September 2007 Archives
A link to the following item has shown up in my mailbox twice in one day, which is no accident. Friends do know what to send along, sometimes....It's by the British science-fiction novelist Ken Macleod, whose The Star Fraction I have heard described as "Trots in Space."
Whenever he made a speech, the late Tony Cliff looked and sounded like a mad scientist, explaining how his apparatus of cogs, wheels, transmission belts and rank and file movements was about to transform the diaphanously-draped damsel of trade union reformism into the capering chimpanzee of revolutionary socialism. There was no personality cult of Cliff, but his personality left an imprint on the party he founded. The same was true of all the grand old men of British Trotskyism. It's no surprise, as John Sullivan puts it somewhere, that the SWP is excitable, Militant long-winded, and the Healyites [redacted] had anger management issues.
In the 1970s I was a member of the International Marxist Group. It was the largest British Trotskyist group not led by one of the grand old men of British Trotskyism. This was less of an advantage than might be supposed. Lacking a grand old man the IMG settled for a squabbling coalition of alpha males (and females). The resulting frenzy of competitive nit-picking has often stood the group's ex-members in good stead in their later careers. It also helps to explain why the intelligence of so many of the group's individual members seldom showed itself in the group's political line, which lurched hither and yon as the squabbling alphas wrested the joystick from each other....
Here's the whole thing. At this point I have to admit that Socialist Unity, a group I was in during the mid-1980s, looked to the IMG as an example of a healthy organization. Well, maybe it was, by contrast with the Communist League (Trucker Hat) anyway.
One of my favorite books is a collection of essays by Seymour Krim called Views of a Nearsighted Cannoneer. Even putting it that way is an understatement. I first read it as a teenager (no little while ago, then) and have lost count how many times I've revisited it in the meantime. Krim put together two later volumes of his pieces -- each interesting in its way, but somewhat anticlimatic in the wake of Views, which is an extraordinary mixture of criticism, memoir, fiction, and cultural commentary.
To begin to account for its fascination, let alone to chart its effect on my sense of life, would take some while. And a blog is hardly the venue for such an effort.
But it's the right forum for recommending a new piece on his work by Mark Cohen. He treats Krim both as figure strangely missing from recent treatments of the Beat generation and as a writer deeply marked by a complicated relation to his own Jewish identity. I think the case could be made that Krim is also an important figure in the emergence of the New Journalism, but he's been pretty completely ignored in that respect as well.
It's an interesting essay, and its emphases do make sense. But I also have to say that Krim's remarks on his own Jewishness were never central to my reading of him, which always treated that as just one possible particular focus for the experience of self-consciousness and estrangement.
If you grow up in redneck fundamentalist-land and read whole bunch of Sartre, then Krim will probably speak to your condition -- margin of ethnic overlap or no..
The struggle to build a revolutionary vanguard party of the workers and peasants has never been easy here in the United States. The line of march is tortuous, the peasants rowdy, and it often happens that a group must split. Usually one of the resulting entities will keep the original name, while the other will assemble a new one from the standard combinatoire. (As Dwight Macdonald explained when the Socialist Workers Party begat the Workers Party, "Originality of nomenclature was never our strong point.")
My column today is a very basic introduction to Zotero. As noted there, the release of Zotero 2.0 is a thing to look forward to -- it will, among other things, allow you to store your searches, annotations, etc. on a server, rather than your computer, which will have all sorts of benefits. But it's not clear when that will happen.
People have pointed out that the enhanced version faces two potential problems: storage space and intellectual-property issues (regarding ownership and control of stored material, mainly). I asked one of the directors of the project, Dan Cohen, about that. Unfortunately he only got back to me after the column was done. But here's his response:
Starting off Monday a little under the weather -- a bad thing, given how much work there is to do this week. So for an infusion of raw power, it's time to shift from all the skinhead reggae I've been listening to lately (man, those Trojan boxed sets are addictive as well as cheap) to the Clash.
It seems like a natural progression -- and what better way to charge the batteries than "Tommy Gun"?
Something useful to know about: C-SPAN2 is now offering a search engine for its backlist of author interviews. In some cases there are transcripts and/or streaming audio, though the level of detail and availability of material are quite uneven. I just looked up a program where a friend was discussing his book, and all that came back was the original airdate.
Anyway, here's the link.
Hat tip to ResouceShelf (via my in-house librarian)
Over at the New Criterion's blog, Roger Kimball is once again putting his reference books to use:
The English essayist Walter Bagehot (1826-1877) is not much read these days, I think, and more's the pity. Bagehot (his name, by the way, is pronounced "badge-it") was a delicious writer, commanding a manly, outdoor style, a quiet but infectious sense of humor, and a sensibility that was at once large and admonitory. Of course, those very qualities help explain why he is out of favor today: a manly style? That unpleasant squealing you hear is from nearby feminists powering up their whine-machines. Bagehot would not have been at home in early 21st-century America. Today we prefer our writers soft, exculpatory, self-righteous but nevertheless wrapped in the rhetoric of non-judgmentalism.
To which the only suitable response (warning to the irony impaired: look away!) would be: Hey Kimabll, how come you gotta be such a little bitch about it?
I do hope that was manly enough for everyone.
An essay by Akbar Ganji that ran in The Boston Review a few months ago had one of the more striking contributor's notes I have ever seen:
He is working on the third installment of his Republican Manifesto, which lays out a strategy for a nonviolent transition to democracy in Iran, along with a book of dialogues with prominent Western philosophers and intellectuals. He plans to return to Iran, where, he has been told, he will be re-arrested upon his arrival.
On the occasion of President Ahmadinejad's trip to New York, Ganji has written an open letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations. It has received more than three hundred endorsements from around the world, among them Jurgen Habermas, Ziauddin Sardar, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Juan Cole, and Slavoj Zizek.
A copy was just forwarded to me by Nader Hashemi, a fellow at the UCLA International Institute, with the request that it be disseminated as widely as possible. The full text follows:
A while back, Quick Study was spreading the word about Complete, the great quasi-neo-primitivist/outsider band that emerged in Fort Worth about a dozen years ago and then disappeared without (it seems) anyone really noticing. I keep wondering if any of the members are aware that the band has been discovered. That's one Behind the Music episode I really want to see. Some of the songs are great, or at least the performances qualify as inspired.
Bob Dylan warns of the Cylon uprising....
Samuel Johnson is one of the household gods around here -- others in the pantheon including Diderot and Hazlitt, of course -- so it's a pleasure to point out Jerome's "In Retrospect" essay at Critical Mass. I haven't read Bate's biography, but it sounds as if doing so ought to be a priority.
We votaries of Johnson praying to him for strength as we stumble down Grub Street often feel a kind of guilt for blogging. It is an activity that violates the First Commandment -- which I won't spell out, because if you know it, you know it, and you feel it in your bones.
In other words, writing about Samuel Johnson for Critical Mass -- writing anything for Critical Mass -- would not please the good Doctor. But no doubt he would read Critical Mass pretty regularly, even so. I like to imagine him looking down on its contributors with more compassion than disapproval.
On Friday, I spent several hours at the Tamiment Library in Greenwich Village, looking at, among other things, microfilm of The Call, the city's Socialist Party newspaper.
I was searching for articles from 1914 by a particular writer, but also found that you could have pretty interesting time just look at the ads.There was one from a merchant who would sell you a player piano for #350; you could pay it off monthly. Also, and this was more surprising, Ex-Lax was a frequent advertiser.
The highlight of my accidental discoveries: The women's section of the paper featured a short story by August Strindberg.
If you were in the library that day and wondered why, at one point, the guy at the microfilm machine laughed out loud, that was it.
We are all familiar with Maslow's hierarchy of human needs. Everyone must strive to meet the basic biological requirements: food and water, a place to sleep. Once those conditions are satisfied, our nature is such that other demands then emerge. And so, when satisfied, our requirement for thriving as human beings rise to higher levels.
One of the most basic is, of course, the need to complain.
Among some litbloggers, it appears that the need to complain about the National Book Critics Circle is very nearly organic. Were it not met, they would sicken and...I don't know, complain about something else, maybe. It's hard to say. (The situation as such is not so much hypothetical as practically unimaginable.)
For example, here's a mini-commercial from the LaRouche campaign in 1984:
You can see why he never got ahead. He was up against the KGB, the left wing of the Socialist International, and the grain-cartel interests. I believe that is in ascending order of sinister-ness.
Hat tip: Skull/Bones
Thanks to Ralph Luker and Henry Farrell for the getting out the word about my column this week. It now occurs to me that blogging is a good way to follow a tangent on something that did not really seem to belong in the article itself.
In an unfinished manuscript left at his death, Laud Humphreys described meeting with a prominent Dixiecrat politician and his wife in 1948. When the politician left the room, his spouse began undoing Humphreys's tie so that they could all have a little party -- as, she explained, was their wont.
The biography of Humphreys explains that "this archconservative longtime segregationist served as U.S. Senator from South Carolina from 1954 until shortly before his death in 2003." But the at least the authors don't actually, you know, name him.
(crossposted from Cliopatria)
Writing yesterday in the Times (of London, that is), Martin Amis had this to say:
...my principal objection to the numbers ["9/11″] is that they are numbers. The solecism, that is to say, is not grammatical but moral-aesthetic--an offence against decorum; and decorum means "seemliness", which comes from soemr, "fitting", and soema, "to honour". 9/11, 7/7: who or what decided that particular acts of slaughter, particular whirlwinds of plasma and body parts, in which a random sample of the innocent is killed, maimed or otherwise crippled in body and mind, deserve a numerical shorthand? Whom does this "honour"? What makes this "fitting"? So far as I am aware, no one has offered the only imaginable rationale: that these numerals, after all, are Arabic.
He goes on from there -- and on, and on.
Suitably taciturn reply, courtesy of The Debatable Land:
To which, I think, one must say, Oh shut up...
Thanks to Larry Craig's decision to keep on keepin' on, my column this week, "Wide-Stance Sociology," remains at least somewhat au courant. Thank you, Senator!
It would have been better to have run it within the last couple of weeks, but I already had pieces lined up -- first, an interview with Peniel Joseph about The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual by Harold Cruse, then a podcast with Richard Kahlenberg, author of the biography of Al Shanker. (My review of which will be out elsewhere at some point.)
One week, a discussion of Black Power; the next week, a discussion of the New York City teachers' strikes against Black Power. It might seem as if the scheduling here were deliberate -- and there will be at least a couple of people who decide that this implies something or other. If only I could claim to be that organized.
One of my brilliant colleagues at Crooked Timber offers a bit of sage advice:
If you are a young man or woman of fair-to-middling ability, or even a borderline dullard, but you want to get a reputation as an uncommonly bright and perspicacious thinker, it's really not that hard to do. The secret weapon is this: take an interest in what happens in other countries.
It's really quite unusual to find an important issue on which international comparisons aren't worth knowing about. Even in situations which look purely domestic, you can often get an entirely new perspective on things by looking at your fundamental assumptions in the light of what happens overseas. There are few sights sweeter than the look on someone's face after they've confidently proclaimed something to be impossible, only to be informed that they've been doing things that way in Australia for the last twenty years.
It's also a great way to generate ideas; it's both easier than coming up with something yourself, and more likely to succeed, to plagiarise something that's already worked well in a different time zone. So few people bother to keep up with the international news that one doesn't even need to be an expert in these things; simply reading the relevant pages of your daily newspaper will probably do, whereas reading the superficially more "relevant" domestic or business pages will usually just tell you a load of crap you know already, and tell it wrong.
Or as the first commenter says in reply: "Ah, the old Dutch way of thinking."
My essay on the 20th anniversary of Russell Jacoby's The Last Intellectual will run in the new issue of Bookforum. It is currently available at the website -- though at 4000 words, minus any of the section breaks used to structure the piece, it is hard to believe that anyone could actually read it online. Here's hoping the print incarnation is easier on the eyes.
As if to provide evidence that some folks actually have made it through the "screen version," however, I've received a couple of messages from people asking about the concluding paragraphs. Is the scenario sketched there likely?
The English translation of Anti-Oedipus appeared in 1977. By a total coincidence -- one that is really not much of a coincidence at all -- so did the following short film:
As it happens, the band had formed at just about the same time Deleuze and Guattari were publishing the book. It's worth remembering that they expected it would have an audience among teenagers and artists and strange folks probably not heading off to write about desiring-machines in pursuit of academic credit. Funny how that worked out.
Something I meant to mention was cited yesterday by my Arts Journal neighbor, Jerome Weeks:
In a recent e-mail to me about his return to blogging, Scott McLemee mentioned that he's learned there's one advantage to having a site named Quick Study. Your number of reader hits goes way up when school starts again.
The National Book Critics Circle is holding a symposium in New York late next week with various panels -- one of which, "Literary Magazines Go Electronic," will give me the chance to pontificate a bit. (Rita can't make it, which she probably regrets, given that she never gets to hear me pontificate otherwise.) (That would be irony, there.)
The event will be held -- as a lot of NBCC things are -- at Housing Works in Soho. That's Thursday at 7 p.m. I'll be around for two other sessions, held at the same location, on Friday afternoon.
Other than that, my plan is to do some archival research before returning to DC on Sunday. And then back to the deadline grind.
Here's hoping friends will turn out for the NBCC events -- my participation being, after all, the closest thing to a social life I am likely to have for a while....
This is inspired -- a remix of Reed's noise opus as dance track:
Pretty catchy. For more on MMM revisited, check this out.
It'll be slow here for a bit as I rush to meet some obligations. But the hiatus is over.
For theme music, let us now return, brothers and sisters, to Detroit on Halloween 1968....
So does anyone know when the documentary is coming out on DVD? Or maybe that should be "if." I've been waiting for a while.
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Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
rock culture approximately
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
No genre is the new genre
David Jays on theatre and dance
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
John Rockwell on the arts
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Martha Bayles on Film...
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
Exploring Orchestras w/ Henry Fogel
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds
Jerome Weeks on Books
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world
Public Art, Public Space
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog