Quick Study: November 2007 Archives
I've got perhaps a dozen print-on-demand books in my library. Three of them are volumes that only ever appeared as p.o.d. titles, the rest being reprints of old books that might otherwise not be available. (Unless the audience for theological responses to Ernst Haeckel's version of evolutionary theory were to heat up considerably.)
All of them came my way over the past three years. And while they represent a tiny fraction of my acquisitions over that period, it's a percentage bound to grow over time, since this approach to "warehousing" and distribution makes a lot of sense with certain kinds of books. As artifacts, most of them seem more or less indisinguishable from other paperbacks. We'll see how they hold up over the next decade, but for now they seem fine.
So it's interesting to see what print-on-demand technology actually looks like in action. Well, perhaps "interesting" is overstating things. This video is for-the-trade advertisement rather than something meant for the general public. But here goes:
I can't argue with most of the selections in "The Nine Most Badass Bible Verses" -- except for thinking that at least one violent episode might have been cut in favor of something from the Song of Solomon booty call.
Plus it's a problem that the list implies a ranking, because no way Elisha and the bears (2 Kings 2:23-24) should come in at a mere number 8:
23 From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. "Go on up, you baldhead!" they said. "Go on up, you baldhead!" 24 He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths.
And what do we learn from this? Valuable lessons for today:
I had hoped that Romenesko -- the clearing house for news about what is happening in American journalism -- might link to my column from last week about how the Austin-American Statesman was going against the current by having regular coverage of books from university presses. I know that at least a couple of people submitted it as a tip.
But Romenesko almost always ignores anything having to do with cultural journalism. Steve Wasserman's recent piece in CJR was completely right. You should never underestimate the anti-intellectualism fostered by newsroom culture.
The National Book Critics Circle queried its members this month about what titles from this year they would recommend, then had a poll to narrow down the list. My enthusiasm for Julian Bourg's From Revolution to Ethics: May 1968 and Contemporary French Thought (McGill-Queens University Press) was bound to be a minority judgment in the best of cases. Anyway, I've been sent a copy of the final list (in descending order of votes per category) and will set it so that this item posts automatically after the embargo lifts.
So I'm going through Bloglines when I see:
World Philosophy Day has come and gone. Perhaps you noticed; more likely you didn't. The festivities, sponsored by Unesco, commenced on November 15 and included symposia on "Philosophy and Its Future," the essayist Frantz Fanon, and "The Philosophical Foundations of Peace and Human Rights."
What an amazing coincidence! There was also a psychiatrist and Third World revolutionary theorist named Franz Fanon. Some of what he published could be called essays, I guess. But nobody familiar with that Fanon would identify him primarily as an essayist -- any more than they would refer to "the well-known biker, Che Guevara."
Anyway, I am definitely going to keep an eye out for work by this other guy named Franz Fanon. First I've heard of him.
There's an item at Romenesko about William Langewiesche, whose book The Atomic Bazaar impressed me quite a bit. It seems he moved to Washington to work at The Atlantic Monthly last year and has this to say:
I don't like Washington. And I'm very skeptical of Washington's view of the world. I think Washington is a very sick city. And it has become an imperial city that is hemmed in by its power. And carries with it an arrogance, a blindness about its own limitations in the world in which we live.
Well you don't say. Imagine how I feel after nineteen years of it. Of all the places in the world to have landed, it's hard to think of a good one for why a writer of my ilk would end up here. (Apart from the Library of Congress, of course.)
It always seemed like I was trying to find my way to Greenwich Village circa 1948. Instead, I now pass the American Enterprise Institute each morning and think how strangely things have turned out. You can't really get there from here.
It seems more than five hundred visitors have show up here so far today, and it's still pretty early in the day. At first my guess was that it had something to do with my piece in the New York Times Book Review yesterday but actually it turns out most people are looking at the item about the World's Worst Book Title instead. This sort of thing helps keep me modest.
Anyway, I hope at least some visitors will check out the discussion of reading habits (their early formation and long-term importance) taking place at a nearby blog.
At a certain point while working on my review of Black Mass, the little light bulb went off over my head and I thought: "The best way of characterizing John Gray's outlook would be to say that it's like Isaiah Berlin in a really bad mood."
Quite right -- and yet not something I had room to unpack, since the word count assigned for the piece was strict. The final version comes to exactly one page of the New York Times Book Review, and is accompanied by a rather striking little piece of artwork:
I might have to write about Gray again. His understanding of Marx and Marxism is feeble indeed, which is probably a function of knowing it at second or third hand, via Sir Isaiah.
It seems like the set-up to a really mean joke:
"Michael Medved is an intellectual entrepreneur, a political and cultural polymath with great insights, judgment and wit. We are delighted to have this new relationship with him," said Discovery Institute president Bruce Chapman.
But no. It is true.
I don't expect to be able to keep food down for the next couple of days.
It can't have been easy to pick finalists for the Atlanta Journal- Constitution's contest for World's Worst Book Title -- not with candidates such as Letting It Go: A History of American Incontinence and Everything You'll Need to Remember About Alzheimer's.
I'm not sure how the contest was run, or if it was fair. A lot of times with these things it's all about who you know.
(hat tip: Michael Merschel)
(crossposted from CT)
It's not on any album by the Drive By Truckers, but when they do it live you can tell that Warren Zevon's "Play It All Night Long" is, deep down inside, a DBT song. The version they did in Atlanta on New Year's Eve 2003 is not quite as good as the one they performed the night before in Birmingham, Alabama (which I have on a bootleg). Still, it's great to find it available on video:
Something for which I do give thanks -- the band that helped me start to face, for the first time really, "the duality of the southern thing."
It turns out that poststructuralist thinkers have repeatedly warned us that this holiday is in a state of emergency.
Thank you for asking, Dolly. Yes, it is. Also, you will go straight to hell (and with no delay) if you sing them anywhere near me after Thanksgiving. Consider this a friendly warning.
If one of the chains of coffee shops in the United States would announce that it was a Christmas-music-free zone, the benefits for business would be noticed immediately. I know I would go live there for a while.
(thanks to the Comics Curmudgeon)
GalleyCat has excerpts from a piece of hype by a literary agent making the rounds that includes the following bit:
"In 1962, John Barth pronounced the death of the novel. In 1967, Tom Wolfe proclaimed the death of journalism. In the past two years, critic Slavoj Zizek and author James Frey have shaken the status of the memoir. So [redacted] transcends, offering a marriage of form and content that alone is able to tell an American True Story."
So...is this mostly bullshit, or total bullshit? I have not read everything that Zizek has published -- that would Adam Kotsko you're thinking of, there -- but do sort of manage of stay on top of things, and recall nothing like a memoir by him, let alone one that's "shaken the status" of the genre.
Gayatri Spivak is writing her memoirs, however, according to an interview she gave not long ago. Somebody tell the booker for Oprah. I would watch that. Zizek on Oprah would be even better.
UPDATE: Ron Hogan notes in a followup at GalleyCat that the date for the Barth essay is off by five years. As for Tom Wolfe proclaiming the "death of journalism" in 1967, it seems that our author's muddled agent/poseur has someone combined a dim recollection of his role in the New Journalism during the 1960s and '70s with his gripes from the '80s and '90s about the lack of social texture in the contemporary novel.
The question "mostly bullshit or total bullshit?" now seems to be answered.
Over at Brainiac, Josh Glenn discusses the theme of "the intellectual, slightly mysterious rock-and-roll woman," as a recent book calls it, running throughout songs from the Boston scene over the years. All those smart but fragile girls that Jonathan Richman sang about with the Modern Lovers, for example.
Josh suggests that there is a strain of hipster misogyny in this: the revenge of the sophomore spurned, no doubt. And he reads Mission of Burma's "Academy Fight Song"
as a response to that kind of thing -- its lyrics "written from the point of view of a cool, educated young woman who was sick and tired of the obsessive attention paid to her by a would-be boyfriend...."
This seems plausible. But it would not be the first song from the Boston scene to approach this archetype (or whatever it is) from the inside. I'm thinking here, of course, of "Ballad of the Hip Death Goddess" by Ultimate Spinach.
The ambivalence I feel in posting this here, of all places, should not be underestimated. But then I already have that running argument with the disgruntled miniature Samuel Johnson sitting on my shoulder and calling me a blockhead.
thanks to Steven Hart
I am not sure that my wife actually reads this blog* (my opinions and obsessions being made available to her, after all, and in some detail at other venues). And I know that she doubts my need for another t shirt. That is not a point I can dispute in good conscience.
Still, in the event of her being totally unable to think of anything else at Christmas, let me mention this item.
I could wear it with pride in the morning, when walking past the ABC studio in our neighborhood.
* UPDATE: "I do read your blog, thank you very much! And, no you aren't getting that shirt." Matters are thus clarified.
Roger Gathman's new column about academic books for the Austin-American Statesman -- the first one ran over the weekend weekend -- is a remarkable thing to behold. Smart, sharp, compact, and handling serious titles rather than the cookbooks and guides to state flowers that university presses now tend to publish a lot.
At his blog, Gathman writes:
So tell your Ma, tell your Pa, and tell the person you know who works for a university press or who wants to publish some academic book. I think this column might be a first for a regular newspaper. And if it goes well, I'll become the godfather of the academic publishing world. Those on my right hand I will elevate to their thrones in heaven, those on my left hand I will damn eternally. Or something like that.
Well, for what it's worth, my experience is that you are lucky if they even remember your name. [ Long rant redacted ]
Be that as it may, this will be a column worth watching.
It could be that I have misjudged both this medium and the nature of my potential public. Anyway, I am definitely going to keep that in mind from now on.
By the way, for anyone interested in the recent discussion around Infinite Thought's posts regarding cinema, an earlier item here about the early days of blue phonography might also be worth checking out.
UPDATE: Jeff Popovich of Blackdogred writes to say: "Last week I posted a couple of poems by Frederick Seidel that contained the words 'japanese schoolgirls,' and KABOOM! went the hits."
"After the Last Intellectuals," my essay from the fall issue of Bookforum, marked the twentieth anniversary of Russell Jacoby's polemic. It also provided a chance for me to write a memoir, of sorts -- albeit one in which the word "I" never appears.
The version available at the magazine's website left out all the section breaks, so I have now posted it at my own site with the sections marked and numbered, per the manuscript.
It has also just appeared in the second issue of La Revue internationale des livres et des idées.
I pinch myself. Yes, this is really happening.
Having discovered Steven Marcus's The Other Victorians at an impressionable age, I'm easily persuaded of the possible value of historicizing pornography. So a point made at Infinite Thought seems interesting:
Contemporary pornography has more categories than there are dirty thoughts in the world, and yet it fails in one crucial respect - it can no longer surprise. You can be into women who look like cats who specialise in shaving biscuits whilst bouncing up and down on trampolines, and there'd probably be a website that could cater to your needs, but once you've seen a couple of cat-women shaving biscuits whilst bouncing on trampolines surely you've seen them all. The excessive taxonomical drive of contemporary pornography is merely one element of its quest to bore us all to death and remind us that everything is merely a form of work, including, or even most especially, pleasure.
Well, yes and no. The capitalist superego was at work in Victorian porn, too. At the height of pleasure, a character would announce, "I spend!"
By all means go check out the IT entry, which includes a photo of two naked Edwardian babes cavorting with an enormous snail.
I am not making that up. Nor, indeed, could I.
...is there any need for leftists to use such vicious sarcasm as this?
Critics of the United States and its role in the world prefer to argue their point of view by focusing on specific instances of American bullying or brutality, recounting their favorite horror stories from Indonesia or Nicaragua, Vietnam or Chile, the Philippines or Iraq - or any of two dozen other places around the globe where American intervention or involvement imperfectly exemplified the nation's self-professed high ideals.
Oh no, wait. That's conservative film critic Michael Medved, wearing a thoughtful expression.
And do you know why some of us tell those stories, Michael? Because we really like them. They are our favorites.
It struck me, while watching this, that The Perfected Jews would be a pretty good band name:
Courtesy of Perverse Egalitarianism
In the late 1990s, Doug McLennan created Arts Journal, a comprehensive aggregator of cultural journalism; for the past couple of years has been in charge of whatever is going on with the National Arts Journalism Program, which gave out fellowships at Columbia University for a while. (Until, one day, it didn't. I'm not really sure what happened there.) He's had a blog at AJ, Diacritical, that has been pretty episodic, goings weeks and longer without new activity. Totally understandable, of course; the man has enough else to do.
But it looks like he's resuming it, starting with some considerations on how badly the notion of the newspaper as part of "mass culture" serves us, especially now:
My sense is that the title of Studs Terkel's new book counts as fair advertising, because Touch and Go really does sum up his approach to memoir. He passes over things quickly, then moves right along.
I agree entirely, and made some effort to sound out what is lacking from the book in this essay.
Yeah, I know...When it comes to black culture, whites will take "everything but the burden." No new thing, that. But almost twenty years after The Cactus Album, I still like 3rd Bass:
The conservative newspaper Human Events has published a list of the "Top 10 Most Outrageous Liberal Media Quotes From the Last 20 Years." We'll try to overlook the fact that "quotes" is a verb, and that the right word here would be "quotations." A common mistake that peeves some people....But let me not get sidetracked on that one. Again.
Rick Perlstein points this item out because our mutual friend John Leonard made the cut, Not only that, but he's at the top spot, for this, from the CBS show Sunday Morning in 1993::
In the plague years of the 1980s -- that low decade of denial, indifference, hostility, opportunism and idiocy -- government fiddled and medicine diddled, and the media were silent or hysterical. A gerontocratic Ronald Reagan took this [AIDS] plague less seriously than Gerald Ford had taken swine flu. After all, he didn't need the ghettos and he didn't want the gays.
Touchy, aren't we, Human Events? I've always figured that title was ironic, by the way. A newspaper that celebrates Latin American military guys with nicknames like "Blowtorch" seems more partial to the inhuman.
Anyway, way to go, John! I hope the memoir is going well. This could be part of it.
I post this video in recognition of D'Ho's new alliance.....
... and pity the fool who tries to extract much meaning from it.
Sometimes bad taste is sublime.
The other day litblog powerhouse Mark Sarvas included a link at The Elegant Variation that ran with the slug: "Mailer's latest reviewed by the distinguished Scott McLemee in Newsday."
Wow! Is it because of all the gray hair in my beard now? I bet that's it. Rita has been using that word whenever I've complained about the gray hair in my beard. I just figured she was being nice about it. This rules.
The new issue of the International Journal of Baudrillard Studies is an anthology of various things that appeared following JB's death in the spring, including my piece. The editors have added some interesting footnotes.
See also an earlier essay. I'll probably come back to Baudrillard at some point before long.
"The nice thing about writing a column is that when a midlife crisis begins, you get to bring along guests." So I have just confessed. In this case, it's a matter of discussing the experience of a sort of momentary blackout regarding a book I'd reviewed. Here is a particular bit that generalizes from N=1:
People who consume two or three books a month...might be less susceptible to moments of total overload than those who read two or three a week. Some situations require learning to handle texts like a meat packer carving up pigs on an assembly line. Certain skills are involved, and they are good skills to have. You can learn to wield the blade with some precision without losing a finger. But efficiency counts, because there's always another pig coming at you.
That's for sure. And big pigs, too, usually, flying at a mile a minute.
It seems that the Revolutionary Communist Party has a large notice running in the latest New York Review of Books. I have not actually seen that issue yet, but over the weekend, a friend wrote to protest:
Simply staggered that you have not signed onto the full page ad in the NYRB (Engage!) demanding that the voice of Bob Avakian be projected and protected. You, who have done so much to keep Avakian before the masses. You, who have chosen *not* to join voices including Mumia Abu Jamal, Rickie Lee Jones, Aladdin, Ward Churchill, Chuck D, Cornel West, and Michael Eric Dyson.
Don't you know that Martin Niemoller said that "first they came for the communists?"
Okay, my mistake. It is also true that I have neglected to blog about the doings of Chairman Bob for months now. In part, though, that has been because the Chairman went AWOL for quite a spell there. No new articles or interviews with him appeared in the party press, and after a while it became reasonable to wonder what was up. Something cardiac, perhaps? Involving rich pastries?
It looks like Quick Study is rapidly turning into a blog devoted to news about about what friends are doing. All of which turns out to be much more interesting than anything the proprietor would have to report.
Unless, of course, you want to read about me reading about Regis Debray. Trust me, it's better this way.
Publisher's Lunch announces that Peter Terzian, who used to be deputy editor in the books section at Newsday is...well, editing a book:
Peter Terzian, ed.'s JUST FOR THE RECORD: WRITERS ON THE ALBUMS THAT CHANGED THEIR LIVES, featuring such writers as Pankaj Mishra, Geoff Dyer, Daniel Handler, Ben Kunkel, Colm Toibin, and Stacey D'Erasmo, to Rakesh Satyal at Harper Perennial, in a pre-empt, by Anna Stein at the Irene Skolnick Agency [NA].
Way to go! I have no idea what "in a pre-empt" would mean in this context, but it's probably a good thing.
My friend Chris Hayes -- who moved from Chicago to DC not long ago, whereupon he was promptly called to the studios at CSPAN to talk about his great story on the myth of the NAFTA superhighway -- has just taken over as head of the Nation's Washington bureau.
Congratulations to the magazine are in order. By making continuing advances of this sort, it is certain to have a brilliant future.
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Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
rock culture approximately
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
No genre is the new genre
David Jays on theatre and dance
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
John Rockwell on the arts
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Martha Bayles on Film...
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
Exploring Orchestras w/ Henry Fogel
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds
Jerome Weeks on Books
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world
Public Art, Public Space
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog