Quick Study: June 2007 Archives
My old Lingua Franca piece about Ayn Rand from 1999 remains the single biggest draw to my website. In 2006, that page got more than 3600 hits. With this year only at the halfway point, it has already reached 2500. My only regret is not titling it "Atlas Shagged."
A friend has mentioned watching The Fountainhead not long ago -- a movie so over-the-top as to be almost transcendent. And not just the long speech in the courtroom scene, either, though it's certainly a corker.
As I recall, it was Whittaker Chambers who said most people read Rand, not from interest in the ideological harangues, but "for the fornicating bits." You couldn't really put that on screen in 1949. But in the right hands, cinematic language is a subtle instrument:
I've justed been alerted to the consequences of Cameron Diaz's encounter with anti-revisionist ideology and/or radical chic. This happened a week ago:
The voice of Princess Fiona in the animated "Shrek" films visited the Incan city of Machu Picchu in Peru's Andes on Friday carrying an olive green bag emblazoned with a red star and the words "Serve the People" printed in Chinese, perhaps Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong's most famous political slogan.
The bags are marketed as fashion accessories in some world capitals, but in Peru the slogan evokes memories of the Maoist Shining Path insurgency that fought the government in the 1980s and early 1990s in a bloody conflict that left nearly 70,000 people dead.
"I sincerely apologize to anyone I may have inadvertently offended. The bag was a purchase I made as a tourist in China and I did not realize the potentially hurtful nature of the slogan printed on it," Diaz said in a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press.
More here, though not much more. Chances are the red star was more at issue than the slogan, as such. Unless a lot more people in Peru can read Chinese than you'd think.
So, we're all good -- at least until Angelina Jolie visits Nepal.
Oh yes....At long last, a documentary about Roky Erickson:
Check out the entry that Jerome Weeks just posted covering some things he mentioned as we've been chatting about Roky this week.
I''ve always thought of the Elevators as the real-life version of Sick Dick and the Volkswagons, the psychedelic band in The Crying of Lot 49.
No surprise, of course, that the novelist is a fan. According to a reliable Pynchon site: "In an action which surprised many of his fans, Pynchon allowed himself to be mentioned on The John Laroquette Show, stipulating that he must be portrayed as wearing a Roky Erickson t- shirt."
Liberal Fascism, the forthcoming opus by Jonah Goldberg, has undergone a subtitle change, as perhaps you have heard.
Formerly it warned of "The Totalitarian Temptation From Mussolini to Hillary Clinton." Said temptation will now run "...From Hegel to Whole Foods."
The delays in publication have no doubt been necessary given the burdens of fresh scholarship demanded by this broadening of scope.
Via The American Scene, a proposal for a new sitcom, Everybody Pisses Off Christopher Hitchens, featuring
a wacky female neighbor who, even though she works some great prop comedy and hilarious visual gags, never manages to amuse the star, who sits at the kitchen table drinking Scotch and blinking like a mordant eagle caught in the rain. The show's signature catch-phrase is, "I find that boring and irritating," and on a very special holiday episode Hitch gets very drunk and regales the neighborhood kids with the story of the lost weekend he and Kingsley Amis spent in Tijuana.
What a great idea. I expect to use the catch-phrase even if the show itself never airs.
Does anyone know if there is a documentary about The Creation? I've had a terrible time finding their records, and am not optimistic. But if you know of anything, please pass it along.
Here they are in their prime, around 1966. People think bowing the guitar was Jimmy Page's idea. Not so. And man, what a hook....
Most of the time, my work-related dealings with people are pleasant enough. I probably only go to one or two literary parties a year, sometimes not even that. When I'm in contact with anyone it is usually because I have become interested in a specific book and have some particular idea in mind for why I might write about it.
But every so often, I find myself at the very edge of telling an author or publisher, "You seem to be under the impression that I am a publicist, rather than a critic and essayist. And that means you can just piss right off."
In fact I only ever actually say the first part, albeit in a way that leaves the rest clearly implied. They don't actually offer me bribes. But the attitude involved is, if anything, often more offensive than if they had.
One guy approached me about a book like so: "There was an article about it in The New York Times and another piece is scheduled for [some magazine or other]. Maybe you should do something, given all the hype."
And I thought, "Well gosh, dude, that is one appealing prospect all right. Why I must be crazy to pass up such an offer!"
All things considered it is probably for the best that I do not live in New York.
At Minor Tweaks, Tom Bartlett runs through a list of "Things you don't want to hear from the Apple tech guy":
-- "Can you hold please? I need to ask my supervisor a question."
-- "Huh. That usually works."
-- "Did you back everything up?"
-- "Wow. Hmm."
-- "Can you hold again for me?"
-- "See, right now, your computer doesn't know it has a hard drive."
Somewhere in Scandanavia, the computer simulation of an IKEA saleswoman is giggling.
What timing....Josh Glenn gets into the real problem with the supposed creative potentials of Web 2.0:
The only problem, for many of us, is... we don't know how to do these amazing things. We visit the Internet like we visit New York: cautiously, following the exact same route every time. Our homepages, if we have homepages, are lame; we don't know how to blog or podcast; our browsers are out-of-date, plagued with viruses and spyware, and slow. What to do? Forget the Web 2.0 visionaries -- they're no help. What we need is a Web 2.0 handyman, the online equivalent of an omnicompetent and friendly next-door neighbor who's always willing to lend a hand with a stalled engine or carpentry project.
See his excellent, interesting, and finally quite useful item at Brainiac.
I know that my wife is a little homesick, and so, having managed to instruct myself in the use of the "flix" function on our new cells, decided to send her a document of ordinary life hereabouts.
Then I figured out how to get it from cell phone to YouTube -- and thus to you, QS's vast general public:
I've commented here before on Freaks and Geeks, and suspect that the Quick Study readership has a disproportionate number of F&G devotees. No hard evidence for that, just a hunch.
Alan Sepinwall, the TV critic for the Star-Ledger, has started blogging about the show episode by episode. I'm looking forward to the next one up, covering "Kim Kelly is My Friend." Busy Philipps was always riveting as Kim Kelly, the quintessential terrifying high-school tough girl from the wrong side of the tracks. She certainly scared the network, which refused to air what was one of show's best episodes.
I think Sepinwall may be the best regular commentator on television for a newspaper that I've ever read. In particular, he did a very good job discussing The Sopranos from week to week, constantly pointing out nuances and echoes that were easy to miss. A smart book publisher would do well to sign him up to do some kind of series guide.
My enthusiasm for Complete has resulted in getting a couple of their songs stuck in my head -- an experience that, like the dental work of Curtis, their singer, is not at all pretty.
Fortunately I've discovered a well-done reworking of some rare video footage of the 13th Floor Elevators, with the original recording (to which they are lip-syncing) dubbed in to replace the tinnier soundtrack heard elsewhere:
The drummer for the band I was in Austin also played with Roky for a while in the mid-1980s. A live recording of the Elevators from 1966 that he gave me a few years ago will be blasting while I do chores today. The amplified jug is a bit more prominent than what you usually hear from the studio session. It really adds something special to "Roll Over Beethoven."
UPDATE: Jerome Weeks alerts me to a forthcoming book about the Elevators.
POSTSCRIPT: Is it just me, or does Roky look like the young Dean Stockwell in this video? Roky himself was about 18 when it was filmed.
My wife is away this week visiting her mother, which means I am spending most of the day by myself, in conversation mainly with the cats. One of them has arthritis, which he complains about bitterly each time he stands up or sits down. So we talk about that, for example. Also, about the role of Bukharin in the Comintern. The latter discussion tends to be rather one-sided.
Anyway, Rita is way more in touch with IT and Web culture than I am. (Before she left, I gave her a copy of She's Such a Geek, which was well received). But in her absence, I have somehow managed to get myself signed up for Facebook.
So if you are in that, uh, neighborhood, or whatever it is, by all means, feel free to say hello. Keep in mind that I have almost no idea what I am doing. Actually "almost" is probably overstating it.
Via the blogger Emilymnk, word that the ranks of review supplements for American newspapers have grown that much thinner:
This Sunday, the San Diego Union-Tribune will print its last Book Review section. After this, book reviews will appear only as two pages in its Sunday "Entertainment" section, eliminating half the number of books previously reviewed. The Union-Tribune is one of only five U.S. newspapers with a freestanding Book Review section (the others are The Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune and New York Times).
That last part may be out of date. The Chronicle and Tribune sections have been "reorganized," i.e. shrunk and moved around within the schedule and design of the paper. If they still actually appear as freestanding sections, their existence in that format is probably not long for the world. The trend is more and more towards what the Union-Tribune is doing: reducing books coverage to a page or two in the "Style" or "Entertainment" sections. (Which can then be filled with wire copy.)
Can't wait to get a copy of Actionable Offenses: Indecent Phonograph Recordings from the 1890s -- a CD full of obscene stories and lewd poetry from the days of the Victrola. Just the kind of thing that kept Anthony Comstock up at night.
Seems like a natural: Shawn Miller's website Critical Compendium is a daily digest of new book reviews -- not exhaustive by any means (who would have time for that?) but wide-ranging enough to merit a place in your RSS feed.
It also provides a directory of links for magazine and newspaper review sections.
What you won't find at Critical Compendium:
Links to literary blogs. Nothing against them, but this site provides readers with reviews rather than the more open ended ruminations/discussions found on blogs....We also don't link, for the most part, to sites that require subscriptions. That's why you don't see, for instance, the Atlantic Monthly. The Economist, on the other hand, requires a subscription to see the current issue, though previous reviews can be viewed for free. Thus, we link to the Economist.
Fair enough. At present there is no link to Bookforum, however, which is a large and puzzling gap. (Update some hours later: Now it's there.)
I've done a couple of updates on the earlier post about Complete, including a link to a fan site that will supposedly, at some point, have T-shirts.
But it seems worth devoting a separate entry to this item. I don't much care for the commentary, but it does provide as much background on Complete as we may ever know....
All I can say is that discovering their "Hot as Hell" yesterday, the first day of summer, was the kind of synchronicity that can haunt you forever:
Sounds like I've found my theme song for the next three months.
Want more? Check out this interview with the band. And for the hard-core fan, I recommend a trip to "Hoogie-Boogie Land", which is sort of like "Imagine" if John Lennon had huffed a lot of airplane glue ("There is no war, there is no hate, can y'all relate?")
They better not be joking about having an album in progress.
UPDATE: If you want to play the bass part to "Hoogie-Boogie Land" but cannot do so by ear, you might want to consult the tab.
UPDATE: According to a comment at this site, the footage is from a public-access TV show circa 1996. So it's vintage, and I guess the album never happened. Damnit. One poster says the band is "like Captain Beefheart ran a gas station in 1981 Texas and forced the employees to start a metal band."
There is a fan page.
And to imagine there are people who think the Interweb cannot contribute to the advancement of human knowledge...
How many times have I seen the Bugs Bunny cartoon in which Bugs squares off against a baseball team called the Gashouse Gorillas? And how many times have I taken in the joke advertisements lining the walls of the baseball stadium?
So why did it take me this long to notice that one of the ads is for something called Filboid Studge? I knew the Warner Brothers animators at Termite Terrace were a smart bunch, but extra kudos are in order for the gag writer who managed to work in a nod to Saki, aka Hector Hugh Munro.
I never would have caught this Edwardian allusion, helpfully glossed in suitable detail by Steven Hart.
For some time now, my friend Tom Bartlett has been preparing transcripts of his online dialogues with Anna, the AI-based spokes-entity for IKEA. These exchanges run at his blog Minor Tweaks, the latest one being available here.
While a headshot can convey Anna's features, you must go to the IKEA Help Center to get the full effect as she nods and generates facial expressions both thoughtful and emotive. Anyway, I hope Tom won't mind if I borrow his idea....
Check out the incisive commentary on Paris Hilton at k-punk. Extracts:
I don't hate Paris Hilton......The truth is that Hilton is an object I am unable to cathect in any way whatsoever - in other words, she is boring. She is a symptom - of her class and background - but an uninteresting one. In fact, her utter lack of remarkable features, the so-formulaic-a-computer-program-could-have- predicted-it pattern of her dreary rich girl life, may be the only interesting thing about her - but you would have to the austere asceticism of a Warhol to maintain that position.
Jason Isbell has left the Truckers and has an album, Sirens of the Ditch, coming out next month. I have very mixed feelings at this news. His years with DBT were definitive for the band, and the first album after he joined them, Decoration Day, is the one I play the most. At the same time, he's a remarkable songwriter in his own right and I'll be listening to that CD the second I can get it.
Here's "Dress Blues," his song about the war:
Very glad to learn that the report from Book Expo two weeks ago was just picked up by Resource Shelf, which my very own personal reference librarian tells me has a serious following in the profession.
At Crooked Timber, Henry has an item pointing to Adam Michnik's article on lustration in Poland from the latest New York Review of Books -- a copy of which I grabbed from the freebie table at the Association of American University Presses meeting but haven't read yet. That piece goes to the top of the list now....
When looking into the Bauman affair last month, my hunch was that the "revelations," so called, were politically motivated, especially since Bauman is both Jewish (which might well matter, given the nature of the present government there) and a left-winger (no "might" about that part).
I'm back from Minneapolis and kind of beat. My study looks even more like a dump than when I left on Thursday. As it happens, Adam Kotsko has recently pointed to a video that explains some of what has been going on:
Quick Study grinds to a halt (no more postings, no comments going up until Sunday) as I head off to the annual meeting of the Association of American University Presses.
It is being held this year in Minneapolis, which is sort of the holy land of American Trotskyism -- scene of the glorious 1934 Teamsters' strike -- though I am pretty sure this is a coincidence.
I have another essay on Richard Rorty cooking on the back burner, but for now have done a column on the occasion of his death.
After filing it, there arrived the one item I've most wanted to see: Habermas's response to the news.
See also what may be the final interview with Rorty. I never knew the man personally, but feel the loss more and more as the days go by.
Art is fundamentally ironic and destructive. It revitalizes the world. Its function is to create inequalities, which it does by means of contrasts.
-- Victor Shklovsky
Some will win, some will lose
Some were born to sing the blues
Oh, the movie never ends
It goes on and on and on and on
-- Journey, "Don't Stop Believing"
The final scene -- the whole sequence unfolding as the Journey song played -- was a tour de force, foregrounding all the formal means by which we can be manipulated to expect that a build-up of tension will result in some decisive event. And then it cuts out before the word "believing" in the song, in a way that leaves us momentarily uncertain whether the blank screen is a technical failure, the medium itself disrupting the story.
Of course, anything could have then happened. The empty screen could be the moment of Tony's death:The shifty guy who headed to the bathroom (overtones of The Godfather) might have come back shooting....The black kids might have been there to rob the place....The reaction shots of Tony made those interpretations of the situation plausible.
Or it might be that none of the above is true -- the guy might just need to piss, the kids are stopping by for ice cream, and life goes on. "On and on and on and on," in the words of the song, which was huge when Tony and I were in high school. (The realization of age-cohort overlap whenever Tony listens to "his" music was, for me, always part of the texture of experience in watching the show: a moment of identification that was also kind of jolting.)
And AJ, alienated critic of the military/entertainment industrial complex, is reconciled to everything the second he can find a place in it.
Today is the third anniversary of the death of Robert Quine, one of the great guitarists to come out of the underground scene of the 1970s. He was a member of Richard Hell and the Voidoids and played on Lou Reed's The Blue Mask.
From his latest:
The new breed of Republicans, more advanced in their shamelessness, have spent entirely too much time during the last twenty years arguing about minute distinctions between acceptable and unforgivable varities of untruths, as if they were a bunch of goddamn grad students. Their moral compasses are so degraded that they probably really believe that no one is getting hurt in the process, but consider this: if Henry Hyde had retired from Congress before 1998, he'd have probably counted as just one more flatulent old gasbag who'd have donated his grandchildren to a Chinese labor farm in exchange for three minutes of TV time, useless and unattractive but basically no worse on the whole than any other member of the great undifferentiated mass of mediocre men. But because he hung in there to play a role in two scandals, one in which a sitting president of his own party was the target and one in which a sitting president of the other party had that honor, he will be remembered as a creature whose official position was that lying under oath in order to further a disastrous and pea-brained scheme aimed at conducting a secret, illegal foreign policy that went against the stated policies of the administration and the desires of the electorate was not just okay but admirable, whereas lying under oath about getting your knob polished two years earlier merits impeachment. It seems like such a small thing, but now because of it, Henry Hyde will have to go to Hell when he dies. Henry Hyde hasn't died yet, has he? I assume not, because I haven't noticed any parades lately, but some things just aren't worth going to Wikipedia to double check.
....the Lounge Lizards performing "Voice of Chunk":
Cary Nelson, the president of the American Association of University Professors, came by the Inside Higher Ed offices for lunch earlier this week. The organization is having its annual meeting, starting today. He agreed to do an interview for a podcast, and spent about an hour talking to the editors and staff with a microphone there on the table, amidst water bottles, sandwich wrappers, and chocolate-chip cookies.
Half a century before "The Sopranos" hit its stride, the Caribbean historian and theorist C.L.R. James recorded some penetrating thoughts on the gangster -- or, more precisely, the gangster film -- as symbol and proxy for the deepest tensions in American society. His insights are worth revising now, while saying farewell to one of the richest works of popular culture ever created.
Thanks to a tip from Phil Ford, I am making my way through the pre-Astral Weeks contractual obligation album by Van Morrison.
He must have been pissed off. It sounds like he just picked up the guitar before "writing" the songs and didn't bother to tune it.
The high point, so far, is "Ringworm."
Pissed off, yes, but also having a pretty good time.
A box containing 43 pounds of catalogs, page proofs, and assorted other publishing effluvia is in the mail to me from New York -- dropping it off at the shipping center being the last thing on the agenda before wrapping things up Saturday afternoon.
We went out that night to see Vanessa Redgrave in The Year of Magical Thinking. With hindsight, that was not what anyone would call "unwinding."
Scholarly presses were a modest presence at Book Expo America, the annual trade show for the publishing industry, which wrapped up its business on Sunday afternoon after three days in New York City.
More than 2,000 companies had booths in the exhibit halls. Only a few dozen were sponsored by university presses or commercial houses specializing in academic titles. Corporate publishers often showed their wares in miniature pavilions - impressive command centers, staffed by a dozen or more people, with large piles of free books and promotional knickknacks for visitors.
By contrast, scholarly presses offered catalogs and the occasional bowl of tiny candy bars. None of the publicists were dressed as life-sized cartoon characters.