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When I think of October, two things come up: Halloween and Bolshevism. So it's like Trish Kahle (with her mad carving skills) is reading my mind....

Thumbnail image for pumpkin.jpg

Borrowed by permission from Trish's Facebook page. See also her excellently named blog.

October 29, 2010 1:43 PM | | Comments (0)
People begin arriving in DC today for the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert event on Saturday, which I discussed in a column that has since been reprinted (is that really the right word for when something appears on a different website?) elsewhere.

My thanks to Henry Farrell for the notice at Crooked Timber, and to Rob Horning for his thoughtful gloss at Marginal Utility.

For more sharply made points on the event, see this prescient analysis.

Although it is just across town, I will not be attending. This is not a matter of making some kind of a statement. (I spectate too.) But after ten days of being really sick -- during which time my mental stamina collapsed pretty much entirely -- I need to work and can't get away for the afternoon. But that evening, I will have dinner with people from The New Inquiry who are coming to town.

UPDATE. Meanwhile -- actually, while typing this -- I've been contacted with a request to pontificate on themes from the column later this afternoon on KUOW, the public radio station in Seattle. Will do, though I should probably be reading. 
October 29, 2010 11:32 AM | | Comments (0)

There have been a few thousand hits for this post, which clearly struck a nerve. The following clip lacks the saving grace of brevity, but I'll recommend it anyway:

October 27, 2010 9:48 AM | | Comments (1)
It seems time for a new edition of The Mass Psychology of Fascism by Wilhelm Reich, and I would like to suggest the cover art:


Part of an astounding set of images of the French demonstrations, from the Boston Globe.
October 24, 2010 12:29 PM | | Comments (0)
Via Brainiac, an image of state-of-the-art book-niche marketing:

Another phenomenon that makes more sense after reading John Thompson's book.
October 22, 2010 2:29 PM | | Comments (0)
For three or four years now, I've used Bloglines. As of right now, I'm getting 434 feeds, which seems like a case of healthy curiosity turning into a vice. There have been periods when I've just ignored it entirely for weeks at a stretch. The experience of "clearing the lines" -- going through postings at high speed to wipe out the backlog -- carries skimming to new intensities of indifference. But I can't take seriously the idea that that sort of thing is antithetical to serious reading. It's been a way, however flawed, to keep up with conversations and citations, and has led me to any number of books or PDFs that I might not have heard of otherwise.

All in all, then, Bloglines has served its purpose reasonably well, and it's a nuisance that it shuts down on November 1st. (Originally this was to have happened October 1st.) It is possible to store and (presumably) transfer my list of feeds, or so I am told, and I should do this soon.

But I haven't looked into another reader yet. Any thoughts -- positive or negative -- about Google Reader or other aggregators? 
October 21, 2010 2:36 PM | | Comments (6)
On Monday, I sat down to work with the firm intention of ignoring the flu symptoms that had been bothering me over the weekend and just motoring on through. This did not turn out well. In a pinch you can't really count on the mind-body dualism to give the results you want.

So I don't have a column running today -- and it looks like the blog post I made here on Monday morning (which barely even counted for warm-up writing) may be the high point of my output for the week. And after hitting "publish" on this one, I'll probably just go back to bed.

First, though, let me thank Rachel Rosenfelt for putting up, at The New Inquiry, extracts from my review of John B. Thompson's book Merchants of Culture. I wish that review had been twice as long, since there were so many things it would have been good to include in it. The book itself deserves all the attention it can get.

So it seems to me still, even in so beleagured a condition as this. And on that note, I go off to consume 16 ounces of water or juice per hour, as commanded by my spouse, who in matters of health has never steered me wrong. 
October 20, 2010 9:19 AM | | Comments (0)
Must fight ironic expression of enthusiasm....Must fight ironic expression of enthusiasm...Oh, hell. I give up

On November 10, the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) will be released. Beginning on that day, everything that people think is possible, and impossible, will come under radical challenge.
Well of course it will! 

Arguably a much better use of anyone's time is the discussion of Alain Badiou that is ongoing at Kasama. Let me also take this opportunity to point out that Verso Books has undertaken a major redesign of its website, with a blog as well as a forum in which readers can discuss Verso titles.

I am genuinely enthusiastic about Verso, and always read Kasama with great interest (despite not being, you know, a Maoist). As for taking a long march down the shining path of Chairman Bob Thought, not so much.

See also this review of a recent book on French Maoism, which I wish had been better.
October 18, 2010 12:07 PM | | Comments (2)
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a column to oppose the proposed renaming of the C.L.R. James Library in London. This also appeared in French. (In translation, I am ten years younger.) A petition in protest of the name chance has attracted more than 2400 signatures.

Now comes word from the Black and Ethnic Minority Arts Network that the campaign has succeeded. Here is the text of an email to those who signed the petition:

Dear friend

Following a short meeting between representatives of BEMA and Members and officers of Hackney Council, an in principle agreement has been reached that the name of the new facility will carry the name of CLR James Library as per our campaign demand. A formal statement will follow shortly. Many thanks to the thousands who have supported our successful campaign online and in other ways.

Bema will be playing an ongoing role in the development of a permanent CLR James exhibition at the new library as well as the establishment of an annual event commemorating his life and work.

Ngoma Bishop & Andrea Enisuoh  
Campaign co-ordinators

October 7, 2010 2:49 PM | | Comments (1)
I don't have access to JSTOR at home -- and so for the moment can only read the first page of the article itself -- but it seems like this may be the most striking title of anything I've come across in a while.

It must be tongue-in-cheek, but with hints of a world of Taylorized expertise.

September 25, 2010 11:17 AM | | Comments (1)

Recent Work

"Crimes Against the Intellect" 
Last month, in France, playboy philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy was indicted for fraud, hucksterism, and general ridiculousness, and there will be a trial tomorrow. Sort of.

Somehow I doubt this is going to affect his standing at The Huffington Post.

Our Living Language 
My column today is about gun nuts. A reader has been in touch to ask whether I meant to use the word "refudiate." Indeed I did, and also tried to sneak in my own made-up word, "newlogism," but my editor changed this to the more standard spelling. Alas!
The Fixer 
What's really intriguing about Sarah Palin's complaint that she is the object of a "blood libel" is that she's much too ignorant to have come up with it herself. It isn't a part of fundamentalist or evangelic folklore; there is no real basis for it in the Bible, even in the more antisemitic parts of St. John or Revelation.

In other words, even her malapropisms are being stage-managed.*

It's been thirty years since I read Bernard Malamud's novel about a blood-libel case. And it occurs to me that this is probably the only thing of his that I've read. Anyone out there with an opinion on whether there is something else I should get to?

Don't bother suggesting The Natural. I have studied C.L.R. James on cricket, and will continue to pay attention to my friend Dave Zirin's sportswriting, but must draw the line at reading a novel about baseball.

* AFTERTHOUGHT:If someone is actually circulating stories about how Sarah Palin drinks the blood of children, then I can see where she would be upset. That kind of rumor can just sink a campaign.
Down With New Media! 

Mimi and Eunice, via TechDirt

Allegories of E-Reading 
My end-of-the-year essay about digital readers for The National has inspired a response by Rob Horning at The New Inquiry.

Glad to see him take the hint about Moretti, whose work I wrote about...five years ago? That can't be right. 
Sherry Talks Back 
For my last column of 2010, I asked a few people to identify books they'd read that year that made a big impression on them. The resulting piece came together well and seems to have gotten a decent bit of play -- though one person on Twitter characterized the participants as "Ivy Leaguers and tasteful snobs." Now, a couple of the participants are members of the labor movement, where snobbery, tasteful or otherwise, is not a value. And clearly the fact that I hadn't actually invited anybody from the Ivy League to respond was no obstacle to this individual's exercise of the right to have an uninformed opinion. So it goes. I don't write for stupid people but can do nothing to prevent them from reading.

In any case, two people named Patti Smith's memoir Just Kids, which I also liked very much. And this morning I see that Sherry Wolfe -- whose blog Sherry Talks Back I have been meaning to recommend -- recently stopped by the Chelsea Hotel in the wake of reading the book. Wolfe moved back to NYC last year and the continuing toll of the economy on culture naturally makes a big impression:

As a former denizen of the East Village, from 1988 to 2000, I was eyewitness to that bohemia's twentieth-century grand finale. I moved in the week of the Tompkins Square riot that seems, in retrospect, to have signaled the gentrifiers' victory over a sanctuary of counterculture.

I could still chat on the street back then with The Naked Civil Servant's Quentin Crisp and Howl's Allen Ginsberg or catch a $5 show with Sandra Bernhard, Penny Arcade or John Leguizamo around the corner. But the writing was on the wall as my own rent-stabilized haunt across from the Russian and Turkish Baths on 10th St. slowly drifted toward $1,000 a month.
About the only cultural activity you can still enjoy in Manhattan for no money is people watching--at least that remains one of the most spectacular circuses of humanity on earth.

And of course, artists will always find ways of meeting and mixing with each other in any city, no matter how hard the market tries to homogenize, synchronize and sterilize us all. There's always Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and dare I say, even Staten Island.

I like this (read the entry here) as a response to Smith's book -- that is, the refusal to let reading it turn into an occasion for nostalgia. The spirit of Greenwich Village cannot afford to live in Greenwich Village, but it has work to do, especially right now.

The Quick and the Dead 
A few months ago, I decided not to run for a second term on the board of directors of the National Book Critics Circle (for reasons having nothing to do with that worthy institution, and everything to do with my own need to concentrate on other commitments) and I stuck to that decision even when asked a couple of times to reconsider. Nobody not actually on the board knows just how much work is involved. And I don't just mean loading up the hundreds of books that arrive every week onto a cart to transport them to my cubicle at Inside Higher Ed, down the block. That's the least of it.

It turns out that the sheer amount of fantasy about the NBCC is kind of interesting, in a psychohistory sort of way. A case in point being something I read online not long ago about how those of us deciding on the awards are subjected to "lobbying." In three years, I've never heard from a single author, agent, or editor trying to influence me one way or the other. I get pitches from publicists all the time, of course, but they are invariably so clueless that I can't imagine them influencing anyone into reading a book -- let alone reviewing one, much less voting for it.

A fair hunch is that the belief in "lobbying" is a function of litblogger wish-fulfillment fantasies being projected. Somebody at Billy Bob's Book Blog assumes that if he or she were on the board, then famous authors would be inviting them to dinner. Alas, no. Would that this were true. After three years my virtue remains all too untested. But who am I to interrupt anybody's fantasies of glamor by pointing out that serving on the NBCC board just means doing a lot of pro bono labor while the anklebitters gnash their teeth? No good can come of insisting on the realities.

Be that as it may -- and with about ten solid weeks of work to do before the end of my term -- I have resolved to bring Quick Study out of its persistent vegetative state. A few people have expressed disappointment that it has had barely a pulse for the past couple of years. I haven't even bothered to post links to my work, while my Twitter presence has been low-volume and erratic, at best. There are various reasons for all of this, but the desire to explain them in detail seems as much a vice as idleness itself. Anyway, I will try to do better.


Battle of the Titans 
Dinesh D'Souza and Alan Wolfe debating? Imagine a slime mold in conflict with a patch of mildew. It's just that inspiring.
To the Tehran Station 
Not about Edmund Wilson
more picks


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