February 1, 2011

My work for The Barnes & Noble Review (see this interview with its editor) is being syndicated to Salon, which came as a surprise since it's been a dozen years or more since I published anything there. Today they are running the piece on Punching Out by Paul Clemens, which I couldn't very well write about without mentioning Marty Glaberman. Some of his writings are available here.

The search engine at Salon is well-nigh useless, so it's not clear how many other things I've written for B&NR have ended up there. In any case, they did carry this review of Eric Foner's book on Lincoln and slavery.

Both of these pieces ended up having a certain Johnsonite spin. ("J.R. Johnson" was C.L.R. James's most-used Trotskyist pseudonym, and Marty proudly called himself "an unreconstructed Johnsonite.") This is surprising. I'm reasonably certain that the editors did not see Punching Out and think, "Hey, let's give this to a reviewer who knew someone who wrote a pamphlet by the same title!" Just synchronicity, I suppose. 
February 1, 2011 9:25 AM | | Comments (3)
January 27, 2011

Last month, in France, playboy philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy was indicted for fraud, hucksterism, and general ridiculousness, and there will be a trial tomorrow. Sort of.

Somehow I doubt this is going to affect his standing at The Huffington Post.


January 27, 2011 12:45 PM | | Comments (0)
January 26, 2011

Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in... For full effect, imagine this coming out over loudspeakers several times a day at your workplace.

I dedicate this blog post to the memory of John Leonard, who always found Chairman Bob pretty amusing. He's like a character out of John's last novel, the Pynchonesque Crybaby of the Western World.

UPDATE:
The initial reviews at RevLeft are not favorable:

"It's like a 14 year old just discovered gill scot heron or amiri baraka and decided to write down like everything he thinks about the world."

"His voice is like a less cool Christopher Walken."

"wow anybody with half a brain and a thesaurus could have written this. i couldn't take it. his lispy voice kind of creeps me out"

"Maoists talked (back in the day) about denouncing the oppressors and 'extolling' the people. But there is zero extolling here (except of Avakian himself and his new synthesis and his books). There is bitterness that no one reads his books, and a special chapter denouncing those who have a chance to read Avakian but choose not to."
January 26, 2011 9:33 AM | | Comments (6)
January 25, 2011

On Saturday, the board of directors of the National Book Critics Circle settled on finalists in six categories, and also gave the Ivan Sandroff Lifetime Achievement Award to the Dalkey Archive Press and the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing to Parul Sehgal.

My interview with Sehgal will run tomorrow at Inside Higher Ed. [UPDATE: here.] Meanwhile, here is a PDF containing the material she submitted to the committee (which I've chaired for the past three years), presented with her permission.

Parul Sehgal.pdf

And she has a website.
January 25, 2011 1:24 PM | | Comments (0)
January 19, 2011

My column today is about gun nuts. A reader has been in touch to ask whether I meant to use the word "refudiate." Indeed I did, and also tried to sneak in my own made-up word, "newlogism," but my editor changed this to the more standard spelling. Alas!
January 19, 2011 9:38 AM | | Comments (2)
January 12, 2011

What's really intriguing about Sarah Palin's complaint that she is the object of a "blood libel" is that she's much too ignorant to have come up with it herself. It isn't a part of fundamentalist or evangelic folklore; there is no real basis for it in the Bible, even in the more antisemitic parts of St. John or Revelation.

In other words, even her malapropisms are being stage-managed.*

It's been thirty years since I read Bernard Malamud's novel about a blood-libel case. And it occurs to me that this is probably the only thing of his that I've read. Anyone out there with an opinion on whether there is something else I should get to?

Don't bother suggesting The Natural. I have studied C.L.R. James on cricket, and will continue to pay attention to my friend Dave Zirin's sportswriting, but must draw the line at reading a novel about baseball.

* AFTERTHOUGHT:If someone is actually circulating stories about how Sarah Palin drinks the blood of children, then I can see where she would be upset. That kind of rumor can just sink a campaign.
January 12, 2011 10:00 AM | | Comments (9)
January 8, 2011

Mimi and Eunice, via TechDirt

January 8, 2011 1:07 PM | | Comments (0)
January 5, 2011

My end-of-the-year essay about digital readers for The National has inspired a response by Rob Horning at The New Inquiry.

Glad to see him take the hint about Moretti, whose work I wrote about...five years ago? That can't be right. 
January 5, 2011 5:28 PM | | Comments (0)
January 3, 2011

For my last column of 2010, I asked a few people to identify books they'd read that year that made a big impression on them. The resulting piece came together well and seems to have gotten a decent bit of play -- though one person on Twitter characterized the participants as "Ivy Leaguers and tasteful snobs." Now, a couple of the participants are members of the labor movement, where snobbery, tasteful or otherwise, is not a value. And clearly the fact that I hadn't actually invited anybody from the Ivy League to respond was no obstacle to this individual's exercise of the right to have an uninformed opinion. So it goes. I don't write for stupid people but can do nothing to prevent them from reading.

In any case, two people named Patti Smith's memoir Just Kids, which I also liked very much. And this morning I see that Sherry Wolfe -- whose blog Sherry Talks Back I have been meaning to recommend -- recently stopped by the Chelsea Hotel in the wake of reading the book. Wolfe moved back to NYC last year and the continuing toll of the economy on culture naturally makes a big impression:

As a former denizen of the East Village, from 1988 to 2000, I was eyewitness to that bohemia's twentieth-century grand finale. I moved in the week of the Tompkins Square riot that seems, in retrospect, to have signaled the gentrifiers' victory over a sanctuary of counterculture.

I could still chat on the street back then with The Naked Civil Servant's Quentin Crisp and Howl's Allen Ginsberg or catch a $5 show with Sandra Bernhard, Penny Arcade or John Leguizamo around the corner. But the writing was on the wall as my own rent-stabilized haunt across from the Russian and Turkish Baths on 10th St. slowly drifted toward $1,000 a month.
About the only cultural activity you can still enjoy in Manhattan for no money is people watching--at least that remains one of the most spectacular circuses of humanity on earth.

And of course, artists will always find ways of meeting and mixing with each other in any city, no matter how hard the market tries to homogenize, synchronize and sterilize us all. There's always Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and dare I say, even Staten Island.

I like this (read the entry here) as a response to Smith's book -- that is, the refusal to let reading it turn into an occasion for nostalgia. The spirit of Greenwich Village cannot afford to live in Greenwich Village, but it has work to do, especially right now.

January 3, 2011 11:41 AM | | Comments (0)
January 2, 2011

A few months ago, I decided not to run for a second term on the board of directors of the National Book Critics Circle (for reasons having nothing to do with that worthy institution, and everything to do with my own need to concentrate on other commitments) and I stuck to that decision even when asked a couple of times to reconsider. Nobody not actually on the board knows just how much work is involved. And I don't just mean loading up the hundreds of books that arrive every week onto a cart to transport them to my cubicle at Inside Higher Ed, down the block. That's the least of it.

It turns out that the sheer amount of fantasy about the NBCC is kind of interesting, in a psychohistory sort of way. A case in point being something I read online not long ago about how those of us deciding on the awards are subjected to "lobbying." In three years, I've never heard from a single author, agent, or editor trying to influence me one way or the other. I get pitches from publicists all the time, of course, but they are invariably so clueless that I can't imagine them influencing anyone into reading a book -- let alone reviewing one, much less voting for it.

A fair hunch is that the belief in "lobbying" is a function of litblogger wish-fulfillment fantasies being projected. Somebody at Billy Bob's Book Blog assumes that if he or she were on the board, then famous authors would be inviting them to dinner. Alas, no. Would that this were true. After three years my virtue remains all too untested. But who am I to interrupt anybody's fantasies of glamor by pointing out that serving on the NBCC board just means doing a lot of pro bono labor while the anklebitters gnash their teeth? No good can come of insisting on the realities.

Be that as it may -- and with about ten solid weeks of work to do before the end of my term -- I have resolved to bring Quick Study out of its persistent vegetative state. A few people have expressed disappointment that it has had barely a pulse for the past couple of years. I haven't even bothered to post links to my work, while my Twitter presence has been low-volume and erratic, at best. There are various reasons for all of this, but the desire to explain them in detail seems as much a vice as idleness itself. Anyway, I will try to do better.
January 2, 2011 1:41 PM | | Comments (1)

About

Radio Days So I'm just done speaking about the Stewart/Colbert rally on the public radio station in Seattle, during which I discussed Susan Herbst's book Rude Democracy in all the depth and intelligibility possible when your total alloted air time is about five minutes. They got in touch thank to Henry posting about the column at Crooked Timber.

The segment is supposed to be up shortly as a podcast. Here is the page.


more

Quick Study Speculations, mediations, musings, glosses, and occasional dire mutterings at barely audible volume. more

Scott McLemee is an essayist, critic, and digital feuilletonist (rather like being a blogger, only it sounds more distinguished somehow). Scott.PNG more

Contact me Click here to send me an email... more

Archives

Archives: 650 entries and counting

Recent Work

"Crimes Against the Intellect" 
Last month, in France, playboy philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy was indicted for fraud, hucksterism, and general ridiculousness, and there will be a trial tomorrow. Sort of.

Somehow I doubt this is going to affect his standing at The Huffington Post.


Our Living Language 
My column today is about gun nuts. A reader has been in touch to ask whether I meant to use the word "refudiate." Indeed I did, and also tried to sneak in my own made-up word, "newlogism," but my editor changed this to the more standard spelling. Alas!
The Fixer 
What's really intriguing about Sarah Palin's complaint that she is the object of a "blood libel" is that she's much too ignorant to have come up with it herself. It isn't a part of fundamentalist or evangelic folklore; there is no real basis for it in the Bible, even in the more antisemitic parts of St. John or Revelation.

In other words, even her malapropisms are being stage-managed.*

It's been thirty years since I read Bernard Malamud's novel about a blood-libel case. And it occurs to me that this is probably the only thing of his that I've read. Anyone out there with an opinion on whether there is something else I should get to?

Don't bother suggesting The Natural. I have studied C.L.R. James on cricket, and will continue to pay attention to my friend Dave Zirin's sportswriting, but must draw the line at reading a novel about baseball.

* AFTERTHOUGHT:If someone is actually circulating stories about how Sarah Palin drinks the blood of children, then I can see where she would be upset. That kind of rumor can just sink a campaign.
Down With New Media! 

Mimi and Eunice, via TechDirt

Allegories of E-Reading 
My end-of-the-year essay about digital readers for The National has inspired a response by Rob Horning at The New Inquiry.

Glad to see him take the hint about Moretti, whose work I wrote about...five years ago? That can't be right. 
Sherry Talks Back 
For my last column of 2010, I asked a few people to identify books they'd read that year that made a big impression on them. The resulting piece came together well and seems to have gotten a decent bit of play -- though one person on Twitter characterized the participants as "Ivy Leaguers and tasteful snobs." Now, a couple of the participants are members of the labor movement, where snobbery, tasteful or otherwise, is not a value. And clearly the fact that I hadn't actually invited anybody from the Ivy League to respond was no obstacle to this individual's exercise of the right to have an uninformed opinion. So it goes. I don't write for stupid people but can do nothing to prevent them from reading.

In any case, two people named Patti Smith's memoir Just Kids, which I also liked very much. And this morning I see that Sherry Wolfe -- whose blog Sherry Talks Back I have been meaning to recommend -- recently stopped by the Chelsea Hotel in the wake of reading the book. Wolfe moved back to NYC last year and the continuing toll of the economy on culture naturally makes a big impression:

As a former denizen of the East Village, from 1988 to 2000, I was eyewitness to that bohemia's twentieth-century grand finale. I moved in the week of the Tompkins Square riot that seems, in retrospect, to have signaled the gentrifiers' victory over a sanctuary of counterculture.

I could still chat on the street back then with The Naked Civil Servant's Quentin Crisp and Howl's Allen Ginsberg or catch a $5 show with Sandra Bernhard, Penny Arcade or John Leguizamo around the corner. But the writing was on the wall as my own rent-stabilized haunt across from the Russian and Turkish Baths on 10th St. slowly drifted toward $1,000 a month.
About the only cultural activity you can still enjoy in Manhattan for no money is people watching--at least that remains one of the most spectacular circuses of humanity on earth.

And of course, artists will always find ways of meeting and mixing with each other in any city, no matter how hard the market tries to homogenize, synchronize and sterilize us all. There's always Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and dare I say, even Staten Island.

I like this (read the entry here) as a response to Smith's book -- that is, the refusal to let reading it turn into an occasion for nostalgia. The spirit of Greenwich Village cannot afford to live in Greenwich Village, but it has work to do, especially right now.

The Quick and the Dead 
A few months ago, I decided not to run for a second term on the board of directors of the National Book Critics Circle (for reasons having nothing to do with that worthy institution, and everything to do with my own need to concentrate on other commitments) and I stuck to that decision even when asked a couple of times to reconsider. Nobody not actually on the board knows just how much work is involved. And I don't just mean loading up the hundreds of books that arrive every week onto a cart to transport them to my cubicle at Inside Higher Ed, down the block. That's the least of it.

It turns out that the sheer amount of fantasy about the NBCC is kind of interesting, in a psychohistory sort of way. A case in point being something I read online not long ago about how those of us deciding on the awards are subjected to "lobbying." In three years, I've never heard from a single author, agent, or editor trying to influence me one way or the other. I get pitches from publicists all the time, of course, but they are invariably so clueless that I can't imagine them influencing anyone into reading a book -- let alone reviewing one, much less voting for it.

A fair hunch is that the belief in "lobbying" is a function of litblogger wish-fulfillment fantasies being projected. Somebody at Billy Bob's Book Blog assumes that if he or she were on the board, then famous authors would be inviting them to dinner. Alas, no. Would that this were true. After three years my virtue remains all too untested. But who am I to interrupt anybody's fantasies of glamor by pointing out that serving on the NBCC board just means doing a lot of pro bono labor while the anklebitters gnash their teeth? No good can come of insisting on the realities.

Be that as it may -- and with about ten solid weeks of work to do before the end of my term -- I have resolved to bring Quick Study out of its persistent vegetative state. A few people have expressed disappointment that it has had barely a pulse for the past couple of years. I haven't even bothered to post links to my work, while my Twitter presence has been low-volume and erratic, at best. There are various reasons for all of this, but the desire to explain them in detail seems as much a vice as idleness itself. Anyway, I will try to do better.
more

Readings

Battle of the Titans 
Dinesh D'Souza and Alan Wolfe debating? Imagine a slime mold in conflict with a patch of mildew. It's just that inspiring.
To the Tehran Station 
Not about Edmund Wilson
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