Wednesday, October 31, 2007

wee update

After getting a big sloppy soul-kiss of enthusiasm for the forthcoming The Poem of a Life: A Biography of Louis Zukofsky (still available at a whacking great discount from, just in time for Hanukah, Kwanzaa, & all those other gift-giving occasions – 4 weeks & counting till publication, kids), I've been alerted to the existence of Al Filreis's consistently lively & informative blog. Al, if you don't know him, is the co-director (with Charles Bernstein) of PennSound, the fantastic poetry website-clearinghouse-reading series at the U of Pennsylvania, & the author of for my money two of the 5 or 10 best books on Wallace Stevens.
I've also added a link to W.B. Keckler's ebulliant Joe Brainard's Pyjamas, a blog (& webzine) that gives a big (smiling) one-fingered salute to the brow-furrowed seriousness the likes of Rbt. Pinsky & Louise Glück would project as the climate of American poetry today. (The Divine Oscar: "All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling.")

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

biography & concision

I've been thinking about biography again – frantically, as it's book-order time for next semester's graduate seminar in Biography: Theory and Practice, & by golly there seems to be very little on biographical theory in print at the moment. Dipping desultorily into Nigel Hamilton's Biography: A Brief History (Harvard UP, 2007), which for all its breeziness & frequent flyspecks ("Samuel Johnson was fascinated by the lives of poets – if only because his own attempts to write verse had proved miserable failures" – ye gods & little fishes, has the man never exposed himself to the mordant grandeurs of "London" or "The Vanity of Human Wishes," 2 poems for which I'd exchange about 80% of the Norton Anthology of English Poetry????) may turn out to be the course's pis aller.

Much more fun, of course, has been Lytton Strachey's Queen Victoria, an exquisitely written 240-page jeweler's setting of the 81-year life & 63-year reign of the woman who gave sex a bad name. How does one perform such a feat of miniaturization, of Proust-summarizing? One has in mind the passage from the Preface to Eminent Victorians, of course: "To preserve, for instance, a becoming brevity – a brevity which excludes anything that is redundant and nothing that is significant – that, surely, is the first duty of the biographer."

In a long set-piece passage towards the end of the book – one of the very few such passages – Strachey describes the Queen's collection-mania, how Victoria retained not merely everything she inherited – china, jewels, furniture, draperies, paintings – but every single object she acquired, both by purchase and by the "constant stream of gifts" that flowed in "from every quarter of the globe"; to boot, she had catalogued & photographed every object in each of the royal residences, recording its appearance from various perspectives, its provenance, its position within a given room. "And Victoria," Strachey writes,
with a gigantic volume or two of the endless catalogue always beside her, to look through, to ponder upon, to expatiate over, could feel, with a double contentment, that the transitoriness of this world had been arrested by the amplitude of her might.

Thus the collection, ever multiplying, ever encroaching upon new fields of consciousness, ever rooting itself more firmly in the depths of instinct, became one of the dominating influences of that strange existence.
(This is scarily like my own relationship to my books...) What is this a description of, however, but the Victorian multi-volume "Life and Letters" biography, the very print mausoleums that Strachey set out to demolish in Eminent Victorians?

Sunday, October 28, 2007


I'd always suspected that it was only a bit of hair, some eye liner, & maybe a few other details – acting talent, facial structure, about – ahem, well an unspecified number of pounds, & about a zillion dollars – that separated me from Johnny Depp. My triumphant second place costume prize at tonight's Halloween party confirms me in that belief. I'm considering making this my normal conference- and teaching-wear.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

physical culture (industry)

Once again I'm inspired by Jonathan Mayhew.

I stayed in shape thru high school by, well, having a high schooler's metabolism, & playing a lot of tennis. I stayed in shape thru college by doing a lot of running (ruining one knee in the process) and by living in out-of-the-way dorms on a huge campus, so that I had to walk several miles a day just to get to class. I stayed in shape thru grad school by living in Ithaca, where it was about a mile walk, much of it at what seemed a 30-degree incline, to get to the library or the department.

So now as I enter my twilight years of tenure & dim middle age, the machine is beginning to fall apart; years of sitting & reading, not to mention a general disinclination to do anything much active in the punishing South Florida climate, are catching up with me – minor backaches, stiffness, & a general Third Reich-like physical spreading out, as if my body needed more Lebensraum. (Having two preschoolers doesn't help, as it encourages one to view meals less as leisurely & carefully planned affairs than as ordeals – bolt one's food as quickly as possible, trying to head off infant disasters...)

After reading Jonathan's heartening post yesterday, I strapped on the iPod and walked a couple of miles, enough to get thru most of Give 'Em Enough Rope. Today (having changed shoes, as my Birkenstocks reduced my feet to bloody blistered ribbons) I did about half again as much – three movements of the Eroica. The after-pains are heartening.
Then again, there's this, towards which Margaret Soltan directed readers some months back. (That's not my picture, by the way.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


I wanna write in about five different directions, & of course oughtn't to be writing in any of them, but busily prepping tomorrow's class on Endgame & Adorno. But...

Eric comments on yesterday's chunk o' TWA:
"The individual passages have to be grasped as consequences of what has come before, the meaning of a divergent repetition has to be evaluated, and reappearance has to be perceived not merely as architectonic correspondence but as something that has evolved with necessity."

This seems true of how we read poems as well, no? Which leads me to wonder, is it more true of Beethoven than of other composers? You know music better than I do--is this true of some kinds, some periods, more than others?
Yes, indeed, I think that's true about how we read poems, at least one sort of poem (& it seems like a pretty close description of what the New Critics, bless their pointy little heads, used to tell us was the right way to trundle thru a Yeats poem. Which implies for me that Adorno's "immanent criticism" quite obviously has a lot in common with the New Criticism). In someone like Zukofsky or Ron Johnson, tho, I wonder if the notion of "evolving with necessity" – awfully reminiscent of "organic form" – might not have been eschewed in favor of something more like "architectonic correspondence"?

I think Adorno sees this sort of music – what he calls "highly organized" music – as emerging more or less with Bach (Adornauts feel free to correct me), and reaching its maturity with Beethoven and the Romantics. Me know more about music than you? – bite your tongue, Mr. S! Bob Archambeau has just pointed me to a fascinating omnibus review by Richard Taruskin of recent Adornian-influenced "defences" of "high" classical music, in The New Republic; much to think about, & interesting parallels perhaps with the situation of contemporary poetry.
Speaking of Ron Johnson, I've just discovered an old correspondent, WB Keckler, has a very lively blog indeed, Joe Brainard's Pyjamas. And he's dug up a Ronald Johnson poem I didn't know existed, the man's elegy for Princess Di. I'm afraid I don't share William's enthusiasm for the poem, tho I can see how tastes might diverge on this sort of thing. But it reminded me of section 36 of Geoffrey Hill's Speech! Speech!, which addresses the same subject & deploys many of the same images, but to a far more mordant effect:
Huntress? No not thát huntress but some
other creature of fable. And then for her |
like being hunted. Or inescapably
beholden (this should sound tired but not
emotional to excess). Half forgotten
in one lifetime the funeral sentences
instantly resurrected – hów can they do it?
Whatever of our loves here lies apart:
whatever it is | you look for in sleep:
simple bio-degradation, a slather
of half-rotted black willow leaves
at the lake's edge.
And speaking of Geoffrey Hill, I wish could be at this, if only to see the dour one's expression while Jorie Graham reads.
Eric muses, perhaps with an anthology in mind, about why so much writing about poetry is so awful. What, he wonders, are some really wonderful pieces of writing addressing individual poems, or poetry in general? Three sentimental favorites of my own:
•John Ruskin phrase-by-phrase dissection of "Lycidas" in Sesame & Lilies
•Hugh Kenner's Muybridgesque stop-motion of WCW's "Poem" (the one about the cat) in The Pound Era
•Susan Howe's fugue on "My Life had stood – a loaded Gun" in My Emily Dickinson
So what are your suggestions, readers gentle & ungentle?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Beethoven is Hegel in notes,

I wrote last post, thinking I'd hit upon something. But of course I must have read it, or something like it, somewhere in Adorno. In TWA's splendid, luminous essay "Skoteinos, or How to Read Hegel," after a particularly gnarly passage from Hegel's Subjective Logic, one finds this:
Music of Beethoven's type, in which ideally the reprise, the return in reminiscence of complexes expounded earlier, should be the result of development, that is, of dialectic, offers an analogue to this that transcends mere analogy. Highly organized music too must be heard multidimensionally, forward and backward at the same time. Its temporal organizing principle requires this: time can be articulated only through distinctions between what is familiar and what is not yet familiar, between what already exists and what is new; the condition of moving forward is a retrogressive consciousness. One has to know a whole movement and be aware retrospectively at every moment of what has come before. The individual passages have to be grasped as consequences of what has come before, the meaning of a divergent repetition has to be evaluated, and reappearance has to be perceived not merely as architectonic correspondence but as something that has evolved with necessity. What may help both in understanding this analogy and in understanding the core of Hegel's thought is recognizing that the conception of totality as an identity immanently mediated by nonidentity is a law of artistic form transposed into the philosophical domain. (Hegel: Three Studies, trans Shierry Weber Nicholson, MIT P 1993, 136-7)
Skoteinos: darkness, obscurity. The essay among other things is a wonderful primer on difficulty in Hegel.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


So now I have this tiny (externally) but (internally) whacking big iPod, 4 times the space of my wheezing, ancient original, & no longer have to worry about whether adding the new John Zorn record is going to force me to delete White Light/White Heat or something just as crucial. But then I have to worry about the hard drive on my laptop, which is (I believe) something like 20 gigs smaller (go figure) than this tiny iPod thingy. The solution of course is to relocate the iTunes library to an external hard drive.

Which I've done, & now I'm going wild ripping CDs that I haven't listened to in years. There was a very long period – maybe the better part of a decade – where I listened to almost nothing but "classical" music, jazz, & British Isles folk music. And I was under the impression that I had fairly decent libraries in all of those areas, until I started thinking to myself, what ought I to have listened to over those years when I was doing a nonstop diet of Messiaen, Gorecki, Schnittke, Gavin Bryars, etc? & so I came to realize that my library of the "real" classics – & here I'm thinking in particular of Beethoven, Brahms, & Mahler – is actually rather thin.

Some of that can be remedied in-house. I just ripped all 8 CDs of J.'s box set of the complete Beethoven quartets, along with her Karajan versions of the Brahms symphonies. But Mahler is still thin on the ground. One of the curiosities among the CDs I accumulated from my two-year subscription to the BBC's classical music magazine, which sent a disc every month, is a recording of Mahler's 10th symphony – unfinished at his death in 1911 – which has been "completed" by someone else.

Now I can imagine finishing an unfinished novel for which detailed notes exist – Wharton's The Buccaneers, for instance – or even writing a ending for a book whose author dropped dead without telling where he was going (Edwin Drood); I can even imagine, in an era when poetic rules & conventions were much more universal & binding than our own, finishing an unfinished poem: if, say, the last 300 lines of Thomson's The Seasons were missing, or if Spenser had left a detailed outline for the last 1/3 of Faerie Queene VI – I can see a writer of even moderate genius being able to turn out a serviceable pastiche. But I can't for the life of me imagine "completing" a major piece of romantic orchestral music.

(A lot of that's just a function of my abysmal ignorance about music – about, especially, the process of composition, orchestration, & so forth. Wikipedia tells me of Mahler's 10th that "a continuous 'beginning-to-end' draft of 1,945 bars exists, but much of it is not fully elaborated and most of it not orchestrated." Okay. I can dig the "not orchestrated" part: I assume GM sketched out the progression of major themes & melodies, & his "completer" assigned them to sections of the orchestra & them cooked up parts for the rest of the players. But what in heaven's name does "not fully elaborated" mean? This is all a function of my failure to take that music appreciation class back in the '80s, when I was still able to learn things.)

Pope is Bach in poetry; Thomson is Telemann. Beethoven is Hegel in notes.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Graphic Zukofsky

So you're wondering what to wear to the big book-release bash I'm planning for the (now about 5-6 weeks off) release of The Poem of a Life: A Biography of Louis Zukofsky? How about these (scroll down just a skoshe) nifty graphic designs, which can be printed on t-shirts, tank tops, even your little one's onesie:

Makes me remember with some fondness the t-shirts somebody (was it Bob Creeley?) had made up for a little Zukofsky conference in Buffalo 10 years ago. On the back, one of Elsa Dorfman's more geekish photos of LZ in conversation. On the front, the same scarecrowish profile as in the above pink graphic, with the tiny legend "Louie, Louie." (Oh baby, we gotta go...)

(Thanks to Jessica for the tip.)

Monday, October 15, 2007

adventures fictive & nonfictive

So we're back in humid South Florida, after a rather hectic afternoon & evening's travels: driving hell-bent for leather down the Massachusetts turnpike after spending a bit too long over lunch; dropping off the rental car at the Enterprise station – a good 10-minutes' drive from the airport, & with only a bare hour to spare before the flight left – only to learn that the flimsy little wagon (a PT Cruiser of all things – damn the government for bailing out Lee Iaccoca all those years ago!) had an unseen dent under its front bumper (something we & our insurance company'll be sorting out for weeks to come no doubt); elbowing our way in true Manhattanite pushiness thru the obviously not-as-in-a-hurry-as-us people waiting at security, where the Logan Airport authorities in their wisdom were funnelling three lines of passengers thru a single metal detector. But we made the flight, & got home in fairly good time, only to realize that we'd just gotten used to a chill in the air and leaves on the ground. One of my Florida-bred students, touchingly, brought up in class the other day "those trees they have up north that they get syrup out of, right?" I wish I taken her a picture of the blazing-red maples.
Thinking again of nonfiction, creative & otherwise. The books on the trip turned out to be neither Delany nor Austen (& not even Catullus), but a couple of serendipitous last-minute finds: Lytton Strachey's biography of Queen Victoria & Clive Wilmer's splendid Penguin edition of John Ruskin's Unto This Last (interestingly enough, the first Ruskin I ever read, in one of the mid-century Everyman hardcovers). Wilmer's done the book proud, both thru scrupulous editing and helpful endnotes, but also by taking the opportunity to surround Unto This Last – not a long book – with a wide range of Ruskin's writings addressing the issues of art & political economy, from "The King of the Golden River" to Fors Clavigera. I've been a Ruskin admirer for years & years now, & have only gotten around to Strachey fairly recently, & then only the famous Eminent Victorians, the book that put the snark into snarkiness. Queen Victoria is a much gentler book, tho by no means free of irony (a necessary nutrient, I believe). It shows off to great advantage Strachey's rather wonderful prose style, which I realized early on is no more or less than an updating of 18th-century cadential prose to a 20th-century sensibility. Ruskin, of course, is fit to teach anyone prose writing.
"But is it creative nonfiction?" I found myself asking, with flat phrases from Lee Gutkind's troops-rousing editorials in Creative Nonfiction ringing (or dully thumping) in my mind? Well of course it isn't. At least not to the extent that Strachey & Ruskin are consciously writing within already defined genres – Strachey the biography, Ruskin the work of political economy, or, more broadly defined, the Victorian hortatory essay (I may just have coined a new genre there myself...).

I of course have no desire to trespass on the turves of any of my colleagues in the creative writing industry, which is why I'm reluctant to designate anything I write "creative nonfiction," though it may be nonfiction & certainly feels creative, at least while I've pounding it out. But I'm also thoroughly & consistently suspicious of all attempts at genre-defining, which in the end serve more to fence some things out from institutional attention than they do to draw attention to others. I deeply regret the academy's tendency, over the last half-century, to define "poetry" as "lyric," & more specifically as "one- to two-page personal lyric."

I find myself agreeing with Michael Peverett (whose prose I'll read any day, in almost any mood): the whole exercise smacks of the sociological, of an emergent branch of the American creative writing industry, under the pressure of various institutional demands, seeking to define itself by plucking out outstanding contemporary exemplars of its practice, by press-ganging past writers into the fold, & by drawing lines around what is & what isn't kosher under the banner. Maybe I'm just reacting allergically to Gutkind's rather pedestrian effusions, which seem to rule out about 80% of what I find interesting in nonfiction writing. But I worry that creative nonfiction, which seems in recent years to have begun to get a real foothold in the MFA mills, seems to be passing up a golden opportunity: rather than taking a purely negative definition – it's not verse, & it's not fiction – & running with the extraordinary freedom & openness those two rules provide, folks like Gutkind seem to want to reduce the form to something like "the personal essay & memoir."

Not that there's anything wrong with those forms – I'd take Montaigne & Pepys with me to that desert island, if I were allowed just a couple more books – but what about everything else? If the term "creative nonfiction" doesn't include Zukofsky's Bottom: on Shakespeare, Benjamin's Arcades Project, Ruskin's Fors Clavigera, Boswell's Life of Johnson, and Guy Davenport's The Geography of the Imagination – not to mention all of Emerson's essays, lots of MFK Fisher, Carlyle's The French Revolution, & Stein's portraits – then I'm afraid it's not of much use to me.
Mildly amusing sidebar: Thinking o'er this CNF business, & wondering "do I ever write this stuff?" I kept stumbling over the phrase "literary journalism," used as one of the subgenres of the CNF master-genre. Oh, sure, thought I – I do that; I write lots of omnibus book reviews & career-spanning commentaries on writers that aren't really hard-boiled criticism. But then I realized that "literary journalism" didn't mean "writing about literary subjects for periodicals," but "journalism that's a cut above most newspaper & magazine writing in terms of its attention to language, theme, etc." In other words, the word literary is being used in that execrable & lazy manner as a vague synonym for "good." As one finds "literary" a new sub-genre in fiction: here we have your science fiction, here's your erotic fiction, here's your mystery & fantasy, & here's your literary fiction. And if you hang around long enough, you get to migrate from one shelf to the other, as Wilkie Collins & Edgar Poe did.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Ad Interim

With a remarkably increased iPod memory, I've been busily ripping & rediscovering old favorites: Miles's sublime Sketches of Spain, for instance, every note of which I know, but which I haven't listened through for a half-decade or more; or the effervescent Relaxin' with the Miles Davis Quintet, with its sprightly & sensitive readings of Frank Loesser & Rogers & Hart tunes. And exploring the vast library of things my friend the Grillo pressed on me: astonishing how dated '80s-era Cabaret Voltaire sounds, when it was such an avant-garde rush at the time.
And cooking me up some "creative nonfiction" – as with any "assignment," using the opportunity to get some a few things straight in my own all too cluttered & muddled head. How's "The Strenuous Labor of the Concept" as a title?
We're off to points north for a long weekend to (with luck) see some actual deciduous trees turning red & yellow, & to feel the much-missed bite of autumn nights. In a quandary over what to bring reading-wise. Somehow Hegel seems too heavy for such a jaunt. I've just acquired a copy of Samuel Delany's Phallos, which looks like great fun – a homoerotic Lacanian romp in the form of a pirated internet "summary" of a lost 1960s pornographic novel (posing as an 18th-century or late Victorian production) set in antiquity, shot thru with Delany's characteristic winking footnotes & nail-chewed ugly-but-attractive objects of desire – but I'm afraid I'd finish it on the plane up, & then be left bookless. Perhaps the solution – could it be? – is Emma.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Victorian parenting

Virginia Woolf on her father, Leslie Stephen: "Even today there may be parents who would doubt the wisdom of allowing a girl of fifteen the free run of a large and quite unexpurgated library. But my father allowed it. There were certain facts – very briefly, very shyly he referred to them. Yet 'Read what you like,' he said, and all his books, 'mangy and worthless,' as he called them, but certainly they were many and various, were to be had without asking. To read what one liked because one liked it, never to pretend to admire what one did not – that was his only lesson in the art of reading. To write in the fewest possible words, as clearly as possible, exactly what one meant – that was his only lesson in the art of writing."

Monday, October 08, 2007

but is it creative?

Thanks so much for the kind comments on the last post, all the happy returns & so forth. The birthday was – yes – survived, & I managed to repress my Mr Ramsay-like feelings of having wasted my potential & having nothing to look forward to but a long darkening corridor of increasing aphasia (did I ever mention the first day of classes when I couldn't lay my hands on the word "syllabus"?), of having my students & friends finish my sentences for me, of being increasingly unable to type the word "have" ("ahve") or to remember that funny chord in "Maggie May," etc. – repressed them all in favor of several days of familial sunshine & a rather wonderful (thanks, Mrs R!) dinner party. I overdid the dal, as usual, & ended up sending three containers home with various guests; but there remain lentils, rice, vindaloo & palak paneer enough for supper tonight & lunch tomorrow (yum!).
The big ticket gift item was an upgrade to my old iPod, which at almost 4 years old is beginning to feel its age – won't hold a battery charge for more than a few hours, takes forever to warm up, etc. The new "classic" iPod has a hard drive larger than my laptop, actually, so I can't really imagine ever quite filling it up, even if I were to take the time to rip every CD in the closet. (No, I have yet to warm up to the not-so-new world of exclusively downloaded music, though I'm quite amused by the concept of Radiohead's new album, which you can download on a "choose your own price" basis.)

The new iPod is packed with super-sharp color graphics which are nice but to me rather beside the point – after all, this is a audio delivery device, so far as I'm concerned. The only upgrade that I'm really keen on is in the time-wasting "games" category: where my old 2nd-generation machine had a pong-like game called "Brick," in which one bounced a dot off of slightly larger dots with a flipper-like stick, the new one has something called "Vortex," where you bounce a beautifully rendered white ball down a tunnel against exploding bricks. Wee-hoo. There goes the time that would have been devoted to my next book.
I have been asked, & have accepted, a colleague's invitation to participate in a "creative nonfiction" reading. Problem is of course that I have no idea what "creative nonfiction" is, aside from a fairly new MFA program job description. (The Bourdieu in me answers that that is precisely what it is.) I figure, well, I sometimes write things that aren't poems, & that aren't book reviews or critical essays or bits of biography, & that aren't blog entries – so maybe that's creative nonfiction. But is it creative?

As Richard Thompson says, "So they say to you, 'Ooh, that's a funny chord, innit?' And I say, 'That's jazz!' 'Bit of a bum note there, eh?' So I play it again, and say, 'That's jazz!'"

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

dark alphabet

The weather, which has been horrendous for the last few days – torrential rains, kid-waking 3am thunderstorms – turned unexpected lovely today, just in time (as of twenty or thirty minutes ago) for me to face my least favorite of anniversaries: my birthday. My ophthalmologist used to tell me that I was his "pediatric patient," given the average 75+ age of his other clients; but there comes a time when only very old people still call you "young man,"and even then with a trace of irony.

I have not entered middle age gracefully, but kicking & screaming against the loss of a youth which was, in retrospect, not really wasted but enjoyed rather copiously. But more & more I hear "time's winged chariot" & all that. I find myself ruefully sympathizing with Woolf's otherwise maddening Mr Ramsay, who, if thought is like a piano keyboard divided into twenty-six alphabetical notes, has reached Q, & is somehow stuck there:
But after Q? What comes next? After Q there are a number of letters the last of which is scarcely visible to mortal eyes, but glimmers red in the distance. Z is only reached once by one man in a generation. Still, if he could reach R it would be something. Here at least was Q. He dug his heels in at Q. Q he was sure of. Q he could demonstrate. If Q then is Q – R – Here he knocked his pipe out, with two or three resonant taps on the handle of the urn, and proceeded. "Then R..." He braced himself. He clenched himself...R is then – what is R?

A shutter, like the leathern eyelid of a lizard, flickered over the intensity of his gaze and obscured the letter R. In that flash of darkness he heard people saying – he was a failure – that R was beyond him. He would never reach R. On to R, once more. R –
So better to leave behind the alphabet of thought, set aside the Phenomenology of Spirit for a day or two, & concentrate on what makes Mrs Ramsay & Mrs Dalloway happy: a successful dinner party. On the menu for this weekend: jasmine rice with saffron, a red lentil dal, palak paneer, and a brazenly spicy vindaloo, washed down with whatever potables the guests bring.
For the other Pete Cosey fans out there – watch yesterday's video, & tell me if the man isn't a deity! – there's a fascinating in-depth interview with public radio station KJZZ here. Well worth 45 minutes of your time.
And a shout out to my oldest friend Th., who has just celebrated his own only slightly less numerous birthday.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Pete Cosey is God

My sense is that it's a little more respectable these days to admire Miles Davis's mid-70s "electric" phase, even if the true jazz connoisseurs still pooh-pooh the period during which the man forsook sharp-edged bop for a funky noise stew derived in equal parts from Hendrix, Sly Stone, and Karlheinz Stockhausen. I love Birth of the Cool & Sketches of Spain as much as the next don't-really-know-nuthin-about-music guy, but I'm happy to admit that Agharta, a five-track double album recording a February 1975 matinee in Osaka, is my favorite Miles album.

Even after listening to the record for decades (and more recently digging its companions, Pangaea & Dark Magus), I'm still amazed by the solos and fills of Davis's big-bearded, slouch-seated, bearish guitarist Pete Cosey. Here he is from 1973, playing an extended solo on what looks to be a Vox Phantom 12-string, but which sounds like it's been tuned to some Martian scale:


I first read Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse over 20 years ago in a class taught by the late Hopkins & Austen scholar Allison Sulloway, one of the most dedicated & literally inspiring scholars I've ever met – one of the people who taught me what little I know about writing, & who made me know what I wanted to do with myself. (Her first book, Gerard Manly Hopkins and the Victorian Temper, was dedicated to the Turkish poet & occasional sojourner in the alt-poetry world Murat Nemet-Nejat, a connection I never got around to figuring out.)

And now once again, as I do every couple of years, I'm rereading To the Lighthouse, & finding my stomach rumbling as I read Woolf's astonishing description of the triumphal main course at Mrs Ramsay's dinner party, the boeuf en daube, a "French recipe of my grandmother's":
And she must take great care, Mrs. Ramsay thought, diving into the soft mass, to choose a specially tender piece for William Bankes. And she peered into the dish, with its shiny walls and its confusion of savoury brown and yellow meats and its bay leaves and its wine, and thought.
"Boeuf en daube," of course, means no more or less than "beef stew." The recipes I've been looking at – Julia Childs & so forth – make this clear, & frankly I suspect that whatever the dish's attractions for the poor spice-starved early 20th-c. Britons of Woolf's novel, it doesn't hold a candle in terms of complexity to my own labor-intensive gumbo or multiple-meat chili (based on Ron Johnson's recipe): more akin, I suspect, to my modest but comforting Hannukah potroast.

But everybody's got – pardon me – a beef: Buce points out that Woolf (or, more charitably, her character Mrs Ramsay) has gotten it all wrong about the preparation process & serving time of the boeuf en daube, merely a symptom of Woolf's general lack of sympathy for the servant classes in her novels: "The point is not that To the Lighthouse is a bad book. It's actually quite a good book; or at least it is a book full of good paragraphs, and Virginia Woolf seemingly cannot write a bad paragraph. It is a bad novel, because Virginia Woolf has little of the capacity for imaginative empathy that makes a really good novelist." I dunno about "imaginative empathy" – it strikes me that the range of empathies required to depict Mrs R, her overbearing husband, the artist Lily Briscoe, the scientist William Bankes, & the half-dozen other vividly rendered characters is more than most novelists can generate over a career – but she can certainly write food.

John Baker offers a delicious-seeming recipe for Boeuf en daube à la Virginia Woolf, as long as you don't mind converting those kilos & grams into more old-fashioned measures.