Friday, March 14, 2014

14 march

The semester wears its ways towards the end; I feel weary, deeply weary. Off to the ICFA conference next week. My paper is for the most part written—only a few lines of the conclusion to go. I wrote it, after accumulating notes and scribbles and thoughts for the better part of the semester, in a couple of hard sessions on the 750 Words treadmill. The thing actually works, at least for me. At present I'm on almost a 20-day streak of writing at least 750 words a day, most days well over 1000.

I think it was Jonathan Mayhew who at some point put me onto the notion of the "chain," which he seems to have gotten from somewhere on Seinfeld. I don't know the reference, but this particular "stupid motivational trick" works pretty well for me, with my thankfully rather mild case of OCD. I like continuity: I like knowing that I've read a certain number of books each month, I like knowing that I'm making steady progress thru a long text (re-reading Ulysses at the moment, for instance, three chapters a week), I like making measurements and keeping track of things.

What I write on 750 Words is turning out to be pretty useful, as opposed to what I write in my notebooks, which tends to go unread for many days, weeks, sometimes months after I've jotted it down. (Usually just long enough for me not to be able to make out my own handwriting at crucial points.) Every day, Trollope-wise, I start by re-reading what I wrote the day before. I copy and paste useful passages into a Word document so that I'll have them ready at hand. And then I start in on a new day's page. Happily enough, I often find myself not running out of things to say before I get to 750 words, but running out of time in which to write, having pressed well past the 750 mark.

I think I might be applying this platform to the next two minor writing assignments on my platter. After that, when I start tackling bigger things, who knows?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

11 march (annotation & its discontents, part 985)

The latest chapter in my crusade against misleading, mistaken, and outright batshit insane annotations in teaching texts:

I habitually teach out of Norton Critical Editions. They are for the most part sturdy & reliable, and include handy selections of secondary material. They vary in quality from just okay to quite excellent. I have yet, however, to encounter a NCE that doesn't have at least one howler in its annotations. Case in point:

This semester I'm teaching King Lear out of the Norton Critical Edition, edited by Grace Ioppolo. It's a good edition, with the text based on the Folio but with Quarto emendations and editions—a composite text, yes, but this particular semester is too short to get them fully to grapple with the differences between F and Q texts, as a facing page edition would do. The secondary material is first-rate, from Tate and Johnson through Kott & Brook down to Stanley Cavell.

And then, reading the heath scene of Act 3, scene 4, I hit this famous—and to me very moving—passage. Lear is exposed to the weather, and has begun to comprehend how harsh the realities of life are to those "Poor naked wretches...That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm," who have never had the protection from the elements that he, in his royal state, has enjoyed:
Take physic, pomp,
Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,
That thou mayst shake the superflux to them
And show the heavens more just. (3.4.33-36)
I've always found these lines fairly self-evident: Lear is addressing "pomp" itself, or those who enjoy the comforts of wealth—himself, really—enjoining the lucky to "take physic" or medicine by exposing themselves to the harshnesses that the poor habitually undergo, so that those lucky ones—"pomp"—might give of their excess wealth (the "superflux," surplus, superfluity) to the poor.

And how does Ioppolo gloss these lines? As follows:
33. physic, pomp: medicinal curative (or purge) and excessive food.
35. superflux: (1) surplus; (2) discharge from the bowels.
So let me get this straight: given these glosses, we read Lear's sentence as saying, Take a laxative and eat excessive food, so that you can take a big ole shit on the poor. Well, I'm all for reconsidering received readings, and reevaluating previous interpretations — but I'm not sure I can go along for the ride on this one. Indeed, all I can think is, what the aitch-ee-double-toothpicks was the editor thinking when she wrote these notes?

Saturday, March 08, 2014


By the way, I just realized Culture Industry turned 9 years old yesterday. Golly. A couple of months back, I was under the misapprehension that I'd been at this for almost 10 years, and was seriously wondering whether I ought to pull the plug and put the thing out of its 12-readers-a-day misery on its 10th anniversary. But hey, I'm actually having fun with this again, throwing a few thoughts out now & again, and posting some new poems. So I think I'll keep it up, on some level, for at least another year.

8 march

Busy. This week has been our spring break, but there's been no real let-up in the busyness. A trip to Ikea, and the concomitant dithering about with Alan wrenches and hammers, putting things together. Finally biting the bullet and buying a Time Capsule so that our computers can be backed up automatically — with the delightful side-effect of greatly improved wifi coverage. Installing a big-screen TV that has been sitting in a box in the dining room for eight months, and for which we really didn't have an adequate space. (Feeling quite handymanish and masterful about figuring out how to do that one!) Grading papers, and more grading papers.

My ICFA paper has yet to be written out, though there are plenty of notes on hand. I have, what, eleven days or so? I'm half tempted to get up and try to deliver the thing extemporaneously, from notes, as I were talking to a class. But I don't think I have the courage to do that; while I've come to the point where I feel I can hold my own critically with the sci-fi/fantasy crowd — and certainly I think I know more about this set of texts than almost anyone else, at this point — I know that my improvisatory skills, while perfectly adequate for the baggy time requirements of the classroom, are highly likely to lead me well over time in a panel setting: that is, I go on too long.

I almost wish I had nothing but the title on hand — that ICFA weren't publicizing abstracts, as they did last time around. Because if that were the case, I could work up the essay I'm deeply excited about right now. Get this: Michael Moorcock is usually the most conservative craftsman possible, in terms of narrative technique; his books are so straightforward they make Lord of the Rings, with its back-and-forth between focal characters (see especially the cunning structure of Two Towers) look avant-garde.  But there are a handful of books — Mother London, the third and fourth Cornelius books, Breakfast in the Ruins, and one or two others — in which Moorcock's narratives are highly fragmented, deeply paratactic. One could argue that he's following Burroughs (William, not Edgar Rice) in this, or other postwar figures. But I think it's possible to make the argument that Moorcock arrives at this echt modernist narrative technique, not through any recognized path of literary influence (say, Flaubert to Joyce to Burroughs) but precisely through the pressures and habits of the trashy pulp writing which he grew up and came of age writing.

Details to follow, at some point. Maybe in the Moorcock book I'm quite seriously contemplating writing.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

4 march

[more tens:]

A touch on the audio screen and one
harsh word brings the whole evening
crashing down. I've been on edge,
you've been on edge, she's been
on edge – conjugation of inevitable
verb. The mystery of the lost meter,
to be rendered moot when the sea
percolates up through the limestone
and erases all our mistakes. Both
entrances blocked. Drive trains.


The natural posture is upright. Natural
position. Problem of the "natural." I toss
and turn, every night, to get you closer.
We run, where in sunlight or rain,
to stand still. This damned—another—
book. Pieces, bite. Shards. How do
"ew" vowels evolve: my father pronounced
it "strown"? Towards the end, he
couldn't live in comfort, slept propped
up with a finger on the morphine trigger.


The dream of great icicles fallen, smashed
on the sidewalk. Not on her, impaling
or crushing, but she herself shattered.
The Church retreating, the license
plates "Christian." This night suspends
water, hums with stone. I see only
from machines. Signs at the foot
of Trümmelbachfälle, the fatal
dangers of drinking one's water
too cold. Ammonia through the ceiling.

Monday, March 03, 2014

1 march

[some more tens:]

A gravid female apteryx, in x-
ray: the four-pound body swollen
with a gross one-pound egg. What
system would account for thirteen
separate sorts of finch, thirteen
acts of special creation? Long dappled
grass, a highway paved with
linnets' wings. Discipline. You learn
to channel those nasty drives.
A word for it, Hegelian almost.


The Real Thing. Das Es. Look, but don't
touch. Don't see. One language alone,
he tells, won't do, but what's said
isn't worth the hearing. Some god
bends his graceful, rib-rounded
torso to touch some nymph. Instant
rerun. She has an idea for the muse,
sharper than she ought to be, more
determined by far than me. Father
Helios, all a-wobble.


Very like a whale. Or a wombat.
(Begin again.) The beautiful young
people once dazzled with their earnest
resolve. Today the coastal metropoles
crumble as ironic sea levels centimeter
upward. How much of that debt
is mine, how much yours? And who
do we pay it to? Era, earful, any time
of day. Others' letters delivered, speed
on to whatever shadowed box.