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July 31, 2007

Hiatus, Retreat, Downtime, Countdown

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.

As noted at the launch of Quick Study, the past few years have been for me a process of adjusting certain expectations and ideas (developed across two decades of writing for print publication) to a new and very different configuration of the public sphere.

This blog has been part of the improvisation of a response. So now it is time to mull over how well it has gone -- or hasn't -- and to make some adjustments, as necessary.

In the meantime, let me recommend in the strongest possible terms Flyover, another Arts Journal offering.

At present, Flyover appears to have only a fraction of the subscribers that Quick Study does, which just makes no sense at all. Please check it out and help spread the word.

Posted by smclemee at 12:42 PM

A Weeks Reading

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.)

By chance, just before Jerome's piece went up, I was having a look at an interview from last year with Charles Taylor. (The film critic, that is, not the philosopher whose gigantic book on secularity is sitting nearby right this minute.) Among other things he says:

People from a news background often think that critics are no different than journalists--and they are journalists, to a certain extent. I've heard people say that if a critic has a professed dislike for someone's work, someone else should review it so the artist gets a fair hearing. Well, we already have that. It's called publicity. It's not a critic's job to go in concerned with being positive. But news people are trained in that journalist's way of thinking, "You get the facts. You report them. You provide evidence to support the position." Critics take imaginative leaps, they employ hyperbole and that makes the reportorial mindset very nervous, and they don't get it....Editors, for the most part, sit behind their desk saying they heard buzz on this or that. But all that usually means is they heard publicity from somewhere, often from publicists who are calling to pitch them on getting coverage for their movies, or from other editors who've been pitched by publicists, or in magazine pieces which resulted because some editor was successfully pitched to by a publicist. They're not relying on the people who are actually out doing the footwork. That's a real problem. I'm not saying critics don't need editors or guidance, but their instincts have to be respected. They have experience and knowledge about what they're doing, and the ability to say, this is important and this isn't.

Well, it's not always that bad by any means. On the other hand (and without naming any names) there have been editors who expressed disbelief, verging on irritation, that I would read two earlier books by an author in the course of writing about the latest one. This is a newspaper, boy, not a history paper!

Posted by smclemee at 8:54 AM

July 30, 2007

Now to Break into "The Springfield Review of Books"....

Over the weekend, my wife Simpsonized me. The Milhouse glasses do seem appropriate.
In real life, there are suspenders, as with Grandpa Simpson, who has influenced so many of my sartorial choices.

See also the South Park avatar

Posted by smclemee at 5:49 PM | Comments (2)

July 29, 2007

Sounds Painful, In More Ways Than One

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.

Posted by smclemee at 5:18 PM | Comments (5)

July 28, 2007

Legacy of Ashes

A portrait of the CIA as bottom-feeding slug

Posted by smclemee at 3:09 PM

Local Landmarks

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.

Posted by smclemee at 2:21 PM

July 26, 2007

Attention Deficit Day

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.

[starts coughing]

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.....

Posted by smclemee at 3:47 PM | Comments (2)

July 25, 2007

Sugar Kane

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?

Posted by smclemee at 7:01 PM | Comments (5)

We Must Imagine Sisyphus Happy

"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.)

Posted by smclemee at 10:26 AM | Comments (4)

July 24, 2007



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)

Posted by smclemee at 7:08 PM

Expert textpert choking smokers / Don't you think the joker laughs at you?

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.

Posted by smclemee at 8:33 AM | Comments (1)

July 23, 2007

An Accurate Depiction of the Proprietor


Posted by smclemee at 5:12 PM | Comments (2)

The Groves of Academe

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.

Posted by smclemee at 1:41 PM | Comments (8)

July 20, 2007

Close to the Frozen Borderline

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:

Posted by smclemee at 5:25 PM | Comments (4)

July 19, 2007


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.

Posted by smclemee at 4:43 PM | Comments (2)

For the Final Time, Harry Potter

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.

All the reasons for why such a course might be a good thing are acknowledged; and the professor teaching the course is quoted at great length; and I also cite an essay by a literary critic who makes a case for the educational value of Rowling's work, beside providing a link to said essay.

But the column fails to include a vow that yes, one day I surely must read and appreciate Harry Potter. Nor do I meanwhile just surrender all ambivalence about the idea that something can end up consecrated by the university, simply because it's been very successful in the marketplace.

And so what does this mean? To judge by the feedback so far, it reveals that I am an elitist, and that I don't read widely enough (now there's a new one), and that I really need to enter the 21st century. It's as if the column were written in the spirit of Edmund Wilson's review of The Lord of the Rings, with its dig at readers who have "a life-long appetite for juvenile trash."

Well, that's what you get for remaining true to your own thoughts when a juggernaut is flattening everything in its path. It also shows the limits of a polyphonic approach. There are four voices in the piece (not counting the illustrious dead) with mine being only one of them -- and by no means a dominant one, with most of my comments serving mainly to frame what other people have to say. Naturally the response to the piece focus on my (rather small) note of dissent from the general celebration.

Just for the record: I was crazy about Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea books as a kid; and while rereading Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time a few years ago was impressed to see that it was an even better book than I could have grasped upon encountering it in the fourth grade. That said, I'm really glad that going to college meant studying Wallace Stevens instead of being complimented for having consumed things more readily available, and more easily pleasurable.

Posted by smclemee at 9:54 AM | Comments (5)

Breaking News, As It Were

Posted by smclemee at 9:35 AM

July 18, 2007


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."

Posted by smclemee at 8:09 AM

The Miscellany is a Kind of Book

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 latter, called Substantific Marrow, contains the following items, among others:

Ressentiment and Schooling / Could Nietzsche have Married Jane Austen? / Van Gogh as Chump / Gautier's Hippo / Oafs and Wimps / Aristotle and Mollusc Sex / Kenneth Burke Faked it Too / What Was Cratylus Trying to Say? / Parmenides in Szechuan / On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the Philosophers / Hemoglobin and Alchemy / Fish Milk / The Authenticity and Feng Shui of Bob Dylan / Satie and the Sewing Machine / W. C. Fields and the American Family Comedy / Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss / Agamben and Schmitt / Werewolves and the State / Orwell and Pacifism / Philosophers and Nuclear War / Transience and Water

They have been extracted and redacted from his website. Another book, this one of polemics, will appear in due course.

I post this in part because CT readers are the ideal audience; in part because Éditions le Real (part of Lulu) seems like a good example of the dispersal of authority for cultural production, per Yochai Benkler; and in part, finally, as a shameless effort to get for myself free copies of the books.

(crossposted to CT)

Posted by smclemee at 7:19 AM | Comments (1)

July 17, 2007

The Long Twilight

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.

Posted by smclemee at 10:14 AM | Comments (3)

July 16, 2007

Apocrypha Now II: The Revenge of Samuel Pepys

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)

Posted by smclemee at 11:42 AM | Comments (1)

Clarification Via Reflected Brilliance

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.

Posted by smclemee at 6:04 AM | Comments (4)

July 14, 2007

V. F. Calverton

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.

That certainly caught my attention. I posted the following response, which is in moderation but will presumably appear at some point:

Well, I know Calverton's work pretty well. As an editor and someone opposing the more sclerotic tendencies in the far left of his day, he was obviously an important figure, and his theory of "cultural compulsives" is interesting as a very rough-and-ready approximation of a Marxist sociology of knowledge.

But Calverton's writings on literary criticism and history have been forgotten for the simple reason that most of it was not very good. A satirical piece in the New Masses from the late 1920s portrayed the method of a critic everyone reading it knew was supposed to be Calverton. He sat down to prepare an essay on Marxism and Bulgarian literature despite not know Bulgarian or ever reading a single Bulgarian writer. Instead, he copied some facts about Bulgarian history out of an encyclopedia, added some thoughts on how the class struggle shapes literature, and voila! This was cruel -- Calverton wasn't quite that bad -- but there was a reason why the satirist could expect readers to recognize his target.

Calverton is worth studying in context. (There are much better things to read about him than Abbott's book, by the way.) But if nobody much in English departments reads The Liberation of American Literature anymore, that is not proof that there is anything wrong with the English departments. It's full of errors and is often crude in its interpretations.

I wish this weren't true. There is a lot to admire about Calverton, but even his friends were often aghast at how sloppy he could be.

To which it might be worth adding that the fact Abbott's book appeared in a political-science series, rather than one on literary criticism, does make sense in a way. Calverton played an important, if idiosyncratic, role in the life of the far left during the 1920s and '30s, and not all of it had to do with his work on cultural matters. Why not a book about him in political science? Besides, that's pretty daring for poli sci. It's too bad the book is so poorly written that it makes for teeth-grinding after any ten pages.

I spent some time going through Calverton's papers last year and want to write about him again at some point. It was surprising to have the occasion to do so now, in such informal circumstances, but I'm glad to think of anyone paying attention to the topic at all.

Update: And now the reply to these comments.

Posted by smclemee at 4:25 PM

July 13, 2007

On This Point Additional Correction Will Not Be Necessary

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."

Of course, it was reasonable to assume that anyone who read the item in question would get the point. But I did know better than to assume, and so was not surprised.

Still, it is a little disappointing to see that the spelling in the title was normalized when the Guardian linked to it at the "Best of the Web" feature of their Comment is Free page (it might be gone by the time you look)..

Last night I read and in some cases responded to comments on the post. Now I'll ignore the crosstalk for a while. Once you've had your say and listened for a bit, it can be a good idea to move on to other things. Anyone expecting to have the last word in this format is bound to get an ulcer.

UPDATE: Also picked up by (very glad to see it) Ezra Klein and (this seemed hard to believe) Wonkette.

Posted by smclemee at 11:11 AM

Apocrypha Now?

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.

I will avoid naming the university in question, leave gender uspecified, and say only that the events in question are supposed to have happened within the past decade. Here is the the gist of it:

A doctoral candidate has finished a dissertation based on the archives of a village in Italy. It has been accepted, the defense has gone well, and all that remains is a little paperwork. A member of the committee (or possibly just someone who knows about the dissertation topic) happens to be on vacation in Italy and decides to visit the village. It's not clear why -- curiosity, time to kill, maybe to explore the archive? In any case, it turns out there is no village.

So there you have it. Does anyone know of a real case like this?

A few years ago, I read around in the literature on "contemporary legend" (the term now preferred by people who study them, rather than "urban legend"). Usually they amount to cautionary tales of some sort, in which some norm or rule is violated and punished. The tale of the faked archive seems to qualify, though I suppose it's possible that it might be based on something that actually happened.

(crossposted to Cliopatria and Crooked Timber)

Posted by smclemee at 10:40 AM

Lady Bird and the Tramp

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 band was New Wave. But most of all it was sophomoric:

Got an older guy and his name is Michael,
he just told me 'bout my menstrual cycle.
Said the blood on his fingers wasn't from a cut!
maybe someday I'll be a teenage slut!
Says he doesn't really want to marry,
he just wants to pop my cherry!

Lady Bird was not delighted. The story goes that she got on the phone right away and asked that it never be played on KLBJ again, and that it never was. This was taken as an example of our music being crushed by the forces of genteel power, or something like that.

Listening to the song online now, I'm perhaps slightly more sympathetic to Lady Bird than I once was. Getting banned from the radio is as close to interesting as it ever got. X Ray Spex the band sure ain't.

And the excerpt about Lady Bird that Rick Perlstein has posted from his first book is a reminder that she put her Southern belle powers to good use. Please have a look.

The freedom to broadcast cheaply and meaninglessly (but profitably) "offensive" speech can coexist very comfortably indeed with a situation in which our rulers need feel no obligation towards anything higher than expedience construed in the narrowest terms and within the smallest horizon of time. Funny how that works. The benefits of brutal candor over genteel reservation are not perhaps as obvious as it once seemed. We need a revaluation of all values.

Posted by smclemee at 9:19 AM

July 12, 2007

Who Will Defend the Children of Priviledge?

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.

The LNS people are not happy with the article. Once past calling the reporter a drunk, a plagiarist, and (this is clearly the real crime) someone who had been a nerd in high school, the discussion focuses on the hostility directed at LNSers by their social and economic inferiors:

At the end of the day, they hate because they are jealous. Jealous of our priviledge, jealous of our economic success, jealous of our fun. I hate to say it but they hate us for the same reasons the terrorists do. Perhaps that's why they all want us to withdraw from Iraq and hand victory to al Qaeda on a silver platter? Ok, I better stop before I go off on a major tangent/rant here.

Oh, but do go on....It seems that the inferiors are hipsters who listen to "indie" music and vote for the Democrats. They are destined to serve the LNSers. And yet these losers, too, claim a kind of superiority. That claim cannot be endured. To quote another comment by an LNS member:

Enjoy your crummy Indie music and making minimum wage. When I need your opinion or critique on privilege, I will be sure to give you a ring (and opinion) while I am renting a car and you are filling up my tank. Both of which you did a terrible job of doing. Hipsters its no wonder you cannot not find a job. Keep writing about us and we will be sure not give damn whether you live or die. That is the thing about your purported privilege. While you are busy writing about us, we are busy running the world and making money so you have something to write.

How true! And yet it does not take much dialectical finesse to suspect that the claim to indifference here is overstated, even blatantly contradictory.

There is an obvious urgency of feeling that mangles the promise "we will be sure not [to] give damn whether you live or die." Likewise with the other LNSer's rather shakily performed claim of a "priviledge" that can only be envied.

Perhaps what we have here is the opposite of the "theft of enjoyment". It is the fear, rather, that one's claim to have access to superior power and pleasure won't be acknowledged at all.

The point of a club like Late Night Shots is, in large part, to keep other people out of it. That's obvious. But those other people have to (be imagined to) want in.

The greatest terror is not that they will try to overthrow you -- or even that they might somehow break through the barriers of exclusivity. It's that the outsider might laugh at the exclusivity.

Speaking of which, there is a comment about a t-shirt that does sound like it's on the same wavelength in regard to the fantasy of exclusion, except apropos the hipster variant. It reads: "I listen to bands that don't even exist yet." What's good for the goose....

(crossposted from CT)

Posted by smclemee at 7:35 PM

Come Together

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.

Posted by smclemee at 2:02 PM

Footnote to Folly

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.

It took a while, but a LaRouchie has commented on my article, saying, among other things:

Furthermore, anybody who knows anything knows at this point that LaRouche is not, and never was, a "right-winger"--that he is the most outspoken opponent of the neo-Cons and their fascist agenda.

When "anybody who knows anything knows at this point" that LaRouche started developing friendly connections with Birchers, Klansmen, and neo-Nazis in the mid-1970s and spent most of the 1980s telling anyone who would listen that he was Ronald Reagan's extra-special buddy.

But you can rip off the credit cards of people buying copies of your pamphlets calling for AIDS patients to be put in camps -- and shake down little old senile Republican ladies for their retirement funds in order to help Lyn defeat Communism -- for only just so long before the chumps go grab their pitchforks.

So now he is the last representative of the FDR tradition.

He remains in struggle with the same evildoers from Atlantis, of course, so it's not like he's being inconsistent or anything.

(crossposted from Cliopatria)

Posted by smclemee at 6:35 AM

July 11, 2007

Lyndon LaRouche Mystery Theater

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.

It's not just that line in The Crying of Lot 49 about "the true paranoid for whom all is organized in spheres joyful or threatening about the central pulse of himself."

All the psychosexual strangeness in Pynchon, from V. through Against the Day, has its analog in polemics like "Beyond Psychoanalysis" and "The Sexual Impotence of the Puerto Rican Socialist Party" that LaRouche wrote in the early seventies, back when he was known as Lyn Marcus. (Everybody thinks that name was supposed to mean that LaRouche believed he was "Lenin and Marx" rolled into one. But that, alas, seems to be an urban legend, as I mention in the column.)

Maybe one of the kids now recruited into the LaRouche Youth Movement will actually write the work of magical realism that its bizarro world so richly deserves. One former member, who left in the mid-1970s, put together a pretty amazing study in the intellectual history of some of LaRouche's doctrines, part of it available here.

It is interesting, but I still think this subject requires the skills of a novelist. Or at least of H.P. Lovecraft.

POSTSCRIPT: Chances are pretty good that it will turn out I wrote my article as a lackey of British arms manufacturer BAE Systems, and that I am, in fact, a paid asset of the Anglo-American covert intelligence operations of Baroness Elizabeth Symons.

Assuming that this is true, I am going to invite all of you to a really big party, once the check clears.

(Crossposted at CT and HuffPo)

Posted by smclemee at 12:51 PM

You Don't Say

"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)

This is, of course, wrong.

The term "ego-ideal" refers to part of the superego that concentrates all the highest standards and agonizing demands that one has introjected from parents, the culture, recognized authority.

They are standards and demands that one will -- pretty much by definition -- never meet. Not really; never in full. And the ego-ideal does not fail to notice this failure. (The relation between one's sense of self and the ego-ideal is an experience of constant misery.)

It is not to be confused with the "ideal ego," which is the part of you that feels mighty thoughtful and special and powerful and smart and full of piss and vinegar and chock full of sprightly sprezzatura.

The ego-ideal forbids. The ideal ego forbids itself nothing.

For what it's worth, I did say it was a matter of time.

Posted by smclemee at 9:36 AM

July 10, 2007

The Huffington Post

My latest pieces at the biggest blog in the world

Posted by smclemee at 6:33 PM | Comments (1)

July 9, 2007

Eat Not At All in a Worried Mood / Or Suffer Harm From the Best of Food

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.

Posted by smclemee at 3:59 PM

July 8, 2007

Skeletor vs. Haber-Man

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.

Posted by smclemee at 5:59 PM | Comments (3)

July 7, 2007

I'd Guess More Like the Intellectual-History Equivalent of "Metal Machine Music." But Hey, Whatever.

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.)

Posted by smclemee at 3:23 PM | Comments (1)

July 6, 2007

The Serial Comma Is Not Necessarily Your Friend

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.

Posted by smclemee at 9:51 AM | Comments (1)

July 5, 2007


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.

(crossposted from Cliopatria)

Posted by smclemee at 6:43 AM | Comments (2)

July 4, 2007


Via Jahsonic, a short video commentary on Can by Brian Eno:

Posted by smclemee at 11:33 AM

July 3, 2007

Podcast Alert

My friend Maud Newton's interview with Shalom Auslander is up at the Book Expo website, where it can be either downloaded or played in streaming audio (if I have the lingo right). Here you go.

Posted by smclemee at 5:16 PM | Comments (1)

Business Instead of Game

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:

Unlike some people, I have no problem at all with the recycling of lyrics about Mr. Wallace. As Amelie Gillet writes:

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....

Posted by smclemee at 3:31 PM

Double Plus Un-Ungood

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...."

Oh, no, wait, I may have misread something....Plenty more at Acephalous. (And hat tip to Josh as Brainiac, whose cherry-pickings are here expropriated.)

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.

(crossposted at CT)

Posted by smclemee at 9:47 AM

"I seed it! I seed it with my own eyes!"

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?

He goes on, in due course, to a discussion of The Legend of Boggie Creek, which I saw at the age of 10 with my girlfriend (my first, but also the last one for seven long, long years) which on reflection seems like just the right age to be when you watch it. Legend is now available from Netflix, so I can confirm from a recent trip down memory lane that Nugent's precis here is reliable as to plot, tone, and style:

One dependable source of nightmare fuel came from the four-waller regional exploitation movie makers whose wares were promoted in saturation-TV-ad campaigns on weekends when I was parked in front of the tube, admiring the delicate comic touch that Charles Nelson Reilly brought to Uncle Croc's Block. The lollapallooza of the genre was The Legend of Boggy Creek, a 1973 epic about the Fouke Monster, a three-toed hairy hominid that reportedly terrorized the people of Fouke, Arkansas in the early 1970s. The movie, which was made for about $160,000 and probably holds the world record for the movie with the most cast members whose last name is "Crabtree", has actually been released on DVD and every once in a blue moon plays on cable TV around 3:00 in the morning on days when the programming chiefs have reason to believe that an unusually high percentage of the usual viewership will be asleep or on crack at that hour. It's a pretty good indicator of just how starved you had to be for entertainment to make it through any of the movies of this kind. Those that dwelt on sightings of backwoods monsters tended to be long--very, very long--on poorly shot, aimless nature footage, with long stretches where the camera just tools around the swamp and the high grass while moviegoers who made the mistake of actually taking their children to see this movie silently pray either for something to happen onscreen or for lightning to strike the theater. Then suddenly, you'll see some guy who looks like a dried apple carving wearing a gimme cap will snarl at the camera, "I seed it! I seed it with my own eyes!" Naturally the viewer's blood pressure will shoot right up after something as exciting as that, so as a mercy, there'll be some more nature footage. Then, about forty minutes into this eighty-minute movie, the narrator will inform you that Ned and Peg Haggerty were just getting ready for bed that night when something happened that would change their lives forever. This is the announcement that the story that made the papers a week and inspired the filmmakers to go into production is about to be reenacted, and you're going to get to see all the footage that was in the TV commercials. "Well, good night, Peg." "Good night, Ned." "Hey, do you smell something?" "Oh, it's awful!" "Woof! Woof! Woof!" "Hey, what's wrong, Samson? What is it boy!?" More nature footage, except that now it's so fucking dark that you can't see a thing, and somebody standing next to the microphone is doing his Brenda Vaccarro impression. "Peg, turn out the lights and get me my shotgun." Now you can't see the interior footage either, and the guy working the hand-held camera has come down with a bad case of St. Vitus's Dance. "Oh, what is it, it's not human!" Brenda Vaccarro sounds as if she's just finished the Boston Marathon while carrying lead bars in her fannypack. "Samson, come back, boy. Oh no!" At this point all the younger kids in the theater are crying. I take no pride in remembering that, watching these movies as a kid, I used to think that there must be a lot in there that I was missing because I wasn't smart enough yet to appreciate them.

That was the world of regional-distribution exploitation films and the cryptozoological subculture as of the early 1970s. Something very different started to emerge about ten years later -- something that I've pondered, and to some degree worried about, for a few years, trying to figure out how to write about it eventually. Nugent has noticed the change too:

There was a major resurgence in the 1990s, but it wasn't any fun at all; then, UFO abduction stories got mixed up with horseshit about satanic rituals and daycare centers that somehow doubled as orgiastic horror holes and the whole deeply sinister "recovered memory" shuck that destroyed so many innocent lives. At its most unnerving, it took the form of a general feeling, such as that articulated by Jodi Dean in her book Aliens in America, that believing ridiculous shit is "a political act" What counts for Dean is that a UFO report, however discreetly it may be couched, is "a political act" because it "contests the status quo," i.e., the boringly rational truth.

Yes, well, that would be a "political act" in the sense of "politics" meaning "having nothing to do with politics." As we know, cultural-studies people can be very activist with the remote control.

Anyway, all of this also calls to mind "The Devil and Bill Eliis," one of my Chronicle pieces, which I will recommend now to anyone who has gotten this far.

Posted by smclemee at 6:24 AM

July 2, 2007

The Pardon of Scooter Libby is a Reminder That the "Rule of Law" Under Bourgeois "Democracy" is a Fig Leaf Covering the Bloodstained Dictatorship of Big Capital

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.

Posted by smclemee at 8:30 PM | Comments (1)