Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Hautboys and Torches

  • Sliders is a new sequence in Summer Session.
  • The Labor Day holiday weekend in the USA is a little more than a week away.  I’m hoping to spend the time reading--something awful, something so colossally horrifying that I will be upset for weeks.  In other words, something by Alexander Solzhenitsyn.  (Cancer Ward, The Gulag Archipelago, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, por ejemplo.) So I bought August 1914, and can hardly wait to get started.  
  • Recently became aware of two young writers:  Yrsa Daley-Ward and Lucy Corin
  • The young man doesn’t use Twitter because “it’s only words.”  He demands pictures, images.  I argue, not in favor of Twitter, but in favor of words, the concept that words, arranged correctly, can create images, too.  If a picture’s worth a thousand words, then a thousand words will also be a picture, if you’re doing it right.   
  • I’ve basura-buried three broke neck finches in the past week.  A beloved pet is missing. Existence can often be harsh.  But we follow the living on Facebook. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

From the Mediterranean

Masks from Ghana on one wall.  The glass sliders they face muffle the shore pound of the sea.  The photos on the third wall are from their frequent trips to Africa, she and her son and her husband. A door in the fourth wall leads to the emptier parts of the house.

Listening to Beninoise pop music. She’d reluctantly moved back to Valencia.  It’s been long enough. Come on.  Let’s go home.  And she’d returned to the continent only once since, and then only to Lusaka, a year after the accident, to attend memorial services.   

She misses getting together with the women in their neighborhood, joking with each other about childrearing prowess, bragging about punishment techniques, one would admit to spanking but “open hand only” and still have to defend herself from wild threats by the others to call child welfare. And the sign-ups for soccer, flag football, the cost of cleats.

Digital control.  Media, phone, media, lighting, room climate, security, the red light shows game on.  The jet skis in the yard, tarped and covered with pink and white and brown and gold blossoms and leaves.   

Too many masks.  And on the other wall the frames are out of alignment, or the pictures are slipping out of the matting, or the frame is empty and you just see the wall behind it, or there’s just a grimy dusty outline of where a frame was, or just a nail. 

Song lyrics in French and English.  

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Announcements, mid-August

I’ve updated my website, and Summer Session

My favorite headline to write for my blog up to now, and maybe forever, is the one for July 15, 2015, that is Joseph Keppler’s quote: “Philosophy, history, and art at the present moment seem to me alive with beautiful surprises.” 

I saw that huge today, taking my time on the internet free associating poetry and other literary arts magazines and sites and blogs.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Thar She Blows!

Here are a few notes regarding some great to good literary experiences—a novel in verse, a novel in collage, and two “regular” novels—I’ve had recently, plus a link to my newly added-to Summer Session (which I need to bring to an end here pretty quickly because the wacky academic calendar tells me the “fall” semester begins August 17th).  

red doc>, by Anne Carson, published in 2013.

what is the difference between
poetry and prose you know the old analogies prose
is a house poetry a man in flames running
quite fast through it.

Has nothing to do with the topic.
That’s from the book, and the reader gets both the house and the man in flames running. This is the third time I’ve read red doc>, and, just like the first time, just like most of my experiences with Anne Carson writing, much of it sailed over my head—I can’t spoil the plot, but, so virtuoso and enthralling is the writing, that when she’s at her best (in the parts my comparatively illiterate self can understand, that is) Anne Carson is the greatest thing going right now.  I don’t think there is a better writer working.  Prolly because Ms. Carson “teaches ancient Greek for a living” (wacky academic?) there are a million allusions and metaphors that are way scholarly, but the drive of the book, the accessibility isn’t compromised.

I always come away from an encounter with Anne Carson intellectually refreshed and artistically inspired.  In fact, I’m fin to declare Anne Carson Month, maybe in October, and read everything by her I can get my hands on, prose and poetry, immerse myself.  And as another example from red doc>, this is part of a description of a student who became a psychiatrist: 

…his teacher at med
school called him a
minotaur who swallows
other people’s labyrinths.
good, I’ll do psychiatry he

Une Semaine De Bonte¢, (A Week of Kindness)A Surrealistic Novel in Collage, by Max Ernst, published in 1934. 

In Seattle in the fecund 1980’s, there was a lot of collage and Xerox street art, posters, flyers, cards and what not, stapled to any wood surface available,usually covering "Post No Bills" warnings, to advertise punk bands, artist openings, poetry readings, etc. This book may have been a stimulus to those creations. 

Max Ernst, running with the Dadaist and surrealist crowd from Zurich and Paris in the early part of the 20th century, cut out pictures from old textbooks and catalogues and then arranged them in a narrative collage, divided into “themes and elements” for each day of the week, and called it a novel.  Few of the collages, or mashups to use current argot, make sense and almost all are ridiculously hilarious. 

I have a hard copy of the book, and haven’t seen an offer of an ebook anywhere, but the images would look awesome on a tablet screen.  Somewhat sexist and misogynist, reflecting the times and the unfortunate attitude toward women in the art world, Une Semaine seems nonetheless to be a crucial artifact in the surrealist record. 

Moby Dick: or,the White Whale by Herman Melville, published in 1851.

Trace the route of the whaling ship Pequod, departing New England, sailing around the tip of South America and into the Pacific in pursuit of the white whale.and there’s no way to not be fascinated by the intrepidity of the Nantucketeers and their bloody three-year tours aboard the whalers; by the same token, there’s no putting up with, in this day age, all the expository filler in Moby Dick.  If it were just one “thar she blows” after another, bam bam bam, it would be a better read because Melville is excellent at writing about the violent, perilous life and death chases at sea.  With all due respect, I say include primarily scenes involving the Pequod v. whales almost exclusively and cut out the extraneous backstory, eliminate the corny  philosophizing, and discard the Whale Anatomy 101 class reader-style descriptions.  Throw in some Captain Ahab madness, the metaphysics of one deckhand (Pip), and then season with a judicious use of weather verisimilitude, and you’ve got yourself a neoclassic. Otherwise, I’m afraid the book faces eviction from the pantheon. (Melville will, of course, still be represented by Bartleby,the Scrivener.) Right now Moby Dick the novel is too long by half. 

And, while I like the following quote, it only takes up space in the novel (maybe someone can publish a separate collection of adages and aphorisms):  “Not seldom in this life, when, on the right side, fortune's favorites sail close by us, we, though all adroop before, catch somewhat of the rushing breeze, and joyfully feel our bagging sails fill out.”

Broken Glass Park, by Alina Bronsky, published in 2008. 

The narrator of the novel is a Russian student who lives with her younger brothers and sisters in an immigrant’s ghetto in Germany.  The action takes place shortly after their mother has been murdered, an act the girl witnessed.  Her goal is two-fold:  avenge the murder, and keep her brothers and sisters together as a unit with the help of an adult relative who came to Frankfurt from Novosibirsk.  The narrator is actually helpless to realize the former, and the latter becomes the substance of the book.

Being 17, the girl, Sascha, (thinks she) knows everything, and she’s got a mouth on her, so the first part of the novel contains some fresh, smart-ass critiques of her (our) world, urban youth, migrants, either disaffected, or affected  differently, taking the world they have been born into, united by music and their internet-based intelligence.    

The insight into the struggling immigrant experience—“On the first day of school my classmates stared at me as if I had just climbed out of a UFO.”—be it Russians in Germany or Mexicans in the USA or Japanese in Brazil, is fully depicted.   Unfortunately, the sharp sound and fury at the beginning dissipates; the author turns soft, doesn’t go hard the whole book.  And Broken Glass Park turns into a melodramatic non-page-turner populated along the way by a creepy father and son tagteam lusting after her body, as well as some weepy, gooey reconciliation scenes. 

So the jury in my head is still out when it comes to Alina Bronsky.  The potential is there, clearly.  I’ll have to read another book by her to see what the trajectory is becoming.  Plus the name Alina Bronsky is a pseudonym---why?

Well, until next time…

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Calling It Like It Isn't: The Fulminating Delirium of Nothingness (Latour)

While searching for an outlet in the airport waiting area, I got to thinking about America’s second favorite topic, the death of culture--the death of books, the death of writing, the death of critical thinking—attributable to wireless technology, the internet, and the mob of methods and devices:  social media, e-mail, i-Tunes, tablets, smartphones, etc.

We, members of the traveling public here at Gate 14, are a representative sample, pecking and tapping and posing and performing in front of our devices, our wireless devices. Because of this some call the USA “a beauty queen democracy,” a “professional wrestling narrative,” an “ideologically vacant dictatorship of likes.”  

I thought about the term “wireless.”  It is so easily considered an benevolent adjective insinuating a crusading technology that has “released” us from some stricture, “liberated” us from some burden, “unloosed” us from the shackles of some chain gang of thought, when, in fact, the fetters of “wireless” technology have so bound us in technology we look like mummies.

Thought itself is now under digital control.  That horse is already out of the barn and the door is closed tight.  But wireless synonymous with freedom?  That emperor has no clothes. Sort of the way the word “transparency” has become a crowd-sourced delusion when used by government to imply open proceedings when the fact these days more official documents are considered confidential, more proceedings are held in closed door secrecy, than ever before.  As Bruno Latour writes: “transparency is a special form of darkness.”

Twitter feeds and social media posts in their brevity, so the argument goes, constrict the art of writing, and in their multiplicity, and speed of transmission, and visual imperative, leave only nanoseconds for reflection.  Popups, alerts, interruptions apps, add-ons, questions, updates, LOL, turn this on, turn that off, IMO, do this, click on, enter, do you do you do you. And look at the way we walk, like mummies, seeking outlets to charge our devices.

Naturally, this attracts attention.  Paul Virilio labels it an “occupation,” the immediate and overwhelming onslaught of now. “This occupation places us under surveillance, watching us, scanning us and evaluating us, revealing us and it is increasingly present, increasingly accepted as a fate, a destiny.  Promoting progress means that we are always behind; on high speed internet, on our Facebook profile, on our email in box.  There are always updates to be made; we are the objects of daily masochism and under constant tension.”

The results of that occupation are described by Giorgio Agamben: “banality as a result of lack of history, or self-centeredness, an inculcated sense that you are never wrong, there’s simply a different set of facts, sharing, statements so vague as to be irrefutable, culture, change, sloppy statistics, the system collapsing in on itself, with too much info, decisions made on sloppy stats, what passes for serious thought, intellectual celebrity.”

Mike Kelley talks about the consequences of that loss of historical perspective:  “Perhaps because people have a short attention span, you can get away with illogical developments if you make them unfold over a long period of time.  People will assume that it is logical because they can’t remember what happened before…I would use the same terms, but I’d say something totally in opposition to what had been said half an hour earlier, and nobody would know.” 

While I cannot argue with the symptoms, I do not agree that the portents are negative.  In fact, I think it is fair to say the symptoms are, in most cases, welcomed, if not simply disregarded.  “Loss of cultural memory becomes the price of staying perfectly current,” writes Stewart Brand. A price most Americans are happy to pay.

The proof, the smoking gun of this digital nous, and the emperor’s new clothes, can be found in reality television.  Once upon a time, mired in an unenlightened funk, I used to ignorantly argue that reality shows were worthlessly ersatz because they were not “real”:  who really lives with a camera crew in the house and following them around? 

But I’m person enough to admit my error.  There are people, plenty of them, who live their lives with 
a camera crew around—and crews range from selfie-size (one) to entire production teams. And the popularity of these shows, and the value they add to brand after brand after brand, sets the tone for our culture and the standards for our future, moving beyond good and evil, closer to like two hard clotheslines and a neck breaker.

I mentioned all this to Debra Symmes one afternoon at Anna’s CafĂ©.  (And by the way, my compliments to the screening room people.)  Now the whole town is talking about it.