July 2007 Archives
Quick Study will go on hiatus for most of August; maybe all of it.
I will put up links in the "Recent Work" section (over there in the righthand column) as necessary. Those posts will be sent out via the RSS feeds. But unless there is some really overwhelming need to do so, I'll quit blogging as such, both here and elsewhere, for a few weeks at least.
In part this is a matter of needing to get ready for work this fall. For that matter, I need to get caught up on some overdue projects. I also have a fair bit to do on the old site -- major portions of which have not been updated for more than three years now.
Perhaps most of all, I just need time to think over and plan my activity (blogal and otherwise) so that it becomes less episodic and more cumulative.
Jerome Weeks has a long review/essay up at Critical Mass that hits very close to home on certain matters of longstanding preoccupation around here. I'm going to have a look at Gail Pool's Faint Praise: The Plight of Book Reviewing in America as soon as somebody from the press sends a copy. (That nobody has already is....well, puzzling.)
My friend Scott Eric Kaufman has been advised that Acephalous, the name of his blog, is actually stolen from a Belgian heavy metal band. According to one website, they play "blackened, brutal melodeath, which isn't an everyday combination."
I will take the critic's word for it on that last point, given that I have no idea how those particular qualities would normally be distributed.
Anyway, here's Acephalous performing live in October:
All I can say is that it seems clear they somehow got ahold of rehearsal tapes by Motley Umlaut, my own band from the mid-1980s. (There should be an umlaut on every vowel but I just don't have time right now.) We should be able to settle all of this out of court, provided that SEK can continue to use the name for his blog.
The other day, Quick Study passed two milestones that I've only just noticed. One was the half-year point since the blog's launch on January 24. The other was posting of the 300th comment.
Might have some new developments here after Labor Day. In the meantime, I'm going to start being more regular about updating the "Recent Work" and "Readings" sections, over in the right-hand column.
It's also just about time to add some new names to the blogroll.
Intellectual Affairs is coming up on an anniversary this week as well. As of Wednesday, I will have been doing it for two and a half years. Although both IA and QS appear online, the experience of writing them is utterly different -- and not just because the column is paying work and the blog is not. It would be hard to spell out the contrasts, but there are a number of them, and they outweigh any common resources of format.
That column will be the 157th so far -- not a number with the pleasing qualities of a nice round digit, but part of what is called (it seems) a sexy prime triplet. Which sounds less like a concept from number theory than a movie running on Showtime at two in the morning.
The only thing to say against Steven Augustine's literary blog The Ept, The Ane and the Fantile is that its title is resistant to memory -- or to mine, at least. But it is worth a look right now for the interview with James Marcus that went up recently. I'll be adding EAF to the blogroll at some point soon.
Meanwhile (small world) Marcus has just published an interview with William Langewiesche, whose The Atomic Bazaar is the rare case of someone turning magazine pieces into a book without padding everything out. (See my review from a couple of months ago.)
And finally, a visit to Minor Tweaks, where it sounds like Tom Bartlett is getting an early taste of cranky senior citizen-itis:
Hey, you kids, stop throwing stuff in my yard!
[shakes fist in air]
I've recently picked up a Vitamin Water bottle, a pudding container, and a cigarette package. Not to mention a condom wrapper. What are you kids doing? Driving around in your cars, drinking flavored water, eating pudding, smoking and engaging in premarital relations all at the same time? That's not safe!
[tugs at too-high pants]
Back in my day we didn't even have Vitamin Water -- or premarital relations, for that matter. And when we ate pudding we did so in the privacy of our own homes, not out on the streets like hooligans.
You better not let me catch you! Believe me, you'll regret it!
If they are doing all those things at the same time, it's all the more important to look both ways before you cross the street.....
Amusing juxtaposition of scenes from Some Like It Hot with a cut from Dirty, the last album by Sonic Youth that I really like. The matchup of song and movie probably turns on a coincidence, but it clicks. And Marilyn Monroe is smoking. Any argument about whether this is her best movie?
"I am on the verge of making a radical decision," a professor told me in an e-mail note a couple of weeks ago. The plan taking shape was "to get rid of almost all the books I have in my office," he said, "based on their almost total superfluity."
(One of the commentors says, "Sometimes I swear the things copulate overnight and create new paperbacks which grow up to become hardbacks." The same thought has crossed my mind.)
It is a dark day for American journalism. Rick Perlstein alerts me that the Weekly World News -- paper of record for "stories about aliens, Satan, giant pigs rampaging through the Georgia woods, Nostradamus-like prophets, time travel, and, of course, Bat Boy" -- is going under.
During the run-up to the Iraq War, it was a Weekly World News reporter who blew the lid on Saddam's program to clone dinosaurs for use as weapons of mass destruction. Other tabloids have their social function of course, but none was ever half so fearless.
In the words of perennial WWN columnist Ed Anger, "I'm madder than a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest."
(crossposted from CT)
David Chase, creator of The Sopranos, appeared at the Televison Critics Association Awards over the weekend. According to Alan Sepinwall, he told the audience, "Here's another clue for you all -- the Walrus was Paulie."
More clarifying remarks from Chase:
Somebody said it would be a good idea if we said something about the ending. I really wasn't going to go into it. But I'll just say this: When I was going to Stanford University graduate film school, 23 years old, I went and saw Planet of the Apes with my wife. When the movie was over I said, "Wow, so they had a Statue of Liberty, too." So that's what you're up against.
It's actually a better movie if you think of it that way.
For the second time this year, I have had the odd experience of reading a dissertation and finding that the bibliography includes a reference to my work.
Both times, my name was spelled wrong.
I am willing to bet this happens a third time.
A few months ago, I became -- well, obsessed is such a loaded word, so let's just say very fascinated by The Marble Index. The first solo album by Nico, Chelsea Girl, tends to land near the CD player around here a lot, even though the chanteuse herself didn't like it very much. But The Marble Index is just from another planet. All the folk-rocky stuff is purged from her system, there's no compromise with pop, and she's found her instrument of choice in a harmonium that is a bit out of tune with itself. Which is to say it is perfectly in tune, given the context.
Lester Bangs wrote: "I don't know if I would classify it as oppressing or depressing, but I do know that The Marble Index scares the shit out of me." I've certainly felt that. Not all of the album has that effect, or affect rather. But "Frozen Warnings" is sublime. It was released in 1969 with a video -- a time capsule loaded with imagery from the Factory at peak instensity -- though the song itself is best listened to alone, in all its severity, without any visual distractions.
So...that said, here's the video anyway, because the footage is just too good to miss:
I've only just discovered Defunkt and am trying to figure out how that oversight was possible. They play a fusion of jazz, funk, and No Wave (at least one member was also with James Chance and the Contortions) and the result is pretty astounding. Here is a performance from 1981:
There is a documentary about them due out next year.
Just an observation, not about the books themselves, or even about Pottermania as phenomenon, but about one particular experience. That is, mine. Let n=1.
So, I write a long column that mentions, in passing, and in the spirit of openness, that I have not read the Harry Potter books or seen the films.
The piece makes clear this is not a matter of deliberate policy, or fierce disdain, or what have you. It's just one of those things that never happened.
I also raise for discussion the idea that there might be grounds for objecting to an undergraduate course on Harry Potter.
It was tempting, while writing my column this week, somehow to work in one of the best headlines ever to run at The Onion: "New Harry Potter Film Turns Children On To Magic Of Not Reading."
"My daughter Julia never liked to sit passively and stare at a screen, but this new movie has really locked the power of her imagination," said Hannah Foss, 38, of Dayton, OH. "She can't put her books away fast enough." "Movies are great," said Tarzana, CA, 10-year-old Emily Hart. "You can see exactly what the characters look like without having to guess."
From time to time, I think of winnowing down and revising my published work into a collection of essays. And then kicks in the memory of having a player in literary publishing in New York (fully "made," as they say in the Mafia) tell me, in the tone one would use in explaining things to a child, "You can't publish a book of essays until you are somebody."
Well, now I'll keep in mind the example of John Emerson, whose writings appear at Idiocentrism and who regularly intervenes in the CT comments section. He has launched the Éditions le Real imprint with a book of his poems and a volume of essays.
The reunited Television performing in 1992. Verlaine's solo, starting at about the 4 minute point, is beautifully clean and undemonstrative -- much stripped down from the old days, when, as Patti Smith once said, his guitar sounded like a thousand bluejays screaming. (Loved that sound too.)
I'd love to be able to put this on autorepeat, to have it playing while I'm writing at the computer.
Jerome Weeks offers another tale from the crypt:
A 17th century English lit doctoral candidate has completed her dissertation on Samuel Pepys, the famous diarist. Early on in her studies (yes, the gender makes this seem sexist, but I'm just reporting the anecdote as I heard it) she moved away from the university because of something -- oh, let's say she had to live with her parents. So she completed her work by mail. This was not that uncommon 25 years ago, and probably even less so today with the internet.
At any rate, it's the day of her defense, she returns to the department and faces a jury of professors -- who quickly realize that in all this time, no one has explained that Pepys' name is pronounced "Peeps." But the professors are embarrassed as well, to have one of their Ph.D. candidates get this far and never to have spoken to one of them directly. So our plucky candidate has the unnerving experience of hearing her mentors nervously coo at her for several hours.
Everytime she says "Peppis," one of them would softly go ... "Peeps."
Maybe it actually happened. Maybe it's academic folklore. But Jerome says he had one bit of confirmation of the premise: He told the story to an English professor who admitted he hadn't realized how the name was pronounced either.
Update: an interesting point
(crossposted from CT)
Rather than unpack at length all the ways Nonpartisan has minconstrued certain things -- doing so would take a while, and it's probably my fault for being too oblique -- let me just recommend to everyone's attention a fine post by Tim Burke that ends with the following, which is actually quite close to one aspect of what (I thought) I was saying:
I'm going to go on calling things as I see them. If I think I was wrong about something I thought or said earlier, I'm going to say so. I'm going to be as skeptical as I can manage about my own claims and commitments. But none of that is a politics at this point: it's just a personal aesthetic, a quirk, a habitus. It's not a public conversation that I feel myself to be part of, with some precious, treasured exceptions.
We can't get back to any kind of consensus politics until people who have made mistakes are prepared to admit them. Without caveats, without evasions, without double standards. That goes for the war in Iraq. It goes for attempting to turn the government of the United States into a personality cult driven entirely by the objective of structurally locking in partisan advantage for the foreseeable future. It goes for most of what has happened in the last six years.
Of course he makes this point (among others) in a cleaner and smarter way than I did. Or could, probably.
A comment at The Valve starts out with a reference to the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism (who knew folks would still be talking about it this late in the day?) and goes on to another topic of interest:
V.F. Calverton isn't exactly a marginal literary historical figure; his best work isn't exactly a peripheral achievement. That is, shouldn't be. Not in reality. Though he surely is in the reality of the academic lit establishment today (and previous days). What percentage of the lit establishment has even heard of The Liberation of American Literature, let alone read it? 1 percent? .... Who has even heard of V.F. Calverton himself, editor of the Modern Quarterly for 17 years, from 1923 until his death in 1940. Just as Calverton was eventually marginalized in his own time, for ideological reasons as well, so have many central progressive literary concerns been marginalized by the academy.....Leftward Ho! V.F. Calverton and American Radicalism, by Philip Abbott, was published in 1993 as part of Greenwood Press's series Contributions in Political Science. This seems to be how a limited amount of work of some "radical" substance gets done in the academies. It can be easier to get it published in someone else's field other than your own. Less threatening that way, I suppose.
More or less as predicted, I have now been informed, more than once, that the title of the piece at Crooked Timber last night, "Who Will Defend the Children of Priviledge?" (also here, below) contains an error. It seems that the last word should actually be spelled "privilege."
A friend has asked about a story that may be the academic equivalent of an urban legend. I had never heard it. I asked some journalists who cover higher education, and they also say it does not ring a bell. But the thing sounds just plausible enough that it might really have happened. So at my friend's request, here is a call for leads in case there is anything to it.
My immediate response to hearing that Lady Bird Johnson died was to remember a story that went around in Austin in the early 1980s. At that point, she still owned the radio station KLBJ.
It is said that one day she was listening when a disc jockey played the song "Too Young to Date" by a local band called D-Day, released on a single in 1979.
The cover story of the Washington City Paper this week is about Late Night Shots, "a very exclusive, invite-only social-networking Web site" enabling rich young white people from good prep schools to get drunk and have casual sex with others of the kind in the Washington, DC area who share their right-wing politics and their sense of entitlement (if that isn't, in this case, verging on the redundant).
LNS claims to have something like 14,000 members. Many are, the article says, Episcopalian or Presbyterian. The whole things sounds like something produced by splicing together the work of John Updike and Bret Easton Ellis with a business plan cooked by a savvy venture capitalist.
Features in the City Paper are often dubiously reported and normally at least twice as long as the content merits, though this one seems competently edited. It might be worth a look for those of you concerned with networks, online and off -- just as an example of something off the MySpace/Facebook binary, so to speak.
But it's the cultural politics of the comments section that I found especially interesting.
A YouTube clip released by the European Union has had almost 3.5 million hits in under a month -- some of them, I would guess, repeat visits:
Not that it has gone over well with everyone. An article at the ABC News website quotes Godfrey Bloom, from something called the U.K. Independence Party (which, in spite of the sound of it, does not actually consist of several friends from the pub and three members of his immediate family) saying that the clip is "soft porn" and "cheap, tawdry and tacky" and "like watching an elderly relative trying to be cool: very embarrassing."
But here in the States, the promo spot is being taken as a reminder of how much more sophisticated our cousins abroad are. To quote one comment at YouTube from a viewer in LA:
The United States is much more puritanical. Really, the abhorrence of openness about sexuality is an American thing.
Why, yes -- that would certainly explain why you never, ever see sexual imagery in our mass culture.
Also the continuing popularity of those black hats with the buckles.
I've pointed out the misleading nature of that equation between Puritanism and "abhorrence of openness about sexuality" before. Not that it makes any sense even to bother arguing the point.
A very good explanation of the basic LaRouche template is given in a chapter of Architects of Fear, a book from the early 1980s by George Johnson, who I believe is still a science writer for The New York Times.
World history boils down to a war between the anti-technology agrarian oligarchs (reductionist followers of Aristotle, every one) and the city-building forces of scientific progress (who are Platonists).
The whole thing started in either Atlantis or Mesopotamia, or maybe both. I can't read my notes on that part.
Writing about the LaRouche Youth Movement finally allowed me to use some of the research material piling up for a novel that's never quite come together.
Maybe it was the anxiety of influence. Lyndon LaRouche always seemed like a character right out of Thomas Pynchon.
A common reaction to psychological trauma is the construction of what psychologists call the 'ego-ideal,' a kind of counterself, grand, inflated, magnificent, free from imperfections, and impervious to the kind of injury that created it in the first place.
-- Lee Siegel, Not Remotely Controlled: Notes on Television (Basic Books, 2007)
If memory serves, there is a reference to fletcherizing (the fad of chewing your food until it is liquified) in David Lodge's Author, Author.
That was the novel Lodge was working on when I profiled him, though of course he did not say anything in particular about it -- let alone that it was about Henry James, though this did not come as a huge surprise.
More on Fletcher, the Master, and style-as-mastication at Acephalous.
You know, I do realize that "the free, user-generated content spawned and extolled by the Web 2.0 revolution is decimating ... our cultural gatekeepers, as professional critics, journalists, editors, musicians, moviemakers, and other purveyors of expert information are being replaced ... by amateur bloggers, hack reviewers, home-spun moviemakers, and attic recording artists."
I tremble at the thought, for it no doubt means my ass.
But as the redoubtable James Marcus points out, it is hard to take The Cult of the Amateur at quite its announced level of gatekeeperish seriousness given that it refers to the German philosopher Jurgen Haberman.
Menace to civilization that they may be, I nonetheless find myself enjoying the "amateur" reworkings of old He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoons now available as The Skeletor Show:
The full series is available via Flying Squid Studios. Please do not take this as an endorsement. My cultural gatekeeper license might be repealed. That said, I have to wonder if Haber-Man lives in Eternia.
Mockery of Jonah Goldberg's work-in-progress continues, and not just around here. A contributor at Sadly, No! goes in search of the proper cultural landmarks for triangulating the book's already proto-legendary status:
Liberal Fascism is rapidly becoming a modern day cross between the Beach Boys' SMiLE! and William Shatner's Transformed Man. It's like the Shatner album in that it's valued only for its camp appeal. And it's like the Brian Wilson's lost masterpiece in that, despite being worked on for years, it never seems to get finished.
Consequently, every day that Liberal Fascism spends in the shop and away from the shelves is a day that its legend grows even funnier. The recent change in the book's subtitle - which was rewritten to accuse yuppie organic food shoppers of Nazism - was an all-too-fleeting glimpse into one man's ongoing mental implosion, much like the stories of Brian Wilson's ill-fated attempts to force his studio orchestra to wear fire helmets. Similarly, DoughBob's pathetic, laughable defenses of his work are akin to hearing Shatner yelp "MIIIISTER TAAAAAMBOOOOURINNNNNE MAAAAAAAAAAAN!!!!!" into the microphone at full decibel.
Interesting point: From an analysis of what Amazon says people who look at the Liberal Fascism page ultimately end up buying, it seems that "14 percent are wingnuts, 14 percent are nerds and a whopping 72 percent are lefties looking for a good laugh."
Not the sort of information designed to keep an author "far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow."
SEE ALSO: A helpful suggestion, not to say a modest proposal, from Jon Swift. (Best if viewed in Firefox.)
Via Political Animal, I see that Marty Peretz has taken a break from denouncing Arabs as subhuman primates long enough to comment on the fortunes of Scooter Libby:
It was from the beginning a politically motivated case, as Dershowitz argues in this morning's Post, the appointment of the special prosecutor, the prosecutor's own obsessions, the case itself with the doubtful and understandably doubtful but diverse memories of many witnesses, including the defendant, the especially harsh sentence pronounced by the judge, the refusal of the appellate court to continue Libby on bail -- all of these were politically motivated.
To which, former Peretz employee Andrew Sullivan responds, "This is an argument?"
Fair enough. But there is an even more obvious conundrum to ponder: This is a sentence? It feels like something Kerouac might have written before the benzedrine kicked in.
In today's Inside Higher Ed, Mark Bauerlein writes:
After I left graduate school, more literary/cultural criticism anthologies appeared along with various dictionaries and encyclopedias. The process seems to have culminated in The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism (ed. Vincent Leitch et al), whose publication in 2001 was momentous enough to merit a long story by Scott McLemee in The Chronicle of Higher Education that included the remark, "An anthology stamped with the Norton brand name is a sure sign of the field's triumph in English departments."
For McLemee to speak of "stamping" and "branding" was apt, more so than he intended, for every anthology assigned in class carries institutional weight.
Uh, no, that would be precisely the overtone and degree of aptness intended. I haven't reread the piece in a very long time, but do recall that the institutionalization and commercialization of theory were very much the focus of my attention.
The text of that article from 2001 (the first cover story I wrote while at the paper) is available online.
Beyond good and evil -- beyond good taste and bad taste, even -- the world is to be redeemed only through the act of aesthetic creation.
And with that I give you something sublime. Or that leaves me speechless, anyway:
I mean, a tribute is a tribute, right? Lyrics like, "Seems like yesterday we used to rock the show/ I laced the track, you locked the flow/ So far from hangin on the block for dough/ Notorious, they got to know that" are universal. Really, everyone should be memorialized with a 7-minute song that Diddy very specifically wrote about one particular person.
We should all be so lucky. Still, some tweaking may be in order at times. At the moment I feel like singing.
Seems like yesterday we used to rock the show
I laced the track, you locked the flow
So far from hangin on the block for dough
KnowwhatI'msayin, Teddy Adorno....
All the heavy thinkers of the American right are united in condemning any cynical ideological doublethink that might be used to justify the pardon of Scooter Libby:
* Robert Bork and James Rosen, writing in the National Review: "Lying under oath strikes at the heart of our system of justice and the rule of law. It does not matter in the least what the perjury is about."
* Representative Henry Hyde of Illinois, who from 1985 until 1991 was the ranking Republican on the House Select Committee on Intelligence: "If citizens are allowed to lie with impunity -- or encourage others to tell false stories or hide evidence -- judges and juries cannot reach just results."
* Roger Kimball, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed titled "Leftists Sacrifice Truth on the Altar of Friendship": "In the culture wars that have been transforming American society since the 1960s, truth has been a conspicuous casualty: not only particular truths but also allegiance to the very ideal of truth as an indispensable component of any just and moral life. The competing, countercultural ideal holds that loyalty to the personal trumps loyalty to the truth...."
UPDATE: Check out Phil Nugent's commentary on the stupid things that can be said -- and are, in fact, being said -- about this fine moment in the history of the republic.
I'm only just now catching up with Phil Nugent's rant from last month that begins:
We're supposed to be living in this new era of CGI technology and kids who can sit down at their laptops and whip up a little movie showing Yogi Berra on the grassy knoll with as much ease as I used to stick baseball cards in between my bicycle spokes. (More ease, actually. I always used to give myself these wicked paper cuts.) I'm kind of disappointed that it doesn't seem to have resulted in a golden age of horrifyingly convincingly videos of lake monsters and skunk apes and little green men. I feel that if we'd had the the technology back when I was a sprout, we'd have had so many homemade spin-offs of the Patterson film (for those of you who can't quite make the connection, that's the footage of a pregnant-looking Bigfoot sashaying around the woods) plastered all over You Tube that it seem as if Sunn Classic Pictures exploded. Instead, all the little boogers are probably holed up working on their test reels for Pixar. I can't say as I blame them, but it does make you wonder. I've seen those characters in England demonstrating how they made all those crop circles themselves and scared Mel Gibson half to death. Whoever was or wasn't in on the making of the Patterson film, sticking somebody inside that costume and arranging to have a camera film the event for posterity took some initiative. As for the "surgeon's photograph" of Nessie that formed the modern image we all have of what the monster is supposed to look like and is the reason that some star-struck kids like me when quizzed about species of dinosaurs could immediately name, in addition to the T. Rex, the pterodactyl, and the brontosaurus, the long-necked sea-dwelling water balloon known as the plesiosaur--well, let's just say that after you've been informed flat out that it was just a picture of a toy sunmarine with some clay stuck on and seen the uncropped version of the photo that shows it as looking very small, it may not seem like much, but that didn't stop if from really getting something started, now did it?
You know, screw it. Next time I am voting for Bob Avakian.
Speaking of which, it is time to mention the website of Engage! sponsored by something described as "A Committee to Project and Protect the Voice of Bob Avakian." I think that involves buying microphones and throat lozenges and stuff.
While off on this tangent, let me also recommend a remarkable entry at Thanksgiving is Ruined.