October 31, 2007
Maybe Not as Interesting an Interpretation as Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick Would've Come Up With, But So It Goes
Josh Glenn, who I interviewed last week about his book Taking Things Seriously, may have solved the puzzle of what "little nameless object" is produced by the factories that secured the family fortune of a wastrel in Henry James's novel The Ambassadors.
Normally this would merit a short item in Notes and Queries or The Explicator. But in this case, the proposed solution to "the Woollett Question" appears as an article at Slate.
Next challenge: Figure out what the stolen "little object" was in Norman Mailer's Barbary Shore.
(crossposted from CT)
Count the Blessings
Something just occured to me while reading this item about an event sponsored by N+1, pointed out by a friend.
There is one (and probably only one) advantage to being a critic and essayist who lives in Washington, DC: I can completely ignore both Gawker and Wonkette.
It's not much, but it's something.
Did Somebody Say Islamophobofascism?
One week after my column tried to launch the butt-ugly word "Islamophobofascism," the Young Americans for Freedom invite a leader of the British National Party to speak at Michigan State University as part of David Horowitz's latest round of publicity stunts.
I'm not sure how you get to label yourself a "British nationalist" while also having an enthusiasm for the swastika, but squaring that particular circle has been BNP's major achievement.
Aside from proving my point -- thanks, MSU YAF! -- this incident has had the interesting effect of heightening the contradictions (to use an old idiom) within the wingnutosophere. Chances are this tendency will continue and deepen. Horowitz has been a useful idiot for the right wing. But some of them crave red meat and he's just tofu.
Zizek Watch: Early '08 Bulletin
Word from Chicago has it that Adam Kotsko turned in the manuscript of "Zizek for the Theologians" (not the actual title but that's the gist of it) to Continuum a few days ago.
It'll be out in about six months. During which time, ZIzek will publish at least five new volumes, possibly including a 500 page book work on American Idol as the key to Feuerbach's The Essence of Christianity.
I am certain that Adam has been aware that this is inevitable, making it all the more impressive that he found the will to complete the task.
Immediately after sending my column over to be published yesterday, I went downstairs to find that a finished copy of the latest N+1 production had arrived in the mail. At one or two points in the piece, I refer to it as a pamphlet. But with the thing in hand now I can see that is not quite right. "Booklet" is more accurate.
It was tempting to quote large chunks of the transcript in my piece, but I decided to keep things short and snappy for a change. Might do more with it later, though. Passages stick in mind as touchstones for thinking about various questions that have dogged me for a while.
While reading it the first time, I wanted to tell all the participants, "Okay, once you hit your forties, then we'll talk about regret. Because seriously, this is the journeyman version." But that is probably tempting fate. Some still more disgruntled future subjectivity may want to travel back in time to kick my ass for writing this.
In any case, I'm hoping to cultivate enough amour fati to get through midlife in one piece. The booklet is useful in that regard. It proves that the doubts and second guesses are inescapable. Having read it, I feel less regret about all the regret of the past dozen years.
October 29, 2007
Loafing with LaRouche
As you may recall, the economy was supposed to have collapsed as of two weeks ago today. Right now, you should not be able to afford a loaf of bread with a wheelbarrow full of $1000 bills.
I understand that bread baskets have been sent to headquarters in Virginia by ex-members. The sarcasm is tinged with philanthropy. LaRouche's true believers are in serious trouble; their economy is collapsing, anyway. The group is being forced to come up with money for the IRS, and facing renewed investigation by the FEC, in the wake of events described by Avi Klein in a major article appearing in the new issue of Washington Monthly.
How LaRouche drove one of his most devoted supporters to suicide is interesting not just as a case study in political pathology (that too) but for the mediological story there between the lines. Klein makes the point that one way to understand the LaRouche cult is to regard it as the support system for a vanity press. But Ken Kronberg, who ran the movement's printshop, also built it into a fairly successful commercial enterprise -- among the top 400 in the country, at one point. The profits were looted on a regular basis to keep LaRouche in the lifestyle to which he has grown accustomed.
All of this began to fall apart over the past decade or so -- with the internet playing a fairly important role in the collapse both of the business and of the cult's ability to control interaction between current and ex-members. Efforts to recruit a new layer of youth only complicated matters by adding to the internal tension. The group has lately been targetting MySpace as an instrument of diabolical forces. (The design is certainly evil, so they may have a point.)
As a supplement to the Monthly article, there is an interview at the Political Research Associates site with Kronberg's widow that discusses how they tried to deal with the movement's obvious strain of anti-Semitism. Molly Kronberg mentions that LaRouche "developed a theory that all the 'good stuff' in Judaism came from the (non-Semitic) Egyptians and that everything 'bad' came from those 'dirty Semites' from Mesopotamia." If this theory rings a bell, that's because it echoes Freud in one of his more peculiar flights of speculation.
LaRouche turned 85 just last month. Some ex-members think his recent proclamations are touched with senility, as opposed to the more cogent expressions of bizarre thought they were accustomed to hearing back in the old days. Maybe so. In any case, the whole story is just about over. Some of the followers must be looking forward to that, whether they admit it to themselves or not.
(crossposted from CT)
October 21, 2007
Suppose there were an Iranian cult combining Islamism and Stalinism, with a history of terrorist attacks, that had enjoyed friendly relations with Saddam's regime, back when.
Why, that's something that the American right would fund a special TV network just to denounce 24-7, isn't it?
Not so fast. Daniel Pipes and Max Boot think the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) is just sadly misunderstood. Get the backstory at the Campaign for America's Future.
(crossposted from CT)
Posted by smclemee at 9:50 AM
October 18, 2007
Whoah...Not Quite Infinite Regress
Quick Study participates in -- which is to say, feeds into -- a new blog aggregator:
Which you might want to check out and bookmark. An interesting range of material synthesized into one site. It offers RSS feeds for both posts and comments, which you will find linked on the right side of the page.
The current post will also show up there -- pointing people towards where they already are.
Posted by smclemee at 8:54 PM
October 17, 2007
The Critique of Demagogical Reason
Thanks to Henry Farrell for linking to today's column, which tries to launch the term "Islamophobofascism."
I have great hopes for this expression. It embodies a special quality, for which it seems necessary to coin another neologism: "meta-stupidity."
UPDATE: Googling suggests that this may actually be the first use of the term "Islamophobofascism."
A while back, I came up with another word, "phalloblogocentrism," only to discover later that Michael Berube had already used it.
October 16, 2007
New Adventures in the Dialectical Economics of Keplerian Studies in the Orbit of Ceres (an Asteroid)
I offer the following pair of quotations in hopes of fostering the emergence of a self-conscious and creatively mentating Surrealist faction within the LaRouche Youth Movement. Because seriously, kids, you are Surrealists, of a kind, whether you know it or not.
A relationship must exist between these two documents -- and it's not a case of conscious influence, since the chance of either figure reading the other is just too small. I am not qualified to make a diagnosis of what's going on here. But somebody should definitely look into it.
So, here goes:
George Bataille, "The Solar Anus" (1927):
Ever since sentences started to circulate in brains devoted to reflection, an effort at total identification has been made, because with the aid of a copula each sentence ties one thing to another; all things would be visibly connected if one could discover at a single glance and in its totality the tracings of Ariadne's thread leading thought into its own labyrinth.
But the copula of terms is no less irritating than the copulation of bodies. And when I scream I AM THE SUN an integral erection results, because the verb to be is the vehicle of amorous frenzy....
The two primary motions are rotation and sexual movement, whose combination is expressed by the locomotive's wheels and pistons.
These two motions are reciprocally transformed, the one into the other.
Thus one notes that the earth, by turning, makes animals and men have coitus, and (because the result is as much the cause as that which provokes it) that animals and men make the earth turn by having coitus.....
A man who finds himself among others is irritated because he does not know why he is not one of the others.
In bed next to a girl he loves, he forgets that he does not know why he is himself instead of the body he touches.
Without knowing it, he suffers from the mental darkness that keeps him from screaming that he himself is the girl who forgets his presence while shuddering in his arms.
Love or infantile rage, or a provincial dowager's vanity, or clerical pornography, or the diamond of a soprano bewilder individuals forgotten in dusty apartments.
They can very well try to find each other; they will never find anything but parodic images, and they will fall asleep as empty as mirrors.....
A man gets up as brusquely as a specter in a coffin and falls in the same way.
He gets up a few hours later and then he falls again, and the same thing happens every day; this great coitus with the celestial atmosphere is regulated by the terrestrial rotation around the sun.
Lyndon Hermyle LaRouche, "The Sex Life of Goldman-Sachs" (October 2007):
To understand the present state of the world's financial system, think of Goldman-Sachs as the financial equivalent of a male preying mantis, whose head is being eaten by its female partner during the male's merry act of copulation.
The relevant action between the mating pairs on this occasion, is not sexual, but financial, called "uttering." The female partner already engaged in consuming the head of its male partners, such as the Goldman-Sachs group, is British, presently disguised as the Bank of England.....
Pedagogical, adults-only showings of the relevant pairings of male and female mantises should be presented to all associates of the Goldman-Sachs group, and similar suckers, so that they might have a fair idea of the actually intended acme of their currently ongoing financial acts.
Come to think of it, there is an essay called "The Praying Mantis: From Biology to Psychoanalysis" by Roger Caillois, who was a colleague of Bataille.
It is not available online, and my copy of the book containing it seems to have vanished. Probably lent out, never to return.
But for anyone whose curiosity is piqued, here's a short piece about Caillois that I wrote a few years ago.
Posted by smclemee at 2:00 PM
Radio, Live Transmission
I've been devoted to Joy Division since 1981 without ever being very interested in the lives of any of its members. Why did Ian Curtis kill himself? It never seemed that important to find out. Even after reading the section on the band in Simon Reynold's Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984, none of it took. It's an excellent book, but I don't remember a thing from it about Joy Division.
It's probably inevitable that such a legendary suicide would end up as part of the "aura" of the music -- to borrow and mangle that term. But it's also a distraction. The records themselves would be plenty atmospheric even without knowing that.
Well, now I take it all back.
A biopic called Control has been released, showing only in New York at present, as far as I know; and it's driving me to distraction that I can't go right out and see it.
Here's a video clip someone has put together, mixing footage from Control (b&w) with performance video from 1979:
Pretty remarkable -- I've ended up watching this several times now. The original BBC video (including a performance of "Transmission" that's better than the studio version) is here.
October 15, 2007
No similarity at all to Glenn Branca's band, of course.
I don't know much about her, but there's this to read, with some links worth following.
Posted by smclemee at 6:50 PM
The last thing we saw at the Shakespeare Theater was a production of Hamlet, in modernized form. Characters used cell phones. The prince did not, alas, deliver his soliloquies into one. If you are going to mess these things up, you might as well go overboard.
Yesterday we went there for a matinee of The Taming of the Shrew, which Rita will be describing for the Washington Ear at some point and will need to preview a second time. Once was enough for me. It's a clever staging -- the afternoon was enjoyable enough at that level -- but if the play itself is in any way preferable to a sitcom, I fail to detect why that might be.
To be fair about it, I'll have a look at Northrop Frye and Marjorie Garber at some point soon, to see if what went on that I missed. But for now, the most striking thing about the performance was the reminder that the Shakespeare Theater folks seem to feel obliged to make certain things palatable when, for contemporaray sensibilities, they really aren't.
The performance ends with a gesture suggesting that the long speech by which Katherine reveals that she has been "tamed" by Petruchio is actually a trick that the couple have cooked up in order to win big bucks in a wager. There is no way to square this with the rest of the play, which shows Petruchio starving Kate, depriving her of sleep, and so forth. Closing things with a suggestion that 'twas all in good fun -- well, that's just a cop out.
If there is some way to construe Katherine's monologue as ironic, I'd like to know about it:
Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign; one that cares for thee,
And for thy maintenance commits his body
To painful labour both by sea and land,
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe;
And craves no other tribute at thy hands
But love, fair looks and true obedience;
Too little payment for so great a debt.
Such duty as the subject owes the prince
Even such a woman oweth to her husband;
And when she is froward, peevish, sullen, sour,
And not obedient to his honest will,
What is she but a foul contending rebel
And graceless traitor to her loving lord?
I am ashamed that women are so simple
To offer war where they should kneel for peace;
Or seek for rule, supremacy and sway,
When they are bound to serve, love and obey....
Rita turned to me afterwards and said, "Well you can just forget about that." So much for my plans to include it in a card for our anniversary.
The same general problem bothered me about the production of Titus Andronicus, another play considered, like Taming, to be among Shakespeare's earlier efforts. The director decided to treat it, not as a revenge play, but as a critique of the cycle of violence. The ending was framed so that the slaughter of the Moor's child was a horrific act.
In a piece that ran a few months ago, I quoted an English professor who spoke of Titus as a morally ambiguous character. But as with the ending of Shrew, this seems like wishful thinking. I suggested in a column that, in its orginal context, the world of Titus is probably about as morally complex as that of professional wrestling:
The audience that greeted the play with such enthusiasm would have had little trouble knowing who to cheer. Titus is a simple man. He makes some bad choices, but he is brave and a man of honor. And the people who hurt him are, after all, rather sinister foreigners - one an arriviste woman, the other an atheistic black man who delights in his own villainy.
Nor does it follow that Aaron's expression of love for his infant son would have necessarily made him a sympathetic character. On the contrary, it could well have made the destruction of the baby called for at the end of the play that much more pleasurable to imagine. Since the villainous Moor both fathered the child and tried to protect him, the boy's death would, in effect, be a final reckoning with evil.
But evidently you cannot stage plays that way at a major theater in the nation's capitol. The possibility that Shakespeare was not a man of our day violates our sense of what it means to speak of him as universal. Instead, an effort must be made to take the edge off of things by sophisticating the objectionable.
October 12, 2007
A Talk with Maud Newton
Excellent points in an interview at Yahoo:
What type of content or features do you consciously avoid?
Anything that doesn't interest me. The endless debates about the unprofessionalism/ superficialitity/decivilizing nature of blogs, for instance. The fact that I have maintained one for more than five years speaks for itself, I think; readers are free to criticize or enjoy or deplore what they find there. The grading of local book reviews was another trend I was happy to skip. I work an unrelated day job and am trying to finish a book. I'm not going to spend what little free time I have on debates and publications that don't get me fired up....
What advice do you have for the budding writer-slash-lit-blogger?
Follow your passions. Writing about things to curry favor or get attention ultimately is a zero-sum game.
Here's the whole thing. (My appreciation for the vote of confidence.)
Posted by smclemee at 8:23 PM
Blood Without Glamour
The secret of GWB's success -- for a while there, anyway -- was that he was so comfortable playing the role that Phil Nugent nails as, "Sure, he's a different kind of cop and he doesn't play by the book--but he gets results!"
So what's up with the lame duck's recent lameness?
By now, it's clear that "We don't torture" is going to be George Bush's equivalent to "I am not a crook" or "I did not have sexual relations with that woman"--an embarrassingly transparent, obviously untrue statement that the speaker never would have even made in the first place if he hadn't been obligated to deny something that everybody had already figured out was the case. In the earlier examples, you could at least understand the emotions behind the decision to go on TV and indignantly challenge these unfounded accusations that the sun is hot. In Nixon's case, it must have been deeply nerve-racking for a such a rigid, uptight old Quaker, one who had built his administration on promises of restoring "law and order" to a nation that had lost its moral compass, to start seeing cartoons of himself and his top aides in prison stripes in the paper every damn day. The very idea undermined everything that he wanted to believe about himself and everything his supporters wanted to believe about him. As for Clinton, for a free-wheeling, charismatic dude who had a well-documented taste for the ladies and a serious JFK complex, it must have been...well, anyway, I'm sure he didn't want to sleep on the couch. But George Bush is supposed to be our self-styled Mr. Grim Reality, President Bauer. Why the hell is he denying that we do what he must know his most hardcore supporters worship him for having the balls to do? Why doesn't he respond to questions about whether we torture by barking "Damn straight," and then pulling a former Gitmo resident's spleen out of his jacket pocket to gnaw?
(crossposted from CT)
Posted by smclemee at 12:02 PM
The Whole World is Watching
Due to bad scheduling on my part, I'm not able to make it to Chicago, as planned, to take part in John Holbo's session on e-publishing, also featuring blogging mega-stars Adam Kotsko and Scott Eric Kaufman. I'm already far behind on a couple of things and travel would make it worse. Even if I would get to hang out with the blogging mega-stars.
(How I do love that expression. As the saying goes: In the blogosphere, everyone is famous to fifteen people.)
The session is part of the conference of the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics, which is sometimes called the cultural right's counter-institutional equivalent of the MLA. I'm not really sure this description is valid at any level.
A few years ago, I signed up for the ALSC listserv to get a feel for whatever the group might be offering as an alternative to the MLA. I then spent months trying to get unsubscribed. This had nothing to do with politics.
Discussion on the list consisted solely of personal feuds with no substantial content whatever. It was an endless, lackidasical, and utterly pointless round of exchanges in a pissing match between two or three guys who might have wanted to blame their problems on Marxist-feminist deconstructive nihilism, at some point, but seemed to hate each other at least as much as they did those Marxist-feminist deconstructive nihilists.
I had signed up expecting something like the conversation you could imagine between Russell Kirk and Hugh Kenner about T.S Eliot. Instead, it was pretty much Beavis and Butthead for people who'd read Dante.
At that point, I started entertaining the idea of joining ALSC to form a radical caucus. We could hold sessions on Lenin's essays on Tolstoy, maybe. The idea that the MLA is full of left wingers is, from what I have seen of things, a joke, unless you confuse certain forms of etiquette and demeanor with politics. And the notion that ALSC is some kind of right-wing alternative to it is not much more credible, since it has no power and, worse, no real program.
The only thing the group has going in its favor is that it has somehow turned into an appendage of The Valve. Frankly that blog does more for ALSC than ALSC could ever do for it.
Man, do I wish I were in Chicago.
October 10, 2007
My essay on Charles Schulz in the column today is not -- repeat, not -- a review of David Michaelis's Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography. Not every piece of writing that discusses a book is a review of that book.
One day I will give up trying to make the point, since it's clearly hopeless. The idea that there are genres in short nonfiction prose does not seem to matter to very many people. But damnit, I've spent a lot of time trying to understand how the different forms operate, and how to work in them. So the difference means something to me, for all the good it does to stress this.
My review of the biography will be out in a couple of weeks, probably. As for the essay, working on it was an occasion to revisit some work by Umberto Eco that I want to write about again soon. He has a funny, sardonic piece about what he calls the "fourth dimension" of Italian literary culture that seems curiously apropos in the age of digital publishing and litbloggery.
October 8, 2007
Apocalypse Pretty Soon
The dollar will collapse no later than one week from today. As of noon on October 15, you will not be able to buy a loaf of bread for $100,000. That's the optimistic scenario. The crash may come sooner than that. It might be Thursday. It sounds like Thursday will be bad.
Yeah, things are heating up again in LaRouche-land. The Youth Movement kids haven't been out in force singing on Capitol Hill much over the past two or three months. But it's clear that supporters are now being pushed into a frenzied state, more even than usual. At the website where ex-members get together, plans are being made to send one true believer a loaf of bread as soon as the deadline for disaster passes.
No doubt it is an utter and total coincidence that The Washington Monthly will soon publish an in-depth article on recent developments in the organization.
What I've read of the article suggests that LaRouche's inner circle really has a lot to worry about, even apart from the onrushing New Dark Ages. Internal convulsions probably have a lot to do with why they haven't had the troops out yodelling at Congressional staff as much as they did in the spring.
Not sure how anyone will afford a copy when that issue of the Monthly appears on the newstand in a few weeks. But in the meantime -- perhaps in honor of LaRouche's 85th birthday a few weeks back -- someone has taken the trouble to scan the, as it were, seminal work by Lyn Marcus from 1973 known as "The Politics of Male Impotence."
It offers his comrades the blueprint for "a terrifying new weapon ensuring our victory." (This document ought to be brought to the attention of Slavoj Zizek. He could really go to town with it.)
Here's hoping LaRouche can get his "terrifying...weapon" up to the task of saving the world in the next few days. But right now I'm going to empty our change jar and turn it into cash and spend it real fast, just to be on the safe side.
(crossposted from CT)
October 7, 2007
Wave of Mutilation
How many times have I listened to the Pixies in the course of twenty years? Many, many times. Some bands you go to for meaning, some for sound, and some for both. In the case of the Pixies, though, I've never paid any attention to the lyrics. "This monkey's gone to heaven" is a pretty infectious chorus, but there's not much esle to say about it. I love the Pixies, but it was strictly about the feel of the music.
So, anyway, while doing some housekeeping over the weekend, I was blasting "Debaser" and actually noticed the lyrics to "Debaser" for the first time:
Got me a movie, I want you to know
Slicing up eyeballs, I want you to know....
Don't know about you
but I am un chien andalusiaa
How did I never hear that before? (The lyrics are a bit higher in the mix in the YouTube clip.) Presumably the extra syllables are necessary to make it scan.
The film itself is available here. Ah oh ho ho....
October 5, 2007
Quick Study: The Facebook Group
I've started a Facebook group for any readers of Quick Study who would care to join.
Because this isn't a traditional sort of political or literary blog -- communist trucker hats and No Wave funk being more typically part of the menu here than publishing news or meditations on what may lurk behind Hillary's cold, dead eyes -- the public for it is never going to be huge. I have come to accept this. Not thrilled, but resigned.
But after several months, Quick Study seems to have a steady audience of several hundred people per week. It looks like a few dozen of you come around every day or so, with an occasional spike of traffic going beyond that (such as the 2000 or so people who visited in one day when Andrew Sullivan linked here last month).
Anyway, in the spirit of building "community" (as the buzzword has it), I figure the group will be a way for people to see what one another look like.
If interested, just type "Quick Study" into the search engine in Facebook. You might be able to go to the group's page directly here, but I can't be sure. Somebody please try it and let me know. Either way, it will ease me up the slope of the learning curve that much more.
October 4, 2007
The Podcast Times
Last week, I met Todd Gitlin in the studio at Inside Higher Ed's world headquarters on K Street to record an interview about his new book, The Bulldozer and the Big Tent. (The "studio" is actually the publisher's office, since it has the best acoustics. Podcasting has become a routine if not a regular thing for us; here's the backlist. I'm still getting used to the format itself and trying to think about its potential as a way to supplement my column, since merely duplicating content of a written piece in audio (or vice versa) isn't very interesting or appealing.
At TPM Cafe, Gitlin expresses what seems like surprised appreciation to his interviewer "for actually having read the book." Given journalistic norms, that probably means I'll never get a steady gig again, and certainly not in radio or TV.
But in consequence of this peculiar tendency, I have notes indicating that Henry's netroots essay is quoted on page 184 and then again on page 185.
(crossposted from CT)
Posted by smclemee at 7:27 PM
The Facebook Review
A development at the intersection of social networking and literary magazinary (magazinage? something like that): The Facebook Review, "the first and only literary review that uses Facebook as its means of publishing, of marketing, and of editing." (Not clear what "marketing" would mean in this context, but then there are a lot of things about Facebook that I don't quite get yet.)
More information is available at its homepage, but you have to be signed up with Facebook to see it.
I asked Jacob McArthur Mooney, the managing editor, if there were any example or model he could point to as an example of what the format might look like. And there isn't:
In essence, the individual issues will look a lot like Facebook events with discussion threads each containing a work and (hopefully) several responses to that. This might look kind of ugly to those who have trouble letting the two traditions (social networking and the literary review) comingle. That is sort of the point.
The first issue is in the preparation now. I'll post an update here when it is actually out. Or up, or however you'd put it.
Time to update the blogroll here -- not right this minute, but soon. Meanwhile, let me recommend Quiet Bubble, "a blog about arts, letters, culture, and life in the South, written by an amateur critic* living in Jackson, Mississippi." I'm not seeing a name for that amateur critic, but anybody who quotes Manny Farber on a regular basis is okay by me.
A recent "Quick Hits" roundup there seems like a good introduction. This looks like a blog with an archive that will reward the loiterer.
* Once again, R.P. Blackmur: "Criticism is the formal discourse of an amateur." Etymology governs meaning even more than usual in this case.
Posted by smclemee at 12:16 PM
Split the Difference and Stuff It With Expensive Ads
Sometimes a bit of apt characterization will exhaust a topic:
Vanity Fair - the magazine about celebrities who wish they were intellectuals, and intellectuals who wish they were celebrities....
Source: Henry at CT
Posted by smclemee at 10:49 AM
October 3, 2007
Release the Kitties! Part Two
That's Young Marble Giants playing in the background. I happened to be listening to a cut when this was filmed, so it turned out to have a soundtrack.
Posted by smclemee at 5:16 PM
October 2, 2007
Release the Kitties!
For more on the band Dëthkløk, go here.
Extensive collection of lyrics here.
This sort of thing is what Wikipedia does best.
October 1, 2007
The Life of the Mind
On the Mend?
A friend passes along the following under the heading "Forthcoming from Random House":
Against the Machine by Lee Siegel
Lee Siegel, one of the country's most controversial critics, here argues that a technology and market-driven mobocracy has emerged that threatens democracy, cheapens culture, and degrades the value of the individual. This is an eloquent and vigorous call for the subordination of technology and capital to the timeless needs of humanity, a Life and Death of Great American Cities for the contemporary mediascape.
Good to see that he feels up to writing about himself in the third person again. The cod psychoanalysis must be working.
I have three email accounts. Two of them used to be nearly perfect about filtering spam -- almost none of it ever showed up in the inbox. Those happy days are gone. But the accounts are still okay, so far, if not perfect. The number of subject lines from spammers I have to see in a given day is rising, to be sure; but spam is not a majority of what appears in their inboxes.
The third account is a disaster.
Mail that I actually need to see constitutes about five percent of what arrives -- on a good day. And it gets worse. Deleting things en masse is not an option. It is necessary to click each item to send it to the trash.
And so for part of each day,my brain is subjected to Dada-like bursts of language, since I have to eyeball each item long enough to know what to delete.
At one level, this is an example of greed's effect on a channel of communication. From that perspective, spam is irritating, but it can be interpreted as economically rational: the cost of sending out the spam is so low that it takes very few resulting purchases to make a profit, etc.
And yet I find myself wondering (in the part of my brain that does not become absorbed in the task of clicking items for deletion) how most of it could be so regarded by even the most broadly defined sense of rationality. How does it ever get a response from anyone, no matter how stupid? It seems as if this phenomenon should collapse at some point from sheer exhaustion of the sucker-reserves available for exploitation.
I even ponder the thought process that culminates in a given piece of spam. How does it happen that someone decides it makes sense to have a subject line such as "Hortense said Ethelbert would love this replica watch"?
How likely is it somebody will see that and (1) happen to know people named Hortense and Ethelbert and (2) make an impulse decision in favor of purchasing a replica watch on that basis?
Posted by smclemee at 4:45 PM
The Googlization of Everything
Siva Vaidhyanathan's work in progress is a book that will address "three key questions: What does the world look like through the lens of Google? How is Google's ubiquity affecting the production and dissemination of knowledge? and, How has the corporation altered the rules and practices that govern other companies, institutions, and states?" It seems likely this will add more to the sum of human knowledge than, say, Jacques-Alain Miller's papal bull a while back.
With support from the Institute for the Future of the Book, Siva has started blogging the project as he goes. And he doesn't sound entirely comfortable doing so, which if anything makes the experiment more interesting:
For a number of years now I have made my bones in the intellectual world trumpeting the virtues of openness and the values of connectivity. I was an early proponent of applying "open source" models to scholarship, journalism, and lots of other things.
And, more to the point: One of my key concerns with Google is that it is a black box. Something that means so much to us reveals so little of itself.
So I would be a hypocrite if I wrote this book any other way. This book will not be a black box.
Of course, it could get ugly in here. I could make tremendous mistakes. I could shoot something out there that shuts all doors at Google. I could undermine my ultimate market (but I seriously doubt that I could). I could just write myself into a corner....
He gives an overview of what the book will look like -- insofar as he can say before writing it -- here.
(crossposted from Crooked Timber)