Wednesday, November 29, 2006


It's been a pretty frantic week – the holiday, family in town, grading essays, watching as the wee little cough I'd had for a week morphed into a real live hacking pre-bronchitis... Sleep deprivation, which has plagued me all semester – dozing off as J. reads the girls their bedtime story, or falling asleep in their room after replying to their catechismal "Tell me about my day" and "Tell us who loves us"... No breathing space for the (if I only had time & energy to be) wicked: department meeting tomorrow, & one final meeting of the poetry workshop in the evening.
If you were wondering whether Wikipedia was ever reliable – I'm not a numbers queen, but I noticed an unaccountable jump lately in my Sitemeter numbers, accounted for (once I figured out how) by a link to my half-cock'd musings on Botero's Abu Ghraib pictures some kind soul inserted into the Wikipedia entry for "Fernando Botero."

On the other hand, while I've given uncounted school-marmish scoldy lectures on the unreliability of Wikipedia for serious research (all of which have passed in one set of undergraduate ear-'oles and out the other), I couldn't resist the allure of the ultimate "users' encyclopaedia," & have been trolling thru the entries and fixing little wee bits of verbal & ideational flash (you remember it from the model airplane kits, the excess plastic forced between the facing surfaces of the mold, & having to trim it off with the exacto knife). After I cleaned up the account of Zukofsky's political career, his Wikipedia entry is actually a pretty damned decent overview.
And writing (ie something other than letters of recommendation): a longish poem en train, projected 150 lines in 3-line stanzas.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Bad Joyce

Ray Davis comments of Ulysses’s 18 stylistic menu-choices, “I wonder if fear of stylistic tinnitus is why goofy "Eumaeus" and "Ithaca" have been my favorite episodes for so many years…” Having just ploughed thru ‘em both, I can only sympathize. There’s something beautiful about watching a writer who seems to be able to do anything turning his hand to actively bad writing: the first half of “Nausicaa” is pretty breathtaking in that way, with its spot-on pastiche of 1904 Redbook, Cosmo, & Reader’s Digest, but “Eumaeus” is just plain sublime, a cliché in every line:
Prepatory to anything else [cliché] Mr Bloom brushed off the greater bulk [cliché] of the shavings and handed Stephen the hat and ashplant and bucked him up generally [cliché + limp adverb] in orthodox Samaritan fashion [cliché, but oh how deliciously wrong-headed – if there’s anything the Gospel Good Samaritan isn’t it’s “orthodox” – remember the priest & the Levite] which he very badly needed [limp, limp ending].
This first sentence of Section III of the novel ought to bring to mind the first sentence of Section I: ”Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.” There’s the “Buck” of “bucked him up generally,” and of course Mulligan is about to shave (“the greater bulk of the shavings”). Not to mention the more distant echoes between “plump” and “bulk.” One great joy of obsessively re-reading Ulysses lies in hearing those echoes propagate themselves in one’s echo-chamber mind, but another – in “Eumaeus” – is simply marvelling at how the bad prose unfurls itself. Or watching Joyce’s more familiar lyricism break thru the wall of tone-deafness, as in the antepenultimate paragraph:
The horse having reached the end of his tether, so to speak [indeed], halted and, rearing high a proud feathering tail, added his quota [ouch! yes, it’s a street-sweeping cart] by letting fall on the floor which the brush would soon brush up and polish [cliché], three smoking globes of turds. [and here’s the real thing:] Slowly three times, one after another, from a full crupper he mired. And humanely his driver waited till he (or she) had ended, patient in his scythed car.
Except for that tell-tale "he (or she)," those last two sentences are as beautiful as anything JJ ever wrote.
Thanks be Thanksgiving is over. Not that I mind national holidays, especially ones which call for large-scale cooking – but I just don’t like anything on the menu, turkey most of all. This year’s substitution was a big-ass Smithfield salt-cured ham, the sort of thing you have to soak for two days ahead of time to get enough of the salt out to make it edible. It came out beautifully, in case you’re wondering, but I’m afraid I’m the only one in the household enthusiastic about this particular comestible, so I have a great deal of salty swineflesh in my future.
For those of you still on tenterhooks as to my selection of course texts for this Spring’s Milton, I’ve decided to go with the half-century old Merritt Hughes over the Flannagan Riverside. Okay, so Hughes doesn’t annotate “Hermes” or “Virgin mother” or much of the basic stuff Flannagan does – but isn’t that what Wikipedia and the online Brittanica are for? And Hughes doesn’t, as Flannagan does, manage to confuse “Philistine” and “Pharisee,” or claim that in “Avenge O Lord thy slaughter’d Saints” Milton is somehow “perverting” the Roman Catholic notion of sainthood. (Is there a Protestant in the house, please?)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Crucified Smurfs

It's hard to avoid Fernando Botero's paintings down here in South Florida. The Colombian artist's pudgy figures are enormously popular – every poster shop has reproductions, and most galleries either have real Boteros or second-rate imitations. For my part, I've never been able to tell the difference between an imitation Botero and the real thing, just as I find little to separate Stephen King parodies from echt Stephen King – I've always found Botero's puffy figures, rendered in a kind of (faux?) naive realism, the height of contemporary kitsch: not merely the sort of art that people who don't like art like – Norman Rockwell, whatever you might say about the implicit politics of his images, was an incredible draughtsman, as was Grant Wood – but the sort of art that people who don't really like art but think they like art, or want you to think they like art, like.

This isn't a kind of apotropaic response on my part to figurative art in general - I'm a great fan of Wood, of RB Kitaj, Eva Hesse, and Balthus. Perhaps it's just that Botero's figures, vast, puffy, cherubic, and even when butt-naked absolutely sexless, seem to have been sieved of all human interest, leaving nothing but a kind of piggish contentment. These aren't George Grosz's fatties, who seem to be the human equivalents of rather savage wild boars, but a endless stream of humanized gelded cats.

So I was rather surprised when a family member alerted me that her old philosophy prof Arthur Danto was reviewing Botero in a recent issue of The Nation – and that the works he was reviewing were a series of paintings about the prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib – frankly the last thing I would imagine Botero painting. It's like imagining Thomas Kinkade painting Guernica, or Norman Rockwell illustrating the Bataan Death March.

But it's true: Botero has done a very long series of canvases & drawings based on the reports of prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib, tho not based, he insists, on the widely circulated photographs of that abuse. Danto makes a nice point about that distinction:
We knew that Abu Ghraib's prisoners were suffering, but we did not feel that suffering as ours. When the photographs were released, the moral indignation of the West was focused on the grinning soldiers, for whom this appalling spectacle was a form of entertainment. But the photographs did not bring us closer to the agonies of the victims.
In contrast – according to Danto – Botero's paintings
are masterpieces of what I have called disturbatory art--art whose point and purpose is to make vivid and objective our most frightening subjective thoughts.... Botero's images, by contrast, establish a visceral sense of identification with the victims, whose suffering we are compelled to internalize and make vicariously our own. As Botero once remarked: "A painter can do things a photographer can't do, because a painter can make the invisible visible." What is invisible is the felt anguish of humiliation, and of pain. Photographs can only show what is visible; what Susan Sontag memorably called the "pain of others" lies outside their reach. But it can be conveyed in painting, as Botero's Abu Ghraib series reminds us, for the limits of photography are not the limits of art. The mystery of painting, almost forgotten since the Counter-Reformation, lies in its power to generate a kind of illusion that has less to do with pictorial perception than it does with feeling.
Leaving aside for a moment whether or not Botero's paintings "establish a visceral sense of identification with the victims, whose suffering we are compelled to internalize and make vicariously our own," I am appalled by Danto's initial assumption that when the Abu Ghraib photos were first disseminated "the moral indignation of the West was focused on the grinning soldiers, for whom this appalling spectacle was a form of entertainment" to the exclusion of any sympathy with "the agonies of the victims." What West does he refer to? Donald Rumsfeld's? Time magazine's?

My own outraged reaction to the photographs stemmed from a combination of disgust at the touristic, sadistic poses & expressions of the American soldiers posing for the photographs and precisely an immediate sympathy for the men being abused – a sympathy that I can't imagine any viewer outside of the present American administration wouldn't feel: yes, Professor Danto, we shrank from that snarling dog, we felt the degradation of being piled into a naked pyramid, of being forced to grovel at the end of a leash.

It's the very verisimilitude of the photographs, in my own experience, that elicited immediate sympathy, the fact that the naked and degraded men in them had individual bodies and faces – they looked like my friends, my students, the guys I used to see in the communal showers in my dorm. And that's why the Botero paintings, while they have a certain weird postmodern fascination, ultimately fail to move me. It's strange indeed, and somewhat disturbing, to see Botero-figures put through Abu Ghraib tortures – but it's a weirdness that's akin to seeing Smurfs crucified, or seeing Mickey Mouse shooting up & having sex. These are not human beings being tortured: they're Boteros being put thru unfamiliar paces. Botero's very success at making his friendly chubbies into a world-recognized brand-emblem, it would seem, has deprived him of the ability to do anything more than continue to sell the brand.

Perhaps it's the very middle-brow allure of the standard Botero that makes these horror-Boteros so strangely unmoving to me. In contrast, I find the iPod/iRaq graphic – which was surreptitiously inserted into a number of Apple street advertisements in New York two years ago – to be far more emotionally compelling, & to pack a far more intellectually incisive punch.

Friday, November 17, 2006


There are only two blogs I read that address academic affairs in anything more than a tangential way – Michael Bérubé's and University Diaries, by the Joyce scholar Margaret Soltan. I have a love-hate thing with UD: Soltan drives me nuts with her right-leaning politics, her retrograde aesthetic judgments, & her tendency towards William Bennett-like laments over "what's happened to the humanities" (y'know, theory, jargon, political correctness, all that); on the other hand, she writes beautifully and she's continually raking the muck around what's wrong with the US university system (her big bêtes noires are overpaid administrators, metastasizing atheletic programs, & diploma mills).

Both Bérubé & Soltan teach at respectable – if not unquestionably first-rank – departments of English (Penn State & George Washington respectively). They can afford to kvetch about David Horowitz's crusade against academic freedom, or someone's pricey new football stadium, from within a kind of happy insulated bubble. Things are a little grimmer from the trenches – the 2nd, 3rd, & 4th tier institutions where most of the graduates of the top-rated programs actually end up teaching (take note, grad student bloggers).

Take, for instance, the juxtaposition of texts I came upon yesterday. On the home page of my university webmail account, Our President gleefully announced Our University's latest bid for the big time:
Now, in accordance with our Strategic Plan, we are working to make [Our University] a "first-choice" institution for even more students who seek the traditional American college experience. Achieving this goal hinges on our ability to enhance the quality of campus life in ways that are especially attractive to this age group. This is the primary motivating force behind the proposal to add Innovation Village to our [Main Campus] facilities.

Every traditional university has a campus hub, where friendships are forged and memories are made. The Innovation Village complex, which would include student housing and retail space as well as athletic facilities, would provide just such a hub for [OU], quickly becoming a gathering place for students, alumni, faculty and staff as well as visitors from the greater community.

Major, long-term benefits to the University are expected to include substantial improvement of our freshman retention and overall graduation rates, more successful recruitment of top-flight students, faculty and staff, and enhancement of the University's economic development capability and visibility throughout South Florida. All of this adds up to a stronger, better university for [OU] students of all ages.
(Note the insinuation that somehow "Innovation Village" will somehow help to recruit "top-flight faculty.")

And then in my department mailbox was the newsletter from the faculty union, which among other things – like the shabby fact that OU's students, according to which measure of academic excellence you look at, are either 11th among 15 Florida institutions or 15th among 19 – devoted much space to bemoaning the fact that the administration was balking at various plans it had proposed to make up for the fact that faculty salaries at OU seem to be lagging behind those of almost every other school in the state system. The budget, it seems, won't cover the raises that had been tentatively proposed; nor can it even be stretched to cover free tuition for faculty spouses & children.

The administration keeps talking about wanting to become a top-flight research institution, but the reality is that the entire operation is driven by the most short-sighted budget considerations. They want higher quality students, & they want faculty that produce more research; the solution?: they propose higher production quotas in the classroom (ie larger class sizes or higher teaching loads), a proposal which has absolutely NOTHING to do either with better instruction or more research (which indeed is inimical to those goals), but which serves to better balance the budget.

A wakeup call I hope someone will deliver our President: I don't know a single faculty member who gives a fast flier about "Innovation Village," nor can I imagine any young scholar/academic on the job market who could give a f.f. as to whether their potential employer has a "campus hub" that combines student housing with athletic facilities & retail space (we've already got a Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, & Einstein Bros, thank you very much – how about a real bookstore, or a real library?). "Top-flight" faculty want competitive salaries; they want to be treated as real partners in labor negotiations, rather than as troublesome serfs; they want research budgets; they want to work in an environment where every damned thing isn't keyed to a constant demeaning number-crunching.

I spent a couple hours at the pub last night listening to some junior colleagues in the social sciences (which are bunged into the same college with the humanities here). Another wakeup call to OP: the vast majority of junior faculty here view this job as a stepping-stone to something better, or as a holding pattern until a more promising position opens up somewhere else. If you want to hold on to the "top-flight" people for more than a couple years – or if you want to keep them from becoming minimal-output, disaffected, & cynical tenured faculty – you'd better give some thought to something a little more substantive than "Innovation Village."

I'm doing my best not to be one of those "minimal-output, disaffected, & cynical tenured faculty" – or at least I'm not any more cynical than I've ever been. I like my colleagues: they're a far more lively and talented bunch than a school on this tier could have dreamed of acquiring before the bottom dropped out of the academic job market. And I'm very fond of my students. But golly, as Simon Dedalus says, this administration – "Agonizing Christ, wouldn't it give you a heartburn on your arse?"

Phew – got that off my chest! Back to poetry, or music, or something a bit more fun next time.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Milton in Print, Inertially

Michael Bérubé, in this suspiciously like that other regular-guy-with-a-French-surname Bob Archambeau, has taken to posting his conference papers on his blog; or at least yesterday's entry on Le Blogue Bérubé consists of the good bits from a Midwest MLA keynote address. [I don't in theory object to this practice, by the way – indeed, it seems a dandy way to fill up internet space that might otherwise be occupied by... uh... anyway, I just don't do it myself because a) I haven't been in high conference circulation mode, & b) it was embarassing enough to deliver that thing live, why put it up where everyone can read it?]

Michael's talk was on – you guessed it – blogging in academia. It sounds like a pretty shirt-sleevey performance, but I kinda liked the ending: "Some of us don’t take time away from our real work to do meaningless blogging, and some of us don’t take time away from important blogging to do other meaningless drivel. Because we think that in the end, academic blogs just might serve the useful function of representing to any interested Internet passerby just what it is we do with our time and our skills. For in all their high and low manifestations, our blogs depict professors at work." I'd guess that Culture Industry is me blogging as academic maybe 35-45% of the time; another 20-25% is me blogging as poet; and then the rest is me blogging as guy who reads books, listens to records & likes to talk about them.

In the spirit of Bérubé's "academic blogs as academic self-representation," then, & as a contribution to that first 35-45% of CI's contents – and really as a plea for advice – here's a post on textual editing & course book orders, elements of the academic teaching life that qualify as the "dismal science" part of literary studies.

In other words, even tho it's something like 7 weeks from the start of the spring semester, no I haven't gotten in my book orders. I've ignored two hectoring e-mails from the department secretary: after all, she's just acting under the influence of the "official" campus bookstore, which is one tiny incompetent limb of the vast & evil corporate octopus Barnes & Noble – the folks in the campus bookstore, after all, are very good with sweatshirts & baseball caps, but they're a bit fuzzy on how to go about getting those "book" things, & like about 10 weeks lead time for orders. Me, I send my book orders to the independant textbook place across the street, which is able to get pretty much anything in 10 days or less.

But I'm not just procrastinating. (Me, procrastinating?) The plain truth is I haven't decided what books to use. The Joyce seminar is pretty easy (tho I could use advice on a splendid up-to-date collection of essays by various hands on Ulysses). The real sticking point is Milton.

In the past, I've used Roy Flannagan's Riverside Milton, one of those big doorstopping volumes that includes every bit of the poetry and more of the prose than anybody except a sadist would want to inflict on undergraduates. I'm a fan of omnibus volumes – everybody brings the same book every day, you all flip back 'n' forth to the same pages, nobody comes in with that "damn, I thought we were doing 'Lycidas' so I brought my poetry volume & left the prose under a pizza box back at the dorm & therefore have nothing to say about Areopagitica..."

But this Fall all my slowly mounting irritations with the Riverside came to a head, & I started shopping around for other editions. I like the pretty comprehensive range of texts included in the Riverside; I like the large-page format; and I like the fact that it's an original-spelling text, mainly because
a) Milton was pretty emphatic about most of his orthographical irregularities, & indeed seems to have used some spelling variations for intentional emphasis
b) I believe students ought to confront early modern texts in all of their alterity, including that of early modern spelling, and
c) I'm a sadist (no, just kidding)
But Flannagan's annotations, which sometimes take up a third of the page in teeny-tiny print, drive me up the friggin' wall. They come in at least three flavors: simple glosses and explanatory notes; longer interpretive notes, which often take issue with other critics & try to cram whole traditions of critical debate into a paragraph; and outright textual notes: "in the 1654 manuscript, Milton writes 'every,' while in this 1673 edition the word reads 'ev'ry'..." (The Riverside Chaucer & Shakespeare hive off their textual material to a separate section, where grad students can contemplate it with glee or glumness.)

In short, Flannagan offers an over-annotated edition, where my po' undergrads are confronted not merely with this crazy 17th-century heretic-Puritan poet who's as happy writing in Latin as in English (& who half the time seems to be writing something in between the two), but with a huge, undigested bolus of annotation which ranges from telling them who "Hermes" is to footering around with whether the choice between a colon & a semicolon was made by the blind Milton, his emanuensis, or the typesetter. So I hied me to the bookstore & picked up a copy of the book the Riverside replaced, Merritt Hughes's John Milton: Complete Poems and Major Prose.

This doorstopper was published just about half a century ago, & I gather was the Milton of choice for college courses about 40 years. (Flannagan is pretty explicit in his preface that he's producing something to replace Hughes.) It was out of print when the Riverside came out back in 1998; since then, I suspect in response to instructor dissatisfaction with Flannagan, it's been reprinted by the plucky little Hackett House, of whose editions of Spinoza & Leibniz I've very fond. I was disappointed: I can live with Hughes's decision to print the poetry in modern spelling (retaining the emphatic "mee"s and the indiosyncratic "thir"s), & I can live with his somewhat thinner general introductions to the poems (he's much less concerned with political & historical context than Flannagan is, which I think reflects a subsequent shift in emphasis in early modern studies).

But if Flannagan overannotates, Hughes underannotates. Maybe readers in 1957 didn't need to be told what "th' Aonian Mount" is; maybe they were more willing to look it up. But that's precisely the sort of annotation needed in 2007. I don't think my students are any more ignorant than Hughes's were 50 years ago, but their treasuries of knowledge are definitely different. Hughes expects a reader with a working knowledge of classical history & mythology, Christian doctrine, & English literary history; my students often don't have that, tho they have a pretty sophisticated set of ideas about gender construction & politics: it's a different skill set, but one that has to be taken into account.

So I phoned up a colleague of mine, the best Miltonist I know, & asked him what do you assign? He uses it turns out an Anchor edition of the complete poetry (ed. John Shawcross) & an old paperback of the selected prose edited by CA Patrides. We chatted a bit, & he made a pretty good case for those volumes. But the puncher came at the close of the conversation: "Of course, they're the editions in which I read Milton in grad school."

Course text selection thru inertia. I can feel it pulling me right now, as I look over the bright white pages of Hughes, contemplate a new copy of Shawcross, & then turn to my Flannagan, whose pages are blackened (& blued, & purpled) with the marks of multiple readings & teachings. I hear it calling for the Joyce seminar, as I reread my 1986 copy of the Gabler Ulysses whose every page is scored with talking points & cross-references.

Back in the day I read Ulysses in graduate seminar with a professor whose claim on history was that he'd published the first (the very first) study of Ulysses keyed to the then-brand-new Gabler text. What did he teach out of? Well, while there was always a Gabler open on the table to his right, when it came time to look up a passage, he would pull the rubber band off of his disintegrating copy of the old Random House text.
Jane Dark has learned to count to 3; therefore, he righteously castigates Josh Corey (& practically everyone else) for remaining within Machichean Duality. The "slippery slope" – a logical bogeyman much beloved of neo-cons and other sophists – as one learns early on in philosophy courses, is usually as much a fallacy as its derivative the "domino theory."
Finally, a National Book Award that excites one!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Ulysses & me

For some reason or another, it’s been a long week, & a long (but nice) weekend following. A couple nights ago, deathly tired of grading papers & keeping up with the reading for my Bible as Lit course, I hauled down my copy of Ulysses and started re-reading, thinking this would set me in good stead for this spring’s Joyce seminar. I think I misjudged – or perhaps I’ve had too steady a diet of “big canonicals” these past weeks (I’ve been reading the Good Book, not merely for the course, but straight thru as well – in the middle of the Psalms now – been re-reading Paradise Lost for an upcoming Milton course, & re-scanning The Cantos at a leisurely 3-Cantos-every-few-days pace). Anyway, I re-read both Moby-Dick and Ulysses about this time last year, much of them over the week & a half of enforced, electricity-less leisure following Hurricane Wilma. I remember having great fun.

I think I could read Moby-Dick in almost any circumstances, & I used to think that about Ulysses. But the other night’s reading was hard, well-nigh painful: I found it difficult to force myself all the way thru the first chapter. It made me think about the book in relation to Moby-Dick, not least because they’re two works that I often tell my students (facetiously, mind you) they ought to read at least once a year. Part of what made me want to throw down Ulysses the other night was my standard revulsion at Stephen Dedalus’s sickly Paterianism; but I also found myself just bone-weary of reading books (mind you, I was just coming off of Book V of Milton) in which every line, every phrase is so absolutely weighted. It’s not like that with Melville, is it? I thought.

Much of what makes Moby-Dick so readable for me is that the writing is so wonderfully unbuttoned, happily & wildly rhetorical, sloppy and enthusiastic. In so much of the novel, you can simply let yourself be carried away by Melville’s rhetoric, swept away in the excitement of his story, & not worry about how each image or utterance fits into a grand pattern, as it does in Ulysses.

Or maybe working with poetry all these years has just ruined me for unbuttoned novel-reading. At any rate, Ulysses & I are best friends again – Leopold Bloom has just fixed his wife breakfast, eaten a kidney, & had a poop, & I can’t wait for him to check his mail, have his bath, & show up for that funeral.
I've only leafed thru Andrew Duncan’s The Failure of Conservatism in Modern British Poetry (Salt, 2003), but I can tell it’s going to be a wild ride. Whatever you say about Duncan, he hasn’t a mealy-mouthed bone in his body: “[JH Prynne] associated with Charles Olson, an American who, although he never managed to write any good poetry, had ideas which stimulated the torpid and politically intimidated American literary scene of the time” (123). Gosh, Andrew, what do you really think of Olson? Please, you needn’t be afraid of speaking your mind – after all, you’re not facing a tenure committee or applying for an academic post, two hurdles which seem to have neutered most American academic critics of their ability to say out-&-out whether they think something is shite.*

*Mind you, I'm not endorsing AD's dismissal of the Big O – just expressing admiration at his unbuttoned expression of critical opinion.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


So the whole exhausting business of the mid-term elections is over, & a substantial portion of the electorate sems to have decided that they have spent long enough dining on Republican shit – tho we mustn't forget, as we are told by sage voices on the Left, that we've just swapped menu choices for a slightly less odiferous ordure – ah well, some folks are so busy being unacknowledged legislators of Utopia that they have no time for the actual business of sublunary politics. "If we just make clever fun of Capital long enough," one friend drawls, "it'll eventually just up and die of shame and embarassment."

I'm almost too immured in work to be happy, but I'm managing. A whole slew of new books in the last few days, which I'm dying to read but have to steal time from more pressing obligations simply to look at: Under Virga by Joe Amato (BlazeVOX), with one of the most visually striking covers to come under my eyes in ages; Kate Greenstreet's first, case sensitive (Ahsahta), whose precision of language squares with Greenstreet's artist's eye (also on view at Every Other Day).

From Salt, that hive of UK-based poetry publishing, along with usual cartload of new poetry books, 2 volumes of criticism: Andrew Duncan's The Failure of Conservatism in Modern British Poetry and Peter Barry's Poetry Wars: British Poetry of the 1970s and the Battle of Earls Court, a blow-by-blow account of the brief period (1971-7) when the National Poetry Society's journal, Poetry Review, came under the editorship of the indefatigable and polymathic Eric Mottram & became an avant-garde publishing outlet. (Not a precise parallel, but imagine Lisa Jarnot being named editor of Poetry magazine, instead of Christian Wiman.)

Probably part of what makes Barry's book so appealing to me is that it's an unabashed work of literary history, an extremely rare animal these days. David Perkins asked the question Is Literary History Possible? in one book, & his monumental 2-volume History of Modern poetry seemed to answer "no," since it amounts to potted career summaries and critical pronouncements about a couple hundred poets. But I'm not sure the genre's anywhere near dead. For all its shortcomings, I confess to a sneaking fondness for Julian Symons's Makers of the New: The Revolution in Literature 1912-1939 (Random House, 1987). There's still a place for well-written, lively narrative explanations of literary events, & I think the deft author can fit in whatever theoretical machinery she happens to find compelling, from the rise of Late Capitalism (as in Peter Nicholls's Modernisms) to Bourdieuvian mappings of fields of power & cultural production.

It's time, I suspect, for someone to get to work writing a global history of alt-poetry in the American 20th century: sure, we have books on the Beats and on the New York School (tho I haven't yet been able to pick up David Lehman's The Last Avant-Garde), but where's the histories – not the critical studies, but the narrative histories – of Olson and Black Mountain, of the Objectivists, of Spicer, Duncan, Blaser, & the San Francisco Renaissance? Where's our next Georg Brandes?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Various ('stay the course' edition)

In the lovely 22 October quotation from Our Leader, "Listen, it's never been 'stay the course,'" belied as any number of commentators immediately pointed out by hundreds, nay thousands of recorded instances of the Dauphin urging us to "stay the course" in Iraq, a Miami Herald columnist sees evidence of creeping Orwellian Newspeak – "war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength" and so forth. I guess I see that, when I squint. More often, when I run upon the daily evidence of the administration's pervasive & poisonous inability to tell the truth in any instance where it goes against their immediate tactical advantage, I see the behavior of a poorly-socialized, base-minded elementary school child. (Cf. descriptions of W's behavior as a Deke mover & shaker back at Yale.)
Long weekend: The reading to which I invited you a couple days back went well, I thought. An exercise, on my part, in seeing whether I could compete with Tom Raworth in the "speed performance" category. I can't, but it was great fun to try, & it's surprising how much adrenaline one works up over 15 or 20 minutes of intense page-turning. One kind friend says the poems were "fabulous," & asks who'll publish them. Good question – any takers out there?

Saturday night a belated Halloween party, at which yr v. h'mble s'rv'nt took second place in the costume contest: kilt & tartan splendour (sorry, no photos available, tho the legs aren't bad), & not a patch on the winner, the bearded chap in pregnant drag.
I've been spending an inordinate amount of time following the elections, even buying into the Daily Kos-watching, psychic-energy-consuming activity of poll-following. J. has been spending many, many hours of late on phone banks, for which I have become child-care backup (they also serve who only go to the playground & read Frog & Toad & participate in rather painful bouts of Hop on Pop). Like today, when what Daphne had been nursing over the past week (a trifle of sniffles, a soupçon of phlegm, & a very minor ear infection) broke out into a full-blown unstoppable cough.

Poor thing. She's been in bed for 3 hours now, toddler sleep broken every 8 1/2 minutes on average by a coughing bout which segues into a screaming/crying tirade, demanding in turn "binkie," "wah-yer" (water), and "Mommie." (What am I, chopt liver?) Promises to be a long night.

Friday, November 03, 2006

It's not sending me to the bookshelf just yet, but...

Don't miss this – the best meditation on reading (Sir) Walter Scott's poetry I've very encountered. The money line: "There are many reasons to read first-rate literature, but let’s look at some reasons not to."

Bill & Bruce

Get it while it's hot – Language poet & Fordham poly sci professor Bruce Andrews appeared last night on the odious Bill O'Reilly's "O'Reilly Factor." The video can be viewed here (go to the blue buttons on the left & click "Outrage of the Week"). I'll hand it to Bruce for remaining unflappable in the face of O'Reilly's imbecilities; on the other hand, sfarz I can tell Bruce scores precisely none of the points one hoped against the Loofah Man. "Normative"? "Justificatory discourse"? One hears millions of O'Reilly viewers across America – "He ain't just a commie, he cain't even talk so's I can understand."

There're a lot of academics out there who nurse dreams of going on O'Reilly or another of the skanky right-wing talk shows & wiping the floor with the host. What they usually fail to recognize is that the level of discourse on those shows isn't just simple – it's so absurdly dumbed-down that all of the tools of critical analysis & subtle reading one has developed over the years are simply useless, a set of jeweller's instruments against a caveman with a big club. Irony – Bruce's stock-in-trade – simply does not register.

Locals only

might be interested in attending an event tomorrow (Friday) evening at 8.00pm, at Our University's Ritter Gallery (2nd floor of the breezeway, positioned just where you turn off for the library), where faculty writers A. Papatya Bucak, William Bradley, and yr. v'ry humble serv't will be performing.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Go Thou & Read

3 sparkling new opera by John Latta on Intercapillary Space. Do it now, okay?