blog,personal commentary,reflections on the human condition,ephemera,notes from the underbelly
http://web.ncf.ca/ek867/wood_s_lot.html - 10/12/15 22:09:29 - 11/28/04 07:34:47
October 09, 2015
photo - mw
_______________________Grace Lee Boggs died yesterday at the age of 100 and the world is better for the century that she walked it with us. As a writer, insurgent intellectual, revolutionary organizer, mentor, community builder and friend to many, Grace will be dearly missed.
When I was a teenager in Detroit and a wannabe revolutionary in the 1970s I heard the names Grace and Jimmy Boggs all the time. I knew they were beloved and respected in Detroit’s Black activist community, and I just assumed they were both Black. I was surprised to finally meet Grace and discover she was Chinese-American. I had to recalibrate my notions about the Black struggle, “my people” and race itself.
Long after many of Detroit’s young black revolutionaries left Detroit and the revolution, Grace stayed. She was so immersed in the life and struggles of Detroit’s predominately Black communities that she said her FBI file described her as “probably Afro-Chinese.” Alongside her partner in life and politics, former auto-worker and black activist and leader, Jimmy Boggs (who died in 1993), Grace fought the good fight over five decades, writing books, building organizations, organizing campaigns, and teaching by example that “revolution” is a protracted process—not a single event or a spate of protests. She saw the Black struggle as the cutting-edge struggle of her lifetime, intricately linked to many others, and she was humbled to be a part of it.
Grace Lee Boggs
1915 - 2015
(Photo: Ryan Garza)
_______________________I wrote Ethical Loneliness in response to a gap I felt in discussions people were having in various settings about how to respond to harm. Political reconciliation, transitional justice, political forgiveness and apology, legal adjudication of mass violence, truth commissions, international courts—all these are ways of responding to harm, focused to varying degrees on a discourse of repair. And yet it seemed to me that often, in conversations about these important forms of response, some things were being left unsaid. Forests were being discussed, but trees neglected, I might say. In all these discussions of repair, I kept finding too many moments where institutions designed to hear failed to listen well, and so also failed those they were most meant to serve.via flowerville
So I set out to try to put a name to this thing that seemed to slip through the cracks of current conversation. I found my way to an answer when I started reading the writings Jean Améry, a holocaust and concentration camp survivor famous for defending the political value of resentment over forgiveness. Reading his work while thinking about Emmanuel Levinas’ early phenomenology—written while held in a forced labor camp during WWII—led me to come up with the term “ethical loneliness,” a name for a double abandonment. Ethical loneliness is the experience of being abandoned by humanity compounded by the experience of not being heard when you testify to what happened.
... I asked myself how it could be that “bad hearing” was so widespread. And I came to the thought that at least part of the problem resides in the stories we (those of us who care about justice and believe it ought to be fairly equally distributed) tell ourselves about what we owe and how we come to owe it. We want to believe in liberal political theory’s tale of autonomy not only because, for many of us, we find it all around us as we get formed as people—it is a prevalent story. But we also want to believe in a simplified autonomy because it can be too frightening to admit that, just as we were made into who we are by lots of forces beyond our control, including our fellow human beings, we can be destroyed by other human beings. Meaningful autonomy only exists where there are others who will respect its boundaries. And much of what keeps some safe while others get harmed is moral luck, nothing earned or deserved. It can be terrifying to think it, but I see no way out of that truth. And so we tell ourselves that we are only responsible for what we’ve done and intended, and perhaps we also believe that people get what’s coming to them. But we forget to reason our way to the conclusion that comes from that starting point: that our aspirations toward a better justice will remain unrealized if that’s the story we tell ourselves about responsibility.
photo - mw
Saying It To Keep It From HappeningDoorstep in the Wind: 30 Great John Ashbery Poems
Some departure from the norm
Will occur as time grows more open about it.
The consensus gradually changed; nobody
Lies about it any more. Rust dark pouring
Over the body, changing it without decay—
People with too many things on their minds, but we live
In the interstices, between a vacant stare and the ceiling,
Our lives remind us. Finally this is consciousness
And the other livers of it get off at the same stop.
How careless. Yet in the end each of us
Is seen to have traveled the same distance—it’s time
That counts, and how deeply you have invested in it,
Crossing the street of an event, as though coming out of it were
The same as making it happen. You’re not sorry,
Of course, especially if this was the way it had to happen,
Yet would like an exacter share, something about time
That only a clock can tell you: how it feels, not what it means.
It is a long field, and we know only the far end of it,
Not the part we presumably had to go through to get there.
If it isn’t enough, take the idea
Inherent in the day, armloads of wheat and flowers
Lying around flat on handtrucks, if maybe it means more
In pertaining to you, yet what is is what happens in the end
As though you cared. The event combined with
Beams leading up to it for the look of force adapted to the wiser
Usages of age, but it’s both there
And not there, like washing or sawdust in the sunlight,
At the back of the mind, where we live now.
selected by Matthew Zapruder
photo - mw
The Man on the Dump
Day creeps down. The moon is creeping up.
The sun is a corbeil of flowers the moon Blanche
Places there, a bouquet. Ho-ho ... The dump is full
Of images. Days pass like papers from a press.
The bouquets come here in the papers. So the sun,
And so the moon, both come, and the janitor’s poems
Of every day, the wrapper on the can of pears,
The cat in the paper-bag, the corset, the box
From Esthonia: the tiger chest, for tea.
That’s the moment when the moon creeps up
To the bubbling of bassoons. That’s the time
One looks at the elephant-colorings of tires.
Everything is shed; and the moon comes up as the moon
(All its images are in the dump) and you see
As a man (not like an image of a man),
You see the moon rise in the empty sky.
One sits and beats an old tin can, lard pail.
One beats and beats for that which one believes.
That’s what one wants to get near. Could it after all
Be merely oneself, as superior as the ear
To a crow’s voice? Did the nightingale torture the ear,
Pack the heart and scratch the mind? And does the ear
Solace itself in peevish birds? Is it peace,
Is it a philosopher’s honeymoon, one finds
On the dump? Is it to sit among mattresses of the dead,
Bottles, pots, shoes and grass and murmur aptest eve:
Is it to hear the blatter of grackles and say
Invisible priest; is it to eject, to pull
The day to pieces and cry stanza my stone?
Where was it one first heard of the truth? The the.
photo - mw
Like a Sentence
How little we know,
and when we know it!
It was prettily said that “No man
hath an abundance of cows on the plain, nor shards
in his cupboard.” Wait! I think I know who said that! It was . . .
Never mind, dears, the afternoon
will fold you up, along with preoccupations
that now seem so important, until only a child
running around on a unicycle occupies center stage.
Then what will you make of walls? And I fear you
will have to come up with something,
be it a terraced gambit above the sea
or gossip overheard in the marketplace.
For you see, it becomes you to be chastened:
for the old to envy the young,
and for youth to fear not getting older,
where the paths through the elms, the carnivals, begin.
Time has only an agenda
in the wallet at his back, while we
who think we know where we are going unfazed
end up in brilliant woods, nourished more than we can know
by the unexpectedness of ice and stars
and crackling tears. We’ll just have to make a go of it,
a run for it. And should the smell of baking cookies appease
one or the other of the olfactory senses, climb down
into this wagonload of prisoners.
The meter will be screamingly clear then,
the rhythms unbounced, for though we came
to life as to a school, we must leave it without graduating
even as an ominous wind puffs out the sails
of proud feluccas who don’t know where they’re headed,
only that a motion is etched there, shaking to be free.
October 08, 2015
PainterEmil Filla 1882 - 1953
Radio and Child: Walter Benjamin as Broadcaster Brían Hanrahan
Any serious history of children and radio — any history going beyond a chronicle of program offerings — must include the German writer Walter Benjamin. Benjamin wrote extensively for the radio, and most of those broadcast writings — now newly translated and collected — were written for children, at least at first glance. More than that, something quintessentially Benjaminian happens in that uncanny encounter of radio and child: the hint of an unsettling remainder in the everyday, in the dislocation of sent message and received meaning, in the figure of the child who knows something his parents do not.
Brief Report To An AcademyDurs GrünbeinTranslated from the German by John Crutchfield, Michael Hofmann, and Andrew Shieldsflowerville
What happened then was a cheerful childhood spent in the provinces, where the emphasis soon came to fall on spent; in other words, the thing was pretty soon over. To this day, I have been unable to shake the conviction that when you throw open your arms to clasp life, you are caught up in the wind and are blown backward into the future, and each successive period is less magnificent than the one before, so that the feeling of loss is pretty soon immeasurable. Nor is the end any consolation, it's just a limit set to this infinitesimal quotient of happiness. (....)
However overwhelming the experience of the end of the Soviet empire was, it became fertile for me only five years later, in Italy, when I was visiting the sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Only there did I see the effect of that massive explosion called time, the delayed rain of shards of civilization, and, in the famous calamity, under the volcano, evidence of a kind of memoryless memory—deus absconditus, or whatever you want to call it. Poetry, as I always knew it would, would get on the case—what else was it there for? In the house of charred furniture I paused, for hours all historical agitation was suspended, calmed by the murals in the mystery villa. In those small rooms—no bigger than a pigsty, some of them—with their scribbled lines of poems, obscenities, and decorative drawings, I felt myself better understood than in all the classrooms, barracks, and attics that had ever held me. Then, at the sight of the anonymous fresco representing dream and birth, the entanglements of sex and knowledge, ages and seasons, I had an illumination of what writing, above and beyond anything current, might be all about.
Durs Grünbein’s The Bars of Atlantis Reviewed by André Naffis-Sahely
The Bars of Atlantis: Selected EssaysDurs Grünbeingoogle books
Ebb Tide, Rye (1918)Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson d. October 7, 1946
Postcapitalist Futures Daniel Whittall reviewing Paul Mason, Postcapitalism: A Guide to our Future, Nick Dyer-Witheford, Cyber-proletariat: Global Labour in the Digital Vortex and Alberto Toscano & Jeff Kinkle, Cartographies of the AbsoluteReview 31
Mason and Dyer-Witheford both offer attempts to map capital’s current functioning, to reconstruct the social struggles at its heart, and to chart its future. Mason believes that the complete modelling of capitalism in all its complexity is both possible and desirable and, appropriately enough, that it can be computed using mathematical modelling. What we need, he argues, is ‘an open, accurate and comprehensive computer simulation of current economic reality.’ Dyer-Witheford, too, longs for an image that could capture capital whole, asking ‘where today are the images of the cybernetic systems which this proletariat labours to build, and with which it is being replaced?’ The answer to this question can be found, in part, in Alberto Toscano and Jeff Kinkle’s Cartographies of the Absolute. Toscano and Kinkle seek to divine ‘an aesthetics in and against capital’ by inquiring into what it means to create ‘a cultural and representational practice adequate to the highly ambitious … task of depicting social space and class relations in our epoch of late capitalism or postmodernity’ (their debt to Fredric Jameson is openly acknowledged here). This fine book pursues its object through studies of diverse aesthetic projections of the world as made by capital, discussing modes of representation as diverse as the industrial and oceanic photography and films of Allan Sekula to 1970s cult werewolf movies; from The Wire to Wall Street via critical docu-dramas like Inside Job; from the art and image of logistics to that of living, and dying, labour. Toscano and Kinkle’s attempt to analyse what they call the impulse to cognitively map capitalism in its totality centres around ‘the problem of visualising and narrating capitalism today.’ Because ‘mapping is above all a practical task,’ its invocation gives ‘a more concrete cast, a rooting in everyday life’ to the efforts of those who attempt it. For the critic of any attempt to cognitively map global capitalism, the task is to ‘tease out the symptoms of, at one and the same time, the consolidation of a planetary nexus of capitalist power and the multifarious struggles to imagine it.’ We might read both Mason and Dyer-Witheford as being involved in this project of cognitively charting the dynamics of contemporary capitalism in order to produce route-maps of the way forward. Ultimately, though, Toscano and Kinkle conclude that any attempt to understand capitalism in a manner that might be productively deployed to challenge it must, of necessity, be both partial and partisan:Overview, especially when it comes to capital, is a fantasy … there is in the end something reactionary about the notion of a metalanguage that could capture, that could represent, capitalism as such.
Glass and newspapersEmil Filla
from Godhavn Iben Mondrup translated by Kerri Pierceasymptote - tranlation tuesday
Into the water with it. Of course, it floats; styrofoam never sinks. Instead, it just crumbles into billions of tiny white pellets that wash ashore and collect between the rocks. Their styrofoam slabs are good and solid. “You first,” René says. “Tell me where we are now.” The lake with its rocks and hollows no longer has anything to do with Godhavn. No sooner have Knut and René heaved the raft into the water than they are on a strange continent, where animals they’ve never read about frolic in the waves, flit about the rocks, completely indifferent to the boys’ presence. They’ve never seen humans before. “We’re way back in time,” Knut says, “endlessly far.” “Look!” René shouts and points to something that is undoubtedly the catfish’s distant ancestor, a torpedo-shaped being with six legs and leopard spots and a great grinning mouth. “Look!” he shouts and points to another creature, an udderless, walrus-toothed cow. “Look!” he shouts – and he shouts it again and again. From the shore, Knut tries as best he can to write it all down, to capture all their observations in the logbook; everything here, what a world, so big and ancient, there’s no one who understands it, who knows it, other than the two of them, the two boys in on the game. “When we get home,” Knut calls back to him, “we’ll look at the water samples under the microscope. I think we’ve got the origin of the world here. I have it in the cup.” René paddles back as quickly as his broken oars allow. “I think we should’ve sewn a sail for the raft,” he says when he finally nears the shore. “Let’s see here.” He grabs the cup and adjusts his lorgnette. “Just like I thought,” he says. “The origin of species.” “Let’s not tell anyone,” Knut says. “This place needs to stay untouched.” “But we’re already here,” René replies. “What about us?”
Sandy PathChristopher Richard Wynne Nevinson
October 06, 2015
photo - mw
Well ...15 years old today. Once again thanks for your interest and support
- especially those of you who have been following the "s lot" since the early days —rmw
d. October 6, 1979From narrow provincesFor Grace Bulmer Bowers
of fish and bread and tea,
home of the long tides
where the bay leaves the sea
twice a day and takes
the herrings long rides,
where if the river
enters or retreats
in a wall of brown foam
depends on if it meets
the bay coming in,
the bay not at home;
where, silted red,
sometimes the sun sets
facing a red sea,
and others, veins the flats’
lavender, rich mud
in burning rivulets;
on red, gravelly roads,
down rows of sugar maples,
past clapboard farmhouses
and neat, clapboard churches,
bleached, ridged as clamshells,
past twin silver birches,
through late afternoon
a bus journeys west,
the windshield flashing pink,
pink glancing off of metal,
brushing the dented flank
of blue, beat-up enamel;
down hollows, up rises,
and waits, patient, while
a lone traveller gives
kisses and embraces
to seven relatives
and a collie supervises.
Moonlight as we enter
the New Brunswick woods,
hairy, scratchy, splintery;
moonlight and mist
caught in them like lamb’s wool
on bushes in a pasture.
The passengers lie back.
Snores. Some long sighs.
A dreamy divagation
begins in the night,
a gentle, auditory,
the Aven River at the Bois d'Amour
The truth according to Brian Friel
Fintan O'Toole(....)thanks (yet again) toThe Page
... “there is no lake along that muddy road. And since there is no lake, my father and I never walked back from it in the rain with our rods across our shoulders. The fact is a fiction.” Yet – and this is the centre of Friel’s work – this realisation that memories may be inventions does not deprive them of their force. Friel liked a quote from Oscar Wilde about the “inalienable privilege” of the artist to “give an accurate description of what has never happened”. Truths, for him, were not mere facts. Of this false memory he insisted, “For me it is a truth. And because I acknowledge its peculiar veracity it becomes a layer in my subsoil; it becomes part of me; ultimately it becomes me.” In Philadelphia, that first great play, Friel’s own real memory is transported into his fictional character’s memory, and there, too, it proves illusory. Yet the very power with which it is evoked on stage lifts it into a different kind of reality. It makes its own truth. That trajectory, from reality to fiction to shattered illusion and back to a sort of heightened presence, is the journey of a Friel play.
And the journey is not just personal. Friel's great originality lay in the way he treated public history as if it were private memory - as a construct whose truth does not lie in its mere facts. Just as it did not matter to him in the end that his lovely memory of his father could not have happened, the characters in his plays turn history into words, images, stories. It is their way of not being crushed by the weight of its cruel inevitability.
After his world has imploded, at the end of Translations, the schoolmaster Hugh tells his son Owen that "it is not the literal past, the 'facts' of history that shape us, but images of the past embodied in language".
NO: The Translation of Ángel Escobar
Kristin DykstraÁngel Escobar, born in 1957 and deceased in 1997, has earned extraordinary respect in Cuba. This is coupled with virtual invisibility outside it, except for a few critics and poets with connections to Cuban literature. The contrast may be explained in part because Escobar lived a highly marginalized life. But I suspect another complication: the abjection of his late work is threatening. As a translator I have been thinking about how to address abjection in a highly polarized transnational context, where the US/Cuba political divide encourages the flattening of expression.
the undying machine of political standoff presupposes that writing will be useful. I speculate that many people who want to encourage respect toward Cuban culture will find literature most useful where it advances more of a YES while adopting stances both rational and advisable.
And what is not politically useful? Poetry insisting that the reader experience – and god forbid accept – abjection in all its resistance to the staples of political discourse, utility and argument. This caliber of discursive resistance is what Breach of Trust puts at stake, and as Escobar becomes better known in the future, it will emerge as a key manifestation across his poetic career. To let readers in on why I’m making this claim, I need to rewind to 1959. Resistance to politics is borne precisely of politics. Ergo it is aggravatingly indebted to politics, something that I suspect must have been at once tiresome and invigorating to Escobar, mostly because it is at once tiresome and invigorating to me as I work with his poems now.
Evening Will Come:
A Monthly Journal of Poetics (Translation Issue—Issue 51, March 2015)
Kristin DykstraAngel Escobar’s awareness of motion is one of the many elements that make his poems undeniably powerful. To me, as I translate his poems, there is no doubt that Escobar (1957-1997) created multivalent, energetic work, and that a quick reading of one or two poems at least hints at his range. Other writers, at the very least other poets, must recognize the surety of his movements.Intermedium
Then in moments of pause I wonder about whether the quickness of published pieces – those introductory yet central experiences of encounter with loose poems here and there, or a translator’s commentary in a journal – truly gets so much sensation across. The quickness of Escobar’s mind and life are out there, in his writing. Will readers find them?
Beyond the bounds of the poems themselves come the contexts, offering guidance to new readers. Angel Escobar’s widow, Ana María Jiménez, has pointed out that existing Spanish-language commentaries around his life and death tend to flatten his representation in their repetitions of certain themes. For example, these themes don't tend to include the happiness we see in the 1987 photograph above.
It’s a good reminder to translators – and in parallel fashion, scholars writing critical studies – to periodically pause and take the measure of all these things we create. Our renditions of literature and their paratexts (all those ubiquitous bio notes, plus the commentaries, blurbs, translations of essays by other poets on the relevance of the person or work, the scholarship and so forth that serve as companions to literature) travel in fragmented forms through the worlds of publishing. Where these write-ups successfully pursue some theme with great determination, that very pattern of emphasis causes other possibilities to fade.
Kristin DykstraThis series tracks recognitions and convergences that give rise to bodies of work in translation. Emerging out of my time spent with Cuban poetry, as well as other writings from this hemisphere, most entries address some intersection between Latin America and the United States, and/or Spanish and English within the US. Some entries center on writers and works that motivate me to continue translating. Others loop outwards to envisage other translators & their translations, and test the frames mounted around translation.
The Flock in the Black Forest
Scared Yet? How Fear Hijacked Campaign 2015"There is one thing that is absolutely certain about throwing a dead cat on the dining room table -- and I don't mean that people will be outraged, alarmed, disgusted. That is true, but irrelevant. The key point, says my Australian friend, is that everyone will shout, 'Jeez, mate, there's a dead cat on the table!' In other words, they will be talking about the dead cat -- the thing you want them to talk about -- and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief."
- Boris Johnson. mayor of London, England
Harper lobbed three 'dead cats' to make us forget the Duffy trial. It's working.
October 05, 2015 Five Poems Sean NegusconjunctionsHemlock Gridded In the green night there slips A lamp in the window Where burns times’ coordinates. Pagan lettering on glass sleeves. Salve there and stays in the glow. Viewing portal positioned as if transfiguratively posed. In solitude the antimatter world enlisted. The story written all evening encompassing. Rabbit the nocturnal disarrangement. Crow the brief morning preview. Bolded words out from the fire.
Brian O'Nolan b. October 5, 1911
Back-chat, Funny Cracks The novels of Flann O’Brien John Updike10 Books That Wouldn't Exist Without Flann O'Brien
On the jacket the author is obscured by his dark hat and his black-rimmed glasses and his own hand at his mouth, and, to be sure, Flann/Brian/Myles, where many an author not only rejoices in his face on his jacket but sets his personal facts in the forefront of his prose, engaged in a significant effort of self-concealment, of pseudonymity lurking behind a prose greatly melodious and garrulous in its confident manner. The front flap of the same jacket states him to be “along with Joyce and Beckett . . . part of the holy trinity of modern Irish literature,” which rings strangely of one who disparaged the Holy Trinity, discounting with considerable scholarly fury in his final novel, “The Dalkey Archive,” the very notion of the Holy Ghost, as having been heedlessly foisted upon the Christian Creed by the Council of Alexandria in the year 362. The man was ingenious and learned like Jim Joyce and like Sam Beckett gave the reader a sweet dose of hopelessness but unlike either of these worthies did not arrive at what we might call artistic resolution. His novels begin with a swoop and a song but end in an uncomfortable murk and with an air of impatience.
Is it about a bicycle? The story of Brian O'NolanyoutubeA ghostly copy of Blake sat on one edge of the couch, a second in the middle, and a third on the chair next to the bay window, typing on an invisible keyboard. The unchoreographed movements and silent utterances of these holographic reproductions had been selected at random by the See Your Crime (SYC) algorithm, upon searching through Blake’s memory archive. What each projection had in common was its geotagging: having taken place, at one point or another, in Blake's living room. Every time one of the glowing doppelgängers walked out, the algorithm jumped to a different memory, keeping at least three Blakes (sometimes four or five) inside the room at all times, and following real-time Blake from one room to the next. Blake, crumpled up on the floor, observed them from a corner—one of many locations he had appropriated to minimize what he referred to as "Blake overlaps." Next to him, a small pile of necessities—a beer bottle, crackers, a pack of tissues and a phone—ensured he wouldn't have to leave his post for a while. Blake tilted his head backwards, opened his mouth, and poured. The beer was still cool. He leaned against the wall and closed his eyes.
Autumn: The Fruit PickersPierre Bonnard b. October 3, 1867Free period. We’re frightened of time. Frightened of the long afternoon. The sense that time is hollowing us out. The sense that time is emptying us out. The sense that nothing will ever happen again. The sense that everything’s been done, and everything’s been said. The fear of time. But who fears it but us? Look at our fellow pupils, sitting and chatting so calmly. Look at them, on their phones, and eating their crisps. Who singled us out? Who chose us to feel it? Why were we the ones to which it chose to show itself? Something is taking its course. But what? What’s happening? Something happens when nothing happens. A rumbling. A murmuring, on the edges of sense. But who speaks? And what are they saying? Something is taking its course. Something that happens in everything. Something that turns each moment from itself, sets it aside. Something that undoes time, and sends it on a detour. Something indifferent, that does not coincide with itself.Nietzsche And The Burbs
The GardenPierre Bonnard c.1937
Sherry Turkle’s ‘Reclaiming Conversation’ reviewed by Jonathan franzenSherry Turkle is a singular voice in the discourse about technology. She’s a skeptic who was once a believer, a clinical psychologist among the industry shills and the literary hand-wringers, an empiricist among the cherry-picking anecdotalists, a moderate among the extremists, a realist among the fantasists, a humanist but not a Luddite: a grown-up.
Our rapturous submission to digital technology has led to an atrophying of human capacities like empathy and self-reflection, and the time has come to reassert ourselves, behave like adults and put technology in its place. As in “Alone Together,” Turkle’s argument derives its power from the breadth of her research and the acuity of her psychological insight. The people she interviews have adopted new technologies in pursuit of greater control, only to feel controlled by them. The likably idealized selves that they’ve created with social media leave their real selves all the more isolated. They communicate incessantly but are afraid of face-to-face conversations; they worry, often nostalgically, that they’re missing out on something fundamental.
October 02, 2015
Movement: Sky and Grey Sea
1870 - 1953
A tall-masted white sailboat works laboriously across a wave-tossed bay;
when it tilts in the swell, a porthole reflects a dot of light that darts towards me ,
skitters back to refuge in the boat, gleams out again, and timidly retreats,
like a thought that comes almost to mind but slips away into the general glare.
An inflatable tender, tethered to the stern, just skims the commotion of the wake:
within it will be oars, a miniature motor, and, tucked into a pocket, life vests.
Such reassuring redundancy: don’t we desire just such an accessory, faith perhaps,
or at a certain age to be comforted, not daunted, by knowing one will really die?
To bring all that with you, by compulsion admittedly, but on such a slender leash,
and so maneuverable it is, tractable, so nearly frictionless, no need to strain;
though it might have to rush a little to keep up, you hardly know it’s there:
that insouciant headlong scurry, that always ardent leaping forward into place.
C. K. Williams
Some dictator or other had gone into exile, and now reports were coming about his regime,
the usual crimes, torture, false imprisonment, cruelty and corruption, but then a detail:
that the way his henchmen had disposed of enemies was by hammering nails into their skulls.
Horror, then, what mind does after horror, after that first feeling that you’ll never catch your breath,
mind imagines—how not be annihilated by it?—the preliminary tap, feels it in the tendons of the hand,
feels the way you do with your nail when you’re fixing something, making something, shelves, a bed;
the first light tap to set the slant, and then the slightly harder tap, to em-bed the tip a little more ...
No, no more: this should be happening in myth, in stone, or paint, not in reality, not here;
it should be an emblem of itself, not itself, something that would mean, not really have to happen,
something to go out, expand in implication from that unmoved mass of matter in the breast;
as in the image of an anguished face, in grief for us, not us as us, us as in a myth, a moral tale,
a way to tell the truth that grief is limitless, a way to tell us we must always understand
it’s we who do such things, we who set the slant, embed the tip, lift the sledge and drive the nail,
drive the nail which is the axis upon which turns the brutal human world upon the world.
La Voce (The Voice)
b. October 1, 1892
Alicja, Love, Ligature
The entwined history of typography, love, and madness is well-documented: The reader will perhaps recall several typefaces named after the objects of obsessive love (such as Gills’s daughter Joanna, or, of course, Helvetica, named after that timeless beloved, Switzerland herself); reports of unrequited love and its death pact with type are universally observed in the literature, but we will not recount these well-worn anecdotes,1 proceeding instead to examine the more esoteric history of Alicja—a typeface designed by the Berthold Brothers & Sieffert Type Foundry in Chicago, in the year 1921—which, in spite of its perfection, but for reasons we will evince, remains (alas) almost perfectly disused; it is our goal to shed new light on (or, as it were, outline with new darkness) the typeface Alicja, the truncated engagement that inspired it, and the delusion that nearly struck it out.
Literary Activism, Poetry Riots, and Other Deliriums:
Notes from the Launch The Aircraft Carrier, a Poetry Collection by Roy Chicky Arad
entropyPerhaps it’s every poet’s secret fantasy to have a minor riot break out at their reading, demonstrating once and for all how poetry makes things happen – how poetry matters in the gritty world, not just in the closed, air-conditioned reading room, hermetically sealed from outside forces.
My first week back in Israel/Palestine after fifteen years in the Bay Area and Toronto included a bike accident, an apocalyptic dust storm, intensely sweet purple-red tomatoes, a poetry riot. A week between countries in a dream-like delirium, and the poetry-reading riot in the middle of it, which I keep coming back to especially in relation to recent American discussions about literary activism, such as Amy King’s panel and critiques such as this. The distinction between “literary activism” and “activism activism” got especially muddled for me this week when poets and activists blurred together, switched identities.
Many of the responses and counter-responses to Amy King’s panel were premised on the idea that activism is the right thing to do (“marches, counter marches, clinic defenses, and on the ground actions” in King’s words) that a supportive community is good, that we are singing the right battle cry. But the poetry riot I witnessed in Tel-Aviv made me consider how hard it is to have certainty about our poetry activism; perhaps we sometimes sing the battle cry out of tune, despite our good intentions?
d. October 2, 1968
The Neuroscience of Despair
Michael W. Begun
The New Atlantis(....)
Together with the popular success of psychoactive medications like Prozac and Xanax, the change in the commitments of psychiatry has created ways of talking about mental illness that would have seemed outrageous or even nonsensical less than a century ago. Many of us now blithely accept that depression results from an imbalance of neurotransmitters. While the neurobiological understanding of mental disorders is still at a rudimentary stage, drugs that alter brain chemistry have definite palliative effects, and we increasingly look for and accept explanations of mental illness in neuroscientific terms. We might still take older explanations drawn from psychoanalysis or social psychiatry to hold some value, but we tend to assume that they can be reduced to neurobiology.
We generally think that this counts as progress — that science has uncovered or will uncover the real causes of mental disorders like depression and schizophrenia, and will yield therapies that cure these illnesses at their neurobiological roots. But as more and more mental experiences get swept within the purview of neuroscience — from mental disorders like schizophrenia to everyday decisions like “Should I buy Coke or Pepsi?” — we ought to think about how this came about, what it means for our self-understanding, and whether the new outlook can give an adequate account of mental disorders. How did we come to think of some forms of melancholy as a disorder called depression that is ultimately caused by chemical processes and properly treated by drugs that act on these processes? A look back at the historical developments that have led to this situation may offer some insight into the broader trend of uncritically embracing neuroscientific ways of describing our selves and our society.
Calle de Milán
C. K. Williams
Another drought morning after a too brief dawn downpour,
uncountable silvery glitterings on the leaves of the withering maples -
I think of a troop of the blissful blessed approaching Dante,
"a hundred spheres shining," he rhapsodizes, "the purest pearls..."
then of the frightening brilliant myriad gleam in my lamp
of the eyes of the vast swarm of bats I found once in a cave,
a chamber whose walls seethed with a spaceless carpet of creatures,
their cacophonous, keen, insistent, incessant squeakings and squealings
churning the warm, rank, cloying air; of how one,
perfectly still among all the fitfully twitching others,
was looking straight at me, gazing solemnly, thoughtfully up
from beneath the intricate furl of its leathery wings
as though it couldn't believe I was there, or was trying to place me,
to situate me in the gnarl we'd evolved from, and now,
the trees still heartrendingly asparkle, Dante again,
this time the way he'll refer to a figure he meets as "the life of..."
not the soul, or person, the life, and once more the bat, and I,
our lives in that moment together, our lives, our lives,
his with no vision of celestial splendor, no poem,
mine with no flight, no unblundering dash through the dark,
his without realizing it would, so soon, no longer exist,
mine having to know for us both that everything ends,
world, after-world, even their memory, steamed away
like the film of uncertain vapor of the last of the luscious rain.
September 29, 2015
William Blake’s Radicalism
Iain Sinclair walks William Blakes “London“
“The Human Abstract”via biblioklept
Pity would be no more,
If we did not make somebody Poor:
And Mercy no more could be,
If all were as happy as we;
And mutual fear brings peace;
Till the selfish loves increase.
Then Cruelty knits a snare,
And spreads his baits with care.
He sits down with holy fears,
And waters the ground with tears:
Then Humility takes its root
Underneath his foot.
Soon spreads the dismal shade
Of Mystery over his head;
And the Catterpillar and Fly,
Feed on the Mystery.
And it bears the fruit of Deceit,
Ruddy and sweet to eat;
And the Raven his nest has made
In its thickest shade.
The Gods of the earth and sea
Sought thro’ Nature to find this Tree
But their search was all in vain:
There grows one in the Human Brain.
1923 - 2002
Larval SubjectsEvery philosophy is populated by a conceptual persona that functions as its transcendental unity of apperception or the principle by which it is struck by questions and problems and through which it forges and links concepts and grasps phenomena. ...(more)
A Beacon In The Sand
dark mountainWe might begin with the image of American history as a great tidal wave of progress. A wave launched with the appearance of the colonists; a wave rolling with greater and greater momentum westward across the continent. It brushed aside everything that resisted it. It used covered wagons and steamships, homesteads and railroads, guns and axes; it used laws and politics, noble speeches and the rhetoric of free enterprise; it used corporate charters and city charters and civic pride. It remade everything it touched.
This is a rather unreconstructed metaphor – we are, for example, bypassing the question of what this wave might look like to a Native American standing in its way – but it is at the same time a useful one. It captures something of the old notion of Manifest Destiny, and a bit of the American view of its own history as one of an inevitable, necessary advancement. It captures something of the feeling of propulsion that can seem at times to occupy the heart of the so-called American experiment. But it is also useful because of the questions it raises. If our history is to be seen, metaphorically, as a wave of progress sweeping across the continent, what happens when that wave collides with the western wall of the Pacific Ocean? That is, what happens when the wave runs out of land?
The Precariat [pdf]
The New Dangerous Class
Guy Standing from the prefaceThis book is about a new group in the world, a class-in-the-making. It sets out to answer fiveve questions: What is it? Why should we care about its growth? Why is it growing? Who is entering it? And where is the precariat taking us?The Provisional University
That last question is crucial. There is a danger that, unless the precariat is understood, its emergence could lead society towards a politics of inferno. This is not a prediction. It is a disturbing possibility. It will only be avoided if the precariat can become a class-for-itself, with effective agency, and a force for forging a new ‘politics of paradise’, a mildly utopian agenda and strategy to be taken up by politicians and by what is euphemistically called ‘civil society’, including the multitude of non-governmental organisations that too often flirt with becoming quasi-government organisations.
We need to wake up to the global precariat urgently. There is a lot of anger out there and a lot of anxiety. But although this book highlights the victim side of the precariat more than the liberating side, it is worth stating at the outset that it is wrong to see the precariat in purely suffering terms. Many drawn into it are looking for something better than what was offered in industrial society and by twentieth century labourism. They may no more deserve the name of Hero than Victim. But they are beginning to show why the precariat can be a harbinger of the Good Society of the twenty-first century.... an autonomous research project that emerges in response to the precarious conditions we find ourselves living and working in and a desire to transform them. For us this has meant developing research practices that are situated within the crises of our everyday lives. In this context, research is not a privileged, academic pursuit tied to pre-existing goals, but a constructive process that we enter into with other people who share our problems. Through this process we can help to create the tools, forms of articulation, actions and ways of organizing that are necessary to expand our social power now.
The Privatization of Childhood
Childhood has become a period of high-stakes preparation for life in a stratified economy.
adapted from Class War: The Privatization of Childhood(....)
Never has pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps been more plainly a cruel action than when prescribed as a policy regime for large swaths of the population.
Poverty pathologizes people who are losing in capitalism rather than concrete economic sources: “There are victims, but no victimizers.” The language of “poverty” keeps us from questioning and critiquing our economic system in a way that “wealth inequality” and “class disparity” — or class war — does not.
But it is a class war in which we find ourselves, involving not just men and not just women, but children. Researchers at the Russell Sage Foundation have documented a shift in the way American children are raised that parallels the political-economic context in which they grow up.
What is at stake when some American children go to school hungry and others go to school in $1,000 Bugaboo strollers? Under the “do what you love” ethos of neoliberal capitalism, life paths prescribed by class but framed as parental choices — Public or private? Gifted and talented, general, or special education? — segregate American children from birth through adolescence and into adulthood as never before, reformulating their upbringings into private family projects and education as a competitive “hunger games” for the material resources and social connections required to secure economic success.
Newly available photograph of Maurice Blanchot
September 28, 2015
Garden on Lake Thun1913August Macke d. September 26, 1914Consciousness Attila Józseftranslated from the Hungarian by Michael Beevor See, here inside is the suffering, out there, sure enough, is the explanation. Your wound is the world -- it burns and rages and you feel your soul, the fever. You are a slave so long as your heart rebels - you become free by making it your pleasure not to build yourself the kind of house in which the landlord settles down. . He has fully become a man who has in his heart no mother, father, who knows that he gets life only as an extra to death and, like something found, he will give it back at any time, that's why he keeps it safe, who is not a god and not a priest either to himself or anyone. . Like a pile of hewn timber the world lies heaped up on itself, one thing presses and squeezes and interlocks with the other, so each is determined. Only what is not has a bush, only what will be is a flower, what is crumbles into fragments. . In the goods station yard I flattened myself against the foot of the tree like a slice of silence; grey weeds reached up to my mouth, raw and queerly sweet. Dead still I watched the guard, (what was he sensing?) and, on the silent waggons, his shadow which kept obstinately jumping upon the lustrous dew-laden coal-lumps. . I live by the railway line. Many trains go past here and, time and again, I watch the lighted windows fly through the fluttering fluff-darkness. So through eternal night rush illuminated days and I stand in each cubicle of light, I lean upon my elbows and am silent.
On the StreetAugust Macke 1914
on fences and fracturesKenan Malik
One of the key points I want to make tonight is that though many on the left embrace multiculturalism as a good, and think of the defence of multiculturalism as a challenge to anti-immigrant hysteria, it is in fact rooted in the same kind of view of migrants and their differences. While critics of immigration think that the otherness of migrants is an argument to keep them out, multiculturalists, consciously or unconsciously, reify that otherness through public policy. But before I can discus that, I need first to unpack some of the myths – or, to be more generous, assumptions – upon which contemporary discussions about immigration and culture are constructed. The first is the idea that Europe used to homogenous, but has been made diverse by immigration. Both those hostile to immigration and those supportive of multiculturalism accept this claim. They only do so because of historical amnesia, and because we have come to adopt a highly selective standard for defining what it is to be diverse.
Diversity and multiculturalism are often taken to be synonymous. They are not. That’s another of the myths or assumptions that I want to question. To conflate diversity and multiculturalism is to accept the narrow vision of diversity that I have challenged. Part of the problem in discussing multiculturalism is that the term has come to acquire a variety of meanings, which makes it highly slippery. For a start, the term ‘multicultural’ has come to define both a society that is particularly diverse, usually as a result of immigration, and the policies necessary to manage such a society. It has come to embody, in other words, both a description of society and a prescription for managing it. Multiculturalism is both the problem and the answer – a highly invidious conflation. Another way of putting this is that multiculturalism come to define both the lived experience of diversity and a political process the aim of which is to manage that diversity. The trouble is, the political process often undermines what is good about the lived experience.
Couple in the woodsAugust Macke 1912
A Chorale Of Dead Souls Jeremy M. Davies reviews The Dirty Dust: Cré na Cille by Máirtín Ó Cadhain (tr. Alan Titley)the quarterly conversationLong have I labored in the temples of translation, if not as a cleric, then let us say as a graying vestal. In those drop-ceiling’d holy sites, papered with grant applications and hung with the leathered hides of forgotten interns, rumors have long persisted of the great untranslated Irish-language novel Cré na Cille, its title traditionally English’d as “Graveyard Clay.” Now called The Dirty Dust (the better to retain author Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s alliterative original, says its introduction), it has at last been made available to Anglophones thanks to translator Alan Titley and the Yale Margellos World Republic of Letters. “An influence on Finnegans Wake!” was one commonly heard refrain concerning this as-yet obscure object of desire, never mind that the two novels’ respective dates of publication make this a strained point at best. “In a league with Flann O’Brien!” was another, more reasonable, certainly more accurate line. To complete the trifecta, I even heard a few variations on “Beckett loved it!”—presumably unsubstantiated, but nonetheless tantalizing. Whether or not Ó Cadhain’s prose could really match or anyway trot sans embarrassment alongside the mighty strides of this Holy Trinity, the book’s premise was enough to lend credence to the rumors. Cré na Cille comes with an unbeatable “elevator pitch” that rhymes most deliciously with the work of its author’s best beloved countrymen: it’s none of your garden-variety narratives, following a protagonist or protagonists through which- and whatever conflicts and experiences, no. It’s 100% dialogue, and not just any dialogue, but a chorale of dead souls, every character already having snuffed it and been stuffed into their graves. À la an Our Town or Spoon River cross-pollinated with No Exit, however, these corpses are perpetually, rather hellishly awake, aware, and gabbing in Ó Cadhain’s wonderfully unsplendid hereafter.
September 25, 2015
b. September 25, 1903,
Claudia Rankine interviewTone is an everyday kind of maneuver. It disrupts and communicates aggression, disgust, dis- respect, and humor, among a myriad of possibilities, thereby allowing language to morph into a blanket or a gun. It helps me know how to read the spaces between things. One has an ear out for it always. It’s a thing to be translated. Yours is a good question because it presupposes certain expectations for tone in public encounters, places where equality and sharing are legislated to happen, places where one has expectations for justice, for evenhandedness, and for “we are all just people here” indifference.
- Claudia Rankine
by Lauren Berlant
bombI met Claudia Rankine in a parking lot after a reading, where I said crazy fan things like, “I think we see the same thing.” She read a book of mine and wrote me, “Reading it was like weirdly hearing myself think.” This exchange is different from a celebration of intersubjectivity: neither of us believes in that . Too much noise of racism, misogyny, impatience, and fantasy to weed out. Too much unshared lifeworld—not just from the difference that racial experience makes but also in our relations to queerness, to family, to sickness and to health, to poverty and wealth—while all along wondering in sympathetic ways about the impact of citizenship’s embodiment. Plus, it takes forever to get to know someone and, even then, we are often surprised—by ourselves, by each other. Claudia and I have built a friendship through consultation about whether our tones are crazy, wrong, off, or right; about whether or not our observations show something, and what. And, through frankness: a form of being reliable that we can trust, hard-edged as it can be, loving as it can be (and sometimes the former is easier to take than the latter). We are both interested in how writing can allow us to amplify overwhelming scenes of ordinary violence while interrupting the sense of a fated stuckness. This interview, conducted via email, walks around how we think with and against the convenience of conventionally immiserated forms of life and art.
Claudia Rankine at the Poetry Foundation“Some years there exists a wanting to escape...”
Don't say I if it means so little,
holds the little forming no one.
You are not sick, you are injured—
you ache for the rest of life.
How to care for the injured body,
the kind of body that can't hold
the content it is living?
And where is the safest place when that place
must be someplace other than in the body?
Even now your voice entangles this mouth
whose words are here as pulse, strumming
shut out, shut in, shut up—
You cannot say—
A body translates its you—
you there, hey you
Poetry and The Metaphysical I
Dorothea Lasky(....)Wave Composition
The distance between the persona of a poem and the I of the poet is a tricky relationship and not as simple as a nonfiction I. Should the I be the poet? Should it not be the poet? Poets always have to make this hard call. Knowing that even when we make an I so clearly not ourselves, someone will assume this I is us anyway. Or if they know us as live persons, will put their idea of us on our poor little I. An I in a poem with no bodily form to buffer it, just trying to make its own way.
The best gift that a poet can give his or her I is to allow it to be its own cool animal. An I that is a wild thing, a mercurial trickster that resists all definition. That is so close to a self (a self or the self)—and so far away from it at the same time––that the reader can’t help but see a real self in it. But that is a self who makes so many contradictions, who manipulates the reader and his or her expectations to such a degree that the reader is left both full and empty after having encountered it.
Lorca, in his writing on the aesthetic of duende, discusses how when a piece of written art is good or real, it has soul. And that a soul is a kind of demon. That a piece of art is authentic when the demonic is at play in it, when it has gone to the other world and brought a spirit back to inhabit it. And so that when you are experiencing a piece of art with duende in it, you will feel delight and disgust when you encounter the demonic. And that without a little demon, a poem is not a poem at all.
It makes sense. After all, without a demon, how else to make the top of your head blow right off?
The cost of happiness
Powerful interests benefit from our increased willingness to monitor and meddle with our mental states
Niki Seth-Smith reviews The Happiness Industry (Verso) by William DaviesHudson Yard real estate project in New York City is set to be the most ambitious experiment yet in “quantified community”. Set to cater for 5,000 apartments, offices, retail space and a school, Hudson Yard will be built to enable maximal data-mining of its population. “Treating humans like white rats,” as William Davies puts it, “is now becoming integrated into the principles of urban planning.”
Davies’s new book shows how “managing our happiness” is becoming an increasingly lucrative and insidious industry. True to its subtitle, “How the Government and Big Business Sold Us Well-Being”, it exposes the powerful interests that benefit from our increased willingness to monitor and meddle with our mental states. But Davies takes us much further than this. It is not just that Hudson Yard will soon exist. It is the fact that this Panopticon project is being heralded as “social progress” and – most disturbingly – that people actually want to live there.
The Happiness Industry is the story of how we got here. ...(more)
Responding to 'What Is Literary Activism?'
Wendy Trevino, Juliana Spahr, Tim Kreiner, Joshua Clover, Chris Chen, and Jasper Bernes(....)
We fear the displacement of political antagonisms into the sphere of the literary and the cultural has a long history of helping to aestheticize, derail, and defuse past social movements significantly more skeptical about the relationship between culture and politics, or culture and power. Huey Newton’s 1968 assertion “that culture itself will not liberate us,” for example, is almost unimaginable today— politicians and police help to organize speakouts and poetry slams to prevent disruptive protests, riots, and rebellions from erupting in the streets. Empty rituals of cultural recognition and endless stage-managed “dialogue” are continually offered as substitutes for even minimal reforms to state policy, laws, and the economy.
Imagining the placement of poetry in the philanthropic service of social movements —whether one recoils from this in the name of aesthetic autonomy or considers it a noble sacrifice —continues to limit political action undertaken by poets to the sphere of literary representation. Moreover, even the most salient and confrontational literary activism of our moment requires larger lived struggles for the most limited gains. We do not think that demands around gender in the literary sphere would have the force they do without militant organizing against patriarchy elsewhere. We do not think that demands around racism in poetry would have gained such traction this year absent rebellions in Ferguson and Baltimore.
What Is Literary Activism?
Stephen Harper, Serial Abuser of Power:
The Evidence Compiled
by David Beers and Tyee Staff and Contributors
Seventy scams, smears and stings
_______________________Stories about government data and historical records being deleted, burned—even tossed into Dumpsters—have become so common in recent years that many Canadians may feel inured to them. But such accounts are only the tip of a rapidly melting iceberg. A months-long Maclean’s investigation, which includes interviews with dozens of academics, scientists, statisticians, economists and librarians, has found that the federal government’s “austerity” program, which resulted in staff cuts and library closures (16 libraries since 2012)—as well as arbitrary changes to policy, when it comes to data—has led to a systematic erosion of government records far deeper than most realize, with the data and data-gathering capability we do have severely compromised as a result.
September 24, 2015
Woman Picking FlowersFrantišek Kupka 1909Robert Kelly: Festschrift [pdf]Following the MeasureEléna RiveraMetambesenFor Robert Kelly on his 80th Birthday1.
“Bring in everything you’re thinking about” and find the way to the exit where the fire sign burns. The way of finding the measure whispers, Excess, “the Palace of Wisdom;” that’s where light comes in at the intersection where the poet brings back reports of “a place.”
The map shows us, indicates, a way forward. Dreams of snails take us back again, back to the beginning again, staying with the measure, movement of water weaving the language “formal as fire” weighing upon the shoulders of that scribe of voice and body and color.
Bring in everything you’ve got and that is a lot and more, still more, the fire came from listening to the vocabulary of the dream, that map of an ancient internalized song where spirits dwell. Show us how to spill open we will find the means to measure the words and let the ocean come.
Are we in touch with the sea, air, land? Are we affected by the contours of our desires? All of them? I know it depends, so I listen to Mozart and sway according to internalized scriptures I still don’t understand, the breath we count and pray with and the glory of all that is the body and texture.
I sigh as my boat reaches the shore, sails swaying lightly, a heroine come home where fury almost got me. I had to follow a guide to lead me out a guide who honored all and lit the way celebrating where he “was happiest.” His words held my hand and something in the world once again stirred.
All quoted material is by Robert Kelly
In praise of Steve Clay and 'Granary' for 'The Book Undone: Thirty Years of Granary Books' Jerome RothenbergThe history of poetry in our time has also been a history of those who provide conduits & vehicles, containers & wrappers, for the physical presentation of poetry: publishers, typographers, printers, designers, or those artists-as-such who are often the collaborators in making poetry a visible, even a visual, art. For this the book has remained the principal vehicle – the material book, like the material poem, still active in the age of virtuality. In the true history of American poetry, which I have long threatened to write & never will, Granary Books, as a press & resource, is exemplary of how poets & related artists in the post-World War Two era were able to establish shadow institutions that operated, nearly successfully, outside the frame of any & all self-proclaimed poetic mainstreams.
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Mutt: On Patrick Modiano J.P. Smiththe millions
Unlike Marcel Proust’s great novel, and unlike the romans fleuves of the last century, such as Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time, Modiano’s work, including his most recent novel, Pour Que Tu Ne Te Perdes Pas Dans Le Quartier (So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighborhood), released in France just before he was awarded the Nobel Prize, is more a series of incremental epiphanies on the past, on lost opportunities, on lost people, on the small gaps in memory that leave his narrators and protagonists in a world from which they are one step removed. The language in the later books is uncomplicated, and what the author leaves out is as important as what he puts on the page.
What readers find most audacious about La Place de l’Étoile is how intimate the writing is. To deal with a period in which one never lived, to make a leap of imagination and bring the voice of the past vividly and credibly to life, is very much a part of what being a novelist is. But the difference between the historical novelist — who, in adding facts and details and color in hoping to contextualize the fiction, inevitably distances the readers — and what Modiano does in this trilogy is to lend an immediacy and an intimacy to the muddy tide of those years, catching the language, the flow, the Zeitgeist of the period without once having to step back to situate us in the narrative. Since La Place de l’Étoile I haven’t stopped following Modiano, reading each new volume as it’s released, and celebrating his being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. My apologies, monsieur. My rancor was entirely misplaced.
The Way of SilenceFrantišek Kupka b. September 23, 1871
Assessing the Legacy of That Thing That Happened After Poststructuralism Alexander R. GallowayNow that the SR/OOO wave has crested, crashed, and receded, we can start to evaluate it with the advantage of perspective. I won't attempt to offer an autopsy here, but I do want to address a few points and then offer a prediction for the future. I'll refer to some details about SR/OOO, but I also want to consider it more broadly as symptomatic of the new ontological turn or “that thing that happened after poststructuralism.” In other words, while some of the specific issues within SR/OOO are important, I think that the advent of SR/OOO is most useful for marking an historical boundary, even if it can't explain the larger state of theory and philosophy today.
After an initial burst of interest, many readers have come to realize that philosophical realism is, in fact, a narrow topic, of interest primary to professional philosophers. Did the world exist prior to humanity's conception of it? If a tree falls alone in the forest, does it make a sound? It turns out such questions are rather pedantic if not a bit frivolous. Part of the problem is that speculative realism was always a rather small clique centered around a group of white, Euro-American philosophy dudes. New materialism, by contrast, has proven to be a space much more amenable for work in a broader spectrum of fields, whether they be media studies, aesthetics, queer theory, feminism, or something else entirely.
A related point, one that's a bit more zoomed in. After the end of poststructuralism and the subsequent reorganization of knowledge that has taken place in recent years, two new factions have emerged. First are the Reticular Empiricists formed mostly by followers of Deleuze (along with Whitehead as well), and flanked by a formidable army of Latourians. Here we find the process philosophers and affect theorists, including a number of interesting authors like Isabelle Stengers, Brian Massumi, and Steven Shaviro. I would classify several of the new materialists here as well, particularly those Carl Sagan Deleuzians who offer their reflections on slime mold or quantum weirdness. And some of the people affiliated with SR/OOO, but certainly not all, are Reticular Empiricists of one kind or another. Second are the Generic Communists assembled from the newly revitalized remains of Marxist theory. The great champion here is Badiou. But also Zizek, and those in Negri's circle. I'm thinking also of people like Peter Hallward, Bruno Bosteels, Alberto Toscano, Jodi Dean, McKenzie Wark, Jason Smith, and Benjamin Noys. The anarchists and communization theory folks are here too, Tiqqun, Invisible Committee, Endnotes. And, despite a number of nontrivial discrepancies, I would also put Laruelle here. In my reading Laruelle is essentially an Althusserian Marxist, albeit one mixed with healthy doses of gnosticism and mysticism. He has a theory of generic communism that rivals even that of Badiou.
La villa de las sirenasPaul Delvaux b. September 23, 1897
The Wellness SyndromeCarl Cederström and André Spicerreviewed by Peter BloomThe contemporary age is marked by what appears a definite contradiction. On the one hand, public and social institutions tasked with meeting human needs are struggling under the weight of a continued recession and an economic order that increasingly prioritizes profit at the expense of general welfare. On the other hand, popular discourse and private organizations are progressively emphasizing the centrality of “wellness” for citizens and employees. The Wellness Syndrome by Carl Cederström and André Spicer provides an important and sophisticated critical understanding of this seemingly paradoxical phenomenon. Their book reveals concisely and accessibly—without sacrificing theoretical subtlety—how our current age is marked by a pathological and dangerous fixation with “health” and “wellness,” an obsession that effectively targets individuals with its market-based rhetoric of personal and professional well-being, while strategically masking deeper contradictions of modern neo-liberal capitalism.
September 22, 2015
1925 - 2006
"We used to know the world inside out"via Tom Clark
translated from the Polish by Tadeusz Z. Wolanski
We used to know the world inside out:
It was so small that it fitted into two clenched fists,
So easy, that it could be described with a smile,
As ordinary as the echo of old truths in a prayer.
History did not greet us with a victorious fanfare:
It poured dirty sand into our eyes.
Before us there were roads, distant and blind,
Poisoned wells, bitter bread.
Our war loot was information about the world:
It is so big that it fits into two clenched fists,
So difficult that it can be described with a smile,
As strange as the echo of old truths in a prayer.
Wislawa Szymborska - The Poetry of Existence
b. September 22, 1908
Rediscovering a Pioneer of American Abstraction
A happy state
Why is the welfare state under attack when happiness economics shows it is the system most conducive to human wellbeing?
aeonMost of us are Stoics. We think that happiness is something that individuals find for themselves: the key is to work hard for a good life, and to face adversity with defiance. This ‘rugged individualism’ might fit the American ethos, but it is at odds with a growing body of empirical research that shows that some kinds of societies produce a great deal more satisfaction with life than others. Happiness, in other words, is more social than psychological.
If so, then the obvious step, as Albert Einstein put it, is to ‘ask ourselves how the structure of society and the cultural attitude of man should be changed in order to make human life as satisfying as possible’. Economists, political scientists and other social scientists in the growing field of the political economy of wellbeing, or ‘happiness economics’, are using empirical rather than speculative methods to better understand what makes for satisfying lives. Happiness economics is not to be confused with ‘positive psychology’, which approaches happiness as a matter of individual attitudes. In contrast, scholars of ‘happiness economics’ maintain that, in the aggregate, a satisfying life is rooted in objective conditions, such that the economic, political and social aspects of societies are strong predictors of individual happiness.
Listening to Refugees: 5 Novels, Stories, and Essays
The Banality of Optimism
from Hope Without Optimism(....)
William James was restive with this saccharine vision. “Is the last word sweet?” he asks. “Is all ‘yes, yes’ in the universe? Doesn’t the fact of ‘no’ stand at the very core of life? Doesn’t the very ‘seriousness’ that we attribute to life mean that ineluctable noes and losses form a part of it, that there are genuine sacrifices somewhere, and that something permanently drastic and bitter always remains at the bottom of the cup?”
There is something intolerably brittle about it, as there can be something morbidly self-indulgent about a pessimism that feeds with thinly disguised glee off its own glumness. Like pessimism, optimism spreads a monochrome glaze over the whole world, blind to nuance and distinction. Since it is a general mind-set, all objects become blandly interchangeable, in a kind of exchange value of the spirit. The card-carrying optimist responds to everything in the same rigorously preprogrammed way, and so eliminates chance and contingency. In this deterministic world, things are destined with preternatural predictability to work out well, and for no good reason whatsoever.
"For those who read dictionaries for pleasure"