Friday, March 31, 2006


Harry Gilonis notes that most of the obituaries for Ian Hamilton Finlay were "crass" or "even in a veiled way vindictive," but points out this notable exception by Tom Lubbock in The Independent.
The Cultural Society website has a wonderful new update online (click on "texts"), including poems by Pam Rehm, Peter O'Leary, Joel Bettridge, Michael Heller, Norman Finkelstein, Derek Coyle, Graham Foust, and Sam Ward. Also my own oblique homage to the master of low-budget downtown shock-porn, Richard Kern.
Peter O'Leary, Depth Theology (U of Georgia P, 2006)
Susan Gevirtz, Black Box Cutaway (Kelsey St., 1999)
Susan Gevirtz, Hourglass Transcripts (Burning Deck, 2001)
James K. Lyon, Paul Celan and Martin Heidegger: An Unresolved Conversation, 1951-1970 (Johns Hopkins UP, 2006)
Finished Müller-Doohm's Adorno biography, with reluctance – the perennial problem with biographies is that one always knows how they will end. This from Adorno to Helmut Heißenbüttel in 1968, responding to attacks on how he had handled Walter Benjamin's legacy:
While on the one hand I wanted to defend Benjamin's metaphysical impulses against himself, I wished also to defend dialectical materialism against him, since he seemed to me to have a mistaken idea of it. And this misunderstanding was not just his alone, but was shared by Brecht. I fancy that I have a very precise knowledge of Marx, as indeed you implicitly concede. This means that I could not fail to see that, while Benjamin felt committed to Marxism, he had missed the point of the essential contents of Marxist theory. God knows how highly I think of Brecht, but his ignorance of Marxism ... was indescribable. Neither had made a serious study of Marx, but ... they had swallowed him like a pill. This was what struck me as being so dubious; their view of Marx was heteronomous and irrational, in contrast to materialist dialectics as a theory.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Terror Is the Piety of the Revolution

Ian Hamilton Finlay, 1925 – 2006.

What to call Finlay? Poet, Concrete poet, conceptual artist, gardener? Conservative? Revolutionary? Radical? Fascist? He posed some of the problems of the last century as eloquently and starkly as any poet or artist of our moment.

I never met Finlay, & my first-hand encounters with his work were few – a sundial in downtown Biggar, the town where MacDiarmid spent his declining years; a broken stone sculpture of the Saint-Just aphorism, "The Present Order is the Disorder of the Future" (in Italian), at the Cheekwood Gardens in Nashville – but his work has obsessed me as much as that of any poet alive.

Jonathan Williams made much of the early Finlay's fondness for the "wee" and homespun. Such fondness could be put to the service of deflation, however, as in the Fifth "Orkney Lyric," "Mansie Considers the Sea in th Manner of Hugh MacDiarmid":
The sea, I think, is lazy,
It just obeys the moon
–All the same I remember what Engels said:
'Freedom is the consciousness of necessity'.
His Poor.Old.Tired.Horse. was the most important journal of concrete poetry in the English-speaking world, his Little Sparta the most important poet's garden since Alexander Pope's. It is going too far to call Little Sparta, as the writer for the Times does, a "shrine to pacifism," for early & late Finlay evinced a grim fascination with the violence inherent to revolution, the echoes of pre-Sokratic imagery in modern weaponry. Saint-Just – Barrère: "He spoke like an axe" – was Finlay's patron saint; Apollo his deity, transformed to "Apollon Terroriste"; the aircraft carrier was, in Empedokles' words, "The Divided Meadows of Aphrodite."


This past week – a fiendishly busy one – left me no time to comment on the flurry of posts and comments in response to Josh Corey's really rather sweet musings on the possibility of a "poets' union," and on the rather cross-purposed fusillade of pedagogical suggestions from the resuscitated Eric Selinger. But I'd like to, and I will.
Reading, still, Stefan Müller-Doohm's Adorno: A Biography; right about up to the point when yours truly was born in Frankfurt am Main, who knows how many streets away from Teddie's haunts at the Institute. I don't find my advent listed in the index, however.

And (again) Anne Carson, Economy of the Unlost (Reading Simonides of Keos with Paul Celan) (Princeton UP, 1999). My first impressions hold: beautifully written, but the insights come a bit too "easy" at times. And far more persuasive on Simonides than Celan; too often a lengthy bit on S. will be followed by two or three pages of oblique impressions of P.C.

Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash; Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution (a book ransacked for my own Anarchy, but never read straight thru).

Watching: Lots of Hitchock: Topaz, Torn Curtain, Marnie (astonishing, that last).

Teaching the girls to dance to the Mekons.
I've just put to bed – finally – a Parnassus piece on the redoubtable neo-modernist John Matthias. To the extent that an omnibus career-review has a thesis, that last adjective ("neo-modernist" – approbative) sums it up.
Contemplating essays: "Towards a Publication and Textual History of Zukofsky's 'A'"; "My Paul Celan"; "Economics and Economies of Words in Zukofsky."

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Corey on the barricades

Josh Corey is on spring break, & thinking:
A poets' union would not strike for fair wages: that's nonsensical on its face. A poets' union would be primarily oriented toward the fair apportionment of cultural capital—toward the redistribution of attention, the primary currency of the art.
[Whose attention? Readers'? Does that mean that for every poem by an interesting unionized poet I read, I also have to read 15 poems by uninteresting unionized poets who need the attention? Or do you mean poets' attention? In order to belong to the union, I have to pay attention to the works of everybody else in the union? Are poets who rarely pay much attention to poetry – sometimes the most interesting writers, as they have actual subject matter to address – disqualified?]
But the ultimate goal is not attention, whether in the form of publications or criticism: it's the de-alienation of poetic labor. When Richard Hugo said, "A creative writing workshop may be the last place you can go where your life still matters," he was imagining that the institutional shelter of the university might be enough of a windbreak for poetic labor to flourish, for its products (poems) to retain their use-value (their uselessness-value?). That's no longer true if it ever was: the university is a primary instigator of the desire to turn one's poems into commodities, which in sufficient number can be exchanged for the goods of prestige and jobs (though it's a peculiarity of the system that publishing less can actually vastly increase the exchange-value of your work). Yet many of us cannot resist the temptation the institution offers us to live as poets, to subtract the A from avocation.
[Rock on, Garth! Quite like the formulation that I scribbled into my own notebook a couple years back, & the well-theorized version of Donald Hall's still accurate diagnosis in "Poetry & Ambition" from well-nigh 20 years back. The Poetry Industry.]
But the university does not manufacture the cultural capital (whose body is subtle, invisible even, yet real) apportioned to poetry: poets do. And the university did not invent the artwork-as-commodity; it can even, perhaps via its residual fedualism, function as a site of resistance: if not to capital itself, at least to the celebration of capital that cathects exchange-value as the only value into our souls every hour of every day.
I'm inclined to see said cultural capital manufactured not merely by the poets themselves, but by entire structure of literate, word-valuing culture – a structure somewhat larger than "the poets," tho perhaps no longer by much. & the university as site of resistance – well, only in pockets: in the richest of the rich institutions, where resident poets aren't continually dogged by metrics of number & productivity, and in the tiny liberal arts institutions which still value actual intellectual & creative endeavor & still value teaching not immediately quantifiable. The Oberlins, St. Olafs, Grinnells.

As weary and aging tenured faculty member, I find more and more attractive, and perhaps ultimately more honorable, the notion of staking out a place in the academy that takes advantage of its "residual feudalism" without directly tieing one's stake to poetic cultural capitalism: perhaps the finest poet of our moment was Director of Studies and Librarian of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge – but never instructor in creative writing; another is codirector of the Editorial Institute at Boston University, and Professor of Religion.

A parable: "Not long since, a strolling Indian went to sell baskets at the house of a well-known lawyer in my neighborhood. 'Do you wish to buy any baskets?' he asked. 'No, we do not wan any,' was the reply. 'What!' exclaimed the Indian as he went out the gate, 'do you mean to starve us?' Having seen his industrious white neighbors so well off, – that the lawyer had only to weave arguments, and by some magic wealth and standing followed, he had said to himself; I will go into business; I will weave baskets; it is a thing which I can do. Thinking that when he had made the baskets he would have done his part, and then it would be the white man's to buy them. He had not discovered that it was necessary for him to make it worth the other's while to buy them, or at least make him think that it was so, or to make something else which it would be worth his while to buy. I too had woven a kind of basket of a delicate texture, but I had not made it worth any one's while to buy them. Yet not the less, in my case, did I think it worth my while to weave them, and instead of studying how to make it worth men's while to buy my baskets, I studied rather how to avoid the necessity of selling them. The life which men praise and regard as successful is but one kind. Why should we exaggerate any one kind at the expense of the others?" – Thoreau, Walden ("Economy")

Monday, March 20, 2006

More wombats

So maybe that's why I've been feeling so lousy the past week – I got around to taking my temperature last night & discovered I'm running about 3 degrees of fever, & probably have been for days & days. No doubt some kind of touch of the 'flu. Today I'm just toddling around the house in robe & slippers, shunning classes and trying to get a little writing done.

In response to my recent "Adorno and the wombat" post, Alex Davis from Cork has put me onto some fascinating wombat-related arcana, the wombat-obsession of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. (Who would've thought?) The University of Virginia's Rossetti Project has a wombat page which includes some wombat drawings by Dante Gabriel and William Michael, and a set of wombat verses. This by Christina Rossetti:
O Uommibatto
Agil, giocondo,
Che ti sei fatto
Liscio e rotondo!
Deh non fuggire
Qual vagabondo
Non disparire
Forando il mondo:
Peso davero
D'un emisfero
Non lieve il pondo.
And these by Dante Gabriel:
Ode to a Wombat
(written while waiting for his mail-order wombat)

O how the family affections combat
Within this heart, and each hour flings a bomb at
My burning soul! Neither from owl nor from bat
Can peace be gained until I clasp my wombat.

Death of a Wombat

I never reared the young wombat
To glad me with his pinhole eye
But when he was most sweet and fat
And tailless he was sure to die!

Saturday, March 18, 2006

wearing of the green

St. Patrick's day, & I "celebrated" – one's celebrations are necessarily circumscribed in single parent state – by watching about three-quarters of Jim Sheridan's fantastic Shane MacGowan documentary, If I Should Fall from Grace. I have trouble with the last bits, where the chronological unfolding of MacGowan's career meets the "present" of the circa 2001 interviews, and it becomes clear how the razor-sharp lyricist and snarling, perfectly-timed singer of the Pogues' Rum Sodomy & the Lash and If I Should Fall from Grace with God has become a toothless, bloated, drink-soaked celebrator of his own past. I discovered the Pogues at their apogee, right between Rum Sodomy and Fall from Grace, and they led me backwards to the more subtle and musically sophisticated Irish musicians that had opened up Irish "traditional" music in the 1970s – Planxty, the Bothy Band, De Danaan, and so forth. (I have little interest in the flourishing sub-genre of pub-celtic-punk that's followed the Pogues, tho I'm certainly keen on bands like the Levellers & Oysterband who've learned certain lessons from Shane & co., & taken them in particular political directions.) I often wonder how much the extraordinary popular efflorescence of "celtic" music in the late 1980s had to do with the Pogues' explosive mixture of first-rate songwriting, post-punk energy, & rather hokey Irishiana.

Shane's career has been patchy since the date in the early 1990s when the rest of the band tossed him out. The Snake, released in 1997, is not a bad record at all; The Crock of Gold (1997) is actually rather excellent, and the 2001 St. Patrick's Day live album, Across the Broad Atlantic, is musically exciting thruout (tho Shane's enunciation leaves much to be desired). I have not yet written the boy off, tho I suspect his internists have given his liver up as a hopeless case. Shane appears to have cast off his band of the last decade (the supiciously familiar-sounding Popes), & as I write, he's playing a show with the recently reunited Pogues in New York City.

Friday, March 17, 2006

questions of scale

Wish I'd been at the Ronald Johnson panel Josh describes so well (tho somehow I've missed its exact location – New York? – & whatever auspices it was held under...). The roundup of participants is a pretty familiar list of names: Joel Bettridge (co-editor of the forthcoming RJ collection), Jena Osman, Barbara Cole, Jonathan Skinner, Josh (I note that the slim and dashing Peter O'Leary was listed to appear, but Josh doesn't describe his presentation, so I suppose he didn't make it?). It's great of course to see Jena, Jonathan, & Barbara – all folks I respect & like very much – writing on Johnson (tho I'm not at all surprised). But all in all, it doesn't sound a whole lot different from the list of suspects RonJonning 5 or 6 years ago, when Joel organized a little conference in Buffalo, followed by a panel I got up for Orono's "Poetry of the 60s" conference.

What strikes me as is that now, going on 10 years after Johnson's death, at least 10 years since the publications of the complete ARK, one could still probably fit all the really dedicated readers of Johnson's work into a single medium-sized lecture room. Heavens, I feel like I could name them myself: the six listed above, the (non-blogging) Eric Selinger, Steve Collis, Norman Finkelstein, Paul Naylor, Devin Johnston, Peter O'Leary's brother Michael, Joel Felix, a few others. I know this list is exaggeratedly short – the Joel Bettridge/Eric Selinger collection that's been forthcoming for the last half-decade is probably going to feature a laundry list of prominent alt-poetry figures; I know Jed Rasula & Rachel Blau DuPlessis are in there.

Which is sort of to say that when I really started reading Johnson in earnest, maybe 20 years ago, I got convinced real fast that he was really BIG, was the BOMB, in fact (I'm trying to avoid that tweedy concept, "a major poet," but I really can't) – but at the time I think only I & Guy Davenport & 5 other people in the world thought so. Well, I'm still convinced – probably more than ever – & now maybe 30 other people think so too. Can't we get things moving along a little faster?

Thursday, March 16, 2006

hanging in there

J. left yesterday afternoon for a Folger Seminar in DC, leaving me to play superparent. We'll see whether there are any broken bones by Sunday; one girl has already acquired a nice bruise on the cheekbone falling off the slide, the other has discovered that the ostensibly harmless pleasure of rolling down the hill (Samuel Johnson-wise) of our local playground carries with it the drawback of getting her hair full of those sticky little seed-pods some of the "grass" around here carries.

Trying to keep up with responsibilities over the last few days has largely eclipsed any independent thinking, much less blogging. Read Michael Palmer's The Danish Notebook (very notebook-y) and Cole Swensen's Such Rich Hour (very rich, and quite lovely). Picked up copies of Sonic Youth, NYC Ghosts & Flowers, Bill Laswell's Invisible Design, and Marc Ribot's Scelsi Morning – the latter by far the coolest title I've met in ages, and some of the song titles are no slouches either: "Pennies from Hell," "Identity I-Schmentity," "Kabukitsch" (this a faux-Japanese klezmer tune or faux-klezmer Japanese tune). But no surprise from the guy who called an album Yo! I Killed Your God!

Will at some point try to find something coherent to say about the stunning riches of the Richard Thompson boxed set, which the postman – one of my favorite people – brought round just t'other day.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Adorno loved furry animals

We always knew it. In 1955, in correspondence with Bernhard Grzimek, director of the Frankfurt Zoo, he suggested the Zoo obtain a pair of wombats: "I have fond memories of these little round friendly animals...and would be delighted to see them again.... Then I would like to remind you of the babirusa pig, which was also one of my favourites in my childhood... And finally, what happened to the dwarf hippos they used to have in Berlin?" Stefan Müller-Doohm, who quotes this letter in his Adorno: A Biography, goes into more detail in his notes:
Zoos, no matter where, were one of Adorno's passions. Many of the animals he loved were associated with private fantasies. His mother, Maria, who had great talents as an actor, could do a convincing imitation of a mother chimpanzee de-lousing her offspring. In his personal bestiary, however, she was not a primate, but a female hippopotamus. Her son was known as Archibald, the Hippopotamus King, and called himself just Hippo (and sometimes just a great fool [großes Rindvieh, literally 'cattle' = 'a great ass']), one of the pachyderms which, according to Brehm's Life of the Animals, is a gregarious animal that spends much time dozing dreamily but is also immensely greedy, so that it can easily become a pest. Aunt Agathe was a tigress which, again according to Brehm, commonly attacked the largest animals but was also content with the smallest ones; it was bold and cheeky. Gretel [TWA's wife] was called a gazelle by her husband, an animal well known for its long legs, graceful head and large clear eyes.
Max Horkheimer was "Mammoth," & in 1941 Adorno composed "Rüsselmammuts Heimkehr," a joyful little "Singstimme und Pianoforte" song celebrating Horkheimer's imminent return:
Rüsselmammuts Heimkehr

Was fährt denn dort auf einem Wangen und streckt den langen Rüssel aus? (2X)
Es ist ein Mammut, es ist ein Mammut, es is ein Mammut und er fährt nach Haus.

marking time

Okay, so our spring break is almost over, & I've accomplished not too much. Poked away a bit at a piece of writing that's already way past due, did some radical house-cleaning, tried to catch up on my teaching some, and so forth. No, I'm not at AWP. Can't say I'm missing the conference itself – I've never been particularly invested in the whole institutional framework of academic pobiz – but it would be nice to hang out with some of the people who're there, and Austin is by far one of my favorite cities. Anybody with sense who's at AWP will be going to the Gospel Brunch at Stubb's Barbeque tomorrow: 1st-rate rhythm-&-blues live gospel, & bucketloads of ribs, brisket, chicken, and catfish.
I've been reading my way, not too rapidly, thru a stack of books I bought two weekends ago at Louisville, including John Xiros Cooper's Modernism and the Culture of Market Society (Cambridge UP, 2004). A book written with sort of zest & panache one misses in most academic studies, but pretty relentlessly depressing. I'll no doubt say more about it, but suffice it to say that Cooper's take on literary modernism and late capitalism makes Teddie Adorno look like a gay and laughing optimist.
On the last "official" day of break – yesterday – I drove down to Ft. Lauderdale and bought books, among them Slavoj Zizek's Iraq: The Broken Kettle (Verso, 2004). Like most of Mr. Z's books, this one comes across as the sometimes-almost-ramblings of an extremely brilliant ADHD patient. But there're insights on every page, even if he feels obliged to relate every last damn thing to Lacan. The money quote, on the first page:
Of course the people don't want war....But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along....All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.
Dick Cheney on a secret CIA tape? Paul Wolfowitz in his cups? Nah – it's their ideological mentor, Hermann Goering, speaking at the 1946 Nuremberg trials.
Some new links on the right: Amy Letter & Brian Spears' Incertus, Michael Peverett's Michael Peverett, Kate Greenstreet's Every Other Day, and Bill & Lisa Howe's Slack Buddha Press (with dandy pictures of Keith Tuma & chris cheek).

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Conflict of the faculties

Culture Industry is one year old today. Thanks to everyone who’s ever dropped by.
Remember the “My Three Songs” challenge – name the thread of continuity among Depeche Mode’s “Route 66,” U2’s “Night and Day,” and Lloyd Cole and the Commotions’ “Perfect Skin”? Well, out of the thousands of entries (actually 3) Michael came closest – “um... Night Porter, Cole Porter, Lloyd Cole, ?” I don’t follow the “Night Porter” allusion (the only song by that name I know is by Japan), but he’s on the right track, even if he’s looking for a Wittgensteinian “family resemblance” rather than a direct commonality. We don’t get quite that subtle around here, folks: the connection is of course the name “Cole” – “Route 66” was made famous in 1946 by Nat “King” Cole, Cole Porter wrote “Night and Day” (which U2 covered on the Red Hot and Blue AIDS benefit album), and Lloyd Cole’s last name is – well – Cole.
Finished David Edmonds & John Eidinow’s Wittgenstein’s Poker last night, and found myself that I actually had learned something in the last stretch of their diverting but pedestrian 300 pages. E&E decide, on the basis of the preponderance of evidence, that Karl Popper’s response, when asked that he give an example of a moral rule, “Not to threaten a visiting lecturer with a poker,” was probably made after Ludwig Wittgenstein had left the meeting, rather than before. In short, while Popper recalled in his autobiography that he’d made the quip to LW’s face, in response to LW’s request, & at the end of LW’s poker, whereupon LW threw the poker down in disgust and left, E&E show that KP was probably “misremembering”: the poker quip almost certainly got made after LW stalked out of the meeting (as, everyone remembered, was pretty much his habit when out of patience).

Popper, E&E make clear, had gone to Cambridge in 1946 with the clear intention of challenging Wittgenstein & the whole tradition of “ordinary language” philosophy growing up around him. The thrust of P’s argument that afternoon was that there were indeed real philosophical problems that philosophers ought to address – he cited as examples the existence of real or potential infinity, induction, & causation, but it’s clear he had in mind his own massive work, The Open Society and Its Enemies, which addressed the roots of totalitarianism in Western thought from Plato on, and made an aggressive argument on behalf of free expression & a vigorous public sphere.

Wittgenstein believed, in contrast, that the difficulties philosophers dealt with were for the most part “puzzles,” enigmas or glitches that arose when language – perfectly adequate for the ordinary business of life – is torqued in abnormal uses. What Popper called “problems” lie outside of the scope of philosophy: Infinity is not a philosophical, but a mathematical problem; induction is a logical problem; and all of the moral and political issues dealt with in KP’s big book – which LW probably never read – were the province of the sociologist or historian, not the philosopher.

Popper left Cambridge thinking he had bested Wittgenstein, having goaded him into physical aggression and then challenged him with a moral imperative – thou shalt not threaten a visiting lecturer with a poker – that drove him from the field. E&E make a strong case that what really happened was that LW grew more and more impatient with the “nonsense” spouted by this “ass” (LW’s words) until he finally left the room in disgust, as he had many time before. Did he even realize he’d been punctuating his own objections by gesturing with a poker?

It’s not really hard to see where E&E come down in the final question of who “won” this dispute. (The fact that the final photo in their book is of a sage-like, elderly Popper is one clue.) Their final chapter, “All Shall Have Prizes” (the title is from Alice in Wonderland, where the Dodo distributes sweets to all participants in the Caucus-race), tots up the score: LW has become a fixture of contemporary philosophy, one of the top 5 philosophers of all time according to one poll, constantly taught, argued over, & adapted by poets & novelists – but whose work has had little impact outside of the ivory tower of academia, & who remains something of a slippery “mystic.” Popper, on the other hand, has almost been a victim of his own success: his arguments against totalitarianism and on behalf of an open society have become “received wisdom,” “beyond challenge and so beyond debate.”

I’m not really interested in critiquing E&E’s account of Popper’s & Wittgenstein’s philosophies, but I can’t help feeling that the way in which they pit the two men against each other ends up missing out on precisely what’s most interesting about their confrontation: the extent to which it stands as synechdoche for two very different ways of conceiving of the discipline of philosophy itself. For Popper, the philosopher is the thinker whose task is to take on the “big questions” – the meaning of life, what is the good life, etc. (One thinks of the Bertrand Russell joke: BR gets into a London cab, whose driver says, “’Eh, in’t you Bertrand Russell?” “Why, yes, my good man.” “So, guv, whassit all about?”) For Wittgenstein, the “big questions” are either by definition beyond the reach of philosophy and even language itself – ethics, for instance, can only be shown, and aesthetics are similarly meta-lingual – or result from misuses of language: to ask the “what’s the meaning of life?” is in essence to misuse the language-game of asking “what’s the meaning of X?” (Eg, “what’s the meaning of ‘synechdoche,’” “what’s the meaning of that poster?”) Where Popper conceives of philosophy as something of an all-purpose intellectual Swiss Army knife, Wittgenstein sees it as a hygenic device, an analytic logic whose purpose is to cut through the fog and fuzziness that obscures our ability to discern when we can usefully think and talk about something and when we’re better off leaving well enough alone.

Perhaps that’s why Popper’s been left in the dustbin of history and Wittgenstein still retains his power to startle and compel: while Popper’s ideas might (or might not) have been “right,” in the end he was just another philosopher telling us what it’s all about; Wittgenstein had an entirely new conception – if a diminished one – of what it meant to think philosophically.
Ali Farka Touré (1939-2006).

Monday, March 06, 2006

Private property, pokers

We spent part of yesterday at CityPlace in West Palm Beach, a recent development that does its damnedest to look like the central square of a Tuscan village. Of course it's one of those prefabricated faux-urban "environments," essentially an open-air shopping mall with apartments and condos attached. The giveaway, apart from the oppressive cleannesss of the place and the fact that all of the on-street spaces are reserved for valet parking (South Florida is the world capital of valet parking), is the Kenny G.-level soft jazz perpetually piped thru unseen speakers (it's what they play during the coffee breaks in hell). Oh yes – and the massive Mediterranean church that dominates the square functions not as a house of worship but as a theater (available for bar and bat mitvahs & other banquet functions, tho I could find no evidence of actual scheduled performances).

Anyway, we were there in the forenoon before the shops & restaurants opened, the umbrella'd tables & chair were occupied by retirees drinking coffee and reading their Sunday New York Times, and there were families with children strolling about every few yards. All very nice, save for the imbecile music & my own subterranean rage that this – one of the few open areas within a hour's drive whose space & architecture wouldn't have made Ruskin spew – was all private property, & that if I chose to panhandle or distribute political leaflets, I'd be given the heave-ho by the private security army within minutes.

After lunch we wandered into a Barnes & Noble where I read P. about a dozen children's books (mostly "Little Critter" but also a Berenstain Bears that convinced me that Stan & Jan B. are little better than fascists, & ought to be boycotted by all Left-leaning parents) & bought a couple of remainders: Don DeLillo's Cosmopolis & a book I'd contemplated reading for a while, David Edmonds & John Edinow's Wittgenstein's Poker: The Story of a Ten-Minute Argument Between Two Great Philosophers (Ecco, 2001). Readable enough, but disappointing. E & E take as their focal point the 1946 Cambridge argument between Ludwig Wittgenstein & Karl Popper (during which LW by some accounts threatened KP with a fireplace poker), & from there exfoliate backwards & forwards, filling in the 2 men's cultural & intellectual backgrounds, the significance of their philosophies, & what was at stake in their quarrel.

I'm within 50 pages of the end, but I don't have high hopes to learn anything I didn't already know. Maybe this is just another proof that "philosophical journalism" (as one blurb calls the book) is an oxymoron. At any rate, the penultimate paragraph of the text is a remarkable example of empty boilerplate:
that one can be identified in academia as a Popperian or a Wittgensteinian is a testament to the originality of these philosophers' ideas and the power of their personalities. Those extraordinary qualities were on display in H3 [the room of the debate]. The thrust of the poker becomes a symbol of the two men's unremitting zeal in the search for the right answers to the big questions.

I myself am contemplating a similar piece of "poetico-historical journalism." Provisional title: "Watten's Overhead Projector."
Still waiting for answers on "My Three Songs." Kathrine's closer than Bob, tho – the connecting thread lies in original provenance.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

MS joins the Flarfistes

Spent a few hours today at the headwaters of Flarf: yes, the Florida Renaissance Festival, squatted down – with its hordes of wandering minstrels, busty wenches, moody teen-aged goths, frivolous teen-aged pseudo-faeries, strolling jugglers, relentless tchotchke hawkers, and so forth – only a half-dozen miles south of Culture Industry home base. Noted:

•Most of the guys playing what look like "lutes" have them tuned to regular 6-course guitar tuning. The bouzouki players favor the easier G-D-A-E tuning over G-D-A-D (& so do I...).

•These sort of events really are the last refuges of what they call the "variety arts": where else can you see an act that involves trained dogs jumping thru hoops and a husband and wife juggling machetés on balance boards while playing a harmonica duet of "When the Saints Go Marching In"?

•If you wear a Guinness t-shirt, you don't actually have to say anything when you go to order beer, but can just point.

•One doesn't go to the RenFest to get back to the 16th century; one goes in order to enjoy the spectacle of a bunch of people playing a really dizzying range of dress-up – goths in high-techno black kilts, serious reenactors in big bucks Elizabeth farthingales and pearl-studded head-dresses, fools and jesters, Samurai, faeries in green paint, horns, wings, and little raccoon tails, even one or two Wild West gunmen this time around. A hell of a lot more postmodern than Fight Club (which I finally watched last night, for the first time, & found wanting).
The knowledgeable Keith Tuma pointed out to me that I'd misremembered the author of Oh as Norma Cole in my last post, when I should have written Cole Swensen. My bad, but don't bother checking, as I've changed it. Norma Cole is someone whose work I admire rather much, tho I haven't read all her books; Cole Swensen is someone I'd like to read soon. The whole business reminds me of "My Three Songs," a little game show the "alternative" radio station in DC used to run every afternoon: they'd play three songs by different artists, and the winner was the listener who could figure out (and explain) the thread of continuity among them. A memorable example:
•Depeche Mode, "Route 66"
•U2, "Night and Day"
•Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, "Perfect Skin"
Any takers?

Thursday, March 02, 2006

some things I saw in L'ville

A few observations from the University of Louisville’s 20th-Century Literature & Culture conference last weekend, of necessity scattered & impressionistic, & much shaped by my having shown up a day later than originally planned.

•Lynn Keller on Cole Swensen’s Oh: reads the poem not on the model of the “fragment” but on that of the “fractal,” with its implications of self-similarity of structure at different scales (Hugh Kenner did something like this with the Cantos years ago, but not nearly as compellingly); a rushed but entirely distinct presentation, reminding me of just how smart, & just what a good close reader, Keller is; talk of opera reminds me how much I dislike most lyric opera; best phrase: “this minimal yet spacious art”

•Mark Cantrell on Christian Bök’s Eunoia and its Flash version (by Brian Kim Stefans): beautiful presentation – I’m glad he went after me rather than before me; serious discussion of the aesthetics & reading experience of the Flash Eunoia much disrupted by oblique & not entirely germane general comments on the oulipan procedures used to produce the original text, as if Bök were not in some sense producing a deeply traditional poem – ie one rooted in a half century+ of procedural compositional tradition (like American academics in the ‘50s assuming that phenomenology was a philosophy newly arrived from outer space)

•Mitchum Huehls on Nathaniel Mackey: one of those productions of one’s youth that attempts to overturn 40 years of critical thought in a stroke; he relies on the concept of the “contranym,” a word which contains contradictory meanings – “I will cleave unto thee all my days,” “let’s cleave that apple in half”; “the house weathered the storm well, though its shutters were weathered by the constant rain”; I’m interested (& have been for a while), not so much in the paradox of opposed meanings, but in the slippage between the structures of those meanings: ie, they are never perfectly opposite: to separate is “to cleave X,” while to come together is “to cleave to”; to allow is “to sanction” (v.), while to restrict is “to impose sanctions” (n.) – “weather” the only one I can come up with that functions grammatically identically in each of its meanings; gotta talk to a linguist

•Adalaide Morris on “ambient poetry”: puts up a background desktop of Brian Eno’s Ambient 4: On Land, then talks about a number of (mostly web-based) works that, like Eno’s ambient stuff, neither demand nor reject close attention; (of course, ambient music, pushed to its extreme arrives at John Cage’s realm of listening to sounds as music, as I’m presently enjoying the faulty ball bearings in the pool pump, which actually closely resemble some Zorn pieces I know); conceptually, this is great stuff, & something I’ve been thinking about for maybe two decades, since I read an interview with Eno where he compared his own ambient work to Samuel Beckett’s Company; but heavens – aren’t there enough bits of poetry out there earnestly entreating my attention thru their depth of insinuation, their wealth of craft, their cunningly wrought surfaces and mysterious depths? perhaps I’ll save “ambient poetry” for the day when I’ve no longer got the faculties to focus my attention – but then again, come dotage it’ll all be ambient…

•Andrew Rippeon on LZ’s “’Mantis,’”, Creeley’s Pieces, and Michael Palmer’s The Danish Notebook: I wish I could follow this one better – it’s a combination of 1) AR reading too fast, 2) AR reading in too low a voice, & 3) MS being deeply exhausted & having eaten (with the estimable Grant Jenkins) way too much pizza for lunch; gotta get The Danish Notebook; Andrew, do send me a copy of the paper, okay?

The climax of the whole shebang, the obelisk around which the conference was supposedly organized, was to be a talk by Alain Badiou. Ooops. M. B– had double-booked himself, so consented to do a videoconferenced talk Saturday from Seattle. (I boycotted on principle; my life is Baudrillardian enough without watching philosophers on TV.) The audience was in place, peering up at a blank screen, when B– phoned in the news that he was locked out of the building from which the feed was to originate. So, after the crowd shlepped to another AV-equipped room, B– delivered a 20-minute audio-only talk, which he ended by thanking them and hanging up – no Q&A, and M. B– wasn’t picking up his phone thereafter.

Norman and Alice Finkelstein have a Maltese (!) named Tchotchke (!), which despite myself I found really cute.