April 2008 Archives

Money speaks for money, the Devil for his own.
Who comes to speak for the skin and the bone?

See also this post at Crooked Timber

April 30, 2008 3:19 PM | | Comments (2)

Limited Inc. is urging Britney Spears to read up about Patty Hearst.

Not entirely sure I follow the logic here, but what the hell...Any excuse to post Patti Smith's cover of "Hey Joe" as Symbionese anthem is fine by me:

Being kidnapped by urban guerillas championing a make-believe revolutionary movement as an experience of personal liberation from the Establishment..... In so many ways, this version of the song is the ultimate expression of half-baked 1960s countercultural ideology in its most reductio ad absurdum form.

Then again, that is perfection, of a kind.

April 21, 2008 7:34 PM | | Comments (6)
An email message sent to the listserv of the Association of American University Presses by its current president, Sanford G. Thatcher, encourages AAUP members to contact newspaper editors to try to persuade them to publish reviews by local writers, rather than just using syndicated material.
April 21, 2008 10:58 AM | | Comments (0)

Although not an academic, I hereby submit this picture as a contribution to the latest endeavor by Phil "Production of Presence" Ford.

For background....
April 20, 2008 5:22 PM | | Comments (0)
Yesterday, there were more than 7,000 visitors to Quick Study. Nearly half that many have already come by just today, and it isn't even noon yet. That is quite a lot of traffic, at least by local standards.

What happened is that on Thursday morning Andrew Sullivan linked to last week's post "Yo, Yo I'm a Cowboy Now", which seems then to have been picked up by two or three social networking sites. None of this did I seek out. In fact, I could not have made it happen if I'd tried.

For that matter, it's been kind of frustrating to look at the site log and find that barely one visitor in a hundred then looked around at other Quick Study content. The whole thing makes for a very striking bar-graph -- with Monday through Wednesday being little molehills in front of Himalaya Thursday. But it leaves QS itself no better situated relative to what I guess could be called "mainstream blogging."

So it goes. And on that note, we return to our usually scheduled broadcast. Or narrowcast, rather.

Presented for your consideration: An interview with left-wing country singer Steve Earle, from the pages of Socialist Worker newspaper.

Yeah, now that's more like it....
April 18, 2008 10:29 AM | | Comments (3)

Two clips from fifty years ago. If you've never heard Wanda Jackson before, better buckle up....

April 15, 2008 3:20 PM | | Comments (8)
"If you recant a blurb," asked Ron Hogan at GalleyCat last week, "does anybody really care?" My impression so far is, not really.

If there is nothing else to learn from the case of Houston Baker's dust-jacket encomium for Michael Eric Dyson -- and there isn't -- then at least this much is clear: If you are going to blurb a book you haven't actually paid much attention to, the important thing is to be consistent. Don't even look at the book again. If for some reason you happen to see it, don't read it. And if, perchance, you do read the book and realize it's terrible, just keep this belated realization to yourself. That's only being fair to everyone.

But in the meantime, Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber has started a thread inspired by some of the blurbs for War and Decision -- the new book by strategic genius Doug Feith about how necessary and well-thought-through the Iraq war was, all appearances to the contrary. The jacket features various luminaries using superlatives such as "controversial" and "readable," as well as "not nearly as delusional as you might suppose."

Okay, I made that last one up -- but it's more an exaggeration of the general drift than something spun out of thin air. "And these were the blurbs they chose to promote the book," as Henry points out.

But the Crooked Timber item is less a matter of discussing War and Decision than it is a pretext for encouraging readers to nominate other great moments in the history of dubious endorsements. A few are obviously snippets from reviews, rather than blurbs. The highlights:

"Although written many years ago, Lady Chatterrley's Lover has just been reissued by Grove Press, and this fictional account of the day-by-day life of an English gamekeeper is still of considerable interest to outdoor-minded readers, as it contains many passages on pheasant-raising, the apprehending of poachers, ways to control vermin, and other chores and duties of the professional gamekeeper. Unfortunately, one is obliged to wade through many pages of extraneous material in order to discover and savour these sidelights on the management of a Midland shooting estate, and in this reviewer's opinion this book cannot take the place of J. R. Miller's Practical Gamekeeping." -- Ed Zern

"I have been stunned and baffled by Roger Lewis's vast biography of the stunningly baffling Anthony Burgess." -- Jan Morris, author of The Meaning of Nowhere

On a volume about Social Security: "This is the type of book that, once you put it down, you will not be able to pick it up again."

"The covers of this book are too far apart." -- from a review by Ambrose Bierce.

And finally, The Irish Times on Iain Banks' The Wasp Factory: "It is a sick, sick world when the confidence and investment of an astute firm of publishers is justified by a work of unparallelled depravity. There is no denying the bizarre fertility of the author's imagination: his brilliant dialogue, his cruel humour, his repellent inventiveness. The majority of the literate public, however, will be relieved that only reviewers are obliged to look at any of it."

As Henry Farrell then says: "How could you possibly, possibly refuse to buy a book with a blurb like that?"

(crossposted from Critical Mass)
April 14, 2008 6:00 PM | | Comments (0)
Kathy G. Spot believes that I am a geezer. She is, of course, quite correct. As mentioned in the comments section on this weekend's post about Poly Styrene (highly recommended), my effort to track down the double CD containing pretty much every noise X Ray Spex ever emitted came to grief this weekend because it was not where it ought to be. She points out that I could subscribe to a digital service and not have to worry about it.

No doubt she has a point. Actually the reason I cannot find that CD is probably that I now have more CDs than can easily fit into the floor-to-ceiling Tower of Jewel Boxes in the living room. The extreme clunkiness of that format (which takes up more shelf space than makes any sense at all) is a real obstacle, since we aren't going to move anytime soon.

But the idea of going "de-material" just bugs the hell out of me. I have, of course, elaborated a grand theory to justify my disinclination. That news should surprise no one. Anyway, here it is:

The decadence of the culture of late capitalism is obvious. (It will soon lead to a trend towards major Hollywood remakes of earlier movies based on TV shows that weren't worth watching to begin with, for example.) Being incapable of generating anything new, the system can now survive only by getting us to keep buying the same old content in new formats -- while steadily phasing out the ability to play things available in earlier formats.

To be up-to-date is, therefore, profoundly reactionary. That, in a nutshell, is one of the main slogan of the Zizekist Workers Party.
April 14, 2008 1:46 PM | | Comments (4)
Haven't had anything to say about Lee Siegel in a while. Although I was going to review Against the Machine for Bookforum, my editor there finally said, more or less, "Why bother?" and no very plausible reply came to mind.

Siegel's work is aptly described by James Wolcott as the result of "applying grotesque amounts of Human Growth Hormone--gobs of it--on otherwise banal observations for bombastic effect." And with that he's just getting started:

Exiled to the outer boroughs of critical journalism where the trains don't run after midnight, Siegel nursed his grievance against the snide nobodies who dared mock a snide somebody like him and sought vengeance and vindication, crafting a heroic tale titled Against the Machine, starring "Lee Siegel" as the last defiant individualist in the pygmy global village of Internet ignorati. Imagine Look Back in Anger's Jimmy Porter pounding away at the computer on a wet Sunday afternoon and you get the general idea of the temper of his text. Like Osborne's Porter, Siegel stormed in vain, convincing only himself of his stunning convictions. It must be vexing, being as brilliant as Siegel thinks he is and, instead of receiving the tokens of tribute from the literary community for his brilliance, getting yet another round of Bronx cheers and hostile snickers. Having one's genius unrecognized during one's lifetime is no doubt frustrating, especially when one once strutted so tall and proud in the pages of The New Republic, wearing a topcat and monocle like Mr. Peanut.
More here.

This seems like the opportunity to mention that there is an occasional guest to the Quick Study comments section who calls himself Spamzatura, though he's not been that frequent a visitor.
April 14, 2008 6:58 AM | | Comments (4)
I am going to try to upload the PDF of a short piece appearing in the new issue of Dissent. Not exactly sure how to do this, but here goes....


UPDATE: It seems it worked. Yay.
April 13, 2008 5:21 PM | | Comments (1)

April 12, 2008 12:02 PM | | Comments (0)
I have not posted much about either Lyndon LaRouche or Bob Avakian lately, much to the dismay of at least some of you. One friend points out that the Chairman Bob stuff in particular always gives him a laugh. This friend has been really sick, so lifting his spirits seems like a duty.

For a while there, however, it was starting to seem as if my very occasional items on Avakian and LaRouche (representing something like 2 percent of my total published output within last year) were getting wider attention than work I cared about far more. The stink does rub off, it seems.

So the political fringewalking kind of went on suspension for a while.

But today is a really remarkable circumstance -- kind of a harmonic convergence of strangeness.
April 11, 2008 5:12 PM | | Comments (0)
In response to my two-part column about the difficulty of knowing what to say about the present decade -- or even what to call it -- I've heard from Peter Oliva who proposes a way to sum up the recent past in a simple fashion. "I would suggest calling these years the 'Oh Ohs,'" he writes, "for obvious reasons."

I'm increasingly partial to "the Zeroes" myself, but he may be on to something. See also Eric Rauchway's alternative.

The first of those columns was here, and the second here.

It still seems odd that the decade is almost over without any commonly accepted way to refer to it ever emerging. It seems a kind of blindspot in the popular culture
April 8, 2008 7:18 PM | | Comments (10)
I have been trying for some time to track down a recording from the mid-1990s. A couple of Russian-born conceptual artists had determined, via a poll of listeners, what the most unappealing kinds of music were -- then created a piece embodying all of them. For example, people hate songs about holidays, choirs, and kids singing. So there was a passage where a children's chorus singing about Labor Day.

My efforts to Google it kept failing, and it started to seem like something I might have imagined. And now, out of the blue, here comes Phil Ford to prove that it was no hallucination.

He quotes an account of how the sonic parameters were selected:

The most unwanted music is over 25 minutes long, veers wildly between loud and quiet sections, between fast and slow tempos, and features timbres of extremely high and low pitch, with each dichotomy presented in abrupt transition. The most unwanted orchestra was determined to be large, and features the accordion and bagpipe (which tie at 13% as the most unwanted instrument), banjo, flute, tuba, harp, organ, synthesizer (the only instrument that appears in both the most wanted and most unwanted ensembles). An operatic soprano raps and sings atonal music, advertising jingles, political slogans, and "elevator" music, and a children's choir sings jingles and holiday songs. The most unwanted subjects for lyrics are cowboys and holidays, and the most unwanted listening circumstances are involuntary exposure to commercials and elevator music. Therefore, it can be shown that if there is no covariance--someone who dislikes bagpipes is as likely to hate elevator music as someone who despises the organ, for example--fewer than 200 individuals of the world's total population would enjoy this piece.
Well damn....it turns out I'm one of them.

Hiphop tuba plus a soprano rapping about the Old West -- what's not to like? You can listen to it here.

As I recall, they also recorded a song combining all the qualities that people said they particularly enjoyed in music. If anyone has a link for it, I'll post that, too.

UPDATE: More on the project at Design Observer.

I've only recently discovered DO and added it to the blogroll -- an adventurous site, not to be missed.
April 5, 2008 4:49 PM | | Comments (39)

For years I have heard of a cover version of the Led Zeppelin song
"Whole Lotta Love" performed by a band called the Temple City Kazoo

Someone has posted it to YouTube:

The whole thing sounded a lot better in my imagination, somehow.

April 2, 2008 3:46 PM | | Comments (2)
Writing about a recent conference for Artforum, my occasional penpal Graham Larkin makes an interesting point:

Anyone who has worked with curators or conservators will be familiar with the caricature of the slothful, ignorant, aesthetically indifferent academic. Meanwhile, in the ivory tower, professors and graduate students flatter themselves with the myth of the methodologically challenged museum drone. All such charges are little more than symptoms of what Freud calls the narcissism of small differences, namely the tendency for any two parties engaged in the same enterprise--in this case the business of thinking about art--to overvalue every trifling distinction that could make one's own side look better.
Funny how that works, isn't it?

The conference he attended was "an important step in overcoming this mutual ressentiment," Graham goes on to say. "In such a climate, there is great political value in the mere act of people from these disparate domains collaborating in public."

Well, so one might well think. All I'm going to say is, don't hold your breath.
April 2, 2008 3:13 PM | | Comments (0)

Vladimir Nabokov and Lionel Trilling discussing Lolita on Canadian television:

via Mark Sarvas

Trilling's essay on the novel, "The Last Lover," can most readily be found in The Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent (itself reviewed by George Scialabba here)

April 1, 2008 3:16 PM | | Comments (3)

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