot do for myself, the law shall do for me. I hope I shall never be deterred from detecting what I think to be a cheat, by the menaces of a ruffian.

What would you have me retract? I thought your book an imposture; I think it an imposture still. For this opinion I have given my reason to the publick, which I here dare you to refute. Your rage I defy. Your abilities, since your Homer, are not so formidable; and what I hear of your morals, inclines me to pay regard not to what you shall say, but to what you shall prove. You may print this if you will. SAM. JOHNSON
Hume glumly apologized to his friend Gibbon for what by 1776 seemed like a Scottish national imposture: “Men run with great Avidity to give their Evidence in favour of what flatters their Passions, and their national Prejudices.”
Somebody was having a party earlier this evening; a mariachi band echoed through the neighborhood for three hours, but now no noise besides the constant, depressing rain.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Curmudgeonliness, British and Cynic

Bob Archambeau remembers Donald Davie. I too remember DD, from an hour spent in his office at Vanderbilt University (they were trying to lure me there for graduate school), where he footered constantly with his pipe (unable it seems to keep it alight for more than three minutes), grumbled in a curmudgeonly fashion, told me to read Bunting, NOW, and scoffed at my enthusiasm for Robert Duncan’s “eclecticism” of influences: “indeed – an eclectic fudge.” A year or so later he mailed me a copy of the syllabus for his swansong graduate seminar at VU, on the Objectivists; the seminar came to appreciate Rakosi and Niedecker very much, he noted, but decided that Oppen’s obliquities were often not worth the effort (!). (Zukofsky, I observed, was entirely omitted from the syllabus, as untangling him – according to Davie – would have dominated the semester – hmmm.)

My favorite of Davie’s critical forays? A Gathered Church: The Literature of the English Dissenting Interest 1700-1930 (RKP, 1978).
Diogenes of Sinope (404 – 323 or 314 BCE):
Of what use is a philosopher who doesn’t hurt anybody’s feelings?

A. I am Alexander the Great.
B. I am Diogenes, the dog.
A. The dog?
B. I nuzzle the kind, bark at the greedy, and bite louts.
A. What can I do for you?
B. Stand out of my light.

In the rich man’s house there is no place to spit but in his face.

I’ve seen Plato’s cups and table, but not his cupness and tableness.

I pissed on the man who called me a dog. Why was he so surprised?

Beggars get handouts before philosophers because people have some idea of what it’s like to be blind and lame.

I threw my cup away when I saw a child drinking from his hands at the trough.

(trans. Guy Davenport)

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Ruskin at the Theatre, Adorno in Love, Burgess in His Cups

“We, of the so-called ‘educated’ classes, who take it upon us to be the better and upper part of the world, cannot possibly understand our relations to the rest better than we may where actual life may be seen in front of its Shakespearean image, from the stalls of a theatre. I never stand up to rest myself, and look around the house, without renewal of wonder how the crowd in the pit, and shilling gallery, allow us of the boxes and stalls to keep our places!” –Fors Clavigera, Letter LXI
Has no-one ever compiled a list of Adorno’s best one-liners?:
•Intelligence is a moral category.

•No emancipation without that of society.

•True thoughts are those alone which do not understand themselves.

And is there an essay out there on Adorno as philosopher of love?:
•Love is the power to see similarity in the dissimilar.

•Love you will find only where you may show yourself weak without provoking strength.

•If love in society is to represent a better one, it cannot do so as a peaceful enclave, but only by conscious opposition. This, however, demands precisely the element of voluntariness that the bourgeois, for whom love can never be natural enough, forbid it. Loving means not letting immediacy wither under the omnipresent weight of mediation and economics, and in such fidelity it becomes itself mediated, as a stubborn counterpressure. He alone loves who has the strength to hold fast to love…
The love, however, which in the guise of unreflected spontaneity and proud of its alleged integrity, relies exclusively on what it takes to be the voice of the heart, and runs away as soon as it no longer thinks it can hear that voice, is in this supreme independence precisely the tool of society. Passive without knowing it, it registers whatever numbers come out in the roulette of interests. In betraying the loved one it betrays itself. The fidelity exacted by society is a means to unfreedom, but only through fidelity can freedom achieve insubordination to society’s command.
(all from Minima Moralia)
When I was a pup I must have read forty or fifty Anthony Burgess novels, and always wondered what fuelled his ceaseless productivity. Now, thanks to the "NB" column of the 28 October TLS, I know: a cocktail of his own invention, known as “Hangman’s Blood”:
Into a pint beer-glass doubles of the following are poured: gin, whisky, rum, port, and brandy. A small bottle of stout is added, and the whole topped up with champagne. It induces a somehow metaphysical elation, and rarely leaves a hangover.
If you’re in South Florida, join me for one; I’ll find the designated driver.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Helpless in the Face of Bureaucracy

I've not read much Jürgen Habermas, having stuck in my mind somehow one friend's parody of him as a middling trimmer – [in ridiculous Dr Strangelove accent] "ah, yes, but vun must neffer be too extreme is zeez matters..." – but Steve Evans's musings last month on Third Factory have sent me to Philosophical Discourse of Modernity anew. I'm delighted by the big bit Steve quotes of an interview with Habermas, which deserves quoting again:
Adorno was a genius, I say that without a hint of ambiguity. In the case of Horkheimer or Marcuse, with whom, by the way, I had a less complicated and, if you like, more intimate relationship, no one would have ever thought of saying such a thing. Adorno had an immediacy of awareness, a spontaneity of thought, and a power of formulation which I have never encountered before or since. One could not observe the process of development of Adorno's thoughts: they issued from him complete—he was a virtuoso in that respect. Also, he was simply not able to drop below his own level; he could not escape the strain of his own thinking for a moment. Adorno did not have the common touch, it was impossible for him, in an altogether painful way, to be commonplace. But at the same time, in his case the elevated demands and the avant-garde claims were without the purely stilted and auratic features which are familiar from the school of Stefan George. If there was a pathos, it was the pathos of negativism—and this need not stand in contradiction to fundamentally egalitarian convictions. Adorno remained anti-elitist despite all his striking refinement. Furthermore, he was also a genius in the sense that he had preserved certain childlike characteristics—both the precocity and the dependency of those who have not yet grown up; when faced with institutions and bureaucratic procedures he was peculiarly helpless.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

And Who Is Left to Argue With?

Still trawling my way thru Ruskin’s Fors Clavigera, now in the midst of Letter LXVII. Perhaps the ideal way to read Fors is as its first readers did, one letter per month – something dependable, to be looked forward to on a regular basis, like the new issue of Guitar World or the latest John Ashbery collection. JR writes like an angel, in long, ironically spiralling periods whose close descends upon you with the force of a piledriver. He is the unacknowledged legislator of the environmental movement: where Thoreau saw a train puffing its way past Walden Pond, Ruskin lived in the homeland of Marx’s industrializing Capital, looked out his windows to see the green & pleasant land wrapt in a poisonous black cloud of factory effluent.

There is much in Ruskin that is impossible to abide: his all-too-absolute self-assurance; his descents into the twee and cute; his vision of radical social order and subordination, which at times makes Dr Johnson seem like a liberal. But then, on almost every page, is some passage whose strength of style & rhetoric burns away whatever is false in it:
There are a few, a very few persons born in each generation, whose words are worth hearing; whose art is worth seeing. These born few will preach, or sing, or paint, in spite of you; they will starve like grasshoppers, rather than stop singing; and even if you don’t choose to listen, it is charitable to throw them some crumbs to keep them alive. But the people who take to writing or painting as a means of livelihood, because they think it genteel, are just by so much more contemptible than common beggars, in that they are noisy and offensive beggars.
Whatever in literature, art, or religion, is done for money, is poisonous itself; and double deadly, in preventing the hearing and seeing of the noble literature and art which have been done for love and truth. If people cannot make their bread by honest labour, let them at least make no noise about the streets; but hold their tongues, and hold out their idle hands humbly; and they shall be fed kindly.
But we have no Ruskin, no Arnold, no conservative cultural critics whose strength of thought and expression is such that they are always worth listening to, even if dead wrong. The recent New Yorker profile of Peter Viereck reminded me that such an animal once existed. His place has been taken by a vaudeville of pharasaical money-launderers & pseudo-intellectual buffoons: the sepulchral James Dobson, his eminently reasonable voice counselling us to beat our 18-month-olds with wooden spoons; the bloated & wobbly Bill Bennett, dispensing nostrums about “virtue” from behind the handle of a slot machine; the pasteboard grandpa Pat Robertson, praying death & destruction upon the Dauphin’s enemies, his face screwed up for all the world like that of a man at difficult stool.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

After the Great Wind

The blog has been dark for the last two weeks, as has our house: Hurricane Wilma cut power to 2/3 of a million people in Palm Beach County alone, and our power was not restored until late last night. The photo shows the view from our front door, immediately post-Wilma. Some other post-storm notes:

28 October
So I’m still here; as is the house and the family. I cannot say the same for the trees. Hurricane Wilma was a brief, thankfully self-contained, and absolutely terrifying storm. The leading edge was about 2 1/2 hours of drenching rains and threatening winds. The eye was 45 minutes of relative calm; my neighbors walked their dogs, I stepped outside for a smoke. The trailing edge was apocalyptic: an hour and a half of 100+ mph winds (one neighbor claims a tornado touched down on his lawn) blowing down fences and shredding trees. I watched from an upstairs window as limb after limb – 12-, 18-inch limbs – shivered down onto the driveway. Watched, that is, until J hailed me from downstairs that the front door was giving way to the wind. A double door, it was bowing inwards with every gust. Like a character in a Chuck Jones cartoon, I piled whatever was at hand against the doors – a box full of mailorder catalogues, a sealed carton of books (thank god that one didn’t sell better!), a cute little Peavey Backstage 30 guitar amplifier – and lashed the doorhandles together with a stray computer power cable. The chimney – none too sturdy at the best of times – was groaning like my hypochondriac uncle with every gust, and water came out of the fireplace in a steady stream. The sound of treelimbs breaking was a steady popping from outside.

The hurricane’s wake has brought a lovely cold front: the weather now is approximately like Ithaca in May: and a good thing, since we haven’t had electricity since Monday. Reading has been desultory, mostly a break from the back-straining work of cleanup: finished Moby-Dick the other day, and embarked on the umpteenth reading of Ulysses. I am fast becoming the Julia Child of the propane grill: a first-rate vindaloo the other day (but alas no rice), a pretty decent pot-roast last night. This will be the end of complex meals, however, since we cleaned out the refrigerator today.

29 October
The lights went on tonight for perhaps an hour, after exactly 5 1/2 days of no electricity. Then, with the distant explosion of a transformer blowing, they went out again. Sigh. I don’t think I’ve experienced anything quite so disappointing since the 2004 general election. Sad how dependent one is on electricity, yet how primitive the power grid remains.

Our street was blocked by tree limbs after the storm, which subsided at about 1.30. By 2 pm, a chap driving a bulldozer appeared and opened it up. Not for us – it turns out the South African bazillionaire down the street, who’s himself in the construction business, had summoned laqueys to help get a gigantic ficus off the roof of his garage – garages, I should say. (The same fellow for whom a propane tanker truck shows up every few days to refill the tank of his generator. Who cares about power outages? We can hike down the street and watch his plasma screen TV through the front picture windows. When we aren’t making instant coffee on the burner of a camp stove, that is.)

Our driveway was another matter. About an hour later, an angel showed up in the form of another neighbor, a hulking brute of a fellow (6’ 1” or so, probably 275 lbs, and most of that muscle, ponytail, extraordinarily elaborate tattoos) who’s rumored to be an ex-wrestler and the manager of a “gentlemen’s club.” His hobby, it seems, is to roam the neighborhood wielding a chainsaw and disposing of the most immediately troublesome silvan disasters. (We saw him the next day: no chainsaw this time, just a rake, and in front of his own house: “I had a little accident,” he said, holding up a bandaged hand, “only about 110 stitches.”)

31 October
Ulysses, in the 1986 “Corrected” edition, is one of the most heavily marked books in my library, every page scored with the traces of multiple readings – underlinings, marginal strikes, notes in a variety of inks and even in a chronological progression of my own handwritings. It’s only one of a handful of my books thus marked: “A”, Prepositions, Bottom: on Shakespeare, The Cantos, Eliot’s Poetry and Plays, Tender Buttons, the Riverside Shakespeare, etc. Every Joycean I know has a similarly marked Ulysses (usually far more heavily than mine); the chap who taught my JJ seminar in grad school had a copy held together with rubber bands.

A scriptural reading, like the way a Jewish congregation will make its way through Torah on an annual basis, or the church in which I was raised would have public readings of five or ten verses apiece by the young boys of the congregation, making its way through the entire Bible over I guess a decade or two. A constantly re-read book, one which one is always at some point of making one’s way through. No substitute for that “by heart” knowledge of a book. With every reading the pages become softer, the corners more rounded – the dust jacket wears away a bit more (or, if it’s a paperback, the cover gets more and more worn – my old blue California paperback “A” used to have a dent in the cover where I’d thrown it across the room in frustration one time, but I can no longer find the specific spot, the volumes become so beaten up).

2 November
10th day of the blackout. I’m sitting on the back patio enjoying the last hours of juice from a charge maybe 2 weeks ago on the iPod, trying to drown out the constant rumble of the neighbors’ gas-powered generators. Gang of Four, Entertainment: a fine record, but bits of it really do sound dated twenty-odd years on (musically, that is). Right before the storm, I picked up 4 Mekons discs and ripped them onto the iPod, adding to the however many Mekons albums already there. I’ve listened to all of those previously ripped records, repeatedly, and have been listening to them for some time – but I can’t say I’ve ingested them the same way I did groups and oeuvres when I was in my teens. Listening to Bad Group X or Bad Group Y or Richard Thompson or John Cale back then, I could at any point identify the point in the band or artist’s history when the track was made, could chart the musicians’ evolving style, their maturing or senescence. I can’t do that now with a band like the Mekons, which I’ve gotten into over the last decade. It’s simply a matter of time: I just can’t devote the same amount of time to concentrated listening, to following along with the liner notes and lyric sheets. I guess it’s a kind of concentration I miss, tho at the same time I’m well aware that I probably have a far wider range of interests and commitments than I did back then.

3 November
Getting sick of takeout and changing D batteries out of the lanterns and flashlights. And the temperature’s climbing again, along with the humidity. Homicidal fantasies flash thru my mind, and panic attacks about the work that wants to be done on my stark-dead laptop (the battery’s only holding a charge for about an hour these days). Tired of cold shaves, tepid drinking water, takeout food.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

dispatch from the Sunshine State

About two-thirds thru putting up the shutters, and I've got to take a break. It's a warm, all-too-sunny day, and our house has all too many windows. Your standard Florida hurricane shutters are corrugated aluminum, cut to fit over windows. You heft them out of whatever hidey-hole they've been stored in and lay them over preset bolts, then fasten with wingnuts. A wingnut driver on the power drill is a necessity. My right hand is still vibrating.

Another reason (aside from the hurricanes) that I love Florida.

En Attendant...

Recently read:

Damon Krukowski, 5000 Musical Terms (chapbook, Burning Deck, 1995). Damon Krukowski’s a cult-level rock star (drummer for Galaxie 500 and half of Damon and Naomi, with Naomi Yang). He’s also a pretty darned good poet. (Entirely irrelevantly, I gather he was as well a high school classmate of my wife’s.) 5000 Music Terms gathers 17 mostly long-lined, low-keyed poems that make wonderful use of found language and previous texts, and that maintain a scrupulous impersonality. An impersonal late Ashbery, perhaps. Or the poems remind me – this might be far-fetched – of Ronald Johnson’s prose pieces (why doesn’t someone collect them?), minus the endearing flights.

John Latta, Breeze (U of Notre Dame P, 2003). Those who follow John Latta’s Rue Hazard (and followed his Hotel Point) will not be surprised by the voice of the poems in Breeze: intelligent; whimsical; intoxicated with the sounds and shapes of words (one of the most fascinating formal devices here is sheer lexical repetition, the same word or phrase reappearing from two, three, or twenty lines before); given to rumination in the best sense, where the cud brought up from the second or fifteenth stomach has become something shiningly different from the window-scene ingested at the poem’s head. Like Krukowski, Latta refuses to abandon or undermine syntax. At all times, these poems’ sentences have the stately pseudo-logic of Stevens’s great mediations; at their best, they weave laceworks like Mallarmé sonnets.
“Heaven have mercy on us all – Presbyterians and Pagans alike – for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending.”
Moby-Dick, Chapter 17: The Ramadan

“He was but shabbily apparelled in faded jacket and patched trowsers; a rag of a black handkerchief investing his neck. A confluent small-pox had in all directions flowed over his face, and left it like the complicated ribbed bed of a torrent, when the rushing waters have been dried up.”
–Chapter 19: The Prophet

Spending inordinate amounts of time with the National Hurricane Center’s and the Weather Channel’s websites, though I find it hard to take a storm named “Wilma” seriously enough. (Seen on the web, a signboard: “Go Back to Bedrock!”) The shutters, a half-ton of corrugated aluminum, go up tomorrow afternoon. I have fantasies of being the sole Palm Beach County casualty of the storm, the fellow who clipped off a brace of toes installing his storm shutters…

Friday, October 21, 2005

Bad Writing in High Places

I suppose everybody's already read David Brooks's excoriation of Harriet Miers's prose style in the Times,* but it's hard to resist quoting those sentences, wonderful clouds of meaningless abstraction and ham-fisted nominalization, once again:
More and more, the intractable problems in our society have one answer: broad-based intolerance of unacceptable conditions and a commitment by many to fix problems.

We must end collective acceptance of inappropriate conduct and increase education in professionalism.

When consensus of diverse leadership can be achieved on issues of importance, the greatest impact can be achieved.

An organization must also implement programs to fulfill strategies established through its goals and mission. Methods for evaluation of these strategies are a necessity. With the framework of mission, goals, strategies, programs, and methods for evaluation in place, a meaningful budgeting process can begin.

We have to understand and appreciate that achieving justice for all is in jeopardy before a call to arms to assist in obtaining support for the justice system will be effective. Achieving the necessary understanding and appreciation of why the challenge is so important, we can then turn to the task of providing the much needed support.
Two thoughts:
1) Miers never studied Latin.
2) I've seen more energetic prose in education textbooks – & that's scary.

*I'm linking a reprint, since the Times has recently started charging for all their best editorials.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Peri Bathous

or, the Art of Sinking in Poetry (part i of an endless series). Sometimes you happen upon a poem whose basic metaphorical premise is just so badly misjudged that it's almost unbelievable. Case in point: "Hands," by Donald Finkel (not to be confused with Norman Finkelstein):
The poem makes truth a little more disturbing,
like a good bra, lifts it and holds it out
in both hands. (In some of the flashier stores
there's a model with the hands stitched on, in red or black.)

Lately the world you wed, for want of such hands,
sags in the bed beside you like a tired wife.
For want of such hands, the face of the moon is bored,
the tree does not stretch and yearn, nor the groin tighten.

Devious or frank, in any case,
the poem is calculated to arouse.
Lean back and let its hands play freely on you:
there comes a moment, lifted and aroused,
when the two of you are equally beautiful.

Oh, That Again: Exogamous Reading

Jonathan Mayhew, a bit over a week ago, put up a handy-dandy quiz (in response to a perfectly reasonable request by Laurel Snyder) that, much like that quiz-thingies you can post to fill up dead space on your blog (“Which Medieval Saint Are YOU?”), can tell you instantly whether you’re School Of Quietude or Post-Avant. It’s pretty simple: Do you prefer
Norman Dubie, C.K. Williams, Donald Hall, Mary Oliver, Sandra Gilbert, James Dickey, Howard Moss, Robert Pinsky, Norman Finkelstein, Charles Wright, Charles Simic...


Clark Coolidge, Susan Howe, Tony Towle, Bernadette Mayer, Ronald Johnson, Jess Mynes, Nada Gordon, Lisa Jarnot...

Would you rather inherit a complete set of Sulfur or Ploughshares ?

(My friend Norman Finkelstein, champion of the Olson-Duncan-Johnson line, would have a cow… or maybe Jonathan meant the other Norman F?) By this quiz, I guess I fall into the “post-avant” crowd; but I can see tweaking the first list ever so slightly (how about James Merrill, Anthony Hecht, Harvey Shapiro, Allen Grossman, Jackie Kay, Amy Gerstler, etc.) so that I’d become a full-fledged “eclectic.”

Now, it’s easy enough to poke holes in Jonathan’s quiz – lots of his commentators did, & he himself seems to have had some 2nd thoughts. & I have a lot of sympathy with Kevin André Elliott’s sharp little comment in “Trying to Build a Poetics,” where he puts “The School of Quietude vs. the Avant-Garde (as well as all of the various permutations of this dichotomy--it's so tired)” numero uno among the things he’d like to see vanish from poetry and poetics discussions.

But the dichotomy keeps coming back in one form or another, and not just on Ron Silliman’s consistently anti-quietudinous blog. It’s the latest form of the hoary old “avant-garde / mainstream” distinction that kept Poe, Pound, Williams etc. fuelled with creative energy and self-righteousness. And of course its real genealogy goes all the way back to John Calvin (and Romans), with the whole notion of the “elect” and the “reprobate” who may be sitting together in the same kirk today, but whom the Lord will separate once and for all come the Day of Judgement.

For a moment, let’s set aside both literary politics, the whole business of prizes and publishing series and university appointments and so forth; and let’s also set aside the very real aesthetic differences among poets. I take it as axiomatic that Mina Loy ≠ Edna St. Vincent Millay, Louis Zukofsky ≠ Stanley Kunitz, Brad Leithauser ≠ Charles Bernstein, etc., and that those not-equal-signs are significant. But even if they weren’t, I suspect one factor working within the dichotomizing of the field within our reading is the sheer volume of poetry out there, even within a single aesthetic stance. Whether you say, “I’ll only read formally regular, readily comprehensible verse that appeals to a middle-class, fairly well educated but complacent sensibility” or “I’ll only read absolutely opaque work that mounts implicit critiques against late capitalism” or “I’ll only read poems that include images of water,” you still have more poems and collections of poems being published every year than can possibly be read (by one person, holding a job – much less with a family etc.). So divisions like SoQ/PA are enormously useful for the rather commonplace reason that they reduce the time one needs to spend shopping – er, reading – in order to “keep up.”

For my own part I try to read at least one, sometimes two or more, newish books of poetry every week, but in no way do I feel that I’m managing to keep my finger on the pulse of contemporary writing, especially given the pace at which new work emerges.* (I won’t dwell on the economics of this, save to say that given the absolute lack of decent library facilities down here, if I weren’t a really shameless consumer I wouldn’t be able to do nearly as much as I do – when’s that “gift economy” going to kick in?) And that’s only considering writing in modes that I find most immediately congenial. In a note Eliot Weinberger published in Sulfur back in 1981 (collected in a book which turns out to be, of course, inevitably, stacked under a dozen other books and about 40 CDs), he laments “the elimination of exogamous reading. It has become so hectic in one’s own longhouse that one rarely has the time or stamina for visits to the other clans.” Amen. I suspect most of my comrades in the alt-poetry world couldn’t tell James Wright from Franz Wright, Stanley Moss from Stanley Kunitz, Louise Glück from Louis Simpson.

But like Weinberger, I think it’s important that one devote some moiety of one’s reading time to poets one doesn’t find immediately congenial: not so much to “know the enemy” or to embody some kind of rare “eclecticism,” as to remain open to pleasures that one might not otherwise suspect. I know no-one writing in the various P-A modes today who can graph ethical and spiritual ambiguity as accurately as Geoffrey Hill, and however tiresome the heirs of Celan and Oppen might find her chattiness (I know I do very often), there’s occasionally something wonderfully bracing and refreshing about Jacqueline Osherow’s conjuncture of formal traditionalism and casual banter. Try them; maybe something will click with you as well.

*Some wonderful reflections on this by both Steve Evans and Nathaniel Tarn, recounted by Evans in The Poker 6, recently (gratefully) received.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


Guy Davenport says somewhere that one of the pleasures of being an academic is getting to reread good books lots of times. Just finished The Sound and the Fury for maybe the half-dozenth or eighth time. A book so good it makes me feel dirty just to talk about it sometimes.
I could hear Queenie’s feet and the bright shapes went smooth and steady on both sides, the shadows of them flowing across Queenie’s back. They went on like the bright tops of wheels. Then those on one side stopped at the tall white post where the soldier was. But on the other side they went on smooth and steady, but a little slower.
The broken flower drooped over Ben’s fist and his eyes were empty and blue and serene again as cornice and façade flowed smoothly once more from left to right, post and tree, window and doorway and signboard each in its ordered place.

But Faulkner (that’s Fawk-nuh, not Faullk-nurr, you damned carpetbaggers!) maybe tries too hard with that ending, wants to pull his whole chaos of idiocy, incest, despair, cruelty and freedom into too neat & shapely a well-wrought urn. Or is it the order of entropy, the nothingness into which all of the pain of the Compsons has finally settled?
I assigned the same Vintage edition I’ve taught from for 10 years now – perhaps too lazy to transfer my notes and markings – and then felt guilty that I hadn’t given them the Norton Critical Edition. But by golly, the Norton for all its interpretive essays and background documents has almost no notes to the actual text. Doesn’t even tell you what a Bluegum is, or who “Agnes Mabel Becky” are. (“Bluegum” = a black conjurer with a fatal bite; “Agnes Mabel Becky” = the “merry widows” pictured on the containers for Merry Widow brand condoms.)
Yul Brynner (with hair) played brother Jason in the movie, which I remember only vaguely from a single late-night tv viewing long ago.
A week in the sun and my gills are still faintly bluish.
Appendix to the Pinter poem, which sparked some spirited discussion on Say Something Wonderful: “But Orcs and Trolls spoke as they would, without love of words or things; and their language was actually more degraded and filthy than I have shown it. I do not suppose that any will wish for a closer rendering, though models are easy to find. Much the same sort of talk can still be heard among the orc-minded; dreary and repetitive with hatred and contempt, too long removed from good to retain even verbal vigour, save in the ears of those to whom only the squalid sounds good.” –Tolkien, Appendix F to Lord of the Rings

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Between 3.50 and 4.30 this afternoon I got a cluster of spam* e-mails – more precisely, the same spam e-mail, from fifteen different addresses. Not particularly a banner event, but I remain amused at the names generated for the senders, most of them contenders for the Rufus T. Firefly Award for Absurd Nomenclature. Dig:
Bart S. Admitting
Methanol H. Bulgiest
Forerunner V. Latency
Dragonfly F. Courier
Toilets C. Deluge
Rumors K. Forsaking
Lockheed S. Outlasts
Fowl S. Mizzen
Containers D. Guerra
Marsha G. Braking
Viennese F. Ocarina
Baal K. Councils
Discontinue I. Perceive
Linguistics U. Genaro
Mollification U. Selvage

*The closer I look, the odder they seem. Each email claims, on behalf of the Kavkaz Center (which calls itself a news agency serving Chechnya, the Caucausus, and the Islamic world, but which actually seems to be a Chechyn separatist mouthpiece), that Russian special services are sending out spam under Kavkaz's name: an odd, Borgesian spam message, no?

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Notes & Noted

For Eric, in re/ annotating: Fritz Senn, finest Joyce critic alive, writes in an 15-page (!)essay on the epigraph to Portrait:
Commentaries are designed to provide welcome remedies. They tend to dispel ignorance with concise strokes, and with the attendant danger of wholesale skipping. To approach Joyce we may all need notes, at some stage. Notes (by the way, the exact opposite of "ignotas") unfortunately have to parcel out instant information which, when in print, can be taken for relevant truth. By their nature, notes are goal- and object-oriented, not toward the inquisitive endeavor (it's their aim to shortcut this). In our comprehensive wisdom we may underrate the motive force of ignorance (of the Socratic kind). If Odysseus had set out from Troy with a copy of The Mediterranean on Five Drachmas a Day he would have saved himself enormous trouble, but the Odyssey would have become a much more tedious epic or, more likely, none at all. Commentators also like to think that a final, clinching gloss supersedes all the previous trials and errors when the best glosses, actually, can hardly be anything else.
On the other hand, in re/ your Harold Pinter comment: No, of course Pinter's "American Football" was probably not a big "hit" in Kuwait, nor in Washington, Tel Aviv, or the Royal Court of Saud. Spenser, I suppose, whom Simon Shepherd calls "a penpusher in the service of imperialism," could have written a victory ode that would have gone down better at the courts and Hilton lobbies of the "liberators" and liberated. And I imagine you & I agree that the best political poems – not necessarily the most stirring – are deeply shot thru with ambiguities and misgivings: my own favorite is Marvell's "Horatian Ode" to Oliver Cromwell. Which was not a big hit for the Drogheda survivors, either. But one does not have to concur with Pinter's politics – his opposition to NATO's Kossovo intervention is a notorious example – even with his stance on the (first) Gulf War, to see that what he assaults so energetically in "American Football" – American triumphalism, American arrogance, the American cult of physicality and violence, the combination of sexuality and physical aggression that too often defines American masculinity, etc. – richly deserves energetic assault.
Recently read:

Katy Lederer, Music, No Staves (Potes & Poets, 1998): A very spare, very beautiful, & quite affecting chapbook; its poetic is announced midway thru: "MONK MONK / MONK MONK" – Thelonious Monk, I take it, his awkward elegant stutters & repetitions, above all the speaking silences of his music, reproduced in the pregnant & echoing blank space of Lederer's pages. Cf. John Taggart's "Monk" in Loop (Sun & Moon, 1991).

Jena Osman, An Essay in Asterisks (Roof, 2005): 12 or 13 years ago a friend fingered Osman to me as one of the major "players" of her generation. She was then, and she is even moreso now. A magnificent, dense, complex, playful book. Osman seems determined to writng every bit of torque possible out of a menagerie of source texts, pressing language that ranges from the lyrical (Dickinson) to the flatly prosaic (Supreme Court documents, the natterings of Rumsfeld & co.) through machines of unlikely transformation, until there emerges something indeed rich & strange.

Pascal Quignard, Sarx (trans. Keith Waldrop, Burning Deck, 1997): A poetic essay, brutal and learned, on sarcasm: "The Greek verb sarkazein: 'to bite into the flesh.' / From sarx, flesh. Sarkasmos, sarcasmus: to bit into the flesh." In a chilly & calculated modernist idiom, Quignard marshalls formidable classical chops (including a truly stomach-turning passage from Herodotus) to a meditation on violence & language.
Maybe this should be The Season of The Chapbook, ie the season I read through some of the masses that have gone unread on my shelves (but not yours, no not yours...).

Harold Pinter, "American Football"

Interesting right-wing backlash to the Pinter Nobel, as detailed here. I don't care much for his poetry, but I like this:

American Football

(A Reflection upon the Gulf War)

It works.
We blew the shit out of them.

We blew the shit right back up their own ass
And out their fucking ears.

It works.
We blew the shit out of them.
They suffocated in their own shit!

Praise the Lord for all good things.

We blew them into fucking shit.
They are eating it.

Praise the Lord for all good things.

We blew their balls into shards of dust,
Into shards of fucking dust.

We did it.

Now I want you to come over here and kiss me on the mouth.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Annotation and Its Discontents ii

(unfortunately pedagogical)
Do I trust Google? Up in Tuscaloosa Jeremy Hawkins has been pondering the relationship of readers’ googling (verb in lower-case) knotty places in the poems they read, & more conventional forms of print annotation. (Interestingly, Jeff Twitchell-Waas’s notes that much of the work for “sourcing” Zukofsky displayed so fruitfully on his Z-Site – tell all your friends, ring the bells, etc. – involved no more than googling phrases.) I suppose I’m of many minds, & the direction in which my thinking leans has much to do with which of my hats I’m wearing at any given moment – the professor’s mortarboard, the poet’s fedora, the scholar-biographer’s skullcap, the critic’s big paper dunce-cap, etc. And all of this is tangled up with the issue of annotation I skated by the other day, & the notion of “contingency” that Bob Archambeau has been learnedly worrying. (And even, I guess, questions of “difficulty” & accessibility that were kicked around months ago, but which seem to reappear in the first 4 weeks of every semester I teach.)

•I do not encourage my students to rely on Google as a research tool; they rely on it anyway, because it is easy, and because they – like their teacher – are often over-programmed, overburdened, or simply lazy.

•Searching Google for a piece of information is rather like trying to find the one right book in a poorly-organized but massive second-hand bookstore, where if you’re looking for something on (say) Kaballah, you’re more likely to find a brochure from the Kaballah Centre™ than one of Gershom Scholem’s magisterial studies.

•Annotations of any sort are indeed often a hindrance to a 1st reading of a poem. I tackled Maximus years ago with Butterick’s Guide open on the table beside it – & ended up shutting Butterick after 20 or 30 pages: it was simply too great an impediment to a continuous experience of the poem.

•There are moments, however, when my reading experience – even a first reading – is simply stopped dead by an unexplained but clearly crucial reference. (Happens about 5 times per page with recent Geoffrey Hill.) In those case, when I need just enough to get on with it, Google is usually a fair substitute for editorial annotation.

•The web as searched by Google, however, is a randomly organized, wildly repetitive mass of data whose reliability varies from the rock-solid to entirely nil. The advantage of editorial annotation, whether at the foot of the page in a Norton Anthology or in a self-contained volume like Butterick on Olson or Terrell on Pound, lies in the fact that the author has compiled her or his annotations with that particular poem in mind. Annotating on the fly with Google is often the Forsterian “Only connect” gone mad, metastasized.

•Which doesn’t mean that “scholarly” annotations are particularly trustworthy, either. (I’ve found at least two errors/inaccuracies in the notes Frank Kermode provides for the Penguin Waste Land, and this from a scholar the latch of whose sandals I’m not worthy to do up.) One of the dazzlements of Lawrence Rainey’s Ezra Pound and the Monument of Culture: Text, History, and the Malatesta Cantos (U Chicago, 1991) is that it shows precisely how unreliable – in certain ideologically crucial ways – Terrell’s Companion to the Cantos is. Terrell presents the historical referents behind Pound’s references as tho they were absolute and immutable historical fact, rather than controversial events and figures, mediated repeatedly by 1) the often highly biased sources upon which Pound relied and 2) Pound’s own often highly biased presentation of them. So what Terrell gives us, in the guise of the bedrock, real-life backstory to the poem, is often actually no more or less than Pound’s own construction of that backstory.

•When it comes to real scholarship – and that kind of work is still being done, and still deserves doing – and, for that matter, when it comes to a true, intimate knowledge of a poet’s work, there is ultimately no substitute for making one’s way thru the same things that the poet her- or himself read. Note: I am not speaking of useful criticism, or of a useful working knowledge of a poet’s techniques. What I’m speaking of, sadly enough, is a kind of knowledge – something like the anthropologist’s “thick description” – that it’s probably only possible to acquire of a handful of poets over a lifetime. At some point in one’s life, one has to decide whether one is – in Isaiah Berlin’s terms – a “hedgehog” or a “fox.”
Oh but isn’t that depressing. I’ve shaved – entirely, cleanly – for the first time in maybe half a decade. It gives me a decided non-rakish look, all the sexual magnetism of middle-aged Adorno – or perhaps Elmer Fudd.
“…I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.” –J. R. R. Tolkien, Foreword to 2nd ed. of Lord of the Rings

Thursday, October 13, 2005


A slow time for blogging, mostly for reasons similar to what Eric (briefly poking his head up) details here.
A very readable new interview with Ron S., in which doesn't quite manage to avoid that John Housman tone... But Ron, please – "Alexander Pope, who may deploy all the exoskeletal features of verse, but whose tongue is prose indeed..." You are channelling T. S. Eliot here, rather than reading Pope.
RS: "The key figure in the evolution of the Bay Area scene proved to be Kenneth Rexroth, in large part because he actively sought out that role. Before he arrived, the Bay Area literary community had consisted of the likes of Ina Coolbrith, George Sterling – who I think passed away the week Rexroth arrived – and Witter Bynner, who had the first creative writing professorship at Berkeley, but had already left for the Southwest. By the time the scene began to expand at the end of the Second World War, it was Rexroth’s venue." Another reminder that I gotta read Rexroth one of these days.
John Latta in a new guise: reviewer of poetry readings. And in this case (Jeff Clark & Andrew Joron), JL's polished ironies work splendidly.
The real Nobel Prize in Literature goes to Harold Pinter. Literature Nobels for me come in two flavors: You've Gotta Be Kidding, & I Guess I Can Live With That. This one is the latter, though I'm still waiting for Susan Howe's trip to Stockholm.