AJ Logo an ARTSJOURNAL weblog | ArtsJournal Home | AJ Blog Central

« August 2007 | Main | October 2007 »

September 28, 2007

Two, Three, Many Parties of the New Type

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.

Posted by smclemee at 9:09 PM

Shake It For the World, Smartass

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..

Posted by smclemee at 3:15 PM

September 27, 2007

Reading, Thinking, Purring


Posted by smclemee at 3:08 PM

September 26, 2007

All Power to the Second-Life Soviets!

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.")

Once in a while both groups will lay claim to the orginal name, however. The usual practice in that case is to distinguish them by adding some identifying term in parentheses. And so the Freedom Road Socialist Organization (Fight Back), which publishes a newspaper called Fight Back, is distinct from the Freedom Road Socialist Organization (Red Star). The latter refers not to the name of its journal but to the rather well-turned logo found on its homepage.

Within the past few days, an organization known as the Communist League has undergone mitosis, which nowadays means that each of them has a website. I have examined the statements by each faction, but am still no wiser about the issues that require a tightening of ranks in the leadership of the workers and peasants. Yet it is clear that one side is ahead in the fight for hegemony -- the one with the Cafe Press store offering very cool Communist League merchandise.


The smaller of the two organizations -- its membership possibly at the low end of the the single-digit range -- has announced:

Effective immediately, the Central Committee majority is reorganized as the Provisional Organizing Committee of the League, charged with the mission to reconstitute the organization at the earliest possible opportunity. The P.O.C. will make a thorough review of the current internal situation, assessing the mistakes and Rules violations that have occurred, in order to submit a recommendation on changes to make to the Rules at a Reorganization Convention of the Communist League, which shall be convened in the next three months.

Historians will of course be grateful if that gathering selects a new name. That seems like the best way to mark a complete, decisive parting of the ways with the other group, which was doubtless corrupted when its ranks swelled into the dozens.

In the meantime, I suggest that they be identified respectively as the Communist League (Provisional Organizing Committee) and the Communist League (Trucker Hat).

(crossposted from Crooked Timber)

Posted by smclemee at 5:45 PM


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:

Storage is rapidly becoming cheaper and more widely available via the web (note how many free services there are for storing 2-5 GB for free). Although we have encountered Zotero users with collections up to 20 GB, most will have collections under 2 GB. But we are creating distributed storage options (we will offer people the option of backing up their collection to any university/commercial server or media, like a USB key), where our server will only deal with the metadata (relatively small) rather than the entire collection. But even with all of that, you're right that we might have to limit the size of storage if we handle most of the load.

As with any other web service that deals with documents and a large user base that uploads materials, like the Internet Archive (which stores users' materials as well as crawls the web), we will be strictly operating under the provisions of the DMCA. Maybe I'm missing the thrust of that last question, but we don't anticipate that our server will become the outpost for Napster-like activities (but have policies in place to take down violating materials).

Given that many academics will use their local university storage for full backup (metadata + documents) and remote access, we probably won't be directly trafficking in a lot of copyrighted material. The real strength of the server will be in the metadata anyway--that aggregated set of research collections should provide revolutionary recommendation systems and bibliographic feeds to Zotero users who participate.

I had also asked if there were a new ballpark estimate for when Zotero 2.0 would be released (the last such being this fall, though that was a while back) but no answer to that one.

(crossposted from Crooked Timber)

Posted by smclemee at 6:14 AM

September 24, 2007

No Energy Crisis in 1978

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"?

From the Wikipedia entry about it:

Joe Strummer said that he got the idea for the song when he was thinking about terrorists, and how they probably enjoy reading about their killings as much as movie stars like seeing their films reviewed. While Topper Headon mimics the sound of gangster movie shootings with quick snare hits and the guitars are full of distortion and feedback, Strummer's sarcastic lyrics (I'm cutting out your picture from page one/I'm gonna get a jacket just like yours/And give my false support to your cause/Whatever you want, you're gonna get it!) condemn rather than condone violence....

In the liner notes of the recently released Singles Box, Carl Barat (frontman of the Dirty Pretty Things and formerly of The Libertines) says [the song is] 'a product of the volatile climate of the late seventies - all those references to terrorist organizations like Baader-Meinhof and The Red Brigade. It's like a punk rock adaptation of The Beatles' "Revolution."

Well, sure, always historicize. But I'm playing it for the charge -- not the context.

Posted by smclemee at 3:55 PM | Comments (1)

Searching BookTV

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)

Posted by smclemee at 12:06 PM

Yeah, Buddy, I Got Your Walter Bagehot Right Here

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.

Posted by smclemee at 11:10 AM | Comments (5)

September 23, 2007

"The people of Iran are asking themselves whether the UN Security Council is only decisive and effective when it comes to the suspension of the enrichment of uranium"

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:

To His Excellency Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations,

The people of Iran are experiencing difficult times both internationally and domestically. Internationally, they face the threat of a military attack from the US and the imposition of extensive sanctions by the UN Security Council. Domestically, a despotic state has - through constant and organized repression - imprisoned them in a life and death situation.

Far from helping the development of democracy, US policy over the past 50 years has consistently been to the detriment of the proponents of freedom and democracy in Iran. The 1953 coup against the nationalist government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq and the unwavering support for the despotic regime of the Shah, who acted as America's gendarme in the Persian Gulf, are just two examples of these flawed policies. More recently the confrontation between various US Administrations and the Iranian state over the past three decades has made internal conditions very difficult for the proponents of freedom and human rights in Iran. Exploiting the danger posed by the US, the Iranian regime has put military-security forces in charge of the government, shut down all independent domestic media, and is imprisoning human rights activists on the pretext that they are all agents of a foreign enemy. The Bush Administration, for its part, by approving a fund for democracy assistance in Iran, which has in fact being largely spent on official institutions and media affiliated with the US government, has made it easy for the Iranian regime to describe its opponents as mercenaries of the US and to crush them with impunity. At the same time, even speaking about "the possibility" of a military attack on Iran makes things extremely difficult for human rights and pro-democracy activists in Iran. No Iranian wants to see what happened to Iraq or Afghanistan repeated in Iran. Iranian democrats also watch with deep concern the support in some American circles for separatist movements in Iran. Preserving Iran's territorial integrity is important to all those who struggle for democracy and human rights in Iran. We want democracy for Iran and for all Iranians. We also believe that the dismemberment of Middle Eastern countries will fuel widespread and prolonged conflict in the region. In order to help the process of democratization in the Middle East, the US can best help by promoting a just peace between the Palestinians and Israelis, and pave the way for the creation of a truly independent Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel. A just resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the establishment of a Palestinian state would inflict the heaviest blow on the forces of fundamentalism and terrorism in the Middle East.

Your Excellency,

Iran's dangerous international situation and the consequences of Iran's dispute with the West have totally deflected the world's attention and especially the attention of the United Nations from the intolerable conditions that the Iranian regime has created for the Iranian people. The dispute over the enrichment of uranium should not make the world forget that, although the 1979 revolution of Iran was a popular revolution, it did not lead to the formation of a democratic system that protects human rights. The Islamic Republic is a fundamentalist state that does not afford official recognition to the private sphere. It represses civil society and violates human rights. Thousands of political prisoners were executed during the first decade after the revolution without fair trials or due process of the law, and dozens of dissidents and activists were assassinated during the second decade. Independent newspapers are constantly being banned and journalists are sent to prison. All news websites are filtered and books are either refused publication permits or are slashed with the blade of censorship before publication. Women are totally deprived of equality with men and, when they demand equal rights, they are accused of acting against national security, subjected to various types of intimidation and have to endure various penalties, including long prison terms. In the first decade of the 21st century, stoning (the worst form of torture leading to death) is one of the sentences that Iranians face on the basis of existing laws. A number of Iranian teachers, who took part in peaceful civil protests over their pay and conditions, have been dismissed from their jobs and some have even been sent into internal exile in far-flung regions or jailed. Iranian workers are deprived of the right to establish independent unions. Workers who ask to be allowed to form unions in order to struggle for their corporate rights are beaten and imprisoned. Iranian university students have paid the highest costs in recent years in defence of liberty, human rights and democracy. Security organizations prevent young people who are critical of the official state orthodoxy from gaining admission into university, and those who do make it through the rigorous ideological and political vetting process have no right to engage in peaceful protest against government policies.

If students' activities displease the governing elites, they are summarily expelled from university and in many instances jailed. The Islamic Republic has also been expelling dissident professors from universities for about a quarter of a century. In the meantime, in the Islamic Republic's prisons, opponents are forced to confess to crimes that they have not committed and to express remorse. These confessions, which have been extracted by force, are then broadcast on the state media in a manner reminiscent of Stalinist show-trials. There are no fair, competitive elections in Iran; instead, elections are stage managed and rigged. And even people who find their way into parliament and into the executive branch of government have no powers or resources to alter the status quo. All the legal and extra-legal powers are in the hands of the Iran's top leader, who rules like a despotic sultan.

Your Excellency,

Are you aware that in Iran political dissidents, human rights activists and pro-democracy campaigners are legally deprived of "the right to life"? On the basis of Article 226 of the Islamic Penal Law and Note 2 of Paragraph E of Section B of Article 295 of the same law any person can unilaterally decide that another human being has forfeited the right to life and kill them in the name of performing one's religious duty to rid society of vice. [1] Over the past few decades, many dissidents and activists have been killed on the basis of this article and the killers have been acquitted in court. In such circumstances, no dissident or activist has a right to life in Iran, because, on the basis of Islamic jurisprudence and the laws of the Islamic Republic, the definition of those who have forfeited the right to life (mahduroldam) is very broad.

Are you aware that, in Iran, writers are lawfully banned from writing? On the basis of Note 2 of Paragraph 8 of Article 9 of the Press Law, writers who are convicted of "propaganda against the ruling system" are deprived for life of "the right to all press activity". In recent years, many writers and journalists have been convicted of propaganda against the ruling system. The court's verdicts make it clear that any criticism of state bodies is deemed to be propaganda against the ruling system.

Your Excellency,

The people of Iran and Iranian advocates for freedom and democracy are experiencing difficult days. They need the moral support of the proponents of freedom throughout the world and effective intervention by the United Nations. We categorically reject a military attack on Iran. At the same time, we ask you and all of the world's intellectuals and proponents of liberty and democracy to condemn the human rights violations of the Iranian state. We expect from Your Excellency, in your capacity as the Secretary-General of the United Nations, to reprimand the Iranian government - in keeping with your legal duties - for its extensive violation of the articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights covenants and treaties.

Above all, we hope that with Your Excellency's immediate intervention, all of Iran's political prisoners, who are facing more deplorable conditions with every passing day, will soon be released. The people of Iran are asking themselves whether the UN Security Council is only decisive and effective when it comes to the suspension of the enrichment of uranium, and whether the lives of the Iranian people are unimportant as far as the Security Council is concerned. The people of Iran are entitled to freedom, democracy and human rights. We Iranians hope that the United Nations and all the forums that defend democracy and human rights will be unflinching in their support for Iran's quest for freedom and democracy.

Yours Sincerely,

Akbar Ganji

(crossposted from Crooked Timber

Posted by smclemee at 6:57 PM

Our Band Could Be Your Life

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.

QS has had a fair bit of traffic over the past day or so from a discussion of Complete at another blog. No, not just "another blog" -- from Steve Albini's blog. And, yes, that Steve Albini.

Here is what he has to say about one of Complete's songs:

"Beautiful Sunrises" is a pretty good litmus test for whether or not you like music for reasons I can get behind. If you don't appreciate "Beautiful Sunrises" as a unique and untempered piece of genuine expression, then you probably like a lot of bullshit music.

If I could spend five minutes of my life as completely into something as the vocalist of Complete is about being the vocalist of Complete, well then I'd think I had reached some sort of life accomplishment pinnacle.

Here is the song in question:

Posted by smclemee at 5:04 PM

September 19, 2007

The Man Was Truly a Prophet

Bob Dylan warns of the Cylon uprising....

Posted by smclemee at 4:27 PM

September 18, 2007

The Lion in the Temple

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.

Posted by smclemee at 8:42 AM

September 17, 2007

Those Were Different Times

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.

Posted by smclemee at 6:59 AM | Comments (1)

September 16, 2007

Notes from the Underground

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.)

Returning from NYC where I spent part of Thursday and Friday at NBCC events, I find among the 3000 items waiting for me in Bloglines -- and no, that is not an exaggeration -- a post that says, among other things:

The NBCC would have a lot more credibility talking about how litbloggers should behave if, say, they had any active independent litbloggers taking part in their self-celebratory discussion series this weekend...

So what am I, chopped liver? I was on a panel the first night. (There wasn't anything "self-celebratory" about it, nor was the NBCC horn self-tooted in any very audible fashion at the two on Friday. But let that pass.)

Although "blogger" would not be placed very high on my resume -- if, you know, I actually had a resume -- the fact is that I have been blogging for about four years now. It would seem as if this would qualify me as one of the "active independent litbloggers," if the whole "active...blogger" formulation did not seem faintly oxymoronic.*

It's true that I make a living, such as it may be, from writing. But not from blogging. Arts Journal does not pay me a cent to do Quick Study. I asked and they said no. Nor does any money change hands at Crooked Timber or Cliopatria. So, yes, independent.

Now, I have complained more than once about the litblog bashing indulged by some people in NBCC, and will continue to do so. And my comments at the event on Thursday night ran somewhat against the current -- insofar as I don't think new media are some kind of creeping rot destroying serious culture, or what have you. (A point made here, for example.)

So some complaints by litbloggers about NBCC are perfectly valid, and I make them myself.

That said, I have to add that there are complaints about litbloggers that seem no less understandable. Some of the hostile email directed at NBCC people is only slightly saner than some guy with a tin-foil Viking hat hurling polemics at the Illuminati.

* As a blogger, I take the whole "guy in his pajamas in the basement" thing as literally as I can even though we don't have a basement.

Posted by smclemee at 3:19 PM

September 13, 2007

Local News

Off to New York for the next few days to do the rounds at the National Book Critics Circle symposium etc.

No blogging until next week, and I won't be able to approve comments for posting until Sunday evening probably.

There will be reports from the NBCC programs posted at Critical Mass, of course.

Posted by smclemee at 8:34 AM

September 12, 2007

The Damndest Things Can Make You Nostalgic

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

Posted by smclemee at 10:00 PM | Comments (4)

The South Will Rise Again

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)

Posted by smclemee at 5:37 PM | Comments (2)

Tomorrow is Dragsville, Cats

With all the Kerouac in the air lately....

Via Cosmopoetica

Posted by smclemee at 4:36 PM | Comments (1)

From the Department of Wounded Sensiblity

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...

Posted by smclemee at 2:42 PM

Territorial Pissings

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.

Speaking of podcasts, there's another one available of my discussion of the LaRouche "movement" (read: "cult of personality") on the radio in Los Angeles last month.

There is pretty strong evidence now that the group is undergoing severe internal strain, with some older members in revolt against the caudillo, who is having to push very hard now to assert his authority within its ranks. I don't have time to write about it now. But suffice to say that a certain amount of internal material has leaked out -- some of which has ended up online, while other bits circulate among those of us who, as the term of art goes, "monitor" the group. (I've written about them on and off for years, but somehow never gotten one of those big checks that the International Synarchist Conspiracy supposedly pays out.)

The Internet is not a medium good for the kind of information-control built into the culture of such groups. The LaRouchies have responded with a campaign of what they call "MySpace Jokes" -- the labelling of which is helpful, since otherwise it would never occur to anyone outside the cult to imagine that they could be funny.

They only make sense, if that is the word to use, in terms of LaRouche's odd psychological doctrines. They really aren't meant to amuse outsiders anyway. The real intent must be to control member access to the web by making it seem potentially dangerous. Chances are, someone who doesn't make quota in fundraising is accused of "MySpace syndrome."

This cartoon is interesting given the horror of women expressed in the guru's early psychobabble documents. The combination of misogyny, anti-Semitism, obsession with suicide, and cult of genius in this outfit resembles nothing else so much as Otto Weininger's Sex and Character, which I've written about here and here.

Posted by smclemee at 5:54 AM

September 11, 2007

Foreign Affairs

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."

Posted by smclemee at 10:14 AM | Comments (2)

September 10, 2007

Think Twice

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?

One note came from Melvyn Dubofsky, the labor historian. Before going on to quote him --with his permission -- let me pause to ask whoever it was who borrowed my copy of Dubofsky's history of the Wobblies to please give it back. It's been a while, and I don't even remember who borrowed it, but such is the awesome power of blogging that I figure it can't hurt to ask.

Anyway, to continue...Dubofsky writes:

Way back in 1974 when EP Thompson was in the US for a conference at Rutgers, he and I were having coffee, and Thompson, having met numerous unemployed US academics during the conference, observed that the US might finally develop an independent left intelligentsia (the Russian word really works better than the Anglo-American variant). Marginalized by the increasingly tight academic labor market, young scholars, he noted, would have no choice other than to act as independent, institutionally-free intellectuals.

One more shattered dream, or the more things change....

So in short, I shouldn't get my hopes up. Todd Gitlin writes to make more or less the same point.

And yes, the odds are overwhelmingly against my concluding vision. Total pessimism is called for in this matter. It's true that I read an awful lot of stuff nowadays by members of the lumpenprofessoriat who are suspended, as it were, somewhere between the class-in-itself and the class-for-itself, as it were. But the chances of a leap are just too small. And the rewards for making it, after all, just about nonexistent.

Oh lord, are they ever. Stay in school, kids. Be diligent, color within the lines, and keep your eye fixed on that impressive device with the carrot and the stick. Otherwise you could end up like the guy from the 1940s mentioned in the essay -- the one who pulls out a book of matches and sets his hair on fire. The situation may make for a good story, but in real life it just stinks.

(crossposted from Cliopatria)

Posted by smclemee at 10:39 AM | Comments (2)

September 8, 2007

Desiring Machine

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.

Watching the clip now, what stands out is, of course, that stamp on the lower lefthand corner at the start, which the eye instantly decodes as an indication that it appeared on MTV. (Which did not exist in 1977, as I should perhaps explain for anyone who thinks of music video as an organic part of the cultural surround. It was absorbed into MTV, but not produced by it.)

It was the following year that Devo appeared on national television, reaching unsuspecting viewers who for the most part had no idea what to make of it. At the time I was going to high school -- in whatever sticks there are even further out behind "out in the sticks" -- and watched it with horror and fascination, which come to think of it was also pretty much my reaction to D&G a few years later. The word "transgression" now seems so cheap. But this did feel like something was being violated, and I'm not completely over that impression.

Here's the same song again, as beamed out to the hinterlands:

Even more than the depersonalization of the band members or their spastic robot moves, what got to me was the cluster of switches and exposed electronic hardware attached to the lead guitar -- a rather sinister outgrowth that somehow felt obscene. I was too young to have been through any of the counterculture, of course. But the attitude that went with sixties-style romanticism (rock as individualist expression, music as natural alternative to alienation, etc.) was something you just picked up from the media and took for granted, without even having words for it, let alone any sense of having absorbed some kind of watered-down but overripe ideology.

Seeing this outlook stripped bare -- to the tune of the definitive song about frustrated libido, no less -- was defamiliarizing in a pretty visceral way.

Downstream from that period, I still have a strong response to these performances. But now my attention is drawn just as much to the element of corporate branding (MTV, SNL) involved -- something that Devo itself parodied/ embodied/ reflected upon as a band, of course.

Like Warhol, they may have seemed at first to have wanted to establish critical distance from the culture they were processing -- but that's not how things work. Michael Hardt on D&G:

Desiring- machines cannot be conceived as a desire to do or have an object or even achieve a state. (Hence "the object of desire" really doesn't make sense here.) Desiring-machines have no object, or goal, or telos, but rather are completely invested in the process, the production. Desiring-machines can thus never be "satisfied" or come to a completion.

Baby baby baby baby baby baby baby baby baby baby....

Posted by smclemee at 2:41 PM | Comments (1)

Mentioning the Band Throbbing Gristle Might Not Work as Well

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.

This is true. It was Jerome, by the way, who pointed out to me the sitemeter, which has been fascinating new thing to obsess over.

Can't tell all that much about who is coming here, alas. But it's been interesting to see that QS has an international audience. Hello, Denmark, Spain, and the Republic of Korea! Not that we don't appreciate the traffic from Poughkeepsie, New York. Rock on!

Anyway, Jerome then deduced that a literary blog might get a large audience by building its name around certain high-volume search terms -- "Hot Throbbing Books," for example, or "Rolling Papers with High-Speed Pizza Delivery."

It would seem that this worked:

Yesterday's experiment in shamelessly boosting book/daddy's readership was a complete success.... Congratulations to all -- especially to you, the easily duped web slummer.

Really. The use of such terms as "huge throbbing books," "legal weed" and "hot stock tips" -- not even in the title of the website, just arbitrarily listed in a single post -- made that day the highest-scoring Friday this blog has ever had. Those who know blog stats know that Fridays tend to score fairly low among weekdays (the weekend is traditionally the lowest)....It was the third-most-visited day of the month. True, we're not talking teeming millions of readers here, just several hundred either way. But a crude little trick like that -- and zoom. No wonder bookslut is such a big deal.

I post this information as a public service. It is absolutely not a matter of trying to duplicate his results without any expenditure of effort on my part.

"You're going to be reading a lot more about sex, drugs and mortgages on this blog," he concludes. "And maybe diet tips....It's the new book/daddy. Mortgages, light bondage and power aerobics."

Posted by smclemee at 11:58 AM | Comments (2)

September 7, 2007

Making the Scene

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....

Posted by smclemee at 12:32 PM

September 6, 2007

Metal Machine Music

This is inspired -- a remix of Reed's noise opus as dance track:

Pretty catchy. For more on MMM revisited, check this out.

Posted by smclemee at 2:59 PM | Comments (2)

September 5, 2007

The New Haven Review of George Scialabba's Books

Mark Oppenheimer sent a copy of the print edition of the first issue of The New Haven Review of Books last month, which arrived just in time for me not to say anything about it.


You probably won't find it on a newstand, but the contents are available in PDF here.

One of the contributors is George Scialabba, whose profile I wrote an eternity ago, it seems like.

See also George's essay on Philip Rieff in the latest Boston Review. The contributor's note mentions that he has a forthcoming book, What Are Intellectuals Good For? He sent a copy of the manuscript, which I am reading with great excitement at the prospect of finally learning the answer.

Actually it is his collected writings, more or less. He's asked me to write the introduction. This is an honor but a humbling one.....

Posted by smclemee at 7:13 PM

September 3, 2007

Let Me Up on the Stand

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.

Posted by smclemee at 6:55 PM | Comments (2)