Sunday, January 28, 2007

Catering to toddlers

I’m still alive, tho last week came close to killing me. (NB: If you send in a manuscript with either calculus equations or Greek quotations, they will, oh yes they will, get chewed up somewhere along the way.) The jobsearch madness winds down this week. We (J & I, that is) are as it were still between tumults. The girls share the same birthday (2 years apart – don’t even ask…), which falls in the midst of next week. So in lieu of one vast rampage of preschoolers, we’re having separate birthday parties – one yesterday, and one this coming weekend. These things tend to run to excess down here: the last one we attended had a clown blowing up balloons, a face-painter, a bounce house (one of those inflatable contraptions in to which small children can climb and jostle themselves silly), and a guy from an animal shelter offering pythons and tarantulas for the kids to pet. I think the party itself was catered; the open bar was certainly nice. (All this, mind you, for a fifth birthday – I believe bat mitzvahs down here tend to require a second mortgage.) Since we’re modest folks, Pippa’s celebration will be considerably more restrained.
Aside from rereading (& wincing at) my own prose, I’ve been working my way thru Beckett’s trilogy with much wonder, & getting my toes wet in Neal Stephenson’s Crytonomicon. Our job candidates have reminded me of a long-deferred project that might actually happen this year – reading my way thru Virginia Woolf’s novels. Poetry titles that have caught my attention include Kate Greenstreet’s case sensitive and Paul Naylor’s Arranging Nature. I’ll try to give them a little close attention when I’m a little more blog-motivated. And a big shout out to Paul, who’s welcoming aboard the new arrival Siena Kilb Naylor. Congratulations! Welcome to the world of catered birthday parties!
An embarrassing proportion of the traffic this humble blog’s gotten in the past couple of months has happened because of some kind soul’s linking my little screed on Fernando Botero’s Abu Ghraib pictures to the Wikipedia Botero entry. Heaven knows how many Boterophiles out there are sharpening their knives for me. Indeed, I’ve even gotten some communications from a BBC team working on a documentary on the man – something about wanting a “dissenting voice” on Botero’s wonderfulness: I didn’t have the heart to say Hey, walk into any art history department, or ask your nearest art critic. (Anybody, that is, but Arthur Danto…)

Saturday, January 20, 2007


Culture Industry has been more or less dark for a while now, & may remain that way for a bit longer. A lot on our plate here in the space station: 1) Our department is hiring no fewer than three positions this year, so we have no fewer than nine prospective colleagues visiting over the three weeks; and since I’m chairing one of the search committees, I need to be on board for at least three of those visits. 2) Of course it’s the first couple weeks of classes with attendant panic, dysfunction, & frantic rereading of texts on the instructor’s (read my) part. 3) And I’m in the midst of reviewing copy-editing changes – and making bunches of my own – on a 600-page manuscript which I thought I knew by heart, having written it myself & worked it over in detail at least four times, but now I find full of major & minor infelicities, grammatical solecisms, idiomatic gaffes, and outright idiocies. And this due back to the publisher in less time than it takes Homer Simpson to fulfill his conjugal duties.

So I haven’t been blogging, or even reading blogs much. I’d love to chime in with Josh Corey on “postmodern baroque,” am enjoying discovering how Reginald Shepard’s mind works, especially when he’s thinking about “difficulty” in poetry, and wish that someday someone would do to a book of mine what Ron Silliman is doing to Bob Perelman’s latest – but there just aren’t enough hours in the day right now.

So back to page 253, and a query that will send me on what I hope isn’t a wild goose chase into the tottering stack of papers & folders that I call my “files.” DV, will emerge someday.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Size Matters

I’m still in the trenches of preparing syllabi (D-Day is tomorrow – er, later today, I guess) & therefore not at all available for extended blogging. Thank Goddess there’re so many distractions from paying work. Right now I’m finding it hard to line up dates & page numbers because the cranium’s abuzz with the idea of a longish essay/shortish monograph on part-to-whole relationships in modernist/late modernist long poems. Really a meditation on length, the length of the small things that make up the big thing. Sparked by noting how while The Cantos stretch out from 3-5 pages early on to 20 or more in the late bits, there’s a general homogeneity in duration – only rarely the blip of a canto longer or shorter than anything around it. (Relecting back on the books into which Homer & Virgil divided their epics – who’s responsible for the book divisions in Homer? are you out there, David W? – the very regular canto lengths in Dante, Milton’s decision to revise Paradise Lost from 10 to 12 by the simple expedient of chopping 2 long books in half…) Chapter & volume divisions in the Victorian novel, more often than not influenced by the exigencies of periodical publication & circulating library demands – a tradition blown to hell by the metastasizing chapters of Ulysses – which I read in turn as the key influence on Zukofsky’s decision to organize “A” as a series of heterogeneous formal experiments, rather than – as it began – a Marxist-inflected new world version of The Cantos. Then on to what – The Alphabet? Drafts? the solid text blocks of McCaffery’s Black Debt? the labyrinths of Sheppard’s Twentieth Century Blues? But for now back to the syllabi…
Michael Bérubé has closed up shop. I’m glummish, even tho rejoycing at the 4-5 weekly hours that have been freed up…
Hey, Bob, what if – and the syntax allows – Ron only meant Gjertrud S’s poetics were fascist, & not Geoffrey Hill’s? Just wondering…
The night of the walking ellipses… (LZ habitually used only two dots for ellipses, one of the weirder orthographical things I’ve encountered since Ron Johnson’s habitual “Euridice.”)

Thursday, January 04, 2007

self-promotional department

There's a whacking large update of Zach Barocas's always lively Cultural Society, with new work from Norman Finkelstein, Peter O'Leary, Pam Rehm, Stacy Szymaszek, Tyrone Williams, and others: including two new poems of mine – "Boo-boo" and "Contrafactual." Do check it all out.

Busy busy busy

is what I've been, what with licking a poetry manuscript into send-outable shape, trying to put together syllabi for next week & to read those last-minute readings, & anticipating the oncoming semester like a bullet train hurtling at me down a tunnel. Anyway, busyness probably goes to explain why the blog has been so torpid these last few days (weeks? months?): one sign of which is the fact that there's been far more happening in the comments box than on the actual blog. Case in point – this wonderful summation from old chum Paul Naylor of the excellent Singing Horse press:
I have to say I’ve never found Adorno’s critique of Heidegger very persuasive, and I think that has to do with something Norman said in passing, that “you couldn’t have the latter w/out the former,” meaning Adorno’s essay “Lyric Poetry and Society” isn’t possible without Heidegger’s essays on poetry. That’s absolutely right, but it’s something Adorno would be loathe to admit. Adorno was either blind to the fact that he and Heidegger had an immense amount in common philosophically, or he refused to admit it. They both take their lead from Weber’s contention that modernity is characterized by the disenchantment of nature at the hands of instrumental rationality. They both offer a critique of instrumental rationality by drawing attention to that which resists instrumental rationality in particular and conceptuality in general; for Heidegger it’s the “earth” that can’t be totalized in conceptual knowledge, while for Adorno it’s the “non-identical” that resists conceptuality. And both turn to art as the primary instance of that which is non-identical to instrumental rationality. The fact that Adorno either can’t or won’t recognize that common ground and/or influence prevents him from waging a fully “immanent” critique of Heidegger; as a result, what I find in The Jargon of Authenticity and Negative Dialectics are mostly glancing blows that don’t really get at the core of what’s problematic in Heidegger.
See what I mean? Beautifully put, & way smart. (Interesting how in the strange slightly overlapping worlds of poetry & academia, one comes to think of someone as an "old chum" on the basis of maybe a half-dozen actual hours of shared facetime over a decade or more...)
This arresting factoid from the Silli-blog: apparently there were all of 69 whole academic positions in Creative Writing advertised in this years MLA Job List, in contrast to 400 – yes, four hundred – creative writing programs busily minting MFAs & CW PhDs to fill those positions. Ron estimates that this means a production level of 4000 MFAs per year (I think that's high; the MFA program I attended usually generated 8 per year, & the program at Our University is turning out rather fewer, thankfully). He doesn't consider, however, that the AWP (Associated Writing Programs, I believe) runs its own conference & joblist – but I can't believe that they're advertising 3931 jobs this year. However you slice it, that's an astonishing overproduction: somebody's getting ripped off here, folks.
The Archambeau/Park axis continues to blog Adorno's Aesthetic Theory, & I've been roughly interpellated to respond; but it'll take a few days. (Note to Bob: we like Greil Marcus better than Lester Bangs 'cuz he lived & was able to write past his early stuff: but have you ever heard Bangs's records? As someone once said of my poetry, "not bad for a critic.") (And speaking of Lipstick Traces, those of you with fond memories of Marcus's magnum opus might want to check out my own Anarchy, which in some moments I think of as a set of variations on Marcusian themes.)

Tuesday, January 02, 2007


Ruskin, writing of the ornamentation of concave & convex pillar capitals in Stones of Venice (volume I, chapter XXVII), anticipates Ron Silliman’s manicheanism:
And now the reader shall judge whether I had not reason to cast aside the so-called Five orders of the Renaissance architects, with their volutes and fillets, and to tell him that there were only two real orders, and that there could never be more. For now we find that these two great and real orders are representative of the two great influences which must for ever divide the heart of man: the one of Lawful Discipline, with its perfection and order, but its danger of degeneracy into Formalism; the other of Lawful Freedom, with its vigor and variety, but its danger of degeneracy into Licentiousness.

In re/ my last post, Norman finds Heidegger speaking to him more than I find Heidegger speaking to me – but that just might be the malaised mood I’ve been in for a while now: the “dictations” just aren’t coming thru like they should be.

On the other hand, Bob quite rightly reminds me of a passage where Adorno claims that the German language has what he calls "a special elective affinity to philosophy and indeed to its speculative moment." Indeed – but it’s worth considering the passage as a whole, just to note how TA scrupulously takes the opportunity to distinguish what he’s saying from Heidegger’s stance towards German as the language of Being, and to argue (yet again) against paraphrase. Here from “On the Question ‘What is German?” with my comments interspersed – Adorno writes, in this 1965 radio talk, specifically about his decision to return to Germany after the war:
The decision to return to Germany was hardly motivated simply by a subjective need, or homesickness, as little as I deny having had such sentiments. An objective factor also made itself felt. It is the language. Not only because one can never express one’s intention so exactly, with all the nuances and the rhythm of the train of thought in the newly acquired as in one’s own. Rather, the German language also apparently [note qualification] has a special elective affinity with philosophy and particularly with its speculative element that in the West is so easily suspected of being dangerously unclear, and by no means completey without justification [so, even as he asserts the “elective affinity” between German & the idealist tradition, TA allows that a good deal of that tradition might indeed be “nonsense on stilts”]. Historically, in a process that finally needs to be seriously analyzed, the German language has become capable of expressing something in the phenomena that is not exhausted in their mere thus-ness, their positivity, and givenness. This specific quality of the German language can be most graphically demonstrated in the nearly prohibitive difficulty of translating into another language philosophical texts of supreme difficulty such as Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit or his Science of Logic. German is not merely the signification of fixed meanings; rather, it has retained more of the power of expression – more in any case than would be perceived in the Western languages by someone who had not grown up in them and for whom they are not second nature. However, whoever remains convinced that, in contrast to the individual disciplines, the mode of presentation is essential to philosophy – as Ulrich Sonnemann recently put it very succinctly, there has never been a great philosopher who was not also a great writer – will be disposed to the German language. At least the native German will feel that he cannot fully acquire the essential aspect of presentation or expression in the foreign language [a fallback – even if what TA’s said about metaphysics & German is wrong, it’s at least true for the “native German”]. If one writes in a foreign language, then whether it is acknowledged or not, one falls under the captivating spell to communicate, to say it in a way such that others can understand. In one’s own language, however, if one says the matter as exactly and uncompromisingly as possible, one may hope through such unyielding efforts to become understandable as well [Adorno’s first allegiance, then, is to the contours of thought, which he can only accurately trace in German; if he were to write in, say, English (as he did a significant amount of), he’d be tempted to actually “communicate,” and thereby possibly traduce the thought itself]. In the domain of one’s own language, it is this very language itself that stands as a guarantee for one’s fellow human beings. I will not venture to decide whether this circumstance is specific to German or whether it affects far more generally the relationship between each person’s native language and a foreign language. yet the impossibility of conveying without violence not only high-reaching speculative thoughts but even particular, quite precise concepts such as those of Geist, Moment, and Erfahrung, including everything with which they resonate in German, speaks for a specific, objective quality of the German language. Unquestionably the German language also has a price to pay for this quality in the omnipresent temptation that the writer will imagine that the immanent tendencies of German words to say more than they actually say makes things easily and releases him from the obligation of thinking and, where possible, of critically qualifying this ‘more’, instead of playfully indulging it. The returning émigré, who has lost the naïve relationship to what is his own, must unite the most intimate relationship to his native language with unflagging vigilance against any fraud it promotes; against the belief that what I should like to call the metaphysical excess of the German language in itself guarantees the truth of the metaphysics it suggests, or of metaphysics in general. I should perhaps admit in this context that I also for this reason wrote the Jargon of Authenticity [TA’s 1964 attack on Heidegger & Heideggerianism].
Huzzah! USAirways found my bag, & delivered it to the door about 8.00 pm on New Year's Eve. So I won't have to replace all those toiletries, and find a new hairbrush (not that that's such an essential item anymore...).