Friday, September 28, 2007

When I read a post like "The Complete Language Game,"* I wish I were Jonathan Mayhew.
My ideal critic/historian of contemporary poetry would combine the aesthetic subtlety and political ferocity of Adorno, the historical & iconographical learning of Panofsky, & the broad and powerful sociological vision of Bourdieu. And the prose style of Guy Davenport. If the Goddess gives me another 40 years compos mentis, I will be that critic/historian.
I've given up looking for my ideal contemporary poet. I write the poems I can write: "ich kann nicht anders."

*As Steven points out in the comments box, that should read "The Complete Sentence Game." Oops.


Nada Gordon has posted a set of "Anti-Rules of Poetry Blogging" – things, that is, one should probably avoid doing – &, by golly, I seem to have been guilty of late of a whole bunch of them:
Avoid any mention of poetry altogether.

There is no such thing as irrelevant content: found text, recipes, videos, random observations – all good.

Especially, do not ever ever “engage current debate.”

Use gimmicks: a flickr badge and a label cloud are signs of a “quality blog.”

Don't set yourself up as an authority on anything.

Blog as frequently or as infrequently as you please: you owe no one anything.

You may use your blog as a catalogue of pet peeves if you like.
So I'll try to be a trifle more "on task" (as we used to say of the sighthound who was best at following the "rabbit" at the coursing events) in the future. Like, maybe even actually writing about poetry for a change, rather than the irritations of sloppy editing or the outrages of textbook publishers. But not quite yet...
I suppose you lucky souls in more northerly latitudes (something redundant there) are beginning to enjoy the symptoms of fall in the air. Here we've had 4 days of more or less constant, desperate rain, which has only stopped today: visually, a beautiful day, tho it bodes to hit the high 80s, & the mosquitos are out like Eliot's hooded hordes.
Like everybody else, I keep reading Ron S day after day, & my naturally phlegmatic temperament only gets me het up when I read something like this:
asking for source data on a 900 page manuscript like The Alphabet is not so far from inviting a 2,000 page response. I suppose some day some enterprising grad student is going to comb through Ketjak and identify just how many sentences there were lifted directly from Quine – it could be done. But I’m not in the slightest inclined to think that doing so would tell you any more about the poem. In that same vein, the various annotations for works like Ulysses, The Cantos or Finnegans Wake always strike me as telling me a little about what the author may have been thinking about around the time of composition, but they are almost mute on what the works themselves actually say. Annotating, reading & interpreting are, after all, three different acts. Everyone who has ever written about 2197 has done so with a sense of a science fiction framework & what that might mean to those texts. I can’t think of anyone who has as yet noticed that the number is 13 cubed, which means that it represents the total of sentences in the work. From the perspective of reading, does that matter? I suspect not.
Leaving aside the stunningly presumptious anticipation of some "enterprising grad student"'s future attentions, the lumping together of the very different annotative enterprises directed at Ulysses, The Cantos, & Finnegans Wake strikes me as just plain sloppy. What's being annotated in each case is strikingly different (for Ulysses, there're great stretches that simply explain 1904 Dublin culture & geography for a 21st-c. reader; for The Cantos, it's mostly sourcing of quotations & translating of foreign phrases, as well as – not yet nearly enough – background historical context; for Finnegans Wake, it's largely philology). And while everybody's entitled to read however they see fit, & while I'd never downplay the value of a "cold" reading of a difficult, referential text (that was what got me into, & thru, Maximus the first time around), any reader who values authorial intention (old-fashioned, yes, but take it or leave it) is going to have to come around to the annotations at some point. Sure, "annotating, reading & interpreting are, after all, three different acts," but it's pretty damned theoretically slippery to separate the latter two in such a briskly cavalier fashion. (Plug here for Jeff Twitchell's Zukofsky exemplary annotations site.)
A fascinating piece in the Times' Magazine's "College" issue on New St. Andrews College in Idaho, a experiment in turning out "medieval Protestants" – hardcore evangelicals with rigorous classical educations. Aside from the rigors of Latin & Greek (the latter of which I regret never having undergone), it's just as wingnut as the next evangelical institution. Still, you gotta love that the coffeehouse is called "Bucer's."
From John Latta's "Rag-bag islet" yesterday, a graceful & exemplary meditation (aided by André Furlani) on Lu Chi, Guy Davenport, & wasps. (John, how the hell do you get permalinks for single entries??)
Two additions to the blogroll: Nada Gordon (long overdue) & Mark Wallace, an old interlocutor from my DC days – another life, it seems, but grand to see him taking up the weblog medium.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Ghost essay

On the syllabus for tomorrow:
Week 5: 26 September
Eliot, The Waste Land continued; Leavis, “The Significance of the Modern Waste Land” (Norton Critical Ed. 173-85; Bush, “Unknown Terror and Mystery” (Norton Critical Ed. 246-58; Froula, “Corpse, Monument, Hypocrite Lecteur: Text and Transference in the Reception of The Waste Land” (Norton Critical Ed. 275-86).
This just in from WW Norton, after a fairly heated e-mail on my part:
Dear Professor Scroggins,

Your comments regarding the Norton Critical Edition of The Waste Land were passed along to me today. The book is not [a] revised edition and we do not have one planned for the foreseeable future.

Professor Froula required that her essay "Corpse, Monument, Hypocrite Lecteur: Text and Transference in the Reception of The Waste Land" be removed from the book after the tenth printing. The essay was deleted per her request in 2006 and any reference to her was removed from the book. This was an exceptional case; deletions between printings are in no way a typical practice for Norton Critical Editions. To avoid further confusion, any mention of Professor Froula's inclusion in the book will be removed from the website- many thanks for notifying us to this oversight.

Again, we regret any problems and frustration that Professor Froula's request caused.

Many thanks,

Editorial Assistant
Caveat lector – & lecturer!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Stardust / The Historical Record

Stardust. What's not to like? Stunning visual effects; Claire Danes transformed over the years since the last thing I saw her in – Romeo + Juliet – into a grown-up actor more lambently beautiful for her utter lack of conventional beauty, & able to turn in a convincing imitation of Gwyneth Paltrow; Michelle Pfeiffer reprising her role in Witches of Eastwick & Peter O'Toole his in Caligula; Robert DeNiro as a cross-dressing, can-can-dancing aerial pirate. The Princess Bride on special effects steroids. Yes, as we're told, a great "date film."

An exercise in both nostalgia & "world elsewhere" wish-fulfillment. Tristan makes it to the way interesting fantasy realm of Stormhold, defeats the witches & the ineffectual but nasty princes, gets the girl – a "star" in every sense – & discovers to boot (in a Shakespearean Romance-like turn) that he's the heir to the throne.

But what's he left behind? Nothing more onerous or constraining that a filmmaker's fantasy of a turn-of-the-century English agrarian town, a kind of Shire, where his object object of desire has the hots for the local Flashman (closeted, we learn). The contemporary fairy-tale, in which not merely the realm of faery but the realm of "reality" has been emptied of all true discomfort or social conflict. At least the dire film version of CS Lewis's dire Christian screed The Lion etc. had the decent idea of showing its children in flight from the Blitz.
The splendid British poet & bookdealer Peter Riley posts the following on the UK Poetry Listserv under the title "The Historical Record (I hope he doesn't mind me copying him):
After a small amount of rather scrappy research, I am beginning to think that possibly all or most of the poetry books published by print-on-demand presses since about 2000, are not getting into the copyright libraries. (It is a statutory obligation for all publishers to deliver six free copies of all books on publication to the British Library, [the National Libraries of Scotland and Wales, and the Oxford, Cambridge, & Trinity College libraries]).

It's difficult to be certain because it can take libraries a long time to get a book catalogued and sometimes some (e.g. poetry) items are classed as "secondary" and do not show in the main catalogue . But I've looked for about 25 books published between 1999 and 2002 in the on-line catalogue of Cambridge University Library and I've only found two of them. The books not there included two entitled "Collected Poems". For comparison I looked up five books published by Carcanet post 2002, and they were all there.

I tried to compare this with the British Library, and they do seem to have more, but their on-line catalogue is such hell I had to abandon the search.

I find this rather worrying. They really should be there, it is the historical record of our activity. The print-on-demand "boom" has been in many ways a saviour of the situation for poets, able at last to get real books out without submitting themselves to the "big" publishing machine. But many of these books are probably produced in small quantities and the copyright system is some kind of guarantee that they won't disappear for ever. I know from my experience as a bookseller that it is quite possible for a book published in, say, 1870 in several hundred copies, to have vanished without trace by 1990.
There's a similar provision in place under US copyright law, tho many of us seem unaware of its provision requiring that two copies of each book published in the US be deposited with the Library of Congress. And while Riley speaks of the print-on-demand phenomenon, I think this is a problem endemic to all small press publishing. A spotcheck reveals no copies of Jessica Smith's Organic Furniture Cellar, nor of Henry Gould's most recent books, nor of either of the two excellent Cultural Society books – Zach Barocas's Among Other Things and Joel Bettridge's That Abrupt Here – but their holdings of Bruce Andrews's books seem remarkably spotty, as well (at least four titles missing, including I Don't Have Any Paper So Shut Up), & Tina Darragh has published far more than the three titles they hold.

Perhaps the LOC is a kind of time-capsule, a last-ditch stand against oblivion. But I wonder that we aren't taking more care of our legacy in the alt-poetry world. Send your books to the Library of Congress; make your university (or public) library order your books, & books by the poets you admire; donate your books to collections that ought to have them (Buffalo, San Diego, etc.).

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Git yerself some kulchur

There's a brand new update at Zach Barocas's always excellent Cultural Society, including work by Joseph Bradshaw, Derrick Buisch, Cary Conover, Jon Curley, Tom Fisher, Roberto Harrison, Philip Jenks, Joseph Massey & Jess Mynes, Amanda Nadelberg, Peter O'Leary, Gregory J. Ott, John Phillips, Christopher Rizzo, Cindy Savett, Kate Schapira, Melissa Severin, Sandra Simonds, Shannon Tharp, Bronwen Tate, Jen Tynes, & Tyrone Williams. (Click on "texts.")

And a (longish) poem by me, "Of Systems Subject, Political, and Private." Do go read; tokenish prize to whoever can first identify the source of the title.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Just finished Michael North's Reading 1922: A Return to the Scene of the Modern (OUP, 1999). Not bad at all; does a fine if uninspiring job of putting the grand warhorses of 1922 (Ulysses, The Waste Land, etc.) back into their contemporary context, pulls some interesting threads together. Provocative rebuttals of Huyssen's high culture/low culture "great divide" & Jameson's modernism/postmodernism schematizations. But doesn't have the same satisfyingly chewy theoretical density of Marc Manganaro's Culture, 1922: The Emergence of a Concept (Princeton UP, 2002), which is one of those critical books that enables you (as somebody at Cornell, acc. to the dire David Lehmann, said of de Man's "Rhetoric of Temporality") to save yr dope money for a week.

But the book immediately at hand is North's Norton Critical Edition of The Waste Land (2001), which I keep assigning to classes largely for its critical essays (& of course to support independent publishing). Problem with these Critical Editions – & here I include every Norton CE I've ever used – is that you can't really trust the explanatory notes. Not TS Eliot's notes – everybody knows they're whacked – but North's notes: you know, the ones at the foot of the page, the ones most students take as gospel truth. (After all, they were written by this UCLA professor, he knows so much more than I do...)

I can't claim to have checked every note, but here's a few flyspecks in the notes to the poem itself:

•In a note to the Petronius epigraph ("NAM Sibyllam quiden Cumis" etc.), we're told that the quotation is "(Greek)." Well, 5 words of it are; but obviously the rest is in Latin.

•The battle of Mylae (1st Punic War) took place in 260BCE, not "206" as the note has it. (Okay, that's a typo – but who's reading proof here?)

•Headnote to "A Game of Chess": "Eliot takes the title of this section from a satirical play of the same name by Thomas Middleton (1570?-1627). First produced in 1625, A Game of Chess was suppressed because of the way in which it allegorized English conflict with Spain as a chess match." How many howlers can North fit into one note? Middleton was born in 1580, not "1570?"; the title of his play is A Game at Chess, not A Game of Chess; and the play was first produced in 1624, not 1625. These are well-documented matters.

•Headnote to "What the Thunder Said": "Eliot's headnote to this section helps us to see these lines as a description of the betrayal, arrest, interrogation, and crucifixion of Christ..." Eliot's headnote – "In the first part of Part V three themes are employed: the journey to Emmaus, the approach to the Chapel Perilous (see Miss Weston's book) and the present decay of eastern Europe" – does nothing of the sort.

Everybody thinks they're an editor, I guess; but who's editing the editors?

Culture Industry's 400th Post...

simply marks Culture Industry's 400th post.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

All of Beckett (almost)

So far as I can tell, there's no European equivalent to Grove Press's 4-volume Centenary Edition of Samuel Beckett's works (published last year, & which I have been carrying about, reading thru, & generally caressing ever since I received my copy for Christmas). No Pleiade Beckett in French, as one might expect, nor has Calder, his English publisher, issued a set analogous or identical to Grove's American enterprise.

Mind you, this is a lovely edition. It brings together almost everything (I'll get back to that "almost") that Beckett ever published in English, or translated into English himself. (A very few of his translations, early on, were done in collaboration with other translators, I assume before Beckett realized the aesthetic potential in the act of self-translation.) The omission of works existing only in French is quite deliberate, according to Paul Auster, the Grove Centenary Edition's (henceforward GCE's) series editor, & he concedes that this means that, however definitive it may be in presenting the works upon which Beckett's vast reputation rests, the edition "does not constitute a Collected Works."

Auster has for the most part chosen wisely in assigning superstar writers to introduce each volume: Colm Tóibín's introduction to the 1st volume of "Irish" novels is excellent; Salman Rushdie's introduction to the 2nd volume of novels – the Trilogy and How It Is – is luminous; & JM Coetze's introduction to the final volume of poetry, short fiction, & criticism is wonderfully hard-nosed & critically uncompromising. (Only Edward Albee's introduction to the Dramatic Works falls short, amounting to a page & a half of noting how really cool Beckett's plays are. Was Harold Pinter, Wole Soyinka, or Tom Stoppard otherwise occupied?)

But I fear, with my own obsessive anality coming to the fore, that I'm still dissatisfied with this edition, despite its lovely design & really wonderful typography – such an improvement over the hodge-podge of mostly dreadfully designed Grove paperbacks in my office. It's about the text, in part. The Grove website claims that "Typographical errors that remained uncorrected in the various prior Grove editions of Beckett's work have been corrected in consultation with Beckett scholars C.J. Ackerley and S E. Gontarski," but the books themselves make no note of textual matters save for the following: "Design and textual supervision by Laura Lindgren." She's done a lovely job of the design, for sure: but I'd feel much better about the texts – Watt is almost legendary for its longstanding corruption – if I'd been at least assured somewhere in the books themselves that real textual editors were on the job. (Ideally, of course, there'd be 20 or 30 pages of textual notes at the end of each volume detailing corrections & variations, but perhaps that's asking too much.)

And then there's the contents themselves: I can entirely understand the GCE's leaving out Beckett's posthumously published works, the novel Dream of Fair to Middling Women & the play Eleuthéria (which was written in French, & which SB himself didn't translate). But Auster is a trifle disingenuous when he claims that all that has been omitted from the 4 volumes are "a number of untranslated French poems and short critical essays." "Those with a knowledge of French," he continues helpfully, "can find them in Collected Poems in English and French and Disjecta, both available from Grove Press." (My inner copyeditor adds that those without a knowledge of French can find them there as well, tho they won't be able to read them.)

A glance at the contents of Disjecta, however, shows one that more than just a few French-language essays have been omitted from the GCE. (For the record, the GCE's "criticism" section consists of precisely 3 items: the Finnegans Wake essay "Dante...Bruno.Vico..Joyce," the book Proust, & the "Three Dialogues" with Georges Duthuit.) Leaving aside the Disjecta pieces in French & German, & leaving aside the various excerpts from letters, there remain almost 20 reviews & notes on writers, poets, & painters – all in English – that for some reason passed thru the GCE's editorial sieve. Reviews & notes on Mörike, on Rilke, on Ezra Pound; on such Irish modernists as Denis Devlin & Thomas McGreevy; on painters Jack B. Yeats & Avigdor Arikha. And finally, a 12-page fragment of Human Wishes, SB's play about Samuel Johnson.

I'm all in favor of honoring authors' posthumous desires about what to publish & what to leave unpublished (tho I suspect Grove's decision not to include Dream of Fair to Middling Women and Eleuthéria had more to do with the fact that they're in print from other publishers than with Beckett's wishes). But these pieces in Disjecta – written in English or translated into English by SB, published in his lifetime with his (grudging) permission – seem to meet all possible criteria for inclusion in the big 4-volume set. It would be silly to claim they're essential bits of the Beckett oeuvre, but I for one would like their exclusion to be explained a bit more clearly.

But enough grousing. Despite its teeny omissions, & despite the "black box" nature of its textual editing, this is my working Beckett from here on out: an extraordinary collection, beautifully produced & wonderfully readable to boot. Nothing like being brought face to face with the emptiness & inanity of human existence thru a nice piece of bibliographic art.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

1st Review!

So I learn, from Bob Archambeau, Charles Bernstein, & various others in far-flung places, that The Poem of a Life: A Biography of Louis Zukofsky, has gotten its first review – by Marjorie Perloff in the 7 September TLS. Well, I'm chuffed, even tho I haven't seen the thing yet, having gooberishly let my subscription lapse.

An appeal then: any of you out there who get the TLS & wouldn't mind passing the issue – or the clipped review therefrom – along to me when you're done? [There are at least 6 nail parlors & 4 posh gyms within a five-mile radius of Culture Industry central, but I've phoned every bookshop & newstand in the book, & nobody carries the damned thing.]

Friday, September 14, 2007

unlikely source

Happened upon this bit of sub-Kipling schoolboy good cheer, as writen in an autograph book:
When a bit of sunshine hits you
After passing of a cloud,
And a bit of laughter gets you
And your spine is feeling proud,
Don't forget to up and fling it
At a soul that's feeling blue,
For the moment that you sling it
It's a boomerang to you.
The author? Samuel Beckett. As biographer Anthony Cronin comments, the boy in whose book Beckett inscribed these lines "thought that they were an accurate reflection of his attitude. It is fairly safe to say that no one would ever think so again."
Hamm: Go and see is she dead.
[Clov goes to bins, raises the lid of Nell's, stoops, looks into it. Pause.]
Clov: Looks like it.
[He closes the lid, straightens up. Hamm raises his toque. Pause. He puts it on again.]
Hamm: [with his hand to his toque] And Nagg?
[Clov raises lid of Nagg's bin, stoops, looks into it. Pause.]
Clov: Doesn't look like it.
[He closes the lid, straightens up.]
Hamm: [letting go his toque] What's he doing?
[Clov raises lid of Nagg's bin, stoops, looks into it. Pause.]
Clov: He's crying.
[He closes lid, straightens up.]
Hamm: Then he's living.
Poetics of the pause.

Monday, September 10, 2007


Now that I'm just pissing blood & tiny pointy shards, as opposed to writhing prostrate in full-flank agony, I can get back to actual blogging. I'm pleased to see my colleague Emily over at Incertus getting exercised by the silliness of the anti-Stratfordians again – always a healthy workout for the cardio-vascular system, I think. Like 6-day Creationists & Holocaust deniers, those who deny Wm Shakespeare's (or as they style it, thinking they're saying something significant, "Shakespere's") authorship of "Shakespeare" will always be with us – indeed, I encourage Creationists & Holocaust deniers to look into the authorship "controversy," since they're liable to do a great deal less harm in that little wing of the grand crank factory than in the world at large.

The whole business is only irritating when celebrities get involved – as with this latest Derek Jacobi/Mark Rylance business, or earlier with John Gielgud & Kenneth Branagh, or Walt Whitman & Charlie Chaplin – because then public attention starts getting drawn to the whole non-question. The problem, of course, is that if there were any real controversy over who wrote Shakespeare, the people capable of solving it would be clear-sighted scholars with an encyclopedic knowledge of Renaissance literature & a firm grasp of early modern culture – the culture of the playhouse, of the literary marketplace, of the publishing industry, & so forth.

It's pretty hard to find such animals among actors & creative writers, I'm afraid. Indeed, a 1st-rate analytical mind, tho it never hurts, is far from necessary equipment for acting well or writing well: Do you want Johnny Depp to do your taxes? To edit your term paper? I adore Yeats & Whitman as poets, but I'm the 1st to admit that their intellects were serious effing muddles. So, frankly, who gives a rat's ass what Derek Jacobi or Mark Rylance think about the authorship question?

Culture Industry has visited the authorship "controversy" at least once before, in connection with an Oxfordian book; it sprang to my mind the other day, when I was googling Henry Peachum & anagrams (don't ask) & fell afoul of a whole nest of mind-bendingly obtuse websites on the subject. In my random moments, I keep coming up with lists of questions to ask the anti-Stratfordians:

1) Since you wonder at the fact that Shax of Straford didn't leave any books in his will, what's the data on books in the wills of other dramatists of the period: Middleton, Chapman, Heywood?

2) No letters in Shax's hand? How many letters do we have from Middleton, Chapman, Fletcher, Ford?

[The problem with demanding of Shakespeare the whole written trail that characterizes someone like Goethe or Wordsworth – autographs in people's notebooks, recounted table-talk, laundry-lists, etc. – is that Shax lived before the author became a celebrity. The William Shakespeare who wrote the plays was not the deified Shakespeare of the 19th & 20th centuries, or even the proto-deified Shakespeare of the 18th. He was simply WS, a player & playwright, a script doctor & collaborator, a guy who worked up old stories into playable scripts & rolfed antiquated plays for a contemporary audience.]

3) If there is really such a paucity of information about Shakespeare – a fairly prolific early modern playwright, though by no means among the most prolific – then name one other early modern playwright (other than Ben Jonson, an indefatigable self-promotional machine) about whom we know as much. Thomas Heywood, who claimed to have had a hand in over 200 plays, but whose birth date we don't know? George Chapman? Thomas Middleton?

4) If, as Derek Jacobi is so convinced, "an author writes about his own experience" – a simple-minded equation essential to the thought-processes (generously so-called) of at least the Oxfordians – please explain Sir Walter Scott's 27 novels, not one of which is based on events of his life. Then explain the personal roots of Robert Browning's dramatic monologues, Alfred Tennyson's Idylls of the King, & Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene.

Unlike Amy & Emily, I'm not inclined to get worked up over the elitism inherent in claiming that a person of Shakespeare's social background couldn't have written the plays. The elitism's certainly there, & just as ugly as such elitism always is. But everyone who knows literature knows that social elitism simply has no force in the world of letters, that far too many great writers came from the working or middling classes (John Clare, Ben Jonson, Louis Zukofsky, James Joyce) for class origin to be an ultimate bar to the imagination.

Instead, I sympathize and pity the anti-Stratfordians. They love their "Shakespeare" – or some plaster Jesus of a Shakespeare: I've yet to read an anti-Stratfordian book (& I've read way too many of them) that goes beyond a kind of muzzy high-school-level affectionate appreciation of the dramas – so much that they want to know everything about his life. But there is just so little to know about him. So they spend their time constructing Dumas-like conspiracy theories that give the man who wrote the plays an existence as exciting as Lawrence of Arabia's. If they need a new thrill, maybe they should try reading The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
The real scandal in the BBC story, by the way, comes in the last section, where we learn that a copy of the Jacobi/Rylance declaration has been "presented to Dr William Leahy, head of English at London's Brunel University and convenor of the first MA in Shakespeare authorship studies, to be launched later this month." This is, mind you, the equivalent of Georgia Tech announcing that they will be offering an MA in Intelligent Design studies; or MIT announcing a chair in Phlogiston Theory. Isambard Kingdom Brunel – great architect of suspension bridges, chief engineer of the Great Western Railway, builder of the Thames Tunnel – is spinning in his railway-gauge grave.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Embodiment, ii

[Guy Davenport, from the introduction to Montaigne's Travel Journal:]

He is, in a surprisingly modern sense, a tourist, with a tourist's interest in the amenities of the table and the bedroom. He is also, as we are never allowed to forget, a man in pain looking for a cure. His body cannot use certain minerals, such as calcium, which accumulate as pellets in his kidneys and bladder. The pain of a kidney stone is fierce, and in a male can be comparable to a woman's labor. The frequent "colic" in this journal (assuming that to be Montaigne's word for an attack of the stone) is a severe nausea in combination with the feeling that one's back is broken and that one's bowels need to move. Montaigne was fortunate in being able to pass his kidney stones. Another sufferer, Sir Walter Scott, could not, and abided pain of excruciating intensity for as long as two weeks at a time, helplessly screaming and hearing the New Testament read to him. Montaigne's constant scrutiny of his urine in a chamber pot, his colics and dizzy spells, his ability to drink heroic amounts of hot sulfurous water, locate his journal in a time when the body was still part of personality. Later, it would disappear. Dickens' characters, for instance, have no kidney stones because they have no kidneys. From Smollett to Ulysses, there is not a kidney in English literature.

Monday, September 03, 2007


My own relationship with my body is at best an equivocal one – & by body I mean the whole apparatus, from fallen-arched feet to mostly-bald head, including my face, the only aspect of my embodiment to make a regular appearance at this address in cyberspace. Even when I was young, thin, & by some accounts not actively ugly, I regarded my physical body as less me than as a kind of container or sheath by which I presented myself to others.

I suspect such residual Cartesianism is fairly widespread among those in the scribbling trades or doing other intellectual labor. We identify our selves with our minds, with our words. We have no trouble identifying Mikhail Baryshnikov squarely with his physique, with an exquisite overall coordination among brain, talents, skills, & toning. But who would associate the agile graces of Wallace Stevens's lyrics with the portly, hypertensive animal from which they emanated?

And the virtual community of the blogosphere, where one can circulate for years without attaching a face even to the bloggers whose writing you most admire, conduces to a kind of self-disembodiment even as one blogs.

This particular Labor Day Weekend, however, will go down for me as The Weekend Of The Kidney Stone; & nothing about it – save for a few rather pleasant but unfortunately brief opiate-fuelled reveries – has been remotely disembodied.

This is pain, my friends – in long, dull stretches; in concentrated, savage waves; sometimes easily quelled with Percocet or prescription-strength doses of Aleve; sometimes entirely ignoring all pharmacologies – this is pain like I've never experienced. And it make me aware of my dear old flabby, greying, obtuse body with a kind of horrifying intensity.